Hannibal gave his team a jaunty wave of his cigar as he escorted their client out of the room and the apartment.
Face watched them leave, his expression carefully neutral. When the door clicked shut, he turned to his left to look at BA and then to his right to look at Murdock. Both men, stared back at him, with varying degrees of unhappiness on their faces.
"Faceman, you gotta do something," BA stated firmly.
"Oh man, I can't believe what just happened," chimed in Murdock, "This is not good, muchachos."
Face raised his hands from his sides and let them fall back down. "What do you guys want me to do?" he stated letting the exasperation and desperation he felt tinge his voice.
BA leaned back against the wall and folded his massive arms against his chest. "You'll figure it out. He listens to you."
Face let the corner of his mouth quirk slightly, as he replied, "Not this time. This time he's listening to the great General Thompson, hero of the three Asian wars, and Hannibal's personal mentor."
Murdock thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets and scowled almost as mightily as BA's usual expression. "Well, mentor or not, the man is crazy. And I should know crazy when I see it."
Face sighed, ran his right hand through his hair and put his left into his trouser pocket. He paced in small circle in the middle of the room. From their positions on the perimeter of the room, BA and Murdock watched him think.
The room was the living room of Face's latest apartment. It was sparsely furnished with very minimal pieces. The chairs and sofa consisted of little more than chrome frames with black leather strips laced to them. The coffee table and end tables were glass sheets attached to slim chrome legs. Even the shelving units were largely glass shelves held together by chrome poles. The walls and wall-to-wall carpeting were the same shade of icy white. Altogether the effect was strangely cold and barren.
BA hated it. It made him feel clumsy. The glass and chrome seemed to disappear into the carpet. He was certain that if he moved too quickly, he would crash into something and break it without even knowing it was there. He preferred to stay close to the walls. He preferred not to come in at all.
Murdock hated it because it felt so impersonal. He longed to see a splash of colour or a dog-eared magazine just to make it looked like someone lived there. For the past two and a half months, he kept bringing comic books, gaily coloured throw cushions, or neon drinking glasses every time he came to visit.
Face, well no-one knew what Face felt about it, not even Face. Sometimes the emptiness made him depressed and sometimes it made him feel unfettered from the world. However, he also knew that his sublease was up in two weeks and he would move on.
In the meantime, his concerns were not with his surroundings, but with their new client. From the comments he was receiving from his teammates, he was not alone in his fears.
"Guys, what do you really want me to do about it?"
"C'mon, Face," rejoined Murdock, "You know he's gonna listen to you. You're his second. The voice of reason..." Murdock's voice started to take on a theatrical tone reminiscent of Lorne Greene as he warmed to his theme.
Face quashed him with his own quip, "More like the voice of doom."
Murdock stopped with his mouth open. His eyebrows raised in surprised.
Face gave a crooked smile. "C'mon, I know you guys think much of what I say is just bitching and moaning. What makes you think he's not gonna think the same thing this time."
BA shifted slightly against the wall. "Faceman, you got it wrong. We know when you're raising real problems and when you're just making noise. Hannibal," he paused as he considered the best way to phrase what he wanted to say, "he listens to you. It's just that sometimes he...," he stopped again.
Murdock continued for him, "Sometimes he just gets so caught up in the jazz that he ignores it."
Face turned, spread his hands wide, and said, "And this time is different?" The exasperation was clear in his voice.
Murdock leaned forward and with an anxious expression on his face, said, "Well, we gotta do something!"
Face let his hands drop to his sides. He turned away from the others and stared out the window. He raised one hand and rested it flat against the window as if warding off the inevitable. He knew he was going to give in to his friends' request. He just didn't want them to be disappointed in him if he didn't succeed.
Despite BA's statement, he believed that Hannibal really wouldn't listen to him this time. He knew this because he recognized the hero-worship in his colonel's eyes as being very similar to his own. He knew that even if Murdock or BA had come to him and told him that the colonel was going to betray him, he would never believe it. In fact, it was likely that he would assume the accuser was the betrayer instead.
And this was his greatest fear: Hannibal would think that his lieutenant was wrong, mistaken, or simply jealous. In any case, he would cease to respect Face. He might even think Face had betrayed him.
