It was well after midnight when it began. The house was dark, only the security lights on in the yard. The lights on the alarm panel went off suddenly, indicating a power loss. One minute later they came back on as the emergency generator kicked in. There was no indication anyone had noticed.
Carla didn't believe in gambling, especially not where Hannibal Smith was involved. For each team member, she had 10 operatives, 40 total going into the field. She sat in a small van, situated a half mile from the farm gates. She would make her appearance once the house was successfully surrounded. She wanted to be there for the end. She wanted to watch Smith turn over his weapon to her. And she wanted Peck. She wanted to see what he would do when she confronted him. Most of all, she wanted him to give her a reason to put a bullet in him.
Carla was not averse to that kind of action. Almost anyone who had been with Stockwell for any length of time had come up through the ranks. Anyone who thought she was 'just a secretary' was sadly mistaken. She hadn't necessarily gotten soft over the past few years, serving as his right hand 'man', and not being out in the field. A bit out of practice, perhaps. A bit lazy, in fact. And sometimes it was useful making people think she wasn't as competent as she actually was. Smith had certainly made that mistake. But then, she'd never really shown her true colors to any of the team. They had caught a glimpse of reality after they took out Stockwell. But only a glimpse. She'd started a little too early, before she had completely regrouped. She was on track now. And if Smith thought this was going to be a picnic, he was in for a big surprise.
He'd been lightly dozing throughout the evening. More like a quick snatch of sleep scattered through the hours. When the flotilla of vehicles started exiting the parking lot of the office building, he'd awakened in seconds. He waited until the last vehicle had gone several blocks before heading out. He knew where they were going. What he needed to find was the command vehicle.
He took a short cut to the farm, parking his car behind a billboard not quite a mile from the gate. From there he hurried through the trees and rocks for another half mile or so. Shimmying up a tree, he waited. He figured Carla would want to be close enough for quick and easy access to the house once the takeover was completed. If he was wrong, well, it might get a little hairy for the team before he could take corrective action.
Ten minutes later he breathed a sigh of relief. Headlights, three pair, coming down the road. Just before reaching his position, the lights went off and the vans slowed to a crawl, their drivers navigating by moonlight only. They stopped almost in front of him and disgorged their passengers. It was hard to see everything, but he counted at least 12 of the enemy. Knowing that at least six vehicles had left the parking lot, he realized the others must be going around to encompass the farm. Carla wasn't taking any chances, that was certain.
One van had not opened up yet. He caught a reflection of light off a small antenna on the roof. He smiled.
"Quiet so far, Colonel. Haven't reached the inner perimeter yet."
"One booby trap snapped for sure, Colonel. Close to the outer perimeter. Otherwise nothing."
"Got that, BA?"
"Ok. Eyes and ears open, guys."
This was the worst part, for any of them. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Keeping still, keeping as quiet as possible, not giving away their own positions in any way. Hoping the traps worked, hoping they saw the enemy in time, hoping they weren't badly outnumbered. Hoping nobody got killed.
To his right, a twig snapped. Followed by a loud crashing of brush and debris. Too close for him to alert the rest, but he knew they were ready. He wondered idly how many had gone down this time. He wondered how many others they hadn't heard. Didn't matter right now. They were waiting for Carla's people to surround the house. Once that had been accomplished, contact would be made with the team, demanding surrender. Or maybe they'd just start firing. Either way, it wouldn't matter. The team wouldn't be in the house.
They would be behind them.
He moved carefully, but rapidly. He didn't worry too much about being heard coming down the tree, or moving overland. The people in the van would be glued to their headphones and mic's. Thinking they were safe. Thinking they had nothing to worry about except guiding their troops to their final destination. In other words, not thinking.
He had only two concerns now. How many were actually in the van, and whether any of them would step out at the wrong time. He moved quickly across the road itself, stopping beside the van. Listening. Mumbled voices. Very carefully, he placed his ear against the side. Better. Couldn't quite make out the words, but he could individualize the voices. Carla. One male. No, two. Okay. He could deal with that.
He moved cautiously to the front of the vehicle, crouching as he crossed in front of it to the ditch on the other side, keeping low. Found a long stick. That would work. Carefully positioning himself near the rear of the van, he reached under it with the stick and gently rubbed on the underbelly. The muffle of voices continued. He rubbed again, a little harder. The voices stopped. Silence for only a moment. The van wobbled, someone getting up, moving around. The rear door opened slowly. One male stepped carefully out, gun in hand. Keeping the rear tire between himself and the man as he looked under the van, he tossed a small stone off into the weeds. When the agent stepped around the side, he was grabbed, his head pulled down, a knee shoved into his face, rolled into the ditch.
