Reunion

A decision to spare one life and a decision to take another are about to have terrible consequences for the team.
Warnings: Torture, violence, non-con.
Rated: NC17
Words: 83,500

Chapter 1

June 1994


Murdock hit the top note at the end of Torno A Surriento and two dogs began to howl. A baby started to cry. A man threw open a window and yelled a stream of invective at the passing gondola.


“Murdock, I think people are trying to sleep,” Hannibal said.


“Yeah, be quiet, fool. You can’t sing.”


Murdock ignored BA’s words and started to sing O Sole Mio.


Face smiled sheepishly at the gondolier sitting beside him. The man was staring up at Murdock, who was wearing the gondolier’s straw hat and would have been wearing his striped shirt if only Murdock had had a few more lira.


“Be kind of ironic,” Hannibal said. “After all we’ve been through, to end our days, by being lynched by an mob of angry Venetians who need to get up early.” He grinned.


The man who’d shouted at them first was now arguing with another man at a window on the other side of the canal. The dogs were still howling.


“Seriously, Murdock, knock it off,” Face pleaded. “It’s after midnight.”


But Murdock was in a world of his own. Face sighed and turned to Hannibal and BA.


“You guys want to go for a drink before we turn in? We found this really nice little café bar last night, just a couple of blocks away. You should see the waitresses.” He turned to Murdock again. “Tell them about the waitresses in that café we found.”


“Molto belle.” Murdock kissed the tips of his fingers on one hand. “Molto belle.”


“Sorry, Face, I can’t do the late nights any more,” Hannibal said. “I need my bed.”


“And I gotta get up early to get a souvenir for Mama before we leave.”


“Okay. Hey, Mario Lanza, you want to grab a grappa with me?”


“Sì,” Murdock said. “Sì, Faccia.”


“Right.” Face shook his head. “Boy, I can’t wait till we get back to some place English speaking. No offence,” he added looking at the gondolier, who just looked puzzled.


Murdock manoeuvred them up to the landing stage as if he’d been a gondolier since he was a boy. BA got out first, turned back to give Hannibal a hand up. Face took out his wallet to pay off the gondolier, added an extra large tip and a smile. Murdock gave the man his hat back.


“See you guys in the morning,” Hannibal said. “Don’t be too late. We’re booked on that eleven a.m. train to Rome.”


They went their separate ways. As they vanished around corners the gondolier took out a cell phone and dialled.


“I just dropped them off.” He spoke in English, with an American accent. “But there’s a problem. They split up.”


~~~~


Hannibal lit a cigar as he and BA strolled towards the hotel, a couple of blocks from the landing stage. The sound of the lapping water of the canal faded. The dark streets were quiet and deserted. Only their footsteps and the occasional yowl of a cat from an alley broke the peace of the night.


“Looking forward to going to Rome?” Hannibal asked BA.


“Yeah, man. I should be able to pick up some great souvenirs from the Vatican for my Mama.”


Hannibal smiled. BA would have to buy himself an extra suitcase soon to pack all the various bits of memorabilia he’d picked up on their journey around the tourist traps of Europe. His mother would need to clear a serious amount of shelf space when they got back to the states.


“It’s nice to see exotic locales without anybody trying to kill us.” Hannibal mused. “I really needed this vacation.”


“Yeah. That last job was tough. But at least we got a big pay off.”


Big enough for the four of them to enjoy a tour of Europe together. They’d done France already, moved on to Italy and had spent three days in Venice and were heading for Rome and then Florence. After that, well they were still arguing over whether to head to Greece or Spain after that. But there was no hurry to decide.


There was one deadline and that really only applied to Hannibal.


“You looking forward to going back to Paris?” BA asked.


Hannibal smiled. He certainly was. “Yep. Two weeks time and you guys are dropped like hot potatoes.”


BA chuckled and Hannibal blew a smoke ring and grinned.


“You said you was giving those things up.”


“What, just when I finally got really good at smoke rings?”


BA chuckled again, shaking his head. “Maggie will make you give ’em up.”


“She hasn’t even tried. She knows she can’t change me.”


“Man, ain’t no woman ever believed that.”


Hannibal puffed the cigar contentedly. No, BA was wrong. Maggie was too smart to think she could change Hannibal. Not at his… not now.


As much as he was enjoying his time with the guys he was really looking forward to having a little quality time with Maggie. They’d been together seriously nearly a year. Since his life was more settled now, Hannibal had decided it was time to look into some of the things he’d missed out on. Grab them before it was too late. One of those things was Maggie.


He didn’t go on many missions any more. When he did it was to hand-hold clients and co-ordinate things from base. Face was in command in the field. And Hannibal was proud of him, of the way he handled…


A woman screamed.


~~~~


“Italy sure is a beautiful country,” Murdock said, with a sigh, watching their waitress walk away.


“Yeah…” Face agreed. Then he shook himself. “Come on help me with these postcards.” They had a small pile of the cards on the highly polished wooden table top. A checker board pattern was inlaid into the wood and at a table in the corner two ancient looking men, one of them a priest, were playing chess.


The smell of coffee filled the café and the big cappuccino machine gurgled and hissed. Murdock decided he could stay in here drinking espresso all night. The café was off the tourist routes and they were the only foreigners. But the staff were friendly and even put up with his terrible Italian.


Murdock scribbled a postcard to Amy. The card had a picture of The Grand Canal on the front of it and the word ‘Venice’ in large letters. On the back Murdock wrote: ‘Greetings from Barcelona. Hey, it’s so strange, all the streets are flooded and the people here speak Italian. You know I think we might not be in Spain after all. I knew we should have taken that left turn at Marseilles. Love, Murdock.’ He stuck a stamp on it, then sipped his coffee, sat watching Face writing industriously on the cards. Murdock frowned. Face needed to learn to relax.


Face had kept them all very busy on their vacation so far, “doing” Europe, like typical American tourists. He’d chivvied them around all the sights and if they once flagged, or suggested it might be nicer to spend the afternoon in a pavement café watching the girls go by, rather than foot slogging around another art gallery, he came out with the refrain “you might never get the chance to see this again.”


After this vacation was over, Murdock decided, he would drop Face off somewhere with no tourist sights, no art galleries, no museums, no nothing, except a beach, and a cooler full of beer. And no means of getting back. Now that was a vacation. Of course, he thought, with a smile, Face would probably scam something and be home before Murdock himself.


“Are you going to write any more cards, or are you just going to sit there with a silly grin on your face?”


Murdock gave an even sillier grin and took a card. He addressed it to Frankie Santana, then wrote. ‘Hello from Moscow. It’s not nearly as cold here as I expected…’


~~~~


Hannibal and BA were instantly alert as the shriek cut through the air.


“Where?” Hannibal snapped. Not inside a house. Outside, not far away. BA pointed to an alley and they ran to it, stopped short of the corner. Hannibal peeked round into the alley. Just for a second, but long enough to take in the scene.


“Blind alley,” he said to BA. “Two guys have got a girl in there. I don’t think she wants their company.” BA’s scowl deepened.


“Just two? Let’s get ’em.”


Hannibal nodded. Easy enough. BA could probably take the two of them out himself. Nice little present for the Venetian police, courtesy of the A-Team. He just hoped it wouldn’t end up delaying their departure tomorrow.


“Let’s go.” They went around the corner. They stayed close to the wall and were halfway down the alley when the young woman being pulled around by two men spotted them.


“Aiuto!” She shouted. “Aiuto, signori, per favore!”


Hannibal and BA broke into a run and were on the two men before they finished turning around. The woman screamed and ran past towards the street. It was over in seconds. The attackers were quickly dropped in a heap on the ground.


“Nice, BA,” Hannibal said. “Let’s make sure the girl’s okay then call the cops.”


“Yeah.” They started to turn. Dark shapes rushed at them. Too many. Heavily outnumbered Hannibal and BA fell almost as quickly as the two men they had just dealt with and hit the ground beside them, unconscious.


A man stepped up behind the ones who had taken down Hannibal and BA.


“Get them drugged and into the van,” he said, handing a small leather case to one of the others. “I’ll pay off the chick.”


“Right. Where’s the boss?”


“He’s gone to deal with Peck and Murdock.”


“Same plan?”


“Why not? Worked for these two.” He kicked BA in the side. “Can’t help themselves, this sort, not when there’s a damsel in distress.” He sneered the last part.


“Well I’m not volunteering to be the bait again,” said one of the two men who had lured BA and Hannibal into the ambush, scowling and rubbing his very sore head.


~~~~


Face dropped the stack of postcards into the mail box and caught up to Murdock. Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed two. Murdock yawned and stretched.


“I think I’ll sleep all the way to Rome tomorrow.” he said.


“But you’ll miss all the scenery.” Face protested. “That’s the point of travelling by train, to see the countryside.”


“You can tell me about it later.” Murdock said. “Anyway I’ve done Venice to Rome by train before.”


“You have?”


“Yeah, but if I told you about it I’d have to kill you, so…”


A woman’s scream pierced the night air, making Murdock gasp.


“What the hell?” Face said. “Where did that come from?”


“This way I think.” Murdock hurried off, towards an alleyway. A glance around the corner told him all he needed to know.


“Couple of guys making a nuisance of themselves to a lady,” he reported to Face and gave him a speculative look.


“Let’s go,” Face said, with a small sigh. If he ruined this suit he’d only just bought a week ago in Paris someone was going to pay, heavily. They stepped into the alleyway.


“Hey, fellas,” Face called. “This a private party?” The two men turned.


“Get lost, Yankees,” one of them snarled.


When Face and Murdock didn’t, one of the men stayed where he was, holding onto the young woman, and the other started coming up the alley. He pulled something from a pocket, there was a metallic sound and steel flashed in the moonlight.


“Oh boy,” Face said. “Okay, I’ll take flick-knife, you get his friend.” The knife wielding man smirked wolfishly at Face.


“Roger,” Murdock snapped, moved fast, as if to go past the man with the knife. He didn’t pass. He grabbed the man’s wrist, spun with him, slammed him up against the wall. Face ran past them towards the other man, who came running to meet him. Face blocked a swing from the attacker, and pounded his fist into the man’s gut, doubling him up, and smashing his face into Face’s knee as it came up fast. Face heard a crack and the man howled in pain, fell down holding his nose, which was pouring with blood.


“Great,” Face muttered. That blood would never come out of his pants. He turned away to help out Murdock. A shadow fell onto him, a man jumping down from a fire escape. Face collapsed under the weight of his attacker and hit the debris littered ground, all his breath forced out in a rush. The man whose nose Face had just broken lashed out with a foot from his sitting position and kicked Face hard in the back.


Face moaned and struggled to get out from under the man on top of him. More men were piling into the alley. Trapped.


“Murdock!” Face gasped, before a boot smashed into the side of his head and sent him spinning down into darkness.


When Murdock saw Face taken out he lost all restraint. He’d intended to disarm his assailant without permanent damage, but the situation had changed in an instant and Murdock changed with it. He grabbed the man’s arm in both hands and brought it down hard across the edge of a metal garbage can, heard bones break before the sound was drowned by the scream. The man fell to his knees and Murdock kicked him away then snatched the dropped knife up from the ground.


Men poured into the alleyway. Trapped. Face was down and Murdock had no chance of getting to him. Several men came at Murdock.


“Get back!” Murdock yelled, brandishing the knife. They hesitated. Murdock hoped none of them wanting to be the first to tackle the wild-eyed, knife-wielding maniac.


“You think you can take us all out with that little thing?” A voice came from the back of the group of men. A voice Murdock knew, from a long time ago. The men parted and the speaker stepped up. “Even you can’t be that crazy.”


“You want to bet on that?” Murdock said, controlling his surprise, keeping his voice hard.


“No, I don’t.” Douglas Kyle pulled a gun, pointed it at Murdock and pulled the trigger. Murdock gasped, but what he felt wasn’t the punch of a bullet, more like a bee sting. He grabbed at his chest, pulled free a dart. Kyle watched him, grim faced. The rest of the men grinned.


“You…” Murdock began, then staggered forward, towards Kyle. He tried to wield the knife, but his fingers had gone numb and clumsy. Kyle knocked Murdock’s arm aside. Murdock heard the knife skitter away across the ground. Darkness rushed him and he stumbled, fell into Kyle’s arms.


Kyle tossed the limp Murdock to two other men.


“Get them ready. We’re already behind schedule. I want to be in Albania by tonight.”


Chapter 2

The house was distinguishable from the mountainside only by virtue of its severe straight lines and black shark eyed windows. Its walls were as grey as the rocks that surrounded them. A recent downpour had soaked the lethally steep slate roof leaving it glistening in the watery late afternoon light.


Why this place? Kyle wondered, as the helicopter approached. Of course it was remote. About as remote as remote got, and this job needed privacy.


He glanced around the interior of the big helicopter. Anyone else might think this was a mercy mission, seeing four unconscious men on stretchers, oxygen masks over their faces. Unless they looked at the way the men were strapped down.


The helicopter touched down in a large yard in front of the house. The landing area was near the edge of a flat ledge that had been blasted out the mountainside more than a hundred years ago and the blades stuck out over open space. Kyle would hate to land here in really bad weather. One gust at the wrong moment and you’d be tumbling down the vicious drop. He’d employed two pilots and they were the best. The best he could afford that is.


“Anderson, get them unloaded and into their cells,” Kyle ordered. “Make sure they’re watched till they come around.”


Anderson, the man who’d been in charge of the squad that took out Hannibal and BA, nodded and started giving orders to the men.


Kyle ran from the helicopter, into the house. Inside was as grey as outside and about as welcoming. Cold oozed from the stone walls and the flagstones. God, it was June! Kyle thought. Was this damn country so poor they couldn’t even afford summer? He made a mental note to make sure the house had been well stocked with firewood.


In the entrance hall Kyle met a solidly built, dark haired man. Tattoos covered the man’s arms like the sleeves of a sweater. He was eating a sandwich.


“Hello, Berry.”


“Evening, Kyle,” Berry said, in a British accent. “Any trouble?”


“None. He here yet?”


“No, arriving in the morning last we heard.”


“Okay, help Anderson get them in. I’m going upstairs. Report when they’re secured.”


“Right, boss.”


Kyle climbed a bare stone staircase, taking the steps two at a time, and strode down a wood panelled passageway. He knew the way, had been here several weeks ago. Dim gas lamps, high on the walls, widely and irregularly spaced, gave him barely enough light to see his way. He would have a couple of the men string some cable through here tomorrow, get some electric lights set up. Banish the shadows that hugged the walls and pooled in alcoves. Most of the alcoves were empty, but horrible statues lurked in a few. Kyle guessed previous residents had abandoned the statues, no doubt with sighs of relief.


He swore as he stumbled down two steps that were there for no damn reason he could see and had no light fittings anywhere near them. A man could break his neck. He opened the door he found at the end of the passageway and went into a room that had been set up as a sitting room. It was currently as dim as the corridor and Kyle quickly crossed to a table and switched on a lamp, flooding the panelled room with a warm glow.


He searched a couple of cupboards until he found the one with bottles of liquor in it. He poured a liberal glass of whiskey and with a sigh he sank into one of the chairs by the cold fireplace. He lit a cigarette.


He hoped his employer would arrive soon. The quicker this job was over the quicker he could take his money and get the hell out of this vile house to some place hot and sunny.


~~~~


Hannibal woke.


He lay completely still, eyes closed. This was certainly not the cosy little Venetian hotel they’d been staying in. He was lying on a hard bunk with no mattress and covered by a thin blanket. He was naked under the blanket. Even with his eyes closed he knew the room he was in was brightly lit.


The last thing he remembered was walking to the hotel, with BA, then a woman screaming, a fight and… nothing.


Was BA here? And where was here?


He opened his eyes and squinted as bright light dazzled him. He turned his head away instinctively. He was in a cell. Stone, windowless. The ceiling was low, and had three fluorescent tube lights on it. Too many for the size of the room, making it painfully bright.


On the wall across from his bunk a pair of manacles was attached to the wall, hanging limp but menacing, promising pain later. There was a bucket in the corner. All the mod cons, Hannibal thought, bitterly.


The door. The door was iron and… Hannibal’s heartbeat began to race with sudden shock. The door had an observation hatch and he was being observed. A man’s face was gazing in at him. He bit back an exclamation.


“You awake, Smith?”


Hannibal didn’t answer.


“Fine. If you’re still asleep we won’t bother giving you any din… food.”


Dinner. Evening. But which evening?


“I’m awake,” Hannibal said. To be honest food didn’t appeal much. His head was spinning and he was sick to his stomach, from drugs, he guessed. But he was thirsty. The man’s face vanished as the observation hatch slid closed. In a moment a hatch in the bottom of the door was opened and a tray pushed through.


“Bon appetit,” a mocking voice said from the other side of the door.


Hannibal ignored that, retrieved the tray and began to eat.


~~~~


How long had he been down? Face wondered as he ate the sandwich from his tray of food. The bread was coarse and not very fresh. He drank from the paper cup of water to help him choke it down. Always eat, even if you’re not hungry, his training told him. You don’t know when you’ll get the chance again.


He considered his position. He had to assume Murdock was a prisoner too. But what about Hannibal and BA? Were they here too? Or were they on their way to the rescue? He glanced around his bare cell and shivered. He pulled the blanket closer around his naked body. The bright lights were giving him a headache. No, strike that, a worse headache.


Where the hell was he?


~~~~


Kyle almost fell asleep in the chair. He hadn’t slept much the last couple of days. Getting the prisoners from Venice to Albania had been tricky. The only way to transport the A-Team safely was heavily drugged. On the other hand he had to deliver them alive. If he had opened the crates they’d brought the team through the airport in to find one of them had choked on his tongue or something, well that would have been… annoying. The doctor had told Kyle to be sure the prisoners were monitored constantly while unconscious.


The only time that wasn’t possible was coming through customs. So Kyle had avoided Tirana, the capital city, going instead to a small airport, where delay was minimal, and, after the distribution of a suitable amount of money, customs inspections were non-existent.


The helicopter had been waiting for them at the airport and they’d taken the team from the coffin like crates and transferred them onto stretchers. To an outsider they looked like patients not prisoners. Except for the restraints, that is. Of course you strapped down patients in a helicopter to stop them falling from the stretchers in case of air turbulence. But usually with straps across the chest and legs, not wrists and ankles.


The door opening woke Kyle from his doze. He snapped back to alertness in an instant as Anderson and Berry came in.


“Christ, I hate this country,” Berry complained. “It’s bloody hailing out there now.”


“You got them in their cells?” Kyle asked.


“Yeah, all nice and snug,” Berry reported. He glanced at the liquor bottles. Kyle waved a hand at them.


“Have a drink.”


Berry quickly poured himself a generous whiskey and sat in one of the other easy chairs. He took cigarettes from his pocket and accepted a light from Kyle. Anderson stayed standing.


“Relax, Jack,” Kyle said, frowning at the tense looking Anderson. “We’re back on schedule.”


“And we’ve got the night to ourselves before Mr S. arrives,” Berry said. “And plenty of quality booze.” He grinned.


“Kyle,” Anderson said. “There’s something you need to see.”


~~~~


BA ate his food and drank his water. Then he stood up and swung the tray at the lights over his head. A couple of blows knocked the plastic cover off one of them. He heard men shouting outside the door. Keys rattled in the lock. Another swing and a tube shattered, raining fine glass down onto the stone floor. He was working on knocking the cover off the second one when the door opened and men piled into the cell.


He knocked one man down with the tray before that was smashed out of his hands. Took a couple more down with his bare hands before their numbers overwhelmed him and dragged him to the floor. Glass from the broken light bit into his unprotected skin. Then he felt the all too familiar prick of a needle in his arm, and the men’s yelling became distant. Somewhere he heard a voice. A voice he thought he knew. But he couldn’t think… Darkness.


~~~~


“What the hell is going on?” Kyle demanded.


A dishevelled guard staggered out of the cell.


“Baracus went nuts,” he reported. “Started smashing the lights. We had to take him down.” He shook his head. “That guy’s an animal. Can we get a cattle prod for dealing with him?”


“A taser might be a good idea,” Anderson suggested to Kyle.


“By the time we get a couple of those we’ll be done here,” Kyle said with a shrug. “Repair the lights,” he ordered the guard. In the cell several men were hauling BA onto the bunk.


Kyle and Anderson walked away.


“I’m not so sure, Kyle,” Anderson said. “About us being done here as soon as you think we will be.”


Kyle looked at him questioningly, but Anderson didn’t elaborate. He led Kyle on, past the cell that Kyle knew held HM Murdock, rounded a corner and went down narrow steps. They must be below ground level now, Kyle thought. Typical that this place had a dungeon. Electrical cable had been strung down here and bright lamps lit the stone walls. They came to an iron door.


“This has been set up to the precise specs he ordered,” Anderson said. “The men just finished working on it yesterday.” He opened the door and turned on the light. Kyle walked in, stopped and stared.


~~~~


Murdock heard a lot of yelling and shouting somewhere outside his cell door. Running footsteps pounded past. Someone was making trouble. Face?


He paced restlessly. He’d eaten his food and was wondering what he could do with the empty tray and what was on it. Very little. Flimsy plastic tray, paper cup, paper plate. Nothing there to help him escape. These guys were cautious. Seems Kyle had learnt from the last time he went up against the team. He’d woefully underestimated them then. Looked like he wasn’t making the same error this time.


The yelling and running calmed down. After a while a man came to the observation hatch and looked inside. Murdock turned to look back at him, determined not to show any embarrassment at being naked. That was the intent, to humiliate him. Well that wasn’t going to work.


“Shove the tray against the hatch,” the man ordered. His English was accented, German or Austrian, Murdock guessed.


“If I don’t?” Murdock asked, in a conversational tone.


“We come in and get it. You won’t enjoy that.”


Murdock shoved the tray over to the door with his foot. The hatch in the bottom of the door opened and the tray was pulled out. The guard took another look inside.


“How’s the weather?” Murdock asked, pleasantly. The guard didn’t answer. The hatch slid closed.


Rest, Murdock decided. His head was pounding from the drugs he’d been given, and from the horrible bright light over his head. He picked up the blanket and wrapped it around himself, lay on the bunk face down, head pillowed on his crossed arms.


