A Jungle in Peru
The Intel was bad. Very bad. The team had taken out who they
thought was their primary target. It turned out they took out
his twin brother, set up as a decoy. Domingo had known they were
coming. Now they were running through the jungle.
When they stopped for a rest, Matt clenched his fists. They
had been assured Domingo would be out on the veranda. Alone,
eating breakfast. Next thing he and the team knew men were swarming
from the compound.
Cindy peered at him with her hazel colored eyes, debating
whether to approach him or not. When Matt was angry, sometimes
staying away was the best approach.
Nick and Benny Ray were a few feet away arguing about something
Nick had done, Margo and Deke were standing there making ready
to play referee at any moment. One of these days, Nick was going
to go to far and Benny Ray would just out and out kill him. Cindy
stifled a smile, then glanced back at Matt. Swinging her rifle
to her back, she approached him.
"Hell no. We barely got out of there alive. What the
hell happened back there?"
Placing her hand on his forearm, Cindy shook her head. "I
don't know. Obviously it was a trap. The question is who set
Rubbing the back of his neck, he eyed Cindy. "You okay,
"I'm fine. We all are. Under certain circumstances, all
would be considered normal," Cindy explained, motioning
with her thumb to the growing argument.
"Hell. The tangos are going to hear them a mile away,"
Matt grumbled as he started toward his team. "Hey guys.
Keep it down."
Benny Ray narrowed his gaze at Nick, then glared at Matt. "Major,
keep him away from me, or I won't be responsible for what happens."
"Delvecchio," Matt began to warn him.
"I didn't do nothin'," Nick fussed.
"Just leave Benny Ray alone," Matt advised.
"All right people, let's get a move on. I'd like to get
to the extraction point with all of us in one piece. I'll scout
ahead, Benny Ray, you watch our sixes. Cindy, you keep track
of everyone," Matt assigned them as everyone put their tactical
radios back on and turned on the power.
Cindy walked over to him. "Be careful," she whispered
"You too," Matt returned with a wink.
Weapons at the ready, they began the trek through the dangerous
jungle. The deep growl of a big cat off to one side startled
them into stopping, Cindy running into Nick's back.
"Move it, Delvecchio."
"What was that?" Nick asked, a little nervousness in
"Nick, if you don't stop whining and move it, I'm going
to let you find out what it was," Cindy said with menace
underscoring her voice.
"Hmph," he uttered as he squared his shoulders and
started walking again.
When Nick was a few feet ahead of her, Cindy nervously scanned
the surrounding brush. She wasn't about to admit to anyone the
sound had frightened her as well.
Margo had fallen back and was talking with Benny Ray as they
walked, Deke a few yards in front of them.
"What do you think, Benny Ray?" Margo asked the sniper.
"About what?" he asked, keeping his attention trained
on their surroundings.
"Our chances of getting out of here alive?"
"Bought the same as any other time," he replied with
a calm voice.
Without warning, they all heard a soft snick and a thud over
Cindy said into the microphone, "Who was that? Benny Ray?"
"Right here baby."
Nick was still within view, but she went ahead and called him.
"I'm here," he grumbles, still put out with her.
Cindy stumbled once when there was no answer. "Matt? Are
you there? Matt! Can you hear me?" she called out. She saw
Nick turn around and come back her way as she was yelling. Benny
Ray, Margo and Deke ran up. Her eyes wide, she looked at the
rest of the team. "It was Matt. We've got to find him,"
she stated emphatically as she started forward.
Benny Ray grabbed her arm to pull her back. "We need a plan.
Stop a minute. Hold on there."
Cindy glared at her fellow sniper and snarled, "Get your
hand off of me."
"We need a plan. And you know Matt would never go for us
just goin' off half-cocked. Settle down."
"Matt. . . . " Cindy began, getting in Benny Ray's
"Is a fighter. Stand down, Varanti," Benny Ray ordered,
being the second-in-command. "Watch her," he told Margo
so he could go think for a minute. This is what happens when
you have relationships between team members, Benny Ray thought
with disgust. This was why he'd never develop a relationship
Cindy shot the man a glare, but stood there to wait. She had
no desire to go off on her own and get lost in the jungle.
