CHAPTER SIX

The target and his entourage had engaged rooms for a week in a small hotel near the center of the town. This had been done two days ago, and the lieutenant had been notified at once. He had not gone immediately to the location. He continued his routine the next day. It gave him time to complete his appearance, rest, and see if any conflicting information surfaced. He spent several hours breaking in the barrel of his rifle. It was custom built. McMillan stock, Remington 700 action, patterned after the USMC M40. Effective range about 2600 feet. He had ordered three of them.

That night, he made his first foray into hostile land.

He was not dressed in the traditional garb this time. There was no need to hide his face, now darkly tanned and bearded, even during the day. He had no intention of being seen, however, day or night. He was dressed in dark casual clothing and was carrying a duffel containing his rifle, a single clip, scope, shooting glove, and a gutrah and thaub ready for his escape. It also contained enough rations and water for three days. If it took longer than that, it wouldn't happen. This time.

He easily found the address of his prey. He didn't go closer than a block away, near enough to see what it looked like, far enough not to be noticed. He stayed to the shadows as much as possible. He didn't want to be seen, but he didn't want to raise suspicions at this point if he were. Once he had set the location in his mind, he moved on to the next street. He was more circumspect here. He was getting closer to the area where he would be hidden away, and wanted no one remembering any strangers wandering the streets at night.

One more street over he found his spot. A series of taller buildings, business offices according to intelligence, which faced the target's building. Finding the rear entrance, the lieutenant quickly picked the lock and entered the silent building, and made his way quickly but carefully to the top. From the roof's air conditioning system, he could easily see the side of the street where Aadil would exit his hotel. He quickly hid the duffel in among the air conditioning equipment and exited the building. He needed to walk the area, confirm in person what satellite photos had already told him about the layout of the area, to ensure a quick and orderly escape from the roof after the job was completed. Tomorrow, he would venture down during business hours, to see how crowded the building would be, how his escape might be helped or hindered by the flow of people in and out of the building and streets. Beyond that, he would not leave the roof until his final escape.

He confirmed three different avenues of escape. Tomorrow he would decide which one would be the most viable, keeping the others open as contingencies. He returned to his rooftop perch and pulled the scope from his duffel. A quick check of his target's building confirmed that all was quiet and he found a shielded place to sleep. Tomorrow would be more observe, confirm, practice. After that, he would wait for opportunity.


*****

The target was moving. The lieutenant had watched the early scouts come out of the building, casually studying their surroundings. The next set of bodyguards stepped out, glancing back at the doorway to the hotel. The target would be next out.

He had lain on top of the air conditioning unit for hours. His position was secure from observation for the most part, thanks to the height of the building and other parts of the buildings' mechanical systems, but he acted as though he were constantly under observation. His movements, though few, were cautious and slow. His rifle rested against his cheek, held in position by the bipod. He watched through the scope, every movement, every nuance of the bodyguards. His gloved finger rested lightly on the trigger. He made his breathing slow and regular, finger tightening slightly with each exhale.

The doors to the hotel opened once again. Target sighted. Stepping out, talking to his entourage, nodding sagely, smiling occasionally. Stopped, glancing around the street. Talking some more.

The lieutenant tensed slightly. No room for doubts, no room for any thought other than the job. Sighting on the target. Calming. Readying. Finger tightening, not jerking, slowly pressing back on the trigger. Ready...ready...ready...

Figures moving, running, pointing. The rifle laying on the roof. A door opens. Stairwell. Thaub thrown on. Steps. Another door. Quick left into the men's room. Gutrah placed carefully, calmly. Hallway. More stairs, doors, halls. Street. Crowds. Sirens in the distance. Melting into the crowd. Movements calm, calculated, brisk. Side street. Alley. Street. No panic. Blending in. Disappearing. A ghost...


*****

"They're killing each other off again," Frankie commented.

"What's that?" Murdock glanced over, feigning interest while bouncing a rubber ball off the wall. It was beginning to get on everyone's already frayed nerves.

"Somebody took out the head of one of those terrorist gangs."

Hannibal was deeply involved in mending a shirt, peripherally interested in Frankie's comments. He looked up at the TV. Apparently the guy was some big shot over there.

BA would rather have been watching a baseball game. People getting killed was the last thing he wanted to think about. Unless it was killing Murdock - him and that damn ball. As the ball sailed past his head one more time, a meaty fist reached out and grabbed it. One less ball in the world. Murdock stuck his tongue out at him.

