Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA
He sat on the couch his leg propped up just as the doctor had ordered.
Today was the last day of inactivity. Eighteen hours and he’d
be free. Before leaving Afghanistan he had promised to rest and
let his leg heal for two weeks, 14 days, no more, no less. Diana
had threatened dire retribution if he didn’t. So for the past
two weeks he’d rested, and stayed off the leg. The crutches
she’d forced on him stood leaning against the column beside
the couch. He’d used them religiously; he’d promised
her he would. A promise he’d had a hard time keeping these
last few days.
On the table beside him the phone rang. Benny Ray sighed, knowing
immediately who was on the other end. He debated with himself on
whether to answer it, deciding in the end he would.
“Riddle,” he answered warily.
“Mr. Riddle how’s the leg?
“Doing fine sir, is there something I can do for you?
“Is Matt available,” Trout’s voice held a world
“No Sir, he left about an hour ago, didn’t say when
he’d be back.”
“Thanks,” Trout paused wondering if maybe he should
give up, two weeks and still no word from Matt. “Please tell
him I called.”
“Yes Sir!” He waited to hear the click on the other
end as Trout hung up before dropping the receiver back into place.
He’d come to grips with the kidnapping, but Matt and the
rest of the team hadn’t, at least not yet. In the two weeks
since leaving Afghanistan they had talked about everything but his
kidnapping. The twenty-four hours leading up to finding him in Afghanistan
had been a nightmare of uncertainties for them. The look Matt had
thrown him in the cave had been filled with fear and concern. Finding
out that Trout had been behind it had set the furies of hell loose
amongst his teammates.
During the few days after the op Benny Ray had seen the loathing
in the Major’s eyes every time he looked in Trout’s
direction. Lately he’d begun to wonder if the rife between
them would ever be healed. This was the fifth day in a row Trout
had called. Matt had refused to talk to him.
They needed to talk about it, Benny Ray could see that it was eating
away at the Major and that, in his estimation was a bad thing. The
whole team was on for dinner tonight. His clever mind was already
working on devising a way to broach the subject.
Dinner that evening was a riotous affair. CJ was in top form, entertaining
them with jokes and stories. Even Rico and Chance played off the
little Brits stories. Margo’s eyes were bright with laughter,
but underneath the gaiety was the pent up energy that had been growing
in all of them. Suppressed and concealed beneath the facade they
showed to the world.
As the night wound down, CJ gave him the opening he’d been
looking for. The demolitions expert stretched, following it up with
a mighty yawn.”
“What’s the problem CJ,” Benny Ray grinned, “Are
we boring you?”
Without thought CJ answered, “I’m so bored I can’t
see straight, haven’t blown anything up in weeks.”
Around the table he heard their laughter, and he innocently asked,
“So what do you plan to do about it Major?”
“Do,” Matt asked quietly narrowing his eyes as he turned
to his second.
“Yeah, do! Its about time we got back to work don’t
“I think that’s my business, Benny Ray,” he snapped.
“No Sir, I think it’s all of our business. You said
we’d talk about it, but so far you’ve done nothing but
avoid the issue?
Around the table everyone grew quiet, watching Matt and Benny Ray
“So talk,” Matt ground out.
Benny Ray formed his words carefully before speaking, “Mistakes
happen Major, its part of life, we can plan and arrange things to
suit our needs. Does that mean something won’t get in the
way, that the plan will not go awry - No. How many times have we
had to resort to Plan X. – more than a few! Yeah Trout made
a decision, through no fault of his own communications were interrupted;
he did what he had to, with almost disastrous results.
Matt snorted in disgust. Though his temper had cooled his heart
was not yet ready to forgive Trout for something he thought the
man should have been able to prevent. He was tired; tired of watching
his people walk into danger when it could have been prevented, tired
of sitting by their bedside as they recovered from some wound or
gunshot. Trout’s sources and provided Intel were not always
reliable and he and his people usually paid the price. It had to
stop. “I’m not sure I can do this anymore Benny Ray.
How many times have we gone in with bad Intel, how many times has
it nearly cost one of us our lives?”
Benny Ray started to answer as Chance spoke up softly, “It’s
the nature of the beast Major. What we do is dangerous and unforgiving.
How we deal with it is what makes us what we are.”
Around him Matt saw their nodding heads.
Margo entered the fray her voice soft but insistent as she spoke,
“We don’t have to work for Trout anymore. I know you
feel like he’s betrayed us, that maybe he’s using us
without remorse. If you don’t feel that you can trust him,
then walk away. We’ll do what ever you want, but this living
without knowing is killing us.”
Matt sighed and looked around the table. His team, his friends
waited expectantly, but he wasn’t ready to give them an answer.
He needed time. Shaking his head he looked at the faces around him.
“I need time, I’ll think about it. Next weekend is the
reunion; I’ll give you an answer when I get back.”
The jovial atmosphere had dissipated. Benny Ray had hated to do
it, but knew it had to be done. They had all needed a wake up call.
Matt stood up throwing a wad of money on the table he said, “I
need some time alone, see you back at the bar in a couple of hours.”