Nick walked over to Cindy while they waited for the sniper to
come up with a plan. "Look, about awhile ago . . . I never
heard anything quite like that."
"It's my first time in the jungle, Nick. But I know enough
not to stop when there's a jaguar in the area."
Nick's eyes grew round and he gulped. "Jaguar?" "Yeah,
Nick. The cats grow big in the jungle," Cindy told him as
she walked away.
Benny Ray returned to the group. "Okay people, listen up.
We're going to split into two groups. Me and Margo, Cindy, you
take Nick and Deke. Maintain radio contact at all times, and
we meet up every hour. Me and Margo will go left, you guys go
right. Any questions?"
No one had any, so the two groups split up.
Deke led the way, cutting through the brush with his knife, Nick
watched their sixes. Cindy kept her eyes out for hidden dangers
and any clues. They had walked for about a mile, the five of
them chattering amongst themselves on the radios when they heard
Matt's voice come over.
"Matt? Where are you?"
"I went back to the compound. I wanted to check something
out. I'll see you all in a bit. Benny Ray? "Yeah Major?"
"Tell Margo I love her."
Cindy's eyes went round when they heard no more.
Benny Ray's voice came to every one's ear. "Move to the
center people. We need a meeting."
As they started to turn to the path on the left, Cindy saw a
dark red splotch on some leaves. She knelt to check it out. Blood,
fresh blood. She clenched her fists, willing herself to retain
composure. And when they had Matt out safely, she would have
it out with him about his feelings. As Cindy started to get up,
she found his gun laying under some brush. Picking it up, she
looked it over before moving onto the meeting. Something was
wrong here, and she wasn't sure what it was.
"What have you got there?" Benny Ray asked as Cindy
strode through the brush, the rest of the team already with him.
"Matt's gun. I found it near some blood out there,"
she informed him shakily.
The Kayan Tribe
Matt looked up at the savages standing over him, his wrists
tightly bound behind him. "Who are you?"
"We are the Kayans," the man who was obviously the
chief said to Matt as he put a collar with a rope attached to
it around Matt's neck.
"What did I do to you?" Matt wanted to know, his shoulder
throbbing as it still bled from the piercing of the arrow.
"Domingo needed bait to lure your team back. We'll be heading
there shortly," the man explained.
"Why would you help him? What has he ever done for you?"
"He's got my daughter, the princess. If I don't do this,
he'll kill her."
"You could have asked for our help," Matt growled.
Silence was his only answer as he was pulled to his shackled
"Okay, people. This is what we've got. The Major's told
us we're heading into a trap. We're heading back to the compound.
Margo and I will take the front, you three take the back. Varanti,
come over here a minute."
Cindy moved across the clearing to Benny Ray to hear what he
had to say.
"Look, I know you're worried about Matt. . . . "
"I'm fine. Let's get this done," Cindy stated as she
turned to move away from her team member.
"Hold on there. Damn, you're stubborn. I also know you're
upset about what he just said."
"I'm not upset Benny Ray," she lied as she picked up
her rifle and checked the sight.
"It was a code. We set it up when you joined the team. If
Matt were to get in trouble, he'd tell me that."
"No one bothered telling me about a code."
"It's only between Matt and me. Because I'm second-in-command.
I'm only telling you so you won't lose your concentration. I
figure you'll be more focused if you're not thinking about it."
"Are you sure that's all it is?" Cindy asked.
"If we're being honest and up front here, Benny Ray . .
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to get him out and if
it means disobeying you, count on it."
"I figured that. Just try not to get caught or hurt. Matt
will kill me," Benny Ray admitted with a grin.
"Yes, sir," Cindy responded as she joined her teammates.
The team headed out and had walked several miles when there was
a shower of arrows. Everyone dived into the brush on either side
of the trail. Nick and Margo glanced around trying to find the
Benny Ray lay on his stomach beside Cindy and Deke. "What
the hell was that?"
"I don't know, but it was the same type of noise we heard
before Matt went down," Margo responded.
Into her radio, Cindy ordered, "Everybody check in."
When she was satisfied everyone had radioed, Cindy nodded.
The danger seemed to have passed, and they regrouped in the trail.
Benny Ray checked the sky and announced they were making camp
for the night.
Finding a small clearing, they made short work of setting up
On her own, Cindy stripped down her rifle and cleaned it, then
did the same with Matt's weapon.
