CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE

"Maggie?"

Maggie woke with a start, Murdock's face staring at her through the window of the van.

"Oh, good Lord, Murdock, you startled me!" She looked around. "Where's everyone else? Where's Face?"

"Hannibal and Frankie are waiting for me at a concession stand, along with three of the guys you were with. Haven't seen BA or the other guy yet."

"And Face?"

"Haven't seen him yet, Maggie."

"He's not well, Murdock. Not at all."

"Okay, Maggie, you follow me. Got the keys for that thing?"

She nodded and waited while Murdock climbed into the black van. He had to hot wire it; BA wouldn't be happy but he'd deal with that later. He didn't want to waste any time getting back to the guys. Just in case.

The two vehicles pulled into the parking area behind the concession stands just as Kurt came running out. He looked at the gray van, relief flowing over his face.

"Doc! We got trouble. Randy's down and I don't think Sam's doing very well, either. We have to get them out of here."

Kurt hurried back, as Maggie jumped out of the van and slid the side door open. He started issuing orders to the men waiting there.

"Smith! You and the kid get in your van. Daryl will ride with you. I'll bring Randy and Sam with me and the black dude in our van. Soon as we get them loaded in, head out. I want at least ten miles between us and this place. Then you find a motel. We're gonna have to hold up for a few days, so make it comfy. Got it?"

"Look, pal, I..."

Hannibal found himself staring into the barrel of Kurt's gun. "I don't have time for arguments, Smith. You do as you're told now. You can flash your birds around later."

Hannibal glared, but complied. This wasn't the time for a pissing contest. He nodded to Frankie and they moved quickly to the parking area. Daryl waited for BA and Randy and then herded them toward the gray van. Kurt moved to the front of the concession stand.

"Who's in charge here?"

A woman cam up to the counter. "I am. Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for a friend of mine. He was supposed to meet me here but I'm a little late...he..."

"Oh, you must be Sam's friend!" She smiled with relief. "He's really not feeling very well. I wanted to call an ambulance, but he didn't want me to. Come around to the side door."

Sam was still sitting in the back office, but he was pale and sweating. He barely opened his eyes when Kurt spoke to him.

"Sam, it's Kurt. We're going to leave now, find a motel to rest up. Can you make it out to the van?"

"If it means a bed, I can make it anywhere." He tried to smile but couldn't quite do it. "Randy?"

"He's with us, but he's not doing too good, either. Maggie's here, though, so it'll be okay. Now, let's get you out to the van."

A few minutes later, Sam was in the back of the gray van, Randy's head in his lap. He'd dismissed Maggie's attempts to check him over, insisting she worry only about Randy for now.

Kurt glanced at the black man sitting in the driver's seat.

"Okay, mister, let's get the hell out of here."


*****

"Dead? All dead?"

"Well, all but three, and they're out of commission."

Able 17 shook his head. This was not the way things were supposed to end. All those men dead. Killed like so many flies. The men who killed them, gone. He'd spoken to Captain Yarbro a few minutes ago. He was livid. He wanted Stockwell's head on a platter. There was no way he could keep this massacre out of the press, Stockwell had to do something, there would be an internal investigation, his job was on the line, and no way in hell would he spare more manpower to try and find that fucking van again...Able 17 shook his head. Yarbro wasn't the only one in deep shit.

John Clifton was not quite as upset as the Able. While not totally unfeeling, his people knew they were expendable. He was more disappointed in their performance than in their deaths. They shouldn't have been so complacent. Now he would have to report to Dr. Barish. It would not be pleasant, but Barish didn't have enough clout to get him fired.

He would have to reconsider his decision about Stockwell's supposed offer. It might be the opportune time for a career change. And he had a pretty good idea of how to make that offer legitimate.


*****

Stockwell leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, ruminating. It had been several hours since the debacle at Redondo. He had spoken to Able 17, to Captain Yarbro, even to John Clifton. Able 17 was demoralized, to say the least. He took the deaths and the failure of the mission very hard. Well, it wasn't the way Stockwell had hoped things would go, and he regretted the deaths, but it would be a learning experience for Able 17. He would have to take some lumps, career-wise, the others would expect that. But he was a good man. He would recover.

Yarbro was being a little more cooperative. No helicopters, no designated search, but his people were watching for both vans now. It grated on Stockwell, but he'd called in a few markers and the press was being told it was a gang-related matter. Of course, had they access to all the details they never would have accepted it, but there were always ways around that. Yarbro's job was safe, for the time being. Stockwell wanted him right where he was.

Clifton was another matter entirely. A man more in Stockwell's mold. Smart, calculating, and not averse to the messier side of life. It hadn't surprised Stockwell that Clifton realized the job offer was bogus. But the man also realized where his future lay. And he had the information to make him valuable to someone like Stockwell. The general smiled. The man was a good investment.

That left only a couple loose ends to deal with. The Team, for one. He was having more people flown in to deal with them. Stockwell had no intention of losing more people, but he wasn't about to let Smith just walk, either. Able 17 would not be in charge, this time. He would have someone who had dealt with the team before.

As to the other men, he was prepared to let them go. One had no connection to Stockwell to begin with, and he could care less what happened to him. The other two, well, they had never really been 'on board'. Chalk it up to experience. He would tighten up the criteria for hiring in the future.

That left Barish. Stockwell could just ignore him, have no further dealings with him. But something about Barish irritated Stockwell. From what Clifton had told him, he had managed to connive his way into a new facility, and had plans for continuing the experiment, trying to determine what went wrong, how to fix it. And he intended to have both Randy and Sam back in his grasp. That would not be in Stockwell's best interest. Not now.

Yes, Barish would have to go. It would be a good initiation for Clifton.