CHAPTER FOUR

He'd driven for hours, trying to throw all thoughts from his mind. He didn't want to think about anything, anyone, any time. He finally found himself on a secluded shore, no one except a few gulls for company. Normally the ocean provided Face with a solace he could find nowhere else, but today the steady thrum of the waves was almost mocking, reproachful. The late afternoon sun had drifted behind insipid gray clouds, and the water was a cold steel color. The earlier soft, warm breeze had even changed to a cold blast. God expressing his opinion of me, Peck thought. Showing me my soul...

He was committed now. No way to change his decision. He could still tell Hannibal, but he knew exactly what would happen. The colonel would immediately take the team and escape. Stockwell may or may not be able to stop them. But he would come after them - with a vengeance. The Army would look like teddy bears compared to what Stockwell would throw at them. And there were others to consider. Maggie. Mrs. B. Frankie's dad. Father Magill...their lives wouldn't be worth a plug nickel. The general would obviously not be held to any standard of morality.

"If I survive this, Stockwell, yours will be the last death on my hands. I swear to God."

If he survived. He knew Stockwell didn't think he'd be able to complete the mission. One, probably two of the targets could be counted as dead. He knew that. He also knew that his chances of surviving the second attack were not good. He could pretty much plan his funeral after the third. Accept death and then you're not afraid of it. They faced it every time they went out on a mission. But this time he wouldn't have the team with him - he'd be facing death on his own. That made it a little different. But he would at least have the knowledge that his family would be safe - and free. He just hoped Stockwell would have the decency not to let them know the price for that. Let them think Face had just died somewhere but not how, doing what.

He shook his head. Enough thinking along those lines. Too easy for that to warp into self fulfillment. Accept the possible outcomes and then move on. Don't fix on them. He began thinking in terms of what he would need. Possible scenarios. Looking at what could happen, where, time frames - living them in his mind. What could go wrong - how he would deal with that. Contingencies. Emotions were shoved away, replaced by plans. Worry, disgust, displaced by pragmatism, professionalism. This was his job. He would do it well. Very well. He would bring on the Jazz.

He drove back to the compound. The people living in it were asleep. Good. He wasn't quite ready to deal with that problem yet. He needed to bring out more of the Professional first. Needed to get past Hannibal, to The Colonel. Past BA, to The Mechanic. Murdock, The Pilot. Frankie ceased to exist as a person at all. He was just there. The Ables were machines. He would not spend much time at the house. He needed to get some training in. The sooner he started on that the better. Get sharp. Prepared. Easier that way, not seeing them constantly. He couldn't afford to have them on his mind. He would need all his energy to complete the Job.

He quietly let himself in and headed immediately for the shower. He stood under scalding hot water, scrubbing and scrubbing. When his body felt raw, he turned off the tap and dried off, slipping immediately into bed. He didn't think he could sleep. No, he needed to sleep. He needed to be rested. It was necessary. What was needed, was necessary, would be done.

Morning came. Barely. The eastern sky was just starting to lighten when Face woke up. He quickly dressed and headed to the kitchen. He needed a good breakfast. He would need energy and stamina today because he was going to put himself through the toughest course he could think of. Today and each of the next days, until it was time.

He was just finishing when Hannibal came into the kitchen. The colonel was surprised to see his lieutenant up so early, particularly after the obviously late night he'd had. He cocked an eyebrow at the younger man.

"Morning, Colonel."

"Colonel? Awfully formal this early in the morning, aren't we?"

Face shrugged and carefully stacked his dishes in the sink. He needed to get going.

"Something wrong, Face?"

"Not at all. I have a lot of things to do today. Just a little preoccupied."

"What kind of things?"

"Odds and ends. Things I should have taken care of earlier but didn't. Anyway, I gotta get going. I'll see you later on..."

Hannibal thoughtfully watched the back door as it swung closed after his friend.


*****

"What's going on with him?" Murdock watched the 'vette pull down the driveway and onto the street. Three Ables watched but didn't even question him, which was also odd. And what was with all these extra goons, anyway? "Things are all weird, Hannibal."

"Yeah, something's going on. Stockwell's got something up his sleeve." Hannibal had watched as the additional Ables had arrived the day before yesterday. Face had just left on a date. They had shown up unobtrusively, almost wandering in, gracefully blending in the with others. But it was noticeable. They hadn't done anything aggressive, no posturing. They were just there. And they had stayed. About an hour or so after Face had left, he'd noticed a tension among them. And it almost seemed as if they were gathering around the various team members. There was a sense of waiting for something, and then, as suddenly as it appeared, the tension evaporated and the Ables spread out around the compound once more. No more tension, but they didn't leave again.

And yesterday, Face was up at the crack of dawn after getting home well after the others had gone to bed. That in itself was strange. He normally would have slept in late. He'd taken off almost immediately and been gone all day, coming home dirty, sweaty and looking exhausted. Hannibal had started questioning him, only to have Face almost deliberately turn his back on him and head for his room. He'd heard him in the shower and figured he would talk to him when he came out. He never did. Hannibal looked in his room, and Face had been sound asleep.

Then there was this 'vacation' crap. One of the Ables had brought the tickets yesterday afternoon. He found he was going to Bad Rock, BA to Chicago, Frankie to see his father. Murdock would be staying in Langley; he'd gotten a call the day before to start a new job. But Face was going to New York. New York? What the hell was in New York?

