CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

Hannibal opened the office door, startling the two Ables standing outside. He spoke quickly and quietly.

"You wanna help save your boss' ass tonight, keep your mouths shut and listen. As far as you're concerned, Stockwell is still in this office, working. If anyone comes up to the door, don't try to stop him. Just knock on the door and announce him so I have a little notice, okay?"

The older of the two Ables looked at Hannibal, trying not to stare at the dark wig. "Yessir...General."

"Good man." Hannibal grinned and went back inside, closing the door.

"All set, Colonel?"

"Yeah, they'll let him through. Better get in position; I don't know how long he'll wait."

Murdock moved quickly behind the heavy drapes to the left of the door, making sure his feet were hidden. Face would notice something like that. BA stood to the right of the door, partially hidden by a wooden pillar; it was hoped Face wouldn't realize he was behind him until it was too late.

Hannibal sat at the desk, tapping a pen. He really would like a cigar right now but it would be a dead giveaway.

It took another 20 minutes.

The Able knocked on the door, stuck his head in, "Able 13 to see you, sir. News on Peck."

Hannibal turned his back to the door, pretending to write notes. He didn't turn around when Face first came in; they needed him all the way in the room.

"General."

He stopped writing, slowly swiveled around in his chair, seeing Face for the first time in months. And he was more disturbed by it than he dared let on. Physically, the man looked lean and hard compared to what he had been before; there was a gauntness to his face, obvious even under that beard, and a dullness to his eyes that Hannibal hadn't seen since the war. He struggled to keep his own voice level.

"Face."

Hannibal noted the confusion on his friend's face and realized Face was not yet registering that it was Hannibal sitting in front of him. This was not good. He had planned on reasoning with Face, but it was obvious the man in front of him wasn't capable of anything except mechanically completing his task. He would have to play on the confusion. And fast.

Face had pulled the gun from his waistband. Pointed it.

Hannibal smiled at him. Hopefully it didn't look as shaky as it felt.

"You don't want to shoot me, do you, Face?"

More seconds of confusion. Hannibal saw him tighten his grip on the pistol, adjust his stance.

"Hey, Face."

Murdock moved out from behind the drapes.

"Why don't you let us take you home, Face?" Murdock smiled, a soft, reassuring smile. Face stared at him for a moment, hesitating. He backed up a step.

BA stepped out from beside the door. Moving closer, not too close. Face jumped, eyes darting to the side.

"Put the gun down, Face. You don't need it any more." BA's voice, a soft rumble. Calm him down, Hannibal...

"Face..." Hannibal spoke quietly, reassuring. Face slowly looked back at him. "Face, we know what went down over there. Stockwell will pay for his part - but not this way. We want you to come home with us. We'll figure things out from there."

"You're working with him. I put down the gun, you kill me. For him." It almost didn't sound like Face; there was no light in that voice.

"No, Face, never. Never. We didn't join Stockwell. We came to him so we could keep you alive, safe from him. It was the only way." Hannibal kept his voice low.

"You can't.... I killed three people. I broke the rules."

"You didn't feel you had a choice, Face. I know that. We all know that. I won't say it doesn't matter. I won't lie to you, Face. But we are a team. We don't walk out on trouble."

For a moment, he thought he had him. His heart almost broke watching as Face obviously struggled to think clearly. Abruptly, Face straightened.

"Where is he?" His voice was cold.

"He's here, in the house. But you don't want to kill him, Face. You don't want to be on his level. You aren't on his level."

"He has to be put down. He'll only go on doing what he's always done, destroying people."

"We can do that, Face. We can bring him down. You have the information to do that. We know that. You can bring him down without killing him."

Murdock took a small step forward. "C'mon, Face. Put the gun down. We'll work things out. You don't have to be alone any more."

Face's stance loosened slightly. For a moment he just stood there. They waited. Then the gun was slowly lowered.

"I can't go back. You can't forgive me for what I did, I know that. How could I come back to you?" There was such hopelessness in that voice.

Hannibal stood up, slowly, carefully. Face looked him straight in the eyes. Hannibal returned the gaze, strong for his friend.

"You can, kid. We can forgive you, believe me. You are forgiven." He blinked at the sudden sting in his eyes.

Hannibal felt Face's eyes boring right through him. And then Face let the gun drop to the floor.


*****

They moved out of the office. Hannibal led the way, Murdock and BA on either side of Face. Not touching him, but letting him know they were there.

