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THE CHANGELING

THE CHANGELING

Author:  Shadowwalker213

Rating:   PG-13

Disclaimer:  The characters from the series 'A-Team' and any other characters used from television and film belong to their relevant owners and are used here only for pleasure and not for profit. Any similarities with real life characters or situations is unintentional and coincidental.

Summary:  Stockwell at it again? Or somebody worse...

Warnings:  Possible main character death...? Some language and violence.

Notes:  Story starts out during the episode "Firing Line".

Changeling - 1. a person of subnormal intelligence; 2. One who is left or taken in     the place of another, as a child exchanged by fairies or trolls

Chapter 3:  http://my.webmd.com/hw/heart_disease/hw179839.asp

Chapter 15:  http://www.deathonline.net/index.cfm

Chapter 27:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_cryptonym

                   http://bsnorrell.tripod.com/id33.html

Chapter 47-54:   I have taken great liberties with the descriptions of Redondo State Beach so don't hold me to them.

 

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*I believe that sometimes you have to look reality in the eye and deny it. - Garrison Keillor

 

CHAPTER ONE

Randy sat up, stretched. He was cold. He needed to find a thicker blanket. Soon. He stared up at the ceiling. It was really just the top of his box, but he preferred to think of it in terms of his 'house'; therefore he looked at his ceiling. It had rained during the night and there was some seepage. Not too bad. He'd found a large sheet of plastic a couple days before and wrapped it carefully around the large box, for protection. So far it was working pretty well.

He looked around his home. He was pretty proud of it, actually. He’d been really lucky that day, finding the box. From a big freezer. Much better than what he’d had before. He had even made two rooms in it, sorta. An old movie poster divided his 'bedroom' from the front end of the box, the part he called his living room. Sam thought it was dumb, but liked to sit in there with Randy anyway.

Sam was Randy’s best friend. They watched out for each other’s stuff. Took care of each other when they were sick. Shared their food. Sam didn’t have a box like Randy’s, but he wasn’t jealous. He’d helped Randy haul it over here. One day they’d find another, and then Sam would have his own. For now, he had a smaller box coupled with some wood panels, just enough room to curl up in, but Randy had shared the plastic he’d found, so at least Sam stayed dry. Sam spent most of his time with Randy, anyway. They liked it that way.

Well, enough gathering dust. Time to get moving. If he was lucky today, Joey would be working at the deli. Joey always saved him the scraps. Yeh, maybe he'd be lucky today...

*****

Hannibal was the first one awake, as usual. And, as with every morning, when he woke, his first conscious thoughts were of him. Even after all these months, the feeling was just as intense now as it had been the very first day. Shock, anger, sorrow. He’d still been tangled in the cobwebs in his head, after their revival following the ‘executions’, when Stockwell had pulled him to one side and told him. Hannibal made him repeat it.

"We didn’t know about the heart condition. Apparently a hidden defect, which had been getting worse over the years. The drugs Mr. Santana used to fake your deaths were simply too strong under those circumstances."

Hannibal had immediately demanded to see the body, convinced there was a mistake. But there had been no mistake. Hannibal had grasped the hands and felt the face that had been with him for so many years. Cold. Ice cold. Cold and almost hard, like marble covered in a thin sheet of putty. Eyes and mouth slightly open, as if he were just waking up. The life gone; it was like looking at a stranger.

Hannibal went numbly back to his team, and painfully told them. BA started hitting the wall. Just kept hitting it. It took Stockwell’s men to subdue Murdock, his anger and pain directed at Frankie. Frankie himself was in complete shock. He kept mumbling that there was ‘just no way’ those pills could do that. It didn’t matter. Hannibal didn’t want to think about blame, or anger, or anything else for that matter. The only thing he had to hold onto was that the man had died with the hope of real freedom.

The next few weeks were dulled, dream-like. They took care of business, moved into Stockwell’s accommodations, and did what they were told. Those had been busy days, weeks. Which was just as well. Didn’t give them a chance to dip too deeply in self-pity or sorrow. Only at night, and then he could hear not just one softly letting go of their grief. Himself among them. Murdock had eventually gotten over his anger at Frankie, which was good, considering Frankie had been moved in as part of the team. There really was no way the kid could have known. None of them had had any idea that their friend was anything other than 100% healthy. Hannibal doubted if he knew himself.

The frenetic days had slowed now, and Hannibal awoke first every morning, and, as with every other morning, his first thoughts were of Face.

*****

Randy and Sam had been together for a long time. They’d met at the VA hospital. Randy couldn’t remember not being there. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He remembered Nam. Parts of it. The bad parts. But it seemed that one day he was over there, the next he was at the VA. And that’s where he’d stayed. That’s where Sam had met him. ‘Made his acquaintance’, was how Sam put it.

Sam was smart. Especially about the VA. He knew how to do things, get things. Even the nurses; Randy thought it was funny, the way they swarmed around him. A real lady killer. He told Randy he was smart, too, in his own way. He was just ‘different’. Randy liked that better than what the doctors said. They told him he was ‘trainable’, like a dog. Randy preferred being ‘different’.

Randy didn’t know why Sam was there. Sam would never say. ‘Didn’t matter.’ He wouldn’t tell Randy how long he’d been there, either. Randy just knew that that first day, when Randy understood where he was and that he wasn’t in-country any more, Sam had shown up. And he’d never left him. Even when they sent Randy to a halfway house, and told him he would be taught a trade, Sam went right along with him. And when Randy got beat up by one of the other residents, Sam gathered their few belongings and they left. Randy never did learn a trade.

They had tried to stay near the VA. Randy was supposed to go there every week and pick up his pills. He didn’t like taking them, but Sam said he had to or he would get really sick. So Sam made sure they went there every week, and he made sure Randy took the pills every day. Sam couldn't tell them what they were for. Said it was something about the way Randy thought about things. Didn't matter. Sam said he should take them, so he did.

Not that Randy didn't do things for Sam, too. Like the plastic for his house. And if Joey was working the deli, Sam always got some of that, too. And, as Sam had said, Randy was smart in his own way. He knew how to get things they needed, too. He made friends with people and then they'd give him things. It was easy. All he had to do was smile.

*****

Hannibal had pulled the death certificate out of the drawer for what must have been the millionth time. Murdock watched him, frowning deeply.

"Why do you keep doing that, Hannibal? It's not going to change anything."

"I know, Murdock. But I just can't...there's something wrong. All the times Face was in a hospital, all the times Maggie checked him over - and nobody noticed anything? There's something wrong."

"Well, if it was like Stockwell said, it wasn't noticeable unless you were looking for it. And with the drug..." Murdock stopped. It was still almost impossible to think about, killing his best friend trying to save him.

"Frankie swore the drug wasn't that powerful." He sat staring at the document for a long time. "I'm going to send this to Maggie."

Murdock stared. "You can't do that, Hannibal! If Stockwell finds out..."

"He won't find out. He can't keep his eye on us 24-7, especially when we're out on one of his little jobs."

"But Maggie thinks you're dead, Hannibal. How can a dead guy send her a death certificate for another dead person? Especially when the death certificate doesn't match the way he was supposed to have died? And then saying that the death certificate might be wrong in either case..." Murdock stopped, confusing himself.

"I'll have to let her in on the secret, Murdock. Tell her everything. I need her to get the autopsy report. And not the one that Stockwell handed out."

"You really think Stockwell pulled something?" There was a hint of anger in Murdock's voice. If he thought Stockwell had anything to do with Face's death...

"I just know that something isn't right about the whole damn thing. And I need Maggie to find out what it is."

