“Hello, Stockwell. The man pointing the gun at your head is Major Madari of the Qumari Royal Guard. I don’t believe you’ve met.” Stockwell turned to see Madari, arms resting across the desk of the nurse’s station, his automatic gripped firmly in both hands, aiming directly at Stockwell. An Able was covering him, but no-one fired.
“Ah, so can I assume the young man we encountered outside is Lieutenant Jahni?” Stockwell asked.
“If he has been hurt…” Madari’s voice was quiet, threatening.
“I assure you, the Lieutenant is quite unharmed,” Stockwell paused, smiled, “merely disarmed.”
“Bring him in here.” Hannibal snapped in a voice so commanding that one of the Ables found himself lifting his radio to relay the order even before Stockwell approved it.
“Colonel, who is this man?” Madari asked, sounding irritated. Understandably Hannibal thought, Stockwell was radiating smugness like the cat that got not only the cream but also the canary and then heard that next door’s dog had been hit by a car.
“This is General Hunt Stockwell, our ex-boss. The man who abandoned us to die in Qumar.”
“Do you want me to shoot him?” The Ables tensed, but Stockwell raised a hand. Hannibal puffed on his cigar and didn’t speak. “Colonel?”
“I’m thinking it over.” Hannibal said.
There was a commotion outside the doors of the ward and three large Ables dragged in a struggling, cursing Jahni. Despite having his hands cuffed behind his back he was, Hannibal was pleased to see, making life difficult for his escorts. One had a bloodied nose, another a split lip. The third walked awkwardly and had a pained look on his face that suggested he’d been kicked somewhere sensitive. Madari called out in Arabic to Jahni and the Lieutenant stopped fighting, stood glaring instead, panting a little. “I wasn’t certain they were KGB, sir,” he said, looking at Hannibal, implying this was the only reason the Ables were still alive.
“They’re not,” Hannibal said, “though the difference is barely noticeable.” Turning to Stockwell he said. “Let him out of those cuffs.”
“I’m not sure I have enough men here to deal with Lieutenant Jahni unrestrained.” Stockwell smirked, apparently finding himself amusing.
“Are you sure I can’t shoot him?” Madari asked Hannibal. Hannibal understood how he felt. His own fists were starting to itch.
“Have you noticed, Stockwell, how people take an instant dislike to you? Why do you think that is?”
“Saves time.” BA’s deep voice came from behind Hannibal, and Hannibal enjoyed seeing the Ables jump at the sound. They’d had no idea he was there.
“Sergeant.” Stockwell said in acknowledgement as BA loomed out of the darkness. BA had heard quite enough of this banter and decided it was time to get to the heart of the matter.
“What the heck are you doing here, Stockwell? Why ain’t you in jail?”
“I was beginning to think you were never going to ask. Shall we go into Lieutenant Peck’s room and discuss it? ”
Face and Murdock’s reaction to the sight of Stockwell was predictable enough.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Face sounded so agitated that Murdock hitched up his jaw that had fallen open and turned to Face to urge him to take it easy.
“Take it easy?” Face yelled. “You did see who just walked in, didn’t you.” Hannibal put a hand on Face’s shoulder, trying to calm him.
“I know, Face, I know, let’s just hear what he has to say.” Face went quiet, simmering.
“Spill it, Stockwell, why aren’t you in jail?” Hannibal asked.
“But I am, Colonel. Visitors to the Foxton Penitentiary can see the notorious, disgraced General Stockwell in his cell any day they care to.”
“But not tonight.” Hannibal said.
“No, tonight I had to be taken into hospital for a minor surgical procedure, I’m expected to recover and return to prison within a few days.” He smiled with the same insufferable smugness at the men who were staring at him with a mix of puzzlement and hostility. He sobered a little, looked more serious.
“My work for the government was far too valuable to be interrupted by my unfortunate incarceration. Facilities are provided for me and I take the occasional, shall we say ‘field trip’ when the situation warrants it.”
“Come on, Stockwell,” Murdock sounded incredulous, “you’re expecting us to believe you’re running your organisation from jail?”
