CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

It took them less than 24 hours to reach Dinosaur. They pulled the van over to the side of the road before actually entering the town. There were, no doubt, numerous people watching for the rather unique vehicle. No point in making things easy for them.

Hannibal had been uneasy about sending Murdock in for the recon. The pilot had been remarkably steady over the last weeks, almost as if Face had reached across the miles and held him together as usual. But the closer they had gotten to this little town, and the prospect of finding Face, the more fidgety he had gotten. Hannibal practically ordered him to keep it low-key. He had his doubts when Murdock gave him an elongated Boy Scout oath, but there was no one else he could send who wouldn't stand out like a sore thumb.

It took Murdock less than ten minutes to walk cross country into town, not wanting to be seen walking alone on the road. He meandered through the streets, wandered into a few stores. Every now and then he chatted up the store clerks, letting them know he was new to the town, thinking of moving in, actually. How he'd grown up in a small town, missed the closeness, hated the smugness of the people in big cities. Knew all the buttons to push. Sometimes he was looking for work in a hospital; other places, he mentioned he had done some research work. Either way, he asked about possible places of employment. Every time he was directed to "this place outside town", although he was told it was very hard to get hired there. And no one really could tell him what exactly they did out there.

"Fancy, private hospital" was one way it described; "some government thing" was another. It seemed everyone had applied there at one time or another; no one knew anyone who'd actually been hired, although they all had heard of people who had. Murdock found not one person who could name a local who worked out there. They could point out people who did work there, but they "weren't from around here", apparently a serious character flaw.

Murdock liked small towns. They reminded him of home. And he was just friendly enough, without being too friendly. Knew how to ask questions without being 'snoopy'. Knew how to let people know he was just trying to return to the fold, as it were. Acted the part well enough for people to respond with information. He wandered the streets for a few short hours before finally stopping at a rental car company and procuring a car for the team. They would get a couple rooms at the motel on the edge of town. Tomorrow, and the next day, he would make himself a familiar sight in certain parts of town where the people had been most forthcoming, and then he would find out what they really needed to know.

Murdock smiled as he drove back to the van. Yep, he really liked small towns. Everyone knew everything. It was just a matter of fitting in...


*****

"Kurt, I need you to get us a van right away. I want to leave first thing in the morning."

Kurt looked up at Randy. "In the morning? I thought we were going to stay here for a few days. I don't think Sam's up to another trip so soon."

"It was Sam's idea. He knows a place where we can stay and he'll get the medical attention he needs." Randy wasn't about to say anything about the other reason Sam wanted to go there. After all, Kurt and Daryl were still relative strangers to him, even though they were friends of Sam. He needed them to obey orders, not question them. Whatever problems Sam thought Randy might have, these two weren't going to know about them. "It's about a 12-hour drive from here. We can take it slow, though. If it gets too rough on Sam, we'll stop somewhere for the night."

"Twelve hours?" It was Daryl's turn to object now. "Sam will never handle that, Randy. Even if we stop. Hell, just getting here was bad enough for him."

"Sam will handle it because he has to. Look, Sam's right on this. We're too close to that place. Sure, the ride might be a bit rough for him, but once we're in Bad Rock he'll have a doctor to take care of him."

"Bad Rock?" Kurt looked at Randy. He'd seen that name before, somewhere in all the information Carla had given them. Bad Rock. A doctor? Damn. He'd have to check that out. His uneasiness about this trip was growing. They shouldn't be going anywhere that was in their files. It would be like painting a target on their backs.

"Yeah, you've heard of it?" Randy was surprised.

"Uh, no, it's just kind of a weird name, y'know?"

"Yeah, it is kinda weird." Randy looked over at him, suspicious. Kurt had sounded downright startled at the mention of the name. He knew it, all right. So why not admit it? Randy was starting to get a bad feeling about this place. Sam was so insistent on going there, and now Kurt. He looked over at Daryl, who seemed deep in thought.

"What about you, Daryl? Still have a problem with this?"

"Hmm? Oh, uh, no, Randy." Randy's tone had made it clear. There were to be no more objections. "I'll get started on the new ID's."

"Good. We'll leave at 0600." Without another word, he headed for his own room. He still had a lot of planning to do. And he wanted to talk to Sam about these friends of his.


*****

Barish was watching Stockwell's men carefully. The leader of the group, Barish didn't know his name, just some damn number, was going over their information with Barish's own man, Clifton. Much as Barish had been against this, he realized that both groups had been similarly trained, and would work well together. The only possible problem would be of loyalties. Stockwell's people had one agenda in mind; Barish's another. In the end, that was probably the one difference in their training. Stockwell's people were on there purely for retrieval; his team's job, on the other hand, was search and destroy. It would be interesting to see who succeeded first. As long as the men were found, it didn't matter who found them. It was afterwards that mattered. Barish hoped Stockwell's people would know enough to stay out of the way when Barish took 'custody'.


*****

Able 17 was heartened to discover that his counterpart was intelligent and thorough. It would make the job that much easier. He didn't forget Stockwell's warnings, however. It was his job to make sure that Barish's team failed in its ultimate mission. Oh, they would work together, gathering information and locating the targets; but after that, Able 17 had to make sure the targets were brought back to Stockwell, alive. A lot of his success would depend on the working relationship he developed with John Clifton, Barish's head man. A feeling of mutual respect would do much to overcome any obstacles the man might put in his way. In the end, though, it all depended on one thing: which did Clifton feel more strongly - fear of Barish, or distaste for turning on his counterparts? Able 17 certainly had his job cut out for him. And in his case, fear of Stockwell outweighed everything.


*****

Sam was half-asleep when Randy returned, but he could tell something was bothering him. He struggled to open his eyes completely; it was harder still to listen to what Randy was saying.

"How well do you know Kurt and Daryl? Because it occurs to me you never mentioned them and I know I never saw them before the thing with the cop."

Oh, boy. Sam had never had a chance to go over this "friends" story with the two men, and he wasn't sure how to answer him. Say the wrong thing and there would definitely be problems.

"Well, they're kinda friends of friends." It gagged him to closet Stockwell and Carla in those terms, but it was the only way to put it. "My other friends found out we were having some problems, and these guys offered to help us out. I admit, I was a little leery of them at first, but they're okay. Really."

Randy was still looking suspicious. Oh, for the days when he would just accept whatever Sam told him.

"Look, they have their own way of doing things, but in the end, they want the same thing we do. To get the hell out of this mess. Give them a chance, Randy. Listen to what they have to say. We're better off having them with us than not. Okay?"

Randy didn't say anything for a long moment. He just looked at Sam, as though trying to decide something. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders.

"Okay, Sam. I gotta admit they're useful. As long as they stay useful, they're with us." He went to his own bed and lay down, arm over his eyes. End of conversation.

Sam closed his own eyes. The next few days were going to be very, very hard. He only hoped they would all make it through in one piece.