CHAPTER TWENTY



November 18 1977

1 year, 1 month, 11 days

Hannibal listened closely at the door to Face's bedroom. Not a sound. Almost automatically, he carefully tried the door.

Locked.

He let out a long breath and proceeded quietly down the short hall to the kitchen and started the morning coffee. Over a year now and Face still couldn't let go of some habits. It worried Hannibal; he knew what they stemmed from and there didn't seem to be a damn thing he could do to change it. And they'd gotten more pronounced since Ackman.

And then last night...

Hannibal was certain Face had not gone to any movie. Oh, Murdock had assured him they had both enjoyed their evening out, even "admitting" that Face had slept through most of the movie. Uh-huh. Yet another thing to get straightened out. He didn't want Murdock lying to him again.

So where had Face gone? He was fairly certain it hadn't been on what Hannibal privately called a 'hunt'; he'd know for sure when Face got up. But when Face finally got back last night, late, he'd clearly been wound tighter than a drum. He could be heard roaming the apartment, locks clicking on and off, blinds rattling as he checked the windows. And pacing. It seemed like hours before he stopped and Hannibal had heard his door shut.

No, he'd been up to something last night, something he did not want the rest to know about.

"So you gonna ask him where he was?"

Exasperated that he hadn't heard BA come in, he snapped at him. "If you're such a mind reader, you should know the answer to that."

BA gave him that look and sat, glancing down the hall. "He knows something's goin on, Hannibal. And you know what always happens when he thinks you're not tellin him something he should know."

"Yeah, I know. Hell on earth until he finds out what it is. But this time it's not going to work. I can't chance it, not the way he felt about Wrenn - and vice versa."

"You don't spose he's lookin on his own for Wrenn, do you? I mean, he was the one brought him up to begin with."

"Who knows? I don't think he'll find him, though. It's not like he can take the route we did." He pulled a cigar and lit it, chuckling. "Gotta admit, I'm looking forward to writing Wrenn's version of Paradise Lost."

"That's bad, Hannibal, even for you."


*****

Face had awakened the second he heard the door handle turn. He relaxed only slightly when no further attempts were made, more so when he didn't hear Harry's familiar chuckle on the other side. No Harry. Must've been Hannibal then.

Figured.

He dressed reluctantly, knowing he would be interrogated about last night, about how late he'd gotten back. About his 'behavior'. No one had been up, but he knew Hannibal had been awake. Just like he knew the colonel would have called Murdock bright and early this morning. He did wonder, briefly, if Murdock had stuck to their story. Knew he had; Murdock was too desperate to be Face's friend. That didn't mean Hannibal had believed him.

He heard BA rumble past the door, heading for the kitchen. Okay. A little stealth right now might give him some intel before bearding the lion. Always good to know Hannibal's mood before a confrontation. Sidling down the hall, he stopped when he could hear their voices clearly.

Frowned.

Wrenn. They were talking about Wrenn. Confirming what Face had thought - keeping it from him. Keeping him from Wrenn. What right did -

'Paradise lost'?

What the hell...


November 24 1977

1 year, 1 month, 17 days

It was long drive to the VA when stuck inside a used van whose seats had not been a priority for the owner. BA claimed it would outrun anything the Army had, and Face thought that more than likely true. It didn't make the ride any more comfortable.

Especially since he was far past enjoying the present company.

Hannibal had not believed the story about 'movie night'. He couldn't come right out and say it, of course, and he tried to cover his disbelief. Still trying to build that trust, still feeling guilty. But Face hadn't been 'allowed' out of sight of either Hannibal or BA since then. Every time he tried to get out by himself, there was something to prevent it. No outright, "No, you're not going anywhere alone, bub.". But always something, something reasonable, something they all had to attend to.

San Ysidro, all over again. Almost.

This time, Face had a plan.

Okay, two plans. But one at a time. That was the key. Stay focused. That's what had always gone wrong before. Let too many things into his head at once. Then again, focusing too hard on one thing made him lose track of the side issues and they tended to bite him in the ass. He frowned. That's why so many things went wrong, over there. Blinded him to things he needed to watch. Like watching the path instead of what was coming...

