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Beginnings 1: Heritage
HannibalFan’52 and Jullian Gray
Summary: The Team is on the run from Lynch at the start of their career. This one’s for B.A.
Warnings: Some violence, but nothing graphic; mild slash H/F
Notes: 1. Non-com: non-commissioned officer (corporal and sergeant)
2. Grover’s Mill, NJ: site of the Martian landing in the 1939 Orson Wells radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds’
3. All towns mentioned in this story actually exist.
4. Inspired by Summer of 1973, by Jullian Gray; Sequel to Fish, by HannibalFan’52 and Jullian Gray
The canon characters are, of course, the product of Stephen J.
Cannell’s fertile imagination. I can only hope I’ve done justice
to his creation.
Sergeant Jenkins looked down the cell block, making sure everything was in order. Reveille had sounded half an hour before, and he noted that all the inmates were standing near the doors to their cells, waiting to be released and marched down to breakfast.
He approached the last two cells on the right, and looked inside. Three figures were still asleep on their bunks.
‘All right, Smith; on your feet!’ he yelled. ‘You, too, Peck…Baracus!’
No one moved.
Angry now, he unlocked the corner cell and approached the top bunk, which he knew was the Colonel’s. Yanking back the blanket, he opened his mouth to repeat the order, but suddenly went pale.
‘Oh, shit!’ he whispered.
All he could hear was quiet snickering from the other cells…
Lynch was livid as he strode into his office an hour later.
‘Report!’ he yelled at the soldiers awaiting his arrival. Lieutenant Royce, the Officer of the Day, snapped a salute.
‘Sir!’ he barked. ‘Reveille sounded at 0600 hours. At 0630, Sergeant Jenkins,’ - he indicated the soldier in question - ‘preparing to march the block down to the dining hall, noticed that Smith, Peck, and Baracus had not left their bunks. Upon investigation, he found dummies in the bunks, but no sign of how they had gotten out of the cells, sir!’
Lynch glared at Jenkins, who swallowed nervously.
‘Continue,’ he muttered, seething, and Royce nodded.
‘Jenkins immediately reported to me. I turned out the guard, and commenced a thorough search of the grounds. Corporal Phillips was subsequently found handcuffed, gagged, and locked in the head.’ Lynch turned his unsympathetic gaze on the embarrassed non-com. ‘And Staff Sergeant Downing was discovered bound, gagged, and unconscious in the guard hut at the main gate. He reports that the escaped prisoners left in…’ he paused and gulped ‘…in your staff car, sir!’
Lynch, already beyond anger, turned red with fury.
‘My…!’ His gaze raked those at attention in front of him. ‘The audacity of the man! I’ll get him! I swear I’ll get him!
‘You!’ Lynch stabbed a finger at Royce. ‘Start on off-base search. Try to find out which way they’ve gone. Dismissed!’ Royce nodded and practically flew from the room, relieved to have gotten off as easily as he had.
The Sergeant jumped and swung his attention back from the door Royce had just exited.
‘Get down to the print shop. Get a “Wanted” poster made up ASAP, and arrange for distribution to all post offices, police stations, and so on. I want their faces all over this state!’
‘Sir!’ Downing barked, saluting before he turned to leave.
‘Oh, and Downing?’
The Sergeant shivered at the menace in Lynch’s soft tone, and licked his lips nervously before responding.
‘Don’t think you’re off the hook for that escapade with Peck. If you hadn’t tried to rape him, Smith might not have felt the need to bolt. Now, get out of my sight!’
‘Sir!’ Downing got away from Lynch’s office as quickly as he could.
Glaring around at the few soldiers who remained, he dismissed them abruptly before sitting at his desk. Convulsively, he crumpled the orders for the court-martial that had been scheduled to start that very day.
‘I’ll get you, Smith!’ he ground out between clenched teeth. ‘I’ll get you, if it’s the last thing I do!’
‘Iron Mike’ Tuttle looked at the man with greying light-blond hair who was climbing down from the cab of his truck, realization finally dawning on him.
‘Why didn’t you say?’ he asked quietly. The other man just shrugged. ‘How can I ever thank you?’
John ‘Hannibal’ Smith just grinned. ‘You never saw us,’ he said with a wink.
‘Ten-four, good buddy!’ the trucker replied. He’d heard the stories, but hadn‘t believed them. ‘We’ve got your back-door - as much as we can, at least.’
‘We appreciate it. Keep the shiny side up, the greasy side down, and the bears off your tail!’
The trucker laughed, and they exchanged a ‘thumbs-up’ before Smith closed the door and watched the semi pull out, headed east to its next destination.
Hannibal turned back to his companions - a slim blond and a muscular black man, both young enough to be his sons. Which they might just as well have been. He’d taken these two misfits onto his team and under his wing, and they’d made him proud to be their commanding officer and their friend. For the younger of the two men, however, he had somewhat more than paternal feelings.
As he walked, he thought about his third team member, a young pilot. They’d been separated from him under circumstances he didn’t care to contemplate at the moment. It had been less than twelve hours since they’d escaped from Fort Bragg, NC, commonly known as ‘Fayette Nam’, and so far were keeping ahead of the MP’s who were undoubtedly after them by now. Hopefully, they’d laid enough of a false trail to keep their pursuers occupied sufficiently to put plenty of distance between them. If they managed to elude Lynch and his MP‘s, maybe he could find a way to locate Murdock and figure out a way to join up with him again.
Entering the diner, they stowed their duffle bags and sat down at the counter. They’d been lucky, having earned a nice bit of money within hours of escaping, but they’d already bought civilian clothes, and they didn’t know how far they’d be traveling before they found a permanent place to stay, so they had to make it last.
An older couple approached on the other side of the counter.
‘Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink?’ asked the man.
Hannibal exchanged a glance with his men.
‘Just water, thanks.’
The man nodded. ‘How about something to eat?’
Again, Hannibal looked at the others. ‘Scrambled eggs and toast?’ Resignedly, the other two nodded. ‘Three orders of scrambled eggs and toast, please.’
‘Comin’ right up!’ the man said cheerfully, heading for the kitchen as the petite woman set out three glasses of ice water.
‘You boys traveling cross-country?’ she asked, eying the bags by the door.
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Hannibal said with a polite smile.
‘Kinda early in the year for it, I’m thinking.’
‘Yeah, well, we prefer the off-season for traveling,’ Hannibal replied, grinning.
The woman snorted good-naturedly.
‘Well, I wish you luck! It’s gotta be cold and wet out there waiting for your next ride to come along.’
‘I’m sure you’re right, ma’am,’ Hannibal answered. ‘So, I was wondering if you’d let us hang around here for a couple days until we find someone headed in a direction we’d like to go. I promise you we’ll be no trouble, and we’d be happy to help out in any way we can.’
She looked the Colonel up and down. Iron Mike had spoken to her privately about these men before he‘d dropped them off, and she trusted his judgment, but this distinguished-looking stranger didn’t have to know that.
‘Well, let me think on it a bit,’ she sniffed. ‘I’ll talk it over with my husband, and let you know.’
‘That’s all we can ask, ma’am.’
‘Call me Edna,’ she said with a smile. ‘And that tall drink o’ water of mine is Jack.’
‘Here you go, boys!’ Jack said cheerfully as he appeared from the kitchen as if by magic. ‘Dig in!’
After enjoying the best scrambled eggs and toast they’d ever eaten, and accepting some complementary coffee pressed on them by their jovial host, the Team moved to an area of the diner that boasted several pool tables, foosball tables, and pinball machines, as well as a few dartboards. Catching sight of the dartboards gave Hannibal an idea.
He took the map he’d gotten at the first rest stop, and pinned it up on the wall, centering as much as he could over one of the dart boards. That done, he handed the darts to Face.
‘All right, kid,’ he said, ‘give it your best shot. Where we head next is up to you.’
Face nodded, and stepped up to the line.
The first dart landed on the border between the U.S. and Canada. B.A. snickered, and Hannibal grinned.
‘Y’know, kid,’ he teased, ‘for a sniper, you’ve got lousy aim.’
‘Hey, hey, hey!’ Face retorted. ‘I’m used to an 8-pound Remington, not these light-weight things.’
‘Sure, kid,’ Hannibal said in an amused voice. ‘Try again, Lieutenant.’
Doing his best to ignore the good-natured taunts, Face sent the next dart winging its way towards the board. This time, it landed in the U.S., and Hannibal went to check its location.
‘Grover’s Mill, NJ, huh?’ he said. ‘No, thanks, Face. I don’t want to meet up with any Martians. Lynch is bad enough!’
B.A. and Face looked at each other, and shrugged.
Hannibal sighed. ‘That’s right; you youngsters wouldn’t understand. I’ll explain it to you someday. In any case, he’d still be too close for comfort.’ The older man gestured to the board, inviting Face to try his luck again. Checking the result, he nodded.
‘Cincinnati, Ohio,’ he stated. ‘A large city, offering plenty of opportunities to stay out of sight. Might give us a chance to catch our breath and make some plans, instead of just winging it. What do you say, guys?’
‘Sounds like a plan, Colonel,’ B.A. growled, and Face nodded in agreement.
Hannibal considered as he removed the map from the dartboard. It was tempting, he admitted to himself, to head for Canada; it would be safe for them there. But they’d never been ones to back down from a challenge, and they weren’t going to begin now.
Lieutenant Royce knocked timidly at the door of Lynch’s office, and flinched at the snarled ‘Enter!’ Squaring his shoulders, he pushed open the door, marched up to the desk, and saluted smartly.
‘Report!’ Lynch snapped.
‘Sir!’ Royce barked. ‘We’ve got a lead. They were spotted at a rest stop on the Interstate about two hours’ drive south of here. It seems they…uh…rescued a Jewish diamond merchant who was being rousted by three thugs…’ His voice trailed off nervously at Lynch’s glare.
‘Rescued, my ass!’ Lynch scoffed. ‘I find that hard to believe. These are the men who robbed the Bank of Hanoi, for Chrissake’s!’
‘Well, sir,’ Royce went on, ‘the official police report states that the alleged perpetrators were fended off by one Yakov Goldblum, the gem dealer in question. But the men themselves…’ Royce hesitated.
‘Well…they swear blind that they were stopped by three soldiers, two white and one black. And the oldest one had silver-white hair. The descriptions do match the A-Team, sir.’
‘It’s them,’ Lynch muttered to himself disbelievingly. ‘It’s got to be.’ He returned his attention to his junior officer. ‘Did you interview the diamond merchant? This…Goldblum?’
‘No!’ Lynch spluttered.
‘He’s already left the area, sir,’ Royce hastened to explain. He checked his notes. ‘He’s…um…got quite an extensive itinerary before he heads back to…uh…Monsey, New York. That’s a big Chasidic enclave west of the Hudson River, sir.’
Lynch was hardly satisfied, but he really couldn’t blame young Royce for this development.
‘All right,’ he said at last, ‘get on the horn to the Army base closest to this…what was it?…Monsey place. Have them contact this Goldblum character, see if he can confirm what those jailbirds claim.’
‘Right away, sir!’ Royce acknowledged with a nod.
Lynch rested his elbows on the edge of his desk and steepled his fingers.
‘So,’ he said quietly to himself, ‘they’re heading south. It only makes sense; they didn’t have a stitch of warm clothing in their bags. I inventoried the contents myself.’
‘Royce,’ he said aloud, ‘expand the search south. Concentrate on the larger cities; there are more places to hide.’
‘Oh, and has there been any sign of my staff car?’
Royce shook his head. ‘Not yet, sir.’
Lynch nodded, considering.
‘I know for a fact, Royce, that they had no money when they left here. Once the car runs out of gas, they’ll have to hoof it. Let’s see how long they can outrun the MP’s on foot!’ He looked up at the light-blond Lieutenant. ‘And when they’re back here, Royce, they’re all going into solitary for the next thirty years. Let’s see Smith get out of that!’ He grinned manically. ‘Dismissed!’
‘Sir!’ Royce saluted and left the office. Outside, he leaned against the wall, almost feeling sorry for Smith, Peck, and Baracus once Lynch caught up with them.
A few hours later, Face was sweeping up as Hannibal helped Jack prepare the diner for the late-night shift and B.A. helped Edna re-stock the kitchen supplies. From outside came a steady rumble of traffic and voices of drivers stopping to fuel their trucks.
Suddenly, the relative quiet was shattered by the sound of an air-horn being blown long and hard. followed by several shorter blasts. The few truckers in the diner looked out the window and groaned, and Jack shook his head as a fancy rig pulled into the truck stop. When it was parked, the doors opened and two men climbed down, whooping it up as they made their way towards the diner.
Face moved to stand next to Jack.
‘Trouble?’ he asked quietly, as he noticed several customers looking towards the door and nudging each other.
‘Could be,’ Jack admitted. ‘It all depends.’
‘On anything you care to name.’ Face nodded in sympathy; he knew the type.
Just then, the front door of the diner banged open to admit the two newcomers. Most of the truckers already seated quickly finished their meals and hastily paid their tabs before slipping out. The waitress jumped and squealed.
‘Chuck Blair! You keep your hands to yourself!’
Lightning-quick, Blair had an arm around her waist, pulling her close and trying to kiss her as she struggled to get away.
‘I believe the lady made a perfectly reasonable request, Mister.’
Blair looked Face up and down, then turned away dismissively.
Jack stepped up to confront the noisy intruders.
‘Chuck, you and Ross are no longer welcome here. I told you that last time you busted up the place. Now, you just take your business elsewhere.’
‘Awwww, but we like it here,’ Ross told him.
‘Well, we don’t like having you here, so just get out!’
‘Yeah? And who’s gonna make me? You and pretty boy here?’
Hannibal had stepped out of the store-room at the sound of raised voices, and could see the haunted look that sprang into Face’s eyes. Moving quickly, he pulled the waitress out of Blair’s grip, pushing her towards the safety of the kitchen, where Edna held her protectively. At the same moment, B.A. came out to join them.
‘Listen, dirt-bag,’ the Colonel hissed quietly, ‘you were asked to leave. Now, just go on down to the truck-stop down the road. I’m sure they’d love to see you!’
Chuck stared at him for a moment, then swung wildly, but Hannibal easily caught his fist, twisting his arm painfully up behind his back. Ross turned on Face, throwing a punch at the younger man’s head. Face easily ducked the punch and came back with his own, sending the truck driver reeling back. However, it only took him a moment to recover, and he charged the Lieutenant like a bull, knocking him to the ground. Air gushed from his lungs as the bigger man’s weight pressed down on his bruised body.
BA started to move towards Face, but was stopped by another trucker who thought it would be fun to get into the fray. BA grabbed the other man by the front of his shirt as he began to pound his fist into his face. Seeing that his buddy was going to take the beating of a lifetime, the trucker’s friend jumped onto BA’s back in an attempt to pull the sergeant off him. BA dropped the first man and backed up into a nearby wall, proceeding to slam the other man against it.
Face struggled with the weight of the man on top on him. He didn’t like being pinned down, and the position that he was in brought back too many memories that he would rather not remember. Face’s mind quickly switched into survival mode - he found the most vulnerable spot on the other man and brought his knee up as hard as he could. The moment Ross went slack, Face shoved him away. A split second later, Face went in for the kill.
Hannibal was in the process of frog-marching Chuck to the door when he saw Face go down. He spun Chuck around and punched him in the gut, then belted him in the side of the head, sending him crashing to the ground. Hannibal started towards Face as Ross fell to one side, holding his balls and gasping in pain. In an instant, Face was on top of him, his hands around the other man’s throat.
“Stand down, Lieutenant!” Hannibal yelled as he watched the slim hands begin to squeeze the trucker’s muscle-bound neck. He watched as his Lieutenant jerked, then turned to look at him, his eyes cold and hard.
“I said stand down.” Hannibal moved a step closer, his hands raised slightly to show the younger man that he was not a threat. “Relax, kid; it’s all over,” he said softly as he approached him. The blond looked at him for a moment, then scanned the room. Even though it was a shambles, it was obvious that the fighting was over. He turned to look at Hannibal for another moment before he closed his eyes and shook his head. Slowly, he stood up and moved over to the counter.
Hannibal moved over and grabbed Ross by the shirt and pulled him to his feet. “You don’t know how lucky you are,” he growled as he dragged the other man towards the front door.
Starting with Blair and Ross, Hannibal and B.A. sent all the trouble-makers packing, telling them never to return.
