Unjust Deserts

Face is in trouble. Trouble bad enough to destroy the team. Whatever they do now, the team will never be the same again.

Rated: R

Words: 41,500

Chapter 1

“Hannibal? I – I need your help.”


Hannibal stood up with the phone in his hand, knocking against the table as he rose. His coffee cup tipped over and flooded his breakfast of bacon and eggs, but he ignored it. Face’s voice, the edge in it, set all of Hannibal’s alarms screaming at once.


“What’s wrong, Face?”


“Not over the phone. I need you to come to the Regency Hotel. You know where it is?”


“Yeah.” Hannibal had been there for auditions, usually when the producers wanted to keep the possible cast of their movie off the record for a while. A small place, quiet and discreet. “Face, are you hurt? Can’t you tell me what’s wrong?”


“No!” That edge again in his voice. Fear. Almost… Panic? “Room five-eighteen. Get here quick, please.”


Face hung up and Hannibal abandoned his now ruined breakfast. He found a shoulder holster and slipped a pistol into it, after checking it had a full clip. Then he put a jacket on, found his car keys and left his apartment.


+-+-+


LA’s morning rush hour had barely started and it took Hannibal only twenty minutes to reach the Regency Hotel. The clock on the dash showed almost six forty-five when he parked his car half a block away from the hotel.


Not the lobby, he thought. Just in case anybody might be watching out for him arriving. He didn’t think Face had been under duress when he made the phone call; he’d not used one of their pre-arranged codes to signal it. Still Hannibal saw no point in being careless. Ducking into an alleyway, he found his way to the back of the hotel. A couple of kitchen staff, in white tunics and checked trousers, hung around outside, smoking.


Hannibal quickened his pace. When he saw the hotel workers had noticed him, he looked at his watch and shook his head. As he swept past the two men, he called out.


“Man, I’m so late! Granger will tear me a new one. You seen him around?”


Before they had a chance to reply, or ask him who the hell Granger might be, Hannibal was inside looking for the stairs. A moment after that he started to climb out of the slightly grimy working areas of the hotel towards the bedrooms.


On the fifth floor, Hannibal emerged from the stairwell and memorised the way back to it, while he looked for room five-eighteen. A few people passed him as he searched, most of them business types, wearing suits, and carrying briefcases. However, some of the passers-by looked as if they just might be wearing the same clothes as they’d worn the night before. Men in rumpled suits or tuxedos without ties, women in dresses too formal or revealing for the daytime, carrying tiny purses.


At another time, Hannibal would have smiled at the sight of them, but now he just wanted to get to Face and find out what had him so rattled, so scared. Yes, he’d actually sounded scared. That told Hannibal that this must be something more than just another scam gone bad leaving Face in need of a quick bailout.


He found room five-eighteen. A “Do Not Disturb” sign hung on a small hook below a peephole. Hannibal raised a hand to knock, but before his knuckles struck the wood, the door opened. Face reached out, grabbed Hannibal’s arm and yanked him inside.


Hannibal stumbled into the room, hearing the door slam behind him, the rattle of the chain. Catching himself before he lost his balance, he turned to Face.


“What the hell? Were you watching out of the peephole?”


“Yes. What took you so damn long?”


Seeing Face was in no mood to engage in banter, Hannibal bit back a snapped reply. Face looked bad. He wore only black tuxedo pants, no shoes, no shirt. His hair was wild, his face pale and his eyes big and fearful. Hannibal spoke in softer voice now.


“What’s wrong, Face?”


Without speaking, Face pointed at the unmade bed and while Hannibal moved towards that, Face backed up to the door, pressed against the wood.


When Hannibal got close to the bed, he realised that the mussed up blankets and linens actually hid something. Something lay under a white sheet. His skin began to chill, the back of his neck to prickle. Despite the dread, he took hold of the edge of the sheet and pulled it back. A young woman lay there. Her long brown hair spread across the pillow. Her green eyes stared up at Hannibal. No, not at him. Not at anything.


Feeling like a man moving through molasses, Hannibal turned to look at Face, who answered the unspoken question in a bleak and hollow voice.


“Yes. She’s dead.”

Chapter 2

Hannibal looked back down at the woman. Her skin mottled grey and purple, lips blue, her eyes… Turning away from her eyes, Hannibal looked down at her naked body, assessing. The only marks he could see were on her neck, the skin discoloured and distorted over crushed cartilage. He reached down and took her arm and felt the stiffness there and the cold.


A sound from Face made him look up. Not a word, a kind of groan. Hannibal put her arm down again, drew the sheet back over the body and walked back to Face.


“What happened?”


Face wrapped his arms around himself and stared back at Hannibal.


“I swear to God I didn’t kill her.”


“Okay.” Hannibal touched his shoulder, felt him trembling. “Can you tell me what happened?”


“I knew something was wrong as soon as I woke up. She was so cold.”


“You woke up and she was dead?” Hannibal resisted the urge to shake him, to try to make him talk faster. Patience. He’d coax the story out of Face a word at a time if he had to.


Face nodded. “Yeah. I tried… tried to wake her, tried… Shook her, but she… Oh God! I don’t know what happened!” His voice rose and strayed very close to that hysterical edge again.


Hannibal squeezed Face’s shoulder to try to keep him under control, fearing someone outside the room would hear him.


“Face, try and stay calm and tell me everything you can. Start with who she is. Where did you meet her? When?”


Face gulped a couple of times and ran his hands through his hair, starting to calm, though he still trembled under Hannibal’s hand.


“I… I met her a couple of days ago, at a trade show. New cars. I was running a scam… doesn’t matter.” He shook his head. “Her name’s Celia. She was one of the promotions girls. I asked her on a date.”


“Last night?” Hannibal prompted.


“Yeah. We had dinner. We came back here. And this morning –”


“Last night,” Hannibal said, couldn’t let him gloss over anything. “Were you drunk?” An upended champagne bottle stood in an ice bucket on a table. “Or did you take anything?”


“Take?” Face sounded baffled for a moment until he understood the question. “Drugs? Hannibal, I don’t, you know that!”


“Okay. How much did you have to drink?” Enough to make him do this and forget it? Hannibal wondered, though doubted it. Face had always been a lightweight when it came to alcohol. A couple of strong ones had him under the table and certainly not up to overpowering a healthy young woman. Unless she was drunk too.


“I wasn’t drunk.” Face insisted. “And I didn’t take any drugs! Hannibal, please!” He grabbed at Hannibal’s arm, gripped the fabric of the sleeve tight. “Believe me, I didn’t do it!”


Hannibal had to ignore the pleading look in Face’s eyes, still needed to get the full story, check every angle. Part of him insisted that she could have died from natural causes, during the night. Her heart, or a brain haemorrhage or a stroke, something sudden like that.


Yeah, and pigs might fly. Hannibal had seen plenty of bodies and not all of them on battlefields. The girl had been strangled.


“Did you do anything out of the ordinary in bed? Did she have you put anything around her neck?” Some people had odd tastes, Hannibal knew. Accidents happened.


“What? No! Of course not!” Face pulled away from Hannibal, though stayed close to the wall, as far away from the bed as he could. “I don’t know what happened. I’m going crazy trying to understand. How can this happen?”


Hannibal wished he knew. Well he couldn’t figure it out now, not here. Right now he had to get Face the hell out of here, get hold of BA. Regroup and figure this out.


“Get dressed, Face. We need to leave.”


“Leave, but…” Face looked over at the bed. “Celia… We can’t just…”


Hannibal grimaced. He didn’t like it. Walking away and leaving the dead woman there. But if Face stuck around, he’d be in a cell in very short order. And even if by some miracle they cleared him of this, then Decker would be waiting to take him off the LAPD’s hands.


“I’m sorry, Face, but we have to go. Get dressed. Make sure you have all of your stuff. Try to get yourself looking – um – normal.” Taking Face out of the hotel looking as crazed as he looked right now would attract stares.


Face nodded and, as Hannibal watched, he gathered up the rest of his clothes, from a chair and took them into the bathroom, closed the door.


Hannibal didn’t twiddle his thumbs while he waited. He put on his gloves and picked up the champagne glasses, slipped them into his pockets. Then he took a handkerchief from another pocket, picked up the champagne bottle, and wiped it thoroughly. After that, he started to work his way around the room, rubbing the handkerchief over all the polished surfaces.


Face emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, putting on his jacket, his face washed, and his hair neat.


“Did you call me from this?” Hannibal asked, wiping the telephone.


“Yes, I… Oh god, I shouldn’t have done that! They’ll trace it. They’ll find your apartment. Hannibal I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight.”


“That’s okay, Face.” Maybe he’d have time to go back and collect his stuff before he had to abandon the apartment. Usually he didn’t have that luxury. “Don’t touch anything else now. Just give me a minute and we’ll get out.” He went on polishing. After a moment Face spoke.


“What are you doing?”


“Getting rid of your prints.” Hannibal turned to him. “Did you use a condom?”


“What?” Face blushed and looked away. “Hannibal, please –”


“This is no time to get coy, Lieutenant.” Hannibal’s patience started to wear thin now. He just wanted to get the hell out of this room. “Where is it?”


Face glared back at him. “Bathroom, trash can.”


Hannibal walked in there to find the small trash can sitting under the sink. It had a plastic liner, so Hannibal just lifted that out, and tied it closed. He picked up a small hand towel and started wiping all the bathroom surfaces. As he worked, he saw Face in the bathroom mirror, standing in the doorway.


“Hannibal, stop that.”


Hannibal turned around. Face looked calmer now, rational, his expression determined.


“Face, your prints are all over this room. I’m just trying to buy us some time…” He knew he’d never manage to eliminate every fingerprint. The police would identify Face sooner or later. But later suited Hannibal just fine. “I assume you paid cash for the room?”


“Do you think I killed her?”


Hannibal straightened up, frowning at Face. Did he think that? Of course, he knew Face could kill. But the enemy. Men trying to kill him back. Not a defenceless woman. He wouldn’t do that, would he? Not deliberately. Right now, Hannibal didn’t know what had happened, and it was no use speculating about it until he had more facts. Nevertheless, it would take a lot to convince him of Face’s guilt.


When he saw Face’s gaze turn to the floor, Hannibal realised he had taken too long to reply and grimaced at the idea that he’d made Face believe Hannibal doubted his word.


“No,” Hannibal said, his voice insistent. “Of course I don’t think you killed her.”


“Then someone else must have been in here,” Face said. “Someone else killed her…” His voice caught for a moment, and Hannibal knew the words he didn’t say were, ‘killed her while I lay sleeping beside her.’ However, Face went on, voice stronger. “And if someone else was in here, then you’re destroying evidence.”


Hannibal looked down at the towel in his hands. Looked at his own hands.


“They probably wore gloves.”


“We don’t know that for sure.”


“Face, once the cops figure out you were here, they’ll assume you did it. They won’t even look for anyone else. We have to do that ourselves.”


“Got access to a forensics lab have we?”


Hannibal scowled but knew Face was right. And Hannibal just didn’t have the time to eliminate all the evidence anyway. They had to get out of here. And he had something else he needed to do, before too much time passed. Face still trembled, Hannibal could see, and he had a suspicion that something besides shock was causing those tremors.


“Okay, Face. If that’s what you want.” Hannibal dropped the towel and walked out of the bathroom. “You’re certain you’ve got everything?”


Face rummaged in his jacket pockets, checking, and then nodded.


“Let’s go.” Hannibal strode to the door, but Face didn’t follow at once. Instead, he moved slowly to the bed. As Hannibal watched, Face rested his hand on the sheet covering the body, just for a moment, then took it away again. In a soft voice, little more than a whisper, he spoke.


“I’m sorry, Celia. I’m so sorry.”

Chapter 3

“So, what do you think happened?” BA asked when Hannibal finished explaining what he knew. He glanced into the back of the van. Face had been sitting with his head in his hands while Hannibal talked. Now he looked up at BA.


“What makes you think I didn’t do it?” Face asked in a bitter tone. He looked rather green now, BA noticed. Sick.


“Don’t be stupid,” BA growled. They sat in silence for a moment, the only sound the van’s radio playing quietly, as they listened for a news report.


“I… I’ve been thinking about it,” Face said, “and thinking, well, guys, what if I did it in my sleep?”


“No.” Hannibal’s voice sounded like he didn’t expect an argument, but Face went on anyway.


“I’ve heard of murder cases where men have been acquitted, because they killed their wives while they were dreaming or sleepwalking or –”


“And those might just have been guys with very good defence lawyers.”


“Yeah,” BA said. “You wouldn’t strangle a girl, man, I know it.”


“What if I had a flashback?” Face’s question shut them both up. “If I thought I was back in ‘Nam –”


“You didn’t strangle no girls in ‘Nam either.”


“Can you be certain of that, BA? Colonel?” He looked at them in turn. “How can you really be sure of that?”


“I’m sure of you.”


He recalled a time they’d been in a fight with some hired muscle. In the middle of the brawl, some thug’s girlfriend had attacked Face. Barely five feet tall, and wouldn’t tip the scales at ninety pounds wearing her winter coat. But she had Face stymied, as he tried to fend her off without pasting her the way he’d done to her boyfriend.


In the end, BA had ‘rescued’ him, picking the spitfire up bodily and dumping her into a closet. They’d all teased Face about it for weeks: attack of the fifty inch woman! But it told BA for sure that Face wouldn’t hurt a woman.


“Look,” Face still argued. “If I’d had a flashback, thought she was Vietcong –”


“Face, you’ve not had a flashback in years,” Hannibal said.


“Then how can it have happened?” Face demanded. “Are you telling me someone came into that room and murdered Celia while I slept through it? That’s bull, Hannibal. I couldn’t sleep through that!”


“You could if you’d been drugged.”


“Drugged?” BA and Face chorused.


“You said you weren’t drunk, but you look damned hung over to me, Face.”


BA looked at Face and nodded, agreed. Bloodshot eyes, pale skin, trembling hands. Yeah, BA agreed with Hannibal.


“I want to take blood from you, get it analysed.” He reached into his pocket and drew out two champagne glasses. “These too.”


“I… okay.” Face frowned. “How do we do that? Get the tests done I mean?”


“I’ve got a contact, a lab technician, who does ‘off the record’ drug tests for the studios. We get a sample over to him and he’ll get us some results in a couple of days. If you were drugged that proves –”


“But proves it to who?” Face demanded. “It’s hardly going to be admissible in court.”


“Prove it to you, Face. Proves that someone is framing you.” Hannibal glanced at BA. “Then we just have to find out who.”


“Yeah.” BA growled. “Find out and make ’em pay.”


“Okay.” Face looked down again. “Thanks guys,” he said, quietly. “Thanks for believing me.”


“Get us out of here, BA,” Hannibal said. “We need to get out of sight. But, pull over when you see a payphone. I have a few calls I need to make.”


+-+-+


Murdock had been banned from Group for a week, since he’d tried to turn the last session into a poker game. That had annoyed him at first, but when he answered the phone to hear Hannibal’s voice, he felt glad about it. If he hadn’t been banned, he wouldn’t have been in his room and he’d have missed the call. Everything happens for a reason.


Hannibal’s voice surprised him though. Usually Face called him to set up their latest escape based on whatever crazy rare disease he’d found in the medical dictionary this week. Hannibal usually only called up at night, just to chat. He didn’t sound as if he wanted to chat now though. His voice was tense.


“Captain, can you speak freely?”


“Sure, Colonel, what’s up? We got a mission? Need your flyboy?”


“Murdock, listen.” Hannibal talked fast. Traffic noise in the background told Murdock he must be using a payphone on the street. “Something’s happened. You need to know about it, before you see it on the news.”


“What?” Murdock felt sick, suddenly. “Did something happen to you guys? Face and BA –”


“They’re okay, Murdock, well… look, I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions. I need to get off the street. Just keep quiet for a minute and listen.”


Murdock listened and he felt sicker as Hannibal went on. Understanding Hannibal’s need to be brief, he kept quiet and let him tell the whole story before he spoke again.


“Can I talk to Face?”


“Not right now.”


“But –”


“Murdock, there’s no time. I’ll have him call you later.”


“Hannibal, I need to talk to him! I need you guys to come get me out.”


“No, what you need to do is keep your head down, for your own sake. Don’t try to contact us.”


“But –”


“That’s an order, Captain. You don’t need this kind of trouble. Sit tight there and we’ll talk to you when we can. I have to go. Murdock. Don’t worry. We’ll get it fixed.”


“Hannibal!” But Murdock was talking to a dial tone. He glared at the phone and slammed it down.


Fixed? How the hell could they get it fixed? Even Hannibal couldn’t fix away a murder. Every cop in LA would be looking for Face. The Army would come after them with ten times as many guys, all of them twice as crazy as Decker. This could be the end for the team. How could they come back from this?


Damn, this couldn’t be real, could it? Maybe he was dreaming. Or they’d given him the wrong meds and he’d just hallucinated that whole conversation. Yeah, just keep telling yourself that, fool. Then, hey maybe get Billy to sniff out the killer. Wake up and smell reality.


He paced around his room, arms folded, glaring at his furniture and walls as if they’d insulted him personally. Dammit, he needed to talk to Face. Face needed him, right now. Later doesn’t cut it, Colonel! He strode over to the TV and switched it on. Dumb chat shows. He flicked around, looking for a news show.


First, he’d make sure this was for real, then… then, well, then he’d decide what to do. Hannibal didn’t get to decide what he did. Not this time.


+-+-+


“Hey, Amy, you want this one? Just came off the wire.”


Amy glanced at the story. Dead woman in hotel room. She smiled up at her colleague.


“Nah, you take it, Chris. Got my hands full.”


Chris nodded and took the paper with him to his desk. Amy turned back to her typewriter. She frowned at the page in front of her, trying to decide the amount of detail she needed to put in there. The team’s methods made good copy, but on the other hand, they didn’t want every bad guy in the country knowing how they did their thing. She could gloss over a few of the details perhaps. Hannibal had given her the evil eye more than once now for giving away too much. She had to be careful. She didn’t want them to stop taking her along with them altogether.


Her phone rang and she reached for it without looking.


“News desk.”


“Amy, it’s Hannibal. Listen up, kid, I don’t have much time. We’re in some trouble and you need to know about it before it breaks.”


“Hannibal,” she spoke quietly, so none of her colleagues could hear. “You guys have been in trouble since 1973.”


“Well this is some new trouble. Bigger trouble.”


“Bigger?” She went serious then. “I’m listening.”


“Okay, Face woke up in a hotel room this morning with a dead woman.”


Amy gasped and almost dropped the phone. “Hang on”, she said, jumped up, ran to Chris’s desk and grabbed the teletype printout from it, making him yell in protest.


“Hey! What the hell are you doing?”


Amy ignored him and ran back to her own desk and phone. She snatched the handset back up.


“Was it the Regency Hotel?”


“Yeah.”


“The story just came in over the wire. The police haven’t named the victim or any suspects though.”


“Her name is Celia Hart,” Hannibal said. “Well, that might be a stage name,” he added.


“Hannibal, what happened?” Amy asked, still trying to keep her voice low. Chris got up from his desk and walked towards her, frowning. She scowled at him to try to scare him off, but he wasn’t daunted. “Is…” She paused looking up at Chris who stood over her, arms folded. “Is he okay? Can I meet you somewhere? ”


“No. Look, not only will the cops be after us soon, but it could be that whoever did this is only just started trying to get at us. This could just be the start of a war. We’re not safe to be around right now.”


“But –”


“No buts, kid. If you’re smart, you’ll keep your distance from us for a while. Don’t worry, we’ll find out who’s behind it. Now I have to go.”


He hung up. Amy slowly put the phone handset down on its cradle. What the hell could have happened? How could someone kill a woman with Face right there in the room?


“I thought you didn’t want that story?”


She looked up at Chris, still scowling down at her. Since she had a year’s seniority on him, decided to use it.


