Beginnings 4: Diversionary Tactics
by HannibalFan52 and Jullian Gray
Title: Beginnings 4: Diversionary Tactics
by HannibalFan'52 and Jullian Gray
Summary: The Team is on the run from Lynch at the start of their career.
John `Hannibal' Smith drove along the narrow, two-lane road that wound its way through the forests northwest of Fairplay, Colorado, noting the leaves that were fully out now on this morning in late May. B.A., in the passenger seat, was engrossed in the latest issue of Popular Mechanics, and he could hear soft snoring coming from the back seat.
He wasn't surprised. Face had taken the last watch, and then helped strike camp. Now, after a decent breakfast, it was only natural that the young man catch up on his beauty sleep, lying lengthwise on the back seat. They'd made good progress during the morning, even with taking it easy.
Hannibal drove carefully. The woods were alive with deer, and he didn't want to risk hitting one. If he did, they would have a hard time getting another vehicle. Plus the fact that tendrils of fog occasionally scudded across the road, obscuring the view ahead.
Suddenly, out of the mist, two cars came racing towards him, side by side. The grey one in his lane slammed repeatedly into the other, obviously intent on running it off the road.
Finally, the target car jumped the raised verge and came to rest nose-down in a ditch.
Hannibal was just able to yank the wheel to the right as the attack car flashed past. The rough surface of the shoulder startled B.A., and caused Face to slide off the back seat. Once they'd come to a halt, Hannibal turned and stared out the rear window, watching as the tail-lights disappeared into the fog.
`What's up, Colonel?' B.A. said urgently as the older man carefully guided the car back onto the road.
"What are you trying to do kill me?" Face griped as he pulled himself up from the floor and onto the seat.
`I just witnessed an "accident",' Hannibal said grimly. `We're lucky we weren't part two.' He pulled up next to the maroon car in the ditch. `C'mon!'
A low moan greeted them as they scrambled down the bank of the ditch. Hannibal tried to open the driver's door, but it was wedged too tightly.
B.A. looked inquiringly at Hannibal; at his nod, they traded places.
Grasping the handle, he took several deep breaths, then pulled with hard but steady pressure, growling in concentration. At length, the door opened with a loud, grating squeal.
Face quickly ducked under his arm to catch the driver as he started to slip out. Easing him from behind the wheel, they carried him to the shoulder, Hannibal supporting his head and neck, as they had been taught in Viet Nam.
As they laid the man down, Face got a good look at him for the first time, and gasped. While there were some obvious differences, if his lover hadn't been kneeling next to him, he might have mistaken the stranger for a slightly younger Hannibal.
The man on the ground began to moan, turning his head side-to-side as he regained consciousness.
`Take it easy, friend,' Hannibal said gently as he kept the other's head still. `You've been in an accident, and you hit your head pretty hard.'
The supine man stopped obediently, then blinked several times before focusing on his rescuers.
`Who are you guys?' he asked warily.
`We just happened to be in the neighborhood when you car was run off the road,' Hannibal reassured him. `Thought we'd see how you were doing, seeing as this spot is miles from anywhere.'
`I've got a splitting headache, to begin with, and I ache all over,' the man groaned.
`I'm not surprised,' Hannibal told him. `Now, can you tell me how far it is to the nearest hospital?'
Their patient frowned in concentration.
`Ummm...about twenty miles, back the way I came.'
Hannibal nodded, going into command mode.
`All right, sir, we're going to get you there as best we can. You just relax.' He looked at his men. `Okay, guys, we don't have a stretcher, but we usually didn't in `Nam, either. We'll get him in the back seat; Face, you'll have to cradle his head so it doesn't move too much. B.A., you drive while I check the map. If we see any cop cars,' he hesitated for a moment, `we flag one down and have them call an ambulance.'
`That could be dangerous, man.'
`I know. It's a calculated risk,' Hannibal acknowledged, `but I'm betting that any cops would be too busy with our friend here to be worried about us.'
Face nodded. As terrified as he was of being returned to jail, getting help for the injured man had to be their primary concern. Without being told, he got a couple of blankets out of the car, then spread them out so that B.A. and Hannibal could roll their charge onto it, then they used it as a stretcher to move him to the car. Carefully, they slid him lengthwise into the back seat, and Face sat with the man's head in his lap. Carefully, B.A. pulled back onto the road, then drove as quickly as he dared to the next town.
B.A. looked where Hannibal was pointing. Nodding curtly, he pulled up to the emergency entrance. Getting out, he went in search of help. It was only moments before two orderlies appeared with a gurney. Gently, they slid the injured man out of the car, then whisked him inside.
Face started to follow, but Hannibal stopped him with a gentle touch.
`Just a moment, Tem,' he said as he picked up the blankets the orderlies had left behind and tossed them into the back seat. He looked at his men. `We're only about halfway across the country, but we're still a lot closer to California than we were. Lynch is bound to have checked with anyone and everyone associated with us by now, and knows we're not in any of those places.'
`Which means,' B.A. concluded, `he's gonna start combin' the rest o' the country.'
`Right. Now, we've been rather lax about keeping our identities quiet up `til now, so we're going to have to be a lot more careful from here on in. I want you to think about what names you're comfortable using. Make it something simple and easy to remember, and close enough to your real name so that if you slip up, it's not too noticeable.'
Face and B.A. nodded, and he led them inside.
As they entered, they saw one of the orderlies jerk a thumb over his shoulder, and the receptionist look up at them, before the patient was wheeled into an exam room. Nervously, she approached them.
