web space | free website | Business Hosting Services | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

 

 
 

Wednesday
IN THE AIR ABOVE THE PACIFIC OCEAN

"Can I take this thing off?" Margo Vincent pointed to the blindfold covering
half her face as she stretched, just waking up from her nap.

"Not yet," Matt Shepherd's voice hid a smile as he helped her find a comfortable
position. "Comfy?"

"As much as possible, I guess." Margo felt Matt's hand on the arm rest, and held
it gently for a few seconds. As she felt his hand relax in hers, her grip tightened. "I've got you!" She crowed triumphantly, "Now, let me take this blindfold off!" Matt only chuckled and let his hand be crushed.

"I'm glad you've gotten your strength back." Grinning broadly as the woman tried
to struggle out of her seat, he finally gave in. "OK, OK, give it a rest. Rico said he'd have a thing or two to say to both of us if you didn't come back rested." He settled Margo back into her seat and removed the blindfold.

"What the...?" Margo's voice trailed off as she looked around and out the window. Below them was nothing but the big blue ocean.

"My idea, Trout's bank account." Matt gestured to the private jet. We all think
you need a rest, so....."

"A rest?" Margo looked at him indignantly. "I've been doing nothing BUT rest.
First in the hospital, then at your place. Between you and Benny Ray it's a wonder I've been allowed to walk to the bathroom by myself!"

"Hey!" Matt looked at her with a mock frown. "I thought every woman wanted
a man at her beck and call." His face still showed concern. "Seriously though, a
fractured skull is nothing to sneeze at. Time and rest, that's what the docs said. " Now he smiled, "I just thought a little time and a little rest in Hawaii might help."

"Hawaii?" Margo smiled, then frowned. "I'm thrilled, but don't think this is going to let you off the hook for keeping me bedridden." Margo adjusted the scarf she wore to cover the bald patches on her head. Absently, she reached under the scarf to scratch. The drill holes had healed nicely, but the hair growth was much slower, the patches barely grown over with peach fuzz. "Hawaii," Margo smiled and stretched again.

"She looks like a cat just waking from a nap." Matt thought as he watched her
fondly.

"Mmmm," Now Margo smiled directly at him. "Warm water, white, sandy beaches. You're right. I do need a rest. Hawaii is the perfect place!"

"I knew you'd agree." Matt gently caressed the hand still holding onto him.

"Now how about some lunch?"

 

15.00 hours
HONOLULU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

"Hmmmm! Don't these smell heavenly?" Margo was taking a deep breath, inhaling
the sweet, flowery perfume the blossoms of her colorful lei were giving off. "What a way to welcome guests. It's a wonder anybody ever wants to leave again."

She was walking next to a similarly bedecked Matt, who was carefully pushing a
trolley with their luggage past the crowds milling through the hall of the airport building.

"Just look at the light! And those colors! " Margo's enthusiasm at the surprise
holiday obviously wasn't about to abate any time soon. "And they've got these
gorgeous flowers everywhere!"

Out of the corner of his eyes Matt sent her a covert look. She was changed. The
business with Sparrow had brought her close to death and she knew it. During the
past days it had been almost impossible to keep her quiet. She had wanted to do all kinds of things. As if she had finally realized how close she had come to the end and now she wanted to get as much out of life as possible. But she needed the rest. "You've got to see to it she doesn't overexert herself. She may look fine, but she still needs a lot of healing. So, take it easy." Rico had warned him.

Nothing plenty of rest, sunbathing and some light sightseeing and having fun in good company wouldn't take care of. But he just knew that making her stick to the "easy" part of those instructions would be anything but easy.

"It's a different kind of air, too! I swear, there's something special in it!"

Matt had to duck his head away to hide a smile. "It's the smell of freedom!" He
told her teasingly.

"Freedom?" Puzzled, Margo looked at him.

He turned back to face her again, his expression giving nothing away. "No phone
calls, no urgent e.mails, no desperate missions, in short and best of all...."

"No Trout!....Freedom!" A smile lit Margo's face as she finally caught up with his train of thought. Laughing they both stepped through the doors and outside into the brilliant sunlight, oblivious of the curious, bewildered or plainly amused stares of the passers-by.

"Aah, the sweet tinkle of silver bells! Sweet memories! Doesn't that remind you
of someone special, too, mate?" A heavily accented voice stopped them.

"I'd recognize that laugh anywhere and anytime, no matter how much she tries to
disguise herself." Another male voice stated.

Turning to their right Matt and Margo caught sight of the owners of those voices, a tall, handsome black man and a short white guy in flowered Hawaii shirt and shorts, languidly leaning against a blue van.

With a delighted cry Margo dropped her hand bag onto the trolley and ran up to them, hugging each man tightly.

"CJ! Chance! Is that really you?"

"Well, if there's another one like me running around, I hope they catch the guy
before he signs our name to a lot of checks." They all had to smile at the Brit's use of the old cliche.

"Another one like him! I should hope not! Even one of him is already too much!"
Before Chance's retort could start a mock fight, Matt reached the group and was
included in the welcome.

"Let's stow your luggage away and get going, major." Chance opened the back door of the van. Together he and Matt stacked the bags and suitcases inside, while CJ
was helping Margo into the passenger seat.

"Where are we going?"

With a grin her former colleague raised his eyebrows at Margo's question and
winked at her before answering. "Surprise!"

"CJ! Not you, too! I don't know how many more surprises I can take!" For a
moment Margo's expression was warring between a smile and a frown. The smile
won.

"Don't you dare tell her, CJ!" Chance admonished from the driver's seat. When
Matt and CJ had taken the back seats he drove off.

"Oh, come on! All this suspense isn't good for me! I'm not allowed any excitement! Doctor's orders!" Margo wasn't above using that to her advantage when it suited her purpose.

Unfortunately, it didn't get her the expected information. As Margo looked around her inquiringly, her gaze was met by three perfectly 'innocent' smiles. Sighing, she gave up and settled back into her seat, determined to at least enjoy the scenery .

* * * * *

16.30 hours

"So, this is where you spend your retirement?"

Matt couldn't quite keep his astonishment from showing.

"Well, major, you know how it is! Once you decide on a course of action, there is nothing but going all the way." CJ was clearly enjoying himself. "After all, we're men of impeccable taste and style!"

"Impeccable taste and style!" Margo's voice sounded the way she felt, thunder- struck!

All the way from the airport to this, their final destination, Margo had been
wondering, where they were taking her. She had been silently pleased when Chance
had driven them past the towering silhouettes of the hotels of Waikiki Beach. She didn't want to be among crowds of strangers. Especially not in the best hotel on the island, which was what she just knew Matt would take. Not until her hair had grown back to a decent length. Even with the rest cut short she still was terribly conscious of those nearly bald patches. Vanity! Her sigh had drawn a concerned glance from Chance.

"Bored already?"

"No, of course not!" She smiled at him. "Just wondering about this surprise of
yours."

"You'll see it soon enough." He promised her with an answering smile. "We're
almost there."

That had been half an hour ago.

They had already left the city behind, going in the direction of the imposing
mountain range, following it on a long-drawn coastal highway, until Chance had
turned the van into a small side road marked 'Private! Keep Out!'. Tall palm trees and verdant shrubs lined the winding road. They passed through an open gate and went up a driveway which was sloping up to a big, old, double garage set amongst still more of the lush vegetation.

