CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE

Decker stared, open-mouthed, at Captain Crane.

"You want to repeat that, Captain? Slowly, so I know I didn't misunderstand."

Crane shuffled uncomfortably. Decker was known to kill the messenger, and often. "Lieutenant Adams just reported in, sir. He wanted to verify that Corporal Briddle had brought Sergeant Baracus in, along with the team's van."

"And what made Adams believe that Briddle was bringing in Baracus?"

"Adams stated that an MP, identifying himself as Briddle, drove up in a jeep, along with another MP, unidentified. They were accompanied by a third MP, driving the van. Adams verified that the sergeant was handcuffed in the back of the van. Briddle stated they had found Baracus, but there was no sign of the others, and they were taking him and the van back here, sir."

"And we know, of course, that the corporal never showed up here with Baracus."

"Yes, sir."

"How long ago did the good lieutenant speak to Briddle?"

"Approximately twenty minutes ago, sir."

Decker said nothing, but stalked to the window, where he watched his men going in and out of the house across the street. They had been searching for any clues about where the team might be going, but so far they had found nothing of value. He turned, eyes blazing.

"I want every exit out of this city blocked. Every exit, Captain - I don't care if it's a horse path into the mountains. Understand? Get those FBI agents on it. No one gets out of this damn town unless I know about it!"

"Uh, Colonel, sir, I'm not sure we can do that..."

"That's why we want the FBI. They can do what we can't - involve the civilian authorities, set up road blocks. Remind them that their precious witness is still out there somewhere. Now get on it, Crane!"

The unhappy captain hurried out of the room. Decker turned back to the window, thinking hard. Smith thought he had outsmarted Decker again, but he hadn't counted on the FBI being involved. They could do things the military couldn't.

One way or another, this time Smith was going down.


*****

The van and Army jeep were sitting behind a quartet of dumpsters in an alley some distance from the park. The silence inside was oppressive. Suffocating. BA glared at the burger stand across an adjoining parking lot. Hannibal chewed angrily on his cigar. Murdock's fingers danced with themselves as he stared morosely at the floor. Nick sat in Face's seat, eyes closed, seemingly relaxed, but with his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

They had been listening to the chatter over the Jeep's radio, and now, having heard of the roadblocks being set up, were waiting for Smith to come up with a plan to get them all out safely. But Nick knew what they were really thinking about. He'd encountered it before. It was one reason - no, the reason - he'd moved to the valley.

The take down of the MP's had been simple and flawless. To a point. They were in the middle of changing into the uniforms when another Jeep had shown up. Nick, already changed, had been on guard. The two MP's hadn't had a chance. When Murdock had come to get him, the two were laying behind some bushes, tied up, gagged, and badly bruised. None of the team had heard a thing.

When the two men had rejoined the others, Murdock told Hannibal about the two new arrivals. Hannibal looked at Nick appraisingly, seemingly impressed.

"Nice job, Nick. Guess you haven't forgotten everything from your Army days."

Nick hadn't responded, just shrugged his shoulders. He hadn't wanted to go any further with it, but Smith wasn't so reluctant.

"What unit were you with, Nick?"

Nick looked up at the sky. He had thought Smith and the others were starting to relax around him, that maybe he could get through this without too many complications.

So much for wishful thinking.

"Nick?"

He looked at Smith, saw the slight narrowing of his eyes as he waited for the answer.

"Tiger Force, Colonel."

He had immediately felt cold angry eyes staring at him.

"Oh, yeah? When was that, Nicky?"

"1967, Colonel."

Nothing more was said. Nothing more had to be said. Nick had gathered his weapon and clothes and walked slowly to the van. He leaned against it, deliberately casual, waiting while the others prepared to leave. BA had glared at him as Murdock locked the handcuffs loosely on the sergeant's wrists. Hannibal hadn't looked at him at all as he climbed in to drive the van. Murdock kept glancing over at him as they settled into the Jeep and took the lead, Nick driving.

Getting past the guards at the edge of the park had been a cinch. One look at Baracus, cuffed in the back of the van, convinced the young lieutenant in charge that everything was kosher. They had driven for a couple miles before pulling into the alley and changing back to their civilian clothes.

Now they waited for Smith to come up with a plan to get them all out safely.

But Nick knew what they were really thinking about.


*****

Charlie drove the Jeep carefully through the side streets. Everything inside him screamed to hit the freeway and drive like a bat out of hell, but he resisted. The last thing he needed was to panic, do something stupid to bring them to the attention of some traffic cop looking to make his quota.

He glanced over at Ed one more time. The longer they drove around the city, the quieter he'd gotten. He was no longer watching behind them, no longer even looking out of the windows. He sat, slumped in his seat, staring at the floor.

"Hey, Ed, I know you want to get home right away, but we have to do it very quietly, okay? We can't draw any attention to ourselves. A few more minutes and then we'll hit the freeway and get the hell out of here, okay?"

Ed ignored him. Charlie sighed, returned his attention to the road. They were coming up on the entrance to the freeway. Just a few more minutes.

Two blocks later, traffic had slowed to a near stand still. Charlie was puzzled. It wasn't rush hour. Accident up ahead? The Jeep crawled to a stop. Other cars pulled behind them, beside them. Ed started looking around, nervously. Charlie didn't blame him. It was a rather claustrophobic feeling, not having a way out. The car to their left moved slowly ahead, a semi trailer pulled up in its place. The feeling of being encased grew. Ed sat up straighter, licked his lips.

