CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO



December 3 1977

1 year, 1 month, 26 days

Murdock squirmed in his seat, glancing again at Face. A few minutes into their wild flight, Murdock had plugged in the coordinates Face gave him - shooting a suspicious look his way as the plane turned eastward. They'd been flying now for over half an hour, and the suspicion became dead certainty. He hoped he could talk Face out of whatever he had planned. He just hadn't figured out how.

Face, for his part, hadn't said another word, just stared at the night sky through the cockpit window. The only indication of what he might have been thinking was the increasing staccato tapping of his fingers.

Finally, Murdock cleared his throat. Much farther and they wouldn't have enough fuel to turn back. It was now or never.

"Uh, Face, you sure this is where you want to go? I mean, this isn't some rancher's private field, you know. This is practically Vegas."

"You want to try for McCarran? Or how about Nellis? I'm sure they'd give us a warm welcome." Face glanced at him - not a friendly glance, either. "This is a broken-down airport with one runway and crap-ass tower. Nobody lands there if they can possibly help it. We'll run the plane off the end of the runway, so it'll keep them occupied. You can stay with it if you want to. Tell them you were hijacked. You're nuts - they won't hold you responsible."

Ignoring the insult, Murdock persisted. "And what are you gonna do?"

Face leaned back, closed his eyes. "Places to go, people to see. Don't worry about it. You just land the plane."

Fucked, Murdock thought. We're fucked...


*****

Hannibal sat watching the night sky through the windshield. While BA filled the gas tank, Hannibal had made his last calls to both Face and Murdock. A lack of response from the former and a rerun from the VA was both a relief and a frustration. At least they knew the wrong people didn't have his car and the VA wasn't calling the police to find Murdock.

Yet.

BA didn't even ask about it when he got in the van and pulled back onto the freeway. He still wasn't convinced Face had managed to find out about Wrenn, but Hannibal wouldn't be satisfied until they knew for sure.


*****

As landings go, it wasn't bad. Coming in low enough to avoid any radar while staying high enough to miss any unseen power lines, hills or trees, approaching a somewhat neglected airstrip with one unlit runway in the dark and not really sure how long said runway was... No, it wasn't a bad landing.

Murdock sat, grinning so wide his face hurt, watching as the all the beautiful gauges and wonderful dials shut down, and the engine quieted to nothing but soft clicks. He jumped as Face abruptly undid his seat belt and stood.

"Great, huh, Face? Like, fantastigorically great?"

"You were worried?" Face shook his head and moved toward the rear of the plane.

Murdock frowned, his jubilation cut short. He knew what Face wanted him to do; he could already hear the sirens in the distance. But somehow Face knew where Wrenn was, which meant Murdock had to stay with him. Like it or not.

As at Point Mugu, Murdock found himself hurrying to keep up. Face stopped, just past the edge of the airport, to look back at him, frowning. No, glaring was more like it. Murdock made no move to turn back. Face grumbled something Murdock couldn't hear, but continued on. Murdock stayed close, but behind him.

No sense tempting fate.


December 4 1977

1 year, 1 month, 27 days

BA knew Hannibal was getting as uptight as he was - a long drive through the desert coupled with wondering what they were heading into, if anything. That's what was getting to Hannibal; BA could see it plain as day. Should they hope it was just a wild goose chase and then worry where Face and Murdock really were - or hope the two were actually here and worry about stopping a disaster from happening?

They got their answer just a few minutes later. Less than a half mile to their right, they could plainly see flashing red lights mixed with high-powered floodlights surrounding a small plane. They could barely make out the tower in the distance.

Hannibal sighed, once again consulting the road map.

"Keep going straight, BA. And watch the speed - the boys in blue will be all over hell now."


*****

They stood in the shadows of a small strip mall just off the main thoroughfare, watching for more cops. Three times along the way they'd had to retreat, hide, and run. Murdock wasn't sure what had caused the attention; might have been two guys sneaking along behind a lot of pretty expensive houses and condos in the middle of the night; might have been the damn overalls that could easily be mistaken for jail uniforms. Probably both. And each time they had to evade the cops, Murdock had tried to talk Face out of this mess - just find a gas station, call Hannibal. Each time he got the same "I didn't ask you to follow me!". And each time there was a little less patience, a little more anger.

Face had chucked the road map mile or so back, and Murdock had only managed to grab it before it blew onto the freeway, noting the route carefully drawn on it. He had one last chance to turn him around. Face's destination was two streets over. Disaster was two streets over.

