CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO

June 21, 1977

6 Years, 4 Months, 19 Days

Hannibal was watching him again.

Murdock expected that. Yeah. And Hannibal would want an explanation. He knew the take-off had been a little rocky. And he knew Murdock was a little more hyper than usual as they touched down in Costa Rica.

He didn't know they could've gone belly down at any second.

Okay, so Murdock hadn't meant to cut the colonel off in mid-sentence, but he needed to get out of there. Before questions could be asked. Before answers were demanded that he just... just couldn't answer. So he'd cut him off, told him he had to get things on the ground squared away. He wasn't really worried about the refueling - the tower had assured him that would be ready to go as soon as he landed. But he hadn't asked them about a mechanic. Hell, no - not with Hannibal sitting right there beside him. So as soon as he turned off the engines, Murdock bolted out of his seat, called his excuses, and hurried to the tower. He was sure the mechanic could have whatever was wrong fixed in the time it took to refuel.

It couldn't be anything major, after all. They had landed okay... just okay, but...

No. Nothing major.

But he'd gotten Hannibal's attention all right. And much as he would have preferred to wait at the base of the tower for the mechanic to show up, he had to supervise the refueling. No pilot, crazy or not, left that to blind trust. He tried to be casual but professional in his demeanor as he approached the plane. He walked past Hannibal and over to the tanker crew, again ignoring Hannibal's attempt to talk to him. He knew Hannibal wouldn't follow - not yet, anyway. He'd let Murdock do his pilot thing in that 'mysterious world' of aviation that Murdock had cultivated back in Nam. None of the guys had ever seriously questioned his abilities or knowledge back then, even after that crash that left them in the POW camp. They'd trusted him then and it was important that they trusted him now. If he screwed this up...

Then the mechanic showed up and almost immediately Hannibal moved closer to the plane. All right, all right. No problem. It probably just needed a little adjustment. Maybe a loose wire. Nothing major. Quick fix and they'd be up in the air, right on schedule. No problem, Colonel.

"Murdock?"

Murdock sighed. Well, he'd done pretty well lying to Hannibal about Face - what was another little white lie?

"Yeah, Hannibal?"

"Is there something wrong with the plane?" Hannibal didn't look suspicious - concerned maybe, but not suspicious.

"Oh, well, just a little electrical problem. The landing gear indicators were a bit wonky, probably from that, uh, earlier landing." He glanced over at the mechanic, who was absorbed in his inspection. "I just wanted them to check it out - don't need false readings screwing with my head right now, know what I mean?" He smiled sheepishly, shamelessly hoping Hannibal would take that I-feel-guilty-enough-don't-upset-Murdock-any-more attitude.

He did.

"Hey, you're doing great, Murdock. I have to admit I was a little... concerned when Face brought you along, but you've really shown you're ready for this." Hannibal smiled - a little forced, to Murdock's eye - and clapped him on the back. "Let us know when we can take off."

Murdock watched as Hannibal strode toward BA, who was stretching behind the plane, getting the kinks out. In the distance Murdock could see the security chief coming around the corner of the tower, followed by two of his men. Probably getting ready to report to Santiago. Or maybe that Amon fellow himself. Murdock sighed. Let Hannibal deal with that. He had enough on his -

"Senor?"

He looked over at the mechanic and his heart sank.

Nobody looked like that when there was good news...

*****

BA kept pacing, watching the approach of the security guards from the corner of his eye. Just from the way that head guy was walking, BA knew there was trouble. Officers always had that look when they were getting ready to lower the boom. Even Hannibal.

As if on cue, Hannibal walked over, chewing on an unlit cigar. He narrowed his eyes as he, too, watched the security detail coming closer.

"Santiago?"

BA shook his head. "You know what that means, Hannibal. The deal's gone to hell."

"Now, BA, don't borrow trouble. I'm sure the heat's on - everybody knew that would happen. But Fiedler's contacts are solid."

"Yeah, right." BA shook his head, folding his arms over his chest as the security chief came to a halt several feet away. Hannibal smiled pleasantly.

"Good evening, Captain."

"Senor, I'm afraid I will have to ask you to leave."

"Uh, well, that was the plan, Captain. Right after we've refueled. I thought Senor Amon had - "

"Things have changed." The captain glanced back at the two men behind him, nodding. They moved toward the plane as the security chief turned back to Hannibal. He lowered his voice. "The Argentine government knows that you are Americans but they are claiming the kidnapping was orchestrated by the United States with Israel."

"And I suppose they're also claiming our 'guest' is not a Nazi."

