CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

"Where's Hannibal?"

"He's gone, man."

"Whadda ya mean, Frankie?"

"I mean he flew the coop, BA. Stockwell called and Hannibal packed a bag and left in Stockwell's limo. Didn't say a word about where he was going, or how long he'd be gone, or nothing, man. Just vamoosed."

BA glared at Frankie. He'd just spent a long and uncomfortable ride on the train from Chicago, and squirmed in a taxi from the station to the compound, cringing at almost every move the cabbie had made. Then to find out Hannibal had taken off without any of the team with him...he didn't like it, not one bit.

"Murdock know about this?"

"No, I haven't seen or heard from him in days, BA." Frankie frowned. "I tried calling him, but he hasn't returned my calls. That's not right. What if we'd had a mission?"

BA shook his head. "If we'd'a had a mission, Hannibal woulda called him. He's probably just busy."

"Yeah, everybody's 'just busy'." Frankie shook his head, disgusted.

"What's that s'posed to mean?"

"It's just that everybody's doing their own thing now, BA. Murdock has a new job, and hardly ever comes out here any more. You go off to Chicago all the time, by yourself. Hannibal...well, you know what he's been doing. I thought you guys were supposed to be a team, man. Now you hardly even talk to each other. Hell, you hardly see each other. It's almost like there's no team left."

BA looked hard at Frankie. He started to tell him he was full of it, but couldn't. What Frankie said was true. Even living in the same house, BA steered clear of Hannibal. Murdock came out only when he had to, hardly ever called any more. The team rarely saw each other except for jobs, and those were few and far between. Even Stockwell seemed to have lost confidence in them. That wasn't right.

And now Hannibal had taken off without a word to anyone. Only one reason for that to happen.

BA glared at Frankie. "You call Murdock and tell him I said to get his butt out here."

"What are you going to do, BA?"

"I'm gonna have a little talk with the general, that's what."


*****

Hannibal hoped he looked more confident than he felt as he stepped up on the porch. He kept feeling that bullet hitting his leg. He fervently hoped Randy was the one in control now. Hannibal always knew he would die fighting; he just didn't like the idea of Face being the one to put him down. At all.

He didn't have a chance to knock on the door. It swung open, silently, as he stepped up to it. He forced himself not to look for Kurt or Daryl; they were pro's. They were watching. He knew he wasn't in any immediate danger now; Randy was willing to talk or he'd have put a bullet in Hannibal before he'd gotten on the porch. Putting a smile on his face, he stepped through the door.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the cabin. He was surprised to note the curtains were drawn, even in this secluded place. The next thing he noted was the smell. A strange, unpleasant mix of disinfectant and beer, soap and body odor. Involuntarily he frowned in disgust.

The door swung silently closed behind him. Startled, he turned and faced a Beretta, held by Randy. The voice spoke calmly, softly.

"Welcome to our little neck of the woods, Colonel."


*****

"I don't know where he's gone, Sergeant. If I did, my men would be right there with him."

"Yeah, right." BA looked at Stockwell with contempt. "You called him, you sent your car for him, but you don't know where he went."

"True, Sergeant. But those were his conditions - that he work on his own. Well, almost on his own."

"Who's with him?"

"A couple of old friends of yours. Ables 9 and 12 - Kurt and Daryl, I believe you knew them as."

"So he has gone after Face, then." Murdock spoke for the first time, not looking at Stockwell, but continuing to gaze out the window.

"Yes, Captain. Which is why I agreed to let him go under these conditions."

"He would have gone anyway, General, and you know it."

Stockwell didn't bother to reply.

"So now what, General?"

"So now you wait. One way or another, Smith will be returning with the lieutenant, and we will go from there."

"One way or the other? That don't sound too good, Stockwell." Frankie stood up from the couch, moved over toward BA.

"That would be up to the lieutenant, Mr. Santana. I only know what your colonel told me. He would not come back unless and until he has Peck with him. Now, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I have things to attend to."

The three men watched, silent, until Stockwell's limo had driven away. Frankie and BA instinctively looked over at Murdock. He smiled at them. A mean smile.