Benny Ray kept his eye on her as he did the same. Then turned
his attention to the other team members. "Deke, you get
first watch, then Nick and then me. Margo, see if you can calm
Nick looked over at Cindy and said, "She looks calm enough
"She's mad as hell, Delvecchio. Trust me. There's not a
calm part in her body."
The Kayan Chief led Matt by the leash into the compound.
Red, angry splotches were on his neck from the times he tripped
and was jerked to his feet by the leash.
He shot icy glares at the tribal people around him.
"There's no place you'll be able to hide . . . " he
threatened in a low, menacing voice.
"Like you'll be alive to do anything."
Domingo walked out the door to greet the group.
"Thank you Chief, you've done well," he greeted with
an evil smile. He took the rope attached to Matt's collar.
"Welcome, Major Shepherd. Nice of you to join me."
Infuriated, Matt tried to struggle free so he could kill the
man with his bare hands.
"You're just going to do yourself further harm, Major. Bring
out the princess."
His men appeared, dragging a beautiful native girl behind them.
Domingo raised his gun and executed her and then her father.
Seeing Matt's involuntary flinch, Domingo smiled. "There's
more of that for your team. Take him to the cellar and secure
him." Domingo bent over the Kayan and found Matt's radio
unit. To more of his men, he ordered,
"Take these two bodies in the jungle and dump them."
Matt found himself dragged to a windowless room in the basement
where the rope attached to the collar was secured somewhere high
over his head. "Can I at least have a drink?" Matt
asked, his mouth dry.
The two men stared at him, not understanding English. They laughed
and walked out, locking the door behind them.
Matt hoped that Benny Ray just got the team out of the area instead
of coming for him. But he doubted it, since his major rule was
now coming out to attack him. Everybody comes home. He and Benny
Ray should have had a code for abandon me. He doubted the sniper
would have listened, though.
Edge of the Jungle
Margo crossed the clearing and sat next to Cindy. "You
"Fine," Cindy clipped out as she reassembled her rifle.
"Benny Ray's right, you know. Matt's a fighter, especially
now since he has you to come back to," Margo reassured her.
Sighing, Margo thought this is like trying to talk to Benny Ray
when he's mad. She continued, "Listen, I don't know why
Matt said that. I told him years ago . . . "
"Leave it alone, Margo," Cindy stressed as she got
to her feet to walk toward the river. She sat down by a tree
overlooking the river, leaning her back against it as she watched
the water flow by.
Benny Ray and Nick moved to sit a few yards away, keeping their
eyes on her. Shortly Margo joined them.
"What's she down'?" Margo asked as she sat down.
"Thinkin', probably," Benny Ray speculated. "Bet
you money by morning, she's got some plan I'll have to say no
to. Then we'll fight again."
Margo smiled as she leaned her head against his shoulder. "You
two are just too much alike, that's what the problem is."
The cellar in Domingo's compound
Matt was alone in his cell, still bound hand and foot. He
couldn't feel his wrists or ankles any longer, and his shoulder
was past throbbing. His untreated wound was causing him to feel
feverish. Matt would kill to be able to lie down, but the rope
from that damn collar prevented that.
He couldn't even sleep. As soon as Matt would doze off, his body
would relax. When his body relaxed, the collar cut into his neck
waking him up again. He licked his dry lips. Feverish and dehydrated.
Edge of the Jungle
Cindy walked over to Benny Ray and said, "I have a plan."
"I'm listening," he responded, his ice blue eyes narrowed.
"I can get into the compound. I'll tell him I'm the niece
of Ramon Hernandez. I got separated from my tour group and Uncle
Ramon always told me if I was in the area, to feel free to meet
Senor Domingo at any time."
Benny Ray thought it over for a minute before saying, "No."
"What else do we have, Benny Ray? If we storm the place,
they'll kill Matt. I get in, find Matt we can shoot our way out."
Benny Ray began to repeat his no when Margo stopped him. "It's
a good idea, Benny Ray. She's right, it's all we've got."
"And then Matt kills me when she gets hurt? I don't think
so," Benny Ray argued.
"She can wear a wire," Deke offered helpfully.
"And sneak her gear in," Nick agreed. "We can
monitor Cindy constantly."
