CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

October 11, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 9 Days

When Hannibal left the motel, he was feeling slightly more optimistic than he had earlier. Face was up, was stronger. That was good. Very good.

Okay, so the talk with the guys hadn't gone that well, but then it hadn't grown into a huge argument, as he'd been afraid of. And it was just the preliminary, really. Still, BA had gotten sullen, switching on the television and immersing himself in channel surfing, and Murdock...Hannibal grimaced. Murdock had asked one more time about that fucking report and Hannibal had reacted...badly. Reminding Murdock in strong language that he'd already said this wasn't the time for that. Which caused Murdock to flop down on the bed and glare at him as he left.

Not that he'd had to leave right then. Cleary had said it would be at least five before he could get to the bus station, but Hannibal figured it was just as well he got there early. Just in case the military had the guy under surveillance. Hannibal grimaced. He'd soon be as paranoid as Face if this kept up.

He pulled up a block from the terminal. He didn't like it. Open where he needed it hidden, blind when he needed to see; the whole damn Army could come rushing in before he could see them. And there wasn't a lot of activity so far. Which made the people who were there very...conspicuous.

Damn. If he didn't get his head screwed on right pretty damn quick, Face wouldn't be the only one he'd have to rescue.

He sat back in the seat, pulling out a cigar and watching the area around the lockers. He didn't look at his watch; he knew the doctor wouldn't be coming for another hour, at least. He frowned. Looked again at the terminal, the surroundings.

He started the van and pulled away, careful of anyone who might be following.

He grinned. What worked once would work twice.


****

"Damn!"

Both Murdock and Face started at the loud voice.

"What...?" Murdock looked as BA shoved his finger at the television. On the screen, photos were flashing by of Hannibal, BA, and Wiley. Murdock stared, open-mouthed, as a rough sketch of Face appeared.

"The whole damn country's gonna know who we are now!"

"But...why Wiley? He's..." Murdock stopped at the glare from BA.

" 'Cause they don't know he's gone, man! They think you're him." BA strode quickly to the window, searching for the van and Hannibal. "Damn! Damn! We gotta get ready to go, Murdock. Get everything packed up. Soon as Hannibal gets back, we're outta here. That desk clerk probably seen this already."

The two men immediately started gathering up their supplies. No one paid any attention to Face, who was still watching the news. He slipped to the foot of the bed, then moved to the chair BA had been sitting in. When the news finished, he reached for the remote, switching channels until he found the next news program. He stared, eyes narrowed, as each picture came on the screen, listening as the reporter described the kidnapping from the hospital.

And then the reporter started talking about Hannibal, BA and Wiley, and their escape from Fort Bragg...

Face sat up straight.


****

He stopped at the local KFC and picked up enough food for an army. He was feeling good. He'd picked up Dr Cleary shortly after he left the base, and listened, smiling, as the good doctor reamed him a new ass for once more putting the car in the ditch. Then he'd left with the doctor's private phone number and a small package of pills that, hopefully, would soon make his lieutenant's life a little easier.

Not to mention his own.

He drove through the streets, now growing darker as the sun set. Traffic was picking up as well, slowing his pace as he moved out of the city proper. He glanced at his watch. Almost six o'clock. His mouth was starting to water as the KFC smell spread over the van. He hoped Face would be able to eat something more solid tonight. If he took it easy, had some of that soup with it, he'd be fine. Be nice to have one peaceful evening.

Hannibal smiled. Tomorrow, if Face had a quiet night, they'd head for LA.


****

"Colonel Smith, along with sergeants Baracus and Parish, broke out of Fort Bragg nearly four and a half years ago. Reports were initially received that the three men were working with various mercenary groups. However, this rather spectacular appearance has taken military officials by surprise, as there have only been sporadic sightings over the last three years. FBI and Army spokesmen have stated they have no idea why Smith would want to kidnap Sergeant Hanson, or what Smith's plans are for the man, who is apparently without family or finances."

The broadcast moved on to other news, and Face sat back in the chair, ignoring the bustle going on around him. There was already too much in his head.

What had happened? They'd come back heroes. Why had Hannibal taken them down that path? Gotten them arrested? Worked for mercenaries? What had happened to the men he'd known?

Or had he? If he were honest, he didn't know them at all. Knew how to manipulate them. Knew how to work them. But he'd never gotten into that...bubble they had around themselves.

BA and Wiley had been with the colonel forever. Even Murdock had been flying for them before Face had come along. He'd never been taken into that...team. He knew it, no matter what he'd pretended. What if there were things about the robbery that Hannibal hadn't told him?

