CHAPTER FORTY

BA was shaking his head. The more Murdock talked, the harder it was for him to listen. He'd had suspicions, but most of the time he was able to push them away. Face maybe wasn't himself, but he wasn't crazy. BA had convinced himself of that. Now, here was Murdock trying to tell him that Face really was crazier than a bedbug. Hearing things. Voices.

"He ain't crazy. That was jus talkin in his sleep, that's all."

Murdock sighed, looked at Hannibal for support, but the colonel looked like he wasn't quite willing to accept things just yet, either.

"No, you're right, BA. He's not crazy. But he's not talking in his sleep, either. It's because of the head injury, that's all. It happens a lot. The thing is, we have to go along with it, or it's just going to cause bigger problems. He'll start listening to those voices instead of us, and, from what Charlie said, they just make him more paranoid and depressed. And we sure don't need that now."

Hannibal looked over at the bed, where Face was sleeping, oblivious to the men talking softly in the far corner of the room. Murdock had come in quietly a short while ago, and roused Hannibal and BA from a sound sleep. The first thing he'd told them, after explaining that he'd called Charlie, was that they might have someone on their trail. But before they could deal with that, he'd also told them what he had found out about Face's strange behavior in the van. Now, Hannibal was faced with some unknown enemy coming after them and taking care of a man who was not only wounded, but who could go off into La-La-Land at any given moment. He shook his head.

Murdock hadn't missed the gesture. "It's not all that bad, Hannibal. Really. We just have to pay attention and talk to him, just like the voices are. Ask him what they're saying, and help him understand when they're misleading him. It's not as hard as it sounds."

"The problem, Murdock, is what happens when these guys hit us. Because we all know they're going to. They wouldn't have gone to all this trouble to spy on Charlie otherwise. Now, it's one thing to deal with a man that's down; been there, done that. But these voices - what happens if they start talking to him at the wrong time, telling him the wrong things? What if he acts on what they tell him? From what I've seen, these 'friends' of his aren't exactly friends of ours."

"One of us will have to stay with him, Hannibal, but we would do that anyway, right? 'Cause, I mean, even without the voices, he's not exactly ready to take on a couple of nasties single-handed. Although, if I recall, he was pretty determined to do just that a few days ago..." Murdock's eyebrows rose significantly as Hannibal scowled and BA just shook his head. "Look, fellas, I'm just saying he knows who the bad guys are. He may not like us very much right now, but he's not going to turn on us, no matter what his voices say. At least, not unless we give him reason to." Murdock stared at Hannibal, but Hannibal refused to rise to the bait.

"Okay, Murdock, okay. Just make sure you stay with him when we run into these guys."

"Well, actually, Hannibal, I was thinking maybe you or BA should do that."

"You thought...what?"

"Well, I think having one of you guys with him might be a little more...reassuring. For Face, I mean. And it'd be a great way to build some bridges and..."

"Murdock, let's get one thing straight. I'm all for reassuring him, and I'm all for building bridges, but the middle of a firefight is not the time for either. We will all do what we can with Face and his voices - but when these goons show up, you keep Face out of trouble, and BA and I will take the bad guys out. Got it?"

Murdock ducked his head. He'd pretty much figured on that reaction, but at least it got them past the voices. "Gotcha, Colonel."

"Okay, now, these guys know where we're going, know about Bursey. So our first priority is to make sure they don't make him their bait. We need to divert them. Take them as far from Bursey as possible, find a spot just made for their ambush, and turn the tables..." He looked over at Face once again, thinking silently for a few minutes.

"So these voices, they're just from the head injury. They can be controlled, if we're careful?"

Murdock nodded, not sure where the colonel was going with that. Suddenly Hannibal grinned. Suddenly things were starting to feel...right.

"Okay, let's get Face up and moving. I want his input on what we're going to do next."

"You sure 'bout that, Hannibal?"

"Murdock was right, BA. A few days ago, Face was able to think on his feet, well enough to literally give these guys a run for their money. And he managed to gather all that stuff to put them down, despite everything else. He's also been able to help out the people in the village. So just because he's got some problems doesn't mean he can't think. "

"He ain't been thinkin very clear the last few days, Hannibal."

"Temporary circumstances, BA. I think, once we explain what's going on, he'll be able to pull it together. At least for a while. And I need my lieutenant on this one." Hannibal stood, rubbing his hands with anticipation. "Guys, this is gonna be great."


