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“Hey, Colonel, you heard from Face lately

A Very Taxing Day

By: Tee

 

Rating: PG13+
Warning: Slash (very mild)

Summary: Well, it's tax season here, and I needed a diversion.  A sequel to "There Goes the Neighborhood" but only in location.

Thanks: To PK – who is patient and persistent and only a little picky. Thank you to all you do and all you don't do and everything in between.

Informational Note: Personal Income Taxes are due April 15th in the States, but Corporate Income Taxes are due March 15. For the sake of this story, our guys have Incorporated. I hope you enjoy.

 

@@@ A Very Taxing Day @@@

 

 

"Hey, Colonel, you heard from Face lately?" 

 

Hannibal Smith propped his feet up on the coffee table after moving his beer an inch to the left to make sure he didn't knock it over. "Not yet today, but I expect he'll call in around dinner time. Did you need something?"

 

"Nah, just wondering how he was doing."

 

Hannibal adjusted the phone against his shoulder and used the remote to mute the big screen TV.  "You know how he is this time of year, Murdock.  March is not a good month for him. You know how doing the business taxes makes him a little nuts."

 

"Well, if you talk to him, tell him I got the aircraft carrier poster." 

 

Hannibal couldn't help but smile at the excitement in the pilot's voice.  "I will be sure to tell him."

 

"See ya' later, Colonel."

 

"See ya', Murdock."  He hung up the phone and stared at the muted ball game for a few minutes, his mind awash with thoughts. 

 

He was thinking of Murdock in the VA. This was an active time of the year for the patients.  A new year always brought new activities from the staff.  Murdock had been talking about art classes and therapy with paints and clay.  They were also doing some nature walks and field trips that were scheduled for before the summer heat set in.

 

Hannibal was also thinking of his sergeant. BA had traveled to Las Vegas to attend an auto after-market accessory seminar -- basically a five-day trip to learn about the latest gadgets to stick in a car.  It was the most excited he'd seen the big man in ages.  BA's call each night was a whirlwind of information about headers and cams and blowers and valve jobs. Despite his worry of one of his men being off on his own, he was happy that BA had a hobby he loved, even if it meant having his ear bent about auto parts.

 

That left him thinking about the last member of his team.  Face.  And the delicate question – should he or shouldn't he?  This was March and the flurry of tax season was upon them.  Not that it usually effected the actions of the team, but it did effect the actions of one member. 

 

Face did the tax returns.  And each year they got more and more complex because the team kept taking on clients who made them partners in their businesses.  And the one thing Face was not going to take a chance on was that they would get their pardons, only to be put in jail for tax evasion. So he was even more meticulous in his number crunching than ever.  He gathered information and calculated and did all the things he should do. 

 

After a long, drawn-out discussion, they had named their business "Paladin Enterprises."  Wanting to keep things low-key, the other team members had refused to go along with Smith's idea to simply name it "The A-Team." But in the end, the only thing that had persuaded the Colonel was that many of the clients who would be sending them checks might end up in trouble with the military for aiding and abetting. Smith had finally relented and the corporation was born.  Unfortunately, that meant corporate tax returns and all the other paperwork that went with it.

 

Although usually an affable person, this was the time of the year when Face could be counted on to be shortsighted and short-tempered. Gathering the financial bits of their lives together, putting it on paper, and mailing it to the same government that was chasing them made him irritable.  Face had developed a very complex system of private mailboxes to insure that the returns weren't traced back to a physical address, but at the same time, they stayed within the letter of the law.

 

They had never yet been audited.  Although Hannibal wouldn't put it past the military to try to have them audited, just to get one of them to show up, as of yet, no one in the military had gotten the IRS to capitulate.  If they'd even thought of it.

 

Instead, Face took himself off where he could spread out all the records of income and expenses for the year. He made phone calls to their business partners and worked his magic, getting all the records together for the team's business and then filing their own personal taxes.

 

Face liked to hole up and spread out, and work and worry the numbers without interruption, but left to his own devises, he was likely to get so busy he'd barely remember to eat.  Not that the Lieutenant ever came out of his cave starving to death.  He'd eat take-out and drink old coffee until he was again ready to face the world. 

 

But this was where Hannibal's problem lay. Every year, he mentally weighed his options of leaving Face alone to get his work done, with his desire to make sure his partner was happy and healthy.

 

And every year, he left Face alone until the lieutenant emerged blurry eyed and unshaven, but in much better spirits.  He would request their signatures and be off to the post office.  This would usually be followed with a day or two of indulgent nights on the town, dining in fine restaurants and dancing until late in the evening.

 

But Hannibal didn't want to wait until that unspecified day came.  He clicked off the television and dug out a battered phone book.  After placing a few calls, he pulled out a small bag and made quick work of packing a few things, then grabbed his keys.

After making sure his apartment was secure, he headed out.

 

Destination: 18022 Highfield Circle, Canoga Park.

 

@@@

 

18022 Highfield was a pretty little two-story house on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Canoga Park, California. Well, the street was quiet now - now that the drug runners at the end of the block had been locked up for 15 to 20 years, and now that the neighborhood watch had been formally disbanded, which prevented Joe Skrylow from driving his Urban Assault Vehicle down the street at 08:30. 

 

It was just another quiet neighborhood in another sleepy community.  The house was pretty to look at from the outside, and as Hannibal pulled into the driveway, he admired the simple lawn, edged with evergreen bushes. Window boxes overflowed with pansies and other flowers he couldn't identify. Everything was neat and tidy.  Someone had mowed recently. Knowing Face, there was a landscaper keeping the grounds up. 