`Are...are you the gentlemen who found Brett?' asked the young woman, whose name-tag read `Charlene`.
`Brett?' Hannibal asked.
`Brett Wallace. The man who was just brought in. Did you find him?'
`Well, yes, I guess we did,' Hannibal replied. `But we don't know his name. We just happened to be there when his car was run off the road.'
Charlene gasped, and grabbed his sleeve, pulling him into her office. Face and B.A. followed.
`Shhhh!' she whispered urgently. `It's not safe making remarks like that around here.'
`What do you mean?'
`Look, I can't talk here, but I want to thank you for bringing him in. I have to call his wife now, and I'm sure she'll want to meet you. If you'd just take seats in the waiting room?' Charlene pointed to a lounge across the hall. `It shouldn't take her long to get here.'
Intrigued by what the young woman had said, Hannibal acquiesced courteously before heading for the waiting room. Face and B.A. just shook their heads as they followed, knowing their leader was on the Jazz for sure.
Twenty minutes later, a brunette in her mid-thirties, wearing a Post Office uniform, hurried into the reception area, and was directed her to one of the exam rooms.
Samantha Wallace pushed open the door to exam room #3, and was relieved to find only a nurse in attendance. She hurried to her husband's side.
`Brett?' she called softly. `Brett honey?' Slowly, Brett opened his eyes and smiled.
`Sam!' he said. `How did you get here?'
`Charlene called me at the Post Office,' Samantha replied, taking his hand. `What happened? How are you?'
`I hit a chuck-hole in the road,' Brett sighed resignedly, noting the look that appeared in his wife's eyes. `Car landed in a ditch. Don't really know how I got here. I guess somebody found me and brought me in. As to how I'm feeling, I guess I'm all right.'
The nurse looked up and smiled warmly at them both.
`You've got a pretty good bump on your head, Brett,' she said, `and a few bruised ribs, but you'll be okay. You were pretty lucky.'
`I guess so,' Brett acknowledged. `When can I get out of here?'
`The doctor's signing the discharge papers now, so it won't be long. I'll go get you a wheelchair.'
`Don't bother,' said Brett. `I can walk all right.'
`Hospital regulations, Brett Wallace,' the nurse said with concerned look. `You've been in here often enough lately to know that! Now, you just wait here for me.'
Brett and Samantha chuckled as she left.
As Samantha pushed her husband's wheelchair past the reception desk, Charlene came out and spoke with the couple, then pointed in the direction of the visitors lounge. Nodding, she made her way across the hall. Seeing the three occupants variously engaged in watching television and reading month-old magazines, Sam cleared her throat.
`Excuse me,' she said, `but Charlene tells me that you're the people who pulled my husband from his car in the ditch?'
The tall, brown-haired man turned his blue gaze on her. Noting the man in the wheelchair, he smiled.
`Yes,' he said. `We just happened to be passing when we saw the "accident" happen.' He noted the flash of anger in the young woman's eyes at the word. `It was such a remote area, we knew we couldn't just leave, so we did what we could.'
`We can't thank you enough,' Brett spoke up, `and we'd like to show our appreciation. Would you care to follow us home? We can at least offer you a cup of coffee and some lunch. I know I'm starving!'
Hannibal looked at his men, who tacitly agreed.
An hour later, Face was helping Brett settle into his favorite armchair while Hannibal helped carry coffee and sandwiches into the living room of the Wallaces' small home on the outskirts of town. Once everyone had been served, Samantha sat back in her own chair and looked at the three strangers.
`I want to thank you again for what you did for my husband. Not many people around here would've done that, even if someone had come along. That's a pretty solitary stretch of road, Mr...'
`Smith, Sean Smith. These are my friends, Arthur Temple and Albert Boscone,' Hannibal replied, indicating Face and B.A. in turn.
`I can't remember much of what happened,' Brett admitted, `but I'm sure glad you happened along when you did.'
`That reminds me,' said Samantha, fixing her husband with a beady stare, `what was all that guff about hitting a chuck-hole. That road was just re-paved recently; there are no chuck-holes.'
`Samantha,' Brett said quietly, `I'm sure Mr. Smith and his friends don't want to be involved in our troubles.'
`Actually,' Hannibal said, `we're kind of involved already. We were nearly hit by the same car that ran you off the road, and we were seen bringing you into the hospital. Besides,' he added, much to the consternation of his companions, `this seems to be the sort of thing that piques our interest.'
`Well, if you're sure.'
Samantha looked at them incredulously.
`What do you mean - run off the road?' she demanded, sitting down hard. `Oh, my God! Brett! You could've been killed!'
`I think, ma'am,' said Face, `that was the general idea. It usually is.' B.A. nodded and growled.
`That's why I didn't say anything to you in the exam room, Sam,' Brett told her. `Mandy's okay, so's Charlene, but I couldn't tell who else might be listening..' He turned to Hannibal, but before he could say anything, they could hear the voices of two young children who were running up the front path..
`Dad! Dad!' yelled a ten-year-old boy as he yanked open the front door, trailed by his younger sister. `You'll never guess what Becca did at recess!' At the sight of the three strangers, the two kids came skidding to a halt, almost running into each other.
`Steven! Rebecca!' Samantha said sharply, but gently. `Where are your manners?'
`Kids,' Brett said with a smile, `I'd like you to meet Sean, Arthur, and Albert. They were a big help to Daddy this morning, and so we've asked them to lunch.'
The children solemnly shook hands with the newcomers. Steven was intrigued by the brown-haired man who looked so much like his father, and liked the smile on the young man with the dark blond hair.