"Murdock?" Frankie was clearly puzzled.

"No time to talk, Frankie. We have to find Hannibal's message."

"Message? What message?"

Murdock looked patiently at Frankie. BA just scowled and headed for Hannibal's room.

"Hannibal wouldn't tell Stockwell, but he would've left something for us."

"Why? He's got those other two guys."

"Yeah, but they're not his team."


*****

Randy stood for just a moment longer, gun pointed at the colonel, before sighing and putting it away. Nodding toward the living room, he stepped away from the door, stood slightly behind Smith. Waited.

Smith moved into the living room, seeing immediately the figure sitting on the couch. Randy watched his reactions carefully. He only knew the colonel as an adversary, as someone who had, intentionally or not, put his best friend through hell. Now he wanted to see what kind of man the colonel really was.

Smith had stopped, staring at Sam. Randy moved quietly so he could see his face. Pale. Deep frown. Anger? No, that didn't seem right. Something else.

The colonel started forward again, slowly, as one would approach an unknown animal. Sam didn't appear to notice, just sat, holding the beer bottle, mumbling. No, he had noticed. The mumbling had sped up, just a bit. A hint of anxiety in it. Randy moved closer.

Smith sat slowly on the end of the couch. The mumbling stopped for a split second, then continued. A little louder. Smith just sat, watching, not saying a word. The mutterings quieted, became a mere whisper.

"Sam?"

Randy was surprised. The voice was very quiet, understandably, but that Smith hadn't called him 'Face'...maybe the colonel was smarter than Randy had thought.

Sam stopped his recitation again but kept looking straight ahead. Took a drink. Stared ahead, frowning.

"Sam, do you know who I am?"

No response.

Smith slowly moved his hand over to Sam's chin, pulling gently to make him look at him. Again, Randy was surprised. Sam hadn't liked anyone close to him for a long time, let alone touching him. Sam looked right into Smith's eyes. Something flickered over his face. He jerked his head away, closed his eyes tightly, and his mantra became loud and clear to the other men.


*****

Hannibal watched Randy's eyes as he held the gun on him. Suspicion, certainly, wariness. But something else. A question. He sighed inwardly when Randy put the gun away and nodded toward the other room. Hannibal turned, stepped into what appeared to be the living room.

He wasn't prepared for what he saw. Not at all. Certainly he'd figured Face would be in there, waiting. Probably holding another gun on him. But what he saw took his breath away.

Face sat on the couch, head slightly bowed, as if addressing the beer bottle in his hands. His hair was long, very long, and filthy. His clothes were rumpled and...damn, that's where the smell was coming from. Hannibal wondered how long it had been since the man had even looked at a shower. From what he could see, he had a full beard now, too. Just as filthy as the rest of him.

But that wasn't what chilled him to the bone. It was the mutterings coming from him. Voice soft, but hoarse, as if he'd been shouting for hours. He just sat there, staring at the bottle, talking to himself. Constantly talking.

Hannibal stepped forward, slowly, not wanting to spook him. Something told him that wouldn't be hard to do. At first, he didn't think Face had noticed, but then he realized that he was talking just a bit faster. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Randy moving in, protectively. Slowly, to reassure both men, he sat on the couch, at what he thought Face would consider a comfortable distance from him. The voice faltered, then continued. Hannibal kept quiet, not moving. The voice softened to a whisper.

Figuring Face had calmed enough, Hannibal decided he had to try for some kind of contact. Thought for a moment before speaking. Obviously, he had to be very careful now.

"Sam?"

The muttering stopped. Face took a deep drink from the bottle, frowned.

"Sam, do you know who I am?"

No response.

Hannibal steadied himself. Slowly he reached over, took the bearded chin in his hand and gently turned Face to look at him. He looked closely, trying to see anything of the man he'd known. Instead, he saw bloodshot, unfocused eyes, with nothing in them at all. But then there was something. A quick flash. Recognition?

Suddenly Face jerked his head away, closed his eyes tightly, and started muttering again, loud and clearly this time.

"My father was an accountant. My mother was a secretary. Until they got me. Then she quit and stayed home and was my mother. My father was an accountant..."