Stockwell fell asleep in his chair and Hannibal continued to pace and hoped Stockwell wouldn’t have a nightmare. He’d been having them almost every night now, since they had landed in Japan. And they were getting worse. The more like his old self he became while awake the worse the nightmares seemed to get.
Hannibal felt sorry for the man. Not just because of the nightmares, but for the way he looked when he woke to find one of the A-Team beside him, trying to reassure him he was safe. Embarrassed, humiliated. But none of the team did anything to make him feel any worse. In the morning they acted as if what they had seen in the night had never happened. They gave Stockwell the old back chat they’d given him before all of this had ever started. Hannibal was proud of them for that.
At almost 4:30am the rest of the team arrived. BA was semi-conscious and was hauled in by two goons. Murdock and Face followed under guard. The butler came in with a silver salver that had a small brown bottle on it.
“Smelling salts, sir.” He addressed Hannibal.
“Ready for anything, aren’t you, Jeeves?” Hannibal said. The butler’s right eye twitched at being called Jeeves but he didn’t react otherwise. Hannibal took the bottle and the butler left.
In a few moments BA was awake and angry.
“They shot me!”
“What?” Hannibal stared at him, shocked. “You’re shot? Where? You guys,” he scowled at Face and Murdock, who were wide eyed. “Didn’t you notice he was…”
“With a dart gun!” BA added. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. “Like I was a bear or something. Do I look like a bear?”
There was silence for a moment.
“I’m waitin’ for an answer.” BA growled.
Hannibal grinned. “Only in very poor light conditions.” He looked at the three of them, they all appeared to be okay. “Report.”
They all reported that they had completed their missions before they were arrested, brought by helicopter or car to an airfield and one by one were picked up by a jet, before all three of them were brought here, landing at a nearby strip and being brought to the house by car.
“You two?” Murdock asked Hannibal.
“We actually had a slight problem at our end.” Hannibal admitted. “The sample was gone.”
“Gone?” Face groaned and sank down into an armchair. “Don’t tell me we went through all of this for nothing.”
“We’ll see,” Hannibal said. “I think that last sample isn’t far away.”
“Are we where we thought we’d be?” Murdock asked.
“Yes.” Stockwell answered.
“And are we getting out alive?” Face asked. “Or are we going to be politely shot by Mr Belvedere with his Uzi?”
No-one had an answer for that.
“What can we do for you, Lurch?” Hannibal asked, when the butler returned a few minutes later.
“If you’ll follow me, Mr Shriver will see you now.”
They followed him through the dark entrance hall of the house. A grand staircase was illuminated by moonlight streaming through a tall window above the landing where the staircase split into two. In the shadows the grey suited men lurked, watching the team and Stockwell pass.
The butler knocked at a pair of tall oak doors. In a moment a voice from inside called out “enter” and the butler led them inside.
The interior was oppressive, wood paneled. The only light came from a lamp on a large oak desk and from a crackling fire. A man stood on the huge marble hearth, staring into the fire, a heavy crystal tumbler in his hand, the liquor in it made golden by the firelight.. He wore a dark wool suit, was tall and a little paunchy. His white hair was somewhat disarranged. As they came into the room he straightened up and ran a hand over his hair to flatten it.
“General Stockwell and the A-Team, sir.” The butler announced them and then melted from sight. The door closed behind the team. They glanced at each other. Stockwell was the first to make a move. He walked to the man and held out his hand.
“William, I am sorry about Philip.”
William just stared at Stockwell’s hand, as if he couldn’t believe it was being offered. After a moment Stockwell lowered his hand, not apparently embarrassed. He turned to the A-Team.
“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Mr William Shriver, the father of Philip Shriver.” William looked at the team, frowned.
“Why are you wearing your uniforms?” he asked. His New England accent was identical to his son’s, but his voice was hoarse and strained.
“Because we’re not terrorists.” Hannibal said.
William still frowned at them.
“You think that makes any kind of difference? What you have done is…” He stopped abruptly as Stockwell swayed on his feet, Murdock and Hannibal jumped forward to grab him.
“Perhaps we can sit down?” Stockwell said, “I’m afraid I’m not fully recovered yet.”
