CHAPTER NINETEEN



September 9 1977

11 months, 2 days

Face stared at the traffic moving past the apartment building. BA had gone to the gym; he'd been working out almost obsessively, getting his arm back in shape. Hannibal was out, somewhere, doing something. Sometimes he'd tell Face in great detail where he was going and why; other times he just said he'd be back 'later'. Sometimes that bothered Face, other times...

Right now, his mind was on the whereabouts of a different colonel. Face didn't know where he was, if he was even still in the Army. But he wanted to find him. Needed to.

The idea had been there for a long time now. He knew, in his more calm moments, that it was out in the realm of Murdock's thinking, but it stuck with him just the same. Particularly after Harry had been around. Maybe he couldn't do anything about Harry, but Wrenn? That was a different story. One way or another, he would deal with Wrenn, and pay his own debt at the same time. And with BA and Hannibal both occupied with their own problems, and the leash Hannibal had Face on getting longer and longer, it seemed like an opportune time.

So he began to drop subtle hints. A comment here, a 'just curious' question there. And, just as he had hoped, Hannibal took the bait.

Anything to help his lieutenant lay the ghosts to rest...


September 14 1977

11 months, 7 days

They'd kept a low profile the last couple of months, realizing the delicate position they were in. The military had, as expected, been talking to Fiedler and the Israelis, but nothing had come of it. Fiedler said he knew nothing about the kidnapping and the Israeli government backed him up. At the same time, Fiedler was now on the "list", and combined with the fiasco south of the border, Hannibal had no intention of aggravating the man.The Army was left with nothing but suspicions and they could take it no further without causing international ramifications.

Hannibal smiled without humor.

The A-Team wasn't important enough to risk that.

Despite Fiedler handling the hospital costs, it didn't mean all the medical bills disappeared. BA needed physical therapy after the cast came off, and both Face and Hannibal had minor follow-ups. What money they actually ended up collecting from Fiedler drained away like water through a sieve.

The availability of jobs Hannibal could get without unanswerable questions being asked was extremely limited; he was reduced to occasional day jobs, when his age didn't work against him. Calls to various agents inevitably ended with the same admonishment.

"Nobody likes a disappearing act, Johnny. You gotta be there, waitin' for that phone to ring. Otherwise..."

BA still wasn't in any shape to work a regular job; his arm still bothered him, and his temper since the crash had been even worse. Recurring nightmares will do that to a guy. And Face... well, it was pointless to even consider that.

There was one option left, one Hannibal knew was risky. He'd still been in touch with some of their old war buddies, and one he knew Lynch had watched - Andy Harris.

Hannibal had always liked his former supply officer, even if he hadn't been the most efficient guy around. Andy had sheltered the team a couple of times during those first months after their escape. He had also been the one to get Hannibal his first bit part in the movies.

He well remembered a conversation they'd had one night at Andy's house in Alameda, when Andy mentioned the Army had been in contact with him less than a month before.

"Just more of the same, Colonel. You know - have I heard from you lately, do I know where you might be holed up, call if any of you contacted me, blah, blah, blah."

"That reward doesn't tempt you?" Hannibal had smiled, confident.

"Oh, sure, it does." 19 - Andy.bmpAndy winked, but then looked embarrassed. "You saved my life, Colonel, getting me out of Nam like you did. Don't think I'll ever forget that, 'cause I won't."

Hannibal had never corrected that faulty assumption. He'd thought about it, especially during that time before they found Face, but had held back. Self-preservation was stronger than honor, sometimes. Andy might not have felt quite so loyal if he'd thought his savior was dead. Cynical, yes, but it was one of the things that had kept Hannibal and his team free. He'd take cynicism over prison any day.

So now, no agent, no jobs, money getting scarce...

He called Andy.


October 3 1977

11 months, 26 days

Hannibal sat on a stool pulled back by the corner of the craft services station. His cigar, unlit, rolled slowly in his fingers. Back and forth. Back and forth. His eyes moved almost in sync with it, from one side of the small movie lot to the other. Back and forth. Back and forth. He wasn't nervous. Watchful, but not nervous.

