Disclaimer: I do not own Soldier of Fortune/Special Ops Force, I make no money – just having a little fun.
Soldier of Fortune aired in 1997-98 and was way before its time. They were a group of Elite Black Operatives working for the United States government. When others couldn't get the job done – the SOF team was called.
A diplomats daughter is targeted by a madman. A member of the team goes missing trying to protect her. Can Matt and the team find him before the madman strikes again.
LA Convention Center
Mumbling a few choice words under his breath Matt wandered the crowded halls of the convention center. Trout had basically asked the impossible this time. Even with the army of Security Guards, the place was a nightmare of nooks and crannies. There had to be five thousand people milling through the four display halls. Trout had called it a Trade Summit - Matt called it mass insanity.
Every nation in the world had been invited to participate. Ambassadors, Cabinet Members and businessmen were on hand to listen and discuss the world trade markets. Tonight was the kickoff meeting. Dinner, a huge buffet, had been laid out in the oversized dining hall. People could come and go as they chose. Many were sitting down to dinner before taking the time to look at the displays or listen to speeches. The In-Briefs were to begin at 8pm in the convention center's auditorium. Until then, Matt's orders were to look for anyone or anything suspicious.
"Suspicious," Matt growled. "Hell, everyone looks suspicious!"
Trout had asked for assistance. Vague threats had come in; the only real information he had, was the time and place. The threats had been so vague, they had no idea who or what the target was. Police and EOD had been on site all day and found nothing. But with a crowd this size, it was impossible to cover everything. Even with the hundreds of Security Guards in place.
Benny Ray, sitting in the back row of the empty auditorium, ruefully chuckled at the array of people he had command of during the next several days. Most of the security guards had been hired straight off the street. They had been given a couple of hours of handgun training and set loose on the world. He didn't know which scared him the most the thought of tangos invading or the security detail.
Margo, Chance and CJ were no better off. Each had been assigned to a Hall with security guards in tow. Amateurs at best, Matt and his team had no clue if they could count on them if a crisis erupted.
"Trout, you are going to pay big time for this fiasco," Margo grumbled to herself, as she made her way around the outer perimeter of her assigned hall. Across the long corridor, she spotted one of the guards; a big, beefy, blonde Adonis standing in the aisle, flirting with a young, voluptuous redhead.
Quietly, she stepped up behind him, stuck her finger in his back and said, "And whose backside are you supposed to be watching,"
The man's body jerked forward, as he nearly jumped out of his skin. Spluttering, he growled, "You scared the shit out of me, what the hell did you do that for?"
Narrowing her eyes at the redhead Margo nodded her head. Her voice low as she snarled "Beat it!" With a huff and a splutter, the redhead noisily melted into the crowd.
Stepping out from behind him, her eyes narrowing in disgust, Margo growled back at him, "You have a job to do Mr. Stanton and picking up bimbos isn't part of it. I suggest you get back to your post, if you want to keep your job!"
Stanton's face turned red, poking his finger into her chest he said, "You can't tell me…"
His voice was cut off as Margo grabbed his thumb and twisted it backwards, spinning him around to pin his arm behind his back. His yelp of pain was all Margo needed as she growled. "I can and I did Mr. Stanton. Now, either get back to your post or… find another job!"
Releasing him, Margo walked away without looking back. Behind her, a look of respect crossed the young man's face, as he quickly stepped back to his assigned post. "That was a cool trick," he mumbled to himself, as he shook the kinks out of his hand and shoulder. "Wonder if she'll show me how to do that," he whispered to himself.
Matt on the other hand, had the luxury of wandering through all of the halls and into the auditorium as he checked on his team and their situations. Sitting down beside Benny Ray, he looked closely at the disgruntled expression on the face of his second in command.
"Are we having fun yet, Sir," Benny Ray grumbled.
"Meter is pegged Benny Ray," Matt quipped.
"Have you seen these security guards Boss; can you say motley crew? One fell asleep standing up, a second dropped his weapon down the stairs and I don't really want to tell you what I saw two of the others doing. Together! Scary Boss, really scary!" "Then" he continued without pausing, "There are all these bodyguards - they're everywhere! Most of them have got their noses stuck so high in the air they're tripping over their own feet. I saw one walking by caressing the weapon under his jacket, he got so intimate with the damn thing, he lost track of his employer. I thought the guy was gonna have a heart attack before he finally found him again."
Matt laughed at the disgusted look on the sniper's face. Grinning sheepishly when the sniper turned his icy blue eyes towards him. Clearing his throat, Matt pasted a serious expression on his face before replying. "Trout has already heard an earful from me. By tomorrow, he will have a contingent of FBI and Secret Service agents in place, but for now, this is what we have to deal with."
"Deal with," Benny Ray grumbled. "I'm gonna deal with em' alright!"
"Easy, Benny Ray," Matt chuckled, "I don't want to have to bail your ass out of jail or deal with an international incident, 'cause you laid one of these guys out."
"Can't I just…."
"No!" Matt stated emphatically!"
"Maybe just a little…
Lifting his eyebrows he stared at the sniper indulgently.
"Roger Sir, I hear ya!" he grumbled dramatically.
Taking one more glance at the sniper, Matt hauled himself out of the chair. He could see the mischievous twinkle in the man's eyes and hoped the sniper would control himself. Benny Ray's temper was volatile, even at the best of times. He for one didn't want to be around, if one of these guys made the mistake of ticking him off.
Standing in the back of the auditorium, he watched as Benny Ray climbed the steps to the stage and made another check of the area. He could see the clever mind of the sniper working, as he stopped and talked with several of the guards stationed on the stage. Matt pitied the poor men and women who had to deal with the sniper in this kind of mood. Chuckling to himself, Matt walked back out into the trade halls.
Wandering into Margo's area, he leant up against the wall watching as she dealt with her errant Adonis. He liked watching her work, she was quick and efficient, and the young man learned his first lesson. Matt was surprised by the look on the man's face as he sauntered back to his post. Usually the male ego got in the way when a woman put him in his place, but this young man's face showed nothing but respect.
Spotting him as she turned away, Margo grumbled the whole length of the hallway as she made her way towards him. "And, what is your problem," she snarled?
"Whoa Margo," Matt chuckled, "Just wanted to commend you on the way you handled your young protégé."
"Handle him," she mumbled, "I'm gonna handle him all the way to the woodshed!"
Laughing outright, Matt wrapped his arm around her shoulder as he asked, "Any major problems, other than your Lothario there."
"Inept, clumsy, ham fisted, unskilled…" Margo's litany went on as Matt laughed.
"Stop, you're beginning to sound like Benny Ray. I just heard the same list from him," Matt laughed again; "I get the picture."
"I'm gonna strangle Trout when I catch up with him," Margo murmured nastily!
"Take a number Margo, because after this fiasco, the line's going to be a long one."
"Other than your young friend there, anything suspicious," Matt asked with the emphasis on suspicious!
"Nothing," Margo whined, "not even an eensy, teensy, weensy spat or brawl."
Matt chuckled as he looked down at her saying, "You sound disappointed?"
Margo turned a sheepish grinning face up and laughed as she replied, "Well maybe just a little. Besides, I would like to see how these guys are going to react under pressure," she pouted.
"Yeah, right!" Matt chuckled, "It's boring and you can't handle it!"
With a straight face and narrowed eyes, she stared into his laughing face, before she too, broke into laughter.
Sobering, Matt said, "Boring is fine by me - be careful what you wish for Margo!"
With a rueful shrug and a nod, Margo ducked out from under Matt's arm. Chuckling as she said, "I suppose I'd better get back to work before lover boy over there catches me fraternizing with the hired help."
Matt watched her walk away before continuing his rounds. Chance and CJ were no better off. Matt could only take about five minutes of CJ's incessant chatter; he seemed to be the only one who didn't care if the guards were trained or not.
His monolithic litany included bad jokes about bad food and a myriad of other inconsequential topics. Matt didn't stay long.
It wasn't that CJ didn't care about the security guards. He, unlike his compatriots, had gotten lucky. Five of the seven guards assigned to him, were professionals. They knew their job, and how to handle themselves and their weapons. The other two were quiet and seem competent enough.
In the dining hall, Chance walked the perimeter of the room, alert to any signs of "suspicious" behavior. Outwardly he was calm and controlled. Inside, Chance could feel the tension building; he couldn't pinpoint where the feeling was coming from, but he felt it nonetheless.
Matt's visit and his relaying of the team's woes, brought a smile to Chance's lips, but even Matt could sense something was wrong.
"Any problems, Chance," Matt, asked, his voice laced with concern.
"No Sir!" Chance answered. "Nothing I can put my finger on, just a bad feeling I have about this place."
Shaking his head Matt continued, "Well, keep your eyes open and let me know if anything big or small turns up."
"Roger that, Sir!"
Matt continued his rounds but things remained calm - as Margo had agreed earlier, it was downright boring. As the hours wore on, his team's tempers grew shorter, although at times their sense of the absurd took over. Even Benny Ray was resigned to the inevitable bumbling of the guards. He had turned it into a game, trying to decide which one of them would screw up next. So far they had all taken turns and in his mind Benny Ray had won 4 out of 5 times. He had lost once, only because the tall skinny guard had fumbled the ball twice in a row.
Overall things were running smoothly - not a glitch in sight. That's what Matt hated the most. Murphy was hiding somewhere around the corner and had a tendency to rear his ugly head when least expected.
Chance was making his way around the perimeter for the third, or was it fourth time, when a commotion occurred near the main entrance. A party of men and a solitary woman had entered, heading toward the buffet line. The woman had her arm wrapped around an older man's waist. She was quietly laughing up at him as they walked across the room. Her honey colored eyes sparkled with merriment as she pinched him in the side.
Chance's glance took in the flawless dark mahogany skin, her white gown a perfect foil for the dark upswept hair and glowing face. She was beautiful and her laughing sparkling eyes captured his attention. Chance wondered if the older man walking beside her was a relation or maybe her lover. For some reason he hoped the former. Surrounding the two the four big bodyguards with them cleared a path through the milling throng of people. He liked the look of them - quiet and unobtrusive, they cleared the way without much effort. Smiling, the man and woman talked with passersbys as they moved slowly across the room.
Turning away from the group, Chance continued on his way, talking to the security guards as he passed their position. Entering the room, Matt hailed him.
As Chance stopped beside him he shrugged saying, "Nothing new Sir! According to the kitchen staff, they will be closing down this hall at 2100hrs."
Slapping Chance on the shoulder Matt said, "When you get finished here, head for the auditorium, you might be able to calm Benny Ray down a little, or at least keep him from breaking something or someone!"
Chance chuckled, answering, "Yes Sir!"
Twenty minutes later, Chance saw the young woman he had noticed earlier standing near the buffet tables, deep in discussion with a young man standing beside her. Unable to hear the conversation Chance could see the young man bristling with anger as he grabbed her by the arm. Spinning to face him, the young woman tried to free her arm from his grasp. Her eyes flashed angrily as Chance moved closer. "Touch me again Phillip and Father will have your head. Why can't you understand that I don't want to marry you, not now, not ever!"
"You belong to me, Angelina!"
"NO! Phillip, I don't belong to you. My Father admitted that he made a mistake when he talked to your Father all those years ago. Your Father understood, why can't you?"
"You're making a big mistake," Phillip hissed as he dragged her closer.
"Let me go, Phillip," she warned ominously.
But the grip on her arm tightened; flinching beneath his touch a tiny whimper escaped her.
Stepping up beside them, Chance grasped Phillip by the left shoulder, pinching hard. Phillip's hand went numb and he released his grip on Angelina, cringing away from Chance.
"I don't think the Lady appreciates your attention," Chance stated coolly.
Philip's eyes darkened with malice, as he spat out angry words, "Get your hands off me, you don't know who you're dealing with."
Chance's eyes sparkled with glee, as he prepared to show the little man exactly who "he" was dealing with. But a soft touch on his arm stopped him.
"Please," she whispered, "It's all right, just let him go!"
Chance's grip on Phillip's shoulder eased, but he didn't release him. Moving closer, his voice low and menacing he said, "Leave the Lady alone! It's not a request or a warning, it's an order."
Angrily, Phillip spun out from beneath Chance's hand and slid into the crowd. Reaching the wall he turned back, watching as Chance and Angelina continued to talk, the hatred inside him building with each passing second, burning with an intensity that swept away all reason.
Slipping away, Phillip stepped into the hallway as two men approached. Turning to face them he grinned maliciously as he snapped out his orders.
Grateful for Chance's assistance, Angelina whispered an apology. "I'm sorry that you had to witness that. Phillip is very possessive, but doesn't yet realize I am not one of his possession and never will be."
"No trouble Ma'am, you looked like you could use some help and I'm just glad I could be there!"
"Angelina La Naeda," she whispered. "Please call me Angelina."
Before Chance could respond, several voices raised in anger captured his attention. "Please excuse me Angelina, duty calls?"
