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Tightrope Walk

Tightrope Walk

By Junkfoodmonkey

 

Rated: PG13 (for now)

Disclaimer: The A-Team doesn't belong to me; I'm not making any money from this. 

Summary: Hannibal gets a job offer that leads him into morally dangerous territory.

Notes: This is the next in the series following Insurance, Settlement, Vendetta and Shifting Sands

 

 

Part 1

 

Hannibal checked his hair in the mirror, straightened his tie and took a couple of squirts of breath-freshener.  Then he knocked on the hotel room door.  A large man in a dark suit opened it.

 

"Hi. Hannibal Smith.  I'm here for the audition."

 

The large man looked at him closely then stood aside, letting Hannibal walk in.  He knew right away this was no audition.  Four more heavies in suits stood around the large room.  Five chairs had been set up, four of them facing one across a low table.  There was coffee, doughnuts and pastries on the table.  The four chairs on one side of the table were occupied.  These people were also wearing suits, but couldn't be described as "heavies".  The word that sprung to Hannibal's mind was "politicians" and he was soon proved right.

 

They stood up and one, a tall white haired man immaculately dressed and groomed said.  "Good afternoon, Colonel Smith.  I am Senator Adam Vaughan.  This is Congressman Jose Alverez, Senator Jack Webster and Congresswoman Amanda Stark."  Hannibal shook hands with each of them in turn.

 

"Congressman?  Senator?  Who's directing this picture, Dan Quayle?"  They smiled at this, in some cases politely, in others with genuine amusement.

 

Congresswoman Stark, a handsome black woman, in her late forties, answered him.  "I'm afraid, Colonel, that we have brought you here under false pretences."

 

"Please sit, Colonel."  Vaughan said.  Cautiously Hannibal did so.  He was extremely suspicious about what was going on here, but for the moment he didn't feel he was in any danger.  He looked down at the script he carried, sighed.  It had seemed like such a good role for him too.  He dumped it on the table.

 

"Some coffee, Colonel?"  Alverez offered him.  Hannibal nodded and one of the heavies poured him a cup and handed it to him, offered him a doughnut, which Hannibal declined.  Alverez took one himself.  He was in his early forties and running to fat, looked as if he'd get winded hurrying to catch an elevator.  His eyes were sharp and intelligent.

 

"What's this about?"  Hannibal asked.  "Who are you people?"  He studied Webster, who hadn't spoken yet.  A serious looking, grizzled man in his fifties.  He was in charge, Hannibal decided.

 

"We are in fact former employers of yours," Vaughan said, "Though we never met."  Hannibal got it at once.

 

"You're Stockwell's bosses."

 

"I wouldn't say 'bosses'. Not exactly."  The Congresswoman said.  "Thinking in corporate terms you could say we were more the board of directors while he was the CEO."  She smiled at the description.

 

"Whatever, you’re the backers," Hannibal said, "You're the ones who got the money for him."

 

"Exactly," Vaughan said.  "We provided the funding and the late General Stockwell took care of the operational side."

 

"Well it's nice to meet you finally and I'd love to sit here and chat about how you all didn't go to jail, but I'm a busy man.  I have real auditions to go to, so…" He put down his coffee cup and rose.

 

"Really, Colonel?"  Webster spoke for the first time, in a deep voice.  "I believe you don't in fact have another audition scheduled for at least a week."  Hannibal winced a little at that, but kept up his defiant stance.

 

"You let me worry about my career, Senator."  Hannibal said.

 

"In fact, it's your career we brought you here to discuss," Vaughan said.  "Please hear us out."  Hannibal looked at them then sat down again.

 

"Since the death of General Stockwell," Vaughan went on, "we have tried promoting from within the organisation.  However it seems the General was good at training subordinates but not successors."

 

"He didn't like competition."  Hannibal commented.  "Mind if I smoke?"  He took out a cigar and started to light it without waiting for an answer.

 

"So it seems."  Stark agreed.  "The organisation has been stagnating somewhat.  What it needs is leadership."  Hannibal stared at her, his cigar forgotten, the flame on his lighter flickering out.  She couldn't mean what he thought she meant, surely…

 

"A strong hand on the tiller."  Alverez said, which made Hannibal's gaze shift to him.

 

"Someone who isn't afraid to make tough decisions."  Vaughan said and got Hannibal's stare in his turn.

 

"You guys have got to be kidding."  Hannibal said finally.

 

"No, Colonel."  Webster said.  "We are not kidding.  Let me make it clear what my colleagues, in their roundabout ways, are trying to say.  We wish to offer you the late General Stockwell's job."

 

They waited for him to stop laughing.  They had to wait for some time.  Finally Hannibal wiped his eyes and said.  "Thanks guys, it was worth the trip just to hear that.  If Stockwell is looking down…" he paused, then continued, "…or possibly up, at us, he's probably laughing too."  He stood up.  "Oh, can you validate my parking for me?"

 

"Please, Colonel.  Don't dismiss this so readily."  Vaughan said.   "First let us explain exactly what this involves."

 

"I already know what it involves," Hannibal said.  "Manipulation, blackmail, a big chance of going to jail."

 

"You lived for many years with the threat of going to jail."  Webster said.

 

"And believe me, I prefer life without that threat."  Hannibal said.

 

"Really?"  Alverez said.  "You prefer spending your time playing character parts in b-movies to the excitement your life used to hold?"

 

"What about 'the Jazz', Colonel?"  Vaughan asked.

