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.

THE SILVER STAR
HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA

"Listen up, people," Matt addressed his fledgling team, "Trout just
handed us a hot one. Any of you ever heard of a shooter called
'Viper'?"

"Yeah, Boss," Benny Ray laughed, "'an I've heard of Santa Claus an' the Tooth Fairy, too."

"Well, Santa and the Tooth Fairy haven't just been hired to
assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister – Viper has. Now, Trout's
intel suggests that the hit will take place at the Middle East trade
conference."

"That's only forty-eight hours away!" Margo exclaimed.

Matt nodded gravely. "Which is why Trout could only arrange transpo for two of us."

"And who might the lucky parties be?" C.J. inquired.

"Margo and Benny Ray," Matt answered. "The rest of us will follow as quickly as possible using commercial transportation. Ideally, we
want to eliminate the target before the conference starts. Trout
will be a very happy man if you two manage to make the rest of us
unnecessary this time around."

"Uh, Major?" Benny Ray interrupted, "If we want this guy taken out so bad, wouldn't it be better to send in two shooters?" he asked,
carefully not looking at Margo.

"And how would these two shooters figure out what they're supposed to be shooting at? Look, didn't we already have this discussion?" Matt demanded heatedly.

"Look, sir-" Benny Ray began.

Margo folded her arms across her chest and frowned irritably. How
many times would she have to prove herself to this man?

Matt sucked in a deep breath and then very slowly let it out again.
"OK, fine...you want to assign personnel? Be my guest. We have two jobs to fill. We need one shooter – capable of taking out a single target from among a crowd at a great distance. We also need one intel operative to get him to his target. That operative needs to
speak at least one local language, and have contacts in-country for
intelligence and weapons for the rest of us. Who would you pick?"

The sudden silence was deafening.

"I'm waiting," Matt said impatiently.

"If you wanted something blown up," C.J. considered, "then I'd say I was your man, but I'm better at making big messes than small ones."

"I hear that," Chance muttered.

C.J. continued as if he hadn't spoken. "I speak Arabic, but I don't
have any contacts in Israel at the moment. I suppose I could dig
something up, but who knows how long that would take?"

"Thank you, C.J., that's why I had you on the backup team for this
one," Matt responded candidly. "Anyone else?"

"Well, I could probably make the shot," Chance said modestly, "and I speak some Arabic, but in Israel, quoting the Koran is not the healthiest of pastimes."

Matt nodded. "Margo?" he asked with exaggerated politeness.

"I speak fluent Hebrew, Arabic and some Aramaic," Margo replied
without hesitation. "I have contacts in several branches of the IDF
as well as non-official sources, and I can get you weapons." She
fixed Benny Ray with a challenging stare as she spoke.

"Hell, she's got me beat by a mile," C.J. conceded.

"Me, too," Chance added.

"And me," Matt admitted. "So, if there are no further objections,
would the two of you please get your gear together? Your flight
leaves in ninety minutes. It's military, so Benny Ray, you can take
whatever you want in the way of weapons."

At the word 'weapons,' Benny Ray felt a twinge of guilt, recalling
how, a week or so back, he'd made casual mention of a minor
refinement he wished could be made to that fancy, custom-built sniper rifle that Margo had provided him. The weapon had disappeared for a couple of days, then she'd presented it to him, with his enhancement perfectly implemented. "Yes, sir," he mumbled. He caught Margo's eye as he moved off to gather his equipment and winced slightly. It was going to be a long two days.

Matt touched Margo's arm lightly as she passed him. "Try not to kill
each other, OK?"

"Matt, I'm not the one who started this," she stated tartly.

"I know," he soothed. "Benny Ray's a good man...he'll come around."

"If he lives long enough," she muttered.

"It's your job to see that he does," Matt reminded her.

"I wasn't talking about Viper," she answered sweetly.