“I changed my mind.”


“I already started writing it up.”


“Sorry.”


“I’m gonna go to Marge,” Chris said, referring to the chief news editor. “Tell her I had the story first.”


“Okay. I think she’s in with Eldridge right now. I have to go out.”


“But –”


“See you later.” She grabbed her purse and almost ran from the room.


Where exactly am I going, she thought, as she headed for the parking lot. Part of her wanted to head over to the VA, to see if Murdock knew anything yet. But part of her wanted to head straight over to the Regency Hotel to pursue the story. She reached the bottom of the stairs, and stopped suddenly.


Wait a second, she thought. Shouldn’t I be going not to the VA and not to the hotel, but to the police? Wasn’t it her duty as a citizen to pass on the information Hannibal just gave her? She might be sure of Face’s innocence, but when did it become her job to decide that?


Of course, she’d long had information that would have been useful to the Army in their pursuit of the team, and had never disclosed it. But that was different. Now a woman was dead and Amy knew of, well, at the very least, a material witness.


No, she thought. I’m a reporter. She started walking again. I have a right to protect my sources. And, okay, the guys are my friends, but technically, they’re sources. I have every right to protect them.


+-+-+


“Ready?”


Face nodded, then looked away and winced, as Hannibal slid the needle into the crook of his elbow. In a moment, the hypodermic filled with blood. Carefully, Hannibal withdrew it and placed a cotton ball over the tiny wound as a drop of blood welled up.


“Press on that.”


Face did so, bent his elbow, while Hannibal recapped the needle and put it into a plastic bag.


“Okay, you two are going to stay here.” Hannibal waved a hand at the dingy motel room. “Get some food. And Face, try to get some rest. If I’m right that you were drugged, then you need to sleep it off. Drink plenty of water too. I’ll take this to my contact.” He held up the bag, looking at BA. “I’ll only be a couple of hours, but move if you have to, and leave a message in one of the usual places.”


“Okay, man.”


Hannibal looked at Face, who looked paler than ever in the dim light. He wished he had the words to reassure him.


“Get some rest.” Hannibal repeated and walked out.


+-+-+


It’s real, Murdock thought, as he watched the evening news report about a young woman found dead at the Regency Hotel in Hollywood. Celia Hart, aged twenty-five, a ‘model and actress’ whose real name was Claire Hartley, according to the news report.


“The police have named no suspects at this time. Now, here’s Jim with the sports news.”


“Thanks, Alex. Well the Lakers had a good –” Murdock silenced the TV with a jab at the off switch. The room dimmed as the television went off. No other lights were on.


No suspects. Okay, well that was good news. Maybe they wouldn’t find any suspects. Maybe Celia Hartley’s death would remain a mystery.


And maybe the cops just weren’t telling about their suspects. Maybe they had Face’s name already, had every cop in the city looking for him.


Murdock threw himself down on his bed, face buried in the crook of his elbow, hating this, hating that Face had to go through this.


But unable to keep still for more than a moment, Murdock rolled off the bed and walked to the window. The sun had almost set now. Lights twinkled all over the city.


Murdock hated this some more. Hated his own situation now too, not just Face’s. He hated being in this room, this hospital. He wanted to be out there, helping the team and he wanted – needed – to be there for Face. This had to be killing him. It was killing Murdock, not being able to talk to him, to find out more, to help him.


He glared at the phone. Hannibal had said he’d get Face to ring Murdock “later”, but that would be dangerous too. And a phone conversation just wasn’t enough.


“Murdock?” A nurse tapped at the door and glanced in. “Aren’t you going for dinner?”


A phone conversation might not be enough, but still, Murdock didn’t want to miss it. He shook his head at the nurse, not even feeling up to making up some crazy reason.


“You want me to have them bring up a tray for you?”


“Okay.” He should eat, he figured. Didn’t feel much like it, but he should eat. When she left he looked back out of the window. The sky had gone deep dark blue now. A few stars were coming out.


How much cash have I got around here, Murdock wondered. I’ll need some. I’ll need some change for the phone. Earlier he’d asked Hannibal to break him out, but that had been an unthinking reflex. He allowed himself a tiny smile.


The guys think they have to break me out.


They underestimate me.

Chapter 4

Murdock leaned as far forward as he could, craning his neck, trying to see the ground below his barred window. The window could slide open, allowing him some air, when he wanted it, but the grille kept him from getting out that way. The bars were a few inches apart, he could get a hand out through them, but more importantly, he could slide a couple of things out. His jacket for one. He fed it through the bars and dropped it. His baseball cap followed.


He turned back to the bed, where his wash bag sat. That no longer held toiletries and shaving gear, but rather some small items he couldn’t bear to part with. Because this time he didn’t know for sure if he’d be coming back later or not. Okay, the same could be said of any mission he went on with the guys. But this felt different. Who knew how it would end? But he still didn’t hesitate. Face needed him now.


Time to go, he thought, glancing at his watch and seeing the glimmering of dawn outside. He untucked his t-shirt and mussed his hair up, scrubbing his hands through it on each side. Perfect.


Picking up the wash bag, a towel and his shoes, he tapped on the door of his room. In a moment a nurse appeared.


“Up early, Mr Murdock,” she said, letting him out. He pretended to stifle a huge yawn.


“Morning, Sandra. Yeah, well, got a long hard day of doing nothing ahead of me. Might as well make an early start.” In no apparent hurry, he strolled off towards the shower rooms.


Sandra went back to the nurse’s station, where three other nurses sat around, doing their shift handover. Murdock paused for a moment, pretending to read some notices taped to the wall, but actually glancing back at the nurses, waiting for the exact right second when none of them was looking at him. When that second came, he used it, moved fast, ducking past the shower room door and into the janitor’s closet beside it.


A pair of overalls hung on the back of the door and he put those on over his clothes, and then put his shoes on. His wash bag he put into a bucket and covered it with some rags.


“Okay.” He looked around at the cleaning supplies. Somehow, they lacked the dignity he felt this moment needed. The drawing of a skull on the label of a bottle of bleach gave him a fixed, bony grin. “Well, anyway. I might not be back. So, um, so long.” He dropped the mocking bleach bottle into his bucket as an extra prop, picked up a mop, then walked out of the closet, carrying the bucket in one hand the mop over his shoulder. The mop hid his face just enough as he walked past the nurses station to the elevator.


If any of them looked up, they’d just see a janitor. Nobody stopped him walking to the elevator. He pressed the call button and watched the light that told him he’d summoned the elevator. Waited for it to go out with a ping, signalling that the elevator had arrived. Waited. Waited. Waiting for those doors to open was always the worst part of this, even when he had Face here to do most of the worrying. Now all alone, waiting and waiting, for the doors to open or for someone to put a hand on his shoulder or shout “stop”, it felt like an agonising eternity.


At last, the ping came and the doors slid open. Forcing himself to appear casual, he stepped inside and pressed the button for the ground floor. As the doors closed on his ward he let out his breath in a whoosh.


Deciding not to push his luck, he didn’t even try going out the main doors, even though it should still be quiet around there at this time of day. Instead he found the kitchens and walked through whistling, past kitchen staff preparing breakfast and all far too busy to pay any mind to him. A back door stood open, a cool breeze wafting into the already warm kitchen.


Murdock walked out of the door and sighed. Phase one completed. Phase two, getting off the grounds, began now.


He dumped the bucket and mop. Stuffing his wash bag down the front of his overall, kept it out of sigh and gave him an almost convincing looking beer gut. Sticking close the wall, he worked his way around the building until he reached the area under his own window.


His jacket lay draped over a rose bush and he picked it up and brushed it off. It took a couple of minutes searching around the roots of the rose bushes before he found his cap. He put them on and stood for a moment, looked up at the window to his room.


Then he waved up at the window and the empty room behind it, turned and vanished into the VA’s grounds.


+-+-+


“Allen!”


Amy’s heart sank as she walked into the newsroom. Great. The sun was barely up and she’s already made Marge Rocha mad. She tried to put on a winning smile as she approached the chief news editor’s desk. It probably didn’t go well with the dark circles under her eyes that no amount of concealer could hide.


“You look like crap,” Marge said, scowling at Amy, through the haze of cigarette smoke that surrounded her.


“Marge, about that Regency murder story, I know Chris had it first –”


Marge waved a hand.


“Forget it. Boy needs to toughen up and not run to me with every little problem. I’m not his damn mother.”


Amy smiled with relief. Making Marge annoyed could get you sent to obituary updating duties so fast your feet didn’t touch the ground. Amy knew that Marge had been stuck on that job herself before clawing her way up to the news desk, back in the days the women were meant to get the coffee and look pretty. Nowadays people got coffee for Marge and it had better be damn strong or, well there were worse jobs than obits.


“Here,” Marge handed Amy a sheet of paper. “Came in a few minutes ago. You’re the A-Team expert, you write it up.”


Amy read the paper with a sinking heart. The police had named Templeton Peck as the number one suspect in the murder of Celia Hart. Damn, she thought, I need to get to a payphone. She wanted to call the van, make sure the guys got a heads up.


“I’ll get started right away,” Amy turned away.


“Kind of a coincidence.”


Amy turned back when Marge spoke. “Excuse me?”


Marge took a sip from a large coffee mug on her desk, and then looked up at Amy.


“That you were already on the story and now it’s turned out to have an A-Team connection.”


“Oh.” Amy forced a half smile. “Yeah, that’s kind of odd.” Marge looked back at her, a long assessing stare. Uncomfortable, Amy fidgeted, feeling pinned by the gaze, like a butterfly to a board. So when Marge’s phone rang Amy sighed with relief.


“News desk,” Marge snapped, picking up the phone. “What? Well of course he doesn’t want to talk to you, you idiot. You make him talk to you!”


Amy took the chance to make a break for it. She headed first to her desk and gathered up a notebook and folder, trying to look as if she was heading off to the archives to do some research. But her real aim was to get to a payphone.


The guys needed to know, the heat just got turned up.


+-+-+


Murdock sat in a diner, eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. He knew BA would frown at such a breakfast, and tell him to eat something more nutritious. He’d come into the diner because it had a payphone. And after he let the phone ring for a while, Hannibal had come on the line, sounding breathless.


“Hi, I need you guys to come pick me up.”


“Murdock, I told you, it’s best for you to stay at the VA and keep your head down.” Hannibal sighed, sounding tired.


“Yeah, well, sorry, it’s too late for the first one.”


Silence from Hannibal’s end for a few seconds. “You’re out?”


“Free as a bird, Colonel.”


“Well… go back.”


“No.”


“I can make that an order, Murdock.”


“You can try.”


The silence that followed was loud. Loud as a scream.


“Where are you?” Hannibal asked at last.


“Albie’s Grill, on Wilshire. I can stay here, or if you want me to go someplace else.”


“No, stay there. We’ll come get you in a while.” His voice sounded tense. “Murdock, I know how you feel, but –”


“You’re mad at me, I know. I’m sorry, Colonel, but I’m not sorry. See you in a while.”


After he’d hung up the phone, he’d ordered some breakfast. Now he sat at the table, his wash bag incongruous beside him. Above the counter a TV played, silent. Murdock watched it blankly until a face he’d already come to know appeared on screen. Celia Hart. Claire Hartley. He wondered which name the news anchor was using. Damn, she’d been pretty. Just Face’s type.


The picture of Celia vanished and another very familiar picture replaced it. When he stared up at the picture of Face, Murdock didn’t need to be able to hear the news report to know what it meant.

Chapter 5

Murdock looked up when the door to the diner opened. BA walked in, looking less conspicuous than usual, wearing a pair of overalls and a knit cap. He spotted Murdock and sat in the booth opposite him, scowling.


“Maybe I should take you outta here and drop you off right back in fronta the hospital?”


“I’d just escape again.”


“Not if they put you in one of their rubber rooms.”


A waitress came up and Murdock ordered a coffee refill for himself and milk and some toast for BA.


“I ain’t got time to eat,” BA said when she left.


“It’ll look weird if you come into a diner and don’t eat anything. And weird gets you remembered.” He shook his head. “Like I have to tell you that.” BA looked the most ordinary Murdock had seen him in a long time. No sign of his gold, his attention-getting haircut hidden by the hat. Unnerving. BA was the least ordinary person he knew. Right now, he could be just one of the thousands of people all over the city heading to work. Everything had started to change already. And maybe he’d only made it worse.


“Have you seen the news?” Murdock asked. “The cops have named Face as a suspect.”


“Yeah, heard that on the radio on the way over here.” The waitress arrived with BA’s toast and he nodded at her. “Thanks.” He even gave her a small smile. Ordinary, Murdock thought again. Just what an ordinary everyday, honest guy would do.


Murdock picked up a spoon and stirred his coffee. “Is Face okay?”


“Course he ain’t okay, man.” BA scowled at Murdock, and then ate a piece of toast in two big bites. He washed that down with half the glass of milk. Murdock waited. When he’d finished putting it off, BA spoke again. “He’s been sleeping, but Hannibal thinks he was drugged.”


“Drugged?” Murdock stared.


“Yeah. The colonel’s taken a blood sample to some guy he knows who can test it.” BA ate the rest of the toast while Murdock watched, biting his lip.


“So, that’s how Hannibal thinks it happened, someone drugged Face and killed the girl?”


“Yeah, I guess. It’s gotta be that way. Face couldn’t sleep through something like that happening right beside him.”


Murdock finally drank some of his coffee instead of just stirring it. “How well did he know the girl? Have they been seeing each other?” He hoped not, to be honest. If Face barely knew her… Well no one could call it easier, but… Oh forget it, he told himself. Don’t try to pretend this situation isn’t hell on earth from top to toe.


“Said he only met her a couple of days ago.”


Something in BA’s tone made Murdock look at him sharply. A touch of reproach?


“You don’t approve of that.”


“I never said anything.” BA finished his milk. “We’d better go.”


“Hang on.” Murdock put a hand on BA’s wrist. “Just let’s wait a second. Face doesn’t need you disapproving of him right now. He’s got enough to deal with.”


BA glared back at him.


“I told you, I never said anything. And I won’t say nothing to him.”


“You don’t need to say anything, if you go around projecting moral disapproval with a radius of half a mile.”


BA glanced around making sure no-one was watching them, and then leant across to Murdock. “How I feel about it ain’t the point, but you want to know, then, you’re right. I think it’s wrong for people to go jumping into bed like that when they only just met.”


“Look, Face is…” What was the right word, Murdock wondered. A playboy? A player? He didn’t think BA would approve of that. “It’s easy for him, so –”


“Easy don’t make it right.”


“So, you’re saying it’s his own fault he’s in this mess?”


“No, it ain’t his fault. But maybe if he didn’t do that kind of thing so much then he wouldn’t have been there for it to happen to him.”


“That’s saying it’s his fault!” Murdock’s voice rose, and he saw BA glance around, looking as close to nervous as he ever got, before he waved over to the waitress, asking for the check.


“No,” he turned back to Murdock. “I never said it’s his fault. I’m just saying that if he does it a lot then people can, well they can predict what he’s gonna do. I’m just saying it could be a weakness, a way to get at him. At us.”


“BA, he’s, well, he’s The Faceman. You think he can just switch that off when we’re not working? He’s not a machine you know.”


“Forget it, fool. Forget I said it. Now keep your voice down till we get outta here.” The waitress came up with their bill and BA dug some dollar bills out of his pocket. “Let’s go.”


They walked from the diner, Murdock still fuming quietly. BA led him to Hannibal’s car. Murdock guessed the van must be hidden away some place inconspicuous. As BA unlocked the door, he spoke to Murdock across the roof of the car.


“You got one thing wrong, fool.”


“What?” Murdock asked, still scowling.


“It ain’t just Face in this mess, it’s all of us.”


+-+-+


Face sat up, startled.


“Who’s that?”


Where the hell am I? He looked around. Dim room, sagging bed.


“Sorry, Face. Just me.”


Hannibal’s voice reassured Face and he relaxed. His memory came back. They were in a motel room and he’d been dozing on one of the beds. Hannibal had just walked out of the bathroom; the toilet flush had woken Face from vivid, but confusing dreams. All colour and light and indistinct figures. Sometimes they wore faces he knew, the team, Amy, Decker, but too often they were blank. He rubbed his eyes shaking off the dream.


“What’s the time?”


“Just after nine.” Hannibal stood at the window and peeked out of the drawn blinds. BA had gone to pick up Murdock an hour and a half ago. They should have been back by now. Hannibal looked over at Face. Perhaps he saw the worry in Face’s eyes.


“They’ve probably been caught up in traffic.” Hannibal said.


On the other hand, the cops could have picked them up. And that would be Face’s fault. They could be in a police station right now, cops, or worse, Decker, asking where to find Templeton Peck. Face lay down again, dizzy suddenly. Maybe Hannibal was right about him being drugged.


“Hannibal, how long is that lab test going to take?” Face got the feeling he’d asked before, but couldn’t remember the answer. His head swirled with fog.


“Couple of days, Face. Takes a couple of days.”


“What if it’s negative?” Face sat up again and Hannibal turned to look at him.


“What if it is? That doesn’t prove you weren’t drugged, just means maybe it already cleared your system, or the test didn’t detect it, or –”


“Got an answer for everything, don’t you?” The bitter tone in his voice surprised Face. Oh, nice, snap at him for believing you, real smart, Peck. Hannibal didn’t rise to the tone.


“Want some coffee?”


“Thanks, yeah.” Face nodded and Hannibal slipped out of the room heading for a vending machine in the lobby. Face stood up and went into the bathroom, to wash up. He stood for a while leaning on the sink and staring into the mirror.


What if the test was negative, because he actually did it? He’d spent twenty-four hours now insisting he hadn’t done it. But what if he had? Done it and somehow forgotten it? Repressed it. Hannibal and BA had summarily dismissed Face’s suggestion he could have done it in a flashback, but Face couldn’t dismiss it so easily himself.


And if he had done it, if all the evidence the team and the cops found supported that theory, then could he really expect Hannibal to keep on supporting him? Could he expect to stay on the team? Especially with Amy around. They might not share a bed, but they’d been forced to sleep in the van more than once, even share a tent, while on a mission. And if Face had killed one woman even in his sleep who’s to say it couldn’t happen again? He could hurt Amy before the others could stop him.


Face groaned, sick at the thought. If he had done it, then Hannibal couldn’t let him stay with the team. He’d probably assume Face was sick, mentally, and maybe find a nice, discreet and very secure sanatorium. Abroad maybe. Well, hell that could even work. Commit Face under a false name, with some forged papers and he could spend all day, every day, claiming to be a member of the A-Team, and they’d smile and nod at him and say ‘Of course you are. Time for your pills now.’


He dried his face on the thin hand towel and went back into the bedroom. Hannibal had come back and a cardboard cup of coffee sat on the nightstand by the bed. Face picked up the cup and sipped the coffee, watching Hannibal, who had gone back to keeping watch at the window.


The team thinking he’d gone crazy and killed Celia would be bad enough, but Face could imagine a worse scenario. Supposing they became convinced he’d done it deliberately, murdered her? If the team believe that, what then? Would they dump him in front of the police department? And would he be alive or dead when they did?


He sat down on the bed, his movement making Hannibal glance at him for a second and look away again. He might be team, family to them, but who could stay loyal to even a real family member who did something so unspeakable? There were limits to the loyalty he could expect from them. Some things are unforgivable. None of the team was afraid of making judgements. They acted as judge and jury every time they took a mission and decided they were entitled to kick some ass. So they were comfortable with being judge, jury and…?


Face shivered and sipped some more coffee, trying to dispel the chill that came from deep inside him. If the team didn’t support him, who did he have? He’d be alone.


It could come down to that, even if they still believed his innocence, but nobody else did. If the cops and the newspapers called him a killer, how could he stay on the team? Who would hire them with a suspected murderer as part of the unit? Hannibal would have to dump him to restore the team’s good name. Maybe they’d even help him out, get him out of the country, and make sure he had plenty of money, but they’d get rid of him for the good of the team and again he’d be alone.