"And be in there quick as a flash if she gets into trouble,"
Benny Ray looked at the four team members who were all in agreement.
"Margo? Do we have any bugs with us?"
"I want one planted so I can hear what's going on around
"Got it," Margo answered as she dug through her duffel.
"You can't go in looking like that?" he argued with
She looked down at her camouflage clothing. "I have a T-shirt
and jeans with me." "I don't like it, but all right.
Margo, wire her. Cindy, check for security cameras before you
put on your gear."
"Got it," Cindy responded as she walked over toward
"At the first sound of trouble, we're comin' in," Benny
"Fine," Cindy agreed without stopping.
Plastering a smile on her face, Cindy rang the bell. From
his cover in the bush, Benny Ray had his rifle trained on the
The butler answered and escorted Cindy to an elegant office to
wait for Senor Domingo.
While she was alone, Cindy hid the bug in a flower arrangement
on his desk. She straightened when she heard the door open and
Paolo Domingo enter the office.
"Ms. Hernandez. Welcome to my humble abode, I am honored
by your presence. How fares your uncle?"
"He is well, thank you. I'm so glad you are home. Somehow,
I became separated from my tour group. I'd appreciate lodging
until I can locate an airplane to fly me home," Cindy asked
sweetly, sidling her body close to the drug dealer, brushing
"I think I can arrange that, my sweet. For a price,"
Paolo agreed, pinching her rear.
Cindy hid her disgust as she spoke. "That seems fair. I
would like to freshen up right now, though."
"Certainly, my sweet. I'll have Maria show you to a guest
Cindy followed the maid out of the office as Paolo turned to
Jorge, his right hand man. "Get me Ramon Hernandez on the
Out in the brush, Nick cursed.
"What's wrong?" Margo asked, nearing Nick.
"He doesn't believe her. He's calling Hernandez."
"Crap. I'll tell Benny Ray."
As she neared him, Benny Ray spoke without looking up. "What's
the matter sweet pea?"
"He's offered her a room for a price. And he's calling Ramon
"I still don't like this," Benny Ray grumbled.
Alone in the elegant, spacious bedroom, Cindy strolled around,
nonchalantly looking for security cameras. Satisfied there were
none. She opened her duffel bag. She slipped on her vest and
assembled her rifle. Clipping a tactical radio on, she said "Guys?
"Be careful. I don't trust him, and he's calling Hernandez."
Benny Ray complained.
"I don't trust him either. And I'm going to have a bruise
to explain to Matt. Margo? Do we have anything on the compound
"As bad as the rest of the intel has been, do you want to
risk it? Here's what I have, do with it as you please. At the
end of each wing is a set of stairs which lead to the basement.
The cellar is a series of smaller rooms which would be the perfect
size for holding prisoners."
"Right. I'm heading out," she announced, swinging her
rifle to her back and holding her Glock.
"Maintain radio contact at all times, Varanti," Benny
Ray ordered with trepidation.
"Yes sir," Cindy replied with a small smile. For all
of his guff, he was worried about her, bless his heart.
Easing the door open, Cindy cautiously poked her head out, seeing
if it was all clear. Satisfied, she slid out, one hand on her
rifle. "Okay, guys. Heading down the hallway."
Halfway to her destination, one of Domingo's underlings appeared
from nowhere. Cindy slung her rifle back and grabbed the man
around the neck, holding him against her. She aimed her Glock
at his groin. Lowering her voice to a menacing tone, she ordered,
"Take me to Major Shepherd or I'll blow off your most prized
possessions." She fought the threatening smile when she
heard Benny Ray, Nick and Deke collectively groan, "Damn."
Margo said, "Thatta girl. Go into mercenary mode."
With a frightful nod, the man led Cindy to the basement and pointed
at a door. She shoved the man against the wall and searched him
for weapons or a radio and grabbed the keys to the cells from
his pocket, and pushed him into the next door cell. "Sorry
to have to do that, since you were cooperative. I'm sure you'll
understand why I don't trust you," she explained as she
locked the door.
Quickly she unlocked the cell next door. After a cautious glance
around, Cindy wasted no time crossing the small room to Matt,
finding him tied to the wall. As she cut the ropes holding him,
she spoke softly. "Benny Ray? Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear. What's up?" he asked.
