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Summary: Can memories of Face's past interfere with their latest assignment?
Warning: Reference to sexual abuse of a minor.
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The lady entering the warehouse at Lot 9 was noticeably frightened, and she had every right to be; it was midnight and the building housed many of the horror props that were being used in the ever popular slasher flicks. On Hannibal's signal, BA pulled the switch and the room was flooded with soft incandescent light.
"Miss Rao?" Hannibal asked to the woman who was shielding her eyes and looking pale. "I understand you want to hire the A-Team."
The striking brunette took a few quick breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves, but she knew her voice would be shaky when she spoke, "Yes, that's right. Mr. Lee said I should come here? Are you Colonel Smith?"
Ignoring her question, he asked, "Mr. Lee said you had a problem involving children. Care to elaborate?"
Before she had a chance to answer, she noticed a large black man emerge from a side door and three other people appear from behind various boxes and statues. Trying to concentrate on her answer, she avoided prolonged eye contact with any one person and maintained her attention towards the white haired man, "Yes that's right. I- actually, we- are having problems identifying a good number of children under the care of a Reverend Calderon. We think he is using the children as laborers in sweat shops and such."
"Why would a man of the cloth be doing that?" Face asked.
The brunette turned and looked at the handsome man; if she thought anything, she kept it well hidden. "Because he can. These children are brought here from South America by their parents who are looking for a better life. Instead of finding it, they usually end up dead, and their children seem to find their way to this particular orphanage; although the idea of orphanages has long been gone, this one seems to be thriving right here in the heart of LA."
A faint noise alerted the men in the room. Each shifted uneasily and Hannibal looked at BA and Face and said, "Check it out."
With an affirmative nod, they moved away. BA crept back to the room where he had switched the lights and after a short time, deemed it clear of any unwanted visitors. Face crept silently the length of the room and disappeared through a set of doors.
Amy asked, "How are you involved in all this?"
"I'm a social worker here in the city. I've had several 'unofficial' cases come across my desk with the same set of circumstances surrounding them. For the most part, the children are labeled as runaways, but there are too many unanswered questions. In every case, all fingers point to this man, Calderon."
"So why don't you go to the police?" Murdock questioned.
"Because these people are usually here illegally and the police won't acknowledge their existence. I tried to do something about it myself but I almost got caught...," she answered, allowing her voice to trail off without finishing her sentence.
Hannibal looked over his shoulder towards the end of the room, briefly wondering what was taking his lieutenant so long.
Face's instincts were telling him that something was wrong but what, he didn't know. He crept slowly through another door and peered across the huge room filled with horror masks and bloodied body costumes. Once again, he walked the length of the room and stepped through yet another door; only this time he came face to face with the scariest of horror characters.
"Decker!" he exclaimed.
Colonel Roderick Decker looked up from his papers and in total disbelief, retorted, "Peck!"
"How do you expect the A-Team to help you, Miss Rao?" Hannibal asked.
"I don't know if you know anything about orphanages, but they are not at all a very pleasant place to live." She picked up on a quick glance the men seemed to give each other. "I've seen first hand that these children are scared to death; they're living in filth and are constantly hungry. When they are transported, they ride in vans without windows. I was able to communicate very briefly with one of the older boys and he said they scrounge for food by day, and hide at night. These children need your help to get them away from this so called Reverend."
"We aren't cheap."
"I know that," she sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of money. I pulled together as much cash as I could." She handed him a wad of bills.
Hannibal noted that it was barely $5000.00. He knew what BA's position on this would be and with just one glance, he was proven correct. Murdock and Amy concurred; they only needed Face's opinion and he could pretty much guess that another charity case wasn't high on the lieutenant's list of things to do.
The commotion scattered everybody in different directions and they watched Face running full tilt towards them, yelling between breaths, "Decker! Let's get outta here!"
Hannibal turned to Miss Rao and spouted very quickly, "Congratulation, you've just hired the A-Team. Now, we'll be in touch but in the meantime, you'll have to help us out. Count to ten after I've gone through that door, then cause a distraction so that the men in the nice green military uniforms have to stop and tend to you." He didn't give her time to reply before he was through the door.
He was the last one to jump into the van but not before he heard the screams of a very hysterical woman. He smiled to himself and let BA skillfully maneuver the van around the lot and away from their nemesis.
"Was she a plant!" Face asked while still trying to catch his breath from the 100 yard sprint he'd just done.
"No, Decker must have followed us," Hannibal replied.
BA gave him a stern sideways glance and growled, "Ain't nobody follows me!"
Amy offered a different explanation, "We've been meeting at that warehouse a lot lately; maybe somebody saw us and tipped him off."
That was actually the better reason: Decker always gets half the puzzle, he knew where to go, he just didn't know when to be there.
Changing the subject, Face asked, "Did we take the job?"
"Unless you have any objections to it," Hannibal replied.
"How can I object? I don't even know what she wants us to do?"
"Some kids need our help," BA growled, still not quite over the earlier insult. "And we're gonna help 'em!"
"Okaaay," Face said, appeasingly, then added, "Help them do what?"
"Get them away from this Reverend Calderon," Amy explained.
Face nodded, caring more about this case than he led on. "How much are we getting paid?"
The silence was answer enough. "Oh great! Once again we agree to do charity work." It was obvious to the others that Face wasn't too interested; at least, that's what he wanted them to think. He was, however, quite reluctant to dive into this one.
"But think of the client," Murdock pointed out. "If you're lucky, you may get some perks the rest of us can only dream about."
After Murdock reminded him of the beautiful brunette, Face said, "Maybe you're right." Then he remembered the cool eyes that looked at him and thought to himself, 'Then again, maybe not.'
"What have ya got, BA?" Hannibal asked, speaking into his walkie-talkie.
"I counted eleven kids 'tween the ages of 7 and 14. And she was right, they get moved in vans that don't have windows."
"Okay, come on back and we'll pick up Murdock and Amy."
A short time later, BA pulled the van over to the curb and in jumped Murdock followed closely by Amy. She explained, "There are no county records on a Reverend Calderon."
"In fact," Murdock added, "there are no records on anyone named Calderon in the state of California. And as for the building he's using, it's listed as a vacant lot, but it looked as though the platte has been tampered with."
