Hannibal checked his hair in the mirror, straightened his tie and took a couple of squirts of breath-freshener. Then he knocked on the hotel room door. A large man in a dark suit opened it.
“Hi. Hannibal Smith. I’m here for the audition.”
The large man looked at him closely then stood aside, letting Hannibal walk in. He knew right away this was no audition. Four more heavies in suits stood around the large room. Five chairs had been set up, four of them facing one across a low table. There was coffee, doughnuts and pastries on the table. The four chairs on one side of the table were occupied. These people were also wearing suits, but couldn’t be described as “heavies”. The word that sprung to Hannibal’s mind was “politicians” and he was soon proved right.
They stood up and one, a tall white haired man immaculately dressed and groomed said. “Good afternoon, Colonel Smith. I am Senator Adam Vaughan. This is Congressman Jose Alverez, Senator Jack Webster and Congresswoman Amanda Stark.” Hannibal shook hands with each of them in turn.
“Congressman? Senator? Who’s directing this picture, Dan Quayle?” They smiled at this, in some cases politely, in others with genuine amusement.
Congresswoman Stark, a handsome black woman, in her late forties, answered him. “I’m afraid, Colonel, that we have brought you here under false pretences.”
“Please sit, Colonel.” Vaughan said. Cautiously Hannibal did so. He was extremely suspicious about what was going on here, but for the moment he didn’t feel he was in any danger. He looked down at the script he carried, sighed. It had seemed like such a good role for him too. He dumped it on the table.
“Some coffee, Colonel?” Alverez offered him. Hannibal nodded and one of the heavies poured him a cup and handed it to him, offered him a doughnut, which Hannibal declined. Alverez took one himself. He was in his early forties and running to fat, looked as if he’d get winded hurrying to catch an elevator. His eyes were sharp and intelligent.
“What’s this about?” Hannibal asked. “Who are you people?” He studied Webster, who hadn’t spoken yet. A serious looking, grizzled man in his fifties. He was in charge, Hannibal decided.
“We are in fact former employers of yours,” Vaughan said, “Though we never met.” Hannibal got it at once.
“You’re Stockwell’s bosses.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘bosses’. Not exactly.” The Congresswoman said. “Thinking in corporate terms you could say we were more the board of directors while he was the CEO.” She smiled at the description.
“Whatever, you’re the backers,” Hannibal said, “You’re the ones who got the money for him.”
“Exactly,” Vaughan said. “We provided the funding and the late General Stockwell took care of the operational side.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you finally and I’d love to sit here and chat about how you all didn’t go to jail, but I’m a busy man. I have real auditions to go to, so…” He put down his coffee cup and rose.
“Really, Colonel?” Webster spoke for the first time, in a deep voice. “I believe you don’t in fact have another audition scheduled for at least a week.” Hannibal winced a little at that, but kept up his defiant stance.
“You let me worry about my career, Senator.” Hannibal said.
“In fact, it’s your career we brought you here to discuss,” Vaughan said. “Please hear us out.” Hannibal looked at them then sat down again.
“Since the death of General Stockwell,” Vaughan went on, “we have tried promoting from within the organisation. However it seems the General was good at training subordinates but not successors.”
“He didn’t like competition.” Hannibal commented. “Mind if I smoke?” He took out a cigar and started to light it without waiting for an answer.
“So it seems.” Stark agreed. “The organisation has been stagnating somewhat. What it needs is leadership.” Hannibal stared at her, his cigar forgotten, the flame on his lighter flickering out. She couldn’t mean what he thought she meant, surely…
“A strong hand on the tiller.” Alverez said, which made Hannibal’s gaze shift to him.
“Someone who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions.” Vaughan said and got Hannibal’s stare in his turn.
“You guys have got to be kidding.” Hannibal said finally.
“No, Colonel.” Webster said. “We are not kidding. Let me make it clear what my colleagues, in their roundabout ways, are trying to say. We wish to offer you the late General Stockwell’s job.”
They waited for him to stop laughing. They had to wait for some time. Finally Hannibal wiped his eyes and said. “Thanks guys, it was worth the trip just to hear that. If Stockwell is looking down…” he paused, then continued, “…or possibly up, at us, he’s probably laughing too.” He stood up. “Oh, can you validate my parking for me?”
“Please, Colonel. Don’t dismiss this so readily.” Vaughan said. “First let us explain exactly what this involves.”
“I already know what it involves,” Hannibal said. “Manipulation, blackmail, a big chance of going to jail.”
