Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!
This page last viewed: 2017-06-28 and has been viewed 1271 times

Viper

Viper

By: Junkfoodmonkey

 

Rated: PG13

Summary: Is Stockwell playing Hannibal or is Hannibal playing Stockwell? And whose side is Frankie really on?

Warnings: Language

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

 

Viper

 

Chapter 1

 

"Report, Mr Santana." Stockwell ordered.

 

Frankie licked his lips. Stockwell could feel his nervousness. It filled the enclosed space of the limousine like a bad smell.

 

"Look, Johnny already gave you his report, there's really nothing else." Frankie flicked the top of the water bottle he carried. Open and closed, open and closed.

 

"That's for me to decide, not you." Stockwell's voice was cold and he saw Frankie shiver a little. The man really was pathetic. But so easy to manipulate. "Heard from your father lately?" Stockwell asked. He saw Frankie's eyes go wide for a moment, then narrow in anger and hatred. The expression was covered a second later, not quite quickly enough. Amateur.

 

"Okay, General, like I said, there isn't much more to add than what Johnny already gave you…" He went over the details of their most recent mission. Stockwell listened expressionless and gave the occasional nod.

 

"Any more discussion of making a break for it?" He asked when Frankie was finished.

 

"No." Frankie shook his head. "I think that was just talk, you know, hot air. They were all feeling kind of pissed last week, that's all."

 

"It wasn't just talk when Peck attempted to make a run for it."

 

Frankie shrugged.

 

"Something you were privy to beforehand and yet neglected to mention it to me until it would have been too late." The voice wasn't just cold it was icy.

 

"I didn't get a chance," Frankie claimed, not very convincingly. "They don't really trust me, you know. There's probably all kinds of shit they don't tell me."

 

"Your job is to make them trust you, Santana." He didn’t add 'or else', but he didn't need to any more. "Did they say anything else I should know about?"

 

"Well Murdock said you had all the cuddly charm of a rattlesnake and Face said he wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire." Stockwell's eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "And Johnny suggested your sexual preferences involved male goats." Frankie seemed to be warming to his subject, enjoying himself now. "BA talked for twenty minutes about how much he wants to pound you into a wet smear on the ground…"

 

"Thank you, Santana, that's quite enough." Stockwell interrupted. He resisted the urge to knock the smirk off the man's face. Physical violence was so crude, but in the presence of Frankie Santana it was very tempting indeed. He waved a hand in an imperious fashion. "Leave."

 

Frankie climbed out of the car. It moved off at once, leaving Frankie on the roadside a mile from the Langley compound.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later Frankie came into the living room of the house. The team were all there. BA and Face were reading newspapers, Face the metro section, BA the sports. Hannibal was bent over his new toy, an electronic chess game. Murdock was flipping channels on the TV, not settling on one for more than a couple of seconds. Click. Star Trek. Click. Lucy. Click. The news. Click. Something blowing up. Click. Bilko… click click click.

 

"Hey, guys."

 

Various greetings came his way, most without the speaker looking in his direction.

 

"Good run, Frankie?" Hannibal asked, looking up.

 

"Yeah, thanks, Johnny." Frankie said. He was sweating. "I'd better hit the shower." As he left the room he looked at Hannibal, gave a quick nod.

 

"Kid's working hard on getting fit." BA commented.

 

"Yeah, he's looking good." Hannibal said. "Maybe a few people around here could learn from his example." Face and BA both turned to him to express their outrage at this insult, but Hannibal was actually grinning maliciously at an Able who had just come into the room. Hannibal wondered if Stockwell sent these guys to a school for English butlers to teach them how to glide around the house without making a sound. The man scowled at Hannibal, but Hannibal was sure he saw him suck in his gut.

 

"I think your dinner is burning," the Able said in a flat voice, but with a look in his eyes that said 'And I hope it's ruined.'

 

"Damn, the chicken." Face rushed to the kitchen.

 

BA perked up at the mention of dinner and folded up his paper.

 

"You staying for dinner, fool?" He asked Murdock.

 

"Huh?" Murdock looked at him.

 

"Dinner. You staying?" BA repeated.

 

"Oh. What time is it? No." Murdock said, sounding distracted. Hannibal looked at him as he stood up abruptly, looking at his watch. "I gotta go. Where's my jacket?"

 

"Over there," Hannibal pointed. "You okay, Murdock?"

 

"Yeah, fine." Murdock smiled a not quite real smile. "Just got something I have to do." He pulled on his jacket. "I'll see you guys later."

 

"You want one of us to drive you?" Hannibal asked, but Murdock gave his head a vehement shake.

 

"No, one of the Ables will take me." He gave a more genuine grin. "You know how I love having those guys give me rides." Hannibal grinned back. Stockwell had complained last month about Murdock using the Ables as his 'personal taxi service.' This had of course prompted Murdock to use them even more than before. He left, going via the kitchen to say goodbye to Face.

 

Hannibal left the living room too. He went to Frankie's bedroom, and knocked on the door of the bathroom. He could hear the shower running inside. Without waiting for an answer he went in.

 

"Johnny?" Frankie peered around the shower curtain.

 

"Yeah, just me, kid." He leaned against the sink as Frankie disappeared back behind the shower curtain.

 

"Just a second." Frankie said. He emerged a moment later, wrapping a towel around himself. He left the shower running. There was nothing like the noise of a running shower to confound the bugs. Low-tech maybe but effective.

 

"You saw him tonight?" Hannibal asked.

 

"Yeah. Just the usual questions, report on the mission, anything you guys are saying that he should know about. I just gave him all the usual bull." He picked up another towel and started to dry his hair. Hannibal wondered for a moment exactly what the spying Ables thought of him going into Frankie's bathroom while Frankie was in the shower. But he didn't really care what their dirty minds made of it. Better that than the truth.

 

"Okay. For next time l have some more misinformation I want you to feed him. Think you can manage that?" Frankie looked a little alarmed, but then nodded. He would try his best, Hannibal knew. Frankie wasn't a natural liar. Face claimed Frankie had at least nine different 'tells'. Omitting facts from his reports to Stockwell was one thing, but getting him to add in made up stuff was much more difficult. But he would try. Since the first day he'd come to Hannibal and told him Stockwell was still blackmailing him into reporting back Hannibal had seen the possibilities. He'd told Frankie to keep on with the reports, but only giving Stockwell what Hannibal wanted him to hear.

 

Frankie had dried off now and started pulling on sweat pants and a T-Shirt.

 

"This is some scary stuff, Johnny." Frankie said. "Lying to Stockwell like this, trying to manipulate him right back. The missions, well hell, yeah of course they're scary in a 'bring a change of underwear' sort of way. But lying to Stockwell. That keeps me awake at night. Sometimes I get the feeling that he knows exactly what I'm doing. Or then I think he doesn't but if he found out… oh man."

 

Hannibal had heard him saying all this before. He indulged the repetition, knew Frankie had every right to be nervous. And he was probably looking for reassurance from Hannibal again. Reassurance that he'd chosen the right side.

 

"Don't worry, Frankie. You know we'll take care of you. We owe you. You're under our protection, and anyone who messes with you has to deal with us." It was warm now, the running shower steaming up the room. "Just think of us as your personal round the clock bodyguards." He grinned. Frankie smiled back, but shook his head.

 

"Aw man, you don't owe me any more, you paid me back for that a long way back. And it was mostly Murdock anyway."

 

"Not just the rescue, Frankie. And don't play that down. I know what it took for you to do that." Frankie looked pleased. "You're stuck in this nightmare because you helped us. We owe it to you to get you out of it in one piece."

 

Frankie smiled. "You know Johnny, I still can't decide whether meeting you was the luckiest or the unluckiest day of my life."

 

 

Stockwell's limousine pulled up at the airfield beside the jet. Half absorbed in a folder Stockwell got out of the car. It appeared he would be "pulling an all nighter" as Colonel Smith would doubtless call it. The meeting he'd been to after getting the report from the weasel Santana had been long, difficult and tense.

 

"You can go." He told the driver. He was part way up the steps to the door when he stopped. The Able who should have been standing at the bottom of the steps wasn't there. He'd almost missed it, since he never bothered to acknowledge the guard. Stockwell drew his gun, and continued up the steps. As soon as he entered the plane he heard the sounds from his private office. There should be no one there. Carla was off duty.

 

He considered calling for backup, but didn't want to wait and maybe lose the element of surprise. It sounded like only one person. There were no voices. Stockwell approached the door. It was unlatched and he pushed it very gently. Only the desk lamp illuminated the office. He could see a figure moving around in the gloom going through files. It was clad all in black and Stockwell could see a shoulder holster. In total silence Stockwell pushed the door the rest of the way open, and stepped into the room, gun levelled.

 

"Perhaps if you tell me what you're looking for I can help you find it."

 

The intruder turned slowly. Stockwell tried to control his face, but couldn't help lifting his eyebrows in surprise.

 

"Well, it seems I have nursed a viper in my bosom," he said.

 

The viper smiled without humour. "That must make me Caligula."

 

"And we both know what happened to Caligula." Stockwell said, somewhat impressed that they recognised the context of the quotation. His eyes flickered briefly to the butt of the holstered handgun. "Now drop your shoulder holster and any other weapons you are carrying and put your hands on your head," he ordered, all business now.

 

The intruder made no move.

 

"Where's your backup, General?"

 

"Weapons on the ground now or you are dead." Repeating an order was not something he had to do often. He didn't usually work with people who needed orders repeated. At least he didn't usually work with them for very long.

 

"I notice you haven't bothered to ask after the health of the man who was guarding the plane. How very typical of you."

 

"On the ground now!" A third time? And still the intruder showed no sign of giving up their weapon. Stockwell could feel control of the situation slipping away from him. He began to realise he had made a mistake.

 

"You're sweating, Stockwell. I've never seen you sweat before. Is that your tell?"

 

This needed to end now. Stockwell's finger began to tighten on the trigger. It was a pity. He'd have preferred an interrogation not a corpse, but there was no option.

 

The gunshot was deafening in the enclosed space. Stockwell staggered back and then looked down at his chest. Bright red shock of blood on his shirt. He looked back at the intruder, at the smoking handgun. My god, no one could draw that fast, could they?

 

No silencer? Careless. No, deliberate. Would slow the draw. Darkness closed in. He flashed on the cowboy movies he'd loved as a boy. Never thought he'd be the one left bleeding in the dust. The one who faced the quick draw gunslinger and come off second best.

 

Pain. Pain was a cold fist in his chest. He couldn't catch a breath.

 

He hadn't even felt himself falling. Didn't know he was on the floor until the carpet pressed into his cheek. The room above him tilted. How strange it looked from here. The angles all wrong.

 

Someone stepped over him. There were words. A long way off. Mocking.

 

"Hail, Caesar."

 

Then the darkness took him and ended his pain.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

"Hannibal! Hannibal!"

 

Hannibal was awake and alert in an instant when the banging on his bedroom door started. His gun was in his hand without him consciously knowing he'd reached for it.