Maybe there was more to the robbery than he'd thought.

Maybe there was more to...that day in Laos than he'd thought.

He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate. The money. Hannibal hadn't ordered them to burn it, but Face knew he'd be disappointed if they hadn't. All of them knew that. And no one wanted to disappoint the colonel, let him down...He remembered the guilt when Hannibal found out about that small amount Face had kept back. The relief when Hannibal had said he understood.

The money. He'd seen the money burned. He'd seen it. Although...

He hadn't seen it stacked. He'd been down the mountain, on watch. Had just left his pack with BA. When he'd come back up, it had already been there, in the fire pit.

Only some of it, maybe? Had Hannibal been so 'understanding' because he'd done the same? Because he and Wiley and BA had really kept back some, maybe most, of the money? Only made it look like they'd burned it? Kept most of it, for the team? The team that Face was only on the periphery of?

That mix-up with the radio. Had that been the start of it? Was that when Hannibal had had enough, made his plans for them? With the only fly in the ointment being the one guy nobody trusted?

Was that why?

If he hadn't taken off for Dimitri, had Hannibal had other plans for him?

But then why come for him now?

Face looked at the television. Remembered what that reporter had said.

They hadn't come for him. They'd come looking for Kyle.

The last person to see Face alive.


****

Hannibal pulled up in front of the motel room, stepping out and looking back toward the office. Something was up. The manager had been at the window as he pulled into the parking lot, and had seemed to hesitate when Hannibal waved to him. Maybe he was just being paranoid, but then again...

He looked thoughtfully at the front of their room. It looked quiet. That didn't mean something hadn't happened earlier. Had Face done something? He hadn't thought about what to do if Face tried to leave. He should have. BA could stop him, but what would be the repercussions? He sighed. They'd have to talk about that.

He glanced back toward the office as he came around the back of the van. His eyes narrowed. Was that the manager, by the corner of the building? He left the KFC in the back seat and headed for the room. Before he even had hold of the doorknob, BA swung it open and practically dragged him inside.

"What the...?" He stared as Murdock pushed past him, carrying their duffels.

"We was all over the news, Hannibal. You, me...and Wiley." He jerked his head at Murdock.

"Face?"

"They had a drawing is all. Still callin him Hanson, but I don't know..."

"Yeah, the Army probably wouldn't say anything yet, even if they have ID'd him." He looked at the cleared room, Murdock putting the last of the grocery bags in the van. "Good job, guys. Let's get Face and get the hell out of here. That manager's probably called the MPs already."

"Yeah, well, that might be a problem, Colonel." Murdock had come back in, and now nodded toward the bathroom door. "I, uh, told him we were leaving soon, and gave him his old clothes to put on, in case we had to ditch the van, y'know." Murdock grimaced. "Uh, that was twenty minutes ago, and he won't come out."

"Won't?"

"Well, he doesn't answer. I mean, I'm sure he's okay, because there's nothing in there, you know? But..."

"Did he see the news?"

The guilty looks answered him. Shaking his head, he went over to the bathroom door. He had no idea what was going through Face's head right now. He had no idea what Face knew about them, or about what had happened. All he did know was he had to convince him they had to leave, and now. Unfortunately, he may have to play low and dirty to do it.

"Face?" He didn't expect an answer, and he didn't get one. "Face, look, I know we need to talk about a few things, but right now, we need to get out of here."

Silence. Hannibal sighed. Okay. Low and dirty.

"Face, if we don't leave now, there's a damn good chance the law is going to be here. And if they catch up with us, it means you go right back where you were. And if I'm not mistaken, that means facing felony charges and a long..."

The door opened suddenly, and Face stood there, pale and...damn it. For a split second, they looked straight at each other, then Face dropped his eyes. The kid was scared. Or desperate.

"Okay, let's hit the road."

Nobody said anything as they climbed into the van. Face hesitated a moment as he was getting in, then moved immediately to the back, settling into a little niche among the duffels and supplies, close to the window. Hannibal watched as he climbed in, noting that Face kept glancing at the roof. Whatever the hell that was about.

"Out the back, BA. Quietly."

That was the plan. A matching pair of unmarked vehicles pulling into the parking lot changed things. BA hit the gas, ramming his way between the two, leaving them in the way of the other four cars that had come in the front.

Ten minutes of running back and forth through residential streets and back alleys and Hannibal was satisfied they'd lost their pursuers. He directed BA to head east. The chances of running into a roadblock in that direction were slimmer. They'd head east, then circle north before turning towards LA.