"So neither the Reverend Calderon nor his building exists," Hannibal mused out loud. "This should be easier than I thought. All right, let's go meet Face and Miss Rao."
Sitting at the table at the outdoor café was perhaps the best looking couple on Wilshire Boulevard: she, a striking brunette with green eyes and a slender body, and he, a striking blonde with blue eyes and a seductive smile. The team was long accustomed to seeing Face at his best with a beautiful woman nearby; what they weren't accustomed to was the tension that was in the air when they arrived.
"How's it going, Faceman?" Murdock quipped.
"Great," he responded, sardonically.
BA raised a brow in amusement and traded glances with Hannibal before sitting at the table. This was very unusual for Face to be agitated in the presence of a beautiful lady. Something happened but it was anyone's guess as to what it was. They could be certain that it wasn't something Face brought up, so it must be a problem with their client.
Hannibal stated, "It seems you are right on several points, Miss Rao. There are a dozen or so kids being transported from that building. There's also no record of a Reverend Calderon in Los Angeles, much less the state of California, and the building he works from doesn't exist in the eyes of the government."
Upon hearing this, she seemed to replace her annoyance towards her table companion with eagerness and asked. "How are we going to rescue them? I don't think we can just hi-jack the vans because they are armed and I'm afraid it would put the children in danger."
Murdock rolled his eyes as did BA. Hannibal calmly undressed a cigar that had just been handed to him by his lieutenant. "We aren't going to do anything, Miss Rao. You hired The A-Team to free those children and that's what The A-Team will do."
"But I can help! I know-"
"Forgive me for interrupting," Hannibal calmly said, "but you can help with something."
Face did a double take at Hannibal as did the others. What could she possible do to help them?
"You mentioned yesterday that you were working with others. How many others know that you hired us?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before she launched into an explanation, "Well, there are three of us who thought there was a problem. The rest of my colleagues are too busy with their caseloads to care much about a bunch of "non-existent" kids. It's not their fault; we are just really overworked. But I know about these orphanages! And I saw the kids." Her words were becoming passionate and she paused briefly before she explained her interest in a case like this. "I did extensive research on orphanages in this country several years ago; I interviewed hundreds of men and women who were raised in them as well as people who ran them: nuns, priests, administrators÷ you name it and I interviewed them. I managed to pull together an accurate account of a day in the life of an orphan; and I can assure you it's not a pleasant picture."
Face shifted in his chair and adjusted his necktie.
She continued, "Whenever someone paints a rosy picture about this country's ability to care for our children, don't believe him. Several Congressmen are advocating the resurrection of the so called "Orphanage" as a means of reforming the welfare system. But they are awful places for children where physical and sexual abuse is a way of life."
Face stated flippantly, but with a smile, "So, by interviewing a few people, this makes you the authority?"
She glared at him and with contempt said, "I wouldn't expect you to understand!"
"And why wouldn't I be able to understand the life of an orphan?"
Staring into his mischievous blue eyes, she suddenly remembered a short-lived romance she had with an LA playboy; actually he was just one of many handsome men she had dated, but she fell for him hard. His total lack of sensitivity was well masked under a golden tan and a beautiful smile and it took several months before she found out what he was truly like. It took several more months to get over him and she promised herself then that she'd never fall for another man like him. She smirked, "You! With your fancy clothes and fast car! You relate to the life of an orphan? I don't think so!"
Face's expression didn't change, he continued to smile his disarming smile as he pulled a hundred dollar bill from his pocket and put it on the table. "I'll wait for you in my car," he seductively cooed her way.
After he had left, Hannibal noticed their client fuming over the little spat and remarked, "I wouldn't be too hard on him until you know him, Miss Rao."
She politely sneered, "I don't need to know him; I know his type!"
Face sat in his car, feeling his insides churn as he remembered her words, words that had brought back painful memories. Even before her comments, she had rebuffed his every move and they managed to play verbal ping-pong until the rest of the team arrived. At first, it was exciting, as he always loved a challenge. But later, when she managed to tap into some long suppressed memories, he didn't like it anymore. The sooner this case was over, the better. He looked up in time to see Murdock open the door and slip into the passenger seat. Quizzically, he asked, "I thought I was going to drop her off at her office?"
"Hannibal thought it would be best if BA did that. He wants us to follow the vans, see where they're taking the children."
Face shrugged, thankful for the reprieve from her but still unable to shake the sickening feeling deep inside him. He slowly pulled into traffic.
After a short while, Murdock asked, "What kind of conversation did you two have before we arrived? I mean, if her eyes were daggers, you'd have been stabbed a hundred times." He paused just long enough to realize he wasn't going to get an answer. Then he chided, "She's playing hard to get. My advice to you is to play her game, make her think you're not interested." When Face still didn't acknowledge his words, he leaned forward to get a better look at his friend. "Hey, you awake? Or do you always sleep while you're driving?"
"Ah, what?" Face asked, finally aware that Murdock had been speaking. "Oh sorry Murdock, I was thinking about something."
"Care to talk about it?"
"Nah. It's not important."
"They're taking the kids to a building in the garment district. They use a route that's full of back alleys and side streets which makes it difficult to tail," Murdock explained. Then he looked around at the all too familiar warehouse and added philosophically, "Do you think it's safe to meet in the same place where Decker found us yesterday?"
Knowing a reply wouldn't be forthcoming and thinking the same question herself, Amy added in a quiet voice, "And while the children are gone, there only appears to be a handful of people left in the building."
Hannibal listened to the news but his attention was actually focused on his lieutenant and their beautiful client. The minute those two entered the room, the air became cold and the tension grew. It wasn't so much Face as their client; she seemed to harbor extreme feelings of hate, and all were directed at him.
Miss Rao suggested, "Why don't you wait in the sweat shop for the children to arrive and then take them? I already have homes lined up for each one."
Face answered her, "A guy like Calderon would just get more kids. To stop this operation, you have to stop him."
She glared at Face.
Face innocently offered, "You asked a question and I answered it. If you don't like the answer, then don't ask the question."
