CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

"Baracus?" Randy looked confused.

"BA's mother. She lives in Chicago, and he's totally devoted to her. She ought to make a very nice diversion for them."

Randy cocked his head, raised an eyebrow. "Diversion?"

"Sure. What do you think Mama's boy will do when we tell him we have his mother, and are willing to trade her for Clifton?"

"But we don't have his mother to trade."

"Not yet..."


*****

Hannibal had just stepped out of the shower the next morning when there was a knock at the door. Opening it, he found a room service clerk with a huge cart.

"We didn't order anything. I'm sorry..."

"No, sir, this is compliments of another guest of the hotel. He asked that we give you this as well." The clerk held out a plain white envelope. With huge misgivings, Hannibal took it and allowed the cart to be wheeled in.

"Just call us when you're finished, sir."

Hannibal closed the door thoughtfully. He knew who had sent it, of course. He shouldn't have been surprised that they were in the same hotel. It was exactly the kind of thing Hannibal himself would have done, and he couldn't help but smile at that. Murdock, BA and Frankie all emerged from their rooms at that moment, the smell from the cart awakening their appetites. Clifton, according to Frankie, was still enjoying the effects of BA's knockout drops.

"Hey, this is great, Hannibal!" Murdock was already perusing the provisions. "There's just about everything you could ask for here."

"Yeah, Hannibal, thanks, man." BA was already filling his plate, with Frankie right behind him.

"Uh, guys, I didn't order this."

There was immediate silence. BA set his plate down after one glance at Hannibal's face. "Face?"

"I'm guessing, yeah. This came with it." He dangled the envelope in front of him before carefully tearing it open.

There was a short note inside.

"Colonel Smith, we realize you had intended an early start on yet another day of random driving. However, it would be in your best interest to stay put for at least one more day. Enjoy your breakfast."

"Any idea where they are?" Hannibal grinned, starting to enjoy this little game.

"Obviously close by, right, Hannibal?"

"Oh, very close by. They're here in the hotel."

"Damn, Johnny. Now what do we do?"

"Well, I, for one, intend to enjoy this breakfast so nicely provided for us. After, of course, you taste test everything, Frankie..."


*****

"Mrs. B.? This is Templeton Peck...yes, Face...look, I know this is out of the blue, but we've got some down time right now and I want to surprise BA with a little something...I'd like to get the two of you together for a couple of days...no, no, don't thank me, Mrs. B., believe me, it's my pleasure...no, I'm afraid I can't get him to Chicago. The logistics aren't quite right for that...I was thinking if you could come to New York...no, I've already got your ticket. You would have to leave today, though...a friend of mine and I will pick you up in a couple hours...now, one other thing. It might take a few days to get him there. I've got to convince him to go without letting him know why, or it wouldn't be a surprise...good, I'm glad that won't be a problem for you. Okay, then, we'll see you soon..."

Sam hung up the phone, and stepped from the booth at the truck stop. They were half way between Indianapolis and Chicago. Sam had wanted to give the woman some notice, but not enough to get suspicious. She would still be too excited to wonder why Face was doing this, or why BA hadn't come with him now. Sam really didn't know how much Mrs. Baracus knew about the team's current situation so he was going to have to tread carefully; a few leading questions would have to be asked of her if he was going to make this halfway believable. He wanted her cooperation on this, but if he couldn't get it, well...the plan was going through, regardless. He and Randy had already agreed to that.

He hopped into the car, turning the key in the ignition.

"Well?" Randy looked at him, a mix of excitement and concern on his face.

"She bought it, so far. I told her we'd pick her up in a couple of hours. Let's just hope Baracus hasn't been in touch with her since I left. Or that he hasn't told her anything about you."

"Well, we already agreed on the alternatives. Or aren't you okay with that? It's up to you."

"No, this is the only way we can get Clifton without a lot of...complications. I don't want any complications."

"Then there won't be." Sam looked over at him, just a hint of skepticism showing. "Hey, I told you, Sam. You don't want bodies strewn around, there won't be. I'm not some kind of monster, y'know."

Ashamed, Sam quickly reassured him. "I know that, Randy. I do. I just...well, hell, we're in the same boat, right? There are parts of me that you don't know any more, and I know it bothers you. I can tell you over and over that Face is dead and buried, but you still wonder. It's the same for me. What part of you is there that I don't really know? And how much power does that hidden part have?

