CHAPTER THREE

Face arrived just in time to take off with the team. He noted the sullen silence that greeted him. Well, it couldn't be helped. He glanced guiltily at Murdock, who was rather obviously studying the hem of his shirt. Face sighed.

They were going to the bad guys' office. Their client was being threatened by extortionists. Unless he signed over his share of the business to them, they were going to send forged documents to his business partners, making it look like he was embezzling. It was up to Face to break into their safe and steal the documents. Once the documents were safely out of their hands, the bad guys would be rounded up by the rest of the team and deposited with the local authorities.

BA at one entrance, Hannibal and Murdock at the other. Face in and out before anyone knew he'd been there. As Hannibal had it planned, a piece of cake.

As most of Hannibal's plans worked, it was more like a mud pie.

The leader of the extortionists was supposed to be at a meeting on the other side of town for most of the afternoon. Even running late, Hannibal figured they had plenty of time before he got back to his office. They didn't know the meeting had been cut short. The leader was already on his way back, fighting traffic on the freeway, when Face entered the office.

The office was actually two small rooms, one leading off the other. Face moved quickly into the main office and knelt in front of the large safe. It only took him a few moments to open it, and hurriedly started sorting through the papers inside. Unfortunately, his target was mixed in with a mountain of legitimate paperwork. He had to check them all over to make sure he got everything. They hadn't counted on that. He checked his watch. He didn't care what Hannibal had said about that meeting, he didn't want to spend all afternoon in the lion's den.

The extortionist, frustrated with the slow pace, took a quick exit from the freeway. It would be quicker taking a side street...

Too many damn papers in here. Face was getting frustrated. Sometimes Hannibal just expected too damn much. He kept sorting, page after page...

The extortionist pulled into the adjacent parking garage. Finally. It was cheaper than the one in his own building, and had an access passage directly to his floor. What more could a man ask?

Face had just finished going through the safe when he heard the outer door open. He rushed to the door and peeked out. Damn. The head honcho. Where the hell were the guys? Quickly he locked the door. Face just needed a couple seconds to scoop up the papers and shove them inside his shirt. He grabbed the desk lamp and stood beside the door.

He heard the fumbling with the lock, a swear word, key going in. The door swung open, and Face prepared to use the lamp on the guy's head. But no one came in. Shit. He waited. Seconds passed.

"You might as well come out of there, whoever you are. There's no other way out."

Face stood perfectly still. Poker rules. The bad guy bluffed, Face bluffed. Who would fold first? Face held his breath.

Minutes passed. The bad guy folded. He slowly moved through the door. Face brought the lamp down hard on his gun hand, followed immediately a right hook to the guy's chin. He hadn't hit the floor before Face was in the hallway, making his way to the elevators. He sent one on its way to the basement level, and ran through the door to the stairwell, making sure he forced the door shut completely behind him. Then he ran like hell down the steps.

"Go!" he gasped as he jumped into the van, and BA took off, not knowing why Face was in such a hurry but figuring something had gone wrong. He made a screeching turn around the block, picking up Hannibal and Murdock.

"Face? Get them?" Hannibal turned to look at his out of breath lieutenant.

"Yeah, just before the owner walked in the door. Where were you guys? And I thought that meeting was supposed to last all afternoon!"

Hannibal chewed on his cigar, nonchalant. "Musta been an entrance we missed. Hey, sorry, Face, but sometimes you just gotta improvise. Now let's go get the rest of these jerks."

Face glared at the back of Hannibal's head. Improvising would get him killed one of these days...


*****

The bad guys were all tied up back in their office, the forged documents left for evidence, and the police notified. Mission accomplished. Face had explained what happened by the time they got back to the warehouse. While Hannibal was sympathetic, he reminded Face that, had he been on time, he would have had ample time to retrieve the papers before the extortionist got back to the office. Face held back an angry retort, acknowledging the truth to Hannibal's words.

"Face, before you go, we need to talk. BA, why don't you and Murdock meet me back at my place?" There was no doubt that Hannibal intended to have a full discussion with Face, and not just about his tardiness.

Face watched unhappily as BA and Murdock drove off. Damn, he did not want this discussion. There was no way in hell he was going to explain Ronnie to Hannibal. No way.

"Well, Face? Want to tell me what's been going on with you lately?"

"Look, Hannibal, I'm sorry about today. It won't happen again. I misjudged the traffic, that's all."

"You wouldn't have had to worry about it if you hadn't been out with your friend all day." Hannibal made his voice softer. "You've been spending a lot of time with this Ronnie. And spending a lot of money, too, from what I can see. You have that kind of money to spend, Face?"

"You want to check my books, now, Colonel?" Face's voice was cold. "I'm not spending any of the team's money, if that's what you're worried about."

"I'd never worry about that, Face. I know you better than that. But I am concerned about your relationship with Cousins. Murdock says you haven't called him in over a week. You know he depends on that communication, Face. Helps him keep things together."

Face looked down at the ground, shook his head. "Damn it, Hannibal, don't pull the guilt trip on me. You and BA know how to dial a phone, too."

"It's not the same thing and you know it. Besides, since when did it get to be a burden to call Murdock?"

"Calling him is not a burden, Hannibal. No more than the rest of you are."

Hannibal stared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean, I'm a little tired of having my entire life revolving around the team. I meet up with a friend I haven't seen in years and I want to help him out, and all I get is grief. What, I need your permission to have a life outside of you guys?"

"Face, that's ridiculous. I have no problem with your friend, except," he emphasized, "when it starts affecting the team, like it did today. And yes, I get concerned about your finances because I don't need you worrying about that when you should be concentrating on the job. It could get you killed."

"A lot of things can get me killed. But for your information, my finances are just fine. And what happened today won't happen again."

"I hope not." He looked intently at Face. "Anything you want to talk about, Face? Like why this guy is almost an obsession with you?"

"He's not an obsession, Hannibal. I just want to help him get back on his feet, and that takes some time and effort. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go home."

Hannibal sighed. He knew there was no point in trying to talk to Face when he was on the defensive. "Go ahead. Just watch yourself."

Face stared at him for a moment, then stalked out. Hannibal heard the 'vette screech out of the warehouse and down the street. Great, he'll get his ass picked up by the cops next.


*****

Face had barely gotten in the door when the phone started ringing. It was Ronnie.

"Tem, hope I'm not disturbing you..."

"No, it's fine, Ronnie, what's up?" Face ran his hand through his hair; all he could think of was a hot shower and bed. The day had been way too long.

"Well, I was wondering...there's this play. I meant to see it when I was in New York, but it's here in LA now. But, well, it's the last night. I hate to ask, but...it really is a wonderful play. I think you'd enjoy it."

Face closed his eyes. He really did not feel like going to a damn play, tonight of all nights, but...

"Yeah, okay, Ronnie. When and where?"

"You don't have to, Tem. You sound tired. I just thought you'd like to go out with a friend who won't get you shot at or something." He gave a sympathetic chuckle. "Hey, look, just forget it, okay? It's not a problem."

"No, no, that's okay, Ronnie. Let me take a quick shower and change clothes and I'll pick you up."

"Well, if you're sure, Tem. I mean, I've been taking up a lot of your time lately. You don't owe me that, you know."

"Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Give me an hour."

The play was boring as hell to Face. He didn't care at all for these so-called modern dramas. It was all he could do to stay awake. Ronnie had no such problem. He was constantly jabbing Face in the arm to discuss either what had just happened or what was about to happen.

Face should have called it quits. Had it been anyone else, he would've dropped him like a dirty rag. But he couldn't do that. Ronnie was just trying to be a friend. A real friend. Besides, Face owed him. Big time...