At the moment, Hannibal had little to do except watch, as he waited for the next crowd scene. His would be a face among a sea of faces again, but the pay was decent - and in discreet cash. Another three days of shooting, with as many different settings, and he'd have enough in his wallet to last the team another month, plus pay for the last of BA's therapy sessions. The relief he felt at that almost made up for the inability to totally relax. He could recognize most of the cast and crew by now, but having Andy close at hand made it easier.

He frowned, realizing only then he hadn't seen Andy for quite some time.

He stood, retaining the outward calm, unable to keep that inner voice from slapping him upside the head. Relying on Andy to watch for strangers and then losing sight of him. Stupid!

He strolled away from the relative safety of the lunch van, mingling with the other extras and crew. So far, all familiar faces. He looked toward the gate, knowing full-well he couldn't see it from this distance. Still, if the MPs were infiltrating, he'd see the signs early. A quick tap on the back nearly gave him a heart attack. Andy jumped back as Hannibal nearly swung on him.

"Sorry about that, Hannibal, but you'll never guess what happened!"

Hannibal's tension level immediately shot up, if that was possible, and he had to force himself to seem calmly curious as Andy dove into his story.

"Remember a while back we were talking about some of the guys from the base, the ones we'd lost track of? Wondering where they were, what had happened to them? You even mentioned that A-hole, Colonel Wrenn! Remember?"

"Yeah, Andy, I remember." A 'casual' conversation, how Hannibal wished he could find some of the guys that had seemingly disappeared. He'd hoped Andy would do what Andy always did - try to please his colonel. He started to relax, more interested now in what Andy had been up to.

"Well, I got to thinking about it, and I figured you couldn't do any checking, not without getting the wrong folks' attention and all, so I did. I mean, I'd kinda like to find some of them, too, right? So anyway, I started calling around, following leads..."

Hannibal tried to concentrate on Andy's narrative, smiling to himself at the Sam Spade/007 style. Andy had really enjoyed this "assignment" - but would it lead where Hannibal wanted to go?

"Well, that's where I was just now. I got a call from the gate - a guy from Nha Trang showed up. Out of the blue, said he'd heard I was looking for some of the guys, and since he was in the area, just decided to swing by. How about that?"

"That's... that's great, Andy. Really... great..."

"Yeah, he's waiting out front, wants to grab some lunch. I thought maybe you'd like to come along. They won't be shooting your next scene for at least an hour yet."

"Who is this guy? Someone we actually knew, or..."

"Ted Ackman. I don't know if you remember him, but he was with Wrenn's outfit. That's what makes it so cool, right? I mean, you were wondering about Wrenn, and bam! One of his guys shows up!"

"Yeah. Um, Andy, not to rain on your parade, but don't you think it's a little, well, a little too coincidental?"

Harris' face fell.

"Oh, God, Colonel. You think he's here to turn you in? But I never mentioned you or the team. Never!"

No, Andy was smart enough not to do that. But Lynch had been watching him...

"Tell you what, Andy. You go ahead and have your lunch with the guy. Tell him you know another guy that would like to meet up - make up a name if you need to. But let's set a time and place where I have a little more... cover, okay?"

"Sure, Hannibal. No problem." He sighed, crestfallen. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I didn't think, I guess."

"No, you did good, Andy. I'm probably just being paranoid, but I can't afford not to be. And if he's legit, I definitely want to meet with him. Okay?"

"Okay. I'll head out then, and I'll make sure to pick a place where you've got an out."

Hannibal watched as Andy headed back to the main gate, once again looking for anyone who looked out of place, too casual. Three more days and the shoot would be over. Three more days of even more vigilance.

He could feel the headache already starting...


October 11 1977

1 year, 4 days

BA listened to make sure the shower was still running, then glared at Hannibal, sitting at the end of the couch.

"You know damn well that wasn't a coincidence. They're trying to smoke us out through Andy."

