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Summary: The Team is on the run from Lynch at the start of their career.
Warnings: Slash H/F; graphic consensual sex
Notes: 1. Middle Eastern names: Haidar (Arabic; lion); Arslan (lion); Halima (patience); Selim (Muslim; one who is peaceful, happy); Ibrahim (Muslim; father of the people); Sirhan (Muslim; wolf); Abdul (Arabic; servant); Nusair (Arabic; bird of prey); al-Saif (Arabic; ‘the sword’); Banu (a title that translates as ‘lady’)
2. The geographical locations mentioned are real.
3. Dee Ren-jie: proper name of Judge Dee, main character in a series of Chinese- style mystery novels by Robert van Gulik
Disclaimer: 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.
Prologue: Late 1968
Haidar, ruler of a small North African sheikdom, stopped pacing and looked out the window of his apartments into the night. The moon was low on the horizon. It had been less than an hour since he'd gotten the news. Now he awaited the return of his guards.
There was a soft knock on the door, and he bade the knocker enter. Arslan, the head of his elite guard, entered and bowed, then ushered his charges into the room before bowing his way out again.
Haidar looked at the young woman who stood before him, accompanied by her bleary-eyed ten-year-old son. He opened his arms to her.
'Forgive me, Halima, daughter of my heart,' he said, 'for waking you at such an hour, but I have grave news. Selim, my son and your husband, has been killed. Officially, it was an accident, but I have reason to believe that the malcontents in this country have finally made their move.'
Halima nodded. This was not unexpected.
'I understand, my father.'
Haidar smiled at her. The woman Selim had chosen as his wife was as intelligent and strong as she was beautiful. She would not mourn until it was safe to do so. It was now up to him to protect both her and her son. His grandson and now his heir.
'As you know, emergency measures have been in place for a long time. You and Ibrahim must leave the palace - now, tonight. You cannot go back to your quarters to pack anything. All you need is already waiting for you.'
Halima nodded at this.
'What are the arrangements, my father?'
'You are an American. Your country is vast, so much larger than mine. You will return to your homeland, and live there free of court intrigue. When your son is of age, you can both come back, and he will be declared my successor.'
'It will do Ibrahim good to live like an ordinary person, too, won't it, my father?' Halima smiled.
'Very true, my daughter.
'Now,' the sheik continued, 'you will not travel directly to America. Sirhan and his followers would track you too easily. All the arrangements have already been made. Western clothes are waiting for you on the plane, and an account with a half-million American dollars has been set up for you under your Christian name.'
Haidar crossed to the door and opened it, beckoning Arslan to come in.
'Arslan will guide you to the plane that will take you and Ibrahim out of the country. I trust him with my life, and so trust him with yours, as well. He will travel with you until you are settled, then return to me.'
Raising an arm, the sheik guided the others to an unobtrusive portion of the wall. Pressing a recessed tile, he opened the door to a secret passage. He smiled at the stunned look on his daughter-in-law's face, and the suddenly-intrigued expression on his grandson's.
'Yes, it's "corny", as you Americans say, but such things have their uses.'
'But what about you, my father?' Halima asked. Such was the love she had for her husband's father that she truly regarded him as her own parent.
Now Haidar really laughed, albeit quietly.
'Sirhan will never attack me as long as Ibrahim is alive and well, so I am perfectly safe.' He turned to his grandson and dropped to one knee. 'Ibrahim, my child, you must go with your mother now.'
The boy threw himself into the older man's arms.
'I don't want to leave you, grandfather!' he cried, hugging him tightly.
'I know you don't, my child. But the future of this country lies with you. And,' he added with a twinkle in his eye, 'it will be up to you to protect your mother.'
The boy sniffed back his tears.
'I will, grandfather,' he said quietly. 'I promise!'
'I know you will,' Haidar said, hugging the boy in return. 'Now, go! And take my love, and the love of Allah, with you!'
Standing, he guided the others to the door of the secret passage. He shook hands with Arslan. 'Go with Allah, my friend.'
Arslan nodded, then led the way silently into the secret passage.
Tearfully, Halima hugged her father-in-law.
'I'll miss you, my father,' she said.
'And I you,' he replied. 'I'll be in touch as I can. It may not be often; there are few I truly trust. Go with God.' He smiled at Halima's startled look. 'Whatever you call him, God is great.'
‘Inshallah - God willing - we will be together again before too long.’
Then, taking her son's hand, she followed Arslan into the dimly-lit passage.
Haidar pressed the secret door closed. Leaning his head against it, he prayed with all his might that his family - what was left of it - would be safe.
Act I : June 1973
The diner in Hamilton, Montana was noisy and crowded. Just the place for three fugitives to have a meal in peace. Hannibal picked up his hamburger and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. Swallowing, he addressed his companions.
‘You know, guys,’ he said quietly, ‘we’ve been on the road for about five months now, and we’re nearly to our destination. We’ve covered a lot of ground, both geographically and in our lives together. It’s time to make some important decisions.’
‘Like what, Hannibal?’ Face asked, though he had a pretty shrewd idea what Hannibal meant.
‘As you pointed out back in Missouri, Face, we’ve been pretty lucky in finding ways to earn money to get us this far,’ Hannibal said. ‘We need to decide how we’re going to make a living once we get to Los Angeles.’
‘Well, we can’t take regular jobs,’ said Face. ‘Even with fake ID’s, new faces tend to stand out, especially if we let our hair go back to its original color.’
Face glanced over at BA. Not that one of them wouldn't stand out no matter what color his hair was. BA seemed to sense Face staring at him and looked over at the blond.
‘Working as day laborers again is okay,’ B.A. added, ‘but that’s risky, too, if we keep showin’ up at the same places every day.’
‘So,’ asked Hannibal, ‘what do we do?’
There was an awkward silence, which was eventually broken by B.A.
‘I don’t know about you guys,’ he said, ‘but of all the things we did on the way here, I liked it best when we was helpin’ people. Sure, there’s the police and other agencies like that, but sometimes they overworked, or don’t care enough, or are even part of the problem. Look at that crooked cop we ran into. You know he ain't the only one out there.‘
‘And most agencies like that don’t have the skills we do,’ Face added. ‘That gives us an advantage.’
‘And what about defending ourselves?’ Hannibal asked carefully. ‘So far, we’ve been up against people who talk a good case, but are cowards at heart. What happens if we’re confronted by the police, or the MP’s?’ He watched as Face and B.A. looked at each other and nodded.
Face looked deeply into his lover’s eyes
‘Don't get upset, Hannibal, but BA and I have talked about it, and we had enough of killing in Viet Nam. I don’t ever want to take another life if I can possibly avoid it. I’d rather go back to jail than kill a fellow soldier.’
‘Yeah, man,’ B.A. agreed. ‘Enough is enough.’
‘That’s going to make things pretty tricky,’ Hannibal replied, ‘but I agree 100%. We use deadly force only as a last resort, when all other options have failed to achieve our objective or to protect innocent lives - or each other. I refuse to lose either of you to this venture, not after all we’ve already been through.’ He held out his hand, and clasped the other men’s hands in his. ‘Once again, you’ve made me proud to be your commanding officer.’
With a light heart, he returned to his meal.
As they paid their check, Hannibal turned to his men.
‘Time to get outta town, guys. Which way do you suggest we go?’
‘Well, we’re in the Bitterroot Valley,’ Face said. ‘We might as well head up into the hills. Kind of a last breather before the smog of LA?’
‘Just a glutton for punishment, aren’t you, Face?’ Hannibal teased as they walked to the car.
‘Figured you’d have had enough of the bugs and hard ground,’ B.A. snickered.
‘Hey!’ Face responded, affronted. ‘It’s not so bad now that the weather’s warmed up. Besides, now that we have those cots from the Wallaces, it’s a lot more comfortable.’ He didn’t mention his disappointment that they weren’t big enough for two people; he was grateful for small favors.
‘Let’s head south for a while, B.A.,’ Hannibal said as he studied the map. ‘It looks like Route 93 will take us to the Idaho border, then we can consider the best way west.’
B.A. nodded as he pulled out had headed in the direction indicated by his leader.
Traffic was light as they passed the general store in Sula, Montana. In fact, the only other vehicle on the road ahead was a pick-up truck. B.A.’s practiced eye told him that it was about eight years old, but that the owner took good care of it.
Without warning, the pick-up started veering wildly all over the road. As they watched, alarmed, the driver managed to bring it to a controlled stop by the side of the road. They pulled up behind as the driver got out and walked to the front of the truck.
‘Damn!’ she swore as she kicked the left front tire. It was flat as a pancake. ‘Derek! Get the jack!’ she called.
Face saw Hannibal’s eyebrow rise as a 15-year-old boy got out of the passenger side and starting climbing into the bed of the truck.
‘Anything we can help you with, ma’am?’ Hannibal asked graciously.
‘No, just a blown tire. Nothing we can’t deal with,’ the woman sighed.
‘I’m sure you can,’ Hannibal replied. ‘But it’s not our way to leave a lady to fend for herself when there are three able-bodied men available to assist her.’
‘Yeah, li’l mama,’ B.A. added. ‘We like to help. Gimme the jack,’ he said, turning to the boy, who handed it over. Before anyone could blink, he had it positioned under the frame.
‘Well, what can I say, Mr….’
‘Smith. Sean Smith. My companions are my nephew Arthur, and his friend Albert, who is the one taking charge of the repairs.’ Face nodded absentmindedly as his eyes instinctively scanned the surrounding countryside, and B.A. looked up briefly from his work.
‘I’m Hallie Patterson,’ the woman replied, putting her arm around the teenager, ‘and this is my son Derek.’
‘Pleased to meet you both,’ Hannibal said, shaking hands on behalf of his men.
Releasing the jack, B.A. got to his feet, brushed himself off, then put the jack and the blown tire in the back of the truck. As he did, he looked down the road. Something didn’t feel right. Seeing Face was feeling the same way, he took a walk back the way they’d come while Hannibal continued his conversation.
‘Born and bred in the area, Mr. Smith,’ Hallie was saying as he returned. ‘I moved away after college, but came back about five years ago to show my son what Big Sky country was like.’
‘And it sue is a beautiful place, Mrs. Patterson,’ Hannibal replied. ‘This is our first time to Montana, and we sure like what we’ve seen so far.’
‘Sean,’ B.A. interrupted quietly, ‘I took a walk down th’ road. Didn’t find nothing that would cause a flat, but I did find this.’ He held out his hand, a squashed bit of metal resting on his dark palm.
‘Yeah, and I think I saw a flash of light up on the hill there,’ noted Face as he continued to watch the area.
‘Probably just some hunters taking pot-shots at rabbits,’ Hallie said, her voice shaking slightly. Valiantly, she tried to mask her nervousness.
