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PLACE, WRONG TIME
Rated: PG-13 (language, sexual situation inferred (male/female), violence)
Summary: A case of mistaken identity puts Murdock at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Disclaimer: Don't own the A-Team, don't make a penny from writing anything based on the characters or concepts. I do it for the jazz!!
The day had started out so well.
Woke up early, like I usually do, and stretched carefully, not wanting to wake the redhead next to me. Her name was Joann, and she was amazing. We'd met outside my building a week or two ago and gone out a couple of times. But last night, after dinner and watching a movie at my place - well, she just didn't leave. I smiled again, feeling lucky on a number of levels. It'd been a long time since I'd woken up with a pretty woman in bed with me, but she was more than just pretty. She was smart, and funny too. Didn't mind that I worked in a diner and that I lived in a tiny apartment. Didn't mind I couldn't afford to take her out on the town, like Face did with his dates.
None of that mattered to me at the moment, either. Joann sighed in her sleep and snuggled up closer to me. I wrapped my arms around her and dozed off again.
When the phone rang a few minutes later, I sighed. The one morning I was going to sleep in.... I carefully rolled out of JoAnn's armsand hoped I'd grabbed the receiver before the phone woke her, too.
"Hello?" I answered as quietly as I could, taking the phone into the other room.
"Murdock, you okay?" Face asked.
"Yeah Face, I'm fine," I assured him. "Just tryin' to be quiet. It's early, ya know."
"It's almost . You're usually up for hours by now," Face responded. "How was your date last night - oh my God!" I could hear realization dawn in his voice. "Are you just getting up now? You have 'company'!" he crowed. I closed my eyes for a moment and sighed. I was going to be in for it now. Face would be teasing me for days.
I glanced back into the bedroom, and saw JoAnn as she sat up and stretched. She smiled at me, hair all mussed up and sexy, and took off the Gumby tee shirt I'd lent her the night before. It flew through the air and nearly landed on my head. Then she just sat there, wearing nothing but a smile, patting the mattress next to her. Jeez, she was gorgeous.
"Hey Facey, can I call you back later?"
"Oh, absolutely. Let me give you a new phone number, though." I jotted it on a pad on the table as quickly as I could.
"Hey," he said. "Don't forget - I want details."
"Sorry muchacho." I grinned. "A gentleman never tells."
"Hey, I tell you."
"I rest my case. Talk to ya later, Faceman." I could hear him protesting that he was a perfect gentleman as I hung up the receiver and headed back to the bedroom to return my tee shirt.
I had just finished my turn in the shower a little later when JoAnn tapped on the bathroom door. "C'mon in," I called.
She was shorter than me, and the tilt of her chin when she looked at me made her seem even more beautiful. "Hey babe," she smiled, just out of the shower herself, smelling wonderful. "I've got to get
moving. Got a meeting to get to at 10:00."
"Well I won't get you wet, then," I promised, and leaned over to kiss her, trying not to drip on her.
"I think you did that enough last night," she murmured, grinning wickedly. I gave her a long kiss, and put my hands on her waist; she didn't object, even though I was soaking.
"Okay," she sighed, smiling. "Call me?" Another, longer, kiss. "I've really got to go...." she whispered, but didn't try to get out of my arms.
I gave her what I hoped was my most convincing smile.
"Oh hell." She dropped her bag and put her arms around my neck. "I'm gonna be late again...."
I was in a great mood when I called Face back, and he invited me over to see his latest scammed apartment.
Stockwell knew about it, but either didn't care enough to raise a fuss or wouldn't admit that his people hadn't been able to trace these places down because of the way Face seemed to just "move in" while people were out of town. Anyway, it was good neutral ground for the four of us when we needed it.
BA stopped by to pick up the keys to his van; I'd been keeping an eye on it while he, Hannibal and Face were out of town the week before. The big guy didn't want Stockwell's people messing with it while he
was gone, planting bugs or something like that.
I didn't know where they'd been, and I didn't ask. I hated the Team working with Stockwell. I especially hated that there were times when I was simply not in the equation when they went on missions. Stockwell didn't like me, but that was fine - the feeling was mutual. I just wished he wouldn't keep me from the guys so much.
"Didn't put any dents in it, did ya?" BA growled. I didn't feel like dealing with another BA bad mood, so I just grinned till he smiled back himself. I love the big guy.