“They’re here.” Hannibal’s voice broke into Face’s brooding. A moment later, a soft knock sounded at the door, and Hannibal let BA and Murdock in.


Face rose from the bed as Murdock ran to him. He raised his arms to fend off an embrace, seeing Murdock looked quite agitated and knew he tended to get a bit demonstrative in that state.


“I’m okay, Murdock.” He anticipated the question, let Murdock at least put his hands on Face’s shoulders.


“You don’t look okay.”


“Yeah, well never mind. Look… Sit down.”


They sat on the bed and Murdock tried to put an arm around Face’s shoulders, but Face shrugged it off. Murdock glanced over at where Hannibal and BA stood by the door talking. Then he turned back to Face and spoke quietly.


“Oh, hell, Face. What happened? BA’s told me some of it, but –”


“I don’t know. I can’t remember anything. I… I try to sleep, thinking maybe I’ll dream about it, about what really happened I mean, not about…”


Waking up. Finding her. Cold.


He shivered and Murdock did put his arm across Face’s shoulders this time, refusing to let Face fend him off.


“You know, you can still go home.” Face turned to look at Murdock. “Back to the hospital, I mean.”


“Sorry, pal, you’re stuck with me,” Murdock said shaking his head.


“It’s not that I don’t appreciate it.” He wanted Murdock here, but at the same time, he didn’t. “But why screw up your life too?”


“Helping you doesn’t count as screwing up my life. Helping you, the team, is… well, you gotta stick with your unit. That’s my motto.”


“I thought ‘always double check you’ve extended the landing gear’ was your motto?” Face asked, with a small smile. Murdock grinned.


“They had a two for one sale at the motto store.”

Chapter 6

Face and Murdock sat on one bed, BA on the other, watching Hannibal pace as he talked.


“Assuming you were drugged, Face, the girl too.”


“Celia,” Face snapped. “Not ‘the girl’.” Hannibal looked back at him as Face glared, then he nodded.


“Celia. Sorry.”


Should be Claire really, Face supposed, that’s the name her mother gave her. But maybe Celia was who she wanted to become. Maybe that’s how she’d like people to remember her. Of course, she’d wanted to be a famous actress, not a famous murder victim.


“Face?” Hannibal said, breaking Face out of his thoughts, waiting to go on. Face nodded and Hannibal continued.


“I’m assuming Face and Celia were both drugged. Face didn’t wake up and she didn’t look as if she struggled much.” When they all frowned at him, he added. “She had long fingernails and they weren’t broken.”


“Observant,” Face said. More than me. He hadn’t noticed that.


“You should be a detective,” Murdock said.


Hannibal snorted, took out a cigar and lit it himself.


“To drug you in the hotel it takes someone on the inside. Someone who could get something into the champagne, or the glasses. Did the wine taste odd at all?”


“I… don’t think so,” Face said.


“Thought you was a connoisseur?” BA said.


Face shrugged. No, I’m a fake. I know what to ask for, but I haven’t had the chance to drink enough of it to actually know what it should taste like.


“Okay, what about the waiter who brought it to the room, could he have slipped something into it?”


Face frowned, trying to remember, trying to picture it.


“Close your eyes,” Murdock suggested, quietly.


Face didn’t, shook his head. “He opened it… I guess he could have done it then.”


“Right,” Hannibal said, nodding. “You’ll need to give us the best description of him that you can.”


“I’ll try… Not sure how well I can remember him. He was just a waiter.”


Hannibal started pacing again, chomping on his cigar. “So to get a man on the inside takes organisation. If someone is coming after us, someone out for revenge, then we’re looking at someone who’s not happy with just having us killed. This is someone who wants to make us suffer. Maybe someone who wants to destroy our reputation.”


“We’ve made a lot of enemies over the years,” Murdock said and sighed.


“And a lot of ’em is in jail.” BA pointed out.


“Someone with enough money, enough friends, can put out a contract on us from inside prison,” Hannibal said. He dropped into a chair by the dresser and knocked the ash off his cigar into a saucer.


“Martin James?” Murdock said. They all looked at him and he went on. “He’s still got plenty of nut followers who aren’t in jail and the FBI is still trying to track down all his money. And we destroyed his reputation. Makes a sick kind of sense he’d try to do the same thing back.”


Martin James? Face thought about it, and it made some sense, but there were a dozen others, some of them not in jail either.


“Speculation,” Face muttered.


“Speculation doesn’t do us much good,” Hannibal said. “We need some solid facts. I’m going to check in with Amy when I can, from a payphone, and see if she’s got anything new from the cops. And BA, we’re going out. We’re going to go talk to people who might have heard if someone has put a hit out on the A-Team.” He glanced at Face and Murdock. “You two stay here.”


“I think we should move,” Face said. “We’ve been here too long. And we need to get the van and my car out of sight.” He took a breath, tried to sound more confident than he felt, tried to show he had his act together, now his head had started to clear. “I know without the van phone there’s no way for Amy to contact us –”


“No, but you’re right,” Hannibal said. “We’ll move, and use the spare cars. Right.” He stood up. “BA, we’ll go hide the van and Corvette and get the other cars. Keys, Face.”


Face handed them over, with a certain amount of reluctance, but no argument. He had bigger worries than Hannibal’s abusive driving. Hannibal tossed the keys in the air and caught them.


“Pack our stuff; we’ll be back in twenty minutes.”


Hannibal and BA left and Face and Murdock started to gather up the few possessions the team had in the room.


“Face,” Murdock said, “I had a thought. You said you don’t remember the waiter very well.”


Face shrugged, tried again to recall the man’s face, but he’d been more interested in Celia at the time. He shook his head.


“He was a white guy, erm… Maybe brown or blonde hair… Sorry, that’s all I can think of.”


“What is there was a way to make you remember?” Face looked at him, puzzled and Murdock spoke again. “Hypnosis.”


“What?” Face stared at him.


“The docs at the hospital use it all the time. It’s not weird or anything, they’ve even used it on me. It can help you to remember stuff. You can… It’s like you can see it all again, like you’re there…”


Face shivered, not certain he wanted to be back there. Murdock saw the shudder and frowned, bit his lip.


“I don’t mean like it’s happening again, like a flashback, I mean, well more like watching it on TV.”


“Hypnosis.” Face stood with a shirt in his hands that he’d been about to fold up. What exactly could they make you remember? Things that you’d repressed, not just hadn’t taken in properly, like the waiter’s face? If he had done it and forgotten, could a hypnotist make him remember? That made him feel ice cold. Would he want to remember? Even supposing someone could prove to him that he did it, would he prefer not to remember? Was it better to live with a hole in his mind than to have the memory?


But if he didn’t kill her, then remembering more details of that evening could help them figure out who did it. There could be some detail, something he’d seen but not consciously noticed, something important. He could have evidence he didn’t even know about, evidence useful to the team, evidence useful to the police investigation.


“Face?” Murdock said. “What do you think?”


Face looked up, took a deep breath. “I guess, well we could try it, but how?” He smiled weakly. “I think Doctor Richter might be a little bit ticked with you right now.”


Murdock waggled his eyebrows. “You never know. He’ll do anything for his favourite patient.” He shrugged. “Heck, Face, this is LA, there’s a ton of therapists of all kinds out there, and some of them use hypnosis.”


“I don’t want to put my brain in the hands of some quack,” Face said scowling. “I’ve seen some of those nuts on TV talking about their hypnotist taking them back to a past life.”


Murdock took the shirt out of Face’s hands and rolled his eyes.


“On the other hand, there’s a chance you just might not be a good hypnotic subject.”


Face couldn’t imagine that he would be. Handing over that much control to someone else? How could anyone trust a stranger that way? He couldn’t. At this point in his life, he could quite literally count on one hand the number of people he trusted.


+-+-+


“Evening, Larry.”


The man bringing a bag of trash into the alleyway, jumped as Hannibal walked out of the dark. He glanced around as BA loomed out of the shadows on his other side.


“Oh hey.” Larry smiled nervously and wiped his hands on his apron. “Colonel Smith.” He glanced at the scowling BA. “Sergeant Baracus.”


“Why don’t you close the door and we’ll have a nice quiet chat.” Hannibal nodded at the open door spilling fluorescent light and TV noise out into the alley.


“Oh, sure!” Larry closed the door. Only a dim light above the door illuminated the three men now.


The bar Larry had just closed the door on wasn’t one the team went into very often. The clientele were the kind of people the team dealt with on behalf of their clients. Nobody in that bar wished the team well, so Hannibal found it very useful to have a contact inside with his ear to the ground.


“So what have you heard, Larry? Anything on the grapevine about us?”


“Only what I see on the TV, Colonel. And you know I never believe that stuff! When I saw that story about Mr Peck…”


“Yeah?” BA prompted when Larry trailed off.


“Well, I know it’s gotta be a mistake, don’t I?” He glanced from BA to Hannibal. “I know Mr Peck; he’d never do something like that.”


“A mistake, Larry, or a frame job,” Hannibal said. “If you hear anything, you drop a message at the usual place and I’ll come to you.”


“Right, will do.” Larry gave a sickly grin. “You know you can rely on me, Colonel.”


“I know that, Larry.”


“Mr Peck, well if he walked in here now and asked for a date with my daughter, I wouldn’t have a problem.”


“How is your daughter?” Hannibal asked


“Ten months for check fraud right now.” Larry shrugged. “Minimum security, she’s fine.”


“Right.” Hannibal resisted the urge to smile. “And Sam?”


Larry nodded. “Fine, fine. He got one of those new electric wheelchairs. Thinks he’s in the Indy 500! Says he’d love to see you guys again some time.”


“We’ll try, Larry. Things are kind of tricky right now.”


“Sure, sure. Well, you say hi to Mr Peck for me, and if I hear anything you’ll be the first to know.”


Hannibal and BA walked away from Larry’s fixed and scared smile. That smile still reminded Hannibal of the one Larry’s brother Sam wore right before they set out on a patrol. A patrol the team carried him back from without his legs. Hannibal sometimes felt guilty about using Larry’s gratitude to them for saving his little brother. But he couldn’t worry about that now. He had to use every advantage he had.


+-+-+


In a new motel room, Murdock and Face sat on a bed and ate take-out while the TV played quietly in the background. The TV was the only light in the room and Murdock found himself enjoying an interesting combination of tastes as he chose randomly from the dimly lit cartons.


“Murdock,” Face said, stirring a carton with his chopsticks. “I’ve been thinking about what you were saying about hypnosis.”


Murdock frowned. “What? You want to try it?”


“No, not exactly. Maybe. No, what I mean is, it’s possible that somewhere in my memory there’s a clue to what happened, to who did it. And maybe not just there. Maybe on the clothes I was wearing, even on me.” He shivered. “God knows what he did while I was out of it. I mean if that’s the way it happened –”


Murdock sat up, suddenly spotting the disturbing direction this conversation was heading. “Face, what are you saying, exactly?”


Face looked at him. Murdock could barely make out his expression, the ghostly light of the TV picking out only the edges of his features.


“I’m saying I could have evidence I don’t even know about.”


“Yeah…” Murdock knew there was more and he waited until Face spoke again, more quietly.


“Evidence that could be useful to the police.”


“Whoa!” Murdock jumped up, knocking over cartons of food onto the towel they’d laid on the bed. Face protested and righted the little boxes hastily.


“Face, if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, well you’d better start thinking something else right now.”


“If I gave myself up –”


“No way!”


“Will you shut up for one second and let me finish!”


Murdock heard real impatience in his voice, real anger and he did shut up. He remained standing, looking down at Face.


“Look, at the very least I’m a material witness in this case. If I have evidence the cops need –”


“You’re a suspect, the prime suspect and that’s what the cops will treat you as!” Murdock folded his arms. “Once they’ve got you, they’ll stop looking for anyone else.”


“And while they are looking for me then they aren’t looking for anyone else.” He tossed the chopsticks down. “I should have gone to them right away. They could have done a drug test that would stand up in court.”


“Hannibal will –”


“Hannibal is not Sherlock Holmes!”


“Well you called him.” Murdock pointed out. “You needed help and your first thought was to call him, right?” Would I have done the same? Different for me though, I’m not on the run. Or, well, I wasn’t on the run.


“Yeah,” Face said. “I called him.”


“Then, well, stick with it, keep the faith.” Murdock came back to sit on the bed, one leg curled under himself, one on the floor. “Has he ever let you down?”


Face shook his head. “Of course not. I mean… well no, not really.”


“And he won’t this time.”


“I guess.” Face looked down, and found his chop sticks again.


“Anyway,” Murdock went on. “Even if you handed yourself in and the cops found evidence to clear you of this, well, hell, they wouldn’t let you go with a pat on the back would they? They’d just hand you over to Decker.”


“Yeah, but…” He looked up and smiled. “Well, you guys would bust me out.”


“Face, you can’t put your neck on the line expecting that to work out every time. Supposing we couldn’t get to you? Supposing we tried and failed? I mean, we’ve been lucky so far, but luck may be something we’re short of right now.”


“Yeah.” Face rummaged around in the cartons, looking for one with some food left in it. “Poor Celia sure ran out of luck when she hooked up with me.”


“If it hadn’t been her it would have been someone else.” Murdock suppressed a yawn. He needed some coffee, because he planned to stay awake until Hannibal and BA got back. Though he seemed to have headed Face off that dangerous path he’d started down, there was no sense in taking chances.


“You can sleep first,” Murdock said, “I’ll take the first watch.”


Face shook his head. “I’ve slept enough.”


+-+-+


Hannibal got back into the non-descript car parked at the mouth of an alley.


“Any good?” BA asked.


“Nothing.” Hannibal shook his head, frustrated. The night was almost over, dawn tinged the sky, and BA and Hannibal had rousted many of their underground contacts, but nobody had heard anything about any plot against the A-Team. Plenty of them had reported that some people were very glad to see it happening, but nobody seemed to be going around boasting that they’d made it happen.


Hannibal sighed. With the people they’d helped over the years, they had many useful and loyal allies, but many enemies too. Some of them weren’t in jail, but even those who were had allies outside.


“Pull over, BA,” Hannibal said, spotting a catering truck outside a construction site. He’d grab some breakfast to take back to the motel. “You want some milk?”


“Thanks, man.”


As Hannibal bought food, coffee, and milk, he noticed the truck sold newspapers too. Naturally, he grabbed himself a copy of the LA Courier Express. Though he spotted a picture of Face on the front page, he folded the paper under his arm as he took the cardboard tray of food and paper cups. Walking casually, he went back to the car.


Only once safely inside and on the road did he unfold the newspaper and start to read the story that, of course, bore the by-line of Amy Allen.


After a moment, he smiled and nodded, kept nodding as he read.


“That’s our girl.”

Chapter 7

“Allen!” Marge’s voice rang across the newsroom the second Amy walked in the door, making Amy almost drop her bag and the coffee cup she carried. “Get your ass over here, now!”


As everybody in the room turned to stare at her, Amy fought down the urge to turn around and run right back out of the door. She steeled herself. She’d faced scarier things than Marge while with the team. Right now, she couldn’t think of any of them.


Squaring her shoulders, ignoring the stares, she strode across the room with faked confidence, pretending to be Hannibal. Nothing ever scared Hannibal. Amy stopped in front of her desk of the glowering Marge and then glanced down at the cardboard cup in her hand. She held it out with a smile, or rather a Smile, this time pretending to be Face.


“I brought you some coffee, boss.”


Marge scowled even harder and tossed a copy of that morning’s LA Courier Express across the desk to land with the front page facing up. The story she’d written lay in front of Amy. The story she’d waited until the last second to send down to the typesetters. Waited until all the senior staff had left. ‘Nearly ready’, she’d said as Marge asked for a progress report on her way out. And Marge had nodded and left, because she trusted Amy now. Trusted her to make the print deadline. Trusted her to write a good story.


“What I want to know,” Marge said, voice quieter now, but no friendlier. “Is when you transferred from news to editorial? Because I don’t recall signing anything about that.”


“Editorial?” Amy put the coffee cup down on the desk, trying to ignore the fact they were still the centre of attention. A phone rang somewhere in the room, but nobody answered it.


“This,” Marge picked up the paper. “This is not a news report. This is a goddamn love letter to Templeton Peck!”


Somewhere behind Amy, someone giggled. Amy winced. Bad idea. Marge shoved her chair to one side, the castors rattling, and glared past Amy.


“What do you people think this is, cabaret? Get back to work! Frank, pick up your damn phone!” Amy heard the newsroom bustle back into life, the ringing phone silenced.


Marge shoved the chair back into place, picked up the coffee cup and sipped from it, frowning at Amy. The scrutiny reminded Amy of being back in school, standing in front of the principal and her expression naturally fell into the one she’d worn then. The ‘you can’t possibly think it was little me that dropped that stink bomb in the faculty bathroom’ expression.


“Take that ‘little miss innocent’ look off your face,” Marge snapped. Amy looked more serious at once, seeing she wasn’t fooling anybody.


“Right, come with me.” Marge stood up and stalked off. Nervous, Amy followed. On the way out of the room, she glanced back at her desk and wondered who would be sitting there by the end of the day.


Marge led Amy into a storeroom, full of stationery and coffee room supplies and closed the door. She lit a cigarette and studied Amy again for a moment. Amy kept the serious look on her face.


“You sleeping with Peck?”


“What?” Amy’s mouth dropped open and she stared. “Of… Of course not!”


“You sure?”


“I think I’d have noticed.” A trace of sarcasm crept into her voice before she could control it, but Marge actually gave a small smile.


“I’ll bet.”


“Look, if I was sleeping with him, I wouldn’t exactly be happy about him being in a hotel room with another woman, alive or dead, would I?”


Marge nodded. “What about the others?”


“I am not sleeping with any of the A-Team!” Amy raised her voice and regretted it, because she would bet at least one person had an ear pressed to the outside of the door. She’d hoped that denial would mollify Marge but it only made her frown more deeply.


“In that case, you’ve got no excuse.” She dragged hard on the cigarette and took it out. “If you’d got yourself all love numbed then I could see why you’d let yourself be so… blinkered. But since you’re not… Look, we’ve turned a blind eye, Eldridge and me, to some of your activities with the A-Team, because of the stories you were turning in. Eldridge has gone in to bat for you against the army a bunch of times. Yeah,” she said when Amy stared. “Which he’s never told you about. But he’s protected you.”


Amy looked at the floor, feeling ashamed suddenly of the harsh thoughts she’d sometimes had for her editor.


“But you’ve got to remember that you’re supposed to be an observer. You may be in deep with those guys, but you’ve still got to keep your distance.”


And I don’t. Amy knew it at once. She protected the team when she reported on their adventures. She never mentioned Murdock, of course, she never put anything in a story that could help the military track them down. But did she go further than that? Did she omit things not simply to protect them, but rather to make them look better?


“If you’ve lost your objectivity, then… Well you’ve got to start asking exactly who you are.”


Amy looked up as Marge dropped the cigarette butt and stamped it out.


“Are you a journalist, or are you a member of the A-Team? You can’t be both. Especially not now. You must be able to see that this changes everything.”


“Are you firing me?” Amy asked in a small voice.


“No.” Marge shook her head. “Not right now. But you have to make the choice, Amy. If you can’t report the facts about the A-Team, then you’re not a reporter any more and you don’t belong on this paper.”


+-+-+


Hannibal and BA returned to the motel, to find Face and Murdock already packing up the team’s possessions, ready to move on again. Hannibal knew they couldn’t stay in one place for long, but on the other hand, if they were driving around the streets a cop could spot them at any time.


Leaving LA altogether was an option. But he didn’t want to be away from the contacts he’d talked to during the night, in case any of them gave him some information he could use. They could just get Face and Murdock out of town maybe, while he and BA stayed here. But splitting up didn’t appeal to him either. If someone did have a hit out on the team, then dividing their strength would not be a good plan.