Taking in what his men had observed, not to mention the young woman's sudden case of nervousness, Hannibal sensed that leaving now would not be a good idea.
‘Why don’t we follow you back to your place? Just in case you have another blow-out?’
‘All right,’ Hallie said, after considering for a moment. ’I can even offer you some dinner. I’ve got a nice elk stew made; it just needs heating up. As a thank-you for helping me with my tire?’
‘We’d be delighted.’
‘Fine. Then just follow us.’ With that, Hallie and Derek got back into their truck and led the way down the road.
The dirt road to the Patterson farm led over the east fork of the Bitterroot River. Face appreciated the beautiful sight as it wound through the valley, but the cold, grey look to it, even in June, made him shiver. B.A. grumbled about the effect the rutted road was having on the Chevy’s shock absorbers, and vowed to replace them as soon as he could afford it.
The vehicles passed a large paddock containing a couple dozen burros. In a separate enclosure, a dun-colored cow was contentedly chewing her cud. A spring-fed brook ran through both. In a third area, the brook had created a quiet pool, perfect for the sheep with their dislike of moving water.
Finally, they pulled up in front of a spacious one-story ranch house of weathered redwood. It had large windows to let in warm sunshine in winter and cool breezes in summer. The wide porch sheltered several benches, a rocking chair, and a tall wooden butter churn that Hannibal could tell was not just for show. Not far away was a hand-operated water pump, just the thing for when the electricity went out.
‘We live very simply out here,’ Hallie said, putting a large pot of stew on the stove to heat slowly. ‘We have to, seeing as it’s twelve miles to the nearest loaf of bread. So we provide a lot of our own food, including milk, butter, and vegetables. Derek’s a pretty good hunter, so meat’s not a problem.’
‘And what about the things you can’t provide for yourselves?’ asked B.A.
‘We raise burros and sheep for income. You wouldn’t believe how popular the burros are as pack animals for guys who want the old-fashioned gold prospector experience! Plus they’re very useful in other venues, too.’ She placed a plate of sliced bread and a salt-glaze crock of butter on the table as she spoke, and Hannibal immediately reached for some.
Meanwhile, Face was involved in an animated discussion with Derek.
'When you hunt do you use a scope or just eyeball your shot?'
‘Eyeball it, mostly,’ Derek told him. ‘I keep the forest tracks pretty clear of brush, the way the Indians used to, so I can move very quietly when the need arises. That lets me get close enough that I usually don’t need a scope.’
‘What kind of rifle do you use?’
‘A bolt-action Winchester Model 70, and a 200 grain bullet,’ Derek said as he got to his feet. ‘Want to see it?’ he asked shyly.
‘Yeah!’ Face said. putting him at ease. ‘It must have one heck of a kick, though.’
‘It sure does! Knocks the heck out of my shoulder, but I wouldn’t use anything else for elk.’
‘I’d like to try it later. I’m used to a Remington…’
The young men’s voices grew softer as they reached the gun-locker in the living room.
Hannibal closed his eyes contentedly as he savored the home-made bread slathered with fresh, unsalted butter. He hadn’t had anything like this since his last leave home. He sighed, wondering when he’d see his family again. Looking over at B.A., he wondered how long it would be before his Sergeant got a chance to see his mother, and his Lieutenant got a chance to visit with Father Magill.
Face looked over the rifle before smiling.
‘Haven‘t seen one of these in a while,’ he said. ‘I trained on an earlier version of this, but when I got to Viet Nam, I was issued a Remington Model 700. I think I prefer the Remington, but that’s probably because I’m used to it.
He heard Hallie calling the two teenagers to the table, and handed it back to Derek.
‘What’s the farthest distance you've brought down your game?’ Face asked as they headed back to the kitchen.
‘About two hundred yards. But if I plan on bringing down that cougar that’s been killing our sheep, I'm going to have to do a lot better.’
Hearing her son’s comment, Hallie turned on him, furious.
‘Don’t you go tracking that cougar, Derek,’ she told him.
‘But, Mom, we can’t afford to keep losing the sheep! You’ve said so yourself often enough!’
‘And I’ve told you time and again - it’s too dangerous! Don’t go looking for trouble when you know I’m buying a guard donkey!’
‘What good’s a dumb old donkey going to do?’ Derek countered.
‘It’ll keep you from being ripped to shreds,’ Hallie reminded him. ‘The bray will warn us the cat’s in the vicinity, and you can shoot it before it reaches the livestock.’
‘I’m not a child, mother!’ the boy yelled as he stormed out of the house.
‘Derek!’ Hallie called as she started to follow, but Hannibal held her back, nodding to Face to go after him.
‘Let him go,’ he said gently. ‘Derek needs to cool off, and Arthur will be a great listener, seeing as he’s about the same age as an older brother. Besides, they really seem to get along.’
Hallie nodded, sighed, and went back to preparing dinner, knowing that the young men wouldn’t be back any time soon.
Face caught up with Derek a couple hundred yards up the hill behind the house. Sensing Derek’s need to think, they walked quietly for a while.
‘She treats me like a little kid,’ Derek said at last.
‘She's your mother,’ Face reminded him. ’It’s her job to worry about you and keep you safe.’
‘It's still not fair. I'm a great shot.’
‘No, it may not fair,’ Face said wistfully, ‘but just be glad that you have a mother to care for you.’
Derek nodded, and they walked on, glad of each other’s company.
After dinner, B.A. went to check on the truck’s flat tire. He couldn’t tell anything from the burst rubber, but a shiny notch in the rim had him nodding grimly to himself. Filing the information away, he put the tire back in the truck-bed, and returned to the house.
Derek stopped short as he heard a deer cough. Looking around, he saw a young buck, and watched as it stamped the ground in alarm before hightailing it through the trees. Once it was gone, he became aware of the sound of voices coming from a nearby clearing.
Quietly, Face and Derek crept closer to the clearing. As they did, the voices got louder. Peering through the branches, they could see a half-dozen men, all of whom had dark beards and mustaches. Even though they wore generic cowboy outfits, they certainly didn’t look like locals. One was pacing nervously.
‘Abdul, sit down,’ said the man who was obviously the leader. ‘It was fate that those men showed up when they did. It doesn’t matter. We will fulfill our mission. It will just take a little longer.’
‘But Nusair,’ said Abdul, ‘those men have gone back with them. They are still in the house.’
‘All right,’ Nusair replied, ‘we wait until dark. What can three men do against six? And we will have the element of surprise.’ He smiled wolfishly. ‘Sirhan will be pleased when we present him with Ibrahim’s head in a box.’
Face felt the boy next to him stiffen, and heard the sharp intake of breath. Glancing to his right, he saw the look of fear on his companion’s face. Before he could stop him, Derek took a step back.
A twig snapped under his foot, and the men in the clearing looked up sharply as they reached for their weapons.
Without a second thought, Face grabbed a small rock and pitched it as hard as he could into the underbrush.
‘Abdul,’ Nusair ordered, ‘find out what that was.’ Nodding, Abdul moved to the left and behind the camp.
Laying a hand on Derek’s shoulder, Face indicated that they should move, and stealthily led the way from the area.
Hallie, Hannibal, and B.A. were relaxing in the living room when the two young men burst into the house.
‘Hannibal!’ Face said urgently, ‘we’ve got some heavily-armed intruders in the woods behind here. I don’t know who they are, but they’re not the Avon lady.’
Hallie looked at Derek.
‘Sirhan,’ was all the boy said. At the name, all the color drained from her face.
Hannibal gave a scowl to rival B.A.’s.
‘Look, lady,’ he said sternly, ‘I don’t take kindly to being on the inside of a shooting gallery looking out. It might help if you let us in on what’s happening.’
‘Derek, get the picture,’ Hallie said quietly before turning to Hannibal. Looking at her guests, she composed herself before speaking again.
‘You’re right, you do deserve to know the situation,’ she admitted. ‘Everything I told you before is true. My name is Hallie Patterson, I am a widow, and Derek is my son. The only thing I left out was where I was when I left Montana.
‘In my senior year in college, I met a young man, and we fell in love. When he asked me to marry him, I said yes.’ She smiled sadly as she handed Hannibal the photograph Derek had brought. It showed Hallie and a darkly handsome young man. Both were in Muslim dress, though Hallie’s was white, like a Christian wedding dress. ‘Selim was the most loving man you could ever hope to meet. With his father’s permission, we were married sixteen years ago. Selim chose my Muslim name, Halima, partly because it was close to my real name, and partly because it translates as ‘patience’, a virtue – he said – that I possess in abundance.
‘My father-in-law is Haidar, leader of a minor sheikdom. Though he is kind and generous, and cares very much for his people, there are those who would murder him and rule in his stead. Needless to say, they are only interested in power, not in the welfare of the country and its people.’ She paused and put an arm around Derek’s shoulders.
‘My son, Ibrahim, is the only thing that stands between Sirhan and the throne. At Haidar’s suggestion, we fled after my husband was murdered five years ago. As long as we were safe, they couldn’t touch Haidar. But now they’ve found us, and I fear for the future of our people. ‘
‘I understand,’ Hannibal said quietly.
‘I guess I always sensed they would find us eventually,’ Hallie said, laying a hand on his arm. ‘Leave now. There’s no reason you should be dragged into our troubles.’
Hannibal smiled reassuringly.
‘Don’t worry, ma’am; we‘re used to this sort of thing. We’ll take care of it.’ Hannibal turned to his men. ‘Albert, hide the car and break out the weapons. Arthur, check out the house; see what we need to do to make in defensible.’ Instantly, the two younger men sprang into action.
Within minutes, Hannibal and B.A. were checking over their small stock of confiscated weapons.
‘It ain’t much, Hannibal,’ B.A. sighed.
‘It’ll have to do,’ Hannibal told him. ‘Besides, they don’t know that we’re aware of what they’re planning, so we’ll have the advantage. Plus,’ he added, ‘a certain amount of ingenuity.’
Just then, Face returned.
‘Can’t be done, Hannibal,’ he said with a frown. ‘It’s only one story, and there are too many windows and doors; we’d never be able to cover them all. We’d be better off in the barn.’
‘Let’s take a look,’ the older man replied, leading the way out of the house.
The barn was small, and it wasn’t long before Hannibal had examined every inch of it.
‘Good work, Lieutenant,’ he said approvingly. ‘Now, we’ve got a couple hours before dusk. Let’s get back to the house and start making plans.’
Face lay on his stomach in the hayloft, scanning the tree line with binoculars. In front of him, the pulley-rig creaked as B.A. raised a huge pot of hot water high over the barn doors. He knew it would cool somewhat, but would still be hot enough to sting if they should need it.
