CHAPTER SEVEN

Sam watched Randy carefully. He wasn't sure where the attack had come from, what part of his friend's brain had kicked in with that response. Until he knew better what was going on inside Randy's head, he was going to have to play it by ear. Keep things calm, casual. When the waitress came over, instead of looking up and smiling at her, Randy just kept staring down at the table, playing with the corner of the menu. Sam turned on the charm; dressed as they were, it wouldn't take much for the waitress to kick them out. He ordered for both of them, after making a show of pulling out his wallet and 'checking' his money. Let the waitress know ahead of time they could pay for the meal. He could see her relax.

"Randy?" trying to get his attention after the waitress left. He was ignored. "Randy, really, it's okay. I shouldn't have grabbed you like that. It could happen to anyone." He knew that wasn't true, and he had a feeling Randy knew it, too. He knew Randy hadn't forgotten Nam. He wasn't sure what else about that he'd been allowed to retain. He had to get in touch those doctors. Soon. He had to know some things about Randy's early 'training'. Wanted badly to hear from them that this outburst wasn't really unexpected, even though he knew it shouldn't have happened.

The food came. He was starving. The last weeks, he'd been eating like Randy, like the homeless, ate. He would've loved to have sneaked off during the night, found an all-night diner and gorged himself, but he wouldn't do that. He had to stay in his character, no matter what, for this to work. And it wouldn't have been fair to Randy. So he dove into the cheeseburger and fries, expecting Randy to do the same. It bothered him when Randy continued to just sit there. He noticed him glancing over at him occasionally. He stopped eating, waited for the next time and then smiled encouragingly at him. Randy just looked back down. Okay, got to put a stop to this.

"Randy."

His friend kept staring down.

"Randy, just forget it, okay? We don't have to talk about it right now. Later. I'm not mad, Randy. Just surprised. Now, eat your burger, okay? We don't get to eat like this very often, y'know?" Sam got a shock then almost as bad as the attack. Randy looked up at him and glared. Randy was angry. Angry? What the hell was going on?

"Randy?"

Randy suddenly bolted out of the booth. "You're not my friend any more, Sam! I know what you're trying to do and it won't work. It won't!" He practically ran out of the cafe.

Sam immediately jumped up and started to follow.

"Hey!" The waitress was hurrying over. Damn. He pulled his wallet and threw down a handful of bills before rushing after Randy. Out on the street, he looked in every direction, but Randy was gone.


*****

The team, along with two Ables and Stockwell's hand-picked pilot, had taken off for South America. No sooner had the plane disappeared in the horizon than Carla grabbed her own bag and headed for Dulles. Her ticket was for LAX; she would rent a car there and head for Bad Rock.

She would have to be on her toes. She had no doubt Stockwell would have her followed. It had nothing to do with loyalty, or the questioning of it. It was simply Stockwell's way of doing things. He would not be surprised at her attempting to lose the tail, either. He knew Carla well enough to know that she would not want him to know anything until she was ready to tell him. It was a cat and mouse game they played often and well. Carla got the impression that he actually enjoyed her flouting him - to a point. Her predecssor, now working for a high-level government official, had warned her that Stockwell had strange ideas of how to groom people for success in his organization. The skill was in knowing when the leash was stretched far enough, and not running any further. So far she hadn't pulled too hard on it. She had a feeling that was going to change.

The flight was uneventful. She signed for her rental and hit the freeway, heading toward downtown LA. She would swing by the homes and businesses of a few of the people the team had connections with - an old client here and there, the orphanage where Peck grew up, the VA. She didn't want her tail to have any clue where she was really going or who she was really going to see. The guy was good, whoever it was. She ran a few of their LA people through her head, idly trying to think just who Stockwell would have chosen. Eventually she decided she'd run the man around long enough, and proceeded to lose him. It took almost forty minutes to do it, but then she was free to continue on.

She figured she would reach Bad Rock just before suppertime...


*****

By the time the plane landed at its destination, Hannibal had a plan ready for getting away from their escorts. They would take care of their business for Stockwell first; he figured that would only take two to three days. Then they would put the plan into action.

The plan for Stockwell's job was basic. Someone in the customs office was selling forged papers, allowing contraband to be shipped into the US without close inspection. Hannibal would pose as a collector of artifacts, stolen from native burial grounds. Frankie would be his assistant, BA his bodyguard. Stockwell's contact would put Frankie in touch with the person they suspected, and he would convince the guy to 'take care' Hannibal. Once the forged documents were in Hannibal's possession, they and the bad guy would be turned over to the authorities.

Piece of cake. Like that happened any more.

Hannibal was nervous about the job. He never thought he would be, but he was always nervous when Frankie played a major role. Not that the kid was a lousy conman - he just wasn't very good. No matter how hard he tried, there was always that 'something' missing. Murdock had watched him and knew immediately what was happening. Or rather, not happening. He'd tried to explain it to Frankie and Hannibal, in an unsuccessful attempt to correct the problem.

"Frankie doesn't believe he's the guy he's supposed to be. He thinks and acts like Frankie pretending to be somebody else."

Frankie just looked at him, blankly. "Well, of course I think like me, Murdock. I am me!"

"No, no, no, Frankie. Not when you're pulling a scam, you're not. You have to BE the guy. You have to think and act like the guy you're supposed to be."

Frankie just didn't get it. He tried, he really did. But he just never quite got it.

Hannibal sighed. He'd had to pull Frankie's fat out of the fire more times than he cared to think about. Simple jobs became complicated because...oh, hell, because Face wasn't there smoothing things out for the rest of them. Without the conman, everything had to be done the hard way. Not that they couldn't pull things off; it was just a lot harder to come out unscathed. Frankly, with that constant worry about Frankie's performance, or Frankie getting hurt, or Frankie getting some one else hurt - well, it was damn hard to find the Jazz any more. Hannibal didn't have to remind himself that it wasn't just Frankie at fault for that...