CHAPTER TEN

Carla arrived outside the hotel early in the morning. She sat, watching the front door, not quite sure how to go about this, now that she was here. She definitely did not want a confrontation with Smith. She thought for a few moments, and then picked up the mobile phone and carefully wrapped a hankie over the mouthpiece. A few minutes later she was connected with the Team's suite.

Hannibal answered the phone. Keeping her fingers crossed that she could pull this off, she put on a deep Southern accent.

"Colonel Smith? This is Anna Carlson. I'm one of General Stockwell's assistants."

She held her breath. When Smith replied, the suspicion was clear in his voice.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure, Miss Carlson. Perhaps you could verify who you are?"

"Certainly. Empress One."

"Very well, Miss Carlson. What can we do for you?"

"General Stockwell received a tip on those files. He doesn't know how accurate it is, but we need someone who can break into a safe, and quickly."

"Well, that's where we might have a problem...our safe man injured his hand last night. I don't know if he can do it left handed."

"Injured his hand? How?" Carla almost lost her accent but recovered quickly.

"A little accident in the shower. Anyway, uh, I'm not sure..."

"Well, I'm afraid he'll have to try, Colonel. We don't have time to bring anyone else in. Have him come to the front of the hotel in ten minutes. A car will pick him up."

"Okay, I'll have him and one of our other guys down in...'

"No, just your safe man. We'll provide backup."

"Now, wait a minute..."

"Colonel Smith, I really don't have time to argue. General Stockwell was very insistent on this."

She heard Hannibal's sigh of resignation. "All right, he'll be there."

"Thank you, Colonel Smith. I appreciate your help. General Stockwell can be, well, difficult, if we don't do things his way."

"I understand, Miss."

Ten minutes later Face appeared in front of the hotel, looking up and down the street, nervously. Carla pulled up to the curb, just past the door, and shoved the passenger door open. Face stopped short when he looked in the door and saw her.

"Don't just stand there. Get in before Smith sends someone out here."

They sped away, disappearing into traffic.


*****

As soon as Face left, Hannibal put in a call to Stockwell. He hung up, frustrated.

"Stockwell is on a conference call. Won't be available for hours. Probably damage control."

Frankie and Murdock came hurrying in the door. Hannibal had sent them down ahead of Face, hoping to catch a glimpse of the driver, or at least get a license number. "Sorry, Johnny. All I can tell you is the make and model. Dark tinted windows, and the license plate had mud all over it. But Face seemed to know who the driver was."

"Damn." Hannibal shook his head, disgusted. "Nothing to do now but wait and see if he comes back."

"He'll come back, Hannibal. He's not going to run out on us." Murdock looked around at the doubting faces. "He won't. Look, even if he is reverting, or whatever you want to call it, he'll come back. If he can. How else is he going to know what we're planning..." Murdock hated putting it that way, but it was the one argument they could all agree on.

"Yeah, and, I mean, this could be legit, right? Stockwell's gotta have other guys working on this, too, right? Maybe one of them found something..." Frankie looked at Murdock, and got a grateful smile in return. Frankie didn't know if he believed it any more than Johnny, but hell, Face had been nice to him since he'd gotten back; well, most of the time. Just lately...

Hannibal looked at the two of them, then over to BA, waiting for his input.

"I don't like it, Hannibal, but Face wasn't all that eager to go help Stockwell. If it'd been somethin he had planned, or expected..." BA just shrugged then.

Finally an argument Hannibal could accept. Face hadn't wanted to go. That was no scam. It had practically taken a direct order to get him to leave. Whatever the real story, Face hadn't played a part in it.

"All right, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Who knows? Maybe the whole thing is legit, and when Face gets back we can all go home."

Yeah, right...


*****

"Okay, Carla, start talking. What the hell are you trying to pull? You knew..."

"Drop it, Lieutenant. Yes, I knew exactly who the extortionist was. As soon as I found out he'd called from Belle Glade. Just like you knew. That's why I had to make sure you were brought in on it. Now what I want to know is why you haven't been able to connect with him."

"What makes you think I can? Or want to?"

"Well, you'd better want to, Lieutenant. There's too much riding on this."

"You think I care if Stockwell goes down in flames? Lady, you got a lot to learn."

"If the general goes down, as you say, the Team will be going down right along with him. Not only will you lose any chance for a pardon, you'll be wanted by the military again. This time with a death sentence waiting for you."

Face paled visibly. "Wait a minute. The military thinks we're dead. Everyone thinks we're dead..."

