CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN

"So, you and your ex don't get along, huh? Sounds familiar."

Hannibal smiled ruefully. "Well, what can I say? That's why she's my ex." He frowned. "I didn't think she'd be this...petty, though. I mean, pulls this 'I-need-your-help' act to borrow my car and then disappears like this. I was supposed to meet my daughter tonight in Las Vegas, too. Now that's out."

The young woman looked at Hannibal. "Why's that?"

Hannibal shrugged. "I'm paying so much alimony to Charisse, well, my budget's really tight. Which means without my car, I have no way to get out there." He sighed. "And it's her birthday, too. We get together every year to celebrate."

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, well, what can you do, y'know? Charisse does everything she can to keep me away from my daughter. Her way of getting back, I guess."

"It's awful the way ex's can be so spiteful. Mine was the same way. We didn't have kids, but I was really close to his parents. He told them so many lies about me..." She shook her head.

"So now they don't want anything to do with you? That's terrible. Why do people have to be that way, any way? Why can't they just put this stuff aside, get on with their lives? Terrible."

They sat in empathic silence for a few minutes. The burger joint was starting to fill up now, as it got closer and closer to dinner time. Hannibal was starting to really enjoy this. Janey was a very, very pleasant woman.

And not that much younger than himself...

She looked out the window for a few moments, and then turned to look at Hannibal, a conspiratorial smile on her face.

"Why don't we get one back on Charisse?"

Hannibal smiled quizzically. "Just what did you have in mind?"


*****

"Murdock, I think we've been on this bus before. In fact, I think this is like the third time."

"What makes you think that?"

"Because I recognize the driver. And I think he recognized us."

"So?"

"So he's not looking very happy right now." Nick watched the front of the bus out of the corner of his eye. "And he's getting on the radio."

"Maybe he's just checking in."

"Yeah, and maybe he's reporting a couple of suspicious passengers." Nick looked up ahead, past the driver. "Look, I think we better get off at the next stop and find some other way of getting out of town. This guy's too hinky for me."

"Well, probably not as hinky as he thinks we are, muchacho." Murdock had been perusing a discarded newspaper. He handed it over to Nick, folded up so a story on page three was staring up at him. Nick read the headline, a sick feeling coming over him.

"This can't be happening. It can't be." He looked accusingly at Murdock.

"Well, how was I to know there'd been a string of assaults on bus drivers?"

Nick closed his eyes.

It just couldn't be happening.


*****

BA didn't get the sleep he wanted. He heard Petey growl, and immediately was awake, listening. He glanced at his watch; hell, not more than an hour or so had passed. Petey was standing in the driver's seat, front paws on the door, ears back.

Not good.

He practically slid to the front of the van, and peered cautiously out of the driver's window, hoping Petey wouldn't do anything to give him away. He didn't. The dog was too tuned into the intruders. BA took a quick glance, looking for movement, and then took a second, slower look around.

Dammit.

Weren't Decker's men. Not a uniform in sight. But there were people out there, people watching the van. He just barely caught sight of a flash, zeroed in on it. A guy, standing several yards away, behind some bushes, holding something up to his mouth. Radio, most likely.

BA slid back down, resting half on the seat, half on the floor. Had to be FBI. Figures. They'd be smart enough to keep the park under at least minimal surveillance. He should've known.

Hannibal wouldn't be happy about this.

Well, he was supposed to be the decoy. 'Bout time he took these guys for a ride. He chuckled. Petey glanced down at him, tail waving.

"Yeah, dog, let's take these guys for a nice, long ride..."


*****

"I want you to just sit right here and wait, okay? Okay, Ed?"

Ed nodded, and slumped down on the bench. They were at the far end of the station, away from the few people waiting for the train, in a semi-secluded rest area. Charlie looked down at him, not happy. He knew Ed was doing his best, putting forth a huge effort to do what Charlie wanted him to do, needed him to do, but it was obviously taking a toll.

"How's your head?"

"Exploding."

Charlie sighed, kicking himself once more for not thinking ahead. He hadn't even considered taking any of Ed's painkillers with him when they left the village. But then again, he had to have Ed on his feet for this, and those painkillers would've knocked him out cold. They would have to make do.

"You can lay down when we get onboard, okay? But I want you to stay put. Don't go anywhere until I get back. Understand, Ed?" The last thing he needed was to come back and find that Ed had wandered off in a fog. "You wait right here."

"Yeah."

Charlie hesitated another few seconds before hurrying off to find the ticket desk. He glanced quickly around the platform, a huge sense of relief filling him as he noticed the dearth of passengers. Maybe this would be easier than he'd thought.

Naturally, those thoughts were vanquished the moment he stepped inside the terminal itself. It looked like half the town was waiting to board, and the other half was seeing them off. He looked for and found the station for reserved tickets, and impatiently stood in line, all the while wondering if Ed was still on the bench, if he was still conscious, hoping the MP's or FBI weren't thinking their quarry would try to take a train out of town. The line moved imperturbably slowly.