Although Amy’s story made Face and Murdock smile when they read the newspaper, they looked disappointed that Hannibal and BA had found so little out during their investigation. The four of them sat eating breakfast in glum silence.


“You know,” BA said, breaking the silence eventually, making them turn to look at him. “I been thinking about something. Maybe we been looking at this from the wrong angle.” He nodded towards Face. “We’re thinking someone did this intending to frame Face. I mean Face in particular. What if it weren’t Face they was after, what if it was Celia?”


“Not me?” Face said, frowned. “I don’t understand.”


“I do.” Murdock spoke, slowly, tasting the idea. “You mean, Celia could have been the intended target all along and they would have used whoever happened to be with her that night as the fall guy?”


BA nodded. “Would mean it wasn’t Celia who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He looked at Face. “It was you.” Face stared back at him. “Could have been anybody, but that night, just happened to be you.”


“I could have just been a patsy?” Face said. “That’s… I don’t know. I don’t know what to think about that. Colonel.” He turned to Hannibal. “Does it sound plausible to you?”


Hannibal frowned. He’d not even considered the idea. They had so many enemies he’d just assumed Face must have been the target. Face was a member of the A-Team, who was Celia?


“Who would target her though? She’s just an actress.” Hannibal said.


Murdock waved a hand. “Some crazy ex-boyfriend or some nut obsessed with her. Or… well, who knows? We don’t really know anything about her. For all we know she was a CIA agent.”


“Murdock,” Hannibal rolled his eyes. Face stared at Murdock and BA snorted.


“I’m just saying there could be a thousand and one reasons why someone might have killed her, and the real one could be something even I can’t dream up.”


BA nodded and said “yeah”, then looked annoyed. Hannibal presumed finding himself in agreement with Murdock disconcerted him.


Hannibal knew they could be right and that just depressed him, because it made things a lot harder for the team to get to the bottom of. And the police wouldn’t be looking for anything strange in her background. As far as they were concerned, there was one obvious suspect. Why look beyond the obvious?


“Okay, it’s worth considering,” Hannibal said. “Apart from the CIA bit, though I assume you’re weren’t serious about that, Murdock.” He stood up. “Get ready to go. I’m going to call Amy and see if she has anything for us and while I’m on, I’ll ask her to look up what she can on the – on Celia’s background.”


He left them tidying up the motel room and found a nearby payphone. Calling Amy’s work number was risky, but with the van hidden away, she couldn’t call them. He would keep the call short and be careful what he said. Neither Decker nor Lynch had succeeded in getting her phone bugged so far, but that could have changed.


“Amy, it’s me,” he said when she answered.


“Oh, hey. Um, you okay?”


Hannibal frowned. Her voice sounded rather subdued. Not in the sense of her being surreptitious, just rather glum. Perhaps she’d had as little sleep as they had. Hannibal desperately needed to find some place they could stay for a while, get a full night’s sleep. Too old for this many all-nighters in a row, Colonel.


“Are you okay, kid?” His concern came through in his tone even though he tried to keep it casual.


“My boss didn’t like my story,” Amy said and he heard her sigh.


“Well we liked it.” He grinned. “We liked it a lot.”


“Right. Great.”


It didn’t sound as if that cheered her up much, but he didn’t have the time to question her more closely.


“Listen, we’ve been thinking that someone needs to look more closely into Celia’s background. In case she’s the one this is all about.”


“You mean you think Face wasn’t the target?” Amy’s voice sounded more animated then, intrigued now at this new angle to check out.


“It’s something to consider. And I’ll bet it’s something the police aren’t bothering to consider.”


“I’m sure they’ll be investigating her background.” Amy’s voice became colder, making Hannibal frown.


“Well, if you’ve got any contacts at the PD, see what you can get from them.” He glanced around. Nobody on the street paid any attention to him that he could see, but he could hear a siren wailing in the distance. Maybe coming this way, maybe not. Time to move either way. “I’ll call back later.”


“Okay. Hannibal… Take care.”


The line went dead. Hannibal looked the phone for a moment and felt nervous. Right now Amy could be their most useful ally, with the resources she had. But if she started having doubts and cut them loose…


No. No way. Amy was loyal to the team. He believed that one hundred percent.


+-+-+


Lieutenant Jack Turner, aged forty-seven and carrying enough extra weight to make his doctor scowl at him, walked up to his desk in the squad room. He pulled the trashcan out from under his desk and dropped in a copy of the LA Courier Express. Then he took the paper back out and this time shoved it in harder before kicking the can back under the desk. His doctor scowled at him about his blood pressure too. Damn quack should try doing this job for a month. Scowling himself, Turner sat down, and looked at the man sitting across the desk from him.


“Damn reporters.” Turner said. The other man nodded, in apparent understanding. “Right,” Turner went on. “Who the hell are you and what do you want?”


“Colonel Decker.” The other man stood up and offered his hand. “I believe you’re expecting me.”


Turner sighed. Expecting, yes, but not looking forward to the arrival. He stood up and shook Decker’s hand and both men sat again.


“You want some coffee?” When Decker nodded, Turner called across to a young uniformed officer. “Hey, Lyman, how about some coffee over here? Does a man have to die of thirst?”


“I’ve read over your reports,” Decker said, when Turner looked back at him.


“Oh really?” Turner would like to get hold of whoever had handed them over. He couldn’t leave this place for one damn minute. When they gave him this case he’d read reports too. The Army wouldn’t give him Decker’s reports, but he’d got hold of reports of local police and sheriff’s departments that had encountered the team, and Decker. The former usually running rings around the latter. If this guy Decker thought he could waltz in here and start dictating, he’d soon find out different.


“Why haven’t you started tailing Amy Allen?” Decker asked, his tone suggesting that only an idiot wouldn’t be doing so.


Well, whaddya know. Here he goes with the dictating.


“She won’t meet them. She’s not stupid, neither are they.”


“I assume you are at least tapping her phone.”


“We’re working on a warrant for that now.” Decker gave him a condescending look. “Listen, Colonel.” Turner paused a moment as Lyman placed two mugs of coffee on the desk. “Colonel, you already know damn well that getting a warrant to tap a reporter’s phone is no cakewalk. If it was, how come you’ve not got one before now, since you’re so sure she’s practically in bed with these guys?”


Decker snorted. “There’s no ‘practically’ about it.”


“Right.” Turner didn’t want to imagine exactly what he meant by that. Amy Allen, and in his mind he growled the name, was a distraction. A friend and ally of the team she might be, but right now, she wouldn’t lead them to Peck.


He rolled up his sleeves, warm already. Who had stolen his damn fan? Okay, no sense in grousing. His Captain had told him he had to work with this Colonel Decker. He hated colonels. World’s biggest experts at getting people killed, he recalled from the old days.


“Lyman,” he yelled again. “Where’s the overnight reports of sightings? And find my damn fan.”


+-+-+


Face and Murdock waited in their car, parked outside a grocery store. Hannibal and BA were inside the store, and Hannibal’s car sat parked in front of Face and Murdock’s.


Murdock glanced across at Face in the driver’s seat and smiled as Face adjusted the baseball cap he wore. Murdock’s cap. Murdock himself was bare headed.


“What’s wrong with this picture?” Murdock said, half to himself. Face turned to him looking puzzled.


“Huh?”


“Nothing. How do you like the cap?”


Face adjusted it again, then took it off and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how you can stand to wear it all day.”


Murdock shrugged. “Get used to it. I feel kind of naked without it now.” He glanced at the door of the grocery store. “Wonder where Hannibal’s got in mind for us this time.”


“Maybe we should get out of the city.”


“Maybe.” Murdock said. “Is that what you want?”


“What I want?” Face looked at Murdock. “Is that all that’s important now. What I want?”


“Well, yeah. I mean keeping you safe, till we work this out, that’s the priority right now, obviously.”


“Yeah.” Face tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. “Protecting me.” After a long moment, he spoke again. “What if we can’t work it out, Murdock? What if we can’t find anything that clears me?”


“We’ll find something. But if we don’t, well, I guess we come up with a plan. I know Hannibal’s never wanted to flee the country, but if we had to, go abroad, so you can be safe, that’s what we’d do.”


He frowned at Face who just sat tapping the steering wheel again, gazing out of the windshield.


“Face? You okay?”


With a smile, Face turned to him. “Yeah. Just, you know…” He shrugged, and then sat back in the seat again. He glanced at his hand.


“Damn cigar ash.” He popped open a foldout ashtray in the dashboard. “Look at this. Overflowing with Hannibal’s damn cigars.” He pulled the whole ashtray out.


Murdock watched him. Why did Face care about ashtrays at a time like this? Just distracting himself probably.


“Here, Murdock, empty it into the gutter would you?” Murdock started to wind down the window. “You’re not going to bang it against the door are you?”


“Fuss, fuss, fuss.” Murdock opened the door instead, to empty the ashtray, tapping it against the sidewalk to dislodge all the compressed ash sticking to it. “Geez, when did we last empty –?”


“Goodbye, Murdock. I’m sorry.”


“What?” Murdock started to straighten up again, but a violent push sent him tumbling from the car to land on the sidewalk on his right shoulder with a bone-jarring thump. The car door slammed shut behind him and he rolled over as the engine revved.


“Face! No!”


Murdock lunged at the car, grabbing at the door handle, but couldn’t catch it. The car roared away and Murdock hit the ground again, half on the sidewalk, half in the gutter. He yelled after the rapidly retreating car.


“Face!”

Chapter 8

Amy walked into the newspaper’s archive room and dropped into a seat beside the desk of a young man, an especially enthusiastic intern who’d been around for a few months. She tried to recall his name. Joel? Carl?


Of course, a few weeks in the archives might have dampened Joel or Carl’s enthusiasm, Amy thought. It had almost dampened hers back when she’d paid her dues, but she’d kept her eyes on the prize, a desk in the newsroom. A desk she just might lose if she didn’t choose exactly who she worked for.


Is it even a question? Hannibal wants information on Celia Hartley and here I am getting it for him. Snaps his fingers and I jump. Of course, it’s useful for the story too, but… She shook herself and Joel, or Carl, or Phil maybe, looked at her expectantly.


“Hi, erm, kid,” she fell back on, even though she couldn’t be much more than six or seven years older than him. “I need everything you can give me on Celia Hartley, the –”


“Victim in the A-Team murder case. Right.” He handed her a folder and she smiled.


“Anticipated me?”


“I read your story, Miss Allen. I think you made some very valid criticisms of the police investigation.”


“Oh, well thanks.” She flicked through the folder, but then closed it and put it into her briefcase. This would only scratch the surface. She had a couple of police contacts who could fill in anything interesting the police had found out about Celia and not released yet.


“Miss Allen?” The intern put his hand on another folder on the desk. “I, um, I thought you might be interested in this. I do a lot of reading when it’s quiet in here, and well, sometimes I start to see a thread in things that might seem unconnected.”


Amy frowned at him, but took the folder he handed over. Inside she found several Xerox copies of old stories from the paper. She skimmed through several of them and then stared at the intern, making him blush.


“Joel, we’ll make a reporter of you yet.”


“Um, it’s Will.”


“Will, sorry!” She dropped the folder into her briefcase and slammed it shut. “Keep your eye on the prize, Will. By the end of the week you might have my desk.”


Turning away from his baffled look, Amy hurried from the room.


+-+-+


“Face!”


Hannibal and BA ran from the grocery store and found Murdock sprawled on the sidewalk.


“What the hell?” Hannibal looked up the street to see the car Face and Murdock had been waiting in hurtling away.


“Hannibal!” Murdock scrambled to his feet. “We have to go after him, come on!”


No time to ask what had happened, the three of them ran to the other car, pushing aside anybody that got in the way, attracting far too much attention, no way to avoid it. They piled into the car and BA gunned the engine and roared off in pursuit as Face’s car took a left turn up ahead.


“What happened, Murdock?” Hannibal demanded, turning from the front seat to look at Murdock in the back.


“He shoved me out of the car. Just… just shoved me out.” Murdock looked half crazed and bounced around on the seat. “Hannibal, I think he’s going to try and hand himself in to the cops!” He shook his head. “Oh man, I thought I’d headed him off that idea. After last night, he said –”


“What?” Hannibal scowled at him. “He said something about turning himself in? Why didn’t you tell me that?”


“I said, I thought I’d headed him off,” Murdock said, shaking his head again. “I was sure…”


Hannibal turned away from Murdock. BA took the same left Face had and Hannibal looked out of the windshield to see Face’s car well ahead of them.


“Put your foot down, BA!” They couldn’t lose him, whatever crazy idea he’d got into his head they could not lose him.


“What do you think I’m doing, man?”


The buildings and pedestrians and other cars flashed past in a blur and Hannibal felt profoundly grateful that they’d hidden the van and Corvette. Even with BA driving, he didn’t think the van could have caught the ‘vette, not if Face was really determined to escape.


He sure seemed to be. A sudden turn to the right almost sent him skidding off the road, his back wheels spinning off, smoke pouring from the tyres. Hannibal heard Murdock gasp, but Face controlled the skid and straightened the car out, accelerated away.


BA, with some warning for the turn, slowed just enough to take it without sliding and put his foot down as they found themselves on a long, wide, road. Now BA really opened it up and they started to catch up to Face fast. They had one advantage in that Face had to weave in and out of the traffic, but many of the drivers took him as a warning and moved in, giving BA a clearer road.


“We’re catching him,” BA said. “You’d better start thinking ’bout how we gonna stop him.”


“I am thinking.” Hannibal bit down hard on his cigar. The usual method of course involved a rifle and the rear tyres of the car they were chasing, but would he dare do that when Face was driving the car in question?


“Where do you think he’s making for?” Murdock asked. “Which precinct I mean?”


“Hang on!” BA shouted as Face made another wild turn, to the left this time, leaving screeching brakes and horns in his wake. So close behind, BA had no time to slow down, just to heave on the steering wheel and force the car around as if dragging the whole weight of it with his bare hands.


Murdock yelped as he slammed into the door and Hannibal clung to the dash and bit right through his cigar. He spat out the end and grabbed at his seatbelt, pulled it across himself, fumbled with the catch. The car filled with the stink of burning tyres as they left long arcs of black rubber across the road.


A busier road now, forced them both to slow down. Hannibal tried to spot a street sign and orient himself, so he could see if he could make a guess to answer Murdock’s question about where Face might be heading. Then he heard the sirens and Murdock’s groan.


“He don’t need to head to no police station,” BA said, “All he has to do is keep this up and the cops is gonna come to him.”


Flashing lights showed behind them, still well back.


“Come to us too,” Hannibal said. The cops wouldn’t just be chasing, they’d be converging, they’d be ahead, waiting to close a trap.


“Intersection,” Murdock said, pointing ahead as they hurtled towards it. “Red light. Oh man, no, he’s going through!” He turned away and Hannibal wanted to do the same, but couldn’t force his eyes away as Face drove full pelt into the intersection and straight into the path of a car coming from the left.


“Oh my god.”


Both drivers made last minute attempts to swerve. They didn’t quite make it, but when the cars struck each other, they made only glancing contact, that sent both spinning off across the intersection. Hannibal watched wide eyed as Face’s car skidded around and slid until it hit a street lamp broadside and came to rest.


BA, heading into the intersection almost as fast as Face and had to swerve to avoid the other car, as it spun past, before sliding to a halt against a set of traffic lights.


“Face!” Murdock yelled as BA stood on the brakes bringing them screeching to a halt beside Face’s car.


“Stay in the car!” Hannibal ordered BA, as he and Murdock jumped out. They ran to the crashed car, and Hannibal could have cheered when he saw the passenger door open and Face climb out, falling to his knees, but getting up again at once.


“Face!” Murdock reached him first, grabbed his arms.


“Let me go!” Face yelled, pushing Murdock away. “Just get out of here.”


Police cars were pulling up now, the whole intersection becoming a mass of flashing lights. Only one road from the intersection remained clear of cops, and Hannibal knew they had to take that road right now, before that changed.


Hannibal grabbed Face’s arm, looked him over. A few cuts on his face and hands from flying glass, but no other obvious injuries. Face tried to pull away from the two of them.


“Face, are you hurt?” Hannibal asked. “Did you hit your head?”


“What? No, I didn’t –”


“Good.”


Hannibal hauled off and punched Face in the jaw. Murdock grabbed Face as he fell back against the car and started to slump down.


“Get him in the car,” Hannibal ordered, and between the two of them, they heaved Face into the back seat.


“Hey! Stop!” A cop ran towards them.


Hannibal shoved Murdock inside and piled in after him.


“Go!”


BA didn’t need the order. Even as Hannibal slammed the door, the car roared away.


+-+-+


“I need to see Detective Turner. My name’s Amy Allen.”


The cop manning the desk stared at her and her press pass, and then grinned. He turned and called to someone out of sight.


“Hey, Diane, guess who’s here to see Turner? Amy Allen!”


“Amy Allen?” A woman’s voice sounded from a room with an open door. A moment later, a woman officer carrying a coffee cup looked around the door, also grinning. “This oughta be good.”


“It’s quite urgent,” Amy said.


The cop on the desk pointed, still grinning. “Left and then right. Near the back of the room.”


As it turned out, Amy didn’t need directions. As soon as she made the right turn in the squad room she got a landmark.


Decker.


The sight of him made her hesitate for a moment. However, she recovered herself and strode through the room to where Decker sat across a desk from Turner.


“Miss Allen.” Decker stood up when he noticed her approaching.


“Colonel Decker.” Keeping up a defiant front, she smiled at him, and then turned to the other man, who glowered at her. She offered her hand. “Detective Turner?”


He looked at her hand for a while, but didn’t take it. She withdrew it.


“If you want an interview, Miss Allen, I think I’m far too busy with, what did you call it? Making hasty judgements?”


Amy saw Decker smirk as he sat back down. Perhaps someone else being the target of Amy’s criticism for a change made him happy. Well Amy would be quite happy to include him too. Nobody had offered her a chair, so she pulled one across from another desk.


“I was just doing my job, Detective,” she said as she sat. Decker snorted.


“And I’m busy doing mine,” Turner said, picking up a folder. “So if you’d get the hell out of my precinct I’d appreciate it.”


“Please, give me five minutes. I have something important to show you.” She took the folder Will had given her out of her briefcase and dropped it in front of Turner. “Read it. They’re from the paper, eight stories going back two years, of murder cases with remarkable similarities to this one. A young woman strangled in a hotel room, the man who was with her claiming he has no recollection of killing her.”


“Of course they claim that.” Turner did open the file and glance at a couple of the stories. “Here, this guy.” He pointed at one of the stories. “See, he admitted it –”


“No, he pleaded guilty in court. Not the same thing is it?”


Decker made another snorting noise, but she ignored him and pressed on.


“Three of the men have already been convicted, five are awaiting trial, nobody’s ever made a connection –”


“Because there isn’t one.” Turner closed the folder. “I could show you dozens of near identical murders without any connection. Fact is, Miss Allen, that people don’t have that much imagination and there’s plenty of men out there who’ll strangle a girl.”


“Templeton Peck isn’t one of them. He’s not capable of it.”


Turner gave a short laugh. “He’s a trained killer.” He looked at the now scowling Decker. “Isn’t that right, Colonel?”


“But he’s not a murderer!”


“Everybody’s capable of murder, Miss Allen,” Turner said. “Everybody. Stick with your job as long as I’ve stuck with mine and you’ll realise that.”


Amy shook her head, looking down, and then looked back at Turner.


“At least read the file, please. And pull the rest of the information about the other killings. I said in my story that you were blinkered and only interested in tracking down Face – Lieutenant Peck – and not in finding out the truth. Right now you aren’t giving me any reason to change my mind.”


Turner frowned at her, but dropped her folder into his ‘in’ tray.


