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Sheila turned on the light and propped herself up at the head of her bed with a book open on her lap

Falling In Love With A Lie

By  KennaC

 

Rated M for explicit (but tasteful) heterosexual content. No warnings other than that for this installment of the series.

Part 5, final, of the Sequel to Shuai-jan Sprouts Wings: Murdock falls for a woman, but is she who she says she is? And in the end, does it really matter?

A/N: The A-Team does not belong to me, and I make no money from this. I do it for the fun of spinning a tale about my favorite soldiers. I apologize for the length of time between posts. Hopefully this ending is satisfying enough, but leaves you looking forward to the next part of the series.

 

Falling in Love with a Lie

Part 5

 

            Sheila turned on the light and propped herself up at the head of her bed with a book open on her lap. The hormone high of the last hour with Murdock had been heightened uncomfortably by the adrenalin rush that accompanied her dash to her quarters. She imagined that this was how a junky felt when they needed a fix. The words on the pages in front of her shifted and blurred. Her mind was too preoccupied with a certain lanky pilot to allow her to focus on much of anything else.

She was relieved, and surprised, to have a few minutes to get her head straightened out before Karen arrived. It disturbed her that Murdock had such a disruptive effect on her mental faculties. She would have liked to blame it on the alcohol, but she knew that had little to do with it. The truth was that any effect from the whiskey was long gone, burned up in her first encounter with him in the bar, and she hadn't had enough beer in the room to even feel it.

Her current buzz had everything to do with the feelings that Murdock kindled and stoked every time he was around. It didn't matter if he touched her or not, just sitting on the beach talking to the intelligent man was enough to set her nerves resonating with an all-encompassing desire.

            Sheila ended up with about fifteen minutes to calm down before the door to her quarters opened and Vi walked through.

"Hey, Vi. Early night?" Karen appeared behind Vi, and Sheila grimaced. "Oh."

Vi stopped by her bed. "I can't believe you ditched Murdock," she said as she kicked off her shoes and dropped her shorts to the floor.

"I didn't have any choice," Sheila said.

Vi rolled her eyes and dropped onto the bed.

Karen gave her a disapproving look, before turning her attention to Sheila. "So you are here."

"I told you I would be …"

"I know, I know. It's just that someone thought they saw you down at one of the beach-side rooms with Captain Murdock."

Vi grunted. "He probably called Anh's cousin." Her eyes slid to Sheila's face. Sheila ground her teeth together, trying to keep from betraying the reflex of jealousy the statement elicited. From the smirk that curled Vi's lips, she could tell she wasn't entirely successful.

"It doesn't matter. As long as it wasn't Sheila," Karen said.

"You're a real piece of work, Karen. Dean's little snitch. What do you get out of the deal?" Vi sneered when Karen's cheeks flamed. "Well, well, well, he must be a pretty good lay, huh, Karen?"

"Bite me, Vi."

"Naw, I'll let Dean keep the job."

            Karen's face had gone almost purple. She turned purposely from Vi and spoke to Sheila. "Willie and Dean will both be here in the morning. They can deal with Captain Murdock and Lieutenant Peck. Until then, it would be best if you just stay in quarters. Understand?"

            "I'm not planning on going anywhere," Sheila said.

            Vi flopped back on the bed. "In quarters for the night before 2200? You have to be kidding me!"

            Karen looked at Sheila and mouthed, 'Keep an eye on her.' Sheila smiled tightly and nodded.

            As Karen turned to leave, she looked down at Vi. "You had better stay put, Viola."

            As the door closed behind Karen, Vi sat up, mocking her, "'You had better stay put, Viola.' She can fucking kiss my ass."

            Vi stood up and walked over to her duffle, digging in it. "Damn it, I left my sleeping pills in my suitcase in Nha Trang. I am never going to get to sleep." She turned accusing eyes on Sheila. "Face had me totally worked up by the time they pulled me off the freaking dance floor."

            Sheila couldn't help herself, she chuckled. Which served to make Vi's anger flare. "This is all your flyboy's fault, Shy. What the hell did he do to Dean and Willie to piss them off so bad, anyway?"
            "I don't know." She walked to the door and opened it a crack to allow her to peek out. Karen was walking away. Sheila suspected she'd send someone back to check on them, but for now she seemed satisfied that they would stay in quarters as instructed.

She let the door shut and turned to Vi, who sat on the edge of her bed watching Sheila curiously. "Listen Vi, Karen is lazy, and she thinks I'm gonna keep an eye on you. If you promise to be back here by, say, 0600 I think you could go see Face."

            Vi's chin tilted down, as she stared steadily at Sheila. "Really?"

            "Yeah."

            "Why?"

            "I can't believe you're asking me that."

            Vi's eyes narrowed but she smiled. "Does that mean you're going back to see HM?"

            Sheila pursed her lips. She didn't really think she had any choice. "I don't think it's a good idea."

            "C'mon, Shy. You know you want to."

            "Yes, I do." She walked to Vi's bed, waving her roomy away. As soon as Vi stood, Sheila began arranging a pillow and some other items under the sheet.

            While she was busy arranging the bed, Vi grabbed her shorts and pulled them back on. She shoved her feet into a pair of canvas tennis shoes and turned to Sheila. "I'm ready to go."

            "Not getting all dolled up for the handsome Lieutenant?"

            "The clothes are going to be gone once I get to the room, so who cares what they look like."

            Sheila shook her head and laughed. "You better duck out the back, just in case anyone is watching."

            Vi stared at Sheila for a few seconds, then stepped forward and threw her arms around her. "Thanks, Shy."

            Sheila patted her back awkwardly. "You're welcome."

            "You really should go see HM." Vi looked at her sympathetically as she pulled back. "He really cares about you, girl. You don't find that every day."

            Sheila wasn't sure how to respond to that, so she decided to ignore it. "You better get going. Have fun."

            Vi grinned. "I will."

            Sheila dropped onto her bed. She would wait until Karen sent one of her helpers to check on them and then she would head back to Murdock's room. She propped herself at the head of the bed again, picked up the book, and sighed in resignation. The words on the page just refused to be comprehended tonight.

 

***

 

Sheila stared at the closed door to Murdock's room. She couldn't even see him, and already her heart pounded in anticipation. She took several deep breaths, but it didn't help, and she came to the foregone conclusion that there was no point in delaying. She gripped the doorknob and pushed into the room. Murdock stood at the open door leading to the beach side of the room. He was dressed in his boxers and a t-shirt, arms crossed, back stiff. He didn't even turn when she closed the door.

 "Sorry it took so long. Karen took her sweet time sending one of the key grips to check on us. He told her we were both asleep … good thing he didn't look too close. Anyway, I figure I'll be safe as long as I get back to the room around 0600." She studiously examined the rest of the room as she talked, and though she was able to avoid looking at him, it didn't stop her body from reacting to his presence.

Her eyes landed on an envelope with her name on it sitting on the bed. She walked over and picked it up. HM met her there.

She looked up at him and noted the tightness around his eyes. "What's this?"

"I wasn't sure if you'd make it back, so I wrote down everything I thought might help. I didn't know how I was going to get it to you . . . I guess it doesn't matter, now." His lips turned up, but the tension around his eyes remained.

She fingered the envelope, then tore it open and scanned the pages. The notes were meticulously detailed, including all potential players associated with either Willy or Dean, approximate frequency of contact, and possible connection. She refolded the two sheets and slipped them back in the envelope. A couple more reads through and she would have the information memorized.

"Thank you, HM."

His jaw worked for several seconds, and then he tapped the envelope. "These men are dangerous, sugar. You gotta promise me you'll be careful."

She snorted. "That sounds familiar."

HM's frown deepened, and when he spoke his voice snapped with anger. "Goddamit, this isn't funny, Shy. If I figured out what's going on, someone else could. And if any of them get's wind of what you're up to, you will be dead."

