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That Old Black Magic

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1985

"Sir?"

"Yes, McAlliaster.  What problem have you failed to overcome now?"

The general sat, fidgeting at his desk, absently twirling a pencil through his fingers while the fingers curled around the phone receiver tightened.  He hated that tone.  He hated having to subordinated himself to a—

He stopped the thought and said as apologetically as possible, "I'm afraid I have some bad news, sir."

"I'm listening," snapped the distant voice.

"It's Hunsacker.  We were forced to terminate him."  It sounded matter of fact, calm.  That should get the old man's goat.

The voice sighed.  "I'm very disappointed in you, Peter.  I thought you and your Shadow Company could easily deal with one man.  I see I was wrong."

The muscles along McAlliaster's jaw jerked.  He hated this man, but there was nothing he could do.  Now, for the real news.  "Hunsacker spoke to the police.  One, a sergeant Martin Riggs, has been terminated, and we have his partner's daughter.  If Hunsacker revealed anything to the authorities, we'll know about it soon enough.  I've arranged a meeting out near the dry lake bed.  The shipment will be moved on schedule."

"Martin Riggs?"

"Yes.  He's assigned to the narcotics division, but he's been working with Homicide.  I understand he was a little… unstable, shall we say; not that it matters. The man's dead."

"Do not assume he's dead," the voice commanded.  "Take extra precautions when you meet with the other officer.  And Peter, see to it yourself."  Jesus Christ, the man thought, after all these years?  Marty, why the hell are you showing up in my life now? 

"Mr. Joshua took care of Riggs… personally.  I don't see—"

"I don't pay you to contradict me, Peter!  I said, do not underestimate the man…  He was once one of mine."

"I see."  McAlliaster tossed the pencil down, the eraser bouncing off the expensive leather-bound blotter and falling to the floor.

"He was part of Phoenix Force, my 'legitimate cover,' you might say.  Cobra Company.  That unit had the highest kill-ratio in the Force.  They were better than your Shadow Company – far better.  A pity only nine survived.  One was killed in Beirut, one works for me.  Another is Martin Riggs."

McAlliaster sighed silently, anger making his stomach roil.  "If that's the case, we have an additional problem."  He heard the man lean back in the overstuffed leather chair he favored.  The overseas lines crackled.  Once this is over, Haddison, I'm going to claim that chair for myself, the general thought. 

"And what would that be?"

"Our local buyer for the delivery, Mendez.  My plant at the DEA has informed me that Mendez has recently come under federal investigation; a woman, Dominique Gierard.  Also a member of Cobra Company, am I correct?  She and Riggs are connected?"

There was a pause, but the man's voice calm when he spoke.  "You are correct.  They were… connected.  One thing I've learned over the years, Peter, never trust a coincidence to be just that.  I cannot take the chance that this operation hasn't been blown.  Cordon will act on that information.  You deal with the situation there."

"I've sent notification to Mr. Bhin.  What of Riggs and Murtaugh?"

Ex-general Milton Haddison's mind bounded frantically for some way out of the coming situation that he knew was inevitable.  He silently cursed McAlliaster's ambition.  The operation was simply too big to allow past sympathies to stand in his way.  Damn it!  Why the hell wasn't this monitored more closely?  I'll have Callihan's ass in a sling if this gets them killed.

Haddison took a deep breath and said matter-of-factly, "Murtaugh shouldn't be a problem, even for you, Peter.  As for Riggs…  If he's still alive, let Mr. Joshua and Endo have him.  And, Peter?"

"Yes?"

"If you fail, I expect to hear that you died in the attempt."

"I understand."

"Good.  Bhin's waiting for the money this shipment will bring to complete the purchase of the necessary weapons and government offices.  If he doesn't receive it– Well, you know how angry he can get."

McAlliaster shivered involuntarily.  "Yes, I know.  It will be done, General."

Haddison let the phone receiver drop back into its cradle.  Leaning forward he laid his forehead on his arms and wished he could cry.  Well, Marty, I did the best I could, the rest is up to you, you and Dom.  You're the only ones who stand a chance.  Damn it, why does life have to be so fuckin' complicated?

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Three weeks later

 

Roger Murtaugh stretched gingerly under the bedcovers, then let one hand snake casually across his wife's flannel-covered mid-section.  He wriggled a finger back and forth across the soft fabric, enjoying the way her stomach rippled in response.

"Rog, the doctor said no undo exercise, remember?" she mumbled sleepily.  "You're not up to it,"

"Wanna bet?" was the detective's half-growled reply.

Trish giggled.  "Sweetheart, the doctor also said you weren't supposed to strain yourself…"  She trailed off as Roger rolled over, burying his face at the nape of her neck and kissing her without even opening his eyes.  His hand slipped under the soft material, rubbing across her mid-section and tickling her belly-button.

"Rog, the kids are home."

"Of course the kids are home," came the mumbled reply.  "It's Christmas vacation."  He let his hand drift upwards, caressing one of her breasts.

"There's one more thing that's just come up."

"Hmm?"

"I'm home, too."

Roger jumped at the sound of the low masculine voice, edged with laughter.

Trish giggled again and smiled.

"No.  No, no, no…" Murtaugh moaned into the pillow, then forced himself to look back over his shoulder at the battered but grinning face of his newest partner.

Martin Riggs lounged comfortably against the bedroom doorframe, sling finally missing, his arms folded across his chest.

"Mornin', Roger."

Snatching his arm free from under Trish's shirt, he pulled the covers up to hide them both.  "Who let you in?" he demanded gruffly.  "And how long've you been standin' there, invadin' my privacy?"

"Rianne let me in, we've been talking for a while," Riggs explained the humor missing from his tone.

Roger scowled.  "Guess I was tireder than I thought," he grumbled.  "Riggs, why're you here?  We're supposed to be resting.  You do know what that means, don't you?  You still look like hell.  And what were you and Rianne talking about?  Was she dressed?"  He turned to his wife.  "You've gotta have a talk with that girl."

Martin smiled beneath the bruises that covered his face.  It had been three weeks since Mr. Joshua and General McAlliaster originally put them there, and they had finally reached the faded technicolor stage, the cuts nearly healed.

He grinned.  No wonder that girl at the MacDonald's drive-through window looked at me strange when I went through, he thought.  I forgot all about it.

"I just wanted to let you know that I got a call this morning from an old friend," Riggs explained.  "We're meeting for lunch.  I tried to call but the phone's off the hook.  Didn't wantcha worrying when I didn't show to help with building that new wall."

Roger looked over at Trish.

"Hon, the doctor said you need the rest," she said, refusing to apologize for making sure he wasn't interrupted.  "Between the department and the press still calling, I thought I'd just take it off the hook this morning and let you sleep."

Roger sighed.  "Old friend, huh?  Sounds safe enough.  How you feelin'?"

"I'm fine," Riggs said.

Murtaugh thought the assurance came a little too fast, but he didn't press the issue with the younger officer.  It had been a tough few weeks and he didn't want Riggs thinking he didn't trust him – totally.  Not after what Martin had done for Roger and his family.  Still, there was plenty left unresolved, plenty he hoped Riggs would open up and talk to him about in the future.

"Still comin' over for dinner?"

Riggs looked slightly uncomfortable.  "Why don't I, uh, call and let you know."

Trish folded her arms over the covers.  Riggs's appearance at their dinner table had become a semi-regular feature since Christmas.  Over the past few weeks she'd come to understand the intense young man better, and she liked him.  He was part of the family.  He carried more ghosts inside than she cared to contemplate, but he genuinely cared about Roger, herself and the kids.  She wished she understood the strange gift he'd given her husband – who gave someone a bullet for Christmas? – but Trish never asked about it, content to get to know the man at his own pace.

"Is that a comment on my cooking, detective?" she demanded.

"No, Trish, really.  I-- I just don't know what my plans are gonna be, that's all.  Really."

Murtaugh suppressed a smile at his partner's discomfort.  Trish had a way of making a man squirm with that particular dark stare, and it was nice to see that Riggs wasn't immune.

"Give us a call," he told his partner.  "Now get outta here.  Didn't you hear, I'm supposed to be resting!"

Martin snapped off a sloppy salute, then winked at Trish.  Spinning on the heel of his tennis shoe he disappeared from sight, singing softly, "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to play we go."

"He call this home?" Roger asked after the song faded down the stairs.

Trish just smiled and kissed the top of her husband's nose.  "Never mind," she said.  "Where were we?"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs leaned against the white-washed corrals of the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, letting his gaze roam casually over the scattered spectators seated in the bleachers, watching the riders cantering around a large ring in stiff English costumes.  He recognized her immediately.  The same thick black braid hung down the back of a teal colored cable sweater, brushing the belt line of her faded blue jeans.  She glanced over her shoulder and met his gaze.

She's still got the feel, Martin mused.

The woman rose and threaded her way through the crowd.  He nodded.  She was as beautiful as he remembered, her five foot nine inches moving with the fluidity of a dancer or a large cat as she descended the bleachers and joined him.  The exotic, almond-shaped pale gray eyes did not mirror the smile on her lips.

"Marty," she said, voice husky and deep.  "It's good to see you."

"Dom," he replied, giving her a warm hug.  She even still smelled faintly of cedar, though he'd never figured how.

"I appreciate you coming.  It's been a long time," she said, stepping back to get a better look at his healing injuries.  "I see you've been busy."

He nodded, his own gaze traveling over her lithe, muscled form.  Still in top shape, he thought.  So she's still working, but for who these days?

"Something like that," he said, chuckling softly.  "I'll tell you later.  And how could I say no, huh?" he teased.  "Once a buddy, always a buddy, right?"

"When you hear what I have to tell you, you might wish you hadn't."  She reached out and took his hand in hers.  "Come on, let's ride.  It's safer." 

She led him over to a pair of handsome dappled blue roam geldings that stood with their reins tossed around a fence rail.  Stepping lightly into the stirrup of the western saddle, she mounted, Riggs following her example.  Reining the horses away from the stables, she guided the detective to one of the many trails through the Center and clucked the animal into a slow canter.  They rode steadily into the park for several minutes before she slowed to let Martin come up alongside.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Marty, I need your help," she said quietly.  "I've stumbled into something big, bigger than anything I've seen.  Something I don't understand, yet.  But it involves Cobra Company."

Riggs hesitated for a moment, his forehead wrinkling with concern.  "Tell me."

"Two days after Christmas, Kossen called me—"

"Terry Kossen?"

She nodded.  "He told me he thought someone was trying to kill him; that the whole team was in danger, but he wouldn't say who, or how he knew.  Someone with connections to the Company's involved, though.  When I tried to check it out everything came up blank.  It's like we never existed as a unit.  My file's there, but empty before 1973; Terry's, yours, the others, too."

"Why?"

She combed her fingers through the gelding's mane.  "I don't know.  I tried to call the other guys. . ."  She looked away for a moment, then back to Riggs, shifting uneasily in the saddle.  "They're all dead," she concluded softly.

"Dead. . ." Riggs repeated, blue eyes rounding.  "All of them?"

Dom nodded, gray eyes bright with building emotion.  "Every member of the team except you and me.  But there's no washover to other units or other people we worked with who weren't part of Cobra Company.  Just us."

She slid out of the saddle and led the gelding over to a stand of oaks and dropped the reins.  Leaning against one of the trees, she closed her eyes for a moment to rein her feelings, then began.  "Nine survivors from Nam and now there's only two.  I don't know if you heard about it, but Kevin Dairy died back in '82 in Beirut.  Tom Cordon's still MIA in Laos.  But Matt Baker died Christmas day, 1984.  He and his family were killed when their house exploded.  Gas leak the authorities said.  He was the first.

"Terry bought it on New Year's Day.  He was shot when he came out of a Wendy's.  The official report described his death's as a random drive-by, gang violence taking yet another innocent bystander."

"Christ," Riggs sighed.  "But it happens – too often."

"Granted, but Tom Peters and Glen Riley were up in the Tetons over the holidays to do some skiing.  A couple of rangers found them, shot to death execution style, on January third.  The official report there speculated that they'd come across a drug deal or some such bullshit."

Riggs snorted and shook his head.  "No way."

