CHAPTER FORTY FOUR

Hank stepped into his office, wanting nothing more than to have a good cup of coffee and a sandwich. Jennings was right behind him, still riled at the treatment his boss and the Potter's had suffered. Good guys, huh? He'd wanted to put an APB out on that van first thing, but Hank had vetoed it. The last thing he wanted was to add yet another bunch hunting these guys.

Jennings almost ran into Hank's back when the sheriff stopped suddenly just inside the door. He looked over Hank's shoulder and saw a man sitting at Hank's desk. Three other guys were standing just to the side. They didn't look happy.

Hank had a really bad feeling about these guys. He turned carefully to Jennings.

"Why don't you go on over to Rosie's and get yourself something to eat? I'll meet you over there in a bit."

"You sure, Hank?" Jennings swallowed hard. He hadn't had to deal with anything more than parking tickets since he'd become a deputy, and these guys looked...well, dangerous.

"Yeah, I'm sure. Git." He practically shoved Jennings out the door, closing it firmly behind him. He looked at the man sitting at his desk.

"You want something, mister? 'Cause this isn't exactly the way to get my cooperation."

"I don't usually worry about cooperation, Sheriff. I usually get what I want regardless."

Dr. Barish smiled. It was not a nice smile...


*****

"Okay, BA, I think that's them. Keep back. We don't want to spook 'em." Hannibal leaned forward in his seat, as BA glared at the unintended insult. Murdock was watching Hannibal as much as the small speck that was the van ahead of them. Hannibal was uncharacteristically tense. It worried the pilot. Where was the jazz? He should have been grinning from ear to ear and puffing away at his cigar. Instead, he was frowning in concentration, worry rolling off him in nearly palpable waves.

"Hannibal, you okay?"

"Huh? Yeah, Murdock, I'm fine. Not too close, BA."

BA glanced in the rearview mirror, his scowl telling Murdock he knew something was wrong, too. Hannibal never told him how to drive.

Hannibal had not been himself since the race from the highway to divert the bad guys from Face. What had happened at the Potter's had shaken him. He had been thinking he was going to rescue Face. Now, he had to rethink everything, realizing that he was pursuing a group of men who didn't want to be caught, and probably being led by a stranger who seemed to have very little regard for civilians. A dangerous stranger. He had no idea what Face was doing with them, if he was safe...he was feeling worn down and washed out. It had just been too damn long...

"Hey, Johnnie, it's gonna be okay, okay? BA knows what he's doing." Frankie was the only one brash enough to speak up, and it seemed to be the right thing to do, for once. Hannibal suddenly looked back at him, about to say something, when he noticed Murdock, and then BA, and the looks they were giving him. He sighed, sat back in his seat.

"Sorry, guys. I just...damn it, I've messed things up. This whole Stockwell thing...if I hadn't screwed things up to begin with...God knows what he's gone through because of me...I don't want to mess up again."

"Ain't your fault, Hannibal. It's Stockwell's. You didn't have much choice back then, and we all know it. Face, too. We all agreed to it. Sure, we'd'a done things different if we knew what he had in mind, but we didn't. So no sense blamin yourself. We'll get Face back and get ourselves straightened out and that'll be it."

"I hope so..." Hannibal glanced at his men, seeing immediately the concern at his words. He had to get a grip. They needed to know this would work. They needed to feel confident, even if he didn't. No, he had to feel confident. He had to make this work. There was no room for failure. None.

"This will work, guys." He stared ahead at the gray van, looming larger as they moved up on it. "We will get Face back, intact, and we'll get this team back in gear." He pulled a cigar, lit it, inhaled deeply. "Yeah, we'll get him back."

He felt it then, felt the jazz building, the confidence flowing over him, not coming from within but from his men. He grinned at them, letting them know it was back. That he was on track again. They thought they needed him. If only they knew how much he needed them...


*****

Randy had been watching behind him through the side mirrors. He wasn't sure, but he thought he'd seen someone pulling up behind them. Quite a ways yet. Not unexpected on a highway, of course, but still... He looked at Kurt, who was glancing into the passenger mirror.

"See it?"

"Yeah. May be nothing..."

"Yeah. May not." He looked ahead of him. They were getting closer to LA; another hour or so and they'd be leaving the foothills and moving into the city proper. Randy's heart had been beating rapidly for some time now, the excitement - no, the tension - building up. He was feeling shaky. Scattered. That wasn't good. He needed to calm down. He needed to think.

