CHAPTER FIFTY THREE

They walked south on the boardwalk. Frankie was keeping quiet, totally out of his element. He'd thought things got hairy working with Johnnie. Man, that was a piece of cake compared to this. He stole a look at the man walking beside him. His face was impassive, but his eyes were darting all over the place. He caught Frankie's glance.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Uh, Frankie. Frankie Santana."

"Okay, Frank. I'm Daryl. You ever killed anyone?"

"God, no!"

"Then stay out of the way. Follow my lead, keep your eyes open for interference."

Frankie looked wide-eyed at Daryl, but Daryl was now watching a man who was walking towards them. To Frankie, the new man looked totally harmless. Just some guy taking in the ocean air. Obviously, Daryl thought otherwise. He started moving off the boardwalk, into a sea of surfboards stacked in the sand. Frankie stayed just a step behind him, watching in dismay as the other guy also stepped off the boardwalk, very casually.

Daryl kept moving steadily away from the boardwalk, away from the crowd. They met a few surfers, retrieving or stacking their boards, but they were there and gone, hardly a glance exchanged. Frankie kept watching the man from the boardwalk. He was moving more deliberately toward them now. Remembering what Daryl had said, Frankie started looking around for anyone else that didn't seem to belong.

"Ok, Frank. Wait here."

Frankie stopped short, puzzled. Daryl kept moving, drawing the other man toward him. And then he just disappeared among the surfboards. Frankie was in awe. It was like magic. Seconds later he wasn't so sure it was a good thing. 'Boardwalk Man', after a moment's hesitation, was now moving in Frankie's direction.

Frankie looked frantically in the direction Daryl had gone, but there was still no sign of him. He'd been told to stay put, but shit...He started, very slowly, moving away from the man, away from Daryl's direction. He examined the surfboards as he moved, trying not to show that he'd seen the man coming toward him. He moved slowly, hoping Daryl would show up. Soon.

It was over before he knew it. 'Boardwalk Man' was almost on top of him when he suddenly stopped, a look of surprise on his face. Very slowly he sank down to the sand, revealing Daryl standing behind him.

"C'mon, Frank, we got people to meet." Daryl's voice was calm, but there was something in his eyes.

They left the man leaning against a surfboard. Frankie stole a look at him as they walked by, and saw the blood seeping from the exact center of his back. Frankie stumbled, nearly falling. Daryl just kept walking.

"Hey, did you have to kill him? I mean, the team, they'd'a just knocked him out and called the cops..."

"I don't have that luxury, Frank. IF the cops even showed up, they'd let him go and I'd have to deal with him all over again." Daryl stopped, looked Frankie in the eye. "We're in a different ballgame here, Frank. I'm not Robin Hood and this isn't fucking Sherwood Forest. These guys have one goal - kill us. Not capture us, not collect a reward. These aren't petty criminals, these are trained professionals. We're sending a message to their boss, Frank. And it's gotta come across loud and clear. Now come on. We've got people to meet."

Walking through the forest of surfboards, they stopped a few minutes later. Frankie looked around, fearing he was about to witness yet another execution. Instead, he saw Daryl carefully studying a row of concession stands on the other side of the boardwalk. And his heart leaped when he saw a familiar head of silver hair.


*****

Kurt put his hand back, pressing on Murdock's chest.

"Move back. Slow. They're splitting up." Kurt moved with Murdock behind the building. "I'll take this guy. You watch the corner; the other one'll be coming from there." Kurt turned and handed Murdock the gun he'd confiscated earlier. "These guys are killers. Remember that."

"I'm not. Remember that." Kurt merely turned back to wait for his man. Murdock moved to the far corner, listening. He really wasn't sure what was going to happen now. Kurt's man would end up dead and there was nothing Murdock could do about that. His own man would be disabled; whether Kurt would leave him like that...

Any further musings were lost when Murdock heard movement around the corner. His man was coming. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kurt tense. This was it. Almost simultaneously the two attackers swung around the corners of the building. Murdock swung his gun up with all his strength, hitting his man under the chin; the man dropped like a rock. He turned to help Kurt, but it was unnecessary. His man already lay on the ground, eyes open, still. Murdock watched, helpless, as Kurt stepped over to the second attacker.

"He dead?"

"No, and it's gonna stay that way." Murdock stood protectively beside the body.

Kurt looked at him for a moment. Nodded his head.

"Okay, head out. We've got a rendezvous to make." Murdock hesitated only a moment. Kurt stared at him. "You want to meet your friend, or join these two?"

Not much choice there. Murdock reluctantly stepped around the corner and moved toward the boardwalk. It took a moment before Kurt was beside him again, and Murdock knew. He could not believe that Face was with these people willingly. He glared at Kurt, who ignored him.

Kurt knew this guy hated his guts. He wasn't feeling that great about himself, either. If this Murdock thought he was enjoying this killing game, he was sadly mistaken. Kurt would have done anything to let these guys live, but he couldn't. He'd searched the first man after breaking his neck, and he hadn't been an Able. It confirmed what they had thought before. This was a cleanup crew. It wouldn't do any good to tell Murdock. He didn't know where Murdock had come in contact with Stockwell, but he was definitely not a former Able. If he said he wouldn't kill, he wouldn't.

