CHAPTER SEVENTY THREE

"So it was all a ruse..."

"Yes, sir. Unfortunately."

"Hmm. And our contact?"

"Apparently he was also taken in, sir. Of course, that's now moot."

"Yes..." The chair protested slightly as it swiveled to face the bank of windows overlooking the city. "And the killer...?"

"Presumed to be the lieutenant. There was no one else left there who would have."

"Hmm. I knew he would surprise us. I must admit, I didn't expect a surprise of such...significance."

"No, sir. I don't believe any of us did, sir."

"Especially Mr. Marucchi. Well, dance with the devil..."

"Yes, sir."

"Marucchi's people have dealt with it?"

"Apparently so, sir. They told our people the killer is dead, but we're still waiting for confirmation."

"So, it would appear our troubles are indeed over, correct, Carla? We have only to retrieve our errant personnel and things will be back to normal. At least, as normal as they get with Smith and his men."

"It would appear so, General."

"Hmm." Stockwell looked down at the reports from Mexico, laying unopened on his desk. He stared at the folder for a long moment before returning his gaze to Carla. "You accept this report, Carla?"

Carla hesitated for only a moment. "No, sir, I don't."

"And why is that, Carla?"

"I don't believe Colonel Smith would let anyone get to Peck. Especially with two Ables to assist the team. It just wouldn't happen."

Stockwell chuckled, mirthlessly. "I agree, Carla. I very much agree. Things just don't work that way." He swept the folder into the drawer, shut it firmly. "You know what to do."

"Yes, General. Already in progress."

"Good. Let me know as soon as you hear anything, no matter how insignificant it appears."

"Yes, sir." Carla turned and headed for the door.

"Oh, and Carla..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Let's not be making any independent moves. Not any more."

Carla pursed her lips, holding back the retort. Forced a submissive tone to her voice. "Absolutely not, General. Nothing happens without your approval."

Leaning back in his chair, Stockwell nodded his dismissal and watched as his assistant closed the door behind her. Sighing, he reached for the telephone, using his private line.


*****

Murdock had been surprised when he'd first seen the place. Somehow, when Hannibal had said Father Magill would be waiting for them at "the retreat", he'd figured it would be some cabin out in the mountains some place. Instead, he sat in an upstairs window of a fourplex, staring across the street at a rather nondescript concrete building. Five stories high, almost devoid of windows, and completely surrounded, not by flora and fauna, but by more steel and concrete.

Hardly a place he would choose to get closer to God.

Murdock glanced back into the room where they were waiting. BA sat on the couch, fiddling with the remote control. So far, it turned the television on and off and that was about it. Which really didn't matter much, since the set only seemed capable of receiving one station, anyway. Kurt and Daryl sat at the linoleum covered table, playing a lack-luster game of poker with Frankie. Hannibal sat in the only comfortable chair in the place, calmly reading the paper. Maggie was on her way back home; she had been reluctant to leave, but relieved at the same. He didn't blame her.

Murdock's look traveled to one of the three bedroom doors, the one which "Face" had taken over as his domain. No one had even thought about entering without an invitation, and no one, thus far, had received one. Nor had the lieutenant shown his face in the outer rooms. Murdock was somewhat concerned about that, but Hannibal seemed to take it in stride.

"We've only been here one day, Murdock. He's not going anywhere, and, when it's time, he'll come out. He just needs his privacy."

Privacy. Okay. Like he hadn't held himself aloof from all of them the entire trip up here. He'd agreed to meet with the priest, but that seemed to be the only compromise he was willing to make. He was no more civil to the rest of them after he and Hannibal had had their little tête-à-tête than he had been before. In fact, he'd almost been worse.

He looked back out the window; nothing had changed. There was little or no traffic on the street below; no wonder, since it was the last of three blocks on the dead end street. That bothered everyone, even Hannibal. If Stockwell's people were to show up, there was really no place for the team to go, except over the rooftops. Not a route any of them liked, although it was certainly do-able, if they had to. Then again, it was equally impossible for Stockwell to bring in his people in any kind of numbers without their having more than ample warning. Not the best of trade-off's, but better than nothing.