"Probably." Hannibal sighed.

"Meetin with that guy in the first place - that was just dumb, man. And lettin Ackman decide where to meet..."

"I know, BA! But I had to know what Ackman was up to - not to mention the fact he might actually know where Wrenn was. It was a chance I had to take, and it paid off."

"Damn near got us all caught, y'mean. No way two of us could watch that whole park. Nothin but fuckin trees! If it hadn't been for Face..."

"Yeah, he and I need to talk about that. Again."

"Or maybe you need to stop putting him in those situations. He ain't ready for that and you know it."

Hannibal opened his mouth and shut it immediately. He was not going to get into that 'discussion' again. Not now. He ignored the smile of satisfaction on BA's face. It was almost immediately replaced by a glower anyway.

"Don't know why you keep looking for Wrenn, anyway."

"You know damn well why! Wrenn had something to do with that robbery fiasco; we have to find out what, some way. At least now we know where he is. And he's retired from the Army, with a cushy job to keep him put. I can take my time."

"To do what?" BA suddenly glanced toward the bathroom; the shower had stopped and damn, BA didn't know when. He lowered his voice, nodding his head at the door. "And without him knowing about it?"

"I'll figure something out."

BA was silent for a moment, then looked Hannibal in the eye.

"What you think he'd do, if he knew?"

"I don't intend to find out, BA."


*****

Face stepped quietly back from the door, the towel in his hands twisted into a tight rope.

Another lie.

Hannibal had told him, point blank, that they were just checking out a new client. Face should've known there was something wrong. He couldn't understand why this guy was so important Hannibal would let him decide where and when to meet, why Hannibal let them walk into an obvious trap.

Face had had to take out three MPs before he got to that captain, kept him from issuing any more orders.

That look from Hannibal when he found out what Face had done. Couldn't see the effort it had taken not to cause any real damage. Telling himself - no, screaming in his head - it isn't Harry. It isn't Harry. It isn't...

First one, then the next, and the next. And then the captain, with that uniform. Making sure he left them all alive. Silent, but alive. All of them. And still Hannibal hadn't been happy about it.

And now to discover there was no client. Hannibal was actually looking for Wrenn. If Face had known that... Why hadn't Hannibal just told him? That's what Face had been hoping for, why he'd put out all those hints, working the colonel to get Face that information. And instead...

Lies. Again. Fucking lies!

Furiously, he turned and started wiping up the floor.


October 12 1977

1 year, 5 days

The captain almost stepped back when Longway slammed the report down on the desk and stalked to the window. It was obvious the major's near obsession with capturing the team was taking its toll on his aide as well.

For his part, Longway was feeling intense pressure from the higher-ups to bring these men in and collect that money. The North Vietnamese were being ass-holes about the MIA issue and, while the military had so far not informed government officials of the possible recovery of the money, they weren't letting Longway off the hook.

Damn. He'd come so close with that Neumann thing. So close. But no amount of pressure would get that guy to come clean; then the damn Israelis had gotten involved, followed by the State Department. Couldn't do a damn thing there, not without letting the Feds know about the money.

And now another close call - Ackman. Longway had been skeptical of wasting resources on the guy from the start; he seemed like just another greedy jerk who thought he could collect the reward. But then he'd told them he'd known a Colonel Wrenn - the guy who'd started the whole ball rolling back in Nam.

That got his attention. Further investigation brought in Andy Harris, the team's former supply clerk, and his snooping around for info on other veterans and particularly Wrenn.

Two plus two was making a nice solid four.

Harris had been less than forthcoming, refuting Ackman's claim that this particular friend wanted to meet up with them, saying only that he was trying to arrange an informal get-together with "some of the guys". Luckily, Harris hadn't asked for a lawyer, and was put on ice for "further questioning" while Longway prepared for Ackman's meeting.

It should have been easy. The park was a perfect set-up, situated on a corner with heavy woods on three sides of the concessions area. Easy for vehicles to pull up and surround the guy, easy for more MPs to come up on him through the woods. And too big for the other two team members to cover effectively.