 

"I'm supposed to fall for that?"  Hannibal asked.  "You read Amy Allen's book and think that means you know me?  Thinking he knew me was Stockwell's mistake and look where he ended up.  Besides, Stockwell spent most of the time behind his desk, weaving his webs, no 'Jazz' there."

 

"Well, we thought perhaps at your time of life…" Alverez began.

 

"I'll live longer than you, pal."  Hannibal snapped hotly at the man with powdered sugar on his lapels.

 

"Think about all the good you can do," Stark said, trying a different tack.  "With the resources of the organisation behind you."

 

"Yeah, 'cause Stockwell was doing a lot of good wasn't he?"  Hannibal retorted.  He was still standing.  Inside he was telling himself to leave, but couldn't resist listening to their attempts to draw him in.  They looked a little uncomfortable at what he'd said.

 

"Lessons have been learnt from the way Stockwell worked," Vaughan said.  "We have made changes to the way things are done."

 

"Oh, now you’re a kinder, gentler, black ops unit?"

 

"Perhaps."  Stark said, recognising the sarcasm, but taking the comment at face value too.  "And of course, you're not Stockwell, you are a very different man."

 

"Gee, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."  Hannibal snarked.

 

"What she means, Colonel," Webster said, quietly.  "Is that the organisation will work according to your methods, to your standards.  And to your agenda."  This finally gave Hannibal pause.

 

"My agenda?  You mean you just give me the money and I decide what to do with it?"

 

"Within certain parameters, yes," Alverez said.

 

"What parameters?"  Hannibal asked suspiciously.

 

"Our ultimate goal is to protect the national security of the United States," Vaughan said,  "and to make the country a better and safer place for all its citizens."

 

"Very noble."  Hannibal said, with a touch of sarcasm.  But not too much.  Vaughan had sounded utterly sincere.  "But why me?  Hell, Stockwell himself admitted that he should never have recruited us, that we were wrong for the organisation.  Now you want to put me in charge?"

 

"Leadership, Colonel Smith."  Stark said.  "Your working under Stockwell may have been a mistake, but your leading the organisation would not be.  In fact if I had both you and the General in front of me now and had to make the choice…"

 

"Okay, lady…er, ma'am, you don't need to butter me up quite so blatantly."  He finally sat down again and took a Danish pastry.  Might as well get a free snack out of this nonsense.

 

"We were very impressed with the way you handled the attempted coup in Qumar last year."  Alverez said, continuing the buttering up.  "We've read the reports of Lieutenant-Colonel Langford and Lieutenant-Colonel Madari, they both spoke very highly of your methods."

 

"Langford spoke highly of me?"  Hannibal said, grinned.  "He must have been drunk."  Mention of Langford made him think of something else.  He finally understood why MI6 were interested in him and what that meant.  That these people had been watching him for nearly a year at least, waiting for this day.  He almost hated to disappoint them after they had put all this effort in.  Hannibal stood up, wiping his hands on a napkin.

 

"Well this has been fascinating, really.  But I'd sooner stick my hand in a bucketful of piranhas than work for you.  No offence."  They rose too.  Vaughan took a card from his pocket and handed it to Hannibal.

 

"We don't need a final answer now, Colonel, please call this number if you wish to discuss the matter any further.  It's been very good to meet you."  They all shook hands in a friendly way as if he hadn't just told them to take their job and stick it.  "One of the, erm, Ables," Vaughan waved a hand at the heavies,  "will validate your parking for you."

 

And then he was back in the hotel corridor.  He glanced at the card in his hand.  All it contained was a phone number.  It certainly didn't contain Senator Vaughan's name.  He suspected that if he walked into a newspaper office right now and gave them the story they would find out that none of the four politicians were in fact in LA today, they were all in far distant parts of the country and couldn't possibly have just met with him.  He couldn't find a trash can so he put the card into his pocket.  He would throw it away later.

 

 

"Here you go, BA, milk for you, beers for the rest of us."

 

"Thanks, Frankie."  Hannibal said, taking the bottle.  He took a bite of his burger and a swig of beer, settled back in the garden chair enjoying the sunshine.  Face took his beer had a moment of indecision then put it down beside the chair, picked up his burger in his left hand.  His right arm was in a cast and a sling.  BA took the glass of milk with a grunt of thanks.

 

"C'mon, Murdock," Frankie called, to where Murdock was crawling around on the grass with Frankie's eighteen month old twin sons under the watchful eye of Frankie's wife Rosita.

 

"In a minute."  Murdock answered, clearly having far too much fun with the kids to want to join them.  Frankie went back to the barbeque, started poking the sausages around.

 

"How'd you break your arm this time, Face?"  Frankie asked.

 

"Paragliding."  Face admitted.  "Had kind of a tricky landing."

 

"Paragliding?"  Hannibal said.  "When did you take that up?"

 

Face shrugged.  "Just trying it out."  Hannibal frowned a little.  Face had been "trying out" rather a lot of dangerous sports lately.  He'd already broken his arm twice and sprained his ankle once.  Hannibal was getting a little nervous.

 

Face had expected some kind of comment on the idiocy of paragliding from BA but when he looked over at him BA was gazing off into the middle distance.  He'd been pretty quiet ever since they arrived at Frankie's house earlier that afternoon.

 

"You okay, BA?  You seem kinda down." Face asked him.  BA looked up at him, scowling, but then his expression softened.

 

"Yeah, ah'm okay.  Just…" He stopped, they waited for a moment and he finally went on.  "Ah was at a funeral this mornin'."

 

"Oh, I'm sorry, BA,"  Face said.  "Someone close?"

 

"One of the kids who used to come to the youth centre."