Rebecca stared at B.A. with wide eyes.
`Gee, you're tan!' she blurted out.
`Becca!' Samantha gasped, feeling like she wanted to drop through the floor.
B.A. laughed and dropped to one knee beside the little girl.
`I sure am, little sister,' he said, a wide grin on his face. `I sure am. How old are you?' Rebecca shyly held up six fingers. `That's a good age to be. I had a lot of fun when I was six.'
`All right, you two,' Samantha said, gathering the kids together and herding them towards the kitchen. `I'll get your lunch, then you can go out in the yard and play until it's time to go back to school.'
As she disappeared, Brett turned to B.A.
`I'm sorry, Mr. Boscone,' he said. `Becca didn't mean anything by it. It's just that we don't get many blacks in this part of the country, so she's never had an opportunity to meet someone like you before.'
`It's all right, man,' B.A. assured him. `She's just a kid, and kids get curious.'
`Thanks for being so understanding.'
`No problem, man.'
`Now, care to tell me why someone would want to run you into a ditch?' Hannibal said.
`Easy,' Brett replied. `I make too much of a nuisance of myself.' He chuckled as Hannibal raised an eyebrow.
`I'm a reporter, and I work for the local newspaper,' Brett continued. `Several years ago, I noticed some things that didn't seem quite right, so I started digging. The more I dug, the more I found, and the more I got under the skin of certain people around town - most notably, the mayor and his cronies.
`You've heard of Tammany Hall?' Hannibal nodded, though his younger companions looked blank at the name. `Well, what we've got here is a small-time, mid-western version of the same thing: graft, kickbacks, bid-rigging, intimidation - you name it, it's being done. And it's hurting our town.'
`Don't tell me,' Face said. `Now that you're standing up to them, they're making life difficult for you.'
`Ain't no call to be doin' that,' growled B.A. `Bunch o' fat cats livin' off the hard work of others. Makes me see red!'
Hannibal was pleased with his Lieutenant and Sergeant. They may not have known about Tammany Hall, but they were certainly familiar with the tactics.
`I've talked to Judge Hargrove `til I'm blue in the face,' said Brett. `The man either can't or won't see what's happening right under his nose!' Hannibal raised an eyebrow. `Oh, I don't think that he's tainted by all this. He's as honest as the day is long, but I think that blinds him to what's really going on.'
`A few of us tried to do something about it, and approached Mayor Torby, but he wouldn't give us the time of day. He's got the chief of police in his pocket, too, so when the beatings and killings started, any complaints were hushed up. Now, most people are too scared to come forward, and I really can't say I blame them. But things won't change until we get organized and stand up to these creeps.
`So, in spite of everything, we still have a small group of people determined to fight back. We've got a pretty good network, but the problem is that we don't really know where to go from here.'
`I've got some ideas,' Hannibal told him. `Can you arrange a meeting, somewhere we're unlikely to be disturbed?'
`Let me run it by my contacts; one of them may have some ideas.' Brett smiled. `We've got a nice little town here, Mr. Smith. I hate seeing it destroyed like this.'
`Well, we'll see what we can do to help prevent that.' Hannibal looked at his watch. `But it's getting a bit late. Since we're going to be hanging around a while, can you suggest any cheap motels in the area?'
Samantha, returning from the kitchen, shook her head.
`Not really,' she said, `at least, none that are within a reasonable distance. I'd offer to put you up, but with two kids, we're kind of cramped as it is.'
`Looks like we're back to camping out,' he said.
`If you're game,' Brett put in, `we've got a pretty large backyard. You could set up your gear there.'
Hannibal shook his head.
`It's tempting, Mr. Wallace,' he said, `but perhaps it would be best if we stayed out of sight for the most part. If the people trying to silence you think you have protection, it would make our job harder trying to catch them.'
`No problem,' Brett told them. `Our yard backs onto the woods. You could hide your car in our garage, then make camp there. After all, hikers do it all the time, so it won't draw any undue attention. How does that sound?' Face and B.A. groaned at the thought of sleeping on rocks again. Brett, deducing the reason, sweetened the deal. `We've even got a couple of cots we don't use anymore. How about it?'
`I think you've got yourself a deal, Mr. Wallace,' he grinned. `Now the trick will be to set up a clandestine meeting with your friends. Think you can do that?'
Brett smiled and nodded.
`Consider it done!'
Mayor Richard Torby laughed heartily as he left the conference room at City Hall. One of the bankers at the meeting had just told a very funny joke. It annoyed him, therefore, when a low-level clerical type sidled up to him and whispered in his ear.
`What do you mean, he survived?' Torby hissed, a thunderous look clouding his face. The underling just shrugged. `Never mind; I'll find out for myself. Just get the police chief on the phone. Find out where he is, and tell him I need to see him.' The clerk scuttled away as fast as he could.
Readjusting his expression, Torby excused himself, and hurried to his office.
Two hours later, Torby found himself at the local gun club, having an impromptu conference with Martin Reed at the skeet-shooting range.
`Pull!' the police chief called. Moments later, the clay pigeon exploded in mid-air.
The mayor gave a sidelong glance at the young deputy in charge of the skeet launcher.
`Don't worry about Murray here,' Reed said. `He's on the payroll. Pull!' Another pigeon bit the dust.
`What the hell happened this morning?!' Torby growled. `Your man messed up. Wallace is still alive!'
`Pure bad luck, is all,' Reed said, breaking the shotgun and ejecting the spent cartridges. He put in two more as he continued. `Another car happened along. It was nothing anybody could have predicted.'
