When Face is taken hostage, the rest of the team set out to the rescue. But Face already sees a way to escape. A way that proves more complicated than he expected.

Rated: R

Words: 33,160

Chapter 1

It took weeks. They had to start with the widow Brenner, the only connection they had. The Watkins family still had friends in Barlow Creek. Spies who told them that every few months, the widow took her kid and went to Los Angeles for a few days. Los Angeles, where the A-Team lived, according to the newspapers. So when they got the word she was going again, they waited at a rest stop near LA, on a road she had to drive down. They watched for her car and followed her into the city.

Harold had suggested they grab the woman and her kid, use them as the hostages. But Ma said she wasn’t visiting him in jail too. No, they needed one of the A-Team. One of the fugitives.

So Harold, Deke and CW followed Trish Brenner into Los Angeles and watched her drive to a VA hospital. There they saw her walking in the grounds with a man. A man they all recognised at once.

Just grabbing him was out too, Ma insisted when they called to report. Even if he was the mysterious fourth man the newspapers sometimes mentioned in the stories about the A-Team, he wasn’t a fugitive like the rest of them. They didn’t want to have to deal with the cops as well as the team.

Ma had clippings of all those newspaper reports, and she’d made Deke, CW and Harold study them. So they knew, she said. So they could be prepared for the kind of men they’d be dealing with. They’d been taken by surprise last time and Curly and Logan were in jail now because of that. This time would be different.

But first they had to wait again. If this guy was part of the A-Team, but he lived at this hospital, then the rest of the team must come and take him out for their jobs. Or he must bust out. If he did they could follow him.

The waiting took another ten days. The brothers were not patient men and were already tired of each other’s company, and of living out of their van. But still they waited.

Because it was for family, and you’ve got to do for family.


Face stopped the Corvette in a dark and quiet part of the VA parking lot and glanced at his watch. He could just barely see it in the twilight. Almost 8pm. Why’d Hannibal have to send him over so late? It just made the scam that much harder. Office hours meant he could pretend to take Murdock away for something routine. After hours he had to come up with an emergency and he’d started to run out of emergencies.

Better make a quick call, he thought, to check Murdock had the plan straight. He dialled the number of the phone in Murdock’s room. A strange clucking noise answered him.


“Buck buck buck. Ain’t nobody here but us chickens.”

“Not chickens,” Face said, sighing. “Parrots. I told you, parrots.”

“And how exactly did I catch a disease people only catch from parrots?”

“You can catch it from lots of birds. Maybe you’ve been playing with the birds out in the grounds. And we luckily picked up the infection from a blood test.”

“Can’t I have tuberculosis again?” Murdock said. “It’s been ages. I liked having tuberculosis.”

“No. And before you ask, you can’t have rabies again either.”

“Oh, you’re no fun any more.”

“Murdock, will you, please just be ready to go? Hannibal’s waiting. I’m in the parking lot now. I’ll be up there in ten minutes, and you’d better have psittacosis when I get there.”

“Remind me to burn that medical dictionary you love so much.” Murdock hung up.

Yeah, Murdock, Face thought, getting out of the car. And remind me to give you a name badge and shove you right in front of Decker’s face next time we all run into each other. Then I’ll never have to do one of these damn scams again.

He straightened the jacket and cap of the Army Medical Corps uniform he wore and turned to walk towards the building.

They came out of the gloom, two men coming towards him fast. He dropped back at once, towards the car. MPs? No. Civilian clothes. But the gathering darkness and the bad lighting in the parking lot hid their faces.

When he heard a sound behind him, saw a looming shadow, Face reacted on instinct. He rammed an elbow back and connected with a solid body. His fist provided the follow up, jabbed up into the face. Whoever it was, they collapsed into a heap, moaning.

Now the other two. They had handguns, and Face had drawn his, even while he was dealing with the man trying to sneak up behind. But they were already too close.

“Grab him!” One of the attackers yelled. Face started to raise the gun to point at them, but they were on him too fast, one grabbing his gun arm.

The voice, Face thought, as he used his knee to send one of them staggering back with a howl, grabbing for his crotch. He knew it. Who was it?

He punched the one still holding his arm and wrestling for his gun, then flung him around, into the other, sending them both crashing to the ground. Amateurs, whoever they were.

“Okay, hold it, fellas,” Face said, pointing his gun at the two trying to scramble up. “Stay down there and toss over your weapons.”

He backed up, needed distance to cover them and keep far enough away to stop them jumping him again. But in the dark, he didn’t see the other one still on the ground from Face’s first punch.

The man didn’t attack; he didn’t even grab Face’s legs. Face simply tripped over him. He stumbled backwards treading on the man, trying to compensate, but lost his footing, overbalanced.

Face hit the ground on his back, and his head smacked into the concrete. He lay still.


“Quick!” Deke ordered. “Grab him ‘fore he comes around.” He and CW untangled themselves from each other and the two of them jumped over Harold and pounced on the unconscious Face. They held him down while Harold sat up, rubbing his battered gut. But then he jumped up quick, his aches and pains forgotten for a moment, as he crowed over the downed Face.

“You guys see that? I took him out! I took out the Green Beret.”

“Sure, Harold,” CW said. “You took him out by laying on the ground till he fell over you.” He and Deke sniggered.

“No, see that was intentional,” Harold said. “I let him think I was out of the fight, you see.”

“Oh yeah,” Deke said, “You lulled him into a false sense of security, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah, told you, that’s how I did it.” He puffed out his chest. “Wait till I tell Ma I put him down.”

“Shut the hell up, will you,” Deke said, as he and CW heaved Face up. “Just give him the sedative, before he comes around and you gotta protect us from him again.”

Harold reached in his pocket and came out empty handed. “I musta left it in the van.”

“Well get it! Come on, we gotta get out of here before someone spots us. Move it!”

Harold ran back to their van and rummaged on the dash, tossing aside candy bar wrappers, beer cans and empty potato chip bags. He came back to find his brothers dragging Face along the ground by his arms towards the van. Harold gasped as Face suddenly started to struggle in their grip. His head came up, his eyes opened.

“Hurry!” CW yelled. “He’s coming around!” He and Deke dropped Face and held him down.

Harold ran back to them, with a small plastic case, almost falling over Face’s feet. Deke and CW glared at Harold, as Face struggled against them.

“Now, Harold! Give him the goddamn shot!” Deke ordered.

Harold grabbed the hypodermic from the case, and squirted it, like Ma had shown him how to, to get the air out, then he jabbed it down, into Face’s thigh. Ma had said stick him in the butt with the needle, but Harold didn’t think this was the time to ask Deke and CW to turn him over.

Within a minute, Face’s struggles weakened and subsided, leaving the three brothers sighing with relief.

“Right.” Deke stood up, and gave Face a swift kick as payback for the fight he’d put up. The guy had plenty more payback coming, but that would have to wait. “Let’s dump him in the van and tie him up.”

Deke and CW manhandled Face into the back of the van, then CW climbed in and started tying him up. CW was the best at knots because he’d been in the Boy Scouts the longest of any of the brothers. Almost two hours, before he’d set that nerd’s hair on fire.

Still high on their triumph, Harold grabbed the last beer from a six pack on the front seat, cracked it open and took a big drink.

“We kicked his ass, huh, brother?” He said to Deke.

“Yeah.” Deke grabbed the can of beer from him and took a drink. “We showed pretty boy.” He passed the can back to Harold. Harold took it and wandered over to the Corvette, while CW climbed out of the van and closed the doors.

“Hey,” Harold said. “Why don’t we take his car?”

“You think you can drive a sports car, Harold?” Deke said making CW snigger.

“It’s a car, ain’t it? I can drive.”

“Sure, brother. Gonna cruise along Hollywood Boulevard picking up chicks, huh?”

Harold grinned. “Where’s the keys?” CW held them up to glint in the moonlight, but pulled them away, smirking, when Harold made a grab for them.

“We ain’t taking the car,” Deke said. “That ain’t part of the plan. We gotta stick to the plan. And it’s too flashy. Too noticeable. Some cop would be on us in a hot second.”

“Well this Peck guy drives around in it,” Harold said, waving a hand in the general direction of the van and their prisoner. “And he’s wanted.”

“Yeah, well I guess he just ain’t as smart as us,” Deke said. “Right, we gotta leave the number for his friends to call. One of you gimme a paper and pen.”

CW scowled at him. “What am I, a stationery store?”

“You never said to bring no paper and pen,” Harold said. “I’d have brought ’em if you said. But you never said –”

“Shut up!” Deke snapped. He glared at the Corvette for a moment, then he held out his hand to CW. “Gimme those keys.”

Chapter 2

Murdock paced. Fifteen minutes and no sign of Face. He’d sneaked a peek out of his door at the nurse’s station to see if Face might be having trouble there. Or indeed, if he might be enjoying himself too much with the nurse on duty. But no Face.

Perhaps he’d run into trouble on the way up here. Or perhaps he’d run into another pretty nurse. If he’d kept Murdock waiting because he was busy getting some girl’s phone number…

Murdock wondered if he was just trying to make himself angry to stave off the nagging worry. The worry that not nurses, but MPs had delayed Face. More than delayed. Detained. He saw no sign of flashing lights outside, heard no sirens, but it was too dark out there to see much other activity either. What if Decker had got wise at last, and set up surveillance? Finally stopped chasing and started waiting for the team to come to him?

Murdock had already tried phoning the Corvette’s number, in case Face was still waiting out there, had maybe spotted a cop hanging around and decided to wait for the coast to clear before coming in. But he’d let the phone ring and ring and got no answer. Anyway, Face would have called to tell him if that was the problem.

He should call the van. And if Face was schmoozing a chick and Hannibal ended up finding out that he’d left Murdock waiting while he did that, well that was Face’s lookout. He could use a ten-mile run. On the other hand if Face was in trouble, then Hannibal needed to know right away.

Murdock glanced at his watch. Five more minutes, Face, he thought. Five more minutes, then I’m ratting you out. Or raising the alarm, whichever it might turn out to be.

He went on pacing.

For three of those minutes, he fought the impulse to grab the phone. Then it rang.

With his nerves stretched so tight, Murdock almost hit the ceiling when the shrill ringing filled the room. The phone didn’t get the chance to ring a second time; Murdock grabbed it before it could.




Aw, geez, if this thing is tapped, we just gave all of us up except the big guy, Murdock thought, and then pulled himself together as Hannibal spoke again.

“Murdock, is Face there yet? He should have arrived to pick you up by now.” Murdock heard strain in his voice, worry and anger combined perhaps, waiting to see which would win out.

“I was just about to call you. He called me from outside about twenty minutes ago and said he’d be up here in ten. But he hasn’t arrived.”

Silence for a moment – no, not quite; voices away from the receiver, Hannibal talking to BA probably.

“Think he’s stopped off to chat up some nurse?” Hannibal asked, coming back on the line.

“He works faster than that,” Murdock said.

“Yeah… Any sign of trouble? MPs?”

“I don’t see anything, but they could be keeping quiet. Or they could just be around a side of the building that I can’t see. Colonel, I’m going to get outside and check it out.”

“No, stay where you are. If Decker is around, I don’t want you to compromise yourself.”

“But –”

“I mean it, Captain. We’re heading over now. Call me if you hear anything, or if Face shows up. I’ll call you back in a while.”

He hung up, and Murdock slapped the handset back into the cradle. Damn, now he was worried. As if Hannibal’s own concern gave Murdock permission to go from irritated to genuine worry. So could he just sit here and worry and wait for Hannibal to call back?

Maybe. And maybe he could at least get his jacket and cap on and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. He already had a small bag packed with some stuff for the mission, so pulled that from inside the wardrobe and put it under the bed, ready to grab and go.

He went back to pacing.

“Park in that alley,” Hannibal said to BA, as they approached the VA in the van. If Face had met with trouble, then they should try not to ride into the same trap wearing a target. BA parked the van and they headed to the VA on foot, on full alert, watching for any sign of Decker’s men.

“Murdock said Face got to the parking lot at least,” Hannibal said. “So we’ll check that out first.”

“That’s a lot of ground to cover,” BA said. “You wanna split up to look for his car?”

Did he? With Face missing, Hannibal didn’t like the idea of letting BA out of his sight too. But BA was right; the VA had a big parking lot. Not that it would be very full this time of night, nearly twenty one hundred now. The Corvette should stand out.

And Face isn’t a damn fool, he reminded himself. He’ll be parked some place the Corvette doesn’t stand out.

“No, we’ll stay together. And we’ll check the doctor’s reserved spaces first. Especially anywhere there’s no street lights nearby.”


While keeping an eye out for MPs and security patrols, and still trying to looks as inconspicuous as they could manage, Hannibal and BA searched the lot systematically, up and down the rows of cars. They didn’t find Face in one of the doctor’s reserved spaces. Too well lit, Hannibal concluded. Find the shady spots, no lights, trees nearby maybe to hide it from view.

“There.” BA didn’t point, he just nodded to the left, and Hannibal saw it, coming up ahead of them. The Corvette, parked in a dark spot, between another car on one side and a wall on the other.

“Man just drove a less flashy car, he wouldn’t have to go to all that trouble,” BA muttered. Hannibal stared at him.

“Yeah,” he said, voice heavy with irony. “Because a wanted man driving around in a highly conspicuous vehicle, that’s just dumb, right?”

“Right,” BA said. “It’s his. That’s one of his licence plates.”

They took a side of the car each, Hannibal walking between the Corvette and the car beside it, BA between it and the wall. Hannibal clicked on his flashlight and swept it over the red leather interior of the convertible. No sign of Face, or anything else. He turned off his flashlight and met BA at the back of the car again.

“Take a look around,” Hannibal ordered. “For anything that looks odd. If we don’t find something here, we’ll head inside.”

“Right.” BA turned on his flashlight and started sweeping the area. Hannibal stayed near the car and crouched down to look underneath it. Using the flashlight again, he saw something at once, just behind the right rear wheel. He reached in and pulled out an Army officer’s cap.

“BA, come here!”

BA ran back to him as Hannibal straightened up and showed him the cap.

“Face was in uniform when he headed over here,” BA said. “For his scam. Ain’t sure the exact reason. He was explaining, but… I guess I wasn’t really listening.” His voice grew quieter at the end. But then he rallied and looked up from the hat to Hannibal. “Now what, Colonel?”

“We assume he’s been taken.”


Maybe, Hannibal thought, clicking off his flashlight and looking around. But they’d likely tow away his car too. Or if they left it here as bait for Hannibal and BA, then where were they? They should have jumped them by now, but the parking lot was quiet. A couple of people in the distance walked to cars, a soft breeze rustled the trees. Not a sign of MPs.

Could it be a subtler game? Lure them inside, where it was harder to escape? Well, right now, Hannibal was going to let himself be lured. But he’d be ready for any traps. If something had happened to Face – no, scratch that ‘if’. Something had happened. So they needed Murdock. They needed to regroup and start their search.

Should he call Murdock to let him know they were coming? No, he decided. He’d never quite convinced himself that phone wasn’t tapped. Anyway, Murdock would be ready.

Murdock thought he was ready, but it still took him by surprise when his door slammed back and BA and Hannibal, wearing paramedic uniforms, rushed in with a gurney. Murdock heard the nurse protesting as BA blocked the door.

“Nobody called you! Mr Murdock is not having a seizure!”

Oh yes he is. Murdock fell down. While he was down there, he grabbed his bag from under the bed and passed it off to Hannibal who put it on the gurney, and pulled a sheet over it.

“Quick! Help me!” Hannibal called to BA, and the two of them hauled the thrashing Murdock onto the gurney.

“Outta the way, lady,” BA growled at the protesting nurse. “We gotta get him to the ER.”

“But… I’ll call a code. There’s a doctor on duty –”

Hannibal didn’t give her the chance to go on.

“Move,” he snapped at BA, who grabbed the gurney and heaved.

Speed is always the key, Murdock knew. Even with Face’s scams, usually a lot subtler than this one, moving fast and getting off the ward before the staff could catch their breath would usually prove to be the difference between success and failure. Don’t give them time to think, protest, or, heaven forbid, call anyone.

As he was rushed past on the gurney, he saw a nurse at the nurse’s station dialling the phone, but then the wheels rattled over the frame of the elevator car and the doors started to close. Murdock stopped thrashing and sat up on the gurney as the elevator descended.

“Don’t get up yet, Murdock.” Hannibal said. “Lie still till we’re outside.” He covered Murdock with a sheet, whipped the baseball cap off his head and shoved it under the sheet.

“What’s happening?” Murdock asked. “Did you find Face?”

“We think someone got him,” BA said. “But ain’t no sign of MPs.”

“Have you seen or heard anything since we spoke?” Hannibal said.

“No.” Murdock shook his head. “Nothing. Did you find his –?”

He broke off then, as they reached the ground floor. Murdock took a breath, trying to calm down. He lay down again, eyes closed.

Be cool, he ordered himself. Just let them get me outside and then I’ll find out what’s going on. For now, be cool. Don’t attract attention. The gurney rolled smoothly and not too fast over linoleum floor. Cool, Murdock kept thinking. This is a hospital, so man on a gurney, totally normal situation. Everybody go about your business. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. He held his breath.

He only breathed again when the cool night air hit him. Outside. He opened his eyes, but waited for Hannibal’s order, waited until they moved away from the doors and around a corner.

“Okay, Murdock, we’re clear.”

Hannibal pulled away the sheet and Murdock rolled off the gurney, onto his feet, grabbing his bag and putting on his cap as he stood up. BA shoved away the gurney and they moved out fast.

“BA, Murdock, take the van. I’ll get the ‘vette and meet you at the warehouse.”

Murdock scowled as Hannibal ran off into the parking lot. He still had many questions to ask Hannibal, but BA grabbed his arm.

“Come on, van’s this way.”

So Murdock ran, following BA and asking him a thousand questions. BA had few answers.

Hannibal found Face’s car just as he’d left it. He jumped into the driver’s seat, over the door, which he knew annoyed Face. No keys, of course. But he ran his hand along the under the dash, and found that spot, a tiny raised dot. He pushed it up and along. A key fell out into his hand.

Nice, Face, nice.

He started the car and pulled out. Now, warehouse. Figure it out. Whoever had Face may very well contact them first. But if not, they had to work out where to start looking.

Part of him wished it was the MPs. Not because that would make it any easier to get him out; probably harder in fact. But at least Decker wouldn’t do anything to Face besides gloat over him. If it was someone else, then who knew what their plans could be?

Hannibal glanced in his mirror and saw the van behind him. He sighed and picked up the CB.

“Guys, take a different route, would you? We’re conspicuous enough separately, never mind together.”

No answer came back, but the van took the next turn to the right. Hannibal made a left. Despite his urgency to get there, he had to be sure nobody was following. So he took enough twists and turns to make anyone dizzy.

At last though, he drove into the team’s warehouse, BA running to pull the door closed behind him. Murdock stood beside the van and he stared as Hannibal pulled in. Hannibal stopped the car, stepped out of it, to find BA had come to stand by Murdock and he was staring too. Not at Hannibal, past him, as he closed the door and walked over to them.

They stared at the car, making Hannibal turn to look back at it, and, now they were in the light, he saw what he couldn’t see earlier in the dark parking lot.

Numbers. Gouged into the paintwork along the side of the Corvette.

