"I hate police stations," Amy muttered to her companion as they stood in the elevator.
"And you think I like them any better?" Face asked dryly, arching an eyebrow.
Amy rolled her eyes. "And whose idea was it to come in person, hmm?"
Face smiled and took her arm as the elevator doors opened. "You know if this could be done otherwise, we would have," he reminded her quietly. "Hannibal deserves the best."
Amy sighed and bit back the reply she would have made about foolish old men who'd never learned when to quit. Instead, she took a deep breath and composed herself, aware that the stakes for playing the game were high. For a moment, she found herself asking why they were doing this the hard way. Then she remembered: the team was retired, and all of them had gone legit. They needed the police – not just for Hannibal, but for everyone else involved.
Beside her, Face waited, sensing her hesitation. At her nod, he pulled open the door to Major Crimes and led her unerringly towards the desk of the man they'd come to see.
Deep into trying to connect the disparate pieces of what was shaping up to be an elaborate money-laundering scheme involving a number of apparently unrelated businesses, Jim didn't pay much attention to the comings and goings-on in the bull pen. He wanted to solve this case before Blair showed up, fresh with renewed enthusiasm for being an official police consultant after spending the afternoon teaching anthropology to students who needed a social sciences credit. If Jim solved the puzzle, then Blair would be less likely to drag him through the entire West End neighborhood trying to find more clues – and Jim really, really didn't think he could find anything more today than he had on Friday when he'd been handed the case.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Ellison?" a woman's voice interrupted.
Startled, Jim looked up from the file folder. Standing before him was a brunette with long, wavy hair and a girl-next-door look to her, if the girl next door had grown up into a strikingly attractive middle-aged woman. Her style of dress indicated a middle-class background. She looked vaguely familiar. She was accompanied by a well-dressed older man who looked a few years older than her. Something about him made Jim's instincts sit up and take notice, and he knew it wasn't anything he could name.
"Something I can help you with?" Jim asked, closing the file and picking up a notepad and pen.
"I'm Amy Allen," the woman introduced herself, "and this is my brother Richard. Our uncle raised us and he's —" she choked back a sob "—not well, but I really don't think his condition's being helped by the place he's in."
"He's in an assisted living facility," Richard added, patting his sister reassuringly. "North Pointe Gardens."
Jim eyed the pair. His senses told him not everything was as it seemed, yet there was enough of a ring of truth that he was willing, for the moment, to see where this story led. "If you're concerned about his care, then why haven't you been able to address his situation with the administrators of the facility?"
"We've tried," Amy said indignantly. "They just say the same thing: they're working on it, but we don't know what we're talking about. I think they're conducting illegal tests. Hannibal's not stupid."
Amy shot him a wry smile, but her pulse jumped. "Family nickname," she excused herself, but something about the way her companion tensed made Jim think she'd used the wrong name…or maybe the right one. "He was an officer in the military; his name's John Roberts. I know you probably don't think one old guy in a nursing home's important, but…" She pulled out a disk from her purse and handed it to Jim. "You might find this interesting."
Taking possession of the disk, Jim automatically checked it to see if it was anything other than a standard, black, 3.5" floppy. As far as he could tell, it wasn't; it didn't even have a label. "And what will I find if I was to view this?"
Amy rose to her feet. "Proof."
"If I was to check into this," Jim began carefully, "how would I get in touch with you?"
From the inner pocket of his suit jacket, Richard produced a silver business card case and withdrew a card, passing it over to Jim. The card was professional stock, identifying Richard to be part of something called Enterprises, Inc. An email address and local phone number were listed, but no other information. "You can reach us via that number," Richard offered. "It's our little company."
"Thanks," Jim said politely, not liking the other man. The guy was just a little too slick, a little too composed, and Jim knew from his years of experience as a cop that Richard — if that was his real name — was an operator. Deliberately, Jim picked a card out from the stack he kept in a desk drawer and handed it to Amy rather than Richard. "I can't promise you anything," Jim said honestly, directing his gaze at her, "but give me a few days. If you haven't heard from me in a week, give me a call."
Amy smiled, looking relieved. "Thanks. I was afraid if we just called you wouldn't believe us."
Richard touched her arm. "Come on, Amy, we've taken up enough of the lieutenant's time." He met Jim's suspicious gaze without flinching. "I hope to hear from you soon." Not waiting for any further parting comments, he gently turned Amy towards the door.
Jim watched them go, automatically extending his hearing to eavesdrop on them, but they said nothing more than any two siblings who'd laid their cards on the table to the police and were hoping for results. Still, Jim was convinced they'd lied to him about something.
Curiosity had him inserting the disk into the drive on his computer. An hour and a half later, Blair's touch on his back made him jump.
"God, Jim, I didn't think I could do that to you! What's so interesting?"
Grimly, Jim said, "Trouble. Come on, Simon needs to hear this."
The black van was far more anonymous than its predecessor, thanks to its lack of a distinctive red stripe, but on the inside, it had been similarly customized with hidden weapons storage and its technology updated to include a police band scanner as well as a newer CB receiver. Parked in an unattended pay lot two blocks from the central precinct, B.A. did his best to ignore the antics of his companion.
It wasn't easy.
Knowing Murdock deliberately goaded him sometimes didn't help, either. BA sighed. Decades of shared living had only made BA hyperaware that the only consensus the doctors had ever had was that Murdock was prone to 'periods of sanity'. Right now, Murdock wasn't experiencing one of those periods; he was amusing himself by conducting a sock puppet interpretation of a wizard movie.
Checking the binoculars again, BA saw that Face and Amy were exiting the precinct. Relieved, BA put the binoculars into the mesh pocket behind the front passenger seat and turned on the engine. "They're coming," he warned Murdock.
"The wizard arrives in a flash of white light," Murdock announced dramatically.
"Shut up, fool," BA growled.
"The wizard will not be silenced! He is the Champion of All that Is Good and —"
BA snagged one of the socks. "I said shut up," he growled, "before I stuff this sock in your mouth."
"And the evil Death Eater is swallowed up in a sudden burst of fire!" Murdock announced, then when BA leaned threateningly towards him, abruptly fell silent.
It didn't take long for Amy and Face to arrive. Pulling open the sliding door, Amy sat beside Murdock on the bench seat immediately behind the front seats, while Face climbed in the front passenger seat.
"You think the cop's gonna bite?" BA asked.
"He's the best in the city," Face said reassuringly. "You got the tracking device on his truck installed?"
"Piece of cake," BA assured him. "No thanks to the fool there."
Not surprised by the comment, Face let it pass. "Anyone see you?"
"The guardians of the castle have eyes everywhere," Murdock declared. "But we slipped past with our magic powers and no one saw."
"Magic?" Face pressed, worried.
BA shook his head. "No magic, LT. We just followed the plan."
Face breathed a relieved sigh as Murdock injected indignantly, "Was too magic! It would be more magic if we just rescue Hannibal."
"We've been over this before, Murdock," Face told him. "We like it here. We have a nice house here. Nobody is looking for the A-Team here."
BA snorted. "Never stopped us in LA."
"We didn't have anything to lose in LA," Face said sharply. "Or did you forget we had a deal? Do the words 'terms of parole' mean anything to you?"
Grumpily, BA admitted, "I didn't forget. But we know how to get Hannibal out."
"You want to lose your freedom, go right on ahead," Face told him, shrugging as if he didn't care one way or the other. "Let the other people in that place suffer."
BA held Face's gaze a moment before looking away. "Where's that place you wanted to eat dinner at?" he asked instead.
"And the wizard takes center stage again!" Murdock announced, directing his sock-covered right hand at Amy as Face gave BA directions.
Amy smiled briefly at Murdock but turned towards the front of the van as she worriedly asked, "If we go to the restaurant, we can still pick up the signal from the transmitter?"
"I boosted the signal range to a mile," BA told her.
Face flashed a smile. "See, nothing to worry about. Now, Murdock, don't you think the wizard needs to sleep?"