`Another car! Who was it? That road is usually empty that time of day!'
`You got me. Pull!' The next pigeon didn't survive any longer than its predecessors. `My man didn't recognize it. An old station wagon, blue with two colors of primer on the front end.'
`Well, hopefully it was somebody just passing through.' Torby sighed.
`I'll look into it,' Reed assured him, `but whoever it was, they're probably long gone. Pull!'
`Well, Brett's got the wind up now,' Torby sighed. `Maybe we should just back off for a while. We'll never get near him.'
`Don't worry,' said Reed as he reloaded again. `I've got something in mind. Wallace will be taken care of before too long, and we'll all be able to breathe easier by the end of the month. Now get out of here before things start to look suspicious!'
With that, he turned his back on the mayor.
Torby left. At the entrance to the range, he looked back just in time to watch another clay pigeon disintegrate.
Hannibal looked through the trees. He could barely make out the back porch-light at the Wallace's house. Their hosts had offered to leave it on as a guide in case they needed to reach the house in a hurry. In return, Hannibal decided to mount watches, not only for their own benefit, but for that of Brett and his family, as well.
Ducking into the tent for a moment, he found his lover sitting cross-legged on his cot, a piece of paper in his hand. He recognized it from the dot-matrix printing on its surface.
`Tem,' he said quietly, so as not to wake B.A. `It's after midnight, and you've got the next watch. What are you doing awake?'
`I know,' Face sighed. `It's just that the closer we get to L.A., the more anxious I am to see Murdock. `
`I guessed as much. But you've got to remember, baby, that he's in pretty bad shape, according to what the nurses told me. You may not like what you see the first time we visit.'
`I know, Hannibal. I like to think, though, that our friendship is strong enough to get us through the rough spots, and guide him back to sanity.'
`I'm sure it is, kid. In the meantime, get some sleep,' the Colonel said, giving his lover a soft kiss. `I'll wake you in four.'
`Kay, Hannibal,' Face agreed sleepily as the older man turned to leave.
Hannibal looked back as he reached the door of the tent, to see nothing but a few strands of dark blond hair sticking out from under Face's blanket. He shook his head and smiled as he stepped out into the cool night air.
A couple nights later, Brett drove Hannibal and his men to a barn on the other side of town. When they walked in, Hannibal was pleasantly surprised to see a wide variety of people in attendance. As they mingled, Brett began to introduce them to his friends.
`Tommy!' Brett called across the floor. The person hailed turned as they approached. He smiled when he saw Brett.
`Hey, guy!' he said jovially. `Good to see you! I heard what happened the other day. The black eye suits you!'
`Gee, thanks - I think!' Brett laughed in return. `Tom Atkins, I want you to meet some new friends - Sean Smith, Arthur Temple, and Albert Boscone. They're the ones who got me to the hospital.'
`I'm glad to meet you,' Tom said, shaking hands. `Do you, by any chance, drive a blue station wagon with two colors of primer on the front?'
Shocked, B.A. nodded.
`What about it?' he asked, worried.
`There's an APB out for it, so you'd better keep it hidden,' Atkins told him. `Knowing these guys, they'd throw you guys in jail on some trumped-up charge, then quietly get rid of you.'
`And just how would you know that?' Hannibal asked warily.
`Because I'm a sergeant in the police department,' Tom smiled. `But don't worry. I was a policeman long before Torby became mayor and brought his sharks in to ruin this town, and I don't like what's happening any more than the rest of the good people here tonight.'
`Well, I'm glad to hear that, Tom,' Hannibal said, relaxing.
`By the way, Brett,' Tom continued, `the car used in the attack was found abandoned several miles out of town. Seems it was stolen a few days before, and the guy who owns it lives in Fairplay. Ironic, isn't it?'
`Brett!' called a dark-haired man as he approached.
`Good to see you, Clive,' Wallace answered. `Thanks for coming!'
`Look, Brett,' Clive said. `I pulled your car outta that ditch. It's gonna take some work, but I think I can have it back to you in about a week. Is that okay? I can give you a loaner in the meantime, if you'd like.'
`Thanks, that'll help a lot. Sam needs the other car to get to her job as post-mistress, so it'd be hard getting along with only one.'
A tall, distinguished-looking man finally called the meeting to order. When everyone was seated, he began to speak.
`Thank you all for coming tonight,' he said. `I know we're all taking a huge risk just being here, but it's worth it to stop what's happening to our town. Many of you know me, but for those of you who don't,' he gestured to the newcomers among them, `I'm Dr. Owen Spence. I work in the emergency room at the hospital, and I'm tired of patching up my neighbors because they stand up for what's right. It's time to put an end to this, and if what Brett says is true, we may just have the means to finally do it.'
Brett rose to stand next to the doctor.
`Friends, as many of you know, there was another attempt on my life a couple days ago. Thanks to my new friends Sean, Arthur, and Albert, I'm here to tell about it.' A murmur ran through the meeting. `Like you, I grew up here, and I've seen the changes Mayor Torby and Chief Reed have made, and none of them are good for our town. So I'm looking for ideas on how to stop them once and for all.'
Tom rose in his seat.
`There are a couple of guys on the force that I can still trust. One of them has Torby and Reed convinced he's just as dirty as they are, so I have a good inside line on what's happening. According to my informant, Torby and Reed had a private meeting the other day, and they're going to back off for now. However, he also says they expect their main opposition - meaning Brett here - to be eliminated very soon. "By the end of the month" is how the Chief put it, so I'm told.'