"Of course - an American/Israeli witch hunt. Until the newspapers prove he is - then they will claim ignorance. But already there are international rumblings - all airports are on alert. So far, no one here knows where you went or where you came from - but the timing..."

"Yeah, understood. The thing is, we can't get to a friendly airport on fumes. My pilot says it takes an hour to refuel. Surely you can give us that much time."

The security chief hesitated. Even BA knew he was thinking about Amon, and couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him. Caught between a rock and a hard place. If the team were discovered here, he'd be picking up dog shit in the local park. If he forced them to leave with inadequate fuel and they either crashed or got arrested at another airport, he'd be facing the wrath of some very powerful people.

"Very well. As soon as the refueling is complete, you will leave. In the meantime, you stay with the plane. In fact, you stay in the plane. The fewer people who see you, the better. Do you understand?"

Hannibal nodded, and without another word, the captain turned on his heel and walked away. His two men, however, stayed by the plane. There was no mistaking their intent - hands were on their holsters, glaring at Hannibal and BA.

"Okay, BA, you heard the man."

"Yeah, great. I was sposed to spell Face - and he ain't in the best of moods already. That Neumann bastard's been talking to him, no matter how many times we tell him to shut up; I think he's trying to get Face to see the light."

"Then it's a good thing we're all confined to the plane, isn't it?" Hannibal smiled calmly.

BA gave him a warning glare as he headed back to the plane. Sometimes the colonel was just too damn confident about Face's progress.

Way too confident.

*****

Hannibal watched as BA trudged unhappily up the steps into the plane. It was supposed to be intimidating, having both Face and BA back there. He didn't like the idea of Neumann talking to Face. Intimidated meant quiet. Defeated.

Ignoring BA - that was stupidity. Or arrogance. The old Aryan superiority asserting itself once again. Talking to Face could be desperation. And if BA was reading Face right, Neumann was achieving just the opposite of what he hoped to.

Neumann didn't know about Harry.

He turned, walking brusquely back toward Murdock. The security guard tensed as he came close; Hannibal smiled and pointed toward his pilot. The guard relaxed. A little.

Yeah, the sooner they were out of here and back in LA, the better.

Murdock was talking to that mechanic, looking up, startled, as Hannibal came over.

Shit.

Murdock looked pale, almost... scared.

"What's going on, Murdock?"

"Uh, well... we, uh, we got a little problem, Hannibal." He looked at the mechanic, who shrugged. "There's a bit of a mechanical problem with the right landing gear."

"A bit?" Hannibal clamped down a little harder on his cigar. "Just what constitutes a bit?"

Murdock swallowed. "Well, this fella figures he can have the new part here by tomorrow afternoon."

For a long moment, Hannibal looked at Murdock. A dozen scenarios ran through his head at lightning speed - none of which ended in anything but big trouble.

"We don't have until tomorrow afternoon. See those two fellas with the uniforms and sidearms? If we don't leave when this buggy is done refueling, we're going to have a nice little trip back to Argentina, courtesy of the Costa Rican government."

"We can't - we can't do that, Hannibal! We take off before that gear is fixed, we can't land in LA."

"Can't?"

"Well, we can, but... but the gear may not work. No, the gear won't work!"

"We'll still have the other two, right? Is it possible to - "

"I don't know how good they are, Hannibal! I mean, that first landing messed this one up - we haven't even checked the other ones yet - who knows if they're any better. We could crash. I mean, we could crash big time!"

"Captain!"

The sharpness stopped Murdock dead. He stared at Hannibal, licked his lips. Hannibal stared back.

How long had Murdock known there was something wrong? Why hadn't he told Hannibal right away? What else was Murdock hiding from him?

How long could Murdock keep it together?

He forced his tone to be calm, reasonable. "There must be some kind of temporary fix for this, something that will at least let us land safely. You talk to this guy," he nodded toward the mechanic, "and you get something worked out." Murdock started to protest, but Hannibal cut him off. "Delay the refueling as much as you can without raising suspicions. Got that, Captain?" Hannibal could see the defeat in his eyes - and knew it wasn't just because of the landing gear.

"I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't have to. But if we don't get this bird off the ground..."

Murdock nodded, obviously unhappy but just as obviously seeing there was no alternative.

Hannibal turned to go in the plane, then stopped.

"Uh, Murdock - I wouldn't mention this to the guys. No point in... well, there's no need, right?"

"Yeah. Yes, sir."

Hannibal nodded and headed for the plane once again.

Next fire to put out...