 

CHAPTER TWO

"They're working out quite well, aren't they?"

General Stockwell sat at his desk, continued to write without answering. Carla sighed. After all these years, she should be used to this cold contempt with which Stockwell treated everyone around him. She knew he would answer her; he would just take his own time to do it.

He signed his name with a determined slash, tossed down the pen, leaned back in his chair.

"Yes, they seem to be. I was concerned at first, after Peck, but they're well-trained soldiers. They'll follow orders. In their own fashion, of course, but they will follow them. That's what matters, in the end."

"Sir, about Peck..."

"That's a closed subject now, Carla. He's out of our hands."

Carla sighed again. "Not technically, sir. I should be kept up to date. I can't do my job if I'm not privy to all the information. Eventually..."

" 'Eventually' is not a certainty, Carla. We don't know what's going to happen. Neither do they. That," he stated almost condescendingly, "is why it's called an experiment."

"I still think they should have used Santana. He wasn't even a member of the team."

"They didn't use Santana because we needed him. He knows explosives. We kept the ones that were necessary. The only one who was superfluous for our requirements was Peck. And he happened to be exactly what they were looking for. The decision was obvious. And now," he pointed out, "Santana is a member of the team."

"Yessir. Will I get the updates?" Carla was subordinate only to a point. She had a job to do.

It was Stockwell's turn to sigh. "Very well, Carla. On the off chance he's useful to us in the future, I'll make sure you are kept in the loop. Satisfied?"

"Yessir. Quite." Carla moved out of the office, a small smile on her face.

*****

It stayed cold that day. Neither he nor Sam had really warm jackets. They'd gone to the Church "closet", as they called it, but nothing there yet. The woman working there said donations weren't coming in yet. Another week. Closer to Thanksgiving. That's when donations really took off.

They wandered around for a bit. Randy wanted to go to Loring Park. It probably wasn't the greatest place for two straight men to walk around together, but Randy didn't care. It was a nice park. It was the farthest place from the VA they usually went. Just over two hours to walk there, which wasn't bad considering all the side trips they usually made on the way. Sam kept telling Randy he needed to focus more on what he was doing, not 'gallivant around' so much. Randy just laughed. What fun was taking a walk if you couldn't check out everything along the way?

Sam had been quiet most of the day. That wasn't like him. Finally Randy asked him about it.

"Randy, we can't stay here any more. It's getting too cold. If we stay, it'll mean using the shelters every night, if there's room. If there isn't room..." Sam shivered just thinking about it. "We have to move further south, or west."

Randy stared at Sam, open-mouthed. "Move? But Sam, I just got my house all set up. And we were gonna find you a new one, too, remember? We'd be real neighbors then. Like real people. And it'll be snowing soon, Sam. We gotta see the snow!"

Sam sighed. He knew Randy didn't cope well with change. Moving out of the VA, then out of that half-way house - both had shaken Randy badly. One reason Sam made sure he kept taking those pills. He didn't like it, but he knew it was the only thing holding the man together now. And things had been working out. Sam had left it to Randy to decide what they should do after leaving the half-way house. It hadn't been the greatest decision, but Randy had coped. He'd adapted. That's what mattered.

Sam had known they would have to leave Minneapolis soon, but the cold had moved in earlier than expected. He really hadn't had the chance to prepare Randy properly for this next move. It was going to be difficult now. Randy had put down roots, such as they were. That was important to him. But Sam couldn't in all good conscience stay here with him. The shelters were always overcrowded when the cold weather set in. Sometimes there wasn't enough room for everyone, period. And then they'd start finding frozen bodies in the mornings. There was just no way Sam would take that kind of chance with Randy. He was too important.

"We can't wait for the snow to come, Randy. We've talked about this before, remember?" They hadn't, but Randy would now think they had. He wouldn't want to admit to forgetting it. It wasn't nice, but it made things easier. That was the secret to dealing with Randy. Knowing how to con him into doing things he didn't want to do.

He watched Randy as he tried to remember this so-called conversation. Sometimes Sam felt badly, lying to him. But he had to. He had to keep him safe. He had to teach him. So many things Randy had to learn if he was going to survive. Without Sam, Randy would never make it. And Randy had to make it. Sam didn't dare fail.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Maggie sat at her desk, holding a piece of paper in her hand. She had read it over and over, tears streaming down her face. She had gone through hell during the trial. She had gone up into the mountains, not wanting to be around the house and his presence there, on the day he would die. Now, to learn that it had all been a sham...She didn't know if she should be shouting with joy or outrage. Then she had to couple that with the news about Face. For the longest time, after reading those first sentences, she had simply stared at the wall, seeing the youngest team member the last time he'd been at Bad Rock. Laughing, vibrant, healthy.

Healthy.

Almost automatically she had finished reading the letter. Hannibal had serious doubts about the circumstances of the death. He wanted her to investigate. Find out what really happened. He didn't trust this man, General Stockwell. He had enclosed a copy of the death certificate.

She pulled the document from the envelope. Glancing at the cause of death, she decided it made sense, as far as it went. Drug reaction on aortic valve stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the valve, which prevented it from opening properly. For someone Face's age, that would almost have to have been caused by a birth defect. Which is exactly what this Stockwell had told John. It would have been easy to miss, until the stenosis had progressed. Again, what Stockwell had told him. And the kind of drug they had used would definitely have put a strain on the heart.

But, and Maggie knew this was a huge 'but', for the drug to have actually caused death, Face's heart would have had to have been in bad shape. And that's where things fell apart. The stenosis could not possibly have been that advanced. If it were, Face would have been out of action long before they became involved with Stockwell. And the last time Maggie had seen Face, shortly before the arrest, he had been completely normal.

Hannibal was right. Face should not be dead, at least not for the reasons they had been given. The problem would be getting the actual autopsy report. If General Stockwell had gone to all this trouble to lie about the death, she just knew the report was going to be next to impossible to see.

That didn't mean she wasn't going to give it one hell of a try.

*****

Randy and Sam had made their way south rather easily. Sam had made quite a find the day before they were to leave - a dropped wallet, with several hundred dollars in it. Almost a miracle. Randy's first instinct was to turn it in, until Sam pointed out that if the owner were worried about money, he would have been more careful with his wallet. Obviously whoever had owned it was not in need of the money, whereas he and Randy were. Randy could see the logic in that. And it meant they could ride in style to their new home. Greyhound, all the way.

Sam had given Randy some of the money, and insisted he purchase the tickets. He could choose wherever he wanted to go, as long as it was warm. That put Randy in a panic. There were too many places to choose from. He stood for a long time in the bus station, looking at the schedule. The names of the cities were getting all jumbled in his head. He read the same page over and over, until finally Sam came to the rescue. He gently opened the schedule to Florida, and told Randy to put his finger on the page, anywhere. That's where they would go. If they didn't like it, they'd just go somewhere else. That suited Randy just fine. Leave it to Sam to know what to do.

Randy felt more confident when he walked up to the ticket desk. This was more to his liking, talking to people. He stepped up to the clerk, smiling that smile, making the clerk smile warmly back at him. It never seemed to matter that his clothes were worn or dirty, that he himself was less than hygienic. People would frown when they saw him coming, and then he would smile at them, such a genuine, warm smile, and they couldn't help but smile back.

Many times Sam had watched the man work his charm; Randy was not even aware that he was doing it. It was just natural to him. It wasn't innocence; no, Randy knew that he wanted to get something from the people he wove his magic on. But he didn't have to work it, like Sam did. Sam could charm the venom from a snake, but it didn't come naturally. It was something he had learned and honed over many years. Randy just did it.