"Matt's hurt bad. I'm going to need some help getting him
out," Cindy said as she gently propped Matt against the
"We're on our way in," Benny Ray confirmed.
"Roger that. I'll stay down here with Matt."
Waiting for the team, she checked his wound. "Where the
hell's the exit wound?" she grumbled.
"No exit-arrow," Matt mumbled against her shoulder.
"Matt?" Cindy whispered, checking his eyes which were
cloudy with fever.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered.
"Came for you. Ssh."
"Wanted you all to leave," Matt spoke hoarsely around
his parched throat.
"Everybody comes home, remember?" Cindy lectured as
she cleaned the wound.
"Stupid rule," Matt fussed.
"Mm. I don't think so," Cindy soothed him as she shook
an aspirin from the bottle.
"Not yet. Sick," he admitted.
Setting the bottled water and the pill bottle to the side, Cindy
held Matt gently as he emptied his stomach, smoothing his hair.
"Don't normally do that," he admitted.
"It's the pain and the fever. Want to try some water first
before the aspirin?"
Matt nodded as Cindy held the bottle out for him to sip from.
While he drank, she dressed the wound. Pulling a shirt out of
her bag, Cindy tore the sleeves off to make a sling. Then she
wound the body of the shirt into a rope and fastened his arm
against his chest. Cindy handed him an aspirin as she checked
him for further wounds.
He swallowed the pill as she said, "That should help some
of the pain. When was the last time you ate?"
Matt looked up at her with a weak smile. "When did we eat
Cindy pulled out a pack of cheese crackers from her bag and opened
it for him.
"Shouldn't we be moving?" Matt asked as he chewed.
"My cover's blown, Benny Ray said to hold my position,"
Cindy explained as she pulled out a tactical radio and put it
on him. "So you can hear what's going on. Feel better?"
"A little. Still weak and feverish."
Footsteps echoed in the hall. Cindy told him to hush and she
grabbed her rifle before moving next to the door.
Benny Ray and Margo were upstairs shooting their way through
the first line of defense. "Damn, what's he got, a cloning
machine?" Benny Ray shouted over the weapons discharging.
"I don't know!" Margo yelled back.
They were finally able to move forward a few feet before encountering
the next swarm of armed men.
Nick and Deke were working their way through the back when the
compound was rocked by an explosion and the world caved in on
In the cellar, Cindy was in silent stealth mode, waiting for
the footsteps to get closer, so Matt spoke quietly into his radio
to run the personnel check. Margo and Benny Ray responded, nothing
from Deke and Nick. "Damn," he growled.
"As soon as Margo and I have a clean route, we'll head to
the back to look for them," Benny Ray assured the Major.
Domingo entered the cell, one hand training a gun on Matt, the
other one carrying a vest.
Cindy aimed her rifle at him and snarled, "Put your hands
"I thought I might find you down here, Ms. Varanti. Do you
think you're a fast enough shot to kill me before I fire one
lethal shot into your Major? Do you want to take that chance?
I think not, so you drop your weapon and put your hands up."
Cindy shot an anxious glance at Matt and laid her rifle down,
coming back up with her hands in the air in surrender.
Hearing this through the radio, Margo mumbled, "Damn."
Then she yelled over to Benny Ray, "This is a disaster!"
"I can see that," he responded coolly as he took out
"Very good, Ms. Varanti. Now, if you'll be kind enough to
put this vest on for me, please."
"Don't Cindy," Matt whispered into the radio.
She raised her chin defiantly and looked Domingo in the eye.
"I don't think so."
"I can still take your Major out at any minute," he
threatened, the gun waving in Matt's direction.
Disgusted with herself, Cindy grabbed the vest from him and slipped
it on, glaring at Domingo.
Domingo moved to her front and attached the wires to the C-4.
Seeing Matt had gotten to his feet, Domingo shoved her at Matt
and ordered her to hook her arm through Matt's free arm. The
dealer then bound them together, front to front. Pushing them
to the floor, Cindy on the bottom, he removed their radios and
turned them off.
"I have the detonator. I can blow you two up any time I
want. You better hope your people don't come after me,"
Domingo taunted as he locked them in the cell.