And Murdock knew for sure it was going to be a disaster. He no longer existed as far as Face was concerned. For the last couple miles he'd been mumbling to himself (and maybe someone else, considering the anger that popped up now and then). The mumbling itself wasn't what spelled disaster, in Murdock's opinion. It was the (mostly) calm, determined tone to it. It wasn't like Face had gone off the deep end - it sounded more like Hannibal when he was briefing the team. Of course, this time there wasn't a team. Just Face.

Definitely a disaster coming, one way or another.


*****

"You wait here, Murdock. And I mean - you wait here. The last thing you want is to be recognized."

"Who's gonna recognize me, Face?"

That surprised him. He'd been thinking about that little problem for some time, and he had just assumed Murdock had as well. Wait. He hadn't told Murdock who the quarry was. Because he wasn't Murdock's quarry.

Wrenn belonged to him. His debt. His obligation.

His problem.

"Face?"

"What?"

"Who's going to recognize me?"

"Nobody - because you're staying here."

Face thought for a moment. He could hardly just leave Murdock here waiting for him. No doubt he'd have sense enough to call Hannibal in the morning, but where would he sleep tonight? It was getting cold, and an asphalt parking lot or concrete sidewalk was hardly comfortable.

"Face - "

"Listen, Murdock, you head back the way we came. Find a phone booth and call Hannibal. He'll be pissed, but he and BA will come and get you - us. It'll take three or four hours for them to get here, of course, but I'll be done by then so..."

"Done with what?"

This really was getting irritating. "Done with my business. Now, just do what I told you and I'll see you later."

He left then, giving Murdock no chance to ask more questions.

Time for Plan B to go full bore.


*****

It took Murdock several minutes to decide, pacing in the shadows, whether or not to follow Face. On the one hand, not wanting to lose track of him; on the other hand, knowing he couldn't deal with Face any more without Hannibal and BA. Things were going to play out the way Face wanted them to with or without Murdock.

This wasn't right. This wasn't good. Damn it, why had he gone along in the first place? Why couldn't he have just stayed at the VA and watched TV? Why was he always screwing things up when it came to Face?

He didn't find a phone booth for a couple more blocks. Then no answer at the apartment. More time wasted trying to remember the mobile phone number. It took only seconds for Hannibal to answer.

"Stay right where you are, Captain. BA and I are about a half hour away."

Stunned, Murdock hardly noticed the dial tone. A half hour?

Maybe there was a god after all...


*****

Face stood for a moment, taking in the terrain. Fate again had stepped in, and in his favor. Sitting well back on an obviously expensive cul-de-sac, Wrenn's house was one of perhaps a dozen he'd seen that actually had trees and shrubbery. The neighbors on two sides were equally well-endowed with foliage. The whole set-up must have cost the former colonel a pretty penny. But right now, he needed to find out what the rest of the layout was.

The houses around Wrenn's were all dark, with the exception of scattered - and very small - security lights. Rather than keeping people out, they provided just enough light so Face didn't trip over anything. He skirted through the back yards, ducking under the many low branches, keeping an eye out for the glow of TV sets, dogs, or any other obstructions-like swimming pools disguised as "natural ponds". The only thing that caused any concern were the frequent glimpses of patrol cars on the street, which told him why people weren't overly concerned with private security.

Not that it would help Wrenn.

It took him less than ten minutes to circle the property, looking through windows, noting doors, getting a general idea of the layout. He had three possible entry points, but one was damn near perfect. At the far side of the house, facing the back of the neighbor's relatively neglected property, a simple door next to a series of high windows. There was a small single-bulb light over the door - burned out or turned off. Through the windows, he could see it was some kind of rec room.

He let out a breath, softly. Time was getting short and he had the primary target to locate and control before he could really begin. It took only seconds to pop the lock on the door. He stepped inside, all business.

Unlike his dealings with Hannibal, Face knew exactly what to expect from Wrenn.


*****

"Shit."

Hannibal and BA looked at each other, resigned to yet another stroke of bad luck. They had just spotted Murdock on the next corner, waiting, when flashing red lights popped up behind them. Figures. Right on the line between high-end businesses and even higher-end homes, driving a second-hand van that had definitely seen better days.

Nothing at all suspicious.

"Hello, fellas. Lost?"

Hannibal leaned over, smiling apologetically. "We're not lost, sir, but our friend up there at the corner is. Kinda. He started a new job today and took the wrong bus home." Hannibal turned deliberately serious. "He's, uh, 'special', if you know what I mean. He called us, scared to death, no idea how to get home..."

The cop looked skeptical, but took a long look at Murdock, who was shuffling nervously as he looked back at them.