 

"What happened, BA?"  Hannibal asked.

 

"The usual."  BA said.  "Crack."  Again he paused, his face clouded with anger and grief.  "His name was Lester.  He was a good kid for a long time.  Used to go to school, worked hard, stayed outta trouble.  He was real smart, coulda gone to college.  But he got in with a bad crowd, started takin' drugs, started stealin'.  Ah tried to help, to get him cleaned up, but nuthin' worked."

 

"How did he die?"  Face asked quietly.

 

"A week ago he got shot by the cops when he tried to hold up a convenience store."

 

"Man..."  Frankie shook his head sadly.

 

"All that promise, you know, all that potential, just…wasted."  BA shook his head too.  "If ah could get hold of the guys who first gave him that poison…" then his anger faded a little.  "Ah shoulda done something more for him, shoulda found a way to help him."

 

Face reached out with his good hand and squeezed BA's arm.  "You can't save them all, BA.  You do a lot of good work, there are kids you've helped who've gone to college, or got themselves good jobs, that might otherwise have ended up dead or in jail."

 

"Sometimes ah wonder if it's worth it.  The problems are so big, and ah'm just one man.  The number of people ah can help is so small."  He sounded quite dejected, clearly deeply affected.

 

Hannibal looked at the sadness on his friend's face.  Then he looked across at the two small children laughing and crawling around on the grass with Murdock.  He thought about their potential and how easily it could be lost if they made one wrong turn.  And he thought about the people out there waiting to take advantage of anyone making a wrong turn.

 

 

"Senator Vaughan?  No?  Yeah, yeah, I know you've never heard of any Senator Vaughan.  Well next time you don’t talk to him tell him Smith wants another meet.  Soon as it can be arranged."

 

 

It wasn't the same hotel room; it wasn’t even the same hotel.  None of the heavies were the same.  But Vaughan, Stark, Webster and Alverez were the same.  Hannibal walked in and got right to the point.

 

"It's for real what you said?  I set the agenda?  I make policy?"

 

"Yes."  Webster said.

 

"In that case my agenda is drugs.  Who's making them, who's bringing them in, who's distributing them."  Three of the four politicians looked at each other.  Webster went on looking at Hannibal.

 

"There are police and federal agencies dedicated to…" Alverez began.

 

"And their hands are tied with red tape.  Mine wouldn't be."

 

"We appreciate you have always been very anti-drugs, Colonel," Stark said "And many of your prior missions have helped in the fight against them, but we work more on matters of national security."

 

"You're telling me this isn't a matter of national security?  Thousands of our young people, who should be fit and ready to serve their country, are being destroyed.  The people poisoning them are as much our enemies as any terrorists you care to name."  He held Webster's gaze as he spoke, knew he was the one he needed to convince.  "You said you want things to be different now than they were with Stockwell.  You said you want to make America a better place.  Was that all just bull?"  Webster looked at him closely.  "Nixon declared the War on Drugs twenty years ago.  I don't know if you folks have noticed, but we don't seem to be winning."  He saw Webster's face flicker just a little at the mention of Nixon.  Hannibal had been doing some reading on the political backgrounds and known allegiances of his four new friends.  Webster and Nixon went back quite a ways.

 

Webster stepped close to Hannibal then and held out his hand.  Hannibal shook it.

 

"Welcome back to the organisation, Colonel."

 

 

Part 2

 

"I've heard some crazy stuff in my time," Murdock said,  "but this takes the cake. A three tiered wedding cake at that."

 

Hannibal had fully expected this reaction when he told the rest of the team about his new job.

 

"I know it sounds nuts, guys, but I honestly believe I can do some good.  And I want you all with me."

 

"You're recruiting us?"  Face said.  "Do we have to go through a mock execution first?"  He looked angry.  Murdock and BA just looked disbelieving, but Face's eyes were dark with fury.

 

"Face…"

 

"No, Hannibal, I can't believe you would even consider this.  After everything we went through you want us to work for these people again?"

 

"It will be different this time.  I'm in control now, not Stockwell.  And I intend to stamp my personality all over that organisation."

 

"You really think you can do that Hannibal?"  Murdock asked.  "That you can influence them instead of the other way around?"

 

"I do.  They'll do the right thing whether they want to or not.  I'll see to it."  He went on to explain what his priorities were going to be, saw BA's expression change to cautious interest.

 

"Don't you guys think that smashing drug smuggling networks comes under the heading of doing good?  Look, this is a chance to make a real difference.  We'll finally have the kind of power and resources that will let us do that."  He searched their faces as he tried to sell it.

 

"Ah still think it's nuts."  BA growled.  Murdock nodded in agreement.

 

"Just think about it, please."  Hannibal said.  "I'm doing this and I want my team with me."  They looked at each other.  Murdock shrugged.

 

"I'll think about it."

 

"Yeah."  BA said.  "Me too."  Face didn't speak, had his arms folded looking at the floor.

 

"Face?"  He got no answer.  "Guys," Hannibal said, turning to Murdock and BA, "can I talk to Face alone?"

 

"Well, I gotta go to work, anyway."  Murdock said.  "Can you give me a ride, big guy?"  They left.

 

"So?"  Face said when they were alone.

 

"Face, I need you with me on this.  I'm gonna be the guy back at HQ flying a desk.  I need someone that I trust in command in the field.  I want that to be you."

 

"You?  Stay behind a desk?"  Face said, incredulously.  "See that isn't going to work for a start."

