CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

"Anything yet, BA?"

"No. You sure about this?"

"No, but it stands to reason. The log in Randy's file lists every place they stayed, every place they went on a regular basis. They'd go to familiar ground." Hannibal lit his cigar, thinking.

They had arrived in Minneapolis over an hour ago, and headed immediately into the neighborhood surrounding the VA hospital. They hadn't gotten anything from the tracking device in Clifton's tooth, and were now moving toward the halfway house where Randy and Sam had stayed.

"I think we should skip this place, Hannibal. They wouldn't go back here." Murdock was staring up at the ceiling, eyes closed, a deep frown of concentration on his face.

"Why not?"

"Didn't it say that Randy got beaten up here? No way I'd go near a place where that had happened to me, Colonel."

"Okay, that makes sense. So the overpass, then?" Hannibal waited patiently for Murdock to consider it. If anyone could figure out the rationale of the irrational, it would be Murdock.

"No, too many changes there. There wouldn't be anything left of their stuff. Where else did they live? Or where did they go for fun?"

Hannibal pulled out the envelope yet again and perused the sheets. Thank God Sam had been meticulous in reporting their day to day activities.

"Got it. Loring Park. They went there a lot." He looked up, caught Murdock's concurring grin. "Okay, BA, let's go."


*****

He didn't know what had awakened him, but his instincts snapped his eyes open, and he immediately sat up, reaching for his pistol. Something wasn't right. Sliding silently out of the bed, he crept to the door and eased it open.

A quick glance into the living room told him Sam was gone. His adrenaline level rose and he moved quickly toward the second bedroom. He heard muffled voices inside, and sudden silence. A second later and he was opening the door.

Sam was standing behind Clifton, a rope around the prisoner's neck, pulling. The light from the door caught the grin on his face.

"Sam! What the hell?"

"Stay put, Randy. I'm not going to kill him. Just making sure he doesn't hurt anyone else."

"Sam..."

"You remember, Randy. Cut off the blood supply, the oxygen to the brain. Five minutes. That's all it takes. It won't kill him. Just shut him up. Nothing but gibberish out of that fucking mouth after that. Scrambled eggs for brains." The rope tightened. Clifton's eyes were bulging. "Poetic justice, Randy."

"Sam, let him go! We need him!"

"No, we don't, Randy. He'll just tell us more lies, more distorted shit. It wasn't like that, Randy. It wasn't like what he said. I gave you those pills, yeah. I did a lot of shit for Barish. But that wasn't me. That was the fucking robot Barish made." Sam looked up from his task, pleading. "I got you out of it, Randy. I did, the real Sam. Not Barish's monster."

"I know, Sam. I know that. You wouldn't have gone along with Barish if you hadn't been brainwashed first. I know that. So let him go. Please."

"No. He'll just keep doing what he does, destroying people. Trying to destroy us. He's got to be stopped."

Time was running out for Clifton. Randy could see the rigid posture loosening as he gradually lost consciousness.

"Sam. You have to let him go. We don't do this to people. To anyone. That's what Barish does. What Stockwell does. Not us. Not you."

For a moment, Randy thought Sam was going to let go. The rope slackened just a bit.

"No, Randy, I'm sorry, but I can't. He's got to be stopped." The rope tightened yet again, determination sweeping over Sam's face.

Randy hesitated only a moment before darting across the room, crashing into Sam, knocking him away from Clifton and pulling him down to the floor. The rope around Clifton's neck sliced painfully through skin as it slid away and he desperately tried to suck in air through his nose, choking on the gag.

Randy had expected a momentary struggle from Sam, but the rush of sharp blows that came at him took him completely by surprise. Sam was not merely trying to get away. He was attacking the enemy, his training kicking in with full force. Randy loosened his hold, tried to regroup. Feeling the retreat, Sam's attack became even more vigorous, and Randy was forced to retaliate in kind.

For several minutes, the two men struggled, Randy trying to subdue, Sam trying to disable. Randy felt Sam starting to falter and took advantage. A dirty trick, but he was desperate.

"Stop it now, Face!"

Sam stilled immediately, staring in disbelief and confusion at Randy, who immediately whipped Sam over on his stomach, and pulled his arm painfully tight behind his back, shoving his other arm straight out to the side. Randy sat, catching his breath while still holding Sam down. Sam stayed tense for a moment before suddenly relaxing.

"I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry."

"It's all right, Randy. I understand." The defeat was heavy in his voice.

Randy sighed. This was not what he wanted. None of this. It was all going wrong.

"Sam, listen. I'm going to let go. We need to talk, to work things out."

"Sure, Randy." Still the dullness in his voice.

"Sam, we need to leave here. We need to get away from Clifton, from Stockwell. From everybody. I didn't know, Sam. I didn't realize how fucked up they'd made you. It's my fault, Sam. But we'll get things straightened out, okay? We'll go someplace where none of them will ever find us, and we'll get us both straightened out. Are you with me, buddy?"