“Capone did.” Hannibal pointed out.
“Apt comparison.” Face said, bitterly. “And he didn’t even get field trips.”
“Those people you named at your trial,” Hannibal said, “They were just fall guys weren’t they? To hide how high this goes.” Stockwell looked at him, like a teacher proud of a good student. “You report right to the top don’t you? The President?” Stockwell looked disappointed then.
“I thought you had a more sophisticated outlook, Colonel. You say ‘the top’, then you mention a politician as if he were someone that mattered.”
“The more he talks the more I wanna hit him.” BA growled.
“Specifics, Stockwell,” Hannibal demanded. “Why are you here? Why here, why now? What do you care if the Russians kill us?” Stockwell looked surprised at the question.
“I don’t like the KGB running around in my country killing people any more than you do, Colonel.”
“Even if those people are us?” Hannibal asked. “I’d have thought you’d have cheered them on.” Stockwell shook his head, looking surprised at Hannibal’s words.
“Colonel, I hold no grudge against you and your team. What would be the point? You did what you had to do, I did what I had to do. Why make an emotional issue out of it?” The A-Team exchanged astonished glances. They knew Stockwell was a cold fish, but this was a little chilly even for him.
“Gentlemen,” Stockwell said, ignoring their looks, “The man who is after you is a KGB Colonel named Viktor Svidler. The four men you brought here from Qumar were part of his unit and it seems he is seeking revenge on you for their loss. I have encountered Svidler before and know how he thinks. At least I used to know. He has become more unpredictable lately.”
“Sounds a little sentimental for KGB. Why doesn’t he just requisition some new torturers from head office, I’m sure they have plenty.” Hannibal said.
“He’s not so much sentimental as more… well, possibly insane.”
“Oh, that’s just great.” Face muttered.
“He was recalled by the head of the KGB First Chief Directorate several months ago to answer a board of enquiry into his…ah… somewhat extreme methods. He has failed to obey or even acknowledge that order and is officially designated as rogue.”
“It gets better and better.” Murdock said.
“So a crazy, mass murdering, rouge KGB Colonel is on our tail and you’ve come to save us, Stockwell?” Hannibal asked. The General smiled.
“Can someone just shoot me now and get it over with?” Face groaned.
“He hasn’t really come to save us,” Hannibal said. “He’s after Svidler and he’ll use us to get him.”
“But you’re prepared to go along with that.” Madari said. Hannibal had taken the two Arabs into the small staff room. Murdock and BA were with Face. “You want to get him too.”
“Svidler’s trying to kill us, his men shot Face and massacred our prisoners. Yeah I wanna get him.”
“So do we.” Jahni said.
“Well, that’s sort of what I called you in here to talk about. I want you two to take this chance to get out of here. Stockwell’s men can get you safely back to LA and onto a plane home.”
“What?” Jahni exploded. “You must be mad!”
“Jahni!” Madari snapped at him and then spoke sharply to him in Arabic. Jahni shouted back in the same language and Madari’s face went hard. His voice became coldly commanding and whatever he said made Jahni drop his gaze to the floor, though he still quivered with rage. At another word from the Major he spun on his heel and marched out of the room.
“I apologise for his rudeness, Colonel.” Madari said, very formal.
“That’s okay. I know, he’s a feisty kid and wants to fight. But this really is for the best.”
“You misunderstand, Colonel. I apologise for the way he spoke. I do not disagree with him.”
“You think we would run while you are still in danger? You insult us.” He sounded angry and Hannibal sighed, got a feeling he wouldn’t win this one. And the truth was he needed them. He was a man down and he didn’t trust the Ables. He needed fighting men that he knew were on his side.
“Okay, Major, you win. Just don’t come crying to me if you get yourself killed.” He momentarily enjoyed the bafflement on Madari’s face at the strange expression.
“Um, I won’t,” the Major said, frowning.
They started to leave the room. Hannibal switched off the light and as the room went dark he saw the flash outside through the window, was instantly aware of the accompanying sound.
