CHAPTER SIXTEEN

"And where is our good lieutenant this morning?"

Stockwell glared at Hannibal, but the entire group felt the anger and frustrations pouring from the general. He was scrambling to hold his organization together, and they all knew it.

"He headed back to Minneapolis to follow up on a couple leads we had." The lie came easily to Hannibal's lips. It wasn't that far from the truth.

"On his own? You think that wise, Colonel?"

"Face's problems are memories, not doing his job." Again, that was true. He'd proved it.

Stockwell didn't look satisfied, but it was obvious he was going to get no further. "Just make sure he's back in time for the next deadline. I'm having every available agent in the field for this one."

"I wanted to discuss that next one with you, Stockwell. I want all the details this time, not just your hunches."

"I'll give you what you need to know..."

"Not good enough, General. If I had known everything the last time, we would have known to have looked more closely at that senator. You neglected to mention he'd already been making noise about some of the people involved."

That got Stockwell's attention, and neatly diverted him from the subject of Face. Hannibal maneuvered him into the den, and the others could hear them frequently raising their voices. Frankie grinned at Murdock. They all knew they would not be going into the next job blind.

Frankie went back to his television. BA had interrupted his work on the van to listen to Stockwell's diatribe, but once the general and Hannibal were closeted together, he headed back outside. Murdock meandered around the living room, watching curiously as Carla sat, stone-faced, in a chair as far from Frankie as she could get. She was clearly not at ease being in the same place as both the team and Stockwell.

Deciding he needed a little 'quality time' with the woman, Murdock moved casually over to her side and squatted down beside the chair. Carla pointedly ignored him.

Speaking low, in case Stockwell should come out suddenly, he smiled almost kindly.

"Carla, you and I really need to have a little talk. I know Hannibal came across rather strongly the other day, but I think you and I could have a civil discussion about certain, shall we say, commonalities, don't you?" If Face could hear me now, he'd be so proud.

Carla looked at Murdock with something like disdain. She neither liked nor trusted Murdock, knowing full well the only reason he wasn't still in the VA was because of the general's connections. Yet another mistake he'd made trying to prove his 'integrity' to Colonel Smith.

"I really disagree, Captain. There is nothing else I have to tell you."

"Oh, I'm afraid I disagree, Carla. There's a lot of stuff that wasn't in those reports. I know how to read between the lines, you see. Had lots of practice at the VA."

"Captain..."

"Of course, I could always ask General Stockwell. He wouldn't have to know Face is gone for me to want to know certain things. About Face...about Randy. And, of course, he'd probably push me off on you, but then you'd have to tell me, or he'd wonder why you were being so...secretive. Who knows? It might even reawaken his interest in Randy."

Carla sighed in frustration. "Very well, Captain. But not here, not now. I'll contact you later today when it's more prudent."

"I'll look forward to it, Carla, impatiently." He smiled benignly at her as he stood and headed out the door, intent on 'helping' BA with the van. It was turning into that kind of a day...


*****

"Feeling better?" Randy looked in the door to the bedroom. Sam had taken some heavy duty sedatives as soon as they got back to the apartment, and slept nearly twenty-four hours straight. Now he was looking blearily up at the figure in the doorway.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, soon as I find my head I'll be fine." He smiled, embarrassed. He didn't know why all that crap had run through his head on the flight, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let it happen again. Enough was enough. He was through with all that. Now they had a job to do.

Randy wasn't willing to let it go that easily. "We need to talk this over, bud. And it's not just the idea that you might wig out on me in the middle of things. Stuff like that, that's not good for you, period."

"So I'll just watch what I dream from now on." The attempt at humor fell flat. "Look, the next deadline is days away. Plenty of time for me to get my head on straight. It won't happen again."

"C'mon, Sam, you know what's happening as well as I do. We've both seen it before. It's not going to go away on its own. The hell with the deadline. We can take whatever time we need and get you straightened out first. Stockwell can't regroup that fast."

Sam was getting angry now. "There is nothing to straighten out, Randy. Okay, maybe I should have taken a couple of days to get my ducks in a row before going that close to Langley again. But I don't want to put things off with Stockwell. I want him gone."

"Ain't gonna happen, Sam. Tell me this: What's going to happen the first time you see Smith? Or that pilot? Baracus. Santana. What are you going to do?"

"What are you talking about? Why should anything happen? Other than I make sure they don't see me." Sam shoved himself off the bed; not a smart move, considering his head still wasn't quite connected to his body yet. His head swam, and Smith's face popped up in the middle of the waves. It startled him and it showed.

"What? What's going on, Sam? C'mon, talk to me, damn it!"

"It's nothing! Geez, Randy. Quit acting like I'm some sorta head case. You're as bad as..."

"As Smith? Maybe he was right, Sam. He said you need help, and maybe he was right." Randy was treading on very thin ice now and he knew it. "All I'm saying is we both need to be on top of our game from now on. Things are going to be getting a lot dicier. We're not going to be leaving little gift packages on somebody's desk any more. We're talking about dealing with people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't really want to get my head bashed in because yours is off in Never Never Land. Capice?"

"So I won't sleep on the job and then we won't have to worry about it, okay? Jesus H. Christ, Randy! I'm not so nuts that I can't do the job. Let's not forget, I was the one taking care of you not so long ago. You want to talk head cases?"

"No, I don't want to talk head cases. What I want to talk about is the A-Team. The team you were a part of for over a decade and yet you want to pretend that doesn't exist. That's what I want to talk about."

"I was never..."

"Bullshit! You want to see the records? Not just the 'official' ones. I can show you newspaper clippings, photos, memos, the works. It's all there, Sam. You can't just decide it didn't happen. You don't want to be part of them any more, that's fine. But you can't just wipe out those years, Sam, because they were real!"

He didn't see it coming.

Sam shook out his hand as he stepped over Randy and stalked out of the front door. Damn. That hand was never going to heal up if he didn't quit slamming it into things...


*****

Hannibal was pacing the living room, slowly, methodically. He hadn't liked what Stockwell had told him. The next few names on the list were very powerful people; people Stockwell had information on which made them feel 'cooperative' toward him. What was being planned now was basically a shake-down of those people. There weren't many alternatives open to him. Or Hannibal. The most obvious - warning the targets - was rife with problems. Not the least of which could be someone - like Face - getting seriously hurt or killed. Another possibility was, again, warning them but using them to set a trap for the two men. And again, it left a lot of room for the undesirable outcomes. Third, they could set up their own trap, letting the targets remain bait but without telling them. Last, they could just let it happen. After all, these people were not exactly innocent by-standers.

Only one of the four possibilities allowed Stockwell to retain these people within his 'circle of friends'. The only problem, from Stockwell's point of view, was that the team so far had an abysmal record of stopping the extortionist from getting to their targets. And Hannibal couldn't disagree with him. Even without telling him that now their chances of success would be even slimmer.

In the end, Stockwell was willing to try the third ploy - once. If they failed, Stockwell would have no choice but to use one of the first two. It would cost the general the use of that particular target - there would be no way the man would cooperate once he knew the information on him had been 'lost' anyway - but, in Stockwell's eyes, stopping the threat of losing anything more because of the extortionist was worth it.

Hannibal thought about his earlier optimism. Outwit himself. Piece of cake, right? Right.

After all, he'd taught Face everything he knew. He hadn't necessarily taught him everything Hannibal knew.