"This can't be right," Simon muttered, looking over the printouts Jim had made of the data on the disk. "Who did you say brought you this information?"
"They said their names were Amy and Richard Allen. Claimed their uncle was at the nursing home, but the amount of data on the disk makes me think at least one of them is working at the nursing home — not a resident."
"Said?" Simon's eyes narrowed.
Jim nodded. "The woman looked familiar, and Sandburg jogged my memory. Amy Allen is her real name. She's a free-lance reporter; KCDE News and The Cascade Times have both used her. She was a foreign correspondent for a LA newspaper before she moved to Cascade about ten years ago. Her driver's license lists a PO Box, but there's no residence address for her on record anywhere." He took a breath. "As for Richard — Richard Allen's one of the aliases on record for Templeton Peck, also known as Face, who has quite a criminal record up until ten years ago."
"So what's the connection between them?" Simon asked.
"A vigilante group called the A-Team," Blair put in. "She made her career writing a series of articles on how they were helping right wrongs. Made them sound like heroes instead of mercenaries. I remember hearing about them growing up; some of people Naomi knew had a story or two about them." He shrugged. "They always seemed like an urban legend to me — not really real, since the stories were almost always 'I heard it from a friend of a friend.'"
"Oh, they're real," Simon said with a groan. He'd been a detective in the '80s and remembered too well the national alerts regarding the A-Team. For the most part, they'd seemed to leave the Cascade area alone, though Simon remembered helping out with cleanup after the team had torn through a small town near Fort Lewis. The military police had been spitting mad, Simon recalled, at losing their quarry – but the multi-county drug force had rejoiced at the busting up of a particularly thorny drug ring, despite the carnage and chaos that had been left in the A-Team's wake.
"Tell me the A-Team's not operating in my city," Simon demanded.
Jim met his captain's gaze. "Well, if they have been, they've managed to keep a very low profile," he said honestly. "You know if they were, their MO would have targeted them years ago. I played out a hunch to see if I could find the other members of the team here. They are. All of them share the same Cascade PO Box on their drivers' licenses as Amy Allen — except for H.M. Murdock, whose last known address is that apartment building that got firebombed last year. What's more, according to a few of my military friends, the team is no longer on the military's 'most wanted' list. "
"Any reason why?" Simon leaned forward, intrigued.
Jim shook his head. "No idea. There's no statute of limitations on desertion as far as the UCMJ's concerned, so they must've cut a deal. My sources all say they'd heard the team was out of the business — retired or dead, no one was sure. But this information –" he gestured to the printouts "—is the break we've been looking for on Z. No wonder everyone's afraid of him — he's got a perfect hostage situation in the retirement home."
Simon contemplated the evidence before him — a mountain of accounting records, scans of phone logs, and transcripts of conversations, enough evidence to justify a warrant. His gut told him there was more, possibly illegally obtained. Still…removing Z would mean removing a major player in the city's crime scene. "I'll make the phone calls and get you a warrant for Z's arrest," he told Jim and Blair. "You two set up a meeting with Allen and Peck — after you do an inspection of the retirement home. See if their 'uncle' really is there. Chances are, it's one of their fellow team members."
"And if he is?"
"Do this legal," Simon warned. "Things tend to explode when the A-Team's involved, even if the outcome is one that makes it very easy for the cops to throw the books at the bad guys the team's targeted. Don't fool yourselves into thinking they're white knights. Both of you — stay out of trouble."
"We'll try," Blair promised cheerfully as he and Jim rose to leave. "You know some days we can't help ourselves."
Simon glared at him. "I don't want to hear it, Sandburg. Stay out of trouble. That's an order."
Hastily, Jim shuffled his partner out of the captain's office before he could come back with the smart-ass reply Jim knew Blair was bound to make.
"What?" Blair looked at Jim innocently.
"Save it for someone who'll believe it, Chief," Jim advised. "Come on, let's see where this North Pointe Gardens is."
"What?" Blair asked, his conversation stopping as he realized Jim was checking his mirrors more than usual as they drove to the retirement home the next day. Visiting hours had been over by the time they'd left Simon's office the day before.
"We have a tail," Jim said, his voice hard. "White Corvette convertible with a red stripe. '84, I think. California license plate, too."
Blair glanced behind them, not immediately seeing the car in question. "Think it's bad news?"
Deliberately, Jim turned off into a shopping center with a drive-through espresso stand close to the road and joined the queue. The 'Vette didn't follow, but continued past as if it hadn't been following at all. Pulling out of the queue, Jim immediately rejoined the traffic on the road and used his sight and hearing to follow the 'Vette.
"Red Fox to Black Stripe, he's gone for coffee. Madison and 15th."
"I'm right behind, Red Fox. Picking up trail," a gruff male voice answered. "He's spotted you, Red Fox. He ain't buying no coffee."
"Damn it. Just make sure he goes to North Pointe. Do not engage. We clear?"
"Roger, wilco, Red Fox."
"Jim, what do you see?"
"Peck's driving the 'Vette. He's on a CB, coordinating with someone else."
"Can you pinpoint where the someone else is?"
"In another vehicle. I can't tell which one — there's just enough traffic that I need to pay attention to driving. But it just sounds like they want to be sure we go to the retirement home." He listened a moment more, then shook his head. "They've stopped communicating."
"Why would they be so concerned that you're following up on this?" Blair wondered.
Jim glanced over at Blair. "You think they'd trust a cop, even one they've handpicked to work a case? They're career criminals. I doubt they're reformed, even if this is the first peep I've heard about them being in Cascade." Anger at being manipulated, at being lied to, bled through Jim's voice.
"But if they've picked you," Blair countered, his tone soothing the edges of Jim's displeasure, "then surely they've done their homework on who you are. That indicates some kind of plan. If it's just the illegal testing of drugs on the residents that Allen and Peck claim is going on, they could've taken this to anyone in Major Crimes or even reported it anonymously to 911. The records on that disk they gave us indicate Z's using the facility to steal and sell prescription drugs. We knew he was getting them from somewhere, but we didn't know how. That's all well and good, so what haven't Peck and Allen told us?"
Jim didn't reply, focused on the slight S-curve of the road. At a stop light a few minutes later, he finally said, "Whatever it is, it's not something they think just anyone can handle."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Blair declared worriedly. "You're famous enough that you get stuck with some bullshit details, but this… this feels like it's going to be big."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Jim said confidently. Glancing over at Blair, he teased, "I'd have thought you'd be more excited about more proof that urban legends have some basis in fact."
Blair rolled his eyes. "I already did that research back when I was getting my bachelor's degree, and the moral behind most of the legends is a giant ‘beware' message," he shot back. "So you'll have to excuse me for being a little leery."
Jim sighed. "Only thing we can do is find out what's going on, Chief," he reminded him. "Unless you're seeing something I'm not?"
Blair shook his head. "You're the one with the visions, man," he said. "I'm just the interpreter." Ignoring the scoffing sound Jim made, Blair glanced at the directions he'd printed out before they'd left the station. "It's a left at the next light."
North Pointe Gardens turned out to be set just a few blocks off one of the main arterials through Cascade. From what they could see from the road, it didn't look much different from many of the higher-end apartment complexes in the area. When they pulled up to the gate, they found it locked, with an officious note taped to the iron bars saying the facility was under quarantine.
Having seen other Health Board notices, Jim doubted the authenticity of the notice, but the gate was padlocked. They were not getting in short of a battering ram.
Jim honked his horn anyway, hoping someone would show up.
A burly man who all too easily could be envisioned as an enforcer for some Mafia boss hurried to the gate.
Rolling down his window, Jim waited for the guy to approach.
"Sorry, we're closed," the thug said. "Quarantine."
"But the website says visiting hours were from 8 am to 6 pm," Jim objected.
"No visitors," the thug repeated. He pointed to the sign. "You go now before you're sick too."
Jim eyed him a moment, considering his options. If there was as much illegal activity as the evidence on the disk claimed, pushing the issue now by flashing his badge wouldn't help matters. His gut instinct told him this 'quarantine' was likely why Peck was following him.