“Well that went relatively well, don’t ya think,”
CJ quipped. “At least he didn’t totally blow a gasket.”
Chance smacked him lightly upside his head. Around the table, a
myriad of voice rang out in unison, “Shut Up!”
Rio Club one week later
New Orleans, LA
The large slate covered patio was filled with men reminiscing with
old friends and reliving old times. They were Military men; several
were wearing their uniforms, though most were dressed casually.
These were special men, elite soldier who had seen the horrors of
war, its destruction, its devastation and yet lived to tell the
tale. They were some of the best the military had to offer, hard
living men drawn together by common ties. At one time or another
all of these men had been in the same unit or assigned to the same
operation. Each had received a personal invitation to the reunion.
All who had been invited, twenty-two of them had accepted but one
had yet to arrive.
Across the lush emerald green lawn a small group of men stood talking.
A tall dark haired man sat on the wall surrounding the garden, a
bottle of beer in his hands he listened to his friends and cohorts
reminisce. He smiled at the man beside him, watching him dance a
little jig before he downed the last of his drink. If memory served
him right, Jack would be drinking heavily tonight and Crown Royal
was the favored poison. Taking a few minutes to look around, his
smile widened. He’d worked with these men, and respected them
for their courage, intelligence and integrity. It had been easy
to slip back into the friendships and bonds that had been created
during the time they worked together. He needed this.
Sipping his beer he started in surprise when the man beside him
gasped and flew backwards a red trickle of blood flowed across the
bridge of his nose. All around him men began to fall. The silence
of the night was broken only by their dying gasps. Throwing himself
to the side he gasped as a fiery flash of pain ripped through his
skull. The bullet seared a path above his left brow, the impact
sending him backwards over the wall. Barely holding to consciousness
he tumbled down the steep slope. Scrambling to right himself he
reached out grabbing for trees and bushes as he slid. Rolling on
to his back he managed to get his feet under him and slow his wild
descent. As he reached the bottom of the slope his foot tangled
with an exposed tree root, flying forward he slammed into the base
of a large tree. Stunned he lay in the darkness beneath the heavy
brush. His head throbbed mercilessly as the blood flowed freely
down the side of his face. From far away he could hear the sound
of screams when the clubs waiters and waitresses discovered the
Swiping at the blood flowing into his eyes he pushed himself to
his feet. Behind him he could hear the sounds of scrambling feet.
Fear coursed through him and he instinctively reached beneath his
jacket. Where was it, why wasn’t it there, he couldn’t
remember. As the sounds grew closer he ducked beneath the low hanging
limbs and stumbled into the darkness. Fear for his life dogged his
footsteps his one though was self-preservation so he ran.
On the plateau above, the scene erupted into pandemonium. Bodies
lay scattered across the lawn. Tables and chairs were overturned
men quietly laughing only moments before; their voices now silenced
forever. Near the wall one man groaned in pain gasping for air.
Seconds later police and emergency service personnel streamed into
Ten men and a woman stopped, gaping in horror at the sight spread
out before them. “Jesus!” one man mumbled in horror.
His head snapped to the side as he heard the groan. Rushing forward
he knelt beside the one man who still lived, the gaping hole in
his chest mute evidence that he too had been a target. Paramedics’
gear in hand went quickly to work, doing their utmost to staunch
the flow of blood. The bullet had missed the man’s heart by
a scant inch, slicing through the outer wall of his lung. The men
and women around him worked furiously to save his life.
On the hilltop above the club six pair of eyes watched. Incensed
glittering eyes glared as the paramedics worked. The plan had worked
perfectly but still one had survived. Counting the dead, fury grew.
Two of the hated enemies were missing, how was that possible?
A quiet controlled voice spoke into the darkness, “One target
went over the wall.”
Furiously whispered words were uttered between clenched teeth,
“Find him Tanner and bring his head to me!”
“As you wish!” the man whispered before he slithered
into the darkness. Following the ridgeline he made his way to the
far side of the club. Signs of his target were easy to follow. His
fall had gouged chunks of grass from the slope his tumbling body
mowed down grass and bushes alike as he fell the hundred or so feet
to the valley floor below. Moving quickly the mercenary followed
the signs finding a trail of blood as he slid down the hillside.
Bringing his weapon up he followed, a sense of satisfaction coursed
through him. With each second he gained ground on his target. He
could feel his quarry up ahead, from all the signs the man was hurt
and not thinking clearly. The kill would be easy, complacent now,
he moved faster.
Half a mile ahead the runner slowed. Cocking his head he listened,
the sounds of thrashing and breaking brush sent a trill of fear
through him. Gritting his teeth he fought the fear and anger rising
within him. Sinking to his knees he gasped for air, his head pounding.
Dizziness and nausea washed over him. Struggling to clear his mind
and ignore his failing body he quickly formed a plan. He knew whatever
he did it had to be quick. Surprise would give him the advantage.
His waning strength wouldn’t last long, it had to be now.
Climbing to his feet he continued for a short distance down the
path, making sure the enemy behind would be able to follow his trail.
Silent and unseen he slipped off the path, his passage unmarked
as he moved through the underbrush and backtracked to wait beneath
a large bush just a few feet off the trail.