 

"Face, look at me.  I mean really look.  I'm… not young any more.  I can't run around the way I used to."  It was a difficult thing for him to admit, but he knew it was true.  He was slowing down.  He wouldn't wait until he was a liability in the field, he could use his experience just as well to issue orders from higher up.  And he knew he could rely on Face to carry out those orders.  "You've been a Lieutenant long enough, Face.  It's time to take the lead."  Face lost the defiant look, but he still didn’t appear convinced.

 

"I have a business, clients…"

 

"And all those thrilling lunches negotiating deals with producers are giving you the adrenaline rush you want, are they?  So why have you taken to jumping out of planes and climbing sheer cliffs?"

 

Self-consciously Face put his right arm with its cast behind his back.  Hannibal was right about that, he had been seeking excitement lately.  When he'd ridden into battle with a company of Bedouin warriors he'd been reminded of how good that adrenaline surge felt and had finally admitted to himself that he missed it.  But going back to work for these people may just be too high a price to get that thrill back.

 

"Face, all I ask is that you at least think about it," Hannibal could see that his second was still undecided.  "Doing this without you... "  He shook his head, smiled, "well, it won't be nearly as much fun as I'd hoped."

 

"Fun?"  Face shook his head in disbelief.  "You think this is going to be fun?  Did Stockwell ever look as if he was having fun?"

 

"I'm not Stockwell.  And sure it's going to be fun.  Kicking drug dealer ass has always been fun."

 

 

Face had eventually promised he would think about it too, so Hannibal started his new job in a pretty good mood.  They sent a car to pick him up at home and take him to the jet.  His jet, he thought, grinning.   The Able driving gave him a slightly odd look as he got into the car and he wondered if he should have worn a suit.

 

The jet was almost the same as he remembered it, with one new addition.

 

"Good morning, Colonel Smith.  My name is Barbara, I'll be your assistant."  Hannibal gave her an appreciative once over.  About thirty, pretty with long brown hair, a nice figure and good legs.  She's a test, he thought at once.  They want to know if I can keep my hands off her.  He wondered briefly if Stockwell had kept his hands off Carla, but quickly stopped thinking about that before he started getting any kind of mental picture.

 

"Just Barbara, or do you have a last name?"

 

"March," she said.  "Would you like coffee?"  She was brisk and efficient.  After providing coffee she started introducing him to all the various gadgets and gizmos on the plane, which took up the whole of the morning.  At lunchtime the driver took him to an expensive and discreet restaurant.  A table was already booked for him and he found Senator Vaughan waiting.  The Senator gave him the same look the Maitre-de had and Hannibal decided he would definitely have to wear a suit tomorrow.

 

"How was your first morning?"  Vaughan asked as they studied their menus.

 

"Fine, just getting to know the place.  When do I actually do some work?"

 

"When you get back Barbara will have prepared files for you to review.  Personnel, facilities, other resources.  It will probably take several days to fully familiarise yourself with the infrastructure of the organisation."

 

"Okay."

 

"Meanwhile the information you requested on drug smuggling and distribution is being collated and will be presented to you in a few days."

 

"Then we go to work?"

 

"Yes.  As we said, things have been stagnating lately, we need some decisive action to shake everyone up and put some life back into them."

 

"Looking forward to it."  Hannibal grinned. 

 

 

First though he had to get through the small mountain of files Barbara had prepared for him.  Vast amounts to read, videotape to watch, people to meet.  Department heads mostly and all as dull as corporate drones.  Hannibal longed to move on to interviewing the Ables and the other field agents.  They were the people who were going to go out and get the work done.

 

It took a week and each night Hannibal went home with his head spinning with facts and figures.  He took one afternoon off and went to buy himself some good suits.  Afterwards he met the rest of the team for dinner and they made the long week worthwhile with the two words, "We're in."

 

Hannibal grinned with gratitude and relief.  "Thanks, guys."

 

"Someone gotta look out for you."  BA said gruffly.

 

"Keep you on the straight and narrow."  Murdock said, with a slight smile.

 

"Okay, I'll call you in a few days once we're ready to get to work.  That should give you time to get yourselves fixed up, make any arrangements you need to…"

 

"Put our affairs in order, you mean?"  Face muttered.

 

 

It was Friday afternoon and Hannibal had only a few more files to go through.  He wondered if they would let him take them home to finish.  Barbara came through from her office at exactly three-thirty, as she had every day.

 

"Coffee, sir?"  She looked nice today, in a crisp white blouse and an above the knee skirt.  But Hannibal kept his eyes on her face.  So far he had passed the "keeping his hands off Barbara" test.  Frankly that wasn't really a problem.  As attractive as she undoubtedly was, she had clearly studied at the Carla school of warmth and responsiveness.  That had never stopped Frankie and Face trying with Carla, but Hannibal had never gone for the ice princess sort.

 

"Thanks, yes."  As she left the room he sighed and put down the folder he had just finished reading, reached for the next.

 

"Barbara!"  She hurried back to Hannibal's desk at the sound of his yell.

 

"Sir?"  Hannibal was standing up, a folder in his hand.  He looked flushed with anger.

 

"What the hell is this?"  She looked at the folder.

 

"It's a CIA file, Colonel."

 

"I can see that.  It's a CIA file on Lieutenant-Colonel Madari."

 

"Yes, I believe he's a useful contact of yours," she said, went on, "it's been requested so you can check it for accuracy and see if there's any information you can add."  Hannibal stared at her.  Was she carved from stone?