"Any idea when you'll reopen?" Jim asked.
"No idea," the thug said, pasting on a patently false smile. "Sorry. You go now."
Jim nodded and rolled up his window. Questioning the thug any further wasn't going to get him anywhere; it was likely the thug might be inclined to resort to drastic measures, and Jim didn't see the point in tipping his hand just yet.
"What now?" Blair asked.
Jim backed the truck up out of the driveway and headed back the way they'd came. He drove a few blocks before pulling into the parking lot of a shopping center, deliberately parking in an open area where there were a number of open stalls. "Now," he declared, "we wait for our tail to show up. Back in a minute."
He stepped out of the truck, then spent a moment using his senses to find the tracking device. He had to peer under the truck to check that he'd found it, but it wasn't so far underneath that he couldn't reach it easily. Pulling it out from its location on the undercarriage, he spent a moment disabling it, then rose to his feet before climbing back into the truck and handing the small device to Blair.
"What the hell?" Blair demanded, wide-eyed.
"They were tracking us using this."
"That…that takes 'being concerned' to a whole new level," Blair sputtered. "What would they have done if you didn't go on this case? This isn't the only thing you're working on!"
Ignoring Blair, Jim picked up his cell phone and dialed the number from the business card Peck had given him.
"Good morning, Enterprises Inc., Richard Allen speaking," Peck greeted.
"Stalking a police officer's illegal, Mr. Peck," Jim drawled. "Or should I call you Red Fox?"
The pause was slight, but Jim heard the slight indrawn breath of shock. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Lieutenant."
"Quit the games. If you want my help, you'll meet me in the next twenty minutes at the corner of 180th and Daugh Highway. If you don't, then I'll make sure you'll regret picking me for your patsy. Oh, and Peck? Bring your friends. I know the A-Team's here."
Peck exhaled carefully. "We'll be there."
"I don't like this," BA muttered as he pulled into the same parking lot twenty minutes later, nosing the van into a space across the aisle from Jim's truck. "Face is on the jazz. You know I don't like it when he's on the jazz."
"It'll be okay," Amy reassured him, only to be glared at in return, his look telling her he thought she was equally high on adrenaline or close to it. BA's glare didn't faze her; she knew it was merely a reflection of his worry that they'd toss caution out of the window, as they often did when the jazz had them pumped beyond reason.
Perhaps, she mused, they had. It wasn't typical for them to meet up with the cops. Mentally, Amy shrugged. They were committed to this plan regardless.
A minute later, Face pulled up in his Corvette, parking next to the van on its driver's side. He stepped out of the sports car as Amy pulled open the sliding door on the van's passenger side. At that cue, Jim and another man Amy recognized from her work as Blair Sandburg stepped out of the truck and moved to stand opposite the open van door.
Amy and BA exited the van as Face joined them.
Smiling, Face greeted Jim and Blair. "Nice to see you again, Lieutenant, and pleased to you meet you in person finally, Dr. Sandburg. Your dissertation on closed societies was fascinating reading."
"Flattery won't get you on my good side any faster," Blair warned him, sounding mildly annoyed. "Especially con men like you, Mr. Peck. Or should I just call you Face?"
"Face is fine. No need to snipe, gentlemen," Face soothed. "We're all on the same side here." Smoothly, he said, "Dr. Sandburg, I'd like you to meet Amy Allen and BA Baracus. Amy, BA, this is Lieutenant Jim Ellison and his partner, Dr. Blair Sandburg."
Blair shook Amy's hand. BA glared at him. Undaunted, Blair merely said, "You know, in some cultures, wearing gold jewelry is not only a sign of status, but serves a dual function in that the jewelry is also weaponry."
"My people wore chains because they were slaves," BA countered. "I wear them to remind others of their struggle."
Surprised, Face and Amy turned and stared at BA before Face looked at Blair. "Why, BA, you're getting eloquent in your old age," Face remarked.
BA growled at him.
"Now, now," Face said hastily as Amy quickly maneuvered herself out of the way. She had no desire to be in the middle if BA decided to punch Face.
Ignoring the byplay, Jim studied them a moment. "Where's Hannibal and Murdock?"
Amy wasn't surprised the detective and his partner knew who the other team members were. They hadn't tried all that hard to hide, after all, and Face had wanted to see how good Ellison was at ferreting out information. From her work as a reporter, she knew, too, that there were rumors Dr. Sandburg's supposed ‘work of fiction' was truer than the subsequent press conference had let on. The fact that the university, the chief of police, the mayor of Cascade, and the publisher had all collaborated in a press conference that said basically Sandburg had thrown himself on his sword, figuratively speaking, to draw attention away from Ellison and protect the efforts of the police department on the Zeller case, had left some lingering questions. Still, Ellison could be Superman, and it wouldn't make a difference if he couldn't or wouldn't help them.
"Murdock's in a therapy session," Face replied. "Hannibal's locked up at North Pointe, and the only way we'll get him out is with your help."
"Why couldn't you just ask us straight out?" Blair asked. "Why all the lies?"
Amy glanced at Face before replying. "We don't operate that way. Not every cop with Ellison's accolades turns out to be decent."
"Yeah," BA agreed. "Some of them turn out to be real jerks."
"Plus," she added gently, looking at Blair, "you're an unknown quantity, with some interesting contributions to some very high-profile cases. We didn't see you at the station when we showed up, and no one we talked to had anything bad to say about you — except that maybe you and Ellison here were a little more than just good friends." She shrugged. "Not that we care if you are."
Blair shook his head. "I told you the rumors hadn't died down yet," he scolded Jim, who just chuckled, amused.
His good humor faded quickly, though, as he eyed the trio, clearly looking for something to use as a baseline for judgment. Finally, he asked, "So what's stopping you from springing Hannibal yourself? You've undoubtedly done it before."
Amy glanced at Face for permission before she spoke.
"Might as well tell him, Ames," he said with a shrug.
"In 1986, the team was captured, their deaths faked so that they could work undercover for a ruthless general who wanted the team to do his dirty work, all of which was illegal black ops. I didn't buy that they were dead, so the general had me kidnapped when I got too close to the truth. The guys hated that I not only became the ransom for their freedom, but that I was forced to work alongside them as well, so they — we — changed the terms of the deal. The general is now rotting in a military prison for his misdeeds, and we're free people. The only caveat was that we couldn't ever so much as have a parking ticket, or we'd be arrested for everything we ever did."
"From what I heard, fear of getting arrested never stopped you before," Blair countered.
She smiled tightly as Face drew her closer, reassuring her with his touch. "We have a life here in Cascade," she told him, and wrapped her arm around Face's waist, letting their body language speak for them. "We never had one before, and some of us have gotten rather used to keeping it."
"Then there's the little problem of Z being someone he's not," BA interjected.
"Little?" Jim pounced on the word.
"You willing to go for a ride and watch something you didn't know?" Face countered.
Jim studied him a moment, as if trying to sense if he was lying or not.
"With a small detour to pick up Murdock, of course," Face added. "He gets nervous if we're late to pick him up."
Jim glanced at Blair. "We'll follow you," he offered as a compromise.
Amy shook her head as BA snorted. "Your truck is too recognizable, Lieutenant. Sorry."
The detective considered this, then made his decision.
Hannibal was not having a good day. In fact, he was seriously contemplating just how many ways this day sucked: he was out of cigars, he was half-naked, his current lady friend had turned out to be neither his nor a lady, he was tied up, and his belt and shoes had been confiscated, which meant his lock picks were nowhere in sight. Still, he'd been through worse and survived.
Now, though, he wasn't entirely sure he'd get through this.
He hadn't heard from any of his teammates since he'd managed to drop the disc in the mail over a week ago. By now, he should've been out of here…if they were willing to risk everything they'd managed to build in Cascade: the dream of a normal life they'd talked about, one free of having to look over their shoulders for anyone hunting for them. Admittedly, that was a big if.