"Welcome to our place!" That had been all Chance had said.

Margo had exchanged a questioning look with Matt who now had seemed to be
clearly as baffled as she was. All they could see was the garage and the vibrantly alive greenery all around them.

"Let's show them the house, before they bolt!" CJ couldn't help chuckling.

A small path led through the wilderness and to the house it had been hiding.

Though, calling THIS a house had to be the understatement of the year.

They were standing in front of a small villa, overlooking a spacious garden.

They could only stare at the red-tiled flight of steps, the well-kept lawn, the
flowering trees and bushes and the clear, still surface of a large, sparkling pool. A small table and cushioned cane chairs on the marble paved terrace, wide sliding glass doors leading into the house and colorful, blooming flowers in big terracotta pots scattered everywhere. At the far end of the garden the red tiles of another, smaller house showed, half hidden among enormous bushes.

*****


An hour later

"Well, what do you think of our humble abode?" Chance and CJ were clearly
enjoying their friends' astonishment.

"Trout certainly wasn't stingy when he set you up here!" Margo still wasn't sure
she was really believing it. They were sitting under a large sunshade on the terrace of the main house, cool drinks in front of them.

"Oh, he could pick it up cheap." CJ told them. "The former owner got into some
trouble with his finances and had to sell fast. Trout had someone on the lookout
for a place for us and when they offered this, we snapped it up. They even found
us a nice couple that comes in three times a week to keep everything in order."

"We each of us have a set of rooms..." Chance started to explain, to be
interrupted by CJ, "...at opposite ends of the house, so he can snore all he wants!"

"Snore! You mean, so you can be alone with your harem!"

"Harem!" CJ wasn't having any of it. "It's simply that the ladies know a man of
qualities when they see one!"

"Yeah, makes me wonder why they keep falling for you, then!"

"Has retirement changed them, Margo? What do you think?" Matt was grinning. He hadn't felt so relaxed for a long time.

Margo was following the dispute with equal enjoyment. "Not at all! I don't think
anything could ever take those two down. Aaaahh!" A yawn escaped her. "Oh,
sorry!" Now she was blushing.

"Hey, it's our fault!" CJ was instantly contrite. "We should have given you some
time to rest before dragging you through the whole compound. Why don't you lie
down a bit before dinner?"

"Damn, I've done nothing but lie down for far too long!" Margo was furious all
of a sudden. "I'm not dead yet! I don't need another nurse maid! I want to go
places, see the sights and have fun! If you think you can treat me like your little old granny, you're in for a big surprise yourself!"

"Hey, hey, hey!" Matt looked at her, alarmed by the sudden outburst. "Easy,
Margo, CJ was only trying to..."

"I know exactly what he was trying to do!" There were red spots on her cheeks,
she was so angry with them for still treating her like an invalid. "It seems I've exchanged one set of jailers for another one. I thought this was going to be a holiday! I don't know what your plans are, but I..."

"Margo, please, listen to me!" Chance could see that she was talking herself
into a rage and that it was upsetting her far more than the occasion warranted.

"Of course, we're worried about you! When Matt called and told us what happened
we only wanted to help. This is a great place for a holiday. All we ask is that you take it easy for a while, until you're really well again. Nobody wants to curb you."

When Matt saw that the genuine anguish in Chance's words and CJ's obvious
distress did more to calm her down than anything he could have said, he wisely
kept quiet.

Margo took a shaky breath and rose from her chair, smiling at them uncertainly.

"I'm so sorry! Can you forgive me, CJ? Please?" She looked at her former
colleague, ashamed of her accusations.

CJ smiled, gave her a wink and blew her a kiss for an answer. "Already forgotten, sweety!"

"Tell you what," Margo tried to laugh, " a compromise? I'll lie down, but I'll do it on that glorious little stretch of beach you've shown us, the one that belongs to the house. How's that?"

"Great idea!" Matt tried not show his relief too openly. Chance smiled at her and CJ took her hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

"Pretty lady, a first class dinner will be waiting for you upon your return. And if you've been really good, we may have another little surprise for you."

"CJ!" Margo hit his arm in exasperation. " Careful! A girl can get tired of
surprises around you very soon." But she was smiling at him.

She turned and lightly stepped down to the small single-storied guest house, which she was sharing with Matt. Access to the beach was directly behind the house. All she needed was to change into her bathing suit and grab a towel.

When she was out of sight the three men exchanged uneasy glances.

"What did the doctors say, Matt?" Chance face showed how worried he was.

"They said she would be perfectly alright again,....in time!" Matt took a deep
breath. "The blow on her head broke her skull and the pressure on her brain sent
her into a coma. They say she will recover completely, but we ought to be prepared for some strange behavior from time to time."

"Like that little scene just now, I suppose?" CJ wasn't as carefree as he had
pretended to Margo. "I've heard of people forgetting who and where they were
after a shock to the brain like that. If she thinks we're pressuring her into things she doesn't want to do she might run out on us."

"No way, CJ, that's Margo we're talking about. She just needs a little time, that's all. She'll be fine!" Matt tried to convince himself as much as his friends.

*****

19.00 hours
CHANCE AND CJ'S VILLA

Matt was walking down to the beach to fetch Margo. He, CJ and Chance had talked
for more than an hour. Not just about Margo, but about all that had happened in
the past year. They had had a lot of catching up to do.

Then they had made plans for the next few days. The two men had excused
themselves for the next days from the work they had taken up when they had got
tired of acting the playboy. Chance had the chopper, which had come with the villa, standing by and if Margo was up to it and agreeable, they would fly to Maui tomorrow.

The prospect of a little sightseeing and some hiking would put Margo in a better
frame of mind, ... he hoped.

When he reached the end of the little path he immediately noticed the yellow and
white stripes of the sunshade CJ had placed there earlier that afternoon. Margo
seemed to have fallen asleep. Squinting against the low sun he couldn't make out
any movements.

It was a truly beautiful place his two friends had here, he mused as he was
approaching the tip of the brightly colored beach towel, that was all he could see of her.

"Hey, lazybones, it's time to change for dinner!" He called out.

No answer.

"Margo?"

Nothing!

Worried, he ran the last few steps. If anything had happened to her, he'd never
forgive himself. Damn, why hadn't he looked in on her earlier?

"Margo!! What's wrong?"

Hastily Matt turned the sunshade over. There was the beach towel.....and nothing
else! No Margo!

Matt straightened and looked around him. The beach was empty.

"Margo!"

There wasn't any human movement in the water either. Only the waves were gently
breaking on the pristine sand.

"MARGO!!!"

Matt took a few, hesitant steps towards the water.

"MAAARGOO!"

There was no sign of her anywhere.

Behind him Matt heard footsteps. Quickly he turned around. Chance was coming
down to him.

"What's wrong, Matt?"

"Margo,..... she's gone!"

Matt was looking at the other man helplessly.

*****

20.45 hours

"We've taken the chopper up and down the beach for as far as she might have gone. Nothing, no tracks, no signs of a struggle, it's as if she had never been there." Matt's voice sounded as desperate as he felt. Margo's inexplicable disappearance had shaken him deeply.