Face was leaning on the counter, breathing heavily. He started when a hand landed on his shoulder, and swung around, ready to let fly with an uppercut.
‘Hang on, little brother!’ B.A. said, backing off with his hands raised. He noted the look of panic in the younger man’s eyes. ‘You all right, man?’
Face quickly schooled his features.
‘Yeah, B.A.; I’ll be fine,’ he said lightly. ‘Just need to catch my breath.’
‘Uh-huh,’ his lover said skeptically as he returned from throwing the last of the rowdies out into the parking lot.
‘Really, Hannibal; I will!’ Face protested, and Hannibal could see the fear rising.
You think I’m going to abandon you if you can’t keep up, don’t you? Hannibal thought as he looked at the younger man.
‘I know, kid,’ he murmured, placing his hands on Face’s shoulders and pressing him onto a bar-stool. ‘Now, you just sit there and relax for a while.’ He squeezed the slender shoulders, massaging them gently, and was rewarded with a warm look from the blue-grey eyes he loved so much.
The sound of raised voices in the kitchen drew everyone’s attention. Almost immediately, the swinging door to the counter area opened violently, and Sam, the cook, stalked out, pulling off his apron and slamming in on the counter. He was followed closely by the dish-washer.
‘That’s it, Jack!’ he yelled. ‘I can’t take any more of this, and neither can Nick. Truckers trying to bust up the joint, bikers throwing their weight around. It’s only a matter of time before someone opens fire with a rifle in here, and somebody gets killed!’
Jack looked at his help in dismay.
‘Sam, please! You can’t leave like this, in the middle of a shift!’
‘Sorry, Jack,’ Nick said, ‘but Sam’s right. We’ve both got wives and kids! If something happened to us, who would take care of them?’
‘I know you’d try to help, Jack,’ Sam said, calming down a little. ‘But this place is your life. You can’t afford to support another family, much less two. And we wouldn’t ask it of you. I’m sorry; we just can’t stay.’
With that, he left the diner.
‘Jack…um…just mail us our pay, ok?’ Nick stammered. ‘We’d stay if we thought we could, but…it’s just not safe. We gotta think of our families,’ he added, leaving the place hard on Sam’s heels.
Jack stared after them for several long minutes, then turned away from the door with a sigh.
What am I going to do now? he thought Heading back to the kitchen area, he caught sight of Hannibal and his men.
‘You… uh… you fellas serve in Viet Nam, by any chance?’ Jack asked.
Hannibal raised an eyebrow.
‘Yeah,’ he said warily.
‘Then you’re probably just like a lot of other vets,’ Jack ventured, ’hitch-hiking ‘cross the country, no place to really settle.’ Hannibal looked at the others, then turned back to Jack, and nodded. ‘And not much money in your pockets, either, I’ll wager.’
‘You could say that, yeah,’ said Face as he thought of their meager savings in his front pocket.
Jack looked at Edna, who nodded.
‘Well, I’ve got a proposal for you. As you can guess, we‘re in a pile of trouble now that Sam and Nick have quit, and we could use some temporary workers while we interview for replacements. Maybe even a bouncer,’ he added with a grin. ‘If you boys would take the night shift, and help doing odd jobs, we’d much appreciate it. I can pay you $1.80 an hour - off the books, o’ course - plus meals. We’ve even got a couple cots you c’n set up in the store-room, so you don’t have to waste money on lodgings.’ Jack looked at the three soldiers. ‘Whaddya say?’
‘Well, since we don’t know when we’ll get a ride to our next destination,’ Hannibal grinned and held out a hand, ‘ you’ve got yourself a deal!’
The next few weeks passed uneventfully. Working the night shift meant that they were rarely around during the day, which suited the Team just fine. Very few people were around after dark, as well, which made it very unlikely anyone would recognize them and contact the MP’s. Even so, they knew better than to become complacent. Hannibal made sure they were always ready to bug out at a moment’s notice. He also knew that they couldn’t push their luck too far. Staying in one place was dangerous, and they’d need to find a way out of Pennsylvania soon.
Hannibal was working the kitchen at shift change on a clear, moonlit night, while Face and B.A. took care of neatening up the place and Edna checked the supplies. The deep roar of another truck pulling in, though par for the course, still had everyone double-checking that everything was in order.
‘Edna!’ Jack called as he noticed the deep maroon rig with gold lettering pulling into the lot. ‘Look who’s here!’ At his call, his wife dropped everything and glanced out the window.
‘Big Willy!‘ she murmured delightedly, then poured a cup of coffee, light and sweet, before hurrying to the dining area. Putting the mug on the counter, she hugged the newcomer warmly when he entered.
‘Edna, you look lovelier every time I see you,’ the burly trucker told her, laughing delightedly when she landed a mock punch on his shoulder.
‘Get away with you, now!’ she laughed in return. It was easy to see that Willy was one of her favorite customers.
‘Good to see you, Jack,’ Willy said as they shook hands.
‘Glad to have you back, Willy,’ Jack enthused in turn. ‘Take a load off, and we’ll rustle you up some dinner. What’ll you have?’
Willy considered for a moment. ‘How about some Salisbury steak with sawmill gravy? I’ll follow that with some Edna’s apple pie, if there’s any left,’ he said as Jack scribbled on the order pad.
‘We always put a piece aside for you, just in case, Willy,’ Jack smiled. ‘And here’s your coffee, just the way you like it.’
Turning, he handed the order slip to Hannibal in the kitchen. Nodding, the Colonel got busy. It wasn’t long before Willy was settling down to his meal.
‘Hey, Jack! Seems to me you’ve got a new cook!’
‘Yeah. Old one quit a few weeks ago. Happened to find a replacement, but he can’t stay long.’
‘Well,’ Willy said, ‘this guy can cook rings around most short-order cooks I’ve known.’ He smiled as lifted another forkful to his mouth.
‘I can only hope his replacement can do half as well,’ Jack chuckled in reply.
Sensing an opportunity, Edna leaned over the counter as Willy finished his meal.
‘Willy, would you do us a favor?’
‘If I can,’ the trucker replied.
‘These fellas,’ she continued, discreetly nodding towards the Team, ‘need a lift to Cincy. They’ve been a real help around while we looked for some new workers. Iron Mike Tuttle will vouch for ‘em, too,’ she added in a low voice.
‘Iron Mike, huh?’ Willy said, considering. ‘Seems to me I heard something about that. I’ll see what I can do.’ He downed his coffee, and approached Hannibal.
‘I hear you and your men are looking for a lift to Cincinnati,’ he said.
‘If you can manage it, we’d be much obliged,’ the Colonel replied.
‘Well, I’ve heard good things about you from Iron Mike, and if Jack and Edna say you’re okay, that’s good enough for me.’
‘We’d be happy to travel with you, Willy,’ Hannibal told him.
‘Only trouble is, I just drove twelve hours straight, and I need some shut-eye. You guys okay with leavin’ in, say, seven or eight hours?’
‘Well, that would give us enough time to finish our shift and get our gear together, eh, Colonel?’ Face offered.
‘Sounds like a plan, Lieutenant,’ Hannibal said, nodding. He turned to the trucker. ‘We’ll be ready whenever you are.’
The 6:30 dawn saw Jack and Edna back at the diner. The place was neat as a pin, a testament to the care their temporary employees had shown throughout their time at the truck-stop.
‘I’m going to miss you boys,’ Edna said as she poured coffee for the Team’s last breakfast. ‘You made a tough time a lot easier for us. Lord knows we’re no spring chickens!’
‘It’s was our pleasure, ma’am,’ Face replied.
‘That’s right, li’l mama,’ B.A. added.
Jack joined them, handing Hannibal an envelope.
‘Here’s the money I owe you for all the work you’ve done for us,’ he said. ‘As you asked, I kept it all aside until now. It’s $1,000; I added a little bonus as a thank you for helping us over a rough patch.’
‘No,’ said Hannibal, ‘it’s for us to thank you. Without your help, we could have been in sorry shape by now.’
Willy put down his fork.
‘Edna, I don’t know how you do it!’ he said. ‘Your flapjacks are the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve been across this country a dozen times!’
‘That’s why I married her!‘ Jack declared, while Edna blushed and smiled.
All too soon, it was time to leave.
Jack and Edna escorted Hannibal, Face, and B.A. out to Willy’s truck.
‘You take care, you hear?’ Jack said as they shook hands. ‘Anyone comes lookin’ for you, we’ll blow smoke in their eyes, isn’t that right, Edna.’
‘That’s right,’ Edna sniffed. ‘Now, you boys get along.’
‘Yes, ma’am!’ Hannibal smiled, then turned to his men. ‘Face? B.A.? You ready?’ Both nodded.
His hand on the grab-rail, Hannibal looked northwest towards the mitten-shaped state of Michigan and sighed, a look of longing in his eyes. Then, steeling himself, he climbed into the sleeping compartment, followed by Face. They left the passenger seat to B.A., so he could talk shop with Big Willy.
Once they were comfortable, Face looked at his lover.
‘What’s the matter, Hannibal?’ he asked quietly, as the truck pulled out onto the highway. Hannibal looked at him, frowning at the question. ‘C’mon, Colonel; I saw you out there. You looked almost homesick. Now, spill it.’
‘I am, Tem; I am.’ The older man sighed. ‘I wanted to spend time with my family after this tour, and take you home to meet them. But now, that’s not possible. I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever see them again.’ He sighed heavily.
Face nodded. As an orphan, he’d often wondered what it would be like to have a proper family. The years had passed, though, without his being adopted, in spite of his good looks and charming manners, and he’d become somewhat bitter and cynical about it all. Now, seeing the look in Hannibal’s eyes, he felt the old longing resurface.
‘Tell me about them?’
Hannibal pulled Face closer, until the younger man’s head rested on his shoulder, then wrapped his arms around him protectively. He knew what it had cost his lover to ask that question.
‘Well, I have two brothers and one sister. My older brother is David. He’s a good enough sort, I suppose, and knows an awful lot about farming. There was no love lost between us, though. We never could see eye-to-eye on anything, and he was just as glad when I was accepted at West Point.
‘My sister, Elizabeth, is a couple years older than I am, and the only girl in the family. She and her husband inherited the family farm when my parents died a few years ago, and they’ve done a great job of running it since.
‘The baby of the family is James, my younger brother. He’s still courting his high-school sweetheart, Anna, though Beth tells me she thinks he’s going to pop the question soon. I hope he does; they’d make a lovely couple.’
‘Like us?’ Face couldn’t help but ask.
‘Smart-ass kid!’ Hannibal muttered, ruffling the younger man‘s hair.
‘It must have been wonderful, though, growing up in a close-knit family like that,’ Face said wistfully.
‘It was, kid; it was,’ Hannibal told him. ‘And I plan on sharing it with you. Some day, you will meet them, Tem. I promise.’
‘I think I’d like that, John,’ Face sighed. ‘In fact, if they’re anything like you, I know I’d like that.’
Face started awake when the bed under him shook violently. A few seconds later, he began to panic when a large arm fell across his chest. He kept his eyes closed and pretended to be asleep, hoping that whoever was tucked in behind him wouldn’t realize he was awake. As he was trying to figure out what to do, a man’s voice came from in front of him.
“You would think they would patch them dang potholes,” the voice grumbled.
“They are pretty rough,” another voice answered, a voice that Face instantly recognized as Hannibal’s.
Opening his eyes, Face turned his head to look at the person behind him, and let out a sigh of relief when he saw that it was B.A. who had his arm wrapped over his body. Slowly, Face’s senses started to return, and he remembered where he was.
Carefully, so as to not wake his sleeping friend, Face untangled himself from B.A. and parted the curtain that separated the sleeping berth from the front of the cab. As he looked out the front window, he noticed a pair of eyes looking back at him in the rearview mirror.
“Sorry about the bumps, son,” Big Willy apologized. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“That’s all right,” Face smiled. When he turned his gaze to the right, his smile brightened when he noticed Hannibal looking back at him from the passenger’s seat of the big rig.
“How you feeling, kid?”
“All right.” Face shrugged.
“Is that all you can say?” Hannibal chuckled as he leaned back to squeeze the younger man’s knee.
“Real funny, Hannibal,” Face snorted as he rubbed his eyes.
Reaching into a bag at his feet, Hannibal pulled out a sandwich and handed it to Face. When the blond started to object, the Colonel raised a finger, stopping him.
“Not a word. Eat.”
Face sighed deeply as he unwrapped the sandwich and took a small bite.
“Got a teen at home that reminds me of him.” Willy laughed as he watched Face glare at Hannibal in the rearview mirror.
“He’s a typical teen, all right.” Hannibal grinned at Face, who shot him a dirty look.
“So, where are we?” Face asked as he took another small bite, debating how much he would be able to eat before handing the sandwich back to Hannibal. He knew he should eat more to keep his strength up, but he was just never hungry anymore. Or, more accurately, he was hungry, but just didn’t feel like eating.
“Just outside of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania,“ Willy spoke up. “I gotta do a drop-off and pick-up there, but that won’t take long. Should be in Athens, Ohio by nightfall. We’ll do another load switch there in the morning, and be in Cincy sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
“Looks like a barren wasteland,” Face commented as he looked at all the empty fields.
“City boy?” the trucker asked as he glanced over at Hannibal.
“Yeah.” Hannibal turned to wink at Face. “Wouldn’t know a corn stalk from sugar cane.”
“Excuse me?” Face rolled his eyes, causing Hannibal to reach back and ruffle his hair.
‘Thank God it’s growing out,’ Hannibal sighed. Face had always managed to keep from getting the typical Army buzz cut, but the barber at the prison had managed to cut it pretty damn short.
“Things may look dead now, but give it a month or so, ‘til the weather warms up, and it’ll be planting time. Not long after that, these fields will be full of sprouting corn; another six weeks, give or take, you won’t be able to see over it,” the trucker explained as they drove along the flat countryside. As the miles passed, Willy began to explain to Face all the different crops that came out of Pennsylvania, and as they crossed through West Virginia and into Ohio, he kept right on talking, enjoying the company and having someone to talk to.
Just before nightfall, the truck passed a field full of cows, all of which were walking towards a large barn on top of a small hill.
“Now that is one of the largest diaries in the state; I’ve hauled my fair share of milk for them folks. This time o’ day, the cows’re headed for the milking parlor, all on their own, as you can see.”
“Don’t let B.A. hear you say that, or we might have to stop,‘ Face piped up.
“Milk drinker, huh?” Willy chuckled.
“That’s putting it lightly,” Face snorted.
“I wonder, if I ask nice enough, if they would give us a cow?” Willy chuckled, and, for the first time in a long time, Face laughed.
“I can see him drinking it right out of the cow.” Face covered his mouth, trying to keep quiet.
Hannibal looked over at his lover. It was nice to hear him laugh again. It had been way too long.
“Now I think I would pay to see that.” Hannibal grinned as he turned back to look out the front window, as Face, unable to contain it anymore, burst out laughing. Way too long.
Their mirth increased as they heard B.A. shift position, pulling the blanket over his head and muttering ‘Cain’t a body git some sleep around here without all that jibber-jabber?’
Big Willy frowned. Traffic was slowing down, and seemed to be backed up for miles. He reached up and snagged the microphone for his CB unit.
‘Uh…breaker one-nine…this is Big Willy…any word on what’s happenin’? C’mon back!’
The radio crackled to life.
‘That you, William?’ came a woman’s voice. ‘This here’s Sweet Mamma. What’s your twenty?’
‘About an hour outta Cincy. What’s up?
‘Ten-four. I’m about 10 miles ahead o’ you. Dune Buggy says there’s a road-block up near the county line. County Mounties and Bears lookin’ for three murderers who broke outta the penitentiary last night. They’re searchin’ every rig, just in case.’
‘Ten-four, good buddy. Looks like I’m gonna hafta cool my heels for a bit. Catch ya’ later!’
Willy replaced the mike and looked at his passengers. Taking in their concerned expressions, he smiled.
‘Don’t worry; I know you’re not them. No way you could be. However, it wouldn’t be good for you to be found in my rig.’
‘And we shouldn’t put you in the position of being an accessory after the fact, in case they recognize us,’ Hannibal added. He pulled out their map and opened it up as best he could. ‘Where are we now?’
Willy looked over, then pointed. ‘Right about here. There’s an overpass comin’ up. If you get out there, you can pick up a road goin’ south.’ He traced a route, then looked up at Hannibal. ‘I suggest going to Maysville, Kentucky. It’s not as big as Cincy, but big enough. You should have no problem blending in there for a while.’