Amy had a thriving career, one where she was respected for her talents. Face was a top salesman for a local car dealership. Murdock finally had a set of doctors who were making progress in his quest for sanity. Hannibal had found work doing voiceovers for local commercials. BA was working for the same dealership as Face, but in the service department as a lead mechanic, and volunteered at a Boys and Girls Club. They had a big house in one of Cascade's middle-class neighborhoods. Murdock had his own apartment across town, largely because no one could stand to listen to him playing pinball at odd hours, and because the therapists said it would help with his sense of independence to have his own space. Amy and Face had fallen in love, to no one's surprise but their own, and Hannibal had been thinking about prodding them into marriage. Until Hannibal had met Christine, they'd all been living a quiet, normal life, aside from an occasional, carefully chosen, out-of-town job for the A-Team.
Christine… Hannibal closed his eyes, letting himself feel the regret he would never voice aloud. He'd always had a weakness for spirited women, and he'd fallen hard for the vibrant, physician's assistant. She was a few years younger, but he'd never minded a woman who carried her age well, and Christine did. They'd met one afternoon at a coffee shop near the medical center where Murdock went for his appointments; Hannibal had been killing time when Christine had walked in. Hannibal had been delighted to spend the time flirting with her and equally pleased when she'd accepted his invitation to dinner. Over the next six weeks, they'd seen each other constantly, and he'd genuinely thought she'd cared about him.
When she'd invited him to accompany her on a tour of North Pointe, , pointing out how he might need more assistance as he entered his later years, he'd had no idea he'd wind up trapped here — or that her invitation had been a ploy to get him into the facility. They'd needed a healthy male, aged 55-70, to conduct the tests on Magic, a paralytic drug that Hannibal now understood was being distributed and sold as a fast-acting date rape drug. The supply of healthy males in the retirement home wasn't sufficient, and it was dwindling fast, since one of the side effects was heart failure.
Hannibal had managed to free himself once, long enough to convince the clerk doing the accounting to pull enough data off the computer and get the disk to Face, but he'd been recaptured, the fate of the disk unknown. Still, Hannibal knew his disappearance wouldn't go unnoticed. The only question was — would his team come to his rescue?
In five days, the last restriction on their freedom would be gone. The lawyer who'd helped them figure out how to free themselves for good from General Stockwell's clutches had also helped them wrangle a deal with the FBI, who wanted them locked up for their assorted interstate crimes and had claimed legal supremacy over the various other police agencies. In exchange for testimony on a choice few of the creeps they'd managed to put away over the years, the team had been granted ten years parole. If they stayed out of trouble, they'd be free for good; if they didn't, they'd go to jail for the rest of their lives.
Even so, Hannibal had every confidence his team would pull together, despite the risk. They'd yet to fail him in all their years together…well, there was that one time in Montreal they'd agreed never to discuss, but that had been the worst sort of bad luck and timing and it really wasn't entirely their fault. If it hadn't been for Amy…well. That was all water under the bridge, and she'd certainly blistered their hides verbally for screwing up that one so badly she had to be the one to come to the rescue instead of them rescuing themselves.
Yet the continued silence made him wonder if his luck had truly gone sour. He wouldn't blame his team if they were trying to hold on the extra five days so they'd be free and clear, but at the same time, he couldn't help but wonder if the delay was due to the police. It would make sense the team would try to do things on the QT with so much riding on the line — but if they had gone to the cops, would the cops listen? Cascade was a magnet for the worst sorts of trouble — drugs, terrorism, bombings, and serial killers all seemed to gravitate to the city — yet the city police had done an admirable job of stemming the tide, especially its Major Crimes department. If Face and Amy couldn't convince the police that the information was genuine, or if the police were dealing with something more critical, the potential for disaster….
Shutting off the depressing thoughts, Hannibal took a deep breath. Playing ‘what if' only drove a man crazy. If he could only move his body, he might be able to wriggle out of the handcuffs and restraints strapping him to this blasted bed.
Remember, mind over matter, he told himself.
Damn it, he thought viciously. Damn drug still is in my system.
Guess I have to wait for the cavalry to arrive…or this damned drug to wear off some more.
Then the door to his room opened.
"Excuse us a moment, guys?" Blair asked before Jim could speak. Not giving him a chance to argue, Blair pulled him towards the other vehicle, until they could talk in relative privacy.
"Are you nuts?" Blair demanded once they were clear. "You're going to go with them, just on their say-so?"
Jim crossed his arms and met Blair's angry gaze. "We've followed up on leads with less evidence," he pointed out calmly. "What's your objection?"
"Simon," Blair said succinctly. "Are you even going to call this in?"
Jim eyed his Guide. "That's not all you're concerned with."
"Look, if Face is smart enough to have read my dissertation, what's the chance he's read anything else I've written? Or that Amy was one of the reporters covering the mess with my dissertation? Brackett figured out you were a Sentinel from something I wrote as an undergrad, and I swear every reporter in the city covered both press conferences."
Jim blew out a breath, aware that Blair was simply being a voice of reason. Every instinct Jim had was leaning towards just hopping into the A-Team's van and following the next lead they had. "They're trusting us," he pointed out. "Shouldn't we return the favor? I thought I was supposed to be the paranoid cynic."
"You think they're telling the truth?"
"I think they're using the truth to lie," Jim corrected, his irritation warring with his admiration for their tactics. If their situations were reversed, he knew he'd be holding his cards just as close to his vest as they were. That thought made him more inclined to give them more leeway than he would otherwise. "They're still holding back the full reason why they want our help, and I suspect they're out on parole — something that doesn't show up on the system when we query their police records, which means it's a conditional parole. Until we book them for something, they're not flagged for a violation of parole, which allows them to clear through some of the standard employment background searches.
"That doesn't mean that the information they give us isn't valid. It just means they do have something to lose more than the stability of the life they have here."
Blair still looked dubious.
"Look, if we were dealing with any of our other snitches, we'd still pay him if he had good information. This isn't any different — just the circumstances. Sneakers would still want your shoes for his time, remember?" At Blair's reluctant nod, Jim continued, "If it makes you feel better, I can smell the van's loaded with rifles and grenades – and they haven't pulled anything on us yet. I wouldn't be surprised if the weapons are illegal, which would likely be a violation of their parole — and if you really want to push this, we could get them on that. If they were running a scam to grab us, it would've already happened."
Blair sighed, remembering how quickly Brackett had grabbed them. "I still want to check with Simon and see if he was able to get that warrant," he said, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone.
"Why don't we do that where they can hear, so they don't think we're calling backup to arrest them?" Jim suggested.
Blair paused. "Good idea," he agreed. "Did you want to grab the bulletproof vests out of the jump seat? I want to get my backpack if we're going with them."
Jim nodded and unlocked the truck. Across the lot, he could hear Face and Amy speculating on what he and Blair were doing, but neither sounded particularly worried, as if they'd expected Jim and Blair to discuss leaving with them, and the conversation quickly shifted to flirtation between the two, for which BA admonished them to get a room. Jim hid a smile, hearing BA's affection for the couple under the irritated, gruff tone.
"So what are we looking at?" Jim asked half an hour later. Simon was still working on getting a warrant, and had been glad to hear they were pursuing other evidence for the case.
BA had parked the van on the third level of a six-story parking garage next to a small retail shopping center that had once been an elementary school. The mixed-use zoning meant that the parking garage overlooked a row of buildings containing retail stores, pubs, and industrial offices, with the industrial side predominating. The next building over had its storefront windows taped over with butcher-block paper. A sign tacked to the side of the building claimed it to be the future location of Marrakesh Supply, Inc. Its parking area had been fenced in with steel fencing and lined with sheets of wood, making it difficult to view the parking area from the street, and No Trespassing signs had been posted.
However, the third-story of the parking garage gave the perfect viewpoint to watch the goings-on in the parking lot of Marrakesh Supply. A small white delivery truck was parked at a loading dock in the back of the building, and two men were unloading boxes from it.