 

"Hannibal!" Murdock's voice. It was Murdock out there. Hannibal got out of bed and went to the door. He opened it, squinting against the bright light from the hallway. Murdock stood there, looking agitated. He wore a suit, but the shirt collar was undone, and a tie hung loose around his neck.

 

"Something's up, Hannibal," Murdock said breathlessly. The others, roused by the noise were coming out of their rooms now. Face and BA looked alert and wary. Frankie looked drowsy and confused.

 

"Jeez, Murdock, it’s four am, what's the problem?" Frankie interrupted himself with a huge yawn. Face caught Hannibal's eye and nodded down the hallway. An Able stood there. Nothing unusual in that, except that he had his gun in his hand.

 

"Something's going down, Hannibal." Murdock said. "The Ables just brought me here. They were waiting for me when I got back home. They didn't seem inclined to take 'get lost' for an answer."

 

Hannibal eyed the gun toting Able. The man's face was hard and he stared right back at Hannibal. Hannibal recalled him as one of the slightly more sympathetic Ables, usually up for some banter about football, even talked about his family sometimes. But there was no sympathy there now.

 

"Get dressed." Hannibal ordered the others, quietly. "Fully dressed," he added significantly. Face and BA disappeared back into their rooms at once. Frankie hesitated a moment, still looking confused.

 

"Now, Frankie." Hannibal snapped. Frankie hurried back into his room. Hannibal went into his room, leaving the door open. Murdock waited there while Hannibal put on his clothes. A couple of minutes later they all met in the hallway. The Able put a hand to his ear, listening, and then he turned to the team.

 

"Come out here," he said, gesturing.

 

"What the hell is this about, Johnny?" Frankie said, hopping, tying his sneakers. Hannibal nodded at BA and then at Face with a glance up the hallway. He and Murdock stuck close to Frankie as they moved towards the living room. Frankie didn't appear to notice that Hannibal had put Face on point and BA on rearguard, just as if they were on a jungle patrol, not walking through their home.

 

"Why don't we let Carla tell us?" Hannibal answered as they went into the living room to find Carla waiting for them.

 

She didn't look quite as sharp as usual. The power suit was replaced by what appeared to be a hastily donned blouse and, somewhat astonishingly, jeans. Her hair was tied back and she wore no make up. It seemed she'd been dragged out of bed as unceremoniously as them.

 

"Not that we don't love to see you, Carla," Face said, dropping onto one of the sofas and yawning, "but you'd better have a good reason for interrupting my beauty sleep."

 

It was an act, Hannibal knew. Face looked as lethargic as a man dragged out of bed before dawn should, but he was ready. BA stood behind the sofa Face was sitting on. Murdock sat down next to Face. Frankie took one of the other sofas and Hannibal stood behind him. Hannibal's gut was clenched tight. There were eight Ables in the room, covering all the exits.

 

"Two hours ago General Stockwell was found in his office on the jet. He had been shot in the chest."

 

A stunned silence followed her words. The first one to speak was Murdock.

 

"What does this mean for the team's pardons?"

 

Carla looked at him with narrowed eyes and an expression of disgust.

 

"Is that all you have to say about what I just told you?" She asked, coldly.

 

Murdock got to his feet. "What do you expect, Carla? Tears? Should we wail and rend our garments? You'll have a long wait for that."

 

"Murdock…" Hannibal said.

 

"No, Hannibal," Murdock said. "We're all thinking it, so why not say it? So someone finally caught up with Stockwell, well boo hoo. What does it mean for us? He must have left some contingency for what happens to us if he kicks off."

 

"Murdock's right." Face said, his expression hard. Frankie didn't speak. He turned to look at Hannibal, looked confused and a little frightened. BA was scowling as always, unreadable.

 

And Hannibal caught the very tiny glint in Carla's eye as she spoke again and he knew right away what her game was.

 

"Mr Murdock, gentlemen, I think you misunderstand."

 

"He's not dead is he?" Hannibal said.

 

"General Stockwell is in critical condition in hospital." Carla said.

 

"You… you said…" Murdock began, and then stopped. He glared at her. "Smart work, Carla." He sat down.

 

"Has he said anything?" Hannibal asked.

 

Carla shook her head. "He's in a coma."

 

"Will he live?" Hannibal asked.

 

"His chances are very slim." She said.

 

"Where were his guards?" Hannibal asked.

 

"The Able guarding the plane was found concealed nearby. He had severe head injuries. He is dead."

 

That made them go quiet again. Eventually Face spoke. "When did all this happen?"

 

"The General was found at two oh six. The gunshot was reported approximately ten minutes prior to that." She walked over to the sofa where Face and Murdock were sitting. "I know that the rest of you were here in your rooms at that time. Where were you, Mr Murdock?"

 

He looked up at her, eyes narrowed. The others glared.

 

"Are you accusing me of something, Carla?"

 

"You'd better not be suggestin' Murdock had anything to do with this, lady." BA warned.

 

"Where were you?" She persisted. "Able Nine dropped you at home at eight seventeen last night. You left your apartment building again at nine oh five. You caught a bus at nine twelve. The next time you were seen was when you returned to your apartment in a cab at three ten this morning."

 

"Well, aren't we the precise one?" Face said, in a mocking voice.

 

"I was with a friend." Murdock said, his voice low and angry.

 

"Until three in the morning?" Carla asked.

 

"A lady friend." Murdock said, looking self-conscious. "I had a date."

 

"What's her name?"

 

"None of your damn business." Murdock snapped.

 

"It is my business, if she is your alibi." Face and Murdock stood up so abruptly that Carla took a few steps backwards.

 

" Alibis are what suspects need," Murdock said. "If you're accusing me come out and say it, Carla."

 

Carla looked round at the angry men. She took a breath. "Yes, Mr Murdock, you are a suspect. Your movements are unaccounted for at the time of the attack."

 

"Back off, Carla," Face snapped. "Back off right now!"

 

"Mr Murdock has threatened General Stockwell at gunpoint before." Carla said. "Mr Santana can testify to that." She looked at Frankie who still sat on the couch. He looked mortified as all eyes turned to him.

 

"Yeah, but that was… different. He wasn't…" Frankie said. Hannibal leaned over and put a hand on Frankie's shoulder. He looked at Carla.

 

"We're going outside." Hannibal said. It wasn't a request it was a statement of something that was going to happen. "To the basketball court, to talk in private. Get up, Frankie."

 

"You are not going anywhere." Carla said, crossing her arms. "I am not finished…"

 

"You can wait." They moved towards the door. Carla backed up and stood between them and the exit. The Ables tensed up. Two of them moved to flank Carla. Hannibal stepped up very close to Carla, staring into her eyes.

 

"No, she said. But he could see fear deep in her eyes. He got as close as he dared, watching the Ables beside her. Too close and they'd drop him, he knew. But he was close enough to frighten her. Physically intimidating a woman was not something that he found either natural or enjoyable. But in this case it was necessary.

 

"We're all armed." He said quietly. "You can try to stop us. And if you do, then this will end with blood on the walls. I don't think you're ready for that. All we're going to do outside is talk. Keep us covered, but keep them back from us and we all get to see the sun come up. You're a smart girl. Don't start this day with a mistake." She studied his face for a moment. He kept it resolute, held her gaze until she looked away. She stepped aside.

 

Hannibal led the team past her and into the grounds. He'd said the basketball court so he'd better stick with that. If he headed elsewhere someone might get nervous and start shooting. Death was only a wrong step away right now. The Ables followed behind and took up positions around the court. Carla stayed in the house.

 

The team stood in a tight circle.

 

"I didn't shoot him." Murdock answered the question no one had asked.

 

"Of course you didn't!" Face exclaimed. "None of us think you did."

 

"Carla sure does," Murdock said.

 

"Yeah, she was real quick to accuse Murdock, wasn't she?" Frankie pointed out. "Kinda suspicious if you ask me."

 

"I wonder what her alibi is?" Face asked. "I can't imagine the Ice Queen was on a date herself."

 

"Hannibal?" Murdock said. "You believe me?"

 

"Of course he does, fool!" BA snapped. "He knows you wouldn't shoot Stockwell."

 

"Sure he would." Hannibal said. He ignored the protests from the others, looked right at Murdock. "You'd frag that bastard in a second if you thought he needed it, right, Murdock?" Murdock's eyes were locked on Hannibal's. He made no protest at Hannibal's words. He waited. "But you wouldn't bash in that Able's skull." The protests from the others silenced.

 

"Okay." Hannibal said up after a moment. "So we know Murdock didn't do it. Murdock, I think you'll have to give Carla the name of your, ah, lady friend. If only to get her off your back so we can get to work on finding out who really did this."

 

Murdock nodded. "She just had to ask nicely," he muttered.

 

"Er, Hannibal, what do you mean, 'we' can get to work." Face asked.

 

"We need to find out who did this."

 

"Well I think Carla's probably going to be looking into that, you know." Face said baffled. "I'm sure she'll find space in her calendar."

 

Hannibal shook his head. "First off, Carla may still go after Murdock, even with an alibi. I have no idea if she wants the truth or just an easy kill. And if she was involved herself…" He got out a cigar and lit it. "And secondly the man is our boss." He grimaced at the word, never liked using it. "We have to go after whoever shot him."

 

The rest of the team looked at each other, surprised, dubious.

 

"Er, Hannibal," Face said, "I don't know if any of us have ever mentioned this, but we hate Stockwell. He's a total bastard."

 

"But he's our total bastard." Hannibal said. His face went hard. "Look, guys, I know we hate him, I know he probably deserved what he got. And if he dies I won't cry for him. But the point is we work for him. And someone went after him knowing that fact and not caring."

 

"Pride." BA growled in a low voice, an accusing voice.

 

"Yeah, maybe." Hannibal said. "So what? Are you happy that whoever did this isn't afraid of us?"

 

"Maybe they just know how we feel about him," Face suggested.

 

"And that's okay is it?" Hannibal asked him. "That someone assumes we'd let them kill our boss just because we don't like him very much? You don't consider that an insult?"

 

Face looked down, folded his arms.

 

"And what do we do if we find out who did it, Hannibal?" Murdock asked.

 

"We show them just why they should have been afraid of us."

 

 

Chapter 3

 

"We'd better get back to the house." Hannibal said. The Ables looked nervous. Nervous and gun toting was not a good mix. "But be ready. I'm still not sure about Carla. I want you all ready to move at any moment on my signal."

 

They all nodded and began to troop back to the house. As they walked they checked around, reconnoitring the grounds for any changes. They had three fully worked out escape plans and were ready to put any of them into action at a moment's notice.

 

Although their escape routes weren't tunnels Hannibal, after watching The Great Escape one afternoon, had code-named them Tom, Dick and Harry. He had often smiled to himself as he thought that one day he might be running around the house shouting "Dick! Dick!" It would be a terrible shame if Stockwell weren't there to take that personally.

 

"If I give the go signal, stick close to me." Hannibal told Frankie quietly. Frankie nodded. He looked scared.

 

Back in the house Hannibal sent BA and Frankie to the kitchen to make breakfast. He took Face and Murdock back into the living room. Carla was on the phone. Hannibal went and stood in front of her. She looked up at him.

