CHAPTER EIGHTY EIGHT

They stayed for another two days. Hannibal hadn't said anything to Face about the deal he'd made with the Preacher. He wanted to give him time, time to get used to them again, time to get used to himself again. And time to finish working through his grief for Randy.

BA didn't buy it.

"You afraid he'll leave again, 'stead of comin with us."

As usual, BA hit the nail on the head. Hannibal didn't want to lose Face again, and he worried that if he did leave, it might queer the deal with Stockwell. He had three other men to worry about, after all. And Stockwell was just the kind of man who would grab any straw to twist the deal into something more beneficial for him.

And, quite frankly, he didn't think Face would make it on his own. Face was the kind of person who needed someone to hold him steady. He would've been angered to hear that, but it was true. Leave Face on his own and he did stupid things, like producing foreign films. Hannibal hadn't let Face out of his sight for long after that one. The kid was worse than Murdock, really. Murdock always knew when he was fantasizing. Face really believed himself. That's what made him so good at what he did.

But he needed someone to make sure he came back to reality. Someone like Hannibal. Like Randy. If he left now, he'd have no one and no way in hell was Hannibal going to let that happen.

He just hadn't figured out how to stop it yet.


*****

He called the number, waited for it to be picked up. He glanced idly up and down the street, not expecting to see anyone he shouldn't, but keeping his guard up, just in case. Stockwell would have received the package by now. He smiled. He would have liked to have seen the look on his face when Stockwell realized Randy's legacy had, indeed, lived on.

Now he had only to complete the transaction. The team would be returned, intact, to Langley. The two former Ables would be on a plane to wherever they chose to go, free and clear. The Preacher was assured of his place in Stockwell's organization, credited with bringing the various factions together. Quite a coup for him, actually. Stockwell would never guess how much of his involvement had been voluntary.

He smiled again. The Reluctant Hero.

"Hello?"

"Hello, General. Lazarus here. I take it you got my package?"

"It arrived early this morning."

"And...?"

"And the A-Team will be welcomed back with open arms, including Peck. Ables 9 and 12 are officially detached from the organization, and will not be bothered in the future."

"And..."

He heard Stockwell sigh over the line. He chuckled silently.

"And your Swiss bank account has received a hefty deposit."

"I'll double-check that later. I'm sure you won't be offended."

"It's all there, Lazarus."

"Well, I guess our business is concluded for now, General."

"One last thing, if you don't mind."

"What's that?"

"Which one? Which one of you is Lazarus?"

He smiled. Poor old Stockwell.

He kept smiling as he hung up the phone and walked down the street.


*****

In the end, Hannibal didn't have to tell Face anything about the Preacher.

Face and Murdock were sitting in the garden, feeding the pigeons. Face thought them dirty and disease-ridden, but Murdock liked them, and Face had fallen almost naturally into following Murdock's lead in these things.

Throwing the last of the seed onto the ground, Face sighed. Murdock pretended not to notice, but he knew something was on his friend's mind. Just as he knew it would take a while before he decided to speak about it. For someone who could talk so fast and furious during a scam, Face was remarkably recalcitrant to discuss...difficulties.

"You're going back to Langley, aren't you?"

Whoo boy, why did he have to bring that up!? Murdock looked around, almost desperately hoping Hannibal was nearby. No such luck.

"Aren't you?"

"Well, uh, yeah, we are, Face. It was kinda, well, sort of a deal we worked out with Stockwell."

"A deal? What kind of deal?"

Murdock sighed. Toyed with the zipper of his jacket. Adjusted his hat.

"Murdock..."

"Well, it's kinda like, we go back to Stockwell, and we get to work out our pardons...like nothing happened."

"Just like that?"

"Yeah."

"Like nothing happened? That doesn't sound like Stockwell."

"Well, he didn't really have a choice, y'see..."

"No, I don't see, Murdock. Why didn't he have a choice?"

"Because someone found those files and threatened him with them."

"Files? Randy's files? Who? Who found them?"

Murdock stared at Face, alarmed. Face was upset - he was livid.

"I don't know exactly, Face. Some guy talked to Hannibal, and..."

"What guy?"

"I don't know. Hannibal said he called himself the Preacher. That's all I know. And he had the files, or had access to them, or something like that. But anyway, he said he would work out a deal so we could all go back to Langley and it would be like nothing happened and..."

"We would all go back?"

Man, Face could speak so soft when he was really, really angry...

"Well, yeah..."

"And of course, no one thought to ask me if I wanted to go back."

"Face, we don't have much choice. Hannibal had pretty much figured we'd have to go back, anyway. When this guy came up with this plan, it just made it easier. And...and safer..."

"Safer?"

"Geez, Face, do you have to keep repeating everything I say? Yeah, safer!" Murdock was starting to get angry, now. Face could be so deliberately blind..."The only way to make sure that everyone, including you, keeps breathing is to go back. The only way. Those files just make sure we can do it under the original agreement."