"You guys mind getting out and coming with me. We'll go double-check with this guy, okay?"

"No problem, Officer. No problem at all."

The three men walked up the street, the deputy staying just behind the other two. Safer for the deputy - opportune for Hannibal.

"It's okay, Stevie. Told you we'd find you."

Thankfully, the deputy accepted Murdock's honest confusion in view of Hannibal's "special" comment.

"You know these fellas, mister?"

"Uh, yeah..." He glanced at Hannibal. "Uh, I got lost..."

"Uh huh. Took the wrong bus, did ya?"

"Yes sir, I sure did. Wrong bus. Really, really wrong bus!"

"Uh huh. You from California, too?"

Damn...

"I was. Not now. One minute, I'm just flying along, next minute, I'm on the wrong bus. Really, really, really wrong bus!"

The deputy wasn't phased a bit. Probably used to all kinds, this close to the Strip. He nodded at Hannibal and BA. "All right, guys. Take your friend home. Maybe work on those bus routes a bit, okay?"

"Will do. And thanks."

Hannibal should've been relieved. Would've been, if Murdock hadn't started telling him about his actual ride...


*****

The house was much bigger than it had appeared from the outside. Face would have to check each room to see if anyone else was in the house. It dawned on him he didn't know if Wrenn was married or if he had children. He didn't like the idea of dealing with any kids, but then again, they might as well learn now what their father really was. As for a wife, that wouldn't bother him at all. One way or another.

To the right of the rec room were two bedrooms. As he had guessed from his recon, the one at the end of the hall was an empty guest room. The second brought his first, though minor, obstacle - a live-in housekeeper. An older woman, she was easily gagged and loosely tied up in her closet. He'd free her when he was done.

No harm done, really.

Back through the rec room, a quick check of the kitchen, dining room, living room, penlight flicking around each for anything else of interest. Other than expensive furnishings and a lot of artwork, nothing.

He came to an angled corner, a closed door to the right and another at the end of a second hallway to the left. He slowly turned the handle on the first door, and pushed carefully. No squeak or other give-aways. Penlight in his left hand, he pulled a knife from its sheath and opened the door more fully with his foot.

Wrenn's study. A large desk, eight file cabinets - all looking organized and neat. Face looked down the hall at the tightly closed door. Listened. Wrenn had always been a heavy sleeper. Face felt not a little regret he hadn't taken advantage of that in-country. It would've saved everyone a lot of grief.

He moved to the first file cabinet. Locked, of course, not that that would stop him. The files inside were all coded, the same one Face had broken years ago, although he was having a little trouble remembering it. Just enough to recognize some of the people they'd dealt with before. Interesting that they were dated much more recently. He might take a look at those later. After...

He quickly looked through the next cabinet, found more of the same. Frustrated, he looked at the half-dozen other cabinets against the wall. It would take days to go through them all, let alone decipher the ones he actually needed. No way he could do it before Hannibal showed up. Not on his own.

He stepped out and looked down the hall. Tightened his grip on the knife. Fine. He'd just have Wrenn tell him where they were, before he got to their other business.


*****

It had taken them almost twenty minutes to find a place to hide the van, if next to a storage trailer outside a mini-mall could be called hidden. BA had figured the cops wouldn't see it unless they actually drove past it, and there really was no reason for them to do that. Nevertheless, finding the spot and then getting the five blocks to Wrenn's address without being reported had eaten up precious time.

At least with the three of them it hadn't taken long to check out the property. Hannibal now stood by the corner of the garage, just out of the light. Murdock had come up behind him just a moment before, shaking his head. Neither had found anything amiss.

Maybe their luck had changed and they'd catch Face before he got to Wrenn.

BA came around the far corner, scowling as he beckoned to them.

So much for luck.


*****

Even someone like Wrenn, who'd seen his share of close combat, was helpless against a knife to the throat when encumbered by bed covers. 22 - Wrenn.bmpFace chuckled softly as he flipped on the bedside light and saw the wide-eyed confusion.

Even better when the confusion turned to recognition, then disbelief.

"Surprised, Colonel?"

Wrenn started to shake his head, thought better of it.

"Thought you were - "

"Dead? Yeah, a lot of people did." Face quickly ran his hand under the pillows. "No gun, Colonel? Ah, the nightstand then." He stood, still holding the knife in place, noting the increased discomfort of his prisoner as it pressed a bit harder. "Nervous, Wrenn? Afraid I'll lose my balance?"

"What do you want, Peck? Money?"

"That would be your first thought. No, I'm looking for something much better."