"You see the truck?" Face asked Jim.
"Aside from the fact there are boxes getting loaded out of the truck?" He didn't let on that he could read the lettering on the boxes, which identified them as medical supplies. Beside him, Amy snapped photographs from a digital camera fitted with a long-range zoom lens.
"Ain't no medical supplies for people," BA growled. "Them's drugs, going to the street."
"Hannibal thought they might be designing a new drug," Face put in.
"Magic," Murdock said dramatically. "The lifeblood of all wizards."
"Magic," Blair repeated, horrified. "Not that new date rape drug."
"Hannibal, being Hannibal, stumbled onto it," Face said with a rueful shrug. "Everything we found seemed to support it. We were going to turn over what we found to the Vice detectives in charge, except…." He handed Jim a pair of binoculars, which he promptly handed to Blair.
A stocky, well-dressed, balding man stepped out of the warehouse. He had the brown skin and facial features of someone of mixed Indonesian ancestry. Jim recognized him instantly. Disgust and horror ran through Jim's blood as he realized he was looking at a man he'd once trusted to back him up.
"Jim?" Noticing the way Jim stiffened and his mouth tightened, Blair checked the view. Seeing the guy, he frowned. "That can't be right. Tell me that's not Desna," Blair cursed.
Face checked his watch. "12:30 delivery, right on time," he said, satisfied. "He's always there to supervise the load-out. You do recognize him, I take it? Agent Desna, who's using Z as his street name — probably because Desna is from Indonesia, where they don't use last names."
"Yeah, we've met a few times," Blair agreed. "Jim knows him better, though. Former Vice cop, now an agent with the local FBI office here." He turned to his partner, wanting the confirmation. "Jim?"
A quick glance told Blair that Jim was listening as he watched. Automatically, Blair reached over to ground him.
Grateful for the touch, Jim zoomed his hearing on what Desna was saying as he admonishing the two men who were unloading the truck.
"That can't be all you got from North Pointe," Desna said angrily.
"That's all that we could get. Some idiot resident tripped over a cart and broke everything."
"Not yet, but Marcos said he'd take care of him."
"Make sure of it," Desna ordered. "No more shortages, you understand? We have two more days to make the last shipment."
"Yes, Mr. Z."
"We need to move," Jim declared as he pulled back his hearing and sight and stepped away from the edge.
"Why?" Face asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Because if we don't, Hannibal will be dead."
Face stared at him. "You didn't even use the binoculars."
Jim ignored his comment as Murdock grinned. "See, he's a wizard, it's magic," Murdock declared, getting excited as he talked to his sock puppet.
"Shut up, fool," BA ordered, leaning threateningly at him.
"But I am —"
Reaching into her purse, Amy pulled out a pill bottle and shook it. "Forgetting your medication," she finished for him, handing the bottle to Murdock.
"Why, thank you, Amy." Obediently, he took the medication, swallowing the pill dry before going to rummage in the back of the van for a bottle of water.
She smiled and then turned to Blair and Jim. "We're not the only ones keeping secrets, are we?" she asked pointedly, her eyes on Blair. "You know, the word is that you never fabricated anything."
"Do you want to save your friend or not?" Jim asked bluntly.
"If you're thinking of busting in on Desna," Face said, "I wouldn't recommend it. He's playing both ends against the middle. Every so often, he lets his bosses know where to bust some buyer who's pissed him off."
"Which explains why the case against Z got bumped out of Vice and into my lap," Jim muttered. "Someone probably has their suspicions but no proof. Damn it." He knew what he just saw and heard was admissible in court, but he had no desire to test the validity of the documentation he and Blair had given the district attorney's office. He didn't want to leave the residents of the retirement home up in the air, either — if Magic was being tested on them, then they were being abused, and drugs that could be used for actual medical conditions were being stolen.
Suddenly, Jim's cell phone rang. "Ellison," he answered, stepping away from the group slightly so his conversation was more private.
"Good news," Simon said. "Tell Sandburg his hunch that the quarantine on North Pointe was a fake is correct. I have a warrant for Z's arrest — and a warrant to search North Pointe for possible fraud and unlawful restraint of individuals. Meet me there in twenty minutes."
"Better rethink that strategy, Captain," Jim told him. "They're using the retirement home to make Magic. I'm at the location where they're storing the drugs for distribution."
Simon paused. "Did you get confirmation that Hannibal Smith is at North Pointe?"
"Not visual, sir, but the rest of the A-Team claims he is. I've no reason to doubt them. Sir, we need to act quickly, but if we go in and take down the operation at North Point now, we might lose the head honcho of this deal. I've got him in my sights now, but this is going to take some finesse."
"Remember how everyone thought I was a dirty cop that got away with it?" Jim asked dryly. "Try one that actually is."
"And you're not arresting him right now because…?"
"Right now it would be my word against his. I'll have some photographs, but it may not be enough probable cause — he may say he was undercover."
Simon swore. "All right. You think he'll rabbit if we turn up on North Pointe now?"
"More than likely, and since he knows the system, he'll use it to hide. I have an idea how we might pull this off. Let me call you back."
"You got twenty minutes."
Stepping back to where the group milled around the van, Jim spoke. "You've obviously been tracking Desna's habits for a few days now. What's next on his schedule?"
"He goes back to his office to work," Murdock offered, surprising both Jim and Blair by sounding completely sane. "Acts like he didn't just spend his lunch hour counting his Magic profits."
"Any way you can stall him? Now that I know where he is, I don't want him going anywhere."
"We do that now, we'll tip our hand," Face argued. "Let him think we don't know who he is. Did you get the warrant you were expecting?"
Jim nodded. "My captain's headed to North Pointe now with backup. I was thinking we could sneak in and get all the civilians out – before my fellow cops show up and serve the warrant on ‘Z'." He eyed Face. "You'd have done it that way, but you wanted to be sure we got the evidence on Desna, and you weren't sure if you could pull it off without backup."
Face nodded. "There are sixty-five residents at North Pointe right now; they have a capacity of seventy. We could get Hannibal out, easy, but we couldn't be certain Desna's goons wouldn't retaliate on the rest and kill them all. Murdock sneaked in the day before yesterday as a janitor, and said most of the residents were tied up and drugged so they're not a problem. He said Hannibal was out cold and couldn't wake him up to let him know what we were up to."
Jim thought a moment. "How certain are you that Desna's not going anywhere you haven't predicted? If we bust the retirement home, he's liable to do anything."
"There's a reception honoring top FBI agents tonight at the Hotel Cascade," Amy said. "Desna's supposed to be honored tonight. If he doesn't show, he's going to look suspicious."
"We put a spell on him," Murdock added.
"We tapped his work and home phones," Face explained. "And put a tracking device on his car. He has a cell phone, but no one's told him his conversation can be picked up if he's on the right frequency because he's still using an old phone, one without the better security."
A smile twitched at Jim's mouth. Admiration for the team won over his irritation that they'd lied to him and used him. He knew he probably wouldn't have stumbled upon the information on Desna for weeks, if ever. "His mistake. Let me get my captain on the phone and we'll go from here."
"Let's get Hannibal," BA declared. "Then we can bust this sucker."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Amy agreed.
"Your lead, Lieutenant," Face said crisply to Jim, his voice nearly a salute.
Jim nodded sharply, acknowledging command as he pulled out his cell phone and began setting things in motion. Twenty minutes later, he'd hammered out the set up.
"All right. Captain Banks will meet us in the shopping center a half mile away from the retirement home," he told the group. "He'll have a set of buses for us, with extra drivers from SWAT and paramedics on standby. We're to get as many of the critical residents out as we can, including your friend Hannibal; anyone we don't get on the first pass, SWAT and Major Crimes will handle. We're going in as a group from the State Health Board to relocate the patients out of quarantine to another facility. If everything goes well, we shouldn't have any problems." He looked at the A-Team. "No weapons unless you have no other choice, got it?"
"Understood," Face answered for his team.
