CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

"So, have you heard anything?"

"No, but it's early yet. They've probably only just found a place for the night."

"Smith should've called by now anyway, just to let you know if everything was okay."

"I'm sure if there were any trouble, he would have let me know."

Nick shrugged, and Charlie knew his friend would never give Smith an inch. Charlie had to admit, he was disappointed that no one had contacted him. He was worried about Ed. Then again, with the FBI still hanging around, he understood why Smith might remain silent. He smiled, as he watched Nick wander over to the phone and pick it up, listening for a moment before replacing it.

"Don't worry, Nick. It's working. Cal fixed it."

Nick looked up, surprised. "There was a problem with it?"

"Earlier, yes. But as I say, Cal fixed it. Just a loose connection."

Nick frowned. "When did that happen?"

"I'm not sure, sometime earlier today." Charlie poured himself a short glass of scotch. He had to watch that; it had been getting away from him a little bit, the last few days. "Cal was over, asking about Ed. In fact," Charlie chuckled, "he did almost exactly what you just did. Asked about Ed, then checked the phone. Only that time, there was no dial tone. So he fiddled with it a bit and got it working again."

"Well, that was convenient, wasn't it?" Nick looked steadily at Charlie, who sighed. Why did it seem that the people Charlie was relying on now were the very ones Nick disliked?

"Nick, what is it with you and Cal, anyway? You've never cottoned to him, I know, but..."

"He makes me nervous, Charlie. Especially the last few days. He always was snoopy, but he's really going overboard now."

Charlie looked up, surprised. "Really?"

"Okay, I'm probably letting my dislike influence me, but he even talked to Doc about Ed. I mean, sure, everybody's curious about the FBI and Sinon and all, but no one else has gone that far."

"When did he talk to the doc?" Charlie kept his voice casual, but he felt a little nudge in the back of his mind.

"He was there practically before Doc opened up this morning." Nick moved into the kitchen, and set his coffee cup on the counter. "Well, I'm probably just making a mountain out of a molehill. I gotta get going, Charlie. Let me know if you hear from them."

"Yeah, Nick, will do." Charlie was watching out the window, at the FBI agents changing shifts. As Nick moved toward the door, Charlie stopped him. "Nick, kinda keep an eye on things, will you?"

Nick frowned, eyes narrowed. Charlie smiled back, almost as if he were embarrassed.

"Chalk it up to paranoia, okay? Probably nothing but FBI willies getting to me."

Nick looked at him for a long minute before nodding his head and leaving. Charlie stood where he'd been, watching Nick walk past the agents and head down toward the village. When he was out of sight, Charlie turned around and walked slowly over to his phone. He hesitated, then picked it up and carefully unscrewed the mouthpiece.


*****

"Hey, kid, wake up. Time to eat." Hannibal very gently nudged Face's shoulder, and was mildly surprised when Face sat up almost immediately. He didn't look the least bit sleepy, either. "Guess that nap did you a lot of good, huh, kid?"

"Yeah, guess so." Once again, Face was keeping his head down, not allowing anyone to look him straight in the eye. Hannibal sighed. He'd hoped Face would be able to let his guard down that much, at least around the team. Eventually. Just had to have patience.

In a few moments, the four men were seated around the room, quietly enjoying the home-cooked cuisine from the restaurant. Hannibal watched as his men slowly started relaxing, the television turned on low, the room cooling down to a more comfortable temperature, soft light from the low-wattage lamps, the food filling them up much better than the half-cold fast food of earlier that afternoon. He had a guarded hope that this would be a peaceful night for all of them.

BA was eating thoughtfully, eyes on the television. But Hannibal noted that, fairly frequently, he would look over at Face, sometimes obviously, sometimes almost covertly, but always with a contemplative look on his face. Hannibal wondered if Face really had slept through the afternoon, or if he and BA had had time to do some talking. Or maybe BA was just thinking over the events from earlier. It was a bit unusual; BA typically spoke his mind, and wasn't one for deep thought. But tonight he was definitely thinking something over, and carefully.