`Hmmmmm...' Hannibal mused aloud. `Sounds like they're trying to lull you into a false sense of security, Brett. Once you drop your guard, they expect to close in for the kill - literally. And they don't have much time to do it. It's only a few days until the end of the month. Anything happening between now and then?'
`Only the Memorial Day parade,' piped up Harris Scott. His eyes widened in horror as a thought occurred to him. `They wouldn't dare!'
`These guys are gittin' desperate,' B.A. said gruffly, `and when they desperate, they do things without thinkin' `em through, right, Han...Sean?'
`Right, Albert.' Hannibal got to his feet. `Tell me about this parade.'
`Well,' said Harris, `the parade route goes from local high school, down Main Street to bandstand in the local park.'
`What kind of units will be marching?'
`Oh, the usual - scouts, VFW, high school marching band, cheerleaders, homecoming queen, that sort of thing. Local businesses will be represented, of course. In fact, the Daily Herald's gonna have a float depicting the history of newspapers in America. And Brett's supposed to dress up as Ben Franklin.'
At the mention of a parade float, alarm bells started going off in Face's mind.
`Y'know, Hannibal, it occurs to me that all they have to do is hide a guy on the roof of a building along the way, ostensibly as crowd control? Who looks up, right? '
`What my colleague says is true. Most people don't bother to look up. They think that most danger is on the ground.
"How do you know this?" Brett asked.
`He was a sniper in `Nam,' Hannibal glanced over at Face, `and a very good one, too.'
`You're kidding!' came a disbelieving voice from the crowd. After all, the young blonde couldn't be more than a teen.
`No, unfortunately, I'm not,' Hannibal replied. `These sleaze-balls are getting antsy, and they'll do anything to get their way. It'll be our job to put a stop to it.'
`In the meantime, we need to start gathering evidence. Now,' said Brett, `we all know at least one person who's been intimidated by these slugs. Contractors who have been coerced into not bidding on projects, or withdrawing their bids in favor of a crony whose bid in actually higher, our kids bullied in attempts to get at us, that sort of thing. Talk to your friends, anyone you can think of. Sam's willing to notarize and collect any affidavit brought to her at the post office. It shouldn't raise suspicion, since everyone needs stamps, right?' he concluded with a grin.
There was a wise nodding of heads among those assembled.
As the meeting broke up, Hannibal pulled his men aside.
`Face,' he said quietly, `we need to know the lay of the land. You're our expert, so it's up to you.'
`I'll take of it first thing tomorrow.'
Face wandered up and down the street, ostensibly window-shopping. Using the shop windows as mirrors, he checked out the various rooftops overlooking the parade route. Satisfied, he joined Hannibal and B.A. at the local diner.
Once they had ordered, Hannibal looked at Face.
`Report,' he said quietly.
`I walked the entire route, Uncle Sean. The first leg runs from the high school past the junior high and elementary schools. Its wide open, with only a few young trees, not enough to provide cover for an attack. The second leg runs through a residential area built in the mid-50's. More trees, but the houses are fairly closely set, so it would be too easy to be spotted. The problem area is once the parade turns onto Main Street on its way to the park. Several Victorian-era stone buildings that provide plenty of hiding places. I would say that the bank building across the street from the park entrance is the most likely place for them to try anything.'
Tom Atkins arrived just in time to hear the last part of Face's report.
`Hey, ain't it dangerous for you to be seen wit' us?' asked B.A.
`Nah,' Tom smiled. `Torby already knows how I feel, so it wouldn't be a surprise for me to be seen with Brett. Chief Reed doesn't know anything about you lot, so I don't think we'll raise any suspicions being seen together. But you were saying?'
`I was about to say that there are only three of us,' Hannibal said. `That's not enough to cover the whole parade route.'
`I've got an idea, Colonel,' said Face, all business.
`Colonel?' Brett asked. `Are you still in the military?'
`No, it`s just habit.' Hannibal grinned. `We were in the same unit in Viet Nam. Arthur was my XO, and Albert, my sergeant and ordnance officer. We made a pretty good team, so we decided to stick together when we left the service, and we've done pretty well for ourselves so far. Go ahead, kid.'
`Well, as we know, Brett's supposed to be on the paper's float,' the young man began. `You look enough like him to take his place without raising suspicion.
`Since we can't cover all the possible sites, even with Tom's help, we'll have to draw them out. It'll be a classic diversionary tactic, Colonel, like the Scarlet Pimpernel in the books,' Face told them. `You draw attention by impersonating Brett on the float, while B.A. and I head out of town with the Wallaces during the uproar.'
`I like it, kid,' Hannibal replied, his eyes lighting up with the Jazz. He could see that he and Brett were of roughly the same build and coloring. Though Brett had shoulder-length, reddish-blond hair, and his nose was thinner, the Colonel knew his training in amateur theatricals in high school and West Point would be of some service in that respect.
`But you'll be in danger,' Brett protested. `If they have a sniper along the route, as you think they will, you'll be killed. I'm sorry, but I won't have that on my conscience.'
`It'll be okay, Brett,' the police sergeant reassured him. `I'll sneak a bullet-proof vest out of the police station a few days before, and get it to you. I know the Chief, and he'll want to take care of this personally. He's a champion hunter, and prides himself on his heart shots. You should have no trouble convincing him you're dead.
`I also happen to know the guy who installed the security cameras on all the buildings along the route. I'll have a word with him. He's with us, and I'm sure he can redirect all the cameras to cover any potential sniper positions. If it comes down, we'll have video proof of the murder attempt.'
`The best location would be that bank near the entrance to the park,' Face continued. `That doesn't mean they couldn't work from another spot, but the bank's the most logical one.'