Pursuit moved quickly up the trail unaware that his quarry lay
in wait. Supremely confident of his abilities Tanner relaxed his
Beneath the tree, his hand closed tightly on the broken tree limb
in his hand. As pursuit grew level he jumped to his feet. Swinging
the wood in his hand he caught his unsuspecting quarry in the throat.
The man staggered back his hands clutching reflexively at his throat.
His eyes went wide as his attacker moved in again. The Beretta in
his hand flew outward, his finger squeezing the trigger. Ducking
wildly the runner staggered to the side, the bullet whistling through
the darkness only inches from his head. The mercenary took a deep
breath and charged, the weapon in his hand coming around for the
second time. Off balance the runner swung the log in his hand catching
his attackers arm just above the wrist. Screaming in agony the weapon
flew from numb fingers. The runner moved in for the kill. The log
in his hand descended, the mercenary’s eyes were wide with
fear as he tried desperately to avoid the blow.
Fury coursed through the runner as he swung the club. It connected
solidly with the side of his attacker head sending him spinning
sideways. He landed hard, his neck at an odd angle his eyes wide
and staring the light within extinguished forever.
The runner lay sprawled in the damp leaves beneath the trees. The
earthy smell a balm to his frenzied nerves. His ragged breathing
the only sound in the silent forest as he marshaled what little
strength remained to him. But instinct and self-preservation lingered,
one thought ran through his fevered brain – RUN! Climbing
to his feet he moved, slowly at first, picking up speed he ran through
the underbrush. His vision grew cloudy, but he continued on. Breaking
through the trees a few minutes later he slammed into a fence. Convulsively
he reached out, holding tight to the railing he managed to stay
on his feet. Blinking rapidly he tried to clear his blurry vision
as he looked across the meadow. His right foot found purchase on
the bottom rail as he heaved himself up and over the fence. Landing
in a heap on the far side he laid spread eagle in the cool grass
for nearly a minute before the urge to flee took over. Awkwardly
he stumbled through the grass; the wiry tendrils dragging at his
ankles tripped him up.
Overhead the stars were masked, as the dark clouds of an oncoming
storm moved in. Lightening crackled across the sky, as the thunder
exploded. Clapping hand to his ears the runner crumbled. His strength
was gone, his mind closed down as the maelstrom whirled around him.
A few hundred feet away from where he laid a huge warehouse stood
dark and ominous. Tall and lithe, her hair and eyes as dark as midnight
in the eerie half-light before dawn, she prowled the vast interior
cautiously. The weapon in her hand was only an extension of her
gaze. The tip she’d been given, so far, had been a false one.
Neither man nor beast prowled the night, debating with herself on
whether any sane human would confront the storm that raged outside.
“Except for dim-wits like you,” she grumbled to herself.
“Get a life DeVaux,” she continued to mumble as she
searched the nooks and crannies of the warehouse
Two hours she’d waited and watched, maybe the storm had driven
them to ground. Maybe she had somehow given herself away. Either
way they weren’t here and probably weren’t coming. It
was a damn good place to hide though. The building was old, its
interior piled high with boxes and crates. It was a maze, easy to
get lost in, easy to get killed in.
Cautiously she stood up making her way though the endless rows
of stacked boxes heading for the back of the building. Grumbling
silently at the lost time and opportunity she tucked the weapon
back into the holster beneath her left arm. Opening the door she
scrambled to hold it as the wild frenzied wind nearly pulled it
from her grasp. Lashing rain driven sideways by the wind made her
pause. She pondered her next move, waiting, hoping the downpour
would end. She’d already wasted enough time puttering around
the big building and decided wet was better than waiting. Pulling
the door shut behind her she ducked her head and ran into the wind.
Racing across the gravel lot she leaped a hedge before settling
into a run heading for her truck. Lightening lit up the sky, casting
a ghostly aura across the grass. She tried to slam on the brakes
but couldn’t. Jumping she managed to avoid the dark object
in her path. Recognizing the body of a man the Sigsauer materialized
in her hand, on guard she warily dropped to her knees. Checking
for a pulse she found it pounding unsteadily beneath her touch.
She searched him for a weapon but found nothing. “What the
hell are you doing out here,” she mumbled into the wind.
Gently she turned him on to his back. She swore as she saw the
blood covering the side of his face. Tenderly she touched his cheek
her thumb wiping the blood and rain from his brow. Beneath her touch
she heard him moan and saw his eyes flutter open.
Lightening flashed across the sky reflecting in the golden eyes
that were now fever bright as he looked up at her. Pain and pleading
called out to her. With a gentle touch she cradled him in her arms.
The agony and fear she saw reflected in his eyes made her heart
ache. Leaning over she protected his face from the falling rain
as she whispered. “Can you get up we need to get you out of
His lips moved but she heard his garbled words “Must run.”
“No, your safe now,” she whispered back. “You’re
He nodded wanting desperately to believe her. His breathing ragged
he struggled upward. With her help he managed to gain his feet.
Stumbling forward, his weight brought them both to their knees.