“Everybody down!” He yelled at the top of his voice, grabbing Madari and pushing him to the floor, behind the wall between the nurse’s station and the staff room. The window above them exploded, as did a big patch of the opposite wall. Broken glass, wood splinters and plaster rained down. His ears ringing from the blast Hannibal was on his feet again in a second ran to Face’s room. Face was under the bed, where BA and Murdock had dragged him. None of them was hurt.
Stockwell, plaster dust covering his shoulders and hair came into the room, his gun drawn.
“It came from those trees outside, to the west.” Hannibal said, urgently. Stockwell hurried back out barking orders at his men. Hannibal followed him out. “Stockwell, wait…” he began and heard the sound again and someone – an Able – yelled, “Down!”
The rocket smashed through the flimsy partition wall dividing the staff room from the nurses station and hit the waiting room vending machine, which exploded blasting out sparks, hot water and burning paper cups. Sheltered against the front of the nurse’s station Hannibal said to Stockwell, “Don’t send your goons blundering through the trees, we’ll go out there and take them out.” Stockwell looked at him, knew he was right. This called for the skills that were the province of Special Forces and guerrilla fighters.
“Agreed, Colonel, gather your men and proceed.” Hannibal bristled a little at being given what sounded very much like an order from Stockwell, but had no time to take issue with it. He stuck his head above the nurse’s station, yelled to Madari. “Get Jahni, get to the back door west, wait for us there.” Madari moved out. Hannibal, staying low, went back to Face’s room.
“Murdock, BA, we’re going out to take care of that rocket launcher and whatever else we might find out there.” They nodded grimly.
“Hannibal.” Face said. He was still under the bed, had a blanket wrapped around him now. “Hannibal, don’t go out there.”
“We’ll be fine, kid.” Hannibal reassured him. “Back exit, west. Move it,” he said to BA and Murdock and they left, both touching Face before they went, briefly on the shoulder or arm, as if he would bring them luck.
“No,” Face said, “I mean don’t leave me here, with him.” He was looking past Hannibal, who glanced over his shoulder; saw Stockwell coming into the room.
“Face we’ll be back real quick. And Stockwell is going to take very good care of you,” Hannibal turned to glare at Stockwell. “Isn’t he?”
“I will,” Stockwell said, “you have my word.” Face didn’t look convinced. He dropped his gaze to the floor as Hannibal went to move away. Hannibal squeezed his hand to try to reassure him then pulled away not looking into Face’s eyes as he headed out.
He met the others at the back exit door. They were all checking their weapons, loading guns, strapping sheathed knives to their belts. Hannibal saw something in Murdock’s eyes, not just fear of the enemy, but fear of what he had to do to the enemy.
“Okay, listen up, it’s about two hundred yards to the trees…” Another explosion shook the building. Hannibal waited for the noise to pass and went on. “We have to take out that rocket launcher and incapacitate as many of those guys as possible. Keep it as quiet as you can, use guns only if you have to. Move out.” Well he’d given an out from the killing to anyone who wanted it by saying ‘incapacitate’. It was up to them if they used it. They left the clinic and staying low headed towards the trees.
Twenty minutes after the first rocket hit the clinic Hannibal killed the man firing the launcher, then turned to help Madari deal with two more men. There were plenty more KGB agents in the woods, Hannibal could hear them moving about, heard the occasional signal whistle. Jahni had gone off on his own. BA and Murdock had gone together. Hunting.
Hannibal looked at the launcher on the ground. It was too bulky to carry around, but he couldn’t leave it here for the enemy to use it again. He took a fragmentation grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin and stuffed it in the barrel of the rocket launcher. They ran. Hannibal was counting. On four he threw himself to the ground. The Major took the hint and did the same.
They sat up as the sound of the grenade and the exploding rocket launcher and the unused rockets that had been beside it died away.
“Nice.” Hannibal said. Madari gave a feral grin in response. Then his face went serious again and he pulled Hannibal back to the ground as he saw a black-clad man through the trees barely ten yards from them. The Russian didn’t see them. He was looking in the direction of the explosion.