MILITARY TRANSPORT,
EN ROUTE TO ISRAEL

Benny Ray watched his companion out of the corner of his eye. She
was asleep, but he didn't look on that as a sign of weakness, rather
one of common sense. Once they landed, they'd be too busy to get any rest. He liked Margo – he really did. She was funny and smart, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Under other circumstances, he'd probably be overjoyed at the thought of spending a couple of days with a woman like her.

As if sensing his scrutiny, Margo blinked up at him. "You should get
some sleep," she admonished with gentle practicality.

"I know...just thinkin', is all."

"What about?" Margo asked curiously, straightening in her seat. She couldn't figure out what exactly his problem with her was, and she'd take any opportunity to draw him out.

He eyed her once more, then figured 'what the hell' and decided to
just spit it out. "Mostly, I'm wonderin' how the two of us are
supposed to find this guy – who I ain't even sure exists – and take
him out - in just a little under two days."

"Finding him is my job," Margo informed him coolly. "And I assure
you, he does exist."

"The stories I've heard about this guy," Benny Ray shook his head in disbelief. "Nobody's that good."

"He does exist and he is that good. I have sources in-country who
are on the alert and looking for him as we speak."

"Well, if you've got people on the lookout for him," Benny Ray
pressed, "why'd you even have to come along? Couldn't you just
co-ordinate all this from home?"

Margo's jaw dropped in disbelief. Her voice stayed low, but her words were clipped and heavy with anger. "Aside from the fact that
these are my contacts – who, by the way, probably wouldn't even allow themselves to get within ten feet of some redneck who looks, sounds, and acts like he just fell off the turnip truck - I am too much of a professional to allow anyone to risk their life on second-hand
intel."

"You sayin' you don't even trust your own sources?"

"I don't trust anything I haven't verified myself. It's the only way
to stay alive in this business," Margo snapped.

Benny Ray was silent for a ling time. "If you're sayin' you came
along to protect me, I'm grateful for the thought," he said
carefully, "but couldn't Chance or the Major have checked out the
intel?"

Margo sighed in exasperation. Why couldn't he understand? "No," she said finally. "There are people here whom I've fought with, side by side – they'll talk to me, because we share history."

Benny Ray nodded, understanding. "There's blood between you."

"Yes. And there are others who will help me because it's a way
to... " Margo's voice trailed off and pain filled her eyes. "... to
honor someone's memory."

Benny Ray saw the flash of raw agony and wondered, but knew this was hardly the moment to question her about her personal life. "OK," he said neutrally. "Why are you so sure this guy exists?"

"Because I've seen his handiwork. The last time he surfaced... I
don't know...maybe if we'd had a top-notch shooter..." Margo turned her head to face the window, but she was really looking back to the past.

Benny Ray tentatively reached out and touched the back of her hand as it lay on the armrest. "Well, you've got one now. We'll make real sure that this Viper guy don't bother no one ever again." To his surprise, Margo turned her hand palm up. He responded by closing his callused fingers gently around hers.

* * * *

Benny Ray's eyes snapped open as a soldier tapped his arm.

"Sorry, sir," the young woman apologized, "but the pilot is getting
ready to take us down."

Benny Ray nodded his acknowledgement and turned to his companion. Margo's head rested against his arm. Sleep softened her features to innocence, and he tried again to reconcile this image to the woman who had contacts among arms dealers and intelligence brokers. He felt the plane begin its descent and shook his head to clear it. For better or for worse, they were stuck with one another.

"Margo?" he murmured, shaking her softly.

She awoke quickly, tensed to fight, only to relax again as she
realized who was beside her. "Are we there yet?"

"Just about."

"How much time do we have?" Margo inquired.

"'Bout thirty four hours."

"Then I guess we'll have to work fast."

"I hear that," Benny Ray replied.

"Let's do it," Margo said, holding out her hand, palm up.

Benny Ray grinned and slapped her outstretched hand with his own.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

"Remember what I told you," Margo admonished.

"Yes, ma'am," he muttered, "eyes open, mouth shut."

"Look, I'm sorry about what I said on the plane," Margo apologized.