"Face? You with us?"

He jerked to attention. Hannibal, of course. Watching him. Another side issue.

"Yeah, Hannibal. Where else would I be?"

Look out the window, ignore the look, cut him off before he started asking questions. Think about Plan A.

Murdock...


*****

Hannibal sighed, ignoring the look from BA. Yes, BA, he knew Face was spacing out again. And yes, BA, he knew it was happening more often. And yes, BA, he knew it was his own fault for going to see Ackman.

He stuck a cigar in his mouth, unlit, and watched as they pulled up to the VA.

Show time.

"Okay, Face. You or me?"

Face blinked. "Uh, I thought it was me."

"So, who are you, anyway? You don't seem to have any problems getting what you want here."

Ha! There. A smile, with a little glint of pride...

"Murdock had a co-pilot - easy to verify. I'm the guy's brother, doing him a favor."

Hannibal grinned as Face stepped out and headed for the front door.

One step forward...


*****

And two steps back.

Step one was Murdock. For some reason, he seemed to think they were going to have a 'good old fashioned' Thanksgiving, complete with a huge turkey, dressing, hand made pies - the works. Worse, he thought he was going to do the cooking.

Hannibal patiently explained - and kept explaining - that this year it was just having time together, relaxing. Pre-cooked turkey that just needed warming, bakery pies - the only real cooking was throwing some potatoes in the oven.

Murdock was having none of it. Even at the VA they had "real" turkey!

BA was close to putting Murdock through the wall; a look from Hannibal and he stalked off to the living room, turned on the game and ignored them.

Murdock was still stalking around the kitchen, loudly proclaiming his displeasure with a "half-assed' holiday, and Hannibal started to explain yet again. And then...

"Murdock."

'That' voice from the doorway - the one they all knew so well and dreaded.

Murdock immediately shut up; Hannibal tensed. He saw BA get up from the couch, ready.

Face just looked at Hannibal, as if to say, "Control your man", before walking past BA to his room. BA rolled his eyes and went back to his game. Hannibal again turned to Murdock, who was reaching for the spuds.

"Sorry, Colonel. I'll just scrub these up so they're ready to bake." No more anger - subdued, deflated.

Hannibal just nodded and stepped outside for a cigar. Second step...


*****

Face leaned against the door, eyes closed. Tight.

Don't do this. Don't. Just... don't.

He had to keep his wits about him this weekend. This long, long damn weekend. No. No. He had to keep calm, had to make sure Murdock stuck with the "I want to be your friend" line. He had to have Murdock cooperative or his plan would never work.

He wasn't sure it would anyway, but it didn't have a chance if Murdock wasn't on board.

He gave himself a couple more minutes to get his shit together, then headed out to make nice.

BA was still watching the game. He gave him a long look, nodding when Face shrugged and tried to look apologetic. At least BA seemed to get it, knew Face could deal with only so much bullshit before things got rocky.

Well, hopefully that would be done and over soon.

He wandered toward the kitchen, stopping at the doorway. Hannibal was nowhere to be seen; Murdock stood at the sink, whistling softly as he scrubbed the potatoes. Face cleared his throat. Murdock stopped scrubbing but didn't turn around.

"Hey, Murdock... sorry about... earlier. I, uh..."

"No problem, Face. I was out of line. Doc says I gotta learn to reign in the 'tirades', as he calls them. And after all," he smiled at Face, "it's not the food, it's the people, right?"

Face smiled back. This was harder than he'd anticipated, but at least Murdock was playing along. "Right. The people."

Thankfully, Hannibal came in just then, decided it was time to get the food going, and suggested, rather pointedly, that Face could keep BA company. The relief was not quite hidden when Face nodded and did as he was 'asked'.


*****

The ballgame droned on, right through their dinner (served on TV trays), and the only conversation centered on what the various players should or shouldn't have done.

Hannibal was beginning to think the weekend would move along more smoothly. Murdock had calmed down, and since that source of irritation was gone, he figured Face would be okay. BA was happy because the Bears had won - and by a good margin. Everyone was feeling the effects of the turkey, relaxed and sleepy.

