CHAPTER TWO

Face answered the door almost immediately when BA pounded on it.

"C'mon, Face, Hannibal's waiting. We're s'posed to meet that client in an hour."

"Shhh, BA. Keep it down, will you? Ronnie's still sleeping. I'll be ready in a few minutes." Face closed the door quietly behind BA. He looked like he hadn't slept much last night, and his clothes were rumpled. "Let me grab a quick shower and we'll go."

"Well, hurry up, man. Ain't got all day to wait on you." BA growled as he lumbered into the living room. The couch was covered in sheets and pillows. BA glanced at Face as he headed for the bathroom. Obviously this friend of his had taken over the bedroom.

BA had hoped to meet this guy. From Hannibal's description, he sounded like a real loser. Why Face wanted to get back together with someone like that was beyond BA's understanding. Hannibal said Face hadn't sounded too happy that he had shown up, either. So why bring him to his house? There was something wrong with that picture. So BA wanted to meet him; at least see what he looked like.

Some ten minutes later BA heard muffled voices from the other part of the house. A stranger's voice, saying something about making 'Tem' go out so early. Face's mumbled reply. Like it was any of that guy's business. Face came out hurriedly, dressed and ready to go. He almost pushed BA out of the door.

"What's goin on, Face?"

"You're the one who said we were in a hurry."

"Your friend stayin with you, then? How long?"

"He's just staying until he finds a place of his own. Won't be long, if that's okay with you."

BA stopped and looked sharply at Face. "What's that s'posed to mean?"

Face shook his head. "Nothing, BA. Sorry. Just a little tired."

BA didn't say anything more. It wasn't like Face to snap at him. His dislike of this Cousins guy was growing, without even meeting him.

The ride to the meeting was silent. Face quietly watched the scenery pass by, but BA noticed he wasn't nearly as calm as he seemed. His jaw was clenched tightly. His fingers kept up a staccato rhythm on his knee. And he was repeatedly running his hand through his hair. More signs things were definitely not okay. Man, this dude had been here two days and already things were coming apart.

The client, a middle-aged, slightly balding shop owner, was being blackmailed. He claimed it was a past business dealing where he had been slightly less than honest, but the blackmailer was asking an exorbitant amount of money to keep quiet. It would put him out of business and cost his five employees their jobs. He wanted the team to find the blackmailer and stop him.

But something didn't add up. Face gave the man a real grilling, almost came straight out and called him a liar. Not even a pretense of believing what was said. Granted, the points he'd brought up were legitimate, but BA had never seen him so aggressive before. As it turned out, the man had some secrets he didn't want his wife to know about, and had modified his story about his problem to keep those secrets from the team as well. The blackmail had nothing to do with his business dealings. And he knew exactly who the blackmailer was - an ex-girlfriend. The client was really looking for enforcers - someone to 'convince' the girlfriend to lay off. Not the kind of job the team would even consider. After the man left, Hannibal turned on Face.

"I appreciate your diligence in getting to the truth, Face, but what the hell was that?"

"The guy was lying to us, Hannibal. I don't like being lied to."

"Nor do I, Face. But I've never seen you attack someone like that. Even Decker's plants got better treatment. So what's going on?"

"Nothing's 'going on'. Decker's people are at least entertaining. I don't like some jerk wasting our time."

"Wasting our time, or just yours? You got something waiting, you need to get this done in a rush?"

"Actually, I do. Ronnie and I have to go look at an apartment for him."

Ronnie again. Why didn't that surprise him? "He find a job, did he?"

Face hesitated. "Not yet. He's got to have a place to live first."

"So who's paying for an apartment?"

"I'm just staking him for little while, Hannibal. That's all."

"Hmm." Hannibal didn't like the sound of that. "Must be a pretty good friend, doing all this after not seeing him in 20 years."

"He just needs some time to get back on his feet, Hannibal." He smiled his best con man smile. "That's what friends are for, right?"

"Friends help each other out, yeah. Like we do for each other. But you can take it too far, too, y'know."

"I realize there are limits, Colonel. More and more..."


*****

"Geez, Tem, I can't believe this place. I can't afford anything like this, even if I get a job tomorrow."

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Consider it taken care of, at least until you get back on your feet."

They looked around the apartment. It wasn't on a par to the kind of place Face would live in, but it was close. Unfortunately, it wasn't scammed. Face would be paying out the nose for it. He didn't want Ronnie involved in anything not on the up and up. Nothing that could bring attention to him or Face or the team. He wasn't getting the team involved with Ronnie at all, or vice versa. Not if he could help it.

"So, we'll get the lease signed then, and then we'd better get you some clothes that fit. And groceries. I'll get in touch with some of my contacts this week, see what we can do about a job."

"Tem, I don't know what to say. Doing all the stuff for me, it's too much. I mean, you don't owe me that much."

Face hesitated just a moment. Well, he did owe the guy. Big time. That little reminder just...irritated him a bit. Ignore it. Part of the cost of debt.