“You should be dead.” William snapped, vicious hatred in his voice. Now they were closer Hannibal could see that William’s eyes were rimmed with red and were dark circled. “You should be in the ground, not my son!”
“If you hadn’t sent Philip to kill him, they’d both still be alive,” Hannibal pointed out. “Now get a hold of yourself and let’s all sit down and talk about this like the civilised men you two claim to be.”
William visibly fought for control, then he spun on his heel and walked over to sit behind his desk. The team and Stockwell took chairs on the other side. A small metal container stood on the desk, a wire led from it.
“Nice paperweight.” Face said. “Do we win a prize if we guess what’s inside?”
William glared at them.
“After you are all dead the sample will be secured in a new location. You have wasted your time, gentlemen.”
“If you want us dead why are we here?” Hannibal asked. “You could have killed all of us hours ago.”
“Because… I… I need to know about Philip.” William’s voice cracked as he said it. “Were you with him… at the end?”
“I was.” Murdock said. He gestured. “And BA. He died bravely. And his last words were to call out to you.” BA nodded his confirmation.
“I find that hard to believe.” William said. “I find it hard to believe that he called for me after he betrayed me.” He glared at Stockwell. “Are you happy, Hunt? You finally won. You stole his loyalty from me.”
“That’s not how it was.” Stockwell said. “He made a choice to do the right thing. It hurt him to go against you, but despite all our training he still knew the difference between right and wrong.”
“Must have got that from his mother’s side.” Hannibal muttered. He glanced around the walls of the room. In the dim light he could make out photographs. Most of the photographs were of Philip Shriver, at various ages, ranging from six to over thirty, holding trophies or certificates. This really was the first time he failed, Hannibal thought. Pride of place went to a large photograph over the fireplace of Philip in his Harvard graduation robes.
“And no, William, I am not happy.” Stockwell went on, ignoring Hannibal’s muttering. “I would have rather that he’d carried out his orders than see this happen. If it was possible I’d change places with him right now!” He shouted the last words, and the team turned to stare at him, had rarely seen him become so agitated.
William sneered. “If you think I believe that then you must think I am a fool.”
“You are a fool.” Hannibal said. And now they all turned to stare at him. Hannibal stood up. Here goes, he thought. We live or die on what I say next. “You were too stupid to see what you had in Philip. You thought you had to push him to make him succeed. But a bright, curious kid like that doesn’t need to be pushed, he just needs to be encouraged. But you had to push. And you pushed so hard that you pushed him away.”
“What the hell do you know about it?” William demanded. “I just wanted to see my son succeed.”
“Yes, you did, because how else could you prove to your family that your marriage wasn’t a mistake? ” William’s mouth dropped open, then snapped shut to a thin, hard line. “You were smart enough to see what was happening though. After your wife died you thought you were going to lose Philip for good, didn’t you? That’s why you set the trap for him.”
“Zephyr.” Murdock said.
“Most people would want to make sure their son didn’t fall into the same trap they’d fallen into. They’d protect him from it. Not you. You laid down a trail of breadcrumbs, and Philip, bright and curious as he was, he followed that trail and found out about Zephyr.”
William turned from staring at Hannibal to glare at Stockwell. “You told him this. Did you also tell him that you were as much a part of that as I was?”
“Yes, he did,” Hannibal said. “He told me how the two of you planned to groom Philip to take charge of Project Zephyr one day. But you couldn’t see,” he glanced from William to Stockwell, “either of you, that he wasn’t cut out for it. He was smart enough, but he wasn’t ruthless enough. You tried to train him to be that, but it didn’t work. You couldn’t freeze his heart. You couldn’t change that he hated to see anyone in pain. And when it came to the crunch, he made the choice with his heart, not with his head. Philip didn’t fail, Mr Shriver, you did.”
Hannibal sat down again, letting William think that over for a moment. The others glanced sidelong at Hannibal. Hannibal took a couple of breaths and wished he had a glass of water. There was still work to be done. Stockwell was gazing off at a nearby photograph. Shriver, about fifteen by the look of it, smiling and holding up a trophy. His parents stood behind him, their proud smiles even bigger than his. The late Mrs Shriver was beautiful, Hannibal thought. No wonder William had been prepared to defy his family and risk losing his fortune for her. A decision made with the heart, not the head.