“I’ll read it.”


“That’s all I ask.” Amy stood up and held out her hand again. This time Turner rose and shook it briefly. As Amy turned to go, she heard a chair scrape and Decker appeared at her side.


“Let me walk you out, Miss Allen.”


Surprised, she let him walk beside her. Once out of Turner’s hearing Decker spoke to her.


“If you know anything about where they are, anything that you’re not telling the police –”


“I don’t know where they are!”


He didn’t look convinced. “You’ve said that to me before.”


“It’s still true.”


“Maybe, but things have changed, Miss Allen. You’re protecting a murder suspect.”


“I am not!” She stopped and turned to face him, studied him for a moment. “You know, I don’t think you believe it yourself, Colonel. You’re along for the ride, hoping you can drop the net on the whole team. But you don’t really believe Face murdered that girl.”


Decker shrugged. “Maybe not. But I’ve got an open mind about it, unlike you.” His mouth quirked into a smile. “Seems things are a little topsy-turvy around here.”


“Decker!”


Amy jumped as Turner pounded up to them. “Report of a high speed pursuit in Torrance. It’s them! Come on!”

Chapter 9

“Hannibal.”


Hannibal opened his eyes to see Murdock standing over him, shaking his shoulder. “Face is waking up.”


“Thanks.” Hannibal stretched and rubbed his eyes. He needed a real bed and a proper sleep, but it didn’t look as if he’d get either any time soon. He’d spent the last couple of hours napping on some blankets on the concrete floor of their workshop, a small warehouse, where they worked on their vehicles, and other things they needed for jobs. BA had a workbench full of electronics gear there; a sturdy wooden table, bolted to the floor.


Right now, Face lay beside the workbench, also on a nest of blankets. His left arm lay at an uncomfortable looking angle and as he stirred he tried to move it. A steel chain clanked and Face sat up abruptly, eyes wide, staring down at his wrist. A manacle circled it, the one at the other end of the chain attached to the leg of the workbench. Face gave it a futile tug, and then glared up at Hannibal.


“You’d better get this off me right now.”


“Sorry. It stays.”


Face glared at him and at Murdock and BA who stood behind Hannibal.


Face looked at his watch and frowned. Hours had passed since the crash. When Hannibal and Murdock had bundled Face into the car, he’d started to come around, and fight, a few moments later. Hannibal had climbed into the front passenger seat, ignoring BA’s protests, and found a vial of BA’s knockout juice and a hypodermic in the glove compartment. A moment later Face stopped giving them any trouble.


After losing the police pursuit, they headed here, to their warehouse to hole up. Hannibal sent BA out to pick up some food, planned to stay overnight here at least, needed time to rest and think. To work out what the hell they did for Face now. Keeping him chained to a workbench could hardly be a long-term solution.


“Face, I don’t want to keep you chained up. But if you want me to let you loose you’ll have to convince me that you’re not going to try that again.”


Face looked up at him and Hannibal expected a con job, expected a faked expression and for Face to reassure him that he was just fine now and of course he wouldn’t try it again. But Face just bit his lip and looked away.


“I haven’t changed my mind.”


Hannibal heard Murdock groan behind him. He glanced over his shoulder.


“Put together some sandwiches or something, guys. Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.”


They retreated to another bench and started pulling food and drinks out of grocery store bags. Hannibal turned back to Face and crouched down beside him.


“Murdock’s told me what you said. About handing yourself in. That’s what you were going to do, isn’t it?”


“It’s the right thing to do.” Face still didn’t look at Hannibal.


“It’s a mistake. They’ve got enough circumstantial evidence to put you away for life.”


“Yeah…” Face pulled once at the manacle again. “Maybe they should put me away.”


Hannibal frowned, not understanding. “You didn’t kill her, Face.”


“I didn’t protect her!”


Behind Hannibal, Murdock and BA went quiet and he guessed they were staring. Face stared too, at Hannibal.


“She was with me and someone killed her and I didn’t protect her!”


“Face you –”


“I don’t care what you say, Hannibal! Whatever you say amounts to the same thing. I lay there, drugged, if you insist, and he strangled her. Well, if I couldn’t be a man then, for Celia, I can be a man now and face the music.”


“Not protecting her is not the same as killing her.” Hannibal said it quietly, seeing how close to the edge Face was, needed to keep him calm.


“Amounts to the same thing for her!”


Hannibal put a hand on Face’s shoulder, trying to soothe him, bring him down.


“Face, listen to me. Listen. He killed her and left you to take the fall for it. If you give in to the guilt and let the cops railroad you, then they’ll close the case and he’ll have two victims, first Celia and then you. He’ll escape, maybe even do this again. Are you going to let that happen?”


Murdock came around and knelt on the floor beside Face.


“We know you’re feeling bad, buddy. But you know you’ll regret it later if you do this.”


Face looked at him, then past Hannibal, at BA who had come to stand at Hannibal’s side.


“BA?”


“Ain’t gonna let you go to jail for something you didn’t do, Faceman. After all this time, there ain’t no sense in that. Else we might as well have stayed at Bragg.”


He moved away and after a moment, Hannibal heard him rustling in the grocery bags again.


“Face?” Murdock asked. “You going to be smart?” He smiled, hopeful but nervous. “Go on, give it a try, just this once.”


Face smiled back at him, his smile just as weak. He gave Murdock a small push, making him rock on his feet.


“I guess I’ll think about it.” He nodded at the manacle. “So you’ll let me loose, Colonel?”


Hannibal frowned. Was that smile a little too easy?


“After you think about it.” He stood up and Face’s smile quickly turned back into a scowl. “Okay, it’s dark out now. Everybody get some rest. I’m going to make phone calls. My contact for the drugs test thought he’d have the results by tonight.”


Leaving Face still sitting up, Murdock at his side, Hannibal went to BA.


“I could be a few hours. I want one of you watching him at all times. He could get out of those cuffs in under a minute if you give him the chance.”


Though they’d removed Face’s lock picks from his pocket when they brought him here, he could have something else concealed. But Hannibal felt uncomfortable with searching him more thoroughly than that while he lay unconscious. In the present circumstances, Face would consider that unforgivable.


“Make sure he eats something,” Hannibal added.


“Sucker’ll eat if I have to hold him at gunpoint.”


+-+-+


“BA.”


Face’s voice came out of the dimness and BA’s head jerked back up. Darn it, he’d almost nodded off, even sitting up in a chair. Face could have pulled some Houdini act and be out of the cuffs by now. Hannibal would be disappointed if BA let Face escape. Terminally disappointed. Of course Face would have to get past Murdock too, who patrolled the perimeter.


“What?” BA asked.


“Oh, nothing,” Face said. “Just… testing.”


“I’m wide awake,” BA insisted. “Have I gotta come over there and check you still chained up?”


Face raised his arm, the chain clanked and there was enough light for BA to see the manacle still attached to Face at one end and the bench at the other.


“Good. Now go to sleep.”


“Hard to sleep.” Face paused. “Since it happened. Hard to let myself be…” He didn’t finish.


Helpless, BA supplied the word silently.


“Someone’s on guard all the time. You’re safe.”


“Yeah.” Face sighed. “Good thing it’s you. Better at keeping people safe than I am.”


“You do fine. Always trusted you to have my back.”


“And now?”


“Nothing’s changed.”


Face stayed silent for a while and BA wondered if he had gone to sleep at last, but after a while, he spoke again.


“Know the worst thing, BA? I lied to her. She thought I was some exec at Universal. She thought I could get her acting work. If I hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have been there and she wouldn’t be dead.”


BA frowned. “Why’d you do that? Not just with her, I mean. I seen you do that with lotsa women.”


“‘Hi,” Face said, in a fake bright tone. “I’m a wanted felon. Wanna go out to dinner?'”


BA rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know you gotta lie about who you really are, but why all that other stuff, saying you’re rich, and in show business? Why’d you need to do it? I mean you’re…” He paused for a moment, frowning, not sure how to phrase what he wanted to say. “You know, you’re… well there’s a reason we call you the Faceman, ain’t there? Plus you got that way of talking to people, to women, you know, that makes them like you.”


“‘s called charm, BA.” The voice, Murdock’s, came from behind him and BA glanced over his shoulder, scowled at the dark figure.


“Don’t sneak up on me, fool.”


“Just passing.” The sound of his footsteps faded away.


BA turned back to look down at Face and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Yeah. What he said.”


Face shuffled around a bit and sat up, his back against the leg of the workbench. There was just enough light for BA to see his eyes.


“That might be enough in some places, with some women. But in L.A.? In Hollywood? Every day is another wrinkle. Those girls don’t have the time to waste on some guy just because he’s cute and charming. They’re in a hurry. I have to make them think I’m worth their time.”


“Ain’t right,” BA said. Face hung his head and BA felt bad, hadn’t meant to sound accusing. “Not just for you to do that I mean. Just… Everybody using each other.” He wondered why Face felt he had to chase that kind of woman. Yeah, they were pretty, but you could meet a pretty girl serving coffee in a diner. The ones Face went for barely looked like real women to BA. More like dolls with their painted faces. Just prizes. Trophies.


Face lay down again and BA sighed, fearing he’d made him feel worse. Face spoke again, but more quietly now, face buried in his elbow, words muffled against his arm


“I guess it feels good too, that they think I’m somebody important.”


BA snorted. “Okay, Faceman, go to sleep. You ain’t getting me to start puffing up your ego. If you don’t know by now that you’re important to us, then you’re more cracked than the fool.”


“I heard that.” Murdock’s voice came from behind again.


“Thought you was just passing?”


“Now I’m passing the other way.”


BA shook his head and turned back to look down at Face. Hard to say in the dark, but for a second Face might have smiled.

Chapter 10

The morning light made a long shadow chase Amy’s car along the road. Almost there, according to the maps lying on the passenger seat. She hoped she’d be able to get some coffee when she arrived. It had been an early start this morning and a late night before that, reviewing the files she’d pulled about the other murders.


Even when she had got to bed, sleep had not come quickly. The accident scene she’d chased Turner and Decker to preyed on her mind. That smashed up car the witnesses insisted Face had emerged from loomed up whenever she closed her eyes.


Turner put a watch on all the hospitals, as witnesses also said two men had carried Face into another car. Was he badly hurt? Taking him to a hospital would be a shortcut to jail. The team had a few doctor contacts, Amy knew a couple of names. But would they dare go to any of those people now? Risk dragging them into this mess?


Having to wait for the team to contact her and having no way to get in touch with them left her frustrated. However, she determined she wouldn’t just sit and wait for orders from Hannibal. She had information and in this case, she could do more with it than the team could.


A road sign pointed her to the next left turn and she took it, started driving alongside a high fence, topped with razor wire. It went on for what seemed like miles. A long way beyond the wire, behind more fences and walls, lay a huge, low concrete building. In a moment, Amy turned right and stopped at the first gate, below a sign.


Fairspring Federal Penitentiary. Visitors Gate.


+-+-+


Hannibal brought breakfast with him back to the warehouse, but nobody was interested in eating yet, until they heard about what else he’d brought back.


“You were drugged,” Hannibal said to Face. He glanced down at the sheet of paper he carried, but the arcane chemical symbols on it meant little to him. Some of the words did though and his contact had explained them. “The test found the drugs in your blood and traces on the champagne glasses. Quite a cocktail, which included chloral hydrate, benzodiazepine and fluni… flunitrazepam and more that he’s still trying to identify.”


“Sounds like everything we’ve hit the big guy with over the years rolled into one,” Murdock said, earning a growl and a dirty look from BA.


“It sounds to me like a little recipe someone’s been perfecting for some time,” Hannibal said. He looked at Face. Did this help him? Face would hardly be happy to see himself as a victim and he’d surely still manage to feel guilty about it, since he had years of training in that department. But he must see now that he wasn’t responsible for what happened, or for failing to prevent it?


“Face,” he said after a moment, holding up the large envelope that held the toxicology report. “What do you want me to do with these results?”


“I, well, I think we should get them to the police.” Face nodded, and his voice took on more of a snap. “Yeah. They may not be admissible in court, but they’re still important evidence. If the cops are going to get to the truth, then this is part of that truth.”


The others nodded their approval.


“Okay,” Hannibal said. “Let’s get some breakfast and move out.” He glanced at his watch. “And I’ll try to call Amy again, see what she has to report. I tried her at home on my way back here, but I guess she must have headed for work already. Face, I’m guessing I can let you out of that manacle now.”


“Oh that.” Face stood up leaving the manacle still attached to the bench, but not to his wrist. “I got out of that just before dawn, when both my guard dogs here…” He nodded at the staring BA and Murdock. “Were snoring their heads off.” He smirked. “Well I needed the bathroom and I hated to wake them.”


Hannibal grinned at Face’s smug expression. “Nice, Face, nice.” He held out a cardboard cup of coffee and Face came over to take it.


Murdock shook himself from staring at Face walking around unchained. “Right, so we’re going to mail the test results to the police?”


“Mail?” Hannibal shook his head. “Oh I think we can do better than that.”


+-+-+


It took Amy nearly an hour to get from the gate to the visitor’s area. Checks on her car, checks on her ID. Searches of her purse, her briefcase, her pockets. At last, a guard took her into a visiting area, a long table divided into booths, the visitor and prisoner kept apart by a clear plastic screen. Only one other visitor waited at this early hour, an elderly woman.


Amy sat in a booth and waited, fidgeting with a pencil, trying to read her notes again and finding she could only read the same paragraph over and over, without taking any of it in. She had visited prisons before as part of her work, for interviews, but never a maximum-security facility like this. Of course, there’d been Strikersville, when the team went to investigate the warden’s twentieth century gladiator racket. But with Face with her all the time, she’d felt safe.


Technically, she was safe here. Many locked doors and gates separated her from the prisoners. Still, she would be glad to get this over and get out of here.


On the other side of the Plexiglas screen she saw a door open and a prison guard brought in a man wearing an orange jumpsuit. Amy looked at him then looked down at her papers again, expecting the man to sit opposite the elderly woman a few booths away. However, the guard brought him over to sit in front of Amy and the prisoner picked up the intercom phone on his side. She picked up her handset.


“Robert Bryant?” She must not have hidden her surprise very well, and he gave a short laugh when he saw the photograph she had.


“I guess I’ve changed since that was taken.”


He had. The man in the photograph was in his mid thirties, with light brown hair and a wide smile. He wasn’t especially handsome, but tanned, healthy and well dressed.


The man in front of her looked a decade older, his hair streaked with grey. Stress, or simply because he couldn’t dye it any longer? His tan had gone and the bright orange jumpsuit and fluorescent lights emphasised the pallor of his gaunt face, and the dark circles under her eyes. And the wide smile had gone, because several of his front teeth were missing.


“I… yes… I’m sorry.” She pulled herself together with an effort.


“My lawyer said I should talk to you, he said you might have some good news for me.”


“Well,” Amy said, wishing she had something more concrete for him. If the murders in the stories were connected, then Face was only the latest man to be framed and this man was innocent. She wished she could give him real hope his ordeal might soon be over.


“Do you get the newspapers, Mr Bryant? Have you seen the stories about Templeton Peck?”


“Call me Robert, please. Yes, I’ve seen the story. It’s… well, it brought back some memories.”


“Um, can you tell me about your case? About that night…”


“The night I killed Lisa Watkins?”


Amy stared at him and he grimaced.


“The night they say I did anyway. I can’t really help you too much on that. I still don’t remember it. We went to the hotel, and when I woke up in the morning she was dead.”


Amy nodded. She knew the story from the files. He hadn’t even tried to run away. He’d called an ambulance, the police had come with it and the next time his feet touched the ground was on the floor of a jail cell.


“Robert, you were an executive at Paramount studios weren’t you?”


“Yes.” He looked surprised by the sudden change in subject, but a nostalgic look appeared on his face and he almost smiled. “Kind of job a man dreams about, rubbing shoulders with stars.”


“And the women must throw themselves at you? You know, actresses, ones trying to be actresses.”


Bryant frowned at her, looked embarrassed. “Well, yeah, I… that was part of the attraction, I suppose I can’t deny that.”


“Was Lisa like that? She thought you could help her career?”


Bryant looked away. “Well, yes, pretty much.” He looked back at Amy. “She was gorgeous. And if I’d been, I don’t know, a mechanic, or a clerk or something, she’d have been way out of my league, I know that. But money and power… Well it’s kind of what they’re for, isn’t it?” He sighed and shook his head.


“You pleaded guilty at your trial. Why did you do that if you don’t remember what happened?”


“My lawyer advised it. Said it was such an open and shut case that there was no way I wouldn’t be convicted. He said I should plead guilty and that would get me a lighter sentence.” He glanced around at the walls. “Fifteen years.” His voice fell to a whisper. “Hell, I don’t think I’ll make it past five.”


“Robert,” Amy said, making him look at her again, held his gaze. “Did you do it?”


A stab of anguish in his eyes turned to despairing resignation after a moment.


“I guess I must have. I don’t remember it, I swear to God. But it had to be me. There was nobody else there.”


“I wouldn’t be so sure.”


He frowned. “What are you saying?”


“I can’t talk about it much; I’m still putting it together. But let me tell you about Templeton Peck. He is…”


She glanced around, almost as if she expected Decker to be sitting next to her. Although nobody else was around except the old woman and a bored looking guard by the door, Amy spoke quietly.


“Templeton Peck is someone I know well, he’s a friend. And I don’t believe he murdered that woman. I think someone is framing him. And I don’t think it’s the first time they’ve done it. Somebody out there thinks they’ve found a way to commit the perfect crime. But this time they chose the wrong victims. And we’re going to track them down.”


“We?”


Amy bit her lip, thinking perhaps she’d revealed too much. However, she’d learnt – no, been taught – to trust her gut feeling. She smiled at Bryant.


“Mr Bryant, as of this moment you should consider yourself a client of the A-Team.”


He gaped at her and she went on smiling at him, marvelling at her own presumption, as she started to shuffle together her papers.


“Well, I have more to do. I need to get going –”


“Wait.” He glanced at a clock on the wall. “We’re allowed thirty minutes. Can’t you… well, stay for the full thirty?”


She saw the pleading in his eyes. The fear of going back to the hell that awaited him beyond all those doors and gates. She took pity on him, as she pictured Face in his place. She stopped gathering up her files.


“Sure.”


“Thanks.” He smiled, though put a hand to his mouth, covering the gap in his teeth. “It’s just nice to have someone, well, civilised to talk to, even for a few minutes.”


So they sat for the rest of the thirty minutes and he asked her about movies and news events and sports and all too soon for him the guard came and tapped him on the shoulder. He stood and put a hand on the plastic screen, perhaps in lieu of the handshake they couldn’t exchange. In his other hand, he still held the intercom phone.


“Well, goodbye, Amy.”


“Goodbye, Robert. I’ll get some news to you or to your lawyer as soon as I can.”


“Thanks. And good luck. I hope you’re right. Not just for me, the other guys too. And Peck, well I saw his picture in the paper.” He shook his head, pain flashed in his eyes. “You don’t want to think about what it would be like for a guy who looks like that in a place like this.”

Chapter 11

Turner parked his car across the street from a small restaurant and led Decker inside. A waiter greeted the detective by name and seated them.


“You should try the pepper steak,” Turner said to Decker. Decker nodded but picked the menu anyway and studied the chicken dishes. As they ate Decker tried to discuss the case, the overnight sightings, but Turner didn’t answer much.


“Decker,” he said at last, “I get an hour out of that place. Sixty minutes to myself. Now you wanna talk about the game or something, fine. But I need this time away from the case to let it all shake itself into place, you know.”


Decker nodded, not happy, but he kept quiet and ate his lunch, thinking about the test results they’d received back from the lab now. They showed that Celia Hartley had been drugged and that there were traces of the drug in the champagne bottle. Why would Peck drug her? She’d been a healthy young woman and could put up a fight, but with Peck’s training, he would be able to subdue her in seconds.