Angelina watched his broad back as Chance wound his way through the crowd following the sounds of loud voices. Two men stood arguing as he approached, but soon became quiet as he asked, "Is there a problem gentlemen?"
Startled, both men grinned sheepishly as they looked up at Chance.
"Sorry," one of them chuckled, "we forgot where we were for a moment."
Chance stood watching, as both men headed for a table across the room, still arguing, but their voices now at a tolerable level.
Shaking his head, Chance's glance wandered the room, looking for a set of amber eyes, but Angelina had disappeared into the crowd.
It was nearly ten minutes before Chance made his way back around toward the buffet tables. Grinning to himself, he saw Angelina heading in the same direction. Two men standing near the table, moved forward to intercept her. One man stepped in line ahead of her, the second man behind her striking up a conversation.
A few feet away, a third man - his familiar face harsh and unyielding; Phillip - placed a small briefcase on the floor beneath the table. Using his foot, he pushed it under the drapery, hiding it from sight.
Walking toward the table, Chance was caught off guard, as both men took hold of Angelina. Sprinting the last few feet to the table, Chance was intercepted by Phillip. Hoping to prevent Chance from interfering, Phillip lashed out, catching him a glancing blow to the jaw. Beside Angelina, one of the men pulled a weapon from beneath his jacket and held it to her head as a tiny cry of fear escaped her.
Spinning around, Chance grabbed Phillip around the throat. Into the comlink he said, "Matt, I have a problem here, I need some help ASAP!"
Aware that his plan was about to come apart, Phillip thrashed wildly, throwing several more ineffective blows at Chance's head and body. Unable to break loose of Chance's vicelike grip he threw himself backward. Tangled together Chance was dragged down with him. As they crashed into the table it crumpled beneath them. Dishes and food went flying.
The briefcase beneath the table flew open, the device inside was clearly visible to those standing close by. A bomb! The room erupted into panic and mayhem, as people began to scream and scramble for the exits. The two men flanking Angelina panicked as they realized what was happening. One man punched out, striking Angelina hard across the side of her head. Her body slumped to the ground, as they ran with the panicking crowd towards the exits. Rolling away, Phillip's hand found the small detonation device in his pocket, as Chance kicked out catching Phillip in the chest. Flying backwards, the detonator dropped from Phillip's hand and slid across the floor, the impact activating the device.
Phillip screamed as the device in the briefcase stirred into life. The timer began it's countdown! Scrambling to his feet, Phillip ran for the door, as Chance realized the danger. Beside him, Angelina shook her head in pain and confusion. Pulling her to her feet, Chance rushed toward the nearest exit. He'd seen the display on the device. It was ticking away, now with less than 10 seconds remaining. They weren't going to make it. Counting the seconds in his head, he swept Angelina up in his arms, heading for the heavy wooden bar off to the right near the wall. Tossing her over the top, he leapt as the bomb detonated. Angelina, safe behind the bar, curled into a ball as the explosion rocked the hall. Above her, Chance's body caught in the vortex, was picked up and slammed into the wall. Chance grunted as he hit the wall. Swirling darkness closed in around him as he fell, his limp body slid down to lie in a crumpled heap beside her, as smoke and debris rained down around them.
For Angelina, dizzy and disoriented, time seemed to stand still. Long moments of fear and terror engulfed her until a familiar voice echoed through the darkness from a great distance away. Her name carried on the wavering breeze filtered into the room. "Father," she whispered. Seconds later her name rang out again and she yelled louder this time. "Father, I'm here!" Cloaked in white dust, Angelina got shakily to her feet, waving her arms to clear the smoke from the air. "I'm here," she cried. With the sudden movement dizziness and darkness washed over her and she sunk back to her knees clutching her aching head.
Hearing the familiar voice of his daughter, the grey-haired man she had been with earlier, rushed forward to wrap her in his arms, his heart filling with joy and relief to find his daughter safe and unharmed. "Come, we must leave this place." Gently he raised her to her feet.
"I can't leave him here Father," Angelina whispered, pointing toward Chance lying silently on the floor at her feet.
"NO!" her father shouted. "We know nothing of this man, he could have been one of the terrorists."
"He saved my life! Please father..." she pleaded. "I don't believe he was one of them, but you're right! What if the terrorists do come back, he's unconscious and vulnerable. An easy target for their hatred!" Angelina was adamant as she stared her father down.
Relenting, unwilling to stay any longer, her father motioned for his bodyguards to bring the still body of Chance.
"Gently," Angelina murmured as the little group rushed from the building to find the limousine already waiting at the curb. Quickly, the men carrying Chance laid him gently - at Angelina's insistence - across the back seat. Climbing in Angelina cradled Chance's head in her lap as her father and the bodyguards climbed in behind her. Turning sideways Angelina watched the dazed and milling crowd of people rush from the smoking building, as police and fire crews arrived.
In the auditorium, Matt had heard Chance's words. Turning, he nodded to Benny Ray before they both took off down the long corridor. Two buildings away, they heard the roar of an explosion as the building started to tremble. The closer they get to the dining hall, the harder it became for them to move through the screaming, hysterical mass of humanity.
"Chance," Matt called, but only silence greeted him. Trying several more times, Matt shivered at the implication. Frustrated by their lack of progress, Matt and Benny Ray roughly pushed people out of the way as they wound their way through the crowd.
The dining hall was deathly silent as the two men rushed into the dust filled room. Police and firemen came streaming into the hall from the opposite side. Their cries and directions echoed across the expanse. Several small blazes crackled from across the room as the fireman worked to put them out.
"Chance," Matt yelled again. Only the chatter of the firemen filtered back.
Behind them, Margo and CJ burst into the room. "Matt," Margo called, "any sign of him?"
"Not yet," Matt's frustrated voice fired back. "You and CJ take this side, Benny Ray and I will head for the far side.
The room was a shambles. The small fires along the far wall indicated the immediate area of the blast. The team searched relentlessly, but even an hour later when the last of the fires were extinguished, they had yet to find a sign of their teammate and friend.
The smoke and dust filling the room settled to the floor; but Matt and his team refused to give up. It was twenty minutes before Benny Ray's voice rung out. "I've found his Security ID Major!"
Sprinting across the room, Matt skidded to a stop in front of the big bar. Leaning over, he saw the sniper wiping at a dark smear on the wall. "Blood Major, and fairly recent."
"Damn," Matt mumbled, "he's got to be around here somewhere, he couldn't have just vanished."
"Margo, CJ, check outside, see if anyone saw him leave."
Many of the convention attendees were still milling around outside. Several people remembered a fight between two men - one was identified as a tall, heavily built black man. Several other accounts included a black woman, who had been attacked and the big man who had gone to her rescue. After that, most of the reports were jumbled, laced with the first scream of "bomb" that had echoed through the room.
It wasn't until Margo questioned two police officers, that she uncovered a tiny clue.
"Yes, ma'am," one of them stated. "As we pulled up, I saw a group of people getting into a limousine. It looked like they were carrying someone or something, but they were too far away and left before we could get over there."
"Did you happen to catch a license plate?" CJ asked.
"No Sir," one of the officers replied gruffly. "Like I said, we were too far away.
Smiling at the two officers, Margo thanked them for their help, before calling Matt. "Matt, we may have a lead on Chance."
"Go, Margo," he replied quickly.
"Two officers might have seen him being loaded into a limousine."
"Any plate or description on the vehicle?" Matt asked.
"Nothing Matt, they were too far away."
The line went quiet, as Matt ran the facts through his head. Chance had disappeared, his ID and blood found near the explosion. "Check the hospitals Margo, maybe they were taking him there."
Two hours later, the convention center was a ghost town, except for the FBI, police and forensics. Inside the hall they combed through the debris. Somehow, even with the terrified crowd running wild, no one had been killed or badly injured. Minor cuts and scrapes - but most of those had been obtained during the panicked flight from the hall.
CJ had gone with Margo back to the Silver Star to make phone calls. It was another two hours before Matt and Benny Ray gave up the search. Four grim faced people sat in the operations room, running the few facts they had around in their heads.
"Margo, check with all the limousine services. Find out who rented what and if any were returned early, or if something unusual happened. I'm going to check in with Trout and see if he can find something."
Across the room, Benny Ray paced the floor like a caged animal. Fuming at the delay, hating the frustration that came with not knowing where his friend might be. Was he hurt - very likely from the amount of blood at the scene? Was he dead - possibly? But that was something Benny Ray didn't want to think about.
Hours passed, as Margo made call after call to every limousine service in the city. The list grew longer as time passed and emotions flared. By 9am the next morning, everyone was exhausted. But Margo's list included twelve possibilities. Sifting through the list was turning out to be a nightmare. At least eight were foreign diplomats and politicians. Getting a clear story from them would be very difficult, especially if they were hiding something. With Trout's help, they might be able to whittle down the list even more.
Limousine - LAX
The limousine took Angelina her Father and a still unconscious Chance straight to the airport. Angelina sat with Chance's head in her lap, her face a picture of concern. Her Father's handkerchief in her hand was pressed over the cut marring his brow. Her Father sitting across from her sent dark questioning looks her way.
Arnett La Naeda was a powerful businessman and the Benin ambassador to the United States. Though he was relieved by his daughter's safety and her words that this man has saved her life; he remained wary that the man could have been part of the attack.
This was not the first attempt on her life. The others had seemed like accidents and Angelina had dismissed them as such. During the first attempt one bodyguard had been seriously injured. Angelina herself had been knocked unconscious, when her car had blown a tire and flipped over. Further investigation had shown that the tire might have been shot out at high speed causing the crash, Arnett feared for his daughters' life! With all his power and money, he couldn't keep her safe. His men worked around the clock, investigating each of the so-called "accidents." He had no choice, for now, going home to keep her safe, was his only option. His aide could easily handle any diplomatic crisis that might arise from his hasty departure.
Turning he faced his daughter, "We should drop him at a hospital, Lina," he whispered!
"If that is your wish Father, then do it, but I will go with him!"
Exasperated, and frustrated by his daughter's inability to see any danger, Arnett turned a harsh face to his daughter.
Before he could vent his anger, Angelina pleaded with him. "Please Father, Uncle will be at the plane, he will take care of him. I can't just leave him somewhere, not knowing if he lives or dies!"
Shrugging, he threw his hands up in the air, watching as his daughter, with a grateful smile quickly turned back to the man cradled in her grasp.
With diplomatic papers, the limousine passed quickly into a secure section of the airport. A sleek grey Lear jet waited on the runway. A tall jovial man, his face filled with concern, greeted them as they stepped into the plane. "Uncle Tel," Angelina whispered hugging him tight, "We have a patient for you."
Aktel La Naeda was Arnett's brother and partner in many business practices. But Aktel has veered from business and gone to school, becoming a medical doctor. His need to help had overcome his family loyalties. He left the running of the businesses to his brother. Aktel ran a small clinic on their estate in Cotonou, Benin - Africa.
As a little girl, unable to say "Aktel," Angelina had shortened it to Tel when she was three. It had become an endearment that the both of them cherished. Hugging her close, Aktel turned concerned eyes to his brother, before glancing at the unconscious man held gently in the arms of two bodyguards'. "Quickly, bring him inside!"
The guards laid the still body of Chance on a bed in the rear of the plane. Pulling his medical bag from a small closet, Aktel went to work as the plane taxied towards the runway.
Twenty minutes later, Aktel sat back, satisfied that the condition of his patient was stable and not critical. Sitting beside him, Angelina turned his way, worried eyes seeking answers.
Her uncle turnd a bland face to his niece saying, "You should have taken him to hospital Lina!"
Tears glistened in her eyes as she asked, "Is he that bad Uncle, will he die?"
Long seconds passed before Tel answered, his genuine concern for the unconscious man written on his expressive face. "His shoulder was dislocated and he has many bruises, but it is the head injury which worries me. Though he is stable and his breathing is normal, he has a large bruise on his head. Without an X-Ray, it is impossible for me to tell how much damage has been done! It will take us at least twelve hours to reach Cotonou, I will be happy if he regains consciousness during that time, but I do not think it likely."
Reaching out, Tel covered her small soft hands with his, as he looked at the tears now coursing down her cheeks. "What is this man to you Lina?"
Pained eyes catch his. Swallowing hard she said, "He saved my life Uncle. Someone planted a bomb in the building. If he had not been there, I would be dead."
That's when Aktel saw the small trickle of blood from behind her left ear. "You are hurt my pet, how did this happen?" Pushing her hair away from the cut, he began to clean it, as she tried to recall the incident.
Tilting her head to the side to let him look at the cut, Angelina related the tale. "I was near the buffet tables when two men came up to me. They grabbed me, trying to pull me from the building. That's when this man came to my rescue. There must have been a third person because they fought. That's when I heard someone scream, "Bomb." One of the men hit me and I fell. I don't remember much after that, except he picked me up and carried me to safety. That's when the bomb went off."
