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 A missing scene from "Hired Guns".

GRAND COMOROS

"The people of Grand Comoros will protect the capital until our
president returns," Halle Mustafa informed the team with more then a
touch of pride.

And God knew, she was entitled, Matt thought to himself. It was an
extraordinary thing to have done – to stand up in the face of a more
powerful force and wrest back her country. And Matt knew that for
all the orders and cash coming from the exiled government in Paris,
the real work had been done here, by Halle and others like her. He
wished them well.

Matt gathered up his team with a glance and started down the steps.

"Wait!" Halle exclaimed. "I know you wish to return home, but you
are tired, and hurt." Her gaze fell on Margo, who noticed the scrutiny and straightened slightly. "Please...let us find you a place to rest for the night...it is the least we can do."

"Thank you, ma'am, but we'll be fine," Matt replied, trying to rebuff the offer as gently as possible.

Halle chuckled softly. "Forgive me, but I do not think you would make through even our airport looking the way you do right now."

"Lady's got a point," C.J. admitted grudgingly.

"And, even if by some miracle we did make it through this airport –"
Chance began.

"We'd get arrested soon's we landed in the next one," Benny Ray
completed the thought.

Matt looked around at his people. Now that the adrenaline rush was
wearing off, they were dead on their feet. Especially.... "All right, but just for a few hours. Thank you."

"No, my friend, thank you," Halle reiterated.

* * * *

Halle installed them in a spacious suite that had evidently been the
quarters of the French Colonial Governor's family...Matt suspected
that it had probably been occupied most recently by General Djohar.
She promised, over Matt's protests, to send up some food and first
aid supplies.

Margo had immediately taken possession of the larger bathroom. The
echoing hum of running water carried into the other rooms of the suite, and above that, the gut-wrenching sound of Margo's sobs.

"I'm feeling a powerful urge to go find that bastard and make Margo's
threat a reality," Chance remarked to the room at large. He was
lounging in a chair with his usual leonine grace while C.J. cleaned a
cut on his head. By unspoken agreement, they'd left the master
bedroom for Margo.

"You and me both, mate," C.J. replied in a low voice.

Benny Ray sat cleaning his weapon, with an expression that boded ill
for the bastard in question.

Matt emerged from the bedroom carrying some clean shirts that he'd
appropriated from the General's closet. "Help yourselves, gentlemen," he said, draping them over the back of a chair. "I'm gonna go use the other shower." There were nods and murmurs of assent, then he spoke again, "And I expect you all to stay put. Djohar and his thugs are in the hands of the legitimate government – they're not our concern any more."

Benny Ray bounded to his feet. He gestured angrily towards the door
that hid Margo from view. "That son of a bitch had his slimy hands all over her – and she is my concern."

"I saw what he was doing," Matt replied in a flat tone.

"Maybe, sir...but you didn't see her eyes," C.J. said quietly.

Further argument was cut off by a polite tap at the door. It was Halle, with a tray of food, a pail of ice, and a first aid kit.

"Thank you kindly, Miz Mustafa," Benny Ray said politely as he relieved her of her burden.

"How is your friend?" she asked, not seeing Margo, but easily recognizing the sound of tears – a sound she'd become all too familiar with.

"I think she'll be fine, ma'am," Benny Ray answered soberly.

Halle smiled tiredly. "Good."

There was a muffled sound of gunfire from the vicinity of the basement and the four men automatically reached for their weapons.

"It's all right," Halle assured them. "Justice is swift tonight for those who have abused my people for so long." Her eyes showed regret, but her voice was firm and her head held high.

"So much for enlightened government," Chance sighed as the door
closed after her.

"That's another reason I'd like us to be out of here as soon as possible," Matt stated.

"I think I'm gonna like this new government," Benny Ray approved.

"I'm gonna go take that shower now," Matt told them. "Remember what
I said."

A few moments later, the water was shut off in the other room and
there was silence.

"How long you think she's gonna be in there?" C.J. wondered, shifting
uncomfortably in his chair.

"As long as she wants to be," Benny Ray told him bluntly.