Chance and CJ were equally disturbed. The three of them were sitting around a big table in the living room of the villa. Chance had a map spread out in front of him, trying to determine other ways off this part of the beach than the ones they had already covered.

Lost in thought, CJ was biting the insides of his mouth without even noticing it.

Matt started fidgeting. Margo was missing. He couldn't just sit here, doing nothing. She needed his help. He had to do something.

Chance looked up. "Matt, we can't do this alone. We either inform the police, get them to look for her, too, or we call in some help."

"Call the fuzz!" The disgust in CJ's voice told his friends what he thought of that idea. "They wouldn't find her if she was standin' right there in front of them! No way! We've got to bring in our own people on this one."

"CJ is right. We're the only ones with any chance of finding her and finding her
soon .... and alive!" With at least some course of action mapped out, Matt was
looking for a phone.

*****

21.50 hours
SILVER STAR BAR
LOS ANGELES

"Benny Ray! Phone call for you!" The bartender was holding out the phone to the
ex-marine who went up to the bar, smiling apologetically at the pretty blonde he'd been talking to.

The smile disappeared as soon as he heard the first words the man at the other end of the line had to tell him. His expression turned grim.

"I'll call everybody together. We'll get the first flight out to you. I'll be back to you at this number as soon as I know our ETA, so you can have Chance or CJ standing by at the airport. ... And Matt, don't worry, we'll find her!" It was a promise.

*****

Thursday
7.25 hours
HONOLULU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Chance was talking to a pretty dark-haired woman, who was checking her computer
screen for some information, when he spotted Benny Ray, Rico, Drummer and Nick
making their way up to him through the mass of early morning travellers.

"Hi Chance, any news?" Benny Ray wasn't one for wasting time.

Chance nodded a greeting at him and the three other men. "Nothing, as yet. Linda
here," he indicated the woman behind the counter, "has been checking the flights
out of Honolulu for anyone who might possibly have been Margo, but nobody has
booked any flights under her name and none of the attendants can remember a
woman fitting her description board a plane during the last hours."

"So where does that leave us?"

"We go on looking for her right here on Oahu." Chance turned back to the woman.

"Thanks for your help, Linda. I'd really appreciate it if you and the other girls stayed on the lookout for our friend. If anything turns up, you know how to contact me."

With that he motioned the others to follow him out of the airport building.

"What if she left some other way. By boat or ship?" Drummer asked.

"CJ is checking with his pals at the harbor and we've asked a couple of friends at the marina to keep their eyes open. If she has left Oahu, we'll know soon enough."

They had reached the van. Chance opened the back door for the others to put their bags in and went round the side to the driver's seat.

"Damn! A parking ticket! That's exactly what I need right now!" He grabbed the
piece of paper stuck under one of the windshield wipers. Out of reflex he unfolded it and glanced at it while sliding behind the wheel. He froze.

Benny Ray had taken the other front seat, with Rico, Nick and Drummer piling
into the back.

Alarmed by the unusual posture of his friend, Benny Ray's instincts were kicking
in. "Chance? What's wrong?"

For an answer Chance simply held out the paper to him.

*****

MEANWHILE AT THE VILLA

Matt and CJ were going through their list of possibilities once more.

"Well, Trout's people have checked the hospitals and the police stations, discreetly, of course. No one matching her description has been admitted to any hospital on the islands and there's no record of an unknown female of Margo's type being arrested last night either."

"So, we can rule out an accident. And she hasn't been seen at the harbor or the
marina." CJ was rubbing his eyes wearily. They had been up all night, checking the beach and the area around the villa once more for any sign of Margo. They had found zilch.

"If she has suffered some kind of brain attack and went of her own accord, not
knowing who she is, where might she go?" CJ looked at the map for the hundredth
time, hoping for something to tell them where to search.

"In the plane, on the way here we talked about what we wanted to do except for
lying on the beach. You know, what places to go, what we wanted to see. ... " Matt's voice trailed off.

"Okay, maybe that will give us a clue. What was she interested in?"

"Nothing special. All the usual tourist stuff. For once, we wanted to be just like everybody else. Hike up to Diamond Head, visit Iolani Palace, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, go shopping in Waikiki, walk through the Museum of
Polynesian History, things like that. Hell, she even joked about going out looking for King Kamehameha's burial place." Matt smiled faintly at the memory.

"That doesn't help us very much."

"No. Damn, there's GOT to be some trace, some indication of what happened,
SOMETHING! " Angrily, Matt threw the book he'd been nervously leafing through
against the wall.

"Can we be sure that she didn't just leave? She was pretty well pissed off at us
earlier."

"Negative, CJ! She'd never disappear like that without leaving at least a note
telling us she'd gone. She would know we'd worry. You know her, too, CJ. No
matter how angry she'd be at us, she'd never do that. ... Something has happened
to her."

"Yeah, you're right. The way I see it, it's either she has lost her memory and is wandering around the island not knowing who she is or something or rather SOMEONE has made her leave that beach."

Both men looked at each other, fully aware of the consequences if it was the latter.

From outside the sound of male voices intruded upon them.

Chance, Benny Ray and the rest of their friends had arrived.

As they stepped through the big glass doors, one glance at their grim faces told
Matt and CJ that there was a new and important development. Slowly Matt got up
from his arm chair, facing the men who silently grouped around him.

*****

9.20 hours
AT THE VILLA

"Good morning Mr Shepherd, is it possible that you have lost something? If it is of any value to you, then you might perhaps be interested in our help at retrieving it. Don't call us, we will call you!"

"Signed: 'A friend'. What 'friend'? Who the hell is that damned message from?"

"Benny Ray, you've read that message 10 times at least and it still doesn't tell us more." All Rico got from the sniper was a dark look that would have scorched a hole into a steel plate.

"What's much more important is this, have they got Margo or are they, whoever
these jokers are, just some crooks who want in on the action, hoping to get some
bucks out of us?" CJ was pacing on one side of the living-room.

Matt was slumped back in his arm chair and the others were scattered around the
room sitting or leaning on various parts of the furniture.

The silence lengthened. Finally Drummer spoke up. "So, what are we gonna do
now?"

When the others looked at him, he growled. "Just hanging around here weepin' and
wailin' won't get us nowhere. And it sure won't bring the little lady back."

"You'd better not let her catch you calling her that!" Chance made a feeble attempt at lightening the atmosphere.

"She's obviously not here to catch anybody at anything, any fool can see that!"
Benny Ray glared at Chance. He needed an outlet for the tension which had been
building ever since he had heard of Margo's disappearance.

"Hey, hey, ease up, compadre!" Rico put a hand on the sniper's shoulder.

"We all want to do something to get her back." Matt saw that Rico would need
help to calm down Benny Ray. They were all tense and worried. The only one he
could trust to really keep his head at the moment was Drummer. He wasn't as close to Margo as everybody else and, besides, the ex-Navy SEAL had come through a lot worse, he was sure of that.

"But for any kind of action to be of any use to Margo we need more info. For one
thing we've got to be sure what kind of a situation we're dealing with. Rico," he turned to the medic, "what do you think of CJ's amnesia theory?"