Of course Decker had read up on and even dealt with a couple of cases where the perpetrator preferred the victim drugged and helpless. But nothing in any file he’d read on Peck suggested that he’d be such a man. Certainly, he had a reputation with women, going all the way back to Vietnam. But for loving and leaving them, never for hurting them.


Turner refused to entertain the idea of anyone not being ‘the type’ who would commit murder. With all the murders he’d dealt with, all the different kinds of killers, Decker supposed that he’d become cynical, perhaps even blinkered, as Amy Allen claimed. Agreeing with Amy Allen didn’t help Decker’s digestion much.


His meal finished, Decker poured himself a glass of water. For a moment, he left it sitting on the table, looking at it and wondering again about the missing champagne glasses. Why take the glasses and not the bottle? If the killer wanted to conceal evidence why take only the glasses and not the bottle?


“I’m getting a dessert,” Turner said. He winked at Decker. “If my wife calls, I only had a coffee.”


Decker nodded half-heartedly, not caring. He picked his water glass up and almost dropped it as an alarm shrieked out. The diners all looked around and the waiters hurried to the kitchen, looking worried. Turner stood up, Decker following him.


“Fire alarm,” Turner said. “Heard it before. Okay everyone,” he called out to the rest of the patrons, in his most authoritative tone. “Make your way to the exit now. Don’t push.”


Galvanised by his orders, the rest of the diners got up and started leaving.


“You,” Decker called, when he saw the head waiter come out of the kitchen. “You need to get your people outside.” Decker strode over there, making the man scurry ahead of him and back into the kitchen. The workers in there stood around in that indecisive way Decker had seen people react to alarms before.


“Fire exit.” Decker pointed. “Move outside. One of you remember to turn off the gas.”


In a few moments, he’d brought the kitchen staff around from the back alley to the sidewalk out front, where Turner stood with the customers. The alarm still rang.


“No sign of fire,” Decker said to Turner as they waited, studying the building.


“I’ve seen too many bodies pulled out of places where there wasn’t any sign of the fire until it was too late to get out.”


This guy’s seen too many and too much of everything. Decker glanced at him. Too many of those pepper steaks too. A fire truck arrived and fire fighters started striding around, shouting to each other, going in and out of the restaurant, unrolling hoses.


“Should we just go back to the station?” Decker asked, as a fireman pushed past him. He’d finished his lunch and if Turner wanted a dessert so much Decker would buy him a candy bar.


“I’m in charge of the scene now. You go back if you like.”


Decker didn’t. He waited while the firemen checked the place and eventually declared it was a false alarm. The patrons who remained filed back in as the fire truck left. Decker and Turner headed back to their table, only to collect their jackets, already well overdue to return to the station.


“What’s this?” Decker said, frowning at a large envelope on the table. It had Turner’s name on it in big block letters. “You didn’t bring that in with you, did you?”


“No.” Turner tore open the envelope and took out some sheets of paper inside. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “What the hell?”


“What is it?”


“It’s a toxicology report. From samples taken from two champagne glasses and from one Lieutenant Templeton Peck.”


+-+-+


The print deadline had passed and most of the LA Courier Express news reporters had gone home. The tapping of a few typewriters came from the features desk, but the news desk was silent.


Silent, but not empty. Amy sat staring at the keys of her typewriter, mind far away, until heels clacking across the floor made her look up to see Marge crossing the room, her coat on, heading for the door. She would have to pass Amy’s desk on the way. Amy at once tried to look far too busy to be interrupted, started typing fast.


“You know that works better if you have a sheet of paper in the roller.”


Oops. Amy winced and looked up at Marge, who stood in front of her, frowning down at Amy and her paperless typewriter.


“I had Chris write the latest developments in the Peck story for the morning edition.”


“Right… Sorry.” She’d only just arrived back a half hour ago, after visiting another prison in the afternoon then spending hours at the courthouse reading trial transcripts and statements.


“You’d better have been out putting together something that’s going to make a front page headline.” Marge gave her a stern glare.


“I have been. If I’m right about it, then it’s a much bigger story than Templeton Peck.”


Marge looked interested now and perched on the edge of the desk. “Clue me in.”


Amy hesitated. “Um… Could I maybe wait until tomorrow on that?” She put a hand down on her folders when Marge reached for one.


“Someone else gets first look?” The sarcastic tone in Marge’s voice was unmistakeable. Amy smiled, not too convincingly.


“It’s not that. I just want to get it all straight before I bring it to you.”


With a sigh, Marge stood up from the desk. She could order me, Amy thought, but I think that maybe she trusts me.


“Okay,” Marge said. “But just remember what I said. You have to decide if you’re reporting on this story or if you’re part of it. Tomorrow, I want to see what you’ve got.”


“Right.”


“Now go home. You look like crap.”


“Okay, just got to finish up a few things.”


Marge clicked her tongue and strode out. Only after the door closed behind her did Amy take her hand off the folders. She looked up at the clock. Almost nine. Maybe she should go home, but her instinct told her to wait, just a while longer. A colleague passed carrying a cup and she called out to him.


“Hey, would you bring me a coffee too?”


“What am I, the waiter?” However, he nodded and grabbed the mug that sat on the edge of her desk.


While she waited, Amy spread out files and papers and opened her notebook again. Now, she thought, searching her desk drawers. I need a map of LA. And the yellow pages. When her coffee arrived, she rewarded the “waiter” with a smile and he left her to her work. She checked in her notebook and marked off locations on the map with neat black crosses.


The phone rang at twenty five past nine.


“News Desk, Amy Allen speaking.”


“Grab a pen.” She knew the voice at once.


“Already got one. Go ahead.”


Hannibal read off a number, then said “ten minutes” and hung up.


Amy grabbed her notebook and purse and ran down the stairs to the lobby to find the payphone. Then she feared she couldn’t trust any phone in the building and instead hurried outside into the street. A chill breeze had blown up and she shivered in her short-sleeved blouse as she waited at a payphone, a quarter ready in her hand, checking her watch until the time crawled around.


At last, ten minutes ticked by and she pressed the quarter into the slot and dialled.


“Yeah?” Hannibal answered after only one ring.


Amy sighed, relieved again to hear his voice. She’d started to feel lonely, cut off from the guys. “It’s me.”


“I’ve tried you a few times today.”


“I’ve been out.” She’d tell him where later, right now she needed to make sure of something. “Hannibal, is Face okay? Was he hurt in the car wreck? Do you guys need a doctor? I can see if I can contact one for you.”


“He’s fine.” Hannibal’s firm voice calmed her fears at once. “Knocked about a bit. Partly by… never mind. He’s fine, we don’t need a doctor. We got the test results back, Face was drugged, from the champagne. We’ve handed the results to the police.”


Amy frowned. “Handed them? You mean mailed them?”


Hannibal chuckled. “Kid, don’t you know me at all by now?”


“Okay, you can explain later,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Listen, Hannibal, I’ve got some information I really need to talk to you guys about.”


“Let’s have it.”


“Not on the phone. It’s too big for that. I need to see you.”


“Not a good idea.”


“Hannibal.” She let some of her tiredness and frustration come through in her voice. “I need to meet with you on this. It’s not something we can deal with in a five-minute phone call. We need to make a plan!”


Had she just made her choice? She could just type this up as a story and she’d have done her job. Other people would take it from there. But who did she really trust to handle it? Was that even a question? No, this wasn’t about her job, it’s not just a story, it’s the only chance for Face and those other men.


“Hannibal?”


“Okay. I’ll call you in the morning at home, at seven thirty. Don’t go to work.”


“Can’t I meet you now?”


“You need rest, kid.”


She guessed he could hear it in her voice and she couldn’t argue. Despite the urgency of the situation, all she wanted now was her bed.


“Okay. Tomorrow. Speak to you then.”


He hung up and she imagined him moving away fast, reluctant to stay in one place for too long. Amy put the phone down and walked slowly back to the office.

Chapter 12

At seven thirty seven the next morning, Hannibal rang Amy’s home number from a payphone. The phone rang once and she answered sounding tense.


“Safe to talk?” Hannibal asked.


“Yes.”


“Leave your apartment by the fire escape, see you in the alley.”


“What? You’re outside?”


“Fire escape. Do it now.”


He returned to the car where Murdock waited, listening to the morning news show on the radio.


“Alleyway. She’s on her way.”


A couple of minutes later they parked at the bottom of the fire escape on the back of Amy’s apartment building. Amy looked down at them from further up, and then went on hurrying down towards them.


“Don’t run. Don’t run,” Hannibal muttered. Rain overnight must have the steps wet and treacherous. A few moments later Amy jumped into the back seat of the car, tossing her briefcase and a large holdall across the seat as she climbed in. Hannibal frowned at it.


“That’s a big purse.”


“I just brought a few things with me that I might need.” She looked around, nervous, excited looking. “Are you being followed?”


“Nah.” Murdock drove out of the alleyway slowly, joined the traffic and proceeded at sedate pace, designed not to draw any attention.


“You had breakfast?” Hannibal handed Amy over a box of donuts.


“Thanks. I just had coffee.” She looked flushed and out of breath. Hannibal smiled, thinking she probably expected more of a daring escape, screeching round a few corners, not tooling along in morning traffic, eating donuts.


“Where are Face and BA?” Amy asked.


“Lying low. We’ll be there in twenty minutes. Wanna show me this info you’ve dug up, or do you want to wait and tell us all at once?” He smiled, as she seemed to be ready to burst with it. “Yeah, that’s the best idea. You just eat some breakfast there, and then you only need to explain it once.”


“But…”


“Here, coffee.” He passed a thermos over to her. “Twenty minutes, Amy. Calm yourself down and get ready to give us what you’ve got.”


+-+-+


Amy stared around the windowless storeroom, just another anonymous unit in a facility with dozens more exactly the same. Crates and boxes stood around the wall. Like the warehouse, it had a workbench, though much smaller. This one held a small printing press Amy had seen the team use before, and a laminating machine. A couple of clothing rails held clothes, including uniforms of various types, from the team’s own army uniforms to cop and fireman uniforms.


“What is this place? Aladdin’s cave?”


“What, you think we keep all of our stuff in the van?” Murdock said, chuckling. “It would have to be bigger on the inside than the outside!” He rummaged in a nearby crate marked with the words “H’s dressing up box”, picked out a pair of ugly glasses and put them on.


“Most of it’s – ah – borrowed from one studio or another,” Hannibal said. “Murdock put those down. Okay, Amy, let’s hear what you’ve got.”


Amy dragged herself away from gazing around the room. She had guessed they must have some storage somewhere, she’d just never seen it. How many more secrets did they have? Wow, if Decker ever found this place… She gave a small smile. Of course if he did, there’d be another two – she glanced at Hannibal – no, three, elsewhere.


“Can I lay my files out on that bench?”


It took her nearly twenty minutes to go over the full story, showing them the clippings from the newspaper, court transcripts, police reports, her notes from her meetings, all her papers, all the evidence. They all asked questions, clarifying details, but Hannibal saved the big one until she finished her presentation.


“You believed this guy Bryant?”


“Yes.” For a moment she paused, trying to fold up the map she’d marked the hotels on. “The circumstances of his case are just too similar and, well I just had a gut feeling about him.”


Hannibal nodded, surprising her by not pressing her further. Amy knew a man could look you in the eye and lie without a sign; she’d interviewed politicians in her time after all. But Hannibal trusted her judgement on this and that made her feel just a little taller, as if she’d worn heels today.


“Okay,” Hannibal spoke to the rest of the team and they all turned their attention to him. “Let’s go over this guy’s M.O. For a start, are we all agreed that he must be a hotel employee?”


“Plenty of casual work in that field,” Murdock said, nodding. “Get a job for a couple of weeks, move on.”


“The hotels he’s hit so far,” Face said, looking up from a list of them, “they’re all similar, small to mid-sized, discreet.” He grimaced. “Just the kind of place a man might take a girl he’s not married to.”


“Several of the men in the cases are, or were, married,” Amy said. The similarities between the hotels had escaped her. Face perhaps knew them better. Possibly they exactly the kind of places he normally took his girlfriends. She didn’t want to inquire too much about that.


“The couples,” Hannibal said, “they’re all similar too. The men are in their thirties or forties, usually married. A lot of them are in show business, or on the fringes. See this one guy, he’s an entertainment lawyer. They have some power, some influence, but not fame, so the case doesn’t attract huge attention. The girls, all young, early twenties, great looking, aspiring actresses or models. Probably trying to sleep their way into the business.”


That remark earned him scowls from both BA and Face, Amy saw, though Hannibal remained oblivious.


“I don’t think he cares about the girls at all,” Murdock said. “It’s the men who are the real target. If he just wanted to strangle pretty girls then he wouldn’t care who they checked in with. But this is, well heck, it’s like it’s the same guy over and over.” He sighed. “Are people really so predictable?”


“Okay,” Hannibal went on, “so he picks his target when they check in. And if they call for something from room service, that’s when he slips them the Mickey.”


“He brings wine to the room and he offers to open it,” Face said.


“Then later,” Hannibal said. “Once he estimates they must be unconscious, he comes into the room. Since he has access to the passkeys he leaves no sign of forced entry.”


“Why don’t he take the wine bottle and glasses away with him after?” BA asked. “Get rid of the evidence?”


“That wouldn’t work.” Murdock shook his head. “The wine would be on the bill, so if the bottle was missing from the room the police would know someone else had been there.”


“And they’d know about the drugs from blood tests anyway,” Hannibal said. “But probably assume they took them for fun.”


“That’s mentioned in the trial transcripts.” Amy riffled through some papers, found where she’d made a note. “Yeah, the presence of drugs is noted, and it’s assumed they were recreational, or the man drugged the girl to subdue her, and even, well look at this one. The defence lawyers for one guy claimed the victim actually gave him the drug without his knowledge and that a reaction to it caused him to commit the murder.”


BA snorted in disgust and Murdock said, “Blame the victim, huh? Defence lawyers are real nice guys.”


“Still, gotta be risky going into the room,” BA said. “What if they didn’t even drink the wine? What if they woke up?”


“I’d guess he carries some kind of backup to knock them out again if they wake up. Or he double checks they are out of it before he starts anything. If they even twitch, he runs. By the time they’re fully awake they probably just think someone got into the room to rob them. If they don’t wake up then he does…” Hannibal glanced up at Face and at Amy. “He does what he came to do and leaves. Perfect crime.”


“And few days later,” Amy said, finishing the story, “when all the fuss dies down, he quits his job and moves to another hotel.”


“Never does the same place twice,” Hannibal said. “Too likely to form a pattern. It just takes one of the other staff to say something like ‘this is just like that thing that happened last year’ and a smart cop might make a connection.”


“Speaking of the cops,” Face said. “Do we get this to them?”


“They’ve already got it,” Amy said. “I gave a list of the cases to the lead detective. They can do even more with it than we can. They can check employment records at the hotels.”


Hannibal nodded. “Okay, so the cops have the same information we have. The question is, will they follow it up?”


“I think their focus is still finding Face.” Amy thought of her meeting with Turner and Decker. “Even if they think it’s worth following this up, they won’t do that until they’ve got Face.”


Hannibal nodded again. “Yeah. I guess that’s the way they have to play it. Okay, so we have to do this ourselves.”


“And just how are we going to get access to employment records? At all these different hotels?” Face asked.


“We’re not.” Hannibal got out a cigar. A small smile began to show as he lit it. “This killer doesn’t plan ahead, in the sense he marks his calendar with ‘Thursday: commit a murder’. He waits in ambush for the victims to come to him. I’ll bet he carries his knockout drops with him at all times.”


“Who doesn’t?” Murdock said. BA glared at him and gave a small rumble in his throat. Hannibal ignored the two of them and went on.


“He’s an opportunist.” Now the smile became almost a grin. “So what we need to do is give him an opportunity.”


“Hannibal!” Murdock jumped up from where he’d been sitting on a crate. He scowled at the colonel. “Hannibal, would I be right in thinking that at this very moment the word ‘bait’ is putting on its running shoes and sprinting in the direction of this conversation.”


“You’d be right.”


Amy felt a thrill run through her, fear, excitement all mixed as her mind raced ahead, seeing Hannibal’s plan. Before she could say anything though, Face took a step towards Hannibal, hands on his hips.


“No way! No way do you put Amy in that situation. Because that’s what you’re thinking isn’t it? Amy and –”


“And me,” Murdock said. “It’s got to be me, doesn’t it? It can’t be Face, he’d be recognised. You’re too old. BA is, um, unlikely.”


“You sayin’ I can’t pass for no high class executive?”


“Did you say, ‘old’, Captain?”


“Okay, let me rephrase. BA, if you want to do it, you’ll need a haircut and about six months of elocution lessons. Hannibal, you know you’re the, um, wrong age. It has to be me doesn’t it?”


“Yes,” Hannibal said, still not looking pleased, though Amy felt sure he’d intended Murdock all along. “It has to be you. And.” He looked at Amy. “It has to be Amy. If she agrees.”


“Oh yeah, that’s real fair on her!” Face protested before Amy had a chance to respond.


“What’s the alternative?” Hannibal demanded, turning to him. “Because as far as I can see only one member of this team fits the bill, unless you want to put on a dress and a hell of lot of makeup!”


“I won’t let you endanger her life!” Face took another step towards Hannibal. In this small space, only one more step would put him right up in the colonel’s face and Amy didn’t want to see that.


“Um, can I speak?” Amy took a shaky breath to calm herself. Her heart still raced, her head spun as if she’d had a few drinks. Two shots of fear and one shot of Jazz. “I… well, it sounds scary, but I’d do it. I mean I’d have Murdock there and the rest of you would be close and –”


“You’d be wired.” Hannibal said, “Both of you. And of course, you won’t actually eat or drink anything they bring from room service. As soon as anything happens, we’ll move in. It would be over before you know it.”


“And supposing this guy has a gun?” Face said. “Starts firing before we get there?”


“Murdock will be armed too.”


“Oh, so we’ll be putting Amy in the crossfire of a gunfight?”


“Face –” Amy began, but Hannibal interrupted her.


“Amy will not be in the crossfire. At the first sight of a gun, Amy will be on the floor and in cover, like we’ve taught her.”


Amy nodded, agreeing. “Face, I’ll be okay. It’s a good plan.”


Face stepped up to Amy and put his hands on her arms. “Amy, I don’t want you to do this. It’s too dangerous. You don’t have to do it.”


She knew she didn’t have to. She’d done her job, brought them the information. None of them would blame her if she walked away now and let them take it from here. But she had made her choice. She’d made it a long time ago.


She turned away from Face to Hannibal.


“I’m in.”


Hannibal nodded, not smiling, serious. Grave. No, Amy, this is not the time to think about the word ‘grave’.


“Thank you, Amy. I promise, we’ll keep you safe. Now, we need to choose our targets. Face.” He waited a moment for Face to look up from glaring at the floor, arms folded. “Face, you know the hotels best of all, pick out the ones of that kind he’s not hit yet. He could already be working at one of them.”


“It’s only been five days,” Murdock pointed out. “Do you think he’ll have left the Regency already?”


“Well, with all the extra heat, there’s been, then yeah, I think he’d move on quick. Maybe he’d fear us coming after him there. Face?” Hannibal looked at Face again.


“I’ll make a list.” His tone was still stiff, his stance rigid.


“I’ll start making the wires,” BA said.


“Right.” Hannibal nodded, and then turned to Amy and Murdock. “Okay, you two. You need making over.” He directed a critical gaze at them. Amy became self-conscious about the clothes she’d chosen for practicality and rubbed the toe of one scuffed sneaker on the back of her jeans. “Murdock, a haircut and a good suit will do it. Maybe some expensive looking accessories.”


“I have a source for the very best fake Rolexes,” Face said, not looking up from the yellow pages he now had open at the hotels section.


“And Amy.” Hannibal smiled at her. “You need to get dolled up.”