Hannibal glanced once more to the back, frowning. Face had pushed himself as tightly in among the duffels and other supplies as he could, encased, as it were, on three sides.

He couldn't have had a more defensible position.


****

The food was cold by the time anyone thought to eat, but it was food. Murdock handed a plastic plate back to Face, but Face studiously ignored him, staring out through the window. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Murdock set it on the floor of the van in front of Face before turning back around in his seat. Face let it sit for several minutes, and then carefully reached down, plucking a chicken leg from the plate, and withdrawing again into his enclosure.

He ate slowly, even though he was very hungry. His stomach still gave a lurch now and then, plus he wasn't quite sure he trusted the food itself. Any more than he trusted the men he was with. He still had to figure that out, and so far, it wasn't looking good.

Had he his preferences, he would've stayed locked in that bathroom until they'd have no choice but to leave him. That had been his plan. But once again, his weakness betrayed him. The thought of going back to that hospital, or jail afterwards...

He finished the chicken, ignored the soggy salad, and quickly ate the two rolls on the plate. It was enough for now. He closed his eyes, still listening to the sounds in the van, but concentrating on what he was going to do next.

It wasn't as easy to get out of Mobile as Hannibal had apparently thought. Face knew that going east there were only two roads that crossed the bay. Both were blocked. They headed north, taking secondary roads, residential streets. Hannibal kept saying the authorities couldn't cover every exit. After a couple of hours, it seemed they could. Every road they took led to a highway saturated with police. Face could tell by the sudden stops and starts that BA was getting frustrated, angry. He sighed, and moved up so he could see through the windshield.

"Take a left."

All three men looked at him, but Hannibal nodded to BA.

"Head east, as far as you can go."

Face moved back to his spot, and watched out the side window. BA drove for several miles before pulling to the side of the road. Up ahead, they could barely make out more flashing lights.

"So?"

Again Face moved toward the front, then suddenly pulled the side door open and jumped out. Murdock started to follow, and Hannibal's door was partway open when Face turned back and looked at them.

"Follow me in the van."

Without another word, Face turned and moved down through the shallow ditch and up into the woods beyond. He knew this place. Had found it shortly after leaving that place Cleary had sent him. He stayed here, moving gradually along the creek bed, living off the land until he had found his way out of the city entirely.

It was rough, but passable, even for the van.

Just past the tree line, he stopped, waiting. He knew they would be arguing about following him. He'd wait, see if they believed him or if they came after him on foot. He could take off now, easily lose them either way, but he wouldn't. Wouldn't leave them to be caught by the authorities. He had never betrayed the colonel.

That was the difference between them.


****

BA was mumbling as he peered ahead. He'd had to turn off the headlights some time ago, and was steering only by watching Face and some glimmers of moonlight through the trees. A couple of times he'd been sure they were going to bottom out, but then he'd see the impatient look from Face and Hannibal, and plowed ahead. So far, the LT seemed to know what he was doing.

So far.

After what seemed like hours, they came out into a clearing. Face was up ahead a few yards, watching them, but not moving. Silently, he pointed to the side, behind them. The three men climbed stiffly out of the van and looked. Far away in the distance the faint reflection of flashing lights in the sky.

Ahead of them - nothing but darkness.

Hannibal, grinning, was walking toward Face. BA just shook his head, watching as Murdock followed behind, laughing. So everything was just fine and dandy, now, was it?

Until Face took a step back. Hannibal slowed his walk, coming to a stop, and Murdock stopped laughing. BA moved slowly forward, stopping when he came up beside Hannibal. Face hadn't moved again, but he was glancing at the woods only a few yards away.

"Face?" Hannibal spoke calmly. "You did a great job, kid. But we need to get going, before things get hot again."

Face kept watching them. Hannibal took a step forward; Face took a step toward the woods.

"Face, you don't want to take off. You don't want to go back to living like you were. You know that." Hannibal took another step; Face didn't. "There's nothing here for you, not any more. They'll be hunting you now, just like they're hunting us." Step. "Come back with us, Face."

Face took one more look at the woods, and slowly, almost cautiously, began walking back toward the van, although giving the others wide berth. Hannibal held the others back with a quick motion, and they followed at a discreet distance.

"Hannibal, how we sposed to take care of him if he's gonna be tryin to bolt every time we ain't right next to him?"

Hannibal's voice was impatient. "He's still skittish, BA. He's had as much dumped on him the last couple days as we have. Give him time."

BA shook his head. "Man, I hope you know what you're doin."

By the time they climbed back into the van, Face was firmly ensconced in the back of the van. Back in position.

