CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

Murdock rammed a small metal rod through the clasps of the doors, knowing it wouldn't hold for long, but it didn't need to. He climbed to the top of the van, and quickly ran a thin cable from one of the hangar's sliding doors to the other. With a piece of duct tape, he attached the grenade to the second door, and threaded the cable around the pin. He hopped down and drove the van to the opposite end of the hangar.

Among the half dozen small planes in the hangar, one sat by itself at the far end. Murdock glanced at it as he pulled the box of grenades from the van, then stopped, looked harder. He smiled, regretfully.

"Sorry, sweetheart, but someone's gotta pay..."

It took a few more minutes to get the plane ready, during which the shouts and pounding on the hangar doors commenced. Murdock worked feverishly, knowing his little door prize would only stop some of the men. He would still have to deal with the rest.

He felt a momentary pang of conscience, but forced himself to remember Face, lying on the floor of the office. These guys may not have had anything to do with the actual beating, but they knew who they worked for, and he was quite sure they felt no guilt about any of their boss's tactics, or the roles they had undoubtedly played in other jobs.

Someone's gotta pay.

Murdock couldn't do anything to Les, or Andy. BA had taken care of them. BA had had his chance. Murdock wanted his. Would have his. Richter thought Murdock had worked through all the anger and hurt. Murdock thought he had, too. But he'd been wrong. So wrong. He'd stayed calm, back there in the office. Kept his anger in perspective, done the constructive things, kept things real. Richter would have been proud of how he had dealt with it.

But as he'd flown over the airfield, thinking about the men down below who might still come after them, he'd kept seeing Face. His Face. The Face that smiled often, laughed with joy, scammed with relish. And then flashed to that heap on the floor of the office.

Hadn't he gone through enough? Hadn't they all? What right did these guys have to destroy the last shreds of the team, of his friends? Why should Face, or any of them, have to worry about these guys coming at them yet again? And the more he thought, the more he knew that he hadn't really dealt with anything. He'd only learned how to hide it away. Because Richter said dwelling on the past did no one any good.

Richter be damned.

The metal rod dropped from its precarious perch and the great doors slid open with a screech. The wire pulled tight, popped the pin. Murdock watched as the men raced through the doors and stopped, looking at the parked van cautiously. Murdock counted silently as he started up the small plane. Almost exactly four seconds after the pin had been pulled, the grenade went off, collapsing the thin metal doors and sending shrapnel flying through the air.

Murdock grinned wildly over the roar of the engine. The plane crept forward, throttle tied in place, ammo box lying on the right-hand pedal. He slipped recklessly out the door and dropped down by the belly of the plane. The automatic rifles were jammed into the landing gear struts, and it only took a moment for another piece of wire to be pulled tight around the trigger of the first one. The blast of firing nearly deafened Murdock, echoing in the metal building. Ducking under the belly of the now slowly rotating plane, he yanked the wire tight on the other rifle, and was forced to roll out from under the plane as it swung around.

He ignored the yells and ricocheting bullets. He slid to a stop by the box of grenades on the floor, pulling the pin from one on the top. Dropping the live grenade back in the box, he quickly shoved with all his might, sending it skidding across the cement floor.

He raced to the van and aimed for the pedestrian-sized door at the back. BA would have his head for this.

He didn't care.

He leaped into the van, flooring it, crashing through the wall surrounding the small door and tearing across the tarmac toward the desert.

Seconds later, the hangar erupted.

Murdock gave a triumph howl as he headed across the desert, angling around to the highway. He felt a glow now, a freedom. Now he was ready. Now he could start fresh. Now they all could.

Someone had paid...


*****

Face was sleeping. Hannibal had managed to find the headache pills, and dissolved one in a glass of juice. If Face noticed the bitter taste as he drained the glass, he hadn't said anything. But then, he hadn't said anything at all after his shocking statements about BA. He'd just drifted off into whatever world he seemed to prefer to theirs.

BA was standing in the small shade of the Joshua trees, staring at the pile of animal skulls. He looked up as Hannibal came to stand beside him, total confusion on his face.

"What the hell is goin on with him, Hannibal? Livin out here like this, messin with stuff like that. Talkin like that. He's actin crazier than Murdock, man. Like there's no Face left at all."

Hannibal sighed. "Maybe you're right, BA. I thought, hoped, that we might be able to get him back. But after what those bastards did to him...I think we've lost him, BA. This was the last straw."

BA watched as Hannibal turned and wandered back toward the trailer. That wasn't what he'd wanted to hear. He'd wanted Hannibal to tell him that Face would come back, that once the physical wounds were healed up again, they'd be able to regroup and heal the rest of him. Bring him home. Make him want to stay.