"Well," Rico had already thought that one through on the way here. "I don't believe that her trauma went so deep. She was already well into recovery. All she really needed was some rest and some time away from it all to recharge her batteries, sort out her emotions, get rid of the stress, that kind of thing. ...I'm sure we can rule out amnesia."

"So, where does that leave us?"

"Somebody took her! She didn't jus' go fer a walk, she was abducted!" Nick could
see that everybody was agreeing with him. "Question is, who by an' why!"

"If we know the one, we also know the other." CJ flopped down on the couch, next
to Nick.

"So, now that we can be reasonably sure of foul play, where do we start?" With
Rico having allayed his fear that Margo had suffered some irretrievable brain
damage, Matt was back in control. They had a situation and that was something he
could deal with.

"Anybody with an axe to grind against her or the team as a whole?" Drummer got
down to the heart of the matter.

"Yeah, sure, lots, ... most of 'em dead or behind bars for good." Benny Ray tried to remember whether there had been any loose ends in one of their last missions.

"This isn't just against Margo." Chance said thoughtfully. He picked up the note
Benny Ray had thrown on the table. "They know you by name, Major." He was no
longer addressing the friend. Matt Shepherd was the boss now and Chance was back
to being one of the team. "They must even know CJ and I were part of the team."

"Yah, and they've been watching you! They knew that van was yours, when they
delivered their little puzzle." Drummer added.

Benny Ray turned to Chance. "What did that guard at the parking lot say?"

Chance shrugged. "Only that he couldn't be sure anyone had been near the van. He
thought he saw a couple of Chinese pass it by. But he didn't think they'd messed
with it."

"Doesn't take long to stick a folded piece of paper behind a windshield wiper." Rico remarked pointedly. "Hard to notice anything. Especially when someone else
just happens to be blocking the view."

"Chinese?" Drummer looked at the team members thoughtfully. "Ever had a run-in
with any of them?"

When everybody, except for Chance and CJ, tensed up, he whistled softly through
his teeth. "So you did! ... What happened?"

*****

"WOW! Quite a story!" CJ was wide-eyed with surprise when Matt had finished
giving them the bones of how he had found his father in Paris and what had
happened afterwards. Chance looked equally impressed. Only Rico wasn't
surprised. When they had got back to the States, Matt had asked him some medical
questions about his Dad's rehab chances. So he had known. And nothing would ever
really surprise Drummer.

"It's been more than a year, now. You really think they'd still be after us?" Matt wasn't sure that they were turning in the right direction.

"These guys have notoriously long memories. Believe me, I was stationed in the
East long enough to know." Drummer observed dryly. "And if they've even got the
slightest suspicion that something wasn't quite kosher with your Dad's
disappearance, they'll keep at it until they know for sure. ... That message would just be their style, too."

"How can we be sure, we're not barkin' up the wrong tree and wastin' precious
time?" Benny Ray looked about him questioningly. If they were right, Margo was
in danger. If they were wrong, her situation might turn out to be even worse.

"We'll tackle it from two sides." Matt reached for the phone. "I'll get Trout to do some digging and you," he was indicating Chance and CJ, "you're familiar with
what goes on on these islands. Find us some information to go on! Fast!"

*****

An hour later

Matt put the phone down and looked at Drummer, who was the only one still left
in the living-room. Chance, Benny Ray, Rico and Nick had gone off, to get some
supplies, medical and weapons-wise. CJ was on another phone in a different part
of the villa.

"So, it's possible, huh?" Drummer had followed the conversation over the speaker.

"You heard Trout. But let's wait until the others are back. Maybe CJ can tell us
more."

"Taking my name in vain, hm?"

Matt looked up at CJ who was coming back, a puzzled look on his face.

"CJ? Found out anything?"

"Might be! The Chinese are stirring alright, but not where you'd expect them to. At the official places there's nothing unusual, but according to my source, one of their business men has been behaving mighty funny since yesterday. Strange people coming and going from his office at all hours, hurried conferences in the middle of the night, but only with the boss himself and one or two of his closest associates, staff suddenly being transferred to places unknown. All highly unusual and very suspect if you ask me! ... What did Trout have to say?"

"Some guys from the Chinese embassy sure have been nosing around Washington,
carefully of course, ever since that time in Paris, but there's nothing definite and no reason why they should strike now of all times. Not from his end, at least."

"I sense a 'but' there!" CJ raised his eyebrows.

"Trout says there have been rumors. Rumors about a high ranking Chinese official
who would like nothing better than to get his hands on an American operative.
Purpose unknown."

"High ranking Chinese official? Government? Military? Who?"

"Again unknown!"

The frown on CJ's face deepened. "What I don't get is this: If these people want to know where your father is, why leave that message? If they've got Margo, wouldn't that serve their purpose?"

"I don't know!" Matt sighed.

"There's still too damn much that we don't know!" Drummer didn't like the situation one bit. "Like where they're holding her, for one, ... always assuming they're the ones who took her."

"Well I should know more about that by the hour." CJ stated confidently.

"Your source is that good?" Doubt was coloring Matt's already tired voice.

"Believe you me, he is!" CJ wanted to add something, but was interrupted by the
return of the rest of the team. They were lugging in several large boxes and some other gear.

"Your friend was true to his word, we've got everything we need. Help yourselves, gentlemen!"

They were starting for the boxes Benny Ray was indicating, when the phone rang.

They all froze. CJ went to answer it. He listened for a moment, grabbed the map,
searching it carefully before circling something on it, nodded once, listened again, thanked his caller and hung up.

"Bingo!"

"You're sure?" Matt desperately wanted to believe him.

"Mark is sure! He went on the assumption that they would be holding her at one
of the company's seldom used installations. So he had those checked. Since last
night there has been a lot of unusual activity at only one of them, an old abandoned cane farm half-way up into the Ko'olau Mountains. He says that suddenly the place has been sprouting guards and all kinds of security measures. ... Think they are guarding the cane?"

"This Mark, is he any good and what's more, can we trust him?" Benny Ray wasn't
convinced yet, especially not when Margo's life might be depending on answers
provided by someone he didn't know. "Who is the guy, anyway?"

"Uhm, Mark is okay! A bit whacky at times, but okay. He was born here, has heaps
of family and friends and friends of friends who tell him things. There's nothing he doesn't know about these islands, or knows how to find out. We can trust him."

If CJ was a bit reluctant, the others didn't seem to notice. But the glance he and Chance exchanged didn't go unnoticed by either Matt or Drummer, though both
kept quiet. Matt because he was sure he could trust these two, Drummer because
he trusted Matt. If Matt chose to ignore the matter, that was alright with him.

"Alright, folks, let's gear up and go get her back! They won't be expecting us in broad daylight. ... CJ, did your friend give you a description of the place?" Matt wasn't going to waste any more time.

*****

"What if they've already started working on your girl? You say she isn't very stable emotionally at the moment. How much pressure will she be able to take?"

Drummer was seated next to Rico, behind CJ and Benny Ray in a covered Range
Rover, going up into the Ko'olau Mountains on the route CJ's mysterious friend had suggested. Matt and Nick were following them in the van with most of their equipment. Chance was standing by with his helicopter at a place not far away, in case they needed another, faster escape route.

"Margo will be alright!" Benny Ray answered the former Navy SEAL emphatically.