Sheila felt like he had slapped her in the face. She crossed her arms, and her voice when she spoke was as sharp as his had been. "Dean thinks I'm an innocent girl-next-door and Willie seems to agree. Vi only figured it out because of a stupid mistake that my own boss was party to. You . . ." She ground her teeth as she considered his knowledge. She couldn't blame it on anyone but herself. "I let my guard down with you. It was a mistake. One I won't make again."

            She spun away from him. Coming here had been necessary but she had the information she needed now. It was time to leave. "Take care of yourself flyboy."

            Murdock's voice stopped her just before she reached the doorknob. "Wait a minute. Where are you going? I thought you could stay until 0600?"

Sheila rounded on him. "Fuck you, Murdock. I'm not some little damsel in distress for you to play house with, and act the big, strong man. Despite what you obviously think of me, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, just like I have most of my life."

He pursed his lips, his gaze shaded. "I'm sorry, Shy. I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just worried. I don't like the thought of you heading up to Da Nang doing what you're doing. It's dangerous. And I'm not going to be there to keep an eye on you."

His voice was much gentler this time, but to Sheila's ears, no less condescending. "I just told you in no uncertain terms that I don't need a fucking keeper, Captain. You need to learn when to back the hell off."

 

***

 

            Her blue eyes were flashing a warning, and he did step back, both physically and mentally. There was something raw and dangerous about the woman standing in front of him, and even though his common sense was telling him to heed the warning, he found himself undeniably attracted.

"Sorry. It's just that I'm . . . I guess I'm having a little trouble reconciling you with Sheila Downey."

He watched the anger turn to hurt, which was quickly hidden behind a cold façade. "I should leave."

"What did I say wrong, Shy? I'm sorry, really. What do I have to do to get you to stay with me until morning?"

Her gaze was wary. "Do you want me to stay . . . or Sheila?"

He glanced down, trying to form an appropriate response. She wasn't Sheila, he knew that, was glad of it even. When he looked back up, she still stood in the same spot, watching him with veiled eyes. He caught her gaze, and held it. "The truth is that Sheila was a nice girl, but a little . . . tame for my taste. You are obviously another issue . . ." He shook his head, smiling. "I'm just not sure what to call you."

She seemed to search his face, eyes narrowed as she processed what he had said.

Her full lips slowly curved up in a flirtatious smile. "I like it when you call me 'Shy.' It's pretty close to my real name."

He blew out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Damn she had a gorgeous smile. "Ah, a clue. How close?" It was a struggle to form complete thoughts as he moved closer to her. He was glad to see she wasn't moving away.

Her blue eyes were wide, and the low timbre of her breathy response set his blood racing. "Very close. Change one letter, swap 'em around some . . ."

Her breath quickened as his hands slid around her waist. He was near enough to smell her, a unique blend of musky sweat mingled with lavender. "Mm, I enjoy a good puzzle."

Her eyes crinkled in amusement. "You just love a challenge."

He stopped just short of her lips, and breathed into her mouth, "I must . . . I love you."

Her entire face tightened briefly, and he was afraid he had blundered, again. But a moment later, she closed the distance between them. He reached a hand around her neck, sliding his fingers into her thick hair, and pressing their mouths together. Her lips parted, and his tongue accepted the invitation. He savored the tastes and sensations, lingering and exploring until he was certain he would never forget. He planned to pay the same attention to ever inch of her, memorizing her inside and out. He would need the vivid memories for after she left.

Keeping one hand tangled in her hair, he wrapped his other arm around her until he could cup the hand around her opposite hip and mold her against him. He was amazed again by how well she fit him, even with their height difference. He accepted it as another sign that they belonged together, and he was determined to make Shy accept it, too.

Their lips were forced apart as he pulled her body tighter against him, her face nestling into the curve of his neck. Her arms were tucked up against him, and she clutched his shirt in her fists, pulling the collar down and nibbling along the sensitive skin near his collar bone. The feel of her lips, coupled with her warm, moist breath across his skin sent an electric shock through him, tuning every nerve in to her touch.

He tugged on her shirt, pulling it free of her jeans and allowing his hand access to her skin.  He felt gooseflesh sprout under his fingers as they caressed her narrow waist, and her obvious reaction to his touch encouraged him. Light as a whisper, his fingers wandered up her side and he smiled as she shivered against him. When he reached the fabric of her bra, he felt a brief flash of irritation, realizing they were both still clothed her more so than him. That was a situation that was going to have to be rectified.

He carefully extracted his fingers from her hair, and slid his other hand under her shirt, fumbling briefly with the clasp of her bra. Once it was undone, he reached around and stroked the soft skin of her breast with one hand while his other slipped down to cup her butt and knead it. She moaned as his fingers probed between her legs, and his whole body stiffened in reaction to the sound of her arousal as she nipped at his ear lobe. He could imagine the warm wetness he would feel between her legs if the pants were out of the way, and his penis jerked in anticipation. But he was going to have to let her go to undress her, and he was reluctant to do that yet.

 

            Sheila let go of the front of his shirt and wound her arms around his waist. She slid her hands under the bottom hem of his t-shirt and ran them up his back, fingers splayed as they moved over the corded muscles. She explored all the way up to his shoulders and back down, until she reached his boxers. She pried her pinkies under the elastic, allowing her hands to move inside and message his tight butt, pulling him against her until she could feel his erection buck between them.

            He folded himself over her to nuzzle the curve of her neck as the fingers of one hand found her nipple, and the fingers of the other hand slid deeper between her legs. The coil at her core tensed suddenly, making her arch against him, her fingers biting into his butt causing their pelvises to grind together. The aching need to have him intimately close was undeniable, and was rapidly gaining control of her muscles.

 

            As soon as she arched against him, his reluctance to let her go gave way to the overwhelming desire to feel her skin against his. He found the closure at the front of her jeans, and unbuttoned and unzipped them.

As they opened, he moved his hands inside and over the swell of her hips. He slipped his fingers under the elastic of her panties, allowing him to push all clothing out of his way as he worked his way around and down to her bare butt.

            She reciprocated by working the elastic of his boxers over his erection. After she let his boxers slide to the floor, she fondled his balls lightly before trailing her fingers lightly up and down his penis. His entire body shuddered in response to the touch.

His need for her slipped out in an audible growl. He brought his hands up over her hips and stroked her torso, dragging her tank top and bra up and over her head.

He dropped her shirt and bra to the floor, and stood back to stare at her, hoping a little distance would allow him to regain some control. She stood in front of him naked and beautiful and beguiling, her chest heaving in arousal, and her wide blue eyes bright with a desire that echoed throughout his entire being.

To hell with control. He tore off his own t-shirt, then scooped her up and carried her to the bed. He lay her down gently and knelt next to the low bed. He moved the hand from under her knees so he could run exploratory fingers down along the outside of her calf, and over her ankles. He trailed his fingers lightly over her feet, and grinned at her responding throaty giggle. His return caress traveled up the inside of her leg, where he finally found that warm, wet welcome he had been craving.

 

            Sheila parted her legs and felt her breath catch when his long fingers slid inside of her. He lowered his head to claim her lips in a demanding kiss, as his arm tightened around her shoulders so he could brace himself and slip into bed beside her.

            His hand curved over her mound and he stroked the entire length of her clit as he pulled one finger out and pushed two fingers back in. She gasped as he did it again, and again, alternating one and two fingers. She raised her knees, one hand gripping the sheet and the other gripping his shoulder as she arched against his hand, the need for release was becoming intense.

            "Now, I need you now, HM," she gasped.

            He pulled his fingers out, running them in circles over her clit, causing her entire body trembled as he repositioned himself between her legs. It was a bittersweet relief when he abandoned her clit to grip her hips. He pulled her forward, resting her hips on his thighs.

She took deep breaths in an attempt to cool her need for him, but when he began messaging the sensitive skin high on her inner thighs, she knew it was pointless. His fingers moved gradually toward where she wanted them, finally grazing her opening with a light touch. He teased her apart to expose her clit, and slowly slid the length of his penis along her most sensitive part. His hands moved to grip her hips, pulling her tight against him as he continued to stroke up and down.