Hannibal smiled. ‘Sounds like just the ticket.’
‘I could get you there in an hour, maybe two,’ Willy said apologetically, ‘but, under the circumstances…’ His passengers nodded understandingly
‘Hey, man,’ B.A. said, ‘it ain’t like we never hiked nowhere before.’ At least this time, he thought, it won’t be through stifling heat and humidity.
As traffic inched along, the Team got their gear together and neatened up the sleeping compartment as best they could. When they were finished, it looked like they’d never been there.
In the shadow of the overpass, the passenger door opened, and two men slipped out of the rig and made for the brush at the side of the road. Hannibal stood on the running board for a moment longer.
‘Willy, you said earlier that you were headed for Alabama after you drop this load?’ he asked. The trucker nodded. ‘Would you be willing to do another little favor for me?’
Hannibal pulled out two envelopes from an inner pocket and passed them over. ‘Before you leave Alabama, would you drop these in the mail for me?’
‘You got it, good buddy!’ He stashed the letters in his long leather wallet. ‘Good luck!’
‘I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done,’ Hannibal said as they shook hands. ‘Watch out for local yokels! Those Smokies can be too big for their britches.’ Closing the door, he jumped from the running board and went to join his men.
Hannibal watched his men as they trudged through the woods of a state park just south of Wilmington, OH. Thanks to Big Willy, they had just left the Chambersburg, PA area the previous morning, and if they were lucky they would be in the small town of Westboro, OH by later that afternoon. Hannibal had set a slow, yet steady pace in hopes that it would not tire Face out, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the younger man was having trouble keeping up. His lover’s head was hung; beads of sweat covered his forehead and occasionally ran down his face to drip off the end of his nose. Hannibal also noticed the more they walked, the more Face seemed to bend over, his right arm held close to his abdomen as if supporting his gut.
B.A. was also watching Face, and he could see that his little brother was hurting. The worst thing was that he knew that Face would not tell either of them how bad he felt. There were times, like right now, he wanted to shake his friend and tell him to stop trying to be so tough and prove that he could keep up with them all the time. But B.A. also understood why Face acted the way he did. He knew that his little brother had fears that they would leave him if he couldn’t keep up. The younger man had been betrayed by authority figures before, and it sometimes colored his judgment.
“Hannibal,” B.A. called out as he came to a stop. “I need to take a break.”
When Face kept walking, Hannibal moved up behind him and took his lover’s elbow.
“Hey, kid; B.A. called for a break.”
Face stopped and turned to look at him. It was then that Hannibal noticed how pale his lover was. “Shit!” He pulled Face over to a fallen log and sat him down on it before kneeling down in front of him. Reaching up, he placed his hand on the younger man’s forehead and noticed the warmth coming off it. “Where are you hurting?”
“I’m not.” Face looked at him, blinking his eyes, and Hannibal realized he‘d gone into survival mode.
B.A. moved over to kneel down beside Hannibal and look at Face. “What’s going on, man?”
“I don’t know,” Hannibal’s blue eyes studied Face closely, “but someone is about to tell me, isn‘t he?”
“I’m okay,” Face whispered. “I just feel…”
“Feel what, baby?” Hannibal took Face’s head in his hands and stared into the blue-green eyes.
“Tired,” Face sighed as he tried to drop his head, but Hannibal wouldn’t let him.
“Is that all?”
“My stomach hurts a little.”
“Cramps?” Hannibal asked as he ran his fingers over his lover’s cheeks.
Face only nodded his head.
“All right, we’re calling it a day.”
“I’ll set up camp.” B.A. rose and moved behind Face, taking his pack off of his back.
“We don’t have to stop,” Face started to protest, but stopped when BA squeezed his shoulder.
“You ever think I might be tired, too?” B.A. growled as he moved to set up camp for the night.
Once B.A. had moved out of earshot, Hannibal moved to sit beside Face. “You need to tell me when you are hurting, kid.”
“Stop, Tem.” Hannibal squeezed Face’s knee. “I know you’re still not up to par, and there is no shame in it. You’ve been through a lot, and it’s going to take time for your body to heal. Just because you can’t see the injuries on the outside doesn’t mean that everything has healed on the inside.”
“I know that.” Face sighed.
“And I’m not going to leave you behind if you need to stop.” Hannibal leaned over to kiss Face. “So when you start to feel sick, tell me, understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Face sighed as Hannibal put his arm around Face and pulled him into his side.
“Good,” Hannibal kissed him again. “I want you to sit here and take it easy while I set a few snares. Maybe we can have some roasted rabbit tonight.”
Hannibal squeezed Face’s knee as he stood up and moved into the forest.
Face closed his eyes as he dropped his head in his hands. “What is wrong with me?” he whispered; then jumped when he felt a hand land on his shoulder.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong wit’ you,” B.A. said softly. “Your body just needs time to heal.”
“I’m not so sure.” Face looked up at him, and B.A. noticed how lost the younger man looked.
“You gonna be all right, little brother,” B.A. reassured him. “The Colonel and me ain’t gonna let nothin’ happen to you, but you got to tell him when you’re hurtin‘.”
“I know.” Face sighed.
“But you ain’t gonna do it, are you?”
“Old habits die hard.” Face shrugged.
“Best be an old habit you get over,” B.A. growled as he squeezed Face’s shoulder, “’cause I didn’t save your skinny ass to let you beat yourself up.”
With that said, B.A. got up and started building a fire.
Face watched B.A. as he moved around the small clearing. He still wasn’t sure what he had done to deserve his lover and his friend, but he was happy that they had stayed with him.
Face sighed as he stood next to Hannibal, looking over his shoulder as his commander studied the map of Ohio. He winced as he noticed a little town just outside of Cincinnati. It was called Murdock.
They’d made good progress the last few days after being dropped off near Wilmington. Following State Route 68 south, they’d passed through a little town called Fayetteville, which had caused him some flashbacks. Thankfully, Hannibal and B.A. had understood, and helped him through the nightmares about Downing. At least they hadn’t gone through Lynchburg. He shook his head wearily.
They were now just northeast of the town of Ripley, and it looked like they weren’t too far from their destination. However, it was getting too dark to travel any further, so Hannibal decided they would have to camp out one more night, and cross the Ohio River the next day.
He turned to look at B.A. and sighed again. The black Sergeant had resumed a habit he’d picked up in Viet Nam, that of ripping the sleeves out of his shirts. He couldn’t understand it, having grown up in the warm climate of southern California. But B.A. had been born and raised in Chicago, and maybe he could stand the cold better.
Whatever the reason, it looked strange. That meant it was not going to be easy getting picked up by passing motorists now, and he was getting pretty tired of walking. Not to mention he could feel a throbbing ache in his shoulder, a sure sign that it was going to rain soon. If they only had a car, then they could go at their own pace, and if nothing else it would give them someplace dry to sleep at night. He hated camping out; every bug in the continental United States seemed to single him out, plus he was still sore from the injuries he had received in prison. Some mornings, he was so stiff that Hannibal had to help him off the ground. But he kept his mouth shut; Hannibal didn’t need any more to worry about. He could still remember when the cop had pulled up behind them one day and told them that they couldn’t hitchhike on state roads. Face thought he was going to have a heart attack right then and there, but Hannibal had kept calm and thanked the officer, and the three of them had moved off into the woods. That had been three days ago, and they were still hiking in the woods, making sure that they could see the Route 68, but keeping in the tree-line as they walked.
“You got a problem?” B.A. growled at Face.
“Huh?” Face blinked as he came out of his thoughts.
“You staring at me.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking.” Face offered a slight smile. He had been doing that a lot lately, thinking and getting lost in his own world. Sometimes it helped to just zone out. He knew that it wasn’t a smart thing to do, he knew that he should keep himself alert at all times, but lately he found it difficult to concentrate.
“’Bout what? Me cuttin‘ the sleeves out my shirt? That it? You think I’m going to get us caught?” B.A. leaned toward Face, who leaned back, his body giving a slight involuntary tremble. ‘I got enough flak about that in ‘Nam!’
Hannibal had been laying out his bedroll when he heard B.A. growl at Face. He watched the exchange between the two men, then noticed Face start to back away. He knew that Face still wasn’t himself. Things that hadn’t bothered his lover before prison now made him nervous. Something just isn’t right with him, Hannibal thought. At one time, his Lieutenant would have been back in the big man’s face, daring him to make a move; now… Hannibal shook his head. He’ll be all right. You just have to show him that you love him and he’s safe, he reassured himself.
“That’s enough, both of you,” Hannibal commanded as he moved to sit down beside Face. Reaching out, he put his arm across the younger man’s shoulders and pulled him into the side of his body. “We need to figure out where we are going to go next, not argue among ourselves.”
“We weren’t arguing.” Face glanced at Hannibal as he allowed himself to relax into the other man’s side. “But as far as where we’re going next, I’m going to suggest someplace dry - soon.”
“Don’t see what’s wrong with camping out where we’re at.” B.A. looked at the bright blue sky.
“We need to move because it’s going to rain.”
“Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” B.A. challenged as he turned back to stare at Face.
“My shoulder is starting to throb like crazy, which means it’s going to start raining soon,” Face countered. Having Hannibal’s arm around him seemed to give him some of his confidence back.
B.A. didn’t argue any more; he couldn’t if he’d wanted to. When Face said that his shoulder was hurting, then it was going to rain, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
“How long do you think we have?” Hannibal asked as he looked over at B.A., thankful that the other man had taken Face at his word.
Face rubbed his shoulder where he had been hit by a bullet almost two years before in Viet Nam. He had been with his first unit when he had been injured. His team at the time had been taken prisoner by the VC. The wound had never received proper care, and now ached and throbbed when it rained.
“Some time tomorrow. I’d say by noon at the latest.”
“Then I’m going to suggest we all hit the sack early and move out before sunrise, and keep heading for Maysville.”
“I’ll take the first watch,” B.A. volunteered.
“Good.” Hannibal nodded to B.A. “I’ll get dinner started. Face, would you please get some firewood?”
“Sure, Colonel.” Face rose and moved into the woods to gather some limbs and twigs that were lying on the ground.
“Thank you, B.A.”
“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout,” B.A. grunted, then glanced over at Face, who had moved out of hearing range. “He still having nightmares?”
“Every night.” Hannibal shook his head. “He keeps trying to hide it, but…” Hannibal took a deep breath as he ran his fingers through his short hair. “He whimpers in his sleep, then starts trembling so hard…” Hannibal stopped again. “The bad thing is, I don’t know what to do for him.”
“All you can do is be there.” BA reached out and squeezed Hannibal’s shoulder.
B.A. had known that Face had been having trouble sleeping. On several different occasions, he had woken up in the middle of the night to find Face sitting up, staring off into the darkness, lost in his own thoughts. It was then that he made a conscious decision to help his little brother out any way he could. He had started taking the first watch so that Hannibal could lie down with Face and help him get to sleep. A lot of times, he would even give the two men an extra hour or two together. B.A. also noticed that when Hannibal was on watch, he stayed close to Face, so that if the younger man had a nightmare, he could wake him. He was also aware that when Face was on watch, Hannibal would stay up with him for an hour or so before lying down to catch some sleep, and would get up a few hours later to be with Face, using the excuse that he couldn’t sleep or wanted to start breakfast so they could get an early start.
Hannibal nodded as he watched Face come back into the campsite with a load of firewood.
“Just drop it over there, kid.” He pointed to a spot not far from their bedrolls.
“He’ll be all right,” B.A. reassured as he moved away.
After a light dinner, the three sat around and talked until Hannibal decided that they needed to call it a night. The three checked around their perimeter, making sure that everything was secure, before Hannibal and Face settled down and B.A. moved to take up a sentry position by a large tree.
B.A. watched as Hannibal said a few words to Face and the blond nodded before moving to lie in the Colonel’s arms. He sighed inwardly. B.A. didn’t resent their relationship; on the contrary, he was happy that the two men had found each other. Hannibal seemed to give Face the security the younger man needed, while Face seemed to keep Hannibal from flying over the edge on the Jazz. He just wished at times that he could find someone to hold on to, like the way Hannibal held on to Face.
Hannibal noticed that Face was trembling as he lay on his side. Reaching over, he placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and noted how cool it was to his touch. The three of them had escaped from Fort Bragg with very little in the way of clothing. Granted, they had managed to pick up a few items here and there, but none of them had a heavy coat or thick sweater. Up until now, Hannibal really hadn’t given them too much thought, but this far north, the nights were getting cooler, and Face, who had always been lean, was now almost skinny and starting to feel the effects. Hannibal knew that, if they weren’t real careful, one of them could easily become ill from the night chill.
“Tem, are you cold?” he asked softly.
When Face nodded yes, Hannibal gave the younger man’s shoulder a slight tug, pulling him towards his own body.
“Come here,” he encouraged as Face began to move toward him.
Face sighed as he felt the warmth of Hannibal’s body began to warm his skin. “I love you, John.”
‘Love you, too, kid.” Hannibal smiled as he laid a gentle kiss on the blond’s forehead. “Now, close your eyes and get some sleep.”
It wasn’t long after that Face’s breathing evened out and Hannibal knew that he had followed his orders.
The rain started even earlier than Face had predicted, and by the time they had made it to a small motel outside of a backwater town, they were all soaked to the bone. Though each of them felt completely miserable, B.A. and Hannibal insisted that Face get in a warm shower first. Face had tried to protest, but a growl from B.A. and a warning from Hannibal sent him straight to the motel’s tiny bathroom without another word.
“I noticed a small mom-and-pop grocery a block away.” Hannibal looked out the window to make sure that no one was watching their room. “I’m going to grab us something to eat.”
Fifteen minutes later, Hannibal was on his way back from the grocery with sandwiches, hot coffee, and milk in a brown paper bag. He was halfway down the street when he passed a small men’s clothing store. He didn’t pay much attention to the articles of clothing in the shop’s window until he saw a beautiful, thick silver-gray wool sweater.
Stopping, he studied the garment for a moment as a small smile pulled at the corner of his lips. He could just see Face in the sweater. However, when he noticed the price tag, he shook his head; $40.00 was out of their price range right now. “You would have looked great, kid.” He sighed as he headed back toward the motel room.
“Where is Hannibal?” Face asked as he came out of the bathroom, wearing nothing but a white towel wrapped around his narrow waist.
“Went down the street to get dinner.” B.A. looked Face up and down. The last of the deep bruises had faded to a sickly yellow, but he still knew how his little brother had received them, and where they had been, and it angered him. “I’m going to get in the shower. You need anything?”
“No, I’m good.” Face offered a smile as he went over to the beds. “Which one is yours?”
“Don’t matter.” B.A. shrugged as he headed toward the bathroom. “But I would prefer to be by the door. And you better sleep by the wall; you know Hannibal will need the stand to put his ashtray on.”
Face nodded as he moved to the bed against the wall while BA went into the bathroom. He sighed heavily as he sat down on the bed. He was starting to get tired of being treated like a child.
He knew that B.A. had been letting him sleep longer before getting him up for his turn on patrol, and that Hannibal was getting up earlier than he should so that he wasn’t alone. Now BA was making sure that he was farthest from the door, so that if someone came in, they would have to go through him and Hannibal before anyone got to him.
“It’s your own fault,” Face berated himself. “You need to pull your head out of your ass.”
He stared out the window, the ache in his shoulder telling him they would be there at least a couple of days while they waited out the storm.
With a sigh, he opened his duffle bag and pulled out some dry boxers and an Army-issue t-shirt, and slowly got dressed. The warm shower had at least made it easier to move.
Reaching in for a pair of socks, his hand brushed up against something metal. Drawing it out, he found his framed picture of the Team in ‘Nam, standing in front of Murdock’s chopper, the young pilot standing between Face and B.A., Hannibal on Face’s other side.
It suddenly hit him just how much he missed his best friend.
When Hannibal let himself into the room a few minutes later, he nodded with satisfaction to see Face clean and warmer than he had been in days. As he put the groceries on the dresser, though, he noted the slumped shoulders and bowed head. Frowning, he went to kneel in front of the younger man.
‘Tem, what’s wrong?’ he asked quietly, tilting his head so he could see the pain in his lover’s eyes. He brushed his fingers along the younger man’s cheek, trying to convey his concern.
