CHAPTER NINETEEN

He glanced one more time at the door, forcing himself not to get up and actually look at those on the other side. He knew who they were, of course. Six of Stockwell's men, supposedly his best. Supposedly going to keep him safe until he could be escorted back to the States and hidden until this 'threat' was eliminated. Right. He wasn't naive enough to believe it was his safety Stockwell was concerned about.

He, himself, was not worried. He was more...insulted. Insulted that anyone could think they had even a chance of taking him. Ridiculous. He was a bit surprised that anyone knew who he actually was, however. Even the men in the next room didn't know who, exactly, they were guarding. He hadn't been known by his name since coming on board. He wasn't even known as an Able. He just...was. He used different names for different situations. Never the same one twice.

If he disappeared tomorrow, no one would know who to look for.

No, he knew it was what he could tell that worried Stockwell. As if he would say anything. That was also part of his reputation. He'd been in tight spots before and never sold out. He didn't have to, because his cover stories and backups were always planned out well in advance and to the smallest detail. He was the perfect employee for the people who needed his services. And over the past months, he had become the general's top 'problem solver'. He was good at what he did, always had been. He was discrete, he was invisible, and he was efficient. It was a source of great pride that he had yet to fail a mission during his career.

With one exception.

Dismissing that aggravation for the moment, he concentrated again on his current situation. Stockwell had contacted him personally this time. At first he had disdained the idea of body guards. He could certainly take care of himself. But the general was adamant; there was too much riding on this. And to a point, Stockwell would do whatever necessary to ensure he stayed healthy and safe. To a point. And that made this threat a possible problem for him in the future.

No, he wasn't worried. He was irritated.


*****

"Hannibal, at what point in all of this is Stockwell going to know what really happened with Face?"

"So far he's accepting the story that Face is tracking down leads. Stockwell always knew Face was good at detail. With Carla backing us up, Stockwell may never have to know. And if my plan works out..."

"So what exactly is the plan, Hannibal?"

"We'll be picking Clifton up at Stockwell's airfield early in the morning, about three. Stockwell wants it fast and simple. Clifton comes off the plane, into the van and we take off for the safe house."

"And then what, Johnny?"

"And then we wait for them to take the bait."

"You really think they're going to know how to find us, and go directly against us, to get to him?"

"Exactly."

"Doesn't make sense, Johnny."

"Well, look at it this way, Frankie. Right from the start, they've had nothing but success. They've both been having fun with this, making Stockwell - and us - look like bumbling idiots. It's been a game. Too easy. That's why they changed the list. Upped the ante. They don't want it to be easy any more. They're looking for a challenge. And what bigger one than going after one of the people that not only can cause some serious legal problems for Stockwell, but also the one that tried to kill them both? The fact that they knew Stockwell would put us on him is icing on the cake. Because both Randy and Face have an axe to grind with us."

"Hannibal..." Murdock jumped in at that point. "What do you mean, Face has an axe to grind? We only tried to help him..."

"Yeah, but we messed up. Big time. Now Face has something to prove to us - that he got away from us before we could screw him up completely. That he's not only better off without us, but that he and Randy make a better team than we do."

"It's that important to him to show us up? That doesn't sound like Face, even to me, Johnny."

"That's because it's not really Face. It's Sam. And showing us up is only part of it. He's got something to prove to himself. That he really does function better as Sam than he did as Face. If he can prove that, he can let us go without any problem."

"You think he can do that?"

"No. Not after Fiallo. Tommy's disappeared completely. Along with most of the money in his bank accounts. No trace. From start to finish, there's only one person who could pull off that operation in just that way, and it's not Sam."

"So how are they going to find us? We going to leave them a trail or something?"

"No, we're going to do our damndest to make sure they don't find us. Anything less would be so obvious to them they'd switch to another target, with or without warning. And God only knows what kind of damage that could do. No, our boys want a challenge, and they're going to get it."


*****

"This is nuts, you know."

The comment was met with a chuckle.

"Of course it is. You don't want to be predictable, do you?"