 

"Alright keep me apprised." She hung up. "Colonel?"

 

"Murdock will give you the name of his alibi witness." Hannibal said. Carla looked smug. "And you and I are going to discuss suspects." She stopped looking smug and frowned.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"You heard. I'm offering you our help to get whoever did this."

 

"That really isn't necessary. Besides…" she didn't finish.

 

"Besides, we're still suspects ourselves, right? Carla, think about it. If we were behind this why would we still be here?" She didn't answer. So Hannibal sat down and pulled over some papers and a pen that were on the table.

 

"Okay. Two things strike me as odd. You said the shot was heard, so no silencer on the gun. And no coup-de-grace head shot. So that tells me it's not a pro hit." He grinned at Carla. "See, that's another thing telling you it's not one of us."

 

If one of the team had wanted Stockwell dead he'd be dead.

 

"It is possible that a professional may attempt to make it appear otherwise." Carla said.

 

"Good point." Hannibal said. "Stockwell obviously taught you well in the twisted thinking department." He drew a line down the centre of the page. "So let's divide this into Pro and Personal." Carla leaned forward in her chair. She was starting to look interested.

 

"I suppose Trigorin is really dead?" Face speculated. "Any chance he got out?"

 

"Our information on that is inconclusive." Carla admitted. "There was a body, but the ID was never confirmed."

 

Hannibal wrote 'Ivan Trigorin' in the Pro column, though suspected a large overlap into Personal there. He smiled a little to himself as several of the prime suspects began the investigation.

 

 

"BA, what does 'frag' mean?" Frankie asked as he laid the table. BA stiffened a little at Frankie's question. "Johnny said Murdock would 'frag' Stockwell. Is it some kind of Vietnam thing? I mean I figured it means 'kill', but there's more to it right?"

 

"Yeah." BA wasn't very keen to discuss this. Frankie was a civilian. Soldiers didn't really talk about this sort of thing with civilians. He looked at Frankie. Well maybe he had earned it.

 

"It is from 'nam." BA said. "Well the word is. Hannibal says fragging goes back a long ways with the military, just not called that." He still felt uncomfortable. Wondered if Frankie might be shocked.

 

"It means troops killing their officer. Usually 'cause they think he's gonna get them killed." BA watched Frankie. He looked surprised but not shocked in the sense of being outraged. BA started pouring juice into glasses. Frankie was still looking at him and he knew the kid wanted to hear more.

 

"A bad officer can be as dangerous as the enemy." BA explained. "So sometimes the men kill him. It's like self-defence. Hannibal says it's been going on for as long as there's been armies. Was called 'fragging' in 'nam 'cause it was usually done with a grenade."

 

Frankie's face changed to dawning understanding. "Oh, frag as in fragmentation grenade?"

 

"Right."

 

"So…" Frankie said slowly, figuring it out. "No ballistics evidence if there was an investigation. Makes it easier to say it was an accident, right?"

 

"Yeah." BA said. He wondered if Frankie was satisfied or if he was going to ask The Question. BA started cracking eggs into the frying pan. He felt tiny stings as hot fat spat onto his hands and forearms. The eggs bubbled, started going solid.

 

"Did you ever frag an officer?" Frankie's voice was quiet, almost as if he was frightened of asking.

 

"Nah." BA stared into the frying pan, not turning to Frankie. "I hit plenty of 'em, never fragged one." In some cases he thought hitting them might have kept them from getting fragged later. Made them shape up and realise that it was a short step from being on the wrong end of BA's fist to being on the wrong end of a grenade they'd personally signed the requisition order for. The officers had never seen it that way of course and they'd still put him in the stockade. He smiled to himself. Talk about ungrateful.

 

Frankie was quiet for a few minutes, apparently processing all this. Then he spoke again.

 

"BA, you said it was the troops killing their officer, right?"

 

"Yeah." BA turned around with the frying pan, started dishing up the eggs onto the plates.

 

"But Murdock and Stockwell are both officers."

 

"Yeah," BA admitted. "I think Colonel was just meaning killing the guy in charge for the good of the unit."

 

"And Johnny would think that's okay? I mean he's got a real bug up his butt about an outsider shooting the guy. But if Stockwell was a danger to us Johnny would think it was okay for Murdock to kill him?"

 

"You'd have to ask Hannibal that." BA said.

 

"Oh." Frankie paused. "So in the war, did officers kill other officers? Apart from, you know, the whole thing with Colonel Morrison."

 

"I heard about some." BA said, non-committal.

 

"But that's not 'fragging' then? What's that called?"

 

BA gave Frankie a slightly odd look.

 

"Murder, Frankie." BA said. "That’s called murder."

 

 

"Absolutely not." Carla said.

 

Hannibal had just asked if they could go and take a look at the scene, but Carla was not even going to entertain the idea. She stood with arms crossed. It had been a long morning, but Hannibal had believed they were getting somewhere. Carla seemed to be taking his ideas on board and appreciating them. But it looked like there was still work to do.

 

"Why not?" Murdock asked. "Think we'll interfere with evidence?"

 

"That had occurred to me." She said. "Besides, we have forensic teams going over the area."

 

"She doesn't want us leaving," Face said to Hannibal.

 

"Like she could stop us if we wanted to go." Murdock said. The tension in the room edged up. Hannibal glanced at Frankie who was sitting beside him. Frankie was quiet and Hannibal was getting worried about that.

 

"Now, fellas, don't assume the worst." Hannibal said in a mildly sarcastic tone. He wanted to keep things calm. Keep Carla and the Ables off guard. "I'm sure Carla is just worried about our safety."

 

"Our safety?" Face said, incredulous.

 

"Of course, gentlemen." Carla agreed. "Did it never occur to you that whoever shot General Stockwell could be coming after you next?"

 

There was silence for a moment while the team tried to figure out if they'd just been warned of a threat or if they'd just been threatened. Carla just sat looking smug.

 

"Well we don't want to end up in DC General with Stockwell do we?" Hannibal asked. He watched Carla as he spoke. He saw a tiny smile on her face then she frowned at him and he knew it was artificial.

 

"I never mentioned which hospital he was in." She said.

 

Hannibal shrugged. "Closest to the airfield," he said. He began to wonder which hospital Stockwell was really in. Probably Bethesda Naval. Had to be the safest. The Ables had started to relax again. Hannibal looked at his watch. "I think it's lunchtime."

 

 

Carla was on the phone again as they finished up the Chinese food they'd ordered in for dinner. She seemed to be talking about Stockwell's condition to whoever was on the other end of the line. Interesting that she should talk about that in front of them, Hannibal thought.

 

Carla was listening to Hannibal, but he knew she still didn’t trust him. She would use them if they were useful to her, just like Stockwell himself. But she wouldn't let them off the leash. Hannibal had spent most of the afternoon trying to persuade her to let them go after the suspects they had. She'd refused.

 

Not that they couldn't leave if they wanted to, Hannibal knew, but running had to be a last resort. It would be dangerous and all it would get them was back to being on the run. They wouldn't have time to find out who shot Stockwell while they were avoiding being shot themselves. No, they needed to be out there, but with Carla's backing.

 

It was only nine o'clock but they were all tired after their early morning wake up. They needed sleep and then he'd start afresh on Carla tomorrow.

 

She got off the phone.

 

"How is he?" Hannibal asked.

 

"The doctors say he has improved slightly." She said. There was no emotion in her voice, Hannibal couldn't tell if the news pleased, annoyed or frightened her.

 

"Really?" Face sounded surprised. "I thought you said his chances were slim?"

 

"I guess he's stronger than you thought." Hannibal said, still watching Carla carefully. Damn how did she keep her face so controlled? He'd hate to play poker against her. The only way to get a reaction was to take her by surprise.

 

"Is there a possibility he'll wake up?" Murdock asked.

 

"Nervous about that, Mr Murdock?" Carla asked. Murdock scowled at her.

 

"Would certainly save a lot of time if he did," Hannibal said. "I assume there's someone with him all the time, in case he says anything?"

 

"Of course," Carla snapped. She stood up. She looked as tired as the rest of them, but Hannibal suspected she wasn't heading off home to bed yet. "I'll be back in the morning."

 

"Can't wait," Face said. "Oh and Carla, try to make an effort tomorrow. A bit of mascara or something at least." She gave his grinning face a burning glare and strode off.

 

"Okay guys," Hannibal said to his men. "We need rest. Everybody hit the sack." They started to head towards the bedrooms, leaving the Ables to clear up the dinner things.

 

"Frankie." Hannibal followed him into his room, closed the door. "I know you're scared. But stay cool. Stick close to me." He reiterated, hoping that would make Frankie feel safer.

 

"Johnny…" Frankie looked down then up again. He turned and walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Hannibal followed him into the bathroom. The shower masking their conversation from the bugs Frankie spoke again. His face and voice were serious. "We're prisoners now, right? Before, well we chose to stay, okay we were blackmailed into staying, I guess. But now we really are prisoners here."

 

"Yes." Hannibal admitted. "We are. Or at least they think we are. But if we have to go then we go."

 

"So why don't we go right now?"

 

Hannibal shook his head. "No sense in going off half cocked. We go when I think we need to. You remember all the details of the escape plans?"

 

"Sure, but…"

 

"Tell me what we do if we go for 'Harry'." Hannibal ordered.

 

"Johnny, I know it." Frankie insisted.

 

"So tell me."

 

Frankie rolled his eyes but he recited the details of the plan, then at Hannibal's prompting those of 'Tom' and 'Dick' too.

 

"Good." Hannibal nodded, satisfied. 'Planning and preparation, Frankie. I know I'm notorious for improvising, but in this case planning is the key. Stick with the plan and you'll be fine." He squeezed Frankie's shoulder. "Now get some sleep. See you in the morning."

 

Hannibal left. He hoped he'd managed to reassure Frankie. He really seemed to be getting scared. He didn't want Frankie to crack and do something stupid.

 

 

"Hannibal! Hannibal!"

 

For the second morning in a row a hammering on his door woke Hannibal. At least this time it was nearly eight o'clock and not four. But this time Murdock didn't wait for Hannibal to come out of the room. He burst in, looking a little panicked.

 

"What is it?" Hannibal was quickly out of bed, gun in hand. Murdock took a breath, calming himself.

 

"Frankie's gone."

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Frankie's room was trashed, clothes and belongings strewn around. Hannibal swept the place fast, although he guessed Murdock had already done the same. He checked the window. It was unlocked.

 

An Able came in the door and Hannibal snapped at him, "Bring me Able Six! Now!" The man vanished again. Able Six was the man in charge of the house right now. They never told the team which of them was in charge, but Hannibal always knew. The rest of the team piled into the room, questions coming fast.

 

"Where the heck is he?"

 

"You think someone took him?"

 

"You think he ran?"

 

Hannibal didn't answer. He was looking around the room. Something wasn't right. If Frankie had run then why was the room trashed? If someone had taken him and he'd put up enough of a fight to make this much mess then why hadn't there been any noise?

 

Face picked up some books that had been knocked down from a shelf.