Abruptly he pulled the knife away, leaving a small trail of blood, and pulled the nightstand drawer open. Sure enough, a M1911 lay waiting. He picked it up, did a quick check - fully loaded. Good. Slipping the knife back in its sheath, he settled calmly into a chair, pointing the gun at Wrenn's head.

"Now, down to business. I want to know exactly what you know about the robbery."

"The... you mean that cock and bull story about Hanoi?"

Face frowned. "Not the way to start out, Wrenn. I know, I know, the whole bombing thing and records lost..." He sighed dramatically. "But you and I both know you liked to keep your own set of records, and since you were the one who ended up in charge, you had access to anything of Morrison's that was found. So I'll let you reconsider your answers. Try to remember how things were over there." He sat up a little straighter. "Like in Saigon..."


*****

Hannibal was in the lead, carefully and as quietly as possible following the murmur of voices. He knew better than any of them what Wrenn's methods of dealing with Face had been. But unlike Wrenn, the team knew this was different from Nam, and Face's assumed calm now hid an erratic volatility. As long as the voices remained soft and, more importantly, relatively calm, Hannibal thought they were okay taking their time. He didn't want to upset the apple cart, causing things to happen that didn't need to, even though the sense of urgency was hard to ignore.

But there was another, more selfish reason Hannibal was taking his time. Face had precipitated Hannibal's future plans of finding out what Wrenn knew and if it could possibly help prove their innocence. Tonight could now be the only opportunity any of them would have for that, so Face had to be given enough leeway to break Wrenn down, but no more. Hannibal would take it from there.

He came up slowly on the partially open door, the conversation beyond it coming through clearly. He listened, and then, confused, leaned in closer to make sure he was hearing right. He had made assumptions about what Face had in mind for Wrenn, but what he was hearing wasn't a confrontation. This sounded like a negotiation - and for the very information Hannibal wanted.

Nevertheless, Hannibal figured Face intended to kill Wrenn once he'd gotten what he wanted. The hatred between the two men had been monumental back in Nam, and Face obviously had no problem now when it came to violence; Hannibal would have to stop things before it got out of hand. But Face just as obviously had a primary mission to be dealt with, and if there was one thing that hadn't changed, it was Face's almost obsessive need to complete the mission. No matter how much he and Hannibal had butted heads about the ways and means, they knew the desired result was the same for both. Face would not kill Wrenn until he was absolutely convinced he could not get what he wanted from him, and Hannibal thought he knew Face well enough, even now, to anticipate when that point would come. After all, he was once again handling the dirty jobs on his own, shielding the team from any connection to his less savory methods, just as the old Face had done so often.

And once again, Hannibal was going to let him.


*****

"Why should I tell you a damn thing? What are you going to do - shoot me?" Wrenn snorted derisively.

"Oh, Colonel, you know that's not how I work. Mainly. I make deals. I made some very good ones for you, remember? So, here's our new one: you tell me what I want to know, and you - well, you save yourself a lot of pain. And if you're a really good boy, you get to live. That's a very big concession on my part, by the way."

Wrenn glared at him, but Face noted a small bit of uncertainty. He smiled.

"So, again - when did Morrison tell you about Hanoi?"

"There was nothing to tell."

"Drop it, Wrenn! You were next in line after Morrison and Smith. No way in hell you were left out of the loop, not in a combat zone. So I know you knew something!" Face took a breath, letting it out slowly. Relax. "Okay, okay, so maybe he didn't tell you about it beforehand. Maybe he left you sealed orders. Contingency orders. Secret mission - makes sense, right? Or, let's just say - for the moment - Morrison did screw up and didn't let you in on the robbery. Maybe he knew you weren't trustworthy. I could understand that.

"The point is, I know you have what I want in your records. Yeah, I found your office - and the tons of files. Same old Wrenn - everything on paper. I kept telling you not to do that, didn't I? Told you to keep it all upstairs. Why do you think I could operate the way I did? Because nobody - including you - could actually prove anything. Nothing written down. Ever. All rumors and innuendo. A lot of people believed that shit, but proof was... it was just rumors, no proof. But people believed it. Believed... a lot of the wrong people..." He stopped, took another breath. Don't go there. Stick to the Plan. Stay with the Plan!

He looked at Wrenn, smiling. "Anyway, Colonel - all you have to do is tell me which files to look at and where they are and - "

"And you're delusional! Morrison told me nothing. He gave me nothing because there was nothing! You and your team went AWOL! Turned tail and ran! You were nothing but - "

Face stepped back from the bed, frowning slightly.

"Damn. Well, at least it'll be easier to tie you up now. And when you come to, we'll move on..."