It took nearly ten minutes just to reach the desk, and then pay for and collect the tickets, and hurry through the terminal, shoving his wallet deep into his pocket. Yet another reason not to be picked up by the authorities; they might find it curious that Charlie could be ID'd under three different names. Ed hadn't said a word when Charlie had had to shuffle through them to find the name he wanted to use.

Charlie made one quick stop before leaving the terminal. A small shop, with various paraphernalia a harassed tourist might find handy.

Finally he was back on the platform, hurrying toward Ed's bench. The relief almost knocked him down when he saw Ed sitting there, looking like he'd lost his last friend, but still there.

"Okay, Ed, the train'll be here any minute so we have to get up on the platform. Here, I brought you something." He gently placed a floppy hat on Ed's head, a combination of sorts of fedora and panama. Adjusting it, he nodded. "Okay, kid. Keep your head down and we should make it with no problem. Ready?"

Ed looked up at Charlie, and there was something in his look that made Charlie uneasy. Confusion, and something else, something...well, almost like sadness. Charlie shook himself mentally. No need for both of them to be going off on tangents.

He gently took Ed's arm, and the two of them started toward the platform.


*****

"Where? When?" Decker listened for a moment before slamming down the phone. He turned to the others in the now confiscated living room of the team's house. "The van's been spotted. Those sons-of-bitches went right back to the damn park." Decker glared at the two FBI agents, as if it was their fault. "Right now the van's being tailed, headed toward Burbank. Crane - call off the roadblocks! I want every unit after that van. And this time they don't get away!"

Crane jumped like he'd been shot and hurried to the radio, immediately barking out orders. Agent Daniels was on his radio, also issuing orders.

Within ten minutes, every law enforcement agency in the area had cars either watching for or on their way toward the black van.


*****

Hannibal slid the car gracefully into the next lane, Janey sitting in the passenger seat, chatting amiably. Hannibal knew he was acting a lot calmer than he was feeling. It was all well and good to have an innocent-looking ride; it was another thing to be able to bullshit his way through a roadblock. Not for the first time, he was thankful Face had always insisted they carry a second ID on them, although he sometimes thought Face wasn't the only one who could have an identity crisis.

"Can you see anything?"

Hannibal was suddenly aware he'd tuned Janey out. He looked over at her, suitably embarrassed. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

"The traffic. Can you see what the holdup is?" She smiled patiently.

"Uh, looks like some kind of police thing. Looking for dangerous fugitives?"

"Uh, oh, you better watch out then. Maybe Charisse turned you in!" she laughed.

She really had a nice laugh. Hannibal smiled back before looking ahead again. Started getting ready to...hello...

The CHiP's and suits that had been briskly checking vehicles were suddenly moving off the freeway, getting into their respective vehicles and heading out. Some stayed behind, directing the now moving vehicles out of their way. Hannibal felt uneasy and relieved at the same time.

Something had to have happened to create such a sudden change in plan. Hannibal had a very bad feeling...


*****

"Well, now they have another one to add to their list." Nick shook out his still stinging hand, and glared at Murdock.

"That was not an assault. That was an escape. The driver just...got in the way."

"Murdock..."

"Oh, c'mon, Nick. We got away, right? And we're not that far from..." Murdock looked quickly around for some sign of where they were, "uh, Atwater. Yeah, Atwater's just a few blocks now. See?" He pointed to a sign on the freeway above them.

"Yeah, okay. We still have to get around them." Nick, in turn, pointed to the flashing red and blue lights a few short blocks away, blocking the freeway entrance. "Or wait around for them." He pointed in the direction they had come from, where a smaller set of lights were flashing. "Which do you prefer?"

"Uh, actually, I think I prefer the freeway, 'cause it don't look like we're gonna have much trouble now."

Nick turned and watched as the squad cars and sedans suddenly started dispersing. He frowned, and looked back at Murdock.

"Looks like they're on somebody's trail, amigo. So let's find ourselves a vehicle, and hope whoever they spotted meets us at Charlie's."

"I still don't like stealing a car, Murdock. If we get picked up..."

"You really think the local cops are going to worry about one car in how many hundreds that get stolen, today of all days? When both the military and the FBI want them chasing the infamous A-Team?" Murdock looked reproachfully at Nick. "Where did I go wrong with you, Nick?"

Nick raised his eyes to the heavens before trudging along behind Murdock. If he ever got out of this mess...


*****

The train was swaying softly, moving steadily toward Needles. Combined with the rhythmic click of the wheels over the tracks, it was comforting. Restful. Just what they both needed.

Charlie shifted carefully on the lower berth, not wanting to disturb Ed. Charlie wasn't sure if he was falling asleep, or if the confusion in his head was finally putting him under. He still lay on his side, knees drawn up, holding his head in his hands, but his breathing was slowed down to near normal, at least. As long as Charlie kept quiet, he hoped Ed would be able to rest until they reached the end of their trip.

He wasn't happy. This didn't seem to be the typical headache Ed suffered through when he got stressed. He kept complaining about the noise, and Charlie knew he wasn't referring to anything outside his head. Charlie was very much afraid the events of the last few weeks - hell, the last few months - had finally taken whatever strength Ed had left and stomped it into the ground.

He looked out the window at the scenery slowing disappearing into darkness as the day ended and the night began.