“Man,” Murdock said, “Face is gonna be pissed.”

Chapter 3

Hannibal knelt by the Corvette and ran his fingers over the deep scratches in its side. He almost expected to see blood on his hand when he looked at it. Done with a key. Probably the Corvette’s own. That’s just… insulting.

“It’s a phone number,” he said softly. It’s a message. He stood up fast and spun around back to the van. BA opened the door for him and Murdock got out of his way fast, standing aside as Hannibal marched to the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. Hannibal grabbed the van’s phone. “Call out the numbers,” he ordered.

Murdock’s calling out the numbers as Hannibal dialled. A pause, a silence, and then he heard the other end ringing. Murdock and BA came to stand by the open door, watching him, their faces tense.

“It’s ringing,” he said. And then it was answered.

“Who’s –” a voice began and then the sound of other voices in the background, an argument. And other noise, a low rumbling. An engine. A car phone, like the one he was using himself? Another voice spoke.

“Who is it?”

“Who’s that?” Hannibal demanded. The voice tickled a memory somewhere, but didn’t click yet. “I got your ‘message’. Who are you? Where’s Face?”

The man on the other end chuckled. “Hello, Smith. You wanna play a guessing game who this is?”

“The only game I’ll be playing will be using your skull as a bowling ball if you don’t tell me who you are and where my man is, right the hell now.”

“Ooh, yeah, I’m real scared.” He laughed again and that laugh made Hannibal want to reach through the phone and grab the bastard by the neck. He spoke through gritted teeth.

“Listen, pal, you left me a message to call you, so quit screwing around and tell me what you want.”

More sniggering at the other end, then the man spoke again.

“I’m kinda insulted you don’t remember, Smith. This is Deke Watkins.”

Hannibal’s skin crawled as the memory came back. The Watkins. The small town bullies who’d murdered Ray Brenner. Hannibal had followed the court case that happened after the team dealt with the Watkins, and had seen only two of them sent to prison. Taking the fall for the whole nest of roaches, in his opinion. The thought that the others were still free sickened him, but he’d never feared them. Bullies like that didn’t come after people they knew could fight back. It looked as if he’d misjudged them.

How the hell had they got Face?

“Deke Watkins.” He said the whole name for the sake of Murdock and BA and saw the shock and anger on their faces. “You sleazeball…” He took a breath to bring himself under control. No reaction, don’t give anything away. “What do you want?”

“We got your man, Smith.”

“Yeah, I figured that part out.”

“That means we got you. Got your attention. Got you working for us. You and your whole team.”

“That’s what you think, huh?”

“That’s what I know. If you wanna see pretty boy alive again, we got a job for you.”

“If you’re trying to say you want to hire the A-Team, then we’re picky about working for murdering scum.”

“Hire the A-Team? Yeah, I guess that’s what we’re doing. Hear that, boys? We’re hiring the A-Team!”

That last part must have been directed to his brothers. Hannibal heard their raucous laughter. “Maybe you should call me, boss, Smith.”

“And maybe you should call the cops right now and hand yourself in. Ask them to put you in their most secure lock up. Because that’s the only way you’re gonna be safe from me if you don’t tell me what you want, right now!”

“Funny you should put it that way, Smith. Okay, shut the hell up and listen. This is what you have to do.”

Hannibal listened as Deke outlined their demands. After he finished, Hannibal could think of only one thing to say.

“Are you kidding?”

“No. You call me back when you figure out how you gonna do it. I don’t hear from you within twelve hours, I’ll cut one of pretty boy’s ears off.” Deke hung up.

Hannibal stared at the phone for a moment, and then slammed it down. A second later he picked it up and started dialling again.

“Hannibal,” Murdock said, “What do they want?”

“They after the reward money?” BA asked. “They trying to grab all three of us?”

“Oh, if only it was something as basically sane as that,” Hannibal said, shaking his head. “They want… hold on…” The number he was dialling answered. “Tawnia? Sorry to call you late, kid. It’s an emergency. Need you to get me some information. Yeah, go get a pen.” He glanced up at BA and Murdock, waiting impatiently beside him. “I’ll tell you in a second. You probably won’t believe me, because it’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

Face could hear voices, strange voices and laughter and oh God, his head hurt. Hurt too much to open his eyes. Had he been in an accident?

He remembered being in his car, heading to the VA to get Murdock. What had happened? Did he have a crash? Maybe. But then he realised his arms were forced painfully behind him, and he felt ropes on his wrists. Hell no, not an accident then. Worse.

Gotta open the eyes. He had to see where he was.

He opened them, and the wave of pain in his head almost made him throw up. Somehow that brought all his senses flooding back too. He felt the pain of lying on a metal floor, cushioned by nothing more than some sacking. Sacking that stank of gasoline, and made him want to throw up even more. Then the felt the vibration too, heard the noise. A car, no a van. The van? Their van? No, the team wouldn’t tie him up.

Those voices still murmured somewhere far off. He tried to crane his head around to look, tried to ignore the head splitting pain. Shadowy, blurred figures there, talking, laughing. Voices. He knew the voices. A stream of light stabbed into his eyes suddenly and made him moan and close them. The roar of another engine, outside, sounded and then died away.

Panic ambushed him suddenly. He was in a moving vehicle, tied up, hurt, in the hands of hostiles. Nausea hit, the panic making him sicker than ever. Control. Need control. Make an assessment of the situation.

Assessment? Well, he thought, it’s my assessment that I’m in big trouble and probably seriously screwed. Feel better for that?

“Hey.” One of the voices came across clearer now, as if the man had turned to him. “I think he’s awake.”

“So stick him again. Don’t want him starting no trouble.”

Some scuffling and then a dark shape loomed over Face. His vision was blurred and dark at the edges and kept him from seeing the man’s face clearly. He shrank away, ashamed he could do nothing else but that, too weak and nauseated to have a choice.

“Who are you?” His voice was a rasp, throat and mouth dry. How long? How long had he been out?

“Hey, how come he don’t remember me?” The man leaning over him said.

“I guess you ain’t as memorable as you like to think, Harold.” More laughter from up front.

Harold? Memories came back, all mixed up. Fighting in the VA parking lot. Fighting in a diner. A sledgehammer a comforting weight in his hand. The shock of gunfire, ducking instinctively. That gloating laugh. Harold. A sudden sharp pain in his leg brought him back to the present

“Watkins?” He gasped out.

Oh, hell no, not those bastards.

Before he got an answer, blackness swept over him again.

When the blackness ebbed, the van had stopped and he managed to open his eyes, immediately dazzled by the glare of flashlights. Helpless to resist, he was dragged across the floor of the van, like a sack of potatoes, and hauled out. He tensed up, fearing he’d drop to the ground. Catch me, for God’s sake. No such luck. He hit the ground at the back of the van. Three figures surrounded him. After they laughed for a while and kicked him a couple of times, they picked him up and tried to set him on his feet, but had to hold him there. No way could he stand.

They pulled on his arms, his wrists in agony now, and heaved him along, his feet alternately dragging and stumbling. Face tried to look around. Something greyish above him might have been the sky. Cool air and a breeze told him he was outside. But then a dark shape loomed ahead of him. A light stabbed from the dark shape, and he flinched from it, hurting his eyes, his head. The men dragging him called out.


“Hey we got him, see, Ma, we got him.”

Harold was that last one. Gloating little weasel. Kick his ass from here till Christmas. They dragged Face towards the light until it engulfed him and, his feet touched floorboards now. The cool breeze vanished, replaced with stuffy, stale air. Inside. He heard a door slam behind him and that set his heart racing. Trapped now. Prisoner.

A woman’s voice came now, speaking to the brothers.

“Well done, boys. I knew you could do it.”

“I put him down, Ma.” Harold again. Gloating again. “Took out the Green Beret.”

“Yeah, Ma, Harold’s got all the moves,” Deke said and he and another man laughed. One of the others. Had to be CW, Face thought. He’d recognised Deke’s voice, all too familiar with that asshole. Did he still have a scar where Amy stabbed him with a fork?

“Dump him in here.” The woman’s voice again.

“Shouldn’t we lock him up right away?” Harold asked.

A hand grabbed Face’s hair and pulled up his head. A blurred pink mass in front of him was probably a face. A couple of dark spots on it. Something else pink waved in front of his eyes.

“He’s still nearly out,” Ma said.

“We pumped him full of the sedative,” Deke said. “Keep him down. Seemed the best idea.”

“Of course it was,” she said. “Bring him in here.”

They hauled Face again and then dropped him. He hit the floor and lay there, unable to move from the graceless position he’d fallen into. Right now, he was concentrating hard on not throwing up, fearing they wouldn’t even notice, and would leave him to choke to death.

“You, bring some food.” He heard Ma say. “Now, tell me all about it, boys. Did you leave the contact number for Smith?”

“Oh yeah!” That made them laugh again. “Yeah, we left him a message. He called us. We explained what he’s gotta do.”

“Tell me exactly what he said.”

Darkness started to whirl around Face again. No, not now, gotta hear what they are saying. Keep listening, stay focused. But the darkness drowned him again.

When he fought his way back, the voices had quieted. But he still heard them now and again, and could hear other sounds that told of the presence of other people. This time when he opened his eyes, his vision was much clearer. His face pressed into the floor, and he lifted his head to look around the room. Behind his back, he started to test the ropes. Not much give there.

The room was gloomy, the walls all wood, rather like a cabin. Several big armchairs sat around and three of the Watkins brothers sat in them, eating sandwiches and chips from trays on their laps, and swigging from beer bottles.

“Hey, he’s awake,” CW said, noticing Face’s movement.

“You on standby to kick his ass again, Harold?” Deke said.

Harold? Kick Face’s ass? This seemed unlikely. Harold looked down at Face on the floor, a nervous expression on his face.

“You sure those ropes are still holding?” Harold asked.

“Go check ’em,” CW suggested.

“Nah… I’m sure they’re okay.”

They went on eating, ignoring him, and Face lay resting and trying to gather his strength. His dizziness subsided slowly, his head clearing until he could think straight.

And the more his head cleared, the more he realised that thirst was the immediate problem. How many hours since they grabbed him? And how much blood had he lost? He could feel dried blood matting the hair at the back of his head. And God knows what crap they’d shot him up with. He needed water right now.

Face tried to speak and pain stopped him, the pain of a throat and mouth that felt like it had been given a brisk sandpapering. In the end he managed to croak out a word. A request. And he hated that it sounded like begging.


“Water, Peck?” Deke said. “Well I dunno about that.” He took a long swallow of his beer. Face struggled against his bonds. The POW camp guards liked to play that game too. Screw the Watkins if they thought he’d just lie here and take that crap.

He shouldn’t have been able to do it, not with his hands bound behind his back and his head spinning. But Hannibal had made them practice. This led to plenty of teasing about Hannibal enjoying tying them up for kicks. But it also meant that Face could surprise the Watkins. A sudden move, a twist, and he was up on his knees.

The wave of nausea almost threw him back to the floor, but he kept his balance and spat his words at the Watkins, who had all jumped from their chairs, scattering their trays and grabbing for weapons.

“Water! Now!” That hurt, but it wasn’t begging.

“Give him something to drink.”

The voice came from the right, behind him. The one they’d called Ma, and Face turned to see her coming into the room. A well-padded woman, wearing a brightly patterned dress. Her hair was an unnatural shade of copper. Her face… It frightened Face in a way that none of her sons’ did. Harder than any of them. She may be a woman, but no less dangerous than her sons. The brothers were surely chips off the old block.

She took one of the armchairs and lit a cigarette. Harold at once brought her an ashtray.

“Thank you, son. Deke, give the man something to drink.”

Deke eyed Face cautiously, then picked up one of the beer bottles, popped the top and brought it over to Face. Face thought about again demanding water, since beer would be a bad idea right now, he didn’t need to be drunk, or get sick to his stomach on top of being doped up and maybe concussed. But he knew that if he turned down what they were offering he’d almost certainly get nothing at all in exchange.

So he let Deke crouch down and hold the beer bottle for Face to drink. It might be the wrong thing to have, but it tasted damn good, sweet and cold, easing his rasping throat. Of course Deke found it the height of comedy to pour it in faster than Face could swallow it, until Face gagged and choked and pulled away, beer spilling down the front of his clothes. Deke stepped back laughing, as Face slumped down, spitting some of the beer out, coughing and choking.

In a moment, Face recovered enough to sit back on his haunches, looking at his captors, all sitting in the armchairs, looking at him.

“I thought he was meant to be the good looking one,” Ma said. Face grimaced at that.

“I’d like to see how one of your boys looks after a night like I’ve had,” Face said. “Now, if it’s not a rude question, what the hell is this shit all about?”

“Watch your mouth in fronta my mother,” Deke warned.

“Can I tell him?” Harold said. “I’ve been waiting to.”

“Shut up, he don’t even need to know,” CW said, flicking a beer bottle top at Harold. Ma, sitting in the chair beside his, slapped his hand.

“Behave.” She smiled at Face. “No, we might as well tell him. You see, Mr Peck, thanks to your team my two eldest boys are in prison.”

If the team had things the way they wanted, the whole family would be in keeping them company. But Face kept quiet and let her go on.

“So you’re here to make your Colonel Smith put things right.”

“Why am I always the damn hostage?” Face muttered. “Put things right how?” He asked more loudly.

“By getting my boys out of prison, of course.”

“If I have to stay here until Hannibal graduates law school, then I insist that I have my own bathroom.”

Harold laughed and Deke and CW glared at him. “What? That was funny.”

Ma ignored them, still watching Face. She tapped the ash from her cigarette.

“We’ve tried lawyers. They didn’t work. So now we’re trying something more direct. Your team escaped from jail themselves. They can get my boys out.”

“What?” Face gasped as the implication of their plan hit them. “But aren’t they in a high security federal prison?”

“Of course.” She sounded proud, he thought. Only the best for her boys, no mere local jail.

“Hang on,” Face said; beginning to think his battered head was making him misunderstand this. “Just to clarify here. What you’re saying is: to save my life, my friends have to break into a high security prison, find your sons, break back out with them and bring them safely back to you, without getting caught?”

“Yes, that’s what they have to do,” she said nodding. Face couldn’t speak for a moment. At last he found his voice though.

“I think you overestimate how much they like me.”

Chapter 4

A dark red car pulled up outside the team’s warehouse in the early dawn light. A moment later, Tawnia stepped out of the car, a briefcase in one hand and the other balancing a cardboard tray of coffee cups on top of a pastry box. She looked around, and stepped towards the warehouse.

“Morning, Tawnia.”

Her jump of fright would have made her drop the cups, but Hannibal stepped out of the shadows and took the tray and the box.

“Of course, if Colonel Decker confronted you right now, you’d tell him that you can drink four coffees and eat a whole box of Danish yourself and you’re not meeting the A-Team.”

Tawnia winced. “I didn’t think. I just wanted to bring you guys breakfast.”

Hannibal smiled at her chagrined look. Her heart was in the right place at least. “Thanks, kid. Appreciate it.”

They went inside the warehouse to find BA tuning up the van, in anticipation of the mission ahead. Murdock paced about, silent and well away from BA. Going by the yells Hannibal had heard earlier he’d been closer to BA and talking a lot more, but BA had soon expressed his feelings about that. Both of them at once came over to Tawnia.

“Have you guys had any sleep at all?” Tawnia asked, looking at them concerned.

“Caught a few zees earlier,” Murdock said. A lie Hannibal knew, just trying to reassure her. He handed around the cups, one of them cold milk for BA, and then offered around the box of still warm pastries.

“What have you managed to find out?” Hannibal asked Tawnia, leading her to a chair beside BA’s workbench. For a second, she paused looking at the seat, but then she sat and drew the briefcase onto her lap. The team crowded around her.

She’d been up all night too, Hannibal could see, make-up barely covering the dark circles under her eyes. She took a big drink of coffee, before she began.

“Curly and Logan Watkins are in a high security prison in Oregon. Both have already spent time in solitary and had time added to their sentences for fighting.” She looked up at Hannibal. “You’re not going to do what they’ve demanded, are you? I mean that would be…”

“No,” Hannibal said. “Don’t worry; the only prisoner we’re planning on breaking out is Face. Now, what did you find out about the rest of the family?”

“Well, the whole family left Barlow Creek after you guys got the brothers arrested. It all got pretty ugly, apparently. Curly and Logan are both married, but their wives are divorcing them. The wives don’t have any contact with the rest of the family any more.”

“You talked to them?”

Tawnia nodded. “They weren’t very happy that I called in the middle of the night but they were both pretty happy to tell me all about how much they hated their husbands and that entire family. They only managed to leave when the men were in jail, before the trial.”

Hannibal’s jaw clenched. How much choice had those women even had about marrying the brothers? The Watkins had ruled Barlow Creek and taken whatever they wanted.

“During the trial, the contact address for the brothers’ family was at a local Holiday Inn, but they left months ago. Which the employees there are very happy about, according to the night manager I spoke to.” Tawnia looked up at Hannibal, with a half-smile. “I told him I was a bill collector and he was really sorry he couldn’t help me track them down.”

“Those folks win hearts wherever they go, don’t they?” Murdock muttered into his coffee cup.

“You think they have Face at their new home?” Tawnia asked.

“That’s the only lead we have,” Hannibal said. “We have to start somewhere.”

“And these jerks aren’t that imaginative.” Murdock grimaced. “They’ll have Face locked in their cellar. I’d lay down money on that.”

“Did you get a new address for ’em?” BA asked, eating his third pastry. Murdock was still working on his first, Hannibal noted, too distracted and worried to eat. He picked the box off the workbench and held it out to Murdock with a meaningful look. Murdock took another pastry, one in each hand now.

“I eventually talked directly to the prison,” Tawnia said, “to see if they had an address for next of kin for Curly and Logan, and I got this.” She held up a piece of paper, with an address on it. “It’s a ‘care of’ address at a post office in a small town, northwest of Sacramento.”

“Right here in California?” Hannibal said, surprised. That meant they’d probably arrived back home by now.

“Yes. Quite near the border with Nevada.”

“Well, God forbid they took Face across the state line and made it a federal case,” Murdock muttered bitterly. Hannibal tasted bitterness too, bitter at the idea that one of his men could be kidnapped and that they were his only chance of rescue. Bringing in the law would get the Watkins, but Face too. Apart from their idiotic demand, the plan was almost a good one. He took the piece of paper from Tawnia.

“You did well, kid.”

“It’s not an actual address for them.”

“Yeah, they’re smart enough for that. But they won’t be far from here. We’ll find them. Thanks for your work. We’ll call if we need anything else.” He folded the paper and put it in a pocket.

Tawnia stood up. “Wait, I want to come with you!”

“No,” Hannibal said at once, anticipating her argument.

“Do you know how many dates I had to promise to go on to get that information? I need to get out of town for a few days! Guys…” She looked at Murdock and BA, appealing for their support, but they both shook their heads.

“Appreciate what you done,” BA said, “but it’s too dangerous for you.”

“Hannibal, please. Don’t you think I’m worried about Face too?”

“I’m sure you are,” Hannibal said. “But –”

“What if you need someone who can be seen in public without getting arrested? Or even walk right into the sheriff’s office?”

“Murdock can do that,” Hannibal said, still stern. He signalled Murdock and BA and they moved towards the van. “Why would we have to go to the sheriff’s office anyway?” He opened his passenger side door.