He must've been glad to see me, too, because he even agreed to give me a lift to the apartment Face'd scammed to save me the bus fare.
There was no answer when I knocked on the door, but that didn't worry me. Face'd said he might have to run an errand before I got there, and to wait for him inside. I reached up and carefully ran my fingers along the door frame - there it was. Facey always left an extra key over the door when he knew I'd be coming by for the first time.
I had just taken it down from the ledge and pulled out my key ring to attach it when I heard the elevator bell sound. I glanced down the hall. Two fellas in sunglasses and cheap suits got out. I didn't like the way their jackets fit; looked like there was something tucked into the waistband of their pants. Definitely not Abels.
I glanced down to guide the key into the lock, and by the time I looked up again the business suit guys were on either side of me, and I was looking at a gun pointed right at my face. It was so close I could see the safety was still engaged. Sloppy. "Mr. Peck?" the guy asked.
I didn't know what Face was mixed up in, but decided to play along. They didn't seem too bright - after all, who'd confuse me for Face? I straightened up and used my best Face-voice. "Yes?" Before I could do
anything, the other guy slammed the butt of his pistol against the side of my head. I knocked into the barrel of the first guy's gun, and then fell onto the door of the apartment.
Okay, sloppy, but efficient, I told myself as I stood there in a daze. I was still in the hallway, I knew, but it seemed somehow to have turned into one of those carnival rides that spins you around so fast that centrifugal force holds you to the wall, except there was no centrifugal force in the hallway. I was trying to decide if there was anything I could do to get away from these two goons that wouldn't require too much thought, balance, or the use of my legs, when someone obviously decided I wasn't falling down fast enough and punched me right in the face.
So much for my good day.
I looked around the room. "Would someone please tell me what's going on?" The details of the place I was sitting were a little blurred - I guess my eye was swelling shut.
"Like you don't know," the man front of me said. He sounded like he spat the words out 'cause they didn't taste good. Between the darkness of late afternoon and one eye swollen to a squint, it was hard to make out any details of his face from where I sat.
"You've got something of mine, I want it back. Pretty simple, really." He hunkered down in front of me, and I could finally make out a little of his face. Gaunt features, limp blond hair hanging in his eyes. I did a quick search of my memory - hospital, jobs with the Team - nope. This wasn't anyone I recognized. "Why don't you just tell me where it is," he grinned, "and we'll be able to stop all this - unpleasantness."
His smile gave me a pretty good idea of how the "unpleasantness" would end. My only chance, at this point, was to continue to string him along. Hope that the guys would figure out what had happened and
where I was before Mr. Smiley got bored with me. I tested my arms, which were wrapped behind me in the chair. Handcuffs. Damn. Rope would've been better. No chance of wriggling out of cuffs.
My head was pounding, and I felt like I was barrel rolling down a steep hill for a moment. I took a deep breath and dug in; said the first thing that came to mind. Maybe it would delay things if I kept him talking.
"Look buddy," I started, sounding as calm and reasonable as I could. "I don't know what you're talking about. If you give me an idea what you're looking for . . . . "
I probably couldn't've ducked the backhand that slammed against the side of my face, even if I'd seen it coming. He hit me on the side with the swollen eye, sneaky bastard. The room dissolved into little specks of white, and for a moment, I felt snow-blind. I slowed my breathing, rode out the pain till my vision cleared and the aching in my head and neck dulled to a throb.
"Well," I said, when I could finally see again. "Maybe that question was too hard. How about 'who the hell are you?' That should be an easy one to answer."
Another backhand, but to the other side of my head. Still didn't see it coming, but some corner of my mind told me to be grateful that he was not going to keep beating one side of my face till it was mush. I
guess I kind of drifted for a few minutes, waiting for the ringing in my ears and fire on the side of my face to subside. Must have been fading in and out, but I could hear this guy hollering in my face - just couldn't make out what he was saying.
Finally, I shook my head gingerly and I exhaled slowly, like I do when I'm trying to clear my thoughts. I guess is sounded like a sigh though, 'cause the guy got pissed again. Fist to the stomach. Man, I *hate* that; it always made me feel like throwing up. I hate throwing up. Another fist to my side; I could barely catch my breath because of the pain. Crap - I think he cracked a rib.
