CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

"Bainbridge, this is Teller. How do you read?"

"Teller, this is Bainbridge. We have a five."

"Bainbridge, possible sighting. Small trailer approximately 4.5 miles from last position. Acknowledge."

"Teller, affirmative. How soon can you confirm?"

"Bainbridge, I can set down a couple miles out. ETA ninety minutes max. If confirmed, shall we pick up?"

"Teller, affirmative. Report on completion."

"Bainbridge, out."


*****

Face sat for some time after Hannibal and Charlie left, not really thinking. Feeling, but not thinking. It was as if every emotion he had ever felt in his life was screaming at him, tearing at him. He was breathing hard, not getting any air, shaking as if the very ground beneath him was heaving. He angrily threw the hat to the ground, tearing the sunglasses off and crushing them in his hand, disregarding the cutting of the sharp plastic. He grabbed his head with both hands, as if trying to crush it as well. Every inch of him howled to run after Hannibal.

Instead, he let loose with a howl of his own, an animalistic, primal roar of frustration and rage, hurt and terror.

Petey hid under the trailer.


*****

The ride back to the village was oppressively silent. Charlie pushed the jeep to its limits, not really caring when it bottomed out. It was just a jeep, after all. Something that could be replaced. What he had heard between the two men back there...the destruction of something irreplaceable? It made him sick at heart.

The part he had played in that destruction would eat at him for a long, long time. Maybe forever. Who knew? Had he done the wrong thing, calling on the A-Team? Letting Ed stay out at that trailer? Allowing him to come to the village in the first place?

He had accused Colonel Smith of allowing his ego to rule. Was he really so different?


*****

Murdock shuffled to the front door, which they had finally just left open so they could watch Charlie's place from the living room. BA, thanks to a little something Murdock had slipped into some warm milk, had finally fallen asleep on the couch. He had been winding tighter and tighter as the night wore on, until Murdock was afraid the big man's heart wouldn't stand the strain any more. He had never seen him that tense, never, not even in Nam. It was as if all the stress and pain of the last few months were finally overpowering him.

Murdock hadn't felt the least bit guilty drugging him.

Now, he looked out at the early morning, already feeling the heat rising. How did people live out here? Didn't they miss seeing anything green, other than the few scattered weeds here and there? Some real trees, real grass? Real plants? Well, he supposed people could get used to anything. He knew people could get used to anything. He looked again, up toward Charlie's place.

Nothing.

He was strangely not worried. He should be. He really should be. But it was odd. The more tense BA had gotten, the more calm Murdock became. And Hannibal...he knew something major was coming from that direction. Some upheaval. Otherwise he wouldn't have been gone all night. Murdock wasn't worried about Hannibal. He really wasn't worried about whatever crisis he was bringing back with him. Funny, how calm he felt about it all. He would just deal with whatever came.

After all, he'd already survived the worst thing that could happen.


*****

The jeep came to the last rise before entering the village proper, and slowed to a stop. Hannibal looked over at Charlie.

"What are you going to do now, Colonel?" The voice soft, without sarcasm or censure.

Hannibal looked down into the coulee. He could see their cabin, and Charlie's, in the distance. He shook his head. He'd calmed down some over the drive back, but the feeling of dissatisfaction, discontent, of wanting to do something, anything, was still strong. He just...

"I don't know, Charlie. It's too much to take in, all at once. I have to think about things. The one thing I can do, that I know how to deal with, is Sinon. I told Face...Ed...that we would deal with that bunch, and then head back to LA."

"Ed does have his own plan, remember. Did he tell you what it was?"

"No."

"So...?"

"So he'll do his thing, we'll do ours. Between us, we'll shut the slimeballs down."

Charlie didn't look as if he really liked that plan, but said nothing more about it.

"What about your other men? Are you going to tell them about Ed?"

"No. Not yet, anyway." Hannibal sighed heavily. "I don't understand him. I don't understand any of this. I have to concentrate on the job, now. And so do they. After, then...then I'll tell them. Maybe."

"Maybe?"

"Maybe it would be better to just let sleeping dogs lie. It's obvious Face doesn't want to come back to us. Even if he did, I'm not sure we could adjust to his...way of thinking. I don't know." Hannibal shook his head, trying to clear it. "I'll have to think about it. I don't want you saying anything to them, understood?" Hannibal glared at Charlie.

"No, don't worry, Colonel. I think I've interfered enough."

Neither man spoke again, and Charlie dropped Hannibal off at their cabin.


*****

BA felt someone shaking him, and he hated that. He reached up, automatically grabbing for the arms or neck, whichever he could get first. The shaking immediately stopped, and Murdock's voice came through the fog.