She was strong, but without his help she knew she would never get
him into the building. “Ups a daisy bright eyes,” she
whispered. “We can do this.” Slowly a deep shuddering
breath wracked his body as he climbed to his feet. The drenching
rain swirled around them as they fought their way back to the warehouse.
The wind whipped around them making it all but impossible to gain
ground. He sagged in her arms. Beneath his weight she groaned, whispering,
“Just a little bit more, don’t give up on me now.”
He turned his head; through the haze a twinkle lit his tired eyes
as he looked at her. Seconds later two bedraggled figures made their
way back to the warehouse and through the gray metal door.
The door flew open, ripped from her grasp as the wind pushed against
it. The sound was muffled as it slammed against the cardboard boxes
stacked against the wall behind it. Struggling with the man in her
arms and the wind pushing against the door she finally managed to
close it. Together they stumbled down the center aisle of the warehouse
when she heard the sound of voices coming from the other end. “Oh
perfect,” she muttered grumpily. Sliding into the maze of
boxes she took the injured man with her. She had to wonder if they
had done this to him.
A few minutes later she found what she was looking for. A gap between
the boxes opened up into a small cubbyhole in the center of the
row. Hidden from view it was snug enough to hide two people comfortably.
In her arms the man began to tremble. He shivered convulsively
his teeth chattering. Laying him down she began to strip the wet
clothes from his body. Shedding her coat she wrapped it around him.
Staring at the boxes around her she crowed in triumph when she
spotted one with the word “Textiles” printed on the
side. Pulling the knife from her belt she slashed through the cardboard
and reached in. Soft cotton met her touch and she pulled. Colorfully
woven Mexican blankets came tumbling out. Watching them fall to
the floor she heard a soft thud. Small, gray-green shaped bricks
fell from the blankets and tumbled to the ground.
“God could this day get any worse!” C4, she knew what
it was, had been searching for it for three days. And suddenly without
thought she stumbled on it by accident. A low moan from the man
at her feet brought her up short. He needed attention and he needed
it now. Laying several of the blankets on the cold concrete floor
she stripped the rest of his clothes and wrapped him in several
more of the blankets. Knowing she needed to get him warm she knelt
beside him rubbing his arms and legs to get the circulation moving.
With his wet T-shirt she wiped the blood and grime from his face.
It was a handsome face all-dark and mysterious, his body hard and
muscular like that of a star athlete.
It took nearly an hour before his trembling lessened. The cut on
his forehead had ceased to bleed but his face was still pale, his
brow furrowed with pain.
The sound of chatter inside the warehouse remained a constant buzz.
She counted at least five possibly six distinct voices. She remained
on guard but the men never came close. Reaching for the phone on
her belt she swore beneath her breath when her hand came up empty.
Searching the small cubbyhole she mumbled, “When you don’t
think things can get any worse – poof they do!”
A whispered voice beside her was hoarse, yet filled with amusement.
“I’ll trade you my last twenty-four hours for yours?”
“Ummm, NO!” she smiled down at him. ‘How’s
“Someone needs to turn off the jack hammer,” he groaned.
“I’m Kelly, Kelly DeVaux; do you remember what happened
He sat up leaning heavily on one elbow his left hand going to his
head. “I’m…” his eyes found hers; confusion
uppermost in their depth.
His face was pale, his breathing now coming in ragged gasps, “I
can’t seem to remember my name,” he whispered almost
Sitting on the blanket beside him she brushed his cheek with her
hand, the concern in her eyes mirroring his own. “You took
a pretty good knock, probably that and the shock. It will come back
in time. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
Scowling at her, he took her words to heart, hoping his memory
would return, and soon.
Chagrin was written on her face, the questions she had wanted to
ask useless now. Rolling this new development around in her head
she probed, hoping to jar his memory, even if only a little.
“Do you remember anything?”
His jaw tightened, his hands clamped around the blanket. Closing
his eyes he gasped, drawing a deep breath as he tried to remember.
Only the fear and the darkness penetrated, someone was pursuing
him, he’d run, run for his life.”
His words were harsh his voice clipped as he answered. “Running,
all I can remember is the darkness and running, someone hunting
me.” He stopped short his eyes flying open, “We fought,
I think… I killed him,” he murmured his eyes taking
on a hard smoky light as he relived the memory.
She’d known he was dangerous the minute she’d looked
into his eyes as he lay in the rain. “Do you think they are
still looking for you,” she asked cautiously?
Looking up he met her eyes, “Yes,” he stated vehemently,
and whoever they are they won’t stop until they find me.
Her mind worked furiously. “This is getting worse by the
minute,” she grumbled talking to herself. “Terrorists
to the right of me, possible murderers to the left and here we are
stuck in the middle, with two pea shooters and a slightly beat up
Clapping her hand to her mouth she grinned sheepishly a rosy blush
swept up her neck. “God I can’t believe I said that.”
Beside her his face lightened. “Hunk huh, thanks, I think.”
Smiling she ducked her head. Kelly was more than she seemed. Yes
she was a detective with the New Orleans police department; at least
that’s what everyone thought. In reality she was an operative
for a highly classified division of the U.S. Government. Today it
was called Home Land defense, over a year ago it had gone by another
name. Highly trained highly motivated, Kelly took on assignments,
most men shied away from. She worked long and hard to uncover plots
against a nation and its people and she was good at it. A few years
ago the major threat was the growing number of militia groups cropping
up around the country. These days the focus was on terrorist infiltration.