"Listen to me." A hand grabbed my chin roughly, forced me to look at him again. This had started to seem really distant to me, like I was experiencing the whole thing looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I wished that I could focus enough to see his eyes - they're the window to the soul. Maybe I could figure out what he wanted if I could see his soul . . . .
He rattled my head around again - quit drifting! Focus on what he's saying, damn it, and he'll stop hurting you!
"I'm getting sick of this, Peck. Tell me where it is!"
Couldn't help but laugh now. Started as a giggle, then just kinda built on itself, despite the fact that the movement made my side and head ache. "Peck?" I finally blurted out. "You got yourself the wrong guy, muchacho."
"What? You're not - " The man stepped back. I squinted at him as best I could to see if he was enjoying the joke, too.
"Gimme his wallet," he hissed. More rough hands, going through my pockets. Let `em have it, I thought lazily. I never carry much cash, anyway....
"You *idiots*!" the man bellowed. "This isn't Peck. This is the pilot! I want Peck!" The guy was in my face again, all stinky breath and spittle as he yelled at me. "Where is he? Where's Peck?" Guy's gonna give himself an aneurysm yellin' like that. Course if I told him that, he'd just hit me again. Some people don't want to be helped.
I wanted to say something wise-ass to him, but just couldn't get my mouth to move. Felt all fulla cotton and copper. I didn't even have the strength to straighten up and look at him after he let go of my chin. "Listen, assholes." The man's voice seemed be coming from further away now; funny, he was right in front of me. I could still see his feet.
"I...want...Peck..." he hissed between clenched teeth. "You find him. You get him for me!" Wow. He sounded *really* pissed.
"What should we do with this guy?" This was a new voice - someone I couldn't see.
"Hold on to him; we may need him to lure Peck here. Once we've got him, kill this jerk." The guy leaned over again, yanked my chin up and put his index finger between my eyes. Now his voice was close, soft, frightening. "Bang." He smiled, then straightened up and left the room.
Awww, shit. Hurry up, guys....
I was tossed without much ceremony into a room with a couple of old office-style chairs and a barred window with a crummy view. There was an old lamp with no bulb, so it was dark as a cave. Room had a musty smell, too, like it hadn't been used in a long time. Probably your standard mostly abandoned building. Power was on in the other rooms, though, so there had to be some tenants.
I eased into a wooden chair and spent a moment taking physical inventory. Split lip - could feel that with my tongue. Cracked or fractured rib. Left eye swollen nearly shut. That might be a problem. If I managed to get out of here, I wouldn't be able to see too well. And my arms were getting sore from being stretched behind my back for God only knows how long.
But the real problem was that my head felt like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag. I was guessing concussion, but probably not a serious one. I actually smiled to myself for a moment. Concussions: the common cold of the A-Team. Seemed like hardly a year went by where one or two of us didn't end up in bed for a few days after a good crack on the head.
I knew I had to turn what concentration I had back to the problem at hand if I was going to get out of here. Instinctively, I knew that the guys were out there looking for me, but waiting around might be dangerous. This blond guy, whoever he was, didn't seem too patient.
The handcuffs were still on. Had to deal with that before anything else. I eased out of the chair and lay down on my good side - the one without the sore rib - and tried to work my hands down past my butt and step through, get my hands in front of me. I have long enough arms, and I'd been able to do it once or twice before in a pinch, but this time, the movement just hurt too damn much. The effort left me lying on the floor gasping for breath for a few minutes.
I rolled back into a sitting position to work on Plan B. Well, there was an old classic - maybe because it was so old, these guys would fall for it. Considering they couldn't tell me from Face, they certainly weren't any brain trust. That doubled my chances, I figured.
I walked towards the door and gave it a good kick. "Hey!" I yelled. Man, that hurt. I lowered my voice, just a little. "Hey!" I called out, kicking the door again.
"What?" came an exasperated voice from the other side.
"Gotta use the can, man."
"Can't it wait?"
"Naw, I gotta go real bad. Come on, have a heart...."
"Shit," the guy muttered. I leaned against the door, waiting to see what he would do. Seemed like forever before I heard keys jingling. Yes! I congratulated myself. Part one: out the door. I was halfway there.
The hall light made me squint, made my head hurt again for a moment. The guy grabbed my arm, almost knocking me off balance, and lead me quickly down the hall. "Here." He slammed open the door of a small bathroom.
"Well, come on," I said, with a grim smile.
"Help me out, man."
He looked at me, confused.