Hannibal looked back at the desk, at the metal box. Refrigerated he guessed. The last Zephyr sample, his target, was only a few feet from him. He could spring up and grab it. Toss the perspex block into that roaring fire. No, that wasn’t the way this was going to go down.
“Philip wanted to be free, Mr Shriver.” Hannibal said, his voice quiet. “Free of Zephyr.”
William gave a bitter laugh. “Philip wanted to be free of me, Colonel Smith. I no longer have any illusions about that.”
“No.” Hannibal said, softly. He didn’t add anything else, and William looked pained and then pulled himself together.
“Well this has all been…”
“Did you love your son?” Hannibal asked. William went pale.
“What did you say?”
“It’s a simple question. Did you love him?”
“How dare you?” William jumped to his feet, came around the desk. Hannibal got up to meet him. He was a good couple of inches taller that William. “Of course I loved him!”
“Then stop protecting what killed him.”
William took a step back. “What?”
“Zephyr trapped him. And in the end it killed him. But you still protect it. Why? Do you love the power more than you loved your son?” His arm came up fast to block the blow William aimed at his face. The others jumped to their feet, but Hannibal waved them away.
“The power is what keeps you in the trap isn’t it? It makes you drunk. And who thinks straight when they’re drunk? It deluded you into thinking you were doing Philip a favour by luring him into the same trap.”
William backed off from Hannibal again.
“You don’t need it, Mr Shriver. It’s an illusion of power. This,” he waved a hand at the room around them, “this house, the men you have at your command, your corporation. That’s real power. Stop wasting the profits of that power on an illusion.”
“Illusion?” William looked as if he was going to laugh. “Do you know what that virus can do?”
“It can send you to jail.” Hannibal said. William frowned. “You go on protecting it, you risk being found out one day, and being the man who protected an illegal biological weapon. Who violated God knows how many laws to do so. The press will call you a monster.”
“Reporters can be so sensationalist.” Murdock said.
Hannibal nodded. “We should know, we’re good friends with a number of reporters.”
“Is that an attempt at blackmail?” William asked, his face hardening.
“Not at all.” Hannibal said. “Just a warning. If we were to, for example, disappear, there’s a few people, bright, curious people, who would investigate. I haven’t told them to do so, that’s just what they do.”
William went back and sat at his desk, slumped in his chair, looking exhausted.
“No, this is insane. I can’t listen to this.”
“William,” Stockwell said. “You should listen to him. I know what you and I usually think of men like these.” He glanced at Hannibal. “We think we can predict them, but Colonel Smith and his men surprised me constantly. I realise now why that was. They have something we lost long ago. Principles. And that means their decisions are simply beyond our understanding.” He smiled. “Philip did understand. He knew Colonel Smith would protect me, even though he hated me. Even though it was the most dangerous thing to do. And I still have no idea of what motivated that choice. But Philip understood.”
Hannibal was a little stunned by Stockwell’s speech, still trying to decode how much of was praise and how much insult.
“It’s the only sane solution.” Stockwell went on. “Destroy that last sample and Project Zephyr is over. We’re all free.”
“I tried to kill you.” William said to Stockwell. “I’m supposed to believe you’re going to forget that?”
“I hold no grudge.” Stockwell said. “I understand your motive. It’s entirely possible I’ve been brainwashed by the Chinese. If the situation were reversed I’d have done the same thing.”
“If you want power,” Hannibal said, “there’s other ways. More honourable ways. Politics. A rich man like you would have no trouble getting himself elected to some nice influential position.”
“Politics is honourable?” Face said quietly to Murdock. Hannibal heard that, but William didn’t seem to.
“I already own several politicians.” William said.
“That’s not quite what I meant.” Hannibal said, with a small smile.
“If I destroy this…” he looked at the sample case and stopped. Got him, Hannibal thought. If he’s even saying those words, I’ve got him.
“If you do, then you’re the man she married.” Hannibal glanced at one of the pictures with Mrs Shriver in it. “If you do, then you’re honouring the memory of your son. And, Mr Shriver, he deserves that.”