"Hey, remember how they brainwashed Matt's Dad. Granted, it probably took them
years, but there's still a lot they can do to her in a few hours, especially if it's only information they want." CJ was clearly worried.

But Benny Ray wasn't having any of it. "Shut up, CJ! She'll be okay!"

Rico and Drummer exchanged an uneasy glance.


*****

14.10 hours
CLOSE TO AN ABANDONED CANE FARM
KO'OLAU MOUNTAINS

"There are two guards at the gate, another one on the roof and I make it three
inside the perimeter! That's six targets that we can see. No problem with taking them out from here! I have a clear shot!" Benny Ray was lying among the brush next to Matt, carefully scrutinizing the terrain in front of them through his sniper scope.

The vegetation around the old farm was very dense. Nobody had taken care of it
for years, and the people who had moved in now, obviously hadn't had the time to
do much about it yet.

The team had left the vehicles further down the mountain and hiked the rest of
the way up to the place.

Matt, Benny Ray, and Rico had taken up position facing the front of the large
complex of buildings, while the others were making their way to the back. The plan called for Drummer and Nick to start the assault from the mountain side, with CJ setting up some fireworks to create a diversion if anybody should be discovered prematurely. It was Benny Ray's job to take out any opposition on this side and provide cover for Matt and Rico, who would enter the buildings from the front and try to find and free Margo.

"Shepherd!?" Drummer's voice over the head set sounded urgent.

"Talk to me!"

"I don't like it! Apart from a lousy electric fence and some perimeter guards there's nothing on this side. This whole set up stinks!" The older man sounded deeply worried at the apparent lack of security measures.

"You're sure there are no hidden guards, alarm triggers or traps?"

"How are we supposed ta see 'em if dey're hidden?" Nick was indignant.

Rico rolled his eyes at this particularly intelligent observation.

"Shut up , Delvecchio!" Benny Ray snarled.

"Shut up, yourself, Riddle! Jus' who do ya think ya are, huh?"

"Now listen here, you little twerp..." Benny Ray was in no mood to take anything
from anyone.

"Whoa! Hold it right here, boys! Save the fightin' for later. No sense in doin' these thug's job for them and attack each other! So, ease up, will you! We're here to do a job, remember!" Drummer's dry voice put an immediate stop to any possible argument.

"CJ, got your little toys in place?" Matt ignored the by-play. They were all running on nerves and extremely worried. Once more he had reason to be glad for Drummer's calming presence. Yet, despite the other man's reservations Matt was
determined to go through with their plan. If Margo was in there, he didn't dare lose any more time. It still was a very big 'if', but their best bet so far.

"Just say the word, boss!"

"Wait until they notice us! We want to keep this quiet as long as possible. No use in alerting the whole compound. ... Drummer, are you set?"

"On your mark!"

"Alright, Drummer, you're a go!" Matt nodded to Benny Ray who calmly sighted on
the first of his targets and started to silently take them out, one by one, with his tranquilizer darts.

As soon as the first of them fell, Matt and Rico started forward. Quickly they
slipped through the now unguarded gate, crossed a big meadow and ran up to the
main building of the farm, crouching on both sides of the heavy door. Meanwhile
Benny Ray had taken out all the guards and was following Matt and Rico.

Suddenly gun fire could be heard from the back of the building. Benny Ray ran up
to Matt and looked at him. "Drummer and Delvecchio!"

"Yeah, looks like Drummer was right, there was more than just the fence and
those guards. So much for stealth!" Several armed men exited the buildings and
spread out on the grounds. The two coming through the main door were quickly and
silently taken care of by Benny Ray and Rico.

Before any of the others could notice the three men, Matt spoke into his head
set. "CJ! Now!"

Hardly a second later several explosions at the far end of the farm drew the guards away from this side.

Unobtrusively, Matt, Benny Ray and Rico slipped through the door into the
building. Finding the hallway empty, they cautiously moved along, up to a door
at the end of the hall. Before they could make any further move, the door opened
wide, revealing Margo, bound and gagged, pale, but otherwise unharmed, held
between two of the Chinese guards, who were pressing guns against her temple and
her side.

"We said not to call us, Mr Shepherd! But then, you're not known for listening to orders, are you?"

The voice came from their left, where a second door had been hidden by a corner
of the hall. It belonged to another Chinese, this one in his fifties and a business man from his clothing. He was accompanied by two more heavily armed guards.

"If you indeed value Miss Vincent's life, I suggest you gentlemen put your weapons down."

The outer door had opened behind Benny Ray and showed another set of guards,
aiming their guns at the three men.

Matt looked around him and nodded at his two friends. Cautiously they lowered
their weapons and put them on the floor. One of the guards left the older man's
side, stepped forward and kicked them out of their reach.

"Since you seem to have the means of contacting your friends outside, please, do
so and tell them to follow your example. We don't want to attract any undue
attention with lots of gun fire and unexplained explosions."

"CJ, Nick, surrender!" Without hesitation, Matt spoke into his head set.

"Boss? What's wrong?" Nick wasn't about to just lay his weapons down without a
good reason.

"Margo's here! They're holding her at gun point! She'll have to pay if you won't
put your guns down. So, do it! That's an order!"

A short time later, Nick and CJ were led into the farm house, hands on their
heads and clearly unhappy at this unforeseen development.

After they all had been relieved of the rest of their weapons and equipment, they were herded into a large room at the back of the building.

"Damn, take the gag off her! What's the use of it now?" Matt started to get to
Margo's side, but was pushed back by one of their captors.

"We need to talk without distractions. Better show Miss Vincent back to her
room!" The well-dressed leader signaled two of his men to take Margo out through
another door.

Then he pointedly looked at Matt and continued with a cold smile. "Please, don't
forget to invite your friend, Mr Walker, to join us as well. We don't want him to feel lonely and abandoned wherever he is."

One of the guards held out a head set to Matt, who took it and called Chance to
take the chopper up to the farm and give it up without resistance.

"Well, Mr Shepherd, this is as far as you and your friends will get. Here your
way ends. From this moment on you are all guests of the People's Republic of
China and eventually you will serve my country very well." The man's icy smile
sent a feeling of cold dread down Matt's spine.

"You've got a nerve, old chap! Trying to take our whole group! Think we won't be
missed?" CJ observed contemptuously.

One of the guards hit him in the small of his back with his gun, sending the Brit staggering a few steps, before Benny Ray caught and steadied him.

"Please, Mr Yates, don't play me for a fool. I know exactly who and what you are. Nobody will miss you or come after you. Your government would never admit to the existence of your little team. Your friend, Mr Trout, will wonder what has become of you, but even he will give up after a while, when you disappear without any sign. Especially as you came here of your own accord, so nobody knows anything about us. You may have arrived somewhat earlier than we had planned, but the timing isn't important anymore. You are in our hands, that is all that matters now."

Before any of the others could react to this statement, Matt addressed himself to their captor. "Who are you? .... And what's the purpose of all this? What do you hope to gain?"

"My name? My name is of no consequence to you. If you like, you may call me ...
Mr Lee. As for why I am doing this? It is quite simple, Mr Shepherd, you see, the man you killed in Paris, when you discovered your father, this man was my brother. Capturing you and your associates is a matter not only of professional, but also of great personal achievement for me." He paused, distracted by the sound of a helicopter landing close by, turned to one of his men and issued an order in Chinese. The man left the room and shortly returned with Chance.

