CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

Murdock moved quickly through the store. Something had happened. Yesterday Stockwell's goons had suddenly appeared en masse at the compound, searched everywhere. What they were looking for they wouldn't say. Went over the van with a fine tooth comb. Even searched Murdock's car. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they left, without a word of explanation. BA did a quick search of his own - even more surveillance equipment in place. When Murdock got back to his apartment, it was obvious someone had also searched it, just as thoroughly. He picked up his phone, heard the tell-tale click, knew it was bugged again. Didn't bother to search for bugs in the room, knowing they would be there.

So now he was 'shopping'. Waiting for a chance to lose his tails. He knew he wasn't supposed to have spotted these two. If Stockwell had wanted to intimidate him, they would've just followed him openly. It had happened often enough before. Stockwell's reminders that as long as he was with the team, he was not a free agent. But these guys didn't want to intimidate. They wanted to know where he was going, who he was contacting. Hannibal had been right. Stockwell knew there was a breach in his security. He just didn't know how, or why. And for some reason, something had happened to make him want to find out, now.

Murdock took three pair of pants into the fitting room, locking the door behind him. He'd picked this store deliberately. They had wonderful fitting rooms, built ages ago of real wood, with tall sides, open at the top. Sturdy. Very sturdy. And next to the row of fitting rooms was the men's can. With a nice, old-fashioned style window - big.

Murdock waited a few minutes, gave his followers a chance to settle in. Quietly, then, he stepped up on the small bench seat and pulled himself on top of the enclosure. He'd deliberately taken one several stalls down from the bathroom. That would be his weak spot. Hopefully Stockwell's goons would be too involved watching his stall to see him drop down in front of the bathroom. Hopefully the stalls between him and the bathroom would be empty; there were some things he just didn't need to see.

Lady Luck was with him. He clambered across the last stall unnoticed, and dropped softly to the floor in front of the bathroom. Slipping quickly through the door, he jimmied the lock on the window and was out. Ignoring the strange looks from a couple of sanitation workers in the alley, he hurried off. He had a mission. Today was the day he'd call Maggie.


*****

Sam was fading fast. He no longer felt anything, not even his leg. There was a gray haze over his eyes, like he was caught in an evening fog. He knew the car was moving. This Daryl, whoever the hell he really was, was driving again. The other two were in the back seat. Randy. Randy was one of them. He knew that much. He couldn't remember the other one.

He tried to remember what Randy had told him. Somehow he thought these two guys were Sam's friends, helping them escape. He hadn't been able to digest that properly. Still too hard to think. So he'd gone along with it, for now. Told Randy it was okay. Just not to go anywhere with them again. Not without Sam there. For whatever reason, these two seemed to want to help them. At least, they didn't want Barish to get to them. S'okay...he'd go see the doc...get some painkillers...some bandages...get the hell out...take...Randy...

Daryl saw Sam's head tilt, his hand relax on the gun. Quietly, he reached over and gently drew it from Sam's fingers and tucked it under his seat. Drove on, rapidly, following the signs for the hospital.


*****

Randy sat in back, with Kurt. He worried. Sam looked so bad. Randy shouldn't have left him. Sam wouldn't have gotten hurt if Randy hadn't left. No one had told him what happened, but it didn't matter. What mattered was Sam was dying. Kurt kept telling him Sam would be okay, they just needed to get him to the hospital and he would be okay. But Randy knew Sam was dying.

He glanced over at Kurt. He was watching Sam, and looked worried, too. Randy was glad Sam had him for a friend. Although he wasn't sure why they hadn't met before this. Usually, it was Sam meeting Randy's new friends, not the other way around. Sam didn't make friends. He just hung around with Randy. So where Sam had met Kurt, Randy wasn't sure. He was just glad that he had.

When Randy had pulled over for the cop, and seen the other car run it off the road, he'd been really, really scared. He'd never seen anything like that before. He'd watched in the rearview mirror as Kurt had gone running up to the cop, and then hit him. With his gun. And then come up to Randy. He should have taken off. He shouldn't have stayed there, waiting for Kurt to come up and hit him with the gun. But he couldn't move. It was like he was frozen. When Kurt got to his window, he tried to act like Sam. Sam would have kept his cool. Sam would have bluffed his way out of this.

Randy had listened to everything Kurt had said, knowing that he had that gun. Tried to think, to figure out if Kurt was for real. It wasn't until Kurt mentioned the pills that Randy knew. Sam wouldn't have told anyone about those unless he trusted them.