"No need," he replied quietly. "I only been here an hour and I can
see fer myself that I don't blend in. You sure do, though," he added
in admiration.

"That's my job," Margo told him simply. She checked the number of the house in front of them, then walked up the path and knocked on the door.

The man who answered was in his thirties, wearing neatly casual
attire, as befitted a homeowner in this prosperous, middle-class
neighborhood, but there was something about him that said 'soldier'
to Benny Ray. He kept his expression carefully neutral as the
gentleman greeted Margo with a musical flow of Hebrew that was
completely incomprehensible to him. Margo responded in kind, and the man nodded briefly, then stepped aside to usher them into the house. Hoping like hell that she knew what she was doing, Benny Ray stepped inside.

The stranger pulled the door shut, then enveloped Margo in an
enormous bear hug. "It's been too long, Margo," he murmured in
slightly accented English.

"I know," Margo whispered.

There was an obscure pain in his dark eyes, one that was mirrored in Margo's. They parted, and the man offered his hand to Benny Ray. "My name is Daniel. Welcome to my home."

"Thank you, sir," the sniper replied. He didn't offer his name and
Daniel didn't ask. Benny Ray shot a wary glance at Margo and she
nodded slightly.

Daniel observed their by-play tolerantly. "I know you have urgent
business to attend to. If you'll come with me, I'll see what my
people can do to help." With that, he turned on his heel and led the
way down the corridor. He paused in front of a door and fished a
small brass key out of his pocket, then unlocked the door and flipped on the light switch. They crowded into the landing, then waited while Daniel locked the door behind them before leading the way down the steps.

The basement looked like any other basement the world over – washing machine and dryer, hot water heater, storage shelves and assorted junk. Daniel rolled back a worn throw rug and produced a folding knife from his pocket. He used the blade to probe around the edge of a board and pry it up. To Benny Ray's surprise, what lifted free wasn't one board, but rather the cover of a hidden trap door that was set into the floor. Daniel gestured for them to precede him and Benny Ray's hackles started to rise. Margo shot the former Marine a warning glance and headed down the ladder herself.

A man working at a computer terminal looked up, reaching for his gun, and relaxing only when Daniel called down to him.

The lower chamber looked an awful lot like the basement of the Silver Star. Besides the computers, there was a short-wave radio set-up, a police monitor, even old Morse code equipment. Battered metal lockers lined one side of the room, and a workbench took up another.

There was a dull thump as the trap door closed above them, and then Daniel came down. "I've got people checking out the venue for the conference and David here has been pulling records from Viper's other known hits." He looked to Benny Ray. "We're hoping that an expert marksman like yourself would be able to compare the two and come up with the most likely place to catch Viper."

"I'll do my best," Benny Ray promised.

"Excellent. If you'd like to begin with what we have now, you may do so. There are bunks, food, a shower and toilet just through there," Daniel told them, indicating a small passageway. "This was
originally intended as a bomb shelter," he explained in answer to Benny Ray's surprised expression. "Should you require anything else, please just ask."

Benny Ray moved over to the computer desk. "Let's see what you got."

JFK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
NEW YORK

"G'day," C.J. said pleasantly to the dour customs official.

The officer glanced up from C.J.'s papers with a peculiar expression. "State your name, please."

"Christopher J. Yates."

The customs man seemed to be listening intently to C.J.'s accent.
Out of sight of the team, he pressed a small button and two security
agents appeared beside him. "Could we have a moment of your time, Mister...Yates?"

"'Scuse me?" C.J. spluttered in disbelief.

"We would like to have a few words with you, in private. If you'll
step this way?" One of the agents had a hand resting lightly on his
baton – it wasn't a request.

"What are we gonna do, Major?" Chance whispered.

"Nothing," Matt ground out from between clenched teeth. "If we try
to get involved, they'll just detain all of us, and we can't afford
that right now."

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

Benny Ray carefully studied the floorplans of the venue for the trade
conference. "There," he decided finally, stabbing a finger at the
drawing. "If he gets up there, he'll have a clear field of fire. He
can take out anyone on the platform."