 

"He is not a 'useful contact', Miss March," Hannibal said, coldly. "He's a friend.  I can see that concept is unfamiliar to you.  Friends are something those of us with normal human feelings have."  He regretted saying that instantly, because she did look genuinely hurt for a moment.  "I'm sorry," he said quickly, calming down a little.  "But you must see, surely, that I can't read an intelligence file on a friend of mine."

 

"I quite understand," she said briskly.  "I'll have it returned directly."

 

"Good."  He put the folder down on the desk and sat down.  "Could I get my coffee?"  She brought it to him and went back to her office, leaving him to continue his reading.  As he tossed another folder down it slid across the desk and fell to the floor, knocking the CIA file down with it.  Clicking his tongue in irritation Hannibal went to pick them up, sat back down with them still in his hands.

 

Damn, that CIA file was practically calling his name asking him to take a look at it.  Hannibal had to admit to being curious about some aspects of his friend's life, but he knew Arabs were pretty big on privacy, Madari probably more than most.

 

No, he thought, if there are things Faris has chosen not to share that's his prerogative.  There's plenty of stuff I haven't told him about me.   Anyway, he reflected, who knows how accurate the information is?   Those guys at the CIA were always getting stuff wrong.  He put the folder down, picked up another and opened it.  But his eyes seemed to slide off the pages inside and over to the CIA file.  What if the information was inaccurate?  Maybe he should just skim it for any obvious mistakes.

 

He picked up the folder and opened it.  The first thing he read was a page heading: 'Known financial assets and income'.  He flipped that page over at once.  That really wasn't his business.  Hell, none of it was, he knew that, he shouldn't be doing this.  He was about to close the folder when he spotted the word 'mistress'.

 

 

Part 3

 

Hannibal jogged through the early morning mist.  It clung to him and chilled him.  It was nearly six o'clock and he'd been out running since five, when he'd finally given up on getting back to sleep.

 

Guilt gnawed him like a dog with a bone.  He'd let his curiosity overwhelm his conscience and had read the whole file.  Now he wished he could wipe the knowledge from his mind.  It wasn't as if there'd been anything shocking or particularly revelatory in it, though the bit about Signora Giordano had been an eye-opener.  He'd always thought Madari was the 'married to his career' sort who had no time for romance.  No, it wasn't the content that weighed so heavily on his mind, it was the fact of having this knowledge he knew he wasn't entitled to have.

 

He stopped at a coffee house as it opened up and lingered over breakfast before heading home for a long hot shower.  When the car turned up he got in wearing jeans and a denim shirt.  The driver gave him that 'no suit?' look again and Hannibal snapped "It's Saturday, lighten up."  The Able made no comment, drove off.  Hannibal's newspaper lay ignored on the seat as he stared moodily out of the window.  Something caught his eye and he told the driver to stop.  He got out and went into 'Stephenson's Books'.  They specialised in military history and the proprietor was pleased to see Hannibal, one of his best regular customers.

 

"Mr Smith," he said, smiling.  "Good to see you again.  Did you enjoy the Patton biography?"

 

"Very much, thanks.  I see you've got that new book on Montgomery in."

 

"Of course."  He took a copy from a display, handed it to Hannibal, who flicked through it.  "I'm looking forward to reading it myself.  Excellent reviews, I'm sure you'll…"

 

"I'll take it, could you gift wrap it?"  There was a post office up the street, he walked there and stood on line for a good long time.  The airmail cost to send the book to Qumar was pretty outrageous, but guilt has a way of loosening the purse strings.  Hannibal walked out of the post office a lot lighter both in the wallet and in the guilt department.  He knew Madari would love that book, especially as his grandfather claimed to have met Montgomery personally.  Though even Madari admitted that may have been one of the old man's many very tall tales.

 

Hannibal felt better for all of twenty minutes.

 

As he sat as his desk, drinking his coffee he started to ask himself just who he thought he was kidding.  Madari didn't know the book was really an apology.  He'd think Hannibal was being generous, he would certainly send a gift in return.  And that would leave Hannibal right back where he started at Number 1, First Avenue, Guilt Trip City.  Throwing money at the problem wasn't going to make it go away.  That was… damn it, that was Stockwell type thinking.

 

He knew what he ought to do, be a man, call Madari, confess, apologise.  But he dreaded the damage that would do to a friendship he'd come to value deeply.  Hell, he'd already damaged it, he knew.  He'd been planning on inviting Madari over when he next got some leave, take him camping and riding in Yellowstone, which he'd said he'd like to see.  Hannibal had been looking forward to it, he liked the man's company.  For one thing Madari didn't think it was boring to talk about MacArthur or Rommel for several hours at a time.  But now Hannibal wasn't sure he could face it, knew he would feel horribly uncomfortable sitting there, talking about other things while in his head he was thinking 'I know how much you have in the bank.  I know how much you get paid.  I know you're the legal owner of Jahni's apartment.  I know how much you pay your servant.  I know about Sofia Giordano and that you see her several times a week.  I know about Dr Fauzi, who you see once a week and I know he's a psychiatrist.  I suspect even your C.O. doesn’t know about Dr Fauzi, but I do.'

 

Damn!  Hannibal gave his desk a good hard kick and stood up, started to pace.  Okay, no use crying over spilt milk, he told himself, I did the wrong thing, I acknowledge that.  And then he started to wonder if it had been a test.  Had his "employers" known Madari was a friend and not a 'contact'?  Hell, of course they knew.  Did they want to see if Hannibal would give in to the temptation and take advantage of his position?  Possibly.  Okay, he thought again.  Okay, so if it was a test then I failed.  Move on.  He would think about it for a few days, wait until he'd calmed down before he decided how to fix it.