Her breath came in short gasps, perfectly timed to each stroke. If he didn't enter her soon she thought she would go insane. She braced her feet on the bed behind him and reached down to guide him inside of her as she pushed herself up and over him. The feel of his hard length sliding into her tight sheath took her close to the edge of reason

 

            Murdock leaned over her, bracing himself on his hands as he shifted so he could thrust deeper into her tight, wet core. As she closed around him, he tried to hold on, but it was a tenuous hold, and he felt the tell-tale engorgement. He couldn't hold back any longer.

As his initial almost-controlled release began to throb deep inside of her, he felt her tense. His name slipping out of her lips as she pushed herself harder against him.  The feel of her core tightening around him obliterated all thoughts of holding back.

 

Their orgasm swelled through them, overwhelming any individuality they might have been clinging to. He lay down on her, sliding his arms underneath her body as she wrapped her arms and legs around him; both of them desperate to prolong the intimacy of their coupling.

Even after the orgasm faded to a warm, tingling sensation, they remained joined, neither willing to break the deep connection that manifested physically, but went beyond to a psychological unity that was more intense than either of them had been prepared for.

Drowsiness set in as their hearts settled back into a normal rhythm, but still they lay locked together; bodies entwined until it was difficult to tell where one stopped and the next began.

Idle explorations led to a sleepy arousal as they took their time to discover each other. Their next coupling was even more all-encompassing then the last, and coalesced a bond that neither of them could deny.

The languid passion gave way to sleep that their bodies craved as exhaustion finally overtook their desire to be together.

 

***

 

Murdock woke when the weak light of nautical dawn began illuminating the room. Shy's head rested in the bend of his elbow and their legs were still tangled together. A cool breeze whispered through the open beach door, carrying with it the fresh salty smell of the ocean.

Shy's face was relaxed in sleep with a half-formed smile on her full lips. He ran a thumb along her cheek, and then traced her lips with a light finger. The unearthly quality of the pre-dawn light made her skin glow, and he imagined that this was how angels appeared to humans. He ached with the love he felt for her, and wanted nothing more than to hold onto this moment. He watched her sleep as the room slowly brightened around them.

It wasn't until the sun finally peeked over the horizon that her eyes fluttered open. He gazed into the heavy-lidded brilliant blue and smiled. Letting his fingers trail lightly across her cheek, he leaned up and tangled them into her hair, pressing his lips against hers.

"Good morning," she murmured as he pulled back to look at her again.

He smiled. "Very good."

            Her eyes widened as she slowly awakened. "What time is it?"

            "'Round 0500. We have some time."

            She frowned. "Not much."

            He twisted his wrist behind her head to check his watch. "We still have an hour."

            His heart wrenched at the sadness reflected in her eyes. "And when the hour is over, we still have to say goodbye."

            He heaved a sigh and slumped onto his back. "You sure do know how to kill a mood, sugar."

            "I'm sorry."

            Murdock closed his eyes and recreated her face in his mind. Then turned his head to look at her. Nope, didn't compare. His gaze narrowed as he began studying her minutely. He was going to have to do better.

            She rolled on her side and met the gaze curiously. "What are you thinking?"

            "That when the hour is over, we still have to say goodbye."

            "I'm sorry."

            He continued his scrutiny of her face. "Can I ask you a question?"

            "Could I stop you?" Her lips curved up in a half-smile.

            He rolled to his side and faced her. Her head still rested on his arm, and he lifted the hand resting on the bed behind her to stroke her shoulder. "You have no idea how much I love you . . ."

            Her eyebrows knitted, blue eyes reflecting confusion and maybe just a hint of alarm. "Is that your question?"

"Uh, no, not really." He pursed his lips, weighing the wisdom of asking the question that was nagging at him. "That guy that asked you to marry him . . . how serious was he?"

            "How serious?"

            "Yeah, I mean, is he still out there waiting for you to come around, or has he moved on?"

            "What difference does it make?"

            "Well, he has a distinct advantage over me . . . he knows your real name."

            She shook her head as she sat up. "We aren't back on this topic again, are we, HM?"

            "I don't think we ever really closed the topic satisfactorily, so I guess we are. At least level the playing field and tell me your name."

            She leaned back on an elbow, an amused smile on her face. "I think the playing field is probably still leaning heavily in your favor even if I don't tell you my name."

            Murdock considered that, and grinned. "Really?"

            She leaned forward and gave him a brief peck on the lips. "Yes, really. And besides, what happened to the man who told me last night that he was confident we would meet again?"

            He pressed his lips together in a thin line. "I'd be more confident if I knew your real name."

            "I know yours."

            "I know you do. But are you going to come looking for me?"

            He frowned as she swung her legs out from under the sheet and sat up on the edge of the bed.

"I came back last night, didn't I?" She asked.

            "Yeah, you did." He admired her bare butt as she stood to pull her panties up. "Why are you getting dressed?"

            She chuckled as she leaned down to pluck something out of his sight off the floor. When she turned to look at him, she was hooking her bra. "Because, like you said, the mood is killed. And I am going to try and take advantage of that and get out while the getting is good."

            "Shy –"

            She leaned down and stopped him with another kiss. "Have a little faith in me, HM. I will find you when this is over."

            "When what is over?"

            "This mission . . . the war . . . " She shrugged.

            He sat up. "The war? Sugar, I hate to break it to you, but at the rate that's going, we'll both be old and gray by the time it's over."

            She chuckled. "You're probably right. So, when this mission is over, and we run into each other again . . ."

            "You will run into me again, right?"

            "Of course I will. Like you said, Vietnam isn't a very big country."

            "Is that a promise?"

            "I promise."

            He grinned at her. "Seal the promise with a kiss?"

            When she leaned down to kiss him, he put both arms around her and rolled to his back, pulling her with him.

"I think you got dressed a little prematurely," he said, voice deep and husky.

            Her throaty chuckle spiked his heart rate. "You said you loved a challenge."

            "I sure do."

 

***

 

            "HM, you are making this rather difficult." 

            His arms circled her from behind and he kissed her shoulder. An involuntary shiver ran up her spine. Even with the lack of sleep, and all of the sexual activity of the last several hours she was still responding uncontrollably to his touch.

She looked at the clock, and her resolve to leave re-solidified. It was already six and if she didn't move it, she was going to risk Karen, or worse, Dean and Willie discovering her indiscretion. It would blow the whole girl-next-door image she had worked to develop with them. That needed to remain intact at least until she made it to Da Nang and finished this assignment.

She shrugged out of his embrace to lean down and snatch her shirt off the floor. She pulled it over her head and tucked it into her jeans. Prancing away from him, she buttoned and zipped her jeans hastily. She shoved her feet into her shoes, before turning to face him.

"I really have to go, HM."

"I know you do, Shy." He was holding out the envelope to her, his expression serious.

She sighed, and took it. She was both relieved and disappointed to find that her carefree lover had been replaced by the serious former intelligence agent that she really wasn't that familiar with. She opened the envelope and pulled out the two sheets of folded paper. She skimmed through the content once, and then went back and re-read the entire thing more slowly, committing it to memory.

She refolded the sheets and handed them back to him. "I only have one question."

"Shoot."

"Why should I take your suspicions of Warrington with a grain of salt?"

His grin was self-conscious. "Well, to be honest, Warrington was my CO and it would be putting it mildly to say we didn't get along."

            Shy chuckled. "I appreciate the honesty."

            "Since we're talking honestly here, there is one thing I need to get off my chest. I don't want to sound like I'm condoning drug use or anything, but it's fairly wide-spread here, Shy. I mean, I could probably count on one hand the guys that I know who have never tried it. I'm not saying it's right, and most of the guys are clean, but you try humping through the jungle for 48 hours straight without a little pick-me-up. You know what I'm saying?"

            "I do, HM. Honestly, I think if it was just about the drugs, I probably wouldn't be here. But the drugs are just a tracer to what we're really tracking, and that is the weapons trade. Among the allied factions, it's been encouraged, but there are broad indications that there are some that are taking the trade where ever the most money is, regardless of allegiance. That's the problem, and ultimately that is what I'm here to shut down. American troops in southeast Asia have enough handicaps. They shouldn't have to worry about being shot by their own fucking guns."