“Well if these Watkins are as bad as you say, they’re bound to have come to the attention of the law, aren’t they? Even for minor things.”

Hannibal stopped. He looked at Murdock in the back of the van. Murdock shrugged.

“She has a point there, Colonel.”

“And you can also walk into the sheriff’s office without getting arrested.”

“Um, well, technically I am an escaped mental patient,” Murdock said.

“And we have a boxful of fake IDs.” Hannibal turned back to Tawnia. “That’s a good idea, thanks, but Murdock can handle it.”

“The Watkins know Murdock,” Tawnia pointed out. “What if you need someone who’s not wanted, isn’t an escaped mental patient, and isn’t known to the family?”

“For what?”

“I don’t know! But there could be something.”

“We could use her car,” BA said, suddenly. “Vette’s too conspicuous.”

Tawnia at once held up her car keys, dropped them down the front of her blouse and stood with her hands on her hips. “Now if you want my car, you have to take me too.”

Hannibal half smiled then and shook his head. Maybe she could be useful. At the very least, she could get them information quickly with her newspaper contacts.

“Okay, kid, you talked me into it. Though I’m not sure how you’re going to drive with your car keys stuck in your bra.”

Tawnia looked down at her chest, and started fishing the keys out.

“I’ll ride with her,” Murdock said, jumping out. He watched her extracting the keys and added, “After all, I don’t get this quality of entertainment in the van.”

Face had been shown to his accommodation.

He’d been confused when the three brothers dragged him downstairs, expecting a basement or cellar. But this room didn’t seem to be underground. It had a decent sized window, for one thing, though that was barred and shuttered. Had he been upstairs before? He wondered. But they hadn’t taken him up any stairs when they took him from the van into the house.

Deke and CW pinned him on a cot, and Harold first untied him and then closed the bracelet of a manacle onto his left wrist. The other end of the eighteen-inch chain… Face waited with bated breath to see where that was going. The cot, he thought, the cot.

“Not the cot, you idiot,” Deke snapped at Harold. “The pipe, the goddamn pipe.”

The goddamn pipe. Face glared at the sturdy looking goddamn pipe that ran up the wall beside the cot. Harold closed the other bracelet of the manacles around it. Face sighed. Oh well, at least he could use his hands, the right one freely, the left within limits. He stopped struggling as the brothers stepped away from him, out of his reach.

“Let’s get out of here,” Harold said. “I gotta get some sleep.”

“Forget it,” Deke said. “You’re taking the first guard duty.”

Harold protested at length, but Face approved that plan. Harold wouldn’t manage to stay awake for guard detail even when he wasn’t coming off a sleepless night.

“Any chance of breakfast?” Face said, interrupting their arguing. “If I starve to death, you might find it hard to keep the rest of the team interested in your whole stupid jailbreak scheme.”

“Shut up,” CW said, scowling. He kicked the cot.

“Oh, don’t tell me. You came up with the plan? I thought Harold for sure.”

“Ma thought of it,” Harold said. “It’s a good plan.”

It’s a desperate, stupid, insane plan, Face thought, as the brothers left. Of course, desperate, stupid, insane plans were a subject he was all too familiar with. Hannibal wouldn’t try to pull off the jailbreak would he? That would just be nuts, reckless, and… Okay, this was Hannibal, so maybe he would try. But not even Hannibal could pull that off. If he tried, the team would be captured for sure, and then the Watkins had a rather inconvenient houseguest they had to get rid of.

Well, Face liked to think he was always a polite guest, who never outstayed his welcome. Time to think about getting out of here. He shuffled around on the cot and lifted the thin, bare mattress, to expose the metal underneath. No sweat, he’d be able to prise a piece loose. It would probably take hours, but what else did he have to do? The Watkins had neglected to provide him with any other entertainment after all. The cot was the only thing in the room. Well aside from a bucket underneath it, which he didn’t want to dwell on too much yet. He could at least count himself lucky they’d left the light on, he supposed.

He started to work on a likely looking piece of metal. About the right thickness to use as a crude lock pick. Pulling at it to bend it up and out of place didn’t work. Either it was stronger than it looked, or he was weaker than he’d feared. Of course he still hadn’t had any water or food, and his drugged and concussed sleep last night didn’t count as refreshing.

In fact within a few minutes his head started nodding, and he started thinking sleep might be the best idea now. Work on the cot later, need sleep. Could he sleep while dizzy with hunger and thirst though?

The sound of the door opening made him jump. He dropped the folded up bit of mattress, and lay down, pretending to be asleep. He heard Harold’s voice.

“Be careful. Yell for me if he tries anything.”

A footstep near the cot and Face expected that foot to give the cot a good kicking at any moment. But instead he heard a voice.


He opened his eyes at once. A woman’s voice, but not Ma, a new voice. A young woman stood by the cot, holding a tray. Face sat up quickly. A girl? He sensed her nervousness and instinctively gave her the ‘I’m friendly’ smile.

“Ma told me to bring you some food.”

She looked around, and seeing nowhere else to put it, she placed the tray on the cot. Face glanced at it, to see sandwiches and a plastic beaker of water. He wanted to grab both at once, but he ignored them for a moment. They would wait. First he had to check out the girl.

Not check out in his usual sense, of course, and she wasn’t his usual type of girl either. She wore a dress that he guessed had been cut down from one of Ma’s. The pattern was faded and the hems frayed. No makeup. Her hair scraped back. No, he wouldn’t usually give her a second look on the street. But now, he studied her very carefully. What would she be here? Enemy, friend, or obstacle?

Friend, it had to be. Look at her. Had a man like Face ever paid attention to her? Had any man? Face could talk her onto his side in less than thirty minutes. Well, if he didn’t have one of the Brothers Grim lurking around at the door.

She turned away from his scrutiny, blushing.

“Thanks for the food,” Face said, making his stare less intense, and smiling again. “I’m Templeton. What’s your name?”

“Bonnie,” she said quietly.

Cosmic joke, Face thought. A skinny, plain girl landed with that name. Nothing appropriate about it.

“That’s pretty,” Face said. She blushed again.

“Hey,” Harold called from the door. “Don’t be talking to him. You ain’t supposed to be talking to him. Ma said you wasn’t to talk to him.”

She turned to go, but Face called out.

“Bonnie, would you please bring something to wash this blood off?” The dried blood sticking to his hair and skin made it hurt every time he moved his head. Despite that, he turned it a little now, so she could see the damage inflicted by her – he realised he didn’t know her relationship to the Watkins. A sister? A wife of one of them? Never mind, he’d find out later.

Bonnie nodded and spoke quietly, glancing at Harold. “I’ll bring something later.” She hurried out. Harold glared in at Face.

“Still awake?” Face asked. Harold slammed the door.

Face drank the water off all at once, and then grabbed the first of the two sandwiches. He demolished it faster than BA could have managed after a long day on the assault course with no lunch, and then ate the second one more slowly.

The water wasn’t enough, but it was all he was getting, he supposed. Perhaps Bonnie could be persuaded to bring him some more. And perhaps she could be persuaded to put some mustard on the ham sandwiches next time.

And then perhaps, she could be persuaded to bring him the keys to these manacles, a fully loaded gun, a set of car keys and directions to Los Angeles. Yes, he thought she could at least be persuaded to bring him the first of those. A girl like that, a man like him. Shooting fish in a barrel came to mind.

He was almost out of here already.

Chapter 5

The sound of the door opening woke Face with a start. He sat up, tensed, ready for one of the brothers, but relaxed when Bonnie came in, carrying a tray. Face checked his watch. Lunchtime. He’d slept all morning and cursed himself for that. He needed to get back to work on prising loose what would be his lock pick. Right now though, time to work on his alternative escape plan.

Face moved to let Bonnie put the tray on the cot. It held a plastic jug of water, instead of just a cup, more sandwiches, and an apple. Beside those sat a bowl of water and a washcloth. Bonnie carried a towel over her arm.

“Thanks,” Face said, when she handed him the towel. He put that around his shoulders and she handed him the damp washcloth. Face smiled his thanks at her this time and she lowered her gaze, though still watched him.

Face started to wash the back of his head. The warm water felt soothing, but he tossed in a hiss or two of apparent pain. And he tried to look as awkward as he could, working one handed, and twisting himself in an uncomfortable way.

“Would you like me to do it?” she asked, just as she was meant to. The brave little soldier act always worked for him.

“Would you?” She glanced over at the door, and Face did the same. It stood slightly open, and he saw CW there, but paying little attention beyond a glance or two when they spoke. Bonnie moved the tray off the cot and sat, with the bowl of water on her lap. Face turned his back to her and she started to wash off the matted blood.

“You know, I should probably be in a hospital after a bash on the head like that,” Face said. He got no answer. “I could have a concussion, or worse. You could have come in here and found you couldn’t wake me up. What would you have done then?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Called for help.”


“I’m not supposed to use the phone.”

“Not supposed to?” She didn’t elaborate. He tried a different tack.

“Do you approve of what your brothers are doing?”

“They’re not my brothers.”

Ah, interesting. “Married to one of them?”

“No. I’m their cousin; their Pa was my momma’s brother.”

She started drying Face’s hair and neck, pressing the towel to them, quite gently.

“You didn’t answer my question though. Do you approve of this whole kidnapping and blackmail thing?”

“It’s Ma’s plan.”

He wasn’t getting an answer yet, he could see. She gathered the bowl, the water pink now, and the washcloth and towel and stood up.

“I’ll come get the tray later.” She glanced at the door again. “I better go.” She didn’t move for a moment though, and then took off suddenly.

“Bonnie,” Face called, making her stop. “Thanks.” He touched the back of his head. “That feels much better.” She nodded and left. CW poked his face in for a moment, checking out the room, and closed the door.

Face sighed. Well, he’d made a start. Not much of a response either way if she approved of the plan or not. But at least she hadn’t said, “Yes, I think it’s a great scheme!”

He picked his food up from the tray and lay on the cot, eating slowly.

The van sat parked up on a side road off the main street of the town of Hayesville. The town was mostly rather scattered houses arranged loosely around the floor of a valley. Woods covered the lower slopes of the surrounding hills, thinning out on the higher slopes. Eastwards, beyond the hills, mountains rose, Nevada lay somewhere beyond that.

Hannibal, Murdock and BA waited in the van for Tawnia. They had left her outside the post office and come here, the post office being a little too close to the sheriff’s office for comfort.

Hannibal stifled a yawn and a moment later Murdock caught the yawn and didn’t try to stifle it at all. He looked at BA waiting for him to take his turn, but BA just glared back at him.

Even he was tired though, Hannibal could see that. They all needed rest. They’d gather what information they could this afternoon. But after that, they needed sleep. He felt bad about it, knowing it meant leaving Face in the hands of the Watkins that much longer, but they couldn’t function on two nights of no sleep.

“Here she comes,” Murdock said, as Tawnia’s car turned into the side street and parked up beside the van. He slid open the door for her to climb aboard and she handed a map of the town and the surrounding hills to Hannibal.

“What did you find out?” Hannibal asked, unfolding the map. “I don’t suppose they could give you an address for the Watkins?”

“Hannibal, you know they wouldn’t give me that,” Tawnia said. Hannibal shrugged. He supposed not. Face could have got it. “They don’t even have it, they said. But they knew who I meant when I asked about the Watkins.” She shook her head. “Just like the guy at the Holiday Inn. They said half the time they’re drunk when they come in, and they make… comments to the staff. You know, coming on to them.”

“Deke,” Murdock said. When Tawnia looked at him, he added. “Deke’s the – hah – ladies’ man of the bunch. Just ask Amy next time you talk to her.”

Tawnia grimaced at that. “Well, they think the Watkins are living someplace out of town, just going from things they’ve heard them say. Are we going to wait for them to come and collect their mail and follow them?”

“That could take too long,” Hannibal said, shaking his head. “We have to get out there and find them.”

“The post office staff said there’s a few isolated houses in these hills.” She leaned over Hannibal’s seat, looking at the map. “Are they on the map?”

Hannibal shook his head. “Some dirt roads are marked and a couple of hamlets, but not individual houses.”

“Obvious way to spot them is from the air,” Murdock said. “Grid search pattern, mark houses and the roads to them on the map. Then check them out on the ground.”

“A helicopter?” Tawnia asked.

“Too noisy and noticeable,” Murdock said. “A nice little single engine plane would be best.” He looked thoughtful and nodded after a moment. “Nearest airfield with planes to hire is about forty miles back.”

“Did your psychic powers tell you that?” Hannibal asked. BA snorted.

Murdock scowled at him. “No. I have subscriptions to a couple of flying magazines. They have ads in them.”

“And you remember even the ads?” Tawnia sounded amazed.

“I have a lot of reading time on my hands.”

“Okay, Murdock,” Hannibal said. “I’ll take your word for it. Take that fake pilot’s licence and some of the cash, and go in Tawnia’s car.”

“Cash? I’m not going to scam it?” Murdock looked disappointed.

“No. We don’t have time. And we don’t need the cops coming looking for a stolen plane either.”

Murdock nodded and sighed. “This isn’t as much fun without Face, is it?”

“No,” Hannibal said. “No, it’s not.”

“What’s the rest of us gonna do?” BA asked.

“We’re going to mingle. I’ll bet the people in the post office aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed the Watkins. Tawnia, you check out the stores.”

“Okay. I saw a beauty parlour. I’ll try in there, too.”

“I don’t think the Watkins get regular manicures.” Murdock giggled at himself.

“Doesn’t matter, it’s still a place to pick up gossip,” Hannibal said. “Good thinking, kid. BA, you go find the local mechanic. I’m sure you two can bond over an engine. And the Watkins were in that line of work before.” BA’s snort told Hannibal of his opinion of the Watkins’ abilities as mechanics. “Yeah, well, you can bring the subject up. Meanwhile, I’ll check out the bars. Now those I’ll guarantee they’ve been in.” He looked around at the other three, waiting for his final order.

“Move out.”

Face woke again, and again cursed himself for sleeping. No time to sleep. He’d have plenty of time to sleep after he got out of here. Back to work.

He hadn’t moved when he woke, the old training long ago turned to instinct, and he became aware of a small sound, a scuffling from the floor. Had that woken him? He moved slowly forward and looked down at the floor, at the jug of water, and the plastic cup, at the paper plate, at the apple core.

At the rat nibbling on the apple core.

“Oh, shit!” Face slammed back against the wall and saw the rat streak across the room to vanish through some gap between the floorboards and the baseboard. Rats! He hated goddamn filthy rats.

The door slammed back and Harold dashed in, a pistol drawn. “What’s going on? What you yelling about?”

“You’ve got fucking rats in here!” Face glared at him, but took a breath, trying to get hold of himself. Didn’t want to let them see how much the rat bothered him. Harold didn’t seem to notice though, too busy looking around the room, sweeping the gun around.

“Where is it?”

“It’s gone now, you idiot.” Face smirked at him. “This house has got more vermin in it than I thought.”

Harold didn’t catch the insult; too busy looking nervously into the corners. He bent to look under the cot, sadly too far back for a kick in the face.

“Ma says they come in from outside,” he said.

“No, really? I thought they beamed down from spaceships.”

Harold did catch the sarcastic tone there and waved the gun vaguely in Face’s direction. “Shut up.”

Deke and CW came pounding in, also with guns drawn. Face winced at all the weapons waving about. These clowns were as likely to shoot him by accident as deliberately.

“What’s all the yelling about?” Deke demanded.

“He says he saw a rat,” Harold said.

“A rat?”

“I think it was a rat,” Face said. “It was an ugly, filthy beast that I wanted to kill soon as I saw it. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe Curly or Logan already got out of prison?”

He almost got a punch for that. Deke came at him with a raised fist, but stopped short when Ma joined them in the room. Bonnie followed behind, but stayed beside the door, until Ma pointed at the remains of Face’s last meal on the floor. Someone had kicked over the water jug now.

“Clear that up. And don’t leave a mess again. That’s what brings them in.”

Bonnie at once knelt to pick up the things. Face looked at her for a moment, before he turned back to Ma Watkins.

“I left the things on the floor. That was my fault, not hers.”

Bonnie glanced at him, wide-eyed, but looked away quickly and went on clearing up. When she’d collected all the things together, she stood and turned to go. As she passed him, Deke slapped her on the butt and the three brothers laughed. Bonnie didn’t react at all, just left the room. Ma didn’t seem to have noticed. She looked at her watch.

“Time for dinner, boys.”

“Can I get extra to feed my pet rat?” Face said. “I’m thinking of naming him Curly.”

He’d been taking a risk, he knew, giving in to the temptation to bait them. Knew they didn’t dare hurt him too badly, or they’d risk screwing up their blackmail plan. Still he expected a punch from one of the brothers for that remark, so it took him by surprise when Ma came at him instead. She came from the side he was chained, and though he raised an arm on instinct to block, the chain stopped him short. She didn’t slap him. Instead her fingers raked down the side of his face and her nails scratched deep into his flesh.

She stepped back and he felt blood warm on his cheek. He hadn’t cried out, or flinched much, learning long ago not to give anyone that satisfaction. But still she smirked. The sight of the blood enough for her perhaps.

She’d give the order in the end, Face thought. If it all went wrong and the team didn’t manage to pull off whatever they were planning; she’d give the order to get rid of Face. And she’d watch when one of her sons put a gun to Face’s head. Perhaps she’d even do it herself, and then just watch them bury him.

It won’t get that far, he promised himself. He’d be out of here as soon as he could get free of the manacle. He’d move as fast as that damn rat.

“You get no dinner,” Ma told Face.

“Sent to bed without any supper.” Face sighed. “Just like when I was a boy.” He still hadn’t raised a hand to his bleeding face. Could feel the blood trickling down now.

She snorted with disgust at his continued nonsense, and turned away. The brothers followed her out of the room. Face heard the sound of bolts drawn across on the other side. He hoped they had all gone up for dinner, and not left anyone on guard, but he couldn’t rely on that.

Okay, back to work. He’d lost all trace of tiredness now. With the threat of rat invasion there was no chance of him going back to sleep. He shivered at the thought. It wouldn’t be so bad if they stayed on the floor, but the little bastards could jump; people would be amazed how high. And the cot was barely two feet off the floor.

Face had sometimes seen neglected kids brought into the children’s home, by cops or social workers, thin and dirty and quiet, clinging tight to their liberator. One time he’d seen one of the Sisters cleaning and dressing small wounds on the legs of a one such kid, newly arrived, and seen her weeping while she did it. And when he’d asked, she told him the wounds were rat bites. He’d barely slept for a week. He hadn’t seen rat bites again till Vietnam.

So he’d stay awake now, and get the hell out of here. And if they weren’t going to give him dinner, well, he was just going to have to go for take out.

Hannibal, BA and Tawnia had takeout sandwiches for their dinner, in the van, and gave their reports. Hannibal had found out the Watkins had certainly made a nuisances of themselves in the local bars. Getting drunk and fighting – with each other if nobody else wanted to play.

BA had talked to the local mechanic at length, after he took the van in, pretending to be having some kind of problem. He’d been in there all afternoon. The mechanic knew the Watkins all right. As know-nothings who came around and boasted about the business they used to have. But he hadn’t found out an address for the Watkins, despite the long visit.