Who else was a prisoner? Face for sure. But had they gone after Hannibal and BA too? Or were he and Face being used to lure them? Probably not. That hadn’t worked out too well for Kyle before, thinking he’d capture Hannibal when he came to rescue the rest of them. And clearly the man was learning. It sounded like he had a lot of men out there. Had realised that a better ratio than 1:1 was needed to deal with the team. Murdock had a bad feeling that the whole team were prisoners here.


Murdock began to drift, the lingering traces of the drugs in his system making him drowsy. He didn’t fight it. As he slipped down into sleep he comforted himself with the one possible advantage he had. The one thing Kyle didn’t know that Murdock knew and he was willing to bet he wasn’t supposed to know.


“I want to be in Albania by tonight,” were the last words Murdock had heard before he lost consciousness in that alley in Venice.


Murdock knew where they were.


~~~~


The floor and walls were covered with white ceramic tiles. Kyle and Anderson’s studded boots made loud chinking noises as they walked into the room.


“Easy to wash down,” Anderson commented. He waved a hand at the big metal sink on the wall, at the hose stored beside it. The floor sloped gently, towards a drain along the bottom of the same wall as the sink.


Kyle didn’t look at that. He was looking at the metal table in the middle of the floor.


“I think it’s an old operating table,” Anderson said. “God knows where he got it from.” The table was currently flat, but looked as if it was fully adjustable into any number of angles. Leather restraint straps were attached to it. “Take a look at this.” Anderson showed Kyle various pieces of machinery pushed against the wall. One looked like a hospital heart monitor. Another had dials and switches, and curled neatly on top, lengths of wire, each ending in an electrode.


Kyle looked at the wall. Chains and manacles, in bright new steel were fixed to it. Empty. Waiting.


“You should see what’s in this cupboard.”


Kyle followed Anderson to a metal cupboard standing against a wall. It looked like the sort of cabinet you might find in a workshop. When Anderson opened it something rattled. A rack was attached to the inside of the door, holding a long cane, a short leather whip and a cat-o-nine tails. The shelves inside the cupboard held various tools, and, in flat trays, medical instruments, including scalpels.


The bottom of the cupboard had a deep drawer, locked with a padlock. Kyle bent down, rattled the padlock.


“I’d guess that’s drugs, needles, medical shit,” Anderson said.


Kyle straightened up.


“And watch this.” Anderson went to the light switch by the door. It was part of a panel and he flicked another button. The lights went out and then a strobe light, directly above the table started to flash. Another flick and noise started, from speakers, high in each corner. Horrible noise. Shrieking that sounded like it was recorded in hell itself.


Kyle stood that for about five seconds, then walked over, feeling like he was a bad stop motion special effect in the strobe light and flicked the switches to shut off the noise and the flashing light.


The room went dark. The light through the open door threw both men’s features into deep shadow. Anderson looked at Kyle, who had not spoken a word since he came into the room.


“Sevchenko’s gonna kill these guys, like he said. But, fuck, Doug, it’s not gonna be quick.”

Chapter 3

Kyle, Anderson and Berry stood at the door watching the helicopter land. Berry groaned and held his head at the noise. Kyle scowled at him.


“You get drunk again and I’ll toss you down the mountain.”


“Sorry, pal,” Berry said, sounding far from contrite.


Kyle fumed silently. To think he used to work with the best, now he was stuck with these clowns.


Ken Berry claimed he’d been dishonourably discharged from the British army for using excessive force against the enemy. So far the only excessive force Kyle had seen him employ was against stubborn beer bottle caps.


Anderson wasn’t much better. Said he was ex-Delta Force. He probably hadn’t even seen the damn movie. This is what I’ve been reduced to, Kyle thought. And worst of all, I’m reduced to working for this…


Four men got off the helicopter and hurried towards the house. Several of Kyle’s men got off after them, carrying luggage.


“Mr Kyle,” one of the four called, in an eastern European accent. “Are they here, Mr Kyle, are they here?”


“They’re here, Se… Mr Sevchenko.”


They all went inside. Sevchenko, a small balding man, in a neatly pressed grey suit, shook Kyle’s hand enthusiastically.


“Well done, Mr Kyle, I knew if anyone could bring them in it was you. You haven’t met my colleagues.” He introduced each of them in turn, first a man who could have been his brother, was just as grey and unassuming. “Doctor Markovic. And this is Mr Kuprin and Mr Sokoll.” Kuprin and Sokoll were big men, their handshakes crushing. Kuprin had a wide, hungry smile. Sokoll had an intense stare and looked as if he was already planning how he he would dispose of your body even while he was shaking your hand. Those two did the dirty work, Kyle guessed.


“Do you want to see them?” Kyle asked.


“Soon, soon,” Sevchenko said, rubbing his hands. “We shall get settled in first. Have your men bring up our bags.”


Now I’m a concierge, Kyle thought, as he nodded at his disgruntled looking men, who were under the impression they were mercenaries, not porters.


Kyle retreated to the sitting room and sat in front of the fire, smoking a cigarette. Outside it began to rain. He watched the window stream with water.


He’d been alone for barely five minutes when Sevchenko and Markovic came in, talking to each other in Russian, a language Kyle had only ever learned enough of to get himself a drink and a woman.


Sevchenko was carrying a cardboard box, which he put down on a table. The two Russians looked at Kyle and Markovic said something in Russian to Sevchenko.


“Ah, Mr Kyle,” Sevchenko said, “the doctor asks that you please not smoke in here. He’s rather sensitive.” Markovic spoke again in a low voice. “And I’m sure you know it’s really not good for you,” Sevchenko added.


Kyle looked at the two of them with narrowed eyes. And he knew it wasn’t a request. He tossed his cigarette into the fireplace.


“Thank you, very kind.”


I could kill the pair of you without breaking a sweat, Kyle thought. Out loud he said, “your accommodations okay?”


“Oh, yes, rather basic, but they will serve.” Basic? Kyle found them luxurious. But when your frame of reference was prison then most places were luxurious by comparison. He frowned as he watched Sevchenko open the box he’d brought in. The Russian took four bottles of Champagne out of it . And not just any Champagne.


“Is that…?” Kyle began.


“Cristal, yes.” Sevchenko looked lovingly at the bottle he held. “The Champagne of the Tsars. First created for Alexander II, in 1876.” He carefully placed each bottle onto a shelf. “I must ask that no-one touches these, please. They are for a very special purpose.”


Kyle looked at him speculatively.


“Four bottles, Mr Kyle. One for each member of the A-Team.”


Kyle frowned, entirely baffled now. “You’re going to give them Champagne?”


Sevchenko laughed and spoke in Russian to Markovic, who also laughed. Kyle’s fists clenched.


“No, Mr Kyle, I’m going to toast them. Or rather, their deaths. As each one dies…” he nodded at the bottles, “we shall drink to him.”


~~~~


It took a good ten minutes before Hannibal could get up after he woke. The cold and the hard bunk had left his joints painfully stiff. Eventually though he managed to get the tray of food the guards had pushed through the door. Water again and bread and cheese. He tried to pretend it was bacon and eggs.


He would kill several people for a cup of coffee right now. He didn’t even dare think about what he would do for a cigar. The cravings were biting down to the the bone.


When he finished eating he sat with his eyes closed, breathing very slowly. And listened. He could hear men moving around outside the cell, tried to work out how many. How many now? More or less than last night? And he listened hardest of all for a voice he knew. For BA, or Face or Murdock. Dreaded to hear one of the last two. That would mean they were all here, which meant no rescue was coming. It was a smart move, taking them while they were on vacation. It would be days before they were even missed.


No use thinking about that, first he had to find out if they were all here. Only one way he could think of to do that at the moment. He got up and stood near the door. The next man who opened that observation hatch was going to get one hell of a shock.


~~~~


Kyle and Sevchenko walked into the corridor where Hannibal and Face’s cells were located. Kuprin and Sokoll followed.


“Baracus and Murdock are on the next level down.” Kyle reported. “Exact same layout.” He nodded at the guards. “I’ve got the men on rotating shifts, there’s four here at all times. And they all carry walkie talkies so they can call for backup instantly.”


“How many men do you have here in total?”


“Eighteen, not including myself.”


“Excellent. Very good security. Now, I think I will start with a chat with Colonel Smith.”


“You want him secured before you go in there?”


“Yes, it would be advisable. Use the wall chains.”


“Right.” Kyle gestured at a guard, pointed at Hannibal’s cell door. “Check him.”


The guard nodded and slid open the observation hatch. None of the men were expecting the voice that roared out. A voice trained to make itself heard across a battlefield.


“A-TEAM! SOUND OFF!”


“Christ!” the guard who’d opened the hatch reeled back. Kyle sprang forward to close it, but not before they all heard the voice behind them reply, muffled by the iron door, but also trained to be heard.


“Peck! Fit to fight!”


“Not for much longer, Peck,” Kyle growled. “Not for much longer.”


He turned to Sevchenko, who had gone quite pale.


“Sorry about that. I guess he’s trying to find out who else is with him.” He scowled at the guards. “I don’t want them figuring out who’s where.” He knew any information they gained could help them with an escape attempt. That couldn’t be allowed to happen.


Sevchenko smoothed down his jacket, gathered himself. “Never mind. He’ll soon learn that we have all of his friends here. And what we intend to do to them. Secure him.”


~~~~


Hannibal sat down on his bunk when the hatch slammed shut. Face. Dammit. Face was here, so that meant Murdock probably was too.


And that hadn’t been the biggest surprise. No the biggest surprise had been whose face Hannibal had seen briefly as the hatch slammed closed.


Kyle. Dougie Kyle. Where the hell had he sprung from? He knew Kyle had got out of prison over two years ago now, had worried the he might go after the team in revenge, but nothing had happened and Hannibal had concluded that Kyle must have decided not to go making the same mistake twice. Well it looked like he’d underestimated the man’s stupidity. He almost felt cheered up. After all they’d beaten Kyle before. It seemed he’d got himself a few more friends this time, but being outnumbered was Hannibal’s speciality.


The keys rattled and the door opened. Several men rushed at Hannibal. He offered no resistance as they dragged him over to the opposite wall and chained him to the manacles there. So Kyle’s afraid to face me with my hands free? Hannibal thought. Hell, in his mind I’ve already got him beaten.


He pasted an annoying smile on his face, and tried to think up the best quip he could. Something about Kyle losing his hair, maybe? Maybe say if Dougie wanted a date he should have just called Hannibal with a dinner invite. He knew how to get under this guy’s skin, how to make him get stupid…


And when Kyle walked in Hannibal’s smile faded, because of who walked in with him.


Eight years had passed now, since Hannibal had shaken the hand of a CIA officer in Jordan and given a mocking wave goodbye to four KGB men he’d brought from the prison camp in Qumar.


Four men who had tortured Murdock and Frankie, and had been preparing to start on the rest of the team until their interrogation had been interrupted by the prisoner uprising.


And this was the man who’d led those torturers. Vassily Sevchenko.


Hannibal had learned the man’s name later, both from a CIA contact and from Faris Madari, because this was the man who a year prior to that prison break had personally wielded the the pliers that tore out Madari’s fingernails.


This was a man who’d tortured scores of people. A man Hannibal hoped was going to spend the rest of his life in some secret CIA prison.


And now he was here.


Sevchenko stopped, well out of range of Hannibal’s jerk forward, brought up short by the manacles. Hannibal pulled hard on them, but the bolt fixing the chains to the wall was solid. Quips and jokes were the furthest thing from Hannibal’s mind now, he felt he wanted to snarl like an animal at this creature. But he took a deep breath and restrained himself. When he spoke it was in a cold voice.


“I should have let Madari shoot you in the head.”


Sevchenko smiled.


“But you didn’t, Colonel. You saved my life that day.” He smiled, smug. “And they do say don’t they, that no good deed goes unpunished.” Then his face hardened. “If only you had shown the same mercy to Viktor.”


“Svidler?” Hannibal said, Viktor Svidler, the revenge crazed rouge KGB bastard who’d killed Stockwell.


“Yes. Colonel Viktor Svidler. My commander. My friend. You killed him, now you pay.”


“No good deed goes unpunished,” Hannibal said. He saw fury twist Sevchenko’s bland face. Ah, Hannibal thought, let’s try that lever a little more. “I’ve thought about that day often, about having to put a bullet in his heart. About what it meant for me to do that again after so long.” He gave a wide and vicious smile. “And I have to say I loved every second of it and I’d do it again right now if I could.”


Sevchenko gave a strangled exclamation, darted forward and slapped Hannibal with an open palm then hurriedly stepped back, well away from him again.


Hannibal sneered at the pathetic blow. “Oh, you were very fond of Viktor, weren’t you? Were you his special friend, Vassily. Did you two share bodily warmth in those cold Siberian nights?” He grinned, suggestively. Sevchenko was red faced with rage now.


“Quiet!” He shouted. He nodded at Kyle, who stepped up, and punched Hannibal in the gut. Hannibal gasped, coughed, couldn’t double up properly held by the chains, instinctively pulled one leg up towards his body to try to ease the pain. He watched Sevchenko compose himself.


“All right, Colonel Smith, you have had your chance to make your ridiculous jokes. Mr Kyle warned me of your foolishness. Now the time for jokes is over. All four of your A-Team are here. And all four of you are going to die here. But, believe me, death will not be easy or quick for any of you. Now…” He paused and he smiled. “I want something from you, John.”


Hannibal frowned. Sevchenko was changing right in front of him. His eyes were starting to shine, with pleasure. His voice became lower, almost silky and his accent came through more strongly. He was becoming his true self, Hannibal realised. Sevchenko the master interrogator. Vassily, the torturer. And he was loving it. Hannibal had to fight an instinct to back up as Sevchenko came closer to him. An instinct not of fear but of pure repulsion.


“I want something from you, John.” He moved closer still to Hannibal. Close enough that he could drop his voice even lower.


“I want to hear you scream.”

Chapter 4

“Listen, I’ve been setting guys on fire since he was getting coffee for the assistant to the second unit assistant director. If I say it’ll work, it’ll work.”


Frankie Santana pulled into his driveway, talking on his cell phone.


“Yeah, well if he has anything else to say you give him this number and he can say it to me…right… later.”


He hung up, turned off the ignition and got out of the car.


“Directors,” he muttered, locking the vehicle and turning towards the house. The warm late-afternoon sun felt good on his face, but he didn’t stand around to enjoy it. “Couple of years of film school and they think they know how to make a movie.” He let himself into the house. “Hey, hey, where’s the two prettiest girls in Hollywood?”


“Kitchen, Frankie,” A woman’s voice answered. Frankie went through to find his wife, Rosita, unloading the washing machine. A baby sat in a high chair, a pink ribbon in her fine dark hair. She laughed and banged her hands on the high chair’s tray when Frankie walked in.


“Hi, honey,” Rosita said as Frankie kissed her on the cheek. “Good day?”


“Ah, directors,” Frankie said lifting the baby out of her chair. “Think they can learn how to make a movie in a classroom.” He sat on a high stool, bounced the baby gently on his knee. “You learn to make a movie on a set. Film school, I mean what is that? Did Steven Spielberg go to film school? Did Roger Corman go to film school?”


Rosita had heard the film school rant before. It went on for at least ten minutes if it wasn’t interrupted.


“I got a man in to fix the washing machine today,” she said.


“I would have done that,”


“I know, honey, but I needed it to be working… today I mean,” she added quickly. “For Isabel. You know how many clothes and bibs and things she gets through in a day. And the boys are just as bad.”


Frankie shrugged. He could have fixed the machine, he was sure. He’d fixed their old one when the spin cycle stopped working. Okay, so afterwards it had started spinning in the opposite direction than before and it danced around the kitchen like it was auditioning for Cabaret, but it worked, didn’t it? Women were so fussy about details.


“A postcard came from the team.” Rosita said, nodding at a pile of correspondence on a worktop. Frankie stretched across to pick it up. He read the message and chuckled, shaking his head.


“Man, that Murdock, he gets crazier all the time.” He looked at the picture of St Mark’s Square on the front of the card, smiled as he imagined his friends enjoying themselves swanning around Europe. Isabel’s small eager hands reached for the card and Frankie let her take it. She started to chew on a corner. “How’d you like to go to Italy, Rosie?”


“I’ve been to Italy.” Rosita said, then smiled. “Of course it was the middle of winter and I spent the whole time making up extras to look like they had the black plague – take that off her will you – so I think a vacation there would be a nice change of pace. We could go later this year, before I go back to work.”


“Yeah…” Frankie said. He relieved Isabel of the now soggy cornered postcard and stroked her soft hair. She gurgled contentedly. “You know…” Frankie tried to sound casual. “There’s no hurry for that. The company is doing great, there’s plenty of money coming in.”


“I like working,” Rosita said, making a neat little pile of white bibs. “I’ll only take local jobs, like we said, nothing that takes me away on location.”


“Yeah.” Frankie sighed. He decided he really didn’t want to get in an argument about it now. Arguing always killed his appetite and unless his nose deceived him Rosie had roast pork in the oven.


“Oh, there was a phone call for you too,” Rosita said. “The number’s by the phone. It was a Mr Willis.”


“Willis?” Frankie looked speculative. “Bruce?”


“No, Frankie.” Rosita laughed, shook her head. “I don’t think it was Bruce Willis. He wouldn’t say what it was about, but he did say it was urgent.”


“You should have given him my cell number.”


“I did, but he said he couldn’t call you on that because it’s not secure.”


“Not secure?” Frankie laughed. “What is this guy, from the…” And he stopped laughing and he said the letters “C I A” very slowly.


“Frankie?” Rosita said, seeing the disturbed look on his face.


“Huh? Oh, uh sorry, Rosie, he’s just, um, this guy I met, you know, through the team. I… ah, he said it was urgent?”


“Yes.” She frowned. “Are you okay?”


“Yeah, yeah. I think I’d better go call him now.” He put Isabel back in her high chair, stroked her cheek absently. “I’ll call him from the den.”


“Okay. Well dinner is in an hour. The boys should be back in about twenty minutes. Will you get them washed up and ready to eat?”


“Huh?” Frankie looked at her for a moment, then her words sunk in. “Oh, yeah, sure. I just have to go call this guy.”


He found the number pinned on a cork board beside the kitchen phone and left the room, catching a glimpse of Rosita’s anxious expression as he closed the door.


Willis. Frankie remembered him like it was only yesterday. Agent Willis of the CIA had debriefed the A-Team when they came home from Qumar, eight years ago.


He hadn’t been the first agent assigned to the debriefing. They had started with a standard heavy in a black suit. And he sat Frankie down in a darkened windowless room and started firing questions at him. About the team, about Stockwell, about their mission in Qumar.


Frankie had freaked out.


He’d heard the others talk about having flashbacks, but never fully appreciated what that meant. Until it hit him. Until he was back there, tied to a chair in a stone cell, surrounded by terrifying men speaking Russian and Arabic, having needles pushed under his fingernails. Then he understood what ‘flashback’ actually meant. Not just to remember, but to relive. To be there again.


He ran, and when he couldn’t open the door, his still bandaged hands clumsy on the handle, he screamed. Seconds later the door was kicked in and Johnny barged into the room, demanding to know what the hell was going on.


Frankie hadn’t stuck around to hear what answers they had for the raging colonel. He kept on running until he found a window. Sunlight. It wouldn’t open. If he’d had the means to he’d have broken it, but he didn’t, so he just rested his forehead against it taking deep breaths, as if he could suck in the fresh air right through the glass. I won’t cry, he commanded himself. I won’t break down again.


Then a hand touched his back. He knew who it was without turning around. The cigar smoke smell that clung to Johnny’s clothes was all he needed. He knew the colonel must be able to feel him trembling, felt shame for that, felt weak. But felt safe.


Frankie clicked on the light in the den, trying to banish the layers of memories.


They hadn’t taken him into that “briefing room” again. After Hannibal chewed out the men in charge of the investigation they assigned Willis to the job of debriefing the team. His office had big windows, that opened, letting in the breeze. And it was messy, files and books piled on every surface, pictures arranged haphazardly on the wall. Most of the pictures were photographs, many of them of a woman and two small children. Willis himself was as rumpled as his office, his suit creased and his tie stained with baby food. He had a mug with ‘World’s greatest dad’, emblazoned on it. This man, Frankie realised was the nearest the CIA got to “cuddly”.


Willis supplied a friendly and sympathetic manner and a constant supply of coffee and snacks. Frankie sometimes felt as relaxed as if they were discussing sports, as opposed to a massive intelligence scandal that would ruin several high-flying political careers and eventually send General Stockwell to jail.


A herd of plastic dinosaurs had colonised Frankie’s desk. He moved some of them aside, sat down and dialled the number Rosita had taken down. He waited as it rang, staring off into space. The Aquamaniac stared back at him from the framed and signed lobby poster of “Aquamaniac’s Revenge.” He glanced at his watch as the phone continued to ring. It was after six; maybe the guy had gone home.


“Willis.” The voice came suddenly, sounding out of breath.


“Oh, hi, Agent Willis, it’s Frankie Santana, you left a…”


“Wait. Hang up. I’ll call you right back.”


The line went dead. Frankie stared at the receiver for a moment, then put it down. It rang immediately and he picked it up.


“Willis?”


“Mr Santana, thank you for returning my call. Do you remember me from…”


“Yeah,” Frankie interrupted him. “I know who you are.”