"My feelings exactly.  And, get this, Larry Daye burned to death in his car the next day.  He was handcuffed to the steering wheel, Marty.  They called it a suicide since he left a note; said he used the cuffs to make sure he didn't panic and back out.  Pretty neat, huh?"

Riggs ran a shaky hand through his hair and studied the young woman's face.  There was more, something eating at her and he was afraid he knew what it was.  "And?" he ventured.

"Matt wasn't supposed to be the first, I was," she replied, her voice going thick and rough.  "Christmas Eve, John Trevors, my husband, and I were coming home from a benefit in Washington D.C.  It was a cover for me to meet and debrief with my D.C. contact.  I'd just come off a three-month operation in Central America.  I needed a check on a stateside connection I'd heard about.  I was talking to another intelligence contact, and John went for the car.  It was wired.  He was killed.  It's listed as an accidental homicide.  Apparently there was a well-known anti-terrorist attending that night with the same make and model rental car.  They said the bomb was meant for him.  I actually bought it until Terry's call on the twenty-seventh."

She took a deep breath, then reached up and brushed her fingertips over her eyes.  "I tried contacting Terry again after I got myself together, but I couldn't run him down through the Company computer.  I started searching a few other systems.  That's when I found out our records were trashed.  It took some work, but when I finally got past the lock someone put on them I found out Terry was dead and started calling to check on the team…"  She trailed off, watching the horses move off, grazing on the short green grass.  "God, Marty, John wasn't supposed to die.  He wasn't part of my work.  He was an embassy interpreter who'd worked his way up to personal assistant to the ambassador for The Netherlands, nothing more' just a diplomat.  He was hoping for his own ambassadorial posting in the next administration…"

Riggs stepped up to the woman, but didn't touch her, sensing her need to regain control on her own.

Her eyes finally opened, and she brushed a tear off her cheek and smiled weakly.  "Looks like you've had a pretty rough Christmas yourself, or is that an understatement?"

Riggs shrugged one shoulder.  "An understatement."  His forehead wrinkled.  "You say all this started on Christmas Eve?"

A deep breath and she said, "From what I can sort out.  And there's more, Marty.  The day after John died someone took Scotty from John's parent's home in New Orleans.  They take care of him since John and I work overseas so much.  He's John's son from his first marriage, but he's a real sweet kid.  I went down there, but I couldn't find a clue about who took him.  Then there were two more attempts on my life, nothing serious, just shots to rattle me.  The day before yesterday I got a call telling me Scotty was in LA."

"Have you gone to the cops?"

"No.  They told me not to and with the tie-in to the old unit and my, uh, current job I didn't want to complicate things.  The strange part is, I can't get Company or Agency support either.  Someone's blocking all the channels to my contacts, and that's not supposed to be able to happen.  With only you and me left, I think it's more than a coincidence that they brought Scotty here.  Someone in-house is involved, has to be.  Someone high up, or with strong connections at that level, but damned if I know who it is, or why."

Riggs paced in circles, scuffing the accumulated layers of fallen oak leaves with his worn cowboy boots for several rotations before he stopped.  His blue eyes met her gray.  "It's my fault.  Damn it, it's my fault."

She shook her head.  "Marty, how—"

"You remember Shadow Company?"

"That bunch of mercenary psychos we ran into in Saigon?"

Riggs grinned slightly and nodded.  "That was my 'problem' over the holidays.  They're involved, got to be."

"Shadow Company's killing us off?  Why?  After all these years—"

"No, not Shadow Company exactly, they're dead.  Someone connected to them, though.  We fucked-over one helluva big organization when Roger and I took out that group.  Revenge?  Sounds trite, but—"

"Marty, they're not that good."

Riggs' eyes narrowed.  "They might not be, but whoever was pullin' their strings is."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The phone rang.  Murtaugh looked up from the two-by-four he held in place with one hand while he tried to grab a nail from between his lips -- but the hammer, held in his other hand, kept getting in the way.  The phone rang again.  Roger sighed, released the hammer and board, letting them fall to the floor with a clatter, then stalked over to the instrument, snatching it up.

"Riggs, you have the worst Goddamn timing!" he yelled around the nails.

"Huh?" came the reply.  "Sarge, that you?  You okay?"

It was McCaskey.  Murtaugh spit the nails into his hand, feeling slightly foolish.  "Yeah, it's me, Jack.  What's up?  Doesn't anyone realize I'm supposed to be on vacation?"

"Yeah, well, I thought you'd like to know – we just pulled Riggs' truck out of a hillside."

Roger felt his stomach ball into a tight fist.  "Where?"

"Ravine near the west end of Topanga Canyon."

"Riggs?"

"No sign of him."  The officer hesitated a moment before he asked, "They pulled two kids out with it.  One's dead, the other's in pretty bad shape, but from what they got out of him, someone paid them to steal the truck from the LA Equestrian Center.  They were on their way to deliver it when they were forced off the road, by the same guys.  Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, weird, gotta find Riggs.  Put an all-points out on him.  If someone spots him, have him call me.  He's supposed to contact me later today; just hope he's still in one piece.  Get a couple of units over to my place, too, and set up a safehouse in case we need it.  And McCaskey?"

"Yeah?"

"Do it yourself.  No one knows, understand?"

"Roger, what the hell's going on?"

"I don't know, but I'm not takin' any chances.  Just do it my way."

"Will do."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

It took Riggs over an hour to fill Dom in on his and Roger's recent encounter with Shadow Company.  She listened intently, trying to piece together the reasons for the deaths and Scotty's abduction out of the information.

"So you think this was a ploy to get me out here?"

He nodded.

"Why?  If they're killing off the team out of revenge, what difference does it make where I buy it?"

"Maybe they knew what we were."

She thought about that for a moment then shook her head.  "Only a couple of the guys knew, the rest were too caught up in their own problems to notice.  What're you getting at?"

Riggs looked down at his watch and swore under his breath.

"What?" she asked.

"I was supposed to call Rog about dinner.  We need to fill him in on this.  He's in it up to his eyeballs."

Dom nodded, heading over to collect the horses from where they'd moved off to graze on the park grass.  When she rejoined him, she said softly, "I heard about Victoria Lynn, Marty.  I'm sorry."

Riggs reached for the reins, then stopped, the name sending a stab of pain through him.  He had visited her grave on Christmas day and for each of the twenty days that had passed since, he'd managed to fight off the desperate loneliness with frequent trips to the Murtaughs, or hard runs on the beach.  The mention of her name brought the pain back and he reached unconsciously for the now-empty watch pocket of his jeans.  "How'd you hear?"

"I've been keeping tabs on all you guys since the war," she said, swinging gracefully into the saddle.

"I thought you were going to put all that behind you," he replied, wanting desperately to change the subject.

"Did you?"

He paused and shook his head slightly, understanding.

"I was damn good at what I did, Marty, still am.  The Company said they needed me and I believed them.  Then I got smart and found another home.  Besides, it made it easier to keep tabs on the rest of you.  You guys were like family.  I've thought a lot about you, and her, since John was killed."  She looked over at the detective, her eyes filling with unshed tears.  "Does it get easier, Marty?  Tell me the pain goes away."

Riggs turned away, unable to meet his own pain reflected in her eyes.  "I don't know, Dom.  I don't know," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.  "Sometimes, I mean, it's been– I've got Roger and his family.  I've got the job.  They keep me going…"  He trailed off, shaking his head.

"The job always did," she told him, "for both of us."  She blinked back the tears that burned in her eyes and kicked the gelding into a hard gallop, trying to leave the ache behind.

Riggs followed, knowing that it was one pain you couldn't run away from.  He'd tried often enough, but it kept coming back, again and again, no matter how fast or how far he went.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Yeah?" Murtaugh said into the receiver, catching the phone before the first ring finished.

"Roger, what's wrong?" Riggs asked, instantly alert to the anxious edge in his partner's voice.

"Jesus Christ, it's about time.  We need to talk."

Riggs glanced around the stables, wondering where his pick-up was.  The short hairs on the back his neck rose and he twisted his neck to the side, asking, "What's up?"

"They pulled your truck out of a ravine in Topanga, that's what's up.  Someone paid a couple of kids to take it, then ran them off the road.  One's DOA, the other's dead at the scene.  What the hell's going on?"

"Christ…  Tennis courts, UCLA.  ASAP, Cochiese."

"On my way."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Murtaugh watched the young woman with interest as he approached his partner and his companion.  A couple of the courts were in use, but the remaining grounds under the tall maple trees were empty.

Riggs nodded at the woman.  "Roger, this is Dominique de Esprit Gierard.  Dom, Roger Murtaugh, my partner."

"Roger," she said, extending a hand and giving his a quick shake, noting that he had the same bruises and slightly stiffened walk that afflicted Riggs.

Roger evaluated her more closely, the respect in Riggs' voice piquing his interest.  From her unusual looks he guessed that her genealogy would make interesting reading, despite the French name.

They gathered around a bench and Dom repeated her story for the detective.

"I'm sorry about the little boy," Roger told her when she finished.  "I know what it's like."

"Thank you."

"Get Trish and the kids out of the house," Martin said.

"Tonight.  I already set up surveillance and called for a safe house.  What about the two of you?"

"My gear's in the car," she told them.

"Good," Riggs said.  "We'll go to the trailer."

Roger stood, shaking his head vigorously.  "You'll be a target."

"We're already targets, Roger," the younger man argued.  "There's a few things I need to pick up."

"Who's doin' this?  Shadow Company's gone, dead."

"But who owned them, Rog?  Who wound the pukes up and gave McAlliaster his orders?"

"Wasn't Mendez," Murtaugh mused.  "he was just the local channel for the dope.  I think you're right, we've gotta find McAlliaster's boss."

Dom's brow furrowed.

"Something?" Riggs asked.

"The case I was working on in Central America – Arturio Mendez."

Roger nodded.  "Sounds like the same man."

Her eyes narrowed.  "Mendez was a part of the picture, a very small part.  Seems some of the money he gets dealing drugs moves south where it helps support several little revolutions Uncle Sam finds bothersome.  I was working toward something big in Columbia when I ran across him, but there's something else itching at me, I don't know what it is yet, but I'll let you know when I sort it out."

"Let's get outta here," Martin said, rising from where he sat and hooking his arm through Dom's.  "I have a feeling this could get bloody again, people."

Dom laughed and Murtaugh gave her a puzzled half-scowl, remembering all to well when he'd heard the line in the recent past, and what had happened.  "I don't think that's funny."

"Sorry," she said, still smiling.  "But during the war, whenever Marty said that, we knew the mission was going to be cherry."

Riggs nodded and gave her a grim smile.  "Only problem was, we usually did end up a little bloody in the process."

"Tell me about it," Roger mumbled under his breath as they left the campus.  "I'm getting too old for this."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The pair parked near the door to Riggs' trailer and quickly moved inside, their gazes searching the surrounding beach for signs of danger.  Sam greeted his master with a soft bark and a sloppy muzzle shoved unceremoniously into Martin's lap.

"Do you mind?" Riggs asked the dog.

Sam moved off to introduce himself to Dom with a gentlemanly sniff of her shoes and a flurry of tail wagging before heading out the open door.

"Some things never change, huh?" she commented, looking around the ramshackle trailer.

Riggs shrugged an apology.  "Just haven't had a reason to clean up, you know?"

She nodded.

"You want a beer?" he asked.

"No, but we can pick up some coffee on the way back.  I don't think you remember how to make it.  Besides, I see green stuff growing in there."  She pointed to the Mr. Coffee pot.

Riggs shut the door to the refrigerator and reached under the cabinet to pull out a wrinkled gym bag.  He headed for the kitchen proper.  Opening the cabinet doors, he removed several boxes of shells and extra clips, shoving them into the bag.  He looked at the coffee pot, noticing the white film that had hardened on the glass and the green growing on the brown sludge at the bottom.

"Guess I better wash that, huh?"

"That or get ready for a surprise visit from the CDC's bug-busters."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Roger, when is this nightmare going to be over?" Trish asked as she finished packing her clothes into a suitcase.