Tawnia had spent most of the afternoon in the beauty parlour, and had a haircut, highlights, a pedicure, waxed legs, a facial and a fresh manicure to show for it. Her credit card was feeling the strain apparently. But she was the only one who at least brought some new information.

“Their mother?” Hannibal said.

Tawnia nodded, swallowing a bite of her sandwich. “Apparently. The girls all said she’s a nasty piece of work, always pushing people around and complaining. She’s made some of the staff cry.”

“A mother. Who’d have thought the Watkins had a mother? I thought they hatched out from a bit of meat that had been left out in the sun too long.”

Tawnia froze, her sandwich partway to her mouth, and then put it down. BA did the same and glared at Hannibal

“Sorry,” Hannibal said. “Could anybody tell you where the house is though?”

“No. It seems like they want to avoid anything to do with the family. The brothers are banned from coming in to wait for their mother, after they harassed the staff.”

Hannibal nodded slowly. From what he’d gathered it sounded as if the Watkins hadn’t yet managed to establish the kind of reign of terror they had in Barlow Creek. Perhaps they were even trying to keep a low profile. They just weren’t very good at it.

“But the staff there seems pretty knowledgeable otherwise?” He said to Tawnia, mind already working ahead. “About other locals?”

“Oh yes. Like you said, loads of gossip.”

“Good.” He smiled at her. “You’ll be going back there later.”

“Hannibal! What else am I supposed to get done? I’ve had everything I can think of cut, dyed, waxed, massaged or painted!”

“You’ll think of something.”

She started to argue, but the sound of the phone cut her off. Hannibal picked it up to hear Murdock as he expected reporting that he’d hired a small single engine plane. Hannibal glanced out of the window. Dusk was deepening into night.

“Okay, Murdock, you’ll start your search in the morning. Stay put there for now, get a room and get some sleep. I’ll drive down to meet you, for oh seven hundred. Give me directions to the airfield.” He wrote it down when Murdock dictated. Murdock couldn’t fly and mark off houses on a map, so he needed a partner.

He hung up, and nodded to the other two. “We’d better get a room too. We all need sleep and I’ll need to get moving early to meet Murdock. Now, finish your dinner.” He picked up the phone again. “Meanwhile I’d better ring the Watkins and tell them about our plans.”

BA and Tawnia both stared at him and he grinned back.

“You know,” he said. “My brilliant, elaborate scheme for the jailbreak.”

Face heard the door bolts being drawn back, and looked up. He dropped the mattress back down. Another sound had been coming from the other side of the door for a while; snoring. It went on as Bonnie slipped into the room, looking back nervously the whole time. Face saw Deke sitting on the floor, back against the wall.

Bonnie held a cup of water in one hand and a sandwich in the other. The sandwich wasn’t on a plate and Face understood. No plate, so no evidence. He took the cup of water she offered him, drank it and handed it back to her, nodding, staying silent. He took the sandwich, his growling stomach very grateful at the prospect of it.

She watched him start to eat, until Deke made a snorting noise, and spoke in his sleep, rhythmic snoring interrupted.

Bonnie fled.

Face heard the sound of the bolts locking him back in, but the sound didn’t dishearten him. He was locked in with his sandwich, and a feeling that his plan B was proceeding nicely.

But first… Plan A. He finished the sandwich and went back to work. Close now, very close. The metal worked back and forth under his hand, weakening.

So close.

Chapter 6

Face had to swallow down the urge to cheer as the thin piece of metal finally snapped away from the frame of the cot. At last! He wasted no time getting to work on the manacles.

First, he got it off his wrist. After that, he picked the lock of the ring secured to the pipe, so he could take the manacles along. They were the only weapon he had. The metal rings could knock out teeth. The chain between them could throttle a man.

Once free, he lay totally still and silent for several minutes. He didn’t know who was on watch outside right now, but he felt very sure they were asleep. The silent and still moments passed and no sign of movement came from outside the door.

Face had already made his plans. He wouldn’t even try going out of the door. That was bolted on the outside, so his lock picking skills were no use. Even if he did get out, what then? He’d take out whoever guarded the door, and that would give him a gun, but he knew he was at the bottom of a flight of stairs, and if the others arrived at the top… Well he didn’t need Hannibal’s knowledge of military tactics to tell him such a position was unlikely to lead to victory.

Theoretically, once he got the gun, he could hold its former owner hostage. But good luck getting him up the stairs and out of the house, through the rest of the family. Too many people, that’s what it came down to. The three men, Ma and Bonnie, and for all he knew there could be others up there.

So he’d decided some hours ago that the door wasn’t the way out. Instead he turned his attention to the window.

He sat up slowly and silently, and took his shoes off, worrying about the noise they’d make on the uncarpeted floor. He tied the ends of the laces together and carried them around his neck. The manacles, he put in his pocket, though worried about them clinking. Soundless on his stocking feet, he glided across to the window and examined it.

A set of shutters with a bar across them, but no lock. They opened, folding back against the wall, to reveal the window itself. That had a small lock on it, and Face quickly defeated that.

The window swung outwards, on a side hinge and Face opened it carefully, wary of creaking, and breathed in the fresh air. How had he not noticed how stuffy his cell had become? After a few deep breaths, he started to make his assessment. The sky was dark grey, the merest ghost of dawn light touching it. This gave Face just enough light to see the terrain. What he saw made him gasp.

He’d hoped to find solid ground just a few feet below. Instead the ground fell away, on a near vertical slope. And he now he understood why he was downstairs and yet not in a basement.

The house was built on the side of a steep hill. If he climbed out of this window and lost his grip, he could roll hundreds of feet, before a rock or tree stopped him and smashed him up good into the bargain.

For a moment, he looked back at the door, reconsidering his plan not to go out that way. But the disadvantages with that remained the same. Okay, if he could get out of this window and climb down far enough to drop to the ground without getting hurt, then he could use that slope. He could move down it fast and put a lot of distance between him and the house. Even if the Watkins spotted his escape right away, he could cover the ground much faster than they could.

Face leaned as far out of the window as he dared and felt around the wall. Timber, and quite old, the planks knotted and distorted, from years of rain and sun. It had gaps here and there, big enough to put a hand in, or a foot.

Would he have enough hand and foot holds to take him down to the ground? How far to the ground anyway? Hard to guess in the dim light. He wasn’t actually overhanging a cliff though. The ground sloped away precipitously, but there was enough there for him to land on.

Right, time to take the chance. Dawn continued its inexorable approach and Face should use the last of the darkness to get as far away as he could.

Face climbed out of the window, pausing, hanging over the sill, while his toes sought out a hold. They found it, at quite a stretch down and he shoved his left foot in as far as he could, to make it secure. Then the right, feeling around, while he clung to the window frame by his hands.

At last, both feet had their perches. Time to move, time to get right out of the window. Still hanging on tight to the window frame, he gingerly took his left foot out of its hold and let himself sink lower, until his arms were straight now and his right leg bent up almost double, while the left felt around for the next foothold. When he found that, his right foot followed and waved around for a while, until a small gap let him shove his toes in. He let go of the window frame one hand at a time, finding gaps for his fingers. He expected to look up at any moment to see one of the Watkins looking down at him from the window, pointing a gun. If he did, he’d drop and take his chances. For now, he inched his way down the wall, sweat starting, despite the chill of the early morning.

Though moving painfully, horribly slowly he ran out of footholds far too quickly. No, he ran out of wall. His feet started trying to find purchase on thin air. Looking down he saw the ground only about six feet below his toes.

Aw hell, no option. He let go and dropped.

Hannibal shut off the alarm on his watch quickly. Even so BA stirred in the other bed and turned towards him. Hannibal got up and spoke softly to him.

“Go back to sleep, it’s only five a.m. I’m heading out to join up with Murdock.”

“Right.” BA rubbed his eyes. “You taking the van?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Murdock had already taken Tawnia’s car and Hannibal didn’t like leaving BA and Tawnia here without transport, but BA could always obtain a car in an emergency. “You two lie low and catch up on the sleep you missed. We’ll be back this afternoon.”


BA’s eyes closed again. Too sleepy to even give Hannibal the usual warning to be careful driving the van. Hannibal grabbed his bag and slipped into the bathroom.

Face hit the ground and did a classic tuck and roll, as if he was back in parachute training. But then, as he felt himself start to roll down the slope, he spread-eagled his arms and legs, digging in his toes, and grabbing handfuls of grass. He stopped rolling, and didn’t slide either. After a moment he let out a held breath.

He’s made it. He was outside. He looked up at the looming, dark shape of the house. No lights came from it except the one shining from his former cell. That let him see a little of the exterior. The downstairs room he’d been in was supported on the hill by several thick support posts, sunk into the sloping ground.

Time to move. He saw no sign that anyone had been disturbed by his escape, so determined to take full advantage of the time that gave him. He still had his shoes, draped by their laces around his neck. One of them had kicked him in the head as he landed, but he’d hung onto them.

Sitting up, facing down the slope, he started to put his shoes on. He was tying the laces of the second one, when he heard the barking.

Hannibal emerged from the bathroom, washed and dressed. Trying not to make a sound, he put down his bag and moved towards the door, carrying his boots so as not to make a racket on the rather nice hardwood floors of the guesthouse.

A low rumbling voice stopped him when he had his hand on the doorknob.

“Take care of my van, man.”

Hannibal grinned, and glanced back around. In the near darkness he caught the gleam of BA’s open eyes.

“Don’t I always?”

Face scrambled to his feet, and saw them coming. Around the corner of the house, two dark shapes, moving fast, and barking. A light came on somewhere above, but right now Face didn’t care about that.

He started to run down the slope, but knew that wasn’t going to work, because it was still too dark to move this fast, and there were plenty of rocks and rabbit holes and tree roots to send him sprawling. And he hadn’t finished tying the second shoelace, so a second later, the shoe flew off, lost in the darkness.

Yelling came from the house now. Would they start shooting? Not if they risked hitting their dogs, surely?

The dogs were close, their barks loud, and then Face yelled as one of them made a grab at his leg. Its teeth only grazed his skin, but clamped tight on the leg of his pants. He stumbled and kicked back, into its mouth, heard it yelp. Free again, but for only for a second, because his stumble let the other one catch up.

It didn’t mess around biting his pants leg, like some terrier harassing a mailman. It launched itself, using the slope and landed right on Face’s back.

Face crashed to the ground, yelling, the weight of the beast scaring the crap out of him. It grabbed his collar in its teeth as he sprawled, the animal still on his back. The dog shook its head violently, as if it had a rabbit, not a grown man.

Face rolled, shoving himself hard to one side, and the dog fell off him, its legs trapped under him for a moment, but still hanging onto his collar.

The other dog had recovered from the kick in the face, and it came looking for payback. Face saw the flash of white teeth in the middle of a mass of black fur.

On instinct he punched the dog hard in the snout, knocking it back for a second, but it sprang forward again, and he could only protect his throat by shoving his forearm into the snarling, stinking mouth. This time his yell was near a scream as the teeth tore into his skin, his jacket and shirt giving him little protection.

I’m going to die, he thought. One of these bastards is going to rip my throat out. I could have fought off one of them, but not both. I’m going to die.

“There! They’re over there!” A man’s voice, Harold.

“Call the dogs off! They’re killing him!” That was Ma’s voice. He almost liked her for a second. But she sounded angry, not horrified. Of course she only wanted him alive for their scheme; she didn’t care about his good health.

“Killer! Prince!” Deke yelled “Drop it! Drop it!”

Face thought the dogs were too far gone in bloodlust, but a second later the one still trying to break his neck let go of his collar and ran away back towards the house.

“Killer!” Deke yelled again. Why did jerks always name their weapon-dog Killer? Face would love to know that. Or maybe he didn’t want to know at all.

Killer let Face’s arm go and Face collapsed onto his back, holding the arm, panting. He didn’t get long to lie there. A second later, CW and Deke grabbed him. He yelled a protest about his injured arm, but they didn’t care.

He didn’t try to fight them, no point. They were armed and the dogs were still there. Harold and Bonnie both held onto the collars of the animals, Dobermans, Face saw now. But neither of them would have a chance of holding the dogs if they tried to break away again.

So Face could only let Deke and CW drag him around the side of the house, up a flight of wooden steps and back to the front door.

“Back to the cell!” Ma shouted from behind, bringing up the rear as they all piled back into the house. The dogs stayed outside, and Harold slammed the front door and shot bolts across.

Deke and CW hauled Face back to the steps down to his cell, and Face knew what was coming, knew the kind of thing these bastards would find funny.

They pushed him down the stairs. He grabbed at the banister, to slow his fall a little, but rolled down the stairs, to crash onto the floor at the bottom.

It didn’t stop there. The brothers followed him down, laughing at his fall. Before he could rise, they dragged him into the room he’d so recently escaped and threw him to the floor. Face curled up at once, knowing kicks would be coming his way. They did, all three brothers landing several, before Ma’s voice snapped out an order.

“That’s enough.”

Face lay, dizzy and sick, grateful, actually grateful for the old bitch’s control of her sons. Without her orders, they might well have beaten him to death, lost in bloodlust like their dogs.

“Search him,” Ma ordered. “Harold, lock the window and the shutters. When it gets light, get the long ladder and board that up from the outside.”

Deke knelt down by Face and searched his pockets, turning him over roughly to check his back, looking for anything concealed under his jacket tail.

He stood up with the lock pick and the manacle. Face rolled back and watched Ma work it out, looking at the piece of metal, then at the cot. A movement near the door caught Face’s eye, and he saw Bonnie standing there, staring, with horror in her eyes.

“Take out the cot,” Ma said. She scowled down at Face. “He can stay on the floor.”

“Yeah, with the rats.” CW sniggered when Face couldn’t supress a shudder. Harold ran over to fold up the cot and CW and Deke dragged Face over to chain him to the pipe again. This time they passed the chain around the back of the pipe and manacled both Face’s wrists, leaving him no choice but to sit or lie facing the wall.

“Wait,” Face called, “what about my arm?” Blood soaked the sleeve of his jacket and shirt where the dog had bitten him. He hated asking the Watkins for anything, but the dog bite would get infected for sure. “Give me some antiseptic at least, for God’s sake.”

“Shut up,” Ma told him. “You get nothing. Try that again and we won’t call the dogs off so soon.” She looked around the empty room. Harold was already carrying the cot up the stairs. Bumping and cursing marked his progress.

“Hey, you! Come help me with this!” Harold shouted and Face saw Bonnie vanish from the doorway.

“Deke,” Ma said. “You take next watch. CW, we’re going to have a talk about staying awake.”

CW looked nervously at his brother, but Deke just smirked at him. He made an “after you”, gesture to see his mother out of the door, and CW followed, scowling. The Watkins left and slammed the door shut. This time the sound of bolts made Face slump in despair against the wall of his bare cell.

So much for Plan A.

Chapter 7

Hannibal found Murdock waiting for him at the airfield, beside a single engine plane. He was pacing up and down, the early morning light giving him a long shadow on the ground.

“I thought you were never getting here,” Murdock groused as Hannibal strode up to him.

“It’s not much use taking off in the dark,” Hannibal said. “Have you eaten?”

“What? Yeah, sure.”

Probably candy bars and coffee, Hannibal thought. He held out one of the two paper bags he carried.

“Here. Breakfast sandwiches and muffins.” When Murdock scowled Hannibal shoved the bag into his hands. “Eat it while you’re doing your pre-flight, but eat it.”

Murdock climbed into the plane, muttering darkly, Hannibal only catching the word “mother”. While Murdock completed his pre-flight check, Hannibal waited on the tarmac, preparing his map, and eating his own breakfast. After a few minutes Murdock called to him.

“Come and strap in. I’m ready for take off.”

A few minutes later the small plane rose from the runway into the clear blue sky. It was a beautiful morning, with few clouds about. Hannibal had heard a weather forecast over the radio, and a fine day lay ahead. His plan was going perfectly. Murdock banked east and they flew into the morning sunshine.

Face sat resting his shoulder and head against the wall. His head throbbed, and he would have killed several dozen people for even a small cup of coffee right now. And water and food. And painkillers. And a bath and a bed and a massage…

Stop that. No sense in making himself crazy. He would be lucky if the Watkins fed him more than bread and water now. So what now? He could just behave himself and wait for the team, whether they showed up with the other two Watkins brothers or not. But that was too pathetic. He needed to get himself out, or the rest of the team would never let him live it down. So, Plan B.

B for Bonnie.

A couple of hours later he got the chance to put the plan into effect. He woke from a doze when the door opened and she came in with a tray of food. At once, Face let his head rest against the wall again and put on his most miserable expression.

Bonnie bent to put the tray on the floor and Face gave it only a disinterested glance.

“Are you okay?” Bonnie asked.

“Sure. Getting savaged by bloodthirsty hounds is my favourite way to start the day.”

She looked away. “I’m sorry. Are you hurt bad?”

Face glanced past her and spoke softly, so Deke, who he could see guarding the door, couldn’t hear.

“My arm will get infected if the wound isn’t cleaned out. Can you bring some antiseptic?”

“I can’t,” she said, eyes wide, and speaking as quietly as him. “Ma won’t let me.”

“Does Ma want to cut off my arm when I get gangrene? Does Ma want me to die of blood poisoning?”

Fear crossed her face then. “That won’t happen, will it?”

“I’ve seen it happen. Please, can’t you do this for me?”

“I can’t.” She looked terrified now. But she wasn’t shouting for Deke, and she wasn’t leaving. Face wished he could reach for her hand, but the manacles kept him from doing that. Instead he dropped his voice even lower, so she had to lean closer to hear him.

“You’re not like them, Bonnie. I see that. You’re different. I don’t know what hold they have on you, but you hate what they’re doing.”

She didn’t speak, but she nodded, looking down and he saw tears in her eyes.

“If you help me,” Face said, “even just by bringing me some antiseptic, I’ll know that’s true. And when my friends come…” She looked up, staring, but before Face could go on, Deke opened the door.

“Hey, you spoon feeding him? Get your ass back upstairs.”

Bonnie hurried away, taking her tray, leaving Face’s food on a paper plate. Deke sneered down at Face.

“Hey, Peck, does that sweet thing still hang out with your team? Maybe we shoulda added an extra condition to how they could get you back, huh?” He chuckled coarsely.

“No, she went to Jakarta.”

“Jakarta? Where’s that? Oregon?”

“It’s in Indonesia. That’s how far she had to go so that she couldn’t smell you any more.”

He’d miscalculated. Deke’s face changed from sneering to enraged in a second and Face was defenceless against the kick Deke landed, right on his injured forearm. He cried out in agony as the pain lanced up his arm and curled around the arm protectively.

“You got a big mouth, Peck. Can’t believe nobody’s shut it for you.”

“Better men than you have tried, Deke,” Face panted out, pain and nausea making him gasp for breath, but still unable to resist baiting. He braced himself for another kick. But Deke laughed. His foot stamped down again, but this time onto the plate of toast. He ground his boot heel into the food, and then kicked the plate and its contents across the room, well beyond Face’s reach.

“Guess breakfast is over, Peck.”

“When my friends come,” Face said, quietly, “you’ll get yours first. I promise you that, Deke.”

“Your friends are doing what we told ’em to do. When they come, they gonna bring Curly and Logan with ’em. Then you’ll all get yours.”

Deke slammed the door behind him.