 

He parked his car on the right side of the drive and got out.  He stepped up onto the bumper so that he could peer into the garage through the tiny windows at the top of the garage door.  There, parked beside cans of paint and other remodeling supplies and numerous boxes was the white Corvette. 

 

He jumped down from the bumper, and found himself face to face with an octogenarian woman holding a broom like a baseball bat. "Hi," he grinned.

 

"Don't you "Hi" me – what do you think you're doing?"

 

Hannibal stuttered for a moment, his attention diverted by a second grandma approaching from the yard next door, armed with a hose with a spray attachment.  He held up his hands in surrender. "I live here," Hannibal attempted to explain.

 

"You don't live here! We know the boy that lives here, and you aren't him."

 

"Folks that live in their houses don't usually come in by way of the garage," the other one pointed out, using the business end of the hose to make her point.

 

"Just knock on the door, ma'am. Really, I do live here. I just haven't been here in a while." Hannibal took a step forward and was met with the broom rising higher.

 

The two women eyed him suspiciously, neither moving a step closer to the door.

 

"The boy that lives here," Hannibal had to smile.  There was no way that Face would let anyone except two tiny old ladies call him 'boy'.  "He's about my height, blond, blue eyes."

 

The hose lady shook her head. "You could be one of those stalker fellas. I think you should get back in your car and go back where you came from."

 

"Face!" Hannibal yelled, and was threatened by the broom again. "Face!" He shouted again. This time, he was rewarded by the sound of the front door opening.  Just seconds later, the person in question came into view.

 

Face didn't bother hiding either his surprise or amusement at the situation. Standing before him was Lt. Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, the man who had succeeded in avoiding capture by police, military and various hoodlums, being held captive by two ladies with gardening tools. "What's going on here?" Face attempted to be forceful, but laughter colored his voice.

 

"This man," distaste colored the hose lady's voice, "says he lives here."

 

Face raised one eyebrow and shifted to lean against the stucco wall of the garage.  "He does, does he?"

 

"Face," Hannibal threatened.

 

Face laughed out loud and moved behind the wizened woman with the broom.  "Daisy." Face gently took hold of the weapon and then gave it back to her.  "I do know this man." His lips twitched in amusement again. "And although it's a stretch to say he lives here, I suppose it's as much his house as mine." Face watched as the other woman lowered her hose.  "Thank you, Iris, for looking out for me."

 

"Well, you can't be too careful anymore," Iris replied firmly.  "Last time, we durn near got the whole neighborhood shot up, cuz we let those undesirables in here."

 

"You can trust me," Face grinned outright. "He's one of the desirables."

 

"Thank you." Hannibal finally felt comfortable enough to step away from the car. "And ladies, thank you, for looking out for the boy."  He was gratified to see a little of the amusement leave the younger man's face.

 

After some quick introductions, the two sisters went back to their house and Face helped Hannibal unload the car.  Besides his one duffel bag, there were three heavy white bags with the words "Salvatore's" emblazoned on the side and a brown grocery bag. Together, they carried everything into the house and set the bags on the kitchen counter.

 

"What have you got here?" Face asked as he dug into the bags. First came out a large Styrofoam bowl with a mixed salad.  Next was a loaf of still warm French bread wrapped in aluminum foil. At the bottom of the bag was a large foil container with a cardboard lid that held an aromatic dish of lasagna.  Face carefully laid each item on the counter. The second bag contained two appetizers, one, stuffed mushrooms, the other, garlic shrimp, as well as a decadent looking chocolate mousse. The third bag had silverware, napkins and a tablecloth.  "What is all this?"

 

Hannibal had been looking the room over as Face emptied the bag.  The living room and kitchen were in the process of being repaired.  Spackle marked the places where bullet holes had once been.  Most of the furniture was still covered with drop cloths.  The living room floor and coffee table were littered with piles of papers.  A calculator sat on the coffee table, a long tape rolling out along the floor like some giant sleeping snake.  A small brass trashcan next to the coffee table was filled with crinkled paper and empty envelopes.  Forcing himself back into the present, he turned his attention to Face's question.  "I brought dinner."

 

Face had spread the contents out along the white faux marble counter.  "I can see that. How many people are joining us?"

 

Hannibal's warm laugh filled the air.  "Just you and me, kiddo." He watched as Face's eyes flicked to the stacks of paper in the living room and decided to head off any dissention.  "You've got to eat. I've got to eat. I just didn't see any reason why we couldn't eat together." Indecision flashed across the younger man's features, but then a smile broke out, lighting his whole face. Hannibal suddenly realized just how much he'd missed that smile in the last week that Face had been holed up here. 

 

Face moved to the dining room table and pulled off the drop cloth. "I'll see if I can find something to wipe this down."

 

Hannibal moved to the last unopened grocery bag and pulled out a bottle of Merlot, and using the corkscrew on his Swiss army knife, removed the cork. They made short work of setting the table.  Hannibal moved around the house, closing the curtains and dimming the lights.  It was only six thirty and it would still be light out for hours, but he was attempting to change the mood.

 

And watching as Face visibly relaxed in his chair, he knew he'd been successful.  This was a side of his second-in-command rarely seen by the public.  A side Hannibal himself cherished when in its presence. 