The rest of the group stood in silence at the very unusual interaction. Most ladies fell over themselves to be next to Face, but not this one. Not only did she not want to be near him, but also she didn't want to associate with him on any level. And his easy going, seductive style was just fueling the fire.
It was obvious she was exercising extreme restraint when she replied, "Maybe I just don't like who gave the answer."
"That really puzzles me," he added with a mock seriousness that everyone knew was going to send her into attack mode. "What have I done to you to make you hate me so?"
"It's not what you've done, it's who you are."
Face looked at the others, providing them with his best look of innocence before he returned his attention to her and asked, "And who am I?"
Not so much as missing a beat, she lit into him, "You're a rich SOB that wouldn't know what human suffering is. You use the gift that God gave you to con your way through life and I doubt you've ever known what real hardship is!"
"You think you really have me figured out." Then, as seductively as possible, he added, "I think we should go to dinner and you can get to know me better."
Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared at his patronizing style. To the rest of the team, it was quite interesting watching Face unravel the mystery behind this woman's intense hatred towards him. She walked up close to him and angrily hissed, "How dare you think I would be interested in going out with you. I hired you to help those children--to help them get away from a lifestyle that you wouldn't know anything about! I shouldn't be subjected to your snobbery!"
"If you didn't want to go to dinner, you should have just said so. How about a drive up the coast? I know a spot-" Face's reflexes were much faster than hers and he caught her wrist just as her hand was inches from his face. "I'm not really into masochism, whips or chains, but if you are, I could make an exception."
She jerked her hand out of his and stomped away in a huff. Hannibal was amused by the interlude and knew that Face was "playing" with her. An unfair match at best: a conman and a social worker. But she was the one who started it so he didn't interfere with his lieutenant's playful mood.
Hannibal said, "All right, tomorrow we'll rescue the-"
"Colonel, WATCH OUT!" Face shouted as he threw his body on top of him while the gun fire erupted around them. Everyone scurried for cover from the bullets whizzing by their heads.
"Give it up Smith! You're trapped," Decker yelled.
"Damn," Hannibal exclaimed softly. "He's getting better at second guessing me. Take off," he whispered to Murdock, Amy and their client. They scurried out the side window to Amy's car while the others gave them cover.
After they were gone from the warehouse, they ceased their gunfire and Hannibal shouted, "Not in a million years, Decker!"
"There's no way out of here, Smith. You have to come through me to get to the door!" Decker yelled, unaware that his three fugitives were silently making their way towards the van that was hidden inside the warehouse.
Hannibal paused, then yelled, "How much time do we have?"
Decker remembered the other times when he'd given them a minute to think about their situation. He wasn't going to make that mistake twice. "None!" he yelled back.
The time that it took Decker to yell his response was enough for them to make it to the van. With the squealing of wheels and a blast of gunfire from the van, BA crashed through the thin metal sheet-siding of the building and dodged, skirted or just plain drove through the army vehicles that were in his way. After some skillful maneuvering, he eventually eluded his pursuer.
Hannibal was silently chastising himself for allowing Decker to get this close. He knew it was risky to meet at the same warehouse twice but figured Decker would figure he wouldn't do it two days in a row. Besides, he was somewhat distracted by his lieutenant's new challenge and he must admit that he was enjoying watching the "waltz", even if they were both trying to lead. Unfortunately for him, Decker is catching on to his way of thinking. He made a mental note to give Decker more credit than his predecessor and to be less distracted by his team.
"Hannibal?" Face mumbled.
Hannibal knew from the voice that something was wrong. He turned to look into the pale face.
"I've been hit."
"How is he?" Murdock said while rushing through the door of the lavishly decorated penthouse suite.
"He'll be okay," Hannibal answered. "He took it in the upper arm but the bullet went straight through. He's lost quite a bit of blood though. He's sleeping right now."
"Did you call a doctor?" Amy queried.
"No, not yet anyway; I'll get Maggie to call in an antibiotic. In the meantime, we'll let him rest and see how he's feeling tomorrow."
Miss Rao had followed Amy through the door and because of the conversation hadn't given the suite a second thought. She was shocked that the rescue might be delayed and after hearing that, she interjected, "He better be feeling better!"
The occupants of the room stopped and stared at her.
Hannibal patronizingly and deliberately said, "He took a bullet through the shoulder. He's lost a lot of blood. He won't be much good to us if he falls over in the middle of a firefight, now will he?"
She hated what she had just heard, but knew he was right. Then she noticed the room she was standing in. Shaking her head, she disgustedly looked around at the million-dollar penthouse suite, observing the well stocked bar, original pieces of artwork and the view of the city below. With complete disdain, she sneered, "Each day that your friend is recovering in his luxury suite means another day of hell for those children."
'Not another sermon,' thought BA. Murdock and Hannibal shared his feelings but before she could begin, Hannibal said, "Listen, Miss Rao, I don't know what it is that you hate about my lieutenant, but I'd appreciate it if you would keep a lid on it. At least until you get to know him better."
"Not in this lifetime, Colonel Smith! I have no intention of getting to know your lieutenant. Like I said before, people brought up with a silver spoon just aren't my type."
Murdock shot back, "You keep talking about Face being too rich and too snobbish for your taste, and what are you basing it on? You haven't even known him for 48 hours! Well, chiquita, I've got news for you÷ If you judge a person like that, I hope my file never comes across your desk. You seem like a nice, caring lady, but if you let yourself be guided that way, you're going to miss the opportunity to meet a lot of great people. Like that man lying in the other room. Until you've tried to understand him, I hope you stop passing judgement on his character."
The brunette took pause to the lecture. Evidently, these people were as adamant about their lieutenant being on the level as she was about him being an upper class, insensitive snob. For a split second, he almost had her believing him. Then she looked around the suite again and remembered exactly why she hated men like Lieutenant Peck, she had certainly dated more than her share. Disgustedly, she stomped into another room.
Face was uncomfortable and his arm hurt like hell. If he lifted his head, the nausea overcame him and he was forced to lie back down, only after moving about, his arm would ache twice a much as before. He needed some painkillers and decided that the owners of this penthouse should have something in their bathroom cabinets worth taking. After several minutes of mustering up the strength, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. The effort was tremendous and, unfortunately, it cost him. His head started to spin and his stomach started to churn, and just as he fell backwards onto the bed, he heard the bedroom door open.