No fool, Kelly was wary of him and his situation, had recognized
the cut on his forehead for what it was, a bullet wound. She shouldn’t
trust him but for some reason she did. She would do what it took
to get the both of them out of the situation - alive. Her blood
surged in her veins as she looked at him. Quickly she turned away,
her wayward thought bringing a blush to her cheeks. Once they were
on safer ground she might think about getting to know him on a more
personal level. She’d undressed him and was pretty impressed
with the package. She lived dangerously, and if she read him right
so did he.
Looking at the man beside her she saw he had fallen back against
the blankets. His eyes were closed. Checking his pulse she sighed
in relief when she found it beating strongly, he had fallen asleep.
Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA.
Margo and Chance were sitting in the ops room when the call came
in. The display glared a familiar number and Margo grumbled as she
picked up the phone. “Xavier, it’s late!”
“Ms. Vincent, I’m sorry but I have some bad news.”
“What is it this time, a Walk in the Park or a Stroll through
“It’s worse than that Margo. Matt or Benny Ray might
have told you of their reunion this weekend. The club where they
met was attacked. Nineteen of the men were killed, one is in intensive
care and two are missing.”
“Margo, Matt and Benny Ray are missing.”
Her knees gave way as Margo collapsed onto the sofa. “What
“The reunion was a set up, Margo. From what we can tell the
shooters were on the hillside above the club. A little after eleven,
they open fired. It was quick and deadly, those men never knew what
hit them. A waiter found them a few minutes later.”
She heard the catch in his voice, “Will you come to New Orleans
Silence greeted his question, “Margo!”
Holding back the tears Margo cleared her throat, her voice husky
with emotion as she asked. “What did you mean when you said
they were missing?”
“Their bodies weren’t among those at the club Margo.
Either they were taken hostage or they are on the run.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can Xavier.”
“Thanks Margo, I’ll meet you at the airport.”
Stunned Margo sat on the couch unmoving; the phone in her hand
bleeped once and subsided into silence.
Chance had only heard half of the conversation, but it sounded
like trouble. Sitting on the arm of the couch he pulled the phone
from numb fingers and put it back where it belonged. “Margo,”
he asked quietly.
Tears coursed down her cheeks; angrily she swiped them away and
looked up. “That was Trout; he said the reunion Matt and Benny
Ray attended was a setup. All those men were killed.”
“The Major and Benny Ray,” he asked quietly
Only silence greeted her word, but she saw the big man’s
A sultry southern drawl broke the silence, “Whose missing
Margo, anyone I know?
Jumping to their feet they stared at the man standing on the bottom
step. He walked across the room his limp barely visible. “Oh
my God Benny Ray,” escaped Margo’s throat as she launched
herself at him. His eyes grew wide as he caught her handily. He
choked and spluttered as she wrapped her arms tightly around his
neck and hugged him tight. Gently he untangled himself and drew
a deep breath. “Easy Sweet Pea!” Looking at Chance he
shrugged asking, “What the heck is this all about.”
“Thought you were with Matt in New Orleans,” Chance
Mary Ellen called said she needed me to watch the kids. I hadn’t
seen them in a while, it sounded like a good chance to spend some
time with them. I’m headed for the reunion in the morning.
So what the heck is this about and who’s missing?”
Unwilling to let go just yet, Margo wrapped her arm through Benny
Ray’s as he walked across the room.
“Supposedly you and Matt,” Margo intoned.
“Well darlin, I’m standing here in the flesh, and Matt
is probably drunk as a skunk somewhere in New Orleans.”
“That’s the problem Benny Ray, Matt is missing. Trout
called a few minutes ago. The reunion was a setup up. They’re
all dead except for one, currently he’s in intensive care
and Matt is missing. Trout thinks he’s either on the run or
taken hostage. He asked if we would come to New Orleans in the morning.”
All business now, Benny Ray’s mind whirled with the possibilities.
But speculating wouldn’t do any good. “Chance, get CJ
and Rico here ASAP, Margo…”
“Already on it Benny Ray,” as she quickly released
his arm and crossed to her computer., minutes later their reservations
were made. Her fingers continued to fly as she dug for information
about the shooting. In less than an hour she had the names of every
man that had been invited. Trout had emailed the layout of the club
along with pictures and the police report.
Two hours later the team was assembled, bags were packed and loaded
in the trucks.
“Pack it in Margo you can continue the search from the plane.
Let’s go ya’ll!” Benny Ray yelled over his shoulder.
A few hours later Margo’s search had come up empty. No matter
how hard she tried or how deeply she probed she could find only
a two-month overlap where all the men had been in the unit at the
same time. But the mission files for those two months were locked
or missing. A voice mail to Trout had so far gone unanswered.
It was nearing seven am when the plane touched down outside New
Orleans. Trout’s limo waited on the runway. With a sober unsmiling
faced Trout stood beside it.