As he continued his observations, a small smile tugged at Face’s lips when he spotted movement coming down the hill behind the house. He reached for his walkie-talkie.
In the house, Hannibal nodded at Face’s message. He turned to Hallie and Derek.
‘Let’s go,’ he said quietly.
Ushering them out the front door, he led them towards the barn. They spoke casually, if a trifle louder than usual, making sure they were seen. Once inside the barn, Hannibal pulled the big doors closed behind them.
Hannibal watched from a small window on the ground floor, Face and B.A. from the hayloft, as Nusair and his men crossed the open ground between the foot of the hill and the barn. Nusair gestured for his men to spread out, then stepped forward.
‘I am Nusair al-Saif,’ he announced. ‘Surrender to me Halima Banu and the boy Ibrahim, and we will let you go in peace.’
‘I don’t think so, pal,’ Hannibal told him.
‘Send out the woman and the boy,’ Nusair called. ‘We have no quarrel with you, but we will not hesitate to kill you if you resist. A woman and a boy. Of what value are they to a man?’
‘They must have some value to you, ’ Hannibal returned, ‘or you wouldn’t want them so badly.’
‘The boy, then,’ the terrorist offered, ‘and you can keep the woman for yourself.’
‘No deal, scumbag!’ Hannibal shouted back. ‘I dare you to try and take them from us!’
‘Hannibal!’ Face moaned to himself as his Colonel scaled the ladder to the hayloft. ’Damn it, John! Not again!!’
At Hannibal’s signal, they all took their positions.
Nusair cursed when he heard Hannibal’s reply. Choosing two of his men, he pointed to the barn.
‘Burn it!’ he ordered.
Nodding, they lit an oil-soaked torch, then approached the barn door. Face watched in amusement until the flames were just barely catching, then yanked the rope attached to the pot hanging from the gable.
The two men yelled, more in surprise than pain, dropping their weapons as they dodged backwards out of the way of the scalding water. The torch fizzled and went out, the water rendering it useless.
Furious, Nusair looked around, sending two of his men for one of the benches from the farmhouse porch. Minutes later, thuds echoed through the barn as the attackers wielded their makeshift battering ram.
Slowly, the bar holding the doors closed began to splinter. With each successive blow, the cracks grew deeper, until at last the door flew open. Dropping the bench, Nusair’s men grabbed their rifles and spread out through the barn. Four pairs of eyes watched as they searched the stalls and storage areas thoroughly. Finally, they gathered in the center of the barn floor.
‘They’re not here, Nusair,’ said Abdul in a panicky voice. ‘They’ve vanished.’
‘They’re not ghosts, idiot!’ the thugs’ leader snapped, then pointed to the hayloft. ‘Check up there!’
Face squatted down just out of sight and waited for Nusair to get into range. If there was one thing that being a sniper in Vietnam had taught him, it was patience. Hannibal had called him down for being impetuous more than once, but Face had learned a long time ago never to rush a shot. As Nusair turned to give an order, he took a step further into the barn, and Face let go.
Suddenly, Nusair went sprawling as a tire swung through the air and hit him in the back.
“Kill them!” Nusair yelled from the ground as he tried to get back to his feet.
Abdul and the rest of the thugs followed the trajectory of the pendulum, and let loose a flurry of bullets, causing Face to scramble for cover as the wood in front of him began to splinter, sending shard of debris at him
As Face retreated, B.A. and Hannibal released their tires. Abdul and the others ducked as the heavy tires sliced the air. Several managed to roll out of the way, but most were sent flying, but all losing their rifles in the process. Those that managed to hold onto their rifles tried to take aim, but a flurry of bullets discouraged them from any attempt.
‘Ah-Ah-Ah!’ came a disembodied voice. ‘I really don’t think you want to try that. Face?’ Hannibal’s voice was a little anxious as he waited for the younger man to reply. He had been worried that one of the thugs might have gotten in a lucky shot, but had been unable to check on his lover until now.
“Here, sir!” Face popped up from the loft At the mention of his name, he easily slid down a rope, rifle still in hand. Keeping a close eye on the prisoners, and knowing that Hannibal and BA had his back Face then collected the rifles and semi-automatic weapons from their prisoners.
‘Nice!’ he commented as he glanced over an AR-15 before training it on the men before him.
‘B.A.!’ called Hannibal.
B.A. dropped to the floor in the same way as Face, and proceeded to tie the terrorists’ hands behind them before binding them to the supports for the hayloft.
Once Hannibal had landed in his turn, he walked to the center of the barn. Brushing aside some loose straw, he bent down and pulled up the trap door that led to the root cellar, smiling when he saw two shotguns being lowered.
‘Come on up!’ he called cheerfully. ‘It’s safe.’
Hallie climbed up the ladder, followed by Derek. Brushing herself off, she approached her son’s would-be assassin.
‘Nusair,’ she said tightly, her anger barely contained, ‘if we were to go by the laws Sirhan would enact, you would suffer the same fate you had planned for my son. You should thank Allah that Haidar is more civilized than that.’ So saying, she turned her back on him.
She had started to go back to the farmhouse when Nusair snarled “American bitch!” as he broke away from the others, not caring about the guns that were trained on him. He had almost reached Hallie when Face tackled him from behind, driving the other man to the ground.
As Nusair rolled to try and get Face off his back, the younger man grabbed him by the wrist and shoved the arm up between his shoulder blades. Nusair screamed in pain as the muscles in his upper arm protested the sudden movement.
“I think you owe the lady an apology,” Face growled as he forced the arm up higher.
“Go to hell!” Nusair spat, then yelped in pain as Face shoved up harder on the wrist.
“I suggest that you apologize before the boy breaks your arm.” Hannibal moved over to stand in front of the would-be assassin. “I’ve seen him do it more than once; it’s not a pretty sight.”
“I will never apologize to a whore…” Nusair yelled in pain as Face applied more pressure.
“B.A., tie this slime-ball up before Face rips his arm off.” Hannibal sighed realizing that they were at a stalemate, and it would be best to stop his lieutenant before Face did some serious damage.
B.A. nodded as he moved over to Nusair. He grabbed the man’s arm just above Face’s grip.
“I got him, little brother.”
Face nodded once before he slowly rose off Nusair.
“You lucky,” BA growled as he pulled the other man to his feet. “He’d grabbed you by the neck, you’d be dead by now.
Hannibal moved over to Face and put his hand on the blonde’s shoulder.
“Calm down, kid; it’s over.”
Face nodded and took a deep breath. The tension in his body seemed to instantly disappear.
Hallie, who had watched the proceedings with an air of regal poise, nodded with satisfaction before leading the way from the barn.
Derek watched as BA finished tying up Nusair, and he joined the others as they headed back towards the farmhouse.
‘Shouldn’t you leave a guard with them?’ Derek asked, trotting alongside Hannibal. The Colonel just laughed.
‘Kid, Albert tied those knots,’ he reassured the young man. ‘Those sleaze-balls aren’t going anywhere.’
Hallie hung up the phone and sighed in relief, then went to join the others on the porch. Moving aside a pair of muddy work-boots, she sat on one of the benches. She smiled at Hannibal, who was savoring a cigar Face had confiscated from one of Nusair’s men. It wasn’t Cuban, but, after so long, it would do.
‘Haidar sends his thanks to you and your men, Sean,’ she told them. ‘Now that Sirhan has moved openly, he can be arrested. The sheik is sending his trusted friend Arslan, the head of his private guard, in a private plane to take Nusair and his men back under guard to stand trial.‘ She smiled at Hannibal’s raised eyebrow. ‘In spite of what you hear about some Muslim nations, Haidar is a very enlightened ruler. If his people see he is fair with his enemies, they will know he’ll be fair with his friends. They will be tried in the Western manner, and should they be found guilty, they will not see the outside world for many, many years.’
‘So, what will you do with this place, Hallie?’ asked Face.
‘Oh, I know someone who’s interested in buying it.’ She looked around. ‘You know, I’ll miss living here, but my place is by my son until he becomes a legal adult. After that, I plan to visit from time to time. We’ll see how it goes.’
Derek came running out, excited about the prospect of getting to see his grandfather for the first time in years.
‘When’s the plane going to get here, Mom?’ he asked eagerly.
‘You in such a hurry to leave here, man?’ B.A. asked.
‘Not for at least twenty-four hours, young man,’ Hallie told him, chuckling as he groaned. ‘I know you can’t wait to see your grandfather again, but in the meantime, there are still the livestock to feed and the cow to milk, so hop to it. Old Man Jenkins will be here in the morning to see about caring for things while we arrange the sale of the farm.’
That stopped Derek short.
‘Do we have to sell it, Mom?’ Hallie looked at him quizzically. ‘I mean, I like it here and all, and it would make a nice place to get away from things. And we really don’t need the money from the sale, do we?’
Hallie smiled. She didn’t really want to sell the place any more than her son did.
‘Well,’ she said gently, ‘I’ll see about installing a caretaker. Will that suit you?’
‘Yeah!’ Derek said happily, and ran to do his evening chores.
‘And what about you gentlemen?’ she asked, turning to Hannibal. ‘We must leave in a couple of days, but you are welcome to stay for as long as it suits you. For saving our lives,’ she continued, disbelief apparent in her voice, ‘and my son’s country. We can’t thank you enough, and your actions will not go unrewarded.’
‘Well, we are rather anxious to meet up with a friend of ours,’ Hannibal told her, ‘but I don’t see why we can’t stay a few days, until your caretaker is ready to take up residence.’
‘Thank you,’ Hallie told him, giving a peck on the cheek. She looked around at all of them, her eyes moist. ‘You remind me of Selim. He was a man of honor, who cared more for doing what was right than for the power his position gave him. Thank you for preserving everything he believed in.’ With that, she left to do her own packing.
‘Well,’ said Face teasingly, ‘I guess I should be jealous.’
‘Not at all,’ Hannibal replied as B.A. giggled. ‘I’ll never give you any reason. Never in a million years, kid!’
Smiling, he looked out over the valley, savoring the fresh air, and the presence of his lover and his best friend.
Heading into the Bitterroot Mountains, they moved into Idaho, once again taking advantage of the national forest system. As before, they avoided major cities, and kept to the back roads as much as possible. The weather got warmer still as they headed southwest through the Black Rock mountain range of Nevada. It was with a sigh of relief that they reached the Modoc National Forest in California. The final leg of their journey had begun.
Hannibal held the door as his men brought in the last of the stuff from the car. They’d taken the first apartment they could find that wasn’t a total dump, because they’d needed a place in a hurry. The residential hotel they’d found was a bit scruffy, but pleasant enough.
The apartment itself was tiny, but it would do for now. However, Hannibal was determined to find another place for himself and Face at the earliest opportunity. B.A. deserved his privacy after all this time. However, he wasn’t ready to say anything about it just yet.
