“C’mon, let’s move it!” Hannibal called, hurrying his team and Carla out of the plane.
They hustled. Murdock ran into a hanger, carrying several backpacks. Face pulled along the stumbling and muttering BA, and carried a couple of duffels in his other hand. Everyone but Carla had a rifle. Hannibal grabbed one end of the trunk of diaries and hauled it along on its wheels. Carla, carrying more duffels, fell into stride with Hannibal as they followed the others into the hanger.
“What’s the rush?” she said. “We could get some rest and do this tomorrow.”
“Nope. It has to be today.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course. Theatricality.”
“You know us.”
“Don’t I though.”
She dropped the duffels when they arrived in the hanger. A helicopter stood there, Murdock already inside, running checks. BA was sitting on a chair, head in his hands, recovering from his sedative and still too woozy to start his usual protests about helicopters. Face was emptying the backpacks and duffels
“We’re definitely taking her?” he said, looking at Carla.
“Yes.” Hannibal knelt down to unlock the trunk. “Bring those backpacks over here, Carla.”
“Won’t she slow us down?”
“Maybe.” Hannibal ignored Carla’s glare. “But I don’t trust her enough to leave her behind. Don’t worry. She survived in the big bad world all these months. There’s more to her than lip gloss and heels, isn’t there, ‘Carla’?”
She smiled at him. “Thank you, Colonel.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it in a good way.”
The glare came back, and Face laughed.
“Distribute the diaries into these packs,” Hannibal ordered her.
“Four packs. Don’t I get one?”
“You do remember what I said a couple minutes ago about not trusting you.”
Hannibal had heard women say “fine” in that tone before. But she started stuffing the diaries in the packs as Hannibal and Face joined BA and Murdock standing behind the helicopter, preparing their gear.
“I suppose about now is when I should give a stirring pep talk,” Hannibal said. “But since being here was not my idea I think maybe someone else can take a turn at it.”
Face frowned, seeing the dig that Hannibal definitely intended.
“I’ll do it,” Murdock said. He cleared his throat, stood up straight and doffed his ball cap to lay it over his heart. He began to recite. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”
“Oh good grief,” Face said. Hannibal just grinned as he loaded his rifle.
“…for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile…”
“You looked at me when you said ‘vile’,” BA said. “I saw that.”
“…this day shall gentle his condition,” Murdock went on, ignoring the interruptions. “And gentlemen in England now a-bed…”
“England’s ahead of us,” Face pointed out. “They’ll have been out of bed for hours.”
“…shall think themselves accursed they were not here…”
“They’re suckers if they do.” Face slotted grenades into a bandolier.
“…and hold their manhoods cheap…”
“Murdock, ladies present,” Hannibal said, grinning and gesturing at Carla, busily stuffing backpacks.
“…while any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” Murdock beamed around. “Are you all feeling inspired then?”
“I’m inspired to knock you out,” BA growled. He stomped off.
But Hannibal smiled. Face wore a mildly irritated expression, BA was growling like a bear. The tension was gone. Murdock had his own methods, but they worked.
“Good work, Captain,” he said. “Get the chopper outside, please.” Murdock hurried off and Face followed to help him out.
Once the helicopter was outside they made their final preparations.
“We definitely have everything?” Hannibal said.
“I checked the list twice,” Face said.
“Just like Santa Claus,” Murdock said from the pilot’s seat.
“Then we’re ready.” They were hung with grenades and spare clips like very dangerous rifle-toting Christmas trees. Even Carla, not easily rattled, looked intimidated. She met Hannibal’s eye but when she spoke her voice was more polite than he normally got from her.
“Do I get a weapon?” she asked. “I might have to defend myself.”
Hannibal looked at her narrowly, then shook his head. “No. Just stay close to BA or me, and you’ll be fine.”
She sighed, but didn’t argue.
“Colonel, it’s 8:45,” Face said.
Hannibal nodded. “All aboard then. I’ll go get BA.” He found BA standing in the doorway of the hanger, looking the most terrifying of all of them — and the most terrified.
“Helicopter,” he said as Hannibal approached. “Don’t know if I can do it, man.”
“BA, you’re not going to wuss out in front of a girl, are you?”
BA snorted at the characterisation of Carla as a ‘girl’. But he looked more uneasy than ever.
“Could be the last time,” Hannibal said. “For real this time. I know, I’ve said it before. But this time…I think we’re in the end zone. It’s nearly over.”
“But it’s a helicopter,” BA said, his voice unusually quiet. He normally got angrily defensive about the whole flying thing, but here, so close to the end, perhaps fearing he’d let them all down, he was showing the real fear that lay behind what the team sometimes treated as a joke.