He was doing it now, with the clerk. She practically fell over herself, explaining carefully where they would go first, what bus to transfer to, when they would arrive. Making a couple changes so they would be on the most direct route.

Sam smiled. It was times like this that his job didn't seem quite so difficult. Randy had a lot to learn and it wouldn't be easy, but he would be okay. Somehow Sam just knew it.

*****

Hannibal mailed the package to Maggie while on a job in Mexico. Stockwell hadn't known when they would get back into the city so it was easy to drop it at the post office. Now the hard part came. Waiting. Waiting for an opportunity to contact Maggie directly, find out if she had gotten it, find out if she had been able to do anything, find anything.

He had looked up this heart thing. Had done that almost immediately. It was plausible, he supposed, for Face to have had that particular problem. But it didn't sound like it could have gotten that bad, not without some sign.

He sighed deeply. Sometimes he wondered why he was doing this. He was jeopardizing their deal with Stockwell. Jeopardizing the pardons. Putting not only his future at risk, but BA and Frankie's futures as well. For what? As Murdock had said, it wouldn't change anything. Face was still...dead. Knowing what really killed him wouldn't change that fact.

So why go through all of this? Because he was stubborn, he supposed. Because he had to make sense of it. He'd lost men before, but he always knew the why and the how without any doubt. A bullet, a grenade, starvation in the camp - it was always cut and dried. He didn't like it, he grieved for them, but he could accept it. This was different. There was something out of kilter. He couldn't accept it as it was given to him. This was just...different. Damn it. This was Face...

*****

Maggie's first move was to contact the doctor listed on the death certificate. It had taken the man until the next day to return her call. Surprisingly, he was very helpful. Yes, he had done the autopsy himself. As expected, birth defect resulting in a bicuspid valve. Had taken years to deteriorate. The stenosis was quite advanced. No question about the cause of death. Yes, he would send the autopsy report, that day.

Maggie hesitated before making her next request. The doctor was surprised; it was unusual but he readily agreed.

Maggie hung up the phone, thoughtfully. She prayed she was right. But if she was, John was working for some kind of monster...

CHAPTER FOUR

They had been on the bus for two days. Another six hours or so and they would arrive in Belle Glade, Florida. Sam had no idea what kind of town it was. The first thing he would have to do is help Randy find the nearest VA hospital or clinic, so he could get his pills. There would have to be a slight delay, while arrangements were made for them. Randy hadn't told him where in Florida they were going - wanted to surprise him. It was irritating, but what could he say? He'd left a quick message before they got on the bus, letting his people know they were on the way to Florida; that's all he could do. Randy hadn't given him his ticket stub until they were actually seated on the bus.

For once, Randy wasn't letting the disruption in his life get him rattled. He watched out the window, pointing out every possible landmark he could. Sam sometimes marveled at Randy's enthusiasm for everything. Absolutely everything. Randy enjoyed life. Pure and simple.

Eventually, the rumble and sway of the bus, plus the long hours of inactivity, lulled Randy to sleep. It gave Sam a chance to catch his breath. He started making plans in his head.

Find the VA first. Make sure they got in touch with Randy's real doctors, got the medications down there as soon as possible. Randy would only have four days worth by the time they arrived. Then he would have to start working with Randy more diligently. He'd passed the 'tests' they'd set for him so far. Now they would be getting more and more difficult. Sam would still be able to help him out, but he would have to start pulling away in that department. Eventually he would only be a bystander. There was no set time table; that was part of the experiment, to see how long it would take.

Sam thought idly about the end of this. It might be months yet. Then again, Randy might succeed better than they expected. Sam had not lied when he told Randy he was smart. That had been one of the criteria. They hadn't counted on the mental problems. That was something the doctors were working on, refining the medications to alleviate that. Another thing they had had to adjust for. Not Randy's fault - that was the doctors' screw up. It wouldn't be counted against him.

Sam also thought about Randy's past. He had the full packet. Knew all the facts about him. He hadn't known what the actual person was like, though. He wondered if he was as enthusiastic then as he was now, or if that was part of the changes that had inadvertently occurred. He knew the confusion and problems with concentration were new to Randy. From his own experiences, Sam knew Randy could not have done the things he did before if he'd had those problems.

What bothered him most about this whole thing was the memory loss. Randy had had a life before this. People he cared about. Plans for his future. His history. Most of that was gone. Psychologists. Sam had begun to hate them. There was no drug, no surgery that could selectively destroy portions of a person's memory. So, over the first few weeks they'd had Randy, they had worked him over but good, psychologically. Brainwashing of the highest magnitude. Thoughts of past events or people brought up other ugly - and false - memories along with them. So, like adult survivors of child abuse, he had pushed it all so far back into his memory it would be nearly impossible to retrieve. They allowed him to remember only what they wanted him to, needed him to. Sam was glad he'd had nothing to do with that phase.

Sam had had to leave people behind, too. The whole experiment was classified as "top secret". He couldn't tell anyone what he was doing, where he was going. Had just left them. But it was different for Sam. He could still remember his past. And he thought about it a lot. Regretfully. By the time this was all over with, he didn't know if he would have that life to go back to or not. Whether he would be able to explain things away or not. It would be difficult at the least. And he'd never be able to tell them what he'd been doing. Top secret. Damn.

He watched Randy as he slept. The two of them, so much alike, so different. Sam didn't know what would happen to either of them when this was finally done.

*****

Carla was updating her files. Looking at the records from the coroner. That was odd. She didn't see any record of Smith requesting a copy of the autopsy. She would have expected that. Perhaps Stockwell had gotten it for him. Carla liked her records complete. She put in a call to the doctor who had done the autopsy.

"Yes, ma'am, General Stockwell got, uh, three copies. One was for you. Said another was for a Colonel Smith or Jones or something like that."

Carla smirked. She hadn't met this doctor but pictured a befuddled professor type. "Okay, Doctor, thank you. I just need to keep track of things."

"Oh, well, there was one more request. In fact, I just sent it off the other day."

Carla stopped dead still. "From General Stockwell?"

"Uh, no, ma'am, it was from a Dr. Sullivan, out in California. Can't remember the name of the town right off hand, though. I'd have to look that up."

"You kept a written record of it?"

"Yes, ma'am. Both General Stockwell and Dr. Barish wanted me to keep very careful records. Uh, let's see here..." Carla could hear him shuffling papers, "...yes, she was from a place called Bad Rock, California. Funny, too." He told her about Maggie's other request.

Carla sat thinking, hard. This could either be a major catastrophe or a fantastic gold mine, depending on how she played it.

"Ma'am? You still there?"

Carla shook herself mentally. "Yes, doctor. Listen, I want you to bury that request by Dr. Sullivan. Do you understand what I'm saying? Don't destroy it. Just...'lose it'. It's very important."

The coroner sounded doubtful. "I don't know, ma'am. What if the General or Dr. Barish asks me for it?"

"Then you give it to them. But if you don't tell them about it, they won't know to ask for it, will they?"

"Well, no..."

"Then I don't want you volunteering anything to anyone. And if there should be any further inquiries, I want to know immediately. Regardless of who they come from." Her tone of voice brooked no argument.

She hung up the phone, staring at it, thinking. Eventually, Stockwell would learn of this. Probably so would this Dr. Barish. She wasn't familiar with him. Or her. No names were exchanged in this whole matter. She didn't really know who she was dealing with over there. She would have to do some checking. Discreetly. Very discreetly.