Neither man realized that, softly as they had spoken, their voices had been heard.


****

October 12, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 10 Days

They drove the rest of the night, again staying off major highways and skirting even the smaller cities. Hannibal kept glancing to the back, thankful that both Murdock and Face were apparently sleeping. Just before dawn, they pulled into a truck stop. Hannibal debated for a moment as to whether they should get takeout, then decided they all needed a break from the van.

Face hesitated as they walked in the door, then, seemingly reassured to see only a few truckers seated at the counter, made his way determinedly to the booth closest to the back. He sat facing the entrance, and Hannibal noticed the frown when Murdock sat down beside him, on the aisle.

"Uh, Murdock..." Hannibal made a little twisting motion with his fingers, and luckily, Murdock picked up on it.

"Hey, Face, you wanna switch places with me? Then the waitress won't be tripping over my feet." He grinned as he stood, waiting for Face.

Face was startled at the sudden move, but slid out of the booth, giving Hannibal a quick glance. Once again seated, he picked at the edge of the table, not looking at anyone at the table, or in the restaurant.

Murdock was apparently completely refreshed after his sleep, and kept up a constant monologue, handing out menus, discussing the various choices. Cheerful and smiling. Hannibal thought maybe a little too cheerful, but he decided not to put the brakes on it. Not yet, anyway. Anyone who didn't know Murdock wouldn't notice. To them, he would just be another happy-go-lucky guy.

"What are you having, Face? I think I'm going with that flapjack special. With strawberries. Haven't had strawberries for a long time. How about you?"

Face just shrugged. He hadn't even opened the menu yet. Hannibal frowned, and leaned slightly forward.

"Are you okay, Face? Do you feel up to eating?"

Face squirmed but nodded his head, and opened the menu. Hannibal still wasn't satisfied, but let it go. He looked over at BA, who was watching Face closely, then at Murdock, who was running his finger up and down the menu items, over and over.

Hannibal was getting a bad feeling.

The waitress came over just then. Young. Pretty. Smiling. Chipper for so early in the morning.

"What would you-all like this morning?"

Southern charmer, all right. Hannibal smiled, gave his order, followed by BA, who even managed to be civil to the girl. Murdock rattled off his order next, then looked expectantly at Face.

Face didn't say anything, but Hannibal could see eyes flicking back and forth across the menu. He licked his lips and glanced up at the others, then quickly back down at the menu.

"Uh, how about the flapjacks, Face? Like Murdock's having?"

Face nodded, quickly, and slumped back against the booth. Hannibal could've kicked himself. After everything Cleary and Jenny had told them, he should've known Face would have trouble here. Too many people, too close quarters, too many choices. He could practically see the overload building.

Hannibal sent a frown Murdock's direction, and he quieted down, some. There was another one. Too much happening, too many emotions, too many unknowns. Hannibal knew he and BA would have to switch off driving. The sooner these two got to LA, the better for all concerned.

The meal was brought quickly, one of the benefits of a truck stop. Even BA looked impressed at the quantity, and for a while there was nothing to worry about except trying to get through it all. Hannibal kept an eye on Face, who seemed to have no problems eating. Which didn't surprise Hannibal. It had been a while since he'd eaten anything of substance.

Hannibal was starting to relax again by the time the waitress had cleared their plates and handed over their check. She gave them a sweet smile before moving on to her next customers. Murdock grinned at her, then looked at Face.

"Now that would make it worth staying a while, huh, Face?" He nudged him conspiratorially.

Face immediately shoved away, practically falling out of the booth before he got his balance. But he stayed up, and moved for the door. Murdock stared after, mouth open in dismay. Hannibal stood and dropped his wallet on the table.

"Take care of the bill, BA."

Hannibal hurried outside, afraid Face would be long gone, and his heart rammed his chest when he didn't see him. Then he slid open the door of the van, and Face was there, in the back. In his sanctuary.

"You okay, kid?"

Nod.

"Murdock didn't mean anything, Face. He's just...a little hyper this morning."

No response.

Damn, again. Face didn't know about Murdock. Hell, Face didn't know about any of them. How the hell could he be expected to understand?

"Face, I'm sorry about all of this. I know it has to be confusing as hell. But we'll get it straightened out, once we get back to LA, get settled. But in the meantime, if things get a little rocky for you, let me know, okay? Just...let me know."

Another nod, but Face didn't look up.

Hannibal watched him for another moment. What the hell is going on in that head of yours, kid? And how do I get in?

It was a much subdued group of men who drove away from the truck stop. They had a long way to go.