CHAPTER SEVENTY THREE


If Hannibal thought Carla would be furious, he underestimated her. She was apoplectic. Her subordinates, at least the lucky ones, tried to stay out of her way. The rest were grateful if they left work with their heads still attached that day. Several muttered, low, that if they had felt safe doing so, they would quit. But you didn't quit Carla.

That Baracus had taken the couple to the farm without anyone notifying her immediately was bad enough. Had she known, the three would have been her guests before they had gotten close to safety. Then, to have Smith and Baracus within her grasp and allowed to escape without so much as a gun drawn...it was like a slap in the face. That they had given her people the slip taking the couple to the airport was an embarrassment as great to her as Smith's missing the bugs had been to him. The only saving grace in the entire debacle was her lone agent at the airport, who had alerted her to the departure of the couple. Unfortunately, when they reached their initial destination, alternative identities had been assumed and they had disappeared off the face of the earth. She could find them, but it would take time she didn't have.

Dr. Sullivan was crossed off as an alternative hostage. Based on sheriff's reports, gotten through various methods, she learned that someone was making continual anonymous threats against the bitch. Patrols around her home and office had increased, and any excursions she made were shadowed discreetly by an unmarked. There would be no way of picking her up without involving the local authorities. She wasn't worth it. She had to hand it to Smith. He'd won that round.

The last bit of information she received decided her. Peck. Reports were returning that he was target practicing next to the barn. A large wooden target had been painted on it, a female figure, the name in bold paint above it obvious. All shots taken were head shots.

She began assembling her own team. Her assault team.


*****

"Think she bit, Colonel?"

"I think so, Captain. The target's pretty good sized. Her people couldn't have missed it. And hopefully they were concentrating on your left handed shooting instead of your height. Good thing we had a good supply of squibs left." Hannibal chuckled. Murdock couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with his left hand. With a little of Frankie's left-over 'movie magic', they'd made him look every bit as good as Face had been right-handed. As long as Murdock kept his sunglasses on and wore that cap of Face's, he hoped the view through binoculars would be convincing.

"How long you figure before she'll hit?"

"I would say soon, maybe even tonight. We've insulted her in the most basic ways. Made her and her people look like amateurs with Joe and Molly, and made her look like a fool in front of her people with that target. She's angry enough with the rest of us - now 'Face' has added insult to injury - literally. Her temper and pride won't let her ignore that challenge. Yeah, she's not going to wait long at all. " Hannibal gazed around the yard, stopping on the gate to the meadow. He was glad Face was with Trish, far from Carla. He would have liked to have called him, try to explain his reasons better, but hadn't dared, for fear Carla would be able to trace it. For the same reason, he'd told Trish not to call them.

He'd felt bad, very bad, watching Face packing up. He hadn't said much to Hannibal when he'd come back in with Murdock. Only that he would go to Barlow Creek and wait. Just before crawling into the back seat of Maggie's car, he'd looked long and hard at Hannibal.

"Be careful, Hannibal. Remember what she said about a woman scorned. She may be green, but she's not dumb." And then Maggie had driven away with him.

Hannibal broke out of his memories. "Okay, guys, let's get ready. She could be arriving any time. We want a proper welcome ready." He grinned around his cigar. Finally some action.


*****

It had taken him some time to find them. He was impressed. These people had learned a few things since their last encounter with the team. But they weren't quite up to par yet. Just the fact that he had found their hiding place told him that. He'd listened to their one-sided conversation with Carla's base for quite some time before he knew enough to make his first move. It only took a moment to place the homing device on their vehicle. These two would be heading back within an hour. Then he'd know exactly where Carla was hiding.

He'd thought about taking her there. But she would have too many defenses set up. It would better during the heat of battle. When her mind was otherwise occupied.

He double-checked the tracking device, making sure it was solidly placed and functioning. He had one more errand to run.