Damn. Face couldn’t believe it. How the hell did Hannibal think he could pull it off? Face had to get out of here and stop him. He sighed. Couldn’t leave those guys alone for a minute.

So what about Plan B? If Bonnie brought him the antiseptic, that was the test. If she did that, then he believed he could talk her into helping him escape. Now he could only wait and see if she passed the test.

Murdock and Hannibal had been flying for hours now, going over the area systematically. They didn’t talk much. Hannibal had experience of scoping out the ground from above, from doing recon during the war. But that had been years ago, and he needed all his concentration to get the job done.

But at last they were done. Pencilled-in marks on the map picked out the isolated houses. Face could be concealed inside any of them. As Murdock headed back to the airfield, late in the morning, he spoke up after saying nothing for a long time.

“It’s scaring me how long this is gonna take, Colonel. What if they get suspicious?”

“I’ve made sure they think my prison break plan will take days. They’re not going to get suspicious for a while yet.”

Murdock shrugged. “Okay. But I guess I just can’t stand the thought of Face stuck with those bastards. You know how vicious they are.”

“Murdock, they have to keep him alive.”

“Yeah, but they don’t have to keep him happy.”

“They know if they hurt him too badly they’ll just make us mad and we’ll want revenge.”

“You’re assuming they’re rational enough to restrain themselves because of that,” Murdock said. “But look at the way they’ve been behaving in town, drawing attention to themselves. Smart guys would have been lying low. But they can’t even manage that. I don’t think they can help themselves, Hannibal. What are guys like that going to do with a helpless prisoner?”

This time Hannibal smiled, despite the legitimate concerns Murdock was raising.

“Helpless prisoner? Oh, I’m sorry; I thought we were talking about Face.”

Lunchtime, Face guessed. Meals were the only way he could gauge the passing time, his watch stolen right after they took him. Good thing it was a fake.

Bonnie came in with a tray as usual. She cast nervous glances back at the door and Face looked at her hopefully. His hopes were dashed though, when she put the tray down and hurried out again, under the watchful eye of CW.


Face ate the sandwich left for him. Perhaps she was just under too close a watch. She might have had the antiseptic, but couldn’t hand it over, with CW watching.

Or perhaps Face’s charms weren’t as powerful as he hoped. Well, hell, he must look a mess anyway. His face prickled with stubble, his hair felt pretty limp, his clothes were ripped and stained, and didn’t smell too good. He hadn’t cleaned his teeth in a couple of days. Yeah, he wasn’t at his best, looks wise.

Of course, a girl stuck in a house with the Watkins brothers probably didn’t have high standards to compare him to. That thought made Face chuckle briefly.

He stopped chuckling when he heard the bolts on the door sliding back. The brothers come to look for some fun tormenting the prisoner? He tensed in anticipation. But then he relaxed and stared as Bonnie slipped into the room. He looked past her, trying to see who was on guard out there. Bonnie saw where he was looking and shook her head.

“They’re all upstairs having lunch. I managed to slip away.” She knelt down by him and slid a small brown bottle out of her apron pocket. “I brought the antiseptic.”

Face wanted to cheer, but instead just smiled, as he put the antiseptic into his pocket.

“Thank you, Bonnie. It was brave of you to do that.”

She blushed and looked away. “I just don’t want you to get sick from the bite.”

“You aren’t like them are you?” He asked. “Do you even want Curly and Logan to come home?”

The flinch she gave in reaction to their names told him the answer to that.

“I… I brought you this too.” She reached into her apron pocket again and took out a cookie, handed it to Face. “You’re not getting enough to eat.”

“Bonnie, that’s… thank you.” He bit the cookie, too hungry to delay. “I know you’d get into trouble if they caught you. You’re very brave.” He was repeating himself, but he had to get his message home. You’re a brave girl, brave enough to help me, not just with food, but escape.

She watched him eat the cookie, though still glancing back over her shoulder sometimes.

“They’re not really my family,” Bonnie said after a moment.

“You said your mom was their father’s sister.”

“Yes. She died and my uncle took me in. I was only twelve. But then he died too.” She looked down. “He wasn’t really a nice man, but he was… he was nicer than Ma.”

Face imagined it would be hard to be less nice than Ma without actually being a crazed ax-murderer. He imagined something else too; that Ma hadn’t been happy to be left with an extra mouth to feed after her husband died. A child not even related to her by blood.

“How come you stay here, Bonnie? You’re old enough; you can go anywhere you like.”

She shook her head, looking down.

“Ma says I gotta earn my keep, in exchange for her raising me. Says when I’ve paid her back for that, then I can leave.”

“Earn your keep how?”

“Cooking, and cleaning and laundry and… whatever else.”

Unpaid labour. No, worse than that. She couldn’t leave. She got no wages. She was a slave.

“I tried to run off a couple of times,” she said. “But they brought me back.”

Face’s eyes narrowed. “And punished you?”

She nodded and said nothing.

“If you help me, then when my friends come, we’ll help you, get you out of here.”

She didn’t jump for joy, probably didn’t believe him. She shook her head again. She did that a lot.

“Ma says I’d be a fool to leave. Says there’s nothing for me. I’m not smart or pretty. Nobody would want me.”

“Most people aren’t smart or pretty. That doesn’t matter. If you’re honest and work hard, then there’s a whole world out there for you.” He took a breath. Okay, time for the next step. Would she believe him about this? Maybe. “Anyway, who says you’re not pretty?”


He raised a hand and brushed a strand of her tied back hair away from her face. She gasped at his touch.

“If you had nice clothes and make up and your hair done.” She probably cut her own hair, he thought. Ma certainly wouldn’t waste money letting her go to a salon. Today’s dress was another cut down hand me down. And she’d probably never been allowed to buy as much as a lipstick. Face smiled. “Hey, back in LA, the experts could make you look like a movie star.”

She laughed. “You’re just teasing me.”

“I’m not kidding. Heck, I’ve seen Goldie Hawn in the mornings; it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Oh, I’ve seen her on TV. She’s beautiful. I couldn’t look like that, ever.”

“Maybe not, but believe me, none of them are as beautiful as they look on TV.” He smiled and touched her hair again.

“I’ve seen you on the TV too.”

“Well, there you go. Am I as good looking now as that picture?”

She didn’t answer, looked away with a shy smile. Oh, that’s it, Face thought. I’m in.

“Bonnie,” he said, making her look at him again. “I’ve dated lots of girls who were no prettier than you. I’ll bet you could look beautiful, and I’d be proud to take you out to a fancy restaurant, or a Hollywood party.”

He leaned close then, hampered by the manacles, but he trailed his fingers gently over her neck and shoulder and then touched the buttons on the front of the dress.

“Do you think,” he said softly, “that two people can find each other in the strangest of circumstances?”

He kissed her. This is when she should melt into his arms, he thought. That’s how this goes. They all melt into his arms at this point.

She didn’t melt. She froze. He pulled back and saw her eyes were still open and she was looking over his shoulder. But her hands moved. They moved to push aside his jacket and found the button on his pants. Face gasped and she stopped, looked him in the eye now.

“What are you doing?” Face said. Which probably counted as the stupidest question he’d ever asked.

“Don’t you want…?” She didn’t look embarrassed, just baffled. Face understood suddenly and he recalled his earlier thoughts that no man had ever paid any attention to her. Yes they had. Her cousins. And not the sort of attention that a teenage girl could do much about. The brothers would all have been full grown or nearly when she was still a young girl. She simply expected it now. Face was a man, and that’s what men wanted.

“No,” he said. “No. I don’t want… that. I don’t want to use you that way, I swear. I’m sorry.”

And then he felt ashamed, because using her was exactly what he’d been planning to do. Not for sex, but as his ticket out of here. Well he’d have to find another ticket, because he couldn’t do it, not now. She’d already been exploited enough.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I just talk a lot of crap. You should just ignore me. And you should get out of here, before one of them comes back.”

Tears shone in her eyes. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to do anything for me, Bonnie. I won’t ask you for anything else, I promise.”

“But… I want to.”

“No, you don’t. Please, go. I’ve put you in enough danger already.”

She stood up, still staring down at him. The tears in her eyes didn’t fall. He didn’t know for sure what her expression meant, but it didn’t matter any more. Plan B was dead. It simply wasn’t fair. After a moment he had to look away and heard her hurry from the room, bolting the door behind her.

Face slumped against the wall again. Sometimes, he hated the world. Sometimes he wished they’d drop the damn A-bombs and wipe the infestation of humanity off the planet and start over, with just the cockroaches. Though why should Harold be spared like that?

Well now he needed Plan C. And it needed to be a damn good plan, because now it wasn’t just about him escaping. It was about her too. Face tried to be a cynic, but he knew deep down he was a damn soft-hearted fool. He wouldn’t leave Bonnie here to be the Watkins’s slave any longer. He wasn’t a man if he did that. He wasn’t an officer.

And he sure as hell wasn’t a member of the A-Team.

Chapter 8

Hannibal and Murdock arrived back in town and found BA and Tawnia still waiting at the guesthouse. Hannibal wasn’t sure which of those two looked more grateful for his and Murdock’s return.

“Tawnia,” Hannibal said, giving her the marked-up map. “Next part is up to you. You’re going back to that beauty parlour. I want you to ask them about the houses I’ve spotted. Now maybe nobody’s sure which of them is the house the Watkins live in, but I’ll bet they know at least some of the others.”

“So the more of them we can eliminate, the fewer we have to check,” she said, catching on. “Good idea, Hannibal.”

“Ideas aren’t hard. Pulling them off is the tricky part.” He smiled at her around his cigar. “And I know you can do it, kid. Now move out. Report back in no more than an hour.”

She straightened to her full height, plus the two inches of her heels and for a moment he thought she’d salute. He seemed to have that effect when he pitched the voice just right. But instead she gave a nervous smile and hurried off to her car.

As she drove away, Hannibal looked at Murdock and BA, and winked.

“Never easy, sending a rookie into the field.”

Templeton couldn’t be interested in her. He was so handsome. Bonnie had never seen such a handsome man. Not in real life anyway. Only on TV, or on the covers of books, all those romances Ma liked to read. Bonnie sometimes managed to slip one out of the trash, where Ma tossed them when she was done.

Bonnie had a few of the books hidden under her mattress. Ma wouldn’t like it. She didn’t like Bonnie reading anything except recipe books. Anything else would turn her head, Ma told her. But they didn’t turn Bonnie’s head. They showed her the truth. That men weren’t all like her cousins. Some of them were decent and kind and so handsome.

Bonnie sighed as she dried the last of the dishes from lunch and started putting them away in the cupboards. Templeton, he was decent. An officer and a gentleman. Lieutenant Peck. One of the romance books had an officer on the cover. He wore a white uniform and he was in the Navy in the story. But he was a gallant officer, who always behaved as a perfect gentleman, and who protected the heroine and of course, never took advantage of her. Because he respected her. He wouldn’t treat a woman he respected and loved so shabbily.

But Templeton – such an unusual name, so like a hero – didn’t love Bonnie. She’d be foolish to believe that. And yet, what he’d said about finding each other…

She found her broom and started to sweep the floor. Elsewhere in the house the TV blared and she heard the voices of Deke and Harold arguing about something, until Ma yelled at them to shut up.

No, Templeton couldn’t have meant that. Someone like him wouldn’t be interested in her. He must have been teasing, or he wanted something. Well, she’d been about to give him what she assumed he wanted, what men always wanted, but he’d stopped her. Why would he stop her unless he respected her enough not to take advantage? And if he respected her, then he must have some feelings for her.

So she wasn’t pretty or glamorous, but he was decent and a decent man isn’t shallow, only interested in looks. He could see past what was on the outside.

That made her laugh at herself. See past it to what? What did she have either inside or out that someone like Templeton would be interested in?


He’d called her brave. And he knew about bravery. He was a soldier after all. A war hero. All those ribbons on his uniform meant medals. Look how brave he was when her cousins and Ma hurt him. A lesser man would beg for mercy, but he just defied them, never showed any fear. He knew about bravery.

Perhaps she was brave. She took him food she wasn’t meant to. She took him the antiseptic. She knew what would happen if they caught her. But she did it anyway, because he was hungry and in pain, and it wasn’t right. If they had to keep him prisoner, and she couldn’t do anything about that, then they could at least treat him right.

Wait… she stopped her sweeping, looking out of the kitchen door, towards the sound of the TV. Who said she couldn’t do anything about them holding him prisoner? What if she…

No. Don’t be ridiculous. She put the broom away and sat down at the kitchen table. She wasn’t that brave. What would she do? Hold the family at gunpoint? Ridiculous. But there were easier ways. Perhaps at night, she could sneak out to the van outside and use the phone in it. They didn’t have a phone in the house. Ma said she didn’t want the phone company having their address.

But who would Bonnie call? The police would rescue Templeton, but then send him to jail. Of course, if he was free then he could contact his friends. But how could she set him free when one of her cousins guarded his door? Even when they left the door or they fell asleep, he was still chained to that pipe, and she had no way to get the key. One of the brothers carried it at all time.

Oh, this is madness, she thought and got up. She had work to do. She had to clean all the bedrooms, and then she had to start dinner. Even thinking such crazy thoughts made her fear Ma’s wrath. If Ma caught her trying to free Templeton, well she’d finally make good on her often-repeated threat.

“I’ll do what your slut of a mama should have done when you was born. Put a pillow over your face and then toss you in the trash.”

But he’d told her that if she helped him to get out, then he’d help her get away from here. And that he and his friends would protect her. Of course, they were like him, officers and gentlemen.

If she helped him, he would protect her.

And perhaps, just perhaps, he was telling the truth about the rest of it. Perhaps they had found each other. Her so plain and nothing and him so fine and handsome. Just the way it happened in so many of the books.

Tawnia returned to the guesthouse with a shampoo and set and a big smile of triumph. She spread the map out on one of the beds as the team crowded around. Several of the houses Hannibal had marked now had names against them.

“They’re certain about them?” Hannibal said.

“Definitely. This is a small town, almost everyone knows everyone else.”

“Did they want to know why you’re asking?” Murdock said.

“Yes, I told them I’m a writer, working on a history of the area, and that I especially wanted to interview anyone who’s lived here a long time.”

“Excellent,” Hannibal said. Those were houses he felt sure he could cross off the list then, long term residents. Five houses on the map had no names beside them. They’d check those first.

“They’re pretty widely spread out,” Murdock said, “We should split up if we’re going to cover them all.”

“Agreed,” Hannibal said. “We’ll do three this evening; watch them until the early hours. If we don’t find our guys at one of the first three, then we’ll move on to the last two and watch them through the morning.”

“Three?” Tawnia said. “There are four of us.”

Hannibal raised a hand to cut her off. “You haven’t seen the Watkins before, and I don’t want to rely on you recognising them from photographs. And who knows what security they, or anyone else, might have set up? Too risky.” When she sighed, he said. “Anyway, we need someone to be driver on this job. And you’re a better driver than Murdock after all.”

“Hey,” Murdock protested, looking up from the map.

“Yeah,” BA said. “Sooner she drove my van than you, fool.” He winked at Tawnia.

Murdock mumbled grouchily, playing up to them, realising that Hannibal was just keeping Tawnia cheerful. Have to keep up the morale of the troops. And hell, she was a good driver. Hannibal would have to ask her about that one day.

“Okay, Murdock, you’ll take Tawnia’s car and take this house.” He pointed at the map. “This one is mine and this one is BA’s. We’ll go there in the van and get dropped off. Tawnia will take the van to a safe distance and then come get us later.”

“What are the parameters of the mission, Colonel?” Murdock asked. “External surveillance only?”

“We could get inside,” BA said. “Check them out properly.”

Hannibal was reluctant to allow that. He and BA certainly could get inside and back out again without any evidence they’d been there. Murdock probably could too, with what they’d taught him, but it wasn’t his specialty and it would take just one barking dog, or one householder with a shotgun to turn this whole thing into a disaster. They’d only risk going inside if they couldn’t eliminate the house from the list with external surveillance only.

“We get close once things go quiet for the night, see what we can, but not inside.” Even doing that risked someone spotting a prowler and calling the cops. Not that he’d expect them to catch any of the team, but best not to have cops sniffing around.

“And what if we spot the Watkins?” BA said.

“Report back and wait for us to get there. No lone heroics unless the hostage is in immediate danger. We clear on that?”

Murdock and BA nodded, but Murdock scowled at him. Hannibal guessed why. Murdock probably objected to him saying “the hostage” instead of “Face”. But Hannibal had to keep some mental distance here. If he spent his time thinking morbid thoughts about what the Watkins might do to Face, then he’d end up rushing in half-cocked. He knew what that led to. So he ignored Murdock’s scowl and checked his watch.

“Okay, Tawnia, go out and buy us some food so we can eat before we leave. And get some things we can take with us too, candy bars, soda, to keep us going on watch. BA, test the radios. Then, we’re all sleeping for a couple of hours. We move out by sunset.”

Gingerly, Face checked the dog bite. He’d tried his best to clean it with the antiseptic and torn off a shirtsleeve to bandage it. But still it felt hot and tender. Any movement of his arm made it hurt more. And he felt warm, knew he had a fever. Not too high, but it kept him from thinking straight.

He couldn’t get cooled off to try and bring it down either. With the chain of the manacles threaded behind the pipe, he couldn’t even take off his uniform jacket. The best he could do was undo his shirt buttons and try to expose as much skin as possible that way and let the chill of the room try to cool him. His head ached.

He’d lost track of time now, and had no idea how much of it had passed since Bonnie brought him lunch. Felt like a long time. Not very hungry though. But thirsty, oh hell, yeah. He’d heard someone bumping around outside the door earlier, but then no noise for a long time. Probably asleep again. He longed for sleep himself, but between his painful arm, aching head and raging thirst, the chances of that happening seemed remote. Those rats to consider too. He was on the floor now after all. He shivered.

No sleep. That drove you nuts in the end. Another sleepless night and he’d forget about his principles and offer to marry Bonnie if she helped him get out of here. Hell, two more sleepless nights and he’d offer to marry Ma.

At last he heard the sound of the bolts drawing back. Dinner? Please, more water. He needed a hell of a lot more water. Ice water for preference. Please…

Bonnie pushed open the door and Face stared, because as the door opened, Deke slid down it onto the floor. What the hell? Was he drunk?

Bonnie knelt by Face and he gasped when she produced a small key and started to unlock the manacles. She wore a jacket and had a pistol stuffed in each pocket, making him stare again. He pulled himself together. Okay, get to work.

“What’s up with Deke?”

“He’s drugged. They all are. Come on.” The manacles fell away from his wrists and she started to help Face to his feet. A combination of fatigue, lack of food and water and fever, and just sitting in one place too long left him shaky on his feet.

“Drugged?” He took one of the pistols from her.

“Sleeping pills. Ma takes them. I crushed them and put them in their dinner.”

She helped Face stagger to the door. As they stepped over Deke, who lay on his back, Face looked down at him. Very pale, lips kind of bluish. How many of those pills did she use? Deke didn’t respond even when they bumped against him as they stepped over him.

“Gotta turn him over,” Face said, voice coming out croaky. He didn’t personally give a damn if Deke choked on his tongue, or suffered some other equally nasty fate. But that could have consequences for Bonnie. There was only so much he could do to protect her. From the Watkins, yes, but the cops would be a different matter.