"Look, mate, my kidneys-"

"C.J., I do not wanna hear about your kidneys!" Chance retorted.

There was a sound of something dropping and shattering in the
bathroom, followed by a muffled curse. The three men exchanged
concerned glances, and Benny Ray got up and walked over to the door.

"Margo? You OK?"

"I'm fine," she answered quickly – too quickly. There was a fine, ragged edge to her voice that betrayed her. "I dropped a glass."

"Well, whenever you're ready, I got some stuff to clean up them cuts
on your face."

"OK," Margo called through the door. She tried to keep her voice
steady, but knew she was failing dismally. She bent gingerly and
retrieved the comb from the shards of glass on the floor. Her hands
wouldn't stop shaking.

Wincing in pain, Margo slipped back into Benny Ray's shirt. It smelled faintly of him – a compound of cordite, sweat and the plain soap he favored – and she found that strangely comforting. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and walked out into the sitting room.

Benny Ray grinned with relief when he saw her. "Well, now, Miss Margo, you look as fresh as a spring morning."

"Yeah, right," she said shakily, smiling a little, just the same.

"Hey, you're still the prettiest thing in this room," Chance said in his easy manner.

"I'm not too sure how I should take that," Margo snorted as C.J. barged past her into the bathroom.

Benny Ray slung an arm around Margo's shoulders, being very careful
not to exert any pressure on her back. "C'mon, darlin', let's get
you fixed up."

* * * *

Margo sat very still as Benny Ray gently cleaned the lacerations on her face. She tried not to flinch, but he could see the strain in her eyes, and he tried to be especially careful. "Anything you want to talk about?" he asked quietly.

"I didn't tell them anything."

"I know that," Benny Ray stated calmly.

Margo looked up and met his eyes – he really did mean it. "Sorry. It's been a long day."

"I know. All I meant was...if you need to talk...I'm here to listen." His hand cupped her chin, tilting her face up to the light.

With a gentle smile, Margo reached up and covered his hand with her
own. "Thanks."

"Any time," he chuckled. "Lemme see your wrists." She complied and
he examined them carefully. "Not too bad. Now lemme see the hand
you used to slug that creep." He looked from the swollen knuckles to
her haunted eyes. "You know how to hit someone so's you don't hurt
your hand," he admonished gently. "This needs some ice."

"I wasn't thinking too clearly just then," Margo admitted.

"Benny Ray," Chance called from the doorway, "there's a free bathroom
if you want to clean up."

"Go on," Margo encouraged. "I'm OK."

Benny Ray leaned in and rested his forehead against hers. "You sure
you're all right?" he whispered.

"Yeah, I'm sure." She was lying...and they both knew it.

"Try to get some rest, OK?" He wanted to hold her, but wasn't sure how well that gesture would be received just now.

"I will. Where's Matt?"

"He's talking to Halle about getting us out of here," Chance supplied. "You want me to get him?"

"No..."

"Well then, how about if I get you some ice for that hand...Slugger?"
he inquired with an impish grin.

"That would be nice."

"Maybe something to eat?" Chance coaxed.

"I don't know about that," Margo replied dubiously. The thought of
food made her stomach roil.

"Well, I'm gonna get you something to drink so you can swallow some
aspirin," Chance decided. Very carefully, he helped her swing her legs up onto the bed and lay down on her side. "I'll be right back," he murmured.

Margo nodded. She was acutely aware of every tortured nerve ending
in her body, and she was desperately tired, but when she tried to close her eyes, she could still feel her skin crawl where Djohar's lieutenant had touched her. She heard Chance's familiar footfalls enter the room, then pause. "I'm awake," she said softly.

"I was really hoping you'd have dozed off." He set a glass of juice and a small pill bottle on the nightstand, and perched on the edge of the mattress. With infinite care, he lifted Margo to rest against his chest. "All right?"

"I'll make it," Margo told him in a strained whisper.

Her choice of words made Chance wince. He wondered how Matt could have said that after witnessing the scene they'd walked in on...and
he wondered where the damn fool was now. He handed Margo two of the pills, then the glass. "Why don't you try and drink some more of that?" he encouraged after she'd swallowed the meds.

