CHAPTER TEN

He woke with a start. Looked quickly around him, taking in his surroundings. A room. Plain. Serviceable. Nothing fancy at all. Just another motel room. He felt claustrophobic. Months he'd spent living in a box practically no bigger than a barrel, and now he felt claustrophobic. He pulled himself out of bed, headed immediately for the shower. Get clean. Get dressed. Get out.

Stepping out of the door, he took a quick glance around. No one out and about this early. Good. The fewer people who saw him, the better. He needed to find a phone. The one in the motel room was out. That would leave a trail. Never leave a trail. Especially not now.

It only took a few minutes to find a public phone. He called the first number. Belle Glade General Hospital. Talked to admitting. No one matching the description there. Okay. That was good. Well, not good. But good. Damn it, calm down. Call the next number. McKendrick Regional Medical Center, in Clewiston. Seventeen miles but it was the next closest. Spoke to their admitting clerk.

Oh, God.


*****

Carla watched out of the window, gazing at the clouds below the wing. It had been easier, and yet harder, to work with the doctor than she had imagined. Eventually, they had reached an agreement. Sullivan didn't like it, but she knew - and knew Carla knew - that it had to be done Carla's way or no way. Carla could have told her the whole story and let her inform Smith. It would have damaged Stockwell but in a limited way. No, Carla's way was best. It would, eventually, answer all of Sullivan's, and Smith's, questions. It would, eventually, take care of Stockwell. But doing it her way, instead of the doctor's, would also take care of the others. This Dr. Barish. His, or her, co-horts.

Carla was not a moralist. She didn't look at her actions, or the actions of others, from a morality point of view. She was a pragmatist. She thought in terms of the long run. Would this action, that word, bring benefit or disaster in the long run? And that was not regarding other people, or the organization, or the country, or the world. Would it bring benefit or disaster to Carla? That was the overriding concern. Selfish? Perhaps. Practical? Of course.

This tryst that Stockwell had formed with those other people - it would not benefit Carla for that to continue. She knew it from the beginning. Witnessed it when she'd had to force Stockwell to include her in the loop. Any alliances the general formed had to include her. If they didn't, they could not be allowed to be successful. Smith had given her the ways and means to destroy this one. If it destroyed Stockwell at the same time...well, he shouldn't have shut her out.


*****

Frankie was feeling very pleased with himself. He had pulled off the scam with flying colors, if he did say so himself. Even Johnnie seemed pleased with his report of events. Okay, so he wasn't too happy that the meeting place had been changed. Small detail. They were supposed to meet at the airfield, the hangar where the plane was stored. Instead, they were meeting at an abandoned office complex, maybe five miles from there. They had plenty of time to sneak in and get set up there. And okay, so the guy wanted cash, American dollars, instead of the percentage of the 'sale'. Stockwell was already working on that part. No big deal for Stockwell.

Frankie sighed. Okay, so two little things didn't go the way they were supposed to and everybody was on his case about it. And it was there again. Face wouldn't have screwed it up. Face would have wormed his way out of the demands. Face would have made it work the way it was supposed to. They didn't have to say it. BA had listened, and then walked out, throwing the television controller against the wall. Murdock had looked at Frankie, opened his mouth to say something and then just stopped and walked into his room.

And Johnnie, even though he let Frankie have it with both barrels, going on and on about what they'd rehearsed, how he was to counter any demands other than what they'd planned - even Johnnie hadn't voiced that name. But it had been there at the end, in his eyes. After he'd taken a breath, and apologized for yelling, that he knew Frankie had done the best he could. His mouth was apologizing, but there was pain and regret in his eyes. And then he'd just turned and walked away from Frankie. Turned his back on him, not waiting for him to say anything more in his defense. His friend, Johnnie, had walked out just like the other two had.

Frankie was really beginning to dislike the dead man. Childish as that was...


*****

Maggie was checking over her schedule for the day. She read it over and over, never quite taking the information into her head. It was filled with everything Carla had said the day before. She hadn't liked the woman, nor what she had to say. Even less her plan of action.

Maggie knew John - or perhaps one of the others - would be contacting her, wanting to know what she had found out. And she would not be able to tell them. Not all of it, at any rate. She could only tell him that the autopsy she'd received was for the wrong man. That she was still trying to find out what had happened to Face. Neither statement a lie, but not quite the truth, either. Whether she could keep to just those facts, with John peppering her with questions, she didn't know. No, she had to. She had gotten the distinct impression - deliberate, she was sure - that Face was alive, somewhere. And that she had to do whatever Carla told her to, if he was to stay that way.

She slammed her appointment book closed with frustration. High intrigue was not her cup of tea. But Carla had dragged her into it. Refusing to give her more than tidbits of information. She would tell Maggie what she needed to know, as she needed to know it, so Maggie could in turn feed it to John. For some reason, Carla wanted to destroy the fragile relationship between the team and this Stockwell, but she wanted to do it slowly. Maggie knew there were other people involved, that this would affect them as well, which must be the reason for stringing it out.

"Oh, Sullivan, what the hell have you gotten yourself into now?"