"But how would he get out again?" Daniel asked, scrutinizing the
plans.

"There's a picture window – here," Benny Ray pointed. "He can rig a line, rappel straight down to the parking lot and be gone in about a minute."

"That's how you'd do it?" the Israeli operative asked intently.

"Yessir."

Daniel nodded. "Then how would you take him out?"

"Here," Benny Ray indicated another point on the blueprint.

"All right then," Daniel said firmly, "I'll get word to the
appropriate parties. Perhaps we can, as you say, 'get lucky.'"

"Mister, I surely do hope so," Benny Ray replied fervently.

"Damn!" Margo swore.

Benny Ray hurried over to look over her shoulder at the screen of the laptop. The satellite connection was fuzzy, but he could still make out Trout's scowl. "What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Matt and the others have been detained at JFK," Margo told him.

"Detained how?" Benny Ray demanded.

The image of Trout sighed in frustration. "Mister Yates was stopped
at customs. Evidently, there is a terrorist alert for members of the
IRA – anyone who sounds even remotely like they come form the UK is being stopped as a matter of course."

"Well, sir, couldn't you fix that?" Benny Ray wanted to know.

"Yes, I had him out within an hour. Unfortunately, they'd delayed
the flight to offload his baggage. By the time I'd gotten everything
straightened out, a serious electrical storm had set in – everything
is grounded until it clears."

Benny Ray's oath was considerably more sulfurous than 'damn.'

"So what you're saying is that we're on our own?" Margo asked –
merely for clarification, of course – she already knew the answer.

Trout sighed heavily. "I'm afraid so. Is there anything else I can
do from this end?"

"I don't think so," Margo responded after a moment's quick thought.

"Keep me informed," Trout instructed before breaking the connection.

Daniel approached diffidently. "My friends, already you have given
us the best chance we've ever had to stop Viper. Anything else that
you need, if I can provide it, it is yours."

"Thank you, sir. I really hope we don't have to take you up on
that," Benny Ray answered wearily.

Daniel looked form one to the other. "I have people checking out the conference center. There is nothing more to be done for the moment. Why don't you rest?"

Margo stretched her neck, working out a kink. "That's probably not a bad idea," she admitted, shutting down the laptop.

Benny Ray followed her through to the next room, unconsciously taking up a sentry post at the door as Margo flopped down on one of the cots.

"Benny Ray?"

"Yes, ma'am?" he replied automatically.

"We're safe here – get some rest."

Benny Ray thought about it for a moment, then moved over to sit down on the bunk next to hers. "Can I ask you somethin'?"

"Sure," Margo answered.

"How come you trust this Daniel guy so much?" Benny Ray wanted to know.

Margo glared at him, but her expression softened when she read only simple curiosity in his eyes. "It's a long story, but...you were
right when you said there was blood between us, just not quite the
way you were thinking. We both lost someone that we loved very much. You see... in...another life... Daniel would have been my
brother-in-law." Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears and she looked away quickly to hide them.

Benny Ray reached out and gently covered her hand with his own. "I'm real sorry," he said sincerely. "Was it Viper?"

She shook her head. "No. Just...someone like him."

"They never caught that guy, did they?" Benny Ray guessed shrewdly.

"No," Margo whispered.

He tightened his grip on her hand. "Well, we're sure in hell gonna
catch this one, I promise you that."

Margo gazed into his honest blue eyes and allowed herself to believe. She squeezed his fingers in return.

JFK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
NEW YORK

Chance tried once again to settle himself comfortably in the plastic
airport chair – and failed dismally. The sound of rain pounding down on the roof and thunder crashing overhead did nothing to lighten his mood.

"I can't believe they thought I was a terrorist," C.J. said for about
the twentieth time.

"C.J.," Matt warned, "you are possibly the least popular person in
this airport right now, so do us all a favor and put a sock in it."