“I’ve got a few things with me, make up and stuff,” Amy said, nodding at her holdall. She’d packed more than a few things that morning. Clothes, and not even certain why, she’d slipped in a few other bits and pieces. Her photo album. The engraved fountain pen her parents gave her at her college graduation. A little lacquered box of keepsakes. She shook herself. “Um, but no suitable clothes. Should I go back to my apartment?”


“Better not,” Hannibal said. “You can go shopping.”


“Yeah,” Murdock said. “You probably don’t have anything suitable anyway.”


There was a short silence. Amy raised her eyebrows at Murdock. “You don’t think I have any glamorous clothes?”


“Oh, I didn’t mean that!” Murdock protested. “Um, just maybe not the same type of glamorous. Yours are probably all really, ah, classy.”


“Are you suggesting Celia wasn’t classy?” Face asked, voice icy cold.


Murdock took a step back and raised his hand in a ‘don’t hurt me’ gesture. “Of course not! Just in a, well, a different way.”


“Murdock,” Hannibal said, “Either stop digging, or, when you get to Australia, say hi to the kangaroos. Meanwhile, I’ll go drop off Amy, for her shopping trip.”


As Hannibal drove the car away from the storage facility Amy said, “Hannibal, Murdock does have a point. I don’t really look like any of those girls. I mean you saw the pictures.”


“I saw their headshots, yeah, with their perfect makeup and hair and clothes. Fact is, Amy, that any half-way pretty girl can look like a goddess after a day in the hands of the specialists in this town.” He grinned. “So you’ve got a head start.”


“Hannibal!” She blushed and shook her head. “I thought Face was the flirt on this team?”


“Who do you think taught him what he knows?”


She laughed and felt some of her tension ebb away.


“Murdock’s right about something else,” Hannibal said. “About that different kind of glamour. Those girls were beautiful and glamorous, but in a very, shall we say, obvious, kind of way. You know what I’m talking about don’t you?”


“So that’s what I have to be,” she said, nodding. “Um, all of this is going to cost money. I’m not sure my credit card will stand it.”


“Look in the glove compartment.”


She found an envelope in there and gasped when she opened it to find it stuffed with cash.


“Spend what you need. A dress, shoes. Jewellery, ah, within reason on that. And all the rest, hair, nails, makeup.” He gave her a cheeky grin. “Waxing.”


“Hannibal! I could get out of this car right now, you know!”


He laughed and she did too. And she knew she wouldn’t get out of the car. She had made her choice.

Chapter 13

The team sat in a back booth in a quiet diner, not far from the hotel they planned to hit first. Murdock smiled as he sipped his coffee. This felt a little bit like a strange dream. BA was once again devoid of gold and disguising his Mohawk with a knit cap. Face followed his example, wearing Murdock’s baseball cap again and a pair of glasses from back in their storeroom. Hannibal had his usual casual look going. None of them looked out of place in the diner.


Murdock by contrast sat there in a tailor-made suit, looking in his opinion like a businessman making a shady deal. Face had insisted on keeping the suit at the storage unit, telling Murdock he wasn’t letting him wear it to hang around in the VA rec room.


The suit was only part of it though. A haircut, buffed nails and a shave by a barber with hands steadier than a bomb disposal expert’s added the finishing touches. His face felt like the proverbial baby’s bottom.


The fake Rolex he’d bought from Face’s source peeked out from the cuff of his snowy white shirt. The shirt that had cost more than the entire outfit he’d changed out of to put this one on.


He liked it. It was certainly a lot of work getting dressed up like this. He didn’t think he could do it every day, like Face. However, the women seemed to like it. He’d garnered many admiring glances once he completed his transformation.


Only the wedding band he wore put them off a little. He turned the ring around on his finger a couple of times. Strange to wear that. Would he ever wear one for real and not as part of a disguise?


“Oh man!”


BA’s quiet exclamation made Murdock look at him and then turn to follow BA’s gaze. Amy had just walked in. She looked as out of place as Murdock, and she attracted plenty of attention as she walked to the team’s table.


She has it exactly right, Murdock thought. Just slightly trashy. Her high-heeled shoes made little clacking noises as she walked carefully across the linoleum floor, a look of concentration on her face, as if walking a tightrope.


The red dress she wore, although clingy, had a high, demure neckline, but was short enough to show off her legs. Always her best feature, Murdock thought. He didn’t look at her legs for long though. Like the rest of the team, he looked at her hair.


Her blonde hair.


Amy reached the table and Face jumped up to let her sit down, which she did with a sigh of relief.


“These shoes are killing me!” She slipped one off and massaged her foot. Murdock expected Face to offer to do that for her, but Face seemed too busy staring at her hair to flirt. Eventually he shook himself and grabbed a stool to sit down at the end of the table.


“You – um – had your hair bleached,” Face said.


“Does it look okay?” Amy asked, fluffing it up. It had been restyled too, with soft layers and flicks. “I thought blonde was the way to go.” She sighed. “I kind of wish I hadn’t cut it now. Long would have worked better.”


“You could have got a wig,” Hannibal said, as hypnotised by the new blonde Amy as the rest of them.


“I tried a couple, but they just looked too fake.”


“Bleaching it is kind of… permanent,” Face said.


“It will grow out.” She looked around at them. “Guys, don’t look like that, I just dyed my hair. Women do that all the time just for the fun of it!” She laughed, but the laugh didn’t convince Murdock. This wasn’t for fun and this wasn’t just any time. Some Hollywood hairdresser could have enhanced her natural colour to go with her new look, but Murdock knew this wasn’t about hair colour.


“You look great, Amy,” Murdock said, since nobody else had said it yet, and this might be a disguise, but she surely wanted to hear those words. He winked. “Can I take you to spend the night in a hotel room with me?”


“Thank you, Murdock.” She grinned. “I’d be delighted.”


“Okay,” Hannibal said. “Murdock, you’ve got your wire on. BA, you got Amy’s there.”


BA handed Amy the wire. It had a small power pack and she frowned at it. “Where should I wear it? It will show up under this dress.”


They studied her for a moment, until she blushed.


“Your bra,” Hannibal said. Amy blushed some more.


“Yeah, put the wire around underneath,” BA said “And the power pack can… um, go in the, you know, um, the middle. Between.” When Murdock started to laugh, BA glared. “Shut up, fool!”


“Okay,” Amy said, nodding. “Excuse me.” She slid out of the booth and headed for the bathroom.


The four of them watched her go, and then caught each other’s eyes. Murdock raised his eyebrows.


“Now that’s what I call money well spent.”


“Her hair…” Face said. “That’s, well, that’s…” He trailed off. It seemed to have him rattled Murdock thought. He knows it too. He knows it’s a message.


+-+-+


Murdock and Amy walked into the hotel lobby arm in arm. As they walked up to the desk Murdock made a show of checking his watch to ensure the Rolex was noticed. Just after ten thirty.


He smiled at the woman desk clerk. But not too friendly, a smile, not too nice, trying to come across as someone used to bossing the little people around.


“I’d like a room for tonight.”


“Yes sir,” the desk clerk glanced at the two of them and started tapping at a computer terminal.


“Marvin,” Amy said, making him turn to her. “Can we get some champagne?”


“Of course, honey.” He put his arm around her waist now and pulled her closer. “We’ll celebrate you getting that part.”


“Oh, Marvin, that’s all thanks to you! How can I ever thank you?”


“I’m sure we’ll figure something out,” Murdock teased and Amy giggled.


“A bottle of your finest champagne,” Murdock said as the clerk handed him the room key.


“Certainly, sir, I’ll have it sent up at once.”


He nodded his thanks at her and they turned away towards the elevators. Amy wobbled on heels higher than she usually wore, but Murdock kept hold of her waist. Added to the picture, he thought, made her look like she might be tipsy.


In the elevator he let her go and they grinned at each other.


“‘A bottle of your finest champagne?'” Amy quoted. “You watch a lot of movies don’t you?”


“Oh that’s rich, coming from Miss ‘How can I ever thank you?'”


Amy giggled and Murdock took her hand. “We made an impression that’s the main thing. You okay?”


Amy nodded. “So far. I’m sort of scared and excited all at once. Maybe one day I’ll get used to that.”


“If you keep hanging around with us you will.”


The elevator reached their floor and they found the room quickly, went inside. Murdock took off his jacket, remembered his shoulder holster and put it back on.


“Amy.” He nodded at her small purse. She opened it, extracted a walkie-talkie and handed it to him. “Thanks.” He flicked the transmit switch. “Hannibal, you receiving, over?”


“Loud and clear. And your mikes are coming in fine too, Marvin. We’re in position.”


“Okay. Check in with you later. Out.”


He put the walkie in a drawer of the nightstand, resting on top of the ubiquitous Gideon Bible.


“Once the champagne has been delivered we’ll get comfy,” he told Amy. “If we’re forced to stay in a luxury hotel room we might as well make the most of it.” When she raised her eyebrows, he said. “Hey, it’s me talking, not Face.” He grinned. Face had probably just called him a rude name. “I just mean raid the mini bar and steal the little soaps.”


He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Amy who had taken her shoes off and started pacing. “After the waiter leaves the champagne you can go to sleep if you like.”


“What? You really think I can go to sleep? What if something happens?”


“I’ll wake you up. Besides…” He shrugged. “What do you think the chances are we’ve found the right place on our first try?”


She stopped pacing and frowned at him. “Yeah, that would be a bit… Well, lucky.”


“And even Hannibal isn’t that lucky. If he were then he wouldn’t have that scar on his chin. Did you ever hear the story of how he got that? No? Well, if you’re still awake at 3 a.m. I’ll tell you.”


“Murdock –”


A knock at the door interrupted her and she stared. Murdock tensed as he heard the shout of “Room Service.” His hand moved instinctively towards his pistol, but he controlled himself and spoke to Amy.


“Relax. Tell you what, sit on the bed and look seductive.”


“Look what?”


He strode to the door, glanced through the peephole and then opened the door to let in a waiter carrying an ice bucket and two glasses.


“Champagne, sir,” the waiter said, taking the bucket to a table. Murdock studied the waiter carefully, long enough to know his face well. A young man, maybe twenty-five, quite good looking, dark haired, dark eyed, maybe Hispanic, or partly so. Probably another wannabe actor.


“I hope it’s properly chilled,” Murdock said, still looking the man over and now assessing if he could take him in a fight. No problem.


“Of course, sir. Shall I open it for you?”


“Please, and pour, thanks.” Murdock resisted the urge to watch the waiter. If this was the killer, supposing they had got lucky, then it would be no good if Murdock’s eyeballing put him off slipping the drug into the wine. Instead, he turned to see Amy had sat on the bed and did indeed look quite seductive, her long legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, her shoes back on.


Murdock had always been a leg man, something Face scoffed at on the principle that he already hadlegs. Nevertheless, even Face admitted that Amy had a fine set of pins. Murdock let those distract him to keep from looking at the waiter.


A small nod from Amy made him turn back to see the waiter had poured the champagne.


“Thanks,” Murdock said and reached into his pocket for his wallet. A tip. He had to tip the man and that felt quite strange suddenly. If this plan worked, if not tonight then one of the nights to come, he would give a tip to a murderer. Should he be careful not to be too generous though? Could a generous tip persuade a murderer not to make them his victims after all?


He extracted five dollars. It might be too much. He should have asked Face or Hannibal’s advice on that, made a mental note to remember to do that tomorrow.


“Thank you, sir, goodnight.”


The waiter left and Amy sighed and flopped down on the bed on her back.


“Well,” Murdock said, slipping off his jacket again. “The pieces are in place. Now we wait.”


Amy slid off the bed. “Well if you don’t mind, I’m going to wait wearing one of the hotel bathrobes, because this dress is not comfortable.”


“Mind?” Murdock winked at her as he sat down on the bed. “A young lady offers to take her dress off, I’m not organising any protest marches.”


She rolled her eyes and went into the bathroom. Murdock took off his shoes, then loosened his tie and top button and started a search of the room. After opening a couple of closet drawers, he found the mini fridge and grabbed some cans of soda and packs of peanuts and jellybeans. He ignored the alcohol, needing his wits about him. No doubt, Hannibal would rag on him for the expense, since they’d already spent so much money today. But if he expected Murdock and Amy to sit here and watch while a bottle of fine champagne went warm and flat, then they needed some compensation.


He flopped onto the bed with their miniature feast and arranged the pillows to get comfortable. If anything did happen it wouldn’t be for a couple of hours at least, he guessed. Stretching across the bed, he retrieved the walkie-talkie from the drawer and left it open so the others could speak to him.


Amy came out of the bathroom, a moment later, wearing one of the fluffy hotel bathrobes. She carried the dress and shoes to the wardrobe.


“Hey, chica, grab some of that paper and a couple of pens.” He nodded over at a table with some hotel stationery on it.


“What’s this for?” Amy said, joining him on the bed with the paper and pens.


“Well we have to do something to pass the time. How about tic tac toe?”


A voice came out of the air, or rather, over the radio. Face.


“Murdock, you’re in a hotel room with a beautiful woman and you want to play tic tac toe? Have I taught you nothing?”


Amy giggled and Hannibal’s voice broke in. “Don’t even think about it.”


“Never crossed my mind, Colonel.”


“Oh really?” Amy said, sounding slighted.


“Right, I seem to be between a rock and a hard place here,” Murdock said. “Maybe we could read the Bible instead?”


“Not again.” Amy sighed. “Can’t we put on the TV?”


“Better not.” Hannibal’s voice sounded again. “If he shows up sooner than expected and hears the TV, it might put him off.”


“And,” Face said, “he’ll wonder what kind of weirdo takes a pretty girl to a hotel room and then watches The Late, Late Show.”


“Ignore them, Amy,” Murdock said. “We’ll just talk.”


“With the rest of the team listening in?”


Murdock shrugged. “They’ll probably fall asleep soon.”


The walkie-talkie crackled again and BA’s voice came through this time.


“Coming up there and pounding you would keep me awake.”


Grinning, but ignoring the threat, Murdock stretched his arm out to flick off the light, yawned, and then lowered the arm again, around Amy’s shoulders, making her smile.


“Perfected that move years ago, eh?”


“Nah, Face taught it to me. But I told him he’s not my type.”


As Amy laughed, Face said, “What’s that? What’s he saying?”


“Nothing, Face. Relax.”


“Relax? Are you trying to be funny?”

Chapter 14

Riches to rags, Amy thought, as she looked around the motel room they had rented for the day to lie low and sleep.


The guys had all been awake all night, so now three of them slept at a time while one stayed on guard. Amy had slept most of the night despite thinking she wouldn’t, and had woken up to Murdock handing her a cup of coffee. Until her memory sorted itself out she’d stared up at him, thinking, “what the hell am I doing in a hotel room, with Murdock, in bed with no dress on?” When she did regain her senses she didn’t know whether to be relieved the killer hadn’t shown up or annoyed that they had to go through it all again.


Now she couldn’t sleep and spent most of the day writing up exactly what they’d been up to the last couple of days. She wasn’t certain how she’d end up using the notes. She couldn’t write a newspaper story in jail. On the other hand, she’d have plenty of time to write a book.


Murdock, on watch late in the afternoon, smiled to see her working and said it reminded him of the old days in the Army, writing reports.


“Someone has to record it,” Amy said. “One of my old professors at college used to say, ‘if you don’t write it up, it didn’t happen’.”


It made it real, the ink on the paper. Otherwise, it was just memories and it died with whoever carried them. She had to wonder about all the things that happened in the lives of Celia Hartley and the other victims that would go forever unrecorded. Gone the same way as their ambitions and wishes and fears.


“Murdock.” She hesitated a moment, when he looked at her and then went on. “What will you do once this is all over?”


Murdock stiffened a bit, where he stood by the window, and frowned.


“Tried not to think about that too much yet.” He went silent for a while and she thought that was all she was getting, but then he spoke again. “I can’t go back to the VA now. My name’s been in the papers and on TV. Decker would be all over me like a rash.”


“So everything has changed really. You’re… well, of course you always were a member of the team, but in a different kind of position. Now you’ll be on the run with them. Does that scare you?”


“It’s going to be different, I guess.” He didn’t look at her as he spoke, kept watching out of the drawn blinds, creating a peephole in the slats with his fingers. “On the move most of the time, sleeping in motels, sometimes even in the van. When that’s only for a few days a time, a couple of weeks, it’s an adventure. Like going camping, but knowing I’d go home to my bed. As a permanent situation, it could get old pretty fast.”


“Yes.” Amy sighed. “Yes it will.”


“Amy.” Murdock turned to her. The slats of the blind cracked back into place and Hannibal stirred on his bed. Murdock glanced at him, and then spoke softly to Amy. “You still have time to go back. You don’t have to throw anything away yet.”


“Oh, I know,” she said, forced brightness into her voice, “I… I know things could still be okay.”


She knew for sure that hadn’t convinced him. Time to change the subject.


“Murdock, do you think this plan can work? I mean really? Isn’t it like looking for a needle in a haystack?”


“Not at all,” Murdock said. “It’s like building a haystack and waiting for a needle to happen along.”


“Ah, that’s very reassuring.”


He shrugged. “For now, it’s the plan. Keeps us busy until something else happens or Hannibal comes up with a better plan. Sometimes that’s the only way to play it.”


+-+-+


In the afternoon, as BA stood guard, Amy slept at last, curled up on a double bed, beside Face. Sleep was good. When she slept, she didn’t have to think.


She slept most of the night at the second hotel after Murdock sent her to sleep with long, funny but rambling anecdotes that left her grasping at the threads of a story, trying to follow it, and missing.


That second night was as uneventful as the first. They left the hotel in the morning, taking a sample from the champagne bottle and Hannibal dropped it with his drug-testing friend.


Amy had little to write up the second day. She tried to watch TV, but the one in their motel room was broken. So again she lay beside one of the others, feeling safe and yet lonely. Eventually she slept again, right until they woke her up to get ready for the next stakeout.


+-+-+


Murdock and Amy put on their little show in the lobby, ordered the champagne and went to the room. Almost a routine now, Murdock thought. How many more of these they would try?


Busywork. As he’d told Amy, they kept occupied until they figured out a better plan. Or until the police figured out the same thing they had and started questioning hotel staff and checking employment records. But who knew? They could hit the jackpot. Fortune favours the bold and all that. Hannibal had a double dose of bold.


Staying awake had been hard the night before and he suspected would be harder tonight, despite sleeping most of the day. He wished Amy carried a larger purse as part of her outfit, so he could put in a book to read.


Seeing it was almost eleven o’clock, Murdock decided to check out the news, and flipped on the TV while they waited for the champagne to arrive.


They were the lead. Not Face this time though, not exactly, but Amy. Reporter Missing, believed to be with fugitive A-Team. The story was all questions. Was she their prisoner, or had she finally admitted what people had suspected for so long – that she was in fact a member of the A-Team? The police refused to comment.


Amy stared at the screen, at her own picture, and Murdock wondered if she could smell smoke as her bridges burned behind her. Well, one thing for certain, staying awake shouldn’t be a problem. They had some talking to do.


A knock on the door and a shout of ‘room service’ made Murdock turn off the TV and the two of them began the little routine they’d practiced for two nights now.


Murdock let the waiter in, and memorised him quickly. Early forties, or possibly late thirties, hard to say, face prematurely lined from the sun. Light brown hair, well built. That done he turned away while the man opened the champagne, to give him the opportunity to slip in the drug. He looked at Amy and she smiled at him, a smile that suddenly froze below her staring eyes.


Instead of the pop of a carefully uncorked champagne bottle, Murdock heard a click behind him. A familiar sound.


“I knew you would come.”


+-+-+


Face frowned and tapped his earpiece. A moment ago, it had switched from the voices of Murdock and Amy in the hotel room, to an earful of static.


“Hannibal, you receiving me?” Face said over his walkie-talkie. “I just lost the audio from the hotel room.”