"Not just yet," Margo answered with a wan smile.

"You afraid you'll heave if you try to eat something?"

"How poetically you phrase it," Margo murmured, sidestepping the
inquiry.

"I'll take that as a yes. It's OK, you know...hell, I was ready to upchuck when I came to in that cage. And that was nothin' compared to the time-"

"You've made your point," Margo interjected. "Can we have a new
topic, please?"

That sounded more like the Margo they all knew and loved, and Chance relaxed somewhat. He retrieved an ice pack from the nightstand and pressed it gently to Margo's injured hand.

"I didn't tell them anything," Margo whispered.

"Nobody thinks you did," Chance assured her.

Margo tensed at the sound of gunfire. "What was that?"

"The, ah, judicial branch of the new government is in full swing this
evening," Chance explained. He carefully slid out from under Margo,
settling her against the pillows. He brushed her hair back from her face. "Why don't you try and get some sleep?" he suggested.

Words Margo had spoken earlier echoed through her head. 'I'll sleep... when you're dead.' "Chance?" she asked suddenly.

"What do you need?" he asked, returning to her side immediately.

"I...did General Djohar..."

"I don't know," he answered gravely. "Somehow, I suspect he's pretty
high on the list though."

* * * *

Matt entered the suite's sitting room, quietly pulling the door shut after himself. C.J. lay snoring on the couch, and Chance was sitting at table, slicing a piece of fruit with his favorite knife. Benny Ray emerged from the smaller bathroom toweling his hair.

"How's Margo?" Matt asked.

Chance spitted an innocent piece of fruit with his knife and glared at Matt. "She was tied up, beaten, and nearly raped. How do you think she is? Sir."

"She also seems to have the idea that we think she talked," Benny Ray
added.

"Margo didn't talk," Matt stated with firm conviction.

"I ain't the one who needs convincin'," the sniper replied.

Matt nodded slowly. He paused in the door of the master bedroom.
Margo looked so small and fragile, huddled there. He hoped she was
sleeping, as he glided over on near-silent feet. He should have known better.

"Matt?"

"I'm here."

"I didn't tell them anything, Matt."

"I know that," he said reassuringly. He saw a tremor run through her
body and realized that she was crying. Moving quickly to her side, he sat on the edge of the bed and gathered her into his arms. "Hey, what is it? What's wrong?"

"You don't understand," she sobbed, "I didn't tell them anything...but...if he had gone much farther..."

"Margo, don't go there," Matt told her resolutely. "Everyone has their breaking point, and no one knows exactly what that is until they come face to face with it. The only thing that matters is that you held out – you didn't break."

"This time," she whispered.

"This time is the only time that counts. Hell, I know plenty of men who would have folded from the flogging, without..." Matt crushed her to his chest, tightening his arms around her until a tiny whimper of pain reminded him of her injured back. "I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair. "God, I'm so sorry." He held her until her ragged breathing evened out and her tears ceased. "If it helps...the man who..." Matt swallowed bile, remembering what he'd seen when he burst into that room. "He was one of the first ones convicted of crimes against the people. He's... he can't hurt anyone, anymore."

"The general?"

"Somehow, I don't think he's going to make it til dawn."

"Score one for humanity," Margo replied with a touch of her usual
acerbic wit.

"Yeah," Matt murmured as he softly stroked her hair. He sat that way
for a long time, feeling her body gradually relax against his own.

There was another round of muffled gunfire from below. A few moments later, he heard the door to the suite open and a quiet conversation taking place, then the door closing once more.

Finally, Chance appeared in the doorway. "That was Halle. She says
that she'll have a truck take us to the airport as soon as we're ready. She also said to tell you that the General's trial is over. He was just executed."

"Thanks," Matt mouthed.

Chance nodded and left.

Looking down at Margo, Matt saw that she was sleeping peacefully at
last...and outside, a new day was dawning.


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/

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Thank you to: Grace (as always!) for proofing and editing.

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