“Good, good. Mr Santana, I’m afraid I have some very bad news about the A-Team.”


~~~~


Screaming.


Screaming that had gone on for an un-guessable length of time.


Face lay on his bunk, fighting the urge to climb underneath it, as if he could hide there from the noise. Children did that, didn’t they? Hid under their beds, or in cupboards from scary sounds? Even from fire. He remembered little Jackie Bickham at the orphanage, brought in wrapped in a blanket late one night. Remembered hearing the fireman telling Father Magill that they’d pulled the boy out of a closet in his bedroom when they broke into his family’s burning house.


Face, Alvin, had been old enough then to know that was a crazy thing to do. You couldn’t hide from a fire and you couldn’t hide from this noise, the unspeakable shrieking that was being piped into his cell through some unseen speaker. It changed sometimes, not on any regular pattern you could start to get used to though. Right now it was the slaughter house, mixed with what sounded like a turbo charged dentist’s drill.


Make it stop. Just make it stop. Please.


Make it stop! Murdock screamed silently in his head


Loud enough to be painful, horrible enough to fill his mind with vile images. It could have been going on for ten minutes or two days. There was no way of knowing, because even a minute of it was enough to turn your brain to splinters and make you want to poke your fingers so deep in your ears that they met in the middle.


But he couldn’t even put his hands over his ears, they were cuffed behind him. His feet were shackled and he was blindfolded. The cell was no longer cold, it was hot, hot as an oven. Murdock’s mouth was full of grit, he hadn’t a drop of spit.


“Water,” he moaned softly. “Give me some water, you bastards. Give me some god-damned water!” He yelled the last part, but couldn’t even hear it himself over the sickening noise.


The breath sobbed in his throat, painfully, like swallowing glass. How long he wondered. How long does this part go on? Because the worst thing was knowing that this wasn’t even the ‘real’ torture. Not yet.


Sevchenko, the vile little rat, had come into his BA’s cell and made gloating remarks about having missed their last appointment and rescheduling. BA had sneered and contemplated getting his hands around the Russian’s throat. You hurt friends of mine. You’ll pay, you’ll pay.


“None of them is to be allowed to sleep. Make sure of it.” BA had heard Sevchenko tell Kyle. Snap his neck too, BA thought.


His cell was freezing now, colder than before. Cold enough to kill him? But he didn’t think he’d be allowed to die. This was just starting. BA knew what this was all about.


This wasn’t going to end quickly.


Hannibal knew that.


Softening up. You didn’t just dive in and and start attaching the electrodes, not if you were a pro. First the subject had to be properly prepared. Had to be in the right frame of mind.


Sleep deprived, confused, exhausted, beaten, degraded, terrified.


The noise and the blindfold had left Hannibal feeling like his mind was a jumble of jigsaw pieces, and there were plenty of bits missing. But a few pieces stayed together, a tiny island of sense, like a raft to hang onto. Sevchenko had to die. He should have died before. Hannibal had stopped it, and now he was paying for that act of mercy.


Helpless. Bound, blindfolded, mind screaming for water, terrified for his friends and of what was to to come. Yet Hannibal had an unshakable certainty that he could make Sevchenko die.

Chapter 5

“Those guys must be basket cases by now,” Anderson said as he and Kyle and Berry ate breakfast together.


“That’s the idea,” Kyle said.


“Yeah,” Anderson said. “Three days of it now.” He shook his head. “The noise, no sleep, those two big bastards slapping them around…”


“Not feeling sorry for them, are you?” Kyle asked him.


“No, of course not, no skin off my nose what he does to ’em.” He pushed his eggs around his plate. Kyle frowned. Well that was just what they needed, Anderson going soft on them.


“You eating that bacon?” Berry asked Anderson and forked it off the plate when Anderson shook his head. Kyle glanced at Berry as he shoved the bacon into a folded slice of bread and started to wolf it down. Well the situation certainly wasn’t bothering that one, he thought.


As of this morning the situation was that all four A-Team members were well and truly softened up and Sevchenko was ready to “begin” he said. He’d spent most of the last three days sitting around talking with Markovic. The ‘big bastards’ Kuprin and Sokoll spent a lot of time down in the cells, roughing up the prisoners, but Sevchenko didn’t go down there himself, only asked for reports from his men. Like the team wasn’t even worthy of his attention in this phase of the game. They could be left to underlings.


Anderson pushed away his plate, leaving most of the food uneaten. “I’ll go check on the prisoners,” he said and walked out.


“He’s going to be a problem.” Berry said, spraying crumbs. Kyle nodded, drank off a cup of coffee and left Berry to finish off his own and Anderson’s breakfast.


Kyle went to the cells. He made an inspection three times a day. Sevchenko thought Kyle’s eighteen men were ‘good security’. Actually Kyle’s strategy was simply superior numbers. The men weren’t actually that good, so he’d made up for that by employing a lot of them. So far that strategy had worked. But one of these idiots was going to make a mistake, give the team a chance. So Kyle was using a business technique he’d read about. Micro-managing. Which was apparently something that you shouldn’t have to do if you had good people. He didn’t have good people, in any sense of the word.


He arrived at Baracus and Murdock’s cell block just in time to catch one of the idiots making a mistake.


“Hey, breakfast, crazy man.”


Kyle shot across to the man shoving the tray with a cup of water and a slice of bread on it through the door hatch into Murdock’s cell. He pulled the man away by his collar, dragged him up to his feet.


“Why don’t you just give him your watch as well, you moron?”


The guard struggled. “What the hell…?”


“Don’t tell them what meal they’re getting!” Kyle ground out. “How many times do I have to repeat my orders?” He let the man go, pushed him away. “Go and report to Berry.”


The man grimaced. Berry was in charge of assigning the patrols outside the house. Maybe getting rained on all day would help this moron learn to follow orders. Kyle thought. The guard stamped off. Kyle watched him go, then turned to the others, who were watching him sulkily.


“Get a replacement down here.” One of them got on his radio. Kyle slid open the observation hatch in Murdock’s door. Murdock raised his head as light streamed into the pitch black cell. He’d found the breakfast tray and held the bread. His pale body was covered in bruises and scrapes. He wasn’t bound, or blindfolded. Just naked in the black cell. He was curled in on himself, protectively. Like an early human, Kyle thought, shivering naked in a dark cave, fearful of the animal noises outside. Murdock’s eyes were bruised, almost swollen closed. He turned them away from the light and began to eat the bread as fast as he could. Kyle closed the hatch again.


He went to the other door. A man stood there waiting with BA’s tray.


“Go on,” Kyle said. The man exchanged a look with the other guards. “What?” The reserve of patience Kyle had allotted to the day was already worn to the bone and it was only seven thirty. “Oh give it here.” He snatched the tray, slopping the water onto it. He slid open the hatch and pushed the tray inside. No need to announce it, Baracus knew what it was…


“Christ!” Kyle yelled, as his wrist was grabbed through the hatch. Hands with terrible strength in them yanked him. Kyle fell and was pulled until he was up to his shoulder through the hatch. Two of the guards dropped to their knees, started trying to pull Kyle back.


Above them the remaining guard opened the observation hatch, started yelling in at BA.


“Let him go! Now! Let him go or I’ll shoot you!”


Kyle yelled with pain as his arm was twisted in a direction it wasn’t meant to go. A gunshot roared and Kyle heard it ricochet off the walls inside.


“Next one’s not a warning!” The guard yelled.


The grip on his arm was released and Kyle and the two guards trying to pull him away from BA all fell back in a heap. They lay panting for a moment.


“He tries that every time,” the standing guard said. “He’s a wild animal.”


Kyle could heard Baracus laughing. A surprisingly high pitched sound for such a big man. Sniggering.


No scared cavemen cowering from the animal noises in the night that one, Kyle thought. More like the growl deep in the dark cave you’d gone into for shelter and were now regretting…


Kyle disentangled himself from the other men, and got to his feet, cradling his battered and bruised arm. The guards helped each other up behind him. Kyle glanced at them and remembered what one of them had asked for that first night.


“Taser,” Kyle said. He nodded. “Taser.” Definitely a good idea.


Kyles radio squawked and Anderson’s voice came through.


“Kyle, better come up to Smith and Peck’s cells. It’s starting.”


~~~~


When Kyle got to Hannibal and Face’s cells he found the place bustling with people. Sevchenko was there, giving orders and the guards were bringing Hannibal out of his cell. He was hooded, manacled. He stumbled along between two guards supporting him.


The hood is a mistake, Kyle thought. It hurts us as much as him, I can’t see if he’s really as out of it as he appears. But there was no point in arguing about it. Torturers loved the hood.


“Follow me,” Sevchenko told the guards. They did. Sokoll and Kuprin were there too, they followed directly after. Kyle and Anderson followed them. Getting the bound Hannibal down the stairs was tricky, he stumbled many times as they manoeuvred him down. Kuprin and Sokoll didn’t help by continually punching and slapping him and shouting insults at him.


Kyle know where they were heading.


~~~~


When they pulled the hood off Hannibal had to squeeze his eyes closed against the bright lights directly over him. He was strapped to an operating table in a white tiled room. When he opened his eyes again Sevchenko was looking down at him, the first time Hannibal had seen him since the softening up had started.


“Hello, John,” Sevchenko said, smiled.


“Hello, weasel,” Hannibal replied, wiping the smile off Sevchenko’s face. Seems he expected me to be a bit more amenable, Hannibal thought. He raised his head, looking around. Another small grey man was there too, fiddling with machinery. Hannibal twisted his head enough to catch a glimpse of Kyle and another man.


The two big guys, the Russians, who had been tormenting him, had been here, he remembered their voices. But they were gone now. They must have gone back to keep working on the others. The thought of that made Hannibal strain against the restraints.


“Mr Kyle, Mr Anderson, you don’t have to stay,” Sevchenko said. “Dr Markovic and I can manage alone now, he is fully secured.”


“We’re staying right here.” Hannibal heard Kyle say. “I’m not underestimating this man again.”


“I think you may have moved on to overestimating him instead,” Sevchenko said. He frowned. He wanted them out, Hannibal thought, but he was stopping short of ordering it. “Very well, but stay quiet and do not interfere.”


He turned back to Hannibal. “Now, Colonel, shall we begin?” He attached an electrode to Hannibal’s chest. Hannibal’s heart started to beat faster. His skin tingled though there was no current running through the wire yet. Electricity. The KGB liked electricity Hannibal knew.


They had a hi-tech looking machine for it Hannibal could see. Sevchenko seemed to like the fancy equipment, but Hannibal suspected he’d be as happy with one improvised from a truck battery, or just a red hot poker. He already knew Sevchenko was happy with a simple pair of pliers. Thinking of that made him curl his hands into fists, over his fingernails.


Sevchenko placed several more electrodes.


He must be able to feel me trembling, Hannibal thought. But that’s all he’s getting. I’m not going to beg. Sweat broke out across his chest and face as he fought to keep his terror internal. Begging would be useless anyway, he knew that. This was going to happen. And there was nothing he could do to make it stop. Sevchenko wasn’t after information that Hannibal could give up. He wasn’t after a confession, or a renunciation. He just wanted pain. He just wanted to enjoy Hannibal’s suffering.


The only way this ended was when Hannibal was dead.


Sevchenko looked at the electrodes arranged on Hannibal’s body and nodded, apparently satisfied. Then he walked over to the machine and threw a switch.


~~~~


Hannibal screamed.


Kyle looked up as the lights dimmed. He should have made sure the bastards had their damn machine on a separate supply. If this – Hannibal screamed again – crap blew out all the electricity…


Sevchenko stood beside his machine and worked the dials with light touches, not even looking at them. He knew the machine like a musician knows his instrument, Kyle thought.


Hannibal stopped screaming, fell back on the operating table, his breath coming harshly, panting. Sevchenko waited a moment then he started to turn a dial slowly. Hannibal gave a moan that turned into a scream as the current increased and Kyle saw Sevchenko smile with pleasure in the dimming flickering lights.


“We’re going to lose the lights if he keeps this up,” Anderson said. “Make him stop.” Kyle turned to him, saw a pleading look in the man’s eyes. “Just make him stop, Kyle.” Kyle turned to the table. Sevchenko was edging the voltage up.


“Stop!” Kyle shouted, over the screams. “You’re going to blow out the lights.”


Sevchenko glared at Kyle. “Quiet,” he ordered. “No interference.”


Kyle stepped up to the table.


“I said stop! If we lose the lights we compromise security. Do you want these men loose to come after you?”


Hannibal’s scream stopped abruptly. But his body was still tense, the current was still flowing, Sevchenko looked away from Kyle, looked alarmed at Hannibal and cut the power. The lights came back to full strength. Hannibal’s body flopped limp onto the table.


Kyle frowned and put a hand on the Colonel’s neck, checking for a pulse.


“Well, you can crack open your first bottle. He’s dead.”

Chapter 6

Face sat against the wall in his cell. The bright lights were on and noise was being piped in again. He’d never heard a live camel being chainsawed before, but suspected that the noise he was hearing now was what it would sound like. His head felt as if someone was drilling their way out of it.


Sleep, his mind begged. Sleep or go insane. But they had injected him with something earlier. Something that had left him with his eyes wide and glazed and feeling certain that sleeping would lead to death.


He wasn’t alone in the cell. Billy was there. He recognised the dog as the same one he’d seen while on his little trip in Zaire last year. The dog that wasn’t there.


A year ago upon the stair, I saw a dog that wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, I wish that dog would go away.


Unless he was replaced with a moose. There really wasn’t room in here. No, Billy had to go away, he had to go back to Murdock. Murdock needed him too right now. Needed him more.


“Murdock,” Face said.


He blinked.


There was an explosion outside the door. Hannibal, in full combat gear, a hunting knife between his teeth, carrying an M60, kicked in the door. Bodies littered the ground behind him. He reached out to Face.


“Let’s get out of here, kid.”


Face blinked again.


The vision of Hannibal vanished. He looked up as the lights dimmed suddenly. Brown out.


“Go out,” Face whispered. At least in the dark he couldn’t see the dog that wasn’t there.


The lights kept on flickering and Face suddenly had a horribly clear idea of why.


~~~~


“No!” Sevchenko cried. He looked horrified, he turned and yelled at Markovic in Russian. The doctor ran to the metal cupboard started unlocking the deep drawer at the bottom.


“What’s the problem?” Kyle asked. “You want him dead, don’t you?”


“It’s too soon!” Sevchenko cried, wild eyed. “It’s too soon!” He yelled at the doctor again.


Kyle looked at Hannibal on the table. Hannibal was completely still. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. His skin was grey and his lips were blue tinged.


Markovic was filling hypodermics and shouting orders at Sevchenko in Russian. Sevchenko pulled over the heart monitor, attached it as the doctor instructed him. In a moment the long flat beep screamed out of the machine.


Markovic pushed Kyle aside and plunged a large hypodermic into Hannibal’s chest, pressed the plunger in. The flat line on the heart monitor didn’t flicker. The doctor said something that sounded like a curse, and, surprisingly agile, he climbed right onto the table, straddled Hannibal and thumped down hard on his chest, one two three times.


Kyle backed up to stand beside Anderson again. The two mercenaries looked at each other and then just stared.


The doctor cursed again when there was still no reaction. He started to administer CPR, checking his watch as he did so, and then he grabbed a second hypodermic and injected Hannibal again.


For a second there was still no response. But then they all heard the beep from the monitor and Hannibal took a huge gulp of air. Kyle heard Anderson let out a long sighing breath.


The heart monitor began to beep rhythmically and Hannibal opened his eyes, though there was no recognition of anyone in them. In a moment they closed again and he slipped into unconsciousness. The doctor got down from the table. He took out a snowy white handkerchief and patted his sweating forehead. Then he spoke softly in Russian to Sevchenko who was leaning on his shock machine, looking pale.


“Um, Mr Kyle,” Sevchenko said. “Arrange to take the prisoner back to his cell. The doctor will stay with him.” Kyle nodded at Anderson.


“Get some men and a stretcher,” Kyle ordered. Anderson left quickly.


While the doctor fussed around Hannibal. Sevchenko came round to where Kyle stood.


“This is unfortunate,” he said. “The doctor thinks Smith will die if he goes through another session.”


“I thought killing them was the idea?” Kyle said.


“Of course. But not so soon.”


Not nearly as much fun, Kyle supposed.


“So what now?”


“Well the others are younger and healthier of course, they should stand up to the treatment for a long time.”


Kyle frowned. “Just how long are you expecting this to take?”


“As long as it takes, Mr Kyle.” He looked at Kyle’s unhappy expression. “Don’t worry, you will continue to be paid per day.”


“But it could take weeks.”


“If necessary.” Sevchenko smiled. “I have planned this for a long time, I don’t see any reason to rush.”


“These men are dangerous,” Kyle said. “Keeping them alive that long is an unacceptable risk.”


“Mr Kyle, I have faith in your security.”


Anderson led in several men, carrying a stretcher. Sevchenko put a hand on Kyle’s arm moved him out of the way.


“Why keep Smith alive, though?” Kyle asked. “If you can’t work on him what use is he?”


“Mr Kyle,” Sevchenko said, smiling in a somewhat patronising way. There are other ways to torture a man.” He glanced over at Hannibal being loaded onto the stretcher. “I won’t even have to lay a finger on him.”


~~~~


“I have the weirdest barbecues,” Frankie said to himself. “Or the weirdest guests at least.”


Frankie loved to barbecue. So he’d decided the best cover for this little meeting was one of his regular barbecues. That way his nosy neighbours might not notice that he had a bunch of guests with “trained to kill” written all over them. Or rather a different bunch of guests than the normal trained to kill ones.


Right after Willis’s phone call he’d got in his car, gone round to Hannibal’s house and found the colonel’s address book. Then he’d made some phone calls. Some long distance. Some international. And the people he called made some calls themselves. Leave was sought, flights were booked.


And now he was answering the door to a stream of people who made him nervous and excited all at once.


Maggie was already there. She’d turned up on Frankie’s doorstep the morning after he called her and had been here pretty much every moment since, helping him make plans.


Faris Madari and Kahil Jahni had arrived first for the barbecue, both looking grim and determined. They were followed closely by three people Frankie had never met before. He knew their names from the team, and had found them in Hannibal’s address book. He just wasn’t sure they’d actually want to help. Their time working with the team hadn’t been the happiest, from what Frankie had been told.


But they had come. Frankie just hoped they stayed. Two of them scared the bejesus out of him, frankly. Rebecca Wallace and Abid Hassan were military head to toe. Wallace a Marine, tall, blonde and intense. Hassan a Navy SEAL, also tall, Middle Eastern looking, but with a thick Bronx accent. They shook your hand and with a glance decided they could take you out in five seconds. The last one, Eve Miller didn’t look at all scary, a pretty black woman, barely five feet four. But Frankie knew she was CIA and had little doubt despite her being several inches shorter than him she could probably take him out in three seconds.


Miller seemed quite friendly and even the reserved Wallace gave Frankie a small smile, but Hassan had a dark and surly look on his face.


Things almost got sticky even when Frankie was making introductions. As he introduced the newcomers to Madari and Jahni, Madari said something in Arabic to Hassan, in a questioning tone of voice.


“I’m sorry, sir.” Hassan said. “I don’t speak Arabic, my family’s Turkish.”


“Oh, I’m sorry.” Madari said.


“That’s all right, sir, we’re quite happy being Turkish.”


“That’s not what I…” Madari began, gave a humourless smile, “but you know that.” Frankie watched nervously, saw Jahni scowl darkly. How the heck am I going to manage this bunch of Rottweilers? Frankie wondered. Miller elbowed Hassan in the side, frowned at him, making him look away and then back off.


The doorbell rang again and Frankie hurried off to answer it, hoping the Rottweilers wouldn’t break up too much of the furniture.


A young woman stood at the door, casually dressed and wearing sunglasses and a straw sun hat. “Frankie Santana?” She took off her glasses and put her hand out when he nodded. “I’m Karen Bennett.”


“Lieutenant, come on in,” Frankie said, returning her friendly smile. She at least didn’t seem to be sizing him up when she shook hands. Unless she just hid it better than the others. “Thanks so much for coming, you got leave okay?”


“Yeah, had some coming up.” She followed him into the living room, taking off her hat and shaking out her light brown hair. The other had taken seats now. Nobody seemed to be bleeding yet, so things were going better than Frankie had hoped. Maggie caught his eye when he came in, gave him a “what the hell are we getting into?” look. He gave her a weak smile in return.


“Karen,” Madari said, rising, with a smile on his face.


“Colonel! Looking good. Hey, you shaved off the beard.” She shook his hand enthusiastically.


“It was nagged off.” Madari said, rubbing his clean-shaven chin.


“Well it looks good. So do you, Kahil, you sexy beast.” She shook his hand, grinning. Jahni blushed, and grinned back at her.


“Guys,” Frankie said to the others. “This is Lieutenant Karen Bennett, of the Australian army.” He saw the Americans look her over with unimpressed expressions. She stared back at them not apparently intimidated. “Right,” Frankie said, nervously. “I’m going to see about the food. You all get acquainted and I’ll bring out some drinks.”


He hurried off in the direction of the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge and held the cold bottle against his face.


“Nerves a bit stretched?” Maggie’s voice came from behind him, and he turned to her.


“You could say that.” He found the bottle opener and uncapped the beer. “Man, those people are full-on.”


Maggie nodded. “Military types usually are. What time is Willis getting here?”


“Five. It can’t be soon enough.” Frankie took a long swallow of his beer. It was like being around the team again. Maybe not the last few years, when they’d become almost normal people. Most of the time anyway. But like at Langley, back when they could scare the crap out of Frankie just by the way they moved. Just a little faster than other people, normal people. That lot out there were as intense as the team. And as competitive, jockeying for position already.