William stood up, walked back round to the hearth. He stood looking at the photograph over the fireplace. Hannibal glanced at the box on the desk. Face caught his eye, nodded at it. Hannibal shook his head. Face sighed, settled down in his chair again. He looked pale and tired, Hannibal thought. He was holding onto his still healing arm.
Hannibal turned as William suddenly walked away from the fireplace and strode to the door. He opened it and spoke to someone outside, too quiet for the team to hear. They looked at each other, worried.
“Be ready.” Hannibal said. Tense nods in return. A moment passed and William came back towards the desk. He was carrying something. As he reached them they could see what it was. The square metal case the Zephyr goons had taken from Hannibal at Langley.
“Colonel Smith. Tell me how to operate this.”
The goons were gone, not a grey suit in sight. The butler was no longer carrying his Uzi. He looked as if the mere suggestion he would carry a gun was quite ludicrous. He offered them coffee, but they refused, stepped out of the house into the dawn light.
William Shriver did not accompany them to the front door. They had left him standing in front of the fire place again. The room stank of the acid that had eaten the final Zephyr sample.
A car waited on the driveway, the doors unlocked, the keys in the ignition. A bag on the back seat held their confiscated weapons. The butler told them the car was theirs and walked back into the house, closed the door.
“Should we have tipped him?” Murdock asked Face, who rolled his eyes.
“Get in the car, fool.” BA said. They all got in and BA took the wheel.
“Where we going?” He asked, setting off down the driveway.
“I really need some breakfast.” Murdock said.
“Yeah.” BA agreed. “Breakfast. Being knocked out always makes me hungry.”
“Okay, we’ll get some food.” Hannibal said. “Then…” he smiled. “Then what we do is up to us. We’re free.” He glanced in the rear view mirror.
“What about you, Stockwell? Drop you off at Langley, maybe?”
“No.” Stockwell shook his head vehemently. “No. I can’t go back there. I can’t go back to any of it.” Hannibal turned in his seat.
“You really do want to be free of it all?”
“I have to be, Colonel. I don’t know whether I’ve been… compromised or not. But I can’t take that risk.”
“Come on, Stockwell, how likely is all that mind control stuff?” Face asked.
“If the experiments we’ve conducted are any indication, then more likely than you might believe, Lieutenant.” Face and Murdock stared at him. Even BA glanced at him in the rear view mirror.
“Please be kidding.” Murdock said. Stockwell just shrugged.
“So where do you want to go?” Hannibal asked.
“My home is not far from here. You can drop me off.” He smiled. “I will finally get to enjoy my retirement. Perhaps you and I can go fishing together sometime, Colonel? We won’t bother with bait, you can talk the fish onto the hooks.”
Hannibal laughed, as much from surprise at the joke as anything else.
“Sure, General. It’s a date.” Sometime after hell freezes over maybe, he added in his head.
Twenty minutes later they drew up outside a pair of gates set back from the road.
“Gentlemen I’d invite you in for coffee, but I have no idea if the electricity is even switched on.”
“Can you get in?” Face asked. “If you need me to pick the lock…”
“No, I keep a spare key under the doormat.”
Now that one had to be a joke. Hannibal thought. He wasn’t that happy about just leaving Stockwell to it. But they’d done their job, he supposed, they’d got him home in one piece, the rest was up to him.
“Okay. Oh, don’t forget this.” Hannibal rummaged in the bag and took out Stockwell’s handgun. Stockwell took the weapon and got out of the car.
“Goodbye, gentlemen, perhaps we’ll meet again some day. Perhaps by then I’ll have decided whether recruiting you was the worst or best decision of my career. And, Colonel Smith, all of you… thank you.”
And he turned, opened the gates and walked off up the drive.
BA started the car up again and drove away. Hannibal still had the weapons bag on his knees.
“Pass me my gun, would you,” Face said. Hannibal nodded, distributed the pistols to the team. There was one last gun in the bag, one he’d been carrying around for over three weeks now. Shriver’s Glock 17. He took it out of the bag. It still felt lightweight.
“You seem to be getting quite attached to that.” Murdock said, with a smile.
Hannibal looked up. “Yeah.” He smiled back. “It’s more substantial than it appears.” He gripped it. It felt good, comfortable.
“This I could definitely get used to.”