"I don't know, sweetheart.  I just don't know.  Seems like all we did was cut the tail off this damned thing and the head ain't too happy about it."

"Will you call?"

"If I can.  Don't worry, you'll be safe."

"It's not us I'm worried about right now."

"I know," he smiled, moving over to rub his hand over her arm.  "Martin and I'll be careful.  This woman looks like she can handle herself, too.  We'll be fine, really."

"I'm scared, Roger.  What would we do without you?"

Murtaugh hugged Trish close against his chest.  "I know, baby, I know.  To tell you the truth, I'm scared, too, but we've got no choice.  They've killed a lot of good men and the three of us are still on a shit list somewhere.  Until we erase that, none of us are really safe."

She tilted her head back and Roger kissed her.  "I'll pray for you.  All of you."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"I'm going to call in, see if I can get through this time,"  Dom said as she emerged from the bathroom.  Riggs lay sprawled across the couch, tossing slightly.  She froze, her hand reaching instinctively for the Beretta she carried shoved into the back of her jeans.

Riggs groaned softly and she saw the sweat, beading across his face.  His fingers twitched and, with a hissing intake of breath, the dark-haired detective jerked his eyes open wide but unseeing.

"Marty?" Dom asked quietly, waiting for his eyes to focus before she moved.  Sniffing the stale air of the trailer she tensed.  Marty'd never sleep, now…

He shook his head slightly from side to side and looked at her, blinking before recognition registered.  "Wha—?  What was I doin'?"

"Dreaming, from the looks of it."  Dom moved carefully to the door and felt along the frame.  She thought she could feel a distant wavering of her own thoughts.  "You smell anything?"

He shook his head.  Looking into the gray eyes, he knew he couldn't tell Dom about the dream.  How could he say that he saw her and the boy dead?  Instead, he eyed the black jacket she was wearing as he wiped the sweat off his face.  Fashionable enough to wear out, he knew it hid the various tools of her trade.  She still filled out a uniform better than anyone he could remember.

"And what're you staring at, Sergeant Riggs?"

He looked up sharply.  "Huh?  Oh, I was just admirin' the uniforms you guys get these days.  I remember when it was cammo and a bottle of black shoe polish." His eyes checked the view from the open windows.  Nothing was moving on the beach.

She crossed over to the phone as he began a careful prowl around the trailer, his Beretta in hand.  "Make it quick," he told her.  "I've got a feelin' we're overstayin' our welcome."

Picking up the receiver, she punched in the complex set of numbers that allowed her access to the various division phones at Langley and the Pentagon.

"Name?" requested a distant computer voice.

"Vou-dou."

"Verification."

"Silver Tiger.  Omega, thirteen, black."

Riggs smiled thinly at the code name, remembering where it had come from.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The old Cambodian knew that he was dying, blood bubbling up across his lips from the chest and stomach wounds.  He looked over at the woman who was responsible.  "She is like the black tiger that comes in the night.  A ghost that steals away our souls.  A black tiger… bad magic… silver eyes… daggers," he choked on the blood, bending inward as Riggs yanked Dom's hurled knife free from the informant's chest.

He laid the body of the man on the floor of his hut and waited as Kossen poured gasoline over the mats and the body.  The three of them left, Dom pausing to toss a book of burning matches back inside.  The gasoline caught and the hut swelled in flames before collapsing back into a heap of burning debris.

Riggs grinned at the woman, "A silver tiger, huh?  He doesn't know how right he is."  He growled and purred, rubbing up against the young woman like some large, amorous cat.

"It has a ring, doesn't it?" she teased, petting Riggs on the head, then scratching under his chin.  "But, think I'll stick to Voudou, for now."

They trotted off into the foliage, a nineteen-year-old Martin Riggs humming, "That Old Black Magic," under his breath.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Nearest relative?" the computer voice asked.

"Marie La Veau."

"Processing… Confirmation number?"

"One, three, one, three, zero, alpha, red, one, three," she said, completing the code.  The sound of the computer processing the data filled the silence while she waited.

"Bankrupt."  The phone whirred, clicked twice and went dead.

Dom held the receiver to her ear for a moment, listening to the dial tone before she sat it back in the cradle.

"What?" Riggs asked.

"Someone in the covert ops community is in on it."

He stalked over to her.  "And?"

"They've changed my classification.  I'm a renegade.  They're tracing the call back to us right now.  What the hell's going on?"

Before he could reply, a single bark from a rife exploded, shattering the sliding glass window into the trailer.  The pair drove for the floor.  Riggs scrambled into the kitchen, slightly uncoordinated, and grabbed a dishtowel from the oven handle as he passed.  He used the cloth to shove the broken glass away so he could peek out around the edge of the absent door.  A second shot drove him back.

"Boy, they're getting efficient these days," she said, her weapon in hand.  "That was way too fast.  It's gotta be the guys we're after.  See anything?"

"Nada."

The phone rang and Martin alligator-crawled to the counter, yanking the phone down by the cord.

"Martin?" questioned a voice on the other end.

"Roger?"

"Yeah,  I—"  Murtaugh stopped short when he heard the sound of rifle fire.  "Riggs?!"  The older man held his breath for what felt like a lifetime before he heard his partner's voice.

"Hi, Rog, what's up?  Looks like we've got guests."

"So I hear.  I'll call in the troops."

"No."

"No?"

"They're pros, Cochise.  They'll rabbit before a black and white can get parked, or kill 'em."

Two more shots echoed through the phone receiver.  "Riggs?!  That does it, hang up, I'm calling!"  He slammed the received down and picked it up again, realizing his partner was right.  "Damn it!"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Roger slowed at the top of the sea-side hill and grabbed his binoculars.  Staring down at the trailer he detected no signs of movement.  His hands trembled slightly as he sat the field glasses aside and drove down, parking alongside Dom's silver '69 Mustang.  Weapon in hand, he scrambled out of the car and sprinted to the shattered trailer door.

Pressing up alongside the bullet-perforated metal wall of the trailer, he eased down to the rear door.  Turning as quietly as he could, Murtaugh rotated the doorknob and cracked the entrance open.  He pushed the door open a couple of inches and waited.  Nothing.

Sam trotted up from the beach and whined softly at the detective, then charged up the stairs, butting the door open and entering the silent trailer.  Following the dog, Roger entered to a soft "woof."  Sam wagged his tail, then turned and trotted away.       Roger froze at the sight of his partner, seated on the blood-splattered floor.  Leaning back against the couch, Riggs held the mutilated body of the young woman Murtaugh had met earlier.  The detective swallowed hard against the smell, then realized he'd be hard-pressed to make a positive identification given the condition of her face.

Riggs rocked slowly from side to side, silent sobs shaking his shoulders.  He was smeared with blood, the older man unable to tell if any of it was Riggs' own.  Walking gingerly across the floor, Roger squatted down next to his partner.  Martin didn't look up, still staring into the results of a shotgun blast at close range.

"Martin?" Murtaugh whispered, noting the cloudy look in the younger detective's eyes.  Riggs showed no signs of having heard him.

He knew it was a risk, but Roger reached out, resting a hand on his partner's shoulder.  "Riggs."

Still nothing.

Sam whined.

"Damn it, kid, snap out of it," Roger said, his grip on the younger man's shoulder tightening.  "Martin!"

With a nervous bark Sam headed for the back end of the trailer, his tail tucked firmly between his shaggy flanks as Riggs came up off the floor, dumping Dom's body in the process.

Martin's blood-soaked hands wrapped around the black man's throat and he squeezed, but his fingers, slippery with blood, could not grip effectively.

Roger shoved his gun into his pocket and reached up to grasp Riggs's wrists.  "Martin, it's me, damn it, it's me!"

He felt Riggs' fingers begin to bear down in one last effort to strangle the life from him, then stop, locked in place on his throat.  The blue eyes that had stared sightlessly through Roger refocused on the detective's brown ones.  Riggs's mouth opened slightly, then contorted into a mask of horror.

Murtaugh had seen Riggs on the edge, but the anguished expression that now twisted his features was new to the black man.  Martin's hands slipped off Murtaugh's neck and he pressed them over his eyes, smearing Dom's blood across his face.  With a feral moan he sank to the floor, his legs unable to hold him up any longer.

Roger grabbed the young man's upper arms and followed him down.  Gathering Martin into his arms, he held him tight against his chest.  "Martin?  Martin, listen to me," he said forcefully.

Riggs ceased struggling, rigid in Murtaugh's embrace.

"It's over.  It's over, partner, it's over."

"Dom," Riggs managed to gasp.  "Gas… drugged… I saw…"

Murtaugh continued to hold him as he mumbled, rocking him slightly from side to side until his muscles uncorded and his breathing neared some resemblance of normality. 

"Fuck," Riggs growled and Roger nodded, loosening his hold.  "Diversion…"

"The shooting?" the older man asked.

"Yeah," Riggs responded, making no move to pull away from the circle of safety.  "Used gas… I didn't smell it… too late… came to… Dom—"

"I know, Marty, I know."

"Fuck."

"Yeah."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Where's Trish and the kids?"

"Safe-house," Roger called out while he waited for his partner to change.  He looked down at his own blood-stained clothes.  "Cherry," he muttered.

"What?" Martin asked as he stepped back into the living room, side-stepping the uniformed and plain-clothed officers that crowed into the cramped quarters.

"Nothing."

Riggs nodded.  "Roger," he began, sighed, then forced himself to stumble through the rest of the apology.  "Man, I'm sorry, I– The gas– I was drugged…  I didn't—"

 

 

 

Murtaugh stood and moved closer to Riggs.  "I know, partner, I know.  I need to get cleaned up.  Glad I started carrying an extra set of clothes around in the car after I met you," he mumbled as he headed for the bathroom.  "Cost me how many good shirts so far?  Gonna start charging you for the cleaning bills."

Riggs smiled.  It was good to have a friend.  He looked over at the sheet-draped form of his oldest friend.  One of the officers was readying a black body bag for her.

"I'm sorry, Dom," he whispered, his eyes filling uncontrollably with tears.  "I'm so damned sorry." 

The sudden realization that he was all alone washed over Martin and he shivered involuntarily.  The team, Dom, Victoria Lynn, all gone…  All except Roger.  A vision of his partner lying under a similar sheet crowded in on him, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of desolation.  He shook his head.  "Side-effects," he grumbled, his hand swiping at his eyes.

"Riggs?" Murtaugh called as he exited the bathroom.

Martin jumped and spun to face the man.

Murtaugh stared worriedly at him.

"What?"

"Nothin'," Murtaugh said.  "You sure you're okay?"

Riggs nodded.  "Yeah, I'm fine."

Like hell, Murtaugh thought.  But at least we're in this thing together.  "Let's get the hell out of here."

Riggs nodded.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

After two hours in the captain's office, the two detectives left the station, heading for Roger's house.  A white envelope was waiting for them, taped to the front door where it was sure to catch their attention.

"Bomb?" Murtaugh asked as they sat in the car, parked across the street.

"Don't know, but I'm gonna find out."  Riggs slipped out of the car before Murtaugh could protest and walked casually up to where the envelope hung.  He stared at it for a moment, then reached up and yanked it off the door.

In the car, Roger winced, waiting for the explosion.

Riggs glanced over his shoulder, smiled and gestured for the older man to join him.

They entered the house, and after a thorough search, sat down on the couch with the envelope.

"Maybe we should open it under water," Riggs suggested playfully.

"Joke?  You're joking at a time like this?  That might not be a bad idea."

Riggs ripped the envelope open and dumped the contents onto the coffee table.  An audio cassette.  "You got a player?"

"Upstairs, just a minute."

Roger returned with the player and handed it over.  Riggs inserted the cassette and pushed the play button.  The voice of a very frightened little boy sang, "Seven little soldiers, all standing in a row, six are dead already, only one more now to go."  The sound of a gun firing caused both men to jump.

A oriental man's voice chuckled softly on the tape.  "Kids, you have to love them," the voice said.  The tape went blank.

"Christ," Murtaugh breathed softly.

Riggs' eyes glazed for a moment.  Where had he heard that voice before?  Without an explanation, he headed for the phone.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"What are we doin'?" Murtaugh asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

Riggs placed a finger to his lips and continued to work the lock pick.

