CHAPTER EIGHTY SIX

The nightmare was vivid and real and horrible. He woke, sweating and shaky, nervously glancing around the semi-darkness of the room. It took several minutes before his heart slowed to a near-normal rate. He didn't want to even think about the dream, but that didn't matter. The images still swirled in the air around him.

Hannibal, in an animalistic rage, attacking Randy, battering his face, hacking at his throat, ripping out his heart...BA and Murdock standing passively by, watching...Stockwell and Barish, laughing in the corner...and then Hannibal turned on Face...

He pushed the light blanket away and stood, leaning heavily on the night table. He really needed a drink. Really needed it.

He took a deep breath, slowly exhaled. He pulled on jeans and sweatshirt, shoving bare feet into his shoes. Once more glanced apprehensively around the room.

He had to get out of here.


*****

In the apartment facing the retreat, no one was sleeping. They lie on their beds, or sat on the couch, or wandered aimlessly about the apartment. All of them keyed up after listening to Hannibal explain the Preacher's proposal. And his acceptance of it.

They were also thinking about Hannibal's meeting with Face the next day. The priest's call to the apartment had taken them all by surprise. Hannibal was quite sure the Preacher had been aware of the status inside the retreat; otherwise, their meeting would not have taken place when it did. Perversely, realizing the Preacher knew things he didn't made Hannibal have more confidence in his promises.

Daryl and Kurt were discussing things quietly between them. They had known the deal was coming, what it entailed. Had known they were not included in it, and did not want to be. Their safety from Stockwell was an issue Hannibal had tried to discuss with the Preacher, but had only been told it was taken care of. He was not to know the details. Period.

Kurt and Daryl did know. Daryl hadn't been happy about it, but saw the sense of it. A carefully constructed set of lies; a very cleverly forged directive which was purportedly sent to a certain lieutenant, in the employ of a certain general, to assassinate a certain gun runner in Mexico. The document would be sent to the progeny of said gun runner in the event anything happened to either former Able. One thing Stockwell could not afford was a war with Mick's powerful and extensive family. Not now, at any rate. He would undoubtedly win, in the long run, but it would definitely be a very long run, and costly.

Two Ables were certainly not worth the trouble.


*****

They had packed up the last of the equipment hours before. He wasn't happy about it, but knew they couldn't stay there. Couldn't go to the old apartment, either. Until that first piece of evidence got to Stockwell, proving they had the power to destroy him, their lives weren't worth a plug nickel. Each had gone their own way after disposing of the equipment. The Preacher had taken the three imprisoned Ables; they would return with him to Langley once the way was clear. Not knowing what was going on, they obviously were not happy, but knew better than to argue or remonstrate with this particular man. They remained subdued, thinking with dread of reporting back to the general.

He, himself, had not gone far. Without the aid of the listening devices, he was cut off from everything happening within the retreat. He had known that would have to be, and had made plans for it. It didn't really matter now, anyway; all he needed to do was make sure Smith and Peck made nice with each other the next day.

He stood in the doorway, relaxing. He would have liked a cigarette, but he knew the windows of a certain apartment, nearly directly above him, were open. No way he would alert the men above that someone was down here. Discovery by Smith now could queer everything. Admittedly, standing in the very doorway of their building was not exactly circumspect, but he felt the need for a little adrenaline. It was going to be a long, boring night.


*****

He crept down the hall, stopping frequently, listening, looking. Especially in back of him. Stupid, silly, immature - but he couldn't get rid of the feeling someone was creeping up behind him.

Someone, hell.

Hannibal.

He licked his lips for what seemed the thousandth time. He shouldn't be doing this, he really shouldn't. Magill wouldn't like it. But he'd made no promises about staying. And he would be back for the meeting with Hannibal. He just had to get out of here for a little while. Just a little while. Have a quick drink and come right back.

Just so he could relax. Get some sleep.

Be ready for Smith this time.


*****

Murdock was watching the front window again. He didn't like the idea that no one was watching the alley any more, but Hannibal seemed confident it was no longer necessary. Hannibal didn't think they really needed to watch the building at all, but kept someone at the window - just in case.

Fortuitous.

"Hannibal, we got movement..."


*****

He stared in consternation as the door across the street slid open and the shadow of a man stepped out. A moment later, the same shadow was hurrying down the street.

"Fucking hell!"

He stepped out onto the sidewalk, keeping to the shadows himself. He knew Smith's men would be down any second.

Regular damn parade. Stockwell would love it...


*****

He crept down the street, keeping to the shadows, and turned the corner with noticeable relief. He stopped, listening. Nothing. He moved on.

He wasn't familiar with the area, but there were few places in LA that didn't have a bar of some kind close by. The further he moved away from the retreat, the more confident he felt. The more energetic. The more clearly he could think.