Face gestured helplessly with his hands, and Hannibal noticed the picture clutched between his fingers. Turning it so he could see it, Smith smiled slightly, remembering the day it was taken. They’d returned safely from a difficult mission the day before, and it had made them realize that they were more than a team, they were family. They’d had an acquaintance take the photos, so they would always have a reminder of what they meant to each other.
B.A. stepped out of the bathroom just as Face looked up at their CO.
‘I miss him, Hannibal,’ he whispered. ‘He’s my best friend, and he’s… he’s…’
‘Not where he’s supposed to be, I know, Tem,’ Hannibal said. He understood what Face was feeling all too well. He’d seen it many times before, both in Korea and ‘Nam. ‘I know you feel lost without him, Tem. There’s not much we can do about it right now, but I promise you that, once we’re safe, we’ll do our best to find him. All right?’
Face nodded as he felt strong hands begin to massage his shoulders from behind.
‘Too bad the fool ain’t here, Hannibal,’ B.A. grumbled. ‘Don’t always appreciate his antics, but we could do wit’ some cheerin’ up, all of us.’
‘Well, we’ll do what we can,’ he said as he got to his feet. ’In the meantime, we have to take care of ourselves. We won’t do Murdock any good if we don’t.’
Crossing to the dresser, he began to unpack the food he’d brought. Passing a couple sandwiches and some milk to B.A., he pulled out a container of freshly-made chicken noodle soup, which he attempted to pass to Face.
‘Not hungry,’ the younger man said.
Hannibal, however, wasn’t about to take no for an answer. Sitting next to Face on the bed, he eased the lid off the container.
‘You know better than to pull that, Face,’ he informed the young man. ‘You have to have something, even if it’s just this soup. Once that’s inside you, you can get under the covers and rest, all right?’
Face wasn’t up to fighting, so he accepted the soup. He had to admit that it felt good as it went down, warming him from the inside out, in addition to being a soporific. And Hannibal had to acknowledge that his Lieutenant had made a valiant effort to finish his meal before his eyes got too heavy to stay open.
Taking the container from Face’s hands before it landed on the floor, he motioned to B.A. to pull back the bedcovers as he finished putting Face’s socks on his feet. He knew from personal experience that cold feet could make a person feel cold all over, no matter how warmly dressed otherwise. With Face, he wasn’t about to let that happen.
Once Face was settled for the night, he took a couple sandwiches and a cup of coffee, pulled the worn armchair over to the window, and, placing the ashtray on the ratty table, prepared to take the first watch, indicating that B.A. should get some rest as well.
B.A. acknowledged the unspoken directive. As he fell asleep, he admitted to himself that he was lucky to have a CO like Hannibal. Not many officers looked out for their men the way Hannibal did.
Oppressive. That was the word for it - oppressive. And it wasn’t the heat and humidity that hung over the proceedings like a heavy, wet blanket.
Lieutenant Templeton A. Peck looked around the room. Looked at the officers of the tribunal. The smirk on the face of Josh Curtis as the verdict was handed down - remanded to custody in a maximum security military prison prior to court-martial for robbing the Bank of Hanoi and the murder of Colonel Samuel Morrison.
Brown eyes wide with shock. Soft Texan voice chanting ‘No! No! No!’ over and over, louder each time. Bomber-jacket-clad figure trying to reach his friends, only to be dragged from the room, shouting incoherently, his eyes unreadable.
Face’s eyes snapped open as he woke from his nightmare. He quickly looked around the room trying to get his bearings, and it wasn’t until he saw Hannibal sitting in a chair by the window that he remembered where he was. As if sensing that he was awake, Hannibal turned to look over at him. A smile pulled at the corner of the Colonel’s mouth before he got up to move over to the bed.
“Go back to sleep, kid,” he whispered softly as he stroked the short, silky hair. “We still have a couple of hours before morning.”
“Why did you let me sleep so long?” Face asked as he sat up in bed.
“Because you need the rest.”
“And you don’t?” Face glared at him.
“I’ll be fine.”
“You can’t keep treating me this way, Hannibal,” Face sighed. “I need to start pulling my own weight.”
“And when you are back at the top of your game, you will.” Hannibal smiled as he placed his hand on the younger man’s cheek. “But right now, you have some healing to do, here...” Hannibal touched Face’s chest. “…and here.” The Colonel moved his hand to touch Face’s forehead.
“Hannibal, I need…” Face started, but Hannibal stopped him
“And when I feel you are ready, I will be sure to let you know.” Leaning forward, Hannibal placed a gentle kiss on the younger man’s lips. “But until that time comes, you will do as you are told, and you were told to go back to sleep.”
“I’m not tired.” Face moved so that he could rest his head on Hannibal’s shoulder. The Colonel’s automatic reaction was to start stroking Face’s hair.
“Do you want me to stay here with you?” Hannibal asked softly when he noticed that Face was trying to keep from yawning.
“You don’t have to.”
“Maybe I want to.” Hannibal smiled as the yawn managed to escape this time. “Scoot over.”
Hannibal chuckled softly when he noticed that it was only a matter of minutes before Face was back to sleep once the two of them were settled on the bed together.
“Not tired, my butt.”
A Few Days Later
“I promise I’ll be back in a few hours,” Face stated again as Hannibal continued to stare at him, the Colonel’s blue eyes gauging his every move.
They’d moved on from the dingy motel where they‘d taken refuge from the storm, and were now holed up in another shabby motel a day’s hike away, on the outskirts of Maysville itself. That had been a couple days ago, and Face was going stir-crazy. Not to mention that they were almost out of food.
“And just where do you plan on going, Lieutenant?”
Not a good sign, Face thought as he turned to look at BA for just a split second. In that moment, he could tell that the big man wasn’t too happy about the idea, either.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere; I just wanted to get out for a little while.”
“Stop trying to con me, young man.”
“I’m not your child, I’m your lover, and…”
“And you are also my Lieutenant, and you are still in the Army and under my command until…”
`“Until what? We’re court-martialed?” Face shot back.
“That’s not going to happen,” Hannibal stated forcefully.
“Isn’t it?” Face laughed, but it came out sounding painful. “If we had stayed in prison, then we might have had a chance at the trial. But now, thanks to me…”
“That’s enough!” Hannibal snapped as he walked over to Face and grabbed the younger man by the arm, hauling him back over to the couch and forcing him to sit down. “None of this is your fault. Morrison got us into this mess, and I will find a way to get us out of it.”
“But they are not going to listen to us. We ran.”
“They will listen to us when they find out what was happening to you..” Hannibal sat down next to Face and wrapped his arm around the younger man’s shoulders.
“No one gives a rat’s ass what happens to me, or any other person in prison, for that matter.”
“I care,” Hannibal pulled Face into his side. “And BA cares.” Hannibal looked over at the big man, who moved to sit down on the other side of Face. Reaching out, he placed a hand on the blond’s shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Not to mention when the courts see your medical records…” BA smiled over at Hannibal
“My medical records? How did you…” Face turned to look at BA.
“I have my ways.” Hannibal smiled as he touched Face’s chin, turning his head back so that he was looking at him. “And you are not going out alone.
‘On the other hand, we do seem to be running low on supplies. What say we check with the front desk and see if there’s a deli or something not too far away?’
Face sighed. As much as he loved the other two men, he wanted some time away to think about his value to the team. However, it looked like his lover still wasn’t convinced that he wouldn’t shrivel up and blow away if he was out of Hannibal’s sight for more than a few minutes.
He nodded resignedly, and accepted the friendly arm around his shoulders as they stepped out of the room, leaving B.A. to lock up before heading out in search of food.
Giannetti shivered as he stood in the shadows, waiting. He watched the people gathered in front of the row houses on the opposite side of the street, rallying against the proposed take-over of the neighborhood. All he needed was a break.
His boss, Emil Cardoza, was getting fed up with the opposition raised by Chris and Elaine Savage and their friends. Even as he watched through the fading light, the protestors were circling in front of the row houses, carrying signs with slogans like ‘Preserve Our Heritage!’, ’Save Our Homes!’, and ‘No Glass Monstrosities!’. Just a couple hours earlier, there had been news crews here to interview the participants.
He was still considering his options when a half-ton postal truck pulled up to a nearby mailbox, and the driver slid the door open and got out. Using his keys, the man opened the mailbox and collected the letters and small packages that had been dropped in the box over the course of the day, then hurried back to the warm truck.
Giannetti slipped from the shadows and climbed into the truck, knocking out the startled postal worker and dumping him into an empty mail hamper. Calculating the angle from the mailbox to the house across the street, he set the wheels of the right-hand-drive vehicle and put it into reverse. Once the road was clear, he released the brake, then hopped out, once more blending into the shadows.
Hannibal, Face, and B.A. were talking amongst themselves as they left the corner deli. Sensing movement, Face looked up just as the mail truck started its backwards journey across the empty roadway, taking in the situation in an instant.
‘Hannibal!’ he yelled, sprinting for the driverless juggernaut.
Dropping their bags in the slush, Hannibal and B.A. raced across the street, yelling a warning.
Adrenalin pumping, Face ran faster than he had ever done before. Leaping through the open door, he slipped into the driver’s seat.
The protesters scattered, desperate to get out of the way, but their leader was rooted to the spot. He could only stare in horror as the white van barreled inexorably towards him.
Face felt the rear wheels jump the curb just as he hit the brakes.
Something large and black collided with the frozen man, knocking him out of the way just as the truck landed on the sidewalk and came to rest two feet from the front steps of the row house.
‘Chris!’ a woman screamed.
The protesters gathered around as B.A. got to his feet, then helped the other man up from the pavement.
‘You all right, man?’ he asked.
The other man nodded, bemused.
‘Thanks,’ he said, as a woman ran up and threw her arms around him. ‘You saved my life!’
‘S’okay, man,’ B.A. rumbled in reply.
Seeing that everything was under control, Hannibal quickly moved to the truck. He found Face slumped over the steering wheel, trembling violently. He put an arm around the younger man’s shoulders as he reached over and turned off the engine.
‘Did I make it, John?’ Face whispered shakily, not daring to look up. ’Was…was I in time?’
‘You sure were, kid,’ Hannibal said proudly, pulling his Lieutenant from the truck. ’Everyone’s fine, thanks to you.’
‘Thank God!’ Face sagged against the older man, his knees buckling.
Realizing that the adrenalin rush was over, Hannibal put an arm around Face’s waist and escorted him back to the sidewalk.
‘Oh, my goodness! Is he all right?’
Hannibal looked up into the concerned eyes of a woman in her mid-to-late 40’s.
‘He’ll be fine,’ he assured her. ‘He’s just a bit drained.’
‘Come into the house. He can recover there.’
‘Thank you, ma’am.’ Hannibal looked around. ‘B.A., collect our groceries, would you, and join us inside.’
The Sergeant nodded, and went to retrieve the soggy paper sacks..
As they moved away, groans could be heard coming from inside the van.
‘Malcolm! Pete!’ called the man named Chris. ‘Check that out, will you? Let me know what’s up.’
The men nodded, and climbed into the mail truck.
The couple led the Team into the house and showed them into the parlor. Hannibal immediately settled Face on the sofa, stroking the hair off his forehead and watching him worriedly.
‘You okay, kid?’ he asked softly.
Face nodded. ‘I’ll be all right, Hannibal. I’m just tired.’
‘I’m not surprised, kid. You just relax for a while.‘ Hannibal smiled and squeezed his hand, waiting until he dozed off before looking up at their hosts.
‘My name is Christopher Savage, and this is my wife, Elaine,’ the other man began. ‘How can we ever thank you, Mr…’
‘Smith, John Smith,’ Hannibal said, holding out a hand, which the couple shook gratefully. ‘This is my - uh - nephew - Templeton, and that, ‘ he added as B.A. arrived with the groceries, ‘is his friend Bosco.’
‘Oh, here,’ Elaine said, noticing the tearing of the damp bags, ‘let me help you take those to the kitchen.’
‘Thank you, ma’am,’ B.A. replied with a shy smile, ’but don’t trouble yourself.’ ‘Oh, it’s no trouble,’ she said, returning the smile. ‘I was just about to make coffee for everyone. Would you care to help me?’
‘All right, ma’am.’ With a look at Hannibal, he followed her to the kitchen.
Hannibal grinned at the sight of the big man being shepherded out of the room by a woman a head shorter than he was, then returned his attention to Mr. Savage just as the phone rang.
‘Would you excuse me for a moment?’ Hannibal nodded, and Chris picked up the receiver. ‘Savage residence. Oh, hello, Malcolm. What?! He did?! Did you call the police? Okay, okay. Keep me posted, all right?’ With a sigh, he returned the handset to its cradle.
‘Trouble, Mr. Savage?’ Hannibal asked, an eyebrow raised.
‘Call me Chris,’ the other man said, then sighed. ‘And yeah, I guess you could say we’ve got trouble.’
‘Care to run it by me? Maybe we could help.’
‘I don’t know if anyone can help, and you’ve done enough already.’
‘You let me be the judge of that, Chris,’ Hannibal said. ‘We’re not exactly inexperienced with this sort of thing. What was the phone call all about?’
‘That was Malcolm, one of the protestors from outside. He and Pete found the mailman unconscious inside the truck. When he came around, he told them he’d just emptied the mailbox when someone climbed into behind him and knocked him out. He couldn’t see his attacker, but I can guess who it must have been. Anyway, they haven’t called the police yet. The mailman wanted to return to the Post Office and report to his supervisor before doing that.’ Hannibal nodded.
‘Well, we’d like to try and help you, Chris,’ Hannibal said, ‘but on one condition: that you keep our involvement quiet. It‘s…umm…a long story, and we‘d rather not bore you with it,’ he added, noting Chris’ puzzled look.
‘Okay, but it’s a rather long and complicated story.’
‘Well, as I’ve got nothing better to do while I wait for Fa - Templeton to wake up, you might as well tell me all about it,’ he said, the Jazz lighting up his eyes. If he’d had a cigar, he would be grinning around it by now.
Lynch stood at an upper-level window, watching the inmates being shepherded in from the exercise yard below. He’d had the uncomfortable feeling, in recent days, that the prisoners, and even some of the guards, were laughing at him behind his back. Well, he’d show them! Once the A-Team was back in custody, they’d be laughing out of the other side of their mouths. There might even be a promotion for him in it. If there were, he’d recommend young Royce for one, as well.
He turned at the sound of hurrying footsteps. Speak of the Devil…
Royce reached him and snapped to attention.
‘Colonel Lynch, sir! We have a lead!’
Lynch rounded on him. ‘Excellent, Lieutenant! Where?’
‘In Florida, sir. Just over the border from South Carolina. A trucker apparently gave them a lift from a huge truck stop an hour or so south of the one where they rescued the diamond dealer.’
‘Very good, Royce.’ Lynch grinned maliciously. ‘Contact the local police, and keep me posted on future sightings.. I want those men, and I want them ten minutes ago!’
‘Elaine and I grew up in this area,’ Chris told the team as his wife served out coffee and home-made cookies. ‘We’ve always loved these old houses, and always dreamed of owning one. By the time we were married and able to afford one, they were pretty run-down. However, we found a lot of our neighbors were younger couples who moved here for similar reasons. We hated the fact that the buildings had been let go for so long, so we banded together to see what we could do to improve the neighborhood.’
‘Since then, ‘ Elaine continued the story as she handed B.A. a large glass of milk, ‘the Row-House Owners Association, as we’ve dubbed ourselves, have been renovating the houses in this area along historical guidelines, much like preservation groups in Manhattan have been restoring the brownstone houses in and around Greenwich Village.’
‘Sounds like an admirable goal,’ Hannibal said, and the other team members nodded in agreement. Noticing movement, he looked aside and smiled briefly when he saw Face was alert and listening.
‘We thought so,’ Chris said, smiling. Then he frowned. ‘A few months ago, a developer by the name of Cardoza decided he wanted this area for a futuristic business complex. You know the type: big glass eyesores that will destroy the intimacy of the neighborhood, and drive rents and home prices out of the reach of most people.’ He shook his head. ‘And he offered a pittance compared to what the land is actually worth. Well, we didn’t want to sell, not after all the money and effort that had gone into rehabilitating the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Cardoza wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He’s tried a lot of nasty tactics to force us into selling, including intimidation, but we’re not giving up. Even in the face of scare tactics like today’s attempt with the mail truck.’
‘Seems to me he’ll go as far as murder to get what he wants,’ Hannibal said thoughtfully. ‘Are you still prepared to stand up to him?’
Chris and Elaine looked at each other, and nodded.