"This is great, Riggs, just great.  We're breaking into the federal building, just great.  We're supposed to be the good-guys, remember?  Cops?  Cops use the front door—"

"Shhhh."

The door swung open silently and the two men entered the darkened building.  The younger detective led the way down several darkened corridors until he reached a door with a pale yellow light spilling out from the crack under it.  Riggs knocked once, waited, then added three more raps, paused for a split second and added a final note to the code.

The door opened and a small, bespectacled man peered out.  "It's about time. I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it."

"They changed the guard shifts.  You didn't tell me."

"So I didn't…  Sorry, kiddo.  Guess they're right about the mind being the first thing to go, huh?"

Roger watched the exchange with growing wonder.  Who the hell was this guy?

"Rog, this is Stanley, the best cryptographer the Company's had in fifty years."

"The Company?"

"Yes, Detective Murtaugh, the Company.  Now, come over here so I can show you what I've come up with.  I think you'll be dually impressed."

The pair followed the man over to a computer terminal and watched as he typed several commands.  A file came up on the screen labeled "Gierard, D. voudou".  A series of numbers and letters filled the page in varying combinations.

"That's great, Stanley, but what does it say?"

"In a moment, Marty, this is art, not paint by numbers.  I have to convince the computer that I've got the proper security clearance to decode this file, and there ain't too many around with that kind of clearance, my friend."

"Just who, or what, was this Dominique?" Roger asked.

"Outrider," Riggs explained.  "An agent who took assignments with no backup.  If you get caught, you're on your own.  Real Mission Impossible stuff, but for real.  I don't know who she was working for – Company, Agency, somebody else.  But whoever it was, she was one of the good guys."

Murtaugh shook his head.  Man, oh, man, this is getting too big for two little homicide cops.  He paused for a moment and stared at his partner.  But then Riggs isn't just some simple cop, either.  I am gettin' too old for this!

Stanley sat, typing nonstop for several minutes before the screen blinked off with a discordant chime.

"Now what?" Roger asked, looking from screen to Riggs to Stanley.

"Just a moment," the man said, staring intently at the blank screen.  "Come on, come on," he urged.

The characters reappeared in English.

The two detectives read the file in silence.  When they finished, Martin turned to Stanley.  "There's nothing here I didn't expect.  Can you call up other files decoded now?"

"Yup."

"Then I got a few names for you.  Let's start with Shadow Company, uh, Peter McAlliaster."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

When they were finished, Riggs clasped Stanley's shoulder and smiled.  "I owe you one."

"You owe me more than that, kiddo, but who's counting?  I just wish I could've been more help.  Keep your ass out of a sling and I'll let you pay me off with a scuba trip."

Riggs smiled and nodded.

"Now, you two better get outta here before Jake stops in for his midnight game of chess."

"Jake?" Roger questioned.

"The midnight to six security man."

The pair left, Murtaugh following his partner back down the dark corridors.  When they were back in the car Roger started the engine and asked, "How'd you do that?"

"Do what, Rog?"

"Find that guy.  There must've been at least a dozen ways to get lost in there."

"Long story," he said.  "Maybe when we have time I'll tell you about it."

"You're a never-ending source of amazement to me, Riggs, never ending."

"And just think," the younger man added, "you're only just getting to know me."

"Is that a threat?"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Where're we goin', Cochise?" Riggs finally asked after Roger continued to drive randomly around the city for over an hour.

"I don't know, but I know this is getting too big for the two of us.  Damn.  Damn, damn, damn…  McAlliaster was nobody.  Nobody."

"Yep."

"Tell me if I read this right, would you do that for me?"

"Sure, Rog," Riggs said, trying to sound as helpful as possible.

Murtaugh scowled at the younger man.  "Somebody with connections up the wazoo gets hold of General McAlliaster and sets up the pipeline out of the Golden Triangle so he can get himself a little spending cash.  They need a distributor state-side so they go to the biggest dealer on the west coast, Mendez, and make him an offer he can't refuse."

"Yeah, that's about where our tango started."

"Tango, yeah, right…  Then, while Mendez, or whoever in the earlier deals is selling the dope to keep the petty-cash box full, Shadow Company engages in, oh, murder, blackmailing heads of state, revolutions, just a little something to pass the time.  Then we come along and put the general and ol' Joshua out of business, sort of a fluke.  Meanwhile, this friend of yours was dabbling in a case that crossed paths with Mendez, too.  That makes our mystery man out there real nervous."

"Sounds good, only you forgot that whoever we're talking about is plenty pissed-off about us blowing Shadow Company into little-bitty pieces.  He needed them to run his operations and do the dirty work.  Hey, can we stop for a burger?  I'm starved."

"He's starved," Roger muttered to himself.  "There are God knows how many people out there tryin' to blow us away and he's hungry."

"Hey, we gotta keep our strength up."

The black man glowered at Riggs before turning into the next drive-through he found.  "No happy-meals, though, you hear me, Riggs?"

"You're no fun sometimes, Roger.  I just want you to know that."  He looked out the car window, watching his partner's expression reflected in the darkness there.  "Besides, they have squirt guns this week."

Roger turned and glared at the younger man.  Riggs grinned back.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Martin smiled happily around a bite of his Quarter Pounder and mumbled, "Well, aren'tcha goin' to finish your story?"

"You know, sometimes I really do wonder about you."

Riggs just smiled and took another bite, chewing noisily.  "Okay, whoever this guy is, he gets a little bent out of shape about the General and that white puss—"

"Sounds a little racist, Rog."

"Rac—?  Would you be serious!"

"Sorry."

"So whoever this guy is, he decides to make sure that the feds or the department aren't onto him through Mendez.  Not to mention that he wants a little revenge, so, he decides to take out your old unit, the same one that kicked ass on Shadow Company back in 'Nam…"  He trailed off.  Riggs had stopped chewing and was staring out the passenger window.  "Hey, you okay?"

"Yeah, keep going."

"That's it.  How the hell're we supposed to find out who this guy is?  He isn't Shadow Company, the file says we got all of them.  Dominique's boss?"

"Don't know, Rog.  But I've got a feeling that I know the fucker.  Someone tied in with Cobra and Shadow Company, but there isn't anyone in the files.  Cobra Company was a legitimate black ops unit, Shadow Company was all mercs, but the Company used them on missions too hot for a legit group to take, or in conjunction with missions where we needed 'unusual' cover…"  He trailed off, then shook his head.  "Wanna drive home so we can get some sleep?"

"Sleep?  Home?  Riggs, are you crazy?  They could've wired this place three ways from Sunday by now!"

"I guess we could go back to the trailer.  I haven't had a chance to straighten up, but—"

"Riggs, you are crazy!  How 'bout a hotel?"

"Who's payin'?

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Martin reclined belly-down across one of the twin beds and watched Murtaugh prowl over the hotel room for a third time.  "Relax," he said, "the place is clean."

"It makes me feel better, okay?"

Riggs shrugged and rolled over onto his back, staring up at the cracked wall paper and rusty heater vent.  "Hey, Rog, these are really great accommodations; negative three stars."

"Hey, the department wasn't too excited about me asking for an expense account in the first place.  When I wouldn't say why, or where we were goin' the captain said no, but I hinted we might have some 'holiday' troubles again and he authorized the cash.  Still, we have to go easy."

Murtaugh finished combing over the room while Riggs lay, silently picking faces out of the water stain patterns left on the ceiling.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Kossen, Riley, Peters, Baker, Daye…  All good men.  Good friends at a time when he needed them.

Riggs remembered the day back in Saigon when they and Dom had all gone to get their Special Forces tattoo, a ritual for all the newbys.  When they emerged the men amused themselves by rolling up one another's sleeves so the work would show.  Dom emerged last, smiling warmly at the small Vietnamese woman who had decorated each of them with the logo.

Riggs suspected that Dom wasn't as old as she claimed, but the woman was a hell of a fighter and familiar with the country.  "My daddy was Cajun, my mama Eurasian," she'd told him when they'd first met.  "And I'm old enough to kill those that killed them."  She said she was eighteen, but he was sure that fourteen was closer to the mark.

"Dom, you got one, too?" he'd asked her as he looked for a sign of the tattoo on her arms.

"Not where it'll show," she shot back.

The boys had laughed and laughed, taking bets on where that might be…

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Hey, kid?"

Riggs blinked.  "Huh?"

"I lost you for a minute."

"I was just remembering something that happened with Dom a long, long time ago."

"Was she. . .?"  Roger paused, searching for the right word.  "Special, to you?"

Riggs sat up on the bed, wrapping his arms around his knees.  "She was one of the team, my mission buddy, back-up, shoulder to cry on, you name it.  The other guys weren't comfortable with a woman, hell, a girl as their buddy.  We were a hell of a team, Roger.  She was good, very good.  Natural marksman, athlete.  She made hand-to-hand look like some kind of a dance, pure art, but she was deadly.  She had this sense, I can't really explain it, but it saved our butts more 'n once.  That's why we called her Voudou.  We were together three years… helluva long time over there.  I guess you could say we grew up together.  Best friends, occasional lovers… buddies…"  He trailed off.

"What happened?" Murtaugh asked softly.

"The war ended.  I came stateside, took a few months to get my head together, joined the force…"  Married Victoria Lynn, he added silently.  "Dom stayed on with the Company.  She had dual citizenship, U.S. and 'Nam, and she can speak almost every damned language there is once she's heard it for a while.  It came in handy during the war.  We lost touch, least I did.  She kept tabs on all of us.  We were family, she said."

"Special lady," Roger whispered.  "How'd she get connected up with the military?"

"Her father was an important businessman.  She knew the country and some of the people in the Cong government.  They used her Vietnamese citizenship, called her a local informant, a resistance fighter, and assigned her to us."

"She must've been just a kid."

"We were all kids, Roger.  But you grow up fast over there."

"Yeah.  I know."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs' eyes opened to darkness.  He waited, wondering if it was the tingling in his arm that had woke him, or something else.  He slowly drew his arm down from where it had fallen asleep, bent awkwardly over his head.  A thin scraping rasped along the window pane.  He rolled silently out of bed.  Beretta ready, he worked his way to the window.  The noise repeated from behind the closed curtains.

Sliding the pleated cloth aside, Riggs leveled the gun at the intruder.  A small, yellow tabby looked up at the detective in annoyance, its midnight grooming irreparably interrupted.  Standing, the cat turned on the ledge and, with a lift of the tail, it leaped down and stalked across the still parking lot.

Martin sighed and dropped the curtain back in place, then dove for the floor as the glass was shattered with the blast of a shotgun.  He heard Roger hit the floor on the far side of the bed.

"Riggs?" he whispered hotly.

"Yo.  Noisy neighbors, huh?  Great choice, you made a great choice here, Roger, just great."

"You're a barrel of laughs sometimes," Murtaugh growled.  The distant sound of a wailing siren approached.  "Here comes the cavalry, just like in the movies."

A second blast lifted the plywood door from the hinges, sending it across the room in several jigsaw shaped pieces.  A smoking canister followed.

"Shit!" Riggs yelled, heading for the destroyed window.  He dove through, hitting the pavement in a roll that carried him to his feet.  Two men swung weapons his direction, firing.  He felt the first dart hit as he shot the man who had fired it, his gun didn't make it to the second before another dart hit its mark and he crumpled onto the dirty pavement in a swirl of sick pinks and purples.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The persistent glare of sunlight finally penetrated Riggs' closed eyelids.  He listened for anything that would tell him where he was and if he were being guarded, but there was no breathing, no shifting weight, no nothing.

He tested the metal cuffs that held him in the wooden chair, the angry feeling that they were his own rankling him.  Finally, Riggs opened his eyes and looked around the bare room.  About ten by twelve, the space was empty except for the chair and a TV-VCR set-up placed several feet in front of him.  A single door in and a sliding glass door that opened onto a landscaped inner courtyard were the only routes in and out.

Must be a big place.  Expensive.  Another home of the rich and shameless, he thought to himself.  A single camera monitor was mounted in the corner of the room and he glared up at it, contemplating who might be watching and what he'd like to do to them.  He jerked slightly when the TV clicked on.  The VCR whirred and started.