And Frankie had to persuade them that what they all really wanted to do was band together and go with him to rescue the A-Team.


~~~~


Hannibal’s eyes flickered open. He looked up at the ceiling of his cell. The first thing he noticed was that two of the tubes had been taken out of the lights. His eyes no longer ached. His chest on the other hand felt like it was on fire, He was dizzy and felt sick. He was sure if he moved too fast he would throw up.


There was a needle in his arm. He stretched to look up at an IV hanging over him. Some interrogation drug, he guessed to make him more sensitive to pain, or more confused. Not that he wasn’t confused enough. He reached for the needle.


“Don’t do that.”


The voice startled him. American accented. He lifted his head from the pillow. Wait, he had a pillow and a mattress? What damn game was this?


“It’s just to keep you hydrated, it’s not a drug. You pull it out, the doc will just put it in again.”


Hannibal managed to raise his head enough to see the face looking in at him through the observation hatch.


“What…” Hannibal tried to speak and started to cough, which wrenched agony through him. He held his chest. He heard the keys in the lock and the door opened. One man came in, Hannibal recognised him as the man who’d been standing with Kyle in the torture chamber. Anderson, he remembered the name now. The chamber was the last thing Hannibal remembered. Being wired up, the current flowing through him, every nerve screaming with pain. Had he passed out? Why the hell did his chest hurt so much?


Anderson helped Hannibal sit up and held up a cup of water, kept it steady as Hannibal drank slowly. After a moment Hannibal pulled away, lay down again.


“What’s with the Ritz treatment?” He asked, his voice still cracked and weak.


Anderson glanced back over his shoulder, at another man guarding the open door.


“Enjoy it while it lasts, Smith. It’s only until you recover.”


“Recover? From what?”


Anderson glanced at the guard again. Then he spoke very softly. “I don’t know what that Russian bastard has planned now, but I think you’ll soon be wishing they hadn’t brought you back.” He got up, retreated from the cell, and locked the door again. The observation hatch stayed open.


“Back from where?” Hannibal said out loud, getting no answer. He pulled the blankets down and found his chest was back and blue with bruising. He felt himself chill, despite the bedclothes. He’d seen men with bruising like that. After they’d been resuscitated.


“My god.” He whispered.

Chapter 7

“Kyle,” Maggie said, quietly.


Frankie glanced at her and saw her shiver. Willis had shown up with a whole carousel of slides and the first picture he projected onto the wall of Frankie’s den was of Kyle. They already knew he was behind the abduction, but seeing his picture, larger than life like that… Frankie guessed that had to be disturbing for Maggie.


But she stayed calm. Frankie admired her cool head. He supposed it was down to her medical training and Vietnam experience. If anything happened to Rosita Frankie knew he’d be too nuts to be of any use. Maggie on the other hand was just coldly determined to go get Hannibal back and knew crying and wailing about it was just a waste of time. Frankie was glad to have her aboard. He brought his attention back to Willis, who was filling in details for those who didn’t know Kyle’s resume.


“Douglas Kyle,” Willis said. “He was a mercenary hired to eliminate the A-Team, ten years ago.”


“And he failed,” Maggie said. “And went to jail for the kidnap of the family he used as hostages.”


Willis nodded. “He was released nearly two years ago.”


“Hannibal has mentioned him.” Madari looked up from the dossier on Kyle he was reading. “He was worried initially that Kyle might come after the team for revenge.”


Willis looked at him, still with the nervous look he’d had when first introduced to Madari, Jahni and Bennett. He’d turned to Frankie and said, “Foreign nationals?”


“Friends,” Frankie had tried to reassure him. Even so Willis had put a couple of the files he’d brought with him straight back into his briefcase.


“Kyle has tried to return to being a mercenary, according to reports,” Willis said. “But without much success. He’s done some work as a bounty hunter. Then he was flagged passing through Venice airport on a private jet flight heading to Albania, at the same time as our man in Venice reported that the A-Team had vanished.”


“No way that’s a coincidence,” Frankie said.


“No. Our agents in Albania have tracked Kyle here.” He brought up another slide, of a grim mountainous landscape and in the distance a sinister house, clinging high up the side of a mountain.


“That’s as close a shot as our people could get. It’s a very remote area and strangers are soon noticed.”


“Charming little place.” Frankie grimaced. “What, were all the castles in Transylvania booked up for the summer?”


“What’s the access to that place?” Bennett asked.


“It is possible to get up the mountain on foot to it. But Kyle and his people are coming and going by helicopter.”


He flicked through a few more shots of the landscape and the house, then a picture taken elsewhere came up. A town lay in the background of the picture and the foreground was taken up by a large helicopter, a couple of men standing beside it.


“This is their helicopter. It’s…”


“A Huey!” Maggie exclaimed. “It’s an old Huey.”


“Yes. They are using it to make regular supply runs to a local town.”


Frankie saw Madari looking at the picture of the chopper keenly. “And that is how we get the team off the mountain,” he said. “Kahil, can you fly that if Murdock is injured?”


Jahni looked at the slide rather nervously. “I’ve never flown anything that size before…” Frankie saw him notice Wallace and Hassan look at him then at each other and at once he changed his tone, sounding brashly confident. “But I can do it, no problem.”


“Mr Willis,” Maggie said. “You said Klye hasn’t been very successful as a mercenary, so where is all the money coming from? For the house, the helicopter, the men he must have working for him? Someone must have hired him.”


Willis looked glum, nodded. “I agree, Doctor, and I’ve been investigating that for several days, but I just can’t trace who the client is.”


They were all silent for a moment. The team had many enemies, Frankie knew. He and Maggie had been going over the names of all the ones they could think of, especially the rich ones. It hadn’t got them anywhere.


“How many men does Kyle have there?” Madari asked.


“At the last count we believe it’s approximately twenty.”


Twenty. The number sounded big to Frankie as he looked around at the small unit he’d gathered. If only there’d been more time. But, according to Johnny, these guys were all really good. Frankie had faith in that judgement.


“Mr Willis,” Madari said. “Why did you come to Mr Santana with this information? Are you saying that your government intends to take no action to rescue its citizens from a kidnapper?”


Frankie glanced at him. Madari’s voice was hard, he sounded angry that the team were once again being abandoned to their fate by their own government. But his tone didn’t intimidate Willis, in fact it seemed to anger him.


“Are you suggesting the US sends a military force into Albania?” He demanded. “To recover those men? Do you really believe that is politically possible?” He calmed himself then went on. “The A-Team has always been a thorny issue in Washington. Even after they were pardoned. There are many people who would be happy for them to simply disappear.”


“Yeah, with some of the stuff they know,” Frankie said. “With the people Stockwell took down with him, because of the team, they’d be real happy.”


“Believe me,” Willis said. “I don’t like the idea of going against my own agency.” He glanced at Miller, his fellow CIA agent. “But, well… I think the way those men have been treated is wrong. I’m convinced that the government knew for years that they did the bank robbery under orders, as the team always claimed, but it wasn’t… politically expedient to act on that. And then the way they, and you Mr Santana, were used by General Stockwell.” He shook his head, grimaced, looked disgusted. “Stockwell used to be CIA, the sort of man who gives us a bad name at home and abroad. The kind of manipulation he practised…” He shook his head again. “It was just wrong, that’s all.”


Wallace, Hassan and Miller all looked a little uncomfortable at that. They’d worked for Stockwell, and unlike Frankie and the A-Team, they’d been volunteers.


“So you’re trying to make up for the way the team got screwed over?” Frankie asked Willis.


“Yes,” Willis said. “Yes. I guess I am. Look, this is all I can do for you, bring you the information you need. What you decide to do now I can’t help you with. From the people you’ve assembled it looks like you’re planning a rescue mission. All I can do is wish you luck.”


After that he accepted a cold root beer and got out of there, leaving behind the slides and a lot of photocopied pages from files. They spread them on a table and pored over them.


“This information will get us there, and give us a good idea of what we are facing,” Madari said. “But all of this is useless unless we have weapons.”


“Actually,” Frankie said. “I’ve got a lead on that.” He glanced at his watch. “In fact I have an appointment in a little while to see someone who is going to help us out.” He smiled evilly. “Whether he wants to or not.”


~~~~


Murdock blinked as they pulled the hood off. He was strapped to a metal table in a white tiled room. Here we go, he thought. He shivered, knew that wasn’t down to the temperature of the room. A rough hand grabbed his head and held it down, secured it with a strap that pressed painfully into his forehead. Murdock closed his eyes as he couldn’t turn his head away from the bright lights above him.


He heard a squeaking sound and felt the foot of the table was being raised. Instinctively he grabbed at the edges, fearing he would fall off. But a moment later he realised he was too tightly strapped down, across his chest, waist and legs as well as wrists and ankles. Taking a deep breath he forced his body to relax. Better. He kept on with the deep breathing, trying to make himself calm, wondered if he could put himself into a trance. He’d seen hypnotists put people in trances and then stick needles into their flesh and they’d felt nothing. And what about those swamis in India who preferred a bed of nails to a feather mattress? There were times, back in the camps he’d gone into something like a trance and the torture sessions had passed in a blink. But his doctors called that a fugue and insisted it wasn’t good. It had seemed like a damned good option at the time.


“Hello, Mr Murdock.”


Murdock opened his eyes. Sevchenko stood by the table, looking down on him. Not a dream, Murdock thought. This time he’s real. The Russian’s face didn’t appear in his dreams as much as the Vietnamese faces. He was a one night stand in comparison to the long term relationships from the camp. His was a minor supporting role in the theatre of horrors that Murdock’s dreams could become. Even so he made Murdock shiver. So harmless looking too. The worst ones always were.


“My colleague Dr Markovic,” Sevchenko said, introducing the doctor as politely as if they were all about to sit down and have a business meeting.


“Charmed,” Murdock muttered.


The other two were there too. Kuprin and Sokoll, Murdock had learnt their names, heard guards call them that. He’d met those two already, of course. They’d been in his cell numerous times over the last how many days? The beatings hadn’t been extreme. Of course they didn’t want to kill him, before the boss had his way. Slapping. Punching. Hard enough to hurt, but not to permanently damage. Usually with the hood on, pulling him around, wrenching his arms. Stand here. Stand there. Not there. Here. Not here. There. And more punches when he didn’t move fast enough for them.


The doctor got out a stethoscope and listened to Murdock’s heart for a while, then he nodded to Sevchenko.


Doctors in torture chambers. Just the thought of it made Murdock sick to his stomach. He remembered the first time in the prison camp in Vietnam that a doctor had come into the interrogation room. His heart had leapt. A doctor! Doctors helped people. Surely he would stop the torture, the doctor would make them stop. But the doctor just listened to Murdock’s heart, checked his blood pressure, injected him with something and then went to the interrogators and nodded. And left with Murdock screaming after him to come back, to help.


The next time Murdock had tried talking to him. Maybe he didn’t understand what was happening here. “They’re torturing me, you have to help me. You’re a doctor, you have to help me.” That’s what doctors do isn’t it?


And another nod and they started on Murdock again. And he understood finally. Next time he screamed abuse at the doctor. Total hatred. You broke your oath, and worst of all, you’re keeping me alive so they can hurt me for longer. Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!


“Bastard…” Murdock muttered. The memories were pulling him down, rising up around his head, like dark water. Blood roared in his ears, thanks to the angle of the table leaving him with his head tilted back. His naked feet were outlined almost comically against the lights. Feet were such odd, funny looking appendages, he thought. He spread his toes as wide as he could. I’m head over heels. No, wait, that makes no sense. Head is usually over heels, should be heels over head…


A slap on his chest made him gasp out, brought him back to reality with a cold shock. His toes clenched tight again.


“Listen!” Kuprin snapped. Sevchenko was talking and Murdock hadn’t heard a word of it.


Sevchenko scowled looking down at Murdock. “Murdock? You’re not paying attention.”


“Oh, pardon me.” Murdock put as much defiance into his voice as he could muster. “I’ve not slept for days and I’m doped to the eyeballs with whatever filthy concoction Dr Frankenstein over there’s been mixing up in his lab, so I just may have the attention span of a gnat, okay?”


Sevchenko smiled thinly. “Well, I’m sure you’ll soon be concentrating very hard on what is going on.” He ran a hand over his thin hair to flatten it, then bent down over Murdock, spoke to him quietly, close to his face. “Now, I want something from you, Mr Murdock.”


“Sorry, I left my breath mints in Venice.” He saw Sevchenko nod at the men standing behind Murdock’s head, and Murdock groaned as a fist slammed hard into his shoulder, against already bruised flesh.


“I want your name, Murdock,” Sevchenko went on. “You see no matter how hard I searched, how much money I laid out, I wasn’t been able to get my hands on a file with your full name in it.” He smiled. “Is your name perhaps classified information?”


“Yeah,” Murdock said. “Only me and the president are allowed to know it.”


“Very amusing. Is it something terribly embarrassing?”


“Not nearly as embarrassing as Vassily. Did they call you ‘Vaseline’ at school?” Murdock heard a snort from behind him. Sevchenko glared at the two thugs, spoke to them coldly in Russian. Murdock heard them move away, heard them somewhere else in the room, moving things around.


Sevchenko turned back to Murdock. “You are going to tell me what HM stands for.”


Murdock heard water running and he began to sweat. Water. He knew at once what was coming. He’d had it done to him before. “You know…” his voice was still defiant, but starting to shake. “I think I’ve actually forgotten.”


“I think not.” Sevchenko stepped away, then came back, with a plastic sheet. “I believe you know what is about to happen. Do you wish to give me what I want before I proceed?”


It was terribly tempting. What did it matter after all? Murdock instinctively wanted to resist telling Sevchenko just because the bastard did want it. And because, well because it was his secret, that’s all. But was that secret worth going through this for? But was it a delusion to think Sevchenko would stop, whatever Murdock told him?


“Of course, I must warn you, once you tell me, once you give me what I want…” Sevchenko smiled. “Then I will kill you.”


Without waiting for Murdock to answer he took the sheet of clear plastic and held it over Murdock’s face. Not pressing down, not smothering him. Murdock began to breath fast, fogging up the plastic. He strained to move his head, but it was too tightly strapped down.


He didn’t hear Kuprin and Sokoll approach, but suddenly they were there, their bulky figures looming over him. One of them, they were too foggy for him to tell which, held something up over Murdock’s face, twisted the end of it. Water began to fall. A high pressured stream of it pounded down onto the plastic. Murdock started to gag in a pure reflexive reaction. His body jerked in a spasm as he tried in vain to get away from the water.


I’m drowning! Murdock’s mind screamed. Panic. Uncontrollable. Fists, toes, clenched. Water ran around his head, sprayed cold onto his chest. Got under the plastic sheet. Got in his mouth, his ears, up his nose. Agony.


I won’t drown, a tiny, still rational corner of his mind told him. My lungs are higher than my head. In this position I simply can’t aspirate enough water to drown. Screw that! I am drowning! I’m going to die!


“Stop!” He screamed. “Stop!”


They did. The water stopped falling, the plastic was removed. Murdock spat out the water in his mouth, and gulped in air, breath coming in fast gasps. Lights overhead whirled. Dizzy as a carousel. Vision tunnelling, full of black spots and flashes.


“Well, Murdock?” The accented voice beside his ear.


How long did I last? Felt like an hour. He knew it had been seconds.


“If I tell you…” he whispered, husky, agonised. “You’re going to kill me?”


“Yes.”


Murdock groaned and closed his eyes. He gathered the shreds of his nerves back together.


“Then go to hell.”


Sevchenko straightened up, and held the plastic sheet over Murdock’s face again. The torrent of water started to pour down and Murdock gagged and gasped and screamed.


Hell was much wetter than he’d expected.

Chapter 8

“You can go in now,” the secretary told Frankie. He stopped pacing and went to the door. It was actually two doors, tall and made of pale polished wood. Probably something very rare and endangered. Even more endangered since these offices were fitted out. Frankie took hold of the chrome door handle, hesitated. The secretary was watching him, he could feel her eyes on his back.


Go inside, Frankie. You have to do this. He pushed the door open and a smell of cigar smoke drifted out. That made him smile. More expensive than Johnny’s cigars for sure, but the smell reassured Frankie, made him like Johnny was right here with him. He knew that was how he’d get through this, by keeping on asking himself, how would Johnny handle this?


He wouldn’t be dawdling at the door, that was for sure. Frankie pushed both doors wide and stepped inside. He was faced with about an acre of carpet. Pale blue, a shag-pile ocean. Farrell’s desk was a distant ship, near the unshaded windows. Not windows really. Floor to ceiling, a glass wall keeping out the darkness.


Frankie squared his shoulders and set off across the carpet ocean. Who the hell had a pale blue carpet anyway? Did Farrell like to pretend he was Jesus walking on the water? The carpet, thick and soft, seemed to be trying to pull Frankie’s feet into its depths. He felt certain if he looked down now that it would be up to his knees already and getting deeper every second.


Farrell’s chair was turned away from the desk, facing out of the window. Frankie knew he was there because of the stream of cigar smoke that swirled lazily up and the reflection in the window. Farrell didn’t react as Frankie reached the desk.


“Mr Farrell?” Frankie said and waited. Still Farrell did not move.


The lights of the room were brightest over the desk. Blue white light poured down from a bank of lights and made Frankie want to reach into his pocket for his sunglasses. It also made him wonder about a man who lit his desk like a sound stage trying to simulate daylight, and then sat staring into the darkness outside.


Darkness. Night vision. The thought sprang into his head. They’d need some of those night vision goggles. Had they put those on the list? Ultra-red? Infra-violet? Or was that the other way around? Then he smiled. Hell, Farrell would know ten times better than Frankie exactly what they were going to need. He wasn’t going to need Frankie’s little shopping list.


(Automatic weapons, ammunition, medical kit, short-wave radio…)


This is insanity, Frankie thought, struck suddenly with the fear he hadn’t let himself feel so far. What he had planned was insanity and blackmailing Farrell to get hold of what he needed to even try it was insanity too. Farrell was powerful, influential. And a killer.


Frankie knew that Farrell could make one phone call and then… best case scenario Frankie never worked in Hollywood again. Worst case, he never went home to his family again.


A sudden harsh buzz made Frankie jump and started his heart pounding.


And finally Farrell turned his chair away from the window. He pressed a button on the intercom. The secretary’s voice came out of the air.


“Will you and your guest have coffee, Mr Farrell?”


Farrell took out his cigar. “No.” He gazed coldly at Frankie. “He’s not staying long.”


~~~~


“You keep well of the way until he’s secured.” Kyle ordered.


Sevchenko nodded, nervousness mixed with his anticipation. Kyle had to admit to some nervousness himself. He could hear them coming down the steps now. “Ready?” Kyle asked the four guards waiting in the torture chamber with him. They all nodded too.


The sound came closer, yelling, scuffling of boots on stone, grunts of pain. Then a group of struggling men burst into the room, six guards, and Anderson all surrounding BA. BA was roaring at them from beneath his hood, promising grisly death to every man in the vicinity. The men’s shoes and boots squeaked and skidded on the still wet floor. They dragged BA over to the wall, pushed him face first against it, all pressing their weight against him.


The four guards with Kyle at once started to fasten manacles to his wrists and ankles. They pulled the chains tight, allowing him no slack and the guards backed off. BA yanked hard on the chains, trying to rip them from the wall. When he couldn’t budge them he finally stopped fighting, stood there breathing hard.


Kyle shook his head. Crazy. Crazier than the pilot they’d carried out of here an hour ago. What was the use of wearing himself out with this psychotic aggression? Anderson, also panting, came up to Kyle.


“Next time I say we knock him out and drag him down here in a big net.” He wasn’t kidding. Kyle glanced over at Sevchenko. The Russian had a curiously excited look on his face. If Baracus got loose he’d soon wipe that smirk off, Kyle thought. He shook himself. My job to see that doesn’t happen.


Kuprin and Sokoll strolled in, Sokoll still finishing off a cup of coffee. They were in fresh, dry clothes now. Kyle had spoken to them a short time ago, telling them it was almost time to go back to work. They’d been tucking into a huge pile of sandwiches. Apparently waterboarding Murdock had given them an appetite.


Kyle dismissed all but two of the men, made Anderson stay too. Anderson looked resentful at the order. Because he’d rather go and put his feet up, or something else? Kyle wondered. He would have to have a serious talk with Anderson.


Kuprin pulled the hood off BA at Sevchenko’s order. BA turned his head round as far as he could, looking at the men behind him. Turned the other way to look over his other shoulder.


“You’re all dead men,” he announced, surprisingly calmly. He was scowling fiercely as usual, but his hands were shaking, Kyle saw now too. Was that pure physical exhaustion or fear? He had to know nothing good was coming.


Sevchenko stepped around into BA’s line of sight. “Hello, Bosco.”


“You can call me Mr Baracus,” BA growled in return.


“Ah, you are a proud man, aren’t you? But you are wrong, I can call you whatever I like. Because I am your master.”


BA snorted. “Ain’t no man ever been my master. You sure ain’t.”


“We’ll see.” He nodded at Kuprin, who went to the cupboard and took out the leather whip from the rack inside the door. He shook out his arm and cracked the whip, grinned and nodded, pleased.


“I want something from you, Bosco,” Sevchenko said, voice low, husky. “I want you to call me master.”


“Be a cold day in hell ‘fore that happens.”


“But you must understand something. As soon as you do what I want I will kill you.”


BA stared at Sevchenko for a moment. “You didn’t need to give me no extra reason not to do what you want.”


“I thought not.” He stepped back and nodded at Kuprin to begin. The thug raised his arm, then stopped as Sevchenko held up a hand. “Oh, one thing. I want you to say it in that quaint American way, Southern is it? How is it pronounced? ‘Mas’er'” He mangled the word with his Russian accent, but it as clear what he was trying to say.


“Sick, sick, sick.” It was a whisper only Kyle heard. He glanced at Anderson, who was glaring at Sevchenko in total disgust. Kyle glanced over to see BA was straining against the manacles again, but after a moment he brought himself under control.


“Ain’t never happening,” he said, voice calm. He’s making a vow, Kyle thought. He’ll die first. Sevchenko nodded at Kuprin then and the big man finally went to work.


Kyle had seen men whipped before, done it himself a couple of times. So he knew right away that Kuprin was going easy. He wasn’t putting all his weight behind it. Sevchenko really did intend to make this last as long as possible, Kyle thought. He didn’t want BA to lose enough blood to die. Not yet.


BA had taken ten lashes so far and still hadn’t cried out. Glancing at Anderson again Kyle thought he looked like he’d cry out before BA did.


Why draw this out? Kyle wondered. What was to be gained? There was the revenge of course, but then again Sevchenko had been out of circulation for a while, perhaps he was simply trying to get back into practice. Once he was who would he offer his services to? Kyle knew for a fact he was now a wanted criminal back home in Russia. Or maybe, Kyle thought, seeing the look on Sevchenko’s face as he watched the whipping, he simply enjoyed it. There was more than professional pride there, it gave him genuine pleasure.


That was what really bothered Kyle. Because that way it got personal.


Fifteen. BA was now letting out pained gasps.


Kyle wasn’t against torturing a man to get some information from him. He’d done that plenty. But what was the point of doing it for fun? It got dangerous then, you lost focus, got distracted.


It was the same with the revenge thing. Of course you took revenge if a man crossed you. How else could you protect your reputation? But taking revenge for personal satisfaction was not a good idea. It led to mistakes. Kyle knew that all too well. He’d let it get personal with the A-Team, let Smith get under his skin and walked right into their trap. Kyle had spent the first two years of his jail sentence plotting various hideous schemes of revenge against the team, until he’d finally got it.


Thinking that way had put him in that cell in the first place.


So he’d taken this job not to get any kind of kick out of finishing that job he’d started all those years ago, but to prove he could do it. That he could take on these men who had beaten him before and defeat them. That he’d learned.


BA cried out, finally. Kyle had lost count of the strokes, must be near thirty, he decided.


“Twenty eight,” he heard Anderson mutter. Like he was recording the number for posterity.


Twenty-nine.


Thirty.


You’ll never make him scream.


“Enough.” Sevchenko said. Kuprin stopped, rolled his shoulders. “That will do for today.”


Just a taster, to make him think about what’s to come. The doctor, who Kyle hadn’t even heard come in, checked BA’s back. Welts but little blood, Kuprin was an artist. Markovic nodded at Sevchenko who turned to Kyle. “Remove him.”


“Anderson, get the men back in here. Let’s get him back to his cell.”


Anderson looked relieved. Happy it was over already. Sorry, Jack, it only gets worse.


The men piled in. Kyle watched them unchain BA. This time he offered no resistance, slumped in their grip and they almost had to carry him. They manhandled him out of the room.


“Short session.” Kyle said.


Sevchenko shrugged. “I’m tired.” He said. “We can go on tomorrow, when…” he was cut off by a huge commotion from outside, yelling, the sounds of men hitting the wall and the floor.


Great, you’d think the guy would want to get some rest…


“Kyle!” A panicky yell. “Kyle, he’s loose!”