And at some point, she needed to meet with Dr. Maggie Sullivan.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Sam watched Randy as they wandered down the streets of Belle Glade. Randy had already fallen in love with the name and was eagerly looking for just the right place to settle in. Sam had been able to curb his enthusiasm long enough to check the phone book for the nearest VA facility and wasn't happy. It was nearly 40 miles away. He’d have to do something about that before Randy was too decided on this place.

"Randy. Randy!" Sam couldn’t get his attention; he was too excited. "Randy, listen!"

Other than two times when Randy had been sick, Sam had never had any physical contact with him. No particular reason, it just hadn't happened. So Sam didn't even think about it when he grabbed Randy's arm to get his attention. It was the wrong thing to do. Sam suddenly found himself up against the wall of a building, Randy's forearm tight against Sam's throat, the other hand holding the offending arm twisted behind him. There was a cold fury in Randy's eyes.

Sam forced himself to relax. The last thing he wanted to do was go one on one with Randy in the middle of the street. People were already stopping, staring, starting to move closer. It was also getting a little difficult to breathe, as the pressure on his neck never let up. Sam kept smiling, hoping his docility would calm Randy and the crowd.

For a long few seconds, Randy glared at Sam. Just as suddenly as the attack was launched, he stepped back, releasing his hold. Sam gasped, grabbing his throat and rubbing it gently.

"For chrissake, Randy, what the hell was that?" he croaked out.

"Don’t ever touch me. Just...don’t..." The anger in Randy’s eyes was suddenly replaced by confusion, then panic. "Sam, I...I’m sorry...I’m sorry, Sam, don’t be angry, Sam, please don’t be angry, I didn’t mean it..."

"Hey, hey, it's okay, Randy, really. Just calm down, okay?"

"You won't go, will you, Sam? I won't do it again, I promise! Please don't go away!"

"Randy, I'm not going anywhere. I just don't understand what happened." Sam spied a small cafe that looked nearly deserted. Perfect. "C'mon, let's get something to eat, and we'll talk, okay?"

Silently, Randy nodded and followed Sam into the cafe. They ordered coffee, and sat in silence in a rear booth, Randy staring at the table top. Sam tried to appear unruffled, but inside his stomach was churning. No one had prepared him for anything like this. Mainly because it wasn't supposed to happen.

*****

Maggie sorted through the mail. She was watching anxiously for the package from the coroner but almost missed it anyway. Just a plain manila envelope, no return address, no 'official' markings on it whatsoever. If it hadn't been for the postmark from Langley, VA, she would have dropped it on the pile with the rest of the mail and left it for another time.

Her hands shook slightly as she opened it. The first thing she grabbed was a sheaf of stapled papers - the autopsy report. She barely glanced at it. She already knew what it said. Then she drew out the other items she had asked for and examined them closely.

She hoped John would call her soon. Very soon. She had to get the details, all the details, of that day. The day they were 'executed'. She had to know exactly what had happened.

She looked again at the photos of the deceased. It was not Templeton Peck.

*****

Carla was watching Colonel Smith carefully as Stockwell outlined their next mission. They would be leaving for South America the next day, to take care of a little matter concerning forged customs papers. Carla caught a little glint in the colonel's eye. Uncharacteristic, considering the team generally looked on these assignments with distaste. She turned to Stockwell, speaking low into his ear.

Stockwell straightened, cocking an eyebrow at her. She frowned slightly, trying to tell him not to say anything overt. Stockwell wasn't dumb. He never leaped into things. He made quick decisions, not impulsive ones.

"Oh, and you'll have a little company on this trip, Colonel. A couple of my men will be going along, gain some experience in the field."

"I'm not wet-nursing any of your people, General. I don't want to be watching their butts when I should be concentrating on the job." Hannibal was pissed. If there were Ables along, it would make it nearly impossible to contact Maggie.

"You won't have to worry about them, Colonel. They're perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. I merely want them to learn a few things from you. They'll just watch..."

Stockwell stared into Hannibal's eyes. There was no mistaking it. Stockwell knew there had been a breach in his security. He just couldn't prove it. Hannibal's glance slid over to Carla. Incredibly, she gave a sly smile. Hannibal immediately realized the stakes had just gone up a notch.

There was another player in the game...

CHAPTER SIX

The ride back from the compound was silent. Carla knew Stockwell would demand an explanation soon. He was playing with her again. He wanted her to think he wasn't upset about the security break. Didn't want her to think that he was surprised that she had known what he hadn't. She also knew he would want an explanation as to why she hadn't said something before. This was not going to be easy.

"Well, have you thought it through yet, Carla?"

"I'm sorry, General?" Bluff for time...

"Have you come up with a plausible reason for not telling me about your suspicions before this?"

Pompous ass he might be, Carla mustn't forget he was smart. He hadn't gotten where he was by being stupid. Well, play it honestly. Somewhat.

"I really have no excuse, General. I apologize. I had heard a few rumors, but that's all. I was hoping to have it checked out before I bothered you with it. It wasn't until I thought about the team going out of the country that I realized it could be a problem - if the rumors were true."

"Hmm." Stockwell didn't know whether to believe her or not. Carla never expressed any emotion; one of the things that had been attractive about bringing her in as his assistant. It had its drawbacks, however. How did one look for ulterior motives in a machine?

"Where did these 'rumors' come from?"

Carla thought fast. Which of the Ables assigned to the team owed her big time? And which one could she get to before Stockwell did?

"Able 13 brought it up, sir. He hadn't heard them himself, just comments made by some of the others. He couldn't even remember who exactly." It sounded lame, but often rumor mills were rather murky.

"Hmm." Stockwell either didn't believe her or was playing his cards close to his chest. "You felt it warranted this intervention, then?"

"Until we can prove or disprove the rumors, I thought it best, sir."

"Very well. I'll expect a full investigation and report, Carla. Soon."

"Yessir." Carla looked out the window. She was getting good at this.

*****

Randy had hardly touched the meal in front of him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a cheeseburger. A real cheeseburger. Another time he would've wolfed it down. Now, just the thought of eating it made him feel sick to his stomach. He stole a glance at Sam, who was eating as if nothing at all had happened.

Randy had no idea where that anger had come from. No idea how he'd gotten Sam up against the wall like that. It was like magic. Evil magic. There was a guy at the VA, he was telling everybody how this evil spirit had gotten inside him and made him do things like that. Randy hadn't believed him. But maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe that spirit had gotten inside him, too. He wished he'd listened to that guy, now. He didn't know how to get rid of it. He'd ask Sam, but he was afraid Sam was mad at him. Sam would know what to do. Sam always knew what to do. But Sam was mad at him. Sam was so mad at him. He just knew it.

He stole another glance at his friend. Sam stopped eating for a moment, smiled at him. Why would Sam smile at him if he was mad at him? Sam was smart. Maybe he just wanted Randy to feel better. Feel calm. Feel safe. So he could get back at him. Randy thought Sam was his friend, but maybe not any more. Randy hadn't meant to choke him. But maybe Sam didn't believe him. So he was going to get even with him. Teach him a lesson.

If Randy wanted to get even with Sam, he knew what he would do. He would make that evil spirit go inside Sam. But Randy already had it inside, so what would Sam do? Randy looked at the cheeseburger. They never spent money on stuff like this. Never. Why would Sam spend his money on this stuff now, when he was mad at Randy? Maybe that was how he was going to get something bad into Randy. Something to make him sick. Or die, even.

Randy glanced at Sam one more time. You said it yourself, Sam. I'm not stupid. I know what you're trying to do.

*****

"What are we gonna do now, Hannibal?" BA dropped the last broken mic into the garbage. Every day he swept the place, either destroying or marking the various listening devices around the house. And the next day, just like clockwork, the Ables would have put new ones in. It was a game. If Hannibal wanted Stockwell to hear what they were saying, or didn't care, they talked in certain rooms. If he wanted privacy, they talked in others.