*****

"Got it, Hannibal."

Hannibal glanced quickly at the little black box on the dash. A bright red light was blinking. As they moved closer to Loring Park, the flashing increased its pace. BA slowed the van, driving carefully through the bric-brac of side streets surrounding the park. Both Murdock and Frankie were leaning forward, watching not only the little red light, but looking for any sign of the car Randy had been driving.

They found themselves driving parallel to the park now, the light flashing manically.

"Pull over, BA. We'll go on foot from here."

BA quickly found a spot to park, and the four men stepped from the van, all looking around at the old buildings gracing the street. Pedestrian traffic was nearly as heavy as that on the streets, the people a mix of conservative worker bees and eccentric artists. Even BA didn't really stand out that much.

Holding the little black box, Hannibal started walking to the north. A few yards and the tracker's flashing started to slow. Quickly they turned and headed back in the opposite direction. Hannibal came to an abrupt halt in front of twin buildings, the solid concrete steps of each joining in a wide veranda. The light was now a steady, solid beacon. Nodding at the others, Hannibal headed into the north building first.

BA and Frankie stood just inside the door, watching the people walking outside. Hannibal and Murdock carefully worked their way through the names on the buzzers, searching for anything that might indicate their quarry's lair.

Nothing.

Quickly, they exited the building and turned into the south door. It took only a moment to find it.

S. Hunt. Apartment B.

With a quick grin at his men, Hannibal headed for the basement entrance.


*****

"Okay."

Sam's eyes were closed, his voice a whisper. Randy slowly loosened his hold and stood. Sam painfully straightened his arm and sat up. He rested his head on his knees, breathing deeply and slowly. Randy knelt beside him.

"Sam, we can work through all of this. I don't for a minute believe that you would have worked willingly for Barish. Not for a second. But this thing with Clifton...you know I couldn't let you do that. And you know you couldn't have lived with it. Things are just...out of control right now. We need to take care of us now. We can deal with Stockwell later, if we still want to. He's going to take a long time to recover from what we've already done. Are you hearing me, Sam?"

"Yeah." Sam didn't raise his head from his knees.

"Okay. C'mon, let's get the hell out of here. Just pack up and leave. I'll call Carla and tell her where Clifton is and..."

"No! We don't let him go." Sam's head jerked up, anger again blazing in his eyes. "He pays."

"Okay, okay. But right now, let's just get packed up and ready to go. Okay? Okay, Sam?"

Sam didn't say anything, just pushed up from the floor. He glared at Clifton as he headed somewhat unsteadily for the bedroom door. Randy followed slowly, relief warring with anticipation. God only knew how long he'd be able to keep Sam moving in the right direction.


*****

Hannibal stood to one side of the door, Murdock just behind him. BA and Frankie mirrored them on the other side. All looked grim. Hannibal had warned them all one more time. Face was still part of the team. Any unnecessary roughness and they'd answer to him. Never had he thought he'd have to take that stance with his men, but then, nothing was normal about this whole mess.

He took a long, calming breath, forcing himself to focus. Listening quietly, he heard movement in the apartment, no voices. Once more glancing at the team, he braced himself and nodded to BA.

BA gathered himself together. With one huge surge, he crashed into the door, nearly knocking it from the hinges. A wild scramble ensued as the four men rushed into the small apartment. They fell to the floor as one as bullets suddenly whizzed over their heads. In the sudden silence following, they heard a door in the rear slam against the building and steps racing away.

Jumping to his feet, Hannibal ran toward the back, closely followed by Murdock, BA and Frankie. It took several moments to wind through the dark back hallway, filled with the overflow from the other apartments. By the time they reached the back entrance, there was no sign of either Randy or Sam.

Shuffling defeated back into the apartment, Hannibal heard a thumping from behind a closed door. Opening it cautiously, he reached in and felt for the light switch.

The four men glared at the helpless Clifton, the blood still seeping slowly from the wound around his neck.


*****

Randy hit the gas and tore down the alley, Sam watching behind, gun in hand. Just as they turned the corner and raced down the street, Sam saw Smith step out of the rear entrance. He smiled grimly and turned around to face the front.

"Smith and his boys. Shoulda known."

Randy nodded and kept his eyes on the road. He was balancing between quickly putting as much distance behind them as possible and not gaining notice from the local police.

"So where to now, Randy? Where's our little hideaway going to be this time?" The sarcasm in Sam's voice was barely concealed.

"I have a place in mind, Sam. Nice and quiet. You'll like it."

"Sure, Randy. Whatever you say, Randy."

They drove quickly north, away from the city. Several hours later they pulled into a rustic set of cabins nestled beside a small lake. Randy hurried in and secured a cabin for them, and they parked behind it.

Some twenty minutes later, Sam dozed off on the bed. The pistol rested on his stomach, fingers still closed on the handle.

Randy didn't sleep at all.