 

A dark brown beard with a reddish tint, graced the normally clean-shaven features, a startling contrast to the younger man's sun bleached blond hair.  His blue eyes seemed almost stormy, as if matching the dark gray Loyola-Marymount sweatshirt. The overworked look Hannibal had seen when he first arrived, had faded by the time the salads were finished and was gone completely by the time the lasagna was served.

 

Face pushed his plate away and picked up his wineglass.  "That was a wonderful meal."

 

With a stab of his fork Hannibal caught the last of the garlic shrimp. "Want it?"

 

"No, I couldn't eat another bite."  Face pulled at the waistband of his jeans. 

 

"But I brought mousse." 

 

"I didn't save room," Face groaned. 

 

Hannibal stood and extended his hand for his partner's plate.  "We'll save it for later then."

 

"Thank heaven. I can't remember the last time I ate so much."  He shoved his chair back, and drained his wineglass.  They made just as quick work cleaning up as they had in setting up, before moving into the living room.

 

There was a gas fireplace in one corner and Hannibal used the key to turn it on.

 

"There's no TV hookup," Face said, as he flopped on the couch, the top button of his jeans undone.

 

"Don't need it." Hannibal flipped on the stereo to a classical radio station and sat down at the other end of the couch.  It was a subtle ploy, but one that usually worked.  He needed to let Face come to him in his own time. He picked up a financial statement, flipping through the pages without really reading it.  It was from the Lonestar Cab Company. The only thing Hannibal understood was that there was a profit at the bottom of the income statement. "So, how we doing with these guys?" He turned the cover so that Face could read it.

 

"They're doing good. And they pay on time.  Ten percent doesn't seem like a lot, I know, but when you get into ten percent of 28 companies and 15 percent of nine more and twenty percent of five others, it starts to add up."  Face eyed the coffee table full of papers, but he didn't want to start back in. Instead, he toed off his deck shoes and pulled his legs up onto the brown-striped couch.  One foot rested against Hannibal's leg.

 

Hannibal put down the plastic-covered report and picked up a spreadsheet. With his free hand, he began to rub the sock-covered toes of Face's foot. Columns of numbers were listed in pencil down and across, some of them erased more than once. "You're not cooking the books, are you kid?" Hannibal grinned as he read the numbers.

 

"No, just changing some investments around. I can't believe where interest rates are right now. I've locked some of our capital up in long-term CD's.  Moved some money into utilities and stuff. We gotta keep diversified."

 

Hannibal's eyes narrowed as he studied the numbers.  They had a large amount of working capital.  In their business, they needed to have ready access to cash.  He was amused at their inventory sheet, where all the descriptions were technically correct, but intentionally misleading. Most of their armaments were listed under "military surplus." 

 

He casually studied the list of investments. Face had never kept anything secret, and yet, none of them really paid much attention.  It was a fact that any of them could be dead the next day, and as long as he had a roof over his head and food in his belly, Hannibal didn't think much about tomorrow.  But from what he could see, Face was indeed thinking of tomorrow.  Not only his own, but all of their futures, were laid out on long green spreadsheets in tiny, precise numbers. 

 

"What's this?"  Hannibal turned the sheet, but Face was forced to move down the length of the couch to read the entry, which simply said "Apple."

 

"Stock," Face replied and settled in next to his partner.

 

"We're in the apple business?  I remember the watermelon farm, and the natural soda factory and I think there's even a beer garden.  When did we go into the apple business?"

 

Face chuckled. It was a nice sound and Hannibal found himself smiling with him.  "Not 'apples,' Apple. It's a computer company."

 

Hannibal frowned.  "I know BA swears by this stuff and I've seen you do some things with those, but you don't really think anything will come of them do you?"

 

"Are you kidding?" Face grinned. "In five years, people will have computers in their homes. Some folks have them now."

 

"Wanna bet? I'll bet you," Hannibal paused and thought the idea over, "a trip to Hawaii that this is a flash in the pan."

 

Face stuck out his hand without hesitation. "I'll bet a trip to Greece that it isn't. Five years and I'll even have you working with a computer."

 

Hannibal shook on the deal. "That'll be the day!"  He leaned over and sealed the contract with a kiss.  It started off as a casual thing, but his younger partner didn't let it go at that.

 

After they broke apart, Face stayed where he was, his head nestled under Hannibal's chin. He let out a small groan, and pushed at the papers on the coffee table with his foot. "I have so much work to do."

 

"It'll be there tomorrow," Hannibal said, not wanting to let go of the warm bundle in his arms.

 

"Sonny!" There was a sudden banging at the front door. "Sonny, come help Matilida."

 

Face sat back with a grin. "You take care of that, okay?"

 

Hannibal frowned, but got to his feet and hustled to the door. "Miss Daisy? What's the problem?"

 

"It's Matilida. You have to help her."

It was an hour before he got back, frazzled and out of sorts. It had taken him a good ten minutes with his sleeve being tugged, before he learned that  "Matilida" was a cat. Armed with a can of tuna, he got the wayward feline down from the cherry tree and carried her back into Daisy's house.  Then he was plied with tea and cookies, and asked a dozen questions, not only about himself, but also about "that nice boy that lives next door."

 

By the time he got back to "the nice boy that lives next door," his partner was hard at work at the coffee table again.

 

Biting his lower lip, he watched silently as Face ripped open another envelope and scanned the contents.  Face had a mechanical pencil in his hand and another tucked behind one ear. Deciding to let him work for the moment, Hannibal made a fresh pot of coffee before leaning on the breakfast bar and crossing his arms over his chest. "You ready for dessert?"