He was stopped at an intersection, looking up and down the streets for some sign of a night life when he heard it. Just a soft scuffle from somewhere far behind him. He turned casually, as if looking down the street, but looking carefully in the direction of the sound.

Smith?

He flashed back to the nightmare. Stupid. Hannibal would never...no, just stupid. But he felt the hair on the back of his neck rising, just the same.

He saw nothing behind him. Nothing at all. Didn't matter. The feeling remained. He quickly moved across the street, keeping his pace brisk as he moved down the block. A few moments later he saw what he was looking for.

He pushed open the door, met with loud music from the jukebox, smoke, and the smell of hot bodies and alcohol.

Thank God...


*****

Hannibal, Murdock and BA were down the stairs and out the door within moments. Hannibal had insisted that the others wait in the apartment. He didn't need to give Stockwell a damn procession to follow. BA and Hannibal hurried down one side of the street; Murdock scurried across to the other side.

They caught sight of him when they turned the corner. He was moving cautiously, staying hidden as much as possible. There was something off about the movements, more than normal caution, but Hannibal couldn't figure out what.


*****

He knew they were behind him, following quietly. He also realized that they thought they were following Peck. He almost chuckled at that. If he weren't so concerned about where Peck was heading, it would be comical.

Well, he'd just have to make sure they didn't lose him. He would lead them right to the lieutenant.


*****

He sat at the far end of the bar, where he could watch the door but be gone out the back before being spotted himself. The bartender set the beer down in front of him, commented about not having seen him before, and moved on to the next customer. It was busy, and loud, and he was glad. No one would notice if he made a quick exit. No one would remember him if asked.

Anonymous.

It felt good. Again.


*****

He watched, unsettled, as his quarry entered the bar. He didn't like this. Peck shouldn't have left the retreat at all, not according to all they had heard. And he definitely shouldn't be going here.

He moved quickly across the street, hustling to cross behind a passing car. He knew his followers were close; he didn't want to lose them, but he didn't want them to see they had the wrong man, either. He managed to enter the bar only moments after Peck; luckily, there were enough patrons milling around outside that he could follow him closely without being noticed. Crowds made it easy.

He spotted him almost immediately, moving purposefully toward the far end of the bar, where he would settle, watching the front door. He moved to the opposite side of the room, keeping an eye on him, making sure he wasn't noticed himself. Good. Peck had found a seat at the bar, was ordering, eyes front.

Now, all he had to do was make his escape without being seen. Smith would take care of the rest.


*****

Hannibal watched with dread as Face headed into the bar. Beside him, BA snorted in disgust.

"Take it easy, BA. He's not going to get drunk."

"Yeah, an' my mama swears on Sundays..."

Hannibal glanced at BA. It was just as well if he was a little riled. If Face was regressing, they would need the extra adrenaline.

"He's not going to get drunk because we are going to make sure he doesn't."

BA looked only slightly appeased. "Why'd he hafta go in there for anyway?"

"I don't know, BA. From everything Magill said, he was really making progress. Then again, he didn't really want to meet with me today." Hannibal sighed. Face had been complicated enough before, but at least he was predictable. Now, predictions were impossible.


*****

The first sip was slow, almost tentative. The next longer, fully enjoyed. This was what he had needed. This would strip his mind of that nightmare, of the confusion, of all the things he'd had thrown at him over the past few days.

This would let him just...be.

Still keeping an eye on the front door, he managed to glance around at the people surrounding him. Laughing, talking, drinking, smoking. Enjoying. Not a care in the world. Maybe it wasn't as elegant as the places he would normally have gone, but that didn't matter. This was what he missed - the people, the atmosphere, being part of the crowd even when he wasn't.

He knew the team never understood how he could spend so much time pretending to be someone else, scamming his way into situations that he had no right to even dream of. But it was worth it to him, because once he'd talked his way into those things, he belonged. No one expected anything more of him than to be, well, who he said he was. And it was so easy for him to be someone else.

After all, he had always been someone else.


*****

"Now what, Colonel?"

Murdock's tone of voice was calm, almost monotone. Hannibal didn't like that. Murdock should have been angry, or anxious, or even eager. Definitely not calm.

"We're going to go get him out of there. BA, you head up that way," he pointed up the street. "Murdock, you move down there, where we came from. And stay out of sight. If he comes out alone, take him. If I can talk him in to coming with me, keep your distance. I don't know what he might do if he thought I was springing a trap."

"You ain't goin in the front door this time, are you, Hannibal?" BA clearly thought this was not the time for a frontal assault.

"No, BA, this time I'm going in the back door. If he decides to take a hike, I'll make sure he comes your way." He straightened his shoulders and looked at the two remaining members of his team. "Remember what you're up against, but remember who he is, okay, guys?"

BA and Murdock nodded and moved off to their positions. Hannibal slumped ever so slightly.

He was getting too old for this kind of shit...