Margo was the first to reach him, her eyes seeking answers, but
he had none to give. Leaning down he kissed her cheek, before moving
to greet Rico, Chance, CJ and Benny Ray. The past forgotten for
the moment they greeted Trout expectantly.
Seated in the limo Trout waited until they were on the road before
speaking. “I got your voice mail Margo. I have people working
on it now. So far we seem to be beating our heads against a brick
wall. The files for those two months have gone missing. No one I’ve
talked to has been able to shed any light on what mission if any
went down during that time frame.”
“What about you Benny Ray,” Margo asked. “Can
you tell us what the mission was?
Benny Ray stilled, his eyes taking on a far away look as his mind
traveled back. “The mission was classified at the time Margo,
but nothing to write home about. Two teams saddled up for that op.
My team was working in the area and we were called in to assist.
Matt was the Operations Officer he ran the show and coordinated
support from the carrier. A group of missionaries had turned up
missing. We went in, took us a couple of days to find their trail.
A group of dissidents had taken ‘em hostage, they wanted the
church to pay the big bucks for their release. The dissidents were
pretty heavily armed, looked more like militia than dissidents.
The mission quickly degenerated into a firefight, the camp was destroyed,
the missionaries recovered, but we were pretty badly outnumbered.
Casualties were heavy and we lost three good men. Two of the bodies
were never recovered.”
“Can you remember their names,” Margo asked quietly.
“Damn,” he whispered wracking his brain for the names,
“Neither man was on my team. One of them was Cutter or Carson,
the other… I don’t know, give me a few, I’ll remember
“Bloody Missionaries,” CJ snorted. “You can always
count on them to cause a heap of trouble. Did I ever tell you about
“Yes,” four voices chimed in simultaneously.
Beside Margo, Trout choked back a laugh.
Five solemn faces strode into the club. First to go through the
door, Benny Ray reached for the tape. A tall brown suited man moved
up blocking his way. Face to face Benny Ray grinned as he clicked
his teeth, daring the man to stand in his way. A nod from Trout
and the man backed down none too happy. Lifting the yellow tape
Benny Ray gallantly waved the rest of the team through before following.
Switching gears Benny Ray’s eagle eyes swept the room. The
police report had been pretty tight with few details. “Spread
out people, Chance, CJ take the north side, Rico head toward the
west. Margo and I will take the south side.”
“My people have been all through this place Mr. Riddle, what
do you hope to find.” Trout asked cautiously?
“I don’t know Trout, when I find it I’ll let
“I have people stationed around the patio area. If you have
any questions don’t hesitate to ask.”
Settling their comms gear in place they spread out. Hands and eyes
searched every inch of the patio and the huge lawn area. Blood stains
and tape marked the tables and flagstone flooring. Across the lawn
paint and more blood marked the spots where men had died.
None of the five wanted to contemplate the thought, but it had
occurred to all of them that Matt Shepherd might not have survived
the assault. But he was missing, which could mean that the police
and even Trout’s men had missed something.
Determined to find out what that something was, Margo and the team
scoured the area looking for clues.
Nearing the wall Benny Ray stopped. The hairs on the back of his
neck rose. A trill of uneasiness coursed through him. Feeling malevolent
eyes boring into his back he turned slowly reaching beneath his
jacket his eyes surveying the men arrayed around him. Several stood
leaning against the side of the building; another was bent over
tying his shoe. Others strolled casually across the lawn.
Beside him Margo stopped, watching. Touching his arm she felt him
shiver as she whispered, “You Ok!”
At her touch his head snapped around to look at her, his eyes cold
and hard, they suddenly softened as he caught her gaze on him. The
feeling of being watched disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
A tiny smile that didn’t reach his eyes crossed his lips.
“Just a cold north wind,” he whispered noncommittally.
She watched him stroll away, confusion written on her face. Mumbling
to herself she followed, “It’s a ninety plus out here
and he’s talking about cold north winds.”
Reaching the wall he stood beside it looking up and down the length
of it. The wall was a little over three feet tall made of stone
and mortar. His hand trailed across the top of the wall as he slowly
walked along. A dark pool of blood at its base stopped him. His
voice was urgent as he asked, “Let me see the pictures Margo.”
Pulling a folder from her pack she handed it to him. “Did
you find something,” she asked curiously.
“Maybe,” he answered cryptically. Flipping through
the pictures he found what he was looking for. One man lay on his
back a puddle of blood beneath his head. Staring at the picture
he ran his hand across the top of the wall. Dark spots marred the
top outside edge of the wall but if Benny Ray figured right they
didn’t match the angle or the spray of the man lying on the
“Here Margo,” Benny Ray indicated. “Do the math,
the spray on the top of the wall doesn’t’ match the
dead man. Two men, not one stood here.”
“So where did the other one go,” Margo asked breathlessly?
Leaving the photo on the top of the wall he threw his left leg
over and strattled it. Searching for other clues, his hand brushed
across a scrape. “Over! He went over the wall!”
Quickly he lowered himself down the far side of the wall dropping
another four feet to the ground below. Margo slipped over the wall
dropping beside him.
“Chance, you read me?”
“Roger Benny Ray, Go!”
