CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

Randy heard the crunch of footsteps on ancient gravel. He waited until they got within a few yards of his position before showing himself. He swung gracefully up and pointed the pistol over the top of the monument, aiming deadly true at the man's heart.

"Mr. Clifton, I presume?" He smiled, confident, friendly.

Clifton looked at him, looked at the gun, bored. "Randy. Wondered if I would ever see you again."

"Ah, you have me at a disadvantage. I don't recall our having met before." Randy kept the smile, but his mind was working a mile a minute. He knew Clifton had been Barish's man; he hadn't known the man had been involved in the experiment. Clifton had been a cleanup man. That meant he wouldn't have come in until the very end...

"We didn't actually meet. We had a mutual acquaintance..."

"Dr. Barish. I know. He's dead."

"Yes, I know. I killed him."

"Ah. It would appear I owe you one, then. However, at the moment, we have other, more pressing, business to attend to."

"Stockwell."

"Exactly. How deep is your loyalty to the man?"

"He's my employer. I do what he asks and I get compensated very well for it. If it weren't to my advantage, I'd leave."

"Hmm. I thought so. You know what we want, of course."

"Yes. I haven't decided whether you'll get it or not."

Randy actually laughed aloud at that. The man was a cool one, that's for sure.

"Well, I guess time will tell, won't it? All right, I'm sure your friends are nearly in position by now. We haven't much time. Strip."

Clifton started. "Strip?"

Randy threw a small knapsack over to him. "Put those on, and be quick about it. Smith wouldn't let you go without some way of keeping track of you and I haven't time for a thorough search."

Without another word of argument, Clifton grabbed the knapsack and pulled the clothes from it. In moments, he was changed. He stood to find Randy beside him.

"Not that I don't trust you, but..." Randy swung hard and fast, knocking Clifton unconscious.


*****

Sam watched as the team split up. From his vantage point in the high tree, he could watch them easily, making particular note of where Smith was. He saw Santana moving in tandem with the pilot on the far side. They wouldn't be much threat, too far from Randy. Baracus was moving in closer, on the near side with Smith. Sam wasn't sure about that one. There was always a chance the woman really was his mother, and that would make him dangerous. No. Forget that. Sam knew she wasn't. But Baracus was dangerous anyway. Single-minded and Smith's dog.

He turned slightly, getting a better view of Smith. He was cautious, knowing the colonel was watching the trees. But no one saw Sam unless Sam wanted them to. Not even the great Colonel John Smith. If it came, Smith wouldn't know it until it was too late.

He waited for Randy to make the next move.


*****

Quickly tying Clifton's hands behind him, Randy dragged the unconscious man back behind the monument. He took another swift glance upwards, knowing Sam was there but still not seeing him. Now for the diversion. He wondered how many would leave.

"Smith! You kept your end of the bargain. Now it's my turn."

Silence.

"You want Mrs. Baracus, I suggest you answer me, Smith. I'm more than willing to just walk away with my prize."

"I'm listening." The call came from Randy's right, some distance yet. Sam wouldn't let any of them get too close.

"The old woman isn't here, you know." That ought to raise some hackles. Randy grinned. "But then, you knew that, right? You're a smart boy."

"You going to hold up your end of the bargain or not?"

Randy chuckled. "Oh, of course, Colonel. But you're going to have to work a little more. I'm going to give you four addresses. Mrs. Baracus is at one of them. Unfortunately, we weren't able to make her real comfortable. In fact, I would say she's probably got, oh, maybe another half hour, forty-five minutes until she starts getting real uncomfortable. So I would suggest you get moving pretty quickly. In fact, you might want to consider splitting up, because I don't think you'll get to all four in time."

"All right, Murdock, Frankie, BA, listen up. Let's have them, now."

Randy could have laughed out loud. Quickly, he rattled off four addresses, each of which would send the team in a different direction from the cemetery. He listened for a moment, hearing the men hurrying through the underbrush. Grinning from ear to ear, he turned and grabbed his prize from behind the monument, and, throwing Clifton over his shoulder, began the walk to the back of the cemetery.