`The ambulance is usually last in the parade,' said Tom, `so it won't be too far behind the float. I'll make sure Mack and Jimmy are on duty that day. They should be able to get you away quickly, before anyone twigs to what's happening.'
`And Harris can let you out the back door to the morgue,' said Brett. `I'll leave the loaner car there for you, with the keys in the glove box.'
`That would leave either your wife's car or ours to get you and your family out of town,' pointed out Hannibal. `Both are known to the police. If either one is spotted leaving town, they could come down on you hard.'
`I'll speak to Clive about repainting your car,' said Brett.
`Hey, we ain't got the money for that, man,' B.A. told him.
`Don't worry about it,' Brett smiled. `If he doesn't do it for free - which he probably will, if I know him - then I'll take care of it. And don't look at me like that,' he added, seeing the look on Hannibal's face. `You're putting your life on the line for me. It's little enough to do in return.'
`Hey, Hannibal, I was thinkin' of gittin' that done as soon as we could afford it. That car do stick out like a sore thumb.'
`All right,' Hannibal agreed, `do it.'
`Might I suggest black, Colonel?' asked Face. `It's a nice low-key color, and will go unnoticed when everyone's attention is focused on the float.'
`Good idea, Face,' Hannibal said.
`Face? Hannibal?' Brett asked. `I thought your names were...'
`They are,' Hannibal laughed. `But we were tagged with these nicknames during the war. We've become so used to them, it's just second nature by now.'
`I see,' Brett said thoughtfully.
`Well, I've got to get back to the station,' Tom said. `I'll see you all later.' So saying, he left the diner, allowing the others to finish their lunch.
Sitting under a tree at recess, Steven Wallace looked up from the book he was reading. In front of him stood a boy about two years older and twenty-five pounds heavier, backed by several other boys of similar age and size. Steven groaned to himself; he could tell that Frank Reed was just itching for a fight.
`Whattsa matter, Stevie? ` Frank continued in a condescending tone. `Too scared to be out playin' dodge-ball with the big kids? That why you're over here reading like a little sissy?'
Steven tried to ignore the bully, but it was hard when the book was snatched out of his hand.
`Hey, give that back!' Steven yelled, scrambling to his feet. `It's from the library!'
`Too bad, Stevie,' the older boy taunted. Grinning ferally, he began to tear it apart.
Steven tried hard to get the book back, but Frank was too quick. Shoving the younger boy to the ground, he pulled the pages out and threw them around before tossing the cover aside. When he was done, he grabbed Steven by the shirt and hauled him to his feet.
`Whaddya gonna do about that, sissy?' he snarled, landing a punch in the younger boy's stomach. `You gonna tell on me? Huh?!'
Steven suffered the beating in silence, knowing that the teachers wouldn't be able to see through the ring of boys surrounding him and Frank. He knew instinctively, too, that it would only be worse if he called for help.
Finally, the blows stopped, and Frank let go of him, so that he dropped to the ground.
`Just try to get back at me, sissy,' the bully snarled. `Just try. If you think that was bad, that's just a taste of what you'll get if you tell. As for your dad, if he keeps making trouble for my father, my dad'll take of him.' With that, he gathered his friends and left the younger boy kneeling in the grass.
Sniffing back tears of pain, Steven got to his feet, tucked in his shirt-tails, and brushed himself off before collecting the remnants of the library book. He slowly made his way back to the classroom, trying hard to disguise the limp the beating had caused.
Samantha Wallace couldn't believe what the elementary school secretary had just told her over the phone. Her son was in the principal's office for refusing to say who beat him up.
`I'll be right over. Thanks.' She sighed as she hung up the phone. `Carol? Cover for me, will you? I've got to pick up Steven at school.'
`Sure thing!' The assistant postmistress nodded, and went back to organizing the outgoing mail.
Hannibal, Face, and B.A. were studying a map spread out on the dining room table when they heard a car pull into the driveway of the Wallace residence. Instantly alert, they spread out, checking all sides of the house in case the new arrivals were intruders.
`It's okay, guys!' Hannibal called, recognizing the car as Samantha's.
When the front door opened, however, they weren't prepared for the sight of Becca running upstairs in tears, and Steven with a black eye and bloody nose.
Samantha stood there, unsure which child to comfort.
`You go to Becca, li'l mama,' B.A. said gently. `I'll take care of Steven.' Nodding, Sam headed upstairs after her daughter as B.A. knelt next to the young boy. `Tell me what happened, li'l brother.'
Steven sniffed, looking long and hard into the caring brown eyes.
`It was Frankie Reed,' he said at last, knowing that he could trust these men. `He beat me up, called me a sissy `cause I like to read. He said he'd do it again if I told. He threatened my dad!' he sobbed at last.
Hannibal turned at the sound of a gasp to see a haunted look in his lover's eyes. Placing a hand of Face's shoulder, he felt the younger man's body vibrating like a piano string. A fist closed around his heart. It was a clue that spoke volumes about the past his lover refused to reveal, and helpless anger flooded him.
`You all right, Tem?' he whispered. The responding nod didn't satisfy him, and he made a silent vow to do his best to make up for the abuse his lover had undoubtedly suffered throughout his young life.
B.A. stood up and extended a hand to Steven.
`You and me gonna take a walk, li'l brother. See if maybe we can do somethin' about this...'
At 3:00, the school bell rang, announcing the end of classes for the day. Kids poured out the doors, eager to get home.
As Frank Reed and his hangers-on left, pushing their way through the younger kids, they saw Steven Wallace standing on the asphalt walk to the playground.