*****

"They are on their way."

"Good. I want to know the moment they have him."

"The others?"

"Doesn't matter."

"It is very expensive, this...venture. Is he worth it?"

"As a lesson to others, certainly."

"What of our former partners? They seem to think they can salvage operations for us."

"Bah. They think they have redeemed themselves by giving us this other man. They have a surprise coming."

"Another object lesson?"

"Precisely. There are, after all, traitors everywhere. We will find others who won't be as...careless."


*****

They had been driving for nearly two hours, and were almost to the outskirts of Reno. BA pulled the van off the road into the desert, and Murdock handed out the still warm breakfast they'd picked up a few minutes earlier. As they ate in the half-light of the rising sun, BA and Murdock listened as Hannibal and Face discussed their route and where they would make their stand, fine-tuning their plan.

Whatever doubts BA had had about Face had almost disappeared. After his initial confusion at being awakened in the middle of the night, he had obligingly sat still while Hannibal changed the dressing on the injured leg. As Hannibal told Face what Murdock had found out about their new pursuers, it had been like watching a man walking out of a fog. At first hesitant, then growing more and more confident, Face had first listened, then discussed, and finally argued as their plan of attack developed.

It wasn't quite the same as before, and BA knew he wasn't the only one who noticed it. Face was more serious now, more business-like. This wasn't fun and games any more, not for Face. And BA had to wonder how much he was thinking about their last mission together.

Face figured, regardless of how secure Charlie thought Nick's place was, that their spy knew they were in Bridgeport. It was an assumption they had to go with; Nick was too close to Charlie for anyone to dismiss that. But they had been surprised by Face's impatient comment.

"Charlie should've thought of that. He's been out of it too long..."

He hadn't elaborated, but gone on with the planning, leaving the others to wonder even more about Charlie and his background. The plan, so far, was straightforward, direct. They needed to lead their adversaries away from Bursey, but that meant they had to make sure they could be followed. Which meant drawing attention to themselves.

The first step in that direction was making sure they were noticed leaving the motel. A loud argument among the four men would take care of that, especially when it continued out of the room and into the parking lot. They would make sure the words Reno and Bursey were noticeable in the loud words. The coup de grāce was, of course, Face. He had to make sure he was seen by the night manager. As he himself said, no one would forget him.

Murdock and Hannibal had talked to him for some time before finally admitting defeat. BA hadn't bothered. He'd looked at Face, saw that familiar set to his jaw, and known, no matter what it cost him, that Face would go through with it. The only thing BA could do was be there to cover his fall, as it were, if it came.

The three of them started it, shouting out angry-sounding words about quitting, moving on. Face sat quietly on the bed, steeling himself. Within a few minutes, they were getting loud thumps on the walls from their neighbors. Nodding, Hannibal and Murdock moved out to the parking lot, tossing their belongings into the van, continuing the 'argument'. Face put his arm around BA's shoulder, and the two of them waited until their phone started ringing. Knowing that the night manager would be on his way when they didn't answer, they headed out the door.

They still had to wait a couple of minutes for the manager, but then Face had played it to the hilt. Practically shoving himself away from BA, he reeled toward the man, shouting angrily about 'so-called friends' going back on their word. They all knew when the manager got his first good look at Face. BA hustled Face immediately into the van, and they took off with a squeal of tires.

BA had had no doubt the first step in their plan had been successful. That Face had reclined silently on the gurney, ignoring any attempts to talk, for almost an hour after made him wonder if it had been worth it.


*****

"Cal's gone, Charlie. Left damn near everything behind."

Charlie hung his head. How could he have been taken in so completely? He'd liked Cal. Really liked him.

"Did he leave anything the FBI could use?"

"I didn't see anything, but I just took a quick glance inside." Nick shuffled, looking out through the window. There were fewer agents again today. Nick figured once they had Sinon's head honchos in custody, these guys would disappear completely. "You going to tell the FBI about Cal?"

"I don't know, Nick. On the one hand, I should. He was obviously in contact with someone, and the FBI would be able to find out who, maybe before they could do anything to Ed. On the other hand, if I tell them about Cal, there's more chance they'll find out about the Team. In fact, the pressure on me to tell them about Ed would probably be even worse. So far, they've been willing to go with my statements and the paper trail Ed uncovered; if I tell them about Cal, they might start thinking Ed knows something that maybe they should know about." Charlie shook his head. "I can't take that chance, Nick. I have to have faith that Smith can keep him safe. At least they've been warned."

