CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

"Were you aware that Captain Murdock disappeared this morning? Right under the noses of two of my best men."

"I wasn't aware Murdock had to 'disappear', General. He was under special surveillance?" Warning bells were ringing in her ears.

"Yes, he was. Did you read the latest report from our friends? Concerning our little joint venture? Seems Peck and his friend were spotted in Colorado. However, before they could be collected, someone interfered and they escaped again. No one seems to know who these people were, or why they interfered, or how they even knew enough to interfere. Considering those 'rumors', I thought it best to check things out for myself. The entire compound was thoroughly searched, including vehicles, and a tail put on the captain." Stockwell swiveled in his chair to look out the window. "Of all of them, it would be Murdock who would be most able to arrange something like this. We had hoped to find out who he was in contact with. That didn't work out."

"Sir, I thought we had dismissed the rumors as just that - rumors. I found nothing to substantiate a real security problem."

"I don't doubt that, Carla. I read your report and, at that time, you were correct in dismissing them. However, we now have something more concrete to work with." He handed her several sheets of paper. "These are the reports from Barish, with further details on the escape yesterday. One of Barish's people posed as a highway patrol officer. He was about to pick up our friends when the interference occurred. Barish's man ended up locked in the trunk of the rental car that drove him off the road. We have the rental car now, going over it for prints. I doubt tracing the rental itself will do any good; whoever had it is a pro. And very good at what they do. Very good." Stockwell gave Carla a speculative look. "Barish's people could rival our own, Carla. I'm very interested in finding out who these 'rescuers' are. And who they're working for. Aren't you, Carla?"

"Very much so, sir."

Stockwell continued looking at her. "Hmm. Very well, Carla. Your copy of these latest reports should be on your desk by now. Look them over carefully. I'm putting you in charge of this investigation. You'll report to me and also Dr. Barish. I want to know who these people are and if they have any connection to Smith et al. And soon."

"Yessir." Carla walked swiftly from the office. The situation was not impossible. Just damn close to it.


*****

Murdock arrived back at the compound in a cab. He saw the two Ables who had been following him almost immediately and gave them a jaunty wave and big grin. No way was he going to give any indication of what he'd been doing. As far as they were concerned, it had been a big game for the pilot, a big joke, just to see if he could skip out on them.

"Better luck next time, guys!" He bounced past them, giggling. Once inside, his demeanor changed, although, for the sake of any cameras, not much. The guys, sitting around the living room waiting for him, immediately understood.

"Beat 'em again, eh, Murdock?" Hannibal flashed him a big, fake grin.

"Sure did, Colonel. One day they'll learn." Murdock put one finger by his eye, raised an eyebrow. Hannibal nodded and headed toward the bedrooms. Murdock followed, knowing the colonel was headed for whatever room BA had thoroughly cleared of cameras and microphones. BA and Frankie went about their business, supposedly ignoring the other two.

Ironically, they went into the only bedroom that had never been used. Murdock looked around it for a few moments while Hannibal carefully closed the door behind them and stood, waiting. The pilot could picture the room the way Face would have had it. Could see his clothes in the closet, his few personal effects on the dresser. Could almost smell his cologne. Shit. Get it together. You have to deal with Hannibal now. And it ain't gonna be easy for either of us.

"Well, Captain?" Hannibal was not patient.

"Colonel, the first thing you gotta understand is that we can't do anything right now, okay? I know that doesn't make sense right off, but just remember it."

Hannibal was totally out in left field now, but he nodded. Whatever Murdock had to tell him, he understood he had to stay calm.

"Maggie found out quite a bit more, Colonel. And it's a lot more complicated than we thought. Hannibal," Murdock looked him right in the eye, "there's a chance Face is alive."

Whatever Hannibal had been expecting, it wasn't that. He stared at Murdock, denial clear on his face.

"I know, Hannibal, I know. But Maggie said the body couldn't be like you said it was, not that soon after death. And you know you were still pretty out of it when you saw it. Maggie got pictures of the person they took from the warehouse and did the autopsy on. It wasn't Face, Hannibal. They made this body look like Face, but it wasn't."

Hannibal stepped slowly over to the window, putting his hand on the sill as if for support. He hung his head, trying to clear his mind. Face alive? After all these months of grieving and heartache, Face, alive?

"Stockwell?" It was a whisper. A dangerous whisper.

"Maggie didn't know for sure. Most likely, he had something to do with the switch. Whatever else he was involved in, she doesn't know - yet. But, Hannibal," Murdock reached over, grabbed his arm tightly, "we cannot do anything about it now. Maggie said if Stockwell was involved, and he finds out we know anything at all about this whole mess, Face could end up dead for real. We can't do anything, Colonel. We can't show our hand. Not yet. Understand?"

Hannibal paced the room. It was hard. It was so hard not to storm out of the room and yell into all the cameras and microphones for Stockwell to get his ass out there. Hannibal thought back to the general's Oscar-winning performance after the executions. So sympathetic. He could feel himself shaking with unadulterated hatred. He wanted so badly to have the general's neck in his hands. But he understood what Murdock was saying. Even if there were only a chance that Face was alive, Hannibal would not do anything that might put him in danger. He forced himself to stand perfectly still for several moments, once again bracing against the window sill, gathering himself together. He took a deep breath, finally, and straightened. He abruptly pulled out a cigar. Lit it, took a couple of short, sharp puffs. He looked at Murdock, and the pilot could see the anger still in his eyes, barely controlled, but controlled.

"Okay, Murdock. Let's bring BA and Frankie in here and tell them. And then I want all the details."

Murdock nodded. It wasn't over yet, but the biggest hurdle was crossed.


*****

Randy lay across the couch in the waiting room, staring at the ceiling. He was trying to count the little dots in the ceiling tiles. There were so many. Too many. He kept losing his place and having to start over. But start over he did. Over and over and over. As long as he kept counting, he didn't think about anything else going on around him. He didn't have to think about Sam.

When they first arrived at the hospital, Randy had watched in horror as the attendants had carefully pulled Sam's limp body from the front seat and placed him on the gurney. He'd grabbed Sam's hand and wouldn't let go. Kurt and Daryl had had to pry his fingers away when Sam was taken into the examining room. In less than twenty minutes the gurney was disappearing down the hallway, into the elevator, taking Sam into surgery. A doctor had come out and talked to them, telling them what they had found. There was no way Randy understood all the medical terms. After the doctor left, Kurt made Randy sit down and tried to explain things to him.

Randy finally learned that Sam had been hit by a car, although he wasn't told who had hit him. Kurt explained that, in the impact, he'd hit his head and 'bruised' his brain. It made Randy wince just to think about it. So the doctors had to watch him very carefully. There might be brain damage because of it. He'd also dislocated his hip. The doctors didn't like that very much, either. Something about a 'time frame' and blood flow to his leg. It sounded bad. There was more, too; 'internal injuries', which Kurt said meant a lot of things inside had been damaged. Sam was going to be in the hospital for some time.

But he would live. The doctors said he would live. If there were no complications. Randy didn't pay much attention to the rest of what Kurt said. All he knew was that Sam might not be exactly like he was before, but he wasn't going to die. Sam wasn't going to leave him.

And he would not leave Sam. Not ever again.