Face quailed at the thought. But, in his heart of hearts, he knew he had to try. He couldn't let Hannibal be used this way.
What he really needed was some irrefutable proof of the complicity of their client. He turned to the others, "Okay, but you guys need to back me up on this. You need to get the proof."
The other two nodded their agreement.
Hannibal shook hands with General Thompson and watched him drive away. He was actually amazed to feel butterflies in his stomach. He could hardly believe that his personal hero, an old friend of his father's, had come to them for help. His biggest regret after going over the wall with his team after their arrest was losing his own good name with his contemporaries and elders in the military. He did not regret his actions, but he did regret the way it had made him appear to the men he had spent a lifetime looking up to.
He paused as he savoured the opportunity to somehow clear his good name to at least one of his father's old cronies. He removed a cigar from his inside pocket and bit off the ends. Just as he patted his pockets looking for a lighter, a hand appeared with a light for him.
He looked up and smiled at his lieutenant as he carefully brought his cigar to fragrant life. He sucked in a mouthful of smoke and contentedly let it trickle out. Face smiled in return. Hannibal narrowed his eyes slightly. There was something wrong about Face's smile. It didn't seem to reach his eyes. He plucked the cigar from his mouth and tilted his head slightly.
"What's up, Kid?" he asked casually.
"Up?" Face raised his eyebrows slightly. He smoothed down his tie and rested his right hand on his abdomen.
Hannibal recognized the nervous tic. His lieutenant was up to something. He placed his cigar back in his mouth and continued to stare at Face. He was sure that Face would spill the beans eventually. He was not disappointed.
"Well, uh, the thing is, uh..." Face paused and rubbed his hand in a small circle over his stomach. He took a deep breath and looked Hannibal in the eye, "How well do you know this General Thompson? I mean, it seems kinda fishy that he would be so concerned about this drug dealer. Why wouldn't he use regular channels if he wanted to deal with it?" He paused again and licked his lips, "We're just concerned that this may be a set up."
His amusement at reading Face so well, soon turned to dismay and then anger. He was used to his lieutenant questioning his plans, but this time, he was actually questioning his friend's integrity.
"Lieutenant, General Thompson is a true and honourable soldier. I trust him with life. If you question his integrity, you question mine. Do I make myself clear?"
Face straightened to attention, and his expression changed to a neutral expression, but his eyes narrowed slightly and hooded the emotion that Hannibal could feel radiating from his rigid body.
But damn it, Hannibal was also angry. How dare Face come and accuse one of the men Hannibal admired most of such a heinous crime! What did he know about honour, anyway? He's so damned devious, he wouldn't recognize a straight-shooter if it bit him in the ass.
Hannibal paused a moment in his internal diatribe and considered his last thought.
That's it! he thought to himself, Face just doesn't know anything about truly honest men. The poor kid has spent his whole life scamming people so of course he thinks everyone does it.
Suddenly feeling compassion for the lost innocence of his friend, Hannibal relaxed and regarded the tense figure before him. He smiled his forgiveness and then put his hand on Face's shoulder. He felt a stab of guilt when Face flinched from his touch. He squeezed the shoulder gently and was relieved to feel the muscles relax slightly.
"I'm sorry, Face. I shouldn't have snapped at you. It's just that Tommy is a genuine hero. I know it's hard for you to believe that there are people in the world who are only interested in the well-being of others and not out for their own gain." He paused as Face met his gaze. He shook the lieutenant's shoulder slightly for emphasis as he continued. "I know you mean well, Kid. I know you're just looking out for me, but you don't have to worry about Tommy. He's one of the good guys. He just wants to remove this slimeball out the picture. That's all."
For just a moment, Face's expression flickered before the lieutenant smiled at his colonel.
"Sure, Hannibal. You're probably right. I'm just seeing things."
Pleased, Hannibal slapped Face on the back and walked towards the front door. He mentally chastized himself for flying off the handle at Face. Despite his scheming, devious mind, Face still cared about his friends. He was fundamentally a good guy, perhaps not as good as Thompson, but still a good guy. He just needed some help seeing others that way.