"Can't reach my fly with my hands behind my back," I said, and swung halfway round, wiggling my fingers for emphasis. "You gotta do it for me." His look of distaste was plain. I smiled again. "Not my fault. Either help me take a leak or take off these cuffs. Your choice."
The guy shook his head and pulled out the keys. "No way," he muttered, unlocking one of the cuffs. "You're on your own." He was taking a big chance letting me out of the room. Taking an even bigger
one uncuffing me. The ideal combination for one of the oldest tricks around - squeamish *and* dumb. Where did Blondie come up with these Brainiacs?
He shoved me into the small bathroom and closed the door. I stretched my arms and rolled my shoulders to relieve the stiffness. Part two taken care of, I thought.
I looked around the tiny room. No window. Nothing that could be used as a weapon - not even a plunger.
"Hurry up, man!" the guy called from outside the door.
There was a roll of toilet paper in the room - not a very imposing weapon. It sat on the tank, too, so there wasn't even the roller from the paper holder to use - not that it would've been big enough, but it would have been something. I knocked the roll of paper off of the tank accidentally, and without thinking leaned over to pick it up - not that it would have been much use against a gun - just out of habit.
At first I cursed; leaning over had sent all the blood rushing to my poor head. As I stooped in a bent-over position waiting for the throbbing to stop, my spirits suddenly lifted.
I reached for what I'd found under the sink and slowly straightened up.
I cracked the door open and looked into the hallway through my one good eye. The guy who'd uncuffed me was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette and looking unhappy.
My stomach tightened, like it always does before a fight. I planted my feet, took as deep a breath as I could manage. I still felt like crap, but the uneasy feeling that I needed to do something - anything - to get far away from this place was as overpowering as the smell of the lavatory I was standing in. I closed the door quietly and turned off the light. Then I moaned loudly; threw in some retching noises for good measure.
The guy rattled the knob, trying to open the door, but I was holding the door closed with my foot. "Hey!" he called, beginning to sound angry. I made more retching noises. "What's going on in there?" He pushed harder on the door; I waited for just the right moment, and pulled my foot back quickly. The guy half fell into the room as I slipped past him and turned to block the door as he stumbled to his feet. The goon had that funny combination of pissed off and confused on his face as he began to pull the gun from his waistband.
"Stinks in there, don't it?" I asked, as I pulled the can of air freshener from behind my back and sprayed the poor bastard right in the eyes. Lucky I was ready to move fast - that yowl of pain was ear splitting, and it would bring his buddies on the run any second. I grabbed his gun as he brought his hands to his eyes, and headed down the hall as fast as I could go.
Wasn't sure where the hell I was or which way to go, but when I saw a stairwell, down seemed like a good idea. I was beginning to hear footsteps a few hallways down, and I heaved the can of air freshener into what looked like an empty room, and hoped the sounds of the can bouncing around would throw any pursuers off.
Skidding back around the corner, I headed down the stairs. I figured I was good for now. Armed, and hopefully heading home. The trick would be not to go too far down the stairs and get trapped in a
basement. I had to slow down for a moment and catch my breath and get my bearings. I struggled to quiet my breathing, listening for footsteps on the stairs as I checked the ammo in the gun. The clip was full, but I just had one. Each shot would have to count, if it came down to it. Unfortunately for me, sharp shooting was Face's department.
Where was Face, I wondered. I sure wish they'd show up.
As I crept down another level of stairs, I began to hear voices above me in the halls - they would be in the stairwell any moment. I looked around and noticed a door on the next landing, with a big "2" on it - second floor. That seemed as good a jumping off point as any. Maybe there'd be an empty office. Wished I was as good as Face at picking locks.
I slipped through the door, closing it as quietly as I could, and went down a long, uncarpeted hallway, trying all the doors. I finally found an open office and slipped in, locking the door behind me. It was pitch dark in there, and I was looking around as best I could for phone when I heard footsteps outside. I crouched down next to the door so I could hear better.
They came thundering down the hall, about three of them from the sound of it. They stopped right outside my little hideout, sounding almost as out of breath as I felt.
"Where'd that son of a bitch go?"
"I don't know. Oh, man, we are so dead!"
"Maybe we can get something out of that girl."
"The boss's working that. Maybe we'd better get back before he gets more pissed."
"No way - he's gonna be more pissed than he is now if we don't find that pilot. Get moving!"