"I couldn't leave him Uncle. Father is furious and would have left him there in a burning building, but I couldn't. I know that Father is worried, and I know he thinks the accidents were attempts on my life, but I cannot hide Uncle, not even for him."
Drawing her close, Aktel whispered encouragement. "Your Father wants only to keep you safe Lina. If this man saved your life, then you did the right thing. I will do my best to help him." Chuckling, Aktel stepped back as he got a good look at his niece. Her clothes were smeared with dust and soot. "And you my pet, are filthy. I suggest you clean yourself up and try to get some rest. If your friend here should wake, I'll call you."
"Thank you, you are the bestest Uncle in the world."
Angelina slowly rose to her feet, glancing at Chance once more, before heading towards the lavatory. Twenty minutes later, washed and dressed in clean clothes, Angelina took up a vigil beside Chance's bed. She dozed fitfully, as the little jet flew towards home.
Cotonou, Benin - Africa
Many hours after leaving LA, Angelina and her entourage arrive at her family estate outside Cotonou. The estate was more like a small city, covering over one thousand acres. It had housing and facilities for all the estate workers. Aktel's clinic was near the main house, secluded in a large building less than a quarter mile away.
Chance had not regained consciousness during the flight, which had Aktel worried. Upon landing Chance was immediately taken to the clinic where Aktel goes to work. X-Rays, and a myriad of tests were performed before Chance was finally settled in a clean quiet room.
Aktel had shooed Angelina up to the main house to rest and eat. His orders were not to show up for at least five hours. Stamping her feet she had refused to leave, but Aktel had been adamant. "I will drag you there myself Angelina, which means I will not be able to attend to your friend."
Growling deep in her throat at the injustice, Angelina had stomped from the building. Words of frustration littered the air, as she walked the short distance back to the house. Food was waiting as she stepped into the house. Her Father's worried face greeted her and Angelina's anger melted away.
Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA
Trout has flown in from DC and sat in the ops room with Matt and Margo. It was late evening as they continued to whittle down the list to eight possibilities. Benny Ray and CJ were already on their way to the first location - Ulster, Ireland. The Limousine service had found blood and soot in the car and with Trout's help they had finally given up the names and addresses of their client. Their orders were to observe and ask questions. If Chance were spotted, they would make the call back to the operation's center.
Matt and Margo would soon be on their way and Korea was their first destination. Again, the only Intel they had, was blood in the limousine and a group of men and women who had left the country quickly.
Trout had provided a safe house and arms in Ulster. It was early morning when Benny Ray and CJ landed in Belfast, but the ride to Ulster and the safe house was fraught with worry and questions. Benny Ray unable to rest paced the room endlessly. CJ watched the sniper; concerned that his energies would be spent or his anger would overcome his good sense. He had never known Benny Ray to be a willing diplomat. His brash way of dealing with people and situations sometimes got in the way.
Benny Ray on the other hand, knew he had to pull himself together. Chance's life might depend on it. But the restless energy coursing through him would not ease. Seeing the worried look on CJ's face he listened to the man's incessant chatter, which for once didn't seem to bother him. His energy needed release, but 6am was a bad time to go knocking down someone's door.
Flopping down on the couch, he slowed his breathing laid his head against the cushion and tried to still his wild thoughts and get some rest. On the chair beside him, CJ sighed in relief.
Four hours later they were on their way, with directions in hand they easily found the address. With surveillance equipment in hand, Benny Ray set up on a small hillside overlooking the estate. Hours flew by, but Benny Ray saw nothing suspicious. Two men had come and gone, but they saw no signs of a woman or Chance.
CJ, with photo in hand, spent time at the hospitals and clinics in the city and nearby towns. Again his efforts come up blank. Spending two more days in Ulster, they called Matt, who made the decision to send them on to the next location.
Matt and Margo were just as frustrated. Their first stop also resulted in a dead end, time was spent waiting and watching that turned up nothing and tensions grew. Trout had assigned a man to the Silver Star in the hopes that Chance would show up or at least call in. The agent had also been tasked with checking all of the clinics and doctors in the vicinity of the convention center, but so far nothing had turned up.
The fifth day after Chance's disappearance found the team at their second locations: Benny Ray and CJ in Italy, Matt and Margo in Thailand. With luck one or the other of them would turn up a clue.
La Naeda Estate
Chance had been unconscious for nearly sixty hours. Aktel was worried. In his heart he wished that Arnett hadn't allowed Angelina the freedom of bringing the man to the estate but he had. If he died, it would cause complications that Tel didn't want to think about. Searching the man's belongings had been fruitless. He didn't even carry identification papers. American dollars were the only occupant of the black leather wallet. That alone made Aktel suspicious. Who or what was the man lying so still beneath the crisp white sheets. Could Arnett be right was the man part of the attack on his daughter? For now there was nothing he could do but wait and watch. Angelina believed in his innocence. Until he knew differently, Tel would believe too.
The X-Rays had showed a large amount of swelling in the area of the bruise. With drugs, the swelling has subsided, but still the man didn't wake. Angelina had been shooed back to the house for the third time that day. If her rescuer didn't wake soon, Angelina would end up ill and that worried Tel.
Drifting through the darkness, his body wrapped in blistering fire his mind screamed into the darkness, he just wanted it to end. A soft unfamiliar voice beckoned, but he didn't want to face the flames surrounding him. Locked inside his mind, he hid from the pain and fire circling close. His mind closed down, the pain eased and he slept the sleep of the dead; no thoughts, no words could touch him. But all too soon, the voice beckoned again. He hesitantly opened the door in his mind ready to slam it shut if the flames rose up. Amazingly he found the pain has lessened. Slowly he drifted, faces and places flashed across his mind, but he couldn't put names to them. Time had no meaning, as his mind pursued answers to his ever-growing concerns.
The voice called again and his consciousness broke through the dark cloud surrounding him. His eyes flickered open, then swiftly closed, wanting to savor the peaceful nothingness of his current existence, but the voice in his head would not let him rest.
Slowly he opened his eyes and tilted his head to the side, straining to catch the whispered words spoken beside him. He gasped in pain and the fire erupted around him. The pounding in his head beat an incessant echo in his tired mind. He calmed his breathing and the fire subsided, as he opened his eyes once more. Honey gold eyes filled with worry and concern looked down at him. The face was elusively familiar, the scent of her perfume - roses and honeysuckle drifted through the air.
Her voice was gentle and musical as she whispered, "How are you feeling?"
Licking his lips, he swallowed hard, as he tried to answer the question. His voice cracked, as he tried to grin, answering "Like hell!"
Her golden eyes crinkled with laughter, as she looked into his eyes. They were laced with pain and Angelina hurried from the room to find her Uncle.
He tilted his head and hissed, as the throbbing in his temple erupted into a pounding onslaught. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax and let the initial onslaught wash over him. It was nearly a minute later, before he heard the door open. The golden-eyed beauty walked back in a large man dressed in a white lab coat following closely on her heels.
"The doctor I presume," he mumbled.
Aktel smiled, as he steps closer to the bed. "Well, well," he whispered keeping his voice low. "It lives after all!"
Chance grinned, as he submitted to the doctor's ministrations. Several minutes later, the doctor wrapped his stethoscope around his neck. Looking closely at the man in the bed before whispering, "Well young man, you had us a little worried! I'm glad to see you've returned to the land of the living, a little worse for wear perhaps, but that will soon be remedied with time and rest."
"How long have I been out," he voiced quietly?
"Three days or so give or take a few hours." Aktel replied as he turned to adjust the IV.
"Can you tell me what you remember?" Aktel asked He saw the young man's eyes go dark and thoughtful, but soon the look turned to pain and a touch of panic.
"Problem?" Aktel asked. Leaning forward, he laid his hand on his patient's shoulder as he tried to sit up.
Chance lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes, drawing several deep shuddering breaths before he replied. "I can't seem to remember what happened." Chance paused as he stared up into the doctor's eyes, "I can't seem to remember anything," he stated, his voice husky with suppressed emotion.
Aktel started in surprise asking, "Anything?"
Chance grinned ruefully, murmuring, "Not even my name!
Aktel rocked back on his heels. He had seen the panic, and would hazard a guess that the young man was telling the truth. A blow to the head could easily have caused amnesia, but it was convenient - maybe too convenient.
Pulling himself together, Aktel leant close, trying to reassure his patient. Searching his face he said, "It's not uncommon with this type of head injury, in most cases it's only temporary. You must rest and regain your strength. In several days, when your memory returns, we will look back on this as a challenge. If it should not return, we will deal with it when the time comes. Please do not aggravate yourself. I know you're worried, but you're a strong, healthy young man and I'm sure it's just a temporary condition."
Tumultuous emotions coursed through Chance, but he held himself tightly in check. Not being able to remember even his name had shaken him badly. Thoughtfully, he listened to the doctor's words and hoped that time would indeed remedy the problem. Shivering as a stray thought crossed his mind, he felt like he had forgotten something, something very important and people he knew and cared about were waiting on him. "Why, oh why can't I remember?" Am angry little voice mussed in his head. Thinking about it only made his head hurt worse!
Standing in the background, Angelina hiccupped, gasping when she heard the word "amnesia". Pulling herself together, she smiled as her Uncle Tel finished up his examination and stepped away.
"You can have five minutes Lina, then you must let him rest."
"Five minutes," he said, shooting her a look that brooked no refusal.
Coming to stand beside the bed she whispered shyly, "I'm Angelina."
The man in the bed gave her a quizzical assessing look. Her face was tantalizing familiar and her soft lilting voice soothed his ravaged nerves. "I'd introduce myself, but I can't seem to remember my name," he stated wryly.
"I'm so sorry," Angelina whispered regretfully, as tears glistened in her eyes.
Chance looked at the woman in alarm as he saw the tears, whispering, "It's not your fault."
"Yes it is," she whimpered, brushing a tear from her cheek. "If I had listened to my Father, none of this would have happened and you wouldn't have gotten hurt." Angrily, she wiped another tear from her cheek.
Chance looked at the woman with renewed interest. "How about you tell me what happened and then let me decide if it's your fault!"
Angelina met his eyes for the first time giving him a watery smile, as she plopped into a chair beside the bed. She sighed as she watched his face. He looked tired and as much as she wanted to unburden herself to him, she knew he needed to rest.
"It's a really long story, and Uncle Tel will have my head if I tire you."
Chance was disappointed by her answer; he wanted, no needed to know what the hell was going on.
She could see that he was about to protest, cutting him off before he even started. "I promise that I'll explain it all, but my Uncle is right, you look exhausted and need to sleep. Next time you wake up, I'll tell you everything, I promise."
He was tired, yet the questions running around in his head needed answers. Shrugging he gave in to the inevitable and smiled slightly. The woman beside him sighed and he could see the tension leave her body.
Later that evening as Angelina sat beside the bed, staring at the sleeping man she tried to sort out her feelings for him. He was handsome and in her mind - a hero. Her heart ached, knowing that she was the cause of his current condition. He had saved her life and now he was paying for it with pain and no memory. She was drawn to him, whether she wanted it or not.
When he awakened the second time, he found Angelina curled up in the chair beside the bed; her head cradled in her hands, as they rested against the soft cushion of the overstuffed chair.
Angelina woke slowly, blinking the sleep from her eyes, smiling when she saw his eyes upon her.
"Are you feeling any better sir," she asked.
"Sir?" he questioned.
Angelina ducked her head, as an embarrassed flush stole into her cheeks.
"I… don't know what to call you," she murmured.
Chance saw the hurt on her face and it made him wonder about her previous confession. Somehow, she thought she was responsible for his injury. "What's in a name?" He grinned.
"I suppose I can keep calling you Sir, or young man like Uncle Tel," she grinned back, the tension gone from her face.
Chance groaned and shuddered. "No," he murmured emphatically. "I'm sure between us, we can come up with something other than that."
"Well," Angelina smiled, mischievously tapping her cheek, "How about Joe?"
"Joe," he grumbled.
"Dwayne?" She chuckled, setting her face in a serious mask as he caught her eyes.
"No, definitely not Dwayne," he mumbled.
"Well, how about Justin?" She laughed.
"Better, but still not right," he grinned.
Angelina pursed her lips and stared at Chance, racking her brain for a name that might fit the darkly handsome hero lying in front of her.
Chance nearly chuckled at the intense look on her face. She was taking this very seriously and that amused the hell out of him. He took a good look at the woman sitting beside him; she was pretty, damn pretty! But young! From the look on her face, he could see that she was a fair ways close to considering herself in love with him.
"I've got it," she chirped, "how about Chase?"
"Chase," he said, rolling the name around in his head, it sounded good - but not his real name he thought.
"So what do you think?"
"What made you think of Chase," he asked?
"I don't know," she mumbled. "All I could think of was you jumping in and chasing all the bad guys away."
"Ha," Chance shouted, then regretted it, as a sharp pain shot through his head.
At that moment the doctor opened the door, seeing the pain etched across his patient's brow he quirked an eyebrow at his niece. "If this is how you keep him quiet and resting, I'm not going to let you back into the room."