"And the wizards mounted their brooms and flew under the cover of darkness —" Murdock began a dramatic monologue from his seat at the back of the van.
Blair eyed him speculatively as he took the seat in front of Murdock. Amy took her usual spot next to Murdock while Jim took the seat next to Blair; Face rode shotgun.
"Shut up, fool," BA growled as he started up the van. "I ain't driving any crazies."
"Now, BA," Amy said, placating, "you know Murdock's not crazy. He's been declared sane."
"Yeah, for all of five minutes," BA shot back.
"Just drive, BA," Face directed, sounding tired, "before our guests decide they've had enough of us, all right?"
"Old argument?" Blair asked as BA put the van in gear and began the process of getting them out of the garage.
"Too old," Face confirmed. "If I didn't know them so well, I'd think they'd hated each other." He tried for lighthearted, but he didn't pull it off.
Blair decided to leave that subject alone. "So what made you pick Cascade to live?"
Face looked relieved at the change of topic. "We were barred from returning to LA — they figured we'd be too tempted to return to our old habits if we went back there. I voted for Miami," he admitted. "Murdock wanted Portland, Amy was leaning towards Dallas, BA wanted Chicago, and then we saw the story on the siege of Cascade Memorial Hospital, where that guy with a gas can grabbed a resident and held him hostage. Hannibal had a notion we could maybe help, but the whole thing was over by the time we arrived."
Blair nodded, remembering that incident. The forty-seven-hour siege had made national headlines. "Yeah, that sucked," he agreed.
Jim eyed him suspiciously. "You weren't anywhere near that, were you, Chief? That was in July '91, if I remember right."
Blair chuckled. "Well, not at the hospital, but I was stuck in the traffic backup caused by all the emergency vehicles and media. Wound up getting off the bus and walking to work. I was a waiter at a restaurant not far from the hospital that summer." To Face, he asked, "So you stayed?"
Face shrugged. "It's one of the few places no one would think to look for us; we generally didn't do many jobs up this way, with Fort Lewis being here. Though there was that one time we busted up this drug ring that had its claws in some of the soldiers — that was fun."
"You didn't tell me about that one," Amy remarked, ignoring Murdock, who'd begun to quietly act out a wizard battle with his sock puppets.
"We didn't?" Face looked surprised. "I could've sworn — oh, that's right, you were in Jakarta then."
"In other words, it went to hell and you nearly got caught," Amy interpreted, shaking her head.
"I did not say that," Face protested.
"Uh huh, and how long have I known you now?" Amy retorted, sounding fondly exasperated. To Jim and Blair, she said, "These guys live for the jazz."
"The jazz?" Blair asked.
"The rush of feeling alive," she explained.
"And you don't?" Jim queried evenly, and she flushed as Face chuckled.
"How'd you get involved with them?" Blair wanted to know.
"A friend of mine was being held hostage in Mexico, so I hired them to find him," she said honestly. "After the case, I convinced them I might help them by writing articles that told the public their side of the story, showed how the team were heroes, not criminals. I was with them for the better part of two years —" she chuckled softly "— learned to parachute, fire a gun, make improvised weapons, improve my charm, and then some. Then I had an opportunity to become a news correspondent in Jakarta for an international news bureau. The guys convinced me I should take it — I'd been shot, almost died, and they didn't like my odds anymore." She sobered a moment, remembering. "So they gave me no choice but take the job in Jakarta, but…" she shrugged. "I kept in touch, tried to help long-distance when I could. When I heard about their court martial and execution, I didn't want to believe they were dead."
"You should've left it alone," BA said roughly, glancing back at her via the rearview mirror.
"Stockwell would've found a way to use her, even if she hadn't gone looking," Face countered. "Let it be, BA." His tone was final. "Either of you into baseball?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject. "Or did you want to get into what you want us to do when we get to North Pointe?"
Jim took the bait willingly. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to hear any more details of how a pretty, intelligent, resourceful and loyal woman had been used against her friends…but knowing now she wasn't just the woman Face loved or a news-hungry reporter, that she was as much of the team as the rest of them, made him reevaluate his plan.
"I'll take suggestions," he began, "but here's what I'm thinking…."
The quarantine sign was still posted on the gate when Face and Amy pulled up in an official Board of Health SUV, borrowed with permission. Jim rode in the back and carried a pair of bolt cutters. Behind them, Murdock was driving one of the handicapped-accessible buses with Blair and Simon aboard, BA followed in the team's van. The bus was capable of carrying eight wheelchairs and ten passengers; it was hoped most of the residents were mobile enough to be at least sit upright. A second bus, driven by a SWAT driver and with two Major Crimes officers aboard, formed the rear. Stepping out of the van, Jim cut the padlock on the gate and pushed it open.
As a precaution, power had been cut to the facility, but as expected, it was operating on generator power. The same thug Jim had seen before ran hastily up to Face and Amy as the caravan parked in the drive, with the last vehicle effectively blocking the exit. Amy stepped out, looking like someone's fantasy of a health inspector. She'd changed into a miniskirt and heels, and her lab coat hung provocatively a scant few inches above the hem of the miniskirt. Her long hair was rolled back into a bun, and she wore glasses with clear plastic rims.
Predictably, the thug stopped short, his face shifting into a leer. Face rounded on him. He, too, had changed, but into the attire of a corporate drone. In his most officious, self-important voice, Face demanded, "What kind of facility are you running here? Just look at the help they're hiring these days, Jenny, why, I'll tell you why this place is under quarantine!"
From his cover position behind the SUV's open driver's side door, Jim watched Face and Amy and fought a grin of admiration. Even knowing this was the plan, he hadn't been entirely sure the two cons could pull it off.
Face was seamlessly confounding the gate thug with his words, even as Amy pressed forward, leaving the thug to choose between listening to Face or following the provocative sway of Amy's hips. Face kept the forward momentum going, causing the thug to back up and nearly stumble as he tried to keep his eyes on Amy while still trying to stop Face from coming into the facility. The poor bastard didn't stand a chance.
Amy and Face quickly entered the facility. Jim stretched his hearing out to listen to them scam their way in.
"They're in," Jim said into the wireless mike he was wearing. The mike was tied to the secure communications channel the strike force was using; Face was wired as well, his mike concealed as a microphone for a cell phone. Blair joined him, grounding him with his presence. The rest of the team would hang back until needed.
"All right, time for this guy to go to sleep," Amy said.
Jim heard two distinct punches and assumed Face and Amy had taken out the thug.
"It's too quiet in here," Face observed. "Creepy."
"Let's check the rooms," Amy said. Her heels made a distinct clacking noise against the tile and Jim could easily picture her crossing the lobby to the nearest room.
"Oh shit," Amy swore.
Automatically, Jim reached out with his other senses, smelling the distinct smell of burnt cordite, expended gunpowder, and death. Blanching, he hit his communication button, and ordered, "Peck, what's going on?"
Before Face could reply, a new voice drawled, "Took you guys long enough."
"Hannibal!" Amy cried, her voice a mix of delight, relief, and frustration.
"Looking good, kid," Hannibal said affectionately. "You bring the cops in on this?"
"Yeah," Face agreed. "Anyone hurt besides the bad guys?"
"A couple of the residents," Hannibal said. "Christine had a bout of conscience and shot this guy as he was about to shoot me. I got the other two goons tied up; me and a couple of the other residents managed to herd the other four into the rec room and they're sleeping like babies, thanks to some handy drugs. As you can see, I'm mobile, but not as much as I'd like to be."
"Then let's get everyone else out of here," Face suggested. "Captain Banks, any time you're ready. Bad guys are either dead or drugged out of commission. The ones still alive are in the rec room. Hannibal's on crutches and we've some residents who are also hurt."
Taking that for his cue, Jim rose to his feet as Simon ordered, "Teams one, two, and three, move forward."
It took the remainder of the afternoon to clear the facility; many of the residents had been drugged to keep them docile, and the buses were hastily pressed into service as temporary ambulances. The surviving goons were taken for processing after being checked out by EMT's. After a thorough examination by the EMT's, Hannibal had refused to go to the hospital for his injuries, saying he could feel the paralytic drug clearing through his system.
