CHAPTER SEVENTY SIX

He opened his eyes, slowly letting them adjust to the dim light from the table lamp. He didn't think he'd been sleeping. Dozing, now and then, but not sleeping. He couldn't let himself sleep. Not here. Not now.

He looked around the room. Nothing had changed. The chair was still shoved up under the door knob. It wouldn't stop anyone determined to come in, but it would delay them for a minute. That's all he would need.

He stood, shaking his shoulders. Moved to the high window, the sill at chest level. Small, but not small enough. Ground floor. Easy. Either Magill had gotten sloppy, or was confident to the point of arrogance. He didn't really believe either.

Outside the window was a narrow alley, congested with dumpsters, cars, debris. He stood perfectly still, watching from the side. There. Stockwell's, or Smith's, he couldn't tell. But he was being watched. As far as he could tell, only the one, though.

Nothing to worry about.

He stepped back into the room. Looked again at the box, sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. He still hadn't looked inside. He imagined it was full of forged documents. More of the same type of crap Smith had shoved at him before. Meaningless.

He sat on the bed. Stared at the wall. Looked down at the box.

Meaningless.

He leaned over, looking closer. Sealed with several strips of tape, dried out and stiff now. Dusty. Looked like it hadn't been touched in a long time. He leaned closer, almost bending double. It smelled musty.

Straightening, he shook his head. More tricks. Magill could've gotten any old box and shoved a bunch of shit in it.

Meaningless.

He stood, paced around the room for a few minutes. Stopped. Looked back at the box. He needed to know what Magill's game plan was. What his strategy was.

The box would be a start.

He sat on the bed, pulling the box up next to him. Pulling his pocketknife, he hesitated a moment, then resolutely slit the tape. He pulled open the cover and wiped his hands on the blanket. Peered inside. The first thing he saw were certificates of some kind.

More forgeries.

Did they really think he would be fooled by this? Hadn't they learned anything?

He reached in, pulled out the papers, glancing at them quickly before dropping them on the bed. All looking perfectly legit, showing his transfer of custody to the orphanage, various medical records, report cards...all the things one would expect to find. Old, discolored. Musty.

He had to admit, they were very good. Magill had gone to a lot of trouble to make them look just right.

He dropped the stack of papers on the floor. Opened the cover a bit further. There were several small boxes, almost like jeweler's cases. He looked inside a couple of them. Small medals - spelling contests, football, one for perfect attendance.

Must have cost them a fortune to have those made up and aged like that. Well, they had a lot invested in him. Why not?

He thought for a moment that was all that was in the box, and was slightly disappointed. He'd expected something more...spectacular. Something that Magill figured would throw him completely out of whack. This was just more...crap.

Meaningless.

Shaking his head, he picked up the smaller boxes, piled them on the papers and started to shove them into the bigger box. That's when he realized there was one more item in the box. On the bottom. Dark colored, so he hadn't seen it at first. He reached in, carefully pulled it out. Placed it on the bed beside him.

Damn.

An apartment flashed through his mind. Five men in dirty uniforms, smiling at him.

He moved back, leaning against the headboard. Disgustedly, he realized he was sweating. And cold.

Faked. All faked. It was easy enough to do. This was just more of the same. More tricks.

Meaningless.

He sat for a long time, staring at the cover of the photo album.


*****

"Still nothing?"

"No, General, nothing. The other Ables have also reported in. Chicago, Bad Rock, the VA - nothing at any of them." Carla hesitated, then plunged forward. "General, the others have done nothing unusual. Mrs. Baracus and Dr. Sullivan are going about their routines. No strange fires or electrical problems at the VA. The only shift from the ordinary is LA."

"Our Ables report no sightings."

"Correction, General. Our 'Able' reports all quiet. We haven't spoken to the other two, only Able 40."

Stockwell leaned back in his chair. He hadn't overlooked that fact, either. Carla bringing it up confirmed his intuition.

"Perhaps we need outside confirmation of the situation in LA. Someone who wouldn't be...noticed. Who's available?"

"I have a couple of Ables, either of whom would work out nicely, General."

"All right. Pick one, get him on the way within the hour. I want a report back ASAP."