“Margo and I are headed down the side of the hill, found
what could be a trail. We’ll shout if we find something.”
“Keep us posted,” Chance stated.
“Roger that Amigo, out here.”
Sure footed as a mountain goat, Benny Ray followed the trail down
the steep slope. His senses were on full alert as his eyes searched
the ground and brush around him. The first trail he found was obvious.
Someone had tumbled head over heels down the hillside. The second
was subtler. Deep-ridged boot soles left telltale signs of pursuit.
Sliding the last few feet down the hill Margo stood beside Benny
Ray watching him. His movements were slow and controlled as he searched
the ground and surrounding area. Kneeling down his fingers skimmed
the brush his eyes following the dusty trail settling on a dark
shadow beneath a bush a few feet away.
Standing he caught a whispering breeze. It spoke of death and danger.
His heightened sense caught the sound of a round as it slid into
the chamber the bolt sliding into place. His movements were instinctive
as he pushed Margo away. The Glock tucked beneath his left arm materialized
in his right hand as he yelled, “Shooter - 11 O’clock.”
The breeze stilled, his eyes locked on a waving branch. The Glock
came up as he twisted sideway-firing two shots in rapid succession.
They seared a path into the underbrush one finding its target.
The bullet meant for Benny Ray’s heart slammed into his left
shoulder just above the collarbone. The impact lifted him off his
feet throwing him backward. Fire burned through his shoulder, but
he couldn’t afford to rest. Hugging his left arm to his side
he rolled away finding cover beneath some brush.
The breeze again whispered to him, carrying the sounds of shuffling
footsteps as they carried the shooter away. Getting to his feet,
Benny Ray carried himself carefully trying not to jar his injured
From up the hill, Margo heard the sounds of shouts before saying.
“I didn’t hear anything, are you sure there was someone
Turning to face her he mumbled between clenched teeth, “Yeah
Margo, I’m sure.”
She whispered, “Crickets,” seeing the spreading blossom
of red on his shoulder. Benny Ray spun away as she reached for him,
his mind set on returning to the dark shadow he’d seen beneath
the brush. Awkwardly he took a few steps that put him back into
his original starting point.
“Rico, grab your bag, I need you down here now,” Margo
whispered though her radio.
“What’s going on Margo,” Rico’s voice asked
“Just hurry Rico.”
“Benny Ray,” Margo whispered.
He didn’t answer. Focused now, he blocked out everything
except finding the shadow.
Reaching beneath the tree his fingers searched the underbrush before
finally locking on the target and pulling it out of the shadows.
He recognized it immediately, “Dammit Major,” he murmured
beneath his breath. His thumb caressed the eagle stamped into the
worn leather. Pushing himself to his feet he slowly turned, holding
the wallet out, not surprised when Margo hesitated to take it.
“Take it Margo,” he urged suddenly. Closing his eyes
he swayed sideways.
Sprinting the last couple of feet Rico managed to grab the front
of Benny Ray shirt before he could fall.
Squeaking in dismay, Margo grabbed him from behind as his knees
buckled. Between them Rico and Margo managed to lower the injured
sniper to the ground. Leaning against a tree Margo held him tight
his head resting against her shoulder while Rico went to work. Cutting
away his shirt Rico probed the wound. Benny Ray hissed at the touch.
The bullet had exited cleanly but the gaping holes front and back
continued to bleed.
A few minutes later, the bleeding was under control. With Chance
and CJ looking over his shoulder Rico gave the order. “Let’s
get him up the hill. We need to get him to a hospital?”
“No hospital,” Benny Ray whispered hoarsely.
Rico swore as he stared at the sniper, “Dammit you stubborn
jarhead, that shoulder needs attention and you’ve lost a lot
of blood. You need to be in a hospital.”
“No hospital,” Benny Ray snapped vehemently, as he
pulled himself up into a sitting position. “Listen to me,”
he whispered urgently, “The Major’s alive, and hurt,
but someone’s on his tail. The trail is ten hours old, if
we don’t get to him soon, it could be too late, it may already
be too late.”
“Benny Ray,” Chance broke in. “You’re in
no shape to go chasing anyone, you get that shoulder taken care
of and CJ and I will go after Matt. The minute we find something
we’ll call. You hear me Compadre,” Chance murmured
Grumbling Benny Ray nodded, gritting his teeth as the pain in his
shoulder erupted. “Go,” he mumbled.
“Let’s get you up the hill, then…”
“No, Chance, you need to go after the Major, the only thing
that matters now is Matt.”
“Alright Benny Ray, we’re going. You just let Rico
take care of that shoulder. We’ll check in every couple of
“Good Luck Amigo,” Benny Ray whispered.
With CJ close on his heels, Chance took off following Matt’s
trail. Three pairs of eyes followed the duo until they were lost
from the sight.
“The shooter,” Margo asked?
“Long gone,” Benny Ray answered breathlessly.
Trout had sent several men down the slope; even now they combed
the forest floor hunting for signs of the shooter. A voice rang
out triumphantly, “Blood Sir.” In the distance they
heard the rumblings as men moved quickly through the brush following
the trail. But Benny Ray was right, the shooter, though slightly
injured when one of Benny Ray’s shots had nicked his shoulder,
was gone. After the first few stumbling steps the shooter had melted
into the bush leaving no trace, no trail for anyone to follow.