 

"Barbara!"  She appeared quickly.  "Where's that information I wanted?  You said it would be here today."

 

"It's just been dropped off, sir."  She started bringing in folders from her office.  Hannibal sat down with them and was soon deeply engrossed in the intricacies of the smuggling networks that brought in and distributed drugs.  Plans started to form.  He called Barbara back in and had her fetch files on agents.  Then he called Face, Murdock and BA.

 

 

"This is our target."  Hannibal handed Face a photograph.  "That’s a satellite photo of it, taken three weeks ago off the coast of Santa Monica."

 

"A ship?"  Face passed the photograph on to BA who in turn handed it to Murdock.  The team were all in Hannibal's office on the jet, having their first briefing under Hannibal's regime.  Barbara had brought in coffee and Face had tried the usual routine on her.  Hannibal had to admit he was impressed that Face had managed to break through the ice barrier a little and elicit a small smile from her.

 

"It comes up from Columbia once a month, anchors off the coast of California, never in the same place twice.  A smaller boat, again, never the same boat twice, goes out to meet it and brings back the junk.  So far no-one's been able to catch them in the act or in possession."

 

And what are we going to do that the feds can't?"  Face asked.

 

"You're going to sink it."  Hannibal said, grimly.

 

"The ship?"  Murdock looked slightly alarmed.  "What with?  A torpedo?  You're not telling me we have a submarine?"

 

"Explosives, Murdock.  You're going to get aboard and take everyone off then blow a hole in the bottom of the hull."

 

"What happens to the people we take off the ship?"  Murdock asked.

 

"Well, if we can identify any of them as being wanted by the FBI or the DEA they'll be handed over.  The rest we'll send home."

 

"What, just let 'em go?"  BA asked, sounding unhappy.

 

"Someone has to let the folks back home know what happened to their boat."  Hannibal grinned.

 

"Ah," Face grinned back at him.  "Send them a message, let them know there's a new player in town?"

 

"And new rules."  Hannibal said nodding.  "I've put together a strike force for you."  He gave Face a list.  "You'll work with them over the next few days and we'll work out the fine details of the assault."

 

"Ables?"  Face said, dubiously.

 

"No," Hannibal shook his head.  "The Ables are fine at being heavies in suits, but they don’t have the initiative for this kind of job.  The squad I've put together are real field agents, vets of Special Forces and CIA.  The Ables will wait on shore to take the prisoners off your hands."  Face smiled, he liked the sound of it.  He scanned the names on the list, noting their experience and specialties.  Maybe Hannibal was right; maybe this was going to be fun after all.

 

 

 

It was three a.m. on Friday morning.  Face's squad lay in wait at a marina.  For a long time the only sound had been the lapping of the water and the creaking and rustling of sails.  Then the voices had come.  Face sighed with relief.  Seems the intel was right about the marina.  Now they had to wait to see which boat they were going for.

 

BA's voice came through Face's earpiece.

 

"Eagle three to Eagle two.  Ah got visual contact."  Hannibal had given them the new call signs, saying that he'd be cold in the ground before using 'Empress' again.

 

"How many?"  Face asked.

 

"Three."

 

"Okay.  Remember everyone, we have to get them all, don't let any of them slip away.  Watch out for any of them trying to jump in the water and swim for it.  And wait for my signal, we have to be sure which boat they're going for."

 

"Roger, Eagle two."  Face cringed a bit.  'Eagle' may be more macho than 'Empress', but he'd seen some of the men smirking at it.  A couple of days ago when Hannibal had arrived for a briefing Face had heard a whisper of "the eagle has landed".  He'd looked round pretty sharply, but hadn't spotted the whisperer.  So he was going to assume it was Farrell.

 

Charles Farrell was twenty-eight, a tall, disgustingly handsome, Ivy Leaguer.  Ex CIA, he had an air about him that made Face's fists itch.  His college buddy Daniel Collins, who he'd worked with at the Company before Stockwell personally recruited them, produced a similar reaction.  To Face's annoyance however much he wanted to dismiss them as over privileged types who liked playing secret agent they were very good and worked together superbly.

 

"Eagle four here."  Murdock liked the call sign of course.  Anything with wings… "They're boarding a boat.  Cabin cruiser.  Looks like about a thirty footer, at berth 16."

 

"Okay, everybody go on my mark." He heard the sound of weapons being readied, glanced over his shoulder at the black clad men behind him.  Took a breath.

 

"Go!"

 

 

Part 4

 

"Hands in the air!"

 

"Drop your weapons!"

 

"On the ground now!"

 

Face sometimes wondered how bad guys decided which instruction to follow first when surrounded by heavily armed men yelling orders at them.  The three men in the boat briefly looked as if they were thinking about fighting, or making a break for it. But they thought better of it.  Face's squad surrounded them from the boardwalk and from another boat that lay alongside theirs.  They threw down their guns.

 

Face climbed down onto the boat with Murdock and several of the men.  BA and more agents kept them covered from the boardwalk.

 

"Cuff them."  Face ordered.  "Which of you is in charge?"  He asked as his men secured the prisoners.  They didn't reply, but he got his answer from the way two of them involuntarily flicked a look at the third.

 

"Okay, pal.  We know where you were heading for your little moonlight boat trip.  We'd hate to disappoint your friends who are waiting for you.  So you're going to come with us and make sure any codes or passwords we need to transmit on approach are given just right."

 

The other two were taken off the boat and marched away towards the vans that the Ables had driven up in.  The leader, a hard faced man in his thirties with blond hair watched them go then turned to Face.