"Oh Uncle Tel, I'm sorry, but we were just trying to decide what to call him. Your -young man and my Sir were not too well received."
"And what have we decided on?" Tel asked, looking at Chance.
"Chase," Angelina piped in.
"How did you come up with Chase?" Tel questioned "Wait," he mumbled holding up his hand. "I don't want to know. I've come to tell you, your Father has asked to see you Angelina. I suggest you go, before he sends the troops out to find you."
Wrinkling her nose Angelina shrugged and sighed. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she whispered.
"Take your time young lady," Tel grumbled, "This young man needs to rest and he won't get it with you driving him to distraction."
"Hey, I'm not…" Angelina grumped, then grinned and stuck out her tongue as she caught the look of laughter on her Uncle's face.
As she turned away she caught Chase's grin and wink, blushing furiously she rushed from the room.
Tel waited until Angelina walked out the door, before moving to his patient's side.
"Headache?" Tel asked.
Chance/Chase mumbled, "Yes," not wanting to move his pounding head any more than was necessary. He wished now that he had never awakened, the headache was close to unbearable, with blinding flashes that ripped through his battered mind. The onslaught left him breathless and exhausted. He suffered in silence, but Tel had seen the pain etched across his brow and did his best to alleviate the pain.
Over the next several days, the headaches slowly subsided and Chance began to heal.
One morning three days later, he sat on the side of the bed. Tel had cautioned him to take things slowly. The throbbing ache in his shoulder had subsided but Chance had mistakenly tried to work it.
Walking in Tel clucked in disgust, his mournful looks and quiet demeanor made Chance feel like a small boy caught in some nefarious act of defiance.
"Do you wish for permanent damage?" Tel whispered.
Chance shook his head sheepishly. Tel's warning was unnecessary. The fire slicing through his shoulder had shown Chance the error of his ways.
Shaking his head, Tel grinned at the look of pain written on his young patient's face. "Slowly," Tel said. "You are too impatient my friend, give yourself time. Healing will not come in a day or even two."
"Yes Sir," Chance groaned, as Tel not so delicately strapped the shoulder back into place.
Day Six 2000 hrs
Dressed in a shimmering gold gown, Angelina stood beside her Father as they greeted their dinner guests. The house was ablaze with light. Tthe glittering guests filling the air with their chattering laughter.
A familiar face moving towards her caught Angelina's eye. She pasted a smile on her face as she greeted Phillip. Catching her hands in his, Phillip drew her forward and pressed a kiss on her cheek. "Angelina, you look beautiful as ever. Are you sure you won't change your mind and marry me?"
"Oh Phillip, we've been through this before..."
Breaking in, Phillip brushed his thumb across her cheek. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up, but you can't blame a man for trying." Squeezing her hand, he walked away as Angelina turned to greet another guest.
Across the room, Phillip stopped turned back he watched the love of his life. His eyes filled with envy and hatred as the woman he had chosen for himself smiled and chatted with dozens of other men.
Seven days later
It had been nearly a week since the accident, yet Chase still couldn't remember his name. Angelina had described everything she could remember about that evening, but it just wasn't enough. Racking his brain he tried to remember the event, but all it did was intensify the headache.
What he did know was his accident wasn't Angelina's fault, but no matter how hard he tried to convince her, she still blamed herself. She had spent every possible minute with him, talking and entertaining him and Chase was glad for the company.
Tel had finally allowed him to escape the bed and he had gone for a short walk. After ten minutes on his feet he was exhausted. The weakness in his body frustrated him. He needed to get back on his feet and find out who he really was.
Unbeknownst to either Chase or Angelina, her Father has set an investigator to work to discover who the man was his daughter had become infatuated with. After four days the investigator was as frustrated as Chase. His investigation has turned up nothing. Fingerprints came back unidentified. The investigator's contact in the police department had been able to obtain the police report of the bombing. But nowhere did it mention a man matching his description. No missing person's report had been filed. Did no one care if the man was gone? Was he alone in the world or was it something more sinister? In Arnett's mind, lack of information about the man was in itself, damning evidence. Setting several of his guards to work watching the pair Arnett could only wait.
Ten days after the bombing, Tel declared Chance fit and released him from the clinic. With his memory still a blank Chance had nowhere to go.
Aware that he might owe his daughter's life to the man, Arnett outwardly welcomed Chance into his home.
Thailand - Day 10
Thailand was beautiful this time of the year, but Matt and Margo saw only their failure. Chance was still missing. The lead had turned out to be another dead end. It has taken three days of constant surveillance, to find out that the man was sixty years old; the woman - his nurse.
Matt sat in his hotel room brooding. His feet were propped up on the coffee table. Earlier, after another useless conversation with Trout, he had thrown his cell phone across the room. Matt rarely let his emotions control him, but currently the phone lay in pieces in the corner of the room a token of his anger and frustration at being unable to find his missing friend.
A few minutes later Margo walked into the room, her eyes bleak as she looked at the dejected figure of Matt Shepherd. He hurt; it was obvious from the look on his face and his hunched shoulders. He hadn't shaved in three days and he looked ragged and unkempt.
"Where is he Margo," he pleaded. "Why can't we find him?"
"I don't know Matt," she whispered. Crossing the room, Margo knelt on the sofa beside him her arm encircling his shoulders as she tried to comfort him.
Matt leant into her shoulder, seeking the warmth and comfort she offered, wanting to soothe the ache in his heart.
"I don't understand! He's gone, it's like every trace of him has been wiped away. Did something happen to make him want to get away from the team and disappear?"
"No Matt, don't even think that! Chance is part of this team and always will be. Something has happened to him, I can feel it. I know he's still alive, and we will find him!"
"God Margo," Matt cried, "I hope you're right! I don't know what I'll do, if we don't find him."
"Everyone comes home Matt, and Chance will too. Believe it!"
Pulling her close Matt rested his head on top of hers, drawing comfort from her warmth and conviction that they would find Chance.
Margo's cell phone vibrated, startling the two of them. Margo jumped, fumbling with the phone as she pulled it from her belt and flipped it open.
"Hey Sweetpea," Benny Ray's tired voice drawled. "Where's the Major? I can't reach his cell and the operator says it is out of service."
"Matt's fine, he...ummm... dropped his phone and broke it!"
Hearing a hint of laughter in her voice, Benny Ray questioned, "Dropped it?"
"More like threw it," she answered, sobering. "Any luck," her tired voice asked.
"Nada," he answered. "Four more days wasted and we turn up nothing. You?"
"Same. Another dead end," she murmured.
Benny Ray knew with every passing day the trail got colder. It was going to be harder and harder to find Chance as time passed, but he wasn't ready to give up. He never would!
"You and CJ head for Africa. Matt and I are heading for India." Margo relayed the address and as much information as she had uncovered. "Stay in touch, call us when you arrive."
"Will do Margo," Benny Ray answered. Hanging up, he slapped CJ on the back. "Pack up, we are heading for Africa."
CJ began to grumble, and Benny Ray let him. Neither one had been able to sleep the last couple of nights. Their minds had turned to thoughts of Chance. CJ's way of letting off steam was grumbling, Benny Ray on the other hand, had not yet found an outlet for his pent up frustrations. He wanted desperately to break something.
La Naeda Estate
Chance sat on the patio sipping cold lemonade. The rest and pampering had done wonders for his health. His strength had quickly returned. The pinched look around his eyes and mouth had disappeared as the headache slowly faded. The only reminder of the incident in LA was the small white Band-Aid on his forehead and the sling on his arm.
Angelina sat at the little wrought iron table finishing her lunch. "Do you feel up to a trip into town? It's not very big, but it's a beautiful little village, rich in history and wonderful architecture."
Bored with the endless days in bed and the doctor's cautionary words not to exert himself, Chance was happy to hear of the excursion. "I'd like that," he answered.
"The car will be waiting out front at two o'clock."
CJ and Benny Ray had flown in early that morning. Finding a hotel hadn't been too difficult and the two weary travelers had been able to catch a couple of hours of restless sleep. The clerk had been very helpful giving them directions to the estate. It was nearing noon as they set up on a hillside overlooking their next objective.
The compound below them was quiet. Several men were dressed in white, with large brimmed hats covering their faces as they worked in a small garden behind the house. Five buildings made up the main area of the estate. The main house was a large building tucked off to the east side of the compound. Three other buildings behind the house looked like barns and sheds. The fifth was a low sprawling building at the far north end of the compound. Pulling out the binoculars CJ scanned the area.
He sucked in his breath unable to believe what he saw.
"It's him," he nearly yelled, catching himself in time. "It's Chance!"
Taking the offered binoculars, Benny Ray honed in on the area CJ had pointed to. Relief surged through him as he looked at the face of his friend. The bandage on his head and sling around his arm told a story, but Chance himself would have to tell them the rest.
"Bloody hell," CJ grumbled. "He's sitting down there, sipping tea, like he doesn't have a care in the world. The least he could have done was call and let us know he's ok."
"Calm down CJ," Benny Ray chuckled at the man's tirade. "Take a look at what else is down there and I'm not talking about the woman. There are guards all over the place. Maybe he couldn't contact us. I think we need a little bit more information, before we go jumping to conclusions."
CJ stopped grumbling, pulled the binoculars from Benny Ray's outstretched hand watching the little tableau below. "Bloody bastards, I'll fix them for kidnapping Chance."
Shaking his head at the Brit's emotional rollercoaster Benny Ray chuckled, "Just call the Major CJ and let him know we've found Chance. We'll figure out the rest after that."
CJ fished the phone from his pocket and dialed Margo's phone. The voice on the other end lit up with relief, as CJ relayed the news. Hanging up he turned to Benny Ray saying, "It'll take them about 20 hours to get here, but I think Matt was shedding a few tears before he hung up," CJ grinned wickedly. "Guess all we can do now is wait."
Benny Ray and CJ didn't have long to wait before a big black Mercedes pulled up in front of the house. It was only a few minutes later, that Chance and Angelina step out of the house and into the waiting car.
"He's a guest, Benny Ray. All this time we have been worried sick about the bloody bastard and he's living the life of the rich and famous. I'm gonna kill him; with my bare hands, I'm gonna kill him!"
Benny Ray let CJ ramble. He could feel it, something was wrong, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. It wasn't like Chance to leave the team hanging, not knowing where he was or what he was doing. Something was definitely wrong! "Gather the gear CJ, we're going for a ride."
There were few roads in that part of the country and Benny Ray had no trouble keeping the Mercedes in sight as it headed for the center of the little town. The car stopped in the village square and discharged its passengers. The square was alive with music and the sounds of shoppers haggling for the best deals. A huge water fountain filled the center of the square, bright open walkways and shops arrayed in a circular shape were scattered around it. Several side streets lead off in different directions with many inviting little shops waiting to be explored.
Benny Ray with CJ beside him followed closely as Chance and Angelina strolled through the square. Watching and waiting for nearly 20 minutes as the couple wound their way in and out of the myriad of shops. As they stopped for a cool drink, Benny Ray slipped in beside Chance bumping into his good shoulder.
Smiling Benny Ray turned as Chance looked his way, a thoughtful frown crossed his brow. Benny Ray was stunned at the look in his friend's eyes. Not a hint of recognition, nothing. Smiling, Benny Ray mumbled "Sorry" before he turned away.
"What the hell was that all about?" CJ hissed through gritted teeth
"He didn't recognize me," Benny Ray said thoughtfully. "Either he's playing some kind of game or he really doesn't know who I am."
"Damn," CJ groaned, "Now what do we do?"
"For now we follow."
Hidden in the shadows, angry eyes watched the couple as they strolled through the streets. His face an ugly mask of hatred, as he saw their arms entwine and their faces fill with laughter. Rage came alive within him as he snapped orders to the two men standing beside him. Stepping out of the shadows Phillip moved to stand beside the gurgling water fountain in the center of the square, wanting to watch them die!
Chance looked up a tremor coursed through him as he glanced toward the fountain. The dark eyes he encountered were familiar somehow and sudden images of smoke and flame rushed through his mind. Shaking himself, he looked away as the glint of sun on metal caught his eyes. He reacted instantly as the crack of a handgun shattered the gaiety of the little square. He grunted in pain and spun to the side, covering Angelina's body with his, shielding her from the attack. The bullet meant for her heart seared a path across Chance's left arm. His momentum carried them forward and through the open door into the closest shop. Angelina stumbled as her feet slipped out from beneath her. Chance, off balance, fell with her. Twisting to the side he narrowly avoided landing on top of her as they crashed to the floor.
Together they slid several feet across the floor, before smashing into a row of shelves. Chance gasped, as his head encounters the sharp corner of the lowest shelf. Stars exploded in his mind. Closing his eyes he tried to push away the darkness that threatened to engulf him. It was several seconds before he pulled himself back under control and remembered!