 

"Huh?"

 

"Dessert. Are you ready for dessert?"

 

Face swiveled in his place, sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, and blinked back at Hannibal as if not understanding the language. "What?"

 

"Chocolate mousse," Hannibal said slowly.  He considered that maybe he should just leave his partner alone to work his numerical magic, but he decided to try one last time.  "How about a quick break."

 

Face gave a slow roll of his shoulder and then flashed a blinding smile. "I shouldn't, but I'd love it."

 

Hannibal moved back into the kitchen and poured two mugs of coffee.  He was just about to use a plastic fork to cut the mousse cake when there was a meaty banging on the front door.

 

"Hey- Ateam!"

 

The Colonel was reaching for his 9mm before the knocking stopped. 

 

"Hey, Ateam, you in there?"

 

Face shook his head and made a sweeping gesture toward the door. "Oh, feel free."

 

With a puzzled look, Hannibal moved swiftly over the plush carpet and looked out the peephole.  "Oh!"

 

" 'Oh' is right," Face said with a grin. 

 

Hannibal pulled the door open, and there before him stood Joe Skrylow, ex-president for life of the Neighborhood Watch.

 

"Hey, Ateam, how ya' doin'?"

 

"Great, Joe. How are you?" 

 

"Good, good. You know, not the president of the Watch. We disbanded, don't you know.  Don't know why, and I still think it was a mistake, but folks stopped coming to the meetings. Don't know why, served those little wieners and everything, but hey, what can you do?"

 

"I don't know, Joe."

 

"Hey," Joe reached in with a meaty paw and snagged Hannibal shirtsleeve. "Ya gotta come see this."  And before he knew what was happening, Hannibal found himself swept up in the pudgy man's enthusiasm and propelled across the street.

 

The Colonel got a quick and unmemorable tour of the urban commando's home, filled with more things in camo material than he'd ever dreamed of, and then was quickly ushered out to the garage. 

 

"Can you fix it?"  Joe pleaded standing next to his little mini-tank.

 

"Sorry, Joe. BA's the mechanic."

 

Joe looked down on his urban assault vehicle as if his best friend had died.

 

"But she's such a sweet machine. Can't figure out why she won't start. What do you think? Think it's the battery or the wiring?"

 

"Joe, I don't know." Hannibal patted him on the shoulder and looked out the open door to the house across the street. "I'll ask BA to give it the once over next time he's here."  Hannibal also made a mental note to warn BA to be sure he had enough time and maybe a set of earplugs.

 

Hannibal had heard fast-talking before - living with Face and Murdock, one got to be a master at deciphering double talk - but Joe was in a class by himself.  It wasn't that he was fast, or that he was a man of quick wit, but he didn't stop.  The Colonel found himself both tired and amused by the way the man could continue to talk without ever seeming to take a breath. 

 

Before he could squeeze a word in edgewise, Hannibal found himself out in the backyard of the nondescript suburban home.  Joe had his very own bomb shelter out there, and Hannibal was honored with a tour.

 

"What do you think? Pretty nifty, don't you think?  It's the only one for miles around."

 

Hannibal looked at the cinderblock room. It was laid out with a small kitchen and a chemical toilet.  Along one wall, canned and boxed food was stacked on shelves over seven feet high.  A small overhead vent blew fresh air into the tiny room.

 

"What's that?"

 

"It brings fresh air in."

"But you're down here, because up there, the air is no good, right?"

 

"Right. Once the big bomb goes off, it won't be fit to live on the surface." Joe patted the block wall with great pride.

 

"But you're bringing that air down here." Hannibal pointed at the fresh air vent.

 

"Oh."  Joe stared up at his air vent as if never having seen it before.

 

"Look, Joe, I know you'll work it out. I've really got to run. See ya'." Hannibal beat a hasty retreat up the narrow ladder and out into the yard. 

 

It had started to rain, a fine mist that coated everything and left the night feeling dark and dreary, which was beginning to match his mood.

 

He made his way across the street, only occasionally noticing the large drops as they came off the power lines.  A light was shining in the dining room and one in the hall, but the front room was dark.  The papers were stacked in neat piles, the calculator turned off, and the tape picked up and stuffed in the overflowing trashcan.

 

With a sigh, Hannibal locked the doors and made a quick sweep of the downstairs.  The kitchen had been straightened up and the dessert was back in the refrigerator.  Turning out the dining room light, he moved up to the second floor.

 

The windows in the front bedroom were still bare, the curtains having come down during the remodel.  Hannibal flipped off the hall light and moved to the master bedroom.

The light was off in the room, but the bathroom light was on, making it easy enough to maneuver around the unfamiliar room.  Face's jeans and sweatshirt were piled on the floor right next to the bed. 

 

Hannibal hung his jacket on the chair, and quietly folded his slacks and shirt, and laid them on the seat.  He set his shoes under the chair, and as quietly as possible, he slid under the covers. The sheets were cool and he reveled in the luxury of stretching out.  The bed was a California King and he delighted in how close it felt to his own bed.

 

He opened his eyes and realized he'd left the bathroom light on. Suppressing the urge to swear, he got up and moved around the bed, and turned off the light.  With his hands outstretched in the dark, Hannibal moved back to his side of the bed and got under the covers again.

 

In just minutes, his partner murmured and rolled over, moving closer and tossing an arm over the Colonel's chest. The scent of Face's hair teased him and he planted a kiss on the soft strands. 