Riggs watched as two men dragged Dom into a room much like the one he sat in.  It was a fuckin' scam!  Relief and anger ran through him.  It was all to throw me off guard…  Who the hell was that in the trailer?  Jesus.

Dom's hands were cuffed behind her back, and a choke chain hung around her neck, one of the guards occasionally using it to control her.  She was bruised, but appeared in reasonably good shape.  Then they began to rough her up.  They were talking to her while they worked, but the sound was off and Riggs couldn't read lips beyond the few well-couched expletives Dom threw at them in response to the questions.  One of the men drew back his hand and slapped her hard across the face.  She dropped to her knees and forced them to lift her to her feet.

Riggs smiled to himself.  Dom always knew how to play the female victim, he mused.  They'll end up working harder than she will.

The location shifted to out in the courtyard he could see past the sliding glass door.  A red-haired man entered camera range dragging a young boy of ten or so along with him.  Riggs watched Dom stiffened.  Must be Scotty, he guessed.  She was more bruised now, and there was blood dried on her chin and shoulder.  The shirt she wore barely covered her, torn and tattered in ways Riggs chose not to speculate on.

The red-haired man held the little boy, who continued to struggle, obviously frightened.  Dom said something that caught their attention, but before she could continue the man holding Scotty took a .45 from a shoulder holster and shoved it against the boy's head.

"Ah, no," Riggs moaned quietly, wishing he could look away.

The boy jerked, blood and tissue spraying across the manicured lime-green lawn.  He slumped like an abandoned puppet from where the man held onto his upper arm.  The shooter released the boy and he fell into a unmoving heap of ruined flesh.  Dom struggled violently against the men who still held her, but it was clear that she was weak.

Riggs sighed heavily, feeling his guts twist.  Unshed tears filled his eyes.  "Who the hell are you, fucker?" he asked the camera monitor.

The location shifted again and again, each time revealing more of the pain Dom had suffered at the hands of the men who held them.  Riggs tried to ignore what was happening on the screen, but he kept drifting back to it.  He cursed himself for not being able to just close his eyes and refuse to watch.

The tape ran into snow for several seconds and then picked up back in the courtyard.  Riggs jumped as the sound engaged.  It was Roger's voice.

"You bastards," he growled.  "He was just a kid!  That was real tough, yeah, killing a little kid.  Goddamn bunch of punks!"

He realized immediately that Roger must have been forced to watch the boy's execution as well.  He shivered slightly, whoever held them was sick, really sick.

Three men controlled Roger, the red-head and two other Riggs was sure must be related to hyenas.  They maneuvered the black detective into the center of the picture.  Hands cuffed behind his back, Murtaugh looked like he had endured much the same treatment as Dom, and Riggs wondered why he had been spared all the fun.

Shifting uncomfortable, he silently acknowledged his fear.  These people were pulling no punches, they were only alive because whoever was responsible enjoyed watching them twitch.  It was only a matter of time before they grew tired of the game and killed them.  Martin shivered involuntarily.  When that happened he only hoped he was with the two partners he loved.

The tape flickered, jumping slightly before it continued.  The same threesome seemed to take a perverse delight in the poking and prodding they subjected the older detective to.  The two grinners held guns on Roger while ol' Carrot Top unlocked the cuffs and reattached them so Roger was connected to a length of chain, itself coupled to a metal pole.  Riggs thought it looked like some sort of barbaric Maypole.

The two men replaced their guns in shoulder holsters and removed what looked like small cattle rods from their jackets.  One touched the business end of one of the instruments to Roger's shoulder, then laughed like the beast Riggs had associated them with.  Murtaugh yelped in pain and tried to twist away, but his entire shoulder area was paralyzed for several seconds.

The men continued to step in and touch the prods to various places on Roger's body while he tried to avoid them by moving around the pole like a chained angry bull.  Riggs rattled the cuffs against the wooded chair, his anger mounting.  The torment lasted for several minutes, Roger finally unable to stay on his feet.  He collapsed into a heap, leaning against the pole.

"Come on, Cochise," Riggs whispered at the television screen.  "Get up, man."

Roger raised his head and stared at the camera.  The look on his face made Riggs cringe and he closed his eyes against the pain, anger and frustration he saw in his partner's gaze.

"I'm gonna kill you, you fuckers," he mumbled.

The sound of Dom screaming caused Riggs' eyes fly open.  She was fighting like the silver tiger she used as a code name.  The camera panned to the right, following her gaze.  The hyenas had forced Roger to his knees, his back to Dom and the camera.  She struggled, trying all the tricks she knew, uncaring of the blows that the men rained on her for the effort.

Roger was slumped forward, clutching at his mid-section.  One of the men removed a sleek nine millimeter from his holster and shoved it against the back of the black man's head.  Riggs leaned forward in the chair, nearly toppling himself.

"No!" he howled at the screen, banging the chair against the floor.  Jerking convulsively as the sound of the shot echoed in the room, Riggs allowed the frustration to spill over into a second anguished scream.

Roger's body hung suspended for a second before it fell forward into the grass.  He heard Dom scream, her primordial cry of pain and hatred echoing his own.

The screen went blank, the tape and the television turning themselves off.  Riggs stared, unmoving for several moments at the blank screen, then he threw all of his strength back, slamming the chair into the wall.  The wood cracked, but didn't give way.  He repeated the move.  The chair folded into pieces, Riggs continuing until it was a reduced to a pile of splintered wood.

Lying on the floor, he wriggled through his arms, getting his hands back in front of his body, then turned his attention to the door.  It was locked.  He moved to the sliding glass door, finding it barred from the outside.  Riggs contemplated the possibility of breaking the glass with a well placed flying kick.  Moving back toward the opposite wall, he took a deep breath and began his run.

The familiar sound of gas under high pressure reached him from under the door.  He looked down and yelled, "No way, you assholes!"

Managing three running steps before he felt his muscles freeze up, he crashed to the floor, two steps away from the glass.  Riggs ground his teeth together and felt the first tears slid out from the corners of his eyes as he slipped into a beckoning dark fog.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

A continuing pain in his shoulders drew him from the tenebrous stupor.  Riggs struggled groggily to get his feet under himself and stand, relieving the pain.  He forced his eyes open, realizing he was attached to the same Maypole Roger had been cuffed to.  Squinting from the glare of the noon sun, Riggs looked around the courtyard.  It was quiet.  Birds sang in the trees and shrubbery.  A small fountain bubbled nearby.  The detective tested the chain that held him to the pole.

No way to break this one, he concluded.

He prowled around the tall pole, helping to return some circulation to his arms, suspended above his head.  On one of the rotations around the pole he froze, noticing the blood stains and scattered gore dried on the grass for the first time.  He knew one was from the boy, the other—

He felt his stomach clinch into a tight hot knot.  He heaved, but there was nothing there.

Damn, Roger, damn, damn, damn! he thought.  He's dead.  Roger's dead.  The emptiness that thought evoked doubled the younger man over.  Everyone's gone.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs shivered in the cool evening air.  He was hungry, thirsty and he didn't care.  Leaning casually against the pole, he simply waited for the men who would eventually come and kill him.

They didn't realize the favor they'd be doing for him, he thought, drawing a small smile from the detective.  I just want one shot at the bastard, he thought.  One shot to kill the fucker who did Roger.

He glanced up at the night sky, picking out the constellations he remembered.  Finally he slid down the pole as far as he could and closed his eyes, forcing himself into a fitful sleep.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The bite of the whip into his shoulder brought Riggs wide awake.

The tall red-haired man chuckled softly.  "Time to wake up, Marty."

Riggs swung around to glare at the man.  Just a few feet closer and you're mine, he thought, remaining as close to the pole as possible, hoping it would draw the man into range.

The black snake whip lashed out again, this time tracing a thin line across the detective's chest.  Riggs forced himself to stand still, grinning at the man while a ridge of blood welled up and ran down his bare torso.  His insolence irritated Carrot Top and he snapped the whip back and flicked it out to wrap around the detective's waist.  Still, Riggs maintained the taunting grin.

Carrot Top finally grew tired of the procedure and stalked off.  Riggs watched him go, glad that he had been able to bore the man away before he lost the composure he had so carefully built.

The hyenas soon replaced the fiery whip wielder.  These two were more physical than their compatriot, and they took their time, moving in on the detective and pounding him with obvious pleasure.

Riggs played along, only venturing to retaliate when he was sure he could land a solid kick on one of the ugly smirkers.  After a while the three looked equally battered and the pair moved off.

Riggs wondered what would come next.

The red-head who had killed Roger and the boy returned with two new men who were carrying the prods Martin had watched them use on Roger.  Riggs' eyes tracked the man like a heat-seeking missile locked on target.  The two new men – Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Riggs silently named them – stepped in and the game began again, this time with the addition of the stunners.

Riggs used the pole as best he could to block the men, lashing out viciously when he could to attack, watching the man who had killed his partner.  The man watched Riggs for a time, too, smiling slightly when the others were able to reach in together and deliver a double jolt of the stunner on the man.  Riggs growled and went down on his knees in the grass.  Carrot Top took the opportunity to step forward and grab a handful of Riggs' thick hair, jerking the detective's head up so their eyes locked.

"We're not gonna kill you, Riggs, ya know that?  We're gonna let you live, yeah, we're gonna let you live knowing that we killed your partner, your ex-woman, her kid, all the guys in your old unit.  Too bad we didn't get the chance to do your old lady, too."

Something inside of Riggs snapped.  He came up off the ground, wobbly due to the effects of the stunner, but it was far more than he should have been able to accomplish.  Carrot Top was startled, and Martin took full advantage of it,, throwing his arms out to the right he whipped them back to the left, effectively placing a length of chain across the man's throat.  Grabbing it in both hands, he twisted with a strength enhanced by pain and frustration, grinding the chain into the man's throat.

Carrot Top gasped and struggled.  The other two men stepped in, one laying the stunner to the back of Riggs' neck.  A low, maniacal laugh exploded from the detective as he felt the muscles in his shoulder and arms tighten even further from the stun.  The additional pressure crushed the red-haired man's windpipe.  Riggs continued to laugh as the man choked to death in his own blood.

Dum pounded Riggs' mid-section, but the detective didn't appear to notice.  The two were able to finally wrench the detective's hands off the chain and dragged their companion away.

Riggs slid down to the ground where he crouched, waiting for someone to kill him or for the stun to wear off.  Either option would suit the detective just fine.  He laughed again.  "I got you, fucker.  I got him, Roger, I got him."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Sweet Jesus," Roger Murtaugh breathed.

The barred second story window opened to the courtyard below and he and Dom had watched as Riggs had choked the life from the man who had killed Scotty.  He was still crouched on the lawn like a big cat, waiting for another chance to pounce.  A low, maniacal laugh bubbled over his smiling lips.

The two men hefted their dead companion and carried him off.

"Hang in there, partner," Roger whispered. 

Dom watched Riggs settle back against the pole, rocking slightly from side to side.  "Marty's losing it.  I saw him do this once in 'Nam.  Took us three days to get him back."

Roger watched his partner, refusing to believe her.  "He'll be okay."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs woke with a stifled scream, the nightmares refusing to let him sleep.  First it was Roger, running toward him across a booby-trapped field.  Murtaugh was halfway across when he stepped on the bomb.  Bits of the older man pelted Riggs body and he woke, barely able to contain the scream that stalled in his throat.

Then it was Dom.  She was riding down a trail, trying to reach him, but her horse spooked, lunging to the side where the pair toppled down the side of the mountain, the woman's scream calling out to him, shifting and twisting until it was Victoria Lynn, trapped in her burning car, calling for him, begging him to get her out then just screaming as the flames reached her.

The cold night air wrapped around the young detective, the blackness more tangible than he liked.  Riggs knew he was on the edge thanks to a lack of food or water, the on and off sessions with the men and the thought of Roger and Dom dead.  The fear that the man had been right, that they were going to keep him alive weighed heavily on the young man's mind.

Riggs fought back a sob and tried to close his eyes again, but the fear of the dreams returning made it impossible.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Good morning, Marty."