Hannibal started to point Madari to go left while he took the right. But before they had a chance to move a figure moved soundlessly out of the trees behind the Russian and grabbed him around the throat. Steel flashed in the moonlight as Jahni thrust his knife into the KGB man’s heart. There was no cry, not even a gurgle. The dying man’s voice was cut off by the Lieutenant’s forearm pressing on his windpipe. The Russian went limp and Jahni lowered the body to the ground, relieving it of knife and gun. Madari gave a soft whistle and Jahni instantly looked directly at them. His face was so grim and hard he was barely recognisable. He nodded curtly at Hannibal and Madari and then vanished back into the trees. The whole thing had taken maybe ten seconds.
Hannibal felt like he’d just been transported back twenty years. He saw jungle instead of woods, Vietcong instead of KGB. And Face, moving with the same efficiency and deadly grace, replaced the young Arab in his mind’s eye. “That kid’s a natural,” he breathed, an echo twenty years old.
“I told you he was good.” Madari said, his voice quiet and proud. He had, in his letters and Hannibal hadn’t believed it. He’d thought Jahni was too headstrong and immature and that Madari indulged him too much. Now he believed it. They split up then. There was plenty more killing to be done.
BA was finishing off one of the two men that had attacked them, dropping from the tree branches down onto their backs. The Russian BA fought soon began to falter under hammer blows from the Sergeant’s fists, which were grazed from the men he’d already fought.
Murdock though was in trouble. His opponent was heavier and stronger than him and had managed to knock him to the ground. Both had lost their weapons in the struggle and the Russian wrapped his big hands around the Captain’s throat.
Trapped under the larger man’s weight, unable to throw him off, Murdock almost panicked as his breath was cut off, but he held onto control. His arms were free and he clapped his hands hard onto the man’s ears. The KGB man howled with pain and his grip loosened a fraction. Murdock groped for the hands around his neck, found the little fingers and twisted them, felt one of them break. But the Russian seemed impervious and his grip tightened again.
Murdock’s vision started to cloud, blood roared in his ears and in desperation he clawed at the man’s face, fingers hooked, reaching for the eyes even as he felt the strength draining from his arms…
Jahni found himself fighting not a Russian this time but an Arab. He realised at once this must be the man the KGB had on the inside, spying on Ziyahd. He was a tough opponent and managed to break free of Jahni’s grip before the Lieutenant could stab him. They circled each other warily, knives ready. The man smirked at him.
“So you’re Jahni.” Jahni didn’t waste his breath answering the traitor. He watched for an opening. “Good, I get to kill you too.” Too? Jahni couldn’t keep the look of alarm off his face. “Yes, I already killed your beloved Major.”
“Not ten minutes ago, slit his throat,” he mimed it with a finger. “Watched him die.”
Jahni lunged at him with a scream of rage.
BA kicked the KGB agent in the head. The man was so intent on throttling Murdock he didn’t even see it coming. He hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. Murdock rolled on his side, making horrible desperate gasping sounds as he gulped in the chill night air. BA crouched beside him.
“Easy, Murdock,” he said, in a surprisingly gentle voice, “take it slow.” He moved aside Murdock’s hands and carefully felt his neck, checking for crushed cartilage, but there didn’t seem to be any serious damage. He took out his gun and kept watch, giving Murdock time to recover. When Murdock started trying to sit up, BA said, “Come on, man, pull it together, we have to finish these guys.” Murdock responded automatically to the stern tone and let BA pull him to his feet. He was pale, but his eyes were alert. He started looking for his dropped weapons. BA checked on Murdock’s attacker.
“Use his belt to tie him up,” Murdock suggested.
“Don’t need to,” BA said, quietly. “He’s dead.” His kick must have snapped the man’s neck. It had been instinctive. For a long time he’d disciplined himself, as he believed all strong men should, to restrain the lethal force he knew he was capable of. But now in the dark, under the trees, surrounded by killers, the instincts were in control.