"And now that your team is complete again, we will talk!" Motioning to his men to separate Matt from the others and lead him off, 'Mr Lee' turned to the other team members before leaving the room, too. "I want you all to remember, gentlemen, that Miss Vincent is still subject to your good behavior! Please, don't attempt anything foolish."

Benny Ray, Rico, Chance, CJ and Nick were made to follow their guards to another
part of the farm house. There they were shoved unceremoniously into a small room. CJ looked with distaste at the bare walls, the one, barred window and remarked. " So much for our daring rescue!"

"Shut up, CJ! We're still alive, aren't we?" Benny Ray was much more in control
now that he knew that Margo was okay, relatively speaking. He examined the room
carefully and, satisfied, nodded to Rico.

Rico got a hold of Nick's arm, drawing him closer, and quietly asked him: "What
about Drummer?"

"They didn't get him!" Nick whispered back. "I don't think they even realized he
was there. When Matt ordered CJ and me to surrender, I saw him take cover behind
some rusty, old farm gear. He's still out there somewhere."

*****

Meanwhile
OUTSIDE AT THE BACK OF THE OLD FARM

With everybody's attention on the prisoners, Drummer had seen his way clear to
make it to the back of the farm house unnoticed. When Matt hadn't mentioned him
by name in his request they surrender, he had kept quiet, hoping for the chance
their enemy wasn't aware of his presence.

So far nobody had come looking for him.

He had observed Chance's arrival in the chopper and his subsequent capture from
out of his hiding place. After Matt had ordered the pilot to give himself up, the ex-major had conveniently "forgotten" to turn the head set off again. So Drummer had been able to listen in on the conversation and consequently knew the set up. He'd have to find Margo first, then free the others.

Cautiously the old soldier tried the back door. When it opened under his touch, he silently slipped through the crack, crouching on the other side to check the terrain. Voices were approaching his position. Quickly he flattened himself next to an old cupboard, weapon at the ready.

Two of the Chinese guards turned the corner, relaxed and no longer alert, now that their prisoners were secured. Drummer shot them, using another silenced tranquilizer gun. He hastily caught them both before they could fall down and alert anyone to his presence. Then he dragged them into an empty side room, leaving them there bound and gagged with their own clothing, before locking the door.

Quietly, Drummer moved on along the corridor, expecting to be discovered any
minute. He froze, kneeling against the wall, as suddenly somebody was clearing
his throat close by on the other side of a corner. Cautiously he peered around it with a small mirror. Another armed Chinese guard was standing in front of a door about ten feet away. He seemed to be alone.

Still watching, the ex-SEAL was waiting for the guard to turn away from him. When he did, Drummer silently crossed the distance between them, grabbed the man and snapped his neck in one fluid movement. Lowering the body to the floor he tried the door handle. It opened to reveal Margo, still clad in her bathing suit and bound to a bed.

Drummer slid inside with the dead man in tow and quietly closed the door again.

"Drummer!" For a moment Margo wasn't sure her eyes didn't deceive her. But he
couldn't be a ploy of her captors, they probably didn't even know the former Navy man existed. And neither was he a figment of her imagination. She hadn't thought about him for ages. So he had to be real. She almost cried with relief.

Drummer cut her loose and helped her up. "You alright?" He looked her over
carefully, seeing no obvious damage.

"I'm fine!" Margo took a deep breath. "Let's just get us all out of here!"

Drummer had taken off his cammo jacket and handed it to her. She accepted it with a grateful smile and quickly put it on, wrapping it around her slim body and fastening it with the belt.

"Any idea where they're holding the others?" When Drummer held out the guard's
gun to her, she took it without hesitation, checking it quickly, and moved to the door, listening for sounds from outside.

"Behind a door with a guard in front of it?"

Drummer opened the door and they both slipped out of the room, each of them
covering one side of the corridor.

"Alright, let's go find 'em!" Drummer motioned her to stay behind him.

"I've got your six!" Margo told him. For a second Drummer looked at her, as if in doubt, then he nodded and moved out down the passage, grinning to himself.

They passed several rooms, all empty, until they heard someone approaching.

Quickly they stepped into a room to let the man pass. Drummer then grabbed him
by the throat, at the same time twisting the guard's arm behind his back, while
Margo pressed her gun under his chin.

"Where are our friends being held?" Margo asked him softly. "Careful, you make
any noise to alert your friends, MY friend here will wring your neck."

"Like a Thanksgivin' turkey!" Drummer growled menacingly. "You better heed the
lady and tell us what we want to know, if you wanna live."

With a squeak, the man answered Margo's question. "Third door, next passage,
storage room."

"How many guards?" When he didn't answer Drummer's question promptly, Margo
prodded their captive none too gently with her gun.

"Two."

"How many are there all in all? And where is everybody?" Drummer emphasized his questions with a light squeeze on the guard's throat.

"Twenty-four!" Another squeeze hastened the breathless answer to the second
question. "Three getting your cars, five outside on guard."

Drummer started adding up numbers. "Eight, I took out three, four with this one,
Benny Ray got six, who still ought to be out, that's eighteen. Two guarding the
others, that leaves four others still around somewhere for us to deal with."

He turned to Margo. "Do we need him for anything else?"

"Can't think of anything."

Margo hadn't quite finished her sentence, when Drummer tightened his hold on the
guard's throat, causing him to pass out. Soon they moved on, leaving behind
another bound and gagged Chinese guard in a locked room, though Drummer had
mumbled something about obviously getting soft in his old age, either that or he
had been corrupted by being together too often with certain people.

Stopping at a staircase they found the corridor behind it empty. Puzzled, they
exchanged a look and silently went on, Drummer in the lead, Margo covering their
six. Before they had reached the corner, they could hear the voices of two people conversing in what sounded like Chinese.

They looked at each other. Drummer raised an eyebrow questioningly. Margo nodded and handed him her gun, slipped out of the jacket, took a deep breath and
started running. As soon as she turned the corner and the two guards caught sight of her, she stopped, feigning surprise and fear, turned on her heel and ran back the way she had come.

As expected the two men called out something and followed her.

The moment they rounded the corner, Drummer took out the one nearest to him,
hitting him hard with his gun. Meanwhile Margo had stopped and neatly
immobilized the second one with a kick and a chop at his throat. After checking
them over quickly to make certain they were out of it, Margo and Drummer
hastened to the heavy steel door the two had been guarding, to find it locked.

"Benny Ray, CJ! Are you in there?" Margo, who was putting the jacket back on,
called out. Their last fight had surely attracted some attention, it had been rather noisy. So they had better hurry.

"Margo? That you?" Benny Ray's voice sounded back at her through the door.

"Get away from that door!" Drummer ordered. With the need for silence gone he
simply shot off the lock and kicked the door open.

"Margo! Are you alright?" Benny Ray and the others crowded around her, carefully
checking her for any visual signs of physical abuse.

Margo flashed them a relieved smile. "I'm fine, .... really!" She added emphatically when she noticed the doubtful looks that passed between her friends. "They didn't do anything to me. I was just the bait to lure Matt and you others here, that's what they told me right away. Anything else would have come later." For a moment she seemed to shudder.