It didn’t take long to unpack their few possessions. As they did, Face started a list of other things it would be useful to have.
While Hannibal stacked the dishes in the glass-fronted wall unit in the kitchen, he considered that he and Face would have to hit the local thrift shops for a lot of things once they had a place of their own. However, they’d manage. They had up until now, and could do it again.
He made an executive decision about the sleeping arrangements, assigning the bed to B.A., and taking the ancient convertible sofa for himself and Face.
Looking around at the spartan accommodations, he decided they deserved a treat. With the money they’d received from Hallie, they could afford to splurge a little bit.
The restaurant they chose wasn’t four-star, but it was a lot better than the usual ‘greasy spoon’, and the best place they‘d eaten since they‘d left Hallie‘s farm.. It was nice to use cloth napkins for a change, and have decent china instead of plastic or the heavy-duty stoneware used in most diners. The quality of the food was second only to what they’d provided for themselves over the past five months.
For the most part, the conversation was light as they enjoyed a fine meal they hadn’t had to cook for themselves. Knowing it would be a rare event, they savored every moment.
Sated, Hannibal sat back and watched his colleagues as they finished their meal. B.A. looked good, as always, and even Face had regained a fair amount of weight since they’d left Missouri.
Face was chuckling as he recounted B.A.'s last ride before they left that state.
‘You looked so funny, B.A.,’ Face was saying as Hannibal turned his attention back to the conversation. ‘The way you were sliding off Sentimental Value, hugging his neck. When you left the saddle, I was sure you’d be trampled, but when he stopped dead and you landed toe-to-toe, it was a riot!’
‘Yeah,’ agreed B.A. ‘I was pretty lucky, at that.’ They all chuckled quietly.
‘Well, I hate to put a damper on this, guys,’ said Hannibal as he leaned forward again, ‘but we’ve got to start thinking about how we’re going to begin our new career. We can’t depend on serendipity to bring us work. We’ll have to figure out how to let people know we’re available.’
‘We can’t advertise; Lynch’d be on us in no time,’ said B.A.
‘The same goes for telling people ourselves,’ added Face. ‘There’s a $5,000 reward out for us now, and there are too many people who’d turn us in for the money.’
‘We don’t have to make a decision tonight,’ Hannibal continued, ‘but we can’t wait too long, either. So, I want you to put your thinking-caps on, and we’ll discuss this again in a couple of days.’
‘You got it, Colonel,’ B.A. agreed, and Face nodded.
They took their time heading back to the apartment, familiarizing themselves with the neighborhood as they went. Walking slowly down 6th Street, they took in the wide variety of ethnic establishments that lined the street.
A woman’s scream tore through the quiet evening air.
‘Tíng zhi! Ràng ta qù! Qing; zhù shou!’ [Stop! Let him go! Please, stop!]
‘That’s Chinese!’ Face said, automatically translating the plea in his head. Immediately, he ran towards the babble of urgent voices, B.A. and Hannibal hot on his heels.
They arrived in time to see two burly men dragging a younger man of slight build towards a waiting van. The victim struggled, but was no match for his captors. Face tried to grab one of the attackers, but got a fist to the jaw for his trouble. As Hannibal and B.A. tried to intervene, the other goon turned, a semi-automatic pistol in his hand. Unarmed, they were forced to back off.
As soon as the young man was bundled into the van, it took off, leaving a cloud of smoke behind.
B.A. watched as the van disappeared around the corner, quietly noting the license number. As he turned back around, he looked at Face still sprawled on the ground, dazed. Reaching down, he grabbed Face by the shirt and pulled him to his feet. There was so much that he wanted to tell him - the fear that he felt when he had seen the gun turned on them; the thought of watching Face get shot down for not using his head; never having the chance to tell the younger man that he loved him. Instead, he glared at his young friend, uttering one word - ‘Fool’ - before turning him loose and moving away.
Face stared at B.A., not knowing what to say to his friend. He had not see the big man this intense in a long time.
Though Face could only see B.A.'s anger, Hannibal could see the fear in the big man's eyes. He, too, had felt the fear build in his chest when Face had gone rushing off without them. Hannibal was about to put his own thoughts in when he noticed the crowd of people gathering.
'Cool it, B.A.,' he ordered.
B.A. turned to glare at Hannibal, but noticed that he was staring at Face.
‘We will talk about your actions later, Lieutenant.’
That said, they turned to the little group of people gathered in front of a small Chinese laundry.
‘Fa sheng le shén me, fu ren?‘ Face said, asking the hysterical older woman what had happened..
‘Lao ban de sun zi ta lái fang wèn,’ she sobbed, distraught. ‘Liang míng nán zi lái zì wú chù. Ta men qiang, bìng wei xié wo men. Rán hòu ta men ba ta dài zou!’ [Owner’s grandson, he came to visit. Two men came from nowhere. They had guns, and threatened us. Then they took him away!]
‘Ta de suo you quán lì,’ Face reassured her, rubbing her hands gently. ‘Wo men huì jin quán lì tí gong bang zhù. [It’s all right, We’ll do our best to help.]
‘Excuse me,’ said a middle-aged Chinese man, gaining Hannibal’s attention. He bowed slightly. ‘My name is Tony Wang. I want to thank you for trying to help, and for calming my mother. I’ve called Mr. Dee to let him know what happened. He wants to meet the men who tried to rescue his grandson.’
‘We’d be happy to meet with him,’ Hannibal replied. ‘Where is he?’
‘He’s sending a car,’ Mr. Wang replied, looking around. ‘Ah! here it is!’ As he spoke, a black Rolls-Royce pulled up to the curb. Hannibal whistled. The driver got out and, with a bow, opened the door for his passengers to get in the back seat.
Face turned to look at Hannibal and B.A. He wanted to jump into the back of the limo and find out what was happening, but after the chewing-out he had received from B.A., he was a little leery now.
Hannibal looked at his men and sighed. As much as he didn't like the idea, he didn't see that he had much choice. Once they were seated, the chauffeur returned to his seat and pulled out into traffic.
Looking back, Face saw the crowd disperse, and Mrs. Wang, now visibly calmer, being escorted into the laundry.
The drive was not a long one. They soon arrived at an unprepossessing building that nonetheless bespoke a quiet elegance. As they were ushered inside, Face noted the simple, but expensive Chinese furnishings, and nodded in appreciation.
In the foyer, they were met by a housekeeper, who indicated that they should enter a parlor off to one side. There, a man in his 60’s greeted them with a bow, which they returned.
‘My name is Dee Ren-jie, but you may call me Allen,’ he said in flawless English with only the slightest trace of an accent, smiling as he escorted them to seats. ‘I was named for an illustrious ancestor, a noted magistrate of the T’ang Dynasty. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, even though I was born here, so I hope you don’t mind that I prefer traditional dress. It’s so much more comfortable than Western dress.’
Hannibal, as leader, answered their host, bowing in return.
‘Not at all, sir. And we thank you for your gracious invitation.’ At Allen’s request, he introduced himself and his men, carefully using their aliases.
‘Please, sit,’ Allen said, settling himself in his favorite chair. Once his guests were seated, he addressed the matter at hand.
‘This afternoon, my grandson, Eng I-Te, was kidnapped at gunpoint from a small laundry I own. I’m told that you gentlemen tried to prevent this. Why would you do this for a total stranger?’
At the name of ‘Eng’, Face thought wistfully of the medical student he’d met in Ohio, but that was four months and hundreds of miles ago.
‘We abhor injustice in any form, Allen. When we saw what was happening, we knew we couldn’t stand by and do nothing. Unfortunately, we were not as well prepared as we would have liked,’ Hannibal turned his head slightly towards his Lieutenant as B.A. glared at him, ‘and were unable to prevent those men, whoever they are, from taking your grandson.’
‘And how do you come to know Chinese?’
‘We served in Viet Nam together,’ said Hannibal matter-of-factly. ‘We learned several languages while we were there, at least enough to get by. It was a matter of survival.’ Allen nodded approvingly.
‘I appreciate your candor, Mr. Smith,’ he said, ‘and I hope you will appreciate mine.’ He gestured around the room. ‘As you can see, my family is very wealthy, and it is probably for this reason that I-Te was taken in this manner. It is also for this reason that I hesitate to involve the police. I don’t want this in the news media if I can possibly avoid it, as I believe the publicity could lead to further attempts of this sort.’
‘Pretty smart move,’ said Face. ‘I can see where it would attract unwanted attention.’
‘Thank you, Arthur,’ Allen said. ‘Now, you said something earlier about not being prepared? Do you do this sort of thing professionally?’
‘Not exactly, no,’ Hannibal said, ‘though we have been considering it.’
‘That being the case, I would like to be your first client, and hire you to find and return my grandson. Would you be agreeable with this?’
‘Certainly,’ said Hannibal, knowing his men would support his decision. ‘We’ll do everything we can to bring your grandson home safe.’
‘Fine!’ Allen said delightedly. ‘Tell me what you need to accomplish this. And please, Arthur, Albert, if you have anything to say, do so. Many of my generation think that the young should be seen and not heard, but I don’t stand on ceremony.’
‘I got the license plate number o’ that van as it peeled out,’ B.A. stated, rattling off the numbers, plus the color and make of the van itself. ‘That’ll be a big help in trackin’ them suckers down.’
‘Excellent, Albert.’ Allen nodded. ‘I have many contacts all over the city, and they’ll be able to help in that respect.’
‘Once we do locate the van,’ Hannibal said, ‘we’ll have to track it back to wherever they’re holding I-Te. When we have that information, we’ll need to stake it out so we can learn the layout of the area. Only after we’ve done that can we make any plans for the actual rescue.’
‘Very wise, Mr. Smith,’ said Allen. ‘Well, I won’t detain you any longer. I’ll let my people know what information we have, and we can work from there. Is there any way I can keep in touch with you?’
‘We’ll keep in touch with you,’ said Hannibal, not wanting to let on that they didn‘t yet have a phone. ‘I’ll call you on an hourly basis to see if there are any developments, like a ransom demand or something.’
‘I guess that’s the best we can do, under the circumstances,’ Allen agreed, rising and guiding them to the door. ‘My family and I appreciate your help in this matter, and we will help you in any way we can.’
In the foyer, Face turned to their host.
‘If you don’t mind my asking,’ he said, ‘I find it curious that a wealthy man like you has a laundry in a run-down neighborhood like that among his assets.’
‘Yes, it is a bit unusual,’ he admitted. ‘The family that runs it has had a long association with my family that dates back before our ancestors moved to this country. When the neighborhood began to change, the laundry fell on hard times, so I bought it and keep it running for their sakes, as well as the sake of their clients.’