*****

BA was checking the inner perimeter system. He figured Carla's people already knew about it and would most likely disable it as quickly as possible. They had a backup generator ready so he wasn't too worried. Nor was he concerned about the various booby-traps. Carla would be expecting those. They just wouldn't know where to look for them. And BA knew a few tricks he was sure Carla had no inkling of. Things you couldn't learn in spook school. Little things you learned in the jungles of war, on the streets of Chicago. Nitty-gritty things. Not nice things.

But then, Carla wasn't nice.


*****

Murdock was busy checking the house. Every method of entrance had been carefully booby-trapped, waiting to be set. He moved to the library. Their last stand place, chosen because it was located closest to the center of the house and was most defensible. Hopefully they wouldn't end up in there. If they did, it would mean Carla's people had been able to push through all their defenses in numbers great enough to mean the team's defeat. Hannibal intended to keep his promise to Face and Mama as long as possible. If they ended up here, all bets were off.


*****

He had to be careful now. He couldn't be sure where Carla's watchdogs were, if they could even see the back side of the meadow. He'd made his way slowly along the perimeter, had seen signs of where they had been, but nothing this far back. He also had to circumvent BA's security system, no easy task. If he hadn't known about it, known where the sensors were, he would have set it off in no time. As it was, it took longer than he wanted to get past it.

He found the gun almost immediately. It had dropped unharmed to the ground where he'd stood. He cleaned it quickly, efficiently. Checked the cartridge. Held it in his hand, thinking hard. Decided. Shoved it in with a hard snap. Cautiously retraced his path.

Back at the car, he checked his tracker. They should be starting to move any time now. He would follow, find Carla. Then it would be a matter of sitting back and waiting for her to move.


*****

Carla listened to the report from her observers. Smith was expecting her; she had known that. A lot of activity in the last day, especially the last few hours. No more sightings of Peck, but she'd expected that, too. He may think he was ready for her, but she knew Smith would be keeping him under wraps as much as possible. She was well aware of his problems. She'd seen the reports from overseas even before Stockwell had. Had been right there during his journeys here in the States. Known what was going on at the farm. So he thought he was ready for this, did he? She and Smith knew better. That's why he wasn't out and about with the rest of them. Was it his idea to hide away in the house, or Smith's? She could imagine his thoughts as the tension built, waiting for this confrontation. Starting to think about firing at real people again, instead of that wooden target. Starting to wonder if he could do it again. She looked forward to meeting up with him again. Very, very much.

She glanced at the clock. A while yet. Her people were getting ready. These weren't the green recruits Smith had run into at the motel. She wasn't stupid. Smith may be the enemy, but he was smart. She listened to smart people. She learned from them. Stockwell had been smart. But he'd been arrogant, too. That had been his downfall.

And Smith was every bit as arrogant. Every bit...


*****

The sun set slowly. He watched the old office building closely. A lot of people in and out. And they weren't the kind of people the colonel had described from the motel. Their bearing told him they were seasoned professionals. Hopefully the colonel had taken that into consideration. He must have. He wasn't stupid.Friendship Surveillance

He watched from the car for several hours, slumped down so he could just see over the dashboard. No one had looked in his direction. Good. They weren't infallible then. A little too confident. That was Carla. She was smart enough. She just gave herself a little more credit than she should.

Stockwell had been like that, too. Too sure of himself. Too sure of his people. That had been Stockwell's problem. He and the colonel were alike in that way. Hopefully, the colonel was being more realistic. Not so much Jazz. Not tonight. You had to be confident, a little too much so, when you headed into a battle. Otherwise you defeated yourself. But overconfidence could also kill you.

He'd never been overconfident. His problem was something else. Something the colonel had never had. Something that allowed him to do things others wouldn't, couldn't. Something he'd always had. Or maybe it was really something that he was missing. It wasn't that he didn't fear dying. None of them did. No, his problem was a little different.

His problem was thinking death just might be better...