CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR

Hannibal watched from the doorway. The look he saw on Ed's face tore at him as nothing ever had. He remembered that look. Had seen it before, years and years ago, in the jungles of war. Face had gotten separated from the rest of the squadron, along with two others. It had taken hours and hours before Hannibal had been able to find them, fighting every step of the way through what seemed like thousands of enemy troops. But he'd found them, huddled down in a swamp of filth, sweating, scared, bone-tired. And that's when he'd seen that look. That combination of relief and hope and unadulterated joy...

He shook himself, mentally. Now was not the time for such thoughts. He cleared his throat, softly. The two men broke apart, Face grinning happily, Charlie smiling back, reassuring. Nick stepped into the room.

"Ed, we don't have a lot of time. You and I need to change clothes. Quickly."

Some time later, Charlie and Ed moved out to the car. Both kept their faces averted from the house across the street, trying not to be obvious about it. Charlie slipped into the driver's seat. Moments later, the car pulled out of the drive and headed quickly down the street.

Hannibal watched until it was out of sight. Grimly, he turned and looked at Nick, standing a few feet from BA and Murdock.

"Okay, Nicky. Let's see if you can follow orders as quickly as you make up plans."


*****

Decker watched the two FBI agents leave in the car. This whole thing stunk to high heaven. He didn't believe for a minute this Mordake was a hostage. That wasn't Smith's style. And why had the agents left so quickly? Hardly time to discuss anything, let alone negotiate. Surely Smith would've made some attempt to get the team out in return for having Mordake go with the agents, hostage or not. Smith wouldn't let a trump card like that slip away. So why hadn't the guy left with the FBI?

He was still waiting for a call back from the agent in Washington. Damn civilians. If this were strictly a military matter, he'd have had his answer back in minutes. He straightened suddenly, hearing a light knock at the back door. He nodded at one of the MP's, who hurried to open the door. Two men stepped into the living room.

"Colonel Decker? I'm Agent Meyers. This is..."

"Agent Daniels. We've already met." Decker scowled angrily at the house across the street. "Crane! Call in the troops!"


*****

"All right, everyone in the van! You know what to do. Murdock, keep your head down. We don't want Decker seeing you."

"It's too late for that, Colonel. Decker already knows the captain is with you."

Hannibal stared at Murdock, who looked bleakly back at him. BA had stopped dead in his tracks. They all knew immediately what that meant. Murdock no longer had a safe haven, no more access to Richter or the medications he had to have; he would be on the run along with the rest of the team, come what may.

Hannibal glared at Nick. "Any other tidbits we should know about?"

"None that matter now. Decker's probably calling in the MP's as we speak, and the real FBI is either here or close by. I suggest we get moving."

Without another word, Hannibal led the way to the van. They had barely gotten in when they heard a familiar voice, shouting across the street.

"Smith! You've got thirty seconds to come out with your hands up!"

Hannibal couldn't help himself. He grinned at the rest of his men. "Don't you just love it? Go for it, BA!"

BA smiled grimly and gunned the engine. Seconds later, they roared through the thin back wall of the garage, bounced over the lawn and broke through the hedgerow. They wove crazily through the neighbor's beautifully landscaped yard, dodging fruit trees and shrubbery, tearing a path through manicured lawn. BA knew exactly where to go; he'd walked through here many times, late at night. He was not surprised to see military vehicles careening around the corners at either end of the block as the van bounced over the curb onto the street.

BA raced down two houses and pulled sharply up into another driveway, barely skirted around the garage and tore through the backyard. One more wooden fence demolished, through the next neighbor's yard, hitting the parallel street with a shriek of rubber.

"Damn!" He swore as he saw two more MP's tear around the corner in front of them. Decker had learned something, after all. He swung the van in a wild arc, screaming back the way they had just come, straight at an olive green Jeep. There was a utility access lane just up ahead. BA tore down the alley, missing the front fender of the Jeep by inches. At the last minute, he pulled out of the lane and into a heavily wooded park.

Two seconds later, they were racing down a hiking trail, barely wide enough for the van. BA jerked the van behind a small grove of trees and stopped.

"Everybody out!"

The four men raced from the van, each heading in a different direction, each knowing where the others would be.

And then they waited.


*****

Face kept looking back, and Charlie could see he was getting more and more anxious.

"He'll be fine, Ed. Nick's there; he'll make sure nothing happens to Petey."

"I should've brought him with us. He belongs to me."

"We couldn't do that, Ed. No way we could've sneaked him out of the house. We talked about that, remember?"

"I know..." Face slumped in his seat. The euphoria of having Charlie come had died quickly when they said they'd have to leave Petey behind. What if Hannibal decided not to take Petey with them? What if he just left him in the house, for Decker to find? What would happen to Petey then? He'd go to the dog pound. They put dogs to sleep there.

"We have to go back, Charlie. We have to get him."

"We can't do that, Ed. Please. Nick would never let anything happen to your dog. Neither would Colonel Smith or the others. You know that."

Face again looked to the back. For a moment, he was tempted to just jump out of the car and run back, get his dog. He could disappear in the city, easy.

No. You stay with Charlie. We want you to come home with him.

But, Petey...

You would get hurt jumping from the car. We can't let you do that.

Face sighed. Charlie kept driving at a sedate rate, keeping a close eye on the rearview mirror. He wasn't worried about the military; he was looking for anything that smelled like FBI. He drove in a wide arc around the city, slowly heading back to the rental agency, where they had left their Jeep. As Charlie parked the car, he looked hard at Ed, who had slumped far down in the seat.