‘You’re a gracious man, Allen,’ Hannibal said, shaking hands. ‘I look forward to a successful conclusion of this case.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Smith,’ Allen said. ‘Now, my driver will take you home. I will await your calls.’
So saying, he gave the driver his instructions, and left Hannibal and his men to make their preparations.
Later that evening, Hannibal checked in with Allen. When he returned from using the pay-phone in the lobby, slamming the door behind him, he took his lover by the arm and sat him firmly on the sofa.
‘We need to discuss what happened earlier, Lieutenant.’
Face closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew the tone of voice all too well, and mentally got himself ready for the dressing-down that was to come. After letting out the breath that he was holding, Face opened his eyes and looked directly at his CO.
‘I want to know exactly what you thought you were doing when you went charging into the middle of that kidnapping.’
‘I was trying to stop a kidnapping, Sir.’ Face stared into his lover's blue eyes and watched as the anger built in them.
‘Watch your mouth, Lieutenant! You were in the wrong, and you know it. Being impetuous can get…’
‘Impetuous! Impetuous!’ Face snapped back, getting to his feet. ‘You have the nerve to call me impetuous? What about you?! Baiting those thugs at Hallie’s farm like that! They were ready to kill all of us, in case you’ve forgotten, Colonel!’
‘What I do and what you do are two different things, Lieutenant. You should know by now that there‘s a method to my madness. You were just plain reckless.’ Hannibal moved closer so that he was toe-to-toe with Face. ‘Your little stunt got you injured, and it could have gotten you killed.’
‘Just like you deciding to be a decoy on a float, Sir?’ Face moved forward, refusing to back down. ‘Or how about that time in ‘Nam when you grabbed the guard that was trying to take me…’
‘We're not talking about then; we are talking about now!’ Hannibal moved closer still, so that the two of them were right in each other's faces. ‘But if you will remember, I was trying to protect you from a beating that you were going to receive for taunting them into taking you instead of Murdock,’ Hannibal growled. ‘I won’t have it, Lieutenant! Do you understand me?! I won’t have it!’
‘And what are you going to do, Sir?‘
‘I swear to God, I will stop this venture right here and now.’
‘You wouldn't.’ Face glared back
The two of them continued to stare at each other before Face broke off the stare and muttered.
‘You already promised Allen.‘
‘I can call him back and tell him to call the police. That we are no longer available,’ Hannibal added, though he noticed that Face's body language was changing to a less aggressive posture and that this argument was coming to an end.
‘They'll get his grandson killed.’ Face turned to look at his lover. ‘I know you couldn't live with that.‘
‘I can live with that a whole lot easier than watching the man I love get himself killed.’
Face stared at his lover for a moment, then let out a deep breath as he let the tension leave his body.
Hannibal continued to watch Face before he spoke again.
‘I mean it, Lieutenant. I won’t lose you like this, do you understand?’
Reaching out Hannibal placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder before he pulled him into a tight hug and whispered into his ear.
‘I love you, kid. Don't ever forget that.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Face said softly as he relaxed in the strong embrace.
‘Now, get some sleep, both of you.’ Hannibal turned to look over at BA who had stayed out of the argument. ‘I’ll wake one of you in a few hours to take over phoning Allen. We need to be rested in case something goes down.’
Nodding, B.A. moved off to the bedroom.
Hannibal sighed as he watched Face prepare for bed. He hated to yell at him like that, but he’d had no choice. It was all part of learning to be a leader, and he‘d had to learn it the hard way, too.
At 3:25 the next morning, the phone rang at the Dee residence. Allen picked it up on the second ring.
He only heard a short flurry of Chinese before the voice faded abruptly and there came the sound of a slap, followed by a muffled cry.
‘I told you to speak English, you Chink brat!’ Finally, a deeper voice spoke into the receiver.
‘I’m going to say this just once, so listen. You have twelve hours to come up with $500,000. You’ll be given further instructions later. Remember – no cops or anything, or the brat comes home in a box.’ The connection was broken before Allen could say a word.
He sighed. At least he knew that his grandson was all right. All he could do now was wait for Mr. Smith’s call.
‘And there you have it, Mr. Smith,’ Allen was saying as they looked at a map of the local park the following afternoon. As they planned, B.A. sat at a corner of the table, messing with an old-fashioned hearing-aid. ‘The kidnappers’ instructions are very precise. Whoever takes the money is to follow this path here, and the suitcase is to be left under this bush here. They said they’d be watching, and repeated that there should be no police or any other security around.’
‘All right, Allen,’ Hannibal told him as Face entered with a small shopping bag. ‘We’re unknown in the area, so they’ll never realize we’re involved. I’ll act as courier, and make the drop.’
‘Uncle Sean, I think it would be better if I went,’ Face said. ‘I think they would see me as less of a threat.’
Hannibal took a deep breath. He could see Face's point, but he didn't understand the complexities of the situation.
‘Arthur, we don't know what…’
‘Actually, Mr. Smith, they said it had to be someone in my household,’ Allen objected.
Hannibal looked around and grinned.
‘It seems to me I’m in your household right now,’ he replied, taking the bag from Face. ‘Just wait. You got a big mirror, a pair of scissors, and a strong light?’ Allen sent for a mirror, then moved a couple of lamps over to the dining table where they’d been studying the map.
When the mirror and scissors arrived, Hannibal sat at the table and adjusted the lamps. When he was satisfied, he took the items from the bag and spread them out – medical adhesive tape, theatrical pancake make-up, and a scruffy black wig.
Taking the tape, Hannibal cut off a piece, then shaped it with the scissors before pressing it in place at the inside corner of one eye to mimic the epicanthic fold of Asian peoples. He then repeated the process for the other eye. With pancake make-up of the correct hue, he covered his face, especially the tape over his eyes, working it well into his hairline, behind his ears, the back of his neck, and down to his chest, as well as covering his hands and wrists. Judicious use of eyebrow pencils aided the illusion, and gave the appearance of greater age. Finally, he put on the wig. Standing, he put on an old raincoat and a shapeless hat. When he hunched his shoulders and stooped a bit, he looked like a completely different person.
‘If I hadn’t watched you do it, I would never have believed it!’ Allen exclaimed, visibly impressed.
‘It’ll never pass close up, Uncle Sean.’ Face glared at him, still not liking the idea of Hannibal going
‘Yeah,’ Hannibal replied with a smile, knowing that Face would not be going into the unknown and he had won this argument, ‘but they’ll never get close enough. At least, not until it’s too late. Now, let’s go over the plan one more time,’ he added, cutting off any farther argument
B.A. stood up from where he was working.
‘Here’s the hearing-aid, Sean,’ he said, holding out an old-fashioned one that looked like a small transistor radio with an earplug. ‘I’ve adapted it to the frequency of our walkie-talkies. You’ll be able to hear us, but you won’t be able to broadcast, so you’ll have to use prearranged gestures to let us know you understand, or warn us of anythin’. The bug’s already in with the ransom money, just in case they go somewhere else,’ he concluded, handing Face the makeshift tracking device.
‘Good, Albert,’ Hannibal replied, clipping the aid to his shirt and inserting the earplug. ‘You go ahead in the car and check out the warehouse Allen’s people located when checking out that van. Allen, do you have a nondescript car we can borrow?’
‘Sure. My grandson has an old VW bug he uses when he’s home. I’ll get you the keys.’
‘Great! Arthur, I’ll take the bus to the park. You take the VW and wait for me there. Find a good position where you have a clear view of the park entrance and the drop-off point. Once I’ve made the drop, I’ll meet you at the back entrance. We’ll make the final plans then.’
Before Face could say another word, Hannibal picked up the suitcase containing the ransom money, and adopted a shuffling walk before leaving the house for the bus stop.
Hannibal shuffled his way towards the area of the park where he was to leave the money. He approached a couple of men whose description matched those of men B.A. had seen leaving the warehouse. They were lounging on a bench near the path, but their body language was all wrong. As he passed, he mumbled a string of choice epithets in Chinese, but got no reaction. Satisfied, he went on his way.
Finding the bush in question, Hannibal looked around, ascertaining that no one was looking in his direction. Quickly, he bent over, and shoved the suitcase underneath, then straightened up and made his way out of the park by a different route, as specified in the kidnappers’ instructions.
Once he was out of sight, the receiver in his ear crackled into life.
‘You were right, Hannibal,’ came Face’s voice. ‘They’ve got the bag, and they’re heading out now. I’ll meet you by the park entrance, and we can meet up with B.A. at the warehouse.’
Knowing he couldn’t broadcast, Hannibal nodded as if to himself, letting Face know he’d heard and understood.
Face looked around the VW as he waited for Hannibal. He was surprised by how clean it was and by the lack of personal effects. Just a few books in Chinese, and the car’s registration in the glove box. This person was a whole lot neater than some other people whose cars he had ‘borrowed’ before he went to Viet Nam.
The tracker started beeping just as Hannibal slid into the passenger seat. Picking it up, a quick look confirmed what they’d suspected.
‘They’re headed for the docks, kid,’ he said.
Face nodded, and carefully guided the borrowed car into traffic.
The VW bug pulled up in an alleyway a couple buildings away from the target warehouse. It had barely stopped when B.A. appeared at the passenger window.
‘I’ve checked the place out, Hannibal,’ he said quietly. ‘There’s some high windows ‘round the back; we can get in ‘em ‘cause someone conveniently left a bunch o’ wooden packing crates underneath,’ he added with a grin, pointing to himself. ‘There was only one guy there while the drop was bein’ made, so that’s a total of three kidnappers. Nothing we cain’t handle.’
‘All right,’ Hannibal said. ‘With all of them there, that’s too many eyes to notice anything when you and Face take up your positions inside.’ Getting out of the car, he took off his long raincoat, putting on a shoulder holster before donning a different coat. ‘I’ll provide a distraction. When you’re in position, let me know. We attack on my signal.’
‘You got it, Colonel,’ the younger men said before moving off quietly
. Smiling to himself, he picked up a whiskey bottle full of tea in a brown paper bag, and made his way to the roadway in front of the warehouses.
Brian Stokes looked up from the stained table and stared towards the windows in the front of the warehouse.
‘Hey, Vic, what is that caterwauling?’ he yelled.
His partner peered out the cracked glass at the figure stumbling along, weaving from one side of the road to the other.
‘Just some Chinese bum, from the look of it,’ he called back over the slurred strains of a Chinese song. ‘Looks like he’s three sheets to the wind, if you ask me.’
‘Well, I wish he’d shut up. He’s giving me a headache,’ Stokes sighed. He glanced across the room to Steve, who was guarding a small storage room. ‘I hope he gives our guest one, too.’
Steve sniggered as he thought about the young man on the other side of the door.