Carla shook her head. One would have thought they would have let him know all of the recent history first. "No, Lieutenant, the military discovered that the 'bodies' were missing from the morgue. They know the team escaped. And they will make damn sure those sentences are carried out the next time they get their hands on the team." As an afterthought, she added, "Of course, you, at least, do have a body in a grave, so I suppose you stand a chance of getting away, at least for a while. At least until someone informs the MPs of what really happened..."

Face sat back in the seat, looking out of the windshield, seeing nothing. This was too much, way too much. He had to think. This put a different light on everything. Everything.


*****

It was time to throw a wrench into the works. Stockwell was occupied with the next deadline, so it was the perfect opportunity to entice the team with some independent work. Nothing in the rules said he had to deal exclusively with Stockwell, after all. Especially since there were no rules.

As he dialed the hotel, he started smiling. This was getting to the really fun part, now. Stockwell running around on one side, getting the team involved in trying to save his ass with each new deadline; and he, himself on the other side, sending the team out on little errands of his own. He'd have the whole bunch running around in scared little circles, desperate to stop things before it all crashed down on them, none of them knowing what was really going to happen next...

He held no little animosity toward the famous A-Team. Face hadn't said a lot about them, but enough so he understood what had happened. They expected Face to just forget all about those months together with him. Like he'd never existed. Sure, cut off the guy's right arm and tell him to pretend he never had it to begin with. No wonder Face was having problems.

And he was having problems. That was obvious. Which meant a problem for both of them. At least, in the short run. He would have to bear that in mind, with all these little games he'd be playing. Try not to screw his friend up any more than he already was. It had been hard enough to deal with his own new/old past clashes. With the team trying to make Face deny that part of him...he'd thought Smith was smarter than that. But then, Smith hadn't dealt with a lot psych problems, not like he had. Smith had seen the 'typical' battlefield problems, whereas he'd had to deal with guys losing it after too many special ops. Special ops that Smith would never have dreamed of taking on...

"Hello?"

Shit. How long had Smith been on the line?

"Colonel Smith, I believe?"

"Who's this?"

"This is a very special friend of General Stockwell's. I have something he's been looking for. Interested?"


*****

Some thirty minutes after he'd left, Face walked into the hotel room. Hannibal was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice the look on his lieutenant's face as he strode over to him, ignoring the rest of the men in the room.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"What?" Hannibal looked up at him, confused.

"Why didn't you tell me about the death sentence? Why didn't you tell me what was at stake? All this time, and I never knew what Stockwell was holding over you! Why didn't you tell me?"

Shit. Who had told him that? And why now?

"Face, listen, it's nothing we worry about, okay? Stockwell uses it as lever against us, that's all. Between that and the pardons, he figures it'll keep us in line."

"Why didn't you tell me!"

"Because we didn't think it was necessary at the time. You were having enough problems. You still are, for chrissake. We would have told you when you were more yourself."

"More myself? Damn it, Hannibal! Do you realize...do you know what I could have...all this time, I've..."

"Face, what's going on?" Hannibal was getting seriously concerned, now. Face had a wild look in his eyes. "Where were you? Who were you with?"

"Damn it, Hannibal, why didn't you tell me? It changes everything!"

"What does it change? Nothing. We told you what you could handle."

"And who the hell are you to decide that? Who gave you the right to decide what I should or shouldn't be told, what I should or shouldn't remember?"

"Face, you have to calm down. We'll talk about this, I promise. We need to get it all ironed out, but it's gotta wait for now. We don't have a lot of time."

"What? What do you mean?"

"I got a call from the extortionist. Directly. He wants to set up a meet. We've got less than an hour..."

No. The plan. He was going ahead with it. But he didn't know...

"You can't do that, Hannibal...you..."

"Why not, Face? We have a chance to take this slimeball out, once and for all..."

Slimeball? No, no, he wasn't a...no, they didn't understand. They didn't know what he was really doing.

"Hannibal, you just can't. Just skip it."

"We can't do that, Face. This guy has caused too much damage. We have to put him down. A man is dead because of him, Face."

"I told you he didn't do that!" Why couldn't they understand that? He wouldn't kill anyone like that. That wasn't what he wanted. Not what they wanted...

"And how would you know that, Face? I want some answers, Lieutenant. Now! What are you holding back? What are you keeping from your team? What do you know about this low-life bastard?"

What was he holding back? The colonel was angry at Face for holding back on the team? Hadn't the man heard anything Face had said? Was his only concern the team? Suddenly Face realized what they'd been doing. Realized how selective they were being in what he remembered.

Like Barish.

Now he knew where he stood, why he was with these people. As long as he thought only of the team, as long as he was useful to the team, as long as he could be used...he suddenly looked at the colonel, decided.

"I know I'm not just an experiment to him, Smith."

Before anyone could stop him, Face was out the door. By the time they got to the hallway, he was gone.