            "I never saw any gun trade while I was involved, Shy. I'm not sure chasing down Dean and Willie is going to get you anywhere."

            She shrugged. "Follow every lead, no matter how unconnected. I learned that while I was working as a private investigator, and it holds as an intelligence agent, too. You never know where your next break is going to come from."

            She glanced at her watch and started. "Shit, I gotta get going. Please be careful, HM." She gave him a hasty kiss on the cheek, and then looked at him steadily. "I'll see you as soon as I can. I promise."

            He caught her around the waist and pulled her to him for a more satisfying goodbye kiss. One hand tangled into her hair and the other snaked around her waist, pulling her body tight against him. Sheila enjoyed the kiss longer then she should have.

She broke away from him and squeezed his hand. "Take care of yourself, flyboy."

 

***

 

            Sheila made it back to her room about twenty minutes past her self-imposed deadline. She was not surprised to find that Viola had not yet returned. She cleaned out her bed, and slid between the sheets. She was exhausted and curled into a fetal position on her side, squeezing her eyes shut. But her head refused to shut down. Leaving HM had been more difficult than she had anticipated.

            His image seemed to be imprinted on the inside of her eyelids, and the heavy musk of their lovemaking lingered on her flesh. These reminders made her bed feel cold and empty. She rolled to her back and stretched out, staring at the ceiling. As a distraction, she went through the information he had given her, categorizing and prioritizing the people she would be meeting when she arrived at Da Nang. She had a couple weeks until then, and would use that time to get close to Karen. She seemed to have an in with Dean, and had shown some trust last night, so hopefully it wouldn't be too difficult.

            As she was making plans for winning over Karen, the door opened and Vi slipped inside. She looked as exhausted as Sheila felt, and didn't utter a word until she was laying in bed facing Sheila.

            Her expression was sympathetic. "You look like you didn't sleep a wink last night, Shy. I told you, you should have gone to see HM."

            "How was your time with Face?"

            "Great. Now I think I could sleep all morning."

"I think that might look a little suspicious."

Vi grimaced. "Yeah, I thought so too. But I need a couple hours of shut eye to keep from passing out. Wake me at 9, huh?"

"Sure, Vi."

It was only minutes before Viola was snoring softly. Sheila grunted in frustration and returned to her planning. If she couldn't rest, she might as well make the time productive.

 

***

 

            Murdock folded the last of his clothes, tucked them into his duffle and zipped it shut. He picked up the pillow and inhaled the scent of Shy one last time.

            No, she wasn't Shy. 'Change one letter, swap 'em around some . . .' certainly a clue. Maybe 'Syl' – Sylvia. He shook his head. That didn't sound right, either. Sky, that was a hippie kind of name, and kind of fit her, but not quite.

He grabbed his bag and headed out the door, his brain grappling with the clue she had left him.

            He arrived at the truck at the time they had agreed upon to find Face going through the inventory one last time before they left. He was in high spirits. "Hey, Murdock, how was your evening?"

            He grunted as he threw his duffle into the cab of the truck. "Vi stopping by to say goodbye?"

            "She said she would try, but it depends on whether she can dodge her keepers or not. I told her you probably wanted her to find out what Shy's real name was, if possible. She's gonna give it a shot. Said she'd be in touch if she learned anything useful."

            Murdock leaned on the bumper. "Thanks, Face. I kinda doubt she'll learn anything. Shy's on guard now."

            "Vi said she left you hanging last night. I'm really sorry about that. I feel kind of responsible for getting you into this."

            "S'alright, Facey. Where the hell's Gravy? I'm ready to blow this place."

            "Don't gotta be such a wet blanket just 'cause you didn't get any last night. I left you Anh's cousin's number. You didn't have to spend the night alone."

            "I keep telling you, it's not about the sex. I wanted Shy, not a cheap substitute."

            "Anh might take offense to that description of her cousin."

            "Nothin' against Anh's cousin, she just ain't Shy."

            Face shook his head. "I told you, you should have laid her when you had the chance. But 'no' you have to be the gentleman. Then when you finally decide to make your move, poof, she's gone, and you're left pining after her. It's pitiful, man."

            Murdock took a deep breath and turned away from his friend before he looked up and caught the lie in his face. He was sure it showed. Hell, he could still smell her when he took a leak. He didn't even want to shower, because it would wash her away. Unfortunately, he suspected that his bunkmates would nix that idea.

`           He felt a hand on his shoulder. "You need to let her go, Murdock."

            "You better heed that advice, Murdock."

            Dean Steiger stood a few feet away, three muscular key grips lined up behind him. "I don't appreciate you following my girls here, gentlemen. I thought I made myself clear when we left Nha Trang. Viola and Sheila are strictly off limits. So what in the fuck are you doing here?"

            Murdock had never liked Steiger, but after the last 24 hours, he truly hated the man, and the mocking look on his face was the last straw. Three long strides put Murdock within feet of Steiger. "It's none of your fucking business why we're here."

            Face stepped in front of him, and Murdock growled in irritation as his friend put a restraining hand in the middle of his chest.

Turning to Steiger, Face held out his other hand. "Hey, hey, we're all on the same side here. We're just finishing up some business and we'll be on our way. OK?"

Face nudged Murdock toward the truck. "We were just leaving, right?"

            But the condescending smirk that crossed Steiger's face just served to infuriate Murdock more. He pushed past his friend and jabbed a finger into Steiger's shoulder with enough force to knock him back a step. "You stay the hell away from Shy, asshole. She's a nice girl, and she don't need to get messed up in the shit you deal. Just stay the hell away from her!"

             "That's gonna be difficult given that I'm her stage manager, Captain." Steiger's eyes narrowed, and his smile was blatantly goading. "Don't threaten me, boy. You just let me worry about your girlfriend from now on."

 

***

 

            Steiger's expression even irritated Face, so he wasn't surprised when Murdock launched at the man and flattened him with one punch. Unfortunately for Murdock, the nearest key grip landed a surprise upper cut that staggered him. The other two key grips started moving forward to grab Murdock's arms, but Face caught the first one with a right hook. Gravy showed up just in time to even the odds as Murdock got his feet back under him, and took after the one that had cold-cocked him.

            It didn't take the team mates long to subdue the key grips, who were practiced in bar brawls, but not prepared to face a group of men trained in hand to hand combat. Murdock walked over to Steiger, grabbed him by the shirt collar, and slammed him against the side of the truck.

            "Let's get this straight, Steiger. You lay one finger on Shy and I find out about it, I'll hunt you down and kill you. It's simple. Stay the fuck away from her." The man's eyes were wide with fear, and he nodded.

            Murdock gave him one last shove, then turned and strode toward the front of the truck. "Let's get the fuck out of here."

            Face felt a cold chill slide up his spine at the look that Steiger threw at Murdock's retreating back. He knew there were things in his friend's past that he didn't know. It was that way with everyone on the Team. They all had their dirty secrets that they didn't share. Times like this made him wonder if Murdock's weren't a little dirtier than most.

            He shot Steiger a warning glare and watched the man and his cronies walk away before walking to the truck cab. Murdock bounced on the balls of his feet, waiting for him by the open cab door. His dark eyes still sparked with the adrenalin rush from the fight, and he quirked a grin at Face.

            "You gonna have a black eye outta that one, Faceman."

            "Thanks to you. What the hell did you hope to accomplish confronting Steiger like that, anyway?"

            Murdock shrugged. "Just solidifying Shy's cover. Besides, it felt good to knock that shit-eating grin off his face.

            "Christ, Murdock, that was just fucking stupid. Next time I tell you to just fuck a woman would you get it over with and not get your rocks off in a fucking brawl."

            Murdock bowed his head. "Sorry, Face. Steiger just pisses me off." When he looked up, the smile on his lips just served to irritate Face. "Admit it, though, you like a good brawl as much as I do."

            "Hell yeah he do," Gravy chimed in from behind the wheel of the truck.