`Hey, Frankie!' the boy called pointedly. The older boy's eyes narrowed dangerously when he heard that.
`What'd you call me?' he asked dangerously.
`I called you "Frankie",' Steven replied ingenuously.
`I'll fix you, sissy,' Frank snarled, `and I don't care who sees me!'
He raised a fist to hit Steven again, but found it caught in a tight grip. He turned, looking up, to see a large black man scowling at him.
`What you doin', man?' B.A. growled. `Ain't no call to be hittin' kids smaller'n you.' Frank's eyes widened in shock, and B.A. let go. `Now that you know what it feels like, remember what I tol' you.' With a curt nod, he turned to Steven. `Let's go, li'l brother.'
Frank stood there for a few moments, feeling the eyes of his friends on him. He had to do something to salvage his reputation.
`Oh, yeah?!' he yelled, his voice shaking, as B.A. and Steven walked away. `Well, you don't scare me!'
B.A. just squeezed Steven's shoulder, and they shared a conspiratorial smile
Two Days Later
Face watched B.A. as he left the tent to take first watch. Slowly, he turned to Hannibal.
`John,' he asked, `how can you be so calm?'
`Because I trust you,' Hannibal replied. Face just shook his head.
Hannibal sat beside the younger man and pulled him close.
`What's the matter, baby?' he asked quietly.
`I'm scared, John,' the blond confessed. He looked up, blue-grey eyes searching ice-blue ones. `I don't want to lose you.'
Hannibal wanted to laugh, but he knew it would just distress the younger man. If Face only knew the number of times he had felt the same way. All the times that he had sent him out on point, all the times in the camps. No matter how hard he tried, he would never be able to forget the fear and dread that he had always felt. The only thing that he could do now was try and put Face's mind at ease.
`You're a great strategist, Tem,' he said reassuringly. `You proved that to me time and again in `Nam. It's a great plan, and with the bullet-proof vest Tom got me, I'll be perfectly safe.'
`But a thousand little things could go wrong,' Face insisted. `What if he doesn't go for a chest shot? What if he is using a high caliber weapon that goes through the vest? Damn it, John, so many things can go wrong, and now I'm putting your life at risk.'
`And if I didn't believe your plan would work, I wouldn't go along with it.'
`I just can't shake the feeling that this is our last night together, John,' came the soft whisper. `I...without you...'
`I know, baby,' Hannibal told him, kissing the top of his head, `but I promise you it will be a piece of cake. Trust me.' Face nodded. He still wasn't sure, but allowed Hannibal to ease him back onto the cot. `Now, go to sleep, Lieutenant. We have a busy day tomorrow.'
Face sighed and closed his eyes, placing his trust in his lover's confidence. It wasn't long before the feel of Hannibal carding his fingers through his hair lulled him to sleep
On the day of the parade, B.A. drove everyone to the high school where the marchers were lining up. He pulled into the garage where the newspaper's float had been assembled.
`We're still putting the final touches on the printing-press mock-up,' Clive said. It was his tow-truck that would be pulling the float. He glanced at the guy sitting at the desk on the float, looking like a reporter out of The Front Page. The other float attendants were dressed like newsboys, ready to hawk copies of the newspaper to the crowd.
`Good,' said Brett, looking around. He noted that everyone in the garage was his supporter. `That gives us time to make our other arrangements.'
`B.A.,' Hannibal said, `keep watch outside. Let us know if anyone suspect gets too close.'
`You got it, Colonel.' With that, he stepped outdoors.
As Hannibal started changing into knee breeches, hose, shirt, waistcoat, and leather apron, Face pulled out a short brown wig.
`Here,' he said, handing it to Brett, `put this on. If Hannibal's posing as you, you can't leave here looking like yourself.'
Brett nodded, and, with Samantha's help, put it on, tucking his reddish hair neatly out of sight.
`Did you bring the make-up?' Hannibal asked, smiling as Samantha handed over whatever she'd scrounged from her personal collection. Sitting Brett down under the best light he could find, he set about minimizing the differences in their appearance. Finally, after making himself look as much like his host as possible, he donned the bald-head wig with the shoulder-length grey hair, and glasses with rectangular lenses.
`I can barely tell the difference between you!' Samantha gasped. `Where'd you learn to do that?'
`I did a lot of plays in high school,' he told her. `Before I enrolled at West Point, it was a toss-up whether I'd go there, or try my luck in Hollywood.'
Just then, B.A. poked his head through the side door.
`They starting' to line up, Hannibal!' he called. `You `bout ready to go?'
`Just about, Sergeant!' He turned to the others. `Brett, you'd better leave now. Face and B.A. will guide you safely out of town to the hideout. I'll join you there as soon as I can.'
Brett nodded, and shepherded his family back to the repainted Chevy Malibu, letting the kids clamber in the back with the Team's gear.
As they did, Hannibal beckoned to B.A. and Face.
`Good luck, Sergeant,' he said, shaking the black man's hand firmly. `I don't anticipate any trouble, but you never know. Stay alert. If you have to, get the hell out of Dodge, and I'll tag up with you in L.A.. Is that clear?'
`Yes, sir,' B.A. said. `Ain't no one gonna catch us, either way.'
`I can believe that,' Hannibal grinned, thinking back to all the times he's watched the other man's driving practice. `Face?'
`You're in charge, kid. Whatever happens, keep them safe. That's an order, Lieutenant,' he said firmly.
`Yes, sir!' Face returned.
`And Tem?' Hannibal said softly.