I could hear them walking up and down the hall, pulling on doors. I held my breath as they rattled the knob of my office. Guy muttered a curse and moved on.
I let out the breath I had been holding and sank onto the floor, taking my aching head in my hands. Just a minute to rest....just a minute....
I was feeling kinda groggy, but I knew I had heard something about a girl. Face got a girl I didn't know about? Had this guy grabbed her, too, see if she could lead him to Face? I sighed. If so, I couldn't leave her behind. No telling when the Team would find me, and no telling what those guys'd do to a lady.
If I was gonna find this girl, my best chance was to follow these guys - no time for a phone call now. I slipped out of the office and followed them up the darkened hall. They stopped to talk for a minute, then one of them peeled off and the other two continued down the hall to the stairwell. The single guy pushed the elevator button to go up. When the two others were out of sight, I slid down the hall towards the elevator with my back pressed against the wall.
I pulled the gun from my pocket and waited for him to get in the elevator; slipped in behind him just as the doors shut. I grabbed his collar and put the muzzle of the gun behind his ear. "Hi, there."
I could see now from the red eyes that it was the poor bastard who'd taken me to the bathroom. I gave him my most shit-eating grin and made sure he heard the safety on the revolver click off. "How ya doin'?"
I relieved him of the gun he was holding. "You won't be needing this."
Bigger grin. "Trust me."
I stuck it in my waistband and patted down his pockets. Came up with an extra clip and the key to the handcuffs. Things were lookin' up.
I reached over and hit the "stop" button. Could be risky if anyone noticed, but we needed a few minutes to chat. "Very quickly," I hissed quietly into his ear - the one with the gun barrel behind it -"where's the girl?"
"I - I don't know," he stammered.
I pulled back the slide on the revolver, watched him wince as I pressed the muzzle under his chin. "Think carefully," I said slowly, like I was talking to a child, "and try again...."
When the doors opened on the sixth floor, I pushed the button for every floor before I got out. I don't really like elevators, but I always loved doing that. I almost felt bad about leaving the guy knocked out in the elevator and trussed up with his own cuffs. Almost, but not really.
Down the hall. Fourth or fifth door on the right - that's what he'd told me. Damn. Figured that it was on the right. I didn't have any peripheral vision on the left, which would be trouble if I didn't keep my ears open for someone coming up behind me. Luckily, sneakers don't make much noise while you creep along, and the rest of the hallway was quiet.
There was a light, and voices coming out of the room that the elevator thug had told me about. Recognized that bastard's voice - the blond guy. And another guy, who was making excuses like mad. I
got up close to hear better, try to figure out how many I could be up against. Two, so far....
"Listen, boss, I don't know how he got away," the flunky was saying. "I wasn't there, remember? I was picking her up. You're the one who sent me."
"Yes." More an exasperated hiss than a reply. "But listen carefully to me. No more fuck ups, or somebody's going to take that pilot's place in the river. Got it? And since you're in charge of these
idiots, the logical choice for who gets it would be....?" He let the question hang.
"Me," the second guy grunted. "Right. Got it."
"Okay. Now go find that asshole and bring him back. I want that pilot, I want Peck and I want that tape. I want them tonight. Is that clear?"
I moved back away from the door - the flunky was heading for the hall. I saw him stop to rub the bridge of his nose with his fingers, which meant he hadn't seen me yet. My luck was holding. He started down the hallway towards me, not looking up, and I was able to grab the hand by his face and swing him around backwards, pushing his arm into the small of his back as I reached forward to get his gun. I pushed it up into his shoulder blade. "No noise," I murmured, my mouth right next to his ear. "How many inside?"
The guy didn't say a word. I wasn't sure if he was more afraid of me or his boss, but it didn't matter to me. I pushed the gun harder, teeth clenched. "How. Many."
I could feel him begin to tremble, saw his eyes squeeze shut for a minute as he made up his mind. Finally: "Two."
"Two more of you, or just your boss and the girl?"
"Boss and the girl." The words were a cross between a whisper and a sob, resigned sounding.
"Thanks," I said. Holding him in front of me as a shield, I stepped through the door. There was the blond guy, with his back to me, blocking my view of whoever was in the chair in front of him. He was too intent on what he was doing; he hadn't heard us.
"I've told you everything I know." It was the woman. "I don't know where this Peck guy is now."