 

There was something about sleeping with your partner that provided a deeper, more restful sleep. Maybe it was something about having someone else there in case of trouble. Maybe it was just the knowledge that you weren't alone. 

 

Sometimes, Hannibal felt it had something to do with the fact that he had his own personal bed warmer.  Templeton Peck generated a lot of heat, internally and externally.

But at some time during the night, Hannibal realized the other side of the bed had grown cold.  The hall light was on, and if he strained his ears, he could hear the whir and click of the calculator. 

 

Hannibal took a few minutes to rearrange the covers and then cradled his head in his hands.  Maybe this had been a mistake. Apparently, there was a good reason Face locked himself away at this time of the year.  Face seemed to be worrying over the paperwork to the exclusion of everything else, and feeling a tiny pang of jealousy, Hannibal mentally added, 'everyone' else.

 

Sometime during his next few minutes of mental ramblings, he drifted off to sleep.

 

@@@ 


He woke again as the first hints of morning sun squeezed through the center crack in the curtain.  His partner was in bed again, softly snoring.

 

Hannibal got out of bed and gave a good stretch.  Face seemed to be deep in sleep, on his stomach and claiming more than half the bed.  The Colonel's movements didn't cause the younger man to even stir.  After dressing and cleaning up, he made his way downstairs and put on a pot of coffee.  The cupboards were bare, except for the remnants of last night's dinner. Frowning, he crossed his arms over his chest and considered his options.  Three minutes later, he was out the door and down the driveway.

 

@@@

 

The crackle and pop of a walkie-talkie was a sound that tended to cut through all others in a busy city and go directly to Hannibal's heart.  He stood at the checkout counter of Ralph's supermarket and took a deep breath to lower his blood pressure.  He tried to make the look over his shoulder as casual as possible, and was relieved to see a pair of firemen in matching dark blue uniforms.

 

The dark haired one was expounding the importance of the correct amount of onions and Worcestershire sauce made all the difference in award winning chili.  The blond man seemed blandly uninterested, as if he'd heard it all before - and from the speed of his companion's conversation, maybe more than once.

 

Turning back to the cashier, Hannibal paid for his groceries and headed out to the parking lot. The sun was just rising over the inversion layer, creating a reverse sunset.  Purples, pinks, and yellow clouds were swiftly burning off into the powder blue sky.  A soft breeze was stirring from the west.

 

Flipping on the radio, he listened to the morning news, colored by the popular commentators, Bob and Ray, as they inflicted their listening audience with their brand of humor. On the seat beside him, he had a bag of fresh croissants and fruits that he'd decided to surprise his partner with.  The biggest surprise would probably be that it wasn't a breakfast of steak and eggs.

 

Hannibal was driving along Sepulveda Boulevard with an 'all's right with the world' attitude.  The commuter traffic was light and most of it was going in the opposite direction, headed for either the 101 or the 405 freeways. The only thing marring his morning drive was the mud green sedan driving too slow, just two cars in front of him.

 

"Doesn't he realize that just because it says 35 miles an hour – that's just a suggestion?" Hannibal pushed the next button on the radio, tuning in an easy rock station, and came in at almost the beginning of Toto's "Africa."  He hummed along to the music, as he pulled into the left-hand turn lane.

 

Looking up, he realized he was directly behind the mud green sedan.  There was another similar one ahead of it and, checking his rearview mirror, he saw there were at least two more behind him. The light changed, and by the time he had followed the two cars around three corners, he knew for sure just where they were headed.

 

Somehow, they'd gotten wind of where Face was – and the military was on the way to arrest him. Them, if he'd been there. Donna Summer's tune, "She works hard for the money," actually got his blood pumping, and with a grin, he dialed the operator on his mobile phone.

 

"Operator, can you connect me with Daisy Moore in Canoga Park, thank you." He waited through the end of the song as "Come on, Eileen" came on. He'd have reached over and changed it, but he didn't have a free hand.  He was doing his best to pass the military sedans, and at the same time, not attract their attention.  Finally a voice on the other end of the phone answered. "Daisy, good morning, I'm sorry to call so early. This is John Smith."

 

"From next door?"

"Yes, but I'm calling from my car. Could you do me a big favor and go next door and tell Face, uhm, Templeton, that I'll be there in about two minutes to pick him up, and he needs to hurry."

 

There was a noise of dismay on the line, but she seemed to agree. "I've told that boy before, he needs to get a phone. Who doesn't have a phone in this day and age?"

 

"I have no idea." Ending the call, Hannibal couldn't help but look over as he passed the lead car.   Without thinking, he tossed off a jaunty salute and grinned at the startled face of Captain Franklin Crane.  Judging by Crane's reaction, Hannibal was really glad that looks couldn't kill.

 

As Hannibal leaned forward to hang up the mobile phone, he also stomped on the accelerator.  The supercharged V8 engine of his '81 Lincoln Continental surged forward, quickly lengthening the distance between himself and the standard military sedans.

 

The only problem was that the military knew where they were going and Hannibal had to get there first.  With a left-hand power slide around one corner and a right-hand slide around the next, he managed to put almost four car lengths between his and Decker's cars. 

 

The last turn took him down the cul-de-sac that was Highfield Circle. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Face standing at the end of the driveway, a perplexed look on his face and a large manila envelope under his arm.  He was immaculately dressed in blue jeans, a pale blue polo shirt, cowboy boots and his black leather jacket. Face had even found the time to shave, so Hannibal suspected Daisy hadn't woke him up.

