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.”