Around them, they could hear voices screaming and shouting as the crack of bullets continued to fly. Glass shattered around them and Chance knew they were not yet out of harm's way. Dragging Angelina behind the counter, he hunted for a weapon. Beneath the counter, Chance saw a large black umbrella - not his first choice in a weapon, but at the moment he couldn't afford to be choosy.
Outside, Benny Ray spotted the shooter. The Glock, hidden beneath his jacket, suddenly materialized in his hand. Unaware of his peril, the shooter moved closer to the little shop that Chance and Angelina had disappeared into. One shot to the chest took the man down. Then the second man stepped up. CJ and Benny Ray dived for cover, as the second man sprayed the area with gunfire. Benny Ray's next shot hit the shooter in the leg and the man screamed as he fell to his knees. Fear shot through the fallen thug as he glanced at the dark figure hidden behind the fountain. He knew his life and the lives of his family would be forfeit if he failed. Scrambling away, the weapon in his hand spat fire at the little shop, before he spun towards Benny Ray.
In the middle of the square, cover was scarce, as Benny Ray and CJ rolled across the cobblestones. For Benny Ray, there was nowhere to go, as the spray of bullets headed his way. His body came to rest against the dark brick façade of a shop. The bullets suddenly stopped - only inches from their target as the shooter flipped backward. The square was deathly quiet, as the rain of bullets silenced. Standing up, the weapon in his hand smoking from use CJ mumbled something unintelligible.
"Check the shooters CJ, I'm going after Chance and the girl."
"Roger that mate, but be careful, being shot at might cause the man to be slightly pissed off."
Benny Ray glared at his friend before grinning. Silent footsteps carried him into the small shop. Glass and debris were strewn across the floor. A few droplets of blood left a trail heading to the right. Following the trail, Benny Ray cautiously stepped behind the counter. Chance's attack was swift, as he swung the umbrella at Benny Ray's head. Benny Ray's arm came up deflecting the blow away from his head. "Whoa Amigo!" Benny Ray yelped as the umbrella connected, chuckling at the startled look of recognition in his friend's eyes.
"Benny Ray" Chance murmured his eyes filling with excitement and relief. Sighing he stepped forward and collapsed into Benny Ray's outstretched arms.
"Damn" Benny Ray growled, as he lowered his friend to the floor. The white bandage on his forehead was stained red with blood, as his hand brushed the dark wetness on the sleeve of Chance's left arm. "CJ, get in here," Benny Ray yelled.
Angelina sank to the ground, cradling Chance's head in her lap, as tears welled up in her eyes. "He's ok, isn't he?" She asked tearfully.
"Yes Ma'am, just shock he's passed out."
Stepping into the little shop CJ started grumbling, stopping as he saw the scene laid out in front of him.
"Bring the car around CJ, we need to get him to a hospital."
"My Uncle is a doctor," Angelina broke in. "If we can get him back to the house, my Uncle will take care of him."
Benny Ray spun to the side as he finished tying off the bullet wound on Chance's arm, his body blocking Angelina's, as footsteps could be heard on crunching glass. The Glock was back in his hand, as CJ moved toward the door.
A thin, older, gray haired man stepped into the shop, his face a mask of horror at the destruction. CJ grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him into the shop placing his gun to the man's head.
Angelina yells "No," as she recognized her father's chauffeur. "He's with me." She scrambled to her feet. "Benoit, are you ok" she asked, hugging him.
"It is I that should be asking you that, Miss Angelina. Your Father will have my head, if anything happens to you. Where are your Father's men?"
CJ reluctantly lowered his weapon, but kept his guard up, as he peeked out the door. The square was devoid of activity, but he could hear the sound of sirens in the distance.
"I think we need to unass this AO my friend, the heat is closing in," CJ mumbled.
"The car is out back Miss Angelina," the chauffeur stated shakily.
Hefting the unconscious body of Chance over his shoulder, Benny Ray stood up. "Go," he whispered. CJ lead the way, as the chauffeur gave directions. The dark limo was only a short distance from the shop. Carefully Benny Ray lowered his friend to the back seat before he helped Angelina inside.
"I'll follow in the other car," CJ yelled, as he took off through a small alleyway. Benny Ray glanced around; his eyes searching, but not finding the whisper of danger his senses told him, was there. With one last look, Benny Ray climbed into the limo. Benoit set the car in motion. Dirt and gravel flew, as he drove the car onto the main road.
In a dark alleyway behind them, furious black eyes followed the fleeing car. His aunt had warned him this would fail, but he had ignored the warning - his black heart only wanted revenge! Phillip would go back to his aunt; maybe he could convince her to use her magic against his enemy.
La Naeda Estate
As the limo pulled up to the house, a contingent of armed men ran from the building to surround the cars.
Furious eyes spun to Angelina, as she stepped out of the car; her eyes cautiously watched him as she backed out of the car. Benny Ray slowly stepped out the other side; his hands raised in the air, as one of the guards rushed in to relieve him of his weapons. In the car behind him, with guards on either side, CJ did the same.
Angelina threw him a guilty look but didn't protest at their treatment. Waving several more of the guards towards the still unconscious Chance, she followed, as they carefully lifted him from the seat and carried him into the house.
At the top of the steps, two men stood side by side, watching the display below them. Arnett's face was filled with concern, as his daughter ran lightly up the steps to throw herself into his arms. "What happened Angelina?"
"I don't really know, but it was terrifying. Men were firing guns and people were screaming." Looking up into her Father's pain filled eyes, she gestured toward Chance whispering, "I think maybe he saved my life again today."
"He's hurt Uncle Tel, he was shot protecting me." Angelina voice broke, as she took her Uncle's hand.
Throwing his brother a look of concern, Tel hugged his niece, before following his patient into the house. Two men carried Chance to his room, carefully laying him on the bed before Tel walked into the room. Grumbling beneath his breath, Tel removed the hastily applied bandage on Chance's arm and huffed at the angry red wound that marred the skin. It wasn't deep or serious, but it would take a few stitches to close it. Pulling the soaked bandage from Chance's brow, Tel clucked to himself as he saw the reopened cut. It had already stopped bleeding, but Tel had to wonder how badly he had bumped his head - again?
At the front of the house, Benny Ray and CJ were marched up the stairs. Arnett's angry eyes stared at the duo. "Who are you?" he asked caustically.
Benny Ray looked the man over and could see the anger and pain in the man, as he held his daughter close. He could understand the man's concerns and brought his own anger under control. "Benny Ray Riddle Sir, and this is Christopher Yates."
"You know Chase don't you," Angelina blurted out. "He recognized you, I heard him call your name in the shop."
"Chase?" CJ questioned, "His name is Jason Chance Walker, we call him Chance. Yes, we know him - he's a friend; we've been searching for him for weeks."
Angelina turned stricken eyes to CJ, encountering his angry gaze.
"I'm sorry," Arnett explained. "I don't know who to trust anymore. I hope you will understand my caution."
"Yes Sir we do, but its Chance that worries us now," Benny Ray offered.
"Please come in. I will send someone up to enquire after your friend's condition," Arnett said, as he motioned CJ and Benny Ray inside."
"We would prefer to see for ourselves," Benny Ray stated.
Angelina laughed, the color finally returning to her face after the ordeal in the square. "I'm sure you would, but Uncle Tel would only throw you out, giving you a lecture on patience, or something just as droll."
Leading the way into the house, Arnett settled his guests in the living room, as he rung for refreshments. CJ grinned at the elegance of the room. Beside him Benny Ray waited, his eyes taking in every detail of their surroundings and the two people sitting across from him.
"Angelina," her father pleaded, "Please ask your Uncle Tel to come see us as soon as his patient is settled."
Benny Ray bided his time, waiting until Angelina was gone before he spoke, "I don't mean to alarm you Sir, but someone wants your daughter dead, and they came very close to accomplishing it this afternoon."
"How do you know it isn't your friend they were aiming for," Arnett said defensively.
"I was there sir, I saw the shooter. His aim would have been true, if Chance hadn't stepped in front of your daughter and pulled her out of the line of fire. He took that bullet for her!"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Riddle," Arnett whispered, shaking his head. "You're right, and this isn't the first attempt. There have been others; Los Angeles was one of them. The bomb that injured your friend was meant for her. Again your friend stepped in and saved her life."
"It frightens me Mr. Riddle. I've done everything in my power to try and protect her, but I don't know who is doing this. Until I do find out, Angelina will not leave this estate."
Arnett wiped his hand across his face and through his hair. Benny Ray could see the frustration and fear coursing through the man. "Why did you bring Chance here?"
A wry grin lit up the man's face as he looked into Benny Ray's eyes. "My daughter, Mr. Riddle; she refused to leave without him. My choices were leaving her there or bring him with us. I chose to bring him. Your friend was injured in the explosion while saving my daughter's life. She feels responsible for him. She is stubborn like her mother. My brother was with us and he is a competent doctor, well able to care for your friend. My choice, though a reluctant one, was obvious."
"Tel confided his fears to me, when we brought your friend here. He was gravely ill for many days. Even after he regained consciousness, he remembered nothing. His memory was a blank; he couldn't even remember his own name. Amnesia! Tel hoped his memory would return with time."
"I did set an investigation in motion Mr. Riddle, but your friend is a ghost." Arnett paused to assess the men sitting in front of him. Riddle was tall and muscular, his lean, lithe build indicative of lethal grace; the man's carriage and no nonsense demeanor suggestive of a soldier. Beside him, the other man was watchful and wary. Their nods and gestures played off one another, they were a good team, and Arnett just hoped they were on his side.
"I began to wonder if your friend was part of the plot against my daughter. I'm sorry! I realize now that he is not."
"What do you plan to do," Benny Ray asked quietly.
"I don't know Mr. Riddle I'm all out of ideas. If you can think of a way to help I will be indebted to you." Arnett watched as the two men shared a glance wishing he could read their minds.
"I don't know if we can help you or not Mr. …" Benny Ray paused.
"I'm sorry," Arnett started guiltily, "I let my anger get away from me, Arnett La Naeda!"
All three men stood and shook hands, as the door behind them opened and Angelina stepped through.
Upstairs, Tel went about his business stitching the wound and bandaging it. Tel was happy to see Chance stir and slowly regain consciousness. "Damn," Chance groaned as he reached up with his good hand, to hold his pounding head.
"So, young man, what do you have to say for yourself this time?"
Chance laughed, then groaned as the pounding in his head escalated.
"I'm sorry," Tel grinned.
Tel turned at the quiet knock on the door. Winking at Chance, he chuckled saying, "Come in Lina."
Stepping into the room Angelina quietly moved to her Uncle's side. "He's fine Lina" Tel whispered, "He has a very hard head."
Chance pushed himself up and swung his legs off the bed. Frustration warred with laughter, as Tel threw his arms up. "Thirty minutes young man, then back to bed, and that's an order."
"Yes Sir!" Chance answered, grinning. His steps were wobbly as he walked across the room. A few minutes later, the three of them entered the living room to find Arnett, Benny Ray and CJ deep in conversation.
Benny Ray turned, sighing in relief as Chance walked into the room. Though he looked tired, the crooked little smile on his face gladdened at least two hearts in the room. "Amigo, I am damned glad to see you," Benny Ray whispered, as he wrapped his friend in a bear hug. Close behind CJ followed suit.
"Not fair my man," CJ mumbled. "Next time you go on vacation, you'd better invite us along."
Chance laughed, as he hugged his friends. His face turned serious saying, "I suppose you want to know what's going on?"
"Mr. La Naeda gave us the basics, Chance. I don't suppose you're going to let us walk away from this one, are you?"
"Nope," Chance answered seriously. "It's personal now Benny Ray and you of all people know what happens when it gets personal."
Benny Ray just grinned. "Matt and Margo are on the way, they should be here early tomorrow. We'll figure it out after that."
The greetings were interrupted, as the servants walked in with refreshments. The conversation turned benign as everyone started to relax. After thirty minutes, Tel looked across at Chance. Angelina giggled at the look on Chance's face. It was the closest thing to a pout, that she'd ever seen, but Chance reluctantly got to his feet. Benny Ray did the same, wanting a few more minutes with his friend.
Tel stood and followed them upstairs. In Chance's room he tapped Benny Ray on the shoulder, getting his full attention before saying, "I want to take a look at that arm, young man."
Benny Ray looked at the blood soaked sleeve Tel had indicated, before saying, "It's just a scratch."
"I'll be the judge of that young man, now sit," Tel's voice brooked no refusal.
And Benny Ray sat, without protest. Chance nearly choked with laughter at the surprised look on his friend's face asking, "What did you do to your arm
Grinning wryly, Benny Ray yelped in pain and surprise, as Tel inspected the wound, saying, "You wield a wicked umbrella, my friend."
"Damn, did I do that," Chance asked, as Tel cleaned up the cut and put a couple of butterfly tapes across it before wrapping a bandage on it.
Benny Ray grinned and shrugged, "Collateral damage Amigo, I will not hold it against you - this time!"
Tel didn't give them time to talk. Taking Benny Ray by the elbow, he turned to Chance stating emphatically, "Rest!"
