CHAPTER ONE

"I'm looking for Templeton Peck."

Mr. Lee looked at the stranger. Dirty, disheveled, looking about as much like a client the A-Team would take as a mud hen. But he hadn't asked for the team. That in itself made Mr. Lee look at the man again.

Not tall. Thin, almost skinny. Deep, dark eyes, hard to tell what color. Dark hair, again hard to tell the color as it was so dirty. The face, under at least a couple day's worth of whiskers, was pale. It was obvious the man hadn't had a shower in some time. Clothes, nondescript, worn to a sheen, equally dirty.

Definitely not someone the Team would want anything to do with. Certainly not Templeton Peck.

"Don't know Mr. Peck."

"I was told I could contact him here."

"No, not know him."

"Well, if he should come in, would you tell him Ronald Cousins is looking for him? I'm staying at the Kolbe."

"Not know this man."

"Okay, whatever. Just tell him when he comes in." The man turned and walked out the door, not quite slamming it behind him.

Mr. Lee stared after the man, slowly pulling a cigar out of his pocket. There was something about that guy he just didn't like. At all.


*****

"Ronald Cousins? You're sure that was the name? Ronald Cousins?"

"Yeah, Face, I'm sure. I don't usually forget names."

Face turned toward the window, hands on his hips, staring out at the ocean view. They were in yet another of the con man's opulent dwellings, this one belonging to a director who happened to be filming in Europe at the moment.

"You know this guy, Face? He didn't exactly look like someone you'd be spending time with."

Face didn't say anything for a few moments. Hannibal was about to ask him again when he spoke. His voice was tired.

"I knew him a long time ago, Hannibal. In college. We were roommates."

"And...?"

"And we lost touch. I went to Nam. He didn't. I haven't seen or heard from him since."

"Until now. So, you going to connect with him?"

Another long silence.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I'd better. Where did you say he was staying?"

"The Kolbe. Isn't that more or less a flop house? Not a great neighborhood. Want some company?"

"No. No, I can handle it." He finally turned to Hannibal, and the colonel was surprised to see tension on his face. "Thanks for letting me know, Hannibal."

"No big deal, kid. Just take it easy, okay? You haven't seen this guy for a long time. He may have friends we don't want to find out about."

"I don't think that's a problem, Hannibal, but I'll be careful."

Hannibal looked closely at his lieutenant. "Anything else, Face? Anything we should know about?"

Face shook his head. "No, just an old friend. A very old friend..."


*****

He'd watched the hotel for some time. Taken a few turns around the block. Looked clear. No reason not to go in. No reason at all. Yet he stood watching the hotel. Lots of seedy characters around. Drunks. Addicts. Whores. The dregs. Patrol car on a fairly frequent basis, but paying no attention to him. The 'vette wouldn't have fit in here, so he'd taken a cab. Dressed casually. Very casually. Didn't want to stick out. Didn't want to look like he had money.

He should go in.

He glanced up and down the street one more time. Not that much traffic. Too early in the day. When it started getting dark, things would liven up. Right now it was pretty quiet.

Yeah. Pretty quiet.

One more glance around, then he straightened up. Unconsciously taking a breath, he started across the street.

He stood outside the hotel doors, staring at them.

He should go in.

The doors opened. Two hookers waltzed down the steps, eyeing him closely. Smiling, if one could call it that. Inviting him. He shook his head, almost apologetically. Always the gentleman. Stepping out of their way, moving cautiously through the doors. He was in.

It was dark, moldy smelling. That and some other unpleasant smells he pretended not to recognize. Walked up to the desk, trying not to step on whatever it was spotting the floor. The clerk ignored him for a few moments, busy on the phone. Talking to his bookie. Face wouldn't have made the bet. He knew the horse. Bad move, buster. Kiss that money good-bye.

"Yeah?" The clerk hung up the phone, picked up a newspaper, never looking at Face.

"I'm looking for Ronald Cousins. He's supposed to be staying here."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Can you tell me where his room is?"

"You a cop?"

Face would have laughed, but the clerk was looking at him without any humor. "No, just a friend."

"Right." The clerk pulled the register from the top of the desk, glanced through it. "427."

