CHAPTER NINE

Carla sat at her desk, chewing anxiously on her pen. It was a habit she had given up years ago. Mostly. She only did it now when she was extremely agitated. And she was definitely that.

This was not the way it was supposed to happen. Peck was supposed to find his old partner and allow the team to bring him back in. Instead, he appeared to be as inept at finding the man as the rest of them. And yet...there was that phone call from Smith. Something was going on with Peck. Something that had the colonel worried enough to contact her. Worried enough not to contact Stockwell.

So why the hell hadn't they found him yet? Good God, he was leaving a path for Peck that a blind man could follow. And time was running out. She'd seen the list of demands and deadlines. Every one of the demands linked to a financial 'arrangement' of some sort. Either through Stockwell's organization or Barish's group. She could give a rat's ass about Barish's bunch, but Stockwell's items were the first ones on the list. By the time they got to Barish, Stockwell - and Carla - would be permanently out of the picture.

Which meant Smith and his men would be out in the cold. With a death warrant hanging over them. She wondered if Peck even knew about that.

Maybe it was time she had a little talk with the lieutenant. Find out why he hadn't found his old partner yet and if he realized the consequences if he didn't. Yes, it was definitely time for a tete a tete.


*****

He had rented the basement apartment. It was dark, damp, and had cockroaches, but he didn't care. He didn't spend that much time there, and it was directly across the street from the park. He moved in the very day he signed the lease. By that evening, he was settled in with the furniture he'd picked out the day before. A four inch cockroach named Ernie, now at home in a small terrarium, kept him company. Until Face could get away. Face. All his resolve about that name had flown out the window when he'd finally seen him. But seeing the confusion the man was still trying to work through, he'd renewed that resolve. Sighing, he sat down with his maps and papers, going over the last details. After an hour or so, he pulled out his Sig and started cleaning it. He had no intention of needing it, but he also intended to be prepared.

He had given Stockwell a little extra time for the next deadline. He knew the general would have to work with some other people on that one, and, 'influential' the general may be, these other guys were stubborn. He idly wondered if Stockwell would actually bow down to him on any of his list. He doubted it. To do so would wreak as much havoc on his organization as the financial fiascos. Undoubtedly he recognized that his organization was sentenced to destruction, either way. And then it would be the other guys' turn.

He wasn't sure why he'd placed Stockwell at the head of the list. Probably for Face. Face had not had any choice. Not like he had. Not that it was exactly voluntary, but his 'career' had pretty much marked him for a guinea pig. He hadn't exactly lived a lily-white existence. And that had been by choice.

How was it he'd described it to him? A nightmare. Yeah, that was a pretty good description. Not something he was proud of. Not now, anyway. He'd learned some things from being around Face. Even though he wasn't Face then. But the quality of the person still came through. If it hadn't, they both would have been dead already. From Face he'd learned what loyalty meant. Real loyalty, not that blindly-do-as-you're-told-and-wave-the-flag-while-you're-at-it loyalty. The stuff they crammed into you so you could butcher babies without blinking an eye.

He closed his eyes. Those memories he didn't want. Those belonged to someone else. Someone monstrous.

Someone that should have died a long time ago.


*****

"Well, Stockwell's out for blood. Ours." Hannibal glared at the assembled team. While his speech was given to all of them, all but one knew who it was intended for. "I cannot believe that we allowed a two-bit extortionist to slip past us."

"I wouldn't exactly call him two-bit, Colonel." Face's voice was calm but there was just a bit of a flash in his eyes. "After all, he took Stockwell for a cool million."

"Oh, that's right. The extortionist who stole confidential material and didn't have enough honor to turn them over when he got paid that 'cool million'. In my book that's two-bit."

"I'd hardly worry about honor when you consider who you're working for, Colonel."

"You forgetting that you also work for the general, Lieutenant?"

"I only wish I could. Along with a lot of other things I wish had stayed forgotten. For good." Face stalked out of the living room and slammed into the bedroom. A moment later they heard the shower going.

"Well, how's your plan working, Hannibal? I mean, I was really impressed, the way he opened up to us like that. How 'bout you, BA?"

"Shut up, fool."

"Okay, Murdock, the idea is not to get him to open up. The idea is to piss him off. And keep pissing him off until that control goes. That happens, we're going to find out what the hell is going on."

"And then what?" Murdock was kneading his baseball cap, angry at the whole situation.

"And then we'll know how to finish up this job and go home." Hannibal sighed, looked down at the floor. He had to collect himself before going on. He'd allowed his true anger at the circumstances to push through a little too much. He wasn't the only one who had to keep control. "Look, Murdock, you know we can't let this go on. Much as I'd like to see it happen, we can't afford to let Stockwell fall. Not yet. Not until we have those pardons in our hands."

"I know that, Hannibal." Murdock recognized Hannibal's dilemma. And his conciliatory tone. "I'm just worried about Face. Not only why he's being like he is, but what's going to happen when we make him blow his lid."

"Then we'll do what we need to, to pick up the pieces. The way things are now is not good for him, either, Murdock. It's not good for anyone. The longer we let him go, the further back he falls into that other guy, and I'm not prepared to let that happen. This is as much for him as it is for us. More so. A hell of a lot more."

"Okay, Hannibal. I know. It's just hard...especially when it worked so well." Murdock smiled up at him, just a bit of a gleam in his eye.

"Yeah, I know...I know..." Hannibal chuckled, the gleam in his own eyes brilliant.


*****

Face stood under the hot pelting water, trying not to think, trying to calm down. He had to quit losing his temper like that. Damn, damn, damn it! He was so sick of that sanctimonious, overblown, son of a bitch! Two-bit. Right. He'd make twenty of Smith. As if Smith and his group hadn't taken down bad guys in any way they could. What the hell did he think Stockwell was? And Barish! God, of all the sick bastards...

He didn't even realize he'd done it, until he felt the pain running up his arm. His fist, where it had slammed into the side of the shower, felt like mush. Oh, shit. Shit. Shit. Shit!

He heard the pounding on the bathroom door.

"Face! Face! Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm alright! Just...just forget it."

There was a pause. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, dammit, Murdock, just leave me alone, will you?"

He stepped out of the shower and immediately held his hand under a gush of cold water from the sink. The throbbing started abating but he knew the hand was going to be swollen up. He carefully flexed the fingers and wrist. Hurt like hell but he didn't think anything was broken. Shit.

He sat down on the edge of the tub. What the hell was he doing? This was not him. He did not lose his temper like this. He did not lose control like this. He...hell, he didn't know if he did or not.

Painfully, he wrapped a towel around himself and opened the door, nearly bumping into Hannibal. Great. Just fucking great.

"Problem, Face?" No anger in the voice this time.

"No, I'm fine. I just need some sleep."

Hannibal took his arm, firmly but gently, bringing the rapidly swelling hand up. "Why don't we wrap that up first?"

If it hadn't hurt so badly, Face would've pushed away. There was something unsettling about letting a man he was coming to loath take care of him. But it did need wrapping and he couldn't do it himself.

"Fine." He pulled his arm away, but not angrily. He sat on the side of the bed as Hannibal took care of the hand.

"Okay?"

"Sure."

"Face, I don't know what's going on with you, but..."

"There's nothing going on with me, Colonel. I slipped getting out of the shower. That's all."

He saw the tightening of the jaw. Hannibal walked out of the room without another word.

No more Mr. Nice Guy, huh, Smith?