CHAPTER FIFTY THREE

The newly rented sedan pulled directly into the driveway and stopped. Charlie, dressed in an uncomfortably conservative dark suit, waited in the car while Nick, similarly clad, strode purposefully up to the front door. He was well aware that he was being watched, not only from this house, but from the one across the street.

The door opened before he could raise a hand to knock, and a voice, hidden behind the door, hissed at him to "get the hell inside". He hid the smile that played around his lips.

The door practically slammed behind him, and he faced whom he assumed to be Colonel Decker. He looked like the type of man who would spend years chasing Smith and never consider giving up. Mean, arrogant, full of himself. Nick had met many men like him over the years, and knew exactly how to deal with him. Not giving the angry colonel a chance to speak, he launched into his own tirade.

"Well, Decker, I see you've managed to alert these men to your presence - again."

Decker's mouth flew open. "What the hell do you mean? You're the ones who drove right up to the damn house. Might as well have pasted a sign on the door. They had no idea we were here before you..."

"Bullshit, Colonel. Our own surveillance tells a different story."

"What?"

"Motion detectors, Colonel. Long-range listening devices. Borrowed from our friends at the Company. They're ready for you." Nick had no idea if the CIA had anything like that, but he figured Decker wouldn't know either. "Now that you've given us away, it's obvious they'll try using the civilian as a hostage. And we need that civilian. He's crucial to a case we're working on."

"What case? I better not have jeopardized this operation over some petty white-collar crime."

Nick sighed dramatically. "I'm not supposed to divulge the details, but in light of your pig-headedness, I suppose I'll have to give you something. Mr. Mordake, the civilian, was instrumental in stopping an international plot to illegally mine and export uranium. I assume you know what uranium is used for."

If looks could kill, Nick would've been pushing up daisies then and there. He knew he was pushing things, but he needed Decker to concentrate on Nick, not on the ruse that was about to be pulled.

"I'm well aware of that, Agent..." Decker narrowed his eyes at Nick, alerting the 'agent' to the fact his cover was starting to cause suspicions. Decker apparently wasn't as stupid as he first appeared. Thank God Charlie was privy to all the details.

"Agent Daniels. Now, we have to attempt to reclaim our star witness before things get bungled any further. My partner and I are going to try to negotiate his release. You, Colonel Decker, will wait here. And I mean, wait. Understood?"

Decker hesitated just a moment too long.

"I can always contact your commanding officer. I understand he received his orders on this matter from pretty high up on the food chain. I'd hate to see you as someone's dessert."

Decker choked back what he wanted to say. The last thing he needed right now was trouble with the brass. No way would he take a chance on being taken off the A-Team.

"You'll have a clear field, Daniels, my men will stand down. But what happens if they won't release him? And if they do, when can I move in?"

Nick looked grim. "My partner and I aren't going to get into a firefight with them. We can make our case without him, it just won't be as easy. Once we drive away, with or without him, they're all yours." Nick nodded curtly, and almost marched out the door. He moved quickly to the car, and slid inside.

"Okay?" Charlie was looking just a bit nervous, another sign he was out of practice.

"Perfect." Nick couldn't look at Charlie, instead busying himself backing the car up. "You and I are going to 'negotiate' Ed's release. Decker will wait until we call him before going in. That ought to give Smith plenty of time to pull one of his magic tricks."

"Good. God, I hope this works."

Nick only nodded as he shut off the car. God help me, so do I.


*****

Decker watched suspiciously as the car pulled into the drive across the road. He didn't like these civilian commandos. Never had, never would. He'd heard about the way they'd dealt with Lynch. Pulling the team right out from under him. The man didn't deserve that, no matter how badly he'd bungled things before. Although this guy seemed straight enough. Didn't care about Smith or the others, just their witness. Well, that was understandable, considering. No way he could stand in the way of that. Still, it ate at him, taking orders from a suit.

He signaled his men to be on their guard as the two FBI agents got out of the car. He looked carefully at the second agent. Or tried to. He seemed to be almost deliberately hiding his face. Decker scowled. Something suspicious about that.

Very suspicious.

"Crane!"

"Yessir?"

"Get me that FBI agent in Washington. Now."


*****

Hannibal had been watching with great interest the activities across the street, and he didn't like it one bit. Those two guys had blown Decker's cover. Sloppy. But what concerned him more was that they were obviously not military, just as obviously government. And the only government types who would be interested in a standoff between Decker and the team was the FBI.

Because of Ed.

How had they found out? Les and his goon hadn't known who they were. Even if they had given a description, he didn't think the FBI would make the connection. They weren't much interested in military fugitives. Charlie's bunch were the only ones who knew...

And then the driver had gotten out and walked up to the house. Hannibal's jaw dropped. No way. No way in hell. He looked closer at the man still in the car. He was keeping his head down, but Hannibal knew who it was.

"BA!"

Murdock and BA both came hurrying into the living room.

"He won't unlock the door, Hannibal. Should I...?"

"Never mind, BA. Something's happening. I think we're being rescued."


*****

He heard Hannibal call to BA. The sudden silence pounded in his ears, and he felt a surge of energy.

He's close.