*****

Once they had reached the path again, the four team members raced for their car. But Hannibal pulled up short before getting in.

"C'mon, Hannibal, we ain't got all day!" BA was already gunning the engine.

"Hang on, BA. Do you know where each of these places are?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. Why?"

"Because I'm thinking we don't have to split up, at least not all of us. What's at your address?"

BA thought for a moment. His scowl got deeper. "Just a couple gas stations and some stores. Nothin there that could be dangerous to her."

"What about the others? Frankie? Your address?"

Again, BA thought about the address Frankie rattled off. "More of the same - there was an old warehouse but it was gutted a long time ago. They coulda done somethin there."

Hannibal went over the address Murdock had, and then his own. One address was an unknown, the other residential.

"Okay, BA, you take Frankie and hit the warehouse and Murdock's. Then go for the other two. I have a feeling this is a bigger wild goose chase than it appears. Murdock, you and I are going back in. Drop us at the other end of the cemetery, BA."

Moments later, Hannibal and Murdock stepped quickly from the car and watched it speed away. They gave each other only a glance before heading for the backside of the cemetery.


*****

Sam watched the activities on the ground with keen interest. He was surprised when the four men headed for the car. They wouldn't leave Clifton like that, unless that woman really was BA's mother. But that wasn't possible...unless she was being coerced. But how could Stockwell have known they would go after her? No way. She could have called him after talking to Sam on their way up there, but why would she call Stockwell and deliberately open herself up to blackmail by the general? Sam could feel his head pounding. None of this made sense any more.

And then he saw Hannibal stop, and start talking with the men already in the car. They talked for a couple of minutes before Hannibal got in and they pulled out. Now what were they up to?

He lost sight of the car as the treetops hid the road from view. If it hadn't been for the glint of sunlight off the window, he might not have seen it stop at the far side of the cemetery. He saw two people get out before the car sped away again.

He knew it. He relaxed, then raised his rifle, carefully sighting through the scope.


*****

They were traveling through the brush quickly, but trying to remain as quiet as possible. They needed to take Randy with as little fuss as possible; any injury to his friend would only make Face more angry, harder to deal with. Hannibal was hoping they had enough cover to keep out of Face's sight; there was a slim chance he had already come down from the trees to join Randy.

They came to a small clearing. Across the way, they could see another car. Movement to the left took their attention. Randy, carrying Clifton over his shoulder. Hannibal didn't like the layout one bit. They would have to either cross the clearing in record speed to take Randy down before either he or Face saw them, or try to go around and get to the car before Randy could. Neither option was good. Hannibal looked at Murdock, who just shrugged. They both knew the odds weren't the greatest for a clean job, but they had to do it, one way or the other. As usual, Hannibal opted for the front door. With a nod at Murdock, they started running across the clearing.


*****

Randy moved quickly through the cemetery, shifting Clifton's body occasionally. Reaching the fence, he dropped Clifton roughly to the ground and stepped through the gap. He looked carefully around, not really thinking anyone would be there, mainly out of habit. Seeing no one, knowing Sam would still be watching for any tricks, he turned and dragged his hostage through.

He was halfway to their car when he heard the shot.


*****

He tracked them through the underbrush, occasionally losing them, almost immediately picking them up again through the scope. Every now and then, he would glance down at Randy, gauging his progress, then immediately going back to the two men.

He watched, tense, as they converged on Randy's path. Saw them hesitate at the edge of the clearing. He glanced again at Randy. He was carrying Clifton on his right shoulder, blocking his view of the clearing and the men coming after him.

Sam steadied himself, slowed his breathing. Took aim. As the two men took off across the clearing, he squeezed the trigger. The first man fell, the second man dropping almost immediately to his knees beside him.

The rifle dropped heavily through the branches, unnoticed. Paying no attention to the branches scratching and poking at him, he slid down the tree, dropping heavily to the ground. He stood for a moment, trying to catch his breath, not thinking. From somewhere, his mind told him to start moving, to go to Randy. Get to the car, make their getaway.

Stumbling through the brush, Face fought to block the screaming in his head...