"Where you goin'?" BA growled.
Face moaned, until the nausea went away, there wasn't much else he could do.
BA didn't like the pale color of his friend and called over his shoulder, "Hey Hann'bal. Come here."
Hannibal walked into the room and leaned over Face. "How're ya doing, kid?"
"That good, huh. Why are you trying to get up?"
"To get some pain killers."
"BA, see what they have in the medicine cabinets."
Hannibal checked his bandage and noticed the bleeding had started again. "Murdock," he called over his shoulder, "come in here and bring that extra dressing you brought from the VA." Unless they stopped the bleeding and some color returned to his cheeks, Face wasn't going to be attempting any rescue the next day.
Ten minutes later, the wound was cleaned and redressed, but Face had hoped that the over-the-counter medication that BA found would have relieved more of his pain. "Get Maggie to order some pain killers," he said, trying not to grit his teeth.
"By tomorrow, you'll be as good as new and won't need them," Murdock optimistically stated. He was thinking of ways to get some pills from the VA but that was nearly impossible. Patients couldn't go anywhere near the rooms where they kept the meds; on the other hand, Face could have gotten a wheelbarrow full if he wasn't the one needing them.
"Is our 'client' here?" Face asked, emphasizing the word so he didn't mistakenly refer to her as something more derogatory.
Hannibal and Murdock stepped back and looked at the door where she was standing. It was difficult to tell if she was admiring the sleek physique of the patient or disgustingly tolerating the attention he was receiving.
Face followed their gaze. When he saw her, he quickly changed his demeanor and became very much in control; his facial muscles relaxed as did his shoulders and he flashed her a smile to end all smiles. "Welcome to my humble abode," he cooed.
She folder her arms and leaned on the door jam, "I would rather be hearing about plans to rescue those kids than hearing you moan and groan over a simple flesh wound."
"Why don't you come in and keep me company until these less than adequate pain killers take effect. I'm sure whatever conversation we have will make the bullet hole feel like a mosquito bite."
BA snickered at the insult while exiting the room, forcing their client to move inside the bedroom. Hannibal also smiled, as he knew Face's talents were endless and this was probably the best medicine for him.
Ignoring him, as well as his comment, she looked at Hannibal and scorned, "I hope you don't delay what you've been hired to do, Colonel Smith. We may not have a lot of money to pay you, but I had been told that you tend to help the less fortunate. And the plight of these children definitely falls in that category. I don't want them living under those conditions more than they have to."
"You sound like you're more than a social worker to these children?" Amy said.
Before she could answer, Hannibal said, "I don't think she's told us the whole story. Care to fill in the holes, Miss Rao?"
Her eyes widened and she fidgeted slightly, stammering for words that weren't quite there.
Amy was startled at this accusation but Hannibal was usually right so she waited for their client to say something coherent. Face also knew there was more to the story than she was telling but he wasn't in any mood to hear it; and Murdock knew as well but a quick look at Face made him wish they could take this to the other room and let him rest.
After sputtering something about false accusations, she took a deep breath and spoke evenly, "The boy I mentioned earlier is my nephew. I thought I could help those children myself if I had someone on the inside giving me information. He wasn't supposed to become a ward of the orphanage though, he was only to befriend one of the older boys. Once he did that, he could get information and we could take whatever we learned to the police and have Calderon arrested, and the children would be free. Since I was familiar with the inner workings of an orphanage from all my research, it was easy getting Carlos in the door. He's actually 18 but looks much younger. Carlos was more than willing to participate; he confided in me that he suspected Calderon was responsible for his cousin's death. Anyway, what I didn't plan on was Carlos having his own agenda. When I figured out what he was doing, it was too late, they already took him. I tried to get him out but they almost killed me and I thought if I die, then he'll never get away from Calderon."
"Did they see you?"
"So is there any other information that you need to tell us?" Hannibal asked, displaying a little annoyance at her poor judgment.
"No, I've told you everything." She looked as though she was going to break down and cry. "Carlos is a good boy; if I had any idea what was going to happen to him, I never would have agreed to÷" her voice trailed off. Just as quickly as her stoic façade had dropped, she regained control again, only this time, she deflected her guilt onto the very system for which she worked. All of her research had taught her that children were the ones that always suffered in this country's welfare system. She pressed, "Everything that I've told you is true! Carlos and those other children need our help! Some Senators are trying to get a bill passed that would bring back orphanages. These Senators have no concept of what life is like in these places; they grew up with money to spare and a mom and a dad who loved them. But Calderon is channeling millions of dollars to their campaigns, spouting the virtues of using government money to raise children who might otherwise get left on the street; but his long-term goal is to hide within the system and exploit the children for whatever purpose that pays well enough."
She realized she was expounding on a subject that was close to her heart and her tone softened, "They are awful places to live, Colonel Smith. Carlos isn't getting enough to eat, he doesn't sleep and the things some people do to the children-" She stopped abruptly and slowly turned away from everyone. As she did this, her eyes peered around the elegant room and she remembered the conquering attitude of one lieutenant. Anger swelled up inside her and, not quite ready to let her rage at the injustices of the world go, she turned and spat at Face, "And you lie in your satin covered bed, with people waiting on you, oblivious to the pain and suffering of those children! I know your type; I know what kind of life you had. You probably enlisted in the army just to get away from a mother and father who gave you anything and everything you wanted. There's no doubt in my mind that the rescue of those children is just something you'll get paid for!"
Face lost his relaxed smile and glared at her, numb to the pain that now encompassed his entire body. "Yeah," he added softly and with a touch of sarcasm, "my parents gave me everything."