 

After flipping a fast U-turn around the edge of the street, Hannibal slowed alongside his second-in-command. "Get in!"

 

"What about my car?" Face moved the envelope from one hand to the other and reached for the handle.

 

"I'd hustle if I was you," Hannibal warned, as Face settled in the car. He had barely reached to pull the door shut when Hannibal stomped on the gas. 

 

Two green sedans rounded the corner as Hannibal dropped the automatic into second gear and headed straight down the middle of the two lead cars in a desperate game of chicken.

 

Face dropped the envelope on the seat and grabbed for the dashboard.

 

The cars veered aside and Hannibal cut the corner a little short as he slid around it, two wheels going over the curb.  There was a screech of brakes as the military cars attempted to change direction and avoid hitting the Lincoln and each other. 

 

Hannibal flicked a glance in his rearview mirror and saw the mad scramble as the sedans attempted to follow. 

 

"How did this happen?" Face asked, as he reached under the front seat to see if there was a weapon.

 

"Haven't the foggiest," Hannibal answered as he jerked the wheel to the right and went around a FedEx truck and up onto the sidewalk. Seconds later, he was back on the street.  He moved from one side of the road to the other and then powered around another corner, taking the light while it was still yellow.  A concert of horns sounded behind them as the military crossed the intersection on the red. 

 

There was no weapon under the seat and Face hazarded a glance at his commander.

 

"It's in the trunk." Hannibal shrugged one shoulder and grinned at his companion.

 

"Fat lot of good that does me." Face pushed the little silver button on the glove box.

 

"There isn't a weapon in there, either."

 

"I'm looking for a pen." Not finding one, Face pushed the lid shut and then dug between the seats until he came up with a blue ballpoint. Shifting on the seat he opened the envelope and began to sort through it. Balancing some forms on his knee, he signed as best he could as they crossed into oncoming traffic and then back again. "I need a post office."

 

Hannibal glanced up at the rearview mirror again. "I'm a little busy at the moment."

 

"I just need a post box, I have stamps."

 

"Can it wait?" Hannibal looked for a street sign to check which street they were on.  Once again sure of his bearings, he turned left and headed for the 118 freeway.  He was hoping to lose his pursuers in morning rush hour traffic.

 

"As long as it's in today's outgoing mail. I'd hate to pay a late filing fee."

 

"Don't we have until April 15th?" Hannibal's eyes were glued to the road.

 

"For our personals, yes, but corporate returns are due on March 15th."

 

Hannibal floored the gas pedal as he hit the on-ramp, entering the flow of traffic at over sixty miles per hour.

 

"How'd we do this year?"

 

Face checked to be sure there were enough stamps on all the envelopes.  "If I explained it, would you understand – or care?"

 

"No." Hannibal drifted across three lanes of traffic and settled into the fast lane, where traffic was speeding along at a whopping 42 miles per hour.  The lead green sedan was almost half a mile back.

 

"Let's just say, we're making a profit." Face shifted in the seat and looked out the back window. He grabbed the seat back as Hannibal cut off a BMW in the number two lane and powered up three more car lengths. "Do you think we have time to track down BA, or should I just forge his signature so we can drop these in the mail?"

 

"Forge away. BA doesn't care."

 

Face turned back to the stack of papers in his lap and signed BA's name. "And yours?"

 

"Am I getting a refund?" Hannibal jerked the wheel and was back in the fast lane. The driver of the bright red Lamborghini hit the horn, but didn't try to keep up.  "I think I know that guy," Hannibal remarked in passing. "I think he's a director."

 

Face looked back out the rear window, but they were too far ahead to see the driver clearly.  "No, you're not getting a refund. Where would they mail it? You have to pay $53.00."

 

"That's not too bad."

 

"You only have to pay eight dollars to the State of California. Pretty good tax planning, if you ask me. Of course, I need to put some money in your IRA before April 15."

 

Hannibal did a four-lane drift and interchanged from the 118 to the 405. Horns were honking and there were a few tire squeals behind them. After the risky maneuver, he slowed the Lincoln down to a reasonable speed and tried to blend into traffic. Face was still looking out the rear window. "Any sign of them?"

 

"Not yet."

 

"I'm gonna get off the freeway." Hannibal stayed in the slow lane, still checking his rearview for any flash of military green.

 

"What about my car?"

 

"We'll have to worry about that later."

 

"Did they follow you?" Face looked over at Hannibal as the car slowed to the bottom of the on ramp and stopped at the light.

 

"No, they didn't follow me. I was behind them. They knew where they were going." The sound of the right turn indicator was the only noise in the car.

 

"I don't think Iris and Daisy would turn me in," Face finally said.

 

The light changed and Hannibal moved smoothly into the flow.  "The only person I had contact with is Joe, but I don't think he'd turn us in either. No, my money's on someone else on the block being on the lookout."

 

"Drat, that means I'm going to have to sell. And I liked that place." Face tapped the ballpoint against his teeth. "Well, the market's up. I'll hire a contractor to finish the repairs. I'm sure we'll at least break even, even if we don't make much of a profit."

 

Hannibal pulled to the side of the road when he saw a mailbox in front of a news and magazine vendor.  Face jumped out and dropped the envelopes in the blue box, scanning the road behind them one last time before getting back in the car.

 

"Seems we lost them."

 

"Well, then, let's go do something fun," Hannibal leered over at Face.