Easy. Just wait for team to show up and pick them off.

Except Longway had forgotten Peck. At least, not considered his participation. The last he'd heard of the lieutenant, he was a basket case. But one of the downed soldiers had positively identified him. Smith apparently had gained some control over the man, and Peck was obviously quite capable of dealing with any challenges Smith handed him.

So while Ackman had been spilling the beans to Smith, confident that any information on Wrenn would be useless to men in the brig, the rest of Smith's renegades had been putting the kibosh on the whole operation.

"All right. Get Lynch in here. I need to make him more visible." He glared at his hapless captain and the bandage over his eye. Sighed. "So how's your head?"


November 17 1977

1 year, 1 month, 10 days

Hannibal had looked at him rather suspiciously, but there was no reason to say no. Face had made two earlier trips, alone, to see Murdock, both without incident. That Face was going to take Murdock to dinner and a movie and thus wouldn't get back until later that night didn't set too well with the colonel. He had no problem with Murdock seeing "Pete's Dragon" - whatever ideas it gave Murdock's imagination would be relatively harmless. He did wonder if Face would actually be able to sit through it, but in the end, he said yes because he knew Face would go anyway.

Face was still willing to play his role, but only to a point. Hannibal had no illusions about that. But the Ackman incident had changed something - he'd taken a bit of a step backwards. Hannibal wasn't sure why, since no one had told him who the "client" really was, but there was something...


*****

Face drove carefully, mindful of the road, the traffic around him, and any suspicious vehicles. He tried to keep his concentration on those things, not let anything else enter his mind. Not even the upcoming events and the possible difficulties they might pose. And especially not Harry.

He made a quick turn, parking Hannibal's junker on the street closest to Murdock's building and hurried inside. A quick check at the desk that their little outing was still on the schedule - ie, Murdock hadn't pulled any last minute shit - and he was knocking on the pilot's door.

"Hey, Face. Everything okay?"

Face took a quick look at him. Murdock's hair was a bit longer than usual, but otherwise he looked fine. Better than the last visit anyway.

"Yeah, yeah. Listen, I want you to go to that movie on your own tonight. I'll give you money for dinner and the ticket and whatever else. Just be sure you come right back here after. No excursions."

"What? Wait, no, we were - "

"I know! But I just need some time alone, okay? No Hannibal, no BA..." He paused. "And no you. No offense but I can't take the whole social thing right now."

Murdock looked at him, eyebrow cocked. He'd thought Face was getting better with that, but maybe not. He looked okay, but there was just a bit of that... edge to him.

"You aren't gonna go look for some 'action', are you?"

"No, Murdock, I'm not going to go looking for some 'action'. I just need some time to myself. And Hannibal can't know about it."

"Oh, now wait a minute..."

"I mean it, Murdock. He'll call you, like he always does." Hannibal didn't know Face knew he was checking up on Face's outings. Dumbass. "And when he does, you can tell him all about the movie because you really will have seen it. And I was there with you, but I slept through most of it. Got it?"

Murdock was going to argue until the 'Got it?'. No mistaking that tone. "Okay, okay."

"One last thing - we spent some time in the day room after, just gabbing."

"Face... "

Losing patience with both Murdock and being shut in his room, Face played dirty.

"You want to get out for Thanksgiving, Murdock? Because I can fix that, one way or the other."

Talk about carrot and stick. Murdock hadn't been sure they'd let him out for this movie, let alone for the holiday. And Face could indeed fix that either way.

"Okay. We went to the movie, you fell asleep, then we talked."

"Good. I'll swing by and let you know when I'm on the way back so we get our time frame straight."

"You act like this is some kind of mission instead of just playing hooky."

Face was taken aback. For him, it was a mission, but he didn't want Murdock thinking along those lines. He shrugged, pretending embarrassment.

"Sorry. I just really don't want any grief about taking some time for myself. That's all."

Murdock relaxed. Hannibal really had been keeping close tabs on him, almost like when they'd first found him.