BA stood just inside the foyer looking out the front door. He had felt a bit guilty at sending Face to do their dirty work and a touch concerned about how the colonel would react. As he watched the colonel walk towards the door, the sergeant noticed to his dismay that Hannibal didn't look at all upset. BA could not believe that Hannibal would not be upset to find that his own personal hero had clay feet. That meant that something had happened. Maybe Face hadn't told him or maybe Hannibal had thought he was joking.
As Hannibal opened the door and stepped inside, BA nodded his head in greeting and strode out into the daylight. Face had his back towards the building and hadn't moved a muscle since Hannibal had left him. To BA, that indicated that Face was upset. Ever since the Alcatraz experience, BA had found himself much more aware of Face's own well-hidden insecurity and sensitivity towards the others on the team. It made him feel a bit more protective of the lieutenant's feelings.
Wanting to provide some kind of support, even while not sure how he was going to do it, the sergeant walked slowly towards the motionless figure. He was completely unprepared for the sudden explosion of movement as Face reached down, picked up a rock, and hurled it with all his force. It narrowly missed BA's van and smashed against a tree, showering bark all over the shiny waxed surface of the van.
Without thinking and momentarily forgetting his intentions, BA snarled, "Watch out for the van, Fool!"
His tirade died instantly as he found himself facing the business end of Face's gun. Just as quickly, recognition entered Face's eyes, and the gun lowered.
"What the hell were you thinking, BA! Sneaking up on me like that! I coulda shot you!"
The sheer novelty of Face screaming at him without any thought for his own safety, forced BA to calm down and remember why he had come out in the first place.
He took a deep breath and held up both hands palms out at head level in the universal "I surrender" gesture. It was unnecessary since the gun had already disappeared into its holster almost as quickly as it had appeared. BA hoped that the placating gesture would show that BA had come to talk and not to fight.
Face stared at him for a second. Then, he thrust his hands into his pants pockets and walked towards the van. When he reached the area where the splinters of bark coated the surface, he pulled out a handkerchief and carefully dusted the offending particles off. He shook out the handkerchief and placed it back in his pocket.
He looked sideways at BA, "Sorry, Big Guy. There's no damage."
BA lowered his hands and smiled, "Good. I wouldn't want to have to pound you when I just came to see if you were okay."
Face smiled crookedly. "Yeah, that would definitely spoil the 'sympathetic ear' approach."
BA chuckled and walked over to inspect the surface of the van.
Face raised his eyebrows in mock dismay. "What? Don't you trust me?"
"Not when it comes to my van, sucker!"
Face gave a genuine grin. "I don't blame you, BA! I wouldn't trust me either!" Then his grin faltered.
BA had a hunch. "He does trust you, y'know." He leaned forward and pretended to examine the surface of the van, but really he wanted to watch the lieutenant's reflection. "He trusts you more than anyone." Face's expression had changed to a profoundly sad one.
"Not more than anyone, BA. Not anymore."
This time, BA turned to look at him directly in the face. "Yes, he does. It's just that this guy...," he paused, not exactly sure what to say. He looked towards the house, hoping for inspiration.
He was relieved to see Murdock striding towards them. Murdock was much better at this than him.
Once Murdock had realized that Hannibal didn't seem the least bit upset by his conversation with Face, he knew something had gone wrong. It occurred to him that Hannibal had simply denied the possibility. He had winced as he thought about how that kind of reaction would make Face feel. Murdock knew that despite his constant challenges of Hannibal, Face completely worshipped the colonel. Unfortunately, it was beginning to look like the colonel worshipped the general.
He had hurried down to the front of the building in search of the lieutenant. He was mildly surprised to see BA already with him. He was even more surprised to see a distinct look of relief cross the big guy's face when he noticed the captain's approach.
"Hi guys," Murdock announced his arrival chirpily.
Face turned around and smiled his I'm-trying-to-pretend-I'm-glad-you-see-you" smile. Murdock crossed his arms, tilted his head to once side, and said, "You need to work on that smile a bit more, Faceguy. I'm not entirely convinced that you really are glad to see me."
This time, Face harumphed briefly but the accompanying smile was more relaxed and genuine.
Murdock smiled in return, "That's better. Now, what happened?"
Face rolled his eyes and exhaled loudly, "I don't know! I mentioned that I thought it was a little suspicious that this big important general was so concerned with some small time drug dealer and then he starts going on about how if I question the general's integrity I question Hannibal's. And then, he says that I shouldn't judge people by my own untrustworthy behaviour."