Face lay in bed thinking about the day's events. He didn't know where they found the stronger pain medication but he was thankful that his arm wasn't throbbing as much. The room was dark and the window reflected the bright city lights against the dark night sky; the clock read 11:08pm. Now that the drug had permeated his body, he could move easier and so he pulled the blankets around him and dozed. He felt warm and comfortable and safe, a feeling he had grown accustomed to. But slowly that feeling peeled away and he started to shiver, wondering why he felt cold even though he had blankets around him. 'Somebody must have left the window open again,' he thought. If Sister Mary learned about it, she would whip the hide off the boy who did it. The thought of another beating made him cringe, at least this time it wasn't going to be him. A noise startled him but instead of looking to see who it was, he crept further under the blanket, hoping whoever it was would not notice him. His stomach growled and he cursed his hunger, knowing now that the visitor would hear it and discover him. He wished he were bigger and stronger like the new kid that arrived. As the sounds of footsteps approached, he began to tremble; he knew what the night would bring. 'Unless I got the jump on him,' he suddenly thought. 'Then maybe I could run and hide like I did the last time and they couldn't find me.' A cold hand touched his forehead and he turned as fast as lightning, knocking the arm away. Struggling in the dark, he managed to get the blanket off and stumble out of bed.
"Whoa! Where you think you're going?" the deep voice said.
A strong arm flew across his chest and the grip on his shoulder was so hard that he almost cried out in pain. But that would surely have brought a beating for making noise after curfew. His only hope was to break free and run. In a low scared voice, he snarled, "Get away from me!" And he broke free of the grip and shoved the man away.
"Hey Face! Take it easy," Hannibal said while recovering from the bazaar behavior.
Face took two steps before he was overcome with dizziness and lost his balance, falling forward.
Fortunately, Hannibal caught him and eased him down. It was pretty easy to figure out he'd had a nightmare given the sweat soaked torso and trembling body that was now in his arms. Even before he had entered the room, he knew Face was having a restless night.
After a minute of disorientation, Face finally figured out what had just happened. The distinct aroma of his colonel as well as the familiar voice brought him back to the present. "Sorry Hannibal," he said, his voice was husky and distraught.
"You were having a nightmare."
"What time is it?"
"It's a little after 2am. I came in to check on you, see if you needed another pain killer."
Face didn't even try to move his shoulder as the throbbing and pain from the exertion was telling him another pill was definitely in order. He barely nodded.
Hannibal helped him stand and took most of his weight as they walked back to the bed. Then he returned with a glass of water and a small pill and handed them both to Face. "Care to talk about it?"
Face didn't talk about his past. For the most part, he simply blocked it out, but their present client was most intent on surfacing these long buried memories. He wasn't sure how much more of her lectures he would be able to listen to. She had a good grasp on what went on at orphanages and she was right to stop the resurrection of them. But if he stayed around her much longer, he just might fill in some holes with graphic details; something he didn't want to do. "No," he replied after swallowing the pill.
Hannibal accepted his answer with a sigh and checked the bandage. The gauze was blood soaked again and that concerned him. If he couldn't keep the wound from bleeding, they wouldn't be rescuing any kids. He briefly thought about calling Maggie, but he knew what needed to be done; he figured he just wanted some reassurance.
"How's that feel?" Hannibal asked after he changed and redressed the wound. Face wasn't his usual complaining self and he only winced a couple of times when his arm was raised.
"I'll live. Thanks."
Hannibal nodded and started to leave.
After some thought, Face said, "I don't like this case. Let's just get those kids and say goodbye to our client."
"If you're up to it, it'll be over tomorrow." He seriously doubted if Face would be ready for any type of rescue, but he already had a plan and with a little shifting, Face wouldn't have to do much to pull it off. Besides, he could see the wear that their client was having on him, and it was in the best interest of the team to be rid of her and her cause.
Hannibal was right, Face wasn't up to any coordinated rescue, no matter how much he shifted his plans. After he explained to the others what had happened during the night, they agreed with him.
Amy commented, "Miss Rao is going to be very unhappy about this."
"Unhappy about what?" Face asked as he slowly walked into the room.
Everyone turned to look at him. He was dressed but had not showered so he was rough looking, and he was moving slower than normal, tightly pressing his arm to his body. Face reiterated, "She's going to be unhappy about what? Not that it matters much because she doesn't ever seem to be very happy about anything."
"How're ya feeling?" Murdock asked.
"Kind of like I've been run over by a truck."
The doorbell rang and BA answered it. By the look on his face, they all guessed who it was.
She entered wearing a stunning black body suit and her hair was down instead of pulled back. When she walked in, she didn't hesitate and walked straight across the room and stood in front of Hannibal. Of course, her exquisite figure and beautiful face were worth taking a long look, but she was oblivious to the stares and stated, "When do we leave?"
Hannibal replied, "We're not doing it today. Face needs another day to rest."
Face was startled by this news; although he would have loved another day to recover, he never expected it and given the particulars of this case, he didn't want it. He wanted this case over for several reasons, the most obvious was being rid of their irritating, albeit beautiful, client. But the main reason was for the sake of the children; he remembered all to vividly what it was like. Before he could protest, she slammed her hand down on the table, whipped around and glared at him. "I knew you would mess this up!"
Face was preoccupied with his own thoughts to care much about the accusation that just flew his way. Ignoring the commend, he said, "Hannibal, I'm fine. I don't think we should postpone it."
"You haven't had much sleep and you've lost a lot of blood."
"I've gotten enough sleep and I haven't lost too much blood. Besides when it starts to go down, I'm running on adrenaline, so who needs the red stuff."
While Face was protesting, Murdock approached him and began fumbling around with his shirt, to his annoyance, until Face finally asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to look at that hole in your shoulder," Murdock replied as he slipped the shirt off his friend's shoulder and noticed the red stain on the bandage. "Are you ever going to stop leaking?"
Face grimaced at the red spot but before he could respond, Miss Rao snapped, "Sure, just lie around your luxury apartment another day, let Calderon sell those children or beat them if they don't turn out enough garments. What do you care about what happens to them!"
Face was indeed tired and he didn't really have the energy to disarm her or engage her, so he ignored her and directed his energy towards his colonel. "She's right, Colonel. We need to get those kids out as soon as possible."
The comment silenced the room, even Miss Rao was temporarily speechless. But she recovered quickly and added, "So you do have a conscience! I hope this one good deed doesn't tarnish your day."
Face was weary and if he was going to do a job today, he needed to rest a little more. He waited until Hannibal gave him a slight nod, affirming that the job will go down. Somehow he managed to block out her words and retreat towards his room.
Hannibal understood Face's insistence and with a little rearranging, his plan just might work. But he had his doubts as he watched him walk wearily back into his room.