Sitting in darkness, Eng I-Te leaned against the wall, feeling sorry for himself. He was trying to be brave, but didn’t think he was being very successful. He could feel the bruises growing, and he ached from all the abuse he’d suffered. He knew his grandfather would pay the ransom, but he was equally sure that he would never see his family again. The men who held him didn’t seem like the type to keep their word except in the case of a threat.
Faintly through the door, he heard the sound of someone singing off-key. He frowned in puzzlement. He knew the melody; it was a bawdy one that his grandfather would have disapproved of, but the words were all wrong.
‘Hold on?’ he murmured to himself. ‘Help is coming?’ He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes as a glimmer of hope began to grow in his heart.
Hannibal continued to sing at the top of his lungs. He was sure that sooner or later he would get on the goons’ nerves and they would come out to run him off. He didn't have to wait long before one of them came to do just that.
‘Vic,’ yelled Stokes, ‘go shut that bum up before he draws attention to us.’
Vic nodded. As he opened the door to the warehouse, he could see the bum stumbling closer and closer.
Hannibal watched as the door to the warehouse opened. As soon as the man walked through it, he tripped over his feet and fell into the other man. As he did, he put all of his weight into it, slamming the other man to the ground as they went.
‘Now!’ Hannibal yelled at the top of his lungs as he and the thug hit the floor. Before anyone could react, Face and BA appeared, cutting off their paths to Hannibal and the prone Vic.
‘Don't anyone make a move!’ Face warned as he pointed his rifle at Stokes’ chest.
‘Do you know who you are messing with?’ Stokes growled as he made an angry advance towards Face.
‘Yeah, a man with a hole in his head if you take one more step toward me,’ the younger man stated, his eyes serious. Stokes halted, seeing the tension in the younger man as he moved to cover the kidnappers.
‘Easy, Face,’ Hannibal warned as he shoved Vic forward. ‘B.A., tie these idiots up; Face, go see if you can find I-Te.’
‘I knew this wouldn't work!’ Vic yelled at Stokes. ‘I should have known that your stupid plan wouldn't work!’
‘Shut up, Vic!’ Steve yelled in his turn.
‘No! You promised that we would make easy money, but I knew that you…’
‘I’m telling you to shut up!’ Stokes started to step forward, but BA stopped him.
‘Man wants to talk; let ‘im talk.’
Hannibal grinned at their prisoners.
‘The Master say,’ he intoned, pulling off his wig, ‘He who yearns for money he does not earn is bound to be disappointed.’ He chuckled as his men groaned.
Hannibal covered Stokes and his men while B.A. wrapped them up for the police. As they did, Face checked all the small store rooms, kicking in the doors in case there was an unknown fourth kidnapper. Finally, he saw a figure huddled in a corner, illuminated only by the light coming from the main floor. As he groped for the light switch, he turned to his companions.
‘I found him, Hannibal!’ he called. Hannibal nodded with satisfaction.
As light flooded the little room, Eng I-Te squinted and looked at the figure in the doorway.
‘Tem?’ he croaked in a soft voice.
Face’s head snapped around, looking fully at the battered figure for the first time.
‘M – Marty?!’ he gasped. ‘Oh, my God! Marty!’ Kneeling by the young medical student, he felt a knot grow in the pit of his stomach. He suddenly realized how his Colonel must have felt every time he had been brought back injured while in the camps.
‘You think you can walk?’
‘Yeah.’ Marty nodded. He took Face's outstretched hands, and Face carefully pulled him to his feet. He draped the student’s arm around his shoulders before guiding him out of his makeshift cell.
When Face came out of the storeroom, Hannibal turned to look at him. He noticed something strange about the look on his lover's face.
‘What’s wrong, kid?’
‘This is Marty.’ Face swallowed as he looked at his older lover. ‘He's the one who found Murdock for me.’
Hannibal nodded, realizing what Face must be feeling at this moment
B.A. looked over at Face and the young Chinese man he had called Marty. He could see the haunted look in his little brother's eyes, and realized just how much Marty had helped Face by finding the Fool.
‘They ready for the police, Hannibal,’ he said.
‘And you can bet I’ll be pressing charges,’ Marty said firmly.
‘Fine,’ Hannibal said, hanging a sign around Stokes’ neck. ‘We’ll call them from a pay phone on the way to Allen’s place.’
The celebration was lavish but quiet. Allen and his family, plus all the workers from the laundry were there to honor the men who had risked their lives to help people they didn’t even know. Food and drink from both cultures were available for those who were interested.
Tony and Mrs. Wang were among those in attendance, and they thanked the guests of honor for their intervention.
Allen tapped Hannibal on the shoulder, and pointed over to the couch where the two younger men were sitting. Hannibal smiled at the sight. If he listened closely, he could just make out their conversation.
‘So, how’re you doing in school?’ Face asked.
‘Pretty good, Tem,’ Marty answered. ‘Made the Dean’s List for the third semester running. Oh, and I passed that parasitology exam with flying colors!’
‘Great!! Say, how come you never told me you had family in L.A.?’
‘I was going to that last night, but you ran out of there so fast once you had that paper, I never had the chance,’ Marty said with a grin.
‘Yeah, well,’ Face said sheepishly, ‘I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry I lied to you about who I am. I…’
‘No big deal,’ Marty assured him. ‘I’ve seen the posters, and I understand completely. Now I know how you were able to take on those goons outside the library.’ He grinned before continuing. ‘I’m just glad we met up again. And I’m home for the summer, so we can spend a lot of time together.’
Face felt an old, familiar longing.
‘I’d really like that,’ he said. Face looked over at Hannibal and BA, knowing that he could be putting the safety of all of them in danger. 'But I don't know.'
Allen and Hannibal watched the two young men for a few minutes, then left them to catch up with each other.
‘It’s good to see them together,’ Allen said. ’I-Te – Marty – talked so much about his friend Tem from Ohio. He really missed him. Needless to say, he was concerned for all of you once the “Wanted” posters started cropping up in the post offices.’
‘Tem – his middle name really is Arthur, by the way – deserves to have a friend his own age,’ Hannibal agreed. ‘Being in the Army, and now on the run, it’s been difficult for him develop relationships of that kind. We can never tell if the person we befriend is going to turn us in for the reward.’ Seeing Face looking at him, Hannibal offered him a soft smile. ‘I'm sure I can find a safe way for them to meet up.’
‘So, how do you plan to earn a living?’ Allen asked.
‘Well,’ Hannibal admitted, ‘as I said earlier, we’d decided to try to help people in trouble who have no other place to turn. I hesitate to use the word “mercenary”; it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.’
‘That sounds like an admirable goal,’ Allen said as he took a seat and motioned for Hannibal to do the same. ‘How do you plan to go about it? You can’t just open up an office. It wouldn’t take long for the military to find you. Plus you’re bound to make enemies, and you don’t want to make it easy for them, either.’
‘That’s true,’ Hannibal sighed. ‘It looks like word-of-mouth advertising is the way we’ll have to go. We’d have to be very careful choosing our clients. We don’t want to be trapped by an MP posing as a client.’
‘Very wise,’ Allen said. ‘May I make a suggestion?’ Hannibal motioned for him to continue. ‘Since my family has benefited from your expertise, we can start a rumor about a shadowy group of soldiers of fortune, for lack of a better term, who help people in need.
‘Now, as for screening your clients, Marty tells me your impersonation of a Chinese person was excellent. If you want, you can use my laundry as place to interview potential clients. No one will recognize you as my long-lost cousin, trapped in Viet Nam at the beginning of the war, and recently arrived with a load of boat people. Given his background, I wouldn’t even be offended if you use pidgin English.’ Allen paused. ‘The laundry would also make a nice, safe place for Marty and Tem to meet,’ he added with a smile
Hannibal grinned, his love of the dramatic coming to the fore.
‘Allen,’ he said, ‘I don’t know how to thank you.’
‘You brought my grandson back to me.' Allen looked over at the two younger men on the couch and smiled. ‘You’re a man after my own heart, Colonel Smith…’
‘Hannibal,’ Allen said with a smile. ‘We share many values, and you have a flair that I have studiously avoided. It will be a pleasure and an honor to work with you.’
They shook hands, and Hannibal felt that, though it would take time and patience to build up a clientele, his men’s future was assured.
A few days later, after all the excitement of the kidnapping had died down, Hannibal and his men returned to the waterfront warehouse where Marty had been held. Hannibal stood in the middle of the now-empty warehouse, looking around at the large airy space, the catwalks, and the office areas walled off from the rest of the floor.
‘Whaddya think, guys?’ he asked, gesturing with his cigar. ‘This could make a pretty handy base of operations. It’s got plenty of potential.’
‘That apartment we got at the hotel is too small for all of us and all that gear we picked up,’ he said. ‘I’m tired o’ trippin’ over them sleepin’ bags.’
‘Plus we could use someplace safe to go if we have to bug out,’ added Face.
‘Good point, Lieutenant. There may even be times when we’d have to stash a client who’s in danger,’ Hannibal replied, indicating the office area. ‘We can turn that into sleeping accommodations, and add a shower to the men’s room, while the break-room can become the kitchen. That metal shelving will come in handy, but we’ll also need an ordnance locker, something we can sheath in metal and padlock so no punks can break into it. Maybe we can even set up a workshop for B.A. to create anything we need to make ourselves.
‘Maybe we should leave the main area messy; make it look abandoned, so nobody’ll come poking around.’
‘Not a bad idea, Face,’ Hannibal said. ‘Now, B.A., did you say something about a different vehicle?’
‘Yeah, man,’ B.A. replied. ‘I got a line on a second-hand van. I wanna turn it into sort of a mobile HQ, with a ordnance locker, CB, the works. Everythin’ we might need when we’re out on a case.’
‘Sounds like a plan, Sergeant.’ He turned to Face. ‘Lieutenant, I need you to find out who owns this property, and see if we can rent or buy it.’
‘That should be easy enough, Colonel,’ Face told him, ‘but you know we can’t put our own names on a lease. Even Lynch’d be on us in a hot second. It wouldn’t take me too long to set up a dummy corporation, though. Couple o’ weeks at the outside.’
‘Good thinking, Lieutenant,’ Hannibal said, grinning as he put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders. ‘Now, what else can we come up with?’
With that, they got down to some serious brain-storming.
Nurse Evans looked up as two men approached her desk. One was tall, with short brown hair that had turned almost totally white. The other was slightly smaller, with dark blond hair that was somewhat longer. Both had beautiful smiles, and she couldn’t help but smile in return.
‘Can I help you?’ she asked.
‘Well,’ drawled Hannibal, ‘I certainly hope so. My name is Sean Smith, and this is my nephew, Arthur Temple. We’re here to see Arthur’s brother, H.M. Murdock? Could you direct us to his room?’