Riggs was on his feet and lunging before he even realized it was morning and there was a man standing just beyond the range of the chain, a man he knew.

"General Haddison?"

"I wondered if you'd still remember me, Marty.  I'm glad you do.  It looks like that old black magic has finally let you down."

Riggs glared at Haddison, the hatred he felt for the man swept away by the intensity of a new hate.  But why the old code?  "That old black magic" – an unstable situation, dangerous.  He was supposed to improv and wait for opportunity.

"You, you were behind all of this, weren't you?  You had McAlliaster out on point, didn'tcha?"

Haddison nodded slowly.  "Yes, Peter was my operative.  You and your partner created quite a hardship for me when you destroyed Shadow Company.  That was the second time you caused me severe difficulty concerning my more, covert operations, shall I say?"

Riggs' hatred banked.  Haddison was in a deep cover situation.  "Second?" he asked.

"Saigon, '69, remember?  You and Cobra Company killed two members of Shadow Company.  They were front men for an operation I was setting up for General Bhin."

"Bhin," Martin hissed.  "The North Vietnamese general?"

"Yes.  Bhin is my… business partner.  Your actions cost me a great deal of money, time and pain.  Bhin hates to have his dealings interrupted.  I, too, hate to have my plans confused, and you, Martin, have brought me more grief than I can begin to tell you."

Bhin was Haddison's target, long term operation, active.  Riggs lounged back against the pole.  "So kill me, you bastard."

"No, Marty, I'm not going to kill you, I'm going to let you do it yourself."

The general turned and walked away, the guards following after him, leaving Riggs alone in the courtyard, wondering what the hell was going on.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Roger watched the young woman's face twist into a mask of hatred.  "I don't believe it," she hissed.

"What?"

"That man, that's General Milton Haddison, our old commander from Vietnam.  He ran Cobra Company.  The bastard!"

The door opened and one man stepped in, holding a weapon on the pair while two of his companions entered and cuffed them together.

"Cozy," Dom said.  "I promise I won't tell your wife."

Roger suppressed the grin.  No wonder she and Marty worked so well as a team.

They were escorted out of the room and downstairs.  From there they were shoved out into the courtyard.

Riggs froze at the sight of them, wondering if he was seeing ghosts, or if the lack of food and sleep was finally making him hallucinate. 

"Roger?  Dom?" he said.  "Roger!"

"You okay, Riggs?" Murtaugh asked as they were pulled over to stand in front of the detective.

The younger man nodded, his eyes fixed on the pair, unblinking, fear growing inside.

"Hi ya, Marty," Dom said.  "Guess the good general wanted to reunite what's left of Cobra Company."

"Shut up," one of the guards snarled.

Riggs nodded.

Haddison walked out to rejoin them.  He carried Riggs' Beretta in one hand.  "Marty," he said, waiting until the unblinking blue eyes met his own before he continued.  "I'm going to kill these two people and you're going to watch, and they are going to die this time."

Haddison didn't want the two killed.  Riggs' lip curled off his teeth in a snarl.

The expression reminded Roger of a very large, unhappy wolf.  Dom was right, Riggs was slipping off the edge.

"There is one way to change that, Marty," Haddison said, holding up the Beretta.  "You can kill yourself, first."

Suicide, a one shot chance to get away, highly dangerous.  Riggs studied the general.  "Them?"

"They die anyway, Marty.  You know that."  He held the gun out to the younger man and watched with a smile as Riggs accepted his weapon.  "You do yourself and I'll make sure they go quick.  You don't and I'll do them slow, Marty.  Slow and dirty, right here so you can watch, just like Nhut Van Drang.  You know I have plenty of ways to do someone slow, don't you.  Bhin's watching from the house.  He wants to see you pull the trigger."

Riggs nodded, he was being watched, it had to look good.  Nhut Van Drang, he had to take out the single man on Dom and Roger; free up his weapon for Dom.

It was hard, but the detective managed to drag the hammer back, cocking it.

"Riggs, what're you doin'?" Roger said, his voice several octaves higher than usual.

"Damnit, Marty, don't you dare do this!" Dom yelled.

Riggs carefully reached out with his thumb and pushed the safety off, his hands trembling slightly as he turned the gun over several times. 

"Come on, Marty," Haddison urged, hoping the detective was reading the situation like he'd explained it in the coded sentences.  We don't have much time, Marty.

Riggs looked up from the gun, staring at his partners, past and present.  The blue eyes sought vainly to tell them it was a set-up, there was a plan.

"Riggs, don't do it," Roger pleaded.  "Not for me, Martin, please, I don't need it."

"I can do them like the three prisoners you caught outside Nhut Van Drang, you remember?"

Riggs shifted the gun and lifted it, placing it to the front of his forehead.  Three men would come in from the west, he had to be quick.  He couldn't miss.  I hope Dom can get to that gun.  We're gonna need it, Martin thought.  I should've been a fuckin' actor.

"Goddamn you, Martin, don't do this!" Dom yelled.

"Go on, Riggs," the general urged.  "One shot… you or me?"

Riggs shifted the gun, dropping it to the bottom of his throat, remembering the day he had nearly died when Roger had pushed him one step too far and he had pulled the trigger on the 38.  Please, don't let me off today, he prayed desperately.

"Under the chin, huh?" he asked the general, his voice a low, graveled rumble.  "Won't miss that way, huh?  You want me down?   I'll take me fuckin' down!"

That it was code was clear, but he had no idea what Riggs was trying to say.  "Do it, Marty.  Go on, pull it!"

Murtaugh knew immediately the scenario that was about to unfold.  He braced, ready to go as soon as he saw Riggs begin to move.

Roger felt the tug on the handcuff as Dom dove for the ground a full second before the older detective saw Riggs actually move.  How the hell did she do that!? was the thought that accompanied him on his way into the grass.

Riggs let loose with a blood-stopping scream and bent inward.  He whipped the gun out and snapped off the shot before the rest of the men could begin to move.  The man closest to Dom and Roger and went down, a hole in his forehead.

Roger scrambled along after her as Dom went for the man's weapon, her reflexes as fast as the younger detectives'.

"Jesus," Murtaugh breathed.

She grabbed nine millimeter from the dead man's hands, opening up on the three men who ran into the open courtyard and drawing attention away from Haddison as he headed for the house.

The hyenas entered the courtyard, one getting off a shot at Riggs before Dom could swing the weapon over and fire.

Riggs jumped back with the force of the bullet, the chain jerking him to a stop.  He swung forward, his upper body suspended from the cuffs.  The empty Beretta slipped out of his hands.

The macabre dance reminded Murtaugh of some sort of weird high-wire act, but it looked like Riggs had been hit bad.

"Let's go!" Dom yelled, lunging into a crouch and heading for Riggs.

Murtaugh forced his legs to keep up, reaching down to scoop up his partner's gun when they reached him.  Dom fired at two other men, rounding the corner.  Both fell.

"Where's the general?"

"Don't know," Murtaugh said, moving to wrap his free arm around Martin and dislodged his toes from the grass.

Riggs fell back into the pole with a thud.  He opened his eyes with a gasp followed by a soft groan.  "Fuck," he breathed, then chanted, "Here we are hangin' on the Mayberry pole, Mayberry pole…"

"Come," Dom said, dragging Murtaugh back to the dead guard.  She ran her hands through his pockets until she found the key she was looking for.  She tested it on the cuffs that held her and the black man together, but it refused to turn.  "Shit," she said softly.  She checked another pocket and repeated the procedure, this time finding the right key.  She released Roger and the pair trotted back to Riggs and uncuffed the injured man.

"Haddison?" Riggs asked airily as Roger stripped off what was left of his shirt and pressed the cloth to the bleeding wound.  He couldn't tell if it was a furrow or if the bullet actually entered the man's chest under the rib.

"Don't know.  He took off after the first shot."

"He'll be back," Dom said, moving in next to the two detectives.  She and Roger worked to lift Riggs, who insisted that he was fine and able to walk, but the first time he tried he nearly pitched forward into the lawn.

"Right, kid," Roger said, catching him in his arms.  "You're just fine.  Right as rain."

Riggs was unconscious.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

They carried Riggs into the house and as Dom stood guard, Murtaugh created a makeshift bandage he hoped would suffice until they could get to a hospital.

"Ready," Roger said when he finished.

"Is there someone in the department you can trust?" she asked, moving over to help support the injured detective.

"Yeah, a couple."

"Haddison has some tight connections in the Company.  We need to get Marty to a hospital, but we're going to need protection."

"No hospital," Riggs whispered through clenched teeth.  "Sittin' ducks."

"At this point we don't have an option," Dom said, more concerned than she was willing to admit.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

There were several cars left in the driveway.  Probably belonged to the dead guys, Roger thought.  Great, now I'm stealing a stiff's car.

Riggs slid into the back seat, falling onto the seat, clutching at the bandage.  Roger helped make him as comfortable as he could while Dom pulled the wires and started the car.

"Damn lucky someone likes older wheels," she whispered.  "Ride shotgun."

Murtaugh frowned, but he moved quickly to the passenger side and sat, cradling his partner's Beretta.

Dom drove cautiously off the estate.

It took Roger a few moments to get his bearings.  "We're north of Griffith Park," he told her.  "You can—"

"No problem," she said, turning before he finished the sentence.

Roger watched her for a moment, a cold chill running down his sweat dampened back.  I wish she wouldn't do that!

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

They no sooner dropped Riggs at the hospital ER than Dom and Murtaugh were ushered into treatment rooms as well.  Roger made a quick call to McCasky and the captain shortly after the doctors insisted that they both be placed on the ward for observation, antibiotics and electrolytes.  The captain concurred.  The three of them were staying in the hospital, but he placed a double police guard on them.

Once Riggs was out of the ER he would join them in the same room, Murphy deciding that it would be easier to keep an eye on them if they were all in one place.  "Random sticks of dynamite" was the phrase Dom remembered overhearing the man use as she was ushered out of the treatment room.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Roger glanced over at the woman lying in the bed across from him and wondered how long he had been sleeping.  She was wake, reading a National Geographic.  "Can't it just be easy once in a while?" he mumbled.

"Sure," Dom offered, "but not where Haddison is concerned."  She set the magazine aside.  "You saw how easily he set us up.  Do you think he could've killed all in that courtyard if he'd really wanted to?  He let us go.  He has to have a reason for that."

The discussion was cut short when the door opened and Riggs was wheeled in on a gurney.  The pair watched in silence as he was moved to the empty bed next to Roger's, several people working around him, arranging IV's and equipment.  When the nurses and technicians left, the pair dropped their voices to whispers and continued.

"You have any ideas?" Roger asked.

"Not yet.  I have a hard time believing that he went bad.  He was the best commander I met in 'Nam, the only one who didn't think he had a right to ask me to report to his bed because I was a woman.  He made me prove myself, right alongside the rest of the team.  No favorites, no special privileges.  I had to bust my ass, but I kept up.  I could fight and shoot as well as anyone in the unit, but Haddison was the only one who saw that, he and Marty.  The general paired the two of us.  I thought Marty would balk, but he didn't."

"What was he like, back then?"

"Young, serious, committed to the job.  But he knew how to have a good time.  He has a big heart, no matter what he might tell you.  We'd go into a village and all the kids would head straight for him.  He looked like the pied piper of Vietnam.  The kids knew."

Roger chuckled.  "Yeah, I believe it."

"What the hell makes a man turn like that?" she asked angrily, not really expecting an answer.

"He's on our side," Riggs slurred softly.

"Hey, partner," Murtaugh said, leaning sideways in the bed so he could get a better look at the younger man.  "How you feelin'?"

"Like the mutt's been using my side to bury his bones.  Just a graze, though.  Haddison got out?"

"Yeah, he walked out," Dom corrected.  "He let us go, Marty.  We were clean targets and he let us go."

Riggs nodded.  "I told you, he's in deep, but he's still on our side."

"What are you talkin' about?" Roger asked incredulously.  "He had that little boy killed, your unit, the guy who looked like me, and the woman at the trailer.  I don't buy it, Riggs.  The man's a certifiable psycho, and I for one would like the chance to blow the asshole away."

