The well-dressed grifter stood at the side of the road, stuck in the middle of nowhere, Indiana. She'd miscalculated, badly. She was broke, stranded, and lost; all she had was what was in her purse. Lock picks and lipstick weren't going to get her far, not when all she could see for miles was open farmland. If she could find a ride, she could get to Las Vegas, where she had an emergency stash of ID and cash. She should've paid closer attention when her last mark had invited her on a trip...but that was three days ago, and Indiana was a lot closer to Vegas than DC. Her only saving grace right now was that she wasn't wearing her highest heels. She'd already walked several miles, and her feet were beginning to protest.
Sighing deeply, she surveyed the highway. Clearly, it wasn't the most well-traveled of roads; she'd been out here all morning, and there hadn't been any traffic at all. Her hopes were raised when she saw the black van in the distance, headed her way.
Sticking out her thumb, she put on her best smile. The red-striped GMC van pulled over. An older man with white hair stuck his head out the passenger side window, pulled his cigar out, and noted with a grin, "You're in the wrong area to be headed to a ball. What happened, your fairy godmother quit?"
"You might say that," she said, admiring his sense of humor. "I thought we were going to Peru. Turns out he meant Peru, Indiana."
"Where are you headed?"
"West," she hedged.
The man grinned as his driver, a big, black, mohawked man leaned over. "Hannibal, we don't have time for this," he complained. "What if it's a trap?"
"There are better places to spring a trap with a honey pot than here," Hannibal noted. "Not a military post for miles."
Suddenly, the grifter wondered just who her rescuers were, but she wasn't about to be choosy. She could feel a headache coming on from a lack of water; any longer in this summer heat, and she was going to be sick. She couldn't wait any longer.
"Come on, B.A., we can't leave Cinderella stranded in the middle of nowhere," a new male voice added. "What would your mother say?"
B.A. grumbled as the third man pulled open the sliding door. The third man was dressed in a suit and exuded charm as he held out a hand to help Sophie inside. "Come on in. I'm Templeton Peck. My friends call me Face, and you are...?"
She took the hand up into the van, grateful for the support. Templeton pulled the door shut behind her as she took a seat. As soon as she was settled, BA put the van into gear. "Sophie Devereaux," she said decisively, shedding her last identity without regret, "and thanks for the ride," she said as Templeton took the seat immediately behind Hannibal.
Hannibal smiled as he handed her a bottle of water. "Hannibal Smith," he introduced himself. "That's BA at the wheel. Drink it slowly," he advised. "Would hate to ruin such a lovely dress."
"Ain't no one getting sick in my van," BA declared. "You feel sick, you say so."
"We're headed to LA," Hannibal told her. "Any place in between you want to stop and get off, let us know."
Sophie drank the water gratefully. No one said anything as they allowed her the time to recover, and the miles went by. After about an hour, Templeton turned in his seat. "Feeling any better?"
She nodded. "Yes, thank you." She studied her rescuers, wondering what the connection between them was. "I was beginning to wonder if anyone would come along."
"Out there?" Templeton considered it, shrugged. "Would've been awhile, probably." Then he smiled. "So, did you have a particular destination in mind, or are you just...exploring America?"
Sophie laughed. "Not the way I wanted to explore America, trust me! No, I was hoping to get to Vegas. I have friends there."
Templeton looked at his companions in the front of the vehicle. "Vegas? I haven't been to Vegas in a while."
Hannibal narrowed his eyes. "BA? Vegas?"
BA grumbled. "No gambling."
"Of course not," Templeton hastened to assure him, and Sophie heard the falseness in his tone. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized a fellow con artist, and she realized abruptly she'd underestimated him...perhaps all of them.
"Yeah, right," BA said disbelievingly.
"Now, now, BA," Hannibal cautioned. "You'd never turn down money to repair the van, now would you?" To Sophie, he said apologetically, "Sorry. We don't have much, but we try to make it as best as we can."
"I understand," she said. Not anyone I can con, not if I'm not careful, she thought to herself. Maybe I'll get out of this van before they figure out who I am. "I'm a bit short myself."
Hannibal smiled. "Can you drive?"
She could, but a glance at BA's stiffened posture told her she was better off saying no. "No, sorry," she lied. "I'm really not good with cars." She half-laughed. "You should see how many cars I've wrecked."
The three men exchanged looks, and Hannibal chuckled. "We'll trade off in a bit," he said, glancing at his watch. "If you need a pit stop or some food, speak up, else we'll just keep going."
Sophie nodded, remembering the earlier comment about the military. If these guys were on the run, as she suspected they were, they weren't likely to risk staying in a motel. "Thanks, I will." Aware they'd want to know about her, she began doing what she did best: talk to a mark, drawing them out so she could figure out the angles. Within minutes, though, she realized they were doing the same to her — and that the true con artist in the van was Hannibal. She could see where Templeton had learned his skills. For a moment, her poise wavered.
It was the moment Hannibal had been waiting for. "So... this guy who was supposed to fly you to Peru — how much was he worth to you?"
"He cared —"
"Bullshit," Hannibal said bluntly. "You cared about where he could take you, which means you're running from something or someone, Cinderella. My money's on someone. Interpol?"