They would drive straight through LA, head for Redondo Beach. No reason except he liked the name. He'd find someplace to stay there. Just live on the beach for a while if he had to. The others...they could do whatever they wanted. He had to do something with the bitch, too. And Sam. For some reason, he didn't want Sam with him any more. Not now. He had other things he needed to do now. Other things. Other people. Had to find them. Explain...

"Randy! Watch it!" Kurt grabbed the wheel, bringing the van abruptly back onto the roadway. He glared at Randy, who shook his head and took a deep breath.

"I got it, I got it." He forced himself to concentrate on the road again.

"You want me to drive? You've been going for hours now."

Randy took a quick glance in the mirror. The car - no, the van, a black van - was closer now.

"No, we need to lose these guys, whoever they are." He looked back at the bitch and Sam. He had started waking up a little bit ago. He still didn't look very good, but better than he had. He'd have to find a motel or something. Someplace he'd be safe. The bitch was glaring at him. What he wouldn't do to stop the van and...

He pulled his eyes back to the front. Wiped the thin sheen of sweat from his forehead. Pressed on the accelerator. The sooner they reached the maze of LA, the sooner he'd lose that other van. The sooner he could get rid of all of them. The sooner he could find his friends...


*****

The sheriff had been little help. He'd seen two of the men, that was all. Had been tied up the rest of the time. Barish already had men out at the farm, 'talking' to the Potter family. A couple of Stockwell's men along with them. That left only one person. The deputy. He'd actually seen the men leave. Knew which direction they'd gone, what the vehicle looked like. He looked around, spotted the place the deputy had gone. Rosie's. How quaint.

He and his men moved purposefully across the street and into the restaurant. Jennings sat at the back, sipping a cup of coffee. When he saw them enter, his face went pale and he nearly spit out his coffee.

Barish smiled.


*****

Stockwell had personally talked with the security chief. The man certainly knew how to weave his way through the traps. Made it sound as though he'd only been following orders, orders he believed to have come from Stockwell. Not his fault they hadn't. No, according to the chief's version, he could not be blamed for anything. Stockwell respected the man, always had. He would let it go. For now. He'd learned where the men had been dropped off. Ables were already there. Whatever vehicle they'd commandeered, it had to have been in that little wide spot in the road. Shouldn't be difficult at all to find out where, and get a good description. Then he would place a call to the LAPD. A certain captain there.


*****

"I think they've spotted us, Hannibal. He's pickin up speed."

"Okay. Get ready to pull them over. We need to stop them before they get into the city. Face knows it too well."

"I ain't gonna lose 'em. Here, or in LA." BA shot another scowl at Hannibal.

Hannibal grinned at his sergeant. The jazz was strong now, humming through his veins.

"Uh, Johnnie, I thought we were just gonna follow them till they got wherever they were going?"

"If they hadn't spotted us, yeah. But now we gotta step in."

"You know they're not gonna just stop for us."

"Relax, Frankie. They won't want to stop, no. If Face is injured or ill, we'll have to persuade his friends that we're on their side. But once Face knows it's us, it's over." He grinned in anticipation of the reunion, so soon to come.

"Ok, BA. Gently..."


*****

Randy, Kurt and Daryl had all been watching the black van steadily closing in on them. When Randy accelerated, the pursuing vehicle hesitated only a moment, then surged forward.

"Okay, Randy, they're on to us."

"Hang on."

Randy pushed the accelerator to the floor, ignoring the roaring protest of the old engine. The van bucked, not wanting to obey its driver, then surged suddenly forward. Randy seemed unaware of the curves in the road, never letting up on the pedal. He screeched around them, coming perilously close to the guardrails. Kurt let out a yell when he saw the oncoming traffic; Randy jerked to the side, skirting the other vehicles by inches. Never let up on the gas. Kurt stared at him. Randy wasn't even blinking, though little beads of sweat ran down his face.

"Randy, slow down, damn it! You'll kill us all!"

"Fuck that! They're not gonna stop me now. Not now. It's too damn close!"

His passengers hung on for dear life as the van swayed around yet another curve. Daryl, staring out the back window, saw with relief that the black van had slowed.

"Randy, they're slowing down! Let up! We can still lose them, just slow the hell down!"

Randy swept his gaze to the mirror. The van was losing ground, alright. He let up on the pedal minutely. He wasn't about to let them gain any ground again. Thirty minutes later they were pulling out of the hills, gaining the flat land of the LA outskirts. Trees gave away to industry. Traffic got heavier. He couldn't see the black van any more.

He looked around him. LA. He was so close now he could feel it. Feel it humming in his veins.

Home.