“There’s no time,” she said, trying to hustle him away up the stairs, but Face pulled away from her and bent down to haul Deke over. Bonnie made a frustrated sound and helped him. Once Deke was turned over enough so his head turned to the side, Face figured he’d got more than he deserved and nodded to Bonnie.

“Let’s go.”

They climbed the stairs together, her hanging on to his arm while he pulled himself up on the handrail.

“What’s your plan,” Face asked, hoping she had one. He’d take it over of course, but he hoped she’d at least thought it through enough to get them away from here.

“We’ll take their van, the one they brought you here in. It’s got a phone in it; you can call your friends.”

“Isn’t there a phone in the house?”


They probably failed the phone company credit check, Face thought. He let her guide him through the house towards the front door. A TV was playing somewhere. Loud laughter and music burst from it. Some kind of comedy show. The noise of it faded as they got to the hallway and the front door. Face balked for a moment when Bonnie went to open it.

“The dogs…”

“They’re drugged too,” she said, and opened the door, to darkness outside.

Despite her reassurance, Face kept his pistol levelled as they stepped out. But they found the two dogs lying on the grass at the front of the house, tongues lolling, panting. Face just wanted to be well away from them. The sight of the vicious pair made his arm throb even more just from the memory of then attacking him.

The van stood parked at the front of the house and Bonnie produced keys from her pocket, but Face saw a car parked beside it and decided the plan just changed. The car was faster – he’d rather take that. Well, he’d rather take both and find some nice ditch to dump their van in after he made his call. Poetic justice and it left them without transport. Of course, he could only drive one vehicle at a time. He turned to Bonnie.

“Can you drive?”


Damn. “Okay, I’m going to use the phone in the van, and then we’re going to take the car.” She opened the door of the van for him. “Have you got anything you could use to slash the tyres?” Face asked as he reached inside for the phone.

“We could shoot them out,” Bonnie suggested.

“Maybe, but I’d hate to risk waking up any of our sleeping friends.”

He shouldn’t have said it. Not with his luck. He was a jinx.

Bonnie gave a cry and grabbed Face’s arm. Face spun around to see Ma in the doorway. The light was behind her, making her a silhouette, but unmistakeably Ma. And unmistakeably carrying a shotgun.

She staggered out of the door, shaky on her feet and before Face could do anything, she fired. Bonnie shrieked as the blast took out the van’s wheel, barely a couple of feet from them. The tyre exploded. Only the open door shielded Face and Bonnie from being peppered with shot.

Face grabbed Bonnie and ran, suddenly feeling a lot more clear-headed and sure-footed. He dived into the cover of some bushes, pulling her behind him. Should have stopped to tie them all up, idiot, Face thought, cursing himself. He knew he wasn’t thinking straight, and all he’d wanted was to get out of that house. Paying for that haste now.

“What’ve you done to my boys, you little whore?” Ma yelled, her voice slurring. She pointed the gun in the general direction of Face and Bonnie, though it weaved about wildly. Bonnie gave a small whimpering sound and pressed close to Face, clinging to him.

Fire the other barrel, Face thought, still watching Ma. She’d miss by a mile, still groggy and in the dark, but once she fired, then he could rush her. While she still had the second shot, he couldn’t get close without a good chance of being blown away. Fire the other goddamn barrel and let me get to that goddamn car. It looked impossibly far away across exposed ground now.

He considered threatening to shoot her if she didn’t drop the gun, but hearing her slurred threats and obscenities, he didn’t think she could actually reason at all right now. Too doped and angry.

Face poked his head up cautiously. She stood between him and the vehicles, one barrel of her shotgun still loaded. He couldn’t reach the car or the van unless he got past her. And he had only one way to do that.

Face looked down at the pistol in his hand. He heard Bonnie’s whisper in his ear.

“Shoot her.”

Chapter 9

Face couldn’t shoot Ma.

The A-Team didn’t shoot people. Certainly not women. He could try to wing her, but didn’t trust his aim right now. His hands just weren’t steady enough. Bonnie still clung to him, breathing fast and she whispered the words again.

“Shoot her.”

Face glanced at the intense look in her eyes. She had the other pistol in her pocket. If Face didn’t shoot Ma, would she do it herself? Perhaps she’d dreamt of it, and Face could hardly blame her. But still, he couldn’t let it happen.

Anyway, kill Ma and he’d better be prepared to walk back into the house and shoot the rest of them as well. Because even bastards like the Watkins wouldn’t rest until they’d taken revenge for their mother. The team could do without yet more blood-enemies.

Gotta take the narrow path.

“Come on,” he said very softly to Bonnie. Ma didn’t hear it over her own yelling. Bonnie made a soft protest, but Face pulled her away, staying low and sneaking away from the bushes and into the trees that surrounded the house. They had to stay under cover and follow the track that must lead to a road. Get to the road and they could hitch a ride, or find a pay phone.

He really would rather have had the car, especially as he had lost one shoe during his first escape attempt, and had to take the other off to walk without limping. But better to walk than drive the car of a woman he’d just murdered.

“Once we get to the road, do you know which direction it is to the nearest town,” he asked Bonnie, “or another house, or just any place with a phone?”

“I think so,” she said. “To the town, I mean. I don’t know about any other houses. But it’s a long way to walk.”

“We’ll get a ride.” If anyone would pick him up looking like he did. The uniform might help, however tattered it was. Or the old trick; Bonnie thumbed the ride and Face hid until the last minute.

They stumbled on through the trees. The moonlight barely penetrated the branches above and they had to stay close to the track, or they’d lose it for sure. If they got lost… well, Face didn’t want to think about it. If he’d been in better shape and alone, it wouldn’t worry him too much. But he had to drag his feverish, hungry, and thirsty self through the woods and protect a woman at the same time.

Protect her? Right now, she was the one helping him, keeping him on his feet as he stumbled along. But if Ma or the brothers caught up, then Face would have to stand between her and them. They had to keep Face alive. They didn’t have to do the same with Bonnie.

How long before the brothers woke up? Ma had obviously come around sooner than Bonnie expected. Maybe because they were her pills, she was more resistant. How soon would she be able to rouse her sons and send them after Face and Bonnie? And they’d have vehicles. The car, maybe the van, depending on if just changing the tyre Ma blasted would get it back on the road.

They stumbled on through the darkness, both of them listening out for vehicles, or voices. Not that Face wasn’t confident he could keep out of sight of the brothers, he would bet on his concealment skills over their tracking skills any day. But keeping out of sight wasn’t going to help him get a ride on the road.

Payphone. That’s what Face really hoped to find quickly. Call the team, let them know he’d escaped. If Hannibal had gone to bust out the other Watkins brothers, then Face needed to stop him before it was too late. Once Face did that, then he could think about finding his way to civilisation.

After they’d walked for a period of time Face couldn’t guess at, the trees suddenly opened to the road. It stretched away left and right, the blacktop shining in the moonlight like a dark river.

“Which way?” Face asked Bonnie, very relieved when she pointed downhill. He peered off into the distance, hoping he’d be able to see the town, welcoming lights twinkling, promising a short journey. But no such luck and he sighed.

“You should rest for a while,” Bonnie said. Face wanted to protest that they couldn’t afford the time, but he didn’t have the strength and just sank to the ground, resting his back against a tree. Bonnie sat beside him.

“I should have brought some water,” she said. “I had some ready to bring – some food too – but I forgot. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Face said. “I tend to forget things when I have a crazy woman trying to blow me away with a shotgun.”

“Why didn’t you shoot her? She would have killed us. She still will, if they catch us.”

“I can’t just shoot people, Bonnie. My team, well we don’t shoot people, we don’t kill people. It’s sort of a rule.”

“You’re very principled.”

Face laughed. “Now there’s something I’m not accused of every day.”

“I… I meant it in a good way… I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he reassured her. “I’m kidding. Well, maybe we are principled. Practical, too, though. One day they might straighten out the whole thing about the bank robbery and we could be free. No good if we get arrested for murder two minutes after that.”

“I suppose.”

He watched her, sitting with her head down, not looking at him. Had it just been the terror of the moment, or would she have been happy to see him shoot Ma? The woman had raised her for at least part of her life, but Face could guess at how Ma had treated her and what she’d failed to protect Bonnie from. Face knew the crushed-up sleeping pills could easily have killed Ma or the brothers. Did Bonnie simply not realise the danger, or did she not care? Such a helpless looking girl, skinny and too shy to look you in the eye, but she’d done this for Face.

“Bonnie, I haven’t said thanks yet,” Face said, making her look at him. He took her hand. “I really am grateful to you for helping me like this.”

“I had to. For you. I had to.”

“Yes, well, thank you.” She held on to his hand for a while longer, before Face stirred himself, knowing the longer he sat the harder it would be to move again. She helped him to his feet and down to the side of the road. Stay a little off the road, he thought, near the undergrowth and the trees. Then if the Watkins did come by in their car or van, Face and Bonnie could duck into cover fast.

So, moving slowly, socks shredded now, and feet cut and painful, Face set out for the town. Bonnie walked at his side, holding his hand.

Murdock jumped out of Tawnia’s car and strode up to the van, waiting at their rendezvous point. The first shift was over, the first three houses checked out.

“Well, thanks so much for that wonderful evening,” Murdock said.

“You didn’t have fun?” Hannibal asked, leaning out of the van window. Murdock grimaced.

“I just watched a party,” he said. “Bunch of real fun-loving, good-looking people having a barbecue and a load of beers and laughing and singing. And I’m stuck in the trees, with a couple of candy bars and some soda. I could smell the food, Hannibal!” He looked severely miffed. “I was this this close to going and asking to join the party.” He held his forefinger and thumb almost touching.

“They weren’t the Watkins though?”

“I said fun-loving and good-looking didn’t I? If those people were holding Face prisoner, they were damn happy about it. What about you?”

“Well at least you had something fun to look at. Most exciting thing I saw was an old man walking his dog and locking up the chicken coop for the night, before an old lady called him in for supper.”

“How ’bout you, BA?” Murdock asked.

“Wasn’t them.”

BA didn’t elaborate, just scowled. Got it, BA, Hannibal thought. Time’s a wasting. He got out of the van, yielding the passenger seat to Murdock. Tawnia followed Hannibal out. Time to check out the last two houses on the list.

“Stay close to the radio, guys,” Hannibal ordered. “Unless we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether, then one of these two must be the place. Be careful.”

Murdock and BA set off in the van and Hannibal took Tawnia and her car and headed for the last house on the list. When they got close, she dropped him off at the turn off from the main road and he headed up towards the house, following the track, but staying in the trees to the side of it. Tawnia would stay close by, in walkie-talkie range, so if she heard from Murdock and BA over the CB radio, she could call Hannibal.

He checked his watch as he moved though the woods. Almost four in the morning now. If all was quiet, he’d get close and check out what he could before finding a good spot to wait for the house to wake up.

If all wasn’t quiet… well, he’d given the warning himself about no lone heroics; he’d contact Tawnia and tell her to call Murdock and BA.

The house was quiet and dark when he reached it, but something made him frown. No vehicles. A partly gravelled open area at the front just begged “park here”, but it was empty, which seemed strange. A person couldn’t live out here without transport. He stayed back from the house, deciding to circle it. Maybe the vehicles were in a yard or garage out back.

He moved through the trees, around the side of the house. There definitely weren’t any vehicles parked out back – the back of the house was on a steep slope. Interesting, he thought. Defensible. At least one side that nobody can come at you from easily. Kind of place that might appeal to the Watkins maybe?

He went back to the front of the house and watched it for a while. There could be a hundred different reason for no vehicles. Maybe whoever lived here was on vacation. Or in the hospital. A hundred reasons, none of which Hannibal could make himself believe.

Before he could decide on his next move, the clouds that had been covering the moon drifted off. At once he spotted something lying in the grass. Had to check that out. He approached with caution, his handgun ready, but it was only a discarded tyre, quite a big one, and shredded. Hannibal bent down to examine it and found small pieces of shot embedded in the rubber and the rim. Shotgun blast?

He lifted the tyre up. The grass under it was crushed, but still green, not dead. Something had happened here, and not that long ago. Had Face tried to escape and there’d been some shooting? Were the brothers on his trail?

He moved back into the trees, wanting the distance, to use his radio without his voice carrying. Just in case.

“Tawnia, get Murdock and BA here. Pretty sure this is the place and something went down here earlier.”

“Okay, Hannibal,” she said, “Can you see anything? Are you sure it’s them?”

He wasn’t sure, but he trusted his instincts.

“Sure as I can be. Call me back when they’re close.”

He watched the house again for a moment. How long would it take Murdock and BA to get here? Could be thirty minutes at least. Dammit, he wanted to get in there. What if they’d hurt Face badly, panicked and run off, leaving him in there? Maybe injured, maybe shot.

The house felt empty to Hannibal. Not just closed up for the night, but empty. It must be empty. If Face had escaped and the Watkins were chasing him, then anyone left at home would surely stay up to wait, so there’d be a light on somewhere. No. The house was empty. He had to get inside now and check it.

Yes, he’d given the orders, no lone heroics. But hell, forget the orders. He emerged from the trees again and moved fast across the open space to the house.

Hannibal gave the orders, he didn’t follow them.

Face almost missed their ride. Oncoming lights in the darkness made him fear it was the Watkins coming after them. But the lights weren’t right for a car or a van, and he heard the roar of a much bigger engine. A truck. He grabbed Bonnie’s hand and pulled her back out of the bushes they’d hidden in at the first sight of the headlights.

“Wave,” he told her, and she took her cue, imitating Face as he waved his arms over his head. The truck’s headlights picked them out and dazzled them, but Face heard the engine sound change and knew it was braking. It slowed, passed them, then stopped, air brakes hissing.

Face grabbed Bonnie’s hand and ran past the long trailer to the truck’s cab. He stayed cautious, one hand hovering over the pistol under his coat, but no Watkins emerged. A man, wearing a baseball cap opened the door of the cab and looked down at them.

“Well, what the heck are you folks doing out here?”

“We had some car trouble,” Face called up. “And we got lost in the woods trying to find our way to a phone.” The man stared at Face’s badly damaged uniform, perhaps suspicious, Face thought, since Bonnie’s clothes didn’t show anything like the same amount of damage. “And I had an accident,” Face went on. “Slipped down a ravine and tore my arm up pretty badly. Can you give us a ride to town? Or any place we can get to a phone?”

“Well sure, get aboard, both of you.” He nodded at Face. “Anything to help one of our boys in uniform. Here, ma’am, let me help you up.”

A moment later the two of them were in the truck’s cab and heading out.

“Name’s Jeff Partridge,” their rescuer said, as the truck roared off again, Bonnie seated between Jeff and Face.

“Jason Cole,” Face said. “And my… sister, Bonnie Cole.” She flashed him a disappointed look. Sorry, he thought, you don’t have a wedding ring on. Sometimes people notice little details. He kept his shoe-less feet tucked out of sight, to keep Jeff from noticing that little detail.

“Pleased to meet you, folks. Now you relax, miss, Lieutenant. We’ll be in town in less than an hour.”

On Hannibal’s orders, BA and Tawnia drove right up to the house. Hannibal waited for them, framed in the light coming from the open door behind him.

“This is their house?” Murdock said, and rushed on without waiting for an answer. “Is Face here? What have you found?”

“There’s nobody here,” Hannibal said. “I think the Watkins left.” He’d found the house empty of people, and showing signs of some hasty packing.

“You think they got wind we’re near?” BA asked. “And maybe took off with Face?”

“Could be,” Hannibal said. “But I think that Face may have escaped and they’ve panicked and run off for now, scared he’ll lead us back here.” That was Hannibal’s best case scenario. The worst case he didn’t want to say out loud, for Tawnia’s sake. They could have accidentally killed Face and fled, fearing the team’s wrath.

They’d be right to fear it.

But Hannibal was an optimistic man, and held onto that best case scenario.

“I think there’s a good chance they’ll be back. Most of their stuff is still in there.”

“So do we go and search for Face?” Tawnia asked. She looked around at the gloomy woods surrounding the house.

“Face will find a way to contact us,” Hannibal said. “Tawnia, you stay with the van, in case he calls. Murdock, BA, we need to search the house, for any clues as to where either Face or the Watkins are. Let’s go.”

The truck dropped Face and Bonnie off at a motel on the outskirts of Hayesville. They declined the driver’s offer to take them right in to town, Face saying that the first thing they needed was rest, and it was barely six o’clock, so nothing would be open anyway.

Despite the rest he’d had sitting in the truck and the food and drink Jeff had given them, Face was staggering by the time they got to the motel room. Bonnie had to hold his arm to keep him on his feet; the fever and lack of sleep, added to the hours of walking, left him barely able to stand.

He fell down onto the bed, face first and thought maybe he’d close his eyes for just a minute…

And suddenly the sun was pouring in the window.

“What the hell?” Face said, sitting up. He had a blanket over him. “What time is it?”

“Almost nine,” Bonnie said, from where she sat in a chair, her jacket off and a can of soda beside her.

“Tell me you mean nine in the morning. The same morning.”

“Yes. I tried to wake you, but I couldn’t make you wake up… I’m sorry.”

“Okay, that’s okay.” He couldn’t believe he’d wasted time sleeping when he should have called the team. They could be hitting that damn prison right this minute. Didn’t seem like he’d had a choice though. His body had simply shut down. He needed more sleep, he knew that, but had something to do first.

He grabbed the phone from the nightstand. While he dialled, Bonnie brought him over a can of soda and put some candy bars and bags of chips on the bed beside him. He vaguely recalled seeing a vending machine in the motel’s office. She must have remembered to bring some money along.

“Thanks.” Come on, come on. The van’s phone rang and rang and then…


“Tawnia?” What the hell was Tawnia doing in the van?

“Face! Are you okay? Hang on, Face,” she said, before he could answer, and he heard her voice, slightly more distant, but yelling. “Hannibal! It’s him!”

Face grinned suddenly, despite his exhaustion. Caught them in time. Tawnia babbled at him for a moment, and Face was too tired to interrupt her, but then Hannibal’s voice cut her off in mid sentence.

“Face?” He sounded short of breath. “Where the hell are you?”

“Hello to you too. I’m in a place in California, called Hayesville, it’s northeast of Sacramento.”

“You’re in town?”

“In… yeah. Where are you? How long will it take for you to get here?”

Hannibal chuckled. “Maybe an hour.”

“An hour? Where are you?”

“Let’s just say, we’ve kind of switched places.”

Chapter 10

Face wanted to just lie down and sleep again after he spoke to Hannibal, but he couldn’t stand wearing his dirty clothes a second longer. He had spare clothes in the van, but he couldn’t even wait that long.

“I need to take a shower,” he said to Bonnie. “You watch the door and call me if you spot anything suspicious.”

“Can you manage?” she asked, as he tottered to his feet.

“Yeah.” He didn’t need anyone helping him shower. He’d had the guys do that before when he’d been injured, which he didn’t count among the most fun times in his life. Of course, this wasn’t one of the guys… Still, he could manage.

He just about managed, though he had to brace a hand against the wall of the shower for most of the time and wash one-handed. The dog bite still throbbed and when he took the makeshift bandage off there was an unpleasant amount of pus, and the whole area around it was swollen and red. Shit, need some antibiotics, right now. Hannibal would have some in the van.