“I know. But if we try to drive to Washington we might as well save ourselves time by shooting each other right here. If O’Neill’s figured out what we’re up to –”
“And what’s to stop him sending a coupla fighter jets to shoot us down?”
“He couldn’t order that quickly enough to intercept us. And I don’t think he’d risk it if he suspects we’ve got Carla and the diaries aboard.”
“That’s why we bringing her, ain’t it? Not just ’cause you don’t trust her.”
Hannibal nodded. Hard to admit to something so dishonourable, but they were in deep shit here. “She’s our last bargaining chip. If I have to exchange her and the diaries for Frankie, I’ll do it.”
“Face won’t like that.”
“It’s just a contingency. Now, you coming, BA?”
He tensed again after relaxing for a moment as they argued. Then he nodded. “It better be the last time. I mean it. Next time I’m gonna kill you for real.”
“Good, BA. Get mad. We’re gonna need that when we get to the courthouse.”
“Ten minutes to target,” Murdock called.
“Okay.” Hannibal unzipped a bag and started handing out gas masks. “Sorry,” he said to Carla. “I couldn’t find one to match your shoes.”
“Hannibal, this is Carla, not Tawnia,” Face said.
“Face, same apology.” He handed the mask to Face, who muttered something the microphone didn’t pick up. Hannibal dumped a mask on Murdock’s lap.
“Five minutes,” Murdock said. “Descending now.”
They all went into their final checks of rifles, of what they had where, touching the bandoliers they wore that held grenades. Too easy to lose a fatal second in battle when you reached for something on your left that was actually on the right. A tiny glitch could get you killed. Face Hannibal and BA had their backpacks already on, but Murdock would have to wait until they landed.
“Carla,” Hannibal said, handing her the pack. “Help Murdock on with this when we land.” It might save a vital second or two. She nodded her understanding.
“Two minutes!” Murdock called.
Hannibal gripped his rifle. The blood pounded in his ears. How long since he’d bailed out of a chopper, rifle in hand, straight into battle? A long time. Different this time, only aiming to sow confusion and chaos, not death. But the risk was the same. Once they hit the building, spraying gunfire and tossing grenades, they were all targets for the throngs of cops, MPs, FBI agents, and security the place would be crammed with.
The helicopter was descending rapidly now, onto the grass outside the courthouse, sending bystanders scurrying away. The rotors’ backwash flattened grass and small bushes and whipped up the perfect hair of the news anchors reporting live on the first day of the trial of General Hunt Stockwell. They’d have an even bigger story to report on once the team got inside.
Only seconds to go. Hannibal pulled his gasmask down. BA, Face and Carla took his cue and did the same. They had to get inside in seconds, before the building was locked down. They’d be trapped in there after that happened, but Hannibal never expected them to escape. The best he could hope for today was not being shot dead.
The skids touched the grass.
“Go!” Hannibal yelled! He, BA and Face were out fastest. Murdock was a few seconds behind as he stopped the engine, donned his mask and retrieved his rifle. Carla held up the pack for him to shove his arms into.
By the time she’d done that, Hannibal, Face and BA had sent the oncoming cops and security guards rushing back into cover with automatic fire spitting up clods of grass. Face tossed a couple of flashbangs way out in front of them, near the doors. It sent the people there reeling back from the noise and the flash, clearing the path. They ran. Hannibal grabbed Carla’s arm to pull her along. She kept pace well though, staying calm.
Face and BA reached the doors first, shoving them back from their half closed position, and Hannibal, Murdock and Carla ran up the steps and inside. The doors slammed behind them.
Now the smoke and tear gas grenades came into their own. Hannibal and Murdock pulled pins and tossed the cylinders at groups of cops or guards, hiding them in the choking smoke. Face used the stun grenades to clear a path ahead. The smoke they left behind as they went concealed them from the men following. Nobody fired at them, the police and security trying to fire with eyes blinded with tear gas, dazzled by the flashbangs, coughing on the smoke. With all the civilians around, only a fool would start shooting so blindly.
It was no use yelling — between the noise of the stun grenades, the gunfire and the screaming alarm, none of them could hear each other. But they knew the plan. Face glanced back as they approached a T junction. He pointed left, and Hannibal nodded and gestured to confirm it was the right way.
Face tossed a stun grenade around the corner and the rest of the team followed him as he raced around it, rifle at the ready, to the courtroom doors. Behind there lay Stockwell, a judge and probably a hundred other people too powerful for O’Neill to silence. The doors were locked.
