CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

"I want them found, and found NOW, Carla."

"We're doing our best, General. We were able to trace Santana's car to a town in the Midwest. They put it in storage, for some unknown reason. They picked up a rental car, but we're not sure what it is. Several were rented that day, and no one at the rental office could identify the photos accurately. At the moment, we're attempting to trace all of them. We have been able to eliminate four so far."

Stockwell looked at Carla as only Stockwell could. On the outside, he seemed calm, cold, professional. But his eyes were smoldering, threatening to burst into a full glare. "First Peck, now the rest of the team, and Clifton along with them. I hope you're not planning your own disappearing act, Carla. You seem to be the only one of this particular group left."

Carla chose to ignore the sarcastic comment. "Peck was supposed to be doing reconnaissance, General. I assure you..."

"Assure me of nothing, Carla, and then I'll know you're not lying to me - again." He swiveled his chair, stared at the door to his office. "You find them, Carla. Find them and get them to Oakwood. You have two days. Forty-eight hours."

"General, I..."

"And, Carla..." he swiveled back to look her square in the face, "all of your little games are over. Your first priority is the A-Team. And then I want to know who - exactly - is coming after us. You will have all the details on my desk just as soon as the Team is back in my pocket. Understood?"

Carla had the grace to look abashed. "Yes, General."

"Good. Because I really would hate to have any more of my personnel disappear..."


*****

They each had different reasons for wanting Clifton coming in alone. Sam saw it from a purely tactical point of view. Pure and simple, without the team backing him up, Clifton would be easier to take down. Not that he would go quietly; but the chances of those complications occurring would be much lower. Also, it created yet another diversion for the team, as if they needed another one. But they would be watching for Mrs. Baracus - although Sam knew Smith wouldn't really be expecting her to be there; they would also be watching to make sure Clifton didn't get away before they had Mrs. B., trying to make sure Clifton didn't create problems in general, and watching out for Randy and Sam. It was a lot more than just the old divide and conquer strategy in a physical sense; the team would also be mentally divided. It was perfect.

While Randy saw and embraced the strategy, he had other reasons for wanting the team out of the picture as much as possible. First and foremost, Smith wouldn't be able to play any games with Sam's psyche, which, despite his professional demeanor, was definitely not rock solid right now. Almost as important was the fact that no member of the team would be put in any position to get injured. As much animosity as Randy felt toward the men, he had definite concerns for their welfare. He was not prepared to deal with Face's reaction should any real harm befall the team. All of which made him feel confident in his decision to have Sam up in the trees, keeping an eye on things. It went right back to Sam's aversion to complications; he would be able to control the team's movements without going too far. It would keep them all safe.

A flash of birds rising into the air alerted him to company at the other end of the cemetery. He glanced up into the trees, looking for Sam. Nothing. He smiled. The man was good.

He readied himself. He wasn't worried about taking down Clifton single-handed. He knew the type, if not the man himself. Knew his reputation. Knew that in order to accomplish this, he would have two choices. The first would be to talk the man into cooperating. Offer him the right incentive. That might work, but then, it might snow in July, too. He figured his second choice was the most likely. He would have to hurt him enough to incapacitate, but not cross that line. He never wanted to cross that line again. But that would be the difficult part. Clifton had been Barish's man, now belonged to Stockwell. Clifton worked for evil men, always had, always would. The fact that the evil existed on the side of good was only incidental. Given the right incentive, Clifton would work for the devil himself.

Randy smiled. The hell with the first choice. This guy had to pay.


*****

Sam had pulled himself painfully up into the tallest of the old trees. His head was pounding and he cursed his own stupidity for last night. Letting that photo album get to him. If it hadn't been so unexpected, he would have known better. Randy shouldn't have been taken in so easily. They should have realized that Stockwell and Barish would have taken all contingencies into mind when they first set up this whole experiment. Naturally, they would have photos of Sam with the team. It didn't take much to make up a set to look like Nam. Dress everybody up like SF, snap some photos, all ready to bring Sam back into the fold. The perfect setup for when the experiment ended. Probably did the whole thing while Sam and Randy were being 'prepped' for their roles. He berated himself for not figuring it out last night.