            "Both of you just shut the fuck up and let's get outta here before Steiger comes back with the MPs."

Murdock unsuccessfully tried to suppress his grin as he bowed and held a hand out toward the cab. "After you, Face."

            "Fuck you, Murdock. I'm not riding all the way back in the center."

            "Yeah, you are. I ain't straddling the damn stick. You set this scam up, you take the joy stick seat." Murdock's grin turned wicked. "After all, you owe it to me. You are the one set me up with Shy in the first place."

            "He right, Faceman. You do owe him. 'Sides, Murdock's legs is too fuckin' long – they'll get in the way of me shiftin'." Gravy grinned at him.

            Face ground his teeth in irritation, but climbed into the truck. "You're both just lucky it's a short ride to Nha Trang."

            Murdock laughed as he climbed into the passenger seat. "At least the trucks fully loaded now, huh Face?"

            "Fuck you, Murdock."

 

***

 

            "No, Viola! Just back the hell off! I'm not going to the bar, and that's final."

            Vi wrinkled her nose at Sheila. "You don't have to get mad. I was just asking if you wanted to find someone to make you forget about Murdock."

Sheila shook her head. The lack of sleep was catching up to her and she was feeling pretty cranky. "I'm not mad, I'm exhausted."

            Vi took her arm, and steered her toward the bar.

Sheila stopped in her tracks. "I said I'm not going to the bar."

            "I'm not headed to the bar – I need to change my clothes before I go there. I thought maybe we'd head to quarters by way of the beach. You know, get some fresh air. Talk."

            Sheila looked at Vi narrowly and nodded. They hadn't really talked since Vi had found out she was undercover, and they really needed to sort out that little SNAFU. "Ok. A talk is probably in order. You think we'll find some privacy down at the beach?"

            Vi nodded. They walked in silence for several minutes. At the beach, Sheila headed straight for the water, stopping next to a sand castle that was beginning to succumb to the waves that washed water into a moat dug around the perimeter. She kicked off her shoes, and walked onto the wet sand nearby, where the water would periodically swell up over her toes.

            Arms crossed, Sheila turned resolutely away from the castle and looked out toward the ocean. Unfortunately, the damage was already done, as memories from the day at the beach with HM flooded her mind.

            "You're thinking about him, aren't you?"

            Sheila started. She had almost forgotten Vi was with her. "What?"

            Vi stood further back on the beach, above the water line. "You're thinking about HM. I can tell. You have that look about you."

            Sheila ran her hands back through her hair and turned to look back at Vi. "Can we not talk about Murdock? Please?"

            "I'm sorry, Shy. I feel kind of responsible for this mess. I mean, I introduced you to him. Now I know there was a reason why you kept avoiding my match-making. I guess Murdock just broke through the barriers you had up - "

            Sheila interrupted, "Look, Vi, it's not your fault. Beside, I thought we weren't going to talk about Murdock . . ."

            "Right. Sorry."

            Sheila took a deep breath and leveled Vi with a serious gaze. "Listen, Viola, it would be best if you just pretended like the last few days never happened."

            "You mean, pretend I don't know that you're a spy."

            "That's not helping, Vi. It's a major fuck up on my part that you know. If my superiors find out, I'll be out on my ass." Sheila took a step back toward the woman she had come to think of as a friend. "I know you're pissed that I lied to you, and I'm sorry. It's nothing personal, it's just my job."

            Vi waved a dismissive hand. "I'm not pissed, Shy. More . . . curious. What are you investigating in our tour? I mean, I can guess it involves Dean and Willie –"

            "It's best if you don't know, Vi. I really don't want to involve you."

            "I won't rat you out, Shy. I promise. It's gotta be exciting being a spy. Maybe I could help . . ."

            Sheila moved forward and put her hands on Viola's shoulders to ensure she had the woman's full attention. "This isn't a game, Viola. It's dangerous. Trust me, it is better if you don't get involved. And if anyone along the way finds out I'm not Sheila Downey, it could be very dangerous for me. Do you understand?"

            Vi stiffened, and then her shoulders slumped. "I understand, Shy."

            "Good."

Sheila released her and her gaze was drawn further up the beach, where she caught sight of Karen. Now would be a good time to talk to the woman.

            "Listen, Vi. I have some work to do. I'll see you later, ok?"

            Vi grinned. "It may be much later. I think I'm going to head back to the tent and get changed for the bar."

            Sheila smiled. "Have fun."

            As her roomy ran off up the beach, Sheila bent down and grabbed her shoes, moving along the wet line of sand in the opposite direction. She could see Karen out of the corner of her eye, sitting on the twilit beach. Another twenty to thirty feet should bring Sheila passing directly in front of her.

            She continued to move slowly, gazing out toward the ocean, thoughts swirling around how to make a connection with the woman. Glancing up the beach, she became distracted when she recognized the room she had shared with Murdock the night before. Her thoughts strayed again, and she sighed in frustration.

            "Hey, Sheila."

            She turned to see Karen waving to her from her seat in the sand. She waved and moved up the beach.

"Hi, Karen." Now that she was closer, she thought she recognized a darkening bruise on the side of Karen's face. She ground her teeth as she took a seat on the sand next to Karen, wiggling her wet, sand-covered toes under the warm surface into the moist cool sand underneath.

"What brings you out here?" Karen's gaze was openly appraising, her voice level and emotionless.

Sheila shrugged, deciding to take her cues from Karen. "Just taking a walk. Trying to clear my head."

            Karen snorted. "Clear your head of thoughts of a certain pilot? Seems to me a quiet walk on the beach would give you an awful lot of time and space just to think about him."

            A bark of laughter escaped Sheila's lips. "Yeah, it did kind of backfire on me."

"You really like Murdock, don't you?"

"I only knew him for a few days."

"Still, they can get under your skin pretty quick." Karen rested her chin on her knees and gazed out at the ocean. "They're kind, treat you nicely . . . tell you you're pretty. Before you know it, you can't remember what life was like before they were there."

Sheila looked at the woman's profile. That was definitely a bruise from being slapped across the face. Her blood started a slow boil. It was easy to guess who had done it. "It sounds like you're speaking from experience."

"Yeah. I guess that's what keeps me doing Dean's dirty work, as Vi calls it."

"I personally plan on steering clear of men for the remainder of the tour. I'm having trouble losing the one man I did get involved with."

Karen laughed. "I noticed. Did you see the shiner Dean was sporting today?"

Sheila's eyebrows furrowed. "Like the one you'll likely be sporting tomorrow?"

Karen touched the side of her face, the movement self-conscious. Sheila decided to follow up with a question that could be taken either way. Let Karen choose the path she wanted their conversation to take. "What happened?"

Karen hugged her knees, rocking slightly. "From what I heard, your pilot happened. Dean took his goon squad and went to make sure he was leaving. Murdock floored him with one punch, and then his friends helped him take care of the rest. Dean was pretty pissed when he got back." Her hand raised reflexively to the side of her face again, a grim smile on her lips. "That's when Dean gave me this."

Sheila took grim satisfaction in the knowledge that Murdock had given Dean a taste of his own medicine. There was no doubt in her mind that this was not the first time Dean had struck a woman. But confronting Dean had been a stupid move on Murdock's part. Stupid, and reckless. Sheila swallowed her irritation, but allowed her worry to show. "Was . . . everyone ok?"

Karen looked at her, and smiled. "Murdock and his friends walked away with barely a scrape. Dean and the goons weren't so lucky, though none of them were badly injured. To be honest, I think Dean was a little scared. I don't know what Murdock said to him, but it shook him."

Sheila let her gaze shift pointedly to the bruise. "I'm sorry about that."

Karen's jaw clenched. "It's not your fault. Or Murdock's. I don't know why I keep going back. Dean loses control when he gets angry. It probably didn't help that Willie pulled a disappearing act. The up side of it is that tomorrow he'll be very apologetic. I'll probably even get a gift out of this one. It's not all bad."

"You deserve better, Karen. No one has the right to hurt you out of anger."

