CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

Barish, himself, had spoken with the security chief. He found the man to be insufferable. No appeals to patriotism, no threats of prosecution, nothing had changed the man's story that Randy and Sam had never been at 'his' hospital. That had given Barish an opening, at least - threaten to have him relieved of his duties. He told the man that Stockwell would back him up on that. The chief had just stared straight ahead, almost at attention, and repeated the same tired old phrase. Either the man didn't really care about his job, or he had confidence enough in his status that he wasn't really worried, regardless of what Barish claimed. At any rate, it was like talking to a stone wall.

The next step was talking to the doctor who had contacted him in the first place. He'd tried unsuccessfully to do so when he'd first arrived, but without Stockwell's cooperation, it was impossible. Now he had full access to the man.

Doctor Loudon proved to be just the opposite of the security chief. Partly because he was a querulous type to begin with, partly because he felt he had been maligned because of his story, and mostly because he wanted Barish's promised protection from Stockwell. He described both men in detail, not only their looks but all of their injuries and mannerisms. Barish had no doubt that Randy and Sam had both been there. But then Loudon described their 'companions'. This was news to Barish. Loudon, stupidly, had not mentioned the other two before, not even considering the significance of two of these 'Ables' being with the others. But then, why should he? All of the clients at this facility had Ables with them. But not all of the Ables disappeared along with the clients.

It was Loudon who let them know when the foursome had disappeared. Randy and the two Ables first; Loudon had been waiting for Randy to show up for another 'exam'. When he'd gone looking for him, their suite was empty. Totally. He'd immediately gone in search of Sam. He'd only caught a glimpse of him, the way into Sam's room being barred by a couple of rather burly security guards. He'd gone back a few hours later and found the room as empty as the suite. He knew one of the regularly scheduled nurses had been gone for a few hours, but discretion being the only part of valor in this place, she had only stared stonily at him when he asked about her whereabouts. Security guards wore no identification, other than the generic security emblem, so he could not even tell Barish what their names were.

In all, it was not a very satisfactory interview. It confirmed what he had already thought, that the men had had inside help escaping. It also gave him a window as to when they actually left. And he also knew that Stockwell had not told him about the two Ables.

It did not make him happy.


*****

They had been driving for nearly three hours and Sam was starting to wake up. Not happily, either. The van's shocks had definitely seen better days, and he felt every little bump, jerk, and sway. His hip was starting to throb, and his entire mid-section was starting to burn. He tried to look around, but from his position, lying down on thick cushions with his head toward the back of the van, it was hard to see anything without lifting his head; having tried that once and been rewarded with wildly swimming images, he didn't wish to attempt it again. He tried to keep quiet, for some reason thinking he didn't want to cause problems, but a small groan escaped as they hit yet another pothole.

"Sam?" Kurt's face floated above him. He watched, fascinated, as the face multiplied, turning slowly until the images melted back together, looking toward the front of the van. "Randy! Sam's waking up. I don't think he's doing so well." For some reason, Sam thought they must be over the Grand Canyon, as Kurt's voice echoed throughout the van.

The motion slowed, followed by a horrific series of bumps and jolts, and then everything came to a halt. A moment later, Randy's face joined Kurt's, up in the air above him.

"Hey, Sam." The voice was soft and solicitous. For some reason, it felt good just to hear it, the voice he'd grown so accustomed to. Everything didn't seem quite so strange now, although he still hurt like hell. He tried to smile; wasn't sure if he really had or not.

"Sam? I'm going to give you something to make you sleep again, okay? I know it hurts. This will make you sleep and you won't feel it, okay?"

He didn't really want to sleep any more, but Randy's questions weren't really questions. More like statements. He would take whatever it was Randy wanted him to take, and he would sleep again, because Randy wanted him to. And he really didn't want to hurt anymore. He felt someone lift his head; he was smart this time and kept his eyes closed. He swallowed the pill, and within moments felt himself floating away again. It was okay. Randy was there.