But if Hannibal was right, then what? They couldn't just leave him here. They couldn't just walk away. But what could they do? Dump him in the VA, with Murdock? That would never work. Nobody could help him if he had to hide who he really was, and if he didn't hide it, the military would have him behind bars in no time.

But if the VA was out, then where? Where could they put him where he'd be safe, and yet get the help he needed? A private hospital? They'd just have the same problem there. The only place Face could be safe was with them. But how long would any of them be safe, if they were dealing with Face instead of watching for the MP's? They couldn't go on any jobs if they were taking care of him. So how would they support themselves?

BA closed his eyes tightly. No matter how he tried to work it, he just couldn't see how they could take care of Face and themselves. He looked over at the animal skulls.

He could swear they were laughing at him.


*****

Nick moved up towards Charlie's cabin, eyeing the men eyeing him. He definitely didn't like the way they tensed up. He stopped, uncertain, wanting to talk to Charlie but not daring to move any closer. He almost wilted with relief when the man himself stepped out on the porch.

"Nick! C'mon in." Charlie turned to the man closest to him, who was starting to protest. "This is my friend, Nick. I trust him with my life. Leave him alone."

Only when the men surrounding him backed off did Nick feel safe enough to step forward and follow Charlie inside.

"What the hell is going on, Charlie? Who are those guys? Where are Smith and the others? Where's Ed?"

Charlie held his hands up. "I'll explain later, Nick. Right now, I need you to get out to Ed's trailer and make sure he's out there with Smith. Make sure they're all okay."

Nick stared at him. He'd never seen Charlie so rattled. "Charlie..."

"Nick, please!" Charlie hung his head for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Sinon was into something much worse than we could ever have imagined, Nick. These guys out here are FBI. They're my bodyguards, for the time being, anyway. They can't know about the team, Nick, or find Ed. But, somehow, Sinon got their hands on Ed and I don't know what they might have done. So you just curb your curiosity for now and do what I ask. Please."

Nick waited for a moment, thinking fast. "Should I take the doc?"

Charlie smiled, relief washing over him. Nick was onboard. "It probably would be a good idea, just in case. He'll be discreet, and Ed knows him. Thank you, Nick."

Nick just nodded and headed out the door. He noted the suspicious looks he got from the FBI men. He'd have to be careful about approaching the doctor, and leaving the village with him. He straightened his shoulders, determined.

Whatever the hell was going on, he wouldn't let Charlie down. Never had, never would.


*****

Murdock swung the van onto a small side road. He was some distance from the village, but had no intention of going there, anyway. He pulled out the map, and started doing his calculations. It was one thing to know where something was by air, another to translate that to the ground.

Besides, he need to concentrate on something else right now. It hadn't taken long for the euphoria to die. For him to really think about what he'd done. It had kind of a dream-like quality to it. As if he really hadn't done it at all. As if someone else had, and he'd just watched from the sidelines.

He hadn't had that feeling for a long time. Not since Nam, actually. Since then, he really hadn't done anything that required that...distancing. Different personas, sure. Characters that allowed him to do the things the team expected him to do. He wondered, sometimes, if any of them realized how hard it was for him.

Not that he didn't like hanging around with the guys. He loved that. But somehow, the guys thought he loved going on the missions. Needed to be part of that.

He hated that. Why the hell did they think he ended up in the VA to begin with?

But it was the only way he could be with them. The first few times they'd gotten him out, they hadn't gone on any jobs. Just had a day or so of sitting around. Watching him. Not having anything to do, knowing they didn't quite know what to do with him yet, he hadn't presented himself quite the way he'd wanted to. The visits started getting further and further apart. He had been afraid they'd stop altogether if he didn't do something. Anything. So when Hannibal mentioned a job they'd picked up, he'd practically begged to go along. To be part of it. Part of them.

Anything not to be left behind.

It had been so hard. Too much like over there. He felt himself falling back. So Murdock decided someone else should be there. He became someone else.

And, damn it, it worked. Over and over again.

But it had never been like this. This time, he wasn't even in his body. It was someone completely separate from Murdock in that hangar. Someone dangerous, and deadly. Someone who didn't give a rat's ass about human life. Someone who had a job to do and did it.

He sat up, blinking. Lost inside himself again. Looked down at the map, crumpled tightly in his fists. He took a deep breath and carefully straightened it out again. Got his bearings. Started the van, and drove off to find Face.

Face needed him.

He needed Face.