CHAPTER ONE

Face was not happy about this meeting. When Stockwell had contacted him yesterday, he had specifically said he had a mission for the lieutenant alone, and he was not to mention it to the rest of the team. Naturally, Face's first instinct was to talk to Hannibal, but something in Stockwell's tone had told him to wait. So now he sat in his 'vette, watching a Little League game playing out a hundred yards away, with no one else around except an occasional dog walker. Stockwell had said to be at the park at 3:00 and he had arrived twenty minutes early to check things out. Not that he thought Stockwell would plan any betrayals - but why make it easy?

He didn't like the idea of solo missions. They never worked out well. Hell, they just plain never worked out. They were a team, that's how they functioned, that's how they existed. Solo missions were like taking three wheels off a car and expecting it to win the Indy. But Stockwell would probably have some extreme reason why this would be a one-man job. Then the question would be why Face? Stockwell had no great respect or liking for the LT, he'd made that clear from the beginning. The general found him redundant, cannon-fodder. And certainly Face felt that way himself many times. Hell, most times. There were very few times he'd actually been needed for his "special skills"; occasionally out in the field, when they'd been out of touch with Stockwell or it had been quicker just to deal with situations on site. So again, why Face? What possible use would Stockwell have for him?

'Speak of the Devil, here comes Stockwell now. If he wants to keep things under wrap, he needs to lose the limo. Not exactly clandestine, buddy.'

The vehicle pulled up a few yards from the 'vette, and sat. Heaving a deep sigh of resignation, Face pulled himself from his car and sauntered over. He settled himself in the back, facing his nemesis.

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant. I trust you had no problem leaving your teammates in the dark?"

"No, I told them I had a date. They'd never think of you in those terms."

"Hmm. Down to business, Peck. I have a very special assignment for you - and for you alone. If you complete it satisfactorily, the A-Team will have the pardons within hours of that completion."

Face shook his head. "Sorry, General - been there, done that. Hannibal may believe in your fairy tales still, but not me."

"I suggest you revive your faith in the system, Lieutenant. For this mission, you will not be working exclusively for me - or the United States, for that matter. And that means the 'fairy tale' has a bit more substance."

Stockwell straightened, his businesslike demeanor becoming even more pronounced, if that was possible.

"What I have to say from here on out is strictly between you and I, Peck. No discussion with the rest of your teammates, no discussion with anyone. If it goes outside this vehicle, the mission will be immediately aborted and you'll be lucky if you see a pardon in time for retirement. Do we understand each other?"

"Pretty concrete, General."

"Very well. Now, some background. Over the years, there has been a growing problem with terrorists in the Middle East. Most of these groups are small, disorganized, relying on local fanatics to provide them with manpower and supplies. Recently, leaders of a few of these groups have started discussing a coalition. Historically, these coalitions have never worked out. However, this trio of extremists are not only highly respected among their followers, they are articulate and practical. They know that, as individual factions, they will not be able to achieve their ultimate goals. They also know if they were to combine forces, not only would they have more manpower and resources, they would provide a strong front to the rest of the world - and in turn, gain even more followers and resources."

Stockwell paused to sip his coffee. Peck was looking bored yet curious. Stockwell knew he had no idea what was coming.

"Obviously, if these men are successful, this would be disastrous in terms of not only national security but in terms of Middle East stability. It would have massive ramifications worldwide. Therefore, I - and the other people I am working with - have decided that we must put a stop to this coalition before it reaches fruition.

"We also realize that this cannot be accomplished through normal - or legal - channels. That's where you come in, Lieutenant."

Face was not liking the direction this whole conversation was going. What the hell could he do about a bunch of fanatics halfway across the world? These jokers couldn't be captured by just one man; it would take the whole team and then they wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting them away from their followers. And if they couldn't be captured...

"What's the mission, General?"

"We need this threat...eliminated. Permanently. You will take care of that."