Closing the door behind him; Tel asked, his eyes filling with laughter, "An umbrella?"
Benny Ray chuckled, saying, "Yes sir, a big umbrella!"
"I know you will not; you're too much like your friend in there, but you should take it easy on that arm for a few days."
"I'll try sir," Benny Ray answered seriously.
Together they returned to the living room. Tel looked at his brother before saying. "I hope you both will stay with us for a while and help us work out a few problems."
CJ answered. "I think I can speak for both of us Sir, when I say we'll be glad to stay and help."
"Good! Angelina will show you to your rooms. Dinner is at seven, see you then."
Benny Ray knew they had been dismissed. Throwing CJ a glance, he nodded towards the door.
Arnett stood waiting as his guests left. Furiously he lashed out at his brother. "What the hell are you doing, inviting these people to stay? We don't know anything about them."
Tel crossed the room pouring two drinks he handed one to Arnett. "These people saved your daughter's life again today. Two of them were injured in the process. Doesn't that mean anything to you?" Aktel didn't wait for an answer; his voice was heavy with emotion as he pleaded, "Give them a chance Arnett. There's something about these men, I can feel it and I think you can too. Give them a little time they may prove to be a blessing in disguise."
Arnett sank back into his chair, sipping the dark liquid in his glass. "I hope you're right Tel, I've exhausted all my resources and still Angelina is in danger. If you think these people can save her, I will be grateful to them until my dying day."
Next day 0730 hrs
An early morning call from Matt saw Benny Ray and CJ standing on the front steps of the big house, as Matt and Margo drove up. The greetings, though heartfelt, were reserved. Benny Ray could see the questions in their eyes, and knew they were concerned that Chance wasn't there to greet them. "He's fine Major; a little battered and bruised, but he's fine."
Margo laughed, "That from a man who wouldn't cry uncle, even if he was half dead."
Matt grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. "CJ, glad to see you survived the trip?
CJ looked at him quizzically. Beside him, Margo laughed and Benny Ray pasted a hurt look on his face, as he glanced at Matt.
Matt laughed, asking, "So how did Chance end up here?"
"It's a long story Major," CJ broke in.
"Well, it's a story I want to hear," Margo chimed in. Stepping between CJ and Benny Ray she linked her arms with theirs as they walked into the house
"It's complicated Major," Benny Ray said.
"When isn't it," Matt sighed.
"We have a situation here Sir, and I think we should consider helping." Leading the way through the house out into the garden, together Benny Ray and CJ explained what Chance had gotten involved in before introducing the new arrivals to the family.
Ouidah, Benin - Africa
Ouidah was the heart of Vodun in Benin. Vodun was also the most widely practiced religion in the country. Ouidah an ancient city was dark and mysterious. Although Vodun was usually a benign religion, much of its history was steeped in darkness and fear.
Phillip had come to Ouidah to seek out his aunt. She was a priestess of Vodun and an acknowledged leader of Ouidah's underground cult. Many people feared Chambeau Wynette; her powers were reputed to be great and fierce. Swift retribution for slights and insults were meted out to any she considered her enemy. Many, who had crossed her, would never again see the light of day.
She stood now in the center of the Hounfour - her temple to the gods. It was a lavish room, evidence to her power in the great city. The Poleau-mitan - her gateway to the gods, stood tall and majestic in the center of the room. It was an intricately carved pole with the faces of the gods on its dark worn surface. Today she would invoke Dambala - the serpent god, to aid her nephew in his quest for revenge.
Although Arnett La Naeda was a powerful man, Chambeau did not fear him, in fact she feared no one, not even the gods.
Already the ritual has begun. A fire burned next to the altar, a feast offered to the gods lay strewn on the table. Phillip's sated body lay naked in the center of the Veve. Chambeau had spent much time and energy creating the Veve; the patterns inside the circle were made of cornmeal and flour; the pictures depicting serpents and strength. Phillip lay at it's heart in a drugged stupor. His hands wrapped around two identical black stilettos. Hundreds of red and black candles lined the floor and walls. Their wicks flickered, throwing an eerie shadowy light around the room. On the altar behind him, a tiny goat bleated in terror.
At a word from Chambeau; Phillip rose to his feet, as the rattles in her hand began to beat. Phillip chanted, his feet moving sluggishly at first but soon, his body swayed, his feet quickly beat a tattoo of death, as he danced through and around the Veve. Time flashed by, as the serpent etched into the center of the pole began to glow. Its blue / red sheen bathed the dancer in its radiance and followed his movements across the floor. Phillip's feet carried him up on to the altar, as Chambeau's rattles beat harder and faster. The tiny goat tied to the altar thrashed wildly, it's eyes wide with fear, as Phillip's flashing arms waved above it. The stilettos in his hands were crossed over his head, as he stood poised above the animal. Wild crescendos of sound crashed through the room, as the blades slashed downward, slicing across the goat's throat. Blood splattered across his body, as Chambeau reached outward, filling a dark wooden bowl with the animal's blood that ran through a tiny rivulet cut into the stone altar.
Phillip's eyes glazed over, as Chambeau motioned him from the altar. Her hand dipped into the bowl. Covering her fingers in blood she anointed his hot glistening body. Holding the bowl to his lips, she made him drink. He gulped the warm blood hungrily, feeling the power begin to grow within him.
Moving to the pole, Chambeau picked up two straw dolls and dipped the heads in the blood, before beginning her chant again. She dipped her body low swaying to the beat of the rattles in her hand. The room smelt of death and smoke, but Chambeau has not yet completed the ritual. Pulling a silver locket from a nail on the pole, she spun the sparkling chain around one the dolls' neck, pulling it tight. Her hand snaked out, impaling the figure on the pole; the silver locket's glow was soon snuffed out, as the goat's blood flowed over it, drowning out its light.
Moments later, the second straw figure hung above the coals; a small square of black cloth tied around its neck waved in the candlelight. The unfaithful and her lover would soon know the agonies of Chambeau's magic. Spinning away, Chambeau pulled a handful of dark powder from her pocket. The ghostly glow from the pole and candles bathed her face, the eerie light lending a serpent-like façade to her features, as she tossed the powder into the flames. A loud explosion rocked the room and smoke billowed from the grate, as Phillip and Chambeau fell to the floor exhausted. The magic they have evoked was loose!
La Naeda Estate
Matt, Margo, CJ and Benny Ray sat on the patio, trying to come up with a plan. Margo's computer spun its magic web, as she dug for information. The glass door slid open and Chance stepped out. Margo squeaked in delight and jumped to her feet, to hug him tight.
Matt stood up, his eyes taking in every line and curve of Chance's face. He looks tired, but Matt's heart heaved a little sigh, just to see him alive and in one piece. A big smile lit his face, as he shook Chance's hand, before pulling him into a bear hug. "Sit and take a load off. Benny Ray and CJ here have given us the lowdown, but I'd like to hear your side of the story."
"You probably know as much as I do Major. Even the events at the convention center are still a little cloudy."
"Well, just take your time and tell us what you do remember," Matt cajoled.
"Just a face Sir; dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin and a small scar on his cheek, he was there in LA, Angelina knew him, and from what I can remember, they had an argument. I saw that same face again yesterday in the square. I don't know who he is!"
Tel and Angelina come around the corner. Hearing the tail end of the conversation, Angelina asked, "Who are you talking about?"
All eyes turned to the pair as Chance said, "The man I saw you arguing with in LA, who is he?"
"LA?" Angelina questioned "I…" Her eyes went dark and hazy as she tried to remember the night in the convention. "Phillip," she answered thoughtfully.
"Phillip was in LA?" Tel asked quickly. "What was he doing in LA?"
"I don't know Uncle. We argued and he left."
"No, Angelina, I remember now," Chance spoke softly, but his voice was filled with excitement. "I fought with him later, right before the explosion. Damn," Chance swore softly. "This Phillip character is the one who set off the bomb."
Angelina swayed. Beside her, Aktel steadied her and steered her to an empty chair.
"Who is Phillip?" Matt asked Aktel
"Phillip Wynette; his family lives on the estate adjoining ours. His Father was in the diplomatic corps, but was killed five years ago in a car accident. Phillip is his only son, educated at Oxford. Phillip's Father and Arnett had hoped the children would wed, but it was not to be."
"Phillip is just a friend," Angelina answered. "Oh he's handsome and intelligent, but I can't see myself married to him. I don't love him. Father understands, but Phillip took my refusal to marry, badly. He keeps trying to convince me to marry him; he can't seem to understand that I never will, no matter what he tries."
"Well," Margo answered. "It looks like he may finally have decided to take you at your word. His version is a little twisted I think. If you aren't going to marry him, then he is going to make sure you don't marry anyone."
Angelina stood quickly, her voice breathless and frightened. "Oh God, no!"
Angelina swayed again, her face pale and drawn. "Uncle Tel, I… I don't feel well."
Tel and Matt got to their feet, as her eyes closed and she fainted. Beside her, Matt reached out enfolding her in his arms. Cradling her gently, he looked towards Tel.
"Let's get her to her room," Tel whispered.
Matt moved quickly through the open doorway, the rest of his team close behind him. As they climbed the stairway, Chance stumbled, quickly catching himself. Weakness washed over him and he closed his eyes.
"Compadre," Benny Ray whispered. "You Ok?"
"Don't know just a little dizziness. Is it hot in here?" Chance mumbled.
"Time for you to go back to bed," Margo ordered!
Benny Ray was surprised when Chance didn't protest. He threw Margo a confused look, as they helped their friend up the stairs and into his room. Benny Ray got him settled saying, "Stay put! I'll have Tel look in on you when he's done with his niece."
As the door closed on his friends, heat surged through Chance. His vision blurred, as his skin grew hot and dry.
Down the hall, Matt and Aktel settled Angelina in her room. Her skin was cool to the touch, but her breathing had quickened - each breath harsh and raspy. Picking up the phone, Aktel dialed the clinic. He barked out his order before the operator could even answer, "Send an ambulance to the main house now!"
Tel wiped his brow before stepping out of the room. He jumped, as he spotted the sniper silently leaning against the wall just outside the door. Benny Ray slid the doctor a questioning look, asking "How is she?"
Throwing his hands up in frustration Tel cried, "I don't know. It could be a virus or some kind of parasite, but I won't know until I can run some tests."
"Chance almost collapsed on the stairway Doc. I think you should take a look at him."
Tel almost ran down the hallway, throwing the door open in his haste. Chance had thrown the covers off, his breathing was ragged, and his skin was hot and dry to the touch. Tel swore loudly, as laid his hand on Chance's brow. "He's burning up!"
La Naeda Clinic
Tel had no choice but to quarantine the estate; but even after 3 hours of exhaustive tests, he could not find the answer to either of his patient's illnesses. Calling Matt and his team together along with Arnett he explained what little he knew. Five anxious sets of eyes looked to Tel for answers, but he had none to give them.
"Could Phillip have done this Tel, could he somehow have infected Angelina and Chance with something yesterday?" Arnett asked quietly.
"It's possible Arnett, but I can't find the bug. I just don't know. So far it's just the two of them, no one else has been affected. But their symptoms are so totally different. I am at a loss to understand what's happening.
"Phillip," Margo stated.
Tel didn't answer, but he nodded his head - yes.
Benny Ray watched the doctor closely. Tel did everything he could to avoid the sniper's eyes. "What aren't you telling us Doc?" he asked quietly.
Tel stood up and paced the room, trying to decide how to start an unlikely topic. "Have you ever heard of Vodun, Mr. Riddle?"
Margo broke in before Benny Ray could answer, "Voodoo, you think voodoo has something to do with this?"
"That's crazy," CJ scoffed. "Voodoo, that's just some Hollywood hype to sell movies."
Arnett stood quickly, his chair crashing to floor, as he pushed it away. "I agree it's ridiculous, I don't believe in that hocus pocus Tel and neither do you!"
"Maybe not Arnett, but how else do you explain what's happening to your daughter and their friend. I've run tests over and over and I can't find anything. I don't know what to do. I've never seen anything like. They are living on borrowed time." Shaking his head in despair he murmured, "If we don't discover the cause soon, we're going to lose them."
Benny Ray had seen a lot of things in his life. He thought the idea of voodoo ridiculous, but he had also seen Chance and Angelina and wasn't about to rule out even the slightest clue, even if it was as hokey as this. "Why do you think its voodoo Doc?"
Tel looked at his brother for confirmation. Arnett only shrugged saying, "You started it brother, you can tell the story."
Tel sat; his body a picture of pain and dejection, as he prepared to tell the story. "Vodun is an ancient religion. Most of Benin's people worship the Vodun gods, but over the years many of the priests have changed the way they worship. Rumors and stories throughout history say that Vodun can be twisted to include the darker black magic's. Phillip is a student of Vodun; his aunt is a priestess and has been known to practice black magic."
"So what does that have to do with anything," CJ griped.
"Chambeau Wynette, Phillip's aunt is a powerful woman. Over the years, those that oppose her have died many of them mysteriously. I think she's involved in this."