Then something else caught her attention. "Where's Matt?"

While Benny Ray and Rico quickly filled her in on what had happened after she had been taken away, Drummer and CJ were watching both ends of the corridor, and
Chance and Nick dragged the two unconscious guards into the storage room,
relieved them of their weapons and bound them.

From the front end of the building they could hear shouts and the sounds of running feet.


*****

"It looks like your friends suffer from the same malady as you do, Mr Shepherd.
They don't listen to orders, either." Frowning, 'Mr Lee' looked at Matt, who sat in front of him, bound to the chair and watched by two guards on either side. Two other men stood in front of the door.

Matt just returned the look, a slight smile playing around his lips.

When their leader motioned to the guards at the door, one of them left the room.

"Don't think this will save you from your fate, Shepherd!" The polite Chinese mask was beginning to slip. "You will pay for what you did to my brother. The slight on his name will be cleared, if necessary by your death."

As more shouts and shooting could be heard, Matt's captor barked a couple of
orders at the two guards standing next to Matt's chair. They unbound him and
roughly jerked him to his feet, leaving his arms still cuffed behind his back.

The door opened and the fourth guard came running back, hurriedly giving his
report. Since it was in Chinese, Matt couldn't understand the words, but their
meaning was unmistakable. The reaction they provoked was all the proof he might
have needed. His team was coming.

"Your friends might be free again, but they haven't won, yet. And they will not!"

Another order sent the guards out of the room, dragging Matt off between them,
their weapons pressed against his sides. The other two men had taken up their
customary positions, flanking their leader. Cautiously they moved on through
several rooms, Matt and his companions in the lead, the others following behind.
They stopped when they reached the front door, weapons at the ready, obviously
expecting to be met with opposition at any moment.

The fighting was clearly moving from the back of the house closer to their position. It would eventually reach them. Matt could see the man on his right throw a nervous glance back over his shoulder in the direction of the steadily approaching sounds of gunfire. Matt knew his team was gaining ground, but it would take them some more time to get to him, time he somehow had to buy them.

"You don't really think you're gonna make it, do you?" Matt asked almost
conversationally. "The way I see it, this whole thing is taking place without your government's sanctioning. I'm willing to bet they don't even know anything about it. Nor would they want to."

"Shut up, American!" The guard on his left hit him a blow to his head. At another gesture, the guards hauled him outside through the big front door of the farm house.

"You are wrong, Mr Shepherd, we will get away and you will accompany us. We will
even use your friend's helicopter for our escape!" The man's calm might be cracking, but his confidence and, more than that, his hate would still keep him
going. "My people will be very grateful to me for bringing them the man who
ruined Operation White Dragon. You will present them with another opportunity to
try out their skills. Who knows, in time you might even surpass your father."

Before Matt could manage an answer, they were roughly dragging him on.

Outside everything seemed to be quiet. No one was around. All the fighting was
still happening inside the house. The helicopter was parked in the big, overgrown meadow in front of a dilapidated barn. One of the Chinese guards was leaning against it, his back to the house, watching the road.

They had taken several steps towards the helicopter and were passing some rusty,
old farm junk, which lay piled in a heap to one side of the house, when first one of the men, who were by now almost half carrying Matt, jerked and fell to the side and then the other followed suit not half a second later.

Matt reacted before any of the remaining guards could make a move. He dove
behind the remains of some kind of machine, trying to make himself as small as
possible.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the man at the chopper turn around, drop down into the grass for what little cover it would offer and aim his weapon at the three men still standing openly in front of the farm house. Rico! At the same time a familiar voice called out from behind him.

"Drop 'em or die like your friends there!"

Benny Ray was crouched against one corner of the barn, his sniper rifle sighted
on the enemy.

"You'd better listen to the man!" CJ's words came from the other side of the farm house, where he lay half hidden behind a couple of barrels with another gun trained on the group.

The Chinese leader shouted an order, but before his men could act upon it in any
way, the fighting noises from inside the house suddenly stopped.

"All secure over here!" Drummer's deep voice drawled from the direction of the
entrance door. "Think twice before you make a wrong move, boys!"

A cautious glance showed Matt that his team was all around them. He relaxed. The
situation was under control again.

*****

Saturday
19.30 hours
CJ'S AND CHANCE'S VILLA

The party would soon be beginning. At the moment there were only the team members on the brightly decorated terrace. Chance and CJ had invited some of
their Hawaiian friends, both male and female, for an impromptu luau. Inside the
house, preparing some kind of exotic drink for Margo, there was already the first of those friends, the no longer so mysterious Mark, who had come accompanied by his sister, a stunning girl in her early twenties.

Nick hadn't left her side since she had been introduced to them. He and Benny Ray were keeping her company, though Nick had done all the talking so far.

"Amal, what a beautiful name!" They could hear him enthusing. "Dat's the first
Hawaiian name I've ever heard! What does it mean?"

"Oh, it's not Hawaiian." The beautiful girl responded with an enchanting smile. "It's Arabic. In honor of a very dear friend of our mother's. It means 'hope'."

"Yeah, and I HOPE you'll send this jerk packing, if he's making a nuisance of
himself." CJ had watched the twosome with narrowed eyes. "The guy is a pest!"

"Hey, watch what ya callin' people, will ya?" Nick glowered back at the Brit.

"Hi Amal," Chance had come up to the table, too. "Can I kidnap you for a dance?
Might give our peacock here time to cool off a bit."

With a silvery laugh Amal rose and accepted Chance's hand. They went down the
steps to a small corner reserved for dancing, where a three-man Hawaiian band was already playing popular dance tunes.

Taken by surprise, Nick could only watch them leave, open-mouthed.

"Keep your dirty paws off her, Delvecchio, she's a nice girl! Besides, we got here first! Ever heard of advantage to the home team?" CJ's whispered crack drew
a malicious grin from Benny Ray.

A sputtered squeak was all Nick could muster. Before he could come up with any
more, Matt, Margo and Rico joined them. "Having fun?" Margo asked with a grin.
They had watched Nick's attempts to impress Mark's sister with unconcealed
amusement, especially as she didn't seem to be impressed at all.

"Looks like the lady's got your number!" Rico grinned at Nick.

"My number! I'm not the one who should be careful about what he's sayin' around
women!" Nick glared at the others. "You oughtta ask your gigolo friend here what's goin' on when he says he's workin'! We saw him yesterday!" He fixed CJ with a significant look.

"A gigolo!? CJ?!" Matt turned to the former SAS demolitions expert. "I'd have
never thought it of you!" Matt was teasing CJ, clearly delighted at his friend's
growing embarrassment.

"Aw, come on!" CJ's face had taken on a decidedly reddish hue.

"You should have seen him yesterday mornin', boss! He was playing the ladies like an expert! And they LOVED it! They were practically hangin' on his very lips!" Benny Ray was having just as much fun as Matt. "And that's not all they were hangin' on to!"

"I don't BELIEVE it!" Margo's lips were twitching and her eyes were slowly filling with tears of suppressed laughter. "THAT's what you do for a job?" She and Matt hadn't accompanied Benny Ray, Nick and Rico when they had followed CJ to find out more about the job, the Brit had been so secretive about. But they had already got an ear full about it.

