CHAPTER FIFTY TWO

"Who's Face?"

Frankie got a sick feeling in his stomach. This guy didn't know who Face was? He was going to die because they'd been chasing a bunch of strangers all over? Shit.

"Who is 'Face'?" Pressure in his back.

Frankie sighed. "Face is a friend we've been trying to track down for months. We thought he died, but he didn't. We thought he was with you guys; that's why we've been following you."

"This 'Face' have a real name?"

"Yeah, Templeton Peck. Lieutenant Templeton Peck. He's part of the A-Team."

Frankie felt himself jerked around to face his captor. The look of shock, mixed with suspicion, took Frankie by surprise.

"The A-Team? Your friend is part of the A-Team? And you think he's with us? Why?"

"That's what we were told. Look, it's a long story..."

"Okay, okay. Who told you he was with us?"

"We think it was a woman who works for our boss. Our former boss. General Stockwell."

"Stockwell!?" Alarm in the voice. "Who was the woman?"

"A woman named Carla." No mistake there. That shook the guy bad. "Like I said, it's a long story. Look, man, we don't want to shoot you guys, or turn you in, or anything like that, okay? We thought Face was with you, and we wanted him back, that's all."

Frankie watched the guy studying him. There was doubt in his eyes, and a frown on his face. Frankie still wasn't sure if he was going to get a bullet or not.

"Okay. You come with me. And behave yourself. We're going to have more company coming and I'm not going to waste my energy watching you and them, got it? Cause trouble and you're history."

"Hey, I'm a pussycat, man."

"Yeah, well, you better have more than that in you, kid, or we're both dead. Now move."


*****

Murdock walked just in front of his captor. They were heading back the way they had come, but frequently the man would push the gun into his back and head him in another direction - moving off the boardwalk, backtracking, occasionally stopping at an exhibit or concession. Slowly they were making their way south.

"Uh, could I at least get a name for you?"

"Kurt."

"Mine's Murdock." He cast a small grin back, but Kurt was all business. Murdock really wanted to find out more about this Randy, but didn't dare ask. Kurt obviously thought Randy was the friend Murdock was looking for, and the pilot wasn't about to dissuade him of that. Not yet. If the only way to Face was through Randy, he'd muddle through, somehow. Right now, Kurt's main concern seemed to be eluding the other guys, who were starting to become quite obvious.

Murdock had been aware of the Ables circulating for some time. He knew Kurt was watching them, too, and he couldn't help but wonder if they would be sharing the fate Kurt had earlier planned for him. He understood now that these guys were not playing by the same rules the team was. These guys were playing for keeps. So where did that leave Face?

"Move." Kurt shoved him a little harder to one side, stepping off the boardwalk once again. They moved quickly between two concessions. Murdock could feel the tension flowing from the other man.

"Problem?"

Kurt gave him a quick, searing glance. "Don't act so innocent. If you know Stockwell, you know how he operates. You know about his organization." Kurt was once again watching the crowd. Murdock followed his gaze, and saw two men moving in their general direction. He didn't think they'd actually seen them yet. If he hadn't been dealing with Stockwell's men for these many months, he would've thought they were just businessmen taking a break on the boardwalk.

"What do you want to do with them? Kill them? Like you were going to kill me?"

Kurt glared at him. "It's not like they've given us a choice, you know. Stockwell's not exactly forgiving when it comes to people he considers traitors to him, and the other guy is worse."

"Worse than Stockwell?" Murdock found that hard to believe. He was also curious about the traitor remark. This guy had worked for Stockwell?

"Who the hell do you think did that to Randy? Santa Claus?" Kurt glared out at the approaching men. "Sick son of a bitch..."

Murdock could only look at Kurt, a sick sinking feeling beginning to form in his stomach. What had been done to this Randy, and what kind of people were the team really going up against? And what had Face to do with all of this?


*****

Hannibal was more than just mortified. He was angry and frustrated with himself. How the hell could he have lost him just like that? Granted, he'd been trying to talk to Frankie without drawing attention to himself, but shit! He had to find him. Hannibal was positive that the rest of the men would be coming to this guy. No way they would expect him to walk around, dodging Stockwell's people. They would be coming to him and Hannibal had to be there.

Okay, stop and think. He'd been on the radio for what, 30 seconds? 45? Not enough time for anyone to disappear just by walking away. Plenty of time to hide. Hannibal looked carefully at the surroundings. Four concession stands, a short row of port-a-potties, and people. With distasteful frown, Hannibal headed for the port-a-potties. Rule out the obvious first.

Minutes later, he shoved the door shut on the last of them. No one behind them, either. He'd kept a sharp eye on the boardwalk while checking; no sign of him there. A quick look between the concessions proved fruitless. Hannibal wandered back to the boardwalk. Started watching the concessions.

He was looking. Looking for that one person. That one type of person.


*****

BA was moving quickly away from the boardwalk and the body lying on it. He was careful not to make too much of a fuss getting through the crowd. Most people were moving toward the body (ghoulish curiosity abounding), so anyone moving away now could attract attention. The killer had been far enough away when the woman had realized what she had bumped into that no one had given him a second look. BA looked for the murdered man's partner. Find him, and BA could follow him to the killer.