 

"No," Hannibal said. "Wait, don't touch anything." And then he saw it. Nothing was broken. This room hadn't been trashed. This room had been searched.

 

Able Six, with very bad timing, came into the room just then. He met Hannibal's pistol pointing straight at him.

 

"Where is he?"

 

Able Six just looked at him with a maddeningly impassive expression.

 

"I'm sorry, Colonel, I don't understand."

 

"Okay, understand this. Get that bitch Carla down here within ten minutes."

 

"She's already on her way." Able Six told him. There was a pause. "May I leave?"

 

"Yeah, get out." Hannibal growled. The Able left. Hannibal gestured towards the bathroom. Now more than ever they didn't dare to speak freely.   Murdock stayed by the bathroom door, watching.

 

"You think the Ables have him?" Face asked Hannibal once the shower was running.

 

"Yeah." Hannibal said. "No way could he have sneaked out unseen. With the security level these bastards are on right now I'm not even sure I could. And same thing for someone coming in from outside and getting him out again undetected. No way in hell."

 

"So it's an inside job?" Murdock said. "You think they believe he shot Stockwell?"

 

"Probably not." Hannibal said. "But if they still think one of us did it, or that we were all behind it then Frankie is the obvious one to put pressure on."

 

BA slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand. He didn't speak, but his message was plain.

 

"Or if Carla is involved with the shooting she might want to extract a confession implicating us to cover her ass." Face suggested. He paused frowning. He looked as if his head was spinning with all the possibilities. "Damn. I hate these people."

 

"Right." Hannibal said. "Carla will be here in a few minutes. I don't know how this is going to go down. Get ready to run." They all nodded and went to their rooms to dress.

 

Carla arrived five minutes later in a helicopter. She still wasn't back in the suit. Now she was dressed in black pants and a white shirt and still had her hair scraped back. In a way she actually appeared more comfortable, more herself. Hannibal watched the way she moved and began to wonder where exactly she had been recruited.

 

Surprise was the only way through her shield, Hannibal knew now. He guessed that Able Six had already conveyed Hannibal's accusation to her. She expected his first words to be about Frankie.

 

"How's Stockwell?" That got through. He saw it in her eyes. And he saw her blinking too much as she replied.

 

"He's still improving," she said. "In fact the doctors believe he may regain consciousness today."

 

She was lying though her teeth. But what exactly was the lie? She was watching the team closely as she spoke.

 

"That's great news," Hannibal said, brining her attention back to him. "Now there was another small matter I wanted to raise with you." His voice went hard. "Tell me where the hell Frankie is right now."

 

"You think I know?" Her apparent surprise at his question was all fake.

 

"Of course you know. Pick on the weakest of the group, right? That's Stockwell's MO, Carla, and he taught you everything you know. Or maybe it comes naturally to you. I just know that you were a real bitch in high school." Her eyes narrowed at that. God, Hannibal thought, I love it when I get to her.

 

"You taught Santana everything he knows, Colonel," she said. "Perhaps he put it into practice and left on his own."

 

"So you think Frankie could have got out on his own? Yeah, that says a lot for your boys here, doesn't it?" Hannibal indicated the Ables with a wave of his hand. He glanced around the room as he did so. The team had moved into positions that appeared entirely casual and arbitrary. They were not.

 

"And what does it say about your boys?" Carla countered. "Perhaps that he no longer believed you and your men could protect him?"

 

He wanted to hit her, an urge that disgusted him. But he knew his anger was really directed at himself. Because she had a point and it had been eating at him since the moment he heard the words "Frankie's gone." Either Frankie left or he was taken. Either way it meant Hannibal had failed.

 

"Okay, Carla. You think he left on his own, why don't you let us go and look for him?"

 

"No."

 

"Wrong answer." Hannibal made the choice. Wherever Frankie was they weren't going to find him by hanging around here. They were through. He kept looking at Carla, but when he spoke it wasn't to her. Loud and clear he called out to his team.

 

"Harry."

 

Carla frowned, presumably wondering who the hell Harry was. But she stopped wondering as the team started to move. Fast. Faster than the Ables had ever seen them move.

 

The team had been at Langley for over a year now. The Ables had watched them play cards and drink beer, watch football and bicker over the TV remote. And the more the Ables watched this bunch of apparently normal guys, doing normal guy things the more they forgot what these men really were. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. The Ables had forgotten to be afraid. Big mistake.

 

The team were outside in less than ten seconds. There had been seven Ables in the living room. Only two were now in any state to pursue the team into the grounds. Hannibal hoped none of the Ables were dead, but there was no time to worry about it.

 

They split up on his signal, BA and Face in one direction, Hannibal and Murdock in another. The "Harry" escape route meant going on foot through the woods. There was no way they'd trust any of the cars, or the van. All were no doubt bristling with tracking devices. As he ran Hannibal could hear Carla yelling behind him.

 

Gunfire crackled around them.

 

"Shit!" Murdock yelled as the ground right by his feet spat up grass and soil.

 

Hannibal didn't waste his breath. They reached the trees, which gave them some cover and crashed on through. It had rained overnight and the ground was slippery, water still dripped from the trees.

 

"Perimeter in a quarter mile." Hannibal said, panting a little. Getting too old for this, Colonel. Murdock nodded. He looked grim. He had a pistol in his hand, but he put it back into his shoulder holster and unslung the rifle he had on his back. The one that had been concealed in the bookcase behind the cookery books. Murdock had swept the books aside and proceeded to heat things up.

 

They reached the perimeter, a wire fence, exactly eleven minutes after they left the house. Right on schedule. Gunfire was still sounding along with yells. As Hannibal cut the wire with the wire cutters they had concealed here six months ago Murdock kept watch, gun ready.

 

Then they were out. Free. Well close to freedom. Hannibal took a compass out of his pocket. The rendezvous point was due north. He hadn't taken a chance on not being able to remember his way there, mindful of the possibility of doing this in the dark. In fact the dark was preferable.

 

"Come on." He said to Murdock. They set off for the rendezvous, Murdock acting as rearguard. There was no sign of pursuit. Hannibal smiled a little. Hell, this really was turning out to be a piece of cake.

 

 

"I don't suppose ordering you to leave me is going to work." Face gasped out.

 

BA just glared at him. They were sheltering in a ditch just outside of the perimeter wire. BA had thrown Face into it and dived in after him. BA's heart was still pounding. Not from the effort of running, dragging Face, but from the shock of hearing Face cry out, seeing him fall. Ables were close enough that they could hear them talking on their walkie-talkies to each other.

 

Face hissed in pain as he tried to move his left leg. To be honest he had no desire to be left behind sitting in six inches of cold, slimy water. It was just the done thing to suggest it in this situation.

 

"Quit movin' around." BA said. He bent over the bullet wounds in Face's calf. "Least it went right through."

 

"Yeah, I got off easy." Face said with as much sarcasm as he could muster. BA just grunted. He bound up the leg as best he could with torn strips of his shirt. That would have to do until they got to the rendezvous.

 

BA checked over the top of the ditch. It had gone quiet out there. He couldn't see anybody moving around. Time to go. "Think ya can walk?" BA asked. "It ain't broken."

 

"S... sure, it's just a damn scratch." Face said, still sarcastic. But he let BA haul him to his feet. He moaned but then controlled it. He knew if he showed BA how painful it was BA would insist on trying to carry him. Face gave a weak smile once they were out of the ditch. "Okay, I'm good to go."

 

BA looked like he was about to say "Yeah right." But he thought better of it.

 

"We get into a fire fight you hit the ground and stay down," BA warned quietly as they moved off.

 

"I think that's a given." Face answered, leaning into BA. Every step was agony. It was two miles to the rendezvous. Whether he made it there on his feet was not something he'd bet the farm on right now.

 

 

Hannibal and Murdock approached a small barn cautiously. It was near the edge of the woods in a lonely, uncultivated field. The grass came up to their knees, clung to their boots, still damp from the rain.

 

On Hannibal's signal Murdock went left and round to the back of the barn. Hannibal approached the front doors. They were secured with a large padlock. He reached under his shirt and pulled out three keys on a leather thong. The keys were marked "T" "D" and "H". Key "H" unlocked the padlock and Hannibal slipped inside. The interior was gloomy, small, high windows the only illumination. Dust motes and tiny pieces of straw stirred up by the opening of the door danced in shafts of light. Hannibal had to suppress an urge to sneeze.

 

In the middle of the barn a tarpaulin covered a car. A Buick, for escape plan "Harry" Hannibal knew. Wooden boxes and plastic crates stood around beside the car.

 

Murdock appeared peering over the edge of the hayloft he had climbed into using a ladder at the back.

 

"Colonel," he said. "All clear up top."

 

Hannibal gave Murdock a thumbs up, smiling.

 

"Come on down, Captain." Murdock started to climb down a ladder, sneezing all the way. Hannibal turned to the centre of the floor and pulled the tarp off the car. "Let's get this baby warmed up."

 

 

The part of this plan Hannibal didn't like, really didn't like, was being out of touch. But he didn't dare trust radio communications this close to the compound. He stood at the barn door puffing a cigar. He and Murdock had got the car started and loaded and now they were just waiting for Face and BA.

 

But they had been waiting for an hour now and there was no sign of them. Hannibal checked his watch. An hour and a quarter actually. Forty-five minutes overdue. When they hit an hour overdue Hannibal had to make a decision.

 

"Hey, Hannibal," Murdock came over to him. "Here's 'your' driving licence." Hannibal took the fake licence and despite his worry he had to smile at the name on it.

 

"Virgil Hilts?"

 

"Well you started The Great Escape theme," Murdock said. "And Face ran with it. You know this place," he waved a hand to indicate the barn, "is rented under the name Eric Ashley-Pitt?"

 

"Gotta love the guy." Hannibal grinned.

 

He looked at the driving licence again, a slightly wistful expression on his face.

 

"You're picturing yourself on that motorbike right now, aren't you?" Murdock said, grinning.

 

Hannibal just gave a quirky smile in response.

 

"So tell me, Colonel." He pronounced it "col oh nel" affecting a ridiculously bad German accent. "Ven did you start believing you ver Steve McQueen."

 

"I don't think I'm Steve McQueen," Hannibal protested. "I just wish I was sometimes."

 

"Aw, Hannibal," Murdock said, in his own voice again. "You're just as cool as Steve McQueen."

 

"I am?" Hannibal said, pleased.

 

"Well, no, obviously not. I just said that to make you feel better," Murdock admitted.

 

"Murdock…" Hannibal shook his head. He could always rely on Murdock to distract him from brooding. Then he went serious again and checked his watch.

 

"They'll be here." Murdock said.

 

Hannibal didn't answer. They'd better be. He'd already lost one man today.

 

 

Hannibal was going to have to give Face and BA some refresher courses in stealth. He and Murdock heard them coming from at least a hundred yards away. Probably because they were arguing. Hannibal grinned and put his gun away as he and Murdock went to greet the latecomers. BA pushed open the door into the barn and Hannibal and Murdock lost their grins instantly.