"I want us to trust each other like we used to, Randy. But I'm realistic enough to know neither of can quite do that. Not yet. But I trust you enough to know that your word is good, and that I can put my life in your hands without question. The rest will come. I know that."

Randy smiled. Finally they would be able to acknowledge the gap that had developed between them and not have it destroy what they still had. And it made him think that maybe Sam would, eventually, be willing to acknowledge his past, his real past, and accept it. Once he could accept it, then he could move on. Then they could move on.


*****

Clifton, when he awoke, was not happy, and it was obviously not a big surprise to Colonel Smith. Nor did he seem to care. So Clifton fumed for a few minutes and then, with ill grace, sat down to eat the breakfast that was left on the cart. It was then that Smith told him about the change in plans.

"So the men who are after me are now calling the shots? Great. And I thought Stockwell had gotten someone with at least some brains."

BA stood up angrily, ready to send Clifton back to slumber land, but Hannibal stopped him.

"Look, guy, the only one calling the shots here is me. I decided that it was better to wait and see what these guys want, instead of taking off and perhaps blowing a chance to take them down. We aren't exactly babes in the woods when it comes to outwitting setups. We did it for over ten years, very successfully. So if I were you, I'd keep my trap shut or I'll let BA deal with you."

Clifton looked steadily at Hannibal, letting him know he wasn't intimidated by BA glare or size. He'd taken down bigger men.

"I'll be quiet, Smith. But understand one thing. I look out for me. You guys get in a bind because of this, it's your problem. I will do what I have to, to make sure I come out breathing."

"Fair enough, Clifton. As long as you don't cause problems for me or my team. Any of them. You do that, and I will take you out myself."

The two men glared at each other, each knowing the other meant every word they said.


*****

It took some time to find the address, but eventually they pulled up in front of the apartment building. A large black woman was standing out in front, suitcase beside her. She smiled happily when Sam got out of the car.

"Face! Oh, it's so good to see you again!" She enveloped him in a big hug. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you're doing. Especially..." she stopped suddenly, embarrassed.

"It's okay, Mrs. B." He suddenly felt uneasy. He knew he'd never met the woman, not really, but there was something tugging at him just the same.

"Well, BA told me about your...memory problem. I'm so sorry, Face."

"Don't worry about it. Uh, when did you talk to Bara - uh, BA, last?"

"Oh, it's been a couple of months now. He doesn't like to call me from that house, with all the bugs and such; in fact, he worries about being listened to most of the time, and watched. I suppose that's why you weren't able to bring him along this time..."

"Exactly, Mrs. B. It was hard enough for me to slip out. That's why it might take a few days before I can get BA out of there. That is, without actually telling him what's going on." The lies seemed to flow effortlessly from Sam's mouth. Thank God the woman liked to talk. He began to relax again.

"Oh, I understand. Besides, it hasn't been that long since the military quit watching this place."

Sam stood for a moment, stunned. He'd completely forgotten about the military. Shit. He could've walked right into a trap and not even thought about it.

"Are you okay, Face? You look a little pale, hon." He felt her warm hand on his arm and brought himself back.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, Mrs. B. Listen, we need to get going if we're going to catch your plane. Oh, and this is...Ray. An old friend of mine."

"Ray, how are you? Isn't that funny? BA and Face had a buddy in the Army named Ray. Poor man passed away a few years ago."

That shook up Sam even more. No one had said anything about a Ray. But then they hadn't said a lot about Nam or the Army. They'd been too busy talking about the near past...

"Face?" This time it was Randy who was concerned. Suddenly Sam seemed to be tongue-tied, his mind out in space somewhere. "You okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine." Spoken a little too forcefully. He had to take control of himself. Forget that rubbish. "Well, shall we go? I've booked a room for you at the Radisson, I think you'll like it..."

The rest of the trip to the airport was uneventful. Mrs. Baracus was full of questions about BA and how he had been doing the last couple of months, and so happy she would get to see him again. Sam almost felt guilty; but then again, once they had Clifton, there was no reason not to let BA know where she was so he could go see her. She seemed like a nice lady.

He was glad and relieved she hadn't caused any problems...well, not any he couldn't deal with.