~~~~


Frankie gulped a couple of times, mouth dry. He’d have liked a coffee actually. He held out his hand to Farrell.


“Hi, I’m Frankie Santana. I used to…”


“I know exactly who you are,” Farrell snapped. He made no attempt to shake Frankie’s hand. Awkwardly Frankie withdrew it. There was no sign Farrell was going to invite Frankie to sit down either.


What would Johnny do? Frankie sat anyway, though he didn’t put his feet up on the desk, which he was certain Hannibal would have done. Farrell glared at him.


“I don’t have a lot of time. What do you want?”


“Okay. Well the A-Team have been kidnapped and…”


“Yes, I know. By Douglas Kyle. You are assembling a rather motley crew to go and rescue them.” He smiled smugly at Frankie’s astonishment. “I do still have friends at the company.”


“Right. Well in that case I’ll cut to the chase. I need your help.”


Farrell gave a short, harsh laugh. “If you think I’m going to Albania you’re even stupider than you look.”


Frankie’s fists clenched. Calm he told himself. Stay cool.


“We can manage without you, thanks. What we do need is transport, weapons and equipment. You’re as rich as God, you can help out that way.”


This time Farrell’s laughter sounded like genuine and highly unpleasant amusement. After a moment he stopped, smiled nastily at Frankie. “No.”


“I thought you might say that.” Frankie looked at a framed photograph on Farrell’s desk. A young woman expensively dressed, coiffed and tanned. “Is that your fiancée? Hey they say that’s going to be the wedding of the year.” Frankie gave a sly smile. “Do her family know that you used to work for Stockwell?”


Calm, calm. Frankie ordered himself, as Farrell’s face flushed and he scowled deeply.


“Might cause her dad a bit of trouble with that state supreme court nomination thing. Especially what you did down in South America of course. Hannibal said that was pretty much an execution…”


“Are you attempting to blackmail me?” Farrell sounded more astonished than angry.


“Um, yeah,” Frankie said. “Wasn’t that clear? Sorry, I kind of expected you to be quicker on the uptake.” Oh, yeah, that was definitely what Johnny would have said.


Farrell smiled thinly. He sat back in his chair and smoked his cigar for a while. Then he sat up straight and pulled a legal pad towards him, started writing on it with a Mont Blanc pen. “Okay, Santana, you win. I’ll give you what you want.” He looked up at Frankie, with an unpleasant expression. “And if my prayers are answered you and your Z-team will never be heard from again.”


“Aw, you don’t have to wish me luck.” Frankie said, trying to keep the smug smile off his face.


“You’ll get a phone call first thing tomorrow telling you what time to be at the airport. Now get the hell out of here and never let me see your face again.”


“Right. You need my phone number?” Frankie said standing up. Farrell just looked at him. “Right. Okay, well thanks. You’re doing the right thing.” He grinned. “Try not to feel too bad about that.” He turned to leave.


“Santana,” Farrell called. Frankie turned back. Farrell looked slightly awkward for a moment. “Would you say hello to Evie from me?”


“Miller?” Frankie said, surprised. “Okay.”


“Is she still engaged to Hassan?”


“Yeah, they’re talking about getting married next year, they said.”


Farrell shook his head. “Such a waste. She went to Princeton you know? Speaks about ten languages. And she’s going to throw herself away on a pork-dodging grunt who’ll probably make her wear a burkha after they’re married.”


Frankie stared at him, almost awestruck. “Wow, and I thought the team had to be exaggerating about just how unpleasant you are.”


The look on Farrell’s face told him it was time to leave. Frankie waded back across the ocean of carpet and left the office. He gave the secretary a big smile. She just gave him a cold look in return. He didn’t care.


Once in the elevator he leaned against the wall, his knees weak. But he still had the smile on his face. “I’m on my way, guys,” he said to the air. “We are on our way.”

Chapter 9

“Stay here!” Kyle shouted back over his shoulder, as he ran to the door.


There was no question of that. Kuprin and Sokoll followed Kyle out, but Sevchenko and Markovic ran to slam the door closed after them. Kyle heard the bolts on the inside being rammed home.


BA was part way up the steps, a set of handcuffs dangling from one wrist. The bracelet that should have been on his other wrist hung open. The guards were pointing guns at him and yelling, but no-one fired because, in front of BA, one of the sergeant’s huge arms around his throat, was Anderson, red in the face and making horrible choking noises. BA’s free hand roamed over Anderson’s body, searching for his gun.


“Your men must not fire.” Kuprin said.


“Well of course not, idiot,” Kyle snapped. “He’s got a hostage.”


Kuprin gave Kyle a scowl. “Mr Sevchenko wants Baracus alive,” he said. Kyle stared at him in disgust for a second, then turned away, shaking his head.


He saw BA give up on searching Anderson. Anderson must have ditched his gun when he was grabbed, Kyle realised, surprised at the man’s quick thinking. BA started retreating backwards up the steps, dragging Anderson stumbling after him.


“Let him go, Baracus,” Kyle said. “There’s no place to go. And if you kill him we’ve got no reason not to rush you.”


“Yeah,” BA growled, sneering. “Your guys look real eager to rush me.”


Kyle glanced at the men. They looked like they’d trip over each other to be the last one to get to BA.


But Kyle was right, there was no place for BA to go. A moment later, summoned over the radio, a squad arrived at the top of the stairs, led by Berry. Berry apparently didn’t care whether BA snapped Anderson’s neck. He ran down the stairs, guards coming fast after him. BA tried to turn to meet the new threat and the men at the bottom of the stairs at once advanced on him. The two groups engulfed BA, slamming him back against the wall, making him howl in agony as his abused back was scraped against the gritty stone.


Anderson fell out of the scrum of men, tumbled down the steps and lay coughing, rubbing his throat. Kyle went over and pulled him to his feet.


“I’m okay,” Anderson gasped, swaying. “I’m okay.” He leant heavily on Kyle and almost fell down when Kyle pushed him away. Kyle grabbed his arm and shoved him against the wall.


“You’re a damn liability, Anderson.”


“It was the cuffs,” Anderson protested. “They mustn’t have closed properly. We need a larger size.”


“I don’t want to hear excuses. Either get your ass in gear or get the hell out.”


Anderson bristled, looking outraged. He opened his mouth, but Kyle just snapped, “Shut the hell up and get Baracus back in his cell.” The melee on the stairs had calmed down now, BA had been overpowered and they’d got the manacles secured on him. The guards started to haul BA back up the steps. Anderson, still red in the face, from anger now, followed them.


Kyle went back to the door of the torture chamber and knocked on it.


“You can come out now, he’s secured,” he shouted through the door. He heard the bolts being pulled back and in a moment the door opened and Sevchenko and Markovic peered out nervously. They saw BA disappearing from sight at the top of the steps, still struggling against the guards and both breathed sighs of relief.


Markovic spoke to Sevchenko who then turned to Kyle. “Does anyone need medical attention?”


“Might be a few cuts and bruises,” Kyle said. He took a breath and spoke as politely as he could manage. “I’d appreciate it if the doc checked my men out.”


“But of course,” Sevchenko said, sent the doctor off up the stairway, then turned to Kyle again. “Thank you, Mr Kyle, for ensuring my security.”


“Just doing my job.”


And don’t for a second think it’s anything else, Kyle thought. Because if you weren’t paying me, I’d hold Baracus’ coat while he tore your head off. And ate it.


~~~~


“LAX. 11 am,” a female voice said when Frankie answered the phone at five thirty in the morning the day after his late night meeting with Farrell.


Five thirty. Well if the earliness of the call was meant as a small act of nastiness on Farrell’s part then the guy had clearly never had any kids. Frankie was actually standing in the living room feeding the baby when the call came in. He gave the rest of his rescue party a couple of hours before he called them at their hotels and told them where to meet him.


As Frankie, Rosita and Maggie walked into the terminal building at the airport a man stepped up to them.


“Santana,” he said and handed Frankie a leather folder. A second later he vanished into the crowd.


“Fast worker,” Maggie said, taking Frankie’s bag as he unzipped the folder. There were papers inside, but most importantly, nestled in a a pocket of the folder, an American Express Platinum Card. The name on it was “Mr F Santana.” Frankie took it out and smiled as he showed it to Maggie and Rosita.


“I always wanted one of these,” he said. “Especially one where I’m not going to get the bill for it. Anyone got a pen handy? I’d better sign it…”


It was already signed. Frankie stared. It was definitely his signature.


“Honey, did anyone come to the house in the middle of the night and make me sign this in my sleep?”


Rosita shook her head, looking at the signature with the same astonishment as Frankie. “What kind of man is this Farrell person anyway?”


“I’m thinking that while I’m away you should go and stay with your mother,” Frankie said. “Or maybe even go on vacation some place. Like, maybe Alaska.”


“There’s the others,” Maggie said, pointing to their party. Frankie looked over and sighed.


“Geez,” he muttered. “Way to be inconspicuous people.” They were sitting or standing, looking tense and in most cases, despite their civilian clothes, looking like soldiers. Jahni stood behind the seated Madari, casing the area as if expecting an attack. Wallace was guarding the group’s bags. Quite clearly guarding and not just watching. Hassan stood slightly apart and watched everyone who came near. Perimeter guard.


Only Miller and Bennett were managing to appear casual. Bennett had her straw hat on again and a pink t-shirt that said “Kiss me, I’m Australian”, so she didn’t exactly look military.


“Hi, guys,” Frankie said. A man stepped up to his side. The group instantly got even more tense.


“Mr Santana, I’m your pilot.” He wore a blue uniform and cap. His eyes were hidden by aviator style sunglasses, but his smile was reasonably friendly. He was young, no more than thirty, Frankie thought.


“There’s a slight delay, I’m afraid. We can’t take off for another three hours.” He ignored the groans from his passengers. Madari and Bennett had risen when Frankie arrived and Bennett now flopped back down in her seat again with a sigh. Miller hadn’t stood up. Frankie noticed Maggie looking at her. She did look a bit pasty he thought, and wondered if she was a nervous traveller.


“We had a technical problem and lost the take off slot we’d been allocated. All fixed now. Here’s the details.” The pilot handed Frankie a card folder of documents. “If your party comes to the gate in three hours we should be ready to leave.”


“Yeah, great,” Frankie said. Damn delays, every minute they were delayed… well he didn’t want to think about what it meant for the team.


The pilot left. Madari turned to the group. “It’s best we go and get through passport check and security now. Gather your belongings, please.”


“Wait a minute,” Hassan said, frowning. “When did we agree that this guy is in charge?”


“‘This guy’ is a colonel, Sergeant,” Jahni snapped.


“He’s not my colonel.”


“Abid…” Miller said. Maggie and Rosita caught each other’s eyes and exchanged a look that Frankie knew simply meant “men”.


“Is there a problem, Sergeant?” Madari asked.


“Yeah there’s a problem. We’re American soldiers.” He glanced at Wallace, who hadn’t spoken, but had came to stand beside Hassan. “We don’t like taking orders from… foreigners.”


“You mean you don’t like taking orders from Arabs.” Jahni said, stepping closer to Hassan. Madari frowned at him, and the look made him back off.


“Hey, c’mon, guys,” Frankie said, “We’re all volunteers here. The colonel didn’t mean to step on anyone’s toes, I’m sure. Look, let’s sort out all this who’s in charge stuff on the plane, right? Right?” There was a tense moment, then Hassan shrugged and went off to pick up his and Miller’s bags. Frankie gave a sigh of relief. “Geez,” he muttered again.


“That reminds me,” Miller said, standing up and holding out her hand. “Abid, Becky, give me your dog tags.” When they hesitated she said, “I know you’re both proud to be American soldiers, but if we get into any kind of trouble over there, with the authorities, they don’t need to know that’s what you are.”


Frankie recognised that sort of thinking of course. What had Murdock once called it? Spook 101.


Slowly, reluctantly Wallace and Hassan removed their ID tags, dropped them into Miller’s hand.


“Anyone else prefer not to risk embarrassing their government?” Miller asked. Bennett shrugged and gave up her tags. Madari and Jahni followed. Miller gave all the tags to Rosita, who dropped them into her purse.


“Anyone else feel like they’re naked?” Bennett asked, rubbing her neck.


Frankie was chuckling at that and watching the group start to gather up their stuff when Madari took his arm and spoke quietly to him.


“Frankie, may I have a word with you. In private.”


“Um, sure.” Frankie said, saw the very serious look in the Colonel’s eyes. They moved away from the others.


“Frankie, first let me say that what you have done, bringing us all together, getting us the plane, that is amazing work. I wouldn’t have thought it possible in such a short time.”


“Hey,” Frankie said, smiling. “I work in Hollywood. Doing the impossible on short notice is like a basic job skill.”


“Even so, thank you.”


Uh-oh, something’s coming, Frankie thought, I can feel it, and it’s coming right around the corner at me.


“I don’t think you should come to Albania,” Madari said.


“Whoa!” Frankie protested at once. “This is my party, Colonel. Are you trying to ditch me?”


“Yes, I am,” Madari said, then went on quickly, as Frankie was about to speak again. “From here onwards, this is a military operation. You are not a military man.”


“Neither is Maggie, I don’t see you trying to dump her.”


“Dr Sullivan was a medic in Vietnam. And we will very likely need a doctor.”


“But you don’t need me?”


Madari looked uncomfortable, spoke quietly. “It will be dangerous, you know that. And we don’t need you as much as your family needs you.” He glanced over at Rosita who was sitting with Maggie. Frankie looked at her too. He was struck momentarily by how good her hair looked today.


It was a temptation he had to admit. Madari was right, it was going to be dangerous. And of course they could handle the mission without Frankie. He saw Madari glance at Rosita again, and wondered if the colonel was imagining having to face her with the news that Frankie wasn’t coming home.


So it was tempting. But Frankie imagined himself sitting at home, waiting for a phone call… Good news or bad? No. No way.


“Colonel, we’ve got three hours to kill, I want to show you something. We’ll need to take a short drive.”

Chapter 10

When the guards came to get Hannibal from his cell they found him lying on his bunk with one blanket wrapped around him. The mattress and pillow were on the floor. Kyle shrugged and told a guard to remove them.


“You don’t get these back, Smith,” Kyle said.


“If I wanted them they wouldn’t be on the floor would they?” They’d taken out the IV a couple of hours ago and then brought him food. Not stale bread and water this time. Fresh bread, cold chicken, a couple of hard boiled eggs and an apple. And along with the water, tea to drink.


Hannibal had looked at the tray with this banquet on it for some time. The others weren’t getting this, he was certain of that. Just like they didn’t have a mattress and pillow. Hannibal had already thrown those items to the floor.


But because the others weren’t getting food like this did that mean Hannibal should reject it? The others were getting just enough to stay alive. It looked like Hannibal was getting enough to keep him reasonably healthy too. It would feel good to make a gesture of comradeship and refuse extra food the others weren’t getting. On the other hand Hannibal had to be smart, had to take advantage of anything that would help him to stay strong enough to take any opportunity to help the others.


So he ate the food. He ate quickly and took no pleasure in it. It’s fuel, he told himself, not entertainment. Just get it down and don’t for think about it, about the crisp sweetness of the apple, the softness of the bread. No. It’s fuel. I’m a car and this is gasoline. The tea was cold by the time he came to drink it. He decided if they gave him tea again, or coffee, he would let it go cold every time before he drank it. Sackcloth and ashes, Colonel.


Kyle’s men took Hannibal back to the white tiled room. He started to sweat as they took him in there. Flashes came back to him now, the table, the electrodes, the electric shocks that felt like they were smashing open every cell in his body. He struggled, pulling away from the table. But that’s not where they were heading this time. They dragged him over to the wall and secured his arms and feet to the manacles there, facing away from the wall.


Kyle and Anderson stayed and the other guards left the room.


Sevchenko came in only once Hannibal was in the manacles. He smiled his sickening smile.


“John. You did give us a fright before. I hope you are feeling stronger.”


“Drop dead.” Hannibal snarled. It wasn’t up to his usual standard he feared, he was still exhausted and in pain. But it was certainly heartfelt. “And stop calling me John, you bastard.” Only Maggie called him John. God, Maggie. What he’d give to see her again right now. He wondered if she’d realised something was wrong yet. He hadn’t been calling her every single day during his vacation, they weren’t lovesick teenagers, after all. But several days had passed, she must have missed him by now.


“I want something from you, John,” Sevchenko said


“Yeah, yeah, I know, you want to hear me scream.”


“No, no, I appreciate I’m going to have to change my methods with you. But variety is the spice of life is it not?”


“Yeah. One day I’m in a luxury hotel room the next I’m in a stone cell. Life’s a roller-coaster ride for sure.”


“You are feeling better,” Sevchenko said, sounding approving. Then he went suddenly serious again. Like he’d flipped a switch, Hannibal thought. Yeah, I think this guy flipped a long time ago.


“What I want from you, John, is for you to tell me which of your men I should torture today.”


Hannibal stared and felt his gut freeze as he saw clearly what Sevchenko was going to do, exactly how he was going to torture Hannibal from now on.


“No.” Hannibal’s voice was soft.


“Come along, John.” The tone was impatient, like a teacher demanding an answer. “Which member of the A-Team should I torture now?”


There was only one way to answer that.


“Me.”


Sevchenko smiled, clearly expecting that answer.


“I’m afraid not, John.” He turned to Kyle. “I think we’ll have Mr Peck. He hasn’t had my personal attention yet. And call Mr Sokoll to come down please.”


Kyle frowned and got on the radio. Sevchenko turned to Hannibal, spoke to him almost conversationally.


“I haven’t worked with Kuprin and Sokoll before, so this is a chance for them to prove themselves to me, to see if we make a good team.” He smiled. “Obviously you appreciate the importance of good teamwork.”


Hannibal wasn’t listening. His head was spinning, he started breathing fast, heart pounding. There had to be some way to stop this. He couldn’t let it happen, he couldn’t stand here and watch Face, any of them, being hurt. Not again. He’d do anything, say anything to prevent it.


“What do you want, Sevchenko?” Hannibal asked. “Anything you want, I’ll get it for you. Just don’t do this.” He hated himself, he sounded weak, he sounded like he was begging. Hell, he was begging. He meant it too. If Sevchenko said right now that he wanted Hannibal to go steal him the Mona Lisa, Hannibal would start planning the heist. If Sevchenko wanted the moon on a stick Hannibal would start calculating how big a stick he’d need to get hold of.


Then they brought Face in and Hannibal couldn’t keep his groan of agony inside him. Face was strapped to the table before they took the hood off him. His head wasn’t strapped down. He raised it to stare around the terrifying room.


“Hannibal!” Face cried, when he saw the colonel. “You okay?” Kyle, who Hannibal guessed was very unhappy with the idea of the team members getting to communicate stepped up and slapped Face on the chest.


“Shut up.”


Face had always had a blind spot over the phrase “shut up,” Hannibal knew. It just didn’t seem to register with him.


“Go to hell, Kyle,” Face snarled at their jailer. Another slap, across the head this time, made him stay quiet for a moment.


“I’m okay, Face,” Hannibal said. “You all right?” Face didn’t look all right, he was pale, with bruises and cuts standing out very clearly. His eyes were sunken and dark circled. His hair hung limp.


“Sevchenko,” Kyle snapped. “Letting these men communicate is dangerous.”


“I’m aware of that,” Sevchenko said, giving Kyle a glare. “I have decided the risk is acceptable.” He turned to Sokoll, who had just arrived, spoke to him in Russian. The thug nodded and went to the metal cupboard. He took out the leather whip. Hannibal frowned. Unless they were going to move Face he wasn’t exactly in the right position for a flogging. Then Hannibal felt the bile rise in his throat, as Sokoll moved to the foot end of the table. The man tightened the straps around Face’s ankles, immobilising his feet. Then he adjusted the height of the table.


Face must have realised what was coming too. This had been done to him in Vietnam, Hannibal knew, though with a cane then. He’d not been able to walk for weeks. The guards had taken pleasure in making him do jobs for them, laughing that he had to crawl on his hands and knees. Face was looking at Hannibal with eyes wide open. Hannibal stared right back at him.


Their eyes were locked so intensely that neither of them even saw Sokoll raise his arm and flick the whip. The end of it, only the tip and a couple of inches licked the sole of Face’s naked left foot. Face’s scream was as much of shock as pain. Hannibal groaned deeply. His own feet curled involuntarily.


“Twenty five lashes, each foot,” Sevchenko said as the whip hit Face’s right foot. Face didn’t scream this time, more prepared for it now, but he did yell in pain. His hands gripped the edge of the table so tight his knuckles looked like they would burst through his skin. His whole body was tense until the next stroke fell and then it spasmed against the restraints. He would start screaming again soon, Hannibal knew.


“This is commonly used as a punishment in Arab countries under Sharia law.” Sevchenko said. “Quite barbaric, don’t you think?”


Hannibal tore his gaze from Face for a moment to glare hatred beyond belief at Sevchenko. He couldn’t speak. His throat felt like someone had a hand round it. Sevchenko smiled looking pleased with Hannibal’s reaction.


“Kyle!” Hannibal found his voice suddenly, stared past Sevchenko to Kyle and Anderson. “Kill this thing! Either of you.” Face screamed and Hannibal flinched. “Kill it now and I’ll give you every cent I have. Every cent I can steal. Kill it now!”


Sevchenko actually looked alarmed for a moment, looked at Kyle and Anderson. Kyle just looked impassive. Anderson was wide eyed and sweating. Hannibal looked directly at him. Face screamed again.


“We’ve still got money stashed from the Hanoi bank job.” Hannibal said.


Anderson frowned.


“Is that true?”


“He’s lying, you fool,” Kyle snapped. “Ignore him.”


“I mean it, Anderson, check out the trial transcripts, the discrepancy in the bank audit. That’s our pension fund right there, could be yours. Four million dollars, just pull your gun out now and kill these…” He looked at Sevchenko and Sokoll, his lip curled. “These… things.”


Sevchenko retreated a few steps, looking genuinely worried now. Sokoll didn’t react at all. The whip went on rising and falling. Hannibal wondered if he didn’t understand English, or if he was just too engrossed in his work.


Kyle strode over and punched Hannibal in the stomach then looked over his shoulder at Anderson. “You get out of here.”


“Afraid he’s tempted, Dougie?” Hannibal gasped trying to double up, leaning against Kyle. He looked up, into Kyle’s eyes. “Afraid you will be?” He dropped his voice very low. “It’s not human, Doug. Put it down.” Kyle held Hannibal’s gaze for a moment, then pushed him away, let Hannibal fall back against the wall.


Face screamed again, then yelled out Hannibal’s name.


Hannibal at once snapped his gaze back to Face. the other men in the room no longer existed for him, all that existed was Face, his desperate eyes locked on Hannibal’s. This was the only way Hannibal could help, by being here, by trying to transmit the strength to get through the ordeal to Face. Face had strength, Hannibal knew, but in extremis he could start to doubt himself. Hannibal wouldn’t let him.


Part of Hannibal just wanted to bang his head against the tiled wall until he knocked himself unconscious. Until he didn’t have to hear Face’s screams and sobbing breaths any more, didn’t have to see his face distorted in pain, wet with sweat and tears.


But he knew he had to stay here, be here, for Face.


And for every stroke, every scream, he added an extra hour to the time he would take killing Sevchenko.