Matt looked into Cindy's eyes and observed, "Well, here's
an interesting position."
Trying to smile, she replied, "If only we weren't wired
Benny Ray cursed in the now silent house. "I lost radio
contact with Cindy and Matt."
"Let's find Nick and Deke, then we'll head for the basement,"
Margo said. Approaching the back of the compound, they had they're
guns at the ready when they found Nick and Deke emerging from
"You guys okay?" Benny Ray checked as he and Margo
helped them out.
Matt whispered to Cindy, "I trusted your shot. Why didn't
you take it?"
"I was too close. I'm sorry Matt. Maybe I'm not cut out
for this," she answered.
"You're fine. I'd have done the same thing, I was just wondering."
"If I'd have used the Glock, I could have made the shot,
As the rest of the team was coming down the stairs, Domingo was
easing out of the secret exit, heading for his airstrip.
Benny Ray picked the lock on the door and half grinned when he
found Matt and Cindy.
Moving quickly, he cut the ropes holding them, and Cindy rubbed
her wrists as Matt and Benny Ray spoke quietly.
"Hey guys? Anyone know anything about bombs?" she asked
"Damn," Delvecchio said when he saw the vest.
Benny Ray squatted in front of her. "Detonator or timer?"
"Detonator. He has it with him, said he could blow us up
Benny Ray stared at the wires, then looked at Cindy. "Trust
With her eyes closed, she nodded.
Cindy held her breath as he yanked the white wire. When nothing
happened, they all sighed with relief. Then the timer started
"Oh, hell. A timer back up," Benny Ray grumbled. "Everybody
Matt stressed, "I'm staying," as he sat down behind
Cindy and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Cindy put both
hands on his forearm and clung to him as Benny Ray worked. To
distract her, Matt whispered in her ear.
Benny Ray yanked the green wire and watched the LED box. When
he was satisfied the unit was disarmed, he announced, "Success."
Cindy tore the vest off and threw it to the ground. She walked
over to Benny Ray and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Calming
herself, she picked up her rifle and bag and walked from the
cell, Matt behind her. Benny Ray stood motionless for a minute,
staring after them.
Together, the team left the compound. Outside, Matt wondered,
"So, where'd the slime go to?"
"He's probably on that helicopter over there," Nick
"Stay together people," Matt ordered, wavering on his
Benny Ray moved up next to him. "Major, you're hurt. Why
don't you sit this out and we'll take him down.
Matt opened his mouth to argue, then changed his mind. "I'll
just sit right over there."
"Delvecchio, watch the Major."
The helicopter lifted off as the team approached the clearing
as Domingo waved tauntingly from the aircraft.
In unison, Benny Ray and Cindy fired their rifles at the aircraft,
hitting the gas tank. The helicopter exploded into a fiery ball.
Deke radioed for their own helicopter to come in as Matt joined
the team, wrapping his arm around Cindy.
"Good work, guys," he congratulated the team.
later that week
Cindy sat at a corner booth, nursing a peach smoothie Deke
had made for her. A shadow loomed over her and she looked up
sharply to find a man she didn't know standing there.
"Can I help you with something?" she asked guardedly.
"Cindy Varanti?" the man asked.
"Who wants to know," she responded with her own question,
her hazel colored eyes narrowed.
"Xavier Trout," he introduced himself as he sat down.
"Oh, sorry, didn't know you were coming in tonight,"
she apologized as she shook his extended hand.
"I didn't tell anyone. I wanted to meet you since I've heard
so much good things about you."
"You are a valuable asset to this team. I understand you
were a little shaky on your first mission."
"I just...I just felt I should have had the confidence to
take him out rather than put Matt and myself in the position
we were in."
"Confidence comes over time, my dear. And I've always felt
one should follow their instincts. And without speaking, you
and Benny Ray worked together to bring down at the end anyway.
You did what you felt you needed to, to protect a team member."
"Thank you sir," she acknowledge.
"And you're good for Matt. I'm glad you're here." Seeing
Matt approach the booth, Trout got up. "Talk to you later."
Matt sat down beside her with his beer and smiled. "What
was that about?"
"A pep talk, I guess. So, how's your shoulder?"
"I think a little TLC tonight will make it feel better,"
he began, as he kissed her on the neck.
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