"We're going to be down there for at least a week. A lot can happen in a week. If there's only two of them, it shouldn't be that much of a problem. After all, there's four of us. They can't keep tabs on all of us all of the time. The only thing we have to worry about is them knowing they've been hoodwinked. It also means that I may not be the one who's able to call Maggie. If she got the package, she's probably going to have a lot of questions."

Hannibal paused. None of them were going to want to do this. "No matter which one of us has the opportunity to make that call, we all have to be able to answer any of those questions. That means we all have to know exactly what happened. We know from our own parts, but we've never talked about all of it. What each of us saw, heard, did. So," he stood, taking on the cold, professional military attitude, "we're going to debrief."

"Colonel..." Murdock began. He did not want to go over this. He knew, from looking at Frankie, that he wasn't the only one. After all, it had been his plan and Frankie's pills that killed Face.

"Murdock, we have to. We may be running missions for Stockwell, but our only real mission right now is finding out what really happened to Face. We need to, Murdock. I can only speak for myself, but I think it's true for all of us. I have to do this before I can move on. I don't trust Stockwell, especially on this. Until I know what happened..." Hannibal stopped short. He wasn't going to plead. But he wanted their cooperation.

Murdock looked at his Colonel. He'd known Hannibal had been torn apart by this whole mess. He hadn't realized just how badly.

"So, who's first?" He sat, ready to work this mission. Completely.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Sam watched Randy carefully. He wasn't sure where the attack had come from, what part of his friend's  brain had kicked in with that response. Until he knew better what was going on inside Randy's head, he was going to have to play it by ear. Keep things calm, casual. When the waitress came over, instead of looking up and smiling at her, Randy just kept staring down at the table, playing with the corner of the menu. Sam turned on the charm; dressed as they were, it wouldn't take much for the waitress to kick them out. He ordered for both of them, after making a show of pulling out his wallet and 'checking' his money. Let the waitress know ahead of time they could pay for the meal. He could see her relax.

"Randy?" trying to get his attention after the waitress left. He was ignored. "Randy, really, it's okay. I shouldn't have grabbed you like that. It could happen to anyone." He knew that wasn't true, and he had a feeling Randy knew it, too. He knew Randy hadn't forgotten Nam. He wasn't sure what else about that he'd been allowed to retain. He had to get in touch those doctors. Soon. He had to know some things about Randy's early 'training'. Wanted badly to hear from them that this outburst wasn't really unexpected, even though he knew it shouldn't have happened.

The food came. He was starving. The last weeks, he'd been eating like Randy, like the homeless, ate. He would've loved to have sneaked off during the night, found an all-night diner and gorged himself, but he wouldn't do that. He had to stay in his character, no matter what, for this to work. And it wouldn't have been fair to Randy. So he dove into the cheeseburger and fries, expecting Randy to do the same. It bothered him when Randy continued to just sit there. He noticed him glancing over at him occasionally. He stopped eating, waited for the next time and then smiled encouragingly at him. Randy just looked back down. Okay, got to put a stop to this.

"Randy."

His friend kept staring down.

"Randy, just forget it, okay? We don't have to talk about it right now. Later. I'm not mad, Randy. Just surprised. Now, eat your burger, okay? We don't get to eat like this very often, y'know?" Sam got a shock then almost as bad as the attack. Randy looked up at him and glared. Randy was angry. Angry? What the hell was going on?

"Randy?"

Randy suddenly bolted out of the booth. "You're not my friend any more, Sam! I know what you're trying to do and it won't work. It won't!" He practically ran out of the cafe.

Sam immediately jumped up and started to follow.

"Hey!" The waitress was hurrying over. Damn. He pulled his wallet and threw down a handful of bills before rushing after Randy. Out on the street, he looked in every direction, but Randy was gone.

*****

The team, along with two Ables and Stockwell's hand-picked pilot, had taken off for South America. No sooner had the plane disappeared in the horizon than Carla grabbed her own bag and headed for Dulles. Her ticket was for LAX; she would rent a car there and head for Bad Rock.

She would have to be on her toes. She had no doubt Stockwell would have her followed. It had nothing to do with loyalty, or the questioning of it. It was simply Stockwell's way of doing things. He would not be surprised at her attempting to lose the tail, either. He knew Carla well enough to know that she would not want him to know anything until she was ready to tell him. It was a cat and mouse game they played often and well. Carla got the impression that he actually enjoyed her flouting him - to a point. Her predecssor, now working for a high-level government official, had warned her that Stockwell had strange ideas of how to groom people for success in his organization. The skill was in knowing when the leash was stretched far enough, and not running any further. So far she hadn't pulled too hard on it. She had a feeling that was going to change.

The flight was uneventful. She signed for her rental and hit the freeway, heading toward downtown LA. She would swing by the homes and businesses of a few of the people the team had connections with - an old client here and there, the orphanage where Peck grew up, the VA. She didn't want her tail to have any clue where she was really going or who she was really going to see. The guy was good, whoever it was. She ran a few of their LA people through her head, idly trying to think just who Stockwell would have chosen. Eventually she decided she'd run the man around long enough, and proceeded to lose him. It took almost forty minutes to do it, but then she was free to continue on.

She figured she would reach Bad Rock just before suppertime...

*****

By the time the plane landed at its destination, Hannibal had a plan ready for getting away from their escorts. They would take care of their business for Stockwell first; he figured that would only take two to three days. Then they would put the plan into action.

The plan for Stockwell's job was basic. Someone in the customs office was selling forged papers, allowing contraband to be shipped into the US without close inspection. Hannibal would pose as a collector of artifacts, stolen from native burial grounds. Frankie would be his assistant, BA his bodyguard. Stockwell's contact would put Frankie in touch with the person they suspected, and he would convince the guy to 'take care' Hannibal. Once the forged documents were in Hannibal's possession, they and the bad guy would be turned over to the authorities.

Piece of cake. Like that happened any more.

Hannibal was nervous about the job. He never thought he would be, but he was always nervous when Frankie played a major role. Not that the kid was a lousy conman - he just wasn't very good. No matter how hard he tried, there was always that 'something' missing. Murdock had watched him and knew immediately what was happening. Or rather, not happening. He'd tried to explain it to Frankie and Hannibal, in an unsuccessful attempt to correct the problem.

"Frankie doesn't believe he's the guy he's supposed to be. He thinks and acts like Frankie pretending to be somebody else."

Frankie just looked at him, blankly. "Well, of course I think like me, Murdock. I am me!"

"No, no, no, Frankie. Not when you're pulling a scam, you're not. You have to BE the guy. You have to think and act like the guy you're supposed to be."

Frankie just didn't get it. He tried, he really did. But he just never quite got it.

Hannibal sighed. He'd had to pull Frankie's fat out of the fire more times than he cared to think about. Simple jobs became complicated because...oh, hell, because Face wasn't there smoothing things out for the rest of them. Without the conman, everything had to be done the hard way. Not that they couldn't pull things off; it was just a lot harder to come out unscathed. Frankly, with that constant worry about Frankie's performance, or Frankie getting hurt, or Frankie getting some one else hurt - well, it was damn hard to find the Jazz any more. Hannibal didn't have to remind himself that it wasn't just Frankie at fault for that...

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Randy had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get away from Sam. Before Sam could do something to him. So he just kept walking. Not running. No, mustn't run. Running draws attention. Didn't want any attention. Just disappear. So walk. Fast. But walk. Stay with the crowd. Blend in. Move with the crowd.