 

Exhausted BA dropped to his knees, lowering Face off his shoulder. The pair of them were covered in blood and dirt. Hannibal and Murdock rushed to help Face.

 

"What happened?" Hannibal demanded. "Murdock, first aid kit!"

 

BA glared at Hannibal. "He got shot, man. What the heck you think happened?"

 

"Right through. Missed bone." Face gasped. "Hurts…"

 

Damn, damn, damn. Hannibal swore never to even think the words 'piece of cake' again.

 

After a hasty patching up job Hannibal and Murdock lifted Face into the back seat of the car. Murdock stayed there with him, while BA and Hannibal got into the front. They drove out of the barn, over rough ground until they reached the road.

 

"Which way?" BA asked from the driving seat.

 

Hannibal thought for a moment, and then he said. "DC General." BA pulled out onto the road.

 

"Hannibal," Murdock said. "Are you absolutely sure that's wise? I mean I know Face needs the ER, but DC General is where Stockwell is, isn't it?"

 

"Yeah, supposedly." Hannibal took a fresh clip for his automatic from the glove compartment, slapped it home. "Let's say that on this trip we're going to kill two birds with one stone."

 

 

Chapter 5

 

BA parked in a quiet corner of the lot at DC General. Hannibal looked back at Face, who was pale and gritting his teeth against the pain. The he turned to Murdock.

 

"Take Face into the emergency room. Try not to draw too much attention. You're just a couple of dumb guys who were messing around with the gun you bought for home security and had an accident."

 

"I don't know anything about guns," Murdock said, getting straight into character. "I didn't even know it was loaded." He had a scared and slightly goofy expression on his face.

 

"Right." Hannibal said. "They'll probably want to admit you Face, you'll have to talk your way out of that. Sign out AMA if you have to, but don't make too much fuss if you can help it." He turned to the driver's seat as Murdock started to help Face out of the car. "BA stay here and guard the car." BA nodded. Hannibal wanted Face and Murdock to be as low profile as possible in the ER and BA didn't really do low profile. Besides this car was now their life, and Hannibal didn't want to risk anything happening to it.

 

"What you gonna do, man?" BA asked.

 

"Visit a sick friend." Hannibal said.

 

 

Hannibal left Face and Murdock at the door to the ER and went round to the main entrance to the hospital. He stopped off in the lobby gift shop and bought some flowers and a large teddy bear. Now he was just another hospital visitor. The bear he carried was pastel blue with a shiny ribbon around it that said "Congratulations on your new baby boy." He kept a beaming smile on his face as he walked through the halls. Just another proud father… well okay, maybe grandfather was more convincing.

 

He stepped out of the elevator on the fifth floor. The corridor he stepped into was very familiar. When you went to the left it led to the secure ward. There was a strange mix of patients in there. There were prisoners, some of them hand-cuffed to their hospital beds, and people who for one reason or another needed police protection. A cop guarded the door. Correction, Hannibal thought. A man in a police uniform guarded the door. Whether he was an actual police officer was still undetermined. Hannibal shook his head ruefully. Stockwell's influence was starting to mess with his head.

 

The reason this corridor was familiar to Hannibal was because Face had been in the secure ward after he'd been shot at Villa Cuchina. Hannibal hadn't argued, although he'd suspected that it was less about mob reprisals and more about Stockwell's paranoia. If Stockwell was here at DC General the secure ward are where he'd be. And if he wasn't here… well Hannibal needed to know that for sure.

 

He didn't turn left, he went right. That corridor led round to the maternity ward. Hannibal turned the corner that took him out of sight of the armed man outside the secure ward. He waited a moment, bending to tie his shoe until this corridor was empty, then he ducked into a supply closet.

 

He dumped the flowers and the bear and looked around in the dim light. He found what he was looking for. The air vent. He'd noticed before that they were big. Big enough for a man to squeeze through. In fact he'd mentioned it to Stockwell as a possible hole in security. He just hoped that nobody had got around to doing anything about it.

 

Hannibal found some cartons of supplies strong enough for him to stand on and used them to get up to the vent. Oh even better. It was hinged; he didn't have to unscrew anything. This was a piece of… no. No cake. And no counting his chickens before they hatched.

 

He took a small flashlight from his pocket, put it between his teeth. Other useful items from his jacket pockets he transferred into the pockets of his pants. The jacket was too likely to snag on things. He took it off and left it behind as he climbed into the air vent. He had changed into sneakers before he left the car. They squeaked a little on the metal, but didn't bang around the way his boots would have.

 

Hannibal began to crawl on his belly. It was slow going, but he had to give Face and Murdock time to get Face treated anyway. No rush. Hannibal crawled.

 

 

By the time he reached the vents to the rooms in the secure wards he was sweating and covered in dust. One or two of the sections he'd crawled through didn't seem to have any air flowing through them and were full of dust, spiders webs and dead bugs. Hannibal had known what it was like to be so hungry or thirsty that you could think of nothing else, but he'd never known that the urge to sneeze could fill his brain from edge to edge. He stamped down hard on that urge.

 

He peered through the vents as he passed, checking out the patients. Most of them were tough looking customers with prison guards or cops watching over them. He had to move very slowly now, sliding himself along to make sure he made no noise. He looked through a vent into the corridor and smiled. Two dark suited men he recognised stood, looking bored, outside a room with the blinds closed. Ables. There was an intersection ahead. Hannibal took the left and in a moment was looking into the room.

 

There were no Ables inside. The screens were pulled around the bed and Hannibal couldn't see what was happening behind them. Everything about this said 'trap'. Oh well, sometimes the mouse just had to have that cheese.

 

Using a piece of steel wire threaded through the grid he lifted the catch on the vent cover and slid out and down to the floor. Drawing his gun he walked to the bed and pulled aside the screens.

 

"Hello, Colonel." Carla sat on the unoccupied bed. She had an Uzi pistol in her hand and very smug expression on her face.

 

"Carla, why am I not…" He stopped. "Excuse me." Hannibal turned away and sneezed hugely four times. Carla watched him with her eyebrows raised. When he turned back to her she held out a box of Kleenex from the nightstand. Hannibal grabbed a bunch of tissues and blew his nose, which felt like it was full of gravel.

 

"Feeling better?" Carla asked, almost smirking.

 

"Much." Hannibal said a little hoarsely. His eyes were watering. He pulled himself together. "Okay, where were we? Never mind. I sprung your trap. Now tell me what the hell is going on. Where's Stockwell? Bethesda?"

 

"That's right." Nope, she was lying. He'd spotted her tell. She blinked too often when she was bluffing and she was blinking plenty right now.

 

"Stockwell isn't here and he isn’t at Bethesda Naval. At least not unless he's in the morgue. He's dead isn't he?"

 

She didn't appear surprised that he had figured it out. "Yes," Carla admitted. "He was dead when they found him."

 

"And you told us he was alive to try and trap us. You hoped that whoever had shot him would come along to finish the job."

 

"And here you are, in his room, with a gun in your hand." She sounded very smug indeed. "Now what am I supposed to make of that, Colonel?"

 

"Well, I'm sure you'll try to make a prosecution case of it, Carla. Now let's talk about someone whose life I actually care about." His voice went very hard. "Where's Frankie?"

 

"You still persist in this fantasy that I've got Santana…"

 

"How about a deal, Carla? You release Frankie and I'll confess."

 

She stared at him. "Confess?"

 

"I'll sign anything you want me to. As long as Frankie and the others go free."

 

She smiled, with what appeared to be genuine pleasure.

 

"Thank you, Colonel. I agree to the deal, I'll make arrangements about Mr Santana immediately." She reached for the phone and Hannibal pounced as she looked away from him for a second. He caught both her wrists, twisted the right one, forcing her to drop the Uzi onto the bed.

 

"Liar. You don't have Frankie. I can read you like a book."

 

Her scream was so loud it almost deafened Hannibal, though her knee driving into his groin rather distracted him from that. But even as he folded up he grabbed the Uzi off the bed. The Ables ran in and Hannibal let loose with the Uzi, just over their heads. They dropped to the floor and he ran straight at them, jumping over them and out into the corridor.

 

"Get him, you idiots!" He heard Carla yell.

 

Smart move, Colonel, Hannibal thought as, with a gun in each hand, he ran into a corridor that was heaving with armed cops and prison guards. Thankfully the room he'd just come out of was near the door out of the ward. Hannibal hit the door like a missile sending the cop on the other side sprawling. From behind him he heard yells of "Drop your weapons!" "Freeze!" "Armed police!" All the usual. If he had a dollar for every time someone had yelled 'Freeze!' at him…

 

He ran, expecting at any moment to be shot in the back. But there was a crowd of people getting off the elevator and the Ables showed some restraint. The people started screaming at the sight of Hannibal and the Ables pursuing him.

 

Hannibal risked a glance over his shoulder. It was only the Ables coming after him. Of course the cops couldn't just run off and leave the dangerous prisoners they were guarding. Well that didn't make things a piece of cake, but it was a crumb of comfort.

 

He found the stairs and took each flight in two jumps. If he fell and broke his leg, or even twisted his ankle it was over. But if he made if far enough down, and kept far enough ahead of them, he had a plan. They must be expecting him to head for the lobby, so he didn't. Hannibal left the stairwell and went out onto the mezzanine, one floor up from the lobby. There was a restaurant there.

 

He shoved his automatic into the waistband of his pants and covered it with his shirt. He folded the Uzi's stock and held the gun flat against his body, concealing it with his arm as best he could. Then Hannibal walked through the restaurant trying to pretend he was quite normal and respectable looking, as opposed to dishevelled, armed and filthy, with dead spiders in his hair.

 

The Ables hadn't come after him. They were probably down in the lobby now, meeting up with their friends and being baffled. Hannibal walked out onto a terrace, where tables with parasols were set up. He climbed over the railing around the terrace. Some people sitting at one of the tables drinking coffee stared at him.

 

"Hi, folks." Hannibal smiled at them. "Try the tuna salad here. It's great." He jumped and fell ten feet into a hedge. After a moment he struggled out of the hedge. It had cushioned his fall, but it was thorny and he was cut and scratched on every bit of exposed skin. The coffee drinkers had rushed to the rail and were looking down at him in astonishment. Hannibal gave them a grin and a thumbs up and ran for the parking lot.

 

"Go, BA!" Hannibal ordered diving into the front seat of the car. BA did, roaring away. Face and Murdock stared at Hannibal from the back seat. There was a big bandage on Face's leg and a pair of forearm crutches lay across his and Murdock's knees.

 

"What the hell happened to you?" Face asked. Hannibal was covered in dirt and scratches. He was panting, but he was grinning. A Jazzy kind of grin.

 

"Long story short. Stockwell's dead. I just pretty much confessed to Carla. She doesn't have Frankie. We're screwed." He laughed, adrenalin still having an effect. "But on the plus side I picked up this shiny little piece." He showed them Carla's Uzi.

 

"Could you just back up a second to the part about you confessing?" Murdock said.

 

"And the part about us being screwed." Face said.

 

"She really doesn't have Frankie?" BA asked.

 

"No, I'm sure she doesn't." Hannibal said.