"And if I decide I don't want to go back? What happens to the deal, then?"

"I don't know. You were part of it. Maybe Stockwell would let you go, maybe he wouldn't. But Hannibal figured you would come back with us." Murdock looked straight at Face, ignoring the smoldering eyes. "Face, you gotta come back with us. We're a team. We're family. It's just not the same when you're not there with us."

Face turned away, stared at the pigeons.

"Face...please. Come with us, work out the pardons. Then we'll all be free and clear, and we can do whatever we want. All of us. And if you want to leave then, no one will try to stop you."

"I've heard that before, Murdock."

"Face, c'mon. If not for yourself, then think about Frankie. Okay? He deserves to get his life back more than any of us. If we don't go through with this deal, he's stuck. You really want to put him through what we've had for the last fifteen years?"

For a moment, Face said nothing. He ran his fingers through his hair, sighed.

"Okay, Murdock. Okay. But when we get to Langley, Stockwell and I are going to come to an understanding of our own."

"Face, you won't..."

"Don't worry, Murdock. Stockwell will walk away. But he and I are definitely going to have a little chat..."


*****

"Think he'll show up?"

"He said he would."

The two men stared out at the ocean, waves rolling in, slapping against the sand. The wind was high, and it carried a distinct chill.

"You're sure you want to do this? I mean, it's not exactly what we had in mind."

The second man sighed, drew a line in the sand with his toe. "No, I'm not sure. But what else do we know? At least this way, we know what to expect...sort of."

"Yeah, like he's predictable..."

They stood silently for several more minutes. They had left the team two days earlier, after delivering them to the private airfield. They were still somewhat awestruck that they had been allowed to leave without incident. And now they waited on the beach for their 'benefactor'.

Almost simultaneously, they became aware of another man, strolling toward them across the sand.

"Evening, boys. Great waves, huh?"

It took a moment before they recognized him.

"Well, shall we head out? I've got a very nice place for us to stay. The owners are out of town for a few months and..."


*****

"Gentlemen. Welcome home."

The ironic tone was not lost on Hannibal or the others. He turned, watching Stockwell saunter into the living room, followed closely by Carla. He mentally shook his head, exasperated. He'd warned Stockwell against coming so soon. Face wasn't ready for that yet. But Stockwell, as always, would do things his way. So be it. He stepped to one side.

"Well, Lieutenant, I understand you wanted to have a little 'chat' with me. I..."

Face stepped back, shaking out his fist. A gaggle of Ables rushed in, guns drawn. Carla knelt down, only to have her helping hand shoved impatiently away. Stockwell regained his feet, glaring at the team. BA, Murdock and Frankie had moved protectively around Face, while Hannibal laid a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"I think we have an understanding, for the time being, General, at least until I see how things work out. But rest assured, we will have our chat. Sometime soon." Face gently shook off Hannibal's hand and strolled out of the room. One Able stood in his way, but after a look at the lieutenant's face, moved quickly to the side.

Hannibal looked at Stockwell, who was delicately wiping the blood from his lip with a silk handkerchief. He cleared his throat, straightened his jacket and looked directly back at Hannibal.

"I trust this will not be a reoccurring event, Colonel, and that you will keep your men in line, as per our agreement."

"Hey, I told you to back off for a while, General."

"Colonel..." There was a warning tone to the voice. Hannibal didn't like it, but he understood.

"We'll stick to the agreement, Stockwell. Just make sure you do."

"Of course, Colonel. Of course..."


*****

He flopped down on the sofa, popping the top off the beer, waiting for his partners to finish unloading. It had been a long trip, but a satisfactory one. Any trip they returned from, really, was satisfactory, but this one had added handsomely to their bank accounts. And a nasty little drug lord was safely planted where he wouldn't be found for some time.

All in all, a very good trip.

He heard Kurt and Daryl coming in, and frowned, slightly. He was a little unhappy about their performance, but then, he'd known their ground rules going in. Still, he was getting a little tired of being the only one doing the wet work. Oh, well. He wasn't worried about their using lethal force if absolutely necessary, to defend him or themselves. They'd already proven they would do that much. Still...

He frowned deeper when Kurt stopped by the secure phone. He looked at it for the first time himself, and noticed the message light blinking.

Damn.

Kurt looked at him, questioning. He shook his head and shoved up from the couch. He preferred taking these messages himself.

Kurt and Daryl moved toward their rooms, obviously looking forward to showers and a hot, American meal. He'd send out for a couple extra-large pizzas when he got done here. They'd stay in tonight, relaxing. Maybe bring in a couple girls. He liked to pamper his men after a long job. A little thing, but it helped keep them loyal.

He picked up the phone, dialed in the code, and listened. Nothing extraordinary, just the usual update. But there was something...

He knew that name from somewhere.

Somewhere on a personal level...

Bancroft...


FINI