‘Yes, we are,’ Elaine said firmly. ‘The cost for what Cardoza wants is just too high. Here, kids can visit their friends, play in neighbors’ yards, walk to school. If Cardoza is allowed to go through with his plans, all that will vanish forever. Even if we forfeit our lives, it’ll be worth it to keep our dream alive.’
‘Have you considered applying for placement on the National Register of Historic Places?’ asked Face.
‘Oh, we’ve definitely had that in mind all along,’ Elaine said eagerly. ‘Unfortunately, with all the work that’s gone into restoring the houses, no one’s had time to do any research.’
‘I think we may be able to be of some help with that,’ said Hannibal. ‘Where can we find out about the history of the area?’
‘The University of Cincinnati; it has one of the biggest research libraries in the country,’ Chris answered, while Elaine nodded in agreement. ‘It’s only about an hour’s drive, just across the river.’
‘All right. Face,’ Hannibal continued, looking at his Lieutenant, ‘that’s your job. B.A. and I will hold the fort here, in case Cardoza tries any more shenanigans.’
‘How am I going to get there, Col - Uncle John? Time is of the essence, y’know, so walking’s not an option.’
‘What’s the bus schedule like?’ Hannibal asked.
‘Iffy,’ said Elaine. ‘But I’ll lend you my car. Can you drive a stick shift?’
‘I drove enough jeeps in the Army,’ Face admitted with a grin. ‘I think I can manage.’
‘It’s settled, then.’ Hannibal nodded, satisfied. ‘The sooner you get started, nephew mine, the sooner you’ll find what we need. However,‘ he continued, ‘it’s a bit late to start that tonight. I think it’s about time we collected our groceries and got back to the motel, don’t you?’
‘You’re staying at a motel?’ Elaine asked, surprised.
‘Yes, we are, ma’am,’ Hannibal told her. ‘We’re only in town long enough to find a ride to a destination that sounds interesting.’
‘Why don’t you stay here, with us? After all, this house was built by a wealthy family, with more bedrooms than we really need, especially now that our youngest is in college, not to mention the servants’ quarters. Besides, if you’re going to be helping us, it’s the least we can do.’
‘Then we’ll be happy to stay,’ Hannibal replied. ‘Face, you’d better pick up our gear and check out, instead.’
Face collected the car keys from Elaine, snapped off a cocky salute, and headed for the garage behind the house.
‘Smart-ass kid,’ Hannibal grumbled. But everyone could see the sparkle in his ice-blue eyes.
As he left, Elaine couldn’t help thinking that if anyone deserved the nickname Smith had used, it was this young man.
Emil Cardoza stood in his office, looking over the model complex he had designed for the riverfront property of Maysville. In pride of place was the office complex. Like a glittering tiara, it swept from ten stories high at the open end of the ring to a majestic twenty-five stories at the apex of the front that faced the rest of the city. The open ‘back’ of the circular diadem fronted on the river, while the curved arms enclosed at tree-festooned park where the public and employees on their lunch breaks could relax and enjoy the cool shade and urban wildlife during the summer months. There was even a large fountain with a low, wide basin, like the one in Central Park, where kids could sail their toy boats.
That, at least, was the proposal. Cardoza smiled to himself. What actually wound up happening after his planned ‘cost over-runs’ remained to be seen.
There was a knock on the door. At Cardoza’s invitation, it opened, and Giannetti entered.
‘Well? Is it done?’
‘Mr. Cardoza, I’m sorry…’ Giannetti began, but was cut off.
‘You mean to tell me you couldn’t pull off a simple “accident”?’ Cardoza hissed disbelievingly. ‘What the hell happened?’
‘I had it all set up, Mr. Cardoza,’ Giannetti assured him. ‘The mail truck was all set, rolling across the street, just like I told you.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘These three guys came outta nowhere, Boss. One of them jumped in the truck and stopped it, and another knocked the Savage guy outta the way.’
‘Who the hell are they?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve never seen them in town before. But I’ll tell you something, boss, they didn’t act like amateurs.’
‘Where are they at now?’
‘At the Savage house, I think. I saw one of them leave; maybe they aren’t staying around. Could be just a coincidence.’
‘It could be, but I want you to keep your eyes open. I need to get those houses, and soon. The last thing I need is a bunch of yahoos playing hero!’
‘Sure, boss! I understand.’
‘Now get out!’ Cardoza growled. ‘And keep me posted. Get rid of the Savages, or it’ll be your head that’ll roll!’
‘You got it, boss!’
With that, Giannetti scurried out of the room, lucky to have escaped with just a dressing down.
Elaine looked up from chopping onions as she heard her car pull in behind the house. Turning on the outside lights, she saw the young man called ‘Face’ get out and unload three heavy-looking duffle bags from the trunk. She shook her head as he slung one over his shoulder, then took one of the others in each hand. Realizing he wasn’t going to make this easy on himself, she quickly moved to the door and held it open for him.
‘Here, let me take one of those for you,’ she offered, but Peck just shook his head.
‘Just point me in the direction of where we’re staying, please, ma’am,’ he said.
Crossing to a door in the middle of the kitchen’s left wall, she opened it to reveal a long set of stairs. With a bemused ‘Follow me!’, Elaine guided Face up the narrow stairs that led from the kitchen to the third floor.
‘These are the servants’ stairs,’ she explained by way of apology. ‘It gave them direct access to their main work areas without intruding on the family.’
Face grunted an acknowledgement as he maneuvered the three large bags. He knew what Elaine had meant. Servants were supposed to be as invisible as possible.
‘I’m sorry these stairs are so awkward,’ she added as they reached the top, ‘but it really is the quickest way.’ She showed him to a large, comfortable room, again holding the door open for him. ‘You get settled now. Dinner’ll be ready in about half an hour. We expect you all to join us,’ she said firmly. ‘You can start your research tomorrow!’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Face panted as he made his way past her into the room.
Hannibal turned from the window, shaking his head at the sight of his Lieutenant lugging the three cumbersome bags. Moving quickly, he helped Face ease the one off his shoulder, and placed each one at the foot of the beds they would be occupying. Turning to his lover, he took the younger man’s face between his hands.
‘Tem, what were you thinking?’ he sighed. ‘Why didn’t you call B.A. or me?’
‘Didn’t know where you were,’ Face grinned. ‘’Sides, it was quicker this way.’
‘You’ve got nothing to prove to me, kid,’ Hannibal said softly.
‘I know, John,’ Face answered, just as softly.
When Hannibal saw that Face wasn’t going to say anything more, he shoved him gently in the direction of the double bed.
‘Lie down and rest for a while, kid. We’ll call you in time for dinner.’
‘Yes, sir!’ Face grinned impudently, but was grateful to stretch out for a few minutes. His stunt had taken more out of him than he was willing to admit to his lover, but he suspected that Hannibal knew anyway.
Dinner that evening was a lively affair, with the Team trading stories with their hosts over a home-made lasagna dinner. Hannibal and B.A., knowing that meals would be unpredictable once they left, ate well.
Hannibal looked over at his lover, and saw that the young man was just picking at his food. He sighed. He knew Face missed his best friend deeply, and deduced that it was affecting his appetite. Depression could do that to people, he remembered.
Gently, he encouraged Face to eat a bit more, but didn't press too hard. He was rewarded with a warm smile of appreciation, and a renewed effort to eat at least a few more bites. Anything was better than nothing, and it warmed his heart to see his lover at least make the attempt.
The next morning, Face headed out early for the University of Cincinnati. Thanks to Elaine’s precise directions, he had no trouble finding the research library. The librarians were very helpful, assisting him to find the needed materials. It wasn’t long before he was deep into the early history of Maysville and its residents.
He only came up for air when he finally noticed his growling stomach. Stretching shoulder muscles that had stiffened while he sat hunched over the books and periodicals he’d been using, he decided he might as well stretch his legs and get some lunch at the same time.
Being assured by the flirtatious library assistant that his materials wouldn’t be disturbed, he trotted down the steps of the library, then stopped and looked around, trying to determine which way to go in search of food.
Clattering footsteps on the stairs warned him, but he couldn’t move out of the way in time. A body came crashing into him, and he landed on the ground. Looking up, he saw a young Oriental man sprawled on the sidewalk beside him, books scattered all over the place. Getting to his feet, he reached down to help the other man to his.
‘Aw, gee, man, I’m sorry,’ the student said apologetically. ‘I didn’t see you. I was in such a hurry, I wasn’t looking where I was going!’
‘It’s okay,’ Face said, helping the young man to gather his scattered belongings. ‘Where are you off to in such a rush?’
‘Lunch,’ the student said. ‘I’ve got an important class in an hour, and I lost track of the time while I was studying.’
‘I was looking for something to eat, myself,’ Face replied, ‘only I don’t know my way around. This is my first day here. Any suggestions?’
‘Yeah,’ the other man grinned. ‘A nice little joint not too far from my class. Inexpensive, too - just the thing for students low on funds!’
‘Great! Can I drive you there?’
‘Sure. I’m Martin Eng, by the way. My friends call me Marty.’
Face held out a hand, which Marty shook gratefully.
‘Templeton Peck. Nice to meet you.’
As the two young men walked to the parking lot, they heard raised voices. Looking back towards one of the college buildings, they saw three powerfully-built jocks bandying crude jokes back and forth. Marty just shook his head, and Face threw him an inquiring look.
‘Those guys have been nothing but trouble since they first got here. Rednecks, all of them, and prejudiced like you wouldn’t believe. I’m third-generation Chinese, born here, but because I’m of Asian heritage, they assume I’m Vietnamese, and give me a hard time. I’ve learned to steer clear of them.’
Face nodded sympathetically.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘let’s not let them stand in the way of us and lunch, okay?’
By the time they parted, agreeing to meet in the library again the next day, the two had become firm friends. Face knew that he would miss the young medical student deeply when it came time to say good-bye.
That evening, Chris stood in his living room, addressing the members of the Association.
‘Friends, I’d like you all to meet John Smith,’ he indicated Hannibal, who nodded, ‘his nephew Templeton,’ Face raised a hand, ‘and their friend Bosco.’ B.A. nodded curtly. ‘These are the men who saved my life last night, and saved all who were outside from serious injury. I’ve explained to them who we are, and what we’re trying to do to save our neighborhood from Cardoza and his goons, and they’ve offered to help us.’
‘That sounds nice, Chris,’ Malcolm said, ‘but what can they do for us that we can’t do for ourselves? I mean, we’ve got lawyers and such.’
‘We’re not lawyers. We’re Viet Nam veterans, combat-trained.’ He held up a hand against the muttering that broke out. ‘I’m not going to try to defend the stuff we had to do over there; that’s behind us. We’re not assassins, either, and we don’t plan to kill Cardoza; that would raise too many questions, and possibly put your whole project in jeopardy. However, we fought, and a lot of our friends died, to protect people from scum like Cardoza, and we’re not about to let him come in here and destroy your dreams.
‘Lawyers have their uses, but when greedy bastards like Cardoza start playing hardball, legal tactics aren’t enough.’ The Association members nodded in agreement. ‘That’s where we come in. We have the know-how to keep an eye on Cardoza, figure out what he’s planning, and try to shut him down before anyone gets seriously hurt, or killed. We’ll even teach you some basic defensive strategies.’
Indicating Face, he continued.
‘My nephew here has already started doing historical research on the area, and he tells me it‘s looking promising. Whatever he discovers can be added to your petition for historical recognition of this neighborhood..’
‘That’s great!’ Pete said excitedly. ‘None of us has had the time to do any of that yet. We wouldn’t know where to begin, actually.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Face said. ‘Whatever I find, I’ll turn over to you, and your people can take it from there.’
‘So,’ Chris asked, ‘are we agreed? We let Mr. Smith and his friends help us?’
With a unanimous vote of acceptance, the meeting broke up for refreshments.
Several Days Later
Templeton Peck smiled as he put away his pen and closed his notebook. After days of delving through dusty books and magazines, and viewing miles of microfilm, he’d finally found the evidence he needed.
As he walked through the twilight towards the parking lot, he saw ahead of him the young medical student he’d befriended his first day there.
‘Hey, Marty!’ he called.
Martin Eng paused and waited for Face to catch up.
‘How’re you doing, Tem?’ the Chinese student asked.
‘Not bad,’ Face replied as he fell in step with the medical student. ‘What’ve you been up to?’
‘Oh, nothing much, man. Don’t have time for much besides studying. Got a big parasitology exam coming up.’
“That sounds fascinating.” Face laughed as Marty rolled his eyes at him. “That bad?”
“Have you ever studied parasitology?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“You’re not missing anything, trust me.”
“I’ll take your word on it.” Face chuckled. “Anyway I wanted to say that it was nice to know you, and I hope you do well.”
“You sound like I’m not going to be seeing you again.”
“’Fraid not,” Face held up his notebook. “I got everything that I came for.”
“I’m going to miss seeing you around, Tem.” Marty held out his hand, which Face took.
“Me, too. I’ve really enjoyed your company.” Face shook Marty’s hand. “You want a ride to your dorm?”
“That would be great.”
The two men had started to walk toward the parking lot when an angry voice stopped Face dead in his tracks.
“Look at the fag and his gook lover!”
“What did you say?” Face asked, his voice icy, as he turned to look at the three large men standing behind them, recognizing the redneck bullies from his first day on campus..
“You heard me, faggot!” The biggest of the three smiled at his buddies.
“Let’s go.” Marty touched Face’s elbow, but the blonde shook him off.
“Yeah, Timmy, listen to your gook lover. You don’t want no part of this.” One of the other men snickered as he thumbed his chest.
Face started to take a step forward, but Marty grabbed his arm, tugging him towards the parking lot. “Come on, Tem; they’re not worth it.”
Face turned to look at Marty. He could tell how scared the other man was, and he really couldn’t blame him. The three men glaring at them looked like pro football players compared to Marty and him. He knew they couldn’t know anything about his private life, and could tell instinctively that they were just itching for a fight.
“All right, let’s go.” Face nodded toward the parking lot and the two of them turned to walk away. They’d only made it a few feet when something struck Marty in the back of the head, and the student went to his knees.
Face spun around just as a rock came sailing at his head. He tried to avoid it, but it caught him in the temple, cutting him.
Without hesitating, Face dropped his papers and charged the three men, going straight for the biggest one. The big man stepped back, but not fast enough, and the Special Forces Lieutenant caught him square in the face with his right fist. Before the man could react, Face followed through with his left, knocking him to the ground.
One of the other men tried to grab Face from behind, but Face was quicker, and kicked him in the chest, sending him crashing to the sidewalk. The last standing man swung his backpack and caught Face in the shoulder, knocking him down, but before he could do any more damage, Face lashed out with his feet and caught him in the groin, sending him to the ground in agony. While the blond Lieutenant was fighting the other two men, the man that Face had punched in the face managed to get to his feet. Before Face could get to his, the big man kicked him hard in the ribs. However, Face surprised him by once again lashing out with his feet, and caught the other man in the knee. The big man howled in pain as the knee cap popped out of place.
Seeing that all their attackers were incapacitated, Face climbed to his feet before helping Marty to stand.
‘Whoa, man!’ Marty exclaimed. ‘You sure know how to handle yourself! Where’d you learn to do that?’
Face shrugged it off, not wanting to risk the other man’s friendship if he found out he’d been in Viet Nam.
‘I’ve been around,’ he said evasively as he removed the thugs’ belts and used them to tie their hands behind them.
‘Well, I’m glad you have! You saved my life!’ Marty continued as he picked up his book-bag and dabbed at the back of his head with a handkerchief. ‘How can I ever repay you?’
Face hesitated. Here was an opportunity too good to miss.
‘I don’t know…’ he started, then paused. ‘Well, I’ve got this cousin, see? His name’s H.M. Murdock. He was a pilot in Viet Nam. About a year ago, he got shot down, and wound in a Cong prison camp. He was…,’ the choked sob was no act, ‘…tortured by the guards before he managed to escape.’
‘Gee, I’m sorry to hear that,’ Marty said.
‘Thanks,’ Face said before continuing. ‘For some people, it’s a touchy subject. Some people might even think he deserved it.’ The young Lieutenant shivered before continuing.
‘Anyway, my folks thought I was too young to understand at the time, but I’d overhear them talking at night. I know he was shipped to a VA hospital here in the States, but I don’t know which one. I’d really like to visit him if I could, but I don’t know where to begin looking for him.’ He sighed for dramatic effect.