*****

"We may have a lead, Doctor." John Clifton stood solemnly in front of Barish's desk, in the confiscated office of the security chief.

"Well, spit it out!" Barish was busy rereading the last reports they had received on their subjects. He wasn't in the mood for penny-ante clues.

"We spoke with a woman who owns the local laundromat. She has the contract for the facility's laundry pickup and delivery. She was rather upset, as it seems there was an additional pickup there that was not through her business. The same day our people disappeared."

Barish put down the papers, pulled off his glasses. "And...?"

"And we were able to find a few people who had seen the delivery van. They were oddly reluctant to discuss it, more so than usual. But we got enough out of a couple of them to ascertain the direction it went when it left town. It was definitely headed west."

"So they're maintaining the same direction. I guess we know now where's he's headed. Back to his old stomping grounds."

"I would agree, sir. With a possible caveat."

"Oh?"

"While there are several places they might go in California, they are, after all, traveling with an injured man."

"So?"

"Peck knows we're after them. I would assume he also has realized that Stockwell is probably looking for them, too, after all this time. Particularly since we know two of Stockwell's men are with them."

"You think he knows they belong to Stockwell?"

"It stands to reason, sir. They wouldn't have gotten in there if they weren't Stockwell's, and yet Stockwell is searching for them. Strongly indicates they've gone rogue, much as our two have. For them to stay together under these circumstances, disclosures would have to be made."

Barish thought a moment. It was logical. Naturally. That's what made Clifton so valuable to him. "Go on."

"With an injured man, it seems to me there would be one place they would automatically head for. That doctor the A-team was associated with."

"Rather obvious, isn't it, Clifton?"

"It would be a risk, yes. But I think Peck would be willing to take that risk. After all, there would be no chance of betrayal from her. And the locals all know the team. Plus, any strangers showing up in town would immediately be spotted. It would be very, very difficult to pull off a clean and anonymous 'retrieval' there. My personal opinion, sir, is that he would feel 'cocooned' in Bad Rock."

"So you're saying we should pull our people and head for Bad Rock?"

"Discreetly, yes, sir. Very discreetly. But I think it imperative we move quickly."

Ah, here it came. The problem to cloud the good news.

"There's someone else here in town, asking questions, looking around. At least, they were. We were able to track them to a motel on the edge of town, but they've already checked out."

"Someone else? Like whom?"

"I believe, from the meager descriptions we were able to get, that the rest of the A-Team were here. And now they're gone. I think they have the same information we have, sir, and I also believe they are already on their way to Bad Rock."

Damn. Barish had known there was something Stockwell was not telling him. The question was, why? Why keep the A-Team secret from him? For the same reason the general had gotten involved in the search to begin with - because the team was no longer his. Stockwell was after them, planning to recapture them either by themselves or by getting to Peck first.

"Good work, Clifton. We'll head out immediately. Oh, and by the way..."

"Yes,sir?"

"There's no reason to let Stockwell's people in on this right away. We can leave word in due time."

Clifton frowned, but only momentarily. He knew better than to show any sign of disagreement with Dr. Barish.

"Very well, sir."


*****

"Any news?"

"No, Maggie hasn't heard from her contact in several days now. No one else has tried to contact her, either."

"You still think that's where they're goin, Hannibal?" There was doubt in BA's voice. Just because they'd headed west - it was a big country, after all.

"It's the best bet. There was a reason they were at a hospital. I don't know who was hurt, or how badly, but I know Face. If there were an injury, he'd want Maggie to check it out."

"I don't know, Johnnie. Seems kinda dumb - I mean, wouldn't that be one of the places Stockwell will look first?"

"Sure. But Face knows people are after him. He'll take precautions. And besides," he grinned widely around his cigar, "you know how Maggie gets when anyone tries to push her around. Face will be as safe there as anywhere."

Frankie didn't look reassured, but BA and Murdock, knowing the kind of bearcat Maggie Sullivan could be, just grinned. If Face was indeed headed for Bad Rock, he couldn't be in better hands.