Murdock winced at the bitter hurt in the words. He knew that is was not likely that Hannibal had said those exact words or even thought them, but he could easily imagine how Face would twist them for his own purposes.
He was about to say something soothing, but BA slapped the top of the van and said, "So, Lieutenant, what's the plan, now?"
Face glared at him and opened his mouth, but paused. Suddenly, his face transformed into a devious grin.
"What if we do exactly as Hannibal tells us. We'll do our research and then report."
Hannibal studied the map of one of the smaller dock areas. The map took up a great deal of the surface of the table in Face's dining room. The remaining area was covered in files and neat piles of paper. At the opposite end of the table, Face was comparing documents and making notes. Occasionally, he would hum or mutter comments under his breath. This was normal behaviour for Face, but nevertheless, Hannibal had an inkling that something was up. The colonel looked up from the map to watch his lieutenant.
Face was staring intently at two different documents and chewing the inside of his cheek. As if realizing he was the subject of scrutiny, he looked up and met Hannibal's gaze. He raised his eyebrows in a questioning look.
Hannibal smiled, shook his head and went back to his map, aware the Face was now staring at him.
At that moment, Murdock and BA walked in, talking intently. They stopped somewhat abruptly to Hannibal's ears as they noticed that the room was occupied.
"Hiya Colonel, Face!" Murdock greeted them. He pulled out a chair and turned it so he could sit backwards on it while still keeping his face to the colonel. BA grunted and nodded to them before sitting next to Face.
Hannibal sat back in his chair and nodded at them. Inside, he was trying to work out what was going on.
"Okay, guys," he started, "what have we got?"
Murdock pulled a file folder from inside his jacket. He flipped the notebook open and cleared his throat.
"Well, I searched for all the information I could find on Jojo Pantone and his drug network. I didn't find much, but what I did find indicates that he has a stranglehold on his area of the city and dockland. It's not a large area, but it is an important area. In spite of this, Pantone has never been big enough or strong enough to expand his influence. In the past few years, he's had a lot of pressure from newer, bolder operations to go into partnership or even sell out his interest. So far, he's managed to hold onto what he's got, but I don't know for how long."
Finished, Murdock placed the notebook on the table, rested his arms along the top of the chair back, and then rested his chin on his arms.. He looked over at BA.
BA leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table as he made his report. "I checked with all the vehicles going in and out of the dock area to see what kind of movement we're talking about. It's pretty small, though, considering who else is dealing in the neighbourhood. Most folks seem way more concerned about a new group that seems to be swallowing up the local small fry. The general feeling is that our boy is the only thing between the new gang and smooth sailing." He glanced at Face.
Face nodded once before looking down at the papers in front of him. He moved a few of the papers around and then looked up again. He opened his mouth and paused.
Hannibal reached in his pocket for a cigar, unwrapped it, and placed it in his mouth. He crossed his arms in front of himself and stared at the lieutenant.
"C'mon, Face, spit it out!"
Face glanced up at Hannibal quickly and then down again. He cleared his throat, reached for a glass or water, and took a sip. Carefully, he placed the glass on the table, and reached for his papers again.
He continued, "Sorry, ah, where were we? Oh yes, ... I did some digging behind Pantone's financials and some of his competitors. Pantone is definitely hanging on by the skin of his teeth. His main competitor is crowding him pretty severely. He doesn't have the funds to absorb anymore interruptions to his operation. Another hit from that quarter and Pantone is going down."
He stopped and put his papers down, carefully folding his hands over them. He looked up at Hannibal.
Hannibal sat back and sucked on his cigar and thought about the information he had just received. He smiled, "It looks like this is going to be a piece of cake, guys. All we need to do is delay his next shipment and Pantone will be finished."
He looked around at his team. BA was looking down at his hands. Murdock chewed his lip and stared at Face. Face continued to look at Hannibal with a carefully neutral expression.
Hannibal frowned. He narrowed his eyes and stared hard at his lieutenant. He opened his mouth but was forestalled by Face.
"And then what?"
Hannibal blinked in surprise. "What do you mean, Lieutenant?"