‘Hey, don’t worry about it!’ Marty told him. ‘I’m doing my residency at the local VA hospital, remember, and we’ve got a dedicated computer system. I can find anyone who’s ever been in any VA hospital anywhere! It shouldn’t be any trouble to find your cousin. Do you know his serial number?’
Face blinked. ‘Yeah, I do.’
‘Great. The hospital’s only about a mile from here. We can walk it in no time. I’ll even buy you a beer on the way!’
The thought of being reunited with his best friend brought a dazzling smile to Face’s lips. ‘Let’s go!’
He pulled out a sheet of notebook paper. He wrote a message for the campus police, and tucked it into the biggest guy’s waistband. With a twinkle in his eye, he looked at Marty.
‘Don’t be surprised if you hear from the police about this,’ he said as they walked away. ‘Tell them the truth. Just don’t mention any names.’ Marty gave him a quizzical look. ‘I have my reasons.’
Marty grinned back. ‘You got it! And while we’re at the VA, we can have someone look at your head.”
“My head?” Face asked
“You’re bleeding.” Marty pointed towards his temple.
Face put his hand to his forehead and touched the bleeding wound. “It’s nothing.”
“You should still have it checked out.”
“I’ll be all right.” Face waved the student off. “Let’s go get that beer.”
The beer and conversation with someone close to his own age was very enjoyable for Face; it wasn‘t often that he had such a chance. The leisurely stroll to the hospital in the company of the Chinese-American medical student was refreshing, too; a far cry from anything he’d done since he’d left college. Was it really only a few years ago? He sighed.
Watching Martin’s fingers as they flew across the keyboard. The results flashing up on the computer screen. The clatter of the dot-matrix printer as it spewed forth a hard copy for Face to take with him. Staring at the sheet of paper, his own personal Holy Grail.
The enthusiastic handshake, the impetuous hug. ’You don’t know what this means to me!’ in a hushed whisper. The pounding footsteps as he raced back to the campus parking lot. The excitement as he pushed the little car to its limits, imagining the looks on Hannibal’s and B.A.’s faces when he told them the news.
Face burst into their room, only to find himself staring down the barrels of two 9mm Lugers.
‘Jesus, kid!’ Hannibal swore. ‘We could’ve killed you!’
‘Sorry, Hannibal,’ Peck apologized breathlessly. ‘But never mind that. I’ve found him!’
‘Found who?’ Hannibal studied his lover. “Why are you bleeding?”
“Never mind that! I found him!” Face grabbed Hannibal by the shoulders and shook him.
‘Yeah, what you talkin’ ‘bout, fool?’ B.A. growled.
‘Exactly!’ Face grinned manically.
‘You don’t mean…?’ Hannibal hardly dared hope.
‘Aww, man!’ B.A. groused, but the smile that lit his face belied his sour tone of voice.
‘How’d you manage that, Face?’ Hannibal asked as he moved the younger man toward the bed
‘Well, I was over at U of C, finishing that research you asked me to do. I was able to do a favor for a med student who’s doing his residency at the VA hospital near the campus, and, since he’s also into computers, he returned the favor by locating my long-lost cousin for me! Piece o’ cake!’
‘Not bad, Face! Not bad at all!’ Hannibal said, throwing his arm over younger man’s shoulder. ‘I’m proud of you, kid!’
‘Yeah, Face,’ B.A. added. ‘Yo’ done good!’
‘So, where is he?’ Hannibal sat Face down on the bed and motioned for BA to get the medical kit. It was obvious that Face was in high spirits about finding Murdock and he didn’t want to bring the younger man down by stopping him.
‘At the VA Hospital in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.’ Face paused, a cloud passing over his face. ‘He’s…he’s in the psych ward, Hannibal. He’s…uh…not doing too well.’
The atmosphere in the room chilled noticeably, and Hannibal squeezed Face’s shoulder comfortingly.
‘I’m not surprised,’ he admitted. ‘After all he went through with us in the camps, and then seeing us locked up. Well, there’s only so much a man can take. That being said, I’m not about to abandon him. We head for LA, and see what we can do to help him. We’ve never left a man behind, and I’m not about to start now. Agreed?’
‘Of course, Hannibal!’
‘You got it, Colonel!’
Hannibal grinned. It would take a lot of effort, but he was bound and determined to see his Team reunited and working together once more.
‘Now,’ he continued, ‘what about that other little research project you had?’ Hannibal asked as he accepted the medical kit from BA.
Face pulled out his notebook.
‘Okay, here are the basics: the first houses on the block were built by a wealthy Quaker family called Lloyd, a minor branch of the same family that founded Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company? The family were Abolitionists, campaigning to end the practice of slavery in the United States.
‘It’s well known that Maysville was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Lloyd family tradition hints that one of these houses was actually a ‘Station’ along the Maysville route.
‘Descendants of the original Lloyd family moved out of the area in the late 19th century and settled in other areas of the country. The local branch died out in the 1930’s, and the houses passed into other ownership. Chris and Elaine Savage bought this, one of the original houses, about ten years ago. Along with several of the other new owners, they’ve been campaigning to preserve the area on the basis of architectural interest, but that alone hasn’t been enough to convince the powers-that-be.’
Hannibal nodded as he took out several pieces of gauze and began to dab at the head wound. He sighed in relief when he noticed that the wound was just a scrape.
‘Good work, Lieutenant,’ he said, ‘on both scores. Now, we‘d better turn in. We’ll brief Chris and Elaine in the morning. Maybe they’ve got some ideas.’
‘We gonna need proof, Hannibal, not just family tradition. And we ain’t got much time to find it.’
‘I know, B.A. Before anything else can be done, we need to save this neighborhood from the wrecker‘s ball.’
‘Hannibal,’ said B.A., coming to a decision, ‘I’m gonna keep watch. I wouldn’t put it past Giannetti an’ his goons to try somethin’ at night.’
‘Good idea, Sergeant.’ Hannibal nodded thoughtfully. ‘One of us will relieve you in six hours. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get all the residents to share in a neighborhood patrol. It’d be for everyone’s safety, not just Chris and Elaine‘s. They’re the most highly visible of Cardoza’s opponents, but anyone who stands up to him is at risk.’
‘Yeah, Hannibal,’ B.A. replied. ‘I’ll see to settin’ that up tomorra. See you in six.’ Checking his handgun, he slipped it into his pocket before heading out the door.
Once B.A. had set off on his rounds, the others prepared for bed. Yawning, Hannibal climbed in next to Face, turned off the light, and pulled his lover closer to him. He could feel the younger man’s body stiffen.
‘What’s the matter, Tem?’
‘I’m worried about Murdock, John. What if…’ His voice trailed off, as if afraid to voice his fears.
‘Well, we won’t know anything for sure until we find him,’ Hannibal replied reassuringly. ‘I promise, whatever the situation, to do everything in my power to make sure that our pilot gets the treatment he needs, and is returned to sanity - well, as much as he ever had.’ He smiled slightly, trying to lighten the mood a little.
‘That being said, I’m no doctor, and this is way outside my area of expertise. Look,’ he continued, ‘I want him back as much as you and B.A. do, but we have to face the fact that it may not be possible. But we’re going to take a damned good crack at it. Okay, Tem?’
Face nodded. ‘Okay, John.,’ he whispered, relaxing in the older man‘s arms.
Hannibal smiled into the darkness, and kissed the top of the younger man’s head.
‘Good! Now, go to sleep, Lieutenant,’ he murmured, moving to kiss the soft lips. ‘You’ve got another long day ahead of you.’
‘Yes, sir, Colonel!’ Face smiled as he snuggled down into his lover’s embrace, the older man’s strong arms wrapped securely around him.
B.A. looked up at the sound of a quiet footfall, his pistol at the ready. He relaxed and smiled when Hannibal stepped into the light.
‘Anything to report, Sergeant?’ he said quietly.
‘Nothin’ so far, Hannibal,’ B.A. replied. ‘But we the new players on the board. Cardoza may just be sizin’ us up before he tries anything’.’
‘I think you’re right, B.A.,’ Hannibal murmured as he looked around. ‘The more surprises we have up our sleeves, the better off we’ll be.’ He checked the horizon, noting that it would be dawn soon. ‘Well, you’d better get some sleep, Sergeant. You’ve got that Neighborhood Watch thing to organize this afternoon.’
B.A. nodded. ‘Where’s Faceman?’ he asked.
‘I left him sleeping. He’s taking the news about Murdock pretty hard.’
‘Yeah,’ B.A. said slowly. He could understand that. ‘They was best friends in ‘Nam.’ He chuckled. ‘Crazy-man always gets on my nerves, but it just ain’t the same without ‘im.’
‘I know what you mean, B.A.’ The Colonel smiled. ‘Now, go get some sleep. And tell Face to report to me when he wakes up.’
‘You got it, Colonel.’
Hannibal watched as the large man disappeared into the night, then turned his attention back to the street.
Hannibal, Face, and BA spent much of the next day with the members of the Association, hammering out patrol schedules. It was decided that residents would patrol the block around the clock. In addition, the members of the Team would rotate in six-hour shifts to co-ordinate with the neighborhood groups, especially at night.
Hannibal’s expertise in planning aroused Chris’ curiosity. When the meeting broke up, he waited for the rest of the Association members to leave before approaching his house-guests.
‘Excuse me, Mr. Smith - uh, Hannibal,’ he began hesitantly, ‘but I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to have a knack for this sort of thing.’
Hannibal threw a glance at his men, then sighed.
‘I guess it’s time we came clean with you, Chris,’ he said. ‘The reason we’re so good at this is because we’ve had a lot of practice. When we served together in Viet Nam, our lives depended on good planning.
‘The reason we want to keep a low profile is because we’re wanted by the military police. It’s a long, involved story, but please believe me when I say we did not commit the crime of which we’re accused. We’re on the lam because we knew we’d never get a fair trial right now, so close to the end of the war. Someday, we hope to straighten things out. In the meantime, we do what we have to in order to survive, but I guarantee you that we will never do anything illegal. That said, we’ll understand if you’d rather we moved on.’
‘Hold on now, Hannibal!’ Chris exclaimed, smiling. ‘You’ve never given me any cause to doubt you or your men. You saved my life. I couldn’t ask for a better reason to trust someone.’ He held out his hand, and Hannibal shook it warmly.
Over the next several days, the neighborhood watch proved very effective. Giannetti’s attempts to bully the members individually were rebuffed decisively, especially since the more vulnerable family members had been sent to stay with friends and relatives, out of Cardoza’s grasp.
It wasn’t long before Giannetti started getting desperate. His boss was not happy, and he knew his head was on the chopping block if he failed.
Face looked over at Hannibal, who was asleep beside him on the bed. When he sat up, Hannibal rolled over to look at him. “Where are you going?” The Colonel’s voice was husky with sleep.
“Just going to get something to drink and use the bathroom.” Face leaned over to kiss the older man. “I’ll be right back.”
“See that you are.” Hannibal kissed Face back before he rolled over and went back to sleep. Face left the room and headed down to the kitchen. He waited for a few minutes before he headed back upstairs, opened the door quietly, and looked inside. Seeing that Hannibal was sound asleep, Face hurried back down the stairs and quickly changed. As quietly as he could, he slipped out the front door and headed down the street. If he had bothered to look in the upstairs window, he would have seen Hannibal standing there, watching him disappear into the night.
Face watched the two older men shoot a few games of pool before he started to play his own game a few tables down. He made sure that he made a few good shots along with a few bad ones, to show that he was a novice at the game. He was on his fourth game when the other men approached him.
“You’re not to bad at the game, boy,” one of the two men commented as he leaned on his pool cue.
“I do all right.” Face shrugged as he made another shot, sinking the ball into a corner pocket.
“Heck, Roy, he’s almost a pro.” Kirby, the second man, smiled at his friend.
“Sure is.” Roy grinned at Kirby, then at Face. “You want to play a few rounds with us?”
“I guess.” Face shrugged again. “But I’m really not that good, fellows.”
“Ah, heck, it’s all just for fun anyway, right?” Roy chuckled.
Face won and lost a few games, and the three men swapped a few jokes and laughs. As Face suspected, it wasn’t long before Roy decided to up the ante.
“You know what would make this more interesting?”
“No.” Face looked up after he missed a hard shot.
“What if we played for twenty dollars a game?”
“I don’t think I can do that.” Face shook his head.
“Why? Will your mommy get mad at you for losing your lunch money?” Kirby snickered.
“No.” Face shot back defensively “It’s just that I don’t have much money.”
“Well, how much do you have?” Roy asked as he motioned for Kirby to rack up the balls for another game.
Face dug into his pocket and pulled out a handful of battered bills that were shoved down in the front pocket of his jeans. Uncurling them, he came up with thirty-five dollars in battered fives and ones.
“Ah, heck, you got enough for a game.” Roy slapped Face on the back as he took twenty out of the stack and laid his own money down on top of Face’s. “Heck, we’ll even let you break.”
As Face figured, they let him win the first two games before they started to play a little harder. It wasn’t long before several other players in the pool hall began to come over and watch them play. Face allowed them to win a game, then he won another, then he lost one. After another two games of back-and-forth, Face played a little better and won the next two in a row.
Roy smiled over at Kirby, then he turned to look at Face.
“How about we up the bet and play for some higher stakes - say, fifty dollars a game?”
Face smiled a cocky smile as he watched several other men place some bets on him and the other two players. Face won this game and the next two before losing one on purpose. Now the stakes were starting to get high, and he knew he had to play things carefully.
“You know, if we really wanted to make this interesting, we should play for a hundred a game,” Kirby spoke up as he racked the next set of balls.
“I don’t know guys; that’s a lot of money.” Face looked at what was left of his money. “I mean, with what I have I could pay my rent for the month and still have some left for groceries.”
“Yeah, but if you win you could have money to take your girlfriend out on a really nice date.”
Both men laughed as they watched Face duck his head and blush. “What do you say, boy? Win some real money and take her out someplace fancy?”
Face pretended to think for a moment, then nodded his head. “What the hell! I might even make it past second base if I do that.”
“You win enough money and you might even get a home run.” Roy laughed as he thumped Face on the back.
Face smiled as the other two men let him win the next three games. Soon, very soon, he thought as he shot the 8-ball, winning the game they were currently playing.
“Boy, you sure are good.” Roy moved to stand next to Kirby. “Heck, I haven’t seen anyone play that good in a long time.”
“Me neither.” Kirby took a drink of his beer. “Shame he wouldn’t want to play like real men play.”
Here it is, Face thought. Don’t blow it.
“What do you mean, play like a real man?” Face turned to look at them, a confused look on his face.
“Well, real men would go for double or nothing. We’ve just been playing kiddy games up until now.”
Several of the men who had gathered around them snickered as they watched Face turn red.
“But I’m sure you don’t want to do anything like that.” Kirby racked up again. “Hell, you probably ought to be getting home anyway. I’m sure that your mommy is getting worried.”
“I don’t live with my mother.” Face glared at the Kirby.
“Now, leave the boy alone.” Roy laughed as he put his arm around Face’s shoulders. “We are talking about a lot of money. I can understand if the boy wants to call it quits. Wouldn’t blame you one bit.”
“Double or nothing?” Face sighed as he looked at the money on the table. “If I won, I would be able to get myself a new stereo and…” He stopped and chewed his bottom lip. “But if I lost, I would have to work overtime for the rest of the month to get caught up… Heck, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have enough money to cover my side of the bet.”
“Like I said, he’s not up to a man’s game,” Kirby snickered. “Go home, little boy.”
Face blushed, but he reached into his left pocket and pulled out some more money. Unfolding it, he counted out another hundred and fifty in crumpled up tens and twenties and slammed them down on the side of the pool table.
“Rack them up!”
“Oh, the boy does have a pair,” Roy laughed as he pulled out a few more bills to cover the total bet. “But what are you going to do to cover your end of the bet if you lose?”
“I’ll cover him.“ A man stepped up beside Face. “And if he loses I’ll get my money back.” Reaching down, he patted the younger man’s ass. The pool hall broke out in laughter as Face jumped.
“Charlie, you old queer; get out of here.” Kirby shoved the other man away from Face. “Don’t worry, boy, we’ll spot you, and if you lose, we’ll find a way for you to pay us back.”
Face nodded and, as he suspected, the two men let him win the game. Smiling, he picked up the money and looked at the two other men. “I’ve never won anything like this before.”
“That is quite a bit of money.” Roy smiled as he slapped Face on the back. “But you know, you could double it.”