In the meantime, he cleaned it up as best he could. The truck driver had given him a bandage from his first aid kit, when he dropped them off, so Face could at least put a clean dressing on it. He did that sitting on the bathroom floor, since his legs had decided they were all done holding him up for now, thanks.

Last of all, he brushed his teeth with a toothbrush he’d bought from the motel’s office. He had to sit on the toilet lid and hang over the sink to do that, but at last, he felt almost human again. Still fevered and exhausted, but less like he wanted to peel his itching skin off.

His clothes lay in a pile on the floor and he certainly wasn’t putting them back on. Reuniting with the team while wearing just a towel would be undignified, but at least he wouldn’t knock them out with the smell. He sighed at the state of the uniform. Another one beyond saving. Perils of battle. Couldn’t afford to keep replacing them like this.

When he stood, black spots danced in front of his eyes and he wobbled, grabbing at the sink. Everything had gone fuzzy around the edges now. He needed to be back in bed. Towel. His hand brushed his waist to make sure it was there, and secure, not wanting to scare the crap out of Bonnie by staggering out there stark naked.

She ran to his side at once when he emerged from the bathroom, and took his arm. Hell he must look bad, he thought. When they reached the bed, she let him go and turned down the covers, which looked neater than when he’d got off the bed. He flopped down and she pulled the covers up over him.

Much better. Actually in the bed now, between the sheets, not sprawled fully clothed on top of them, like a drunk. Face sighed as his head sank into the pillow. He squirmed around and quickly got rid of the damp towel around his waist. How did he ever sleep any way but naked? Only way to stay cool. He dumped the towel on the floor and closed his eyes.

Sleep didn’t come right away. The pain in his arm and the headache he’d started to develop kept that from happening, so he heard Bonnie moving around, in the bathroom. She must be tidying up. Then in the room, creeping about, trying not to disturb him.

“I’m not asleep,” Face said, not sure why he was telling her that. He looked up from the pillow. She was blurry around the edges like everything else.

“You should eat,” she said. “And drink some water.”

“Not hungry.” He should be, he knew that, but the fever stole his appetite.

“Water,” she said, bringing it over. “Please drink some.”

Face managed to sit up enough to sip from the plastic cup she handed him. Some water spilled onto his chest and Bonnie grabbed the towel he’d dropped on the floor, and patted him dry, then carefully folded the towel and took it back into the bathroom.

Face felt guilty suddenly. She must be tired too; she’d had no sleep last night and had walked as far as he had.

“Bonnie, get some rest,” he said, when she came out of the bathroom with his clothes, folded neatly now. “You don’t have to do any of that stuff.”

“One of us should stay awake, in case…” She didn’t finish, but Face knew what she meant. The idea that her family would track them down must terrify her.

“At least lie down,” he said. “Get off your feet.” He patted the other side of the bed. She looked down, blushing and he hoped he hadn’t scared her. Nothing to be scared of. Right now, he could be trusted with Miss World, naked and covered in whipped cream. Kittens could overpower him.

Bonnie must have concluded the same thing, as she came around to the other side of the king-sized bed. She slipped her shoes off and then pulled the rubber band from her hair and shook it loose.

Was she smiling at him? Vision too blurry to be sure. Well, why shouldn’t she smile at him? They were friends now. He’d got her out; she’d got him out. Owed each other.

She surprised him by slipping under the covers, but didn’t move close to him, and she still had her dress on. Maybe she felt cold. Face felt too warm still.

“Templeton, what if my family find us here?”

Face reached to pat the pistol on the nightstand. He actually missed and almost knocked it to the floor.

“They won’t hurt you, I promise.”

“But you’re… injured.”

“I can still shoot the pimples off Harold’s nose one at a time.”

Bonnie giggled, but still looked scared. Face reached out to pull her closer against him, an arm around her shoulders.

“And anyway, my friends will be here any minute.” Perhaps that would reassure her more. Though ‘any minute’ was a lie. Probably at least a half-hour yet. “Don’t be scared. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder, relaxing against him.

“I never met anyone like you before, Templeton. I’ll never be able to pay you back.” Her hand rested on his chest.

“You don’t have to pay me back.” Her hair was falling over his hand and he instinctively started to run his fingers through it, enjoying the softness on his skin. One advantage of her life, no perms and dyes and bleach to ruin her hair. Face had known too many women who squealed in protest if he dared to try to run his hands through their carefully arranged ‘do’.

Bonnie was so different from all of those women. She reminded him of the girls he’d known when he was just a kid, still back at school, or even at college. Awkward, nervous, but sweet and gentle. Her fingers started tracing a circle on his chest. Her touch felt cool on his skin.

“You’re too hot,” she said, leaning up on one elbow then, a worried frown on her face. She took hold of the sheet and blanket that covered him and folded it back, taking it down to their waists.

Face sighed as the cool air caressed his skin. That did feel better. And so did her hand, which she laid on his chest again. Just feeling for his body temperature, he supposed. But why would she trace those little circles again? They felt nice. He closed his eyes and relaxed, drifted. Little circles, cool fingers, down his chest and stomach. Felt good.

It was all catching up, pulling him into a soft, quiet darkness. He wanted to stay awake. He should stay awake. The team would be here soon, but until they came, he should be on the alert.

The Watkins could get here first. Track him down. Drag him back. No, not to the house, someplace else. And kill him this time. Feed him to their damn dogs. Kill Bonnie too. Not fair. Not fair for either of them. He hated that he’d be helpless, despite his boast. Couldn’t help her, couldn’t help himself. Too weak.

Her voice. “I really do want to thank you, Templeton.”

Her lips then, on his. Her hair brushing his chest. He opened his eyes, much more awake now, as she pulled back slightly from the kiss. Her eyes were wide, but not scared or frozen the way they had been when Face had kissed her back at the house.

She wasn’t afraid of him now. But this was the same thing as back then, wasn’t it? She didn’t really want him; she thought this was what men wanted. She didn’t know how else to thank him.

And how did he know she didn’t genuinely want him? Many women did. Well she wasn’t “many women”; she was naïve. He shouldn’t. Hell, he wasn’t sure he could. Too weak. But then she kissed him again and her hand was still caressing him, and he thought yes, perhaps he could, as his body reacted to her touches and he responded, kissing her in return.

Why not? After the crap she’d been through at the hands of her cousins, he could teach her something. Not by turning her down this time, but by showing her that she could enjoy it too. If there was one thing he was good at…

“Templeton,” she whispered, leaning in to kiss him again. He pulled her close now and, his hands clumsier than usual, felt for the fastenings on her dress.

When he had trouble with the buttons, she pulled away from him and knelt up, took the dress off herself, pulling it over her head. Her body was pale, but more attractive than he expected, quite lean and athletic, from all the hard work she did, no doubt. And no doubt Face’s vision was blurred by his fever, but he didn’t care. She shed the greying bra and panties she wore, wriggling out of them quickly and pulling the bed sheet up around them both.

Face pulled her close against him and spoke softly. “I wish we had more time.” The team would be here soon of course. He needed to hurry.

“That doesn’t matter.”

She lay back, and let him move on top of her. The movement made him dizzy, but the urgency of his desire overrode the urge to lie down on his back again.

“Wish we had longer,” he mumbled the words this time, no longer thinking straight. Fevers of all kinds were shutting down his rational thoughts now.

“That doesn’t matter,” she said again. “There’ll be time for that.”

He didn’t ask what she meant by that. He didn’t care. She was right, he thought. This is what men want. We just have different approaches.

Hannibal moved quietly to the door of the motel room Face had directed them to. The others hung back, waiting, in case the Watkins had gotten there first. He reached the door and stood listening for a moment. No voices, no sounds at all.

He held his gun by his side, ready to raise it at any moment, and knocked on the door.

Just a few seconds later, it opened, just a crack, brought up by the chain. A young woman looked out of the opening, her eyes wide and scared.

“Are you Bonnie?” Hannibal asked. Face had explained on the phone that some girl relative of the Watkins had helped him get out of there. He’d been a bit vague about it, and Hannibal suspected he wasn’t 100% fit. If he’d let the girl answer the door that must be the case.

“Colonel Smith?” When he nodded and beckoned the others, she took off the chain and opened the door wide. The team and Tawnia hurried in to the motel room.

“Stay by the door, BA,” Hannibal ordered, and BA first glanced at Face in the bed, and then took up position by the window beside the door, letting him see anyone approaching.

“Face,” Hannibal said, as Face struggled to sit up. Hannibal could see at once he was sweating and flushed. He sat down and put a hand to Face’s forehead. Murdock had gone to scope out the rest of the room, checking the bathroom, before he came back and smiled down at Face.

“Faceman, you know I hate it when you leave me hanging with a deadly disease and my bag all packed.”

“Sorry to stand you up, Murdock. Next time, I promise you can have TB again.”

“Lie down,” Hannibal said. “You’re burning up.”

“It’s not that bad,” Face said, though yielded to the pressure as Hannibal pushed him back down. “Got bit by a couple of dogs.”

“Murdock, go get the first aid kit,” Hannibal ordered, starting to unwrap the bandage to check out the wound. He glanced up at Bonnie, who stood watching him, looking worried. Leave it to Face, he thought. Like giving the fox the keys to the henhouse. Hardly Face’s usual type though – mousy-haired, dowdy, wearing an old-fashioned flower print dress. He caught Tawnia’s eye and glanced towards Bonnie. Tawnia nodded and moved over to the girl.

“Hi, Bonnie, I’m Tawnia.” She took Bonnie’s arm and steered her over to a couple of chairs. “Can you tell me about how you helped Face escape?” Bonnie looked back at Face, but went with Tawnia. Hannibal turned back to Face.

“I wouldn’t have got out without her help,” Face said.

“Guess the whole barrel of apples isn’t rotten,” Hannibal said. He’d taken the bandage off and winced at the dog bite. “Nasty.”

“It was plan A. Didn’t go so well.”

“Plan A never works. Haven’t I taught you anything?”

“Well this Plan A really didn’t work.”

Hannibal glanced around. “Your clothes destroyed?”


Murdock arrived back with the first-aid kit and started dumping things out on the bed. Hannibal sent him back to the van to get Face some fresh clothes. In the meantime, he cleaned the wound out with antiseptic and redressed it. Face made fewer protests than usual, Hannibal thought. Normally he gave vent to some blood-curdling threats and swearing while having a painful wound like that treated. Hannibal smiled to himself, glancing over at Bonnie and Tawnia. Being a brave soldier when the ladies are around, of course.

“Hannibal,” Face said, again seeing where he was looking. “We have to do right by her. Get her someplace safe.” He tried to sit up. “The Watkins…”

“Easy, Face,” Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder. “Sure we’ll do right by her. Take it easy. Now, give me the other arm.”

Face groaned at the sight of the hypodermic Murdock handed to Hannibal. Antibiotics. They had to stop that fever in its tracks. But despite his groan, he gave Hannibal his arm. Brave soldier again.

With Face fixed up, Hannibal looked around the room.

“Okay, people, time to decide the next move.” He glanced at Face, hearing him mutter something. “Did you just say ‘Plan D?’?”

While Hannibal fixed up Face, BA kept watch and Murdock kept running out to the van, Tawnia got the story of the escape out of Bonnie. It was hard to keep the girl focused; she kept glancing over to Face. But Tawnia knew Hannibal would expect a full report, so kept bringing her attention back.

“Bonnie,” she said, “Bonnie.” Bonnie turned back to her. “Do you know where the family might be right now? Have they got some place nearby they might hide out?”

“I don’t think so,” Bonnie said. “Do you think Colonel Smith will be able to find them?”

“Um, I don’t know.” Tawnia didn’t know Hannibal’s plans. She’d driven back to town with Murdock and the two of them had speculated, but heard nothing definite from Hannibal yet. He’d be simmering something though.

“It was very brave of you to do the right thing like that,” Tawnia said, “even though it meant going against your family.”

“I hate them,” Bonnie said, scowling. “What they did to Templeton. They’re evil.”

“Right…” well, no argument there. How had Face enlisted her help? Of course, he was charm personified, Tawnia knew that; but how much charm had he needed to use if this girl hated her family so much? But if she hated them, why had she been living there?

Perhaps she’d had no choice. That idea wouldn’t have occurred to Tawnia a few years ago, but between becoming a journalist and working with the team sometimes, she’d learnt the rest of the world was a much darker place than the little corner of it she’d grown up in.

“Were they… cruel to you? Your family?”

“Yes,” Bonnie said, looking down, and clasping her raw and chapped hands together. “If they find me, they’ll kill me.” She looked up at Tawnia. “Your hair is really pretty.”

“What? Oh.” Tawnia laughed. “I just had it done. Twice.”

“I’d like to have mine done like that one day.” She looked over at Face. Hannibal was injecting him with something, and the needle made Tawnia wince, but Bonnie didn’t seem to notice it. “Do you think Templeton would like it like that?”

“I… guess.” Oh dear, Tawnia thought, starting to get a bad feeling. That look in Bonnie’s eyes – devotion?

Bonnie looked back at Tawnia, smiling. “I’ll be able to have it done like that in Los Angeles, won’t I?”

“Of course.”

She sighed, still smiling. “I hope he’ll like it. Or I could have it done a different way. Whatever he likes best.”

Tawnia went to speak again, about to blurt out a very silly question, but Hannibal’s voice interrupted her.

“Okay, people, time to decide the next move.”

Bonnie left Tawnia then, to join the rest gathering around Hannibal to hear the plans. Tawnia followed more slowly. For a moment, she frowned down at Face.

Had he used more than charm on Bonnie? Tawnia knew the look in Bonnie’s eyes. Infatuation. Even… love? She thought Face was going to take her back to LA and they were going to be together. Tawnia really couldn’t see that happening, but Bonnie clearly could. Bonnie sat on the bed and Tawnia saw her take Face’s hand, smiling at him.

What have you promised her, Face? Tawnia wondered. What the hell have you promised?

Chapter 11

Hannibal hoped the Watkins had come back. As they headed up to the house, he really did hope, deep inside, that they’d come back.

So they could watch.

But he didn’t get his wish. When they arrived at the Watkins place, there were still no vehicles in sight and the door stood open just as they’d left it early the previous morning. Hannibal and BA did a quick sweep and found the house empty. They came back outside.

“Murdock,” Hannibal said, “take Bonnie inside to collect her belongings. And anything else you want to take, Miss.” He nodded back at the house. “You’re certain that your family own the property. It’s not rented from anyone.”

“I’m certain, sir,” she said.

“Good. Then go get your stuff. BA, you’re with me. Face.” He looked at Face sitting in his usual place, in the van, watching out of the open door, still pale and weak. Hannibal had given him the full day and night to rest, but now he wanted to finish their business here and get them all back on the road to LA. “Just take it easy. Keep an eye on him, Tawnia.”

The group scattered to their tasks. Hannibal helped BA unload the gear from the back of the van. This was going to be fun.

Face wished he were stronger, so he could help Hannibal. But the fever had wiped him out, even though it had come down to near normal by this morning.

“Hey, Tawnia,” he said, giving her a wan smile, as she took the other back seat in the van. “Seems I’ve really got the ladies looking out for me these days.”

Tawnia just gave him an odd look in return, a bit of a frown.

“Face, I have to talk you to.” She glanced towards the house. “About Bonnie.”

“Actually,” he said, “I was going to talk to you about her. When we get back to LA, I’d be really grateful if you could help her out. You know, help her find some place to live, a job, that kind of thing.”

Tawnia frowned again. “Of course I will, but…”

“Look, I know she’s not exactly a valley girl; she’s not the sort of girl you’d hang out with, but she’s a good kid. And heck, she spent half of yesterday telling me how glamorous you are and how she’d love to look like that.” He expected her to smile at that, but she kept the serious look.

“Did she ask you if you’d like her to look like that?”


“You know, was she asking if that’s how you would want her to look?”

“I don’t know.” He’d been pretty out of it for a while, especially in the afternoon. Not really listening properly. To be honest his judgement through the whole of yesterday was suspect. He didn’t so much regret what he’d done with Bonnie before the team arrived; he just wasn’t sure he’d have done it in a less fevered state. Might have thought a little harder about whether it was a good idea.

Well, too late to worry about it now. What’s done is done. It had been short, but sweet, for her too; she’d said as much. Used words like ‘wonderful’. Face smiled to recall that. Nice to drift to sleep with a woman telling you how wonderful you are.

“Face,” Tawnia said, making him look back at her. She seemed jumpy, hesitant, as if afraid of what she wanted to say next. “Did, um, did Bonnie help you just because she hates her family? Or did you… persuade her?”

“I thought Hannibal said he’d rather you didn’t write a story for the paper about this.”

“That’s not why I’m asking.”

“Just general nosiness, eh?”

She actually scowled at him then. “Just answer me, Face, please.”

“Okay, don’t get all ‘reportery’ with me,” he said, frowning back. “Look, I started out, like you say, persuading her.”

“Using your charm.”

“I was short of most other weapons, so, yeah.”

“So you, um, seduced her.”

Face flushed at once. That was a yes and no question. Or no and yes. Well no, he didn’t seduce her yesterday, she offered. And he didn’t seduce her before that. Planned to maybe, but didn’t. So Tawnia could take that judging look off her face.

“I did not seduce her. In fact I… well, I stopped trying to persuade her. It wasn’t fair. It was too dangerous for her.”

“But she still helped you anyway.”

“Maybe she just saw me as the way for her to get out of that house.” He looked at it through the windshield. “She helped me, so that I’d help her.”

“And you think that’s all there is to her feelings for you?”

“Well, maybe she’s got kind of a crush on me.”

“And you think that’s all it is? Nothing stronger?”

“Tawnia, come on, we don’t even really know each other.”

“No, but…”

But Tawnia didn’t get a chance to go on, as Murdock and Bonnie emerged from the house. Bonnie carried only a small stack of paperback books.

“Is that all you want to take?” Tawnia asked as Bonnie climbed back into the van and put the books on the floor in a neat little stack.

“Hey, not everyone has fifteen piece sets of matching luggage,” Face said, grinning at Tawnia and winking at Murdock. Bonnie laughed at the joke, but Tawnia didn’t. She picked one of the books off the stack.

It looked like one of those romance novels girls were so inexplicably fond off, Face thought. Some guy on the front who’d lost most of his shirt buttons and a girl with a heaving bosom and improbable hair. Tawnia didn’t seem to like them though. She shook her head and put the book down with a sigh. Bonnie sat on the floor next to Face’s seat.

“Are you okay?” Bonnie asked softly, putting her hand over his. “You’re still very pale.”

“I’ll be okay,” he said. “Especially when I see what Hannibal has in store.”

The team and the two women regrouped around the van, a half-hour later. Hannibal stepped to the front, turning his back on the house.

“Our hands are kind of tied here. We can’t go and capture the Watkins and hand them to the cops for kidnapping Face, since he can’t hang around to give evidence. We can’t go after them and kill them. That’s not what we’re about. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let them get away with kidnapping and blackmail. What we can do is send them a message.”

He strode to the van, reached across the seat and picked up the phone. When Face stared, he grinned.

“I have their number.”

“And you really ain’t gonna like how we got that number,” Murdock said. Face just looked baffled at the look BA and Murdock exchanged.

A moment later Hannibal heard Deke’s voice, considerably more subdued than normal.