He took several corners, watching his surroundings so he wouldn't end up backtracking. No walking in endless circles for him. No, he was rapidly moving away from the cafe, away from Sam. He didn't even think about it. He put his brain on auto-pilot, let it take him where it would. Like the anger, he didn't know where the instincts were coming from, but he just knew when he should check behind him, how to check without seeming to, knew how to watch for things that didn't seem like they belonged.

How long he walked, he wasn't sure. He knew the sun was setting. And he was walking into the sunset. That was good. Something told him he needed to be going west. Something was out there for him. Something he needed. West. A long way. A very long way. Why, he didn't know. What was waiting for him there, he didn't know. He only knew he had to keep going. West.

*****

Maggie was just closing up the office when she heard a car pull up. Sighing tiredly, she wondered what kind of medical catastrophe was heading for her way this time. Opening the door, she was surprised to find a very business-like blond standing there. Smartly dressed, but definitely all business.

"May I help you?"

"Dr. Maggie Sullivan?"

Something about the way this woman said that put Maggie's back up. "Yes, I'm Dr. Sullivan."

Something resembling a smile flashed across the blonde's face. "My name is Carla. I work for a General Stockwell, and I believe you have something of his that you really shouldn't."

Maggie was not one to panic easily, but she came close at that second. The coroner. He must have reported her request. John didn't trust this Stockwell; after finding out about the autopsy, neither did Maggie. But she needed to find out more, not the least of which was why? Stockwell hadn't sent muscle, just this woman. So maybe he wanted to negotiate at this point. Or maybe just find out what she intended to do. That made two of them.

"I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about, but why don't you come in and we can discuss it further?" She smiled ingenuously.

Carla looked at Maggie. A real cool one. Figures. Hannibal Smith wouldn't have chosen anyone less. She 'smiled' again. This was good. She could talk turkey with this one.

*****

Sam was beside himself. He had never, ever, screwed something up this badly. Well, he'd come close. But he'd managed to salvage those. Alright, with help. But this...how in hell was he going to find Randy by himself? He couldn't call for help; he knew these people too well. They would panic. They would call in the wrong kind of people. They would terminate the experiment, completely. They would get rid of all evidence. That would mean Randy.

Sam would not do that. One way or the other, he had to find him. Thank God Belle Glade was a small town. They could have ended up in Miami. He pulled Randy's picture from his wallet. Started asking people around him if they had seen him. Started walking. Where would Randy go? What would he look for? A place to hide? Or would he just want to get away from Sam? What would Sam do if he was angry, scared, and confused? He'd want to go someplace safe. Away from the danger. Think, Sam. Where would Randy go if he wanted safety above all else?

Sam stopped. Looked around. Yeh. He knew. He knew Randy as well as he knew himself. Randy was acting on instinct now. And Sam knew where instinct would take him. Sam started walking toward the sunset.

*****

Stockwell's contact met them at the private airfield. In a limo, no less. Well, that was in keeping with the plan. Any wandering eyes would see a wealthy, eccentric American and his entourage being met with all due homage to his money and power. On the way to the hotel, Farrington - god, what a name - filled them in on everything they knew about the forgeries and the parties involved. Hannibal saw Murdock kick Frankie surreptitiously so he would pay close attention. The kid kept thinking these briefings were for solely for Hannibal's benefit and that the Colonel would just tell him what to do later. God. How could someone be such a genius with special effects and otherwise be so...dumb?

Hannibal sighed. He liked Frankie on the set. He was young, brash, loud, but Hannibal liked him. He was enthusiastic. But if Hannibal was really in charge of this team, Frankie would've been gone in a heartbeat. He was a risk for the team that Hannibal would not have tolerated any other time. Now, he had to babysit. So did BA and Murdock and none of them liked it.

And whose fault is that, Smith? That was the only reason Hannibal kept his temper with the kid. He hadn't done what he should have from the start. He should have gotten Frankie some basic training immediately. He should have decided what role Frankie would play and made sure he was ready for it. The problem was he hadn't been thinking clearly back then. None of them had. Plus he'd had Stockwell to deal with, and the General had immediately started sending them out on missions. Damn.

Well, that would have to change. They would finish this job, and then they would start training. He would tell Stockwell there would be no missions for at least a month. Between the three of them, they could whip Frankie into shape in that time. So he could be a real team player.

And it would give them time to get the facts. The truth. And put Face to rest, once and for all.

 

CHAPTER NINE

Neither woman had said much. Maggie led Carla away from her office (and the autopsy report) and into the kitchen. She thought about the living room but opted out of that. She wanted the upper hand, and no woman felt less in charge than when in another woman's kitchen. Business attire or not.

They got through the preliminaries - coffee for both, black for Carla, cream and sugar for Maggie. She didn't offer anything to eat with it. Polite, but cool. They sat at the table, Carla, pressed and polished, Maggie, rumpled but professional.

"Now, you were saying I had something I shouldn't have? I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"A report from the coroner in Langley. That wasn't for public access. The doctor there made a mistake. I'm here to correct that."

"I am a doctor, Ms...?" Carla didn't respond to that. Very well. "And I wasn't aware that public records were not public. And certainly not to the decedent's doctor of record."

"Hardly something you'd want broadcast, Doctor, considering he was a fugitive."

"Medical ethics, Carla. Regardless of the legal status, I'm bound by my oath to attend to the sick and injured."

"And legally bound to report it."

"The local authorities were notified." Not formally, of course, but the technicalities were taken care of.

"Hmm." Carla would have to do some checking on the 'local authorities'. "Nevertheless, these documents were not supposed to be circulated."

"I can understand that. It would be awkward."

Carla looked directly at Maggie. The pussyfooting around was coming to an end.

"Awkward, Doctor?"

"Well, considering that the autopsy was done on the wrong man." Carla continued calmly looking at her. "I also received photographs. The man your doctor autopsied was not Templeton Peck, regardless of what he thought."

"Who was it, then?"

"No idea. I'm sure someone in your organization does know, but it's irrelevant to me."

"What is relevant to you, Doctor?" Now they were getting down to the nitty-gritty.

"What really happened to the lieutenant. That's what I want to know, mostly. And then, of course, why?"

"You intend to pursue the matter?"

Dangerous ground, now. Maggie had to watch her step.

"I don't know. Maybe it's just idle curiosity. He was a patient of mine; I like to keep my records complete."

"Hmm." Carla didn't believe her, of course. She recognized the intelligence there - knew Maggie was playing it this way until she knew what Stockwell intended to do. Time to lay the cards on the table.

"What would you say if I could help you find out, exactly, what happened to the lieutenant?"

The two women scrutinized each other. Neither trusted the other, each needed the other.

"Why would you do that?"

"I have my reasons. Nothing to do with you, or the lieutenant. This is strictly a means to an end."

"How humanitarian."

"You haven't answered my question, Doctor. How badly do you want the answers to your questions? Because they won't come gratis."

Maggie thought about the letter which had opened this whole Pandora's box. It had been more open, more emotional, than she had ever witnessed from the writer in person. She would do almost anything.

"Let's hear it."

*****

Randy had been walking for hours. He was tired, hungry and thirsty but he kept walking. He’d ceased thinking long ago. Wasn’t watching where he was, what was behind him, even what was around him. He’d followed the sun until it had disappeared below the horizon, and still he kept walking. He paid no attention to his burning feet, or aching legs. He had only one thought - keep walking.