“Sure, we play one more game - winner takes all.” Roy grinned over at Kirby.
They’ve got me on the line and now they are trying to set the hook. Face laughed inside.
“I’m not sure?”
“Come on, boy; you have to give us a chance to win our money back.” Kirby argued.
Face looked at the money on the table, then at the other two men.
It took all his skill, but he managed to win the game by one shot.
“I can’t believe I won!” He picked up the $2,520 and looked at it. “I’ve never won this much money before.” Face shook his head. “I can’t believe it.”
“I can’t believe it either,” Roy growled as he looked at Kirby.
“I really want to thank you guys.” Face reached out and shook both men’s hands. “I mean - wow!”
“You’re one hell of a player.” Kirby glared at Face.
“Thanks again!” Face stuffed the money in his pocket as he headed towards the pool hall door. “I really…” He stopped as if speechless. “Thanks!” Quickly, he exited and made his way toward the house where they were staying.
Kirby and Roy watched Face leave the pool hall. Neither man could believe that they had just lost most of their cash to a man who couldn’t be out of his teens. To make matters worse, all of the men in the pool hall were snickering and laughing at them.
“I say we get our cash back,” Kirby growled as he moved toward the door.
“Let’s go,” Roy agreed as he followed the other man out the door.
The two men hurried down the street after Face. They watched as the young man went around a corner, and both men broke into a run to catch up with him. As they rounded the corner, they came to an abrupt stop when they came face-to-face with a blond-haired older man who was pointing a .45 right at them.
`“I will suggest that you gentlemen turn back around and forget that you ever saw that kid,” he warned, his voice low and threatening.
“We weren’t going to do nothing, mister. We were just heading home.”
“Find another way.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever you say.” Kirby began to back-pedal, pulling Roy along with him. “In fact, I feel like going to the bar for a drink or two.”
“Sounds like a good plan.” The man nodded as both men turned to run back the way they had come. Smiling, he double-timed it back to Savage residence, cutting through backyards on his way.
Face breathed a sigh of relief when he opened the door to the bedroom and noticed that Hannibal had not moved from his original position. Being as quiet as possible, he undressed and slid into bed beside his lover. He smiled when Hannibal rolled over and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him in close to his body.
Reaching out, Face placed his hand on the older man’s chest and smiled when he felt his lover’s heart beating under his fingertips. He loved Hannibal with all his heart, and he knew that Hannibal loved him the same way, but there were times he didn’t feel that he was worthy of his Colonel. But tonight, after he had won the money, he felt that he had contributed something, not only to their relationship, but to their very survival. With the money he had won tonight, he would be able to get the team something that they desperately needed. But, more important, tonight he had proved something to himself - that he could function the way he had before prison, before the camps. Tonight, he could start being Face again.
Hannibal cracked open one eye and glanced down at the young man lying in his arms. He had just managed to get back into the house before Face had come in. He knew that he would have to deal with Face’s insubordination sooner or later. Disobeying a direct order could get the kid in a lot of trouble if he wasn’t careful, but right now he knew that Face was still trying to prove his own worth to himself. Though he didn’t approve of the younger man putting himself in harm’s way, he had to admit he’d felt a sense of pride as he’d watched Face from the back of the pool room.
‘Those two never knew what hit them.” He smiled as he tightened his arms around Face. Yes, he would let this one go for now, but he would make sure that Face knew that he hadn’t gotten away with it.
The Next Night
Hannibal looked at his watch and shook his head in disbelief. He was supposed to have relieved Face over an hour ago, yet the younger man had not come down to wake him. As he slid his pants on, he looked to the left and noted that BA was still sound asleep. As quietly as possible, Hannibal left the room and made his way to the roof of the Savage's row house. Opening the door, he stepped out on the dark roof and looked around.
Even though his eyes were becoming adjusted to the lack of light, he could still not see Face. He was just about to call out to his lover when he heard several sharp, quick snaps. Dropping into a crouch, Hannibal moved over to the corner of the roof, making sure to keep below the roof line so that he couldn't be seen from the street below. When he was almost to the corner of the roof, he could make out the dark outline of his lover.
Face was crouched in the corner, his eyes trained on the street below. As he moved closer, Face turned his head to stare at him for just a moment before his gaze went back to the street. As he looked over the younger man's rigid form, it was apparent to Hannibal that Face was in full combat mode. Not making a sound, Hannibal cleared the few feet that separated the two of them. Reaching out to Face's thigh, he typed out his command.
Face looked over at him. He pointed to his eyes, then at the street below, and held up four fingers, indicating that he was looking at four men below them.
"How long?' Hannibal typed back.
Face indicated 3 hours with his hands
A quick shake of the head no.
"Done anything yet?"
Hand on his forehead, indicating scouting out the house.
'I'm getting BA; you stay put."
Face shot Hannibal a dirty look
"You have always been better holding the high ground," Hannibal typed out before he pulled Face forward and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. "Alert us if it looks like they are going to get the drop on us."
Face offered a slight smile before he flipped off a sharp salute.
Hannibal only shook his head as he moved back to the door, though Face was sure he heard the words "Smart-ass kid" drifting on the night air.
Minutes later, Hannibal was back, bringing a grumpy B.A. with him. In a hurried, whispered conference, it was agreed that it wouldn’t be long before Giannetti upped the stakes and things got really dangerous. Hannibal’s eyes lit up, much to the dismay of his men. He was tired of pussy-footing around.
When they were finished, Hannibal took over the watch, and sent the others back downstairs to get some sleep.
When Hannibal came down to breakfast the next morning, he found only Elaine and Face at the table.
‘Where’s B.A.?’ he asked, helping himself to French toast.
‘He’s already eaten,’ Face told him. ‘He went outside to check on some stuff.’
Hannibal nodded. When he had finished his breakfast, he went in search of his Sergeant, and found him standing on the other side of the street. Crossing the road, he joined the younger man. As he did, he noticed that B.A. was staring across the street, and followed his gaze. All he could see was the row of houses.
‘What’s the matter, Sergeant?’
‘Somethin’ don’t fit, Colonel. Lookit them houses. They all look alike, right?’
‘Right,’ Hannibal agreed.
‘But that one,’ the black man pointed, ‘where the Savages live, it don’t quite fit, somehow.’
‘What do you mean, .B.A.?’
‘I don’t quite know, Colonel.’ He started across the street, Hannibal following. ‘Damn! I wish I had my toolbox. Done had it shipped home to Momma when we was arrested in ‘Nam.’
‘C’mon, Sergeant,’ Hannibal grinned. ‘I’m sure Chris and Elaine have something we can use.’
Fifteen minutes later, Hannibal and B.A. were back outside, measuring the Savage house, as well as the two on either side, B.A. making meticulous notes on a legal pad. When they were finished, he studied his jottings carefully, finally nodding in satisfaction.
‘What’ve you got, B.A.?’ Hannibal asked.
B.A. pulled his commanding officer across the street before answering.
‘Take another look at them houses, Colonel,’ he said. ‘What d’you see?’
‘Three houses built from the same set of architect’s plans.’
‘An’ that’s what your s’posed to see,’ B.A. told him. ‘But, accordin’ to the measurements we just took, the house in the middle is two feet wider than the others.’
‘It doesn’t look any different.’
‘That’s ‘cause all the details - the doors, the windows, even the millwork - are just enough larger to be in proportion. It’s an optical illusion, Colonel. An’ I’ll bet that if we measured the rooms inside, they’d be identical in all three houses.’
‘And your conclusion, Sergeant?’ Hannibal asked, grinning around his cigar.
‘That the Lloyd family tradition ain’t just tradition. This house was a station on the Underground Railroad!’ the black man whispered with an awe-filled intensity.
Hannibal nodded in agreement.
‘Now, all we have to do is prove it,’ he said. ‘B.A., I think you just found the key to saving this neighborhood. Well done, Sergeant!’ he added, putting an arm around the other man’s shoulders. ‘Okay, let’s get the others together and search the place for clues.’
‘Yeah,’ B.A. said, beaming with quiet pride at his commander’s words of praise.
Ten minutes later, B.A. was showing Chris, Elaine, and Face what he and the Colonel had discovered.
‘Anyone for a treasure hunt?’ Hannibal grinned, his eyes shining.
Entering the house through the vestibule, they all stood in the foyer and looked around. To their right was the door leading into the parlor. To the left of the door was a set of book/knick-knack shelves set into the wall, the back of which was flush with the front of the parlor fireplace.
From there, a wide staircase led to a landing on the upper floor which ran along the back of the house. Below the landing was a wide coat closet, and to the left of that was the doorway leading to the kitchen. Opposite the parlor was the entrance to the large dining room.
They spread out, the Savages taking the kitchen area, B.A. the foyer area, and Hannibal and Face the parlor and dining room respectively.
Having had no luck in the foyer proper, B.A. tackled the closet under the upstairs landing. Carefully, he felt his way along the walls of the closet. Something just didn’t add up.
He pulled out his measuring tape and measured the dimensions of the closet, then looked out into the vestibule again. Slowly, he grinned.
‘Hey, Hannibal!’ he yelled. ‘I found it!’
The others came crowding into the hall.
‘What have you got, Sergeant?’ Hannibal asked.
‘Lookit this staircase, Colonel. It’s three foot wide, just like the other houses. But,’ he continued, pushing back the coats hung inside, ‘unlike the others, this closet don’t reach all the way behind it.’
‘Check the wall, B.A. See if you can find an opening.’
B.A. ran his fingers all around the dividing wall, poking and probing. Finally, he gave up.
‘Nah, man,’ he said, shaking his head as he stepped back into the hallway. ‘It’s solid.’
‘That means the entrance has to be in the parlor!’ Elaine exclaimed. Excited, they moved back into the parlor. Moments later, they were standing in front of the wall on the far side of the fireplace.
‘Spread out,’ Hannibal suggested. ‘Test anything and everything. We may know where the entrance is, but there’s no telling where the latch mechanism is located.’
Five pairs of eyes and hands went to work, scanning for clues, pushing any raised surface that had the potential of being the hidden mechanism.
Half an hour later, they had drawn a blank. Exhausted, they collapsed into the various chairs and sofas. After a while, Chris got up to get drinks for them all. While he was gone, Hannibal made up the fire. When Chris came back, he closed the door to keep the heat from the fireplace in the room.
As he took a cup of coffee, Face noticed a knob sticking out of the wall to the left of the fireplace.
‘Hey, Chris, what’s that thing?’ he asked, nodding towards it.
‘That’s a bell-pull. It’s connected by a wire to a bell-board in the servant’s hall. There are pulls in all the major rooms. When you pull one, it rings a bell, alerting them to the fact that one is wanted, and indicates where.’
‘If that’s the case,’ Face said, pointing to a similar knob in the shadows behind the door, ‘what’s that?’
They all sat in stunned silence for a moment, then Elaine crossed the room and touched the duplicate knob tentatively. ‘To think I never noticed it before,’ she breathed.
‘Is that door always kept open?’ asked Hannibal. Elaine and Chris both nodded. ‘There’s your answer, then. It’s not in a very noticeable spot to begin with, and when the door is open, it hides it completely.’
‘Go ahead, li’l mama,’ B.A. said, knowing what everyone was thinking. ‘Give it a try.’
Elaine pulled, but the knob wouldn’t budge. A little investigation revealed that the seam for the wire had been painted over. Once Face had dug out the layers of paint with a screwdriver, Elaine tried again.
This time, there was a soft snick on the other side of the fireplace, and a narrow section of wall opened an inch.
‘To think this was here all this time, and we never realized it!’ Chris breathed.
After flashlights had been obtained, Hannibal carefully led the way down the narrow, rickety steps. They were steep, and they had to duck their heads as it passed under the back wall of the house and turned left, leading down into the hidden cellar.
It wasn’t large; just barely big enough for a few people at a time. A rough table and chairs, and a few primitive cots took up much of the space. There were still worn blankets on the beds, and wooden plates, mugs, and spoons on the table, all covered in a thick layer of dust. A wooden bucket, its water long since dried up, stood near the inner stone wall. Rounding the corner to the left, they found a small fireplace.
‘How clever!’ Elaine said in a hushed tone of awe. She noticed the puzzled looks, and explained further. ‘The flue for this fireplace connects with the one for the parlor fireplace.’
‘So, no one would notice any extra smoke, since it was all coming out of one chimney,’ Face concluded, nodding.
As one, they all turned and went back upstairs, filled with silent respect for those who had dared everything for freedom.
‘According to my research,’ Face said, when they were once again settled in the parlor, ‘the Lloyd’s had several black servants – paid ones, that is – so who would notice a few additional ones coming and going now and then? Servants were pretty much invisible. I mean, even today, most people don’t really look at waiters or sales clerks. They’re handy when needed, but pretty much ignored the rest of the time.’
‘Kid’s got a point,’ Hannibal said
‘Well,’ said Elaine, ‘I think the first thing we should do is photograph and sketch everything. We’ll need documentation to go along with what Templeton has found out if we’re going to prove our point to the Historical Register.’
Later that day, Hannibal was outside on the sidewalk, conferring with Pete and Malcolm, while Face and B.A. discussed strategy with the Savages.
Everyone looked up at the sound of screeching tires.
B.A.’s eyes instantly focused on the rifle barrel sticking out the passenger-side window of the sedan speeding towards them.
‘Everybody down!’ he yelled, shoving Elaine and Chris to the pavement, as automatic rifle fire stitched its way across the front of the house. Within moments, the car had disappeared, and everyone climbed to his feet.
Face examined the pock-marks in the façade. Fortunately, they’d be easy to fix.
‘That was intended as a warning, Uncle John,’ he said. ‘They aimed high, above the heads of the patrol members.
‘Yeah,’ B.A. added. ‘Cardoza’s runnin’ out of time, and patience.’
‘Which means,’ Hannibal concluded, ‘that it won’t be long before he ups the ante again. It’s time to draw him out, and I have just the plan to do it.’
Chris and Elaine were puzzled when the other two men just rolled their eyes…
It was dark when Hannibal and Face returned to the darkened servants’ quarters. Ever since the drive-by shooting, they’d taken two-hour turns watching the alley across the street.
B.A. lowered the binoculars he’d been using, and turned to the others.
‘He’s down there, Hannibal,’ he said quietly. ‘And he ain’t alone.’
‘Good.’ Smith grinned around his cigar. ‘Now, here’s the plan…’
Half an hour later, the front door of the Savage’s home opened, and Hannibal, Face, and B.A. walked out, duffle bags over their shoulders. As his men made their way down the steps, Hannibal turned to Chris and Elaine, who had followed.
‘Thanks for all your help, Mr. Smith,’ Chris said. ‘And thank you for saving my life!’ B.A. raised a hand in acknowledgement.
‘We’re just glad we were in the right place at the right time,’ said Hannibal, shaking hands with their hosts. ‘But it’s high time we were moving on. We appreciate your hospitality.’
‘Any time,’ Elaine said.
Hannibal joined his men at the foot of the stairs, then led the way down the street.
Across the road, Giannetti watched as Smith and the others reached the corner and turned away from the river, headed towards the outskirts of town. He waited a few minutes, then slipped out of his hiding-place to find a pay phone.
Cardoza smiled as he took Giannetti’s report.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘We go in tonight. We’re going to take that place down to the ground. And I want no witnesses, understand?’ He listened as Giannetti acknowledged his decision. ‘All right. Get the boys, and I’ll meet you there in an hour. And don’t disappoint me this time!’
He hung up the phone, a feral grin on his face.
Under the cover of darkness, three bundles sailed over the fence into the yard behind Chris and Elaine’s home. Three figures scrambled over the fence, retrieved the bundles, then slipped closer to the house.
Chris and Elaine were relaxing in the parlor when there was a knock at the front door. Smiling at Elaine, Chris went to answer it.
At the sound of raised voices, Elaine looked up to see her husband stumble backwards into the room, followed by Cardoza, Giannetti, and several thugs.
Jumping to her feet, she confronted the developer.
‘What do you want? Get out of our house!’ she demanded, but the fear was evident in her voice.
‘You know,’ Cardoza said, shoving her back, ‘I‘m tired of playing patty-cake with you two.’ He snapped his fingers, and two goons grabbed them, pushing them down onto the couch. ‘I make a reasonable offer for your property, and what do you do? You spit in my face! You don’t have the smarts to accept! You could’ve started all over somewhere else, but no! You had to be stubborn.’