After he closed the bedroom door, BA growled at their client, "If you know what's good for ya, you'd leave him alone." It was said as a warning but it was meant as solid advice. They had seen Face get pushed and he could tolerate more than the average man, but even he had a breaking point and for him to reach it, it meant that his inner strength, the equivalent of a cement wall, had been torn down. And that meant he was vulnerable.
She glared at BA and then, in a huff, walked to the window and peered out over the city. Then she said, " For every person like him, I wish he could walk in my shoes for a day. I wish he could see the cases that cross my desk, the children that I have to deal with; most have been abandoned by their parents, many are abused by relatives or caregivers. They all end up getting placed into the system, a system that's very cruel. The only thing these children ever truly want is a family, someone to love them and hold them and just be there when they fall." She turned and looked at the four faces staring at her, "If he could just see that, then maybe I wouldn't have such contempt for his type."
After exchanging glances with both Hannibal and Murdock, BA just shook his head and walked away.
Murdock coolly stated, "I think you'd be surprised at what he's capable of feeling." And he headed toward the bedroom door.
Hannibal removed his cigar and added, "In the meantime, while you're trying to figure out my lieutenant, I'd appreciate it if you would take BA's advice and leave him alone."
Face was lying down on the bed when Murdock entered. "How're doing?"
Face shook his head disgustedly and said, "Damn thing won't stop bleeding. Can you change this bandage, but before you rewrap it, pack the hole with gauze. Maybe that will stop the bleeding."
Murdock set to work and had the wound packed and re-bandaged in a matter of minutes. Face was feeling better after lying flat and he rejected the painkiller because he wanted to be alert. But Murdock could tell he was in a great deal of discomfort. "You really could use another day of rest."
"I'll be all right. I hope Hannibal's plan is good because I don't know if I'm up to improvising."
Murdock chuckled, "Don't hold your breath." After a short pause, he added seriously, "Her job has made her bitter, you know. Don't let her get you down, you need all your strength."
Face shrugged, not really paying attention. He was thinking about how she was right on the money when she talked about the hardships those children endured. After last night's nightmare, he didn't want to hear any more of her lectures, and he didn't want the rest of the team to know of his upbringing. It wasn't always bad, but he had been at several different orphanages before he found Father Maghill, and they were worse than Miss Rao described. As far as his friends were concerned, he played sports and enjoyed many brothers and sisters, and that's how he wanted to keep it.
"Face? Are you ignoring me again?"
Face shook out of his trance and looked over at Murdock. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking."
"Thinking about your childhood? Has she managed to bring back memories best left forgotten?"
Face stared at Murdock in amazement.
"You forget that I live with a bunch of people who, for the most part, are learning to live with the memories of their past." His tone was light and non-threatening.
Face smiled, sometimes he wondered if Murdock was on the wrong side of the couch. He knew that he couldn't keep secrets from his friends, and that he was only kidding himself if he thought they didn't already know about his past. But they didn't know all the horrid details and he wasn't going to fill them in. That is if they finished this job and moved on, forgetting Miss Rao and all her speeches. "Let's go and see what Hannibal has planned for us."
Murdock helped him up and waited a minute until he adjusted to standing, then out the door they marched.
Unfortunately, Miss Rao was the first to speak when she saw him, "So Lieutenant Peck, I hope you can do this. I may not have paid a lot of money, but I did pay money and I don't want you to be the cause of it failing."
Once again, he ignored her comment and turned to Hannibal and said, "I'm ready when you are."
Hannibal accepted his offer and said, "Good, I've got a plan," he paused to light his cigar, then added softly, "but it involves Decker."
All eyes rolled up and there was a moan that filled the air. Hannibal looked hurt and said, "C'mon, this will be fun! And, it fits with Face not being a hundred percent."
"Great! Hannibal. I'm not in tip top shape and you get on the jazz."
"Wait until you hear what I have in mind!"
"This plan is terrible!" Face complained.
"I knew you'd like it," Hannibal countered.
"I hate it!"
"Well I don't like it either," Miss Rao said.
"Ya see? I knew I could bring you two together. You're already agreeing on something," Hannibal quipped.
She continued, "I don't want to pretend to be married to him," she jerked her head towards Face.
"It's the only way, he's not up to scaling windows, and you two make such a lovely couple."
"I don't see why Murdock and Amy can't play the happy couple," Face grumbled.
"Because I already have plans for them. The way I figure it, once the children are in route to the garment district, it'll be easier to take out Calderon." Nodding towards BA, Hannibal continued, "BA, you make your way to the roof and cut off their radio transmission." Nodding towards Miss Rao, he said, "Make sure your friends, those other social workers, are waiting at the factory with the INS; when the van arrives, they'll be able to take the children. And while Face and you are inquiring about adopting a child, we'll round up the rest of the goons. We'll use Decker to clean up the mess, the children will be transported to those homes you said you had lined up, and Calderon's operation will be exposed. With your testimony and your nephew's, he should be effectively shutdown. But, we have to work fast so we get out before Decker arrives; timing is everything."
Miss Rao nodded in acknowledgement and aside from being Face's wife, she felt the plan had merit. At least the children wouldn't get hurt and that's what she was most concerned with.
Hannibal looked at his watch. "It's time to go if we want to get there after the children leave."
'So far, so good,' Face thought. The children were by now at the factory, BA had effectively cut off all outside communication, and he and his beautiful (albeit annoying) wife were sitting in a lavishly decorated parlor conversing with a very congenial Father Raphael Calderon. As a bonus, on the drive over, he had even learned her first name, Anna.
Calderon was giving special attention to two things: a fancy gun cabinet, which he stood in front of admiring his guns, and his beautiful guest. Anna was nervous under his scrutiny and it showed because she held on tight to Face's good arm and didn't let him get too far from her. Through all her disdain for him, she felt comfortable and safe in his company.
Anna said, "I don't understand the problem, Mr.Calderon. We were told that you could help us adopt a child from South America. We can pay whatever price you ask."
"Oh no, it's not that," he assured her while pouring himself a second glass of liquor, his offer being politely declined again by his guests. "Many of our children already have homes lined up and the ones that don't, well, they are just the undesirables."