Although his direction was predominately west, he'd stuck to the streets and highways, not gone cross country. He had looked over the land, seen the sign for Lake Okeechobee, and known there would be swamp and marsh and probably he wouldn't make it through. So he took the long way around, using the sidewalk until that ran out, then walking along the shoulder of the highway. He knew this was dangerous, that Sam could more easily find him this way, but overriding everything was his need to get to his destination, somewhere to the west.

He paid no attention to the pickup truck as it drove past, heading the opposite direction. Never heard it slow, nor noticed it making a slow, careful u-turn. Oblivious to the sudden surge in speed as it roared down on him. It swept by, horn blaring, loud raucous curses and laughter ringing out. The oversized mirror on the passenger side caught him, and he was bounced off into the ditch, stunned. His arm and shoulder burned in pain, and his head felt as if it were exploding.

He lay where he had fallen, dizzy and sick to his stomach. He stared at the long grass in front of his face, and felt the dampness seeping into his clothes, and his mind was racing, bouncing from this to that and back again. He had no idea where he was, what he was doing there.

'Sam...?'

*****

Frankie was tired. Johnnie had kept him at him for hours, rehearsing. And when he was done, Murdock took over. Man, what was with these guys? Okay, so he wasn't the greatest actor in the world. He worked behind the scenes. Always. Now all of a sudden he was expected to be another Olivier. No, that wasn't true.

He was expected to be another Face.

That's all they wanted. Him to take over where Face had been. Well, that was logical. He was good looking enough. Charm up the wazoo, when he wanted to show it. He had everything that Face had, except the ability to lie and make people believe him. He just wasn't the kind of person who could do that. No disrespect to the dead, but he could not for the life of him understand what was so great about being an accomplished liar. Or why Johnnie and the rest of them would think being good at cheating people was something to be proud of.

Of course, he never said anything like that around them. Geez, he wasn't dumb. And he felt bad that he was dead. Real bad. Especially for the part he'd played in it. But that wasn't his fault. No way. And he really hated that Murdock had taken it out on him. He'd just supplied the damn pills. It wasn't his fault the guy had some heart thing.

And now they expected him to just waltz in and take over for Face. Like this new mission Stockwell had them on. Johnnie was the damn actor; why couldn't he set up the meeting with the bad guys? Frankie could be the young, sophisticated collector, let Hannibal be the older, nearing-retirement assistant. Why wouldn't that work just as well? Yeh, and Frankie could just sit back, too important to talk to these guys, let the assistant handle the details. Sure, that would work. But Frankie knew he'd never convince the guys to do it that way. No, that would be too easy.

Frankie heard a knock at the door.

"Showtime, Frankie." Murdock practically sang it.

Great. Just great...

*****

Sam had run out of patience. He was close to running out of time. He knew Randy had taken his meds when they were on the bus; Sam had given them to him himself. Sam still had them. Normally Randy kept them in his stash, but Sam was afraid they'd get lost during the trip and subsequent search for a place to stay, so he'd kept them with his stuff. Even if Randy had the presence of mind to remember in the morning, he had nothing to take. And that would be bad. Real bad.

Sam had stopped damn near everyone on the street. Hell, it wasn't that busy, someone had to have seen him. But no one had. At least, they hadn't paid any attention to him. Who would? A man, obviously homeless, wandering around. Not like it was unusual, these days. Even in a town like this one. He'd seen four or five himself. And checked out each and every one of them. Not that he thought they were Randy; he just hoped Randy might have talked with them, asking about the locals, where to hang out, something. Nada. Zip.

Damn.

Finally, as it got later in the night, Sam had 'borrowed' a car. He didn't know if his initial theory about heading west was off-base or not, but he had to have faster mobility. He'd keep going west, along the highway, cut back toward town to continue the search if he hadn't found him within a few miles. He'd been gone over five hours now; if he'd kept walking continually, he'd be maybe 15 miles out. At most. He didn't know if Randy could walk that long without stopping, but Sam would figure that to be his boundaries. He just hoped to God he hadn't gone cross country.

*****

Randy could hear voices. Above him. Around him. Smelled...pot? Yeh. And beer. His stomach, still queasy, fluttered ominously.

"Help..." he could barely talk. His throat and mouth had no moisture in them at all.

"Hey, airhead's talking, man." He felt someone come close, warm acrid beer breath on his face. "Wassa matta, barf bag? Not feelin so good?" The breath moved away. The next second he felt a boot crash into his stomach. Everything came up.

"Geez, man, what a loser!"

"Christ, he got my boots, man! My fuckin boots!"

Randy's vision blurred, disappeared, as those boots came crashing in on him.

 

CHAPTER TEN

He woke with a start. Looked quickly around him, taking in his surroundings. A room. Plain. Serviceable. Nothing fancy at all. Just another motel room. He felt claustrophobic. Months he'd spent living in a box practically no bigger than a barrel, and now he felt claustrophobic. He pulled himself out of bed, headed immediately for the shower. Get clean. Get dressed. Get out.

Stepping out of the door, he took a quick glance around. No one out and about this early. Good. The fewer people who saw him, the better. He needed to find a phone. The one in the motel room was out. That would leave a trail. Never leave a trail. Especially not now.

It only took a few minutes to find a public phone. He called the first number. Belle Glade General Hospital. Talked to admitting. No one matching the description there. Okay. That was good. Well, not good. But good. Damn it, calm down. Call the next number. McKendrick Regional Medical Center, in Clewiston. Seventeen miles but it was the next closest. Spoke to their admitting clerk.

Oh, God.

*****

Carla watched out of the window, gazing at the clouds below the wing. It had been easier, and yet harder, to work with the doctor than she had imagined. Eventually, they had reached an agreement. Sullivan didn't like it, but she knew - and knew Carla knew - that it had to be done Carla's way or no way. Carla could have told her the whole story and let her inform Smith. It would have damaged Stockwell but in a limited way. No, Carla's way was best. It would, eventually, answer all of Sullivan's, and Smith's, questions. It would, eventually, take care of Stockwell. But doing it her way, instead of the doctor's, would also take care of the others. This Dr. Barish. His, or her, co-horts.

Carla was not a moralist. She didn't look at her actions, or the actions of others, from a morality point of view. She was a pragmatist. She thought in terms of the long run. Would this action, that word, bring benefit or disaster in the long run? And that was not regarding other people, or the organization, or the country, or the world. Would it bring benefit or disaster to Carla? That was the overriding concern. Selfish? Perhaps. Practical? Of course.

This tryst that Stockwell had formed with those other people - it would not benefit Carla for that to continue. She knew it from the beginning. Witnessed it when she'd had to force Stockwell to include her in the loop. Any alliances the General formed had to include her. If they didn't, they could not be allowed to be successful. Smith had given her the ways and means to destroy this one. If it destroyed Stockwell at the same time...well, he shouldn't have shut her out.

*****

Frankie was feeling very pleased with himself. He had pulled off the scam with flying colors, if he did say so himself. Even Johnnie seemed pleased with his report of events. Okay, so he wasn't too happy that the meeting place had been changed. Small detail. They were supposed to meet at the airfield, the hangar where the plane was stored. Instead, they were meeting at an abandoned office complex, maybe five miles from there. They had plenty of time to sneak in and get set up there. And okay, so the guy wanted cash, American dollars, instead of the percentage of the 'sale'. Stockwell was already working on that part. No big deal for Stockwell.

Frankie sighed. Okay, so two little things didn't go the way they were supposed to and everybody was on his case about it. And it was there again. Face wouldn't have screwed it up. Face would have wormed his way out of the demands. Face would have made it work the way it was supposed to. They didn't have to say it. BA had listened, and then walked out, throwing the television controller against the wall. Murdock had looked at Frankie, opened his mouth to say something and then just stopped and walked into his room.