Murdock, on the other side of the room, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his meal, but wasn't paying much attention to anything going on in the room. From the way he was staring at the wall over the bed, Hannibal had the feeling he wasn't even in the room. He would frown occasionally, and then nod his head, and the colonel figured Murdock was working out some sort of scheme. He didn't doubt for a minute that it had to do with Face. Somehow that was reassuring; if anyone knew how to deal with certain aspects of Face's problem, it was their insane pilot.

Hannibal's gaze finally rested on his lieutenant. Face seemed quite content this evening, studiously working on his dinner, occasionally glancing up at the others, immediately ducking his head back down. The dog lay on the bed near him, and Hannibal almost chuckled aloud as he watched the two of them. Face would sneak a bit of meat off his plate, and cautiously lay it on the bed, never moving his hand more than absolutely necessary. The dog, in turn, would lay his head down tight to the bedspread, and stretch, ever so slowly, until his tongue could just catch the treat and draw it into his mouth. A quick gulp, and they were ready for the next little foray.

Knowing the dog would end up with any scraps anyway, Hannibal smiled quietly, allowing the two con artists their little subterfuge, and went back to his own meal.


*****

Charlie moved restlessly along his porch, an eye on the FBI vehicles, an ear listening for the phone. He knew he was too tense, the last few days beginning to wear him down. Yesterday had been especially tiring, giving his deposition to the FBI, trying to remember what he could tell them, what he couldn't. How to give the government what they needed without giving away Ed, the team... It had been many years since he'd had to play those kinds of games.

He glanced in through the open window at the phone. He knew someone would call tonight. Not Smith or the sergeant. They weren't the type. The pilot would call. Because the pilot worried, and wouldn't dismiss those worries. The pilot would recognize things the other two wouldn't see, or if they did see, would ignore. The pilot would also want to do something about those things he saw.

Charlie would be that something. He knew it.

He worried, though. He wasn't sure how sharp this Murdock really was. Hadn't taken him long to catch on to Ed, which was good. It was the way he'd reacted after that bothered Charlie. So focused. Single-minded. That could be a problem now. He needed someone who could think on their feet, adjust. Someone else who could play the game.

Because somehow, Charlie didn't think they were dealing just with Sinon any more.


*****

Murdock slipped quietly out of the motel room. He knew Hannibal had seen him, but for whatever reason, had let him go without a word. BA and Face were sound asleep; Hannibal should've been. Murdock must have made some little noise, or maybe just the mere fact he was moving had alerted the colonel. At any rate, Murdock was grateful Hannibal had let him go, although he knew he would have to have a full explanation in the morning. That was okay. He figured he'd have some answers for Hannibal by then.

He'd spotted the payphone as they'd left the little restaurant, just around the corner from the motel. He glanced at his watch as he stepped up to it. A little after one. He hoped Charlie wouldn't mind receiving a phone call this late; somehow he didn't think he would. Murdock quickly pulled the phone number from his wallet, dropped in some coins, and dialed.

It only took three rings before Murdock heard a groggy voice answer. He spoke quickly.

"Charlie, it's me. Look, I'm at a pay phone. The number's..."

"NO! No, take this number down. Give me fifteen minutes, then call back." Charlie's voice rattled off a number. "Got that?"

"Yeah, but, Charlie..."

All he heard was a dial tone.

He hung up the phone, puzzled. He had figured the FBI was still around, but would they have Charlie's phone bugged? Why? Surely they didn't expect any of Sinon's goons to call the man? He looked down at the number jotted on the palm of his hand.

Man, nothing was ever simple...


*****

"I'm getting too old for this bullshit." Charlie shook his head as he slipped through the glass door at the rear of the cabin. It was partially hidden by a large barrel cactus and the overhang of the porch, and, as with all the doors and windows in the cabin, was well-oiled. Force of habit.

