CHAPTER SEVENTY SEVEN

The alarm sounded next to Father Magill's ear, and he groggily sat up, groping to shut the noise off. He rubbed his eyes and looked around, only then remembering where he was, and why. He sighed deeply, wondering what this day would bring, praying silently that he would find Templeton still in his room, that he hadn't disappeared into the night.

He hadn't been at all sure he should give Templeton the box last night. He had gone back and forth for a long time, trying to decide if they should go through it together or not. He had no idea how it would affect the man he'd met in the hall. In the end, he relied on his instincts; Templeton would have wanted to look through it alone, analyzing every piece, not wanting anyone else to see his reactions. And if the contents had any positive affect at all, Templeton - his Templeton - would be waiting to talk this morning.

He carefully got out of bed, his old bones protesting loudly the effects of the unfamiliar mattress. It reminded him of why he seldom went on retreat. With an apologetic look up, he made a mental note to devote more time to meditation when he returned home. He had a feeling he would need it when this was over.

A few minutes later, he stood in front of Templeton's door. Taking a deep breath, he knocked softly. After what seemed a lifetime, the door swung open. A moment's hesitation, and Father Magill stepped inside.


*****

The private jet had landed an hour earlier, and he'd immediately been driven to a small hotel, not far from the target area. On the coffee table lie a folder with several photographs: members of the A-Team, the two rogue Ables, a priest, the three Ables on surveillance. He would not be in direct contact with any of them, a prospect he didn't like, but orders were orders. The general thought something was wrong with the surveillance team; it was his job to find out what.

And then correct it.

Distastefully, he thought back to the briefing Stockwell's assistant, Carla, had given him. It wasn't that he was unused to these types of jobs; he just didn't like other Ables being in the equation. Although he did have some discretion in the matter. If the general's goals could be accomplished without any bloodshed, all the better.

If not...

He sighed, checking his weapons. Hopefully it was just as reported - a dry hole, and the general would have to look elsewhere for his missing people.

He studied the photographs one more time before leaving. He would check out the surveillance apartment first. Carefully. If there were anything amiss, that would be the first area to clean up.

Casually carrying his specialized briefcase, he strolled out of the building and down the street.


*****

It had been just before dawn when he carried the last box of electronics across the alley and up to the new apartment. It had been hard work, not only physically but technically. He wasn't one for electronic gadgetry and he'd had to make notes as to what got re-connected where. But it was finally done.

He made one last inspection of the old apartment. He didn't want to leave any indication that anyone had been there. He was still debating whether or not to let Stockwell in on the change. It wasn't really necessary; the general expected his people to do the job without having to constantly check in with him. Which made Stockwell's own incessant checking with him much more irritating. It was with a bit of perverse satisfaction that he decided to leave the general in the dark about the move. At least for a while longer.

He locked the door to the apartment and hurried down the stairs to the alley. His partner was waiting, watching the alleyway carefully.

"You're cutting this awfully damn close, you know. It's almost time to switch."

He smiled, calmly. "Don't worry so much. Everything's in place now. You just be sure to let me know if there's any change in plans, all right?" He disappeared into the new building before the other man could reply.

Shaking his head in exasperation, Kurt tried to calm himself before Murdock showed up.


*****

When the knock came at his door, he was tempted to go out the window. Take his chances with the men out there. But that wouldn't work. Not really. He had things to do here first.

He pulled the chair out from under the doorknob, and pulled the door open as he stepped back to the window. Watched as the priest came slowly into the room. Magill looked over at the bed, where the documents from the box were carefully sorted along the far edge. The contents from the smaller boxes were lined up at the foot of the bed.

"Would you like some breakfast before we talk, Templeton?"

You could be dead before you could swallow.

"It's plain fare they have here, but plenty of it."

Before you even get out of the door.

Magill sighed. "Or, if you prefer, we can talk first."

Such a trusting little man...

"You know the silent treatment never worked with me, Templeton. I could always wait you out." Magill smiled softly.

I know. I know...


*****

He knew very quickly that his hopes for a simple solution wouldn't bear fruit. He spotted Colonel Smith almost immediately, even in his disguise. Regardless of quality, a fake beard was a fake beard, at least to the trained eye. He stepped cautiously up to him.

"Excuse me, sir, are you from around here?"

Smith looked at him, just as warily. "Whaddya wanna know for?"

"Well, I'm looking for this address," he showed Smith a slip of paper with the address to the surveillance building handwritten on it. "I'm supposed to meet the realtor there to see about office space. I'm afraid I got lost, with all the dead end streets. I thought it should be down this way, but..."

Steel blue eyes stared him up and down, but he maintained his befuddled attitude. After a moment, Smith grunted.

"Yeah, you got the right street. Just down a couple more buildings there."

"Thank you, sir. Appreciate it." He smiled gratefully, and hurried down the street, carefully checking the numbers on each building. Arriving in front of his building, he made a show of double-checking the address before stepping up and ringing the bell. A quick flick of his wrist and the lock was open. He stepped in, pretending to greet his host.

Walking up the staircase, he thought about what he might find in the apartment. One person, stuck in the apartment, might have missed Smith and his men. Not three. He stopped on the landing below his floor, double-checked the automatic in his shoulder holster. Held it carefully in his pocket, ready, as he continued up the stairs.

He listened carefully at the door before slipping the catch and pushing the door open. Staying in the hall, he was able to see into the empty room. He listened again before actually stepping into the apartment. It took only moments to check the remaining two rooms.

Completely empty.

It was obvious that the operation had fallen apart. It was quite possible that the base of operations might have been moved, for security reasons. But couple that with the false reports on the Team's presence and it spelled disaster.

So, where were Stockwell's men? Did Smith have them? That would explain a lot. He looked around the apartment one more time, for any sign of the men, not finding any, not expecting to. He glanced out the front window, confirmed that Smith was still in position, and made his way back down the stairwell. This time, however, he moved to the back of the building.

It took him a few minutes to spot the pilot. Not in disguise, but well hidden among the debris in the alley just the same. He stepped back from the door, moved up to the second floor. He broke into one of the back apartments, after making sure the occupants were out. Pulling a powerful scope from his case, he carefully checked the alley and enclosing buildings. He noted two doors that appeared to have been disturbed recently. Whether by the people he was after, or simply the normal occupants, he didn't know.

Not yet.

He glanced at his watch. He'd been here long enough. Smith might be watching for him. He returned to the front door, again made a show of saying goodbye to his nonexistent host, and headed back down the street. He nodded at Smith as he passed, a satisfied smile on his face. Smith did not reply, but he knew he was watched until he turned the corner.

Twenty minutes later he was back in his own hotel room, a plat map of the area in front of him. Later that afternoon he would pay a visit to the two buildings he'd noted. And that night he would pay a visit to Father Magill.