The van wobbled once again.
"Fuckin' possum." He coughed a bit as he spoke. Chuckling, the second man moved back into the van, leaving the door open.
He pulled his pistol. Stepped around and into the van in one quick motion. The second man was down and shoved out the back almost instantaneously.
"Hello, Carla. Long time, no see..."
Hannibal had to admit - these people were good. Much better than the wet-behind-the-ear recruits she'd had earlier. Sure, they were dropping like flies into the booby-traps, but only the really good traps. The leaders of the groups seemed to have a sixth sense about certain areas, and steered clear of them. From what little the team had been able to talk to each other, Hannibal figured there were probably close to twenty agents surrounding the house. The next step in his plan should probably take out about half. So figure three a piece, left over.
Piece of cake.
They were using coded clicks on their radios now. When Hannibal sent out a steady stream of clicks, they would attack. Hannibal checked in with each of them. Murdock was ready to go, as was Hannibal. BA was silent. Okay. Wait a few minutes. Watch. Hope Carla's people didn't precipitate things, that they would wait until BA's position was cleared enough for a go.
Carla's people waited just long enough. BA signaled ready, Murdock and Hannibal confirmed their status. Hannibal was just sending the go signal when Carla's people started firing on the house. Hannibal swore as he moved from his position. Damn, that's gonna cost to fix...
The shots were clearly heard in the van. He hoped Carla hadn't seen him jump; probably not. Her gaze was fixed on the wall of the van, as he sat next to her on the desk, casually swinging his leg as he held the gun to her temple. He kept his voice and demeanor casual, reasonable. Ignored the gunfire.
"Well, Carla, we seem to have a little problem here. Any ideas as to how to fix that?"
"You could surrender."
He chuckled. "You do have a sense of humor after all, Carla. I'm impressed. Now, seriously, what do you think we should do about this little situation? I was thinking along the lines of your people putting down their weapons and going home. How's that sound to you?"
Carla struggled to keep back a blasphemous retort. She was hoping to stall him until the two agents outside recovered. If they would recover. She had no idea how hard they had been hit.
"You're not answering, Carla. What's the matter? Don't like my idea?"
"You think that would solve all your problems? Just everybody shut down and go home?"
"Oh, there's a little more to it than that, Carla. Quite a bit more, actually." He stood up suddenly, bouncing the muzzle off Carla's temple, just a bit, as he did so. She winced noticeably. He smiled. It was nice to feel that buzz coming back. Just a little. "Yeah, there is quite a bit more to it. See, I don't like you continually coming after me. Or the rest of the team, for that matter. Things just start settling down for us and then you come along and cause trouble again. It's really pretty irritating. Don't you think that would get irritating, Carla?"
Reluctantly, she decided she had to go along with him. For now.
"Yes, that would get irritating."
"So why do you keep doing it, Carla?" There was a hard edge to his voice now. Carla started getting nervous. She hadn't thought he could have gotten this far; now she was wondering just how far he was willing to go.
"You shot me. I'm supposed to let that go?"
"Well, sure." Back to the calm, reasonable tone. Keeping her off balance. "Fortunes of war. I mean, I could've killed you just as easily. Just raised the sights a little, tiny bit..." He moved the muzzle up the side of her head, just a little. "You know, head shots are so much harder than a body shot. But then, where would the challenge be? Don't you agree, Carla?"
She started to nod her head, thought better of it. "Yes, there wouldn't be much challenge."
He listened for a moment; less gunfire, but enough so he knew he had to continue. He would have liked to just tell her to call it off. That wouldn't be enough. This all had to end tonight.
"I think you're a reasonable person, Carla. I would hate to think I made a mistake there in the park." He pressed the muzzle a little further. His voice got hard again. "Tell me I didn't make a mistake in the park, Carla."
"No, you didn't make a mistake. It was the right decision. I am a reasonable person." Who wants to keep her brains intact.
"Good. I don't like making mistakes. They come back to haunt a person." Cool it. Don't get on that vein.
"I guess you would know, wouldn't you?" A smirk crept into Carla's voice.
He pressed the muzzle even more, making Carla tilt her head awkwardly. "You don't want to go there, Carla. You really, really don't."
"No, you're right. I'm sorry."
He smiled again. "Good girl. Now, we need to get down to business. I have a proposition for you."