 

"I don’t have to do anything."  He growled.  "I got rights.  And I ain't seen no badges yet."  Face groaned inwardly.  He could almost hear Murdock smiling.

 

"Badges?"  Murdock said.  "We don't…"

 

"Murdock!" Face snapped.  "Not now."

 

"Aw, but Face, he gave me the feed line.  He's gonna be disappointed if I don’t say it."

 

"I can live with his disappointment."  Face said.  "Listen to me, scumbag.  Like my colleague was about to say, we don’t have no stinkin' badges."  He heard Murdock splutter with outrage that Face had stolen his line.  "What I do have is this Glock…" he pressed his handgun into the man's temple, "…and a really short temper.  So you shut the hell up about your rights and take us to the ship."  The smuggler's eyes went wide with shock as he finally realised that this was no ordinary bust.

 

 

The boat sped across the dark water.  Face stood by BA who was steering.  Murdock joined them.

 

"That was nice, Face." he said.  "Good intimidating.  Hannibal will be proud.  That 'Glock…short temper' line could have been one of his."

 

Face grinned.  "I've obviously hung around with him way too much."

 

"Coming up on the position."  BA reported.  Face leant over to call to Collins who was kneeling in the prow of the boat, scanning ahead with binoculars.

 

"You see anything?"

 

"Yeah, just now."  Collins turned to look at Face.  "Lights a couple of miles ahead.  Right where the satellite intel said it would be."

 

"Okay, come on back from there."  Face went and brought over the captured smuggler, pushed him over to the radio to announce their approach.  Face's gun pressing into the back of his neck persuaded him to make sure he acted as if everything was normal.

 

"Alright.  Everyone below and out of sight except Farrell, Collins and me."  Face ordered.  One of the three smugglers, one of the ones currently in the custody of the Ables, was black.  Face wasn't sure if the people on the ship knew the racial make-up of the team they were expecting to pick up their cargo but best not to take chances, so he'd take Collins.  And if he took Collins he might as well have Farrell.  "Collins, take the wheel."

 

The rest of the squad got under cover below as the cabin cruiser approached the ship.  They looked for the rope ladder the smuggler had told them about.

 

"There."  Farrell spotted it and they pulled up under it, secured the boat.  They could see movement above them at the top of the ladder.

 

"Keep your heads down as you climb up," Face said.  Hopefully the welcoming committee wouldn't realise until too late that impostors were climbing aboard.  The two young agents nodded.  They had looks of excited anticipation.  To be honest Face would prefer them to look more nervous, knew what overconfidence led to.

 

"Let's go."  Face led them up the rope ladder.  It was a long climb and he was sweating a bit by the time he reached the top, but he was still ready when he heard a voice say, "Hey, you’re not…" He exploded into action, piling into the three men that waited there.  Farrell and Collins swarmed up the ladder after him and joined the melee.  In seconds three men lay on the deck unconscious.  As Farrell and Collins shook hands over their fallen foes, grinning, Face got out his radio.

 

"Eagle two to Eagle group.  Come aboard.  Have the divers start getting ready."  He turned to the agents.  "Stop congratulating each other and tie these guys up."

 

Grappling hooks clanged onto the sides of the ship and Face made sure they were secure.  A few moments later Murdock appeared at the top of the rope ladder.

 

"Permission to come aboard?"  He asked with a teasing smile.

 

"Granted."  They were soon all assembled on the deck.  "Let's do this fast.  There's likely only about a half dozen men aboard.  Team one with me to the bridge, team two check the hold.  Team three stay here and secure our escape."

 

They split up, six men each in teams one and two, two men in team three guarding their escape route.  Face's team took the bridge easily.  The men there had no notion of their approach and gave up quickly when the armed agents burst in.

 

"Start getting these guys onto the boat," Face ordered.  "But stay alert until team two has reported."  Murdock's voice came through his earpiece then, whispering.

 

"Fa… er, Eagle two.  We may have a problem."

 

 

Crouched in cover in the hold, the rest of team two lurking around him, Murdock whispered softly to Face.

 

"You know we expected just to find the drugs ready for moving.  It's not like that.  They've got a factory set up down here.  They're processing the stuff."

 

"Hell.  How many people?"  Murdock glanced quickly at the long tables full of what looked like a very evil chemistry set.

 

"About thirty.  Five heavies and a bunch of guys doing the work.  We'll never get them all on…" There was a yell as one of the 'heavies' walked around a corner and right into the squad.  All hell broke loose.

 

 

Team one clattered down the stairs into the hold, weapons at the ready to join the fight, but it was already over.  Murdock's team consisted mainly of ex-Special Forces men and they had made short work of the thugs that opposed them.  The workers processing the cocaine into crack had put up no fight at all and were huddled together away from their now smashed equipment.  The heavies stood around nursing minor wounds, except one who lay on the deck, dead.

 

"Murdock?"  Face said, looking at the corpse.

 

"Unavoidable, Face."  Murdock said, though he looked sickened about it.  "Guy was about to shoot BA, Wilson there had to take him out."

 

Face said nothing more about it.  He looked at the prisoners.

 

"We'll never get all of these on the cabin cruiser and keep them secure."  He thought for a moment, and then smiled.  "Time to man the lifeboats."

 

 

The ship had two large lifeboats, remnants of the days before automation reduced crews to almost nothing.  They easily held the prisoners and were lowered into the water with agents aboard to guard them.  Face held onto the captain to check one last thing.

