CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

"Well, this is cozy." Randy and Sam wandered around the small apartment, checking out their new, albeit temporary, habitat. Mrs. Baracus kept a tidy house, with pictures of her family, especially BA, scattered throughout. "Flip you for the bed."

"Sure, as long as you're flipping a quarter." Sam looked in the fridge. Mrs. B. had emptied it out, for the most part. A woman who took care of practicalities. "Well, we'll have to stock up sometime today. Anyway, shall we call our friends?"

"No, I don't think so."

Sam looked up in surprise. "Why not?"

"I think we should let them stew a little bit. Plus, I want to wait until we can confirm that the mother is actually in New York, at the hotel. Last thing we want is to have her come bursting in on us unexpectedly."

"Hmm. Good point. Points. All right, let's go find a grocery store and get some grub in here. I'll even split for lunch."

The two friends slipped out of the apartment, not wanting to attract any attention. They didn't want Mrs. Baracus' neighbors questioning two men living in her apartment.

Out on the sidewalk, Sam looked around. He'd never been to Chicago. Maybe they'd do a little sight-seeing before going to the store.

The team could wait a little longer.


*****

Not wanting to chance Clifton slipping away, Hannibal decided they would not leave the hotel room until they departed the city. Plus, he didn't want any of the team out of reach when Face eventually contacted them again.

He had an uneasy feeling about this delaying tactic. On one hand, he was enjoying the challenge. He hadn't realized, after all this time, how resourceful his lieutenant could be. Or maybe he'd just taken it for granted. Gotten so used to issuing demands and having them met, that the intelligence and planning needed to meet them was forgotten or ignored. Another thing he needed to change, once they got Face back.

That said, the enjoyment was tempered by the fact he had no clue what was coming next. Obviously, something was in the works to get at Clifton, something that couldn't be done without effort and time. He acknowledged, as the afternoon wore on with no word from Face, that there were some mind games going on at the same time. The hotel room, while spacious, just didn't hold five anxious men very well. Tension was rising, especially between Clifton and BA. A few mind games there, as well. Hannibal was reminded that Clifton was an expert at what he did, and understood all the ways of getting at people, finding their weaknesses and exploiting them. And he obviously understood that BA was angry on several fronts - about Face, about what Clifton did, about being cooped up in the hotel, waiting. It was a situation that the man reveled in. And he knew exactly how far to go without pushing BA over the edge. And having BA constantly on edge was getting to everyone else.

Hannibal stared at the phone, watched the door. Damn it. Why didn't Face contact them?


*****

After spending most of the day checking out the more famous attractions in Chicago, Randy and Sam had a leisurely dinner out, then stopped at a grocery store a few blocks from the apartment before heading home. Sam was relaxed and happy, and thought today was a good example of what his life would be like once this was all over.

Randy had also enjoyed their day, one of those rare days when they could take time to get re-acquainted without having to worry about that next step. Although they still had their phone call to make, there was no sense of urgency. It was something they needed to do, sometime that day.

In the meantime, Randy was feeling himself relax more and more. He hadn't felt like this for a long time. Several times during the day, he'd actually found himself thinking that he could walk away from Stockwell right then and there, and feel not an ounce of regret. The whole project had taken on a life of its own. At first, it was cold anger that had started things in motion. The need to make everyone involved in destroying his life pay. Then a sense of wild west justice had moved in. Wanting to do whatever he could to make sure they couldn't do this to someone else. And then Sam had come back, and everything changed again.

Now it was a game. A challenge. He knew Sam was every bit as serious about a successful conclusion as he was, and yet, Sam brought a sense of fun to it. Not just having fun making fools of Stockwell and the team, but actually enjoying pushing the envelope, seeing how far they could go, how outrageous they could be without getting caught. It was...exhilarating.

And yet it was tiring, too. Sam seemed to be on some kind of adrenalin high that he couldn't - or wouldn't - get down from. No sooner had one scheme been completed, than he was thinking up something else. Randy preferred to stop and think things over. Enjoy things as he moved along the path. Sam seemed almost driven. As if he was afraid to slow down, afraid to relax. Afraid that if he didn't keep things constantly up in the air, realities would come crashing down on him.