CJ started fidgeting. "It's nothing like what you're thinking. We're just showing some nice girls around the islands, that's all."

"Some nice girls!" A wheezing Rico couldn't resist joining in the fun, too. "You've got to picture it to really see the beauty of it! There was our CJ, in the midst of all those pretty ladies, who were just dying to get their hands on him. All of them talking at him non-stop and trying to hang on to a piece of him. And he was so busy explaining proceedings to them, he was absolutely helpless about it."

"An' ya should have seen 'em when dat Mark arrived to play guide." Nick was
adding with glee. "About half of dem practically fell over deir feet to get to him and attach demselves ta him. I swear, dey were droolin' on him! The whole pink, purple and blue haired lot! Droolin' over two guys who were at least forty years deir junior! Jus' imagine havin' dat to deal with every day! You two sure must be exhausted by de end of de day!"

By now the whole group was bent over with laughter.

"Oh God, CJ! So you've finally found your true vocation!" Margo was giggling so
much she could hardly speak.

"Come on, it isn't half as bad as you lot make it sound." Chance and Amal had
rejoined the group and Chance was trying to make an attempt to exonerate CJ.
"One of Mark's business ventures is a kind of sightseeing and island hopping service for groups of elderly people from the mainland, mostly women in their sixties and seventies. CJ drives them around whichever island they want to see and I take care of the island hopping part with the chopper. Mark is the local guide. Sometimes Amal takes over a tour, too. That's all there is to it!"

"All!!!" Nick wasn't about to let them off the hook so easily. "What about dose
clingin' and gushin' pretties? Dey didn't just wanna see the sights, dey were afta much more dan dat!"

"Nick!" Amal reproved him sternly. "I'm disappointed! How can you imply anything
like that? CJ, Chance and my brother are nothing like that! We run a sightseeing
business and our visitors are really very nice, old ladies!" The way she looked
at Nick instantly wiped the grin off his face.

"Uhm, Amal, I'm sorry, I didn't, ... I mean I ..." He began to stutter, but Amal was already turning away.

"I'll see how Mark is getting on with his drinks. Maybe I can help him."

"Looks like the last remains of any chances you might have had just vanished down the drain, Delvecchio!" Benny Ray at least tried to sound regretful as they were watching her enter the house. The others were grinning openly.

"Ahem, and how are ya feeling, Margo?" Ignoring the grins, Nick quickly changed
the subject, trying to sound solicitous, albeit not very successfully.

Taking pity on him, Margo answered the question.

"Fine! A hundred percent better, in fact! Ask Rico."

"She's right." The medic added with a smile at everybody's inquiring glances. "No damage of any kind. No heightened stress factor. No headaches. Nothing! She's as good as new. It's as if the kidnapping was what she needed to get over the after-effects of the coma."

"Maybe we should let her get abducted more often!" Nick was fast bouncing back
with his quip. "If it's so good fer her."

It got him a dark glance from Margo. "Watch it, Nick, you know what happened the
last time somebody tried to cross me."

"Yeah, she took that Chinese thug out rather efficiently and without much ado. The guy never knew what hit him!" Drummer had joined the group as well.

Margo flashed him a smile. "You weren't bad there either."

Drummer shrugged, but smiled back at her. " Anyway, there's something I wanted
to tell you, little lady."

Instinctively, Matt winced at the ex-SEAL's way of addressing their teammate. CJ
was trying to suppress an anticipatory grin and Rico and Nick were pointedly
looking the other way, a pained expression on their faces. Only Benny Ray was
watching the scene with interest.

"You can cover my six any time. I'd be honored. We made a good team out there!"

Daryl Drummer held out his hand to her. Rico and Matt both tried to step forward, to stop the inevitable, but Margo was faster. She took his out-stretched hand, stepped up to the older man, and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you, Daryl. I'm very grateful to you for coming to my rescue. Who knows,
if it hadn't been for you, we might all be rotting in a small cell in Beijing by now. .... Oh, ... and by the way, you may call me Margo." She winked at him, stepped back and disappeared into the house, too.

Open-mouthed, four flabbergasted men stared after her. Then, as one they turned
to face Drummer, who calmly returned the look, taking a sip of his drink. Benny
Ray was grinning to himself.

After a moment, CJ cleared his throat and changed the subject. "What happened to
our slit-eyed friends, anyway?"

Matt was still trying to grasp the surprising reaction of this unpredictable female. "Oh, ... " He sat down and turned to the Brit. "Trout's people took care of them. He called this morning to say that the whole bunch had been rather unceremoniously carted back home. He doesn't think we'll ever see anything of 'Mr Lee' and his friends again."

Drummer nodded. "He'll probably simply disappear, never to be seen again. The
whole thing is too much of an embarrassment to the Chinese government. They lost
face."

"You mean dey...?" Nick made a cutting move across his throat.

"It's their way." Drummer shrugged. He sounded almost philosophical about it.

"What's still bugging me is why they went through with the thing now ... and how
they did it." CJ was still baffled.

Matt shifted in his seat to find a more comfortable position. "I think I can answer that. When they took me for their little talk, the old man told me quite a lot. He was at the airport on Wednesday, recognized Margo and me and saw his chance for revenge. He called in a couple of favors from an old acquaintance on the island to get first Margo in a surprise raid from the ocean side and then, through her, the whole team. Seems like he made it his business to find out as much as he could about us after what happened to his brother in Paris. Somehow he must have either obtained or put together complete dossiers on each and every member of the team. Trout is already looking for a possible leak."

"So, that's how he knew about Chance and me, too." CJ nodded.

"Yes, the only one he didn't know anything about was Drummer. That's where we
got lucky. " Matt smiled at their friend, who raised his glass in an answering salute.

"Yeah, mate, that's what I wanted to ask you the whole time, what brought you to
LA? Last I heard of, you had retired to Florida." CJ looked at the former Navy
SEAL.

"You mean 'retired' like in Veteran's home?" Benny Ray asked slyly.

Matt almost choked on his drink, but Drummer didn't move a muscle.

"I may be a bit more seasoned than you, but that doesn't put me in a Vet's home
yet." He growled in mock anger. "I was just visiting some old friends in LA and
thought I'd look in on you guys, too. Plain good fortune, that's all!"

"Seasoned? Now that's a word I like. Much better than being called over the hill
or just plain old." Rico added to the banter, but Drummer wasn't to be drawn.

"Some things simply get better with age."

Amal, Margo and Mark were leaving the house, carrying glasses of Mark's creation. They had only caught the end of the conversation.

"You mean like wine or champagne?" Mark asked.

"Nope, more like Navy SEALs!" Drummer retorted grinning.

"I'll drink to that!" Matt raised his glass at his friends. "To friends, old and new ones, and to tomorrow!" Laughing, they all joined him in the toast.

Tomorrow! The word had a nice ring to it. They'd been lucky there would still be a tomorrow for them. Tomorrow their vacation would really start. Sunbathing, sightseeing, shopping ... who knew, maybe they'd even go looking for King
Kamehameha's grave. With this bunch, everything was possible.

The End

Return to Author's Page

This site has been designed, created and maintained by Meadows V.
Copyright © 1998-2001 by Meadows V.
All rights reserved.

Email us at
vsof@hotmail.com