Yeah. Relaxed...

"Hey, Hannibal?"

Quiet voice, obviously trying not to disturb BA or Face, as the television murmured in the background.

"What is it, Murdock?"

"Um, this place is safe, right? I mean, Lynch..."

"Lynch is back at Bragg."

"You know that for sure?"

"Heard it from Casey Lloyd. Remember him? From Nam?"

"Kinda. How'd he know?"

"Still wearing the uniform, nice safe desk duty. He's been in touch with Andy, and Andy lets me know any scuttlebutt he hears. Casey said Lynch got called back there shortly after that mess in the park."

Murdock giggled. "Poor guy got his ass in a sling?"

Hannibal smiled. "Yeah, probably. Casey figured he'd be back in a few days. The brass is getting antsy." No point mentioning some new guy Casey had also heard about. Worry about that if the guy actually showed up. He turned back to the movie, listening to BA's low snore. Felt Murdock move a little closer on the couch.

"How did that meeting work out? Did he tell you anything?"

Both looked over at Face, maybe ten feet away in the recliner, asleep.

Not willing to take the chance, Hannibal nodded toward the kitchen. Both men very quietly and gently got up. With Murdock close behind, Hannibal continued out onto the patio, taking one more look before closing the patio door.

"So?"

"Okay - let's get one thing very clear first. This goes no further - Face does not hear one syllable. Understood, Captain?"

Murdock swallowed at the serious tone and the 'Captain'. "Understood, Colonel."

Hannibal hesitated, double-checking. Murdock wasn't "out there", but focused. Serious.

"Ackman never lost touch with Wrenn. Actually worked for the guy after they got out, some big real estate company out in Paradise, Nevada. He's sitting fat and sassy in a top floor office."

"So, you going after him?"

"Oh yeah. Not right away though." Hannibal glanced at the patio door. "Guy's not going anywhere, probably doesn't even think about us any more. But now's not the time for us to bust his bubble. As soon as I can, I will."

" 'I' as in just you? Not the team?"

"Not the whole team, no. Last thing we need is a murder charge on our backs."

Noting the suddenly pale Murdock, Hannibal moved back into the house. He could've phrased that differently, but at least Murdock understood why Face could not learn of this.

He took a long careful look at Face before settling back on the couch. Still sound asleep.

Good. Very good.


November 27 1977

1 year, 1 month, 20 days

It had been three days of hell. Face had been bouncing around in his head like a basketball. Anger, excitement, anxiety, joy... And trying to hide it all from the others. Had to hide it. Things were complicated enough.

Plan A and Plan B were suddenly, maybe inevitably, mixed together. The naval base was supposed to show Hannibal that Face hadn't lost his touch, that he could plan an operation just as well as he used to. That he wasn't a 'basket case'. At least not in that area. He still wasn't sure why that was so important to him, but it was. Therefore he would do it. That he would also be able to get Murdock back in the air, in something he could fly as easily as most people drive cars - well, he owed Murdock that. He wouldn't have chosen that plan otherwise.

And it had been the perfect plan. Still was. So they wouldn't fly around and land at that little crop duster's airfield now. No, instead they'd be flying east. He'd figure out exactly where in the next few days. And then Plan B would kick in. Murdock could sit at the airport until Hannibal found him, or take the bus back to LA. Didn't matter. His part would be done. Once in Nevada, Face would take it from there.

He smiled grimly. Hannibal hadn't been as quiet as he thought - never was. Murdock was worse. Neither had noticed the open kitchen window, or that Face wasn't in precisely the same position when they came back in.

The little things always mattered.


December 2 1977

1 year, 1 month, 25 days

"Okay, Andy, thanks. No, nothing to be concerned about. We knew he'd be back - always is." Hannibal chuckled as he hung up the phone. BA looked up, questioning; Face kept playing solitaire.

"Lynch is back in town."

"So?"

"So Andy's all paranoid since... well, he thinks something's up. I guess Lynch came in on private plane with some other brass. A major. Landed at Mugu last night."

Face reached down and picked a card up from the floor.