Hannibal pointed at Face and mimed the action of pulling a grenade pin, then pulled the others away down the corridor. Face grabbed two of his flashbangs, dropped then right by the door and ran.
They weren’t explosive like frag grenades, but the sonic shock of the boom they gave out shook the doors, which quivered like paper, but held. Face, shaking his head, perhaps a little too close to the blast, ran back to the doors, raised his rifle and gave the lock a long burst.
People inside probably screamed, but Hannibal couldn’t hear them. He could barely hear Face’s rifle. Murdock ran forward to help force the doors. They almost gave. BA charged in to lend his weight to the effort, just as a hoard of cops and court security came pouring out of the smoke. Still staggering, coughing, or half-blinded and running into each other, they reached the team as the doors finally gave way. Everyone fell into the courtroom. Hannibal dragged off his gas mask as he hit the floor and yelled out in his battlefield voice.
“We’ve got the Bancroft diaries!”
He was yelling to Stockwell. If fear of the diaries not being safe was keeping him quiet, then he had to know now they were right here.
Hannibal shook off two police officers who were hanging onto his back and legs, trying to cuff him, and missing by a long way, still blinded by tear gas. He tore free of their grasp, dropping his rifle and slipping the pack from his back. It would be dumb to make straight for the judge, he thought as he ran up the aisle. There were armed guards in here, who hadn’t been exposed to tear gas and might well shoot him dead. Instead he veered to the table where Stockwell sat with his lawyer. The lawyer stared at Hannibal in horror, but Stockwell looked as imperturbable as usual — impressive for a man wearing an orange jumpsuit.
With a flourish Hannibal emptied his pack, the books scattering the contents of the table. Carla was right. He loved his theatrics. That’s why it had to be today, the first day of the trial. If he’d missed it he’d have had to wait until the last day. His sense of drama would allow for nothing less.
Stockwell didn’t even pick one of the diaries up, though he got a gleam in his eyes at the sight of them. He nodded to Hannibal.
“Thank you, Colonel.” He turned to his lawyer. “Richard, you’d better ask the judge for a continuance. I have some new evidence I need to apprise you of. Oh and, Colonel…” He gestured over his shoulder, confirming Hannibal’s suspicion he did indeed have eyes in the back of his head.
O’Neill was hurrying, one might say running, towards the doors, trying to get past the men still fighting the rest of the team, all too busy to grab him. Hannibal moved to run after O’Neill when two bailiffs finally got the nerve to grab him.
“No! Wait!” he yelled struggling, just as Carla stepped through the doors. She’d stayed out of the fight and on her feet, and raced towards O’Neill tackling him around the waist and bringing him down in a heap. Girl must have played football at school. O’Neill’s guards, cops, and a couple of feds all piled onto the struggling pair.
The judge banged his gavel so hard it broke and he roared out to the bailiffs to just arrest everybody.
Twenty minutes later, the team, Carla, and Stockwell, were in the most peaceful place in the whole courthouse. The holding cells. The cops had put them there until they felt ready to take them elsewhere. Presumably they were fetching big nets and long cattle prods.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?” Face said, from the bench opposite him. Like Hannibal he was cuffed, his clothes torn up, his hair mussed, and his face and hands bruised and bloody.
“Didn’t you?” Hannibal couldn’t deny he lived for this. The adrenaline, the drama, the theatre of it all. “You know I like to make an entrance.”
“Can you keep it down?” Murdock called from the adjacent cell where he was lying on the fold-out bunk. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”
“Quit it, fool,” BA said from the cell’s other bunk. “You ain’t sleeping.”
“Some of us didn’t spend the entire flight across the Atlantic in the land of dreams,” Murdock said.
“Yeah, he only sleeps part of the time,” Face said.
BA looked alarmed. “He sleeps while he’s flying?”
“Auto-pilot, baby, auto-pilot.” Murdock lay back with an arm across his eyes, then sat up looking puzzled. “Wait, did that plane have auto-pilot?”
BA proceeded to fold the bunk back up against the wall with Murdock still on it.
“How come she gets her own cell?” Face asked, looking at Carla across the way from them. She smiled sweetly at him and started inspecting her fingernails.
Stockwell was in a cell of his own too, on the other side of Hannibal and Face’s. The cops were probably still trying to figure out if the team had busted in there to kill him. He beckoned Hannibal to come closer to him. When Hannibal did, he spoke quietly.
“Thank you again, Colonel. You’ve helped me, so when your trial comes, I’ll do what I can to help you. I’ll make sure it’s clear I manipulated and blackmailed you and Frankie Santana into working for me. I’ll tell them how much detail about your missions I withheld from you in advance, knowing there were some you wouldn’t have agreed to go on if you’d had full information.”