"We take down Pantone and the competitor moves in - bigger, more powerful, and worse than Pantone. Do we just let that happen?"
Hannibal grinned widely, "Nope, Tommy's retiring, and he's volunteered to set up a company and run that dock area himself. He knows how to defend himself. And he's got enough ex-military buddies who can help him out. Simple!" He looked around his team. Again, they seemed distant. He frowned, "What's the matter?"
BA and Murdock slid their eyes towards Face who had not moved since putting his hands on his paper. The colonel raised his eyebrows.
Face took a deep breath and said, "The problem is the competitor - specifically the leader of the competitor."
"And who would that be?"
"General Tommy Thompson."
Hannibal sat back in disbelief. How could Face do this to him? He could feel his face starting to flush with the anger he felt. It didn't help that Face continued to sit there in a calm collected manner after making such a vile claim.
He slammed both palms down on the table making his palms sting.
"Why are you doing this, Lieutenant? Are you daring to judge General Tommy Thompson by your own pathetic standards?"
The three younger members flinched at Hannibal's accusation. Face gripped his own hands tightly but continued to face his colonel.
He took a deep breath and responded, "Hannibal, you asked me to investigate Pantone and the other gangs. I did that. And," he paused to take another deep breath, "nothing would make me happier than to say that I made a mistake - that Tommy Thompson is the honest, upright, admirable person you remember." He was about to continue, but Hannibal stood up and walked out of the room.
BA watched him go and then winced as he heard the door slam. He turned his concerned eyes towards Face. It came as no surprise to find him resting his forehead on his still clenched fists. Murdock shifted his chair close up beside his friend and gently rubbed Face's shoulder.
"He didn't mean what he said, Faceman," Murdock said softly.
Face sat up slowly, and let out a deep sigh, "I know how it feels to find your hero may not be perfect." He glanced up at Murdock and quirked the side of his mouth in a half-smile. Murdock smiled briefly in return. Reaching up to straighten his tie, Face said resolutely, "I'd better go talk to him."
BA stood up and put his hands on her hips. "No, you're not going to talk to him. I am."
BA stormed out of the condominium tower and into the front gardens. The area was a carefully manicured haven of tall trees edging an immaculate lawn and bright flower beds.
He spotted Hannibal leaning against a tree in the furthest corner of the garden, arms crossed and cigar thrusting out of his mouth. He looked aggressively angry and volatile. BA didn't care.
He marched across the lawn directly towards the colonel. Hannibal stood up and stared at the sergeant as if daring him to say something. But, BA Baracus was not a man who used words when actions spoke louder; he grasped Hannibal by the lapels and slammed him into the tree, dislodging the cigar.
"Next time, sucker, you pick on someone who really deserves it."
Hannibal's mouth opened but no sound escaped. BA didn't know whether the colonel was too shocked to say something or merely had the wind knocked out of him. Whatever the reason, BA took advantage of the upper hand.
"If you're gonna be mad a someone, be mad at me. It was me and the fool that got Face to tell you about Thompson. Face didn't want to tell you. He knew you wouldn't believe him. Me and Murdock made him do it anyway."
Hannibal met BA's eyes. "You're right, I don't believe him. Tommy's a hero. That's something Face wouldn't understand." He peered over BA's arm, "Where's my damn cigar?"
But BA wasn't ready to be distracted. He tightened his grip on Hannibal, drawing the older man's attention. "You are so wrong, Hannibal. I don't know how you can be so blind. Face knows just as much about hero worship as you."
Murdock's quiet voice startled both men as it interjected. "Back in Nam, when I told Face that you could be one reckless son of a gun, he knocked me flying. Split my lip." Murdock touched his lower lip gently as if he could still feel it.
Hannibal used both hands to push BA away. BA stepped back and let go of Hannibal. He had no intention of letting the colonel walk away from the confrontation, but he knew it was time to give the other man some space.
The colonel knelt down, picked up his cigar, dusted it off, and thrust it into his mouth. He leaned back against the tree and stared at his friends.
BA folded his arms across his chest and stared back. He could play the waiting game as well as anyone. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Murdock take a step forward so that he was beside BA, facing Hannibal.
Above them, the tree sighed quietly in the gentle breeze. Some birds began to twitter in the nearby bushes. A bell from a nearby school rang once followed by the excited chatter of children released from the confines of the classroom.