"PECK!"'

Hannibal had almost reached the outer office door when Stockwell called out. He swung around, seeing the general, the Ables, and the pistol in Stockwell's hand.

"He's not armed, Stockwell. He's no danger to you. We're leaving. NOW."

He saw Face had turned toward the stairs. What was he doing? Taking off the damn gloves?

"Face! C'mon, Face. It's over. We're leaving here. Face!" There was no response.

BA and Murdock moved simultaneously as Face dropped the second glove, raising his arms in surrender. Stockwell raised the pistol, pointing at Face. Hannibal started forward, pulling his own gun.

"Don't do it, Stockwell!"

Murdock scrambled for the light switch. Before coming to Stockwell's office, BA had done a little wire switching in the basement. They had expected problems from the Ables, but they hadn't figured Stockwell would pull a gun himself. Murdock mentally crossed his fingers.

BA sprang for Face. He saw the grin on his face, heard him mumble something just before he grabbed him, hard and fast. They went down just as Murdock hit the light switch. The room suddenly flashed in brilliant light and went dark, electrical crackling all around. Someone fired off a couple shots. He heard Hannibal shouting; he couldn't tell from where. More shots. Ables were running into him and Face and themselves, not seeing who was where. BA dragged Face up; he was limp. BA had brought him down harder than he'd planned. Hoisting him over his shoulder, he headed in the direction of the front door. A moment later, he felt a hand on his other shoulder.

"Worked like a charm, mudsucker! Let's go!"

He and Murdock hurriedly worked their way through the confusion. The sparking had died down, but there were a few small fires along the wiring. The Ables had noticed it too and were now concentrating on those instead of the team.

"Where's Hannibal?"

"Don't know, big guy. He was heading toward Stockwell last I saw. Yelled at me to get out, he'd meet us outside." Murdock glanced back. He couldn't see anything but flashes and shadows. He was concerned, but not really worried. Hannibal knew what he was doing...he hoped.

Murdock nearly ran into the door before he realized they were there. Grabbing the handle, he shoved through, BA with Face right behind him. They raced around the corner of the house, shouting at the confused incoming Ables to go help inside. The van doors stood open, ready to go. Murdock jumped in the back and grabbed Face as BA handed him off. In a moment the van's motor was roaring.

"What about the colonel?" Murdock was shouting in his excitement.

"There!" BA yelled back, seeing the white haired figure running across the front lawn. Putting the van in gear, he tore across the grass. Hesitating only a moment so the colonel could climb aboard, he swung the van down the tractor trail and out onto the road.

BA and Murdock looked at Hannibal, who was breathing hard while reaching for his cigar. He gazed somberly at the road ahead of them.

"Stockwell's no longer a problem. Let's get the hell out of here."


*****

He had been attacked. That's all that he remembered at the moment. He lay still, waiting, tensed. There was a gentle rocking motion, as if he were moving, yet not moving. It was dark, except for a faint light a few feet in front of him. He could sense, though not really see, people around him. And his head hurt.

It was purely reflex. He wasn't even aware that someone had come close to him. But someone placed their fingers on the side of his neck and he exploded, grabbing the arm attached and shoving his other arm straight out, seeking the throat of the attacker. There was a shout, then everything rolled violently before coming to a sudden standstill. There were more people, more hands, voices. He fought with every bit of the little strength he had left but there were too many of them. He felt a sharp sting in his upper arm and within seconds he was enveloped in darkness.


*****

The three men sat, winded. Hannibal looked at Murdock.

"You okay? He didn't..."

"No, he was too out of it, I guess. I should have known better." He rubbed his wrist, looking worried. "How we gonna handle him all the way back to LA, Hannibal? It's gonna take 2-3 days and we can't just keep sedating him all the time."

"No, we'll keep him under until we get to some out of the way place to stay tonight. Then we'll let him come to when we can have a little more control of things. We'll see how he is then."

BA looked at him. "Y'know he was gonna just stand there and let Stockwell shoot him, don't ya? He was looking right at him, grinnin'. He ain't right, Hannibal."

Hannibal sighed. "I know, BA. I didn't realize just how bad things were until he walked into the office tonight. He was so determined to shoot Stockwell, he didn't even recognize me at first."

"He gonna be all right, though. We'll get him straightened out agin." BA glared, daring anyone to argue.

Murdock didn't say anything, but watched his friend, and worried.