"C'mon, Big Guy. The colonel's back. Wakey-wakey!"

God, sometimes he hated that voice...

He opened his eyes, the faint weight at the back of his head telling him he'd been doped again. He looked suspiciously around, expecting to find the Fool had flown him to some crazy new place. He was surprised to see the walls of the living room.

"C'mon, BA. Hannibal's okay. C'mon."

Finally the words got through the cotton in his brain. Hannibal. He sat up, shook his head, and lumbered over to the front door. Hannibal was coming up, looking wrinkled and uptight.

Not good.

"Hey, Colonel, we were getting worried. Did you meet Mordake? What'd he say?"

Hannibal looked at them both for a long moment before he spoke. "Yeah, I talked to him. We'll get no help there. We're on our own. And we're gonna take Sinon down and get the hell out of here."

He pushed past them, heading for the kitchen. A moment later, they heard the coffeemaker start up. Murdock and BA looked at each other before Murdock followed Hannibal. BA could hear him pumping Hannibal for information, and the terse way Hannibal kept cutting him off.

BA looked outside, saw Charlie's jeep heading up to his own cabin. He'd like to get that guy alone. He'd find out what was going on, right quick. With a bad feeling in his gut, he, too, headed into the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, he was out on the porch, sipping milk-diluted coffee, when Charlie's jeep drove by, heading back out into the desert.

Too much crap goin on around here. Too many people makin too many plans. Too many people keepin secrets.

Way too many secrets...


*****

It had taken Face some time to get back in control of himself. He had hollered himself hoarse, then looked shame-faced around, as if there would be anyone there to see his outburst. His left eye hurt; he knew it couldn't, but it did. He would have to rinse that out. He needed a shower. He needed a drink. He needed...

He shook his head. Put everything on automatic pilot, something he'd gotten good at over the months. When things got to him, when he couldn't deal with his thoughts, he switched everything off. Robot man.

Sometimes it was the only way he kept himself from walking off into the desert, forever.

He saw Petey under the trailer, and remorse hit him hard. He crouched down, softly calling to him. It took a minute, but he saw the tail start wagging, tentatively, and then the little dog crawled out and crept close to him. He gave Petey a good loving up, and knew he was forgiven when he got a face full of dog slobber.

If only it were always that easy...

He stepped out of the camp shower behind the trailer and toweled off. He felt better, but only physically. He could still hear Hannibal's voice, accusing, blaming. Hannibal had never been that angry at him before. Not that he blamed him. It had been cruel.

But necessary.

He kept telling himself that. The team couldn't have functioned if he had stayed. They'd been falling apart, and it was his fault. He knew he'd done the right thing. He knew it. The team was here, together, doing a job.

They were working again. Together. That's what mattered. That's all that mattered.

He'd just gotten dressed when Petey stood, stiffened, growled. Face looked out the window. In the distance, he could just make out someone - no, two someone's - walking. Coming toward the trailer. He frowned. Nobody came out here. And where had they come from? There was nothing out there. Just desert. Not even nature lovers went out there.

He got a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. People. Coming here. There would only be one reason for that. He should've had Charlie take him into the city right away. Dropped off Hannibal and gone to the city. Taken care of them, right away.

Now they were here. Coming for him.

How? How had they found him? Didn't matter. He had to get ready. Now. Now.

He pulled the key out of his pocket. A storage locker at the bus depot. Everything was in there. They couldn't get that key. He looked around. They might search the place. He didn't know how much they knew of his activities.

Petey growled again.

Oh, God. Petey. They'd want him to sign over the rights. He couldn't. He wouldn't. They would use force. They would use leverage.

They would use Petey.

He looked at the key again. Quickly, he grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Scribbled on it. Grabbing a roll of duct tape, he softly called Petey to him and secured the key and note to his collar. Hurrying to the front door, he opened it.

"Find Charlie, Petey. Go find Charlie!"

It was a game they had played many times. Charlie would head off into the desert. Face would give him five, ten minutes and then send Petey to find him. He always did. One time Charlie bet him that Petey couldn't follow him in the jeep.

He'd lost.

Petey took off, running fast and furious down the trail to where Charlie always parked the jeep. When he didn't find Charlie there, he'd follow the jeep. Petey was tenacious. Stubborn.

Safe.

Face shut the door and looked out the back window. The two men were closer now. Walking up, casually. Just hikers.

Face pulled on his eye patch. The battered hat. Stepped out the back door. Made sure the men saw him. Started running.

Out into the desert.