Hannibal smiled at the exchange. Something close to normal. It had been a long time. Smith's thoughts jumped to his missing teammate. He hadn't gone a day without wondering about Stockwell's thin explanation for Face's continued absence. The general had appeared dangerously angry that the missing man had apparently disappeared with his new girlfriend, but Hannibal had had a hard time believing that Face would just take off with no word to his team, especially with someone he hadn't mentioned before. Yet his behavior of the three days before their vacations would certainly confirm that he had had plans he didn't want the team to know about.

Murdock noticed the colonel's smile, and how it faded so quickly. He knew what Hannibal was thinking about. Who. It had been a long, long month...

....To say that tempers were flaring would be the understatement of the decade. Murdock arrived at the compound after getting off work, and found Hannibal shouting at Stockwell with none of the bantering edge.

"How the hell would I know, Stockwell? You're the one who let him go to New York! You're the one that okayed this woman to go along! And where were your guys? They sure made their presence known where I was. BA and Frankie, too. So where were Face's guys? Sleeping or drunk?!"

"I expect you to control your men, Colonel, regardless of where they are or who they're with! Your lieutenant never mentioned this woman to me. If he had, that would have been the end of it. Are you trying to tell me he never once said anything about her to you? Or about his plans to desert?" Stockwell sounded angrier than Murdock had ever heard him before.

"Wait a minute, man, ain't nobody deserted!" BA was getting more and more worked up.

"Easy, BA, easy, he didn't really mean that, did you, General?" Frankie was bouncing between the two men, trying to stave off a worse disaster.

"You find my man, Stockwell, or you let us go find him! One way or another, he's going to be found!"

"You will stay right here, Colonel, and so will the rest of your unit. In fact, no one is going anywhere until your lieutenant is back where he belongs."

Stockwell stalked out of the house, leaving Hannibal standing open-mouthed and angry.

"What the hell's going on?" Murdock glanced from one to the next.

"Face took a powder." Frankie flinched when Hannibal glared at his phrase. "Well, he did, Johnny." Looking back at Murdock, he explained, "Stockwell said he and his girlfriend arrived at the hotel, spent a couple days there and then disappeared. He's really pissed."

"Fool thinks Hannibal can just make him reappear out of nowhere." BA was pounding his fist into his palm, anger pouring out of him. "If I get hold of the Faceman I'm gonna pound him good!"

"Well, now wait a minute, BA. Do we know for sure Face took off? I mean, has anyone checked the hospitals and...stuff?"

"Yeah, Stockwell checked everywhere, he says," Hannibal actually growled. "Face has taken off with that woman, that's pretty clear to him. I just can't believe he'd leave without saying anything to any of us."

"Well, it does kinda explain the way he was acting before we all left, though. I wonder who this gal is? She must be something special for him to do this."

Hannibal was starting to calm down. "I don't like it. If Face had talked about this new girlfriend, said anything at all about her, then maybe I could believe him leaving with her. Maybe. But this is Face..."

"He'd never do it, Hannibal. We all know that."

"Yeah, I know, BA. And probably, in another couple weeks, he'll come running back, all apology and relieved as hell to be away from her." Hannibal almost smiled. But it wasn't adding up. He knew that all of them had been shadowed during their vacations. That would have been normal procedure. But this was something more. He'd KNOWN the Ables were there. The surveillance was too tight. It was overkill. And yet Face, with a girl who wouldn't know surveillance if it bit her on the ass, had managed to slip away. Face was good, but not that good.....

Things had only gotten worse. The more time passed with no word, the more volatile Hannibal had gotten. He verbally attacked Stockwell at every opportunity. He baited the Ables without mercy and without any of the sardonic humor. He might have continued, had it not been for BA. Hannibal had been going at one of the Ables again, taking his anger out on the unhappy man after yet another confrontation with Stockwell. BA had watched for a moment, then lumbered over, slugged the Able, and then looked at Hannibal without saying a word. Hannibal just stared as several other Ables ran over.

"Now, did I just accomplish anythin', Colonel?" BA finally asked.

"Not really, Sergeant."

"You think you're screaming at these guys is doing any better?"

Hannibal shook his head, chagrined.

"You better start remembering you still got other people in your unit, Hannibal. You ain't the only one angry and hurtin'. Okay?"

There were no more tirades against the Ables, although Stockwell didn't escape them. Hannibal hadn't given up; but he wasn't giving in to the incredible frustration he felt. He took every scrap of information Stockwell gave him and tried to come up with a plan. But, isolated on the compound, surrounded on every side by alert guards, he was hamstrung. So he thought and planned and thought some more. And tried to keep his other men occupied.

And Frankie kept thinking about that phone call.