“You lived for many years with the threat of going to jail.” Webster said.
“And believe me, I prefer life without that threat.” Hannibal said.
“Really?” Alverez said. “You prefer spending your time playing character parts in b-movies to the excitement your life used to hold?”
“What about ‘the Jazz’, Colonel?” Vaughan asked.
“I’m supposed to fall for that?” Hannibal asked. You read Amy Allen’s book and think that means you know me? Thinking he knew me was Stockwell’s mistake and look where he ended up. Besides, Stockwell spent most of the time behind his desk, weaving his webs, no ‘Jazz’ there.”
“Well, we thought perhaps at your time of life…” Alverez began.
“I’ll live longer than you, pal.” Hannibal snapped hotly at the man with powdered sugar on his lapels.
“Think about all the good you can do,” Stark said, trying a different tack. “With the resources of the organisation behind you.”
“Yeah, ’cause Stockwell was doing a lot of good wasn’t he?” Hannibal retorted. He was still standing. Inside he was telling himself to leave, but couldn’t resist listening to their attempts to draw him in. They looked a little uncomfortable at what he’d said.
“Lessons have been learnt from the way Stockwell worked,” Vaughan said. “We have made changes to the way things are done.”
“Oh, now you’re a kinder, gentler, black ops unit?”
“Perhaps.” Stark said, recognising the sarcasm, but taking the comment at face value too. “And of course, you’re not Stockwell, you are a very different man.”
“Gee, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” Hannibal snarked.
“What she means, Colonel,” Webster said, quietly. “Is that the organisation will work according to your methods, to your standards. And to your agenda.” This finally gave Hannibal pause.
“My agenda? You mean you just give me the money and I decide what to do with it?”
“Within certain parameters, yes,” Alverez said.
“What parameters?” Hannibal asked suspiciously.
“Our ultimate goal is to protect the national security of the United States,” Vaughan said, “and to make the country a better and safer place for all its citizens.”
“Very noble.” Hannibal said, with a touch of sarcasm. But not too much. Vaughan had sounded utterly sincere. “But why me? Hell, Stockwell himself admitted that he should never have recruited us, that we were wrong for the organisation. Now you want to put me in charge?”
“Leadership, Colonel Smith.” Stark said. “Your working under Stockwell may have been a mistake, but your leading the organisation would not be. In fact if I had both you and the General in front of me now and had to make the choice…”
“Okay, lady…er, ma’am, you don’t need to butter me up quite so blatantly.” He finally sat down again and took a Danish pastry. Might as well get a free snack out of this nonsense.
“We were very impressed with the way you handled the attempted coup in Qumar last year.” Alverez said, continuing the buttering up. “We’ve read the reports of Lieutenant-Colonel Langford and Lieutenant-Colonel Madari, they both spoke very highly of your methods.”
“Langford spoke highly of me?” Hannibal said, grinned. “He must have been drunk.” Mention of Langford made him think of something else. He finally understood why MI6 were interested in him and what that meant. That these people had been watching him for nearly a year at least, waiting for this day. He almost hated to disappoint them after they had put all this effort in. Hannibal stood up, wiping his hands on a napkin.
“Well this has been fascinating, really. But I’d sooner stick my hand in a bucketful of piranhas than work for you. No offence.” They rose too. Vaughan took a card from his pocket and handed it to Hannibal.
“We don’t need a final answer now, Colonel, please call this number if you wish to discuss the matter any further. It’s been very good to meet you.” They all shook hands in a friendly way as if he hadn’t just told them to take their job and stick it. “One of the, erm, Ables,” Vaughan waved a hand at the heavies, “will validate your parking for you.”
And then he was back in the hotel corridor. He glanced at the card in his hand. All it contained was a phone number. It certainly didn’t contain Senator Vaughan’s name. He suspected that if he walked into a newspaper office right now and gave them the story they would find out that none of the four politicians were in fact in LA today, they were all in far distant parts of the country and couldn’t possibly have just met with him. He couldn’t find a trash can so he put the card into his pocket. He would throw it away later.
“Here you go, BA, milk for you, beers for the rest of us.”
“Thanks, Frankie.” Hannibal said, taking the bottle. He took a bite of his burger and a swig of beer, settled back in the garden chair enjoying the sunshine. Face took his beer had a moment of indecision then put it down beside the chair, picked up his burger in his left hand. His right arm was in a cast and a sling. BA took the glass of milk with a grunt of thanks.