"Don't worry about it. Now let's get some food in here." The two men headed out to the 'vette.

Face didn't usually go grocery shopping. He kept enough food around to handle the guys if they stopped in, but that was it. Apparently, Ronnie liked to cook. They moved slowly through the aisles, Ronnie picking out what he needed for a good month. Face didn't want to have to do this again. Ronnie would have enough food to last until he could afford to do his own shopping.

At the beginning, his friend was hesitant about getting anything. Face encouraged him to get what he wanted.

"Man, I haven't had a good steak in a long time. Is that okay, Tem?"

"Sure, Ronnie, no problem."

Ronnie picked up four Porterhouse steaks. Glancing questioningly at Face, he picked other cuts as well.

Ronnie liked poultry. Again, the questioning look, followed by a nod from Face. Cornish game hens. Pheasant. Ronnie had expensive tastes. Face ignored it; indulged him.

By the time they finished, the basket was overflowing and Ronnie was no longer asking Face if he could have anything. What he wanted, he took.

Back at his new apartment, Ronnie was almost ecstatic.

"I'll fix us a couple of those steaks, Tem. C'mon. First meal in my new apartment with my best friend. New life, right? New beginnings."

"Right, Ronnie."

Ronnie ate with his usual enthusiasm. Face found he wasn't all that hungry.


*****

"Where's Face, BA?"

BA scowled. He was watching behind them, as the orderlies came racing out after Murdock. BA hadn't even tried to scam him out, just called and told him to haul his butt out the back door.

"BA?"

"He's with Ronnie, o'course. Shoppin."

"Ronnie? Who's Ronnie? And what are they shopping for?"

"Face didn't tell you? I thought you two talked 'most ever day?"

"We do. We did. He hasn't called the last few days. I tried calling him but never got an answer."

Chalk up another one for good ol' Ronnie. "Some old buddy o' his from college showed up a few days ago. A bum." BA's voice held contempt. "Came to 'Mr. Lee', lookin for Face. Soon's Hannibal told him, Face goes and gits him outta this flop house he's livin in and takes him to his place. Now he's got him an apartment with all the trimmins. They're out gittin clothes today. Whole damn wardrobe. Throwin money all over."

"Face is paying for all of this? Paying for it?" Murdock was incredulous.

"Yeah, says he wants this all legit. Don't want him near us, either, I guess. I ain't even seen him. Face says he don't want any trouble for him. I guess that makes sense," he concluded, grudgingly.

"So, Face is out shopping for this guy's clothes and you have to come get me for a job. Hannibal was okay with that?"

"No, the colonel was not okay with that! Hannibal's chewin nails. Face told him he'd be out in the mornin but would pick you up. Then he calls and tells him they got 'delayed'. Nothin left to do but for me to git you out. Face better show up in time for the take down or Hannibal's gonna have him runnin more laps than McD's got burgers."

"That just doesn't sound like Face." Murdock was obviously concerned. And hurt. He expected Face would have at least called to let him know about his friend coming.

"Nothin's like Face since that dude come. I don't like it. And it better stop pretty darn quick."

The two men rode the rest of the way in silence.


*****

The problem was Ronnie's legs. They didn't fit off-the-shelf slacks. Not properly. So that meant alterations. Same with his arms. More alterations.

"It's okay, Tem. They don't have to be perfect fits." Ronnie looked again in the mirror, pulling first one, then the other pant leg up, just a bit.

"No, they don't look right. You can't go into a job interview looking like you borrowed your clothes. Go ahead, Henri, make them fit right. Same with the shirts. I want them perfect."

Henri nodded, gathering up the dozen pair of pants and shirts.

"Okay, let's look at the ties..."

"Tem, your friends are waiting for you. You don't have to do this. Really. I've got a couple decent ties. I mean, they need dry cleaning but..."

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Besides, I threw your ties out." Face marched away, grabbing two boxes of silk handkerchiefs on the way. "Ties are over here..."


*****

Hannibal slammed down the phone.

"We're waiting another thirty minutes. He's on his way." The colonel stalked off.

Murdock looked at BA, who looked almost as thunderous as Hannibal. This wasn't right. Face may run late for meetings; never for missions. Never. Murdock followed Hannibal.

"Hannibal, what's going on with Face and this friend of his?"

"I don't know, Murdock, but I'm sure as hell going to find out!" Hannibal chewed furiously on his cigar.

"What do you know about this Ronnie, anything?"

"No. Face said they were roommates in college. They lost track of each other when Face joined up. Then he suddenly shows up here, looking like something the cat dragged in, and Face is all over himself getting the guy fixed up. It's bad enough spending all this money on him. But this, today, is inexcusable. I don't care how good a friend this guy is - Team business comes first!"

Murdock nodded, but inside he was struggling. Nobody on the team liked him, but Hannibal seemed to have taken a special dislike of him. Just who was this guy, anyway?