Face moved to the door, quietly unlocking it and stepping into the hallway. He saw the three men watching the front. Slowly he crept down the hall, standing in front of the kitchen door. Three strides and he'd be out the door. They couldn't stop him. He took another step toward the door.

No.

No?

Charlie's coming for you. Wait for him.

Why? What if Hannibal...?

Your enemies are here. Wait.

Face started breathing hard. Enemies?

Look in the kitchen.

Face turned and paled. There, laying by the door to the garage, were their duffel bags. He looked back into the living room. So that's what held their attention. They'd been preparing their escape. That's why BA had been so persistent.

But he couldn't leave yet. He had to wait for Charlie. Like they said. He silently slipped back toward his room.

No way would he let the team take him away from Charlie. Not again.

No matter who was out there.


*****

Nick felt like he was repeating himself, the door opening as they approached, another hidden voice ordering them inside. The only difference was, this time Charlie was with him, and they were facing someone much deadlier than Decker. He would have to be even more on his guard.

"Hello, Nick. Charlie."

He turned, saw Smith smiling coldly as he closed the door behind them. He was aware that the captain and the sergeant were standing tensely at opposites sides of the room.

Surrounded.

Charlie smiled back at Smith. "Colonel. Glad to see you're still in one piece. And Ed?"

"Ed's fine. Well, relatively. You've cast quite a spell on him, you know that?"

Charlie sighed. "No spells, Colonel. I had hoped you would have realized that by now."

"Can we cut the chit chat? In case you hadn't noticed, Colonel, you've got company across the street, and he's not exactly a patient man." Nick cut in curtly. These two could cat fight over Ed later. If there was a later. "I've got Decker convinced to wait to attack until we have Ed out of sight, so he stays 'cooperative'. Stockholm syndrome and all that. But he's not going to wait forever. Now, where's Ed?"

Smith had stiffened at the harsh tone, but now he was all business. "He'll let Ed go? He doesn't know who he is?"

"Not a clue. Apparently the Army is under the impression that Lieutenant Peck really did die on the cliff."

Charlie stepped forward, eagerly. "We have a chance to get Ed out of here unscathed, Colonel. And give you a diversion at the same time. Decker will be waiting for the all clear while you're making your escape."

"Decker doesn't worry me. What I want to know is what happens to Ed afterward? Back to the desert to hide?"

Charlie looked Smith straight in the eye. "If that's what he wants, yes. I'm hoping, really hoping, Colonel, that you'll let us do this for him. And that you won't write him off because of it."

"Write him off?"

"Ed needs all of us, Colonel. For different reasons, but he needs us. Together. I can't keep him from going off into that netherworld of his, and neither can you. But together...together, maybe we can. But first we have to get him out of here. Before Decker finds out who he really is."

"What about the FBI? Aren't they going to come looking for him, after Decker describes you two?"

"Decker only saw Nick, and the FBI never paid much attention to him. There's no reason for them to connect us. Look, Colonel, we don't have a lot of time. Will you work with us on this, or not?"

Smith looked over at his remaining men. Nick watched as the sergeant immediately nodded. The pilot was a little slower, but he finally nodded as well.

"Okay, Charlie, you got a deal. You get him out of here, and once we ditch Decker, we'll meet back at the village." Smith sighed. "I have to admit, Charlie, my way wasn't working. I thought...well, hell, doesn't matter what I thought. What's important now is to make sure Ed's safe. And if it takes working together to get him straight upstairs, then that's what we'll do. So what's next?"

Charlie looked over at Nick. Nick licked his lips. This wasn't the way he'd thought it would go. He hadn't expected Smith to be so...cooperative. He looked at Smith, at Charlie, realizing all these men cared deeply about Ed, even if they had completely different ways of showing it. Charlie was right. Ed needed all of them.

He couldn't go through with it.

"Charlie will take Ed in the car. If we do it right, Decker will think Ed is me."

Charlie looked, surprised, at Nick. "That's not what we had planned, Nick."

"I know. But...things weren't going to go exactly as we planned, anyway. Decker was going to come in full force the moment we took off, with or without Ed. No waiting." Ignoring Charlie's amazed and confused look, Nick turned to Smith. "I'll stay here. You're going to need all the firepower you can get. Decker's got at least forty or fifty men waiting a couple blocks from here."

"Nick..."

"Not now, Charlie. You just get Ed and get the hell out of here."

Smith was watching the two men. It was obvious something was wrong but he wasn't in the mood to dissect it. Nick was right about one thing. They needed the firepower.

"C'mon, Charlie. Let's get Ed out of here. Nick knows what he's doing. As long as he can take orders..."

Nick smiled bitterly. "Not a problem, Colonel. It's always been my downfall."


*****

He was watching the door now. He'd heard the voices in the living room. He'd heard the voice. It sent a thrill of awe through him.

His friends had known. Somehow, they'd known. They'd tried to tell him it was him, but he knew better. His friends were like...gods...

The knock came. The knob turned and the door slowly opened. Face stood up, looking at the one thing he'd been waiting for all this time. His friend. His protector. His salvation.

He practically fell into Charlie's embrace, felt the strength and calm flowing into him. He knew it as surely as he knew he breathed.

Charlie. His friends.

With them, he was invincible.