Face knew he was lying. He momentarily blocked out the conversation as his mind took him back; back to a time when he was a young boy exploring places he shouldn't have been. The noise scared him and he had just enough time to hide under a desk before the people walked in, the familiar Monsignor and a strange man and woman. He hadn't eaten all day so he held his stomach tight, praying it wouldn't make any sounds. The conversation he heard didn't make a lot of sense to him then, but several weeks later, he knew exactly what those strangers wanted.
"Honey? Mr. Calderon says there's no one available now, but maybe in a couple of months there will be." Realizing Face wasn't paying attention, she shook his arm gently and asked, "Are you okay?"
Pulling himself out of the horrible memory that he'd managed to suppress over the years, he put his glass down and looked straight at his host. He knew he had to stall for time while Hannibal, Murdock and BA rounded up the other goons. If Calderon concluded the meeting too early, he'd discover what was happening elsewhere in his building. He didn't want to have to do this, but he didn't have a choice; their host was winding down the conversation. He knew verbatim what he was going to say; he had memorized the words that he'd heard that night many years ago.
"Mr. Calderon, my wife and I run an escort service," he began. "Lately, we've been receiving more and more requests for younger escorts, if you know what I mean."
Anna Rao was stunned, and the strange hard look from Face was enough to make her stay quiet.
He deposited her on the settee before he continued, "I'm sure you can understand how much we would like to accommodate our clients and I can assure you that you will be compensated well for your involvement."
Raphael Calderon grinned evilly while he listened to the proposition. This would fit nicely into his plans and the money would definitely help his cause to open more of these places. He didn't want to sound too eager so after noticing what appeared to be an injury, he commented, "I can't help but notice that you're favoring your arm. Is it something that our doctor can look at?"
Miss Rao held her breath, nothing says mercenary quite like a bullet hole.
Face never lost a beat and acknowledged that indeed his arm was very sore, "I'm afraid I've been playing far too much tennis." And then he decided to take this opportunity to describe the types of clients they have. "Most of our clients have club memberships throughout Beverly Hills. It wouldn't be polite to refuse a tennis match," he added, smiling, "Right honey?"
Anna Rao was jerked back into the conversation and stuttered, "R-r-right, darling." Feeling the need to explain her hesitation, she quickly added, "You know we shouldn't be giving information out on our clients. That's a good way to lose them."
Face agreed with a nod. His stomach was growling from a lack of breakfast, his arm was throbbing and reliving his childhood memory was adding to his already bad disposition. Ever the conman, he forged on, "I don't need an answer now, but I would like one by tomorrow. It would give us great pleasure to start fulfilling requests."
"That's quite a proposition you and your wife have. It could definitely work to both of our advantages. I think we can develop a partnership-"
The explosive noise of gunfire from the hallway abruptly interrupted their conversation. Confused, Calderon yelled at the two goons guarding the door, "GO! Que pasa!"
"What's going on!" Anna exclaimed, already knowing the answer.
Mr. Calderon ran across the room to his gun cabinet and yanked open the door. Reaching inside, he pulled out a double barrel shotgun and was aiming it at the door when Face blindsided him with a body tackle. The rifle exploded and took out most of the corner ceiling where it hit.
Hannibal heard the powerful blast at the same time he heard Decker's siren. "Let's tie up these slimballs and get Face!"
"Got it!" Murdock yelled, as he and BA knocked out the two new guards and herded the rest into the room where the gunshot blast came.
Face and Calderon were fighting and Miss Rao was watching in horror. When she saw Colonel Smith, she yelled, "He'll kill him! You have to stop him!"
Hannibal looked at the two men fighting and quickly realized there was a determination in his lieutenant that he hadn't seen since their days in Nam, and she was right: given a few more minutes, he might have beaten Calderon to death.
"Face!" Hannibal shouted.
Face acted like he didn't hear anyone.
"Lieutenant! That's enough!"
Murdock ran up behind Face and caught his arm mid punch, but Face wasn't about to stop. To the surprise of everyone, he shoved his friend backwards and returned his attention to the nearly unconscious man.
Murdock caught himself on a chair and shouted, "Face! Let him go, Decker is coming!"
Now that the sirens were very loud, Hannibal thought it might be prudent to intervene. He jumped over the sofa, avoided his startled captain, and swung his lieutenant around, but was momentarily startled by the murderous look in his friend's eyes. Quickly recovering, he delivered a hard punch, whispering "Sorry about this kid."
Face would have fallen except that Hannibal held a tight grip, too tight for his injured arm. He gave Face only a second to decide if he wanted to leave this guy alone or receive another punch; fortunately, he opted to leave Calderon alone.
The murderous glint in his eyes gave way to the realization of their situation. Face shook his head in understanding and stepped forward, grabbed Miss Rao by the hand and together they followed BA out the door with Murdock and Hannibal taking up the rear.
The next couple of minutes were very touchy as they barely managed to elude Decker. But they did succeed and within ten minutes, they were out of the building and jumping into their van, which Amy had hidden down a side alley.
BA easily wove his way around the downtown LA traffic and with the pressure of escape now gone, the focus in the van was on Face and his uncharacteristic behavior. He was bloody, sweaty and still breathing hard. The four passengers were squeezed in the back and unfortunately, Miss Rao was seated next to him. Amy wasn't sure what happened and after taking a look at Face, she asked, "Did something go wrong?"
Miss Rao answered angrily, "Yeah! Your friend is sick! What were you thinking?" She angrily accused him. "You asked him to sell you those children!" Her voice was displaying shock and dismay. "What kind of a person are you? With the way those words fell off your tongue, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you haven't asked that question before-"
Face's hand was around her throat and squeezing before she finished her sentence. She gasped and instinctively gripped both hands on his forearm, while straining to breathe. The suddenness of his action startled Amy and she pushed back into the exterior wall of the van. Murdock was only ready to prevent him from strangling her if need be, and stared anxiously at his friend. BA glanced over his shoulder and took in a very scared lady and a very determined man. Hannibal turned in his seat, noticing that the look he'd seen in his lieutenant's eyes earlier was still there. Seeing him like this wasn't a common occurrence and much like you'd handle a rattlesnake, he thought it best to adopt a wait and see stance. He slowly reached for a cigar, never taking his eyes off his friend.