It wasn't much of a job to slip past the FBI agents. They were looking for intruders working their way in, and, typical of government training, never considered watching for someone sneaking out. The only real test came after he'd crossed their line of defense, but by then he was close enough to the village proper and its familiar landscape that he could have danced a waltz around them and not have been seen. Still, it took him longer than he'd anticipated to reach Nick's back window. He was letting himself in when he heard the phone ringing, and had just straightened up in Nick's living room when he felt the blow to the back of his neck.

Oh, damn...


*****

The phone rang and rang, and Murdock was getting nervous. He'd been gone from the room way too long; he wouldn't have much time to talk to Charlie. And he didn't like calling a number when he had no idea who might be picking up on the other end. He was about to hang up in defeat when the phone was picked up.

"Hello!" The voice on the other end was familiar, at least, but sounded out of breath and quite angry.

"Hello? Who's this?"

"Who the hell are you calling?" There was a muffled curse in the background, and a fumbling about before Charlie's voice came through.

"Murdock?"

"Yeah, Charlie, what the hell's going on?"

"I'll explain in a moment. Is Ed alright?"

"Well, that's why I was calling. We made it as far as Bridgeport, with a couple problems, but we managed okay. But, uh, I was wondering if he'd ever heard...voices?"

"Oh, that. Yes, he does, quite frequently. I'm sorry, I forgot all about that. I got to taking it for granted, I guess. It's not unusual with a head injury, you know."

"Yeah, I knew a few guys at the VA like that. So, you played along with it?"

Charlie sighed. He didn't really have time to discuss this as thoroughly as he'd have liked. "It was about the only route to take. If Ed thinks you accept the voices as normal, he won't try to hide his...conversations. And that's good, because these voices of his tend to lead him into dark alleys, if you get my drift. I have a theory about it being his way of venting his darker thoughts...anyway, if one does it right, without being confrontational, without directly attacking his 'friends', one can usually lead him away from the more...destructive avenues."

"Destructive?"

"His voices tend to feed his darker moods - his paranoia, depression, his need for isolation. Accept them, and you can influence him. Deny them, and you lose him. I came close many times before I understood that."

"Okay. That's what I needed to know. Now, what's going on with the phone?"

"I'm being bugged, Murdock. And it's not by the FBI. I'm afraid we have a traitor in our midst. So if you need to contact me again, use this number. It's Nick's. But you must be careful. I'm afraid they may know where you're heading, but whether they know your route is another thing."

Murdock frowned. No one had thought about a Sinon contact in the village itself. A serious oversight.

"Okay, Charlie, I'd better get off the line now. I'll try and keep you in the loop, but I'll be careful. Thanks."

"Take care of him, Murdock."

"Don't worry. We will."

Murdock hung up and headed back to the motel. He didn't like the idea that they were still being pursued, any more than he liked to think of why. He didn't think whoever it was could actually be on to them yet. There had been too many opportunities for an ambush yesterday. They would have to make sure those opportunities didn't present themselves again.

He stood before the motel room door, gathering his thoughts. He was afraid Hannibal and BA were about to have their rest interrupted, but they needed to make some plans and as soon as possible. God only knew when an attack may come. They had to be prepared.


*****

Charlie hung up, and looked over at Nick. He would've laughed at the mixture of anger and embarrassment on the man's face, if his head didn't still ache from the hit Nick had visited on his 'intruder'.

"Well, my friend, you heard some of it. Let's have a coffee while I explain the rest..."


*****

Cal cradled the receiver between his ear and shoulder as he hurriedly gathered his essential belongings into the duffel. He needed to get hold of his people before hitting the road. His cover was blown, obviously, but at least he had the information he needed. Charlie may have been smart enough to catch onto the bug at his place, but he hadn't thought about Nick's.

Charlie wasn't nearly as clever as everyone thought...