Randy had still thought about that gun, but if Sam trusted him, Randy would do what he said. He'd watched the highway, looking for other patrol cars, wondering how long before Sam caught up with them. Listened to Kurt talk on that radio, getting no response. The further they got from Sam's car, the more he had worried. Things were all wrong. He had nothing of him left now. It was all back at the camp, or left in the car. All he'd had was Kurt. And it had scared him that Kurt might go away, too. That he'd leave before Sam found him again.

He looked at the front seat. Saw Sam's head slide down. The other guy, Kurt's partner, reached over and took something from Sam. Randy didn't pay attention to what it was. He just kept looking at Sam, slumped over in the seat, not moving. He didn't want Sam to die. He wanted things to be the way they used to be. He didn't want Kurt and his friend there. He didn't want to be left with them if Sam died. He would do anything if Sam would just not die.

He would even give up the ocean.


*****

Murdock had grabbed a cab a few blocks from the store and taken it to a motel across town. Maybe he was being extreme, but he wanted to be sure he was out of Stockwell's sphere. He wanted total privacy, and no interruptions. Sitting on the bed, he dialed Maggie's number and waited, twisting the phone cord nervously. She didn't answer right away, and Murdock was afraid she wasn't even home.

"Dr. Sullivan. May I help you?"

"Maggie! It's Murdock. Can you talk?"

"Oh, Murdock, yeah, just a moment." He was put on hold, the strains of Mozart coming over the phone. It was not soothing. Maggie finally came back on. "Sorry, Murdock, I had a patient."

"What did you find out? Did you get the right report? What happened?"

"Murdock, please, one thing at a time." He could almost hear Maggie take a deep breath before she continued. "I did get the right report this time. But it's complicated, Murdock. So I want you to just listen, okay? No questions until I've finished."

That didn't sound good, but Murdock agreed. "Go ahead, Maggie."

"Alright. I'm not sure where to start. I received the autopsy report, and pictures of...the body. Murdock, the person they did the autopsy on was not Face. The doctors were told it was him, but it wasn't. The body was picked up at the warehouse by the coroner who actually did the autopsy, so sometime between the fake execution and the team waking up, the bodies were switched. I have a contact out there who's working on getting more information, but it wasn't Face at the warehouse at all. I don't know if he really is dead, quite frankly."

Murdock sat silently, his mind a complete blank. He wasn't taking this in at all. This wasn't right. No, this wasn't...Hannibal had seen the body. He had seen Face, dead.

As if reading his mind, Maggie continued. "I know what John thought he saw, Murdock, but the way he described the condition of the body just doesn't add up with a death only a few hours old. And he was still pretty drugged up. I think someone went to a lot of trouble to make him think it was Face."

"Stockwell?"

Tread lightly, Maggie. Remember Carla's warnings.

"I don't know, Murdock. He had to be involved in some way with the switching of the body, but my contact couldn't verify that any of this was his idea. He may have been as much a pawn as the rest of you."

Murdock scowled. Fat chance. "Just who is this contact of yours, Maggie? How do you know you can trust him?"

"Please don't ask, Murdock. I can't risk messing it up. But we have to trust in this, okay? It's all we've got, tenuous as it is."

"I know, I know. I just don't like it. Not one damn bit."

"Listen, Murdock, I know this is a shock, and I can only imagine what you're feeling right now, but you have to take it easy. Whether or not Stockwell is involved, or to what degree, you can't go off half-cocked. First, because I don't know with certainty that Face is still alive. Second, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to get him away from you, alive or dead. My contact had the distinct impression that, if he was still alive, he wouldn't be for long if the team found out about this charade. So, for his sake, if he is alive, you cannot let anyone know what you've found out. Which means you cannot, I repeat, you cannot confront Stockwell. Or do anything else to tip your hand. Do you understand, Murdock?"

"Why did they do this, Maggie? Whoever 'they' may be..."

"I don't know, Murdock. I'm trying to find out, but my contact can only do so much at a time without raising suspicions."

"Okay, okay. I just, it's hard to take this all in, y'know?"

"Just promise me, Murdock, that none of you will do anything right now. Wait until I see what more I can find out."

"I promise, Maggie. If he is alive, there's no way we'll do anything to screw things up. No way."

He arranged to call Maggie back in a week, and hung up. His mind was all over the place. He had to get back to the compound and tell the others. But not yet. He had to settle down first. He had to be calm, or he wouldn't be able to control the others. He could imagine how they would react. It would not be pretty. And they would have to be so careful, with all the extra surveillance. Who knew if they'd found everything?

Murdock made himself lay down on the bed; took deep, long breaths. He had to be calm. He had to be in control. For Face.