*****

He'd wanted to belt the guy. Shut him up. Shut him up for good. But a look from BA had stopped him.

Yeah. Hannibal didn't want this guy damaged. Leave that for Fiedler's people.

Yeah.

Neumann had noticed BA's warning look, too. Watched as BA left the plane, then looked back at Face. Gave that little smile and started talking. Said he would need a bodyguard now. Chuckled when he said it. Actually chuckled. Then went on about how he could give Face the good life. Face wouldn't need to take orders from "someone like that" again. All Face had to do was let him go.

So cocksure of himself.

And the way Neumann kept looking at BA throughout the flight... How could BA ignore it like that? That contempt. Like BA was dirt under his feet. Less than dirt.

Maybe BA didn't notice. Maybe he just wouldn't pay attention. BA was like that. He could ignore things. Didn't let it bother him.

Neumann was droning on again. Something about Brazil. He had friends in Brazil...

BA was strong. Always had been. He didn't let things get to him. BA knew who he was, where he came from. But he could fight, alright. Let the little stuff go by, because he didn't need to mess with that shit. But step over the line...

Harry never would've done... that to BA.

Never.

Neumann was still talking. Would the bastard ever shut up? Face opened his mouth, ready to tell him to go to hell. Stopped short.

Harry was sitting next to Neumann. Window seat. Of course. Grinning. Nodding as Neumann droned on and on and...

You're not real. You're not here.

Harry chuckled.

Face looked up as BA came back on board. Had he heard? Of course he hadn't. BA wasn't crazy.

BA said something about security. They had to stay on the plane. A knowing look from Neumann. Smirking son of a bitch.

Stuck on the plane. No chance to stop that buzzing, getting ever louder. No getting away from Neumann.

Or Harry.

Face closed his eyes, trying to focus on something, anything, except Neumann. Neumann, who started talking again, keeping his voice low. Not wanting BA to hear.

"He waste his time."

Startled, Face looked at Neumann, who looked as if he were waiting for a response. Neumann, who'd sounded just like Harry...

"What do you mean, wasting his time?"

Neumann frowned. "I don't understand."

Face looked at Harry, who actually laughed out loud. Big joke.

"He waste his time. He don't know. He don't want you. Nobody want you." Laughed again.

"Shut up!"

BA looked over, frowning. Neumann looked confused. Nervous.

"Nobody want you. Nobody but me." Harry licked his lips, leering at Face.

"I said, shut up!"

"What's going on, Face?"

Hannibal was standing beside him now, frowning. Face wanted to tell him. Show him. Make him see.

Make him understand.

But Harry was gone and Neumann was quiet, pale.

"Face?"

"Nothing, Hannibal."

Hannibal's sigh wasn't loud, but Face heard everything behind it. Just what the colonel needed. Another crazy going off the deep end.

"I must have dozed off. Sorry." Yeah. Blame it on the nightmares again. He didn't have to pretend embarrassment. Hannibal may or may not believe the lie, but BA knew.

"Well, don't worry about it. Everyone's tired. We'll be taking off as soon as the refueling's done. I'm going to sit back here for a while - maybe catch a nap myself. BA, you'll sit up front with Murdock. Gotta keep the pilot awake."

Hannibal chuckled, but Face caught the look between him and BA. Keep Murdock awake? Sure. Like Face believed that.

*****

Murdock had been talking a mile a minute, but so softly BA couldn't hear the actual words. And he kept looking at the gauges, frowning. BA was tempted to ask if something was wrong, but didn't. The man might be crazy, but he was the only pilot BA felt safe with. Not that he'd tell Murdock that. But anybody that acted that crazy up in the air had to know what they were doing. It was the ones that had to concentrate on their flying he'd worried about. And, though he wouldn't say he was superstitious, why borrow trouble? Things had been going too smooth. And what always happened when Hannibal's plans started out smooth? They went south, sudden and fast.

Hell, look at Face. He'd been getting more and more hyper, and now... He hadn't dozed off. He'd been wide awake, shouting at somebody - and it sure as hell wasn't Neumann.

Nazi camp guard... didn't take a rocket scientist to know what was going through the LT's head. BA had reminded Face a couple times that this bastard would pay for what he did. Thought that worked, 'cause he'd calmed down a bit.

But he shouldn't have left Face alone with Neumann; he should've taken Face outside, let him relax. Face needed down time. He wasn't ready for something like this. Hannibal should've thought about that. They should've walked away from this job, found something they could've done in a couple days. In LA. Plenty of ways to relax in LA, get away from the job for a while, not be stuck in the middle of it for days at a time.