Karen's voice took on an accusing tone. "What do you know? You're pretty, talented. A handsome guy like Murdock wouldn't even give me a second look. You, he followed to Cam Ranh."

Sheila snorted. "That had nothing to do with my looks or my talent."

She bit her lip. Had she said that out loud? Perhaps it was the fact that she found it hard to understand Murdock's confessed reason for following her. Love. She wasn't even sure what the hell that meant, but if it was the chaos of emotions and longing that he seemed to arouse in her, she wondered if it was wise to pursue the relationship; and did she really have any choice in the matter, anyway?

Karen was looking at her expectantly, and Sheila shook herself, trying to get her head back in the game. "Unless, of course, you mean talent in bed. Isn't that all most men want?"

"Maybe our problems aren't so different, huh?"

Sheila pursed her lips. Actually, their problems were very different, but it was a connection with Karen that she couldn't pass up. "I guess not."

Karen's gaze turned pointedly out to the ocean, turning the darkening bruise on her cheek toward Sheila. The sight of the bruise, and Karen's obvious subservience to Dean served to push her thoughts of Murdock to the background. She ground her teeth and mentally rehearsed her cover personality. It was going to be a long couple weeks, restraining herself from beating the shit out of Dean. In fact, once this was over, Steiger would be lucky to escape her wrath with just a black eye.

 

***

 

            "I need a favor, Zap." Murdock felt like he was shouting into the telephone at his former door gunner. Mike Zappatelli could still be counted among his friends at Da Nang, though not for much longer. Mike's tour was up in two months, and he was headed home. Lucky for Murdock two months was enough time for what he needed.

            Silence on the other end of the line. "I'm not sure I want to be involved after what happened to Willie, Murdock. What the hell you into, anyhow?"

            Murdock's brow furrowed. "What happened to Willie?"

            "He and Frankie were both found with bullets through their heads in Frankie's quarters. They're chalking it up to a hate crime, talking to the usual skin head suspects, but it bothers me that I'm the reason they were up here together. Tell me you had nothin' to do with it, Murdock."

            Murdock had lowered himself into a chair while Zap was talking. Hate crime, maybe, but the coincidence was chilling. "I had nothing to do with it, Zap. I swear."

            Several seconds of silence ensued, and Murdock was afraid his friend was going to turn him down. He wouldn't blame Zap, but if Willie was dead, and if it was connected to the smuggling operation, then he needed Zap's help more than ever.

            "What do you need, Murdock?"

            He blew out the breath he had been holding. "The USO is going to be up there in a couple weeks. I got kind of . . . involved with one of the girls on tour, a Sheila Downey. Cute little blonde, plays piano, sings a little. When they get on base, I'd appreciate it if you just kept an eye on her, maybe introduce yourself. Dean Steiger is stage manager, and he and I had a bit of a run in. I just want to make sure he's not taking it out on her."

            "I wondered where Steiger had gone. I'll check it out when they arrive. Aren't you worried about what goes on between now and when they get up here?"

            "I am now. Not sure what I can do about it, though. I told Steiger if he touched her I'd hunt him down. Hopefully that keeps him on his best behavior, but I'm not exactly the most intimidating person."

            The responding chuckle startled Murdock. "Oh, I don't know about that, Howlin'. You can be pretty damn scary when you want."

            Murdock took some comfort in the comment, but his mind kept coming back to the fact that Willie and Frankie were dead. "Have they found out who is responsible for the murders?"

            "Not yet. And I have trouble with the whole hate crime bullshit. I mean, Frankie ain't exactly been hidin' his colors, know what I mean? If it bothered somebody, why'd they wait until now? Seems strange it happened the one day Willie comes up to visit. That's what really bugs me."

            "Me, too. Could you keep me posted?"

            "Only for a little while longer."

            Murdock could hear the smile in Zap's voice. "Fucking short timer. Got your figmo ready?"

            "You better believe it, and man is she a beaut. Listen, I gotta di di mau. I'll call you later when your lady gets here."

            "Thanks a million, Zap. I owe ya."

            "I'll add it to your tab, Howlin'."

            Murdock ducked out of the communications room, and Face and another man stood from where they were lounging against the wall.

            Face caught Murdock's eye, nodded, then turned to his companion. "Thanks, again, Larry."

            Larry raised a fifth of whiskey, and grinned. "Pleasure doin' business with you boys." He disappeared back into the com room.

            Face fell into step beside Murdock as they pushed out of the building and headed across base.

            "So, can your buddy help out?" Face asked.

            "Yeah. He said he'd check up on Shy when they go to Da Nang. I'm wondering what the hell I'm letting her walk into up there, though . . ."

            "You aren't 'letting' her do anything, Murdock. Christ, you didn't even sleep with her and you seem to feel responsible for her. She's a big girl – she can take care of herself."

            "Willie Leighton is dead, Face."

            "What?" Face stopped him with a hand on his arm.

            "He and Frankie both took a bullet to the head sometime last night."

            "You think it has something to do with whatever Shy's investigating?"

            "The coincidence is a little hard to discount."

            "Shit."

            Murdock ground his teeth together. "My sentiments exactly. Got any contacts between Cam Ranh and Da Nang?"

            "Let me see what I can do." Face took off at a jog. Murdock smiled in relief. It was good to have friends like him. It would save Murdock himself from going AWOL to follow Shy half way across South Vietnam.

 

*** Three weeks later***

 

            Sydney Wilson left her Sheila Downey persona on the slick, as she disembarked in Saigon. It had been a relief to leave the messy end to her mission behind her. At least in her own skin, as Sydney Wilson, she felt like she could cope with the ramifications of what had happened at Da Nang.

A studious-looking slip of a kid walked toward her hesitantly, the wash of the rotors looked like it might blow him away. "Special Agent Sydney Wilson?"

"You found her." Sydney didn't slow her movement away from the chopper, forcing the kid to lope behind her like a lame hunchback.

"Mr. Quinn sent me down to retrieve you, SA Wilson. You're due in debriefing, now."

            "Fine. But first I need to hit the head. Where's the nearest one?"

            "Right this way ma'am."

 

***

 

            "I wanted to call and let you know your lady is fine, Murdock. I assume you heard about the excitement, and what happened to Steiger?"

            Murdock sat in the com room again. Another fifth, another private conversation. "I've been on maneuvers for the last 48 hours, Zap. I don't have a fucking clue what you're talking about. What happened to Steiger?"

            "Him and a couple other guys got blown away on the road to Da Nang, along with a couple of trucks full of equipment."

            "Shit. Was it an NVA attack?"

            "That's what they're saying officially."

            "And unofficially."

            "I heard the ammo was all-American."

"Shit." Murdock took a moment to absorb the import of that. "Shy's ok, though?"
            "Yeah, she and the rest of the crew followed the next day in a heavily reinforced convoy. They made it to Da Nang, no problem. Steiger and his friends weren't so lucky."

            "Did you talk to her?"

            "Yeah, I talked to her. You got yourself a little firecracker there, man. She said to tell you, let's see, how'd she put it? Oh, yeah. I think her exact words were, 'tell the flyboy I don't need a fucking keeper.'"

            Murdock chuckled. "Yeah, that sounds like her. Hey, did they ever figure out who did Willie and Frankie?"

            "Actually, the skin-head that was under suspicion turned up dead yesterday. Looks like maybe somebody took justice into their own hands. Least that's what the MPs are saying."

            Murdock tensed. "Which skin head?"

            "Ian Miller. Wasn't he a friend of yours?"

            "Not exactly a friend." Murdock dropped his head in his hand, and started quizzing Zap on the other smugglers he had contact with at Da Nang. He tension mounted as Zap confirmed that each was either dead, or headed state-side.

            "Where's Shy now, Zap?"

            "She left early this morning. I talked to her roomy, sweet lady named Viola. She said Shy got called home, and was headed to Saigon for transport."

            Murdock breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks a million for your help, Zap. Keep safe until you get to ride the freedom bird, man."

            "Trust me, I strappin' in tight for these last few weeks. Take care, Howlin'. Hope I get to see you again in the real world."