~~~~


Frankie fired one two three shots. Blinked at each one. But his hand didn’t shake, his arms stayed locked, straight. He lowered the pistol, engaging the safety and pressed the switch to bring the target up from the range to his position. He turned to Madari, taking off the ear defenders as the colonel did the same. The paper target arrived.


“Two in the chest, one in the head,” Madari said, sounding quite impressed. The bullet holes were dead centre on the target. “But, Frankie…”


“I know, I know,” Frankie said. “A paper target isn’t the same as a man. And a bad guy doesn’t just stand around waiting to be shot either. But I didn’t bring you here just to show you that I’m a good shot.” He glanced around. Other people were waiting to use the shooting position. “Come here.” He took Madari’s arm, took him over to the soda vending machine, and got them a couple of Cokes.


“What I’m trying to tell you is that I haven’t kept practising shooting just as a hobby.”


“You want to be able to protect your family,” Madari said. “I understand that.”


“Yeah. Because…” Frankie hesitated. “Man, how to explain this.” He glanced around, at the noticeboard. The gun club’s annual tournament was coming up next month. Frankie had been the pistol shooting winner last year, second overall. He came here three or four times a week to practice. He was a better shot now than he’d ever been when he was with the team.


“You see,” Frankie said, becoming uncharacteristically serious. “I grew up, like most people, thinking the authorities were on my side. My family were honest people, paid their taxes. I always thought that the government, the cops, the army, the CIA, all those guys, I always thought that they were there to protect me. And then I met General Stockwell.” He paused, shook his head.


“I couldn’t believe it was really happening at first. Here was this guy, a general! A guy who clearly worked for the government, and he was threatening me, threatening my dad. Forcing me to spy on Johnny and the guys. It didn’t seem real.”


Madari didn’t speak, watched him, let him tell the story.


“And then I was forced to stay with the team. Now don’t get me wrong, I love those guys, but I never bargained for living with them! But I learnt something from them. Well lots of things of course. But I learnt that you can’t rely on the authorities to protect you. It’s not just a question of a rogue like Stockwell. Like Willis said, the team had been screwed over since Vietnam. By the army, by the government, by Stockwell. I learnt from them that the only people you can rely on to help you out are your friends.” He drank some of his soda, took a deep breath. This was a lot of talking, even for him.


“So that’s why I have to come to Albania. The team are my friends and they’re in trouble. So I have to help them out, can you see that? I have to help them. It’s as simple as that.” He crushed the empty soda can, tossed it in the trash. Madari did the same, then offered Frankie his hand. Frankie took it. They shook hands and Madari smiled at him.


“Mr Santana, we have a plane to catch.”

Chapter 11

“Seventeen. Eighteen. Jesus! Nineteen. Come on! Twenty. One more for luck. Twenty one.”


Murdock collapsed onto his blanket on to the floor. He lay panting. Twenty one push ups. Pretty lame, Captain. Of course he was half starved, exhausted and apt to go into a flashback at any given moment so it wasn’t so bad, considering.


As his breathing slowed down he stayed lying there, forehead resting on forearm. The blanket was starting to smell pretty nasty he noticed. He dismissed the thought quickly. Might smell funky, but it still keeps me from freezing to death. This blanket is my friend, stinky or not. He’d spent an uncountable number of hours lying wrapped in it feeling sorry for himself, too scared to even try to sleep. The nightmares came as soon as he closed his eyes. Drowning and yet not drowning. Never actually reaching the peace of death, while constantly in terror that it was only a second away.


“The name. The name. The name.” The never ending demand, barely audible over the roar of the water. “The name. The name. The name.” Like a gnat in his ear.


Murdock shook his head, throwing off the memories. No. No more brooding. Got to stay focused. Got to stay healthy. Got to stay strong. A chance could come any time. Got to be ready for it.


Brooding wasn’t getting him out of that door and out of this hell-hole.


He rolled onto his back and started doing sit ups.


~~~~


BA sat on his bunk, staring into darkness. He was cold, but his abused back was still too raw to allow him to wrap the blanket around his body. His neck felt especially cold. Cold and bare, stripped of his gold. He wondered where his jewellery was. Had the guards divided it between them, or were Kyle and Sevchenko hanging onto it? He wondered if that was how Sevchenko had got hold of enough money to stage this job, by stealing it over the years from his victims. BA could imagine that easily enough. A broken man handed a confession to sign. Signing anything put in front of him. Signing over the deed to his house. A house he wouldn’t need any more when they took him and his family out and shot them.


BA grimaced, tried to turn his mind away from such morbid thoughts. He thought about his friends instead, but those thoughts were hardly less morbid. Murdock had been uppermost in his thoughts lately. He wasn’t sure how long lately was, days or hours, but lately he’d been thinking about Murdock, because lately he’d been hearing Murdock. Hearing him screaming.


Murdock wasn’t far away, he knew for sure. BA had been hooded every time he’d been dragged him out of the cell. But as he’d struggled with the guards he’d sometimes heard them thump against metal, rather than stone. Another metal door. Another cell. Murdock.


The screams weren’t of pain, BA could tell. He could identify the different screams his friends let out, like a mother knows from her baby’s cry if its hungry, or lonely or sick. He knew Murdock was having nightmares. What did they do to you, fool? Sleep easy, man. They’ll pay.


The observation hatch opened suddenly and BA turned towards it, squinting at the shaft of light stabbing into the darkness. A face, un-identifiable to his dazzled eyes looked in at him . BA growled at the face and it disappeared again as the hatch was closed.


They think I’m an animal, BA thought. And he was happy to encourage the idea. They were so scared of him they wouldn’t think straight. They sure wouldn’t be ready for it when he did something smart.


~~~~


Frankie woke up as someone jostled him passing his seat. He looked around the jet’s cabin blearily. Miller hurried on past him down the aisle. Frankie sighed and stretched. He hated trying to sleep sitting up. At this rate he’d be exhausted by the time they got to Albania.


He grimaced at the sounds of retching he could hear from the bathroom. Man, he thought, poor Miller. They’d had a bit of turbulence, she must have a sensitive stomach. He saw Madari glance at him, from a seat across the aisle. Seeing Frankie was awake Madari leaned across the aisle to speak to him.


“I need to talk to you before the London stop-over. I have a few concerns.”


Only a few? Frankie thought. He had about a thousand himself. Number one being whether he got to go home again at the end of this. Though it was only hours since he’d said goodbye to Rosita it already felt like a week. And even longer since saying goodbye to the kids. He’d told the boys he was going on location for a while. They had wanted to know all about the picture of course.


“It’s the story of a band of brave soldiers who go to rescue some friends in trouble,” Frankie told them. Luis said it sounded “ace” and Juan asked if there’d be lots of stuff blowing up. And Frankie hugged them for a long time.


He’d said goodbye to Rosita in the car after she drove them the gun club. Madari waited on the sidewalk, feigning fascination with the notice of the firing range’s opening hours and fees. For once Frankie didn’t talk much. He didn’t want her to hear his voice shaking.


“Frankie?”


“Hmm?” Frankie looked at Madari, who frowned.


“I’m sorry, you’re tired, we’ll talk later.” They both leaned back a moment as Hassan hurried past up the aisle.


“No, I’m fine,” Frankie insisted. “What’s bothering you, Colonel?”


“Two things in the main. One is you.” He looked embarrassed then. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you. But I think we need to get one thing very clear. You’re not coming up that mountain with us.”


“I thought we…” Frankie began and them stopped as Hassan hurried past again down the aisle, bumping Frankie’s shoulder. “This plane is too damn small,” Frankie muttered. “Look, I thought we agreed you’re not ditching me.”


“I’m not, but I’m not taking you into combat either,” Madari said, firmly. “There is a town near the target. You and Doctor Sullivan are going to stay there in a hotel and wait for us to bring the team to you.”


“When you say bring the team to ‘you’ there, you mean ‘her’, don’t you?” Frankie demanded.


“Well, yes. But, Frankie, she can’t stay there alone. She needs to be guarded.”


The woman in question passed them then, Hassan leading her up the aisle to the bathroom.


“… throwing up, she won’t let me in.”


Madari frowned and turned to watch Maggie knock on the door of the bathroom and then go in.


“Have you talked to Maggie about this?” Frankie asked. “Because she’s not going to like being ditched either.”


Madari turned back to Frankie. “She will have to accept it.”


“Well, good luck with that one,” Frankie said. He was looking forward to that conversation. Madari just gave him a dubious look. Frankie smiled at him. Okay, he thought, if I want in on the rescue, god help me, it looks like I’ll have to work on him with the old Santana charm.


In the cause of buttering up the colonel, Frankie got up to get them both coffee. When he came back with it Madari was turned in his chair again, watching Hassan who was standing nervously outside the bathroom door.


“Is Miller sick?” Frankie asked sitting down again.


“I don’t know…”


Maggie came out of the bathroom, she spoke quietly to Hassan, who looked worried and went into the bathroom. Maggie came back up the aisle. Madari stood up.


“Doctor, what is wrong? Is Agent Miller ill or just airsick? Will she be better by the time we get to Albania?”


Maggie rested her doctor’s bag on the arm of a seat. Suddenly everyone in the cabin was looking at her.


“I’m sorry, Colonel, I can’t discuss her medical condition. But I can say that she definitely won’t be ‘better’ for a while yet.”


Wallace gasped and put a hand to her mouth, her eyes opened wide in surprise. Madari frowned, apparently baffled.


“I don’t understand, doctor. Are you saying she is…”


And from the bathroom they all heard Hassan’s shocked cry.


“Pregnant?”


Maggie sighed as they all turned back to stare at her. “Well it seems the cat’s out of the bag on this one.”


In a moment Hassan stumbled out of the bathroom wearing the exact same expression Frankie had seen on BA right after the application of a pre-flight two by four to the head. Frankie wanted to run up and shake the man’s hand and congratulate him heartily. And thank him. Because suddenly Frankie Santana was back on the mountain.


~~~~


Face lay on his bunk, feet hanging over the bottom edge. The slightest movement was agony to his beaten feet. The tiniest draught across the skin of his soles could make him grit his teeth and hiss in the cold air.


Unbelievably he’d found that his skin had only been broken a couple of time. The gorilla Sokoll was obviously well practised with that whip. Face felt as if his skin had been flayed down to the bone, but there were only a few shallow, if still agonising cuts. There was bruising though, the sensitive skin, that had been pale, was black and blue.


When they carried Face back to his cell he’d been almost unconscious from the pain and had spent hours lying in a daze. All he could see was Hannibal’s face, Hannibal’s eyes, giving him the strength to make it through. Just like in Vietnam. He gave them all strength. It’s what he does, Face thought. He’s got so much he strength he shares it, to help other people.


But does he have enough to get himself through this? Face saw what they were going to do. The best way to get at Hannibal wasn’t through physical pain, it was to force him to watch others in pain and be unable to stop it. That was Hannibal’s worst nightmare.


Face pulled the blanket closer around himself, moaning as the movement sent pain stabbing through his feet.


He wouldn’t be able to even try to walk again for several days and he’d be useless if any chance at escape came. That left a very bitter taste in his mouth. He hated the idea of having to be carried out like a bag of laundry supposing by some miracle rescue were to arrive.


Rescue. He’d dreamt of it again since the time he’d hallucinated Hannibal blasting in the door. This time it had simply been dark figures, a special operations squad, all in black, well armed. He’d woken with a cry as they burst into his cell in the dream, then lay back with a groan as he realised it was only his imagination, his desperation, conjuring up the rescuers. No-one is coming to rescue us, he thought. Even if we’ve been missed no one knows where we are.


We’re alone.


~~~~


“She’s off the mission,” Hassan said firmly, covering Miller’s legs with a blanket, before he stood up again.


“Abid, look, I’m not crippled, you know.” Miller was sitting beside Wallace, looking very embarrassed by all the attention. She pushed the blanket off her legs to the floor.


“She’s not climbing that mountain,” Hassan insisted, glaring at Madari. “Not in her condition.”


“I’m not arguing with you, Sergeant,” Madari said.


“But…” Miller began.


“No. I’m sorry, but I won’t risk it. Besides you are clearly feeling unwell because of your condition.”


“I could give her something for that,” Maggie said. “But I don’t know if you’ll want to take any drugs.” She turned towards Miller.


“I’d rather not.”


“Then she is off the mission,” Madari said, “We’ll have to rework the plan of attack to account for one less.”


“No you won’t,” Frankie said, “I’ll take her place.”


“No.”


“Come on, Colonel. I’m telling you I’m fit enough to climb that mountain with you guys. Miller can stay at the hotel and guard the doctor. She can manage that, even in her condition.”


“If anybody else says ‘condition’, I’m going to kick his ass,” Miller said testily.


“Wait, since when is the doctor staying at a hotel?” Maggie said, frowning at Madari and Frankie.


“Ah yes, I was going to discuss that with you,” Madari said, gave Frankie a glare. “Later.”


“Well let’s discuss it now.” She stepped forward, close enough to make Madari take a step back. “You really think I’m going to sit and roll bandages and wait for you to come back? John and the others may need immediate medical attention.”


“Which all of us…” Madari glanced at Frankie. “Are trained to give. Doctor, it is better this way.”


“You think I can’t get up that mountain don’t you?”


“That’s not it,” Madari protested. He looked very uncomfortable, Frankie thought. Clearly he wasn’t used to dealing with a woman who talked back like Maggie.


“Then what? You know I was in Vietnam, I didn’t spend all that time in a MASH unit, I went on med-evac missions. I’ve been on the front line.”


“Doctor,” Madari snapped, suddenly losing the embarrassed look and frowning sternly. “I’ve made my decision. I am in command here. My word is final.”


Everyone stared at Maggie, waiting for the explosion. But instead she smiled.


“You know John tries that trick on me if I want to see a chick flick when we go to the movies.” Then she stopped smiling. “It doesn’t work for him either.”


Like the audience at a tennis match the gazes swung back to Madari, waiting for his next volley.


“It’s Hannibal I’m thinking of,” Madari said, changing tactics, his voice softer now. “He would never forgive me if I risked your life. And we need you to be safe and well. If you were hurt or even killed in the attack who would take care of the team, or any of us who might be injured on the mission?”


Maggie didn’t answer, looked thoughtful.


“We are a small team already, Doctor. If you come up the mountain with us I have to assign someone to protect you. We simply cannot afford that.”


“I think he’s right, Maggie,” Frankie said. She scowled at him and he swallowed nervously, but went on. “Johnny wouldn’t want you in danger. He’d kill us if anything happened to you.”


Maggie looked at them for a long moment, then she sighed heavily. “All right, you win. Evie and me will wait for you to bring the team down off the mountain. But…” She gave Madari a hard stare. “If anyone dies that I could have saved if I’d been there, I’m holding you…” she jabbed a finger at him, “…personally responsible.” She looked at Frankie. “And what about him? Does he get to go with you?”


Frankie looked at the colonel.


“I’m thinking about it.” Madari said, guardedly.


“That’s all I ask,” Frankie said, grinning. Maggie shook her head, made an expression of disgust.


The pilot’s voice came over the PA announcing they were about to begin their descent into London. Everyone took their seats. Frankie sat beside Madari who sighed and passed a weary hand over his eyes.


“Feisty lady.” Frankie said with a smile.


“Very,” Madari said, smiling slightly. Then he looked serious again. “I almost forgot the other concern I had. Before we file a flight plan in London I think we need to think about landing some where other than Tirana. It’s possible Kyle has someone watching the airport, and we are, well, a conspicuous group.”


“The guy we’re getting the guns off is meeting us in Tirana,” Frankie said. But he saw Madari’s point. They were indeed conspicuous.


“I know. We will have to travel there to meet him. Hopefully that won’t delay us too long.”


What would Johnny do? The words popped into Frankie’s head again.


“No, I’ve got a better idea. How long are we scheduled to stop over in London for?”


“Two hours.”


“That should be enough time.”


“For what?”


“You’ll see, Colonel. And you’ll learn about the number one, no arguments, most useful thing anyone in the movie business can have.”


“And what is that?”


Frankie grinned.


“Contacts, Colonel. Contacts.”

Chapter 12

Hannibal had been given clothing. A rough grey shirt and pants. Like with the food he’d looked at them for a long time before finally deciding to put them on. What was this in aid of he wondered. Some sort of game? Or just to keep him from freezing to death? Well he’d be a fool not to take advantage. Clothes brought him one step closer to getting out. Escaping naked was possible, but not a good idea. He didn’t even know where they were. If the climate was cold out there then the clothes would at least give him a slightly better chance than he’d have had otherwise.


The observation hatch slid open and a guard checked him. Hannibal did his best to look old, tired and defeated. The way he felt right now meant that wasn’t too hard to fake. But he exaggerated it as much as possible. Shoulders slumped, head bowed. Let them think he was broken. Let them get complacent.


When the hatch slid closed again Hannibal looked at the door. He knew Face was only yards away from him. The longing to see Face was a physical ache. Was he okay? Stupid question, of course he wasn’t okay. Hannibal flinched as the images and sounds of Face being tortured punched through to the front of his mind. A jumble of images. Some from now, some from then. A whip, a cane. A Russian, a Vietnamese. A blur, with one thing sharp at the centre. Face. His face. His eyes. One sound, clear, hard. The screams.


Hannibal gasped and had to grab at the edge of his bunk to keep from falling, from diving down into the memories


Time to stop that. Focus. Here. Now. Getting out.


With a stab of guilt Hannibal put Face to the back of his mind, as much as was possible. He closed his eyes. Not to sleep, but to think.


He needed a plan. Something a little more detailed than, get out of here, capture Sevchenko and make him die slowly and painfully. Actually he had a lot of detail in his mind for that last part. He hoped honey and fire-ants were freely available locally. But he knew he needed to work on the first part.


He kept his eyes closed, and in the dark began to work out the layout of the route between here and the torture room.