"I want you to wait right here. Okay?"

Face looked sourly at Charlie. "Look around, Charlie. Where would I go?"

True enough. The street was teeming with people. Charlie sighed. "I'll put the top up and bring the Jeep right up to the car. I'll be right back."

Face just nodded, disconsolate. He was starting to feel trapped. This wasn't the way it supposed to be. He was supposed to feel free again. He sighed. Maybe, once they got back home, and Nick brought Petey, it would be okay again.

Then maybe they would all leave him alone again.

He jumped when the Jeep pulled up beside the car. Taking a deep breath, he stepped quickly out of the car and into the Jeep, slamming the door. Charlie took off immediately. He didn't know how long it would take the FBI to track down the rental, or if anyone had even realized it was a rental. It was in Nick's name, so they probably wouldn't make the connection. He just wanted to be far from here as fast as possible.

Charlie glanced over at Face. Once again, he was slumped in his seat, staring at the floor, nervously rubbing his hands. Charlie wasn't happy with the way Ed was behaving, not at all.

He wondered, not for the first time, what had been happening over the last few weeks.


*****

"You lost them? How the hell did you lose them?" Decker was beyond anger. He'd had Smith in the palm of his hand and now... "Well, get the entrances covered, right now! No one in or out until we find them!"

The team had disappeared into a park of some kind. Lots of cover for them. It wouldn't matter if they found the van, although he had his doubts they would. In a park that size, they could hide for days without leaving a sign. But somehow, he knew Smith wouldn't want to do that. He'd find some way of getting out, and right under Decker's nose, too.

And he'd make sure Decker knew it.


*****

Hannibal watched the van from his vantage point. He could hear Petey barking inside. For once, it didn't annoy him one bit. He was counting on the MP's hearing the dog and investigating. The only thing he didn't want was for too many of them to investigate. He only needed a couple.

He settled himself against the tree, his rifle resting on a branch. He was feeling more comfortable, more confident now than he had for several weeks. Since coming to Glendale with Face. Ed. Whoever. He wasn't sure any more just who had been in that house with them. Just some crazy man who talked to people that didn't exist. He closed his eyes, guilt sweeping over him.

He'd really wanted to help Face. He understood what Face had meant about not being real, being a cardboard cutout. He'd never thought about it before, but he understood now. He'd thought they could help him figure out who he really was, find the man hiding beneath all the masks. And he still didn't know exactly where they'd gone wrong. He knew they'd pressured him about the plastic surgery, but he really hadn't thought it was wrong to do that.

He sighed. Maybe just being with the team was too much pressure. Maybe Murdock was right. It made Face feel like he had to be what they wanted, instead of what he was. Maybe...

Hell.

He heard the Jeep before he saw it. It stopped on the trail a few yards from the van. Three MP's got out, looked around. Petey, who'd fallen silent, started barking again when he heard their voices.

Hannibal grinned as the men headed in the direction of the van.


*****

Murdock couldn't see Hannibal or BA, but Nick was in clear view. They were both hiding behind thick bushes. Murdock was studying Nick. He knew the man had served in Nam, but that was about all. From Nick's stance, and the way he'd acted ever since waltzing into the house, Murdock wondered what outfit he'd been in. He wasn't just regular Army, that was for damn sure.

Thinking of regular Army made him think of Decker. Shit. Decker, knowing about him, proving he was part of the team. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He couldn't go back to the VA. Shit.

All his stuff was there...

Murdock heard Petey barking inside the van. He'd always hated hearing dogs bark. Made him want to strangle whoever was letting them bark without seeing what the problem was. That and babies crying. Drove him nuts. He always thought someone ought to do something, anything. Dog didn't bark and children didn't cry for no reason. But he knew Hannibal wanted Petey barking. Was using him as bait. Somehow, Murdock didn't think Face would like that idea.

Face hadn't wanted to leave the dog behind. Raised a regular fit about it, until Charlie got him calmed down. A little. Wasn't like Face, at all. Which made sense, since it wasn't Face any more. Now it was Ed, eccentric recluse. Ed, who acted like he wanted the whole world to walk away from him. No, who pushed the whole world away.

Except for Charlie.

He hadn't even said goodbye.


*****

BA was situated on the other side of the trail from Hannibal and the others. He didn't like his job, watching for reinforcements while Hannibal, Murdock and Nick took care of the first MP's that showed up. Should've been Murdock out here, or Nick. But Hannibal wanted them close by. BA knew Murdock was treading on thin ice, especially now that Decker knew about him. He had to be wondering what the hell he was going to do now. Well, he'd have to stay with the team. No choice for him there. That was going to take some adjusting to. A lot of adjusting to. BA scowled. What would happen if Murdock had problems, he had no idea. They'd have to figure something out.

He hoped to hell they'd do better with Murdock than they'd done with Ed...


*****

Two of the MP's moved close to the van, one on each side, moving cautiously. The third stayed back, watching the woods around the van. Hannibal had a clear view of them, and his own men. He watched as Murdock moved in on the far side of the van, and Nick moved toward their backup. Inside the van, Petey was barking and snarling with a vengeance. Good. It would make it harder for the MP's to hear their attackers.

Murdock and Nick stopped just before coming out of cover, waiting for Hannibal's signal. He would take the man on this side of the van, who was now peering into the driver's window. He jumped back, surprised, when Petey leaped at the window.

Perfect.

Hannibal stepped out from behind the trees.

"Hi, guys. I'm Hannibal, and you're surrounded..."