CHAPTER FORTY TWO

Murdock made one more attempt to talk about the voices, quietly, though. He knew Hannibal would be less than thrilled opening that can of worms when they should be preparing for the mission. He needn't have worried; Face cut him off with an impatient wave of his hand and a deep frown. He was watching the road ahead, sitting up so he could see as clearly as possible through the windshield. Mr. Business again. Murdock sighed and settled back in his seat, still keeping a sharp eye out for any intrusions.

They were moving slowly away from the mountains surrounding the lake and moving toward the small town of Alturas. Hannibal wanted to find a spot for the ambush far enough from the town so as not to bring any law down on them, close enough that they could call them in when the team was finished. It also had to be a place that didn't look like an ambush. That looked...innocent.

Face found it. It was definitely innocent looking. A narrow farm drive, a small, rocky hill on the left, rolling grassland stretching along the highway on the right. The perfect place for someone to stop if they were having car trouble. BA pulled the van in a few yards, so it was still visible from the road, but not obviously so. Hannibal and BA joined Murdock at the side of the van, while Face leaned forward in his seat to listen in.

"Okay, guys, let's get this scene set. BA, you take care of the engine. Make it look good. I'm sure they'll check it out. And remember, they may know about your talents, so don't make it too simple."

BA just scowled. As if he didn't know how to rig an engine...

"When you're done with the engine, I want you up on the hill, facing the back of the van. I'll be watching the front. Murdock, you'll be down the hill on the other side..."

"Uh, Colonel..."

"...Face, you'll be with Murdock. I want you to stay back, okay? No heroics with that leg. You cover the rest of us..." Face looked up, surprised.

"That's not how we planned it..."

"I know, Face, but..."

"Uh, Colonel, could I talk to you a minute?"

Hannibal was a bit startled at the interruption. "What, Murdock?"

"Uh, I just, uh..." He glanced quickly at Face, then back to Hannibal.

Hannibal looked over at Face, who was staring at the floor, obviously not happy at this latest change of plans. He hadn't seen them looking at him. BA did see the exchange.

"Hey, Hannibal, you and Murdock better check out the hill there. Find someplace comfortable." BA jerked his head toward the meadow where Murdock and Face were supposed to hide. Taking the hint, the two men moved casually away from the van. Face watched disinterestedly, but BA noticed his foot was starting to tap again.

Murdock and Hannibal stopped a few yards away, pretending to survey the grounds.

"Okay, Captain, spill it."

"Uh, how long you figure before they get here?"

"They could be here any time, Murdock."

"Or maybe hours from now, right?"

"Well, yeah, that's possible..."

"Or maybe they haven't even picked up our trail."

"Murdock, we left a trail a blind man could follow."

"If that blind man got on the trail to begin with."

Hannibal sighed. "What's your point, Captain?"

"I'm just thinking we should try and find out if they really are coming. Because if they aren't, we're putting Face through a lot for nothing."

Hannibal was immediately on his guard. "You see something I didn't?"

"I think he's listening an awful lot to those voices. He's not talking back, but he's listening. And this is the first mission for him since...well..."

"He took on Sinon just fine. And this time, he's got us with him. It's a simple takedown, Captain." He looked closer at Murdock. "But it's also your first mission since the accident. So is this about Face - or about you?"

"Me? I'm fine and dandy, Colonel. But, Face..."

"I'm not buying it, Murdock. You think I've already forgotten our little talk? You think I haven't thought about it, a lot? I've been watching you, Captain."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Hannibal. I'm fine."

"You're too focused, Murdock. Everything you do, everything you say, concerns Face."

"Well, geez, Hannibal, I..."

"Where's Billy, Murdock? Or the caped crusader? Or the odd little pet hiding in your pocket?"

Murdock was silent. What could he say? He hadn't allowed himself those escapes, not this time. He hadn't allowed himself anything. Not after the airfield. Not after seeing Face's little world in the desert. Not after seeing how Hannibal and BA were acting, so close to resolving things, but still so far. There were too many things going on, too much he had to keep track of. He couldn't lose himself, not this time.

"Murdock, I mean it. If there's a problem with you or Face, I need to know. Because the time to find out is not when those goons get here. I don't want anyone else to..." Hannibal stopped, shook his head. Both men were silent for several moments. Murdock knew what Hannibal was asking, what he needed to know. Murdock had to think hard, honestly. He had to know that what he told Hannibal was the absolute truth.

Murdock swallowed. "I can keep him safe, Colonel. I can watch your backs. But I guess that's all I can promise. I'm sorry, Hannibal."

"If that's all you can do, Murdock, and you're sure you can do that, I can't ask any more. BA and I will handle the rest of it." Hannibal clapped his hand on Murdock's shoulder. "Now, let me see about finding where these scuzzballs are for you, okay?"

"How you going to do that, Hannibal?"

"The FBI is going to make some inquiries, Captain." Hannibal grinned as he started back to the van.


*****

Something was off. Somehow wrong. It wasn't supposed to be this way. He was caught up in the team again. That wasn't supposed to happen.

What did you expect? You let him take over.

No, I...

Yes, you let him take over. Just like always.

What do you mean?

You know. It's why you left.

No, I left because I was tearing them apart.

Reminded him of his failings, didn't you? Think he's forgotten that?

No! It wasn't his fault.

You only went along because you knew he'd do what he wanted anyway.

No. He would've listened if I had said no.

You know that's not true. Don't lie to us.

I'm not.

You want us to go away? You must, if you're going to lie to us.

No! No, don't go.

He's going to get you killed this time.

No, we planned this together. He's listening to me.

He lets you think he's listening. That's all. Wait and see.

Face shook his head, looking around, confused for a moment. Murdock had said something, something about the voices. He waved him off. Leave me alone. He stared ahead, remembering they were looking for a place, the place, to set up their ambush. At least he hadn't said anything out loud this time. He had to watch that. Make Hannibal think he was going off the deep end if he wasn't careful. So the team knew about them; so what? Didn't mean he had to let Hannibal in on everything, did it?

Especially if his friends were right.

It was only a few minutes later he spotted it. The perfect place. He pointed to it, not saying a word. BA nodded, slowed quickly and pulled into the narrow lane. Face looked around carefully as Murdock stepped past him, joining Hannibal and BA just outside. He only half-listened as Hannibal started issuing orders. Not until he gave Face his instructions.

"...Face, you'll be with Murdock. I want you to stay back, okay? No heroics with that leg. You cover the rest of us..." Face looked up, surprised.

"That's not how we planned it..."

"I know, Face, but..."

"Uh, Colonel, could I talk to you a minute?"

Face stared at the floor as Hannibal dealt with Murdock. This wasn't how they'd planned it. Not at all. Face was supposed to stay in the van, act as decoy, keep the scum's attention on him while the others got the drop on them. Now he was supposed to hide away in the grass? Like some...incompetent?

We warned you, didn't we?

Face scowled, refusing to answer.

Just like always. Just like we said. He only pretends to listen to you. He doesn't.

Face looked up as Hannibal came back toward the van, cigar stuck in that big grin.

He doesn't listen to you. Not now. Not ever. Because he knows...