After that he began to think about the man who seemed to be Kyle’s second in command. Anderson. He began to think real hard about him. Greedy but squeamish. There had to be a way Hannibal could turn that to their advantage.


~~~~


Madari carefully draped the dark brown robe with the thick gold edging. He checked in the mirror to make sure his snowy white headdress wasn’t crooked, adjusted it carefully. He stood up straight and tall and spoke.


“I feel like an idiot.”


“You feel like an idiot!” Maggie’s voice was muffled.


“You look great!” Frankie said, enthusiastically.


“But this is… it’s formal wear,” Madari protested, “It would be like you walking around all day in a tuxedo. This iqal is terribly old fashioned.” He waved a hand at the gold trimmed cord holding the head scarf in place. “And the whole ensemble is frankly very Saudi Arabian.”


“Yeah, ’cause I’m sure they’ll know all that in Albania.” Frankie rolled his eyes and looked over at the four women. They were covered head to foot in black cloth, even their eyes were almost invisible behind a mesh covered slit. He tried not to grin, was sure they were all scowling at him. He was willing to bet none of them had ever worn a burkha before.


Frankie had made a phone call the moment they landed in London, to a good friend he’d worked with on a couple of pictures. He’s turned on the Santana charm to full blast and just before they were due to take off again several crates with “Angels Costumiers” stencilled on the the sides had been delivered to the plane.


“This is never going to work.” Bennett said, struggling out of her burkha. She grabbed herself a can of cola from a table top, handed another one to Jahni who was standing beside her.


“Sure it is,” Frankie said. “It’s just what Hannibal would do. We don’t want to be spotted right? So we should look as if we couldn’t possibly be trying to hide. After all a group this conspicuous couldn’t possibly be trying to sneak into the country.”


He looked around at their dubious faces.


“You all have the story straight? Colonel, you’re Sheik Madari, on your way home, when your private jet develops engine trouble, forcing your pilots to land in Tirana for repairs. Of course you have an entourage. Me, your personal assistant and general fixer. Jahni and Hassan are your bodyguards.”


He glanced over at them wearing identical dark blue windcheater jackets and sunglasses, with coils of wire running from their ears. They had pretty identical scowls on their faces too. Jahni should fit right into the job of Madari’s bodyguard Frankie thought.


“And the ladies are…”


“Don’t say it!” Maggie snapped. “You’re going to pay for this, Frankie.”


Frankie smiled weakly at her. “Now, Colonel, um, I mean, Sheik Madari, you just have to keep anyone from asking too many questions by acting like you own the place. Be haughty.”


Madari stiffened. “Haughty?”


“Yeah, you know.” Frankie sighed. These people were worse than actors, he thought, they just would not take direction. “Haughty. Superior. Like you expect your lightest command to be instantly obeyed.”


There was a moment of absolute silence and then Bennett spoke, in a tone of innocent enquiry.


“Gosh, sir, do you think you’ll be able to pull that off?”


Jahni snorted and started to make choking noises. Madari looked at him, frowning.


“Did you have something to say, Captain?” His voice was very formal and cool.


“No, sir…” Jahni gasped. “Sorry… soda went down… wrong way.” Bennett slapped him on the back, grinning. Jahni, his eyes watering, went on making sounds that might have been choking and might have been suppressed laughter. The others just stared at him and Bennett as if they were mad. Frankie grinned.


“There you go, Sheik, you got the haughty just right then. Great, um, acting.”


Frankie checked his own reflection in the mirror. He wore a conservative dark suit. It fitted well and looked smart. He glanced at his watch. Barely an hour before they landed. He looked around at the others. They were ready.


All set.


~~~~


“Anderson’s not coming back.”


“What?” Kyle stared at Berry who’d just got off the returning helicopter. Kyle had decided some of the men could use a night down in the local town, getting drunk, getting laid. Anderson especially needed that, he thought. Maybe then he’d get his act together.


“Not coming back,” Berry repeated. “Rang his bank to check his money so far was in there, then said he was going.”


Kyle rubbed a hand across his forehead. His head was pounding. Sleep had been elusive.


“You just let him go?”


“Was I supposed to stop him?” Berry asked. He rubbed his eyes blearily. “Christ, I need some sleep.”


“Did he leave any kind of message?” Kyle asked.


Berry looked thoughtful. “Does ‘fuck this shit’ count as a message?”


Kyle thought it probably did. Damn. He couldn’t believe it. Anderson was obviously unhappy, but he was also money hungry, Kyle knew. If he’d stuck around he could have earned thousands of dollars more.


“What about you, Berry?” Kyle asked. “You gonna run out on me too?”


“Nah, you can count on me, boss.” He grinned a yellow toothed smile. “I’m still quite attached to my kneecaps, and there’s some lads looking for me who’ll make sure I’m not attached to them any more if I don’t come up with the money I owe them pretty sharpish.”


“And what’s going on here…” Kyle nodded back at the house. “It doesn’t bother you?”


“Seen worse.” Berry shrugged. “I mean, I’m not that keen on seeing proper soldiers like these lads being done over by that little spook bastard.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he shrugged. “But what the hell, it’s all money.”


When Kyle reported to Sevchenko the Russian looked alarmed.


Mr Kyle, I noticed that man Anderson seemed to be feeling some sympathy for my subjects.” Subjects now, Kyle noticed. Like they were lab rats being experimented on. “Are you sure he won’t go to the authorities?”


“Anderson’s wanted in at least ten countries,” Kyle said. “He’d be a fool to go anywhere near any kind of authorities.”


“Ah. Good. Then perhaps we are better off without him.”


“Yeah. I think we are.”


~~~~


Sheik Madari’s party approached the car hire desk at Tirana airport. Madari strode along, robe billowing out behind him, talking loudly in Arabic, in a complaining tone. Frankie walked at his side, nodding, pretending he understood the Arab and pretending to talk on his cell phone at the same time. Jahni and Hassan cased the area and occasionally talked surreptitiously into their sleeves. The four burkha clad women followed in single file. Frankie thought Maggie was the one in the lead, but it was very hard to tell. Porters followed with their luggage on a trolley.


Frankie actually felt sorry for the clerk who stood at the desk with a fixed smile and a dismayed look in his eyes as the bizarre looking party approached.


“Hi,” Frankie said, laying his briefcase on the counter and taking off his sunglasses. “You speak English? Great. The limos are ready?”


“Limos?”


“For Sheik Madari’s party. Come on, man. I called an hour ago.” The clerk started shuffling through papers.


“Erm, I’m sorry, I don’t have…” He pulled himself together. “We, erm, we don’t have any limousines, we do have some Mercedes available, if that will…”


“Right, right.” Frankie sighed. The scary thing he thought was that while plenty of what he was doing right now was channelling Face it was also a situation he’d personally witnessed many times when demanding stars showed up on location. He handed over the credit card to the clerk, who started to tap details into his computer screen. “Come on man, get it done. We’ll need a car for His Excellency and another for his wives.”


The clerk stared wide eyed at the four women.


“They’re all… ah, yes, sir. ”


“Santana,” Madari said, his accent laid on very thick, “what is the delay?” He scowled at the clerk.


“I’ll show you to the vehicles myself,” the clerk said hurriedly, flinching under the stare. He led the way, speaking rapidly into a walkie talkie as he went. Madari continued complaining in Arabic, though for all Frankie knew he could be bemoaning the fortunes of his favourite soccer team. Frankie walked with the clerk, caught his gaze and did an eye roll.


“I’ll never hear the end of this,” Frankie said, quietly. “Somehow it’s all my fault his plane developed engine trouble.” The clerk gave a small sympathetic smile. “If he’s late for that big OPEC meeting I’m going to be out on my ass.”


In a moment they left the terminal and stepped out into the cool morning air. Two large Mercedes pulled up at the curb. A couple of bored looking men in the hire company’s overalls got out. Hassan at once pushed past one of the men and checked out the interior of the car. He stood up again and nodded. The clerk stared. The porters started to load the luggage.


“Don’t worry,” Frankie said. “After all no-one knows the Sheik is here. I’m sure no-one will try to assassinate him.” He paused for a beat. “Again. Ladies.” He waved the women into the car, smiling broadly. “His Excellency may send for one of you later at the hotel.”


Frankie realised he’d gone too far when Madari started to splutter and apparently, cough, into his hand. Frankie gave him a quick glare. Don’t start corpsing now, man, he thought. The coughing covered the sound of a very quiet Australian voice saying. “In his dreams he will.” The women got inside and Hassan slammed the door after them and got into the driver’s seat.


Jahni did a sweep of the next car and gave the go ahead to enter. Frankie and Madari got in the back and Jahni took the wheel.


“Thanks, pal.” Frankie pressed a generous tip into the clerk’s hand, through the window. He rolled the window up and leaned back in the seat with a relieved, sigh, then he smiled. “I’d forgotten how much fun that stuff is.” Jahni grinned at him in the mirror and drove off, following the other Mercedes.


“You did very well, Frankie.” Madari pulled off the head dress and ran his hands through his hair. He smiled. “Face would be proud.”


“He taught me everything I know,” Frankie said.


“Give me the briefcase, please, and your cell phone,” Madari said. Frankie handed them over. Madari looked through a folder in the case. “It’s twenty five kilometres to Tirana. I’ll call the contact now and see if he can meet us as soon as we arrive.”


Frankie nodded. He looked through the windscreen at the car ahead of them that the four women were travelling in. “Can you guys really have more than one wife?”


“Hmm?” Madari said, dialling the phone. “Oh, yes, the Koran allows a man to take up to four wives.” He held the phone to his ear as he waited for the call to be connected.


“Wow.” Frankie said. “Four wives.” He shook his head. “Four wives. Imagine that.” He’d always found it hard to believe his luck that he’d been able to find even one woman willing to put up with him. Finding four sounded like a near impossible task.


“One was enough for me.” Madari said. Frankie frowned, started to speak, but Madari held up his hand, spoke into the phone. “Ah, hello, is that Mr Evans?”

Chapter 13

“BA, look at me,” Hannibal ordered. BA didn’t obey. He kept his face turned away from Hannibal and screamed as the electricity tore through him again.


“Damn it, look at me, sergeant!” Hannibal yelled. Still BA didn’t. Oh god, Hannibal thought, he’s ashamed. He’s ashamed of screaming. Damn fool pride. Hannibal hadn’t heard BA scream since Vietnam. He’s heard him make some very strange noises when they put him on planes, and sometimes threw him out of planes with a parachute on his back. But not for nearly twenty years had he heard BA give a full throated scream of agony.


If BA looked at him Hannibal could help. As he’d helped Face, given him strength, taken part of the agony away. To be alone with the pain was the worst. Let me share it, BA, give me your pain. Give it to me.


Tears stung Hannibal’s eyes as BA fell back shaking and panting when the current cut off. The doctor moved in, at Sevchenko’s order, to check BA’s heart rate. They were being cautious after what happened with Hannibal.


Hannibal wouldn’t let his tears fall. Never. His own damn fool pride wouldn’t let Sevchenko see them. Or Kyle, who stood on guard as usual. Anderson wasn’t with Kyle this time. A shorter, dark haired man, with a lot of tattoos and a bored expression accompanied him instead.


“Hey, Dougie,” Hannibal called, taking advantage of the brief respite as the doctor examined BA. “I don’t think much of your new boyfriend. Where’s the old one?”


The ‘new boyfriend’ strode up to Hannibal and punched him in the mouth.


“Less of that lip, mate, or I’ll cut yer balls off.”


Hannibal licked blood from his lips. “This one seems tougher though, I’ll give him that.” Hannibal smirked at Kyle. “You like a bit of rough, Dougie?” This time the blow rattled Hannibal’s skull and bounced his head of the wall. He slumped forward dizzy.


“Berry,” Kyle said, glancing at Sevchenko, who was watching disapprovingly. He went up and grabbed Berry’s arm to restrain him from landing yet another blow. “That’s enough.” He pushed Berry back and leaned close to Hannibal. “You want to know where Anderson is? I shot him.” Hannibal snapped his head up, stared at Kyle. “Yeah, he was soft, I…”


BA’s scream of agony interrupted Kyle. Ashamed of himself for being distracted by indulging in banter, Hannibal turned back to BA, yelled again. “Look at me, BA. Please, look at me!”


At last BA did as he was ordered. Hannibal had to swallow over and over to keep the sob down as it tried to rise in his throat. Once again his mind whirled with a mix of memory and reality as he saw BA back in the POW camp. So young, so scared and trying so hard to hide it. He was trying hard again now, but Hannibal could see terror in his dark eyes.


Then Sevchenko stepped between them, so they could no longer see each other.


“Do not look at him,” Sevchenko told BA. “He is no longer your master, I am.”


Hannibal growled low in his throat, but BA spoke quietly.


“He was never my master. He’s my leader. You ain’t never gonna be either.”


Hannibal blinked hard, swallowed hard. Kyle was looking right at him. He would not let one single tear escape him.


It actually became easier when BA started to scream again. Because then Hannibal could concentrate on the anger. Concentrate on letting it fill him, pumping out from his heart with the blood, right to the tips of his fingers, the ends of his fingernails, the ends of his hair until he was a living mass of rage. For a moment he pulled uselessly at the manacles chaining him to the wall, then calmed himself. But he didn’t let the rage ebb. He just let it get more and more refined. Sharper, harder. He glared it into the back of Sevchenko’s neck, like he could actually break the skin, stab down through flesh and muscle into spinal cord, brain stem.


He’d laughed when saying the words “if looks could kill” about some of BA’s glares. He wasn’t laughing now. Now he was trying to make it real, trying make a man die just by looking at him.


He was focusing so hard that he was startled when Sevchenko turned around. The Russian saw Hannibal’s homicidal glare on him and he smiled. I’m giving him exactly what he wants, Hannibal thought. But he had no choice.


“I think we’re done with Baracus for today,” Sevchenko said to Kyle, who stepped away from Hannibal and spoke into his walkie talkie.


“Now, John. Which of them next? Peck or Murdock? It’s your decision. Who do I torture next?”


The same answer. It would always be the same, Hannibal swore.


“Me.”


Sevchenko turned to Kyle. “Murdock.”


~~~~


Frankie drummed his fingers on the table then glanced at his watch.


“He’s late.”


“Arms dealers aren’t known for their punctuality,” Madari said. “He’ll be here.” He glanced at the small glass in front of Frankie. “Drink your raki.”


Frankie snorted. Jahni had tried it, gone into a violent coughing fit and his eyes had streamed for five minutes. Frankie had decided to give the drink a miss.


“You first,” Frankie said, glancing at the also untouched glass in front of the colonel.


The four of them were at a table in the darkest corner of a dark bar, somewhere in darkest Tirana. The costumes had been left back at a hotel and they wore casual but practical clothes. The women had also been left back at the hotel, and Frankie decided two seconds after they arrived that this had been the right decision. This didn’t look like the kind of bar that had a ladies night or sold drinks with fruit and little paper umbrellas in them.


“This guy couldn’t have met us in the hotel bar?” Frankie wondered out loud, glancing around at the other men in the bar, who were eyeballing the strangers suspiciously. Wondering which of us to eat first, Frankie thought.


“Arms dealers aren’t known for their love of brightly lit places either. Ah, I think this is him.”


A man had come in. He glanced around and headed for their table.


“Alone?” Jahni said.


“He’ll have men outside,” Hassan said. He and Jahni both rose and stood behind Frankie and Madari’s chairs. The man arrived at their table. He was a lean and hard looking man in his forties, with a weather beaten face. His brown leather coat looked as if it had been hit by a truck and reversed over. After giving the party an assessing stare he turned to Frankie.


“You Santana?”


“Yeah.” Frankie said. He rose and offered the man his hand. He was surprised when Madari didn’t do the same. The colonel just watched the man carefully, arms folded.


“Er, Mr Evans, right,” Frankie said as they sat down.


“Evans, yeah.” His accent was hard for Frankie to place. Maybe Canadian.


“Right.” Frankie said, “hey, have a drink.” He pushed his glass over to Evans. “You can deliver the…” Frankie glanced around, lowered his voice. “The goods.”


Evans looked at him strangely, spoke in a normal voice. “Yeah. Guns and ammo, ordnance and equipment. The vehicles too, all to spec.” He picked up the glass of raki and drank if off in one gulp.


“Great.” Frankie grinned.


“The money has been transferred?” Madari asked.


“If it hadn’t I wouldn’t be here, chum.” He glanced between Frankie and Madari and then addressed Madari as he took a folded map from his pocket. A point in the countryside outside the city had been circled.


“Here’s where we’ll do the handover. Tomorrow morning, four am.”


“Tomorrow?” Frankie said, dismayed. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet. He’d hoped they could set out from Tirana today.


Madari sat forward. “Why tomorrow? Why not today? Can’t we go now?”


“Keep your pants on, Sinbad. The stuff isn’t even in the country now. Tomorrow morning, four am. That’s the earliest you can get it.”


“If it’s a question of more money…” Frankie said.


“It’s not. It’s a question of the stuff not being here till tomorrow morning four am. Aren’t you fellas getting that? You need me to say it slower?”


Madari sat back, folding his arms again. “All right, we will meet you as arranged.” He scowled. “Please do not be late again. We are pressed for time.”


The arms dealer nodded, stood up. “Sure, whatever you say. See you tomorrow.” He nodded at Jahni and Hassan. “And bring leashes for your bulldogs.” He left with their glares boring into his back.


Frankie drummed his fingers on the table again. “Damn, pretty much a whole damn day to wait.” He glanced at the map. The area circled had a road nearby, but the rest of the area was blank white paper. “And talk about the middle of nowhere,” he said, with a sigh. Madari looked at the map too, frowned.


“Yes,” he said, slowly. “A very isolated place to be meeting with a man we have no reason to trust.” Frankie looked at him. Madari looked worried, but then he smiled. “Frankie, can you get cash with that credit card Farrell gave you?”


“Sure.”


“Then let’s go to the bank. And after the bank, the pawnbrokers.”


~~~~


After they took BA out Sevchenko and Markovic went off to take a break. Berry left to supervise the men bringing Murdock down. Kyle stayed to guard Hannibal. He leant against the door and lit a cigarette.


Hannibal’s cravings for a cigar came back instantly when he smelled the tobacco smoke. He thought about the box of Montecristos that he’d last seen in his hotel room in Venice and wondered where they were now. Probably been shared out by the bellboys.


He shook himself. No time for that. Work to do.


“You know, Kyle,” he said, making Kyle turn to look at him, “You know what I still can’t believe?” He paused, made Kyle wait, saw the curiosity in his eyes. “I still can’t believe that even you would sell out your country. Would work for the enemy.”


Kyle laughed. “What enemy? What the hell are you talking about, Smith?”


“That thing is KGB, Kyle. The other side. The enemy, that’s what I’m talking about.”


“What are you behind on current affairs?” Kyle asked. “The wall came down, we’re all friends now.”


“Not with that,” Hannibal said, coldly. “How many American agents do you think he… it has tortured?”


Kyle just shrugged. “Who cares?”


Hannibal shook his head. “Selling your skills is one thing, I suppose that’s what I do too. But selling your country, Doug? Now I know you’re a bastard, but I never had you pegged as an actual traitor.”


“And I never had you pegged as an idiot.”


“Yeah, I guess that’s what I am, thinking you had even a shred of integrity. That certainly makes me an idiot.”


Kyle walked over to Hannibal slowly. He took a drag at his cigarette and blew the smoke in Hannibal’s face. That was meant as a provocation Hannibal knew, but he just smiled and said, “thanks.”


Kyle looked at the cigarette, looked at Hannibal.


“Go on, Dougie. You are going to burn me with it, aren’t you?” He was daring Kyle to do it. “Come on, you’re going to put it out on my skin. Those scars never go away. But I don’t have to tell you that, do I?”


Kyle just looked at Hannibal for a long time and then turned away.


“You didn’t really shoot Anderson, did you?”


Kyle’s back stiffened then he walked away and opened the door. Hannibal grinned fiercely at him. Then the grin vanished as they dragged in Murdock, hooded, stumbling. He was hauled struggling onto the table. Once the guards secured him they pulled the hood off. He blinked in the bright lights and then saw Hannibal chained to the wall.


“Hannibal! Are you okay?”


“I’m okay, Murdock.”


“Face? BA?”


He had figured it out straight away, Hannibal realised. That the rest of them were being tortured in front of Hannibal. Which meant he’d seen them.


“Alive, both hurt. Face can’t walk, his feet are…”


“Shut up,” Kyle snapped. “Shut up or I’ll shoot both of you.” He looked angry enough to do it.


Hannibal did shut up, just looked at Murdock. Murdock looked back at him, then turned and looked at Kyle and Berry. He turned back to Hannibal, spoke one word.


“Albania.”


Chapter 14

BA lay still on his bunk, on his back, eyes open, staring into the darkness.


The tray holding a cup of water and two chunks of bread stood untouched beside the hatch in the bottom of the door. The guards had pushed it in half an hour ago.


The observation hatch was pulled open. A shaft of light. Voices. American accents. BA lay still.


“Watch him while I get the tray.”


The food hatch opened, the tray was pulled out quickly.


BA lay still.


“He’s not touched it. Is he asleep?”


“I guess. He’s not moved. Hang on.”


The lights flickered on. BA lay still.


“Well? He wake up?”


“No. Hey, Baracus, you missed dinner.”


No reaction.


The guard banged hard on the metal door.


“Hey, wake up, you big, dumb nigger.”


No reaction.


“Shit, I think he’s dead.”


“What? No way.”


The keys rattled in the lock and the door opened. One guard approached BA, the other waited at the door. The first guard looked down at BA. BA’s eyes were open, staring straight up. His mouth was slightly open. The guard waved a hand over BA’s face. The eyes didn’t move.


“Shit, I’m telling you, he’s dead. Better get the doc…” The man reached down and put a hand on BA’s neck, searching for a pulse.


BA’s grabbed the wrist of the hand touching him, and then he was up, wrenching the man’s arm up behind his back until he heard a bone break and the man screamed in pain. The other guard ran in fast, tugging out his gun. Not fast enough. BA got rid of the first man, throwing him head first into the wall and met the second guard’s rush. He sidestepped fast, grabbed the gun arm in one hand, ripping the gun from the guard’s grip with the other and smashing it hard into his face. The man fell down. BA ran out of the door before the other two guards on the cell block could react.


“Weapons and radios on the floor, now, or you’re dead!”


Faced with the huge, naked man, holding a gun dripping with their colleague’s blood the guards didn’t hesitate to surrender.


“Keys. Now!”


They both handed him bunches of keys.


“Right, clothes.” They hesitated for a second. “I’ll take ’em with holes in ’em.” BA warned. They started to strip.


“Boots too. Now, inside.” The two guards in their underwear moved into BA’s cell. BA had them throw out the first two guards’ walkie talkies and weapons, then locked the door behind them. He took a second to get a breath. He was shaking, but knew that was his muscles objecting to the sudden activity after lying in one position for so long. Then he pulled himself together. He found the largest of the guards’ discarded pants and shoved them on quick. Then the boots. Neither pair fitted, but he put them on anyway. He picked up the other clothes and boots.


“Murdock,” BA said, unlocking the door of the other cell, turning on the light. “It’s me, we getting out of here.”


The lights came on and BA stared. It wasn’t Murdock lying on the bunk, wrapped up in a blanket.


“Face?” Damn it, they’d moved them around. Wait, who had they moved? BA wondered. Face and Murdock, or me? He’d been hazy and confused when they brought him back from the session earlier. They could easily have taken him to a different place and he’d have had no idea. The cells were identical.


Never mind. He ran to Face, who was stirring and trying to sit up. He shook Face’s shoulder.


“Wake up, man, come on.”


Face looked back at him with eyes that were dazed and cloudy. Hell, he’s drugged, BA realised. Can I carry him? Maybe fireman’s carry.


“Come on, Faceman, sit up, lemme get these clothes on you.” Maybe he could get Face awake enough to at least stumble along with BA’s help. He unwrapped Face from the blanket, lifted him to sit up, pulled his legs down off the bunk.


And he flinched back at the cry of pain Face let out when his feet touched the floor. Face pulled his legs up, wrapped his arms around them. BA gasped at the sight of Face’s swollen, black and blue feet. For a moment his vision surged red as rage almost overwhelmed him. But there was time later for that, time later for anger, time later for vengeance.


“Face,” he said, softly, “sorry I hurt ya. Let me help you get dressed.” He struggled to help Face into the clothes. Face started to wake up more as BA helped him, but even so it was like trying to dress a toddler.


“BA,” Face said, his voice shaky “Go without… go alone. I can’t walk… slow you down too much.”


“Shut up, man,” BA said, fastening the buttons on Face’s shirt quickly, all misaligned. BA discarded the boots. Face was right about one thing. He wasn’t walking anywhere. BA knelt down on one knee in front of Face. “Okay, Face, I’m gonna carry you over my shoulder.” Face looked like he wanted to protest further, but BA had no time to listen. “Just lean forward, I’ll catch ya.” Face leaned and then simply fell forward over BA’s shoulder. BA caught him, held on tight, and stood up. He groaned with the pain of the welts on his back and the various bruises. His knees shook. He was weaker than usual from the abuse and the lack of food and water and he was just getting too old for this.


“Like a bag of laundry.” He heard Face mutter.


“Yeah, man,” BA said. He carried Face out of the cell. No sign of trouble so far. Clearly no one had managed to raise the alarm before BA had disarmed them. BA had one pistol in his hand and one walkie talkie clipped to his waistband. The others he had in a shirt that he was carrying as an improvised bag.


All set.