And Johnnie, even though he let Frankie have it with both barrels, going on and on about what they'd rehearsed, how he was to counter any demands other than what they'd planned - even Johnnie hadn't voiced that name. But it had been there at the end, in his eyes. After he'd taken a breath, and apologized for yelling, that he knew Frankie had done the best he could. His mouth was apologizing, but there was pain and regret in his eyes. And then he'd just turned and walked away from Frankie. Turned his back on him, not waiting for him to say anything more in his defense. His friend, Johnnie, had walked out just like the other two had.

Frankie was really beginning to dislike the dead man. Childish as that was...

*****

Maggie was checking over her schedule for the day. She read it over and over, never quite taking the information into her head. It was filled with everything Carla had said the day before. She hadn't liked the woman, nor what she had to say. Even less her plan of action.

Maggie knew John - or perhaps one of the others - would be contacting her, wanting to know what she had found out. And she would not be able to tell them. Not all of it, at any rate. She could only tell him that the autopsy she'd received was for the wrong man. That she was still trying to find out what had happened to Face. Neither statement a lie, but not quite the truth, either. Whether she could keep to just those facts, with John peppering her with questions, she didn't know. No, she had to. She had gotten the distinct impression - deliberate, she was sure - that Face was alive, somewhere. And that she had to do whatever Carla told her to, if he was to stay that way.

She slammed her appointment book closed with frustration. High intrigue was not her cup of tea. But Carla had dragged her into it. Refusing to give her more than tidbits of information. She would tell Maggie what she needed to know, as she needed to know it, so Maggie could in turn feed it to John. For some reason, Carla wanted to destroy the fragile relationship between the team and this Stockwell, but she wanted to do it slowly. Maggie knew there were other people involved, that this would affect them as well, which must be the reason for stringing it out.

"Oh, Sullivan, what the hell have you gotten yourself into now?"

*****

Hannibal was briefing the two Ables. He never thought he'd be working with Stockwell's men instead of trying to outwit them, but Frankie had left him no choice. Damn. At the airfield, they would have had the 'home team advantage'. Now they'd be walking into an unknown. Murdock had already done a quick surveillance of the office building but hadn't been able to get too close. There were several 'construction workers' there, obviously Corvino's men. Murdock said they spent a lot of time moving things around, but doing little real work.

The two Ables were less than enthusiastic about Hannibal's plan, particularly their part in it. The one reminded Smith that they were supposed to just observe.

"Ok, pal, you can 'observe' us getting the hell shot out of us. Think Stockwell will appreciate that?"

Seeing there would be no more objections, he outlined the rest of his plan. The two Ables, along with Murdock, would station themselves close to the building, out of sight but close enough to move in quickly if needed. Hannibal, Frankie, and BA would go to the actual meeting. Hannibal was a little concerned about BA. As Hannibal's bodyguard, he would be the first that Corvino would try to neutralize. BA wasn't concerned.

"They jus bad guys, Hannibal, jus like always. Frankie screwed up, but not that bad." He'd paused, added softly, "It ain't gonna be another Face. Got it?"

As always, BA had hit the nail on the head. Hannibal's constant worry. That each mission, if not done just right, would mean another loss to the team. His confidence, like the jazz, had never come back like it had been. He hadn't realized it was noticeable.

BA had looked at him hard. "You git your act together and keep it together. You look at your plan, Colonel. And then you think o' what Face would say 'bout it. You listen to him, jus like always. You listen, he'll tell ya. And then we go do it. Jus like always."

BA had stalked out then. And Hannibal could have sworn the big man's eyes were as bright as his own.

*****

Sam had taken a cab to Clewiston. Several blocks from the hospital. Walked the opposite direction until the cab turned out of sight. Immediately went around the block and headed for McKendrick Regional.

He hadn't called this in yet. He knew he was sticking his head in a noose, putting it off. But until he could talk to the doctors and see Randy, he was not about to try and answer a bunch of questions. And they would be tough questions. Unless Sam could convince them that it had been a run of the mill run-in, much like at the halfway house, there would be big problems. For both of them.

He sat in the waiting room, tense. One of the hospital security people had spoken with him first, letting him know that the local authorities would be coming over to discuss it with him. Sam had been somewhat surprised. Most cops could care less if some local yokel beat up on the homeless. Admittedly, it was mainly because most homeless victims would disappear into the woodwork before the cops could really do anything. So he sat and waited for both the doctor and the police. Not looking forward to either.

The police arrived first. Wanted to know who Randy was, since he had no identification on him. Sam gave them a fictitious last name. Leave no trails. The detective huffed a little. Said they had taken Randy's fingerprints but were still waiting for a response. Damn damn damn. This guy was on the ball - that was bad. More imperative to talk with the doctor, find out how soon Randy could be moved, then get on the phone. That fingerprint trace had to be stopped, delayed, misdirected somehow.

It was a simple story Sam told the detective. He and Randy had arrived in Belle Glade, gotten separated, and Randy had wandered off. Sam implied that Randy's elevator didn't quite reach the top floor, and the cops seemed ready enough to accept that. Probably figured most homeless people were like that. They wanted to wait around, see if Randy was up to questioning. Sam agreed, seething inside. Why were these guys so interested in Randy, anyway? As if he'd asked the questions out loud, the head guy spoke up.

"This isn't the first beating like this around here. Last few months there've been five others - all homeless guys, all beat to hell. We want to catch whoever's doing it before it escalates." Escalates - meaning before some tourist gets hit. Okay. Understood now.

The doctor arrived just then, and Sam listened as he listed the injuries Randy had sustained. Dislocated shoulder, severe concussion, broken ribs, internal bruising. They wanted to keep him for a few days to keep an eye out for hidden damage. Should probably do surgery to see exactly what was going on inside, but as long as he was stable they didn't want to do that unnecessarily. For the patient's sake. Right.

They let Sam in to see him for a few minutes. He stood just inside the door, looking at the doctor until he took the hint and left them alone. Only then did Sam move over to the bed and look at his friend. It had been a long time since he'd seen something that bad. He could feel the anger, no, the rage building in him. Someone had done this for fun. For kicks. Sick bastards.

He leaned over Randy, spoke directly into his ear.

"Don't worry, Randy. You're going to be okay. I'm here now. We'll get you out of here soon, and find someplace safe. Okay? So just rest. Get better. I'll be back later."

Randy didn't show any signs of hearing him, but Sam figured he had. Now he had to go make that phone call. And keep his fingers crossed.

*****

Randy heard the voice. Sam. Sam was with him again. Good. Sam would take care of things now. He would take care of him. He wouldn't get hit again.

With a sigh, he thought back to the dream he'd had. It was so real. He wished it were real. That would be nice. A house. A real house, not just a box under the overpass. And clothes. Man, the clothes in that dream were out of this world. And food. Fancy stuff. Gourmet. Made his mouth water just thinking about it. He knew what it tasted like, sorta. Sometimes he'd find the same stuff behind the restaurants.

But something bothered him about the dream. The people in it. They were so real. So real it was like they had to exist somewhere, like he must have known them. Somehow. But he knew he'd never met them. He had no names to put to the faces he saw. But there was warmth, with them. In the dream, they were his friends. The kind you didn't have to hide your stash from. Best friends.

He wished it were real.

TBC


The Changeling by Shadowwalker213
The Changeling 11-20 by Shadowwalker213
The Changeling 21-30 by Shadowwalker213
The Changeling 31-40 by Shadowwalker213
The Changeling 41-50 by Shadowwalker213
The Changeling 51-57 by Shadowwalker213

 

 


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