            Murdock put the phone down and sat back. Shy had kicked over a rattlers' nest up in Da Nang. Based on what Zap had told him, whoever was behind the smuggling ring had found out that the network there was compromised and was busy cleaning up any and all potential loose ends. He just hoped that Shy had escaped detection, because she was one hell of a loose end.

 

***

 

            Sydney walked into Peter Quinn's office with a certain amount of trepidation. She was grateful that she had been allowed a shower, meal, and good nights sleep after the grueling debriefing of the day before. She knew the questions were probably far from over, especially when Colonel Hunt Stockwell turned in his seat and glared at her as if the entire Vietnam conflict had been her doing.

She had practiced her poker face in the mirror until her muscles had it memorized, and it remained firmly in place even though she could feel her heart rate increase in response to the anticipated reaming. The last couple days at Da Nang had been a cluster, and she felt responsible, at least in part, for what had happened. She didn't mourn Steiger or Leighton, but that didn't make their deaths any less devastating to the task force goals. She took some solace in the fact that they still had the other names that Murdock had provided, along with a few she had been able to add during the course of her time with the USO. Maybe they could still salvage something out of the mess at Da Nang.

            "Special Agent Wilson, please, take a seat."

Quinn's voice was emotionless, as was his expression. Only Stockwell's demeanor hinted at what was coming. She didn't say a word; just sat down in the chair next to Stockwell and waited. She didn't have to wait long.

            "Colonel Stockwell and I have just finished going over your report, and reviewing your debriefing transcript," Quinn said, voice even and analytical.

            "You weave a very interesting tale, Special Agent." Stockwell's tone was biting, and derogatory.

            "You make it sound like I was fabricating, Colonel," Sydney responded levelly. "I assure you, it isn't a tale. I related only the facts as I understood them."

            "As you understood them? From where I'm sitting you understand very little, young lady."

            Sydney bit her tongue, literally. She had learned that by biting her tongue, she could keep herself from clenching her jaw, which was a tell-tale sign that she was angry. It was essential that she maintain her cool with these two men. She refrained from rising to the bait, and sat quietly waiting for a question. She was certain they had questions.

            Stockwell smirked. "Nothing to say for yourself?"

            Sydney turned a blank gaze on the Colonel. "I'm not sure what you would have me say, sir. If you have any questions regarding the information I've provided, or the events of the past few weeks, I would be happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge. That's really all I can offer."

            Stockwell turned his piercing gaze on Quinn, clearly done speaking to her. "All I require is some assurance that Captain Murdock is not going to end up like the other people this agent has come in contact with."

            Sydney's initial flash of anger was doused quickly by the flash of amusement she thought she saw reflected in Quinn's gaze when it flicked to her. It was fleeting, as he immediately locked eyes with Stockwell. "As far as I know, Captain Murdock is alive and well, and still living as recklessly as ever, Colonel Stockwell. He appears to be unscathed by SA Wilson's investigation, which was undertaken as a personal favor to you. Since she was able to clear him of any current smuggling activity, I would think that you would be pleased. It was my understand that that was precisely what you were hoping for."

            "What I was hoping for was a competent agent who would quietly determine whether Captain Murdock was currently involved in smuggling activities or not. I did not want a reckless newbie who would pursue a line of investigation into past activities that would get everyone around her killed."

            "The job is done, Colonel. You have your answer. The rest is irrelevant, to you."

            "Steiger, Leighton, Miller, Hough, Davis – all of these men were closely associated with Murdock while he was at Da Nang and are now dead. Can you assure me that he won't be next?"

            Sydney tensed at the mention of Miller and Davis.  Both had been alive and well when she left Da Nang. Maybe the situation was worse than she thought.

            "We know that all of the men you named were actively involved in the smuggling network. Captain Murdock is not currently active in smuggling activities, so we have no reason to believe that he is in any sort of danger . . . from the network, at least."

            "That doesn't change the fact that whatever is going on, it is obvious that somehow the smuggling network knows what SA Wilson was investigating-"

            Quinn stood, his aplomb slipping. "I'm well aware of the issues, Colonel. As I've told you, that is not your concern."

Stockwell stood, too. "It sure as hell is my concern. If I am to be handling the Army's portion of this task force, I want to know what you are doing to neutralize an obvious leak within the organization."

            Sydney sat back to watch the pissing match. Neither man seemed to remember that she was even in the room. It was clearly a turf war, and the big dogs were marking territory. Her only concern at this point was whether she'd still be in the war after this battle was over.

            "Your only role in this task force is to keep the Army the hell out of my way. Any leak within our internal organization is my problem, not yours."

            "I will not be relegated to the sidelines of this task force, Quinn. It is my people out there that are being killed by those goddam smuggled weapons. I have a vested interest in shutting down this network, and I will do it with or without your help."

            "We're on the same side, Stockwell, and we both know our roles. Don't force me to push this conflict higher. I appreciate the knowledge and connections that you bring to the table, but that is precisely why I have been brought in to oversee the investigation as an entity entirely outside of the organizations potentially involved. You know that this is how it has to be."

            Stockwell's acceptance of the validity of Quinn's statement was apparent in his expression. He still didn't look happy, though.

            Quinn visibly relaxed, and sat back down. "It is pointless for us to argue, Hunt. What I need from you is a detailed list of who in your group was in the know before versus after the date of SA Wilson's deployment on this mission. It is more and more obvious to me that something changed in that time frame to lead to the entire task force being compromised. Right now, I need your help on damage control. You are one of the few people that I feel I can still trust."

            Quinn's well-placed expression of confidence seemed to moderate Stockwell's displeasure, and the request for help appeased his desire to be involved. Sydney tucked the tactic away for future use. She admired her supervisor's ability to read and influence people without destroying their self-image. It was a talent she hoped to be able to emulate.

            Stockwell nodded. "You have my complete support and confidence, as well, Peter. The current situation has us all on edge. I trust you to resolve it."
            "I hope to hell I can, Hunt."

            "SA Wilson, I do have one question for you."

            Stockwell's sudden attention on her startled Sydney, and she sat up and looked at him. "Yes, sir?"

            "Captain Murdock has a reputation as a reckless pilot. Is it deserved?"

            Sydney was surprised by the question. She went back through the stories that Murdock and Face had shared. It was her only frame of reference, but she could infer where the 'reckless' reputation had originated. She sensed that the Colonel was looking for some assurance that Murdock was safe, or at least as safe as he could be in a place like Vietnam. It did make her curious about his relation to Murdock.

            "My interactions with Captain Murdock didn't really involve his work, sir. But I can tell you, based on the stories that I heard from Smith's first lieutenant, that he's just that good. What others may see as reckless, his team mates see as talent and loyalty."

            Stockwell laughed and shook his head. "Smith is reckless in his own right, so I'm not sure whether to take that as a glowing endorsement. But, talent and loyalty are good qualities to have, and Smith's team has them in spades. It is too bad Murdock is in aviation."

            "On the official roster that may be the case, but from what I saw and heard while I was at Nha Trang, Murdock is definitely a part of Smith's team. He even bunks with them."

            Stockwell's eyebrows shot up. "Really? Interesting. Well, I appreciate your candor, Special Agent. Good day."

            Sydney stared after Stockwell in confusion, his abrupt departure unsettling.

Quinn's chuckle refocused her attention on him. "Stockwell is that way, Wilson. Don't let it bother you. He has little time for banalities, and less time for frivolous discussions. That's about the most personal I've ever seen him get, and I doubt it made him comfortable to have you read him so easily."

            "Oh."

            Quinn stood. "You have your side arm?"

            "Yes, sir."

"Walk with me, Wilson. We need to talk."

            Sydney followed him silently. Her curiosity burned, but Quinn didn't turn to look at her, or say a word himself until they were out of the building and walking down the crowded streets of central Saigon. Scars from recent bombings were apparent, but everyone on the street walked past as if they were invisible. Sydney fell into step beside Quinn, who took her arm to keep them together as he turned a corner, and another, leaving the crowds behind and heading into the back streets of the war-torn city.