She hesitated. Honor among thieves, in her experience, was a romantic notion, best left for books and movies. Yet there was something...oddly compelling about the trio. She couldn't put her finger on it. BA was mostly silent, radiating a kind of unhappiness that she suspected had more to do with why the trio was on the road than anything else. Hannibal and Templeton were clearly at ease, but Templeton seemed to defer to Hannibal, almost as if he was the commanding officer. She wanted to know more...and they wouldn't give it to her if she was honest. Yet she couldn't bring herself to break the habit of keeping her secrets.
"I won't ask if you don't," she settled.
"Fair enough," Hannibal decided. He handed her another bottle of water. "Drink up. You're still looking a little pale. Face, make sure she's okay."
Templeton smiled at her. "I'm sure she's just fine," he reassured Hannibal, drawing a sharp frown from the older man. Turning to Sophie, Templeton said, "You'll let us know when you're not, won't you?"
Assured for the moment, Sophie relaxed. Interpol couldn't find her now. She wasn't sure how long it would take to get to Vegas, but she doubted it would be more than a day or two. She'd had worse traveling companions in that last flight from Rome to DC.
The fundraiser was going well — and so was the job. All the fashionable people were in attendance, including the mark, one Martin Holmes. Parker had lifted Martin's access badge; all Sophie had to do was distract him while Parker put it back. Dressed in the black dress she considered her "emergency reserve dress" — while it was a classic style, it wasn't the highest of fashion, and it fit her a bit more snugly than she remembered. If her luggage hadn't gotten lost in transit, she wouldn't have had to pull this one out of the closet. She pushed the worry over the dress to the back of her mind and focused on Martin.
Halfway there, she felt a hand brush her arm. Startled, she turned. "I'm —" Stunned, she stopped. She never forgot a face. He was older, of course, a little more timeworn, but the smile he sent her way was unmistakable.
Pulling her close, he asked, "So who are you with, Sophie?"
Over her earpiece, she heard Hardison panicking. "Sophie, this is not good. Martin is scheduled to leave in ten minutes. You heard that? Ten minutes."
"Problem?" Nate asked.
"An old friend," she answered both Nate and her new companion. "Good to see you, Face. Where's Hannibal?"
Face's eyes dimmed. "Resting. He's not as young as he thinks he is." He sharpened his gaze. "Anything I can help you with?"
She studied him, even as she heard Nate ask for a visual from Hardison to confirm what was going on. "Perhaps," she decided, going on instinct. "How good are you at distractions?"
Face smiled. "Who are you targeting?"
Face blinked. "Knew there was something off about that man, but it explains why Hannibal wanted me here. What's wrong with him?"
"He's slime," Sophie offered. "Isn't that reason enough?"
Face grinned. "Oh, absolutely. You're a woman after my own heart, Sophie. So what do you need from me?"
"I need to return something someone borrowed from him. You see the blonde server over there? She has it; we just need to distract him."
Face nodded. "Let me lead." As if they'd always worked together, he took his arm around her, talking to her in angry tones that increased in volume as they made their way towards the target. At the precise moment, right in front of Martin, Face turned as if he was going to strike Sophie. Martin blocked the punch as Sophie took the glass of champagne off Parker's tray, tossing it at Face while Parker slipped the card back into Martin's pocket.
"If you're going to make a scene," Parker said sharply, "take it outside." She stalked off.
"I told you, we're through," Sophie said stridently. Taking a card out of her handbag, she offered it to Face, who'd dropped his arm. "This is the number for my lawyer. You can call him in the morning."
Face grimaced, but took the card. Turning to Martin, he began to argue with him, allowing Sophie time to escape.
"Who was that, Sophie?" Nate asked a few minutes later as the team regrouped in the room they'd rented for the evening.
"An old friend," she said simply.
"Old friend, my ass," Hardison said, looking at his computer. "Face, aka Templeton Peck, is bad news. Ex-military, soldier for hire, wanted by the government still even after he and his friends were pardoned. Part of the A-Team. They're vigilantes. We hook up with them, we're instant targets...though rumor has it that they've been keeping a low profile last several years, only pulling jobs for select clients."
"It was five minutes," Sophie pointed out crossly. "And I didn't see a way to distract Martin that didn't make me memorable; all Face did was make himself more memorable. Would you rather have Martin remember me or Face?"
Nate studied her. "This Face guy...he going to be a problem for us?"
Sophie shook her head. "No. I'll meet with him tomorrow to be sure."
Nate nodded. "Take Eliot with you as backup. I don't want you to be alone."
Sophie hid a smile, remembering that long-ago trip. If Nate only knew...Her phone rang, and she excused herself to take it.
"You might be interested to know," Face began, "that Martin owns a warehouse down on Beach. I hear there'll be a fire sale tomorrow."
"No," Sophie said sharply. "You blow up that warehouse tonight, and what you helped me with was for nothing."
She could almost see the shrug. "Hannibal's on the jazz again."
"Let me handle this. We can do this legal."
An amused chuckle met her words. "Legal? Dear Sophie, have you been standing out in the sun again?"
"Why are you involved?" Sophie asked, changing tactics. "I thought you were retired."
"A good man's work is never done," Face said cheerfully.
"Give me the phone," Nate demanded.
Sophie glared at him.
"Fine," Nate decided. "Our timetable has just now been sped up."
"You're not alone in this," Face guessed. "Let me call you back. Fifteen minutes." Without any further notice, he hung up.