Face positioned her face so that she was inches from his. Then he slowly and deliberately released his anger, "You want to know why those words were so easy to say? Because when I was six, I overheard the Monsignor talking to a man, and those were the exact words he said. And that conversation was the start of a new life for me, one that included being sold every night of the goddamn week to a different man. And when I wasn't hiding in the shadows at night hoping they wouldn't take me, I was scrounging for food during the day, eating things that your beautiful mouth wouldn't consider touching. And for good measure, once or twice a week I was beaten with whatever would leave the fewest marks just to ensure that I would never run away or tell anybody what was happening. I lived that life for two stinking years! Until I finally did run away, and then it was to live on the streets and the only thing I knew how to do was turn 'tricks', but at least I was getting money to put food in my belly. I may not have made something of myself in your eyes, but I don't wallow in self-pity, and I don't pass judgement on people I don't even know."
Although his words were spoken quietly, they resonated inside the van.
When she realized he wasn't going to strangle her, Miss Rao listened in astonishment at his words, slowly putting it together, and understanding why his friends insisted that she get to know him better.
With the anger of several days spent on Calderon and now Miss Rao, Face suddenly was overcome by fatigue, and he released his grip around her throat. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, feeling the pain in his arm set in at an unprecedented level.
After clearing her throat and rubbing her neck, she whispered, "You were raised in an orphanage?" When she didn't get a response, she looked at his friends but their eyes were sad and non-committal. "But you're not like anybody I interviewed. Most of those people are hard luck cases, barely able to make a living. Many have attempted suicide and can't get their lives together. You just don't fit the profile."
Face ignored her and she sheepishly dropped her eyes, embarrassed by her behavior and her lack of compassion.
Hannibal watched as the angry look faded from his lieutenant's face and get replaced with a subdued one. He knew Face had a rough childhood, but he didn't know it was quite like that. Slowly, he turned around in his seat and stared blindly out the windshield.
The silence in the van continued for another 20 minutes as they moved through the afternoon traffic. Murdock could see that Face's shirt was blood soaked and once again he was turning pale due to the loss of blood. Quietly, he changed seats with Miss Rao and gently opened Face's shirt. Taking a small knife, he cut the blood soaked bandage off. Ripping a piece of his own shirt, he fashioned a makeshift bandage to ebb the flow of blood until they could get him back to his apartment. While he was working on the bandage, he quietly asked, "How're you doing Faceman?"
Face returned an almost inaudible moan.
"Ugggggg," he moaned, confirming the statement.
"Well, take it easy, you're losing blood again. If you don't stop it, we're gonna have to give you someone else's." Then, in his usual light-hearted tone, he added, "And with your luck, Miss Rao would be the one to match your blood type."
It felt a bit awkward in the van after he said that, but to everyone's surprise, Face replied softly, "Then maybe she'll go out with me."
Miss Rao looked up, startled. With the way she treated him, how he could possibly want to go out with her was beyond her wildest explanation. But she remembered what his friends had said about him and she now wanted to get to know him better. She leaned over and touched his arm and said, "I'd love to go out with you."
A week had passed since they had rescued the children and Face was recovering quite well from his injury. Murdock insisted that he wear an arm sling which he wore more to appease him than anything else. Earlier he had received a call from Hannibal saying they would meet at his place to discuss their next client, so he was sipping on a drink waiting for them arrive.
He let his mind go back to the van ride where he had given Miss Rao a glimpse into his childhood. He hadn't really thought about it but he guessed that he gave everyone a glimpse into his life. He didn't remember the conversation too well, just the feelings of relief that he felt after he said what he said.
The doorbell interrupted his thoughts and he put his glass down and answered the door. The team walked in and made themselves comfortable. Hannibal talked about their next client, Murdock bothered BA, and Amy avoided them both. He just sat and listened, not really contributing.
"What's wrong Face? You aren't your usual self," Amy pointed out.
He smiled and said, "Oh, sorry. Guess I must be still recovering."
"Have you gone out with Miss Rao?" she asked sexily.
"No. I haven't called her."
"I bet she's called you," Murdock teased.
"Yeah, she's called here several times," Face confirmed. She actually had called every day and had even stopped by once. But he never returned her calls and didn't answer the door.
"So what's wrong?" Amy asked. "Isn't she beautiful enough for you? I figured you two would have gone out a half dozen times by now."
Face shrugged, he really didn't have an answer for that. He just hadn't felt like being with her.
"Maybe she's a reminder of a past you'd rather forget," Hannibal said.
Face was always amazed at his colonel's keen ability to get to the root of the problem. He smiled, raised his glass and said, "Yep, she's that too." He meandered around the room, gathering his thoughts. He finally said, "I spent my life trying to forget my childhood. And in one 72-hour period, this woman manages to unlock all those memories and put them right back out on display." He looked down into his glass with the ice swirling in a circle, and very quietly said, "I would have never thought it would have been that easy."
Hannibal walked over to him and put his arm around his shoulder and said, "It's never that easy, Face. You were dealt a hand that no person should have ever been dealt. Most people would have folded in the first or second round. But you didn't fold; you kept fighting and learned to deal with your problems the best way you knew how. Sometimes, it's much harder to remember than it is to forget."
Face smiled and nodded his appreciation. There really wasn't much more to say. He was with his friends, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Hannibal didn't wait for a response before he started talking specifics about their next case, something involving illegal drug shipments.
His words were just background noise to Face as he digested his colonel's advice. In a strange way, it felt good that they knew more about his childhood then ever before. Maybe he should share more of his past with them. There certainly was plenty more that they didn't know. His past included life, his baby, and death, a murder, and everything in between. As he sat down contemplating his therapy, he wondered how difficult it would be to share some of these stories. He glanced at Murdock, then BA, and finally Amy. Slowly he shook his head and decided against it. Maybe Hannibal would be able to listen to them, but not anyone else. As he stared at his colonel, who was outlining the next mission, he promised himself that if the opportunity presented itself, he would try to share more of his life with him.
Then he tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear BA bellow, "South America! I ain't gettin' on no airplane Hann'bal!"
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