"So, how do we fight this… this… magic stuff," CJ questioned?
"Tel, this is ridiculous," Arnett shouted.
"I've seen too much Arnett," Tel shouted back.
"Enough!" Matt shouted, pounding his fist on the table to gain their attention, "Fighting amongst ourselves will not solve anything. Black Magic, White Magic, it doesn't matter. What we need to do, is find Phillip and his Aunt. That should be our first priority. Once we have them, we can find out what they've done to your daughter and our friend."
Tel and Arnett settled back in their chairs, waiting.
Margo flipped open her laptop, "Phillip Wynette, heir to his Father's estate, is a very wealthy man. He has homes in Florida, LA, Paris and Ouidah, Benin. His businesses include import export, some high tech and publishing. Somewhere along the line, he acquired a rap sheet for breaking and entering, petty theft and assault with a deadly weapon. None of the charges ever stuck. Witnesses disappeared and money paved the way to dismiss the charges. One living relative, a "Chambeau Wynette" lives at her nephew's home in Ouidah. She owns several businesses here and abroad, she's a prominent member of the Ouidah city council. She's a powerful woman with friends in high places."
"So, you know who they are and where they live. What good is that going to do us?" Arnett asked.
"You worry about your daughter Mr. La Naeda, let me worry about Phillip and his Aunt." Turning to his team Matt issued orders. "We leave in twenty minutes, get your gear."
Aktel stood, catching Matt by the arm saying, "I'm going with you."
"Doctor La Naeda, your job is here looking after your patients," was Matt's reply.
"No, Mr. Shepherd. I know you don't believe in voodoo and black magic, but I've seen it with my own eyes. It's real! If Chambeau is plying her magic, we need someone to stop her and counteract whatever magic she's set loose."
Matt pulled away, pacing a short distance across the patio as he pondered Aktel's words. He didn't believe in black magic, but these people did. It was real to them and that was just as dangerous.
"Alright Doc, Grab your gear and whatever else you need and meet us out front in twenty minutes."
Tel's face was grim as he walked away his thoughts on Angelina and Chance. Unless something happened soon, they weren't going to last through the night. He'd done everything humanly possible, managing somehow to keep Chance's temperature down and Angelina breathing; but unless he could find out what was causing their illness, Tel didn't want to think about the consequences.
Rushing from the room, he crossed the courtyard to a small cottage behind the barn. An old woman sat on the porch, her gnarled hands wrapped tightly around an ebony cane, but her eyes were brightly alive.
She stood as he crossed the short distance to her home, picking up a small basket beside her chair. "I've been waiting," She said reproachfully, shaking her head as Tel chuckled.
Patting her hand he took the small bag sitting beside her rocker grumbling, "I'm sorry," as he tucked her arm beneath his. Slowly her feeble legs moved beside his, as they made their way back to the main house.
Two SUVs were already parked in front of the steps, when Tel came around the corner with Tayleeah. Benny Ray stood beside the second vehicle dressed in full battle gear. A large black bag sat at his feet and a rifle hung on his shoulder. Tel stopped dead in his tracks, he didn't know what to expect - he hadn't expected this. On the stairs above him, Margo and CJ came out of the house. They too wore black and full body armor. "What the hell?" Tel asked Benny Ray.
A wide grin was Benny Ray's only answer.
Stuttering slightly Tel said, "We're going with you!"
Benny Ray's cool blue eyes surveyed the pair standing in front of him. Tayleeah unbent her body, standing straight and tall and looked him straight in the eye. They stood, eyes locked for several seconds, as Tel shifted restlessly.
"Well young man," Tayleeah said regally.
Benny Ray grinned, pushing himself off the side of the truck. His movements were lithe and graceful, as he bowed and opened the door, reaching out to assist Tayleeah into the seat. "Glad to have you on board Ma'am," he drawled.
The silky, smooth, southern drawl sent a shiver of pleasure up the old lady's spine; the dark skin of her cheeks glowed pink with pleasure. It had been a long time since any man had made her feel that way and to this man it came naturally.
Matt was the last to arrive; Arnett at his side as they walked out of the house. "We'll do our best Mr. La Naeda." Shaking the man's hand, Matt walked down the stairs. His eyes swung to the sniper's, taking note of the strange twinkle in their depths. Then he looked in the back seat and swore. He kept on swearing, until he got into the passenger seat of the first car. CJ took the driver's side, as Margo and Benny Ray slid into the front seat of the second car. As CJ pulled away, Margo dropped the second vehicle into gear, pulling out behind them.
Phillip's estate was over thirty miles away, nestled in a small valley west of the city's center. Matt had passed around the satellite pictures Trout had sent. Only one road lead from the La Naeda estate to Phillip's estate near Ouidah and they were on it. It was a rough country dirt road that twisted its wayward path along the foothills. As they neared the intersection that would lead them to the estate, Margo and CJ pulled the SUVs off the dusty road and into the trees.
It wasn't long before they were ready to go. Kneeling beneath a tree, Matt outlined the plan. "Listen up people we want this guy and his aunt alive."
"CJ, you set up a diversion in the shed to the north of the main house. Benny Ray, find a spot near the front of the house. When CJ is set, you both go in the front. Margo and I are going in the back. CJ, blow the shed only on my mark.
"Questions?" When none were forthcoming, he continued, "Let's try and make this as non-lethal as possible." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tel standing outside the circle, Tayleeah at his side. "Tel, keys are in the ignition, I'll call when we know the situation."
Tel nodded, watching as Benny Ray melted into the trees, the others following closely on his heels. The pace he set was brisk and they reached the house in less than ten minutes. The grounds were quiet, with one guard asleep on the front porch. Matt and Margo moved into position at the rear of the house. CJ went to work on the shed, with Benny Ray keeping watch from the tree line.
CJ's voice crackled across the comlink, "Ready Major."
"Benny Ray, take the guard out. Margo and I are going in the back."
"Roger Sir." Sliding behind the shed, Benny Ray moved toward the porch, CJ close behind. His footsteps were silent, as he approached the sleeping guard, a quick tap to the back of the head and the guard slumped sideways -unconscious. "Clear here Major!"
"Go," came across the link, sending Benny Ray and CJ to the front door. CJ went in low as Benny Ray threw the door open. A shocked maid stood in the center of the foyer as the two dark-clad menacing figures brandishing weapons crashed through the door. She squeaked in fear, dropping the linens she was holding in her hands. Seconds later, her eyes rolled back in her head, as consciousness faded. It was CJ's turn to squeak, as he rushed the short distance across the room to catch her before she hit the ground.
"Hey," CJ whispered, his eyes bright. "I finally got to rescue a damsel in distress!"
"Nice try Sir Christopher, but you're the one who made her faint in the first place." Benny Ray's eyes glittered with humor, as he glanced at his partner. The sniper's mind quickly turned back to business, as his sharp eyes scanned the room and stairway leading up to the second floor. Clucking in disapproval, he stayed alert, as CJ moved the woman into the sitting room.
CJ looked at the sniper with wounded eyes, before picking up his burden and moving through the open doorway into a large sitting room. He settled the still unconscious woman on the couch, before again assuming his intruder role. Together, they combed the rest of the house but found nothing.
The rear of the house was silent, as Matt and Margo came in through the back door. The cook, humming beneath her breath screeched and dropped the crockery in her hands, as Margo came through the door. Her voice went up an octave, as she babbled her fears to the room. Margo, speaking softly tried to calm the woman. The cook stopped abruptly, when Margo tossed her a question. "Where is Mr. Wynette?"
The cook started ranting, making it hard for Margo to follow the conversation. Involuntarily Margo's head started bobbing in time with the cook's. She watched and listened to the furious words. A slow smile began to grow until she was nearly laughing. "Matt, they're not here. The cook just gave me a dissertation on the misdeeds of the duo. She said they left early this morning. I guess Phillip gave orders that they were not to be disturbed. They were headed to Chambeau's place in town and won't be back until tomorrow."
"Guardian 2, you copy?"
"Roger Sir, all clear," Benny Ray's voice answered.
"Looks like the pigeons have flown the coop. According to the staff, they are in Ouidah. Regroup and meet back at the vehicles."
As they made for the front door, CJ's steps slowed, as he headed for the sitting room. Benny Ray reached out, grabbing the Brit by the back of the neck and propelling him towards the door. "Not this time Sir Christopher," Benny Ray growled through his laughter.
"Hey, I was just going to make sure she was ok," CJ yelped, as the sniper's hand tightened around his neck.
"Right, put a sock in it hero." Opening the door, Benny Ray checked the perimeter before issuing the all clear. The sniper sprinted across the open lawn and slid into the brush with CJ close on his heels. It wasn't long before they reached the vehicles. Standing beside the first vehicle, Tel's eyes betrayed his curiosity.
"That was quick," he whispered.
"Nobody home," Benny Ray answered.
It was less than a minute, before Matt and Margo joined the group. "Saddle up people," Matt muttered, as he began stowing his gear in the back of the SUV. A few minutes later, the two vehicles pulled back out onto the dirt road.
"Chambeau Wynette's place is about twenty minutes from here," Matt's voice echoed over the comlink. "Trout's Intel says the building is made of mud and rocks with wood timbers. It has four small rooms and one large room to the west. There are two entrances - one on the south leading into the four rooms and one along the north wall. CJ, you and Benny Ray, will go through the south door. Margo and I will take the north. There will probably be guards posted around the building so be careful. Do what you have to do, but get inside as quickly and quietly as possible."
"Guardian 2, affirmative Major!"
"Guardian 3, yes Sir," CJ's voice answered.
Ouidah, Benin 1910 hrs
Inside, Phillip again lay in the center of the Veve. His chest heaving with each breath, as he stared at the straw doll pinned to the pole. His lip curled back over his teeth in a grotesque snarling grin. He growled, an ugly sound deep in his throat, as his bloody fingers twisted around the hilt of the black knives.
Chambeau stood above him, her hands slick with the goat's blood caressing Phillip's sweat glistened body. Seductively, her voice wove a different kind of music now. Her magic would make him her tool, his mind and body hers for the taking. He didn't resist, he couldn't!
Near dusk CJ and Margo parked the vehicles several blocks away from Chambeau's. Benny Ray, with CJ close on his heels turned the corner into a dark alley jogging toward the south end of the building.
Matt and Margo shouldered their gear and headed toward the north side. "Guardian 2," Matt whispered.
"Roger Sir, moving into position now, six guards, two on the door, three roving and one on the roof, all heavily armed!"
"Affirmative, we have two on this side; one on the door, the other roving."
"Going up top, Guardian 1," Benny Ray stated as he picked himself up. The building Benny Ray indicated was a small deserted warehouse adjoining Chambeau's Hounfour. Noticing an open window about ten feet up, Benny Ray hoisted CJ up and inside. It takes less than a minute for CJ to unlock the door and let the sniper in.
The inside of the warehouse was dark and musty. Torn cardboard and debris littered the floor. The dim light from the surrounding buildings flickered through the dirt covered windows.
"Left," CJ directed, as he headed for a flight of stairs that lead along the side of the building. With hand signals, Benny Ray sent CJ low, as he turned the knob and swung the door open. Only silence greeted his taut body, as he stepped out onto the roof. Staying low, both men headed for the side of the building closest to Chambeau's.
The guards were out of sight, blocked by ductwork and machinery stacked on top of the building. Silently, both men rolled over the dividing wall. Again, Benny Ray signaled CJ, this time to go north while he went south.
In the alley below, Matt and Margo waited patiently for Benny Ray's order, knowing it would be several minutes before he and CJ were in position. On the roof, the men had split up. Silently, the two men moved close to their quarry.
The guard, like all of Phillip's guards were not expecting trouble. In the years they had been working for the man, no situation has ever arisen where he needed protection. They had grown lazy, to their detriment this night.
"Go!" Came across the link, sending four people into action. CJ took three steps and wrapped his target in a bear hug, cutting off his air supply. Seconds later, the man dropped to the ground unconscious. Benny Ray's man had turned away, going for a pack of cigarettes sitting in a chair beside the wall. He gasped in shock, as the black clad body of Benny Ray stepped out of the shadows. The sniper noted the comical look of shock on the man's face, as he realized what was happening. But the guard was too slow and the butt of the sniper's rifle found his chin, before the guard found his voice. The man span to the right and crumpled to the ground.
In the alleyway below, Matt and Margo struck quickly. Matt took out the roving guard with a punishing right to the man's jaw. The clatter of the man falling to the street captured the attention of the guard on the door, allowing Margo to take him from behind. The butt of her weapon found the base of his skull and he too crumpled to the ground.
The door was unlocked and opened on silent hinges as Matt and Margo stepped inside. The huge room was filled with smoke and hazy flickering light from the candles. Quietly they moved into the room. Chambeau stood above her nephew; her skirt caught up to the side with one hand. Her hips made a gyrating motion as she chanted a prayer. In front of her, the snake carved into the Poleau-mitan flared brightly. She growled and turned to face the intruders. The stiletto in her hand poised to strike.