Now he sat in the van, enjoying a cigar and looking quite pleased with himself despite the weariness Jim could read in his body. A careful study of the older man told Jim that Hannibal was faking being more mobile than he was letting on, and he surmised Hannibal was riding a rush of adrenaline.
"I understand this was your plan, Lieutenant," Hannibal drawled as Jim drew to a halt beside the van. BA was at the wheel, Hannibal was riding shotgun, Face and Amy had the second row while Murdock his usual spot in the back. They'd left the sliding door open so they could watch the proceedings, having been told not to leave the scene until they were cleared to do so.
Jim met Hannibal's measuring gaze without flinching. "Glad you approve," he said evenly. "But I couldn't have done this without your team's help."
Hannibal accepted the qualifier with a smile. "Your captain was by a few minutes ago to make sure we'd given our statements to your fellow detectives. He seemed pleased we managed not to blow up anything."
"He was a detective when you blew through Dupont," Jim told him, and saw the rueful acknowledgment flash across Hannibal's face. "We're planning to arrest Desna at tonight's award ceremony. Was there anyone else we need to be concerned with?"
Hannibal's gaze swept his team, who shook their heads.
"Thanks for your help," Jim said, then paused as Blair jogged over to join them. He'd been helping assist with the triage of the residents by checking names of the conscious and coherent against the master list of residents that he'd managed to find.
"You wanted to know if Christine was among the people still in the building?" Blair asked, addressing his question to Hannibal. "She's not. Your girlfriend —"
"Ex-girlfriend," Face interrupted.
"Oh, I don't know, Face, I'm liable to forgive her," Hannibal mused, his hands underscoring his words. "After all, she did save me. Even if it was her fault I got locked up here in the first place, and she was working for Desna."
"I'd still shoot her," Amy volunteered.
"Me too," BA added. "She hurt you, Hannibal. She shot you full of dope. That ain't cool."
"Now, violence isn't the answer, BA," Murdock admonished. At the glares from Amy, Face, and BA, he quickly added, "But Amy's right, Hannibal. She's bad news."
"I went ahead and circulated the description of her you gave me," Blair added, fighting to hide a smile at the way the A-Team acted in Hannibal's defense. It felt all too familiar. "But I wouldn't be surprised if she's made her way to Desna and has let him know what's going on."
"The taps you have on his phones — any chance you have those recorded?" Jim asked.
"We turned over everything we had to Captain Banks," Amy said. "Only thing we have available to us now is scanning for Desna's cell phone."
"We might be able to pick up the taps on his home and work phones, but I don't think we have that kind of time," Hannibal offered. "The awards dinner is at seven. It's almost five-thirty now, and we're on the southeast side of Cascade. The Hotel Cascade's in the heart of downtown, and we're in the middle of rush hour. There's also a concert at McGaff Hall. Better make a move on if you're going to arrest Desna. Chances are, Christine went to him — maybe to kill him, maybe to warn him."
Jim eyed him a moment, then spun crisply on his heel and headed for his truck, which Blair had brought over from the shopping center where they'd left it earlier. Blair followed, not wasting his breath arguing..
BA looked expectantly at Hannibal.
"Face, we're clear with the cops, as far as this goes?"
Face smiled. "Captain Banks did say we were free to go as soon as Ellison and Sandburg had spoken with us."
Hannibal puffed his cigar, watching as Jim's truck sped out of the lot. A second unmarked car followed them, driven by the two cops who'd taken the team's statement. "Give them a ten minute lead, then we follow," Hannibal directed. "They're not going to have enough backup."
"Shouldn't we leave Ellison to handle it himself?" Face asked. "I'm really tired, and I'd —"
Hannibal turned in his seat and glared at his lieutenant. "Ellison could've arrested you for the weapons in the back of the van, but he didn't. Now I'd like to chalk that up as a courtesy from one Green Beret to another, and return the favor by watching his back. Any problems with that?" His tone indicated he expected a negative reply.
"Yeah," Murdock replied. "I can't conjure up any food. Any chance we can eat sometime soon?"
Amy groaned. "You had to go and mention food. I wasn't hungry until you mentioned it. Murdock!"
"If we run through a drive-through, that'll make Ellison and Sandburg think we're not following them, and give them a little more lead," Hannibal decided. "BA, there's a Wonderburger in that shopping center down the road. We'll grab something on the way."
Nodding, BA started the van.
Earlier, Jim had traded his usual back holster for a standard cross-draw holster, as he'd opted to wear a suit jacket over his button-down shirt in case Face and Amy needed the backup. He was grateful for the switch now, as it meant he could pass through the lavish hotel without much notice. Beside him, the always-sharply-dressed Rafe strode, his handsome face a mask of intent. Neither Blair nor Rafe's partner, H, were wearing suitable clothes to blend in with the black-tie reception, and the decision was made to trade partners. H and Blair would stay in the lobby unless needed.
Jim would've preferred to skip the niceties of discretion, but he also knew its value, and Simon had specifically requested Jim do this as quietly as possible. If he could get Desna in custody without much fuss, the possibility for collateral damage was lower. From the phone call Simon had made while they were in transit, delayed by the snarl of traffic, Jim knew as well that a police unit had been dispatched to Desna's home.
A quick inquiry at the front desk had given them directions to the ballroom where the reception was being held. The ballrooms were in a separate wing adjacent to the lobby, and the reception was in the second of the three expandable rooms. Jim's steps slowed as he neared the room, and he listened for a moment. It sounded as though someone was making a speech about the award they were about to present. Satisfied everything was normal, Jim and Rafe slipped into the room, their eyes automatically adjusting to the muted light. The award recipient's name was announced as both detectives searched for their quarry.
"You see him?" Rafe whispered.
"No," Jim replied as a stocky, older man rose from one of the tables and approached them.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, this is a closed event."
"Ellison and Rafe, Cascade PD," Jim said. "We're looking for Agent Desna."
"I'm sorry, he wasn't feeling well and left a few minutes ago," the man told them.
"I'm sure he was," Jim muttered, frustrated. His gaze swept the room, hoping Desna was merely hiding in the room somewhere, but he saw nothing.
Turning, he headed out of the room, Rafe at his heels, as they quickly made their way to the lobby to meet their respective partners.
"No luck?" Blair asked.
"Someone must've tipped him off — he left," Jim said with disgust.
"What do you want to do next?" Rafe asked. "Hotel would be the perfect place to hide."
"Too obvious," Jim objected, but he went ahead, called Simon, and requested a team to search the hotel anyway, just to be sure. Rafe and H headed on up to start the search.
He'd no sooner hung up when he heard the sound of gunfire outside the hotel.
Recognizing the look on Jim's face, Blair simply asked, "What and where?"
"Gunfire, six blocks south," Jim said, breaking into a run as he headed for the trouble.
Without hesitation, Blair followed as he called in the situation to Dispatch.
"Aw, damn it," Jim swore as he saw what was going on. An older woman lay bleeding on the sidewalk, and Blair rushed to her side to try to save her. Desna was running down the street, firing wildly at a surprisingly mobile Hannibal, who was doing his best to dodge the spray. Before Jim could reach them, one shot connected. The impact of the bullet pitched him backward, causing him to stumble and fall.
"Stop and drop the gun, Desna, or I'll shoot!" Jim shouted, projecting his voice as he willed his muscles to pump faster and bring him closer.
Desna whirled to face him. "This man's a fugitive from justice," he sneered. "He was evading arrest and interfering with a police investigation."
"Bullshit," Jim declared. "Put the gun down, Desna. You're under arrest."
"I don't think so, Ellison," Desna shot back. "You think you're such a fucking hotshot. You don't know what you're messing with." He snagged Hannibal and put his gun to Hannibal's head. "Come on, hotshot."