“Me too,” Hannibal said, and Face’s heart sank, knowing it couldn’t just be his receiver on the fritz.


“Mine too.” BA’s voice came over the air.


“Should we radio Murdock?” Face said.


“No,” Hannibal said. “We assume trouble. If anyone’s in the room, we don’t want to let them know we’re coming. Move in.”


+-+-+


Murdock turned slowly. The waiter held a gun, pointed at Murdock.


Murdock’s mind raced. Does he know the guys can hear us? The walkie-talkie hasn’t made a peep. If he does know, has he already taken care of that problem somehow? Taken care of the radio? Taken care of the guys? Am I alone here, the only one between Amy and a man who’s already murdered at least eight women? Hope Amy doesn’t start yelling for the guys, because if he doesn’t know we’re wired it makes no sense to tip him off. Do I try to draw or do I disarm him first?


All of this went through his mind in the time it took the man to speak again.


“I knew I just had to wait for you to come to me.”


Murdock made the decision even before the waiter – killer – finished the sentence. He lunged and tried to knock the gun flying with a swipe of his hand. But the man was ready for him, grabbed his wrist, closed on him and smashed the butt of his pistol into Murdock’s face.


Murdock hit the floor on his knees, stars dancing in his eyes, tasting blood. Damn, he’s fast! Somewhere in the background, beyond roaring in his ears he heard Amy yelling his name.


“Won’t let him hurt you.” Murdock promised, thinking he’d spoken, not sure. He swung, his fist starting right up from the floor, as if the punch could drag him up to his feet. But the gun came at him again and he tried to turn the swing into a block. It didn’t work, he couldn’t move fast enough, too dazed, couldn’t see well enough and pain exploded in his skull.


Murdock fell against the foot of the bed. A comb, a mirror, bits and pieces of make-up, bounced in his vision, as Amy dumped out her purse onto the bed and grabbed the walkie-talkie.


A shadow loomed over Murdock and he twisted around, bringing up his arm. Too slow. The pistol butt fell again, this time catching him on the temple.


Murdock blacked out.


+-+-+


Face moved from his position in the parking lot, where he’d lurked in an unlit car. He headed fast for a fire exit he’d checked and unlocked earlier. Slipping inside, he found himself at the bottom of a flight of concrete stairs, bleak emergency lighting showing up damp patches on the walls. He drew his pistol and climbed the stairs fast, reporting his position to Hannibal as he went, heard Hannibal and BA reporting theirs.


He reached Murdock and Amy’s floor and poked his nose out into the corridor. A movement at the end of the corridor ahead of him caught his eye, someone turning the corner.


Face followed, fast and silent, staying near the wall. He wanted to head straight to the room, but if something was happening, then that someone up ahead might be a someone Face needed to grab before they got away. He heard a door closing just before he reached the corner. A quick peek showed him a short corridor. No numbered hotel room doors here, just closets or storerooms marked ‘Private’ and, at the end of the corridor, a door marked Stairs. Face ran to open it and found an identical staircase to the one he’d climbed.


He could hear someone on the stairs below him, footsteps echoing on the concrete, coming up. Face crouched beside the handrail of the upwards flight and covered the downwards flight with his pistol, ready.


A man came turned onto that flight and Face sighed and dropped his head. BA stopped, then recognised Face and lowered his gun, came on up the stairs.


“You okay?” BA asked as Face stood up.


“Yeah. Chasing shadows. Seen anyone?”


“No, I…”


Face felt the breeze behind him, heard a tiny creak as the door opened. BA’s expression froze and he raised his gun again, pointing at, no, past, Face.


Face started to turn, but didn’t make it all the way, as a strong hand shoved him in the back. He stumbled, put one foot down onto nothing and the world reeled, as he fell back, making a hopeless grab at the handrail.


“Face!” BA yelled, as Face crashed into him, knocking him over like a bowling pin, sending them both rolling to the bottom of the flight of stairs, to slam onto the landing, Face half underneath the groaning BA, his legs trapped.


“Get off me!” Face yelled, trying to push BA off.


“Man, I think I broke every bone in my body,” BA moaned.


“You don’t get off me, I’ll make sure of that!” Face, tossed aside a gold necklace he’d been lying on and tried to drag himself out from under BA’s weight. “I have to get him! Get the hell off my legs!”


He won’t get away this time.

Chapter 15

Face ran up the stairs and pulled open the door to the corridor. He noticed that he left blood on the door handle, but had no time to deal with that, or any of the other warning pains demanding his attention. BA followed, groaning a bit as he climbed the stairs.


When Face felt sure nobody lay in wait for them in the corridor, he started to run, scanning the door numbers as he went. The clank of BA’s gold behind him told him BA had started running too, trying to keep up with him.


Nobody came out of any of the doors, not even to take a look to see what might be going on. Of course not. Face knew many of them would be here with people they weren’t supposed to be with. They certainly didn’t want their name on any police report. Best just kept their doors locked and minded their own business.


A moment later, Face reached Murdock and Amy’s room, found the door open and looked in to see Hannibal bending over Murdock, who lay flat in his back on the floor. Face burst in and looked around frantically. He couldn’t see Amy.


The bathroom. He ran there, the door already open, the light on. No Amy. He turned back out of there, back into the room. Hannibal and BA had started to heave Murdock up on to the bed.


“Where is she? Where’s Amy?”


Hannibal looked at him, almost as much fear in his eyes as Face had just heard in his own voice. And he didn’t need to speak. Face had carried a desperate scrap of hope that Hannibal had sent Amy to the lobby or something, anything. But the answer was plain in Hannibal’s eyes.


“She’s gone.”


He didn’t think it possible that he’d feel it again so soon. Feel the guilt and terror claw at his mind the same way they had when he’d woken up beside Celia and felt the cold of her skin. He didn’t think he could feel that again and stay sane.


“Gone? You mean he’s taken her?”


Hannibal nodded as he helped the groggy Murdock sit up. Face barely even noticed the blood covering Murdock’s face and staining his clothes. Only one thought filled his brain from edge to edge now.


He’s taken her. The murdering bastard has taken Amy, he’s probably going to kill her, and I got her into this, all because I lied to get a girl into bed. A girl whose name I’d probably have forgotten by now, if she’d survived the night with me.


“He’s got her! He’ll kill her!” He hated the panic in his voice, wanted more control, for Amy’s sake, but it wouldn’t come.


“He won’t. We’ll find him.” Hannibal’s words sounded like a vow.


“How?” Face demanded. “He could be a mile away already!”


“The wires,” BA said. “They got homing beacons in ’em.” Face and Hannibal stared and BA scowled back, at Hannibal. “For plan B. ‘Cause it’s always plan B. And you better have one this time, sucker.”


“I think you already came up with it, Sergeant.”


“What good is that?” Face wanted to grab BA and shake him. I’m drowning, he thought. Drowning in this fear, out of my depth. “The damn transmitters aren’t working!”


“They’re being…” BA stopped and suddenly ran from the room. Face chased him and saw him bend down just outside the door to pick something up from under a high, narrow table topped with a vase of flowers. He stood up holding a black cased device, the size of a car radio.


“I knew I spotted something as I came past,” BA said, shoving Face back into the room. He put the black box down on the dresser and started examining it.


“Hannibal.” Murdock’s weak voice made Face leave BA to his mysterious box and hurry to Murdock to sit on the bed beside him. He wanted to shake Murdock too, get some sense from him, and felt ashamed of the urge, when he looked at Murdock’s battered and bloody face.


“Hannibal,” Murdock said again. “He’s a trained man. He put me down in a flash. He was waiting for us! We thought we were the ambush, but he ambushed us!” His voice cracked and faded.


“Colonel,” BA called. “This is a jammer, rigged from a CB radio. A guy who knows what he’s doing can build one of these in a couple of hours.”


“Then turn it off!” Face yelled. He shouldn’t be yelling. The hotel would be full of cops any time now if he kept yelling, but he couldn’t stop himself.


BA made a swift movement, ripping the open the case of the jamming device, exposing the wiring inside. Reaching in, he tore out a fistful of wires and circuit boards and flung them across the room. Finally, he tossed the almost empty casing to the floor and stamped on it. He looked up at Face.


“It’s off now.”


Face grabbed for his earpiece receiver that the fall down the stairs had shaken out. It swung on the wire that led to the battery pack in his breast pocket. When he put it in, he thought for a moment it must be broken, hearing no voices. But then he made out a low rumbling sound.


“Where’s the receiver for the homer?” Hannibal asked.


“In the car,” BA said, putting in his own earpiece. “And we better move, cause it only has a range of a few miles and it sounds to me like she’s in a car.”


“Right,” Hannibal said. “Let’s go. BA, help me with Murdock. Face, lead us out the way you came in.”


“Right.” Face strode out of the room as Hannibal and BA helped Murdock to his feet, heard them hurrying to catch up.


“Face,” Hannibal called as they followed Face down the corridor. “Cool down. We need to be smart here. Not go off half-cocked. This guy must know we had Amy wired. That’s why he used the jammer. But he left that for us to find easily and shut off.”


They made it to the stairs and went down them slower than Face would have liked.


“So?” Face asked, knowing Hannibal was probably thinking straighter than him right now, since crisis only made him more focused, not less.


“So, it sounds like he’s not taken the wire off Amy, even though he knows about it.”


“Maybe he was just trying to jam our walkie-talkies?” BA suggested.


“And failing? And getting the exact frequency to jam the transmitters instead? No,” Hannibal said. “This guy’s too thorough for that.”


“He’s a trained man.” Murdock repeated what he’d said earlier, in a slightly stronger voice.


“This is no accident,” Hannibal said. “He wants us to follow him. This is a trap.”


Face paused at the fire exit door he’d come in, waiting for the other three to arrive, slow, helping the still wobbly Murdock.


A trap? Why? Perhaps he feared Face could identify him? He needn’t worry about that. Face still couldn’t recall him from the night of Celia’s murder and he hadn’t managed to get a look at him when he shoved Face down the stairs. The memory made him wince as the bruises and cuts took this opportunity to remind him of their presence.


“He takes Amy and he wants us to follow him?” BA muttered as they arrived at the bottom of the stairs. “Sucker must have a death wish.”


“Or he thinks he can handle us,” Hannibal said. He glanced around at the bloodied Murdock and the battered looking Face and BA. “We’ve not proved him wrong so far.”


“I think he’s a trained man,” Murdock said again, the repetition making Face worry Murdock had a concussion. But even if he had, then right now that had to take second place in the priorities.


Face pushed open the fire exit doors, letting in the cool breeze. A movement to his left caught his eye as he stepped out, the others right behind him. Someone was on the footpath that led from the parking lot to the main entrance. Face turned. He stared. The man on the path stared back at him for several seconds, before he unfroze, and took several rapid steps backwards. As he retreated, he drew a pistol. An army issue pistol.


“Freeze!” Decker yelled.

Chapter 16

Face had had enough. He’d had enough and then some.


“Oh get the hell out of my way, Decker! We don’t have time for you!”


Decker ignored him. “Drop your guns all of you.” Looking past Face, he frowned. “What happened to Captain Murdock?”


“Decker, listen,” Hannibal said, his voice calmer than Face’s, but talking fast. “We sent in Amy and Murdock to try to make the killer show himself, but he got the drop on us. He’s taken Amy Allen. We can track her, but we need to move now or she’ll be out of range. Now stand aside or I’ll shoot you.”


Face gasped at the calmly spoken threat and glanced back to see Hannibal had his gun drawn. Decker still held his on Face.


“You’re lying.”


“Don’t be an idiot!” Hannibal snapped. “Who do you think beat the crap out of Murdock?”


Decker looked uncertain now, studying them. Face, still itching to move, wished Decker were closer, so he could jump him.


“You can track her? Then I’ll bring the police to –”


“There’s no time!” Face yelled, “She’ll be out of range by the time they get here!”


“Decker,” Hannibal said, his gun pointed at Decker now. “He’s right, there’s no time. Besides, this is personal. I know you understand all about personal.”


Decker looked torn. Face knew he had no love for Amy, whose newspaper stories humiliated him on a regular basis. But even he wouldn’t want to see her murdered. He had to let them go. Not even he could be such a hardass.


“Dammit!” Decker scowled. “I don’t have a lot of choice, do I?”


“Not if you want to hang onto your membership of the human race,” Hannibal said. “Right, guys, let’s go.” They started to move, Face turning, to run for the car, but Decker took advantage of that momentary distraction, jumped forward, and grabbed Face’s arm.


“You just said we could go!” Face protested as the others spun back around, Hannibal and BA letting go of Murdock, who wobbled and grabbed at BA to stay on his feet.


“You can go, but I’m coming with you. You three will lead and you, Peck, will ride with me.”


“What, I’m your hostage now?”


“You’re my prisoner. That’s the way this is going to work, deal with it.”


“Hannibal,” Face said, seeing Hannibal about to speak, knowing they didn’t have time for an argument. “It’s fine, let’s just go, for god’s sake!”


Hannibal nodded and the three of them turned back for their car, ran, Hannibal and BA dragging the stumbling Murdock. Decker pulled Face away towards his unmarked Army sedan.


“You’ll drive, Peck. That way your hands are where I can see them.”


“I’ve got more important things to do than pick your damn pocket.” Nevertheless, Face slid into the driver’s seat and as he pulled away, he tuned in the CB radio to their frequency. Decker took the microphone from him.


“Smith? Are you receiving me?”


“Yeah.” Hannibal sounded somewhat freaked. Not the voice he’d expect to hear over their radio. “You see us? Okay, keep up.”


Face followed their car out of the parking lot and put his foot down as it sped on ahead.


“You should probably put on your seatbelt.” Face couldn’t resist a tiny smirk at Decker. Decker just snorted. “What the hell were you doing there anyway?” Face went on. “It can’t have been for us, not with no backup.”


“I came to check their employment records. Looks like we both figured out the killer is a hotel employee.”


“You mean, you’ve actually been investigating?” Face said, amazed, then added in a sly voice. “And we thought you just drove around all day hoping to spot the van.”


Decker ignored the dig. “Someone had to investigate. That damn police detective was only interested in catching you.”


“Isn’t that all you’re interested in?”


“Don’t flatter yourselves,” Decker growled. “Miss Allen gave Turner the other cases to follow up. I followed them up.”


“And you reached the same conclusion we did?”


“Yes. Of course, I didn’t then come up with some insanely dangerous scheme to catch the killer by using my friends as bait. But I’m not Smith after all.”


Face scowled. “No you’re not!” Then he pulled himself together, determined not to let Decker needle him. “I guess this means you don’t believe I did it.”


Decker didn’t answer for a moment. When he did, his voice was quieter than usual. “I’ve read your file going right back to when you were a boy. Nothing in it makes me believe you would do something like this. You’re a lot of things, but a killer of women isn’t one of them.”


“That’s the nicest thing you’ll ever say to me, isn’t it?”


Decker cleared his throat and gave Face a dirty look. “Make no mistake, Peck, I’m still going to lock you up. But not for something you didn’t do.”


“Damn, and you were doing so well.”


+-+-+


In the leading car, BA drove while Hannibal sat in the back with Murdock, cleaning him up.


“How’s it going, BA?” Hannibal asked, grabbing at the back of the passenger seat as BA took a corner.


“Fine. Signal still coming in strong. We’re heading north.”


Hannibal glanced out of the window, to see lights rushing past, couldn’t identify where they were, and didn’t care too much. He turned back to Murdock, and positioned a dressing on his head. Murdock looked a lot better now Hannibal had cleaned the blood off him.


“Decker saw me,” Murdock said. “Guess that’s that then. Can’t go back to the VA now and say I just felt like a vacation.”


Taking Decker along wasn’t exactly Plan A for Hannibal, but hell at least he’d be an extra pair of hands. They just had to make sure they got away from him afterwards. But even if they did, that didn’t help Murdock much.


“Sorry, Murdock.”


“Doesn’t matter. Was my choice. But forget it just now. We’ll talk about it later. Gotta get Amy first.” He winced. “I can’t believe I let it happen. If he hurts her, I’ll… well, I’ll kill him.” He frowned for a moment. “In fact, let’s be smart about this. If it comes to that, it’s best I do it. Better in court. Everyone already knows I’m crazy.”


“Hush, fool,” BA said, not looking round. “Ain’t killing no-one.”


His protest wasn’t for the sake of the man who’d taken Amy, Hannibal knew, but for Murdock’s own sake. For his sanity. Something they would have to guard very carefully now. Murdock couldn’t go back to the VA and if he got sick again… Hannibal didn’t want to think about that. No time. No damn time.


“Murdock, when we get to wherever he’s leading us, you need to stay out of the fight. You’re concussed, you lost a lot of blood and…” He stopped, but Murdock finished for him.


“We already know he can take me?”


“I didn’t say that. He took you by surprise back there. But you’re hurt. If he is trained, like you said yourself, then you won’t have a chance against him in this state. At best you’ll give him another hostage.” And at worst another victim.


Murdock sat back in the seat, frowning, arms folded.


“Murdock, I mean it.”


“Sure, Colonel, anything you say.”


“Hang on, man,” BA said, and picked up the CB mike. “Keep up, Face. We’re getting onto the freeway.”


+-+-+


Amy muttered a curse as she woke up. Her head felt about three times the size it should be. However, when hazy memories came back, of a man lunging at her, a needle jabbed into her arm, then she stopped worrying about her headache and started trembling instead.


Raising her head, she found she was lying on a cot, her ankles and wrists bound, hands behind her. Risking a little more movement, she looked around. The room reminded her of the team’s warehouse. It had a workbench with electronics gear lying on it, more equipment standing around, tools, welding torches. Several bare fluorescent tubes illuminated the room with a harsh bright light. The whole room was concrete and windowless. For all she knew it could be under the ground.


She was alone, so and took a moment to try to calm down and think. Okay, kid. She tried to imagine Hannibal’s voice in her head, instead of her own. Panic and you’re dead meat. Think. What’s the situation?


Item. Tied up. Not good. She tested the ropes in the way Face had taught her, but couldn’t feel any give to them. Well with long enough alone she could hop around and find something to cut them.


Item. Clothes still on. Good. Though her shoes were gone. Couldn’t have run in those heels anyway.


Item. Wire still on, she could feel it around her ribcage, the power pack tucked in her bra. Good. Could it still be transmitting? She couldn’t know of course, but Hannibal had taught her that when faced with an apparently dead radio, keep talking, just in case they can hear you. For one thing, they could maybe triangulate the transmission. She wasn’t entirely surely what triangulate meant, but the team did, that’s what mattered.


“Guys.” She kept her voice low, bending her head, talking to her own chest. That made her smile for a second. If she wore the right dress, Face tended to talk to her chest. Then tears sprang into her eyes as fear wiped the smile away. Once again, Hannibal’s voice in her mind told her ‘panic and you’re dead.’ She took a breath and spoke again.


“I’m in a concrete room. Don’t know where. I’m not hurt. Nobody is with me. I’m bound hand and foot, but not gagged.” She stopped, blushed. Idiot. “Well, you can tell I’m not gagged. I… I don’t know if you can hear, but I guess I just keep transmitting in case you can, in case you can trace it and find me and, guys, please find me. I’m…” scared, she wanted to say. But if they were listening, she didn’t want to make it harder for them. Something occurred to her. “Oh! If anyone else can hear me, please help me, call the cops, trace this transmission. My name is Amy Allen and I’m being held prisoner by a serial killer.”


“They’re probably still out of range.”


Amy gasped and started so violently that she almost fell off the cot. She looked around wildly and saw a man come in through a doorway to her left. Damn, how long had he been listening there?


She shivered. Him. The man – the waiter – who’d taken her from the hotel. Tall and brown haired, no older than forty, at her guess. He looked strong and fit and when she remembered how quickly and professionally he’d taken Murdock down, she shivered again.