 

"So where is he?" Murdock asked.

 

"If he ran, and I'm starting to think he did, then I can only think of one place he would go. For Frankie this whole nightmare has been about one thing. Or rather one person. One person he's been trying to protect all along."

 

"His father." BA said.

 

"Right. That's where he's going." Hannibal said. "So that's where we're going. Back to home ground, fellas. California here we come."

 

 

Chapter 6

 

"Are we in Texas yet?"

 

Hannibal was surprised to hear Murdock's quiet voice in the darkness, he'd thought the Captain was fast asleep.

 

"Yeah, crossed the state line about twenty minutes back," he answered. "I figured we'd push on to Amarillo and get some gas and something to eat there."

 

Murdock nodded and stretched as much as he could in the passenger seat.

 

"Sounds good."


"You can drive for a while after that. I'm beat."

 

"Okay."

 

They both kept their voices low to avoid disturbing BA and Face who were sleeping on the back seat. Though there wasn't much chance of waking Face, not with the painkillers he'd taken. Face was curled on his side, covered by a dark blue blanket, his head on a cushion on BA's knees. BA had one arm draped across Face and Face was hanging onto BA's hand. Hannibal wished he had a camera so he could embarrass them later with how disgustingly cute they looked.

 

Murdock looked out into the blackness. There were no other vehicles in sight. No lights on the horizon. An ocean of darkness surrounded them. A sliver of moon floated through the night sky.

 

"Radio didn't disturb you, did it?" Hannibal asked. The car radio was playing very quietly.

 

"No." Murdock started to fiddle with the tuning knob, seeing what he could find. "You get some weird stuff on the radio out here." He said. "The midnight nuts on the talk radio stations aren't even the half of it." But all he could seem to find was sad Country songs. He sat back with a sigh.

 

"So how we going to play this, Colonel?" Murdock asked. "When we get to LA? Are we going to stake out old Mr Santana and wait for Frankie to show?"

 

Hannibal shook his head. He'd been thinking about this for the past several hundred miles.

 

"No. I expect Frankie has probably already contacted him and started making arrangements to take him out of the nursing home. I'm going to walk right up and tell him we're friends. We need to get him on our side if we're going to find Frankie."

 

"Okay." Murdock looked thoughtful. "What if Frankie already took him out of there?"

 

Hannibal shook his head again. "Unlikely. From what Frankie's told me in the past he's not in the best of health. It could take a few days to make proper arrangements to move him."

 

Murdock went quiet again for a long time.

 

"You're certain about this?" Murdock asked eventually. "You're certain Frankie ran?"

 

Hannibal glanced over at him. "Yes. It's the only thing that makes sense. I'm sure Carla doesn't have him. I don't believe anyone got in the house and took him out undetected. He ran." Hannibal smiled a little. As anxious as he was over the thought of Frankie out there alone he realised that he actually felt rather proud of him. Seems like the kid had learnt his lessons well.

 

"Has it occurred to you that maybe…" Murdock hesitated as if he was worried Hannibal wouldn't like what he was about to say. "Well, maybe we shouldn't go after him. Should just let him and his dad be, not bring them any more trouble. If Frankie wants to leave us then maybe we should let him."

 

"No." Hannibal's voice was sharp and louder than he intended. BA stirred a little and muttered something unintelligible. Hannibal lowered his voice as he went on. "I know what you're saying Murdock. And hell, yes, we have brought Frankie plenty of trouble in the past and maybe that's what we're bringing him now. But I won't abandon him. He doesn't have the resources to stay ahead of the organisation, however much he's learned from us. Not with a sick old man to take care of too."

 

"Okay."

 

"I'm not saying we bring him back onto the team. I doubt he wants that anyway. But we have to get him and his dad someplace safe. That’s the priority now."

 

"Right."

 

"And then we can get back on track." Hannibal's voice was grim and determined. "Then we can get back to going after whoever killed Stockwell."

 

"Ah." Murdock hesitated for a long time. "And you're sure that's not what we're doing now?"

 

The car swerved violently.

 

"Frankie did not shoot Stockwell!" Hannibal snapped. BA blinked awake. Even Face stirred uneasily in his drugged sleep.

 

"I'm just saying that, well, if he got out the night he ran he could have got out the night before." Murdock said.

 

"No." Hannibal's voice was commanding and cold. He didn't want to hear any arguments, but he suspected he was about to.

 

BA had guessed right away what they were talking about. After a moment of tense silence he spoke up.

 

"Frankie was asking me about 'fragging', Hannibal. After we talked in the basketball court. He asked if I thought you'd be okay about it if Murdock had shot Stockwell for the good of the team."

 

"And you think he was really asking about himself, not Murdock?" Hannibal asked, his voice still cold.

 

BA shrugged. "Could be." He noticed that the blanket had slipped partly off Face when he'd stirred. BA pulled it back up around him and rested a hand on Face's shoulder.

 

"No." Hannibal insisted. "Frankie wouldn't do that. He's not a killer. He's not like…that." Not like us. Killing was one thing Hannibal had not trained Frankie to do.

 

"He's been under a lot of pressure." Murdock said.

 

"We've all been under pressure."

 

"Yeah, but we're more used to it. He's not. He's not trained to handle it. He's a civilian, Hannibal."

 

"You think I've forgotten that? You don't think I'm conscious of that fact every minute we're on a mission?"

 

"I know. But what I'm saying is that we have no idea how he might react to it all. To the things he's seen the past year." Murdock paused a moment when Hannibal looked at him. "I know you've tried to protect him when you could. But you couldn't protect him that night at Villa Cuchina."

 

Murdock's words were physically painful to Hannibal. As always when he heard the words 'Villa Cuchina' guilt stabbed right through him. Irrational guilt maybe. But still painful.

 

"You said he did fine that night, Murdock." Hannibal pointed out. "That he kept his head."

 

"Sure." Murdock agreed. "That night he was fine. But afterwards?" He paused for a moment and went on. "We've talked a lot about that night." Murdock went on. "You and me have talked. You and Face. Me and Face. Me and BA." He paused. "Have any of us talked to Frankie about what he was feeling when he was watching Face almost bleed to death?"

 

And Hannibal was suddenly not the only one in the car feeling guilty.

 

 

The nursing home was slightly shabby, the wallpaper faded, paint starting to peel. But it was clean and warm the staff seemed pleasant.

 

Face gave a little gasp of pain at one point as he hobbled along the corridor on his crutches.

 

"You should have stayed in the car." Hannibal said.

 

"I'm fine. Anyway, you needed me to get past the reception committee."

 

This was true. Thanks to Face's silver tongue the people in charge of the home now thought they were old friends visiting Mr Santana.

 

"Room forty seven." Murdock said. "Here it is." He knocked and in a moment a wavering voice invited them to come in.

 

The man inside looked surprised at his four strange visitors. He was about seventy years old at a guess, skin dotted with age spots. His hair was thin but still had a lot of black in it. He was sitting in an armchair, a table at the side, which he was laying a newspaper down on as they came in. The room was pleasantly decorated and quite spacious. The bed was neatly made.

 

"Please, don't get up." Hannibal said as the old man tried to rise from the chair. Hannibal stepped forward and held out his hand. "Mr Santana. My name is Hannibal Smith. You son may have mentioned me." Mr Santana took Hannibal's hand to shake it. His hand trembled and he had no grip at all.

 

"Always pleased to have visitors, Mr Smith, but I'm afraid you've made a mistake. I don't have a son."

 

The team glanced at each other. Then they all looked at Face.

 

"Erm, I'm sorry, is there another Mr Santana who lives at this home?" Face asked, flicking through a notebook. He was sure they'd come to the right place.

 

"No, sonny, not that I know of." Mr Santana said. "There's old Eric Santiago, maybe it's him you want?"

 

"Um, no, I don't think so. You are Modesto Santana? You lived in New York most of your life? You were married to Vanessa?" He glanced over at the nightstand. A fading picture of a pretty young Hispanic woman stood there. Beside it was a picture of a man and a woman, middle aged, their arms around each other.

 

"That's right." Mr Santana said. "Yes, that's my Vanessa. She was quite a beauty, don't you think?"

 

"Yes, sir." Hannibal said, also looking at the photograph. He leaned close to Mr Santana. "Look, Mr Santana, we're friends of your son. I know he may have told you to stall anyone who comes looking for him. But believe me, he didn't mean us. If you could just tell us where Frankie is…"

 

Mr Santana slapped Hannibal across the face. Murdock gasped out loud. There was no force to the blow; the old man had no strength to put behind it. But it shut Hannibal up as effectively as if it had been a two by four.

 

Hannibal got out of his chair and walked to the window turning his back to them all. Mr Santana fell back in his chair, a hand over his mouth. He had gone very pale.

 

"Are you all right, sir?" Face asked gently. He touched one of Mr Santana's hands. The old man's skin felt papery and thin.

 

"Yes… yes." His voice was very shaky now. "I'm sorry, Mr Smith." He turned in his chair, trying to look at Hannibal. "I'm sorry. But you caught me by surprise. Using that name. My… my son's name."

 

Hannibal turned back. "Mr Santana, I'm confused," he said. "Do you have a son named Frankie or not?" His voice was impatient and BA scowled a warning at him.

 

The hand under Face's began to tremble even more.

 

"We had a son. My little boy." His eyes were bright with tears. "But Frankie… Frankie died when he was six years old."

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Frankie died when he was six years old.

 

The words played over and over in Hannibal's head as he drove. He drove without a thought of where he was going. None of the others objected, or indeed spoke.

 

Frankie died when he was six years old.

 

A car accident, Mr Santana had said. His supervisor at work had come and told him to go to the hospital at once. Vanessa was already there, called from her job at a bakery. They had waited, terrified, then a doctor had came in and told them. Hit and run, on the street outside his school. The injuries were too bad for the doctors to be able to do anything. Head injuries. So horrible that they weren't even allowed to see the body. To say goodbye to their son.

 

Frankie died when he was six years old.

 

Vanessa had never been the same again, Mr Santana said, never got over his death, was hospitalised many times for depression after that.

 

"Part of her died that day too." Mr Santana had said. And turned away from them to hide his tears. The team had known it was time to leave. But as they rose to go Hannibal had one more thing to ask. He whispered to his men.

 

"Has anyone got a picture of…?" He couldn't say the name, but they knew who he meant. Murdock pulled out his wallet and extracted a photograph. A bunch of other pictures slid out and Murdock cursed as they dropped to the floor. Hannibal bent to help him pick them up. There were pictures of Hannibal, of BA and Face, one of Amy, one of Tawnia. Even one of Dr Richter. For a moment Hannibal smiled at Murdock's apparent sentimentality. Until he noticed what was on the backs of the photos.

 

Murdock avoided Hannibal's eyes as he gathered up the pictures. Hannibal turned back to Mr Santana.

 

"Sir," he held up the photo. "Did you ever see this man before?" He watched the old man very closely. If this were all an elaborate bluff to throw them off the scent then there'd be some reaction there, some recognition.