~~~~


Hannibal strained against the manacles as Kyle punched Murdock again.


“Which of the guards told you?” Kyle demanded.


Hannibal had seen him flush with rage when when Murdock had said “Albania”. But he’d had no chance to do anything then, because Sevchenko showed up and started the session. Electricity. Murdock’s screams joining Face’s and BA’s in the new chamber of horrors in Hannibal’s memory.


Sevchenko wanted Murdock’s name. Murdock’s precious, ridiculous secret. Hannibal knew it, and it took every scrap of willpower he had not to scream it out. Because there was that twist. Sevchenko said that when Murdock gave up the name then he would kill him. Twist was the right word for it. Twisted and evil, what else would come from the mind of this vile demon?


Two hours, two unbearable hours had passed with Murdock’s screams ringing in Hannibal’s ears until finally Sevchenko and Markovic had decided to go and take a break. As soon as they left the room Kyle snapped “watch the door” at Berry, ran over to Murdock and and started punching him in the ribs. Murdock, exhausted, trembling, tried to flinch away, but the restraints kept him in place.


“Leave him alone, you bastard!” Hannibal yelled. “He’s had enough.”


Murdock must have known this would be likely reaction to his revelation, Hannibal realised, but he’d also realised they weren’t going to be left alone and if he wanted to pass on the information he was going to have to do it with an audience.


“Which one on them?” Kyle demanded again. He punched Murdock in the mouth this time and his fist came back with blood on it. “Which of the morons let it slip?”


Despite his exhaustion and pain Murdock managed a bloodied grin at Kyle.


“That would be you, Dougie.”


Kyle stopped, stared at him.


“‘I want to be in Albania by tonight’,” Murdock quoted, his voice quiet and cracked. “You assumed I was out. Never assume.” His voice took on a school ma’am-like tone. “To assume makes an ass of you and me.” He grinned maliciously, spoke in his normal voice again. “Though in this case just you really.”


Hannibal saw Berry smirk, and saw Kyle scowl and raise his fist again.


Sevchenko walked back in the door.


“What’s going on?”


~~~~


“And just how do you think you’re gonna fight with me draped over your shoulder like a fox fur?” Face asked BA quietly, as BA made his way down a stone corridor, sticking close to the wall


BA didn’t answer. A fox fur. He smiled slightly. His great aunt used to wear one of those, whatever the weather. He remembered he’d convinced his cousin Phyllis that the glass-eyed thing was actually still alive and would bite her if she got too close. That had earned him a week of doing the dishes.


He shook himself. Face was right. BA had to get Face somewhere safe and then go after Hannibal and Murdock. Outside. It had to be outside. And that would give them an idea of where they were and what was going on out there, so BA would know if there was anything else he needed to pick up.


BA heard footsteps coming towards them. He looked around in the dimness and saw a niche in the wall with an ugly statue in it. In a flash he was in the niche, squeezing past the statue, ignoring Face’s groan. He got as far back into the niche as possible, till they were swallowed up in the blackness. In a moment he heard voices and footsteps. He froze in place, as still as the hideous statue they shared the niche with. Face seemed to not even be breathing. Two men went past, talking, laughing. They were speaking what sounded German. Their voices and footsteps faded and BA came back out of the niche into the corridor.


“Kyle’s got himself a real United Nations of thugs,” Face said. BA nodded.


“Yeah. Keep quiet, I think we nearly at the front door.”


BA crept slowly down the corridor, checked around the corner and pulled back. Stairs, down into an entrance hall. And the door to the outside. BA waited, listening. Face lay limp and quiet, making BA wonder if he’d drifted off into drugged sleep again. No sound or movement. There were windows in the entrance hall, and they showed BA that it was dark outside. Night, he thought. But how late? Late enough that most of the men are asleep?


He had to move. Someone could find the guards missing on the cell block any time and then it would hit the fan. He had to take a chance and move. Stealthy, silent he descended the staircase. In his head he was thinking over and over “float like a butterfly”. He would get to the stinging like a bee part soon. Meanwhile he moved with a stealthiness that would have surprised people who saw him only as a big dumb animal. BA reached the front door and spoke quietly.


“Face, I’m gonna put you down.”


He lowered Face to sit against the wall. Face’s eyes were glazed but he was still awake.


“Hold on, man, I need to check outside.”


The door wasn’t locked.


“That means patrols,” Face said quietly. BA nodded in agreement. And he worried that it also meant that them getting outside wasn’t that big a worry to their captors. He opened the door just a crack, peeked out.


“Oh, man.” The first thing he saw was the last thing he wanted to see. “A helicopter.” His least favourite machine in the world. Except for that one downstairs with the dials and the electrodes.


A man was guarding the chopper. He walked up and down, smoking a cigarette. Suddenly he stopped and turned, waved a hand. Another man walked past, only yards from the door. BA stiffened, but the patrolling man didn’t come to the door. He went to the man beside the helicopter, got a light from him. They chatted for a few minutes, BA couldn’t hear them well enough to know what they were saying, or even if it was in English. Then the patrolling man left again.


“We need to get to the chopper,” BA said quietly, turning back to Face. “But there ain’t no way to get close without being seen. I could pretend to be a guard, but none of the ones I’ve seen is black so I don’t think that’s gonna fly.”


“Well you aren’t the only one wearing the guard’s clothes,” Face said.


“Yeah, but I’m the only one who can walk,” BA pointed out. “And if I’m carrying you it’s kinda hard to pretend I’m your prisoner…” He stopped, and smiled a smile that made Face look very worried.


“What?”


A moment later BA emerged from the front door of the house. The guard on the chopper looked up, then went to draw his gun.


“Drop it,” BA ordered. He pressed his pistol against the head of the man he held in front of him. The helicopter guard peered through the dark, saw a man in green fatigues like his own being held in front of BA, one huge arm around his body. The man’s head was slumped forward like he was unconscious.


“Drop it,” BA ordered again, moving forward, ever closer to the chopper. He could feel Face trembling. BA’s arm shook with the strain as he tried to pull Face up to keep his feet off the ground. “Do it now, or your friend is dead.” The guard did as BA said, tossed away his pistol, raised his hands. BA kept moving towards him. Suddenly the guard frowned, he was looking down, at Face’s bare feet.


“Wait, you’re not…” BA dropped Face, sickened by, but ignoring the cry Face made as he fell. The guard tried to retrieve his gun, but BA got to him first, kicked him in the face as he bent to grab the weapon. The man fell senseless to the ground. BA checked he was really out and ran back to Face. He scooped Face up in his arms and quickly, his back screaming at him for it, he shoved Face into the open side door of the helicopter.


“Try and hide, Face,” he said. Face nodded. He was pale and strained looking, legs drawn up. “I’ll be back, with Hannibal and Murdock, get you out of here, okay?”


Face nodded again. “If Murdock’s hurt too bad to fly…” He said.


BA didn’t want to think about that. Assume the best until he knew otherwise. He grabbed the guard and pulled him into the shadows behind the helicopter. The man patrolling around the house would spot he was missing when he got round here. BA hoped he was taking his time, maybe lurking in a sheltered spot to smoke his cigarette out of the chilly wind that was blowing.


It was so dark that BA could see little of their surroundings. There were lights somewhere in the distance, a town or village perhaps, but it was impossible to gauge how far off. The chilly air felt thin to him. They were somewhere high he thought. Like up a mountain maybe. Well if he had to choose between climbing down it or flying off it even he would choose flying. Which meant he had better get in there and get the fool out. He nodded at Face.


“Good luck,” Face said.


“Thanks. Get outta sight, man.”


BA turned away, hating to leave Face alone. He ran back to the house.


~~~~


Face crawled deep inside the helicopter. It felt so strange to be so cold in a Huey. The familiar shapes around him, familiar even in the dark, were paired inextricably with hot damp air. So strange to feel cold in here.


He shook his head, trying to clear the clouds in his mind. Memories of dust offs and med-evac flights tried to overwhelm him, but he resisted, forced himself to stay in the present. The pain in his feet helped with that. Not to mention the fact he wanted to stay alive and awake to have a little discussion with BA about the sergeant’s idea to use him as a hostage.


Face looked around, looked forward at the cockpit. He hoped BA managed to get Murdock out. He hoped Murdock was okay to fly. If he wasn’t…


If he wasn’t there were other options. Face got to his hands and knees, crawled forward. No pain, his mind insisted, over the insistent arguments from his body. There’s no pain. He reached the cockpit and hauled himself up against one of the pilot’s seats. And he saw what he was looking for. Most of the controls in here were a mystery to Face, he couldn’t fly the helicopter.


But he could operate the radio.


Chapter 15

BA found the second cell block and found it empty. He knew what that meant. Hannibal and Murdock were downstairs. In that… dungeon.


That was going to be a tricky one. There was a narrow staircase down to it. If there was a man at the bottom of those stairs he couldn’t fail to spot BA coming down. BA would have no chance to take him out before he raised the alarm. Even if BA shot him that would alert those inside the dungeon.


He needed a way to get down those stairs and keep the guard from raising the alarm. He needed a hostage. A real one.


So BA waited. He found another wall niche, empty this time, not far from the stairs down to the dungeon and he waited. And as soon as someone passed BA leapt out and grabbed the passing man around the throat.


And he regretted his choice at once. Because it was Kuprin.


~~~~


The frequency. Face tried to think through the buzzing in his head. Emergency distress frequency. He tried to remember conversations with Murdock, ones that he hadn’t tuned out.


Aviation distress frequencies. Well he was in a helicopter. Okay, it was on the ground, but he was definitely in distress.


243MHz? Was that it? No, no. That was military. 121.5 for civilians. And it didn’t matter, because he couldn’t see the controls clearly enough to set the right frequency anyway.


Didn’t matter; a distress call was a distress call whatever the frequency. He turned the dials, spoke into the mouthpiece.


“Mayday mayday mayday. Can anyone hear me? Mayday mayday mayday.”


~~~~


BA struggled with Kuprin. They had fallen to the ground. BA had an arm clamped tight around the big Russian’s throat, keeping him from yelling, or using his walkie talkie. But BA knew he was going to lose. Maybe at full strength he could have taken Kuprin, but now he was weakened, starved, dehydrated, exhausted. His only chance was if he cut off the man’s breathing permanently. He pressed harder, but Kuprin was pushing BA’s arm with both his hands and very gradually he dislodged it just far enough to get the breath to yell, roar.


“Help me!” And then he sank his teeth into BA’s arm and BA yelled in pain. Kuprin slipped free of BA’s arm, away from him. He turned before BA could rise, planted a knee in BA’s gut. BA heard feet running up the steps, saw a man emerge. Kuprin pulled out his walkie talkie and started shouting into it.


“All units, all units. Prisoner escape in progress.” Without even looking he punched the struggling BA hard in the face. BA slumped back, dizzy. More shapes gathered around him. Blows came from all sides and he slipped down into blackness.


~~~~


“All units, all units. Prisoner escape in progress.” Kyle and Berry’s radios chorused.


“Bloody hell!” Berry ran out of the torture chamber, drawing his gun. Kyle followed. Sevchenko started to follow him, but Kyle stopped him.


“No, you’re safest locked in here. That’s the protocol.”


“But…” Sevchenko looked around at Hannibal and Murdock.


“They’re secured. Just stay well away from them.” Kyle strode out. Sevchenko stared after him, then ran and rammed home the bolts on the inside of the door as he had before. Except then he’d been locked in with his friend Doctor Markovic. The men he was locked in with now were not his friends.


Sevchenko looked at them both nervously. Hannibal’s disgust rose like bile in his throat. The creature was a coward. Standing over a bound man, with a squad of armed guards at his back he was confident, even arrogant. But on his own he was scared of his own shadow. So he turned real men, men with nerve and honour, with real courage, into broken trembling wrecks, weaker even than himself.


That’s what he’s about, Hannibal thought. He wants to break anyone who’s not afraid of him. Anybody he’s afraid of.


“Vassily.” Murdock almost sang the word. “They’re coming to get you.” Sevchenko stared at Murdock then he retreated up against the wall near the door. “Imagine,” Murdock went on. “What BA will do to you when he gets in here.” He grinned. His teeth were bloody and made him look demonic. “Remember, Hannibal, what BA did to that Vietcong major, after the camp got liberated? The one that liked the cane so much?”


“Oh yeah.” Hannibal drew out the word ‘yeah’ like he was relishing the memory. “That was practically a war crime. I’d have arrested him on the spot…” He smirked at Sevchenko. “If I hadn’t been laughing so much.”


Sevchenko was pressed into the corner by the door now.


“He doesn’t even have a gun,” Murdock said.


“He’s scared of them,” Hannibal said. “If he did have a gun the smartest thing would be to use it on himself wouldn’t it, Captain?”


“It sure would be,” Murdock said. “If he was smart he’d go to that cupboard and find something in there to end it right now. Because once BA gets in here…”


“Shut up!” Sevchenko yelled, his voice high and near hysterical. “Shut up, or I’ll kill both of you now!”


“Well that would just make BA really mad,” Hannibal said. “And the last guy who made him really mad, well let’s just say even dental records couldn’t identify him.”


“Shut up!”


“Aww.” Hannibal put on a mocking sympathetic tone. “You gonna cry, Vassily?”


~~~~


“Mayday mayday mayday,” Face repeated for what felt like the hundredth time. He got nothing but hiss in reply. “Mayday mayday mayday. Mayday mayday mayd…”


“Roger, mayday, transmit your position, over.”


Face dropped the hand set as a male voice suddenly burst out of the speaker. He scrambled to pick up the mic, heart racing.


“Hello? Hello?” Face gasped. “You can hear me?”


“Transmit your position. Over.” The voice was in heavily accented English.


Face looked around wildly. Position? The best he could do was ‘Earth’. He didn’t know his position, he didn’t even know what country he was in.


“Negative. I don’t know my position. I’m a hostage, one of four. A dozen hostiles at least. We need help. Over.”


“I need your position,” the voice insisted.


Face didn’t know if the man could understand much of what Face was saying. Damn, damn, damn. Probably just some ham radio hobbyist.


“I don’t know where I am. It’s night here, I can’t see anything. Triangulate this transmission, please. Shit!” Searchlights stabbed down into the area outside the helicopter. A grim looking house came into view. The prison he’d escaped from. Not far enough. Men poured out of a door, spread out. Face’s gut went cold. BA. BA could be dead. He dropped to the floor of the chopper, bringing the radio handset with him. He didn’t know if the mysterious voice on the other end could understand, but he spoke anyway, more quietly, desperation tingeing his voice.


“Please triangulate this transmission. My name is Templeton Peck. I’m a prisoner. I’ve been tortured. Please send help. Over.”


“Transmit your position.” Face groaned and dropped his head onto his arms.


“Transmit your position.” Face looked up, because the voice was different and it wasn’t only coming from the radio set any more. Face looked up to see Kyle standing in the door of the helicopter, a man beside him carrying a portable radio set. Kyle had just spoken into the handset. He smirked at Face, who stared back at him.


“Take him,” Kyle ordered. As a half dozen men piled into the aircraft, Kyle turned away and strode back to the house, ignoring Face’s cries of pain under an onslaught of blows.


~~~~


Kyle did a security check once all the men were secured again. He went right into the cells themselves, to double check everything.


All four prisoners were chained to the wall. Sevchenko had ordered it. He’d also ordered Kuprin and Sokoll to visit Hannibal and Murdock personally and now both men hung in their chains, battered and bloodied. BA and Face had already received similar treatment from Kyle’s men after being apprehended.


When checking Face Kyle noticed he was hanging onto the chains with his hands, trying to take as much weight off his feet as possible. Sweat ran down his arms and masked his face. Kyle stood watching him for a while. Face didn’t speak, stared back at Kyle through half closed eyes. He was shaking with effort and with pain and yet that wasn’t what filled his eyes. They were filled with hatred, glaring it at Kyle. Baracus had given Kyle the same look when Kyle checked him. Murdock and Hannibal were both semi-concious after the beating Kuprin and Sokoll had dished out. But even semi-concious their defiance was plain.


One escape attempt had failed, but Kyle was sure of one thing.


“They’ll try it again.”


Sevchenko sat in an armchair in the small dark sitting room. He had a glass of whisky in his hand, the first liquor Kyle had seen him drink. When Kyle had come to tell him it was safe to come out he’d almost run from the room. Then, pale and trembling, he spoke in Russian in a shaky voice to Kuprin and Sokoll, provoking a wolfish grin from the former and a grim smile from the latter.


“And it’s your job to stop them trying it again!” Sevchenko snapped at Kyle.


“You don’t understand these men,” Kyle said. He folded his arms, paced the small room. The bottles of Cristal champagne on the shelf caught his eye and he looked away. “They won’t stop trying. The longer they are alive the more chances they have. We were lucky tonight. But we have to be lucky every time. They only have to be lucky once.”


“Luck should not enter into it, if you and your men do your jobs properly.”


Well that was the problem though, wasn’t it, Kyle thought. The men he had were second rate. Third rate even. And that wasn’t down to money in the end. He’d tried to tell himself it was, tried to blame Sevchenko for penny pinching. But that wasn’t it.


It was down to him. The fact was that first rate men didn’t want to work with Kyle any more. He’d been defeated, he’d gone to jail and been out of the game for years. He’d once been called the best mercenary money can buy. But that was a long time ago.


Reputation. His was gone. He was a joke. This job was supposed to undo some of that damage and this damn Russian was going to ruin it. He was so wrapped up in his sick little games he couldn’t see what he was risking.


If the A-Team escaped from him again Kyle might just as well retire. He’d be as big a joke as the army clowns that had chased them for years and let them escape over and over.


For the same reason he couldn’t simply walk away, like Anderson had done. Couldn’t let people think he didn’t see a job through. And what would he walk away to? He had no other jobs lined up. He was relying on this one to restore his reputation and get him more work. If he walked away now he’d be lucky if he got to spend the rest of his career collecting bounties. He’d be lucky if he had a career at all.


“Kill them now,” Kyle said. “I’ll do it for you. Then you can drink your champagne and we can all go home.”


“No!” Sevchenko stood up. “You don’t tell me what to do, you work for me. I know what I’m doing.”


“You’re torturing them to death, that’s what you said. Well do it! Screw the waterboarding and the other games. Get on and do what you said you’re going to do.”


Sevchenko held Kyle’s glare for a moment, then he looked away.


“Perhaps you are right. I have been taking my time.” He smiled at Kyle, conciliatory. “I’ve waited for this for such a long time, planned it… But your security concerns are legitimate.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost two in the morning. “I’m going to bed now. I shall start work at ten tomorrow. I will start with Peck.”


He left. Kyle watched him go and then poured himself a whisky and lit a cigarette. He knocked the whisky back in one swallow. The undiluted spirit burned his throat.


Just get me out of here. Let this be over and get me the hell out of this damned house.


~~~~


Hannibal thought about Albania. He had to think about something to take his mind off his own battered body and his fear for the others.


Albania. Pretty godforsaken place. He’d never been there – here – before, and had never wanted to. It was just emerging from decades of Communist rule. Especially isolationist and xenophobic that had been too.


What else? Most of the people were Muslim, though religious observance had been banned by the communists of course.


What else? Damn, his left leg was numb with cramp. He gritted his teeth and tried to move it gently. His shoulders and back were on fire.


Focus. Albania. What would he find if he got outside right now? Most of the country was mountainous, he remembered. He was willing to bet that’s where they were, and not at some nice little villa on the Mediterranean coast. Climate. Cold and wet in the mountains, even in summer.


What else? Bad roads. High rate of gun ownership. That last might help. Airports? Tirana had an international one. There must be other smaller ones. Military ones. Hannibal’s head was pounding. He couldn’t hold it up any longer and let it fall forward, chine resting on his his chest. Could he sleep in this position, in this much pain? He was tired enough for it.


Mother Teresa. A tiny bit of trivia popped up in his mind. Mother Teresa was Albanian. Great, colonel, that helps. Maybe she’ll storm the building and take out Kyle’s men with an M60.


Maybe someone would. They had to have been missed by now. Maybe someone was investigating their disappearance. Maybe they’d actually manage to track them down, maybe they’d come and get them out. That was a big stack of maybes. He didn’t dare to let himself get too hopeful about that. Don’t rely on help coming from outside, he ordered himself. Assume we