The more Randy thought about it, the more he became convinced that that was what was happening. Sam didn't want to let down, because that would mean having time and energy to think about the things he didn't want to think about. Like Face. And yet Randy knew the guy was popping up, more and more. He could see it in Sam's face. Something would come into his mind, and he'd get pale, or stare off into space for a moment, or frown at nothing. Like earlier today, with Mrs. Baracus. Randy knew things had been said that had thrown Sam off, badly. And, even though they had thoroughly enjoyed the rest of their day, Randy had seen those tell-tale signs more today than ever before.

He sighed, watching as Sam put away the groceries and noted that he was starting to glance at the clock. Their day of relaxing was coming to a close. Sam was getting anxious to get back into the game. Anxious to throw another volley at the team. Anxious to get that adrenalin flowing again...


*****

The phone call came just after seven that evening. Hannibal took it, the others, sans Clifton, sitting around him, listening. Clifton had, thankfully, gone to his room to read. They all kept an eye on his door, not wanting him in on anything more than he had to be.

"Smith?"

For a moment, Hannibal didn't say a word. He was surprised, shocked almost, at his feelings on hearing Face's voice after so long. He quickly gathered his scattered mind together.

"You know it is, Face. What do you want?"

Hannibal caught the irritation Face felt at being called by that name. "We want Clifton, of course. And we have something to trade. Even up. Our guest for yours."

The colonel felt his hackles raise. They had taken a hostage. God, no. Who...

"And what makes you think we'd agree to this exchange?" He kept his voice smooth, calm, unconcerned.

"Well, you might not, but I'm quite sure Baracus will be of another mind. We're here in Chicago, by the way. Beautiful city."

Oh, no. No. Not Mrs. B.

"Face, how could you..."

"Face is dead, Colonel. If he ever lived. You're starting to irritate me, y'know. Now is not a good time to do that." Sam's voice was cold, hard, unfeeling. "Now, if you want to discuss this with the rest of your team before we go any further, feel free. I'll call back in fifteen minutes." The line disconnected.

Hannibal sat staring at the phone, horrified at the turn of events. Never in a million years would he have thought of this possibility. Never. He looked over at BA, knowing the man was going to go ballistic.

"Well, Colonel? What'd he say?" Murdock was anxious. He wanted this confrontation, wanted the chance to get to Face. The sooner, the better.

"BA, I...I think you should call your mother's. Now. Make sure she's okay."

It took a split second for them to understand the implications. They'd heard Hannibal talk about an exchange. Now they knew who.

Barely containing himself, BA grabbed the phone and dialed. After what seemed like hours, someone picked up. BA didn't recognize the voice.

"I wanna talk to Mrs. Baracus. Now."

"I'm sorry, BA, she's indisposed at the moment. Did you and Smith have a chance to talk things over yet, or do you need a little more time?" BA slammed down the phone and came close to throwing it against the wall. Only Hannibal's anticipation of his reaction kept him from it.

"He answered. Not Face. That other guy." He glared death rays at the men in the room. "I'm goin to Chicago. Now."

"Wait a minute, BA. You can't just go barging in up there. It could get your mother hurt." Hannibal laid a firm hand on BA's arm, taking his life in his hands doing so. For a moment, he thought BA was going to slug him. Then the big man slumped and dropped to the couch. He stared at the floor, silent.

"Okay, Face will be calling back in a few minutes. We've gone this route before; it's just another hostage exchange. We've done it before and won. We can do it again."

"We weren't up against one of our own before, Hannibal." Murdock was pale, angry. He just knew this was Randy's doing. Face would never put BA's mother in harm's way. Never.

"Face ain't one of us. Not no more." BA looked up long enough to send daggers into Murdock, who wisely said nothing, although he was seething inside.

"All right, enough. We don't know whose idea this was. And Face is still one of us, BA. You know the situation and you know if he were himself he never would have gone near your mom. What we have to remember is they have no gain in harming her. None whatsoever. In fact, the better care they take of her, the better for their bargaining position. Face knows that." He looked sternly at BA.

Angry as he was at the turn of events, Hannibal had to keep the big picture in mind. Face may be acting totally out of character right now, but he was under Randy's influence. No way the colonel was going to let this destroy their chances of reuniting. It would be much harder, but he would not let it go.

"When Face calls back, we will do whatever he says. And once we know their plans, we'll start making our own. We will make this work. Period."