"Yes, and if you hadn't told *Peck* everything you knew, too, then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I would have Peck and my property, not you and that pilot. So," he leaned forward, "one more time. Where will I find Peck?"
Oh, Christ. I froze. Even with just one good eye, I could see a bit of red hair showing over his shoulder when he leaned over. And the voice.
I knew that voice....
My heart was pounding so hard I was sure that the flunky I held in front of me could feel it on his back, but I didn't loosen my grip. I'd used the element of surprise pretty well up till now and couldn't afford to let this member of the brain trust know I'd been distracted, and have him try to turn the tables on me.
"Hello, again," I said, trying to give it a cheery, Hannibal-like delivery. I held one gun at the flunky's neck, and the other pointed at the bad guy.
The blond showed complete control, just as I had expected. Straightening up slowly, he turned to face me. He had the scariest smile I'd ever seen. No doubt about it - this guy was truly insane. And I ought to know.
"HM?" JoAnn's voice shook badly as she rose from the chair, peeking over Blondie's shoulder. "Are you ñ"
"JoAnn, step back," I told her, speaking loudly and clearly so she'd be sure to understand - she needed to be out of this guy's reach.
He was fast though. He whirled around, grabbed her by the waist and dragged her in front of him for a shield of his own.
"Looks like we have a little conundrum," he said, almost pleasantly. "You've got your shield, I have mine...."
He was so quick - or I was so out of it - that I barely had time to see him raise his gun towards me. I tried to twist away, to pull the guy in front of me back into the hallway. But he was frozen by fear, and too big for me to drag fast enough.
The short burst of a revolver shot filled the small room. I heard JoAnn scream at the same time as the flunky flew back against me, nearly knocking me over. I let go and jumped back quickly, so that I
wouldn't fall and make an easier target, as the guy's lifeless body toppled to the floor.
"Ooops." The blond smiled that horrid grin again. "Seems like you've lost your cover." I held both revolvers on him, forcing my eyes to open as wide as possible, take in the whole scene so I could plot my
next move. I wished I could see more clearly.
"You're still armed," he said. "But I still have my shield." He put the gun against JoAnn's neck. She whimpered and tried to shy away - I knew the muzzle would still be hot, and winced with her. "I can even
it up, if you want," the blond offered. "I could 'lose' my shield too, and we can settle this like men." He grinned, his eyes wild. "Unless, of course, you either put down your guns, or you're a very, very good shot."
My head pounded miserably as I ran through the options. If I tried to shoot him, I might hit JoAnn. I'm as good a shot as anybody at close range, but she was a wild card - she didn't know to stay very still and then drop the moment the trigger was pulled like one of the guys would. Then again, shooting with just one eye, I didn't trust my aim.
If I ran, he'd probably shoot her.
If I dropped my guns, he'd shoot me for sure, then her. But he was still looking for Face. Maybe he still needed me.
I took a chance. I squatted down slowly, never taking my eyes off of the blond - looked him straight in his crazy eyes - showed no fear. I placed both guns on the floor in front of me and stood up again, just as slowly, my hands half raised.
"Kick 'em into the hall," he said, all traces of humor gone from his face. I'd seen plenty of dangerous guys over the last twenty years, but this guy scared even me. Not that I'd let him know. Kept my hands up and my eyes on his, and kicked first one, then the other gun, into the hallway. I listened to my last chances skitter out of reach across the linoleum.
The blond smiled and nodded. "Good choice," he purred.
"Sit down," he ordered JoAnn gruffly. She didn't hear him; she was staring at the body of the dead guard.
"JoAnn," I said, "sit down, baby. Do what he says."
"HM?" Oh, God, the sound of her voice was killing me.
"It'll be okay, baby." Had to keep her calm. If she fell apart, no telling what this lunatic would do. She was so scared, and there was nothing I could do to help her except keep this guy talking, distracted - wait for the guys to arrive. They would, I knew that. I hoped it would be in time for her, for both of us.
"That's right," the blond said. "Listen to lover boy over there. Sit down like a good girl." He shoved her backwards into the chair, then hunkered down next to her with that crazy grin. "So, do you want to tell him, or can I?" he asked, then turned to me. "Do you want to know how you ended up here?"
"Aside from the fact that your guys don't know their asses from their elbows?" I grinned back at him. Crazy for crazy.