 

But Mr Santana just looked blank. He tried to take the picture, for a closer look, but Hannibal kept a firm grip on it. Wouldn't let the old man see the name "Frankie" written on the back in large clear letters.

 

"I never saw him before, Mr Smith." He was telling the truth.

 

They left him alone with his memories and got back in the car and drove.

 

However screwed they'd been before was as nothing to how screwed Hannibal felt now. At least before they'd had a lead on finding Frankie. Now they really had to find him, whoever he actually was and they had no clue where to start. Now they were just out here running.

 

They'd been on the run before of course and mostly they'd made it through okay. Things got difficult if one of them got hurt, but in the end a doctor cared more about your BP than your ID, so he wasn't too worried about Face's wounded leg and any future injuries they might pick up.

 

What he was worried about was Murdock. He glanced in the rear view mirror at Murdock, who was gazing out of the window at the desert scenery growing dim in the twilight.

 

You didn't just drop in on a small town doctor and say, "My friend is having hallucinations. Can you fix him up quick so we can get out of here?"

 

He thought about the photographs in Murdock's wallet. The names written on the backs of them all.

 

Intermittent memory loss.

 

Instead of smiling at those words he almost shuddered. Being on the run with Murdock was a very different prospect. He was okay right now, but things could change, if he had a relapse.

 

What were their options? The Able's would be coming after them. Once they got on the team's trail they were going to be hard to shake off. And Carla would probably give a heads up to the army and the protection they'd enjoyed as apparent dead men would no longer apply. Every MP, every cop, every FBI agent in the country would have orders to shoot them on sight. They were convicted murderers. Convicted murderers sentenced to death.

 

And Carla had to eliminate them; whether she really believed Hannibal had killed Stockwell or not. They just knew too much now to be allowed to roam around loose. She had to be under pressure from her bosses to close the case on Stockwell's death and Hannibal knew that getting to the truth was less important to her than proving her efficiency. She wasn't getting Stockwell's job, and whoever got it would bring in his own people. So if Carla wanted a choice new assignment she had to prove herself.

 

Hannibal began seriously thinking about getting across the border to Canada.

 

"Hannibal." BA's voice was uncharacteristically quiet. "We nearly out of gas." Hannibal glanced at the dash, BA was right.

 

"I saw a sign for a rest stop a couple of miles up ahead." Murdock said. "Gas, food, lodgings."

 

"Okay, we'll stop for the night," Hannibal said. "We need some rest." He glanced back at Face who looked pale. Nearly three days now in this car with his wounded leg was telling on him. He needed a proper bed for the night. They all did. Maybe things would look clearer in the morning.

 

 

They were going to have to keep a man on watch and Hannibal split them into three shifts. Murdock first, then it would be Hannibal's turn, then BA's. Despite Face's protest that he could take a shift on sentry duty Hannibal had told him it wasn't negotiable. If he got a full night's sleep tonight Hannibal might consider letting him take a half shift tomorrow night.

 

Now Hannibal stood in the shadows outside the door to their motel room. He had a cigar, but it was unlit. Not wanting to give away his position. He was gazing out into the darkness pressing down on this little oasis of light, when he saw movement. Beside their car. He became even more still and watched carefully.

 

Someone was on the other side of the car, where he couldn't see them. Moving shadows gave them away. Then the back door on that side opened, not very wide and then closed again, with no sound, so probably not closed all the way.

 

If this was a thief preying on travellers he was about to get one hell of a shock. Hannibal glided towards the car. When he was close to it he would be in the light so he got on his hands and knees to approach without being seen. The only door he knew was unlocked was the one the intruder had used so Hannibal had to make his way around to that. He got there held his breath and counted one, two, three.

 

He pulled open the door, reached in and grabbed a handful of cloth, jerked out a black clad figure. He threw them to the ground and put a foot on their chest, his gun aimed at their face.

 

"No! Johnny, it's me! Don't shoot!"

 

Hannibal gaped for a second at Frankie, then he reached down and grabbed him. Hauled him up to slam him face first against the car, frisked him. He found a pistol in a shoulder holster under Frankie's jacket. Blinding rage filled Hannibal. He pressed his gun into the man's neck.

 

"Don't call me 'Johnny'." Hannibal ground out. "You call me 'Colonel' or 'sir' from now on. We aren't Frankie and Johnny any more, understood?"

 

"Then you know?" Frankie's voice was quiet.

 

"We know. We know who you're not. Now who the hell are you?"

 

"Sorry, Colonel. Not at liberty to say." Frankie said.

 

"We'll see about that. Get in the car." He shoved Frankie into the back seat of the car, not being bothered in the slightest when Frankie bumped his head on the doorframe and cursed.

 

Inside the car Hannibal pointed his gun at Frankie, was about to speak, but Frankie got in first.

 

"What's wrong with Face?"

 

"What?"

 

"He was using crutches. Is he okay?"

 

"And you care because…?"

 

"Johnny… Colonel." Frankie said. "I need to say something right up front."

 

"How about your real name?" Hannibal suggested. Frankie ignored the suggestion.

 

"I'm not working against you and your team."

 

"Oh really?" To say Hannibal didn't sound convinced was an understatement.

 

"Really." Frankie insisted. "I needed you guys, but I haven't betrayed you."

 

"You delivered us into Stockwell's hands, Frankie." Hannibal used the name, without even realising. But hell, what else was he going to call him? "And we forgave you for that, because we thought you were being blackmailed. But you weren't, not really. You lied to me, to us, from day one."

 

"Yeah, okay, I did that," Frankie admitted. "But Stockwell was going to get you guys one way or another. I needed him to think he was getting me too, so I could get inside."

 

"You're saying you weren't working for Stockwell?"

 

"If I was working for him would I have shot him?"

 

 

"Wake up, guys. I brought us a chew toy." Hannibal switched on the light of the motel room, waking the others. He tossed Frankie into the room. Frankie tumbled to the floor. The other three stared at him.

 

"Hi, guys." Frankie said. He started to get to his feet.

 

"Stay down there." Hannibal ordered. Frankie sat back down.

 

"Where the hell did you find him?" Murdock asked.

 

"He followed us from LA. He watched Mr Santana's nursing home and waited for us to show up. Which worries me as I feel like I'm getting predictable."

 

Murdock and BA had got out of bed and were standing over Frankie. Well BA was more looming. Face sat on the edge of his bed. Hannibal noticed that Murdock stood very deliberately between Frankie and the injured Face.

 

"So who is he?" Face asked.

 

"That he won't tell me." Hannibal said.

 

"Oh yeah?" BA growled. He was wearing only pyjama trousers. When he moved his huge chest and shoulder muscles glistened in the light. Hannibal shook his head. He was watching Frankie and knew the sickly smile he was giving BA was fake. As fake as all the fear, clumsiness and apparent inexperience he's displayed the last year.

 

"Don't bother, BA." Hannibal said. "This is a pro we're dealing with here. Slapping him around isn't going to work." He stepped closer and crouched by Frankie. "The 'I'm just harmless Frankie Santana' shtick is over, boy. You are a pro. Only a pro could have got out of that house and back in. And then got out the second night when security was tripled."

 

Frankie flashed a tiny grin at that. Gone again as quick as it came, but Hannibal saw it.

 

"What was that for?" Hannibal demanded. Frankie looked back at him. His gaze was confident; he met the Colonel's eyes without a hint of nervousness.

 

"I didn't get out the second night. I didn't leave until after you did."

 

"What?"

 

Frankie smirked. Smug.

 

"Security was too tight. But I figured you might get mad enough to run if you thought Carla had taken me. The Ables would go after you. And then I'd just stroll out."

 

"You're saying you were in the house the whole time." Hannibal's disbelief was clear from his tone.

 

"Under the floor boards in my room. I made myself a little hidey hole." Enough food and water for a couple of days, a blanket, a flashlight and a book. Was pretty relaxing really."

 

"Crap!" Murdock said vehemently.

 

"When you guys came in Hannibal said 'Bring me Able Six, now.' BA said 'Where the heck is he?' Face said 'You think someone took him?' Murdock…"

 

"All right." Hannibal cut him off. "Like I said. Pro." He levelled his gun at Frankie. "Okay, something else you might remember me saying. That we would go after the person who shot Stockwell and teach them why they should be afraid of us. And yet you turn up here and admit you did that very thing. Either you have a death wish or you just miss us too much."

 

"He admitted it?" Face asked.

 

"Yes. So why come back, Frankie?"

 

"I need your help." Frankie said, in an earnest voice.

 

Murdock gave a harsh laugh. "Yeah, that's gonna happen."

 

"I didn't intend to come back."

 

"Sure, why come back when you'd got what you needed out of us?" Face said.

 

"But I need your help with this, Colonel." He reached towards a pocket and in an instant was slammed down on his back by BA. Murdock grabbed the hand that had been going for the pocket. While they restrained him Hannibal extracted what Frankie had been reaching for.

 

It was a white envelope, folded over to fit into a jacket pocket. On the front, in what Hannibal recognised at once as Stockwell's writing were two words.

 

Mr Smith

 

 

Chapter 8

 

The envelope had been sealed but was torn open.

 

"Didn't your mother ever teach you that reading other people's mail is not polite?" Hannibal asked Frankie as Murdock and BA let him sit up again.

 

"No." Frankie said, his voice quiet. "She didn’t."

 

Hannibal shrugged. "You took this from Stockwell's office?" Frankie nodded. Hannibal opened the envelope. There was a small piece of paper inside. It contained two Chinese characters. Well they looked Chinese to Hannibal. They could be Japanese he supposed. He had no clue. Frankie was looking at him expectantly.

 

"Well?" He asked Hannibal.

 

"Well what?" Hannibal asked. "Is this supposed to mean something to me?" He showed the paper to the rest of the team. They all looked equally baffled.

 

"It doesn't?" Frankie asked.

 

"Not a thing. I don't read Chinese, or whatever it is."

 

"But… the envelope is addressed to you, it must mean something." Frankie insisted.

 

"Is it addressed to me?" Hannibal looked at it. "I mean, when did Stockwell ever call me 'Mister' Smith?"

 

"No, it must be for you." Frankie scrambled to his feet, and was pushed back against the wall by BA. "It was in his A-Team files." He was starting to sound panicky, though Hannibal couldn't be certain that wasn't some kind of act.

 

Murdock had taken the paper from Hannibal and was examining it. Held it up to the light, shook his head.

 

"It's probably Mandarin." He said. "We know Stockwell was an agent in Hong Kong for years." He shrugged. "I guess we need to get it translated."

 

Of course, Stockwell would never just be straightforward about anything, Hannibal thought. But getting the thing translated surely wasn't beyond the wit of Fra…. of this person who used to be Frankie Santana.

 

"How come you haven't just passed this on to your bosses?" Hannibal asked. "I'm sure they'd figure it out."

 

"Joh… Colonel. I guess it's time to come clean." Frankie said. "Can BA let me go? I'm not gonna try anything, I swear." He looked rather depressed Hannibal thought. A little crushed, as if he'd expected Hannibal to have answers for him and there were none. Hannibal nodded at BA, but kept his gun on Frankie. BA let Frankie go, but stood right beside him, ready. Murdock went to sit on the bed beside Face, still examining the paper as if hoping to find some kind of clue beyond the obvious.