"God, no. A fate worse than death." The first man stretched out in the back seat. "So what time do you think they'll be heading out?"

"Don't know for sure. But I figure late. Real late, when there's very little traffic. Easier to spot a tail that way, plus they can make better time wherever they're going."

"So how hard do you think this will be?"

"For us? Piece of cake."

Randy smirked in the dark. This was more along his line. He was feeling that familiar tingle inside, and he knew Sam was feeling the same. Mind games were one thing; after Fiallos, they'd both gotten bored with the idea of more cloak and dagger crap. They were ready for some real action. And tonight was just the beginning.

They watched from their vantage point as the lights in the house disappeared one by one. Only the security lights on the outside remained. They could see Stockwell's men making their rounds. Random pattern, of course. They waited another hour, until the occupants inside were asleep. Then they waited another thirty minutes, just to be sure.

Finally, Randy sat up, draping his arms over the back of the front seat, looking expectantly at Sam. With a quick wink and a grin, Sam pushed open the door that he'd left partially open. He'd also disconnected the dome light. Randy slid out of the back seat just as quietly.

Randy pointed to the left, and Sam gave him a thumbs up before heading in that direction. Randy immediately moved to the right.

Show Time.


*****

Hannibal woke suddenly. Something was wrong. Without turning on the light, he slid out of bed and quickly pulled the pistol from under the bed. He stepped quietly to his bedroom door, and slowly turned the handle. In moments he was gliding down the hall, listening at each of the bedroom doors. He even stopped at the door to Face's former bedroom, listening even though he called himself foolish for doing so. Hearing the expected silence, he moved on into the living room.

He went from window to window, cautiously peering out through the curtains. He could see the Ables moving around the grounds. Stockwell had increased security at all of his 'facilities', including the compound, although Hannibal didn't understand the reasoning for it. Sometimes Stockwell wasn't as self-assured as he liked to pretend.

Hannibal continued through the house, checking for anything that wasn't the way it should be. He found nothing. Sighing, he put it down to the coming events, chastising himself for letting things get to him. He really needed to get himself together or he'd be of no use to anyone over the coming days. He worked his way quietly back to his own bedroom and tried to relax. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was going on, something he had missed.


*****

Sam moved quietly through the trees toward the pool. Before stepping out into the open, he checked carefully for any Ables who might spot him. Once assured the coast was clear, he stepped boldly out of his cover and almost sauntered between the pool and the house. He was nearing the corner of the house when he caught a very slight movement at one of the windows. He deliberately ignored it, continuing his way toward the front of the house and his ultimate destination. Rounding the corner, he met up with his first Able.

"Anything?" he was asked.

"All quiet."

"Yeah, over here, too. I don't understand what the general thinks is going to happen here. He won't even tell us what we're looking for. But nobody in their right mind would take on the A-Team on their home turf." The Able moved on, turning the corner.

"You got that right, bud." Sam grinned at the Able's back. For once he was glad of the time spent here. Not only did he know the layout, but he knew the Ables. Randy had been a little skeptical when Sam had first proposed this venture, but had soon been persuaded when Sam added a few details. Tonight was not just a mission; it was entertainment, a frolic, and a Halloween prank all rolled into one. Sam didn't care if the team or Stockwell knew they'd been here. In fact, he was seriously considering sticking around to see their reactions when they found out. He nearly chuckled aloud, picturing it.

Just now, however, he had work to do. He spotted his objective. At about the same time, he saw Randy strolling casually in the same direction. Good. Their timing was perfect.

Randy stood at the front of the van, glancing carefully around for interference. Sam stood at the back of the vehicle, and, after making sure the coast was clear, dropped and scooted quickly underneath. This was the only really tricky part. He and Randy had poured over the detailed drawings of this make and model, and had finally decided on the perfect place. Now he just had to translate from the drawing to the real thing, and it wasn't as easy as it had seemed. Finally, however, he found it, and carefully placed the bug.

He pulled himself out and grinned triumphantly at Randy, who mirrored his reaction. Now the fun could begin...