"Aww, now, don't speak ill of the dead." He giggled. "No, no. Here's the beautiful thing: your little friend here was working for me. The whole time. Ever since you met her."
I blinked a couple of times, tried to process this. Working for him?
"You see, I needed to know where Peck was. He and your other friends took something that belongs to me. I want it back. But he disappeared completely. The best I could do was find his old war buddy," he
gestured casually towards me with the gun. "Her job," he continued, "was to use you to find out where Peck is. This morning, when your buddy called you, you wrote down his phone number."
He ran the back of his hand along JoAnn's cheek. "My little friend wrote it down, too. Then she traced it back to the address of the apartment Peck was using. If she had gotten to me with the information right away," he grabbed her chin and made her look at him, "like she was supposed to, I'd have my property and be long gone by now. But she didn't. She didn't show up for our meeting till after . We must've missed Peck by just a few minutes." He sighed and stood up. "Unfortunately, you came waltzing in and fucked it all up."
"Well, you get what you pay for with hired help."
"Rest assured that these idiots are not my regular 'help.' If they were here, you'd both be dead by now."
"Anyway, apparently your girlfriend here," he gestured towards her with his gun, "had an attack of conscience after meeting with me, and called Peck. Now he's abandoned that apartment and I can't find him - again."
Grinning, he moved towards me, keeping his arm behind him, the gun still pointed at JoAnn, to keep me in line. "So, I'm gonna hold on to you till morning, see if he finds you. If not," he shrugged, "then it'll be time to cut my losses, clean up, and get the hell out of Dodge." He grinned again.
"In the meantime," he stepped closer, "you've caused me an ass-load of trouble, pal. And I'm feeling kind of pissed about that." Without any warning, his gun hand came around and I got the butt end of the revolver to the head again.
I slumped down the wall to the floor, couldn't see anything. Then I felt a shoe plow into my side. JoAnn was calling out to me - I tried to answer. Was he hurting her, too? Another kick to my stomach. Nope,
still on my side of the room. I was fading outast, but fought it so JoAnn wouldn't be alone....
The sound of gunshots jerked me back to awareness.
I looked around wildly. Oh God, after that last crack on the head I couldn't see much at all.... Where was JoAnn?
"I hear you've been looking for me," came the familiar voice.
Relief can be a draining thing. Soon as I heard Face, it was like all my muscles turned to Jell-O. Even though my sight was blurred, I could see three new pairs of shoes in the room, heard those voices that it seemed like I'd been waiting for forever: Face, smooth as ice; Hannibal, with his special mix of breeziness and danger; and BA, growling like an over-protective mama bear. Couldn't make out what they were saying, but it didn't matter now. I rolled onto my side, head pounding, dry heaving.
I felt better already.
There was lots of yelling, and more feet marched by in government-issue shoes. Must've been Abels. Couldn't make much sense of it at the time.
Next thing I remembered, I was lying on the floor of BA's van, somewhere on the Beltway, I thought. Face was leaning over me.
"You okay, Murdock?" he asked. Even in the semidarkness, with less than perfect vision, I could tell he was concerned. I could hear it in his voice; feel it in the gentle way he was checking my head with his hands, bit by bit, for unseen damage.
"That," I managed, "is one of the stupider questions I've been asked today."
Not real nice, but frankly I was pissed that whatever they'd been doing for Stockwell had dragged me into a mess like this. I closed my eyes for a moment, and felt bad about what I'd said. "Sorry, Facey," I sighed. "I'll live. Think I got a concussion, though."
"You got another place already?" I smiled in weak surprise at Face, who was looking pleased with himself.
"I've been a busy boy today," he grinned, sitting back on his heels.
Suddenly, fear shot through me, and I struggled to sit up. "JoAnn," I said, grabbing Face's arm. "Where is she?" Hundreds of scenarios flew through my mind; I tried to get up, to find her. Gradually, Face's voice got through to me.
"She's fine, Murdock," he kept repeating, gently holding me down. "Stay still. You'll see her soon."
"Where is she?"
"Stockwell wanted to 'debrief' her,"
I took a moment to regroup before continuing. "How'd you find me?" I asked finally.
"Well," Face began, "when I got back to the apartment this afternoon, the key was still in the lock, and I found this," he held up my key ring, "on the floor outside the door. So I knew you weren't inside. I waited there, in case you called. Imagine my surprise," Face continued, "when your friend called me."