"Look, that whole scene was a way to set up our escape."

"Escape!?" Roger stormed.  "You were damn near killed!  That was no escape!"

"Wait a minute," Dom said, her eyes rounding.  "He's right.  The code.  The old code!  Jesus, I should've recognized it.  We agreed that it was too damn easy – it was.  He did let us go!  What he did would probably save his cover if he's diving deep without a line.  But, what's he doing?  Who the hell's worth the lives of the six men, Scotty, John—"

"Bhin."

"Oh shit," she groaned, her eyes squeezing closed.

"Who?" Roger asked, feeling like he was suddenly treading in deep water and ready to go under.

"He was a North Vietnamese general during the war, probably the worst," Dom explained.  "Since then he's grown into the biggest warlord in South Asia.  He's tied to the Chinese, the Soviets, hell, even the Iranians.  Sort of Uncle Sam's number one enemy.  But no one's been able to get within spitting distance of the man since '72."

"Great," Murtaugh sighed.  "And now you're telling me he's here and after our sorry asses?"

Dom nodded.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The three lay in silence.  Forty-eight hours had passed, two days for them to explore the consequences of the events they'd survived.  The early morning sunlight slipped through the open window of their fifth floor window.  Dom was the first to sit up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.  With no IV left to restrict her movements, she walked stiffly to the door, pushing it open far enough to see the officers who stood watch outside.

Roger watched, also freed from the tubes that had restored the various fluids and chemicals that his body had lost.  With a grunt, he pushed himself up and dangled his feet off the edge of the bed, considering how hospital beds always made him feel like one of the kids.

Why the hell don't they make these things so your feet touch the floor?  No wonder they have to put rails on 'em.

Riggs followed his partner's example, trying to avoid tangling his IV lines.  "Something?" he directed at Dom.

"Yeah, but I don't know what, yet."  She leaned back against the wall next to the door.

"What, 'what'?" Roger asked.

"Get up," Dom said.

"What?" the older detective repeated, but still moved, walking over to stand on the far side of Riggs' bed next to the woman.  Reaching behind his back he held the thin hospital gown closed after Riggs leered at him.

The phone rang.  Closest, Riggs lifted the receiver.  "Sickos are us," he said cheerfully.

Dom smiled thinly as Roger scowled.

"Lunch menu has chicken as the main entree," a man's voice said before the line went dead.

"Out, get out!" Dom yelled before Riggs could.  She lunged forward, grabbing Martin off the bed, dragging the blanket along with him as she back-peddled for the door.

Riggs helped by walking as best he could while he clung to the IV pole, hoping he hadn't torn the needles out.

Roger toppled into the hall first as the faint thump of rotor blades dropped an older Huey gunship down to the level of their window.  A machine-gun blast shattered the glass across the room, eating the mattresses up in a monsoon rain of bullets.

"Think they'll charge us extra for the room?" Riggs asked from under the blanket, IV stand and a cloud of nylon stuffing issuing from the mutilated room.

Dom groaned.

"I'm too old for this shit," was the muffled grouse from Roger, buried under the other two.

"Hey, Rog."

"Yeah?"

"You got a full moon out, partner."

"Screw it!" the older man growled.

"Sorry, man," Riggs replied.  "Not my type."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"I can't afford to leave you on the streets!" Captain Murphy bellowed as he stormed around his office.

"Look," Riggs reasoned.  "At least on the streets we can pick the terrain that gets destroyed."

"You're not helping, Riggs," Roger whispered hotly.

"If it was up to me I'd put all three of you in protective custody and throw away the goddamn key!"

"Captain," Roger said, using the same tone that worked on Rianne when he had to convince her she was grounded for a good reason, "Riggs has a point.  Maybe if we get out on the streets, we can draw them into a move we can control.  We'll call the shots, for once."

"Instead of being shot at," Dom added, earning a glare usually reserved for Riggs from the black man and his commander.  "Sorry,"  she said.  "The problem is, they'll be expecting us to go underground.  Why don't we give them what they don't expect."

"Which is?" the captain asked.

"A clean shot at us," she responded.  "Protective custody in a not-so-safe-house."

"What?" Roger and Murphy chorused.

"Sure, we give them a clean shot, but they'll be the target," Riggs picked up.

"How?" the captain demanded, willing to listen to anything that might bring the events of the last two months to an end before his chances to make Chief of Police were completely destroyed.

"We pick the terrain," Riggs continued.  "But, we make Bhin think we haven't."

"Yeah," Roger breathed, coming around to the plan.  "He won't know what hit 'em."

The captain ran a hand through his red-gray hair, wondering if it was his imagination or if it really had started thinning recently.  "All right, all right, you win.  You three set it up, and I'll have it carried through, but one thing."  He paused to make sure they were listening -- although the fact that they looked like they were had little to do with whether they really were or not.  "Whatever you do, make sure the mess isn't where everybody can see it, understand?"

"Sure thing, Captain," Riggs said with a grin.  "We'll be discreet, very discreet."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"I have a bad feeling about this," Roger said, moving along with the officers that ringed the three of them.

"Oh, I don't know, it has a certain sort of charm," Dom said, looking past the almost-Victorian style house to the hills and the large white "Hollywood" sign towering above them.

Riggs hummed the opening bars to "You Outta be in Pictures," as they proceeded into the small house at the end of a cul de sac one block from the top of Beachwood drive.  The location was isolated, the last narrow drive on the winding foothills street, ending in a collection of older homes that were slated to be destroyed and replaced with new, more expensive retreats for rich, well-known celebrities.

Beachwood itself was a dead-end road, terminating in houses, apartments and a dirt road leading to a stable that sat on the edge of the nearly impassible shrub-covered hillside on which the famous tinsel town landmark sat, brooding over the bustle below.  There were no back streets into the sunken neighborhood, nearly lost in the thick hillside.  Telephone and electrical wires draped from poles to homes removed the possibility of a helicopter dropping in on them; a hover at the top of the hillside would be the best a pilot could accomplish, and the hill behind the end of the cul de sac offered plenty of cover for any would-be attackers, but the thick chaparral would require tremendous effort and persistence to penetrate – time that they were counting on Bhin lacking.

That left a direct approach.  Since the houses at the far end of the street were slated for removal, they were unoccupied and therefore expendable if the situation got out of hand.  The only way to the three was straight up the narrow street.

The waiting began.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs moved stiffly to the 1920s vintage couch and lowered himself down onto the faded floral pattern.

Murtaugh watched from his position in a matching high-back chair.

"Where's Dom?"

Roger shrugged.  "Don't know, she disappeared out the back a while ago.  She said not to worry unless she wasn't back in an hour."

Riggs shook his head, grinning.  "She's probably setting traps on the hillside."

"That's some lady, partner."

"I know."

"You think she'll go back to the Company or whatever after all this?"

Martin nodded.  They were both committed to their jobs.  It was a part of them that they couldn't live without.

"Too bad, I was hoping I might get a new partner outta all this."

"Yeah?  What would Trish say about that?"

"That she's a lot better lookin' than you," he chuckled.

"Why, thank you, I always thought so, too."

Murtaugh jumped, thumbing back the hammer of his .38 without thinking.

"Yeah, well, that's a matter of opinion.  Anything?" Riggs asked her with a smile.

"Naw," Dom said, watching Roger release his held breath and return the hammer.

"You always move that quiet?"

"Keeps me alive."

"When do you think all this is gonna come down?"

Dom and Riggs looked at each other and Roger wondered if they weren't carrying on a conversation he couldn't hear.  He chided himself, I've just been watching Carrie's cartoons too much, that's all.

"Tonight?"

Riggs nodded.  "My guess.  We should get some sleep."

"Roger, why don't you go first, Marty and I will take this one and I'll wake you in a couple hours.  I think we're safe until it's dark.  Bhin always did like the dark."

Murtaugh nodded and left the pair in the living room while he moved to the adjacent bedroom.  Leaving the door open in case of trouble, he lie down and let the peace of sleep take him.

Dom sat her Beretta on the coffee table, in easy reach, and checked the assault weapon she also carried.  Riggs watched her with a passive expression.

"Hey, Dom?"

"Hmm?"

"When this is over, have you thought about what you'll do?"

"Take a vacation.  A long vacation, then go back to work, I guess."

Martin nodded.  "Me, too.  Maybe I'll go up to Alaska.  I've always wanted to see the place."

"Me, I think I'd like a few weeks up in the Sierras.  Just me, the horses, pine trees and lots of peace and quiet.  Hell, if I'm lucky, I might even get snowed in for the rest of the season."

"Dom?"

She looked up from the weapon, meeting his gaze.  "What?"

"What about us?"

"Us?"

"Well, I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that I've been thinking about what it was like."

Dom smiled, laying the weapon on the coffee table.  "Me, too, Marty, but you know, I also realized something.  You tell me if I'm wrong, but, we're both hurting pretty bad inside still.  You're still in love with Vicky, and I still love John.  I think we will for a long time to come.  Maybe we always will.  If I made love with you now, I'd close my eyes and pretend you were John.  I couldn't stop myself.  Tell me you wouldn't do the same."

"Think you were John?"

They laughed softly.

Riggs shook his head.  "No, you're right.  Maybe someday.  Someday when we don't need the job so much and when the pain and guilt will let us keep our eyes open.  Then it'd be different.  I'd like that, Dom."

"Me, too, Marty.  Me, too."  She rose and walked over to give the man a hug. Riggs returned it happily.  "Be careful tonight, huh?"

"Always.  I have a partner who needs me to keep his life interesting.  You be careful, kid, I'd like to hold you to that date."

"Only if you promise not to make that damned oreo chili."

"It's a deal," he agreed with a grin.  "But that means you have to cook."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Dom shoved the Beretta into the back of her jeans and hefted the assault gun.  Riggs moved slowly to stand next to the window, looking down along the dimly-lit, deserted street.  Roger flipped the barrel of the .38 out and spun it, then snapped it back in place.  He stuck it in the waistband of his pants and took the rifle off the couch.

The tension of waiting was growing, sharpening their hearing and reflexes.

"Soon," Dom whispered.

Murtaugh looked at the woman, wondering what he'd call the gift she seemed to have.  Experience, he decided.

Riggs checked the Beretta and nodded.  "Now."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The men moved silently through the shadows that twisted among the old houses, the untended yards providing adequate cover as they proceeded up the narrow street.  Bhin and Haddison moved at the end of the grouping.  They had seven men, six trained assassins who were fanatically loyal to Bhin.  Haddison smiled.  Number seven was his little secret.  It was more than enough for the three who waited in the house at the top of the cul de sac.  Or so the Oriental believed.

"So, Milton, this will finally lay Cobra Company to rest."

Haddison nodded.  Keep believing that, Bhin.

"Something we should have done long ago, yes, my friend?"

"Perhaps."

"They are waiting?"

"Naturally," Haddison replied.

"Yes.  Riggs and the woman were the best of the lot.  The reason they have lasted so long?"

"I trained them."

"True," Bhin said, "but now it is time for the teacher to show his pupils that he saved a few tricks in reserve.  You did save a few, didn't you, Milton?"

"Enough."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"I make out eight, maybe nine," Dom whispered.  "I'll take the back."  The black-haired woman moved silently across the living room, disappearing into the small kitchen.

"You ready?" Roger asked.

Riggs nodded.  "You?"

"I'm too old for this shit," Murtaugh whispered with a smile.  "But it sure beats a desk job."

Riggs grinned.  Just be careful, he thought.  I don't wanna have to tell Trish anything happened to you.  I'm not sure I could…  "She'd kill me."

"Huh?"

"Oh, I was just thinkin' about what Trish would do to me if anything happened to you."

It was Roger's turn to grin.  "You got that right."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Bhin raised his hand and watched the seven shadows move off toward the house.  A deafening blast sent one of them flying back into the dark, accompanied by a flash of yellow-orange.

"Shit," the Oriental breathed.

Haddison forced his face to remain neutral.  Dom.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs dove for the cover of the floor and wall as the front door exploded into shavings under the assault of a Mac 10.  The blast of Dom's assault gun boomed from the kitchen.