In one fluid motion, Phillip rose to his feet, his sweat and blood glistening body ready for war.
It took Benny Ray and CJ only a second to find the stairwell leading down into the building. One guard at the bottom of the stairs heard footsteps and called out a welcome. When he didn't receive an answer, he angrily called again. Benny Ray leapt the few feet of distance between them, taking the man to the floor. The fall did most of the work, as the man's head bounced off the hard wooden planks. Growling, Benny Ray made sure he stayed down with one crushing blow to his jaw.
"CJ, lock the outside door," the sniper whispered, as he raised his weapon into position to cover their movement. CJ reacted quickly and slid the lock into place. Together, both men moved toward the building's main chamber.
Chambeau and Phillip raced across the chamber, with their weapons raised. Matt knew they could take them out with one shot apiece, but that wouldn't help Chance or Angelina. They needed them alive if they were going to help their friends.
Phillip reached his quarry first and Matt swung the butt of his rifle deflecting the first blow, but the drugs coursing through Phillip's body masked the pain and he felt nothing. Swinging full circle the knives slashed outward catching Matt a glancing blow to his right forearm. Hissing in pain, he jumped back, as Phillip rushed in.
Margo was hard pressed to hold off Chambeau; the woman was quick and deadly, as the stiletto in her hand flashed dangerously close. As the knife flashed by, Margo leapt in, catching Chambeau's wrist and twisting it behind the woman's back. Chambeau screamed in frustration and pain, but didn't give in. Dropping to her knees, she span to the left. Margo had no choice: follow her down and get skewered by the stiletto or drop and spin to the right -away from the deadly blade. Her choice was obvious and she span to the right, away from the blade. Chambeau closed in again and Margo somehow managed to deflect the blade upward, away from her heart.
Both sets of combatants were unaware of the tiny fragile old woman and the tall doctor, as they slipped into the room. Tayleeah stopped in the centre of room and looked at the glowing pole. Snatching the little straw doll from the nail, her fingers carefully unwound the silver chain from the doll's neck. But she knew it was not over yet! The blood of the goat still coated the locket. Until it was removed, and the magic of the demon stopped, Angelina was still in danger.
Her eyes searched the room, but she couldn't find the second doll and her agitation grew. There had to be one!
"Tel" she whispered to the doctor. "You have to destroy the pole it's the source of her power!"
"Destroy it!" he whispered hesitantly looking the pole up and down. "It could bring the whole place down, if I do that."
"You have to destroy it," she whispered urgently."
Coming down the hallway, CJ and Benny Ray rushed into the chamber. Glancing around the room, Benny Ray saw Matt and Margo in a desperate fight for their lives. "Margo," he yelled at CJ, gesturing with his hand. But before he could move to assist Matt, the door behind them splintered and five men rushed into the hall. Dropping low, Benny Ray fired, taking out the first two men, the other three quickly dived for cover and fumbled for their weapons before returning fire.
Matt was struggling for his life. Phillip's movements were quick and savage; his strength unnatural. As fast and quick as he was, Matt was overmatched. Several more tiny cuts now marked his arms and chest. Winded and quickly loosing ground he fought desperately now, trying to save his own life.
Across the room CJ moved in, but somehow, Chambeau saw him coming gnashed her teeth in frustration - a feral growl rumbling deep in her throat. He barely managed to leap away, as the blade flashed close to his throat leaving a tiny trail of red above his collar bone.
Chambeau crowed in triumph the drug she had taken was working its magic. Her strength matching her nephews, her movements more agile than a striking cobra, she was quicker and faster and seemed untiring, as she lashed first one, then the other of her attackers.
Benny Ray had managed to take out another of the guards. From the corner of his eye, he could see Matt fighting for his life, but pinned down, guarding the corridor he was unable to help.
Tel, standing in the center of the room stared at the monstrous glowing wood could feel the frustration rising within him. How the hell was he going to destroy the pole? His eyes searched the room, finally finding what he was looking for. The flicker of light flashed across the blade of a machete and he rushed to pick it up. The blade was heavy in his hand, as he made his way back to the pole. Tayleeah's old eyes continued her search for the straw doll she knew had to be there.
Pressing his advantage Phillip came at Matt, both blades raised high. Somehow Matt managed to capture the man's wrist, but the unnatural strength flowing through Phillip, pressed the blades downward.
Running across the room, Tel raised the machete and swung the blade with all his might, at the base of the Pole. A tiny chip of wood flew across the room and he heard Chambeau's scream of anger. He swung again and again - a crack appeared. The blade lashed out and sunk deep into the wood, but a flash of blue flew up the blade, knocking Tel to the ground stunned. The blade had struck an electrical line running up the center of the pole. Lying on his back he watched, as the electricity sizzled and begins to burn through the old wood.
Chambeau heard the metal, as it struck the pole and she doubled her efforts to rid herself of the infidels who had dared invade her temple. She screamed and dived at Margo, taking her to the ground. Margo dropped, grabbing the woman's wrists and kicked out, sending Chambeau rolling away. Springing back to her feet Chambeau quickly charged in again.
CJ, grumbling a few nasty words, had had enough. The witch's blade had made her mark across his shoulder anger boiled in his heart. Swinging the butt of his rifle, he caught her in the chest, sending her flying backwards. Chambeau's throaty scream filled the chamber, as she fell into the burning candles. The cotton of her dress and turban burst into flame and she shrieked in pain. Thrashing wildly, she repeatedly screamed, as the flames seared her body. The flashing knife kept any rescuers away. There was nothing Margo and CJ could do, except watch as the flames engulfed her.
Tayleeah crowed in triumph as her old eyes found the second doll. Scurrying to the altar, she snatched the tiny doll from the nail above the fiery cauldron. Its tiny feet had begun to smoke. Quickly dousing the embers she placed the doll on the altar, deftly removing the piece of black cloth attached to its chest.
Benny Ray caught a glimpse of Phillip as he pushed Matt into the wall. Matt's situation was desperate and called for desperate actions. Yanking a grenade from his vest he pulled the pin, sending the little metal pineapple rolling down the hall. Screaming men scattered but not fast enough, as the explosion tore through the building. A searing rush of heat flashed by Benny Ray, as he got to his feet.
At the far end of the room, Matt was fighting a loosing battle. The drug sustained Phillip's strength as he bore down upon Matt. The blade in his right hand sliced into the muscle of Matt's left shoulder. Shutting his mind against the pain, with a final burst of energy, Matt pushed with all his might, knocking Phillip backward. Reaching for the handgun tucked into its holster beneath his left arm Matt looked up, knowing he wasn't going to make it. Regaining his balance Phillip closed the distance between them.
The deafening report of gunfire echoed round the room. Phillip stumbled backwards, a surprised look on his face. Blood gushed from the side of his head, as he slowly turned to look across the room to where Benny Ray stood - a smoking Glock in his hand. Phillip's lips curled into an evil smile, as his body stiffened and fell backward.
Silence engulfed the room. The bloody tableau laid out around them was a sickening sight. Slowly, they all sighed in relief, when an explosion rocked the room. Tayleeah, standing next to the altar, had laid out several different powdery substances. Dropping a pinch of one, then another, into the pot, she emptied a pouch of black powder into her hand blowing it into the pot. The reaction was a little more than she expected. The concussion sent several bodies rolling to the floor. Smoke swirled from the cauldron and it was several minutes before voices rung out.
"Margo, CJ, Benny Ray?" Matt called.
"Here Matt, CJ's beside me," Margo answered from her place on the floor. She coughed, fanning the swirling smoke from her face.
Grumbling a "Here Sir!" from his position on the floor, Benny Ray groaned, as he slowly rose to his feet. "What the hell was that?" he asked.
A tiny voice, that of Tayleeah chuckled. "Sorry, her magic was stronger than I had anticipated."
"Well, what do we do now Major?" CJ asked. "With Phillip and Chambeau dead, we'll never find out what she used to make Chance and Angelina sick."
"I don't know CJ," Matt voice answered weakly. "Look around, maybe there's something here.
Again a tiny voice answered, as Tayleeah stepped out of the smoke. "I think your friends are going to be fine. Come, it's time we left this place."
Already, the flames from the pole were reaching ten feet into the air. The hungry fire from tumbled broken candles began to lick at the wood panels along the wall.
"Damn," Matt mumbled, "Tayleeah is right; if we don't leave soon, this place is going to come down on top of us.
As six tired bodies tumbled from the building, they could hear the sound of sirens growing close. It only took a minute to reach the SUVs. Matt stumbled and nearly collapsed, as the sniper stepped in beside him, catching him before he could fall. Easing Matt's body into the back of the SUV, Benny Ray called urgently for Tel.
Tel working quickly turned to see the concerned eyes of his three team mates. "Cuts and bruises, nothing too serious, but he will need some stitching up." Tel grinned...saying, "The longer we stay around here though…"
"Yes Sir," the sniper chuckled.
Three bodies jumped into action. Benny Ray took up the driver's seat with Tayleeah beside him, as Margo and CJ climbed into the second vehicle.
La Naeda Estate
Reaching the compound Tel directed them to the clinic, where CJ and Benny Ray carried an unconscious Matt into one of the treatment rooms. Wanting to stay Tel blocked their path marching forward to send them scurrying backward. "Nurse," he called, "Take the young lady to room 2 and this young man," indicating CJ, "Can find his way to room 3. Clean them up if you can and I'll be in shortly."
"You young man," Tel stated, staring at Benny Ray, "go up to the house and clean yourself up. I'm sure Arnett would like to know how things went."
Benny Ray raised an eyebrow but doesn't protest.
Tel watched as the sniper turned away, noticing the stiffness of his movements, but knowing the man had sustained only bruises. It would do him good to be occupied and not worrying too much about his friends.
A second nurse had already removed Matt's shirt and was cleaning up the cuts along his arms and shoulder. Tel hands were sure and quick as he stitched the worst of the knife wounds. Letting the nurse bandage them he made his way toward Margo. Somehow, she had escaped with only a cut across her upper arm. Three stitches later with a clean bandage in place, he ushered her out the door.
CJ was much the same, with a small cut along his left ribcage and a shallow cut on his neck. A few butterfly band-aids and CJ too was sent to the waiting room.
Tel made his way to Angelina's room. Tayleeah stood beside her bed a now clean and sparkling silver locket in her hand. Angelina was breathing normally and lay sleeping peacefully. Tel's heart fluttered in his chest, as he looked at his beloved niece, relief rushed through him, as he leant down and brushed her forehead with his lips.
His second stop was Chance's room. He wasn't surprised to find the man's fever broken and that he was sleeping peacefully.
As he walked towards the waiting room, he heard his brother's voice, as he and Benny Ray came walking into the room.
"Tel, how are they?" Arnett's voice was frantic and strained, as he looked at his brother.
"Everyone is going to be fine Arnett. If you wish, you may go and sit with Angelina."
Arnett shook Benny Ray's hand, as tears flowed down his cheeks. "Thank you," he whispered to each of them in turn, as he shook Margo's and CJ's hands. Brushing the betraying tears from his face, Arnett straightened and walked away.
Tel seeing the anxious eyes of the trio watching him waved them down the hall. "Matt's fine, he lost a considerable amount of blood, but he'll be back on his feet in a day or so. Third door on the left - you have five minutes. Then I want you all to rest and that is an order!"
Laughing they headed down the hall needing to check Matt's condition for themselves.
La Naeda Estate
Five days later
Five days of sheer heaven was how Margo thought of the last few days. Finding Chance had lifted the dark cloud that had hovered over the team for several weeks. Walking across the patio, her eyes softened as she gazed at the men sitting around the table. Her men, they all look rested for once. Matt was still a little pale, but he was smiling and that sight gladdened her heart.
"So gentlemen," she asked "What's for lunch?"
"Salmon," CJ whispered, practically drooling, "I think we ought to fall into these kinds of jobs more often, don't you?"
"Sure," Chance chuckled, slapping the Brit across the shoulder, "But you get to be blown up the next time!"
"Oops, I bloody well forgot about that part," CJ mumbled.
The group broke into laughter, at the distressed look on CJ's face.
Five pairs of eyes turned as the doors to the house opened. Angelina, Arnett and Tel stepped out on the patio and headed for the table. Following close on their heels, was lunch.
"Mmmm, I could stay here forever," Margo murmured blissfully.
Next to her, Tel winked, saying, "And you would be a welcome addition to the menagerie my dear. Say the word and the world is yours."
"Tempting, my friend...very tempting," Margo sighed wistfully.
Across from her, Matt's eyebrows rose at the byplay, wondering if Margo would really like to quit the team. He jumped and groaned, as the phone on his belt began to vibrate.
Margo turned, catching his eye and winked. Mumbling some choice words, he scowled and flipped open the phone. "Trout!"
"Fun's over gang," CJ groaned, "Time to go back to work!"
End of Line