“C’mon, Murdock,” Frankie called, to where Murdock was crawling around on the grass with Frankie’s eighteen month old twin sons under the watchful eye of Frankie’s wife Rosita.
“In a minute.” Murdock answered, clearly having far too much fun with the kids to want to join them. Frankie went back to the barbeque, started poking the sausages around.
“How’d you break your arm this time, Face?” Frankie asked.
“Paragliding.” Face admitted. “Had kind of a tricky landing.”
“Paragliding?” Hannibal said. “When did you take that up?”
Face shrugged. “Just trying it out.” Hannibal frowned a little. Face had been “trying out” rather a lot of dangerous sports lately. He’d already broken his arm twice and sprained his ankle once. Hannibal was getting a little nervous.
Face had expected some kind of comment on the idiocy of paragliding from BA but when he looked over at him BA was gazing off into the middle distance. He’d been pretty quiet ever since they arrived at Frankie’s house earlier that afternoon.
“You okay, BA? You seem kinda down.” Face asked him. BA looked up at him, scowling, but then his expression softened.
“Yeah, ah’m okay. Just…” He stopped, they waited for a moment and he finally went on. “Ah was at a funeral this mornin’.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, BA,” Face said. “Someone close?”
“One of the kids who used to come to the youth centre.”
“What happened, BA?” Hannibal asked.
“The usual.” BA said. “Crack.” Again he paused, his face clouded with anger and grief. “His name was Lester. He was a good kid for a long time. Used to go to school, worked hard, stayed outta trouble. He was real smart, coulda gone to college. But he got in with a bad crowd, started takin’ drugs, started stealin’. Ah tried to help, to get him cleaned up, but nuthin’ worked.”
“How did he die?” Face asked quietly.
“A week ago he got shot by the cops when he tried to hold up a convenience store.”
“Man…” Frankie shook his head sadly.
“All that promise, you know, all that potential, just…wasted.” BA shook his head too. “If ah could get hold of the guys who first gave him that poison…” then his anger faded a little. “Ah shoulda done something more for him, shoulda found a way to help him.”
Face reached out with his good hand and squeezed BA’s arm. “You can’t save them all, BA. You do a lot of good work, there are kids you’ve helped who’ve gone to college, or got themselves good jobs, that might otherwise have ended up dead or in jail.”
“Sometimes ah wonder if it’s worth it. The problems are so big, and ah’m just one man. The number of people ah can help is so small.” He sounded quite dejected, clearly deeply affected.
Hannibal looked at the sadness on his friend’s face. Then he looked across at the two small children laughing and crawling around on the grass with Murdock. He thought about their potential and how easily it could be lost if they made one wrong turn. And he thought about the people out there waiting to take advantage of anyone making a wrong turn.
“Senator Vaughan? No? Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve never heard of any Senator Vaughan. Well next time you don’t talk to him tell him Smith wants another meet. Soon as it can be arranged.”
It wasn’t the same hotel room; it wasn’t even the same hotel. None of the heavies were the same. But Vaughan, Stark, Webster and Alverez were the same. Hannibal walked in and got right to the point.
“It’s for real what you said? I set the agenda? I make policy?”
“Yes.” Webster said.
“In that case my agenda is drugs. Who’s making them, who’s bringing them in, who’s distributing them.” Three of the four politicians looked at each other. Webster went on looking at Hannibal.
“There are police and federal agencies dedicated to…” Alverez began.
“And their hands are tied with red tape. Mine wouldn’t be.”
“We appreciate you have always been very anti-drugs, Colonel,” Stark said “And many of your prior missions have helped in the fight against them, but we work more on matters of national security.”
“You’re telling me this isn’t a matter of national security? Thousands of our young people, who should be fit and ready to serve their country, are being destroyed. The people poisoning them are as much our enemies as any terrorists you care to name.” He held Webster’s gaze as he spoke, knew he was the one he needed to convince. “You said you want things to be different now than they were with Stockwell. You said you want to make America a better place. Was that all just bull?” Webster looked at him closely. “Nixon declared the War on Drugs twenty years ago. I don’t know if you folks have noticed, but we don’t seem to be winning.” He saw Webster’s face flicker just a little at the mention of Nixon. Hannibal had been doing some reading on the political backgrounds and known allegiances of his four new friends. Webster and Nixon went back quite a ways.
Webster stepped close to Hannibal then and held out his hand. Hannibal shook it.
“Welcome back to the organisation, Colonel.”