 

"Captain, your ship is about to move.  Straight downward."  The captain looked pretty sick.  "I need to know if there's anyone else on board.  If there is you will get on your PA and tell them they have five minutes to come up here and surrender, or they're going for a swim."

 

"Three more men," the captain admitted.  Face marched him to the bridge and watched him unhook the handset of the PA.

 

"No tricks, I have excellent Spanish."  Face said.  Or more accurately, lied.  He had enough Spanish to get across the border for a trip to Tijuana and order his drinks.  But there were no tricks left for the captain to pull.  He made his announcement over the PA and moments later three men emerged from below decks.  They were frisked and taken off the ship.  The captain climbed down the rope ladder, followed by the last of the agents.  Face stood alone on the deck, took a last look around at the doomed vessel then disembarked.

 

They pulled the cabin cruiser away from the ship, the two lifeboats towed behind it.  Face turned to the men who were about to complete the final stage of the operation.  Gonzales and Hassan, a couple of ex-Navy SEALs were in their scuba gear.  They went backwards over the side of the boat into the water and the explosives were handed to them.

 

"Good luck."  Face said.  He didn't envy them the job, in the chilly water, but they were both grinning, gave him a thumbs up in response.  They donned their mouthpieces and facemasks and disappeared under the water.

 

The excitement of taking the ship was replaced by the tension of waiting for the next half hour.  Everyone was quiet.  Face paced up and down in the small space of the cabin cruiser's deck checking his watch frequently.  At one point he noticed Farrell and Collins, who were sitting on the steps down into the cabin, were playing a surreptitious game of cards and enjoyed their reactions when he yelled at them to put the cards away right now.

 

"Take it easy, Face."  Murdock said softly as Face passed him.  "Everything is going fine."  Face forced himself to appear calmer, for the sake of the men and sat on the steps that led up to the steering housing.  Ten minutes later the divers reappeared.  The men on the boat hauled them aboard and Face at once gave the order to move to a safe distance.

 

"Well?"  He asked them.

 

Hassan nodded and grinned.  In his broad Bronx accent he said,  "Piece of cake, all as expected.  Secured the explosives on both sides right under the lower hold." 

 

"She'll go down in two minutes flat," Gonzales predicted as he peeled off his wet suit.  The two divers dressed themselves in warm clothes and took flasks of hot coffee from their bags.

 

Once they were far enough from the ship Gonzales took a remote control device from his equipment bag, checked the frequency, and then offered it to Face.

 

"Care to do the honours sir?"  Face took the remote, looked at the ship, looked around at his men and then at the prisoners in the lifeboats.

 

"Nice work, everyone," he said, loud enough that they could all hear.  Then he pressed the button.

 

The explosions weren't exactly spectacular, more like a dull boom.  The water around the ship flew up in the air and the ship at once began to list to one side as the sea flooded in.  Then it was clear it was going down bows first as the stern began to slowly lift out of the water.  The watchers on the boats were silent, except for Gonzales who counted off the time since the explosions in ten second intervals on his watch.

 

"One minute forty."  The ships propellers were well out of the water now, the bows were under the surface.  And gradually, as if it was sliding down a slope into a hole the ship slipped down under the water.  It was eerily silent.  As the water closed over the stern and it vanished from sight Gonzales said triumphantly. "One minute fifty seven seconds."

 

"We do good work."  Hassan said, proudly and the two SEALs high-fived each other.

 

"Well done."  Face said to them and turned to call to BA who was once again at the steering wheel.  "Let's go home."

 

 

"Wow, Stockwell never did this for us."  Murdock said as the squad trooped, back into the organisation's LA base to find a long table full of food and drink.  Hannibal waited beside it with a case of champagne at his side.  "Hannibal, I think I love you," Murdock went on.  "I'm starved."  He grabbed a plate and dove straight in.  Hannibal grinned as the other agents followed his example, all smiling and nodding their thanks to Hannibal.

 

"Don't expect this every time."  Hannibal said.  "But I thought we should mark the first mission."  He clapped a hand on Face's shoulder.  "Especially as it went so well.  I'm proud of you all."  He popped a champagne cork and poured the wine.

 

"So tell me all about it."

 

"Can't we report later?"  Face said.

 

"I don’t mean report," Hannibal said, "I mean tell me all the fun parts."

 

 

Hannibal sat in his office reading the reports of the mission.  He was proud of all the men, especially Face.  He'd handled being in command of the assignment beautifully, as Hannibal knew he would.  The squad had all worked well together, justifying his decisions on who to place on the team.  Face seemed to have some reservations about Farrell and Collins he noticed, but it seemed more a personality clash than anything else.  He couldn't fault their work.  Having to kill one of the smugglers was unfortunate, but the reports from all concerned agreed it was a good call and he had no reason to take any action against Wilson.

 

Hannibal laid the reports aside, sat wrapped up in his thoughts.  Getting that first mission out of the way was a relief.  He was starting to believe this was going to work out.  His "handlers" as he'd started to think of them had seen to it he had all the resources he needed.  Perhaps they really were as committed to the work as they claimed.

 

Now he had one more thing to do.  He'd been putting it off, concentrating on the mission, but it was time to put things right.  He picked up the phone and dialled a long number, waited for the answer.

 

"Faris, it's Hannibal…yeah, good to speak to you too…oh you got it okay, that’s great…glad you like it.  Listen, there's something important I have to talk to you about.  I'm afraid you aren't going to like it…"

 

 

TBC

 


Tightrope Walk by Junkfoodmonkey
Tightrope Walk 2 by Junkfoodmonkey
Tightrope Walk 3 by Junkfoodmonkey

 

 


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