CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

"I know you're stubborn, Clifton, but there's really no point to all of this. Eventually you will tell me what I want to know. You know as well as I do that that will happen. I'm not exactly an amateur at these things. I won't make the mistake of killing you. So why not cooperate and spare yourself the indignity?"

Clifton looked back at Randy, expressionless. No, they wouldn't kill him. In fact, thus far, Randy had only talked. Offered deals, alternatives. Some had been very interesting, financially. All, of course, had meant spilling the beans, and thus a complete break with Stockwell. There was no way the general would be in any mood - or condition - to take him back after that. Which meant either going back to the government (fat chance of them trusting him again), or going solo. And that idea was rather attractive. However, giving in to Randy and Sam also raised all kinds of difficulties as to any future career choices. No one would really trust him as they did now. And that meant he would have to depend on the fear factor to keep his employers 'in line'. And fear was wearing on people. It meant he would be looking behind him. Always. Not a pleasant prospect at all.

No, all in all, giving Randy and Sam what they wanted would be more detrimental to him in the long run than any rewards they could possibly offer. Which left him only one choice. Turn the tables on his kidnappers. Play the mind games on them instead, and then watch the fun.

And it would be great fun. After all, these two owed him...


*****

Randy watched the glint come into Clifton's eye, and wearily shook his head. The man still thought he could get the upper hand. Stubborn, puffed-up son of a bitch. He walked out of the bedroom after re-adjusting Clifton's gag and double-checking the ropes tying him securely to the chair. He turned off the light and closed the door, leaving the prisoner in near total darkness. He would stay that way for a few hours. Then the 'friendly persuasion' would start again. He might even be offered something to drink.

Randy walked softly into the living room, where Sam sat, nursing a beer, flipping between channels. Randy watched for a few minutes, until the same programs had been passed through three or four times. He sat down on the couch, giving Sam his space, and reached over, taking the remote carefully from his hand. Sam never said a word, just took a long draught from the bottle. Randy settled on an old movie, Cary Grant, and pretended to watch. Sam emptied the bottle, pulled another one from the cooler setting beside the couch. Randy sighed.

"Want to tell me what happened out there, Sam?"

"Nope."

Randy watched the movie for a few more minutes. Sam sipped the beer, steadily but not hurriedly. Randy waited until he had finished it and pulled out yet another bottle.

"Smith got a little close, huh, Sam." It wasn't a question, just an obvious observation. "That's not why you shot him, though, is it?"

Sam sipped his beer, said nothing.

"We agreed no one got hurt, Sam. You coulda made them tap dance. Didn't have to hit him."

"I know."

"We agreed, Sam." Randy let a little of his anger come out. "What happened to that?"

"It was a setup."

Randy looked over at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"Baracus' so-called mother. She was in on it."

"What the hell are you talking about, Sam? How could she be in on it?"

"If she'd been the real deal, Smith and Murdock wouldn't have stayed behind. They'd'a been hell-bent to find her. But instead..." He shrugged. "That's why she knew which one of us was supposed to be Face. Why she had those fake pictures. It was all a setup. Right from the start."

"Sam, that's..." he almost said 'crazy', but thought better of it. "How could they know we'd go after her, Sam? We didn't even know until we got to Indianapolis. And no one knew we'd end up there."

"Smith knew. He led us there. That was the plan all along. He knew, once we got that close to Chicago, that I'd think of her." He calmly took another, longer, sip of beer. "That changed the rules, Randy."

Randy looked at the bottles piling up on the floor, and started wishing he'd had a few of those, himself. One way or another, Sam was going to fit the facts to his fantasy.

"Okay, Sam. So what other rules have changed?"

"I don't know yet. I have to think about it."

"About what?"

Sam finished off the beer, stood, amazingly steady on his feet, and headed for the empty bedroom. He stopped at the door, looked back at Randy, contemplating.

"Giving aid and comfort to the enemy." He nodded his head slowly. "I have to think about that." He closed the bedroom door behind him.


*****

"Well, you've managed to fuck this up very nicely, Colonel." Carla's voice grated on Hannibal's ears, not to mention her words. Amazing the vocabulary people discovered when they were stressed out. And Carla was stressed out major league. Hannibal smiled to himself. At least something good had come of this latest fiasco.

"I wouldn't worry too much, Carla. I'll be out of here in the morning and we'll go after them."

"Oh, and you're going to find them just like that, when all of these other trained agents, police, and feds can't?"

"Piece of cake, Carla." Hannibal grinned openly at her this time.

"You may think this is funny, Colonel Smith, but I assure you that neither I nor the general see it that way. He is not happy about Peck. And his unhappiness is not only with me. Your pardons are looking more and more 'encumbered', Colonel. And Peck's..."