 

Frankie slid down the wall to rest on his haunches.

 

"I'm CIA." He said, rather wearily.

 

"Okay. Let's say I believe that." Hannibal said. "What's your name?"

 

Frankie looked up at him.

 

"Well, that's kind of a funny story, Colonel. I don't know."

 

 

It was less a funny story than a very, very strange story.

 

'Frankie' was CIA he said, his mission was to infiltrate Stockwell's organisation. A cover identity based on the dead Frankie Santana had been created for him, well enough even to fool Stockwell's background check. But that wasn't the strange part. Spies spying on each other was all fairly routine snake swallowing its own tail "intelligence" nonsense as far as Hannibal was concerned.

 

No, the strange part was when Frankie told them about Project Loyola.

 

He didn't know his real name he said because he'd been brought up by the CIA from infancy as part of an experiment to create agents who were more than agents. Who belonged heart and soul to The Company. To the children of Project Loyola being an agent was not a job. It was who they were.

 

"Bull." Hannibal had said, sneered.

 

"It's the truth, Colonel. They wanted to condition us from birth. To make us think of the CIA as our family."

 

"Why?"

 

"Perfect loyalty. And from that, perfect obedience. Perfect agents. Perfect assassins."

 

"So you say you have no idea of your real identity, or who your parents were?"

 

Frankie shook his head. "I could have been stolen from a village in Guatemala or a maternity ward in Cleveland." He gave a humourless laugh. "Or grown in some kind of vat." Hannibal noticed Face looking at Frankie with some pity in his eyes. He hardened his own heart. This must be some kind of crazy story to get their sympathy.

 

"Well they must have called you something back in evil kindergarten." Murdock said. "You know when they were teaching you how to kill a man with your red crayon."

 

"I had a name. A code name. I'd rather not use it. Frankie will do. I like Frankie. At least Frankie had…" He stopped and put his head down.

 

"Okay." Hannibal said, "Let's all pretend I believe you. Keep going. Why haven’t you gone back to your bosses?"

 

Frankie looked up again. "Because I'm on the run too, Colonel."

 

"From your own people? Why?"

 

"I wasn't supposed to kill Stockwell. That wasn't one of my mission parameters. But I found… I found something when I was searching his office."

 

"And that was?" Hannibal demanded.

 

"I found out that Loyola was his idea."

 

 

Dawn was tinting the sky pink as Hannibal stood outside the motel room, smoking. The door behind him opened and Murdock came out. He handed the Colonel a cup of coffee.

 

"Are you buying any of this, Murdock?" Hannibal asked.

 

Murdock shrugged. "The CIA does do some stuff that scores pretty high on the weird crap-o-meter, but I dunno. This is right up there with that guy who tries to kill goats by staring at them, you know. We're deep in tin foil hat territory."

 

"It sounds very Stockwell to me though. Raising perfectly conditioned agents. No conflicting loyalties. No messy emotions. He always hated the human factor." He smiled a little to himself. He and his team had been way too human for Stockwell to handle.

 

"Robots." Murdock said, and then he shook his head and corrected himself. "No. Manufactured sociopaths." He grimaced. "He thought he could treat people like lab rats."

 

"Yeah." Hannibal said. Except it hadn't worked. If Frankie was to be believed, while searching Stockwell's office as a routine part of his mission, he had come across papers that showed Project Loyola was Stockwell's idea and he had supervised its first few years, before Frankie joined the program. Long dormant anger about the life that had been stolen from him had burst to the surface and Stockwell had walked into the room just in time to get that anger right in the chest.

 

He had to go on the run he'd said. Loyola operatives didn't disobey orders. Any that did would either be 'retrained', which didn't sound like it was a few refresher courses, or they'd be considered 'defective' and eliminated.

 

Hannibal had still been sceptical. Why had Frankie come to them? If all this were true then surely now his best option was to disappear, not tag along with another bunch of hunted men.

 

Frankie had tried to spin them a line that he wanted to help them. That they'd all been screwed over by the government and if there was something in that envelope he'd brought along that could help the team then they deserved to have it. But in the end he admitted the truth.

 

"If there's something in that message that helps you get one over on the organisation then I’d be smart to stick with you."

 

"Why would Stockwell send me something that threatens his own organisation?" Hannibal had asked.

 

Frankie had shrugged. "That bastard's mind was so twisted who the hell knows what he might be thinking. Maybe he believed the most likely threat to him would come from inside, not outside. Maybe you were the only one he trusted."

 

Face had laughed at that, slightly shocked. "Now that is one very disturbing thought."

 

 

Hannibal put down his coffee cup and took the paper with the Chinese characters on it out of his pocket.

 

"The first thing we need to do is get this translated." He said to Murdock.

 

"We could go back to LA, see Sam Yeng, maybe?"

 

Hannibal shook his head. Much as he could just go for some of the crispy duck at the Golden Pagoda he didn't want to risk bringing trouble to any of their friends.

 

"Okay." Murdock said. "You know we're not far from Vegas." Hannibal was surprised, hadn't even noticed they'd crossed into Nevada. "And I happen to know one of the professors at UNLV."

 

"He could translate this?"

 

"Nah, he works in the physics department, but he could get us an intro to someone in Oriental languages."

 

"How do you know this guy?"

 

"He's a vet. Air Force. He was in the VA for a few months. We still send Christmas cards." He smiled. "Us crazy folks like to stick together."

 

Hannibal grinned. "Then tell Face to break out his loaded dice and marked deck. We're going to Vegas."

 

 

It was mid morning when they stopped at a motel on the outskirts of Vegas.

 

"Murdock, go get us a room. One will do, not planning on staying overnight." Hannibal said. BA got out of the car. Face stayed in the back.

 

Hannibal went around to the trunk and opened it.

 

"Hey, Frankie. Good trip?"

 

An outraged and handcuffed Frankie scrambled out.

 

"I can't believe you made me ride in the trunk, man." He said, seething. BA giggled and Frankie glared at him. "This isn’t funny."

 

"Yeah it is," BA said.

 

"Well, Face needs room to stretch out his bad leg." Hannibal said.

 

"I had a car! We could have brought that."

 

"Yeah, like I'm gonna trust your car."

 

"Colonel, I told you, I'm on your side." He looked at Hannibal, in full on 'annoying but harmless' mode. "I thought you believed me." Hannibal wanted to slap him. He didn't even know if 'Frankie' was conscious of doing it, of slipping into the behaviour of his supposed cover personality, but Hannibal was willing to bet he was, that it was deliberate, to keep them off guard.

 

"Even if I believe you, I don't trust you. Now move it." Murdock came back rattling a set of keys. "BA, take him inside and handcuff him to something. If he tries anything shoot him." BA glanced sharply at Hannibal. He looked totally serious. "I'll drop Murdock off at the university and take Face to get his leg checked out. Those stitches should come out. We'll see you later this afternoon." BA dragged off Frankie. Murdock tossed the sergeant the room keys then got into the car.

 

 

"Ah, Mr Murdock, is it? So good to meet you." Murdock shook the hand of the middle aged oriental woman after being admitted to her office. All four walls were lined with floor to ceiling bookcases and books were also piled in corners, on tables and her desk. Papers and folders covered any space on her desk not already covered in books. A white shade with oriental characters painted on it was half drawn over the small window, one shaft of strong sunlight cutting across the room.

 

"Professor Chung. Thanks for agreeing to see me on short notice like this." Murdock said, with his most charming smile.

 

"Will you join me for tea?" She offered.

 

"Thank you so much." Murdock had been drinking nothing but soda and horrible really bad coffee for the last few days. A touch of civilization was a very welcome prospect.

 

As she bustled about making the tea she said, "Professor Laing said something on the telephone about a treasure hunt, Mr Murdock?"

 

"Yeah." Murdock said, going into the cover story he'd come up with. "My boss sets the clues. One clue leads to another and eventually to the big prize."

 

"Big prize?" She brought a tray to the desk, realised there was nowhere to put it down. Murdock hastily moved some books and what looked like a stack of student essays to make room. "Thank you." She sat down, stirred the tea in its pot.

 

"A brand new Buick. Whoever finds it first keeps it."

 

"Goodness. And your employer organises this treasure hunt every year?"

 

"Right. This is my first one." Murdock didn't see it as lying. He was telling a story. Hannibal lied, Face scammed, Murdock told stories, BA just demanded answers. Though in this case he'd probably say "please" and "ma'am".

 

"My boss," Murdock explained, "He's like this crazy ex-hippy type who started writing software and got converted to capitalism. The treasure hunt is supposed to get us to use our initiative, keep us thinking creatively."

 

"How very exciting." She stood up to pour the tea, moving the teapot back and forth filling both cups at once. "Perhaps I should try something similar with my students." She smiled, handing Murdock a cup. "Not that I have a brand new Buick to give away of course."

 

Murdock sipped his tea. He felt very relaxed here. The book-lined study was a nice break from the cramped car interior and crummy motels. Academia had often appealed to Murdock. He could see himself as a professor. A nutty professor, obviously. Students would be fighting to get into Professor Murdock's classes. And academics had to do something spectacularly crazy before they were considered any more than a little eccentric.

 

"Could I see the paper?" The professor asked, breaking Murdock out of his brief flight of academic fancy.

 

"Of course." Murdock handed it over. She put on a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles she wore on a red ribbon around her neck.

 

"Ah, yes, it is Mandarin as you suspected. Rather nice penmanship."

 

Murdock had zero interest in the quality of the penmanship, but he kept his tone polite. "What does it say?"

 

 

Hannibal glanced out if the window as a soft knocking sounded at the door.

 

"It's Murdock, let him in." He told BA.

 

BA opened the door and Murdock slipped inside. The room was dim with the drapes pulled. Face was lying on the bed, his bad leg propped on pillows. He must have been sleeping as he blinked owlishly at Murdock as he came in. A sulky looking Frankie was sitting on the floor handcuffed to a pipe.

 

"Well?" Hannibal asked.

 

"Got it, Colonel." Murdock smiled. "For all the good it does us."

 

"What does that mean, fool?" BA demanded.

 

"I mean I got the translation, but what the hell it means is anyone's guess."

 

"Let's hear it." Hannibal said.

 

"Well, according to the professor, who was a very nice lady, by the way, and gave me a lovely cup of green tea …" BA growled and Murdock decided to stop milking it. " It says 'listen to zephyr'."

 

"Listen to zephyr?" Face repeated.

 

"What the heck does that mean?" BA asked.

 

Murdock shrugged. "Like I said. For all the good it does us."

 

"I'll bet he knows." Hannibal said, looking at Frankie. He'd been watching him, looking for a reaction. The man was a pro, but Hannibal thought he'd seen something, a flicker in his eyes at the words.

 

Hannibal bent over beside Frankie and pointed his gun. "Okay, Frankie. Tell me all about Zephyr."

 

 

TBC

 


Viper by Junkfoodmonkey
Viper 2 by Junkfoodmonkey

 

 


Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!