"In a manner of speaking. I prefer to think of it as coming to a mutual understanding. Doesn't that sound much better, Carla?"
"Yes, it does." Good. Carla was sounding more and more cooperative. She had to think he was just as maxed out now as he had been over there. He had to get this finished before he really was.
"Okay. Now, you know I gleaned a bit of extra information while I was doing the General's little errand, right?"
"But do you know who I talked to, to get that information? I mean, all of the people I talked to? Or how much each of these people might have told me? Any ideas at all?"
"No. I know you learned more than you should have."
"Oh, definitely. Let's see, what are some of the things I know?" He proceeded to list off several names and dates. A few places scattered across Europe. "How's that for a start, Carla?"
If it was possible, Carla had gone even whiter than when he'd first put the gun to her head. He knew he'd gotten her attention now. She knew he had enough information to bring her burgeoning empire down in ashes.
"What do you want?"
He said it so softly Carla wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly.
"I'm sorry? Did you say..."
"This is what I want. Non-interference. I won't interfere with you; you don't interfere with the team. You've had your last chance. One more time, it's the last time. I'll bring your organization to its knees, and you along with it. You know I can. You know I will."
"I call in my people, leave, never bother you again, and you keep your knowledge to yourself? How do I know you will?"
"You have my word on it, Carla. Regardless of what else you think of me, you should know that I don't go back on that."
"If I don't agree?"
"I blow your fucking brains out." Calm down, stay cool...
"You don't give me much choice, do you?"
"None whatever, Carla." Moving the gun to the back of her head, he brought his face down close to hers, almost touching, cheek to cheek, his voice so soft it was almost breathy. "Oh, and in case you're thinking of blowing a certain person to bits to keep him quiet, everything I know is written down, Carla. And in a very safe place. I'm a firm believer in insurance. So, do we understand each other, Carla?"
"Yes, I believe we do."
Thank God. He didn't have the stomach for another war.
"Good." He straightened abruptly. "Call off your goons. Now. If I see one on the grounds 30 minutes from now, all bets are off. And remember, Carla, I can destroy you. Any time. Today, tomorrow, any time. Or never. It's up to you."
Carla reached for the microphone. "What about the wounded..." She turned. He was gone. For a brief instant, she thought of reneging. Only for a brief instant. She put out the recall.
Hannibal was down to his last rounds. He knew Murdock and BA must be just as low. He was pretty sure there were only a handful of Carla's people left. Many of those surrounding the house had been taken out by the tear gas barrage, lobbed so quickly and closely they had been unable to reach their gas masks. He had hoped to force the remaining men into the house, where the rest of their booby-traps were waiting. Unfortunately, those left were the hard core veterans who had recognized the possibility and determinedly avoided that avenue.
The team's carefully planned routes to the library stronghold had been cut off when several of Carla's people had managed to out maneuver the team members. Hannibal could effectively move between two close positions. Murdock was trapped in his current one. He hadn't heard from BA in the last few minutes; there was heavy firing from that direction and he assumed BA was occupied.
Hannibal was beginning to wonder if they were going to come out of this alive when there was a sudden, shrill whistle from somewhere amongst Carla's people. Immediately the gunfire diminished to almost nothing. Shadows that had been firing at them began to drift away, moving toward the perimeter. Hannibal looked around, cautious, curious, puzzled. What the hell...?
Within minutes there wasn't a sound around them. The wounded and gassed had been carried out quickly and quietly as the shadows had disappeared. Slowly Hannibal raised himself from his position, stiff from the cold, damp ground. Looking around, he saw Murdock walking cautiously from his position. BA soon joined them, a bit of blood oozing from a graze on his arm.
"What's going on, Colonel?"
"I have no idea, Captain. But I suggest we get into the house and reload, just in case. I have this funny feeling they aren't coming back, but I'm taking no chances."
The three men hurried into the house. Standing at the door, Hannibal checked the yard and surrounding area for a few more minutes. Not a sound, not a movement. What the hell...?
He watched as the agents slowly filtered back to the vans. The two he had disabled at the command vehicle were issuing orders. Within a few minutes the vans were filled and starting back down the road, headlights blazing. Carla's was the last to go. It sat for just a few moments longer before turning around and heading back toward town.
He let out his breath. Looked at his watch. He'd been in 'negotiations' for just over 30 minutes. All the time with his gun to her head. Thank God she hadn't tried anything. It wouldn't have taken much for Carla to realize he was holding an empty gun on her...