"Mugu? Don't tell me they got the Navy after us now!"

"Relax, BA. Alamitos is still getting re-organized and the Navy can't be bothered with us." Hannibal frowned as he lit his cigar. "Like to know who this major is, though. Andy seemed to think he was working with Lynch."

"Thinks or knows?"

"Thinks. But if Lynch picked him, I don't think we have anything to worry about."

"Got that right..."

Face, apparently bored, tossed the last card down and moved down the hall toward his room. BA sat silent until they heard his door close.

"Guess he don't care about Lynch or the new guy."

"I'm not sure he cares about anything any more, BA. Boy needs a hobby."

"Yeah? What?"

"We need to get ourselves prepared for new clients. We need a real headquarters, not just whatever place we end up in. A safe place, so we can store our equipment and firepower. Hell, we need to gather the firepower."

"We got guns."

"We have what we can get from guys that don't want or need stuff. And not all of it's in good condition. No, BA, it's time we put our supply officer back in business."

BA left no doubt how he felt about that idea. Hannibal was surprised the glass in the door didn't break.


*****

Face stood before the window, staring out but seeing nothing. Nothing except that airfield. And a private plane, just sitting there, waiting...

It was too good to be true. Prove to Hannibal that he still had what was needed, get Murdock back in the air, and give Lynch a kick in the ego - all at one fell swoop. But how long would the plane be there? That wasn't the normal transport. No, it would be going back to Bragg and soon. He had to put his plan into action. Now.

He knelt by the air vent, carefully removing the screws and reaching inside, just above the opening. Carefully he pulled the envelope out and took his notes out of it. The map he'd drawn after getting back that night, with notations showing not just buildings and roads, but short cuts, windows, doors, escape routes, diversions...

Complete. Thorough. Foolproof.

He frowned. But how to get out of here without Hannibal or BA following? That was the one sticking point he hadn't really gotten figured out yet. Hadn't known things would come to a head so suddenly. He could just wait until they were both asleep - but then he'd have to break into the VA to get Murdock. That wouldn't work. They did bed checks. He'd be missed. No. He needed to get Murdock out with the full knowledge and agreement of the doc. No calling "Tyrone" or the cops or anyone else.

Well, no plan was perfect. He'd just have to leave and trust they wouldn't think of Murdock until it was too late. No way they'd think of the airfield. He could escape here easily enough if he really wanted to. He just hadn't felt the need to. Hadn't felt that thrumming...

He grinned. He was feeling it now, and knew this time it was good. He wanted it - no, he welcomed it! There'd been too much anger, turning that hum into something cold and calculating, the anger still there when the job was done. Not this time. He would feel good after this. No - he would feel great!

He would win this time.


December 3 1977

1 year, 1 month, 26 days

Despite BA's views, Hannibal felt even more confident that morning than he ever had. This was going to work. For one thing, he knew Face would see the sense of it. If they were going to be successful, they had to have decent equipment. Just like in Nam. And who always made sure they had more than just decent equipment?

Face.

Sure, he didn't have the contacts in LA yet, but he knew how to ferret them out. And he knew how to deal with the lowest of the low. Maybe not the best recommendation, but it was true. Hannibal and BA could handle the headquarters bit - a small warehouse, strategic in location and easily secured.

He just had to remember not to put too much pressure on Face. They needed to get moving on this, but there was no real deadline. Hannibal didn't want Face getting careless, or going back into that "gotta please Hannibal" mode. Nor did he want him thinking he had to prove something, like coming up with suppliers in record time. That could get somebody killed. And like it or not, Hannibal had to remember that Face was not only rusty at this shit - he wasn't the man he had been.

One day he would be. Of that, Hannibal was determined. But not now, not yet.

In the meantime, this was going to be their business, after all. Time to start acting like it. Face could certainly start checking around, getting the lay of the land, so to speak. No need for any actual engagements yet. And he and BA could start looking for just the right area of LA for their base.

Yeah. Today the team's new venture would get a fresh start.

He smiled, puffing on his cigar, sipping his coffee, and waited for his lieutenant to get up.