"Face goes with the territory, Carla. You make damn sure Stockwell knows that. Any problem the good general has with him, he can lay at his own door. You can also remind Stockwell that this whole mess started with his getting in bed with Barish."

"Maybe you should discuss this directly with..."

"No, Carla, you're his little errand girl. So you go back to Stockwell and tell him from now on, I'm dealing with Face and Randy on my own. Me, and my team. And when we've got his house in order for him, we'll talk some more about those pardons. If I need anything from him - or you - I'll let him know." Hannibal stared at her for a long moment, then deliberately closed his eyes.

Carla glared at him, knowing full well he would ignore anything further that she had to say. Without another word, she stomped out of the hospital room, glaringly ignoring Murdock, BA and Frankie, who were sitting outside his room, waiting.

The three men glanced at each other, grinning, and went in to see their leader.


*****

"Still nothing, Clifton? Still being stubborn? Why, John? Why not give up Stockwell, let him rot in hell where he belongs?"

Randy kept his voice soft, low, reasonable. He could barely make out Clifton's face in the darkened room. He'd removed the gag, but not offered any water. Not yet. He knew the man still had some idea of what time it was, but that would change. The longer he went with little or no water, no food, no light, the less sure of things he would become. The less confidant. The more confused. The more desperate. And eventually, after a few days, maybe a week, he would tell Randy everything he wanted to know. Everything he asked for, everything he didn't.

Randy hadn't waited for this interview. He'd sat for a few minutes, watching the door Sam had closed, wondering. Worrying. Things were getting out of control. It was not working the way it was supposed to. He hadn't considered Sam's reaction to his helping Smith. No good deed, Randy...trying to make sure Smith was okay so Sam wouldn't go to pieces. But he was unraveling anyway. The facts were going their independent way, and Sam was pulling them back into a tight little ball that wound the way he wanted it to, the way he needed it to. Rearranging them so they fit into the world he wanted for his reality. And now Randy had done something that definitely did not fit into that world and Sam had to figure out how to rearrange that. Until he did, Randy knew he would have to watch his back.

He never planned on that.

So, unsure, he moved into his own world, where he knew what to do, what to expect. And that meant dealing with John Clifton. That was alright. In a way, it worked to his advantage. Clifton hadn't expected another workout so soon.

"John, John, John...why, John? You don't want to be here, do you? You really don't want to be working for someone like Stockwell any more, do you? You could be free, John. Free. To do your own thing, work for whomever you like. A free agent, John. Free..."


*****

Hannibal had gleefully recapped his conversation with Carla, then frowned when his team shifted uncomfortably instead of joining in the fun. No one would look him in the eye.

"Okay, guys, what's going on? You get hold of your mother, BA?" Hannibal had a moment's anxiety.

"Yeah, she's fine. Madder'n a wet hen, but okay. Her flight's gonna be in later tonight."

"Good. Then you'll have a chance to see her before we leave."

"Yeah." BA scowled, looked out of the window.

"So what's the problem? The tracker?"

"No, that was working just fine until they moved out of range. Headed west, northwest."

Hannibal grinned. "I knew it. Heading back to Minneapolis. Well, we should be able to get there by mid-morning, right? Then we'll pick up their trail again. Piece of cake, right?" He looked expectantly at his men. They nodded, but none of them looked any happier.

"Okay. Enough. Someone better start talking or we'll be hitting the obstacle course before we go anywhere else."

Frankie shifted his feet, looking at the other two.

"Frankie, it appears you've been elected. Now out with it."

"Well, it's, uh, it's just...Face, Johnny. And what he did. And you putting his pardon in with the rest..." Frankie glanced desperately at Murdock, then BA. Neither offered any support. "Damn, Johnny, it just doesn't seem right, y'know?"

"No, I don't know, Frankie." He looked angrily around. "Murdock, you seem unusually quiet. You agree with this?"

"He could've killed you, Hannibal. Even Randy wasn't expecting that. He's out of control. That's obvious now, isn't it?"

"BA? He didn't hurt your mother in the slightest. You think he's not a part of the team? That he's not worth fighting for?"

"He shot you, Hannibal. And he used my mother, whether he hurt her or not. Ain't right."

Hannibal looked at them, one at a time. None could look him in the eye. Okay. They weren't really decided then.

"Do any of you think Face would be acting like this if he were himself?"

Silence.

"Do you think Face would turn his back on any of you, if you were in his place? Murdock? How many times has he gone along with your problems, helped you through the really rough spots? Would you have expected the rest of us to turn our backs when you had problems? Those first years? BA, you think we should've tossed Murdock on the scrap heap back then?"

Silence again.

"All right then. Tomorrow morning I'm outta here at first daylight. And then we're going after Face. And we are bringing him home. Period!"