"Don't worry, muchacho. Your secret's safe with me. Just be... careful."

Five minutes later, Face was pulling onto the PCH, destination Point Mugu Naval Air Station.


*****

Murdock hurried to grab his cap and jacket, nearly forgetting to grab the money Face had tossed on the bed, knowing full well he was supposed to be leaving with Face, not after him. His hope that the desk clerk hadn't noticed was quickly dashed.

"Everything okay, Captain? Your ride just left."

"Oh, he's just getting the car. This place makes him nervous." He winked and smiled. That last part, at least, wasn't a lie.

"Ah, yeah. Lot of people like that." The clerk smiled back, reassuring. "Enjoy yourself, Captain. Uh, no side trips, okay?"

"You better believe it, Jake. No problemo!"

Murdock hurried out the door, skipping steps down to the sidewalk. He took a right, waving as if to a waiting car, and quickly moved out of sight of the door. He knew where the theater was, thank God, but it was a good twenty minute walk. He could have a quick bite at one of the cafes nearby and still make it to the opening credits. And he would watch every second of it, so he could tell Hannibal all about it.

Yeah.

He really didn't like lying to Hannibal. He'd done far too much of that the last few months, and it generally had gotten him nothing but trouble. Big trouble. But he also knew Hannibal could get really, really, well, colonel-ly. All things considered, he should be surprised that Face hadn't pulled a disappearing act before this.

As long as he came back, Murdock was okay with it.

As long as he came back.

Shaking that thought away, he forced himself to look around, enjoy his own freedom. It was the first outing since the Neumann thing, and boy, it felt like a miracle. Richter had been royally pissed when Murdock got back. He accepted the car accident excuse for the cracked ribs, barely. But no way would he accept that the faked suicide call was merely a coincidence. Murdock had really been afraid Richter would call it quits, assign him a different shrink and walk away. He hadn't, maybe because he could see Murdock was hurting, but it was over two months before Murdock could go anywhere without an escort. A close escort. Hell, he'd only been allowed outside by himself a month ago.

He sighed. He'd been lucky. He could've ended up in the security ward again. And having that escort, irritating as it had been at times, had probably saved him. Literally. Murdock obviously couldn't talk about Argentina or the plane crash, but he could talk about not being able to fly when it was who he was, and about letting the people most important to him down. About not being able to have the life he wanted, even when he knew he had what he needed. Mostly.

And of course, all of that was reported back to Richter. Murdock wasn't sure if that's why he talked about it, or if he was really just trying to figure it out for himself. But it opened new avenues for Richter, for better or worse.

But now - if anyone here found out Face had just taken off without him...

No, he'd go eat, see the movie, go back to his room, and that would be that.

'Cause he really, really wanted to spend Thanksgiving with the guys. He had bridges to rebuild...


*****

It took almost an hour to reach Point Mugu, then another twenty minutes to find a bicycle to "borrow". He was thankful he'd forced himself to spend time at the library, looking up maps of the base. The area he needed to see - along the runways and also the flightline - could not be reached by car. But no one would pay attention to a cyclist checking out the path along the wildlife preserve.

He was nearly to the end of the path, running parallel to the runways, when he saw it. A back gate, looking like no one even remembered it was there. He noted the lock and chain holding it closed and grinned. He wouldn't deal with that now - but he'd come back prepared for it. He glanced at the sun, frowning. He needed to head back to his car, but there was a lot he had to see first. He started pedaling back, stopping occasionally to walk the bike when he wanted a more thorough look at the surroundings. Quick notes were jotted in a pocket notebook, making a show of looking at the reserve on the opposite side of the path. Probably not necessary, but he'd rather anyone watching considered him a nature lover than a spy.

He left the bike a couple blocks from where he'd found it. No sense returning to the scene of the "crime" and finding an irate owner waiting for him. He hurried back to his car, then, and sat inside, studying his notes. Every now and then he'd nod, grinning.

He carefully tore the notes into small pieces and started back to LA, scattering the pieces out the open window.