*****

Hannibal felt a firm tug on his arm, but shook his head, listening. He didn't like what he'd heard, knew BA and Murdock were getting nervous, and yet he also knew Face hadn't really lost it. He was wandering a bit, yes, and he was definitely pissed off, but he still hadn't gotten what he wanted. Until he did, Wrenn would be safe, if a bit damaged. Hannibal gave only a passing thought to the fact that didn't bother him. What Face wanted, Hannibal also wanted. He'd live with a slightly guilty conscience.


*****

Face hurried now, using his knife to slash the bedsheets into strips and tying Wrenn's hands securely behind his back. If Murdock had been able to find Hannibal, Face had only a couple hours or so to get this done. He hesitated before pulling Wrenn out of bed, hoping like hell the guy didn't sleep au naturel. He didn't think he could deal with that. No, he knew he couldn't.

Then he heard that familiar chuckle. Very faint, but it was there.

Go to hell, Harry.

He dragged Wrenn roughly out of the bed, ignoring the groan when the man hit the floor, then pulled him into the chair and tied his legs to it. Then into the bathroom for water. He hesitated, thinking he'd seen movement in the hallway, then dismissed it. He already knew Harry was here, and he would disappear the second Face opened that door. No point looking. Not when he still had work to do.

He knew Wrenn was coming to on his own, but didn't care. He poured the water from the glass very deliberately over Wrenn's head, listening to him splutter and spit with satisfaction. He had Wrenn right where he wanted him, after all these years. He could feel the thrumming again, starting to build. Harry be damned. Hannibal be damned. He had the key to his freedom tied up in this chair and the power he felt...

Un-fucking-believable.

He turned back to Wrenn, only just realizing he'd been talking to Face for some time. It didn't matter. He knew what he needed from the prisoner, and he had the power to get it.


*****

"How many times do I have to tell you?" Wrenn's voice was tired, pain in each word. "I swear to you - "

"That's a laugh! You swore Smith and the team would be left alone if I stayed, if I played ball. And what happened? You son of a bitch - you were the one that caused all of this! All of it!"

The sound that followed was unmistakable, though Hannibal hardly noticed it. He'd just known Wrenn was somehow connected with Face's re-enlistment; now he had the reason. Add some more guilt to the pile. But Face's hatred was obviously much deeper than Hannibal had imagined.

"He's not going to tell Face anything, Hannibal, or he would've already." Murdock's whisper held the slightest tremor. "Face knows it, too. He doesn't care about the files any more. You gotta stop him, Colonel."

BA also had been getting more and more restless as the interrogation had gone on, and Hannibal knew he'd waited longer than he should have. A combination of desperate hope and his own hatred of Wrenn. But it had to stop now; Face was too close to doing serious damage.

With a resigned nod at his team, he reached for the door.


*****

Face was pacing - rather difficult to do in such a small room. It hadn't seemed so small before, and he knew it couldn't possibly be getting smaller. This wasn't fucking Alice in Wonderland! No, it was just... the thrumming. The longer Wrenn defied him, the louder it got, the more persistent, and the smaller the room got. He thought he'd learned to control it - he had controlled it!

Only when Smith is near. You control nothing. You are too weak.

Fuck you! He strode over to Wrenn and yanked his head back.

"Tell me where the files are. Now."

"How many times do I have to tell you?" Wrenn's voice was tired, pain in each word. "I swear to you - "

"That's a laugh! You swore Smith and the team would be left alone if I stayed, if I played ball. And what happened?"

You know what happened. If not for this man, your team safe. If not for this man, you go home. Instead - you go with me. Harry smiled smugly from the corner.

For once, Harry spoke the truth. All of it, every second of Face's personal hell, was because of Wrenn's blackmail.

"You son of a bitch - you were the one that caused all of this! All of it!"

Face's fist slammed against Wrenn's temple, whipping his head back against the chair. Wrenn slumped forward, groaning, as Face stalked away.

He had to think. Wrenn wasn't going to tell him anything - and there was no way he could find the right files in time. But he would not let Wrenn win yet again. Think!

The damn thrumming surrounded him. He hefted the knife. Only one way to stop it now. Smith would be here in an hour, maybe a little more. This could still work. The colonel would find the body. No way he'd call the cops - the military would see the connection right off. No, Smith would either walk away, or take steps to hide the body, make sure it wasn't ever found. It would take a couple days before anybody noticed Wrenn's absence. If he were careful, Face could come back after Smith had gone, take his time to go through the files and take what he needed. He could clear the team and have his freedom from all of them.

He looked at Wrenn. Time to end all of this.