 

"Just what do you have in mind, sir?" Face shook his head as he rolled down the window.

 

"Lunch?" Hannibal hit the turn signal and merged into traffic. 

 

"Lunch? What fun is that? And I haven't even had breakfast yet."

 

"Well, there's croissants and fruit in the bag on the back seat." They both hazarded a glance into the back; the contents of the bag were all over the floor. "We could go to the beach and have fresh oysters and watch the pretty people."

 

Face considered this for a long minute, his hair being ruffled in the warm San Fernando Valley air.  "We can take Topanga all the way over and drive through the canyon."

 

Hannibal smiled, his eyes gleaming as he thought of the fast curves on the tight mountain road.  "Brunch at Sand Castle's, here we come."

 

They made the light and Hannibal stepped on the gas, just a little, smoothly maneuvering through the mid-morning rush hour traffic, while Face reached for the mobile phone to call for reservations.

 

@@@

 

A long walk on the boardwalk had followed a lunch at the high-tone restaurant.  After that, they went to the Cinerama Dome to see an afternoon showing of "Return of the Jedi." Hannibal liked it more than Face did, who felt it horribly unfair that Han Solo should be frozen in that block of metal.  After all, he was really the hero, Face reasoned, firmly stating that Luke whined far too much. From there, they went to Wolfgang Puck's for dinner and socializing, where Hannibal schmoozed with producers and rubbed elbows with directors. 

 

At 2:15 in the morning, it was time to go home.  "I guess my car's at an impound lot somewhere?" Face's tone reflected both his dejection and just how tired he was. 

 

"We could go check if you want," Hannibal offered, as he unlocked the passenger side door.

 

"Would you mind? I know the house in Canoga Park is kind of out of the way to go to before going to your place."

 

"I don't mind." Hannibal watched his partner slide into the car, not quite sure if finding out for certain that the beloved Corvette had been towed was the best way to end the evening.

 

They took Topanga Canyon back over the mountains at a much more sedate pace on the return trip.  At the "Top of Topanga," Hannibal pulled into the now long-empty parking lot and they stared down at the city lights. 

 

Sitting there in the dark, Hannibal tried to determine his companion's mood, weighing the options of whether a romantic gesture would be welcomed or rebuffed.  Just as he stretched his arm across the seat back, Face shifted a little and Hannibal felt a hand land gently on his knee.

 

"I like when we can end a night like this," Face said softly. "Quiet, just the two of us."

 

"Well, I was hoping for a slightly more – energetic end to the evening." Hannibal grinned, but wasn't sure if it could be seen in the darkness, so he let his fingers toy with the long hairs at Face's neck.

 

"Then put this chariot in gear, sir. I'm too old for a tumble in the back seat of your car."

 

With exaggerated speed, the Colonel snapped his arm down from the seat back, threw the car in reverse, and burned rubber down the hill.

 

@@@

 

Less than thirty minutes later, the blue sedan slid into the driveway of the house on Highfield Circle.  Face got out and left the door open as Hannibal turned off the headlights. Climbing up on the bumper, Face peered through the glass scallops at the top of the garage door.  The cement floor reflected the moonlight, showing only a tarp and some oil spots. 

 

From inside the car, Hannibal could see the dejected slump of his partner's shoulders and knew that the car wasn't inside.  Face stayed on the bumper for a long moment before jumping down gracefully.  Hannibal watched him move slowly around the front fender of the car. 

 

With regret, Hannibal could tell that his evening plans were ruined and he mentally kicked himself, knowing that he shouldn't have come here first. Face would feel low about the loss of his car and would then try to cover it up.  The evening was in tatters and Hannibal tried to regroup before Face opened the door and slid into the seat.

 

"So," he started slowly, trying to gauge just how down Face was feeling. "Where to next, kid?"

 

Not answering, Face turned toward the side of the car, making an effort to put on his seat belt.  Hannibal pulled on the headlights, and they both jumped at the sight of their hose-wielding neighbor who seemed to appear out of the darkness.

 

With jerky movements, Face rolled down the window and cleared his throat.  "Good evening, Miss Iris."

 

"Hello, boy.  I was hoping to catch you, but I surely didn't think you'd come by tonight." She bent over a little so she could see in the window. "Hello, Hannibal."

 

"Ma'am." Hannibal shifted so he could see her better, framed by the window.

 

"Those military types were here most of the afternoon. They came back about an hour after you left this morning. What a nuisance." She put her hands on her knees as if she intended to stay and chat awhile.

 

"Well, they might be back a time or two, ma'am, but I don't think they'll be much more bother." Hannibal thought about getting out of the car.  Having a conversation all bent over like this seemed a bit silly.

 

"Ha, bother. It was great fun." Iris continued with a grin.  "And we finally got to find out who the informant was.  That nasty Mrs. Slesselwait at 18028. Busybody!"

 

"One neighbor you forgot to charm, buddy boy." Hannibal teased Face, trying to lighten his mood, but he was rewarded with one of his partner's darkest glares.

 

"Oh, she didn't rat him out. She ratted out you." Iris dipped down a little more, to be sure she was looking straight across at the Colonel.

 

"Me?"

 

"Yup. She had orders to report any car that stayed overnight in the driveway. That would be you."

 

Face snorted out a laugh and turned to grin at his neighbor.  Hannibal wasn't completely sure he was happy with the younger man's change in mood.

 

"Well, that's the end of this car, Hannibal. I'll take BA shopping tomorrow and we'll ditch this one. I'm sure every cop in town has the license plate number now."