"Take it easy, Ed. Just a traffic jam. No problem."

Ed glanced at him, and Charlie could see he was starting to sweat. Great. He could just see Ed panicking, jumping out of the Jeep, running through the cars...

"Just sit back, take deep breaths, okay? You're perfectly safe here, Ed. Remember what Dr. Feist told you to do?"

Ed nodded slowly, staring through the windshield. He started breathing deeply, slowly.

"Good. Just keep doing that, Ed. These things don't last long and then we'll be on the freeway and headed home. Okay? Okay, Ed?"

Ed ignored him.


*****

Murdock kept his head down, but was watching the others cautiously. He was waiting for Hannibal to say something, do something. He knew BA was, too. They'd both follow Hannibal's lead. Murdock glanced over at Nick, who seemed totally relaxed. Only the flexed muscle of his arms showed that he wasn't. Keeping it hidden away. Murdock looked back at the floor.

He'd heard of the Tigers, a long time ago, back in Nam. Not a lot of details, a lot of rumors. They were part of the 101st, and he hadn't had any dealings with them as a group. But the rumors were enough. One of the most decorated units in Nam, they were treated with respect. And fear. Rumors that My Lai was nothing compared to what they had done. But nobody knew for sure, and sure as hell nobody was talking. At least, no one that valued their life.

He looked over at Nick again. He was tapping his finger against his arm, obviously getting impatient. Somehow Murdock couldn't picture Nick shooting little kids and old women. No way. And surely Charlie wouldn't have let him stay in the village if he had done those things. But then, there was a lot about Charlie they didn't know, either.

Hannibal suddenly tossed his cigar out the window and half-turned in his seat. Murdock tensed, as did the others. Here it comes, he thought.

Hannibal looked at Nick. "You and me, later. Right now we have to get out town, fast. We're going to split up. Make it harder for Decker to catch up with us. BA, you take the van. I'm afraid you'll have to be the decoy. Try to stay out of sight, but remember, it's that van they'll be watching for, and if they see you..."

BA nodded.

"Murdock, you and Nick take the Jeep. Dump it somewhere near the center of town if you can. Then grab a car and move out. I don't think anyone at the roadblocks will recognize either of you, so you should be okay."

"I still got that license Face got me the last time, Colonel." He pulled out his wallet, looking at the fake ID. "Yeah, Henry James."

"Good. Okay, let's head out. We'll meet at Charlie's."

"What about you, Colonel?" Nick spoke softly.

Hannibal looked hard at him before giving him a small smile. "I've got a date with a pretty young thing." He nodded his head at a young woman at the burger stand, who was checking her watch. "She looks like she could use some company."

Letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, Murdock grinned. He felt relief on so many levels. Hannibal was back, at least for now. He had no doubt Hannibal would grill Nick about the Tigers, and it wouldn't be pretty, but he was taking care of immediate business first. And somehow Murdock thought Hannibal and Nick would be okay, too. Otherwise Hannibal would've kicked Nick out right then and there. Anyway, he hoped it would work out.

He liked Nick.


*****

The Jeep had slowly inched its way forward over the last half hour. Charlie could see some kind of activity up ahead now. He leaned out the window, trying to get a better view. He stopped cold, and quickly glanced over at Ed, who was now mumbling softly to himself. He looked ahead once more, watching the MP's stopping at every vehicle, looking at driver's licenses and faces, his mind racing.

He knew Ed had no identification. That in itself would get them taken into custody. He couldn't let that happen. They would find out who Charlie was, and fingerprint Ed, not to mention expecting an explanation for that little subterfuge with Decker. No, Charlie couldn't let that happen.

But that meant they'd have to make a run for it.

He looked around. Cars, trucks, busses. A lot of people milling around, trying to see what was going on, waiting to hop back into their vehicles at the slightest hint of movement. He had no doubt he could disappear easily into that morass. Ed was another matter.

The only thing Charlie could hope for was that they'd be able to move in and out quickly enough to evade the MP's, even if they left a trail of startled people behind them. He had seen the neighborhood surrounding them. It would be easy to disappear in the crazy veining of streets and alleys. And then what? He sighed. They really had no choice.

"Ed?" He waited until he had his friend's attention. "Look, we've got a bit of a problem up ahead. It seems the MP's have set up a roadblock, and they're checking the cars. We're going to have to leave the Jeep and get out of here. Now, just wait," he saw the immediate panic that came over Ed's face, "you'll be okay, Ed. Let me worry about getting us out of this. You just keep your mind on staying with me, okay? Can you do that, Ed?"

Ed looked out the window, swallowed hard. "Yeah."

"Good. Now, I'm going to get out and wander over to your side. Just like I'm just another curious driver. When I get to your side, you get out, and hang onto my arm. Keep your head down as much as possible. Just make sure you don't let go."

"Don't have to worry about that." There was more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

"It'll be fine, Ed. Just don't panic. We'll get through this in no time."

"How will we get home?"

Charlie almost said, "Haven't a clue.", but he knew better. "Let me worry about that, Ed. I have a trick or two up my sleeve, yet." He smiled encouragingly.

Ed looked at him for a moment, then stared ahead. Charlie could see the MP's getting closer. Time to get moving.

He stepped calmly out of the Jeep and around the front. As he moved closer to the door, he could see Ed's lips moving rapidly. He took the handle and opened the door.

"Okay, Ed. Let's go."