"Hey! It's not like I came in here waving a gun and yelling 'arrest
me, I'm a terrorist' is it?" C.J. protested indignantly. "Besides,
didn't they give us these lovely seat upgrades to make up for the
aggravation?"

"Yeah, C.J., that's wonderful," Matt shot back, "except that the
first class seats aren't going to arrive in Israel any faster then
the coach seats, on account of the fact that the plane can't take
off!"

"Matt," Chance said quietly. "They'll be fine."

"I hope so," Matt muttered. He squeezed his eyes shut against the
dull throb of an encroaching headache. 'Please...if anyone is
listening...let them be all right.'

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

"My people haven't spotted anything unusual at the conference
center," Daniel was saying. "Is there any other vantage point Viper
might use?"

Benny Ray studied the plans carefully once more. "I don't think so,
sir. This is really the only useable position." He shook his head.
"You ain't gonna catch him. From everthin' I've heard, he's too good for that. All this information you got – he's got it, too. He knows what he's doin,' and when his target takes center stage, he'll be there."

"Looks like we get to do this the hard way," Margo quipped
mirthlessly. "You take the high ground, and I'll take ground zero."

"Oh, no," Benny Ray replied flatly. "I don't want you in the field
of fire."

Margo patted his arm condescendingly. "I'm a big girl, Benny Ray,
and I can take care of myself. Besides, I think you can tell the
difference between me and a hitman. I trust you," she added merrily.

Benny Ray refused to be amused. "Margo, this guy is a professional
assassin. I don't want you anywhere near him."

"I'm a professional, too," Margo reminded him. "That auditorium is
going to be filled with civilians and press – maybe – just maybe –
we'll catch a break and I'll be able to take him out at close range,
so you don't have to fire across a crowded hall."

Benny Ray opened his mouth, then shut it again. He really couldn't
argue with her logic. "You wear a vest, you hear?" he said finally.
"And you be damn careful!"

"Aren't I always?" Margo answered with an impish smile.

* * * *

"Anything?" Margo murmured into her comm.

"Negative," Benny Ray replied tersely. He could see Margo quite
clearly through the scope of his rifle as she patrolled the gallery
where he expected Viper to take his shot.

"You were right," Margo said quietly, "he's got a perfect shot from
here."

"Not to worry, darlin'...I've got a perfect shot from here," he
answered.

Margo didn't bother looking for him. She knew from the blueprints
that he was on the opposite side of the auditorium, a level or two
above the stage, but she also knew that she'd never spot him. She
smiled pleasantly at two people who were hurrying to their seats,
anxious not to miss the opening remarks. Margo swept a practiced eye over them out of habit, but they weren't carrying anything, and
besides, they knew that Viper worked alone.

"Heads up," Benny Ray muttered.

Margo heard the tension in his voice and fought the urge to stiffen
up. Instead, she forced her self to lean casually against the window
looking out. "Talk to me," she whispered, barely moving her lips.

"Coming up on your right, you got a janitor. He's pushin' one of
them big ol' wheeled trash cans."

"I'm on it." Daniel had supplied her with police I.D. for just such
a purpose. If they were wrong, she could apologize later.
Plastering a professional smile on her face, she took out the badge
and approached the 'janitor'. Margo greeted the man in flawless
Hebrew, demanding to inspect the contents of the trash barrel.

"Move right," Benny Ray instructed, trying to keep a clear shot. He
saw the suspect dip a hand into the pocket of his grubby coveralls,
and there was a dull gleam of light on metal. "Gun!" he bellowed.

Margo reacted instantly, shoving the trash barrel into her opponent
and drawing her gun in one fluid motion.

"Get clear!" Benny Ray ordered, "I got him!" Holding his breath, he
pulled the trigger, just as the target lunged for Margo.

