CHAPTER ONE

It started out, as so many of their jobs did, with the adrenaline flowing and the Jazz turned on high. It ended with Hannibal demoralized and guilt-ridden, Murdock back at the VA, submerged in deep depression, and BA on near self-destruct mode.

They were the lucky ones.


*****

"Hannibal!"

The colonel hurried across the floor of the storage building, where Face was waiting with a wide grin. With a flourish, he pushed open a rusty door. Hannibal looked past him into the semi-dark room, his grin immediately matching his lieutenant's.

Scattered across the floor were an assortment of old car parts, mechanic's tools, and various other flotsam and jetsam of a once-busy auto shop. Yes, the parts were rusted and yes, some were obviously past any use to anyone, but to Hannibal and Face, it was treasure.

BA was less optimistic.

"You outta your minds, both of ya."

"C'mon, BA, you know you can do it! There's nothing you can't do with some old parts and some tools!" Face was going overboard with the enthusiasm, but he knew how to play BA. The more enthusiastically his gifts were praised, the harder he worked to uphold that praise. And regardless of the poor condition, they had nothing else to work with.

BA grumbled some more, but with his three teammates cheering him on, he moved through the room, picking up this, tossing aside that, until finally he stopped and looked over at Hannibal.

"I can't guarantee nothin, Hannibal, but I guess I can come up with somethin."

Hannibal grinned, delightedly lighting a cigar. "I knew it, BA. Now, tell us what to do..."


*****

Hannibal walked slowly across the parking lot. He'd left for an hour or so, needing, not so much to get something to eat, but to get away from here for a while. He felt guilty, leaving him, but then, Face didn't know much of what was going on around him anyway.

He walked down the hallway, half an eye watching for MP's. So far, their cover story was holding up. It had helped that the client, well known in the community, had gone out of his way to play along. It took only a few minutes to reach the ICU and move past the desk to the room.

Inside, Face lay on the bed, sleeping. He wasn't as heavily sedated as he had been, and he was breathing more easily now. Another couple of days, the doctors said, and he would be able to breathe completely on his own. A few more days and he would be released. After that, the doctors had a list of plastic surgeons they could try.

Try.

Hannibal moved the chair closer to the window, unable to make himself sit too close to the bed. As if he wasn't worthy.

He stared at the glass of the window, unwilling to look at his lieutenant except through the reflection. He wondered if he would ever be able to look him in the eye again.


*****

When it was finished, BA stood back, critically eyeing the contraption. He wasn't happy with it, not at all. Standing next to him, Face's initial enthusiasm waned visibly.

"Well, it's not exactly..." He stopped, unsure how to describe what he was looking at. It was supposed to be a transformed van, armor-encrusted, with two stout catapults at the sides for launching the age-hardened tires. It looked, instead, like the van had transformed itself into a rusty crustacean.

"No, it ain't 'exactly'. I tol you there weren't no guarantees." BA shook his head, tossing a heavy wrench to the ground. "I don't know, Hannibal. I don't think this is gonna work. I know this isn't gonna work."

"Nonsense, BA! It'll work just fine. And after all, it only has to work for a few minutes. By then we'll have the bad guys on the run and won't need it any more."

"Yeah, Big Guy, have a little faith in yourself. 'Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.' Samuel Johnson." Murdock smiled, satisfied.

"Motivational therapy, Murdock?" Face looked at the pilot, skeptical.

"In spades, Faceman. You wouldn't believe how much more confidence I feel after..."

"Okay, Murdock, we can go into the details later. Right now, we've got some bad guys to flatten." Hannibal nodded his head, and the team headed for their respective positions - Hannibal in the van with BA, Murdock and Face each in a jeep confiscated earlier from the enemy camp. As BA's monster van rumbled out of the garage, the two jeeps pulled up to flank it, forming a wedge of steel.

It looked more impressive than it was.


*****

BA mumbled angrily at the valve which refused to move. It was rusted shut and no amount of grease, canned or elbow, would move it. The big man rested on his elbows, the wrench hanging loosely from his hand. He stared at the rusty valve. Stared at the rust.

Rust.

He knew better. He knew it wouldn't work. He shoulda stuck to his guns. He shoulda told Hannibal to forget it, right from the start. Should never have started in the first place.

What did Hannibal know, anyway? And Face? Face didn't know nothin about mechanics. Not enough, anyways. They put their faith in him, in BA. The Mechanical Genius.

Yeah, right.

BA sighed, wiped the sweat from his face, and pushed away from the engine. He couldn't work on it any more. Didn't want to work on it any more.

Didn't want to look at anything mechanical.

The door slammed behind him.


*****

Murdock, on the left, a crazed grin on his face, watched out of the corner of his eye as the first volley sailed off. The tire hit the small tin shed where the bad guys were hold up, producing a thunderous bang as the corner tilted dangerously inward. He pressed on the accelerator, grabbing the semi-automatic as he aimed for the building.

He heard, rather than saw, the second volley. It didn't sound right. And it didn't look right. Because no tire went sailing into the building. Instead, there was a screech of metal, a heavy thudding noise...and a cry of pain. Terrible pain. Followed by the unmistakable sound of a vehicle skidding on the blacktop, rolling, crashing.

He watched as the van came to a barely-controlled stop. Watched as BA and Hannibal stumbled out. Watched as the bad guys raced from the shed and took off. His jeep came to a slow, rolling stop. He stepped out, rifle still in his hand. Walked slowly toward the van, which sat, the engine ticking, a metallic groan coming from the far side. Stepped around the van. Watched BA and Hannibal struggling to pull Face from under the overturned jeep.

Saw what happened when pieces of hard, catapulted tire hit flesh.