Hannibal caught Face’s eye. He was watching the two of them intently.
“You know what, Stockwell,” Hannibal said. “Don’t sweat it. Tell the truth, no more, no less. That’s all I expect. We’ll take what’s coming to us as long as it’s fair.”
Stockwell looked surprised, but nodded his head. “Of course.” He glanced over at Carla. The two of them hadn’t spoken much since they were all brought down here, but Hannibal supposed that was normal with these “need to know” types. They’d hardly discuss anything important where anyone might overhear. “So Carla had you help her get the diaries here? Smart move. You were the only ones who could be trusted.”
“And she had a way to make us — or rather one of us — cooperate. What did you know about Bancroft and Face?”
“Nothing until Murdock called me. I was as surprised as anyone. Annoyed in fact.”
“Just hate not knowing something important huh?”
Stockwell must have heard the accusation in the question. “It was Peck’s choice to tell you or not, Smith. Not mine. As far as I’m concerned it’s a personal matter.”
“Don’t give me that. You could have used the knowledge to manipulate Face or Bancroft himself if he hadn’t up and died on us.”
“But I didn’t.”
Yeah, that was undeniable. Even Carla only had once she ran out of options.
“You could have kept them,” Stockwell said. “There’s enough information in them to make you very powerful and very rich men. And marked for death of course.” He smiled. “Though that’s hardly a new experience for you. Did it even occur to you?”
“No. Can’t say it did.”
A clanking sound made Hannibal look up to see a janitor in overalls and a baseball cap shoving a wheeled bucket by the mop standing up in it. He turned back to Stockwell, then gasped and stared at the janitor.
“Johnny! I’d say how’s it going, but you’re in a jail cell, so I’ll skip that.”
The team all sprang to the front of their cells as Frankie grinned at them.
“What, you guys were worried about me? You underestimate the Frank Man.”
“You got the message,” Face said, relief the most obvious on his face.
“I got it and I was outta there.”
“Thank God.” Face rested his forehead on the bars.
“Didn’t know you cared so much,” Frankie said with a grin. He glanced around at the other cells. “Carla? Is that you? Gotta say, that new look – really not working for you.”
“Go jump in a lake, Santana.”
“Frankie,” Hannibal said, “What’s happening upstairs?”
“O’Neill’s been detained for questioning I don’t think they actually arrested him, but well, he isn’t exactly going to the White House for dinner. Stockwell’s trial’s been stopped to take the new evidence into account.”
“Looks like you and O’Neill might end up sharing a cell,” Hannibal said, grinning at Stockwell.
“I hope not,” Stockwell said, fervently.
“What I still don’t get,” Murdock said, “is why you’re so happy, Stockwell. It’s not like this clears you of anything.”
“I know. I’m just happy to have the chance to tell the truth at last.”
“You?” Murdock boggled. “Well, that will be an awfully big adventure.”
Stockwell almost smiled. “Perhaps I spent too much time with you. You’ve been a terrible influence on me.”
For too long, Hannibal had feared it being the other way around. He turned back to Frankie.
“What do you need, guys? I…well, I don’t know if I can organise an escape, just by myself. Getting in here as a janitor was tough enough.”
“Why did you get in as a janitor?” Murdock said. “You can’t have known we were coming.”
“Hey, I know you guys. I asked myself, ‘what’s the most ridiculous and dangerous place for you to show up?’ And here you are.”
Hannibal laughed. “Nice, Frankie, nice.” It didn’t matter what the real reason was. Maybe something similar to their own, to get to the judge, or even to talk to Stockwell for advice. But he’d done it. “No, kid, no escape, not this time. You get out of here now and call our lawyer. He’ll tell you what to do next.”
“Okay, yeah, I guess that’s the smart thing to do. I’ll see you guys later. Stay cool.” He shook hands with each of the team, winked at Carla, who rolled her eyes, and gave Stockwell a mocking salute.
As his footsteps and the rattle of his bucket faded away, Face lay back on the bench with a sigh.
“You realise that this whole thing is going to drag on for another year at least,” he said. “Maybe two. And I’ll bet this time they don’t let us stay in our nice little retirement village.”
“No,” Hannibal said, thinking with a pang of his little cabin, and Briggs and Perry’s barbecues, and especially of course, about Abby Lewin. Tentative that might have been, but promising. Very promising. He sighed too, but then shrugged. “No,” he said again. “But we made our beds a long time ago. Time to lie in them.”