"Okay, Charlie, it's your call. I'll head back down to Cal's, see if I can find anything we can use." He stopped at the door. "He'll be okay, Charlie. Doc'll let us know as soon as he hears from his buddy up there in Redding. He'll be home in no time."

Charlie just nodded, his thoughts miles away.


*****

BA was watching Face carefully in the mirror. He'd always respected the man's spirit, but that respect had grown a thousand percent today. As they'd pulled up to the restaurant outside Reno, Face had gotten very pale, and then started preparing to get out of the van. It took a direct scowl from BA to convince Face that they could make their presence known well enough without him this time. And, as Hannibal had tactfully added, they didn't want to make it obvious they wanted to be followed.

They were headed for Eagle Lake, just south of the little town of Alturas. Based on the maps, Hannibal figured they could make a stand either in the mountainous area surrounding the lake, or, if there were too many tourists, in the flatter desert land just north of it. Either way, Hannibal and Face had worked out the logistics in great detail. Too much detail, to BA's notion. Just showed that both of them were nervous about it. And that wasn't good.

Hannibal was still now, watching the road, watching the surroundings. None of them thought the bad guys had caught up with them yet, let alone had gotten ahead of them, but Hannibal knew better than to take anything for granted. Sinon had had helicopters at the one airfield, after all. Nothing guaranteed these new guys didn't have them as well.

Face was another matter. As Hannibal had predicted, he'd been able to hold things together for a while, but the stress had definitely taken its toll. The last hour, his voices had apparently started in again. While Hannibal seemed to ignore it, letting Murdock deal with it, BA had listened. He wanted to see how Murdock handled it.

Face hadn't really said anything. He'd just suddenly cocked his head to one side, obviously listening to something. Murdock had caught it right away, and asked Face point blank if someone was talking to him. That had startled Face.

"Uh, no, of course not." He'd looked away, uncomfortable.

"Oh, okay. I thought maybe your friends were back."

"My friends?"

"Yeah. They haven't been around for a while, have they?"

Face had glanced suspiciously at the front seat. "I don't know what you're talking about, Murdock."

Murdock didn't let that go. "Sure, you do, Face. You don't have to hide it. We all know about them, and it's okay."

"I don't..." Face suddenly stopped, frowning. "No...they don't..." Again, Face stopped and sighed. He glanced up at the front again and shook his head. "You're the one with voices, Murdock. Not me."

Murdock had leaned over, secretive. "Face, listen. I know they don't want anyone to know about them. That they want to keep it a secret. But Charlie knows about them, right?"

Face had definitely been disturbed by that. He pulled back from Murdock, looked toward the door, mumbled something.

"What, Face?"

"Charlie said I was hearing things? He told you that?"

For a moment, BA had held his breath, hoping Murdock had enough common sense to deny it.

"Well, I asked him. And Charlie doesn't lie, does he? So he kinda had to tell me, right?"

BA breathed out slowly. He thought he saw Hannibal relax a little, too. So he had been listening...

Face thought for a moment. "Yeah, I guess. I wish you hadn't asked him."

"I had to. I was worried about you. We all were."

This time Face almost looked directly at Murdock. "Why? They're my friends."

"I know that now. After I talked to Charlie. That's why I had to ask him. Especially since we hadn't seen you talk to them before. They haven't talked to you for a while, have they?"

Face hesitated again before answering in a low voice. "No. I don't know why, but they...they haven't been around."

"Yeah, we thought so. But they're back now, huh?"

Again, Face had glanced up front. "Yeah...you guys don't think I'm...crazy?"

"Nah." Murdock kept his voice casual. "So, what do you guys talk about? I mean, if you don't mind telling me."

Face sighed. "We just...I don't know, whatever's going on at the time."

Murdock nodded. "They help, huh? I mean, they give you a boost, right? Mine always did."

Face looked ashamed for a moment. "Yeah. They, uh...they let me know about things, too. Things I don't always see, at first."

"Like what?"

Face swallowed. "I don't know. Just...things."

"Like, good things? Bad things?"

"Sometimes good things. Mostly if something bad might happen. If I'm messing up..."

"Will you let us know if they warn you again, Face? 'Cause that'd be good to know - if there's bad stuff coming up."

Face had just nodded, and looked away.

Apparently the voices hadn't come back after that.

Not yet, anyway.