"Thanks." The clerk was already involved in his newspaper.

Face took one look at the caged elevator and decided he could use the walk. Heading up the stairs, he had to move around various piles of newspapers and other debris. A man - at least Face thought it was a man - was on the third floor landing, mumbling to himself.

427 was at the end of the hall. The only light came through a window next to the door, looking out to the fire escape. The door itself looked like it had seen more than a few police raids. He took another deep breath. Knocked on the door. Waited.

He heard movement behind the door, the chain being released. The door opened and he stared into a face he hadn't seen for more than 20 years. Had almost hoped he would never see again.

"Hello, Ronnie."


*****

Face tossed the clothes disgustedly into a trash bag, tied it tightly and threw it outside the door. He purposefully pulled shirts and slacks from his closet, adding them to a pile of newly purchased socks and underwear lying on the bed. His movements were jerky, almost angry. He was having to push old memories to the back of his mind. He would not dwell on that. Ronnie was here, now. Things were not the way they used to be. The past was past. He heard the shower shut off and headed into the kitchen.

Face had never laid claim to culinary talents. All he was doing was warming up the selection from the take out shop down the road. Good, solid, All-American fare. Lots of it. Ronnie hadn't eaten in a couple of days, apparently. Was on the verge of being tossed out of the Kolbe. Just as well. He shouldn't be staying someplace like that anyway.

He heard the bathroom door open.

"Your stuff's on the bed. Food's ready when you are," he called from the kitchen.

He heard a muffled response. Well, he hadn't washed away, then.

A few minutes later, Ronnie came out, dressed in Face's loosely-fitting clothes. Dark blond hair still damp from the shower, clean shaven. Clean. Face motioned for him to sit at the table, which was piled with food. Ronnie sat, immediately started filling his plate. Face brought them each a beer.

Neither man spoke while Ronnie ate. Face took a small helping, not wanting the other man to feel self-conscious. Finally satiated, Ronnie sat back and took a long draught of beer. Sighed. Looked at Face.

"Thanks, Tem. I appreciate it."

"No problem, Ronnie."

Silence. Ronnie rolled his finger around the top of the beer bottle, staring at it as if he'd never seen one before. There were things waiting to be said between them, but neither seemed willing to say them.

Ronnie cleared his throat. "You got kind of a raw deal from the Army, huh?"

Face shrugged. "Shit happens."

Ronnie chuckled, mirthless. "Got that right." He looked at Face, concerned. "These guys you're with - they okay? I mean, they watch out for you okay?"

"Yeah, sure they do. As well as they can, anyway."

Ronnie just looked at him.

"It's a rough business, Ronnie. Nobody's safe all the time."

"If you say so, Tem. Just...doesn't sound right."

Face shifted uncomfortably. "So what's been happening with you, Ronnie? Hard times, obviously." He didn't worry about hurting the other man's feelings. They'd always been honest with each other, no matter how much it hurt.

It was Ronnie's turn to shrug. "You know how it goes with me, Tem. Tried this, tried that. Never quite had that finesse you did." He smiled ruefully. "The Midas Touch. Everything you touched turned to gold." He looked up at Face. "Nothing's really gone right since...Don't know why, just never has."

"Hmm."

Ronnie looked at him, hesitating. "Why'd you do it, Tem?"

Face grabbed his plate and beer and stalked into the kitchen. "Does it really matter now?"

"I'd like to know."

'So would I.' He almost slammed the dishes into the sink. "I'd like a lot of things, Ronnie. Doesn't mean I get them. Forget it. We're talking a fresh start. For you. Okay?"

"Easy to say, Tem. Not so easy to do."

"It is when you have help. And I will help you, Ronnie. I owe you that. I know that."

"You don't owe me, Tem. I told you that back then. I only did what friends do for each other."

"So now it's my turn, okay?" Face smiled to take the sharp edge off his tone.

Ronnie looked at Face. Something in his expression made Face uneasy, but he brushed it aside.

"You can stay here until we find you a place of your own. Get you some clothes, too. And a job. I've got contacts around LA. We'll get you set up. You'll see." I'll make it up to you.

"Sure, Tem. Sounds good."

Face finished his beer in two long swallows.