*****

Hannibal was briefing the two Ables. He never thought he'd be working with Stockwell's men instead of trying to outwit them, but Frankie had left him no choice. Damn. At the airfield, they would have had the 'home team advantage'. Now they'd be walking into an unknown. Murdock had already done a quick surveillance of the office building but hadn't been able to get too close. There were several 'construction workers' there, obviously Corvino's men. Murdock said they spent a lot of time moving things around, but doing little real work.

The two Ables were less than enthusiastic about Hannibal's plan, particularly their part in it. The one reminded Smith that they were supposed to just observe.

"Ok, pal, you can 'observe' us getting the hell shot out of us. Think Stockwell will appreciate that?"

Seeing there would be no more objections, he outlined the rest of his plan. The two Ables, along with Murdock, would station themselves close to the building, out of sight but close enough to move in quickly if needed. Hannibal, Frankie, and BA would go to the actual meeting. Hannibal was a little concerned about BA. As Hannibal's bodyguard, he would be the first that Corvino would try to neutralize. BA wasn't concerned.

"They jus bad guys, Hannibal, jus like always. Frankie screwed up, but not that bad." He'd paused, added softly, "It ain't gonna be another Face. Got it?"

As always, BA had hit the nail on the head. Hannibal's constant worry. That each mission, if not done just right, would mean another loss to the team. His confidence, like the jazz, had never come back like it had been. He hadn't realized it was noticeable.

BA had looked at him hard. "You git your act together and keep it together. You look at your plan, Colonel. And then you think o' what Face would say 'bout it. You listen to him, jus like always. You listen, he'll tell ya. And then we go do it. Jus like always."

BA had stalked out then. And Hannibal could have sworn the big man's eyes were as bright as his own.


*****

Sam had taken a cab to Clewiston. Several blocks from the hospital. Walked the opposite direction until the cab turned out of sight. Immediately went around the block and headed for McKendrick Regional.

He hadn't called this in yet. He knew he was sticking his head in a noose, putting it off. But until he could talk to the doctors and see Randy, he was not about to try and answer a bunch of questions. And they would be tough questions. Unless Sam could convince them that it had been a run of the mill run-in, much like at the halfway house, there would be big problems. For both of them.

He sat in the waiting room, tense. One of the hospital security people had spoken with him first, letting him know that the local authorities would be coming over to discuss it with him. Sam had been somewhat surprised. Most cops could care less if some local yokel beat up on the homeless. Admittedly, it was mainly because most homeless victims would disappear into the woodwork before the cops could really do anything. So he sat and waited for both the doctor and the police. Not looking forward to either.

The police arrived first. Wanted to know who Randy was, since he had no identification on him. Sam gave them a fictitious last name. Leave no trails. The detective huffed a little. Said they had taken Randy's fingerprints but were still waiting for a response. Damn damn damn. This guy was on the ball - that was bad. More imperative to talk with the doctor, find out how soon Randy could be moved, then get on the phone. That fingerprint trace had to be stopped, delayed, misdirected somehow.

It was a simple story Sam told the detective. He and Randy had arrived in Belle Glade, gotten separated, and Randy had wandered off. Sam implied that Randy's elevator didn't quite reach the top floor, and the cops seemed ready enough to accept that. Probably figured most homeless people were like that. They wanted to wait around, see if Randy was up to questioning. Sam agreed, seething inside. Why were these guys so interested in Randy, anyway? As if he'd asked the questions out loud, the head guy spoke up.

"This isn't the first beating like this around here. Last few months there've been five others - all homeless guys, all beat to hell. We want to catch whoever's doing it before it escalates." Escalates - meaning before some tourist gets hit. Okay. Understood now.

The doctor arrived just then, and Sam listened as he listed the injuries Randy had sustained. Dislocated shoulder, severe concussion, broken ribs, internal bruising. They wanted to keep him for a few days to keep an eye out for hidden damage. Should probably do surgery to see exactly what was going on inside, but as long as he was stable they didn't want to do that unnecessarily. For the patient's sake. Right.

They let Sam in to see him for a few minutes. He stood just inside the door, looking at the doctor until he took the hint and left them alone. Only then did Sam move over to the bed and look at his friend. It had been a long time since he'd seen something that bad. He could feel the anger, no, the rage building in him. Someone had done this for fun. For kicks. Sick bastards.

He leaned over Randy, spoke directly into his ear.

"Don't worry, Randy. You're going to be okay. I'm here now. We'll get you out of here soon, and find someplace safe. Okay? So just rest. Get better. I'll be back later."

Randy didn't show any signs of hearing him, but Sam figured he had. Now he had to go make that phone call. And keep his fingers crossed.


*****

Randy heard the voice. Sam. Sam was with him again. Good. Sam would take care of things now. He would take care of him. He wouldn't get hit again.

With a sigh, he thought back to the dream he'd had. It was so real. He wished it were real. That would be nice. A house. A real house, not just a box under the overpass. And clothes. Man, the clothes in that dream were out of this world. And food. Fancy stuff. Gourmet. Made his mouth water just thinking about it. He knew what it tasted like, sorta. Sometimes he'd find the same stuff behind the restaurants.

But something bothered him about the dream. The people in it. They were so real. So real it was like they had to exist somewhere, like he must have known them. Somehow. But he knew he'd never met them. He had no names to put to the faces he saw. But there was warmth, with them. In the dream, they were his friends. The kind you didn't have to hide your stash from. Best friends.

He wished it were real.