‘Go to Hell, Cardoza!’ Elaine spat. ‘What you want to do will ruin this neighborhood. We can’t allow that to happen!’
‘Well, that’s too bad, little lady,’ Cardoza said, crossing in front of the fireplace and turning to face his victims. ‘Now, it’s gonna cost you, and your knights-in-shining-armor aren’t here to save you this time.
‘In fact,’ he added maliciously, ‘I keep up with what’s happening in the underworld. Your so-called heroes are criminals, wanted by the Military Police. What do you think of that?’
‘You know something, Cardoza?’ Chris said smoothly. ‘They’ve never harmed us, so we have no reason to believe you. And even if they are what you say, we don’t care.’
Cardoza shrugged as he looked around. ‘Torch it,’ he said quietly.
Immediately, Giannetti started splashing gasoline around the parlor, ignoring the horrified gasps of the owners, while the rest of the goons spread out to do the same in the rest of the house.
When he was through, Giannetti went to stand beside his boss on the far side of the fireplace. Pulling his gun, he aimed it at the frightened pair on the sofa.
Cardoza looked at Chris and Elaine as he took out a box of matches. Slowly and deliberately, he opened the box and extracted a match, preparing to light it. He looked over at the two on the couch before striking against the side of the box, holding it up as it flared into life.
‘Sorry, but there’s no cavalry coming over the hill this time,’ he said as Giannetti started his draw-back..
‘That’s what you think, scuzz-ball!’
The door to the secret passage slammed open, catching Giannetti in the back. The shot went wild, the slug burying itself near the ceiling.
Racing into the room, Hannibal tackled Giannetti, while Face and B.A. dealt with a couple of more-brawn-than-brains henchmen. B.A. decked his adversary quickly. Unfortunately, Face was still not up to par, and was soon in trouble. As he backed away past the sofa, Elaine grabbed a large vase and brought it down smartly on the thug’s head. He went down without a sound, and Face nodded his thanks - just before ducking a blow from a second goon rushing in from the foyer.
Seeing that Hannibal and his men were occupied, Cardoza retrieved his matches, and slipped up to the window, intending to set the gasoline-soaked curtains ablaze and bolt before anyone was the wiser.
‘Ah - ah - ah!’
Cardoza froze as the cold barrel of a Luger was shoved up against the base of his skull.
‘I’ll take those,’ Hannibal said, reaching around and snatching the box of matches from Cardoza’s grasp.
At a wave from Hannibal’s gun, Cardoza got to his feet in time to see all his men being shoved together, and Elaine returning with a length of cotton laundry line.
‘I tell you, these guys are wanted criminals!’ Cardoza yelled in a last desperate attempt to talk his way out of the mess he’d created. ‘Don’t you know who these guys are?’
Chris just looked at Cardoza coldly.
‘Actions speak than words, buster!’ he spat. ‘These guys just saved our lives. Again! Who do you think we’re going to trust?!’
Dusk was falling as three olive-drab sedans with military markings pulled up just in sight of a Depression-era humpback bridge near the Ocala National Forest.
Colonel Lynch climbed out of the passenger seat of the lead vehicle and trained his binoculars on the underside of the bridge. He could see a small campfire flickering, the light dancing over the forms of three men huddled in sleeping bags. A determined smile curled his lips as he noted the greying and blond hair of two of the men, and the dark skin of the third.
Motioning for the MP’s to join him, he outlined his plan once they had gathered around his car.
‘Lieutenant Royce,’ he murmured, ‘take half the men and circle around to the other side of the bridge. Station yourselves just outside the firelight; we’ll do the same on this side. Spread out, but not too far apart; I don’t want them getting past you. Signal when you’re in position, but wait for my order before moving in.’
‘Yes, sir!’ Royce barked quietly, snapping off a salute. It was the first time Lynch had trusted him to lead a secondary unit, and he was eager to prove himself. He pointed to the men he would take with him, and motioned for them to follow him. Quietly, he led them in a wide circle, careful not to make any noise that might alert their quarry.
Lynch mirrored his subordinate’s moves, creeping up to position his men just outside the ring of firelight. At the soft crackle of his walkie-talkie, he stepped forward.
‘Give it up, Smith!’ he yelled, a dozen rifles snapping into position to cover the sleeping figures. ‘You, too, Peck! Baracus!’
As the slumbering men climbed groggily to their feet, Lynch had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that something was distinctly wrong. This feeling was confirmed when he got a good look at them. The grey-blond man had a much thinner face than Smith, the blond was rather older than Peck, and the black man didn’t have the massive build of Baracus.
Lynch stood there, his mouth open.
The older man looked around, and yawned.
‘Who are you guys,’ he asked lazily, ‘and what do you want?’
‘I’m…uh…Colonel Lynch, administrator of the stockade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina,’ Lynch finally managed to get out. ‘We’re looking for three escaped prisoners,’ he added more firmly.
‘Well, I can assure you we ain’t them,’ the older man replied. At his nod, all three men carefully pulled out their wallets and withdrew discharge papers, which they offered to Lynch.
‘Major Ryan Todd,’ Lynch muttered, ‘Lieutenant Alfred York, and Master-Sergeant Michael Kennedy.’
‘Yup, that’s us,’ the Major replied. ‘As you can see, we were discharged about a year ago. Served our time in ‘Nam together; decided to tour the country for a while before heading home. There are thousands like us all over the country, not ready to settle down.’
‘I see,’ Lynch muttered, handing back the papers. ‘Well, Major, we’re sorry to have disturbed you. Please, resume what you were doing.’ With that, he scurried back to his car, followed by Royce and the MP’s.
As the military sedans drove away, the men under the bridge shared a knowing smirk.
Pouring three cups of coffee from the kettle at the edge of the fire, Todd passed them around, then raised his into the air.
‘Good luck, Smith,’ he murmured. ‘You and your men deserve it.’
His companions nodded in agreement, then they drank a toast to the men who had gotten them away from General Chao.
A Few Days Later:
Hannibal looked around the room that he and his men had shared, and sighed. The past week had been nice, sleeping on a proper bed instead of a prison bunk, in the cab of a semi, or on the ground. But it was time to move on. As he carefully folded the last of his shirts and tucked it into the duffle bag, he contemplated the cross-country trek that lay ahead of them.
They had been invited to stay as long as they wanted, but Hannibal had explained that they couldn’t stay too long in any one place. Chris and Elaine, though disappointed, had understood.
A flurry of movement caught his eye, and he looked up to see his lover packing his duffle with a most un-Face-like haste.
‘What’s the rush, Lieutenant?’ he queried, his eyebrow arched.
‘I…um…I have an errand to run, Hannibal,’ Face replied cagily. ‘It shouldn’t take more’n an hour, but I wanted to be packed and ready to go, so I wouldn’t keep you guys waiting when I get back,’ he said, feeding the tongue at one side of the duffle’s opening through the grommets on the other three sides, then attaching the latch of the carry-strap.
Hannibal noticed that the younger man had avoided eye contact during this little speech, which was a clear indication that he was…up to something.
Setting his bag by the bedroom door, Face looked at the clock on the dresser.
‘Damn!’ he cursed. ‘I’ve got to go, Hannibal. I have to meet someone in twenty minutes. I‘ll get back as quickly as I can, and meet you outside, okay?’
He slipped out of the room and down the stairs before Hannibal had a chance to say anything.
‘See that you do,’ Hannibal murmured, shaking his head.
A deep chuckle drew his attention.
‘Ol’ Faceman’s got the bit between his teeth now, Colonel,’ B.A. smiled as he picked up his bath kit. ‘He must be feelin’ better.’’
Hannibal nodded thoughtfully as he crossed to the window and watched his young lover striding purposefully down the street and around the corner.
‘He’s still not 100%, Sergeant,’ the older man replied, looking around. ‘Far from it. But he’s definitely making progress.’ He clapped a hand on the black man’s shoulder. ‘We just have to make sure he doesn’t push himself too hard.’
B.A. nodded, then excused himself to get cleaned up, while Hannibal returned to his vigil at the window.
BA, fresh from his shower, looked in the mirror. His hair was still cut to military specs, and, under the circumstances, that left a bad taste in his mouth. Now, at the end of an intriguing case, he felt more in touch with his family history.
He wet his razor, then raised it to his head.
Fifteen minutes later, he was checking the result in the mirror. It was a bit uneven, but it had the desired effect. He nodded, satisfied.
He was interrupted in his assessment by a knocking on the bathroom door.
‘B.A.? You in there? We’re supposed to meet Face at half-past!’
Hannibal was not prepared for the sight that greeted him when the door opened.
‘B.A.! What happened?’ he asked, not a little surprised.
‘This case got me thinkin’, Hannibal,’ B.A. said, stowing his bath-kit in his duffle bag. ‘About the time I joined the Army, the guys in my ol’ high school in Chicago, they started growing their hair real bushy. Called it a “Afro”. Said it showed pride in their background and culture. Me, I could understand that, but I had my own way of standing up for myself.
‘Now, my Granny Bea used to tell us kids stories about her family, and how her great-great-grandfather traveled the Underground Railroad. He actually came through Maysville; may even have hidden in this very house. Working on this case made it all real for me, and I feel closer to my family and my heritage.
‘I saw a National Geographic magazine once that had an article on Gambia. There was a picture of a Mandinka warrior with his hair cut something like this, and I’ve decided to adopt the look for myself. It’ll show people I take pride in myself and what I do. I hope you can understand that, Colonel.’
‘You don’t have to explain anything to me, Sergeant,’ Hannibal assured him, placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘And you don’t need any outward signs to let people know how self-assured you are; it’s always been obvious to me. But if this is what you want to do, I can certainly understand and respect that.’
‘Thanks, Hannibal,’ B.A. said solemnly, then grinned.
‘Don’t mention it.’ Hannibal smiled back. ‘Now, come on. We’ve got to meet Face. He should be here any time now.’
Grabbing their bags and Face’s, they headed downstairs.
B.A. and Hannibal stood at the curb, frowning. They’d been waiting for several minutes, but there was still no sign of Face.
‘If you’re not here in pretty short order, Lieutenant,’ Hannibal muttered under his breath, ‘you are in deep, deep trouble.’
The teen-aged con-man in question was at the wheel of the station wagon that pulled up a few minutes later.
‘You’re late, Lieutenant!’ Hannibal barked, though he was grinning in spite of himself. Face leaned over and rolled down the passenger window so he could talk to his commanding officer.
‘Sorry, Hannibal. The deal took longer than planned.’
B.A. looked askance at the second-hand Chevy Malibu, taking in the dark blue body, the primer grey hood, and rust-colored front fenders.
‘Whaddya call this, sucker?’ he growled.
‘It’s called a car, B.A.’ Face answered patiently, popping the hood so the Sergeant could check the engine. ‘Something to travel in without having to depend on the vagaries of hitch-hiking?’
Noticing his friend’s new hairstyle, he threw an inquiring look at Hannibal, who just raised a hand as if to say ‘Later…’
‘And just where did you get the money for it, Lieutenant?’ Hannibal lifted an eyebrow, not sure he was going to like the answer.
Face climbed out of the car and looked at Hannibal over the roof, flashing him a dazzling smile. ‘You know me, Colonel. I have my ways.’
‘I take it there’s a pool hall in the neighborhood?’ came the sardonic query. ‘Is that where you were ‘til all hours the other night?’
Panic flickered across Peck’s face as he realized that Hannibal knew the truth, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by a disarming grin.
‘You always told me to use my natural talents, Hannibal,’ he said, knowing from the gleam in his commander’s ice-blue eyes that he hadn’t masked the look quickly enough. ‘Besides, you taught me everything I know when it comes to pool.’
‘Don’t be a smart-mouth, Lieutenant,’ Hannibal groused, but he was smiling all the same.
‘How does it look, B.A.?’ Face called.
‘Not bad, Faceman. I guess you learned somethin’ from me in ‘Nam after all,’ the burly man rumbled with a smile. ‘I can see a few improvements I want to make, but it’ll do for now.’
He slammed the hood down as Chris and Elaine Savage came down the front steps of their rescued home.
‘Leaving already?’ Chris asked.
‘Yeah,’ Hannibal replied. ‘We figured it was time we were moving on.’
‘Well, we’ll certainly miss you,’ Elaine told him, ‘if not all the excitement.’ She handed him a cardboard box with some sandwiches, a thermos of coffee, and one of milk. ‘Just a little something for the road.’ She smiled when Hannibal accepted it graciously.
‘Speaking of “a little something”,’ Chris added, pulling an envelope from his pocket, ‘the members of the Association took up a collection last night. It’s only $3,500 and change, not nearly enough to thank you for saving our lives and putting Cardoza behind bars, but…’
‘The satisfaction of putting away a slime-ball like him will make up for the rest,’ Hannibal assured him as he passed Elaine’s box to Face and accepted the envelope. ‘I don’t think he’ll be getting out any time soon.’
‘Not if the Association has anything to say about it!’ Chris said with a smile. ‘You can be sure we’ll all be there to testify.’
‘Good,’ B.A. growled. ‘Ain’t nothin’ you cain’t do if you stick together.’
Face handed Chris his notebooks.
‘Here’s a record of all the research I did, complete with detailed footnotes and bibliography. With a little more work, there should be enough here to put the entire block on the National Register of Historic Places.’
Chris Savage accepted the notebook gratefully.
‘Hey, I might even write a book and use the proceeds to start a Foundation for the Preservation of Maysville Row-Houses,’ Chris said, drawing his hand through the air as if describing a title on a theater marquee. ‘I’ll even dedicate it to you guys. Circumspectly, of course.’
‘We’d be honored,’ Hannibal told him. He shook hands with Chris and Elaine. ‘Take care of yourselves. We look forward to hearing good things about your new project!’
As Hannibal got into the front passenger seat, Face headed back towards the driver’s side, but B.A. grabbed his belt and pulled him back.
‘Outta the way, sucker,’ he growled. ‘I’m drivin’!’
‘No “buts”, man! I said I’m drivin’!’
With a sigh, Face pulled open the rear door and climbed into the back seat.
‘Just think, kid,’ Hannibal said as he twisted to look at his lover, ‘you’ve got the whole back seat to yourself.’
‘I’d rather be up front with you,’ Face pouted.
‘All in good time, Lieutenant,’ Hannibal murmured, ‘all in good time!’ He looked across to B.A. ‘Ready for a shake-down cruise, Sergeant?’
‘Whenever you are, Colonel.’
Hannibal grinned, causing Face to roll his eyes.
‘Hit it, B.A.!
Chris and Elaine stepped back hurriedly, coughing and waving their hands to disperse the smoke from the burning rubber.
Colonel Lynch frowned at the envelope in his hands. The postmark was unfamiliar, as was the handwriting. Slowly, he picked up his letter-opener and carefully slit the top of the envelope. Removing the contents, he unfolded the single sheet of paper and began to read:
Dear Colonel Lynch,
Thanks for your recent hospitality. Sorry we couldn’t
Col. John ‘H. Smith
He balled up the letter and threw it across the room.
‘That’s it, Smith,’ he growled through clenched teeth. ‘You’ve made a fool of me for the last time. You’re going to pay for this. I swear it!’ He crossed to the door and yanked it open.
‘Lieutenant Royce!’ he yelled. ‘Get in here…on the double!’
Frank Hawkins walked up the drive from the mailbox, sorting through the letters and ads that had just been delivered. As he reached the outside kitchen door, he frowned. There was a letter for his wife, Elizabeth, but he couldn’t place the postmark.
‘Beth?’ he called.
‘What is it, Frank?’
‘Mail’s in, and there’s a letter for you!’
‘Be right there!’
A few minutes later, Elizabeth Hawkins, née Smith, walked into the kitchen. Frank held up the envelope.
‘Do we know anyone in Alabama?’
‘Not that I can think of, off-hand,’ Beth answered with a shrug. Taking the letter from her husband, she looked first at the postmark, then at the address. She gasped at the sight of the handwriting, and ripped the envelope open, reading the enclosed letter eagerly.
‘They’re safe, Frank!’ she whispered. Frank moved so he could read the letter over her shoulder. ‘They’ve escaped!’
Frank put an arm around his wife’s shoulders and squeezed them gently, his eyes reflecting the happiness in hers.
‘David’s not going to like this, you know,’ he grinned. ‘John being on the run and all.’
can go jump in Lake Michigan!’ Beth said fiercely. Then she smiled
again. ‘Excuse me a minute, Frank. I’ve got to make a phone
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