That left the question of Mrs. Baracus. How had they convinced her to play along? Threatened her son? Very possible. A sudden thought struck him. He didn't know Mrs. B. from Adam. All he knew of her was what the team had told him. How the hell did Sam know she even existed? She could just be another of Stockwell's people. Shit. She would have reported in to Stockwell, let him know Face had shown up. And what about the team? If that woman really wasn't Baracus' mother, they wouldn't care what happened to her. This could all be a set up, a trap. They wouldn't worry about the exchange, only about taking out Randy and Sam...shit.

He shifted, ever so slightly. The stakes had just risen. Randy was down there, alone, not realizing the kind of mess they'd gotten into. So it would be up to Sam to make sure nothing happened. Make sure the team didn't pull anything. Sam was the only one who knew their opponents really had nothing to lose, knew that that woman was merely a plant. The only one who would know to be watching for Stockwell's Ables to show up. The only one who could really keep Randy safe. Just like before...

He would have to make sure the team couldn't function. There was only one way to ensure that.


*****

Hannibal stared across the road, at the path which led down to the cemetery entrance. A narrow path, overgrown, covered by the branches of the close growing trees. According to BA, who only had a few scattered stories about the place, the entrance should be down that path, out of sight from the road. Randy and Sam could be anywhere in the brush, in the trees, anywhere between here and the cemetery, in the cemetery...damn. It was a logistical nightmare.

The only thing the team had going for them at the moment was the knowledge that Mrs. B. would not be here. Exchange or not, Face was too good a tactician to have brought her along. Not only would he not want to deal with her at the same time as the team and Clifton, he would want to be able to send the team after her, getting them away from the cemetery and ensuring a successful escape. Even if only part of the team went after her, it would still increase Face's odds of success. At the same time, it allowed Hannibal a little more flexibility in what he would or would not do. Randy and Sam would not be together. All the team had to do was find one of them before the shit hit the fan. Find one, the other was theirs.

Piece of cake.

So why didn't he believe it would be that simple? Because Hannibal, in Face's position, would make sure it was anything but simple.

The men began to walk down the path. Randy had only said Clifton should go into the cemetery alone. Once they came within sight of the entrance, the team would split up. Face, of course, would be expecting that. But there was little they could do about it. Two men couldn't cover the whole area and deal with Clifton. There was always a possibility of booby traps, but Hannibal didn't think they'd had time for that. This was too much of a rush job. At the same time, he knew they would be watched. As they moved quietly along the path, Hannibal started watching the trees. Face would be up there. Someplace.

BA had been leading the way, and came to a sudden stop. Looking ahead, Hannibal could just see the front gate, hanging askew. He looked around, slowly, carefully. He saw nothing, but then, he wasn't expecting to.

"All right, Clifton, you're on. You go in, and do exactly what you're told. They have no intention of killing you - they're after the information you have. The less trouble you give them, the quicker we can get to the hostage and the quicker we can come back for you."

"You really think they're not going to find the bug? My understanding is these guys are pro's, just like you and me."

"I know. Don't worry about it. We'll have you covered."

"Don't worry about it? Just what have you got in mind, Smith?"

Hannibal smiled sweetly. "I always have something in mind, Clifton. Now get in there and do what you're supposed to." He gave him a little shove, pulling his rifle up. With a hard glare, the assassin moved toward the gate.

"He's right, Johnny. They'll find that bug right off. Then what?"

"Then we'll track him with the other one."

"What other one? I didn't know about a second one. Where?"

"Somewhere no one is going to look." Smiling at Frankie's confusion, Hannibal elaborated. "Remember that pill we slipped Clifton last night? After Randy called back? BA and I did a little dental work while he was slumbering."

"He don't know about it?"

"No. If he did, he'd just tell them. Clifton is going to look out for himself; if that means making a deal with Randy and Face, he will. And that would include giving them any tracking devices he knows about. I'm just hedging our bets. Now, let's get in position. I want to make sure these guys don't leave until we know Mrs. B. is safe. And remember, Frankie - don't just watch the ground."

Frankie gulped and moved over toward Murdock, as Hannibal and BA left the path and moved toward the western perimeter. Slowly, the four men began surrounding the small cemetery.