Finally, Hannibal reached up and took his cigar out of his mouth. "This is a different situation. I am a reckless son of a gun. On the other hand, General Thompson is a soldier's soldier. He fought for his country in three different wars. He..."
"...is using you." Murdock interjected. He raised both hands and thrust them toward the colonel in an almost pleading gesture. "Think about it, Hannibal. Think about it! This guy didn't stand up for you at your trial. He doesn't even pass you the time of day for all these years, and now suddenly he's your best friend?"
Hannibal responded fiercely, "But why, Murdock? Why would he do this? He's retiring with honour and a full army pension. He doesn't need this!"
Murdock thrust both hands into his jacket pockets and said, "I just bet army pensions don't cover the kind of expenses a general is used to having."
Hannibal laughed contemptuously. "Is that the best you can come up with? Even Face would have come up with a better reason than that."
"Well, actually, I have," Face appeared at BA's other elbow and thrust a pile of paper at Hannibal. "I knew you wouldn't believe me so here's the story from my contacts. Apparently, through all three Asian wars, he has been a distributor for the local drug lords. With his retirement, his normal channels of distribution through the Army will disappear. This whole case has been about you helping him set up a new method of receiving and delivering his drugs." With that, Face turned and walked away, down the driveway until he disappeared from sight around the bend.
BA turned and looked at Hannibal. Hannibal looked down at the papers in his hands.
Jogging around the corner of the drive, Hannibal spotted Face standing near the gates leading to the road. The younger man had both hands in his pants pockets, but as he turned to face Hannibal, his left hand came out and rested on his stomach. Face's unconscious nervous gesture surprised him. He expected hurt and anger, not anxiety. Hannibal stopped, suddenly uncertain what to say.
Face took a step forward, and ran his right hand through his hair before replacing it on his abdomen.
"Uh, look, Hannibal, I know how you feel, I really do. I'm ..." He stopped and looked down at the ground.
Hannibal cocked his head to one side and said, "Did you really knock Murdock down because he called me a reckless son of a gun?"
Face blinked a few times, frowning, and then nodded, "Yeah. Flat on his back."
Hannibal nodded back. He stepped forward slowly, "I am one, y'know, a reckless son of a gun."
Face looked up, "No, Hannibal, you're a crazy reckless son of a gun." He smiled slightly, "but it still took me a while to figure it out."
This time Hannibal looked down. "You sure about this information?"
Face's voice came back gently but firmly, "Yes, I am. I checked it three times with three different angles." He paused for a second before continuing, "When I found that Murdock was right about you, I realized that it didn't change who you were. It didn't take away from all the good things you did and all the men you saved. It just made you human." He took a step closer his voice becoming quieter, "I'd still follow you into Hell, y'know."
This time Hannibal looked up and met the blue eyes of his friend. But, Face continued, "after all, it would be a whole lot more fun to watch you tweak the Devil's tail than it would be sit with Sister Mary Theresa in Paradise." He finished with an impish grin.
Hannibal guffawed. Face joined him with a chuckle of his own.
After a moment, Face said, "I'd better go and tell BA and Murdock that we're okay." He hesitated for a moment, "We are okay, right?"
Hannibal grinned and placed his right hand on Face's shoulder, giving it a squeeze, "Yeah, Face, we're okay."
Face smiled back and nodded once before walking back towards the front of the condominium tower.
Hannibal watched him go and considered their conversation. It gave him a warm glow to hear that Face would follow him despite his faults. His thoughts switched to General "Tommy" Thompson.
Can I say the same thing about my hero? he thought
He reached in his pocket, pulled out his lighter, and relit his cigar. He puffed on it and recalled all of Thompson's heroics and weighed them against this one fault.
He decided then that he could not say that he would follow Thompson to Hell. More importantly, he could not lead his own team there.
He drew in a deep breath and let it out. A small piece of his soul belonging to Thompson ripped painfully away. He looked towards the van and saw the three members of his team waiting for him. Suddenly the painful patch didn't seem quite so big in comparison to the warm spot belonging to his team.
Striding purposefully towards the van, he shouted, "Okay, guys, let's go. We got a couple of slimeball drugdealers to put away."