 

"I liked this car," Hannibal groaned, with more agony than he felt.  "Can't we just change the plates?"

 

"Nope, we better get rid of it."

 

"Just don't let him get me something small. If I end up with another Corvair, there will be training exercises the likes of which have never been dreamed of before."

 

Iris was watching the two of them with an indulgent smile on her face.  "Well, you could just leave it here.  And take your own car."

 

Face whipped around and pinned her with incredulous eyes. "My car?"

 

"Sure enough." She smiled at him and laid a hand over his fingers where they gripped the doorframe.  "When I saw the military chase you out of here, I knew they'd be back.  Daisy said they wouldn't, but I know their type.  My husband was in the war, you know."

 

Both Hannibal and Face nodded, pretty sure she meant World War I. 

 

She continued on, not waiting for either of them to say anything.  "My son runs a service station over in Van Nuys.  Well, I just had him come over and he got the car started, and it's in my garage right this minute."

 

Face was grinning from ear to ear, and even Hannibal couldn't deny that his spirits were soaring just a bit.

 

"We got Joe Skrylow to gather up all your boxes of stuff and every lick of paper we could find, and it's all in his bomb shelter. 'Bout time that thing was put to good use."

 

That was enough to get both men laughing, and Face took her hand in his and kissed the back of her fingers.  "You, my dear, dear lady, are an angel."

 

"Yes, I know."

 

Hannibal got out of the sedan and looked at the octogenarian across the roof of the car as she stood to meet his gaze. "Madam, you have our deepest thanks."

 

She blushed prettily and her brown eyes sparkled at him in the moonlight. "Well, my son thinks I'm crazy now. Which is good. I think he'll come by more often to check up on me." She laughed with glee at the idea.

 

Face gently pushed open the car door and took her into a hug.  She placed a brown spotted hand on his cheek, very much like she was doting on a favorite grandchild, and he blushed a bit too. 

 

Hannibal watched the scene, and with a slightly evil grin, realized the evening might not be ruined after all. 

 

"So, kid. Do we take your car for a spin or what?"

 

Face looked up at her garage for a minute, as if he could see his precious white Corvette through the door, then turned back to the Colonel.  He flicked his gaze toward the upstairs windows with a raised eyebrow.

 

Hannibal felt his own neck get hot, and suddenly didn't want to have all the neighbors privy to what they might be doing.  And he had no intention of rolling out of bed at some unreasonable hour if Decker and his cronies decided to come back and check on the place.

 

"Get your car, kiddo. We've still got plans for the rest of the evening."

 

Face grinned at him, and then fished in his jacket pocket for the keys, before turning to lay a gentle kiss on the cheek of his car's savior.

 

Iris moved inside, and a minute later, the automatic garage door opener whirred to life and the inside light came on.  Face's car was tucked in amongst boxes and alongside the washer and dryer. 

 

He had to squirm and scoot to get to the door, and there wasn't much room to open it, so he didn't bother, just going in over the frame and sliding behind the wheel.  Seconds later, the engine roared to life and he slid it into reverse, backing down the driveway.

 

Hannibal left his Lincoln parked dead center in the middle of the circle, the keys still in the ignition.  The police would come for it quick enough as it would be considered a hazard, even though everyone in the circle would easily have room to get around it.  With quick practiced movements, he wiped down the car, emptied the trunk, and unplugged the mobile phone.

 

Iris and Daisy were both on the sidewalk when Hannibal dumped the load in his arms into the back seat of the Corvette, and he went over to talk to them.  "I can't thank you enough." He gave them each a hug.

 

"Quite alright, dear. You take good care of our boy." Daisy passed him a large sack. "It's some cookies I made yesterday."

 

"Thank you." Hannibal was again grateful for the way Face seemed to insinuate himself into the lives of other people, even when he didn't seem to know he was doing it.  "Tell Joe we'll be back in a week or so to get the stuff. When we know that everything's cooled off."

 

"We will," they chorused, and Face backed the car right up next to the Colonel, who opened the door and slid into the leather seat. 

 

"Bye," he called, and Face waved a hand out through the T-top.

 

@@@

 

Face loved to drive, but he rarely got to as a team member.  The others told Face he drove like some little old lady and didn't have a flair for driving like a madman.  He was relegated to the back seat, because he drove a car like…. BA had hurled the insult one hot afternoon…. like a commuter.  And tonight he drove, in his usual calm, unobtrusive way, down the 101 freeway, the wind in his face and the moonlight dancing off his hair. 

 

"Pick up the pace a little, will ya', kid. I got plans for the rest of the evening." Hannibal reached for a cigar, knowing he'd never get it lit in the wind and that Face would murder him anyway if he 'stunk up the upholstery'. 

 

"I'm doing the speed limit," Face mock-growled back. 

 

"It's three in the morning, so go a little over the speed limit. Who'll know?"

 

"I'm guessing the only other person on the road, who would probably be a cop," Face shot back with a grin, as he nudged the accelerator down. "Whatcha' in a hurry for? Got some place to be?"

 

Hannibal grinned back and reached over the center console to put his hand on Face's groin, rewarded by a sudden swelling. "Yeah, right here."

 

Face smiled and turned most of his attention back to the road as he pressed the gas a little harder. Maybe he liked tax season after all, if this was the payoff.

 

 

The End

 

@@@

 

By Tee

January 2004

 


A Very Taxing Day by Tee

 

 


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