Murdock suddenly roused himself. A car was drifting down the street. Eventually it pulled to a stop in front of the building across the street, and Murdock watched as a man, dressed in civvies, stepped out, pulling a small valise out of the back seat. He stood on the street while the car made a three corner turnaround and ambled back down the street. The man stood for another moment, looking cautiously around him, before turning to the door and knocking. A dour looking nun opened the door, suddenly smiling at the visitor. Murdock could clearly hear the conversation drift up from the canyon-like street.

"Ah, Father Magill, welcome. We've been expecting you..."

The two were still in genial conversation when a man stepped out of the building next to the retreat. He sauntered past, nodding his head at the two in passing. He continued up the street, stopping only when the priest had actually entered the building and the door closed firmly behind him. He pulled something from his pocket, but before Murdock could tell what he was doing, yet another man came around the corner. The new guy stopped, cigarette in hand; apparently needed a light. A moment's interaction, and the two men turned and walked, close together, back around the corner.

Murdock frowned. Was Stockwell that sure of himself, to let his men be so obvious?

"Hannibal..."


*****

It had taken almost three days to reach LA proper. Three days of hell over rough roads and barely working air conditioning. His shoulder was still stiff; at times it felt as if the muscles were shrinking into tiny knots of steel. No amount of stretching or shifting could get rid of it.

But that he could deal with.

It had been the closing them out that had really taken its toll. He knew, from the tentative conversations that both Murdock and Santana had started, that everyone was expecting him to come out of his 'shell', now that he and Smith had reached their understanding. No way. He'd speak when he had to, when he needed to. So far, he'd seen no reason to.

Nor had he seen any reason to suddenly trust them. Smith, only as far as the promise regarding the priest. He didn't even know why he believed that. He didn't know why he was still with these people.

There was something...

He pushed that aside. Again. That...confusion...had been irritating him practically since he'd climbed back into that damn van. Made it hard to think. Gave him a headache. And it served no purpose at all. He knew that any memories he had of these people were lies. He believed Smith's promise only because Smith had acknowledged his errors. It took a man of honor to do that.

That was all. Nothing more.

He shook his head, clearing the cobwebs. He glanced at the door to the bedroom, suspiciously. So far no one had disturbed him, but he knew it was only a matter of time before that priest showed up. And then he'd be expected to keep his part of the bargain.

He looked out of the window, to the building across the street. A sterile building. Total functionality, devoid of any character, warmth. A sudden shudder swept through him. He felt claustrophobic, just looking at the place he would be meeting with Magill. He did not want to go into that building.

He stepped back from the window. Shit. He was actually sweating. What the hell was the matter with him? This was ridiculous. It was just a building. An ugly, crappy building, but just that. A building. And this guy he was going to meet was just a priest. A man in a collar.

No big deal.

He stood still for several minutes, breathing slow, deep. Stupid to get all uptight like this. He was stronger than that. Much stronger. He had nothing to fear from this priest. He was only keeping his word. Taking the chance. Spend a few minutes talking to this guy and then he was free. Free.

To decide who he really was.

He closed his eyes, concentrated on his heart beat, his breathing. He felt himself calming, relaxing. Good. No more of that shit. He was just tired from that hell ride. That's all. Just tired. He made himself comfortable on the bed. He'd take a nap, get some sleep, be good as new.

That's all he needed. A little more sleep. A lot more sleep.

He heard a car door slam down in the street. Immediately he was back at the window, nap forgotten. He stood to the side, out of sight. Looked down at the man getting his bag from the car. Watched as he looked around, stepped up to the door, knocked. Heard the nun's voice, not the words. Paid no attention to the nun, or the man walking by them, or anything else on the street.

Saw no one except the priest.

The priest.

Magill.

Father Magill.

He suddenly felt very, very cold.