He started moving south along the boardwalk. They'd spent too much time on these people. They had to get to the meeting point. He was worried about Sam, and about Randy. He wasn't concerned about Daryl; he knew how to take care of himself. But neither of the other two were up to this kind of thing. And he was uptight about this Murdock character, too. What if Randy didn't know him? What if he was bringing in a Trojan horse?

Kurt looked at Murdock. No. That was definitely not some secret weapon. He sighed. They were close now to the meeting point. He'd know soon enough.


*****

Hannibal stepped cautiously toward the concession. He'd been watching these three men for a few minutes now. They were getting just a little too close. They'd started with the stand at the south end. One man went around toward the back, returning a moment later, a minute shake of his head signaling to the others. The second man watched the boardwalk, joined then by the first. The third man began chatting up the help at the counter. He spoke with several, each of them listening for a few minutes before shaking their head. The man then moved to the next stand.

This wasn't good. He'd already decided where his man was hiding. He'd watched the woman in charge go into the back of the stand several times. She'd taken a cup of coffee back the first time, but had returned almost immediately without it. Despite the number of customers coming and going, she'd managed to step to the back several times, each time coming back out with a frown on her face. Something, someone, was in the back, and there was a problem with them.

It wouldn't be long before the men in front reached the stand where she worked. He could almost hear the line they would give her. And she would believe them, he had no doubt. She looked like the kind of person who was too honest to be suspicious of others. Hannibal looked around the area. He didn't know where the rest of team was, and that bothered him for a couple of reasons. One, he hadn't been in touch with any of them; no one was answering their radio. Two, it had been some time since they had taken off in pursuit of the others, and someone should be coming by now. He had a very bad feeling that things had not gone smoothly and it was not a good time for the team to be split up.

He was now just across the boardwalk from the third concession stand. He knew at least one set of eyes had been looking at him. He couldn't be sure, but he didn't think the guy was one of Stockwell's. He was trying to figure out how to draw their attention away when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't move, Colonel."

Murdock. Thank God.

"I've got a friend with me, Colonel. He's, uh, kinda nervous about this."

"I can understand that, Captain." Hannibal didn't turn around, kept watching the stands. "We're all a little stressed. I have three people over here that are getting a little close for comfort myself."

"We've got reinforcements coming. Frankie and friend are moving this way. Any idea where we should be going?"

"Your buddy doesn't know?"

Murdock's hand left his shoulder. Another man moved up, just to Hannibal's side.

"We're supposed to meet around here. Those three are the only ones left. We take them out, we're home free."

"Take them out?"

The new man sighed. "Just keep your mouth shut and let me do my job, mister. You and your friends are in enough trouble as it is."

Hannibal was about to retort when Frankie stopped a few feet away. He looked kinda green. His companion nodded to the man beside Hannibal, then looked at the other three.

Hannibal hazarded a glance at the other man. "Look, I don't know who you guys are, but I think the one you're meeting is inside that last stand. If we keep standing around in this little coffee clutch, our friends over there are going to get the goods before we do. We're already attracting attention."

Hannibal received a sharp look from Murdock's partner.

"Okay, everybody start moving to the back of that stand. Might as well give these guys something to look at. Once we get them out of sight of the crowd, my partner and I will take care of the rest." He looked hard at Hannibal. "I understand you people are pacifists, so just look the other way."

"Now, wait a minute..."

"Listen, 'Colonel', I'm only gonna say this once. You stay out of the way, because if you don't you'll be joining these other three clowns. I'm through fucking around."

Hannibal looked at Murdock and Frankie. He didn't worry about himself or Murdock; Frankie was another matter. He wouldn't stand a chance against these guys. And with the other three to contend with...

Hannibal sighed, regretfully, and led his men toward the back of the concession stand. He shrugged at Murdock as they turned over their weapons.

It was over in a few minutes. Kurt and Daryl had Murdock and Frankie move the bodies behind the garbage cans, hidden from view. Hannibal watched, anger and disgust radiating. He glared at Kurt.

"Happy now?"

Kurt returned the glare.

"'Happy', Colonel? No, I'm not 'happy'. You go ahead and act sanctimonious if you want, but maybe it's time you faced reality. I saw those helicopters and I'm sure you did, too. Those were LAPD, Colonel. The police, tracking us for Stockwell. You really think it would have done any fucking good to tie these guys up and turn them over to the law? Do you have any idea who would have shown up instead of the police? More goons like these.

"Now, the kid says you're looking for some guy named Peck, and that Carla told you he was with us. And Murdock claims you're looking for a friend of yours, also supposed to be with us. Well, neither of us is the guy you're looking for, so it's either Sam or Randy. If Sam's inside, he's safe enough there and that's where he's gonna stay. So we're gonna wait right here for Randy. And you better hope to hell one of them knows who you guys are..."