"Yeah. She told me that this guy had hired her to find me by using you. She said she'd gotten my phone number from your notepad that morning, but once she'd met the guy to get paid, she had second thoughts. So, she called to warn me."
I laughed a little, even though it made my whole body hurt. "They thought I was you," I told Face.
"Really?" Face put his hand to his chest, unconsciously smoothing the front of his shirt, straightening his tie. His tone was hard to decipher - surprised? Insulted? Couldn't tell, but I knew the others would appreciate the humor in the mix up.
"What do you mean? It was a classic military maneuver...."
"Yeah, yeah," Face responded, as BA chimed in. "Through the front door."
"Well, it worked, didn't it?"
"Whole thing's Stockwell's fault," BA snarled angrily from the driver's seat. "His guys were supposed to clean up the 'mess' after we got that tape for him last week. Was supposed to bring in the rest of that gang. He said he'd taken care of everything. Said he'd gotten everyone."
"Obviously, he missed one,"
"At least JoAnn came to her senses and lead us to you," Face said, quickly changing the subject. Not sure for whose benefit.
I was kind of in and out of it while Stockwell's doctor checked me out. Couple of my ribs were cracked, but not broken (lucky me), and a definite concussion, though not a serious one. Cuts, bruises - the usual post-mission mixed bag of goodies. He taped my ribs and patched me up. By the time Face and
I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing her. She'd suckered me in, and now I didn't know if she'd ever really cared about me at all. I'd just been a job for her - all along from the sound of it. How could I have been so gullible?
I heard her walk in, and for a minute, thought about pretending to be asleep. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.
She sat on the side of the bed, and put her hand on mine. "HM? How're you feeling?" She tried to smile.
"Honestly? Pretty crappy," I replied. "Doc gave me some pills, though, and they should kick in soon, take care of the headache." There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence.
"Was it?" I finally asked. I hated the way my voice sounded - weak and unsure. Some man of action I was. I cleared my throat. "Was it just a job?"
JoAnn looked away.
"At first. That guy had put it out on the street that he'd pay $5,000 to anyone who could come up with information leading him to your friend, Face. He gave me your name; you were just a mark when I met
you. A way to get a phone number. So I went out with you to try to get into your place, look through your stuff."
"Then, I went out with you again, and I started to like you." She looked away again, unwilling to meet my eyes. "You're sweet and funny. You made me feel - oh, I don't know." She squeezed my hand. "You made me feel good."
"When I got your friend's number, I thought maybe I could just turn it over, get the money, and you'd never know. I could get the money and keep on seeing you. But when I met that guy - yikes. I knew he was a real nut case. I got worried about your friend, what would happen to him. I tried to call you, but when you didn't answer, I called Face and told him everything." She smiled and gave me a sidelong look. "Well, *almost* everything."
"Anyway, when your friends came and got me, I called the number I had for this guy, and that other guy, the one who got killed, came and picked me up." She closed her eyes for a moment, I guess trying to forget the memory of the bloody corpse. "He took me to the building I'd been to this morning. I was lucky your friends were following me, because if they hadn't been - if no one had come...." Her voice trailed off.
I squeezed her hand, let her know I was still listening.
"I'm sorry, HM. I'm sorry I lied, sorry I turned your friend's number over to that crazy man. If I had it to do all over again, I'd never get involved with this."
"And last night?" I asked, afraid of the answer. "Was that the job, too?"
"No," she said, taking my hand in both of hers. "That was me. Us."
I didn't know what to say. She'd used me terribly, but
she'd also saved Face, and tried to save me by going back to find that lunatic,
with only three guys she didn't know from Adam to back her up. The Team had
trusted her enough to follow her.
Maybe I should trust her, too.
"Did you at least get to keep the money?" I asked finally.
"I gave most of it to General Stockwell. He said it was 'evidence.' I got to keep ten percent."
"Five hundred bucks," I snorted. "Not much money for risking your life."
"What do you mean?" Her smile was more genuine now. "You came back for me and you did it for free."
"This will due for payment right now," I answered, beginning to feel drowsy. The painkillers were finally starting to dig in. I felt comfortable and warm, sleepily bundled up under the blankets Face had piled up on me, holding the hand of a pretty woman.
All in all, it hadn't been such a bad day. I wasn't dead, and even got the girl. As I fell asleep, I got the feeling there might be more good days ahead.
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