On the slope two men dispatched by Trout stepped in to help. With
the extra hands the struggle up the hillside took only a few minutes.
But the climb left all of them exhausted and Benny Ray dizzy and
sweating. The Limo waited, but Benny Ray was adamant about not going
to a hospital.
Trout – always prepared said, “I’ve got a little
safe house set up a few minutes from here.”
With everyone settled inside the limo, the driver took off. In
less than ten minutes the car pulled up in front of a huge two-story
house. Rico whistled appreciatively, beside him Margo’s eyes
glowed. “Now this is what I call a safe house,” she
whispered in awe.
“Only the best for you Ms. Vincent,” Trout chuckled.
The house, nope Margo thought, the mansion was a sprawling elegant
estate. She estimated the “little safe house” had at
least 20 rooms. Its creamy white Limestone façade reflected
the light like diamonds sparkling in the sun. Huge etched glass
windows lined the face of the beautiful building. Perfectly manicured
lawns and hedges accented with deep red roses lead the eye up to
the elegant archway at the front of the house. Heavy cherry wood
doors opened as they made their way up the marble steps.
A few minutes later Benny Ray was settled in a large bedroom at
the rear of the house. The lines of pain etched in his brow and
the dull haze in the snipers eyes gave wings to Rico’s hands.
Cleaning up the shoulder Rico put seven stitches in to close the
ragged edged wounds. Taping thick bandages in place he stepped back
to observe his handiwork. He cocked an eyebrow as the sniper sat
up and slid his legs off the bed. Crossing his arms over his chest
Rico stood in front oh him and asked, “Where do you think
Ignoring the question Benny Ray asked, “Has Chance checked
“No, but since he’s been on the trail less than an
hour I didn’t expect a call, but you haven’t answered
Benny Ray snorted in disgust but didn’t answer.
Rico nearly laughed, but the amusement in his voice was tinged
with anger as he asked. “How far do you think you’ll
“As far as I need to,” Benny Ray ground out.
Leaning down Rico went eye to eye with the sniper, his voice low
and menacing he whispered. “You take one step and I’ll
have Trout’s men hog tie you to that bed. Now we can do this
the easy way or if you prefer, we can do it the hard way. Either
way the results will be the same, your stubborn ass in that bed.”
Rico was ready for a fight, the look in the snipers eyes held an
answering light of battle but Rico wasn’t going to back down.
Benny Ray growled deep in his throat. Lifting his head his eyes
caught the unwavering look on Rico’s face. Choking back an
angry retort that would set the medic off Benny Ray looked on, hiding
his surprise. He had somehow managed to find and ignite the medics’
temper, which he knew from past experience was hard to do. He was
tempted to see just how far he could push Rico. The normally even-tempered
medic was slightly more than pissed. Storing away the knowledge
“The head Rico,” Benny Ray purred, watching with satisfaction
as Rico’s face took on a confused look. “I’m going
to the bathroom, if that’s ok with you, or do you think I
need a chaperon for that, wanna hold my hand?”
Rico stumbled backward a few steps as the sniper slowly got to
Benny Ray’s husky southern drawl filled with amusement as
he held out his good hand, “But then again, I’m so weak
and helpless, I might need assistance.”
Rico ignored the outstretched hand, his mouth hanging open at the
sniper’s sudden capitulation. He had certainly expected something
different. It was as if the breath had been knocked out of him when
the sniper had uttered those few quiet words. Rico’s eyes
narrowed as the sniper made his way to the bathroom. Benny Ray’s
stride had been strong and deliberate, but the way he carried himself
and the set of his jaw told the medic the sniper was in a great
deal of pain. The click of the door gave Rico a chance to think.
Benny Ray never gave in that easy. That oh so clever mind was working
overtime, but to what end? Vowing to keep an eye on his patient,
Rico waited. Rummaging through his little black bag he pulled out
a bottle of pills and shook several into his hand - an antibiotic.
A second bottle took the same route – something for the pain.
Settling himself in a comfortable chair he waited.
A few minutes later the sniper emerged.
“My watchdog,” Benny Ray mumbled when he spotted the
“Well at the moment you need one. The odds are not exactly
in your favor my friend. The numbers are growing, nineteen men dead,
one in intensive care, another missing, and you. Until we find out
who the hell is behind this, you’re stuck with me.”
Holding out the pills and a glass of water Rico pinned the snipers
gaze with his own.
No quarter given, none expected, Benny Ray downed the pills. Climbing
into bed he cautiously settled in, doing his utmost not to rouse
the searing pain in his shoulder.
“I want to know the second you hear something about the Major!”
“Done, now sleep,” Rico growled. Expecting, no hoping
that that the little sedative he’d given Benny Ray would knock
him out for at least six maybe eight hours.
Benny Ray closed his eyes, his body tense and set against the pain
in his shoulder. As the little pills worked their way through his
system his muscles began to relax, his heart beat and respiration
evened out and he slept. Beside him Rico sighed in relief.
/ 2 / 3
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