*****

He opened his eyes, instantly wide awake, when the first sounds came through the headphones. He couldn't figure out what the noises meant. Papers rustling, scuffling noises. Mumblings. He listened for a few minutes more, and then it got quiet again.

He wished the Ables had installed surveillance cameras in the rooms, but there hadn't been time. He really needed to see what was going on. It was much more difficult to assess the situation when he hadn't any idea what papers were being looked at, what the reaction was. And he had no clue as to what the other sounds were.

He stood, walked to the window, looked out on the street below. He knew where both his men were; one was pretty much out of bounds for now; the other he could get to easily. Luckily, that was the one he needed.

He stepped quietly out into the hallway and down the stairs. The elevators were too noisy, too confining. Too easy to get bushwhacked. It took only a couple of minutes to reach the ground level and slip carefully out of the emergency door - the door he'd carefully disarmed on arrival.

He looked carefully up and down the alley. As long as he stayed on his side, no one at the retreat would be able to see him. But there were others who might be out and about, and he wanted no chance encounters with the wrong people. He found a spot behind a dumpster, waited a moment, listening, and then gave what he hoped was a recognizable imitation of an angry tomcat. He hoped it had been loud enough, but not too loud.

He was relieved to see his man glide slowly out of the shadows, crossing quickly, quietly, across the alley to his position.

"Which room?"

"Third from the corner. Light's been on since he arrived, but I don't know if he's awake or not."

"He's awake. At least, he was a minute ago." He glanced over at the building across the alley. "Anything there?"

"Not really. A few offices on the upper floors. Bottom floors are empty except for a couple apartments. Lock's an antique."

"View?"

"Second floor should look right through his window."

"Okay. I'll keep our rooms upstairs for now, but I'll be moving the equipment over there first thing in the morning."

"I'll keep it clear for you then."

He nodded, and the men moved in unison across the alleyway. Seconds later, he'd picked the lock on the basement door and was moving up to the second floor.

His partner had been right. The rear apartment, deserted apparently for some time, looked down and through the window. He could see most of the room clearly. Including the figure sitting disconsolately on the bed.

Not for the first time, he wondered about the wisdom of this whole scheme...


*****

He slowly reached over, picked up the album, pulled it onto his lap. For several minutes he waited, gathering himself. He remembered the pictures at Mrs. Baracus' apartment vividly. He knew they were phony, just as these would be. Still...

This was the crux of the manipulations. That niggling doubt. Everything he had been told, shown, could have been the truth. And who was he to dispute it, really? The man with no past. No. Correction.

The man with too many.

He knew, well enough, that some of the things he'd been told by Smith had to be true. The lies had to be based on some facts. But which was which?

No.

No, he knew what were lies. Anything to do with Smith and his cronies were lies. They worked for Stockwell. And Stockwell had done this to him, to Randy. Nothing connected to Stockwell was to be trusted.

Nothing.

So whatever he found in this photo album would be lies.

No reason to even look at it.

No reason at all.

He shoved the book back onto the bed. Stood and stepped back over to the window. His guard dog was still out there. He could see him, even in the dark. Could practically smell the bastard.

He turned back to the room, looking everywhere except the bed. He wished he had a drink. A beer would go down so good right now. Stuffy little room. He hated it. He should just walk out. He could get away from these guys. Might have to take one or two down to do it, but he could.

But that left Magill, alive and breathing. Not part of the game plan.

Okay. He could go kill Magill and then leave. Just a slight delay. No big deal.

His eyes fell on the album.

Curiosity killed the cat. Remember that.

He stepped over to the door, listening. Silence. He leaned against the door, considering his options. Glanced again at the album.

It would be interesting to see how much trouble they'd gone to. He wondered idly if Magill had had anything to do with the Nam photos. Not for the first time, he thought about where Magill actually stood in the hierarchy of their plan. Leader? No, that had been Barish. Or Barish and Stockwell. So Magill had been what? Second banana? Certainly not just an underling.

He sat on the bed. Ran his finger along the edge of the album.

Fakes. That's all.

Meaningless.

Slowly, he moved his hand and let the book fall open...