Jahni regretted the lunge instantly, knew he’d let his anger control him instead of the other way around. His arm was caught and would have been broken, but he recovered his balance and kicked his attacker in the back of the knees, taking him down.
As they fell Jahni’s arm was still held against his opponent’s side. The Lieutenant turned the knife in his trapped hand to point upwards and the KGB man fell onto it. The combination of his own weight and Jahni’s on top of him drove it in deeper than the Lieutenant could ever have managed on his own. His mouth gaped, eyes staring with shock, gurgling as the knife punctured his lung.
Jahni pulled his arm and his knife free of the twitching man. He looked down at the dying agent. If this traitor had killed Madari…
No. It had to be a lie to provoke him. It had to be.
Hannibal checked his watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since they’d left the clinic. They’d agreed to regroup here at this time. Hannibal was the first to arrive and as he waited he cleaned blood from his knife, then sheathed it. He saw that the Sheriff’s patrol car was now standing outside the clinic, which was scarred and smouldering from the rocket hits. Well Stockwell could deal with the Sheriff. One thing he was useful for…
“Have you seen the Major?” Hannibal reached automatically for his gun, as a figure appeared suddenly at his side, spectre-like in its silence.
“Dammit, Lieutenant,” he relaxed again. “Can you make yourself invisible too?” Blood spattered Jahni’s clothes and arms and Hannibal could see he was shaking, reacting to the adrenaline rush of combat. The Lieutenant’s question finally registered with him.
“I was with Faris earlier. We got the rocket launcher, about a half hour ago.” Then they both spun, reaching for weapons, at a noise behind them, but it was only Murdock and BA. They were also blood spattered and Hannibal noticed that Murdock in particular had a haunted look.
“Have you seen the Major?” Jahni asked them. They both shook their heads, neither seemed inclined to speak, but then Murdock glanced to his left, said. “Here he is now.” Madari approached from the trees, looking weary, but unharmed. As he joined them Jahni reached out and touched him briefly on the arm, as if making certain he was real.
“Are we done, Colonel?” Murdock asked. It was starting to get light now and the woods had gone quiet.
“We’ve made an impression.” Hannibal said. “Let’s get back to the clinic. I’ll take point, BA rear guard.”
They made their way cautiously across the open ground. Were passing near some bushes about half way there when a voice sounded from the cover of the bushes.
“Colonel Smith?” Hannibal reached for the sound and dragged out a dark suited man, threw him flat on his back, gun to his head. As the armed men surrounded him the man cried, “No! No! I’m Able Six! I’m Able Six!”
“What’s going on?” Hannibal demanded. The Able was wild-eyed.
“They hit the hospital!” he gasped, “They hit us! We tried to fight, there were too many!” The others were running before he even finished speaking. Hannibal pulled the Able to his feet and ran, dragging him along.
“I ran out of clips,” Able Six gasped. “I got out to look for you.”
Yeah, that’s why you were hiding in the bushes, Hannibal thought. Out loud he said, “We didn’t hear a thing, no shots!”
“Silencers, sir, both sides.” The image of silent death stalking the clinic made Hannibal shudder.
Jahni, the youngest and fittest man, reached the clinic first and barged the door open. It was dark inside and he tripped over a body, landing on all fours, putting a hand into what he knew at once was a pool of blood. The others piled in after him, past him, into the main corridor. They met no opposition. The enemy was long gone, leaving behind a scene of carnage. The floor was littered with the bodies of Ables and the clinic staff.
Hannibal ignored the horror and ran to the room he’d left Face in. The bedclothes hung down off the bed, forming a curtain. Hannibal flipped the heavy bed, without even noticing its weight. The blanket Face had been wrapped in lay on the floor.
“Colonel!” Murdock yelled from out in the corridor and Hannibal rushed out. One of the nurses was alive, a bullet wound in her shoulder soaking most of her torso in blood. She was sobbing in Murdock’s arms.
“They took him!” She gasped out. “The patient, they took him! And the other man, the one in charge, he tried to fight, but they took him! Took them both!”