‘Brother?’ the nurse asked, confused.
‘Uh…half-brother, actually,’ Face supplied. ‘Same mother, different fathers. My stepfather doesn’t like me, so I live with my uncle.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Evans replied, pulling Murdock’s chart. ‘Well, I see that he is allowed visitors, but he hasn’t had any to date. Probably because his behavior is so unpredictable. Let me see how he’s doing, okay?’
‘Thank you,’ Hannibal said. ‘We’d appreciate that.’
As soon as the nurse left, Hannibal looked around. Seeing no one, he grabbed the chart from its rack and quickly began scanning it. He did not like what he was seeing. Hearing someone coming back up the hall, he slid it back where it belonged.
'What does it say?' Face asked as he noticed Hannibal’s furrowed brow.
Seeing the nurse coming, he quickly deflected the question.
‘You can go see him now, but only for a few minutes,’ she said as she returned. ‘He’s doing all right at the moment, but he can turn violent without warning, and nobody can figure out what the trigger might be at any given time.’
As the nurse led them down the hall to Murdock’s room, Face once again whispered to Hannibal.
'Tell me what it said.'
'I said later,' Hannibal whispered back.
'John, I want to…'
Hannibal only turned to look at Face. The look he gave the younger man quickly silenced any further protests that he might have made.
When they reached Murdock’s room, they found the pilot sitting on the bed in a standard hospital gown., his head hung as he mumbled to himself.
Hannibal looked at his former pilot and shook his head. He had hoped what he had seen in the chart had been exaggerated, but now he wasn’t so sure. He just prayed that Murdock didn’t have an outburst while they were there. Carefully, he moved toward the bed, but made sure that he kept himself between the pilot and Face, just in case what he had read was true.
Face moved a step to his side so that he could see his friend better. He could feel his heart sinking as he looked at how thin and pale his friend was, but the thing that struck Face the most was how still he was. Murdock had always been animated, bouncing off the walls, whooping and yelling. This person was nothing more than a shell of his friend.
Slowly, Hannibal approached the bed, staying between his lover and his friend, not taking any chances with either of them. He knew Murdock was not responsible for his actions, but he couldn’t risk Face getting hurt.
'Captain?' Hannibal called out softly as he moved a few feet from the bed. 'It’s Colonel Smith - Hannibal. How are you doing, son?'
Slowly, Murdock raised his head to look at Hannibal; he tilted his head to the side and looked at the older man for a moment.
‘You came back,’ Murdock whispered, tears in his eyes. ‘You came back for me.’
‘Of course, we came back, Captain,’ Hannibal said with a smile. ‘We never left a man behind in ‘Nam. Why should it be any different here?’
'I thought you left.'
'No, Murdock, we would never do that.' Face moved slightly around the Colonel so that he could see his friend better. 'You know we would never do that…'
Suddenly, Murdock stiffened. Alert, Hannibal and Face froze, listening. All they could hear was the soft squeak of the staff’s rubber-soled shoes, and the soft keening of some of the other patients.
Abruptly, Murdock’s eyes turned glassy, and he began to mutter under his breath. Recognizing the words as Vietnamese, Hannibal slowly backed away, keeping Face behind him.
‘Oh, Murdock, no,’ the younger man said sadly, recognizing the muttering from their time in the camps. ‘Please, no…’
Without warning, the pilot launched himself at Hannibal, who shoved Face towards the door. He dropped to the floor, pulling the skinny pilot with him, and rolled in an attempt to pin the younger man to the floor while Face went for help. But Murdock was more cunning than he appeared, and managed to gain the upper hand with a strength born of madness. By the time Face returned with two burly orderlies and the nurse, Murdock had an arm wrapped around Hannibal’s throat, and was starting to crush his windpipe.
Murdock screamed in frustration when he was pulled away from his prey and wrestled into a straightjacket. His thrashing eased once a sedative had been administered, and he slipped into a fitful doze.
‘Are you all right, Hannibal?’ Face whispered, knowing the medical staff was too preoccupied with Murdock to listen. His lover just nodded.
‘He’ll be all right now,’ Nurse Evans assured them as she straightened up, ‘but I think you should leave now. He needs to rest.’ Hannibal nodded, and guided Face out of the room.
As they walked across the parking lot, Hannibal put his arm around Face’s shoulders, and could feel his body tremble.
‘It’ll be all right, Tem,’ he said hoarsely. ‘He knew us, if only for a little while. That means there’s hope.’
‘But he attacked you; nearly killed you,’ Face said, distraught.
‘It was a flashback, Tem,’ Hannibal assured him. ‘Just like yours, only more intense because he’s got deeper issues. He’ll be all right. It’s just going to take time, a lot of time. Maybe even years. But he’ll make it.’
As they neared the car, Face stopped and turned to Hannibal, looking deep into his lover’s blue eyes, trying to ignore the ugly bruising on his lover’s throat.
‘I want to see him again, John,’ he said. ‘I want to visit him regularly.’
‘All right, Tem,’ Hannibal said, opening the passenger door. ‘But we can’t go too often, just in case we’re recognized. I’m sure Lynch will be keeping an eye out on all of our former comrades. And promise me you won’t go alone. It’s too dangerous right now.’
Face sighed and nodded. It would be hard to be patient, but he knew Hannibal was right.
'That’s what was in his chart wasn’t it?'
'Yes, it was. He has intense flashbacks that make him extremely dangerous at times.' Hannibal turned so that he could look at Face. 'But he’s going to be all right, do you understand? I don’t want you getting upset over this. We will work with him the best we can, and we will help him through this.'
Recognizing the authoritative tone in his lover’s voice, Face responded in kind with a quick salute and a 'Yes, Sir.'
'Smart-ass kid,' Hannibal mumbled under his breath as he put the car into drive and started out of the VA parking lot.
As the Colonel started driving towards the hotel, the wheels started to turn in Face’s mind. He had an idea.
Something that bothered Face was how depressing Murdock’s room was. He had been in and out of enough institutions during his life to realize just how cold and alone the room must make his always happy and upbeat friend feel. What if they could give Murdock something that he could have as his own?
‘You remember all those weird t-shirts Murdock was collecting while we were in
‘How about we get some and send them to him? It’ll be something familiar, and might help him find his way back.’
‘It’s worth a shot, Face. It’s definitely worth a try.’
Hannibal sighed as the super unlocked the door to the apartment. He’d been pounding the pavement for days looking for a place they could afford that wouldn’t be a dingy, moldy mess with peeling wallpaper. Seeing the newspaper listing for this place in a middle-class neighborhood not too far from the ocean, he’d hoped against hope that he’d finally come to the end of his search. The building had looked nice from the outside, but that wasn’t always a true indicator of what the apartments would be like.
It was an older building, with no elevator, but the apartment he was checking out was only one flight up. The floor in the hall was set with little hexagonal tiles, and was kept scrupulously clean. The apartment itself consisted of a foyer with a bedroom and bathroom to the left; the wall on the right was shared with the apartment next door, and had an old, disused, but still functional dumbwaiter. Opposite the hall door were two closets, and a short hall that went to the left. This led to the kitchen, then turned right past two more closets, ending in a spacious living room whose two full-sized windows overlooked the street and opened onto a fire escape.
He was lucky that it was a furnished apartment, since they didn’t have much stuff of their own. As his eyes swept the room, he nodded to himself, feeling that it would do, at least for now.
He went to the super’s office to sign the lease, only hoping that Face would feel the same way.
BA looked at the small efficiency apartment above the garage with great satisfaction. His mind was already working on things he could do in the garage after it closed for business.
'And the owner said I could have free use of all the tools?' BA turned to look at Face, who was in the kitchen area, opening and closing the cabinet doors.
'Sure did! All he asks in return is that you put them back where you got them and clean up the shop when you’re done.'
'You sure this is on the up-and-up, Face?' BA asked, still not believing he could get the place for $25 a week.
'Yes, BA; Marty knows the guy.'
Face rolled his eyes. He had been through this so many times with his friend that he was tired of telling it.
'Look, the owner explained it to me this way: he’s had some break-ins over the last few weeks, and he figures that if someone is living in the apartment above the garage, then the burglars are less likely to try and break into the shop. The reason the place is so cheap is that most people don’t want to live over a garage.'
BA nodded, but Face felt that he would be explaining it again in just a few more minutes.
'You know, I really don’t see why you don’t just find a place with the Colonel and me?'
BA turned to look over at the younger man and offered him a sly smile.
'You two need some time alone together.'
BA chuckled as he watched Face blush, and then laughed as Face quickly turned and became interested in something in one of the kitchen drawers. What BA didn’t have the heart to tell Face was that he loved him, too, and the thought of being in the same apartment with Face and not being able to express his love for the smaller man would drive him insane.
'What do you say we go tell the man that I’ll take it?'
'You sure?' Face asked as he came out of the kitchen area to stand beside BA.
'Yeah, little brother, I’m sure.' BA slung his arm over the blond’s shoulder as they headed toward the door.
'Did I mention that he might be looking for a new mechanic?'
'You serious, man?' BA stopped in his tracks, halting Face, too.
'Sure am.' Face said as he smiled at his friend.
An hour later, BA not only had a new place to stay, but a job to go with it.
Face held his breath as Hannibal unlocked the door, holding it open so that he could step inside and take a look around.
As he wandered through it, he could see that, though the apartment was small, it was tastefully, if modestly, furnished. And it was theirs. Not a scam, not a tent, not a place to stay for a few nights while on their way somewhere else.
It was Home.
‘Like it, Tem?’ There was an edge to Hannibal’s voice, as if he was unsure of his judgment.
He looked at the older man, and smiled.
‘I’d love any place, as long as we’re together,’ he said, his blue-grey eyes shining. ‘But yeah, I like it.’
With that, he allowed himself to be drawn into his lover’s embrace.
'I’m glad, kid.' Hannibal forced the blond head to his shoulder as he rubbed the back of his neck. 'I’m so glad.'
They stayed like this for some time before Hannibal finally released Face.
'What do you say we go get our stuff and turn this place into a home?'
'Sounds like one of your better plans, Colonel.' Face smiled as he quickly moved toward the door.
'Don’t think you won’t pay for that remark later, Lieutenant,' Hannibal warned as he followed Face out the door.
Face dumped his duffle bag on the double bed. He sighed, happy to have a place to sleep that didn’t require him to be separated from his lover. It had been a hard eighteen months, having to hide his love for Hannibal from the world, and not being able to express it beyond a quick hug or kiss. It would be so very different now.
He rummaged in the bag until his fingers found what he sought - the framed picture of Hannibal that he’d taken in Missouri. He placed it gently on the nightstand, where, other than Hannibal himself, it would be the first thing he saw when he woke in the morning, and the last thing he saw at night. He smiled when he heard his lover come into the room and stand behind him.