BA sighed softly. Hannibal had told him to keep Murdock awake; he'd thought that was just an excuse for Face's benefit. But maybe BA was supposed to find out how Murdock was really doing.

"You okay, Murdock?"

Not exactly subtle, but then BA wasn't known for subtlety.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. Real good. Um... why?"

"Just wondering. Long flight."

"Oh, yeah. Well, it'll be over soon. I mean, we'll be landing soon, so... you know. We'll be okay."

"You been doing fine, Murdock. Flying must be like riding a bike, right? Comes right back, no matter how long it's been."

"Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Riding a bike." He mumbled something else, but BA didn't catch it.

"So, you ain't sleepy or anything? Hannibal said I should make sure you stay awake." BA chuckled, just to keep it light. Don't make the man think Hannibal didn't trust him.

"Oh, I'm awake all right. Don't think I could sleep if I wanted to... uh, I mean, it's just cool, y'know, being in the cockpit again. Can't get enough of that. Noooo sirree. Can't get enough. I love it!"

BA never liked it when Murdock talked like that.

The sun finally disappeared altogether, leaving the cockpit dark except for a bunch of small lights on the dash. He couldn't make out much of Murdock's face and knew Murdock couldn't see him any better.

"BA?"

"Yeah, what?"

"Can you get Hannibal for me? I need to talk to him."

"You doin okay, Murdock?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah. Just, uh, I... I just wondered about the VA and all. Y'know, when we get home."

"Oh." BA stood awkwardly in the small space, looking at Murdock closely. He seemed nervous - but not crazy nervous. "Hannibal will figure something out. You ain't been gone that long - " He stopped short of saying "this time". He still didn't know what he could or couldn't say about that.

Murdock smiled, not very convincingly, and BA stepped carefully into the passenger cabin.

Hannibal was seated facing Neumann, whose mouth was taped shut. Shoulda done that right from the start, but... Face was sitting further back, staring out the window.

"Hey, Hannibal, Murdock wants to talk to you." He lowered his voice. "Guess he's afraid of facing the music back at the VA."

"What?" Hannibal seemed puzzled, but then nodded soberly. "I can imagine he would be. I'll go talk to him. Why don't you keep an eye on our guest?"

"Yeah." He glanced back at Face, who was now watching them. "How's Face doing?"

"He's been sleeping, mostly."

"Real sleep?"

Hannibal sighed. "No. Keep an eye open."

"Yeah, just don't take too long."

Hannibal raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. BA was not in the mood for any of Face's shenanigans right now - not after nearly six hours of Murdock. Hannibal should know that.

BA sat across the aisle from Neumann, where he could keep an eye on both men. Neither seemed particularly interested. Neumann closed his eyes, ignoring him; Face turned back to the window.

Suited BA just fine. He was tired of waiting for the other shoe to fall.

*****

Hannibal settled into the co-pilot's seat and lit a cigar. It was the first chance he'd had to talk with Murdock since Costa Rica and he wanted to know everything.

"So. What did the mechanic tell you? Will we be able to land?"

"Oh, we can land. I'm just not sure in how many pieces. 'Course, we could always abandon ship; I think I saw some parachutes back there. Then again, we probably couldn't get the doors open without using some kind of explosive, so that kinda negates any - "

"Murdock, what did he do?"

Murdock sighed. "There wasn't time to pull it apart and see all the possible damage. He fixed what he could, said it should work okay. Once. And with those security guys shoving their weight around..."

Hannibal recalled watching from the plane as the mechanic and some other airport stiffs had argued with the security people. Murdock had wisely stood to one side, saying nothing. Hannibal knew they'd overstayed their welcome - nothing anyone said would change the mind of that security chief.

Murdock glanced behind him toward the passenger cabin, lowering his voice even more. "I tried putting the gears down a couple times when BA wasn't paying attention. Sometimes the indicators were all green, sometimes not."

"Can you land this thing on two wheels? I mean, without totally destroying it?"

"It can be done, yeah. We trained for it - but that was years ago, Hannibal. I'm not sure I remember all of it - or if I can do it even if I remember the steps. I mean, hell, you know how long it's been since I was in a cockpit! And I never ever flew one of these babies before. And we still don't know about the other two, and that landing strip ain't the greatest, and we don't know about the winds, or..."

"Calm down, Captain!" Stop that building panic and stop it now. "How long before we land?"

"About fifteen, twenty minutes, maybe. I was just getting ready to contact the tower. I'll have to let them know, so they can have the field cleared and... you know..."

"You want me to stay up here?"