“Afternoon, weasel brain,” Hannibal said. Deke started talking, but Hannibal cut him off. “Yeah, shut the hell up, I’m not interested. I just thought I’d drop you a quick message. I have my man back, and we’re all standing in front of your house right now. Why don’t you listen up and you’ll hear the message?”

He pulled the phone as far as it would go out of the van door and nodded at BA. BA knelt and slammed down the plunger of a detonator.

A second later, explosions roared at the back of the house. All the windows blew out and a terrible tearing, creaking, shrieking of wood and masonry came from the back. The house shuddered and the front of it fell away from them, as the back slid away down the slope, its support beams destroyed by BA’s explosives. The front toppled over backwards like a movie flat and went roof first down the slope, crashing and roaring.

BA, Murdock, Tawnia and Bonnie ran forward to see the wreckage that Hannibal could hear still tumbling and smashing through the trees.

Hannibal had only two words to say. A compliment to the man who’d placed the explosives just right.

“Nice, BA.”

He turned back to the phone. Four voices were ranting and a couple of dogs were barking.

“Message delivered. Touch one of my team again and next time you’ll be inside when your house goes over the cliff. And the girl? She’s under the A-Team’s protection. Touch her and the same applies. Understood?”

They didn’t answer in any coherent fashion and went on raving threats at him. But he suspected that when they came back here and saw what was left of their house, they’d take the message to heart. He’d never hear from the Watkins again.

Hannibal hung up the phone and turned to Face, who at once held out a cigar to him.

“Thanks, Face.”

Face lit the cigar and smiled at Hannibal. “Thank you, Colonel.”

“No problem, kid.” He went serious for a moment. “Nobody messes with the A-Team.”

Murdock kept Tawnia company in her car on the way back to LA and Bonnie sat in his seat in the van. Face, still feeling feeble, dozed for a while, jolting awake when the van bumped over something.

Growing dark outside now. A roadside sign told him they were well on the way to LA, and a glance at his watch made him guess they’d be there by midnight.

“We going to stop for some food?” he asked, stretching.

“Yeah,” BA said. “Good idea. And I gotta gas up too.”

“Okay,” Hannibal agreed. “Watch out for a sign and I’ll radio Murdock to be ready to turn off.”

Face nodded and turned to Bonnie, who must have been reading one of her books; it lay in her lap now.

“How you doing?”

“I’m fine. I’m so excited. I’ve never been to Los Angeles before. It will be wonderful.”

“Yeah, it’s a great place.”

“Not as good as Chicago,” BA muttered.

“Really missing those ice storms, BA?” Face said.

“Least the ground don’t shake in Chicago.”

“Ignore him,” Face said, reaching out to pat Bonnie’s hand. “You soon get used to the earthquakes. I can’t sleep if the earth isn’t shaking.” That made her giggle, which made him smile. She deserved some laughs. Her face turned serious then, and she leaned closer to Face.

“Templeton, is Colonel Smith really not going to go after Ma and my cousins?”

“No, I’m sorry. I told you that we don’t kill people, and what else would we do to them if we caught up?” He shook his head. “Hannibal’s made his point. Of course, you could always go to the police, with anything you know that could nail them. Press charges for the way they treated you.”

She stared at him, shocked at that suggestion and he knew she was too afraid to do that.

“Well, it’s up to you, Bonnie. But Hannibal told them you’re under the A-Team’s protection now. We’ll make sure you’re safe.”

“I know. I know you will.” She came off her seat then and kissed him on the cheek, before sitting back down, blushing and hiding her face. Face looked up at the chuckling that came from the front of the van. Hannibal caught his eye in the rear view mirror and winked.

“Good to have you back on the job, Face.”

Face smiled, but didn’t laugh. Tawnia couldn’t be right, surely? Had he done his ‘job’ a little too well?

“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” Bonnie asked Face when he finished his scrambled eggs and toast in the diner off the interstate.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I guess I still haven’t got my appetite back. I’ll be okay in a couple of days.”

“I have a soup I can make that will help you get your strength back.”

“Er, yeah, that’s great. You’ll have to make me some.”

“And give us the recipe,” Murdock said, as he picked up his second burger. “It sounds like something that would come in handy in our line of work.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Face muttered. “Excuse me.” He left the table to head to the bathroom. After he washed his hands and came back out of the men’s room, he found Tawnia standing there, arms folded, frowning.

“Is there a line for the ladies room?”

“I have to talk to you,” she said.

Face glanced over at the table, where the group was now drinking coffee. A cup sat in front of his empty chair and he liked his coffee hot, not lukewarm.

“Can we do this later?”

“No. Face…” She glanced back at the table. “Face, you have to deal with this.”

“With what?”

Tawnia threw her hands up in the air. “God, Face, can’t you see it? Bonnie is in love with you!”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Face scowled at her. Now she was just exaggerating.

“Face, don’t you get it? She doesn’t think that she just helped you to escape, she thinks… she thinks you two have eloped.”

“Eloped? Come on, Tawnia, I know she’s kind of a hick, but she’s not an idiot.” He looked over at the table. Bonnie was watching Face’s little tête-à-tête with Tawnia and she had a frown on her face. “Like I said, maybe she has a bit of a crush on me. I’m sure she’ll soon get over it.”

“Face, she thinks you two ran away together. You’re the white knight who saved her from her evil family. I’ve read plenty of those same books that she likes too.”

“I’m not her lover. Not…” Well, that was none of Tawnia’s business. Oh hell, could she be right? Women were better at spotting these things. Not that Face was as oblivious as some men were; with his way of working, he couldn’t be. But love? No, Tawnia had to be exaggerating.

“She thinks you’ll be together when we get back to LA. She probably expects to go home with you tonight.”

“What? No. No way she expects that. Even if we were, you know, actually together, well, there’s the small matter of me being on the run from the law.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes. “God, Tawnia, you’re sure about this? I really didn’t think… I never meant for her to think that.”

“I’m pretty sure.” Tawnia sighed. “You have to tell her the truth. It’s not fair otherwise. You’d just be leading her on.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Oh, hell. There was a conversation he didn’t feel like he had the strength for. “I don’t suppose you could, you know, talk to her.”


“Come on, honey, help a guy out. Might be better coming from another woman.”

“Wow, you’re so exactly wrong.” She laughed, and then went serious again. “Right now she’s watching us talking and wondering what’s going on between us. If I go and try to tell her that there’s no chance of you and her being together, she’ll think I’m jealous because she’s stolen you away from me.”

Face stared at her for a moment before he spoke. “And I thought I actually understood something about women.”

Tawnia smiled, sympathetically. She patted Face’s arm.

“Think again.”

Chapter 12

The van and car arrived outside Tawnia’s apartment building just before one in the morning. Face knew his time had run out. He had to speak to Bonnie. This was her stop. She just didn’t know that yet.

“Hannibal, BA, can you leave us alone for a second?” Face said. “And keep Murdock out of here.”

They glanced at each other and Hannibal said, “Sure, Face.” The two of them slipped out of the van, leaving Face and Bonnie alone. Puzzled, she watched them leave, and then turned back to Face.

“What’s wrong, Templeton?”

“Bonnie, you’ll be staying here with Tawnia for a while. She’s agreed to put you up until you get a place of your own.”

“But I thought…”

“I know. I know what you maybe thought, but, well, you can’t come with me. I don’t even really have a home. I kinda borrow places from people who are out of town. I don’t even know if the one I was living in is still empty, I might end up crashing on Hannibal or BA’s couch tonight.”

“Oh. I… understand.”

Did she? Probably not. She understood she couldn’t come home with him tonight, and he saw the disappointment on her face. But what did she think beyond that? That he’d get all domestic, put her in a nice house, and live there with her? But he couldn’t do that, even if he wanted to. His life wouldn’t let him do that.

But he had to let her down easy. Okay, he was good at that; he’d done it many times before. But he worried even so, because this girl was especially fragile.

“Bonnie, you have to understand something. We won’t be able to see each other here in LA.”

She stared now, shock and confusion in her eyes. Face pressed on before she spoke.

“I can’t live in one place too long. I’m in danger even visiting the same place too many times.” Like the VA, where all this started. Case in point. “It’s not just the military. We have enemies. Well, I don’t have to tell you that.”

“I see.” Her voice had gone very small and she looked down at her hands.

“It would be dangerous for you too. The MPs could arrest you. Or someone could try to grab you to use against me. Us.”

“You said you would protect me.”

Face swallowed, starting to feel like the maggot that his first drill instructor back in basic had said he was.

“Hannibal said that you’re under the A-Team’s protection, and you are. But you have to understand what that means. It doesn’t mean we’ll be your guard dogs night and day. We can’t be.”

“Then what does it mean?” He voice had a tone of accusation in it now.

“It means that if anyone tries to hurt you, they’ll answer to us. If anyone kidnapped you, we’d come get you. Because I owe you that.”

“You… owe me.”

‘Owe’ wasn’t the word she wanted to hear. She looked down again. Face reached over and put a hand over hers.

“This is the best way for me to protect you, Bonnie. I’m a danger to be around. The whole team is.”

“You let Tawnia be around you.”

“Sometimes. Not all the time. And we… all of us, by Hannibal’s orders, we keep our distance. Romantically, I mean. None of us can… date Tawnia. That would be too dangerous for her.”

“Did you ever want to date her?”

“Bonnie, please, tell me that you understand. I only want the best for you. Being around me isn’t the best for anyone.” With his luck, no way. “Things might be different for me one day. I can maybe have some kind of normal life. But not yet.”

He saw a couple of tears roll down her face and one fell to splash on his hand. But she nodded. Being brave, he thought.

“And you haven’t had a normal life either. But now you can. Your own place to live. A job. Friends. Even, you know, when you’re ready, a boyfriend. And you can do all the normal things people do together. You can’t do that with me.”

“I don’t care about any of that. I don’t want a… anyone else.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” He couldn’t help himself; the soft heart he always denied was touched by her tears. He knelt by the seat and took her in his arms. She trembled against him. “I’m sorry. I only want the best for you.”

“I… I love you.” She mumbled the words against his shoulder.

“I know you think you do. But… well, I think you’ll soon realise that’s not really true.”

“You don’t know what I feel!” Less a mumble now, more a shout, though still muffled against his shoulder.

“I know you feel scared and lost. But you don’t have to. Tawnia will take care of you. She’s a good girl. You two will have a great time together.”

“You like her.”

“She drives me a little crazy, but I like her, yes.” Wait, he thought, seeing what she was driving at. Had to head that off. Bonnie needed to trust Tawnia. Right now, Tawnia was all she had. “She’s a good friend to the team. We all like her.”

Bonnie had gone quieter now, snuffling against his shirt.

“Am I a friend to the team?”

“Are you kidding?” He pushed her back then, and looked into her face. Her eyes were red and the tears ran down her cheeks. “Bonnie, without you I’d have ended up dead. I’ll always be grateful to you. The whole team will. You are absolutely a friend to the team.”

That was a better title he thought. Lovers came and went, especially for Face. But friends stuck around. If you wanted the long term with Face, then better to be a friend than a lover.

“It’s late, and we’re all very tired. Now, you dry your eyes and go with Tawnia. She’ll take care of everything.”

“All right,” Bonnie said, in the small voice again. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. Face held her other hand, still crouched by her seat, until she seemed to have pulled herself together enough.

“Ready?” he asked. He picked up her little stack of paperback and held them out to her. But she just turned away, and spoke in a choking voice.

“I don’t want them.”

Face sat in the back of the van, gloomy, and exhausted. The others stayed quiet, sensing his mood. But the tension must have gotten to Murdock eventually and he spoke.

“It’s kind of late to take me back to the VA. Maybe I could crash at your place, Face?”

Probably thinks I need someone to talk to, Face thought, looking at Murdock’s sympathetic expression. Well, Face didn’t want to talk.

“I don’t have a place.”

In Tawnia’s apartment, Bonnie dropped onto the couch and curled into a ball. She looked tiny and frail like that, Tawnia thought. Legs and arms so thin. The sobs that started from her were quiet at first, but Tawnia knew they’d get louder.

Tawnia knew exactly what this situation called for. The team wouldn’t have known, but in this case, she had the specialist knowledge. A couple of big, warm bathrobes, wine, and ice cream. Looking at Bonnie, lying so crushed and broken, she had to wonder if she had enough ice cream.

Or if there was enough ice cream in the entire world.

Bonnie looked very different.

Face stood as she approached his table on the terrace at the restaurant. She’d gained some weight, losing the gaunt face and bony limbs. Expensive hair cut and colour. Well applied make-up. Nice clothes, that Tawnia probably helped her pick out. The team had seen to it that she had some money for all that.

She still moved nervously though. Her appearance might be different, but she still moved carefully to avoid bumping or brushing against people, fearful of touching anyone, drawing anyone’s attention.

“Hi,” Face said, as she arrived. He held out his hand to her to shake. She took it only after a moment and let go quickly. A waiter seated her and left them with their menus.

“How are you, Bonnie? You look really well.”

“I’m fine.”

He hadn’t spoken to her in two months. And that had been on the phone. He hadn’t seen her in three months, since they dropped her off with Tawnia. There’d been a couple of long jobs, abroad, since the whole Watkins thing. And then the MPs had been sniffing around, just a little too close.

But he didn’t have to feel guilty about that, he told himself. He’d made sure she was safe. Tawnia was taking care of her. He had no reason to feel guilty at all… Who the hell said you needed a reason?

“So, I hear Tawnia got you a job at her dad’s company. Are you enjoying it?”

“It’s fine.”

“Right… well, um, oh, pick anything you like off the menu. Lobster’s great here. They’re practically jumping right out of the ocean onto your plate.” He waved a hand at the sea, only a few feet from where they sat, the tide coming in now, close to the restaurant terrace.

“Can I have the Caesar Salad with low-fat dressing?”

“Of course, whatever you want.” That was Tawnia’s usual order. Face supposed Bonnie was learning everything she needed to know about being a single girl in LA from Tawnia. No better teacher. Though Tawnia had missed out an important lesson. Stay away from the A-Team; they will screw up your life six ways from Sunday.

Face gave the waiter their orders, including wine, which Bonnie said she didn’t want, so Face ordered a half bottle. Tawnia always said wine was fattening. He should probably have a word with Tawnia. Tawnia might be Bonnie’s role model right now, but that could go too far. Bonnie needed to find her feet and make her own life.

“Well, anyway,” Face said, when the waiter left again, “I just wanted to check in and make sure you were okay. I know we haven’t been around much. But we’re back in town now. And Tawnia can get in touch if you need us.”

She nodded and they made small talk for a while, until the food came, then ate in silence. Face wanted to be anywhere but here. He’d hoped she’d be happy with her new life. But he saw little evidence of it. Had he really broken her heart? He hated to think he ever did that to any woman.

Face romanced a lot of women, but he didn’t expect them to love him forever. If he left them at least well intentioned towards him, that was enough for him. If it meant he could maybe drop by sometime and receive a warm welcome, even better. That’s all he asked for.

But he supposed those were different sorts of women from Bonnie. What he offered was all they expected. They knew it was all part of a game. Bonnie had different expectations.

She didn’t want dessert so Face just ordered them coffee. After it was served, she spoke up again.

“Templeton, did you mean any of the things you said?”

Oh, no more small talk, huh?

“Some of them.”

“Like what?”

He tried desperately to remember the things he’d actually said. “I said you were brave. I said you were a good person. That was true. It still is true. And hey, I said I’d be proud to take you out to a fancy restaurant and here we are.”

“Having lunch.”

“Er, yeah. Lunch.” She knows the difference between lunch and dinner. It’s not just the name.

“But the part where you talked about us finding each other. That was just bullshit to get me to help you, right?”

Face looked away for a second, embarrassed, then back at her. “Um, I guess. Yes. It was part of the plan.”

“And the rest? Being the gentleman, not taking advantage, so that I thought you actually respected me. Part of the plan?”

“No!” Face protested. “I do respect you, Bonnie, believe me. I didn’t take advantage, because I didn’t want to be like everyone else in your life.”

She laughed, an edge of bitterness to it. “But that’s exactly what you were in the end, isn’t it? You just have a different way of going about it. You didn’t force me; you made me volunteer to be taken advantage of.” She sighed and shook her head. “I thought you were different. I thought you were like nobody I’d ever met before. But turned out you were just the same.”

“That’s not fair. I was just trying to survive.” He lowered his voice and leaned across the table. “Do you think for a second your family didn’t intend to murder my friends and me? I kept my promises, Bonnie. I got you out and gave you a new life. I’m sorry that there isn’t anything else I can give you.”

That bitter laugh again. “I suppose you think I’m still pining away for you. I’m sorry, Templeton, I’m not. Not once I realised what you are.”

“Then… I’m glad about that. I want you to have a chance to be happy. Forget me. You’re probably right about what I am. Not worth your time.” It seemed to be what she wanted to hear. And he should be glad, for her sake, so she could move on. So he didn’t have to feel guilty about her any longer. “I never wanted to break your heart.”

“Is there the remotest chance you could get over yourself?” Face had heard that tone from some of the… harder women he’d dated. The type he usually cut loose pretty quick. “You really are like one of the men in those stupid books I used to read.”

Probably all Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz and Shirley Conran in her stack of paperbacks now, Face thought. He looked at his watch, looking for a reason to end this.

“Well, I have to go meet the guys,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I have to go back to work anyway.” She stood up.

“Let me call you a cab,” Face said, standing too.

“I can manage. Goodbye, Templeton. Thanks for the lunch. You can just call next time. You don’t have to go to the effort of seeing me.”

He watched her walk away. When she vanished from sight, he flopped back into his chair. That could have been a more pleasant lunch. BA tossing waiters into the ocean would have been a more enjoyable lunch date.

Well, what did he expect? Of course she would change. Did he want her to be the moonstruck girl gazing at his picture and eating her heart out every night? Of course not. But the idea that he’d contributed to her bitterness ate at him. How many other women had he made cynical?

He left the table and strolled over to the edge of the terrace. The waves lapped up against the wall below now. Spray even touched his hands when he rested them on the rail.

Maybe he should get over himself. Did he really think he had that much of an effect on so many women? Serial heartbreaker. Should he take pride in that? He’d had no choice this time. Or not many choices anyway, just needing to get out of there, whatever it took. But the rest of the time, he had a choice.

But what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t stay with any one woman. Not Bonnie, not anyone else.

He remembered talking to her in the van. About how because he was a fugitive she couldn’t be part of his life. What if one day he had to say that to a woman he actually loved? A woman he wanted to be with and couldn’t? Two hearts broken for the price of one.

And it would happen one day, he felt sure of it. Because this – the whole being on the run crap – this would never end. Unless a wizard with a magic wand dropped out of the sky and fixed everything, they’d be tottering to their graves with Decker coming up slowly behind them on his walker.

Assuming they got to the age of tottering. This time he’d been lucky there was someone there to help him and he’d escaped. Without her, he may indeed have ended up dead. Did he want someone back home worrying about that happening?

Bonnie wouldn’t be fretting about it, that much was clear. He’d have to have a word with Tawnia, make sure Bonnie really was okay. That she got over the way she was right now. The way he’d made her.

Face went back to the table and paid the check with a credit card that bore another man’s name. On the way out, he tossed it into the trash. Maybe one day, he’d have one with his own name on it.

I got her out. He had to keep remembering that. She has a chance now. Freedom.

That was more than he had.