'I wonder if Lynch ever got his copy?' Hannibal chuckled as he wrapped his arms around Face’s waist while resting his head on the blond’s shoulder.
'I’m sure he did, and I’ll even bet he has a very special place for it.'
'And where would that be?' Hannibal asked as he kissed the back of Face’s ear
'The target range,' Face grinned, then jumped as Hannibal swatted him on the rear.
'Smart-ass kid,' Hannibal mumbled as he let the younger man go to unpack the rest of his meager belongings.
Later that night, Face lay in bed, waiting for Hannibal to get out of the shower. He thought back about everything the three of them had been through and how far they had come, not only physically, but as friends and companions. Lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t hear the shower turn off or Hannibal enter the room.
.. He drew a shuddering breath as he felt Hannibal slide in behind him, wrapping his arms around the younger man. His lover’s bare skin, fresh from the shower, felt deliciously warm against his own nakedness.
It had been nearly a year and a half since they’d been able to be together like this.
Tears of joy stung his eyes as he turned in his lover’s arms to meet the passionate kiss that awaited him. This time, when his lips parted, Hannibal didn’t hesitate; he invaded Face’s mouth, putting as much love as he could behind it.
Face moaned as Hannibal continued to kiss him, the older man’s hands running up and down his body, touching and caressing him. Face in return moved his hands up and down his lover’s broad back and chest, pressing the older man closer to him. Breaking the kiss, Hannibal began to kiss his way down the younger man’s face and neck, slowly working his way down the slim yet masculine body. His mouth found Face’s right nipple, and he took it into his mouth, while his right hand pinched the other brown nub, making it stand erect.
'Please, John...' Face moaned as he arched up into his lover’s mouth. Hannibal’s only response was to change positions so that he could take the left nipple into his mouth while his left hand played with the right nub. Once both of the tan nubs were standing at attention, he began to lick and suck his way down the flat stomach. He had just started sucking on the navel in the hollow of Face’s stomach when Face buried his hands into his hair, forcing him to look up.
'Please, John,' Face begged, his eyes full of need. 'Not tonight. It’s been too long.'
'Please..don’t tease me this way.'
Hannibal was shocked to hear the desperation in his nineteen-year-old lover’s voice, but he understood. He could feel his own need and desire building to the point that he felt he would explode at any moment. Moving up to the nightstand, Hannibal grabbed a bottle of lubricant; he slicked his fingers before capturing Face’s mouth with his own. As he deepened the kiss, he slid one of his fingers into Face’s tight body.
The younger man shuddered as Hannibal slid the single finger in and out of him. It had been so long that he had forgotten just how good Hannibal could make him feel.
Feeling Face start to relax his body, Hannibal slid a second finger into the tight hole. Like the first time, Face moaned, and he could feel Face tighten around his invading fingers. Again Hannibal took his time before he began to move his fingers in and out of his lover’s body, carefully stretching him, preparing his lover for their coupling.
After a few moments, Hannibal was preparing to insert another finger when Face broke the kiss.
'I need you in me, Hannibal,' Face stated as he rocked himself back and forth on the two fingers that were impaling him.
'Face, you need to be ready.'
'I am ready,' Face moaned as Hannibal continued to stretch him. 'I need you in me now.'
Hannibal nodded, watching Face wriggle under him. He didn’t know how much longer he would last. Taking the lube again, he made sure that he was well-coated before moving between his lover’s legs. Carefully, he positioned himself before gently pushing his way into the younger man’s body. Face hissed softly at the slight pain that always occurred when Hannibal entered him for the first time. No matter how much Hannibal prepared him, his lover was still well-endowed.
He paused just inside Face’s entrance, allowing him to adjust.
‘H-Hannibal…John…need you…!’ came the whispered plea.
Hannibal looked down at the young man lying on the bed, panting. Reaching out, he pulled Face up into his arms.
‘Tem…look at me, baby…’
Face’s eyes fluttered open, and he saw raw desire in the blue-grey depths. But beyond that were love and trust. Just as there had always been - at the base, in the camps, in prison, and now here.
‘You sure, baby? It’s been so long. I don’t want to hurt you.’
Face nodded. When he saw his lover was still hesitant, he whispered: ‘Yes! Please, John, yes!! I want you to make us one.'
Gathering the younger man in his arms, he plunged deep into his lieutenant’s body, feeling him arch up against him. Hannibal held onto his lover’s sweat-soaked body, each thrust penetrating deeper and deeper. He could feel Face’s erection rubbing against him; he pulled Face tighter to him so that the friction of their bodies would stimulate Face. It wasn’t long before Face was moaning into his shoulder, his own body matching Hannibal’s rhythm as the older man plunged in and out of him. Face tried to hold off as long as he could, but it had been too long, and all too soon he could feel his orgasm building to a climax. Feeling Face trying to hold back, Hannibal moved his mouth to his lover’s ear and issued a soft command.
'Cum for me, Tem.'
This sent Face over the edge, and with Hannibal’s next stroke, he came, shooting his seed between the two of them. The sight of Face’s climax and the sensation of the younger man’s body tightening around him was enough to cause Hannibal to cum, sending hot rivers of sperm deep inside Face’s body.
Though they were both completely exhausted, Hannibal continued to hold Face in his arms, refusing to break the physical bond they had created. Eventually, though, his own body told him that it needed to rest, and he reluctantly laid them both down on the bed. Reaching for the towel he had used when he came out of the bathroom, Hannibal wiped them both clean. Once done, he pulled Face close to him again, the younger man automatically tucking himself in as tight as he could.
'I love you, Tem,' Hannibal whispered into the soft blond head that was resting on his chest.
'Love you, too, John,' came the sleep-filled reply.
Extending his arm, Hannibal grabbed the corner of the blanket and pulled it up over the two of them. Within a matter of moments, he could feel Face’s breathing even out as he was pulled into an exhausted sleep.
Hannibal smiled into the darkness as he hugged Face closer to him. He knew that, tonight at least, there would be no nightmares. Tonight, he knew that the man he loved was safe.
Face looked up at the sign on the building, then at the application in his hand. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Hannibal’s face when he presented him with the card. He still one major problem, though: he didn’t have the money needed to process the application. He loved Hannibal so much and he wanted to give his lover his Equity card so bad it was killing him, but a thousand dollars was a lot of money, money that they could use elsewhere.
Looking up at the sign on the front of the building one more time, Face decided to hell with it; what Hannibal didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Face took a deep breath and stepped into the smoke-filled hall.
Face sat in the car, sorting through a jumbled collection of paper money.
‘Nine hundred fifty…nine seventy…nine eighty…eighty-five…ninety…ninety-five…one thousand,’ he concluded with a satisfied smile. One thousand dollars.
Carefully, he clipped the money to the application, then pulled out into traffic.
He had an appointment in Hollywood.
Hannibal sat in the living room of the small apartment, reading the newspaper. Face had borrowed the car, saying that he had an errand to run. He had dinner in the oven, and he hoped the kid would be home soon.
He read the paper carefully, as he did everyday, looking for any hint that their pursuers had any idea of their whereabouts. So far, there hadn’t been any such indications, but he could not afford to relax his vigilance. The well-being of his men was at stake, and he wasn’t about to let down his guard.
It was because of this careful scrutiny that he found a little article that he might have missed otherwise. It was in a sidebar, just an afterthought, perhaps just a filler, but it was certainly welcome news.
He looked up at the sound of a coded knock, and smiled when he heard a key in the deadbolt.
‘Hannibal?’ his lover called as the door shut behind him.
‘In the living room, kid!’
Moments later, Face almost ran into the room, breathless with excitement. .
‘Hannibal, I’ve got good news!’ he began, but Hannibal cut him off.
‘Easy, kid!’ Hannibal chuckled. ‘Calm down and catch your breath.’ He raised a finger as Face opened his mouth to object. ‘And while you’re doing that, I’ve got some good news of my own to share.’ He narrowed his eyes at the panicked look in his lover’s eyes, but continued with a grin. ‘Do you remember Staff Sergeant Downing?'
‘Hannibal!’ Face asked, shocked. ‘Like…like I could forget what that s.o.b. nearly did to me,’ he said, almost hyperventilating.
Hannibal slipped an arm around his shoulders, and picked up the newspaper, folded back for easy reading.
‘Well, I think you’ll be happy to know that he was court-martialed “for attempted rape of a prisoner”, and found guilty. And guess what?’ Face just shook his head. ‘He’s in solitary confinement for his own protection until his transfer to Leavenworth.’
Face felt a rush of savage satisfaction course through him.
‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,’ he said tightly, but relaxed when Hannibal pulled him into an all-enveloping hug.
‘I know it’s been rough, baby,’ he said soothingly, ‘but you’ve been vindicated in this, at least. And I’m going to do my best to see it never happens again.’ He paused for a moment, placing a kiss on the younger man’s lips, then pulled away to look at his lover.
‘Now, you had something you wanted to tell me?’ He smiled when Face suddenly looked a bit nervous.
‘Ummm…yeah,’ he said, stepping out of his lover’s embrace. ‘I…uh…that is…’ He gulped, pulling an envelope out of his pocket. ‘Oh, here!’ he finally said, holding it out to Hannibal.
Hannibal took it, a puzzled frown on his face when he saw the return address on it.
‘Oh, go on, Hannibal!’ Face sighed, filled with nervous anticipation. ‘Open it.’
Easing open the flap, Hannibal pulled out a slip of stiff cardboard.
‘Sean Lynch?’ he said. ‘Who’s Sean Lynch?’
‘You are, Hannibal,’ Face said, exasperated. ‘It’s your stage name. Heck, I watched you in Colorado and here, when you were impersonating Brett, and a Chinese guy. You were great, and I know you love acting. You said yourself we all need to find some way of earning money while we wait for cases, and I…uh…thought you might like this…’ His voice trailed off weakly.
Hannibal looked at his lover, stunned by his thoughtfulness.
‘Kid, I love it!’ he said, smiling as Face relaxed.
‘There’s more,’ Face told him, and watched as Hannibal pulled out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. ‘It’s an appointment for an audition next Thursday. It’s just a swamp monster, but it’s the title role. And get this! Because of the heavy make-up, Lynch could be staring right at you and never realize it!’
‘Tem, what would I do without you?’
‘Probably starve,’ Face told him, sniffing pointedly at the delicious aromas wafting in from the kitchen. Hannibal just laughed.
‘Now, these Equity cards don’t come cheap’ he continued, putting an arm around the younger man’s shoulders and guiding him towards the kitchen, ‘ so…let’s talk about how you got the money to pay for this…’
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