Yeah, something was definitely going on.


*****

Face had gone to a secure training area normally used by Stockwell's Ables. It wasn't quite what he needed, but he could work it adequately enough. He hated dealing with Stockwell's people on any level, but he needed spotters for the Stalk. Two spotters stood on a truck, two others walked the field. Face would start at 1000 meters out; he had to get to within 150 meters of the truck without being seen. Then he had to take a shot and get to a second position. If he was spotted at any time, he had to start all over.

The first several hours had been grueling; he'd forgotten more than he had realized. He'd been seen almost immediately the first several attempts. Slowly he began remembering things. Remembering that long ago training. The subtleties. The thinking. Planning. The movements. And then it clicked. And the Ables weren't seeing him. Not until he was right on top of them. And it felt good.

He remained at the training ground until nearly dark. And when he got back to the compound, he knew the training was still in his head, and the mission was worming its way into his subconscious. He found himself looking at Hannibal/The Colonel, Murdock/The Pilot, BA/The Mechanic. His friends were disappearing.


*****

The team were finishing a late night snack in the living room when Face walked in that night. They were tense; another day of extra Ables was getting on their collective nerves. Even Frankie was antsy. Four pair of eyes landed squarely on the lieutenant as he crossed the room with only a quick nod in their direction.

"Face. Mind telling us where you were today?" Hannibal's voice was definitely "don't walk away from me tonight!".

"Just seeing a friend, Colonel. We had a lot to talk about." They all noticed the formality in Face's voice. Something was up there.

"A friend? Who might that be?"

"A lady friend. She's going with me to New York."

Hannibal stared. "Stockwell knows about her?"

Face frowned. "Sure, he knows. He's not happy about it, but he knows. Anything else, Colonel?"

Hannibal sighed and dismissed him with a shake of his head. Face headed to his room without a backward glance.

As soon as Face was out of earshot, Murdock observed dryly, "I hope they don’t 'talk' in New York like they have here, or Face won’t live through it."

"You noticed that, too, Captain?"

"Yeah, he looked like he’d been on an obstacle course, not one of his dates. What do you suppose is really going on?"

"No idea, Murdock. But you know Face - if he doesn’t want to talk, he doesn’t talk. Maybe he needs this vacation more than we realize." Meaning, Murdock understood, that Face had better straighten things out when he got back.

"Picked a fine time to go cold on us," BA grumbled, as he and Frankie carried the snack remains into the kitchen.

"I wonder if it had anything to do with that call from Stockwell?"

"What call?"

"The other day, I heard him on the phone, I thought talking to Stockwell. Called him ‘General" a couple times. Didn’t sound real happy. Why do you suppose he’d be talking to Face instead of Johnny?"

"Oh he probably just told Face to tell Hannibal something. Face hates being his messenger and Stockwell knows it. Otherwise he don’t talk to Face any more than he has to."

They laughed, both knowing the reasons behind Stockwell’s reticence, and headed back to the living room.


*****

Murdock had decided to stay over at the compound that night. They had stayed up late, talking about the vacations Stockwell had provided. He was a little envious of the others, and yet he'd been excited about the new job as well. And after all, between missions he was pretty much free to come and go as he pleased.

He knew Hannibal was excited about seeing Maggie again, and yet they had a shared concern about events at Langley. It seemed very strange that, just when it appeared Stockwell was beefing up security, he'd suddenly decided to let them all take off. It didn't make a lot of sense. They both knew, of course, that there would be surveillance on these trips. Stockwell wasn't stupid. Still, it just didn't sit well.

Then there was Face. What was going on with him? He knew that his friend had a tendency to get preoccupied with things, but that was usually when he was running a scam. And Face hadn't had to do that for a long time...not since coming under Stockwell's wing. Little things here and there but that was about it. Murdock knew that bothered him. Not the lack of scamming necessarily, but the lack of having something he considered 'useful' to do.

As to this new 'lady friend' of his, that was bothering him, too. It shouldn't. Face always had something up his sleeve in that department. But he hadn't mentioned any one girl in particular of late, and then he's taking this one on a two week vacation? And Murdock knew damn well he hadn't been spending all this time with her. He was coming home physically and mentally wired. No woman could be that good.

"Oh, Murdock, you chauvinist!" he grinned, and fell asleep.


*****

There was no more discussion of Face’s new woman friend. The next day, he once again disappeared first thing in the morning, arriving back at the compound shortly before Hannibal and Frankie left for the airport. Murdock was going to drop BA at the train station. The departures were strained. Four people felt there was something wrong about leaving, but couldn’t explain what exactly. The fifth felt it would probably be the last time they saw each other and yet dare not express anything other than normalcy. ‘The Colonel, The Mechanic, The Pilot,’ he thought, as his friends disappeared.

Face’s flight didn’t leave until later in the evening, so when Murdock returned, he offered to take him to the airport, hoping to meet the new lady.

"That’s all right, Murdock. I’ve already arranged for a limo for us."

"A limo? Geez, Face, what are you going to do, marry this one?"

Giving Murdock an exasperated glance, Face retreated to his room. Except for giving him a hearty good-bye when the limo arrived, Murdock didn’t see him again.