            "You did well on your first op, Wilson."

            She started, and looked up at Quinn's face. He still stared straight ahead, his expression carefully neutral.

            "Thank you, sir."

            "You surprised a lot of people. There were wagers that this would be . . ."

A slight grimace crossed his face as he hesitated, and Sydney chuckled. "You thought you'd get rid of the chick that was crashing the boys-only party."

Quinn's full lips tilted up on one side, as he glanced down at her. "You tell it like it is, Wilson. I admire that. You also don't seem to have any illusions about your position here."

"No illusions, sir."

"I spoke to a few of your instructors at Quantico. Top of your class." His smirk was self-deprecating. "That'll teach me to look at the files of the new recruits coming over more closely. Tell me something, Wilson, why the hell did you come to 'Nam?"

            Sydney considered the question for several long seconds, recalling when Murdock had asked her a similar question sitting on the beach at Nha Trang. She missed Murdock, more than she had ever missed anyone besides her mother. What was it she had told him?

            She frowned, finding it difficult to articulate why she had chosen this assignment. There were many reasons, both personal and professional, but much of it probably wasn't really pertinent to what Quinn was after. "The Bureau took a chance on me, and I felt like I owed it to the organization to pay that back. When assignments came out, there was a push for this task force, and since I didn't have any family left, I figured I had less to lose taking an overseas assignment then most of the others in my class." She glanced over at Quinn, and grinned. "That, and I guess I had to come over here and find out for myself what all the uproar was about."

He chuckled. "You are everything your instructors said. Independent, level-headed, intelligent, tough . . . I think I'd add straight-forward and bull-headed to that description. You're an interesting young woman, Wilson. How did you like undercover work?"

            Sydney shrugged. "It was ok. Took a little getting used to."

            "How would you feel about a long-term undercover assignment?"

            "I'm here to do whatever is needed to accomplish our goals, sir."

Quinn stopped, glanced up and down the street slowly, and then shoved Sydney toward the open doorway of what looked to be an abandoned building. He led her down a short hall to an empty room, where he closed the door.

            Sydney stood uncertainly in the middle of the room as Quinn began pacing in an uncharacteristic show of agitation. "I have a special assignment for you that is a little out of the ordinary. This leak is proving to be a major problem, and one that is going to be impossible to resolve through official channels and standard protocols." He stopped and looked at her. "I want you to quit the Bureau."

            Sydney looked up at him in surprise. "What?"

            Quinn crossed his arms. "I want you to quit the Bureau when we get back to my office. The CIA has expressed interest in you, and I want you to officially jump ship and join them as a reconnaissance agent for SOG."

            "The Special Operations Group? I thought that was a military-run operation?"

            "5th Special Forces operates several small, elite unconventional warfare groups out of Nha Trang. You have an in with one of them – Smith's team has been one of the most successful, and they've been expanding that initiative quietly. They're looking for some agents to station there and aid in identifying targets and developing the intel for surgical strikes. You would be one of those agents."

            "I'd work for the CIA?"

            "Officially, yes. Unofficially, you would still report to me. Very unofficially. At least as far as in-country personnel are concerned, you'd be on the CIA payroll."

            "I'd be stationed at Nha Trang?"

Quinn nodded and Sydney was surprised by the involuntary swell of excitement that accompanied that confirmation. She would be stationed on-base with Murdock.

"In fact, I believe you'd be running recon for Smith's team, as well as a couple others. You should leverage your relationship with Smith's pilot to get your in to the underground workings of the base. I understand you were friendly with Smith's second-in-command, too, and from I what I've heard, he's more connected to the black market in 'Nam than any other supply officer."

Quinn began pacing again. "Your CIA supervisor will be Jeremy Lewis, who is being promoted to base coordinator for the CIA operations there. I've only met him once, but he's been in-country for a couple years, in southeast Asia for the last five, and is one of the best reconnaissance officers the CIA has. He's also well-connected to the CIA ranks. In between your recon work, I want you to see if you can find anything out about the smuggling operation. There is definitely a CIA/Army connection there, and one that we need to ferret out. I'm hoping you'll be well-positioned to do just that."

            Sydney shook her head. "Based on what I learned, I would think Da Nang would be a better place –"

            "Offing Steiger and Leighton was just the beginning, Wilson. Whoever holds the reigns in the smuggling operation is ruthless. Anyone that had anything to do with it has either gotten papers home or ended up dead. The operation has been all but shut down in Da Nang as a result, totally screwing our chances of leveraging the information you unearthed. My sources are saying that the base of operations appears to be moving south, with Nha Trang a likely possibility. That's where you come in."

            "But with the leak, they'll know who I am."

            "But you won't be part of the task force anymore. And you're a woman. I think you'll be discounted as a threat. They will be cautious around you, but I don't think they'll close up shop just because you're there. I'm counting on that."

            "What if I get transferred?"

            "CIA has its most stable presence at Nha Trang. I think you'll be left there. If not we'll drop back and punt."

            Sydney stood quietly trying to absorb what Quinn was telling her. Quinn stopped in front of her, his gaze piercing. "Are you up for this, Special Agent Wilson?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "I'll call in Ike Cheney when we get back to the office so you have an audience. I want you to make it look good when you quit. Disillusioned with the Bureau, you want to make a difference in the war effort – tell me to take a fucking leap. I trust you to read the situation and act appropriately. Ike's just salivating to snap you up. This part should be a cake walk."

            "But how will I get in touch with you if I find anything once I'm in?"

            "I'm glad you brought that up. You've been getting mail very regularly from a Lee Childs, though I notice you haven't sent any letters back. That should make a good vehicle for us to communicate without raising suspicions. I have agents that fly in and out of Nha Trang periodically, and I will personally set up a drop for you once we see where you land."

            Sydney shifted uncomfortably. She had been thinking about sending Lee the proverbial 'Dear John' letter and telling him to stop writing. He was being annoyingly persistent about the marriage proposal. If they were going to use his communication as a cover, she would have to wait to give him the final brush-off. That felt vaguely like leading him on, but it couldn't be helped. She would just have to apologize to him - if she ever saw him again.

            "That makes sense. You told me you want me to leverage my relationship with Captain Murdock. Am I allowed to let him in on my mission? He's clear, and he might be able to help."

            "I don't want you telling anyone what you're true mission is, Wilson." Quinn's eyes were narrow, and the thin line of his mouth was grim. "You are placing far too much trust in a man that you know little about. While I agree that he's likely not involved, he was in the past. He has ties in the CIA, the Air Force, and the Army that I think you can leverage for your investigation, but other than that I don't want to take any chances given the current situation. Under no circumstances are you to tell him what you are doing. Understood?"

            "Yes, sir."

            Sydney resisted the urge to shift under Quinn's intense gaze. It was a full minute before he spoke again.

            "You are very young and inexperienced, Wilson, and I'm going against my better judgment throwing you into an op in which you are so cut off, but I don't see any choice in the matter. I want this one thing clearly understood. Trust no one with the details of your true mission. I will give you an exit to use as a last resort if you cannot get in touch with me personally. The drop will be for coded messages, only. Same with any mail communiqués via the Lee Childs letters. Even the intervening agents will be in the dark as to who the drop is for.  I want your position as secure as absolutely possible. Do we understand each other?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Let's go, Wilson – before I change my mind."

            Quinn turned and walked out of the room. Sydney followed, thoughts whirling. At least she was going undercover as herself. It would make the cover story easy. She could even be almost entirely truthful with Murdock.

            She smirked at the irony of the statement, 'almost entirely truthful.' If she was lucky, it would be enough. 

            A frown creased her brow as she followed Quinn out into the streets of Saigon. Enough, perhaps, but for what?

 

 

*** FINI ***

. . . for now ;)

 


Falling In Love With A Lie by KennaC
Falling In Love With A Lie 2 by KennaC
Falling In Love With A Lie 3 by KennaC
Falling In Love With A Lie 4 by KennaC
Falling In Love With A Lie 5 by KennaC

 

 


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