Three shots echoed through the chamber, causing instant panic. Viper tumbled backwards as his head was blown away. Benny Ray wasn't sure, but he thought he saw another bullet hole in the shooter's chest. He looked for Margo and felt his heart stop – she was lying on the floor, her left side soaked with blood. Then she sat up, scrubbing at the blood with her sleeve and the sniper felt dizzy with relief. Security personnel were filling the area, including Daniel, who produced some sort of badge that the others respected enough to let him lead Margo away. He'd wrapped his arm around her waist and she seemed to be leaning heavily on him. Benny Ray hoped it was an act. At any rate, it was time for him to beat feet for the rally point.

* * * *

Daniel offered Benny Ray a hand up into the back of the van, grabbing the sniper's gear bag as he made beeline for Margo.

"Are you all right?" he demanded, looking her over carefully. Margo
had discarded her ruined jacket and Kevlar vest and was scrubbing the blood from her skin with a towel. She looked a bit rumpled, but
otherwise none the worse for wear.

"I'm fine," she reassured him with a smile.

"You're sure?" he pressed, tipping her face up to ascertain that all
that blood really wasn't hers.

"I'm sure."

"You scared the hell out of me, you know," he told her seriously. "I
saw him drawing down on you..."

Margo laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Hey – if you hadn't warned me, that might have gone a lot differently. And Viper wasn't the only
one who got off a shot, you know."

"But you had better aim."

"Not as good as you – that shot was incredible!"

"Thank you, ma'am," Benny Ray responded in his best courtly manner. "But I never would have been able to make that shot without all your fine help." He looked as thought he wanted to say more, but didn't quite know how.

Margo saw his discomfiture and decided to let him off the hook. "Now aren't you glad I came along?" she teased.

Benny Ray pretended to consider that for a moment. "Well," he
decided finally, "you're prettier'n Chance...and you don't snore like
C.J., so yeah...I'm glad you came along." He ducked the mock swing Margo aimed at him, then used her own momentum to pull her tight against his side in a friendly bear hug.

BEN GURION INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
ISRAEL

Matt, Chance and C.J. stumbled stiffly through the airport.

"Please, God, let there be a hotel room waiting for us," C.J. moaned.

"After we check in with Margo and get a sitrep," Matt reminded him sternly. "I only hope those two haven't killed one another," he
added under his breath.

"I don't think so, Major," Chance said, grinning.

Matt followed his pointing finger and his jaw dropped in disbelief -
Benny Ray and Margo were strolling through the airport arm in arm, smiling and chatting like old friends.

"Wonders never cease," Chance chuckled, shaking his head.

By this time, Margo and Benny Ray had spotted them and were headed their way.

"What happened to you guys?" Margo asked, eyeing their rumpled
clothing and generally unkempt state with amusement.

Matt noted that she was looking disgustingly neat and well rested.
"Well, for starters, C.J. here just happened to fit the terrorist
profile of the day in New York," he began sourly.

"Then Mother Nature decided to make up for last summer's
drought...all in one night," Chance continued.

"And so we spent six hours sitting in the airport and sixteen on a
plane and here we are," C.J. concluded. "And you?"

"Yeah," Chance prompted, "what's the deal with this Viper guy?"

"He's got himself a real cozy slab at the morgue," Benny Ray assured them.

"Oh," Matt said flatly. "Which one of you...?"

Benny Ray pointed at Margo, and Margo pointed at Benny Ray. Then they saw the expressions on their teammate's faces and started laughing. Feeling slightly foolish, the others joined in.

"Come on," Matt invited, "you can tell us all about it on the flight
home."

Finis.

Copyright © 2000 Kathleen Klatte
All Rights Reserved

****************************
Miss Kathleen A. Klatte
kat@gsidigital.com
kawklatte@aol.com
Kath725@xoommail.com
http://www.homestead.com/Kath725/ 

Feedback and commentary are most welcome.

Disclaimer: SOF is the property of Rysher, et al; this is a
recreational endeavor, no profit is being made and no copyright
infringement is intended.

Historical Note: Takes place at some point between "
Genesis" and
"Power Corrupts"

Thank you to: Grace (as always!) for proofing and editing, and to
the folks on the SOF Fanfic List and the Rysher SOF Forum for
answering my ballistics' questions .

 

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