Behind him, Jim saw a black van creep up and park. Desna didn't move, apparently assuming from the sound of that the van was simply police backup in response to the gunfire.
"Put the gun down, Desna," Jim repeated. "Don't add more murder to those you've already committed."
"Make me, Mr. Cop of the Year."
Jim knew he was at a stalemate. If he shot Desna, the chance that Hannibal would be seriously wounded was high. As it was, Hannibal was going to have a very nasty bruise under his bulletproof vest.
Still, Jim refused to give up, and the appearance of the van gave him more hope. Any other day, he'd be inclined to keep the civilians clear — but he knew the people in the van were no ordinary citizens, and they'd do anything for their leader. Instinctively, Jim knew that if he told them to stand clear, they were liable to tell him where he could stick his police procedures. They'd rebuilt their lives before; the risk they'd taken in leading him to Desna said they very much didn't want to be forced to do so. He owed them that much.
"I said drop the gun," Jim growled to Desna as the van's sliding door opened and a tranquilizer gun was aimed at Desna. Face leaned out of the open door and fired the gun. Hannibal pulled something out of his pocket and stabbed Desna seconds before the tranquilizer dart hit home.
Startled by the multiple attacks in more than one direction, Desna froze. Hannibal shoved the gun Desna held out of the way as Jim realized Hannibal now held a used hypodermic needle. Rushing forward, Jim hastily sheathed his gun as Desna started to topple like timber, his legs stiff and paralyzed.
"That's for me, you son of a bitch," Hannibal told the crooked cop, who could only roll his eyes wildly. "A little Magic to see if you like it." The fast-acting drug meant Desna couldn't even twitch to fire the gun.
Staggering under the weight of the nearly unconscious Desna, Jim managed to wrestle him into a flat position on the sidewalk. From the rate of Desna's heartbeat, Jim seriously doubted the agent was going to be waking up anytime soon. "Rescuing yourself again, Hannibal?" Jim asked dryly.
Hannibal casually placed the used needle on top of Desna's paralyzed body before rising and lighting a cigar. "I love it when a plan comes together," he declared.
The smug tone irked Jim, but before he could respond to it, the sound of sirens nearly blasted him, and he hastily dialed down, but not before he recognized the distinct sound of paramedics blending with those of police cars. Deciding Hannibal had earned the right to gloat, Jim went for the more pressing concern. "You hurt anywhere else?"
"Nothing an ice pack and some time won't cure," Hannibal said with a shrug. "Tell you what. I'll sit on him for you, how's that sound? That'll free you up to check on Christine." He nodded towards the woman down the street. "I think she'll live, but she's one angry woman. I think I'm better off here."
"If it's all the same to you, I'll just stay put," Jim said. Carefully, Jim reached out with his hearing again, and heard the paramedics working on the injured woman as Blair gave them what information he had. "What happened?"
"Oh, BA knew a shortcut," Hannibal offered readily. "So we got here a little sooner than you, I saw Christine, Christine saw me, and Desna decided he didn't like me talking to his girl."
Jim narrowed his gaze. "You provoked him."
"No, I simply chose to make a strategic retreat. He's the one who pulled a gun on me and shot Christine."
Jim studied Hannibal a moment more, ignoring the cigar smoke curling around him by turning down his sense of smell. Experience told Jim Hannibal wasn't about to tell him anything more, and it didn't seem to serve much of a point anyway. Still, Jim found himself thinking Simon was not going to like the reports on this one.
It wasn't long before Blair ran up to them, a pair of paramedics in tow. The paramedics immediately began checking out Desna and Hannibal as Blair turned to Jim.
"You okay?" Blair demanded breathlessly.
Jim nodded as the rest of the A-Team quickly surrounded their leader. With quick, practiced efficiency, the team dealt with the forms the paramedics gave them, then maneuvered Hannibal back into the van. Jim heard BA muttering, "Man's still on the jazz, we're in trouble now," as Amy argued with Hannibal about sticking around.
"Let's make sure this creep wakes up in jail," Jim told Blair. "See if you can get Face to admit to where he found a tranquilizer gun."
"It's part of their, er, collection," Blair told him. "BA hates flying, so they have to knock him out by whatever means necessary. It means all of them have a pretty good resistance to being tranquilized, since sometimes BA's managed to turn the tables on them."
The information made Jim pause. "They told you this when?"
"Murdock told me when we were in the bus, when he wasn't singing a song about wizard chess and making Simon wish he wasn't in a bus being driven by a bipolar schizophrenic." Blair shrugged. "He's not a bad guy, once you get used to the idea he really isn't sane."
"In that case? They're arguing. Tell them they're staying. They have to give a statement — and Simon will likely want them for interfering."
"Ms. Allen? Delivery for you. Requires your signature."
Amy looked up from where she was typing into her laptop and frowned. The courier was dressed appropriately, wearing the uniform of one of the city's larger bike messenger services. She knew all too well that appearances were deceiving; she'd learned the art of the con from a master. Still, she saw no reason not to take delivery of the envelope the courier held out to her. Scrawling an approximation of her signature on the delivery receipt log the courier held out to her, she examined the envelope. The return address was missing; only a label with her name and a tracking number was affixed to the envelope.
Paranoia had her scanning the café where she sat. Face, Hannibal, and BA were all at their jobs; Murdock was in therapy. After Desna's arrest, Blair had ended their debate by declaring they were all going to go into the station, give their statements, and then go home. They hadn't heard from either Blair or Jim since then. Christine had survived her injury, but she'd been arrested for her part in the fiasco; a plea bargain was apparently in the works. Desna was being held without parole; the evidence collected at the retirement home had allowed the police to arrest the major players of his distribution network as well.
Amy had provided KCDE News with a carefully edited eyewitness account of the day's events. As a result, she'd scored the position of as the lead reporter on the follow-up stories the events had spawned. Now she was working on researching a human-interest story that would air on Monday's six-o'clock news.
The only problem was, she wasn't sure if she'd be available to present it. It had been three weeks, and the much-awaited parole release paperwork hadn't yet arrived.
Nothing seemed amiss in the café, and she relaxed enough to open the envelope. A handwritten Post-It note was affixed to the outside of a second, sealed envelope.
Signed by J.E. and B. Sandburg, it read simply, "Congrats."
Inside the second envelope was a letter stating that the city was grateful for the A-Team's assistance in apprehending Desna and for helping provide evidence in conjunction with the investigation into Magic.
Automatically, Amy's eyes glazed past the warning not to involve themselves in police matters again as her eyes caught sight of the keyword near and dear to her heart. It went on to say also that the terms of their parole were satisfied.
She didn't want to believe it; she didn't dare draw a breath.
"Believe it," Jim told her as the one set of papers she'd longed to see dropped into view. "The district attorney wanted to be sure you got this personally."
Heart pounding into her chest, she looked up to find Jim and Blair standing there, grinning. "You were the last delivery," Blair added. "The guys are out in the van. Want to come celebrate?"
"What are you, chaperones for the city?" she teased them gruffly as she rose, blinking back tears even as she grabbed the paperwork and her laptop.
"Nah," Blair replied, his smile widening. "We're something else entirely. But if you think you need babysitting…."
"Get your own girlfriend, Sandburg," Face interrupted pleasantly. "This one's mine." Drawing Amy into his embrace, he kissed her. "We're free, sweetheart. Finally. We did it."
"Yeah," she agreed mistily. "So you gonna make me an honest woman?"
Face looked terrified, and she laughed. "Got you," she teased. "You know I'd lie for you, and that's the truth."
"Thank God," Face said, relieved.
Blair eyed them as they exited. Sotto voice, he asked Jim, "Do we really want to chaperone these guys?"
Equally quietly, Jim replied, "You heard Simon's orders. They're our VIP guests."
"Wait till my mother hears about this," Blair remarked, shaking his head as he followed Amy and Face out of the café. "She'll never believe the A-Team's here, and they didn't blow up the city."
"Oh, great, another thing your mother is going to blame me for," Jim said with a groan.
*** finis *** 4/06/09