CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

It had been quiet for a long time. Stockwell's organization was slowly rebuilding, some contacts re-established; others, lost forever. Carla's elevated status from her original retrieval of Randy and Sam had been lost in this last debacle. While she remained his assistant, her assignments were once again relegated to simple information retrievals. He kept her on a very short, very tight, leash.

The team had returned to the compound reluctantly. They had stayed in Minneapolis for almost a week, trying to track down any leads, but had come up with nothing. Hannibal agreed to come back only when Stockwell promised not to hunt down Face himself, the general making it clear that this was a concession made only because they had safely returned John Clifton. Clifton had once again disappeared into the bowels of the organization.

The team had only recently started going out on new missions. When they had first returned, Stockwell wanted them on hand for the next assault from Randy and Face. When weeks slipped by without incident, the general began sending them on short and simple jobs, few and far between. They were never away from the compound for more than two or three days. The enforced togetherness with little to relieve the boredom was getting to all of them.

Murdock spent less and less time with the team. He found it easier to find and keep jobs when he wasn't pulled away so often, and with the tension still there between him and Hannibal, the 'real world' was getting more and more inviting. At first, he'd had more than a few maudlin nights, thinking about the way things used to be. The longer things went with no word from or about Face, the less often those nights came.

BA still tinkered with the vehicles around the compound, but also started spending more and more time in Chicago. He still had to be careful, but Stockwell was more agreeable to the trips. It grated on BA when Stockwell implied it had something to do with BA being the most predictable of the bunch. But at least it got him away from the compound. And Hannibal.

Frankie spent his free time shadowing BA, trying to double-date with Murdock, or staying out of Hannibal's way. The resentments he'd felt when they had first come under Stockwell were starting to rebuild, as the other members of the team sank deeper and deeper into their own lives. He had a lot of energy and no place to expend it. Unless, of course, he wanted to help Johnny. And that was a little too much, even for Frankie.

Hannibal had become a man obsessed. He spent hours going over the reports Stockwell had gotten from Barish's organization; he didn't ask how the general had gotten them. He didn't care. He contacted every real estate and property rental agent he could find in Minnesota, starting with the Twin Cities, gradually moving out into the suburbs, then rural Minnesota. He didn't think any farther afield than that. Not yet, anyway. He taught himself to use the computers, so he could mass mail letters of inquiry. Stockwell obliged his mania to some extent by supplying reports from law enforcement agencies around the state. Anything that looked like something the pair might be involved in ended up on Hannibal's desk.

Two months after leaving Minneapolis, Hannibal was no closer to finding his lieutenant. He was losing weight and a full night's sleep was a luxury he seldom enjoyed. The rest of his team was drifting apart, but he didn't seem to notice or care.

Stockwell had noticed the problems, and he didn't like it. A team splintered was a team that was less effective. Despite his promise to leave the search for Face to the colonel, Stockwell started his own line of inquiry. He had people who still owed him favors, regardless of his recent troubles.

Stockwell could not afford to lose the team. Not now.


*****

He sat on the dock, watching the sailboats float by in the distance. He hadn't caught anything in the four hours he'd been sitting there, but it didn't matter. He had nothing else to do. And today, for some reason, he didn't want to go back into the cabin.

Most days it didn't bother him. It had at first, but he'd gotten used to it. Accepted it. But today he just wanted time off from that. Time to pretend all was right with his world. Maybe it was the time of year. The days were getting shorter, cooler. Soon he wouldn't be able to sit on the dock. Or take leisurely walks in the woods. Soon he would be forced to spend more and more time in the cabin. Moving was no longer an option. He was stuck here until...whenever. The thought of leaving, just walking away from it, never occurred to him.

So he sat on the dock, and pretended to fish, and forgot all about what was in the cabin, and why.


*****

"I want to talk to them. They understand better than anyone what happened. I want to talk to them, and I want them in on the search."

"Impossible, Colonel. They have their own jobs to deal with. They can't be running around the country looking..."

"You're their boss, General. You decide what their jobs are. And you'd better decide their jobs are here, helping me."

"Is that a threat, Smith?"

"I don't make threats, Stockwell. I make promises. And I promise, if they aren't here in the next couple of days, none of the rest of us will be, either."

Stockwell glared at Smith, who returned it calmly. The general was well aware that the team could walk away any time they wanted, regardless of the Ables on site. He also knew if they chose to do that, it would be next to impossible to get them back. The pardons wouldn't matter.

Giving Smith a curt nod, Stockwell stalked out of the house and drove away in his limo. Hannibal watched from the door until the car disappeared around the curve. Sighing, he moved back to his desk and picked up the latest batch of responses from real estate agents. He hadn't been at all sure he would have been able to talk the rest of the team into giving up their pardons and walking out. Not for Face. He was thankful Stockwell still thought he could.

He was discouraged. He wasn't blind to the disintegration of the team. But it wouldn't be the team without Face. He knew that from when they thought Face was dead. It wasn't until they had found out he might still be alive that they had really pulled together again. Become the team they had been before Stockwell. And despite the distrust and anger the others felt toward Face, Hannibal was sure he could bring them back together.

He had to. They were his family. You didn't just let that go.


*****

He finally gave up. The sun was high now, and too hot to stay on the dock. He dumped the bucket of worms into the water, and watched wryly as the evasive fish swarmed to capture the feast. Figured.

Picking up his fishing pole and empty fish bucket, he turned and looked toward the cabin. Sighing, he walked slowly up the dirt path and up onto the porch. Placing the fishing gear carefully next to the door, he pushed it slowly open and stepped in.

Stepping carefully, he started to pick up the empties scattered on the floor. He did it mechanically, tossing them in the large garbage can sitting beside the kitchen door as he gathered them. He hesitated when he came close to the couch, not sure what his reception would be. Not to worry. Not quite one o'clock and he was already passed out. Randy sighed. Hooking the unconscious man's arm over his shoulder, Randy dragged him up and into the bedroom. He let him drop roughly on the bed, slinging his legs up so he wouldn't slide onto the floor. As an afterthought, he threw a light blanket over him and left, closing the door behind him.

Randy spent the rest of the afternoon straightening and cleaning the cabin. He did the same thing every afternoon, getting the place cleaned up before Sam woke up and started drinking again. For those few hours, the place almost looked like home.

As he dropped the last empty can into the garbage, he considered once more cutting off Sam's supply of booze. He didn't dare, though. As long as Sam was drunk, Randy didn't have to listen to wild schemes for getting to Stockwell, or worry about him sneaking out to put those schemes into action. As long as Sam stayed drunk, Randy didn't have to listen to the angry accusations of treachery.

As long as Sam was drunk, Randy didn't have to watch his back.