BA had gone several yards when he heard the sirens coming. It took every ounce of will power not to succumb to years of practice and take off for the van. He had a job to do. He had found the dead man's partner and was moving up on him. He also noted at least two others moving steadily ahead. He watched them silently signaling each other. discreet. Very discreet. Their prey must be close. BA moved up closer.

At the same time he caught sight of the killer up ahead of him, he saw the other three men start moving in, one from each side, one from the back. BA started walking more quickly, acting on instinct. He had to. Inside his head there were too many conflicts. The man he was supposed to follow, and, by inference, protect, was a cold stone killer. He should just let these three goons take him. But Hannibal wanted this guy, wanted him safe. And somehow he knew that if he didn't intercede, there would be more dead bodies. If BA took out the Ables first, he'd probably be saving their lives. The trick would be doing it quickly enough, quietly enough.

Watching the two men on the sides carefully, he moved in on the man at the rear.


*****

Sam felt a hand settle softly on his shoulder and woke with a start. He sat up abruptly, immediately wishing he hadn't. He closed his eyes against the swimming room and a quiet groan escaped.

"I'm so sorry, are you alright?"

"Uh, yeah, I just need to clear my head a bit." He tried to sit up, but another wave of dizziness struck and he slumped back down.

"Look, maybe I should call your doctor. Or get an ambulance."

"No, no, please. I'll be fine. I'm sorry to bother you. Just...just give me a few minutes and I'll get out of your hair."

"That's not what I meant. I'm not trying to get rid of you, I just don't want you getting worse." The woman looked down on him, frowning deeply. "Is there some reason you don't want me to call anyone?"

"Huh? Uh, no, I..." Sam had to think fast. He didn't want to have to move from this safe haven. He was wishing like hell that Maggie had given him another dose of those antibiotics. A heavier painkiller wouldn't have been bad, either. Time to pull another rabbit out the hat. He smiled sheepishly up at her. "Actually, my doctor didn't want to discharge me this early. And he'd have a fit if he knew I'd come out here just to meet my friends. But, I just don't like hospitals. And I haven't seen these guys for a long time, and..."

"Okay, okay..." She had that exasperated kind of smile on her face. "I just don't want you keeling over. You stay as long as you want - or at least until we close up. Can I get you something to eat, or drink?"

"Some coffee, maybe? I'm not really hungry right now..."

She smiled and moved toward the kitchen area. Sam watched her. Maybe he'd been wrong. She was more than just pretty, actually...


*****

Randy hadn't thought twice when the man had poked the gun in his back. In fact, he hadn't really thought at all. He'd automatically made the swift turn, the lightning jab to the throat. And then just walked away. Always just walk away. No muss, no fuss. By the time anyone realized something was wrong, he was gone, just another tourist enjoying the beach. He heard the woman scream behind him, and felt the crowd falter for a moment. He took note of it, then forgot it. Refocused. Started scanning the crowd for his friends again.

The sun was getting higher and higher, the temperature rising rapidly. Randy felt the heat, felt his shirt clinging wetly to his skin. The buzzing was back in his head. It was all he could do to keep going. He would've liked to stop, get some water, anything wet, but he forged ahead. Enough time for that once he'd found his friends.

He took a quick glance around him, seeing that guy's partner off to the side. Making some kind of hand signal. He looked to his right. Okay, new guy. He looked ahead again, resuming his search. He wanted to get this over with. Where were they? They were supposed to be here.

He heard a slight scuffle behind him. Another quick look. Some black dude had run into...a third man. Damn. He hadn't noticed that one. That shook him. He couldn't afford to slack off that way. He could lose everything fucking up like that. Damn. His heart started pounding harder again. Shit. Shit. Shit.

He looked back again. Quickly. The two men were moving off to the side, the black guy with his arm around the other man's shoulders. The man was slumped down. Odd. So odd...

He started scanning his surroundings more frequently. Watching the two remaining men. They were starting to move in on him. Okay. That's okay. He could handle them. They couldn't get in his way. They wouldn't. He had to find his friends. They wouldn't wait forever. He had to hurry. Another survey of the land. It was looking more and more familiar to him. He shook his head. Something not right. Too many bushes. This was a beach. A beach. He looked again. Plants growing up from the ground as he watched. No way. No way.

He looked to his left. That black guy again. Man, he was clumsy. No. No. Not clumsy. Randy saw him hit the guy in the stomach. Quick jab. Real quick. The man went down, slowly, the black guy holding onto him, like they were just going to take a break. Who was he? Why... Look to the right. Guy was close. Too close. Moving faster. Get ready. No way they were going to stop him. Not now. He had come so far. He had to find them. Had to.

Felt the guy moving up on him. Saw him pulling at his pocket. That's okay. Okay. Ready. A few more steps and the guy was history. He shook his head, trying to get the sweat out of his eyes. Damn. Sidestepped suddenly, trying not to step on the huge plant that shot out of the boardwalk in front of him. Surprised the guy coming up on him. Bumped into some woman beside him. She pushed him. Damn. Looked for the guy. Looked for the gun. Where was he? That black guy there instead. Staring at him. No, glaring at him. Like he was dirt. Fuck you, man.

Eyes ahead. His friends. Where the hell were they? Have to find them. Have to find them now.

Have to.