"One!" she yelled.

Roger scrambled on hands and knees behind the couch, reaching the end in time to see a black form, entering through the bedroom window.  He took aim with the rifle and fired.  The form and the glass of the single window flew back out of the darkened room.

"Two!"

Riggs used his feet to propel himself around on the hardwood floor, firing at the man who moved up along the front door before he could get the Mac 10 up for a fatal attack on the detective.

"Three!"

"Gas!" Dom yelled from the kitchen.  "Rear!"

The two men scrambled into the kitchen, firing back at the two men in masks who moved across the front porch, passing the window and door.

"Out!" she yelled.

The threesome spilled out the back door, rolling into the darkness in three different directions as a blue-gray gas unfurled through the shattered windows like ghostly curtains.  Dom's shotgun thundered again.

"Four!"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs pressed his back against the remainder of the peeling white fence that stood in one corner of the yard, holding back the growth of the hillside.  He ducked into the chaparral.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Roger brushed the bits and pieces of dead maple leaves off his face as he crouched next to the tree in the backyard.  He silently thanked the owner of the house for building the funny gazebo around the base of the large tree.

A creak.

Roger raised a hand in time to stop the garrote from tightening on his throat.  He felt the wire slice into the side of his hand, stopping as it reached bone.  He gasped.

Fumbling for the .38 he eased it around his body and fired as the man shifted for a better angle to apply the final pressure.  Roger groaned as he pulled the wire free and turned to look at the man, dressed all in black, his face covered by the thin black mesh of a scarf.  He clutched the belly wound with both hands.

Without thinking Murtaugh raised the six-shooter and pulled the trigger a second time.  "Five," he breathed in a sigh.

He reached for his handkerchief to stop the blood.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Riggs knew there was someone else there in the tangle of vegetation.  Someone who was moving in on him.  The detective's side burned and he pressed a hand against the bandages that were still there, moving farther up the hillside.

The distant sound of a chopper reached him.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Dom sprinted the short distance to the neighboring house and dove through an open window, landing somewhat roughly on the dust-coated floor.  She fought back a sneeze.  Gonna have to work on the tumbling, she thought.  The sound of two spaced shots from a .38 echoed faintly through the old house.

That's five, she thought, sliding in the dark to a position below the kitchen window.  Nice work, Detective Murtaugh.

A light footfall across the front porch of the house caught her attention.  A second set of steps passed by the back window.

Eeney, meany, miney, mo, she thought, trying to gauge the best target.

The house shook as the back door was reduced to proverbial toothpicks.  She scooted along the floor next to the kitchen cabinets, pressing into the empty space that once held an old- fashioned icebox.  She leaned the assault gun in the corner and removed her Beretta, waiting.  A second blast removed the front door.

The man in the front moved on.

Dom waited, listening as someone entered through the bedroom window.  They were good, she acknowledged, but not combat trained.  She waited.

The hardwood floor sighed as the man passed into the kitchen.  Pressing against the wall, Dom rose silently in the corner.  The man glanced at the door, scattered across the floor.  A sharp stinging in her thigh caught her as she stepped out and clubbed the all black figure.  He fell to the floor.  Reaching down, she quickly twisted his neck back until the sound of the vertebrae giving way reminded her of popcorn.

Six.  She looked down at her thigh to find several good-sized wood fragments embedded there.  Cherry.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The chopper passed over the illuminated Hollywood sign, Riggs watching as the craft settled in to hover over the condemned houses, its searchlight roving over the snarl of brush behind the fence.  Someone's directing them from the ground, Riggs thought.  Bhin.

The wash from the rotors lifted a cloud of dust and debris that helped hide any motion on the ground.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Roger felt the pressure of the gun-barrel at the base of his neck before he heard a sound.

"Sergeant Murtaugh, I suggest you do as I say.  Toss the weapon aside."

Roger complied with the command, spoken like a request by an Oriental man.

"Good, now walk back to the front of the house."

Damn, damn, damn! Murtaugh fumed.  Good, Rog, real fine, go and gettin' yourself caught.  Brilliant!  Shit!  Riggs'll never do anything that'll get me killed, which means we probably all get killed!  Damn it!  I fuckin' blew it!

"I have him.  Get the woman."

Roger watched Haddison step back into the shadows and prayed that Riggs was right about the man being on their side.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Dom could sense the general's presence before she heard him pause at the shattered back door.

"Dom, I know you can hear me.  We have Murtaugh… come out… now."

The old code flooded her memory, the days spent learning the subtle phrasings and inflections, the constant complaints, learning not to say things in ways that overlapped the code.

The statement was true, Roger had been caught.  Marty was still loose, evidently.  He wanted her to play along, to surrender.

"Now, Dom… or he dies."

Another stated truth.  She sighed.  "All right, I'm coming out."

She shoved the Beretta into the front waist band of her jeans and pulled the cable sweater over it, then tossed the assault gun out the back door.  She exited the house with her hands up.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Riggs?!" Haddison yelled.

"Haddison?"

"Yes," he yelled, dropping his voice so it would carry farther.  "Can you hear me now?"

"I hear you."

"Marty… we have Dom and Murtaugh.  Come out… now."

The helicopter circled, drawing the residents along the end of Beachwood out of their homes, wondering why they hadn't been notified of a late night filming.

Riggs weighed the situation.  They had his partners and Haddison was inviting him down to join them.  But what if I'm wrong, what if he has turned and he's just using this to lure me out?  What if I get them killed?

Shut up! another part of Martin's mind snapped at himself.  You trusted him before and you don't have a whole lot of options now.  Stop thinking about it and move before Bhin gets tired of waiting.

The detective eased out of the hole he had wriggled into and slid down to the back of the fence.  Through the weather-warped slats he could see Roger and Dom standing in front of Haddison and Bhin.  A movement in the chaparral nearby drew his attention away from the foursome.

The man held his weapon in one hand and reached up to pull the black scarf off his head.  Tom Cordon.  The blond stepped closer to Riggs, blinking rapidly and motioning with the Mac for Martin to join the others.  The chopper's search light followed them.

Well, at least we have an unexpected allies, the detective thought.  Christ, Haddison, you better know what the hell you're doing.  It's not just my life you're playin' with.  It's the lives of people I love.

"So, this is what remains of the infamous Cobra Company," Haddison said, his tone only slightly sarcastic.

"What you see is what you get," Riggs replied casually.

"Even the hawk has come to the ground to feed, Marty," Haddison chided, "show a little humility."

The chopper must be destroyed, Riggs translated.

"They were always an insolent lot," Bhin commented.  "But, no longer."  He nodded at Cordon.

Dom dropped, an ear-ringing yell accompanying the move.  Bhin swung his weapon toward her, but was stopped as Murtaugh drove the back of his fist into the Oriental man's face.  Haddison clubbed the black detective, sending him to his knees.

At the same time as Dom moved, Riggs was lunging for Cordon.  The pair grappled for the Mac 10.  With a well-placed elbow Riggs stunned the man and felt his grip relax.  A little more power and the man's neck would have been broken.  The way he fell, Riggs thought at first Condon was dead, but two of the man's fingers were curled under on his exposed hand.  Cordon was playing possum, the weapon was his.

The chopper buzzed lower, the drone of the rotors increasing in pitch as the pilot was stymied by the power and phone lines.  Riggs swung the weapon up and sprayed the underside of the craft, destroying the search light.  The neighborhood fell dark.

Rotating in a full circle the craft began to rise out of the canyon niche.  A single shot from Dom's Beretta echoed from behind him, but Riggs ignored the sound, concentrating on the slowly climbing helicopter.  He fired a second burst, the bullets sparking as they ricocheted off the metal surface.  A loud bark of metal tearing caused him to smile.  The chopper wagged unsteadily upward, swinging off toward the top of the hill like a drunk in his favorite alley.

Dom had dropped down, then flung herself to the left, away from Roger and Haddison.  She could feel Bhin react, the weapon he held tracking her movement.  She rolled on the dusty ground.  Roger's quick backfist had thrown off the shot and it hit behind her.  The dull thud of Haddison's gun on the back of the black man's head was drowned out by the first blast from the Mac Riggs had acquired from Cordon.

Shoving her feet under herself, she lunged at the two men still standing, catching the general first and carrying them both into the smaller Oriental man.  The three collapsed into a pile on the front lawn.

"Kill her, kill her!" Bhin screamed at Haddison, who reached out to wrap his fingers in her hair.

Pulling the Beretta from her waistband, she shoved it along his side and fired.  He jerked and fell forward, to all appearances, dead.  Bhin was alone.

"Freeze, motherfucker!" Roger shouted as the man aimed at Dom.  Gun in the wrong hand, Murtaugh hoped the anger he felt would make the play convincing.

Bhin stopped but did not release the gun.  "Sergeant, we have a standoff.  If you shoot me, I will kill her."

"And I'll kill you," Riggs snarled.

"But, she'll be dead."

"Riggs!  Dro—"  Bhin's words were cut short by the explosion on the hillside above.

Dom lashed out with a knife-hand that moved the gun away from herself and Murtaugh.  The Mac 10 growled and Bhin slumped forward, dead.

Riggs grinned at Dom, who gave him two thumbs up.

Roger climbed to his feet, watching with growing horror as the Y in "Hollywood" went dark.  After what looked like a reasonably good re-play of the fourth of July fireworks he'd taken Trish and the kids to see the year before, one of the Ls and the W were lost as well.

"Oh, no," Murtaugh groaned.  "Oh, no, the captain's gonna kill us!  Why'd you have to shoot the chopper?"

Haddison sat up on the grass and watched as the second L and the three Os disappeared in quick succession on the almost-dark hillside.  Cordon rose and walked over to sit next to the older man.  Riggs and Dom continued to watch with large smiles as the final two letters blinked out.  They cheered.

A growing fire began to light up another section of the hillside.

Riggs and Dom exchanged looks and launched into several lines of a riotous rendition of "Turn Out the Lights, The Party's Over."

Murtaugh merely shook his head.

Haddison and Cordon also laughed as they climbed to their feet – it felt like old times.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"What now?" Dom asked the general.

"I go back to Thailand."

"And?"

"And take Bhin's place."

"I don't know if I like that," Roger said as the physician who the federal field-operations head had made available to Dom at Norton Air Force Base worked on stitching his hand closed.  Her leg was already bandaged, courtesy of the base's medical staff.

"Tom and I will place the metaphorical grenades, then pull the pins to destroy Bhin's empire."

"Of course, some of them might not be so metaphorical," Cordon smiled.

"You won't be suspected?" Dom asked.

"I don't think so.  After Marty and Sergeant Murtaugh destroyed Peter and Shadow Company, Bhin's associates recognized them as a force to be reckoned with.  And you," he smiled at Dom, "have a reputation that's well known in certain circles.  They'll believe I did my best, that Bhin died a hero, and that Los Angeles is no longer a profitable location to conduct their business."

The door to the treatment room swung open and Riggs entered with Captain Murphy following close behind.  "…And why in the hell didn't you contact us immediately?  How the hell were we supposed to locate you at an Air Force hospital?  How the hell did you get in here in the first place?  I want some—"  He stopped when he realized everyone was now avidly watching him.  "What's everyone staring at?"

"Nothing, Captain," Roger said, looking away as a smile forced its way onto his lips.  Not that any of them necessarily expecting to be thanked, still, it was nice to feel like things might be getting back to normal.  Murtaugh grinned wider.  Not that life with Riggs could ever be "normal."

"Look, do you realize that you're responsible for taking out a national landmark!  Do you realize what the press is going to do with this?  What they'll do to the department, since someone dropped a blanket of silence over your friends here!?"  He waved at Haddison and Dom.  "Not to mention the fire, which, thank God, they were able to contain since the hills weren't dry yet, but everyone, and I do mean everyone from the governor to the chief dogcatcher has called me about this!  Why the hell did that asshole have to hit the goddamn sign anyway!"

Riggs shoved his hands in his pockets, drug out his cigarettes and lit one while the captain waited for someone to respond.

"Well, I guess because 'y' has a long tail, sir," he said with a lethal smile.

The others groaned.

 The End

* ~ *