"No. You better be in back with the others. At least one of you will know what's coming." Murdock hazarded a quick glare at him. "You should tell them."

"You think that will change the outcome? No, Face is on the edge already, and Neumann - well, no telling what he might try if he thinks he could die anyway." Hannibal glanced apologetically at Murdock. "Not that that's going to happen, but if he thinks it might... well, there's just no point in adding to the tension back there."

Murdock shrugged. "Your call, Colonel. But you better go now and get everybody buckled in, at least. It's gonna be rough."

Hannibal nodded and started for the back, hesitating.

"I have faith in you, Murdock. Always did. Remember that."

*****

Murdock was talking on the radio when BA climbed back into the cockpit and sat down. He turned and grinned at BA, but BA thought he still seemed a little jumpy.

"Hannibal said it'd be okay, didn't he? He'll figure something out for you, right?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah, he'll fix it. No problem." Murdock smiled, but it didn't seem quite right somehow. "Don't you want to stay in back with the others?"

BA raised an eyebrow at that, but shrugged. "It's like a room full of cats and rocking chairs back there. Least up here I don't have to worry about somebody getting killed."

Murdock paled, and BA was immediately sorry he'd been so blunt. Kept forgetting Murdock had problems of his own and most likely didn't know all that had happened to the others the last few months. Probably remembering how Face had been before. If he remembered.

"Hannibal said we'd be landing pretty soon. Be glad to get back in LA again. Don't like these foreign trips. D'you?"

"I like any trip I can take." Murdock sighed.

"Yeah, I spose you do. Well, least now we can work something out so you can get out some. I mean, now you got most of your memory back. Right?"

BA was fishing, and he knew it was obvious. Still, he had a right to know what was going on now, didn't he?

"Yeah. That would be nice." Murdock stared through the windshield for a moment, then straightened. "Um, I'm gonna be a little busy for a while now, till we hit - uh, till we land anyway. So - "

"No problem. You just do your thing and ignore me, man." BA leaned his head back, relaxing.

"You sure you don't want to sit in back?"

"Some reason you don't want me up here, man?"

"No! No, not at all. Just, uh... just buckle your seatbelt, okay?" He smiled again. And again, it seemed a bit off.

BA buckled in, willing to let it go. He knew Murdock would be spouting all kinds of pilot stuff into the radio that he wouldn't understand. That was okay. Truth be told, he was a little excited about this landing.

He'd never seen it from the front row seats before...

*****

"What's going on, Murdock?"

Murdock frowned, concentrating on the radio. He knew that go-around would pop the secrecy balloon, but he had other concerns right now. The voice over the headphones confirmed his expectations.

"Right LG is hanging in the bay. Are you declaring an emergency?"

There was just one more thing he could try. He was pretty sure of the outcome though.

"Affirmative, tower. Want to try to jerk it loose before coming in."

A second's silence, then, "Affirmative."

One last question. "You got foam?"

"Negative. We can call for local assistance." A pause, then, "Uh, belay that. We're on our own, buddy."

Yeah, right. Fiedler and all the politics... Murdock pulled up and away from the airport, turning on the cabin speakers.

"Brace, guys! Gonna be a rough one!"

He glanced at BA, who was staring at him, open-mouthed.

"Hang on, man."

Murdock began pounding the rudder pedals - right, then left, right, left. The plane pitched like a see-saw, and Murdock saw BA's hands tighten over his seatbelt.

"Tower, clear for go-around?"

"Roger that."

"Murdock - "

"Not now, BA."

He flew past the tower one more time, glancing at his fuel gauges. Still too much for his liking, but the idea of flying circles around here in the middle of the night just didn't appeal to him. Pretty sure the others wouldn't care for it either.

The headphones crackled again.

Gear down. Not that he was going to celebrate yet.

He made a slow turn, heading back the way he'd just come. Land with the tower and hangars on his left. Aim for the left side of the runway. Hope to God he could keep it balanced long enough...

"Murdock - "

"Not now, BA!"

The runway just below them. Nose high, wings level. Cut the engines. The first jolt as the left tire hit the runway. Reverse thrust, brake - gentle, gentle, she's rolling nice, we made it, olly olly aileron - keep that wing up, keep it up, yeah, baby that gear until their speed was down, yeah, we made it! Slow it down, slow it down, yeah, baby, that's my baby, no worry, BA, just like a bike, man. Wing's going down, that's okay, left rudder, left rudder, keep it straight, yeah, we're fine, man, we're fine, just a little jolt here, that's all, that's all, just a little -

Shit!