`John?' the younger man answered, just as softly.
`Always remember - I love you.' Face nodded, the gentle hand on his shoulder speaking volumes. `Now, get going, all of you.' Face snapped off a quick salute, much to Hannibal's amusement.
Samantha and the children waved as the car left the garage.
`Have a good time, Brett,' she called loudly, as Hannibal waved back. `See you after the parade!' With that, B.A. steered the car off the campus, ostensibly headed for the reviewing stand near the end of the parade route.
As the float crew waited to be guided to their place in the line-up, Hannibal wandered around the garage, looking at all the junk dumped haphazardly here and there.
`There's sure a lot of miscellaneous stuff in here, `he commented to no one in particular, stopping next to a huge, empty fish tank.
`Yup,' said Clive. `Anything they don't know what to do with, they stick in here for lack of a better place. That fish tank, for instance, used to be in the main lobby of the high school. I guess they got tired of replacing the fish every time the heater malfunctioned.'
Poking around in the accessories, Hannibal found a length of clear plastic tubing from the aerator. His eyes lit up with the Jazz as he looked around for other potentially useful stuff, finding a bulb syringe, a mat knife, and a roll of duct tape in pretty short order.
`You know what I could really use right now,' he said to one of the float attendants, `is a hot dog with lots of ketchup...'
Sam Katz looked at the bank of television monitors, watching as the scenes before him swept back and forth. He looked up at the person standing behind him.
`That was a good idea you had, Tom,' he said, `using the excuse of routine maintenance to re-set these cameras. The recorders are all running, so if anything happens, we'll get it on tape.'
Atkins nodded, his fingers absently drumming on the walkie-talkie he held.
`I just hope the whole thing works out as planned.'
`Here we go,' Katz muttered, tapping on one screen as a shadowy figure let itself onto to the roof of the building Face had picked as the most likely ambush site.
Matthew Reed crouched on the roof of the bank building near the park. Normally, he enjoyed a good parade, but today he was bored with the gymnasts, school bands, and other marching units. He was also getting anxious, wishing for the hundredth time that Wallace's float wasn't so near the end of the parade.
Finally, the float in question turned the corner onto Main Street, inching its way forward as each unit paused in front of the reviewing stand inside the park. Slowly, it came within range.
Reed raised the rifle to his shoulder. He knew he had to aim very carefully. He wasn't using a scope, not wanting to risk a flash of sunlight on the lens giving him away.
His finger tightened on the trigger...
Face sat in the newly-painted car, in the seat his lover usually occupied. As they waited, he could sense the tension in B.A., who was behind the wheel. Samantha hushed the children when they started getting fidgety.
Above the muffled sounds of the parade, a shot rang out, and he jumped.
`John!' he whispered, his eyes full of worry. Unthinking, he reached for the door handle, only to be stopped by B.A.'s hand on his arm.
`I have to know, B.A.' Face tried to pull on the handle, but B.A. tightened his grip.
One look told him the Sergeant was just as worried.
`You have to trust him, Face, just like he trusts you.' Face closed his eyes and nodded.
As yells and screams started, the walkie-talkie in his hand came to life. Tom's voice crackled over the speaker.
`Go!' it said calmly.
B.A. put the car in gear, and slowly drove out of town, in the direction of Reed's hunting lodge.
Under the horrified gaze of spectators, Mack and Jimmy gently manhandled the limp body onto a stretcher, then slid it into the back of the ambulance. Once it was loaded, Mack climbed into the back, while Jimmy returned to the driver`s seat. Sirens blaring, they maneuvered through the crowd to the nearest cross-street, then raced for the hospital.
Mack was shaken. He hadn't expected blood to be plastering down the grey wig near the base of the victim's skull. Quickly, he broke out gauze pads to staunch the flow, but as he leaned closer, a puzzled frown crossed his face.
`Hey, Jimmy!' he called.
`What is it?'
`Yeah? What about it?'
`It smells kinda funny.'
`Maybe,' said an unexpected voice, `that's because it's not blood...'
The emergency room doors crashed open, and the gurney run through at top speed.
Owen Spence turned to see Mack and Jimmy. He beckoned Mandy over as he did a cursory exam of the body on the gurney, then shook his head as he draped the sheet over the victim's face.
`Take him to Harris,' he told the nurse solemnly. `It's too late. There's nothing we can do.'
Mandy smiled at Harris Scott as she left the morgue, but assumed a more professional demeanor as she headed for the elevator.
Once the door was closed behind her, Harris turned to the gurney and raised the sheet.
A pair of ice-blue eyes shone above a wide grin, and Hannibal sat up, already dressed in a police uniform.
Harris pulled a police windbreaker and hat out of a file cabinet and handed them to Hannibal.
`The car's just outside the door. Brett left the keys in the glove box, as arranged, along with directions to the safe house. After you leave, I'll call Marie at the radio station.'
`Thanks, Harris,' the Colonel said. `You've been a big help.'
`Just get going,' Harris said, opening the door to the underground parking lot. `I can't wait `til we nail Torby and his friends.'
With a smile and a wave, Hannibal got into the car, found the keys, and headed out for the rendezvous.
Marie hung up the phone and smiled. Taking a few deep breaths to compose herself, she reached out and flipped the switch for her microphone, cutting off the song that was playing.
`We interrupt this program to bring you an important news bulletin...'
In the hunting lodge's well-appointed living room, the Wallace family and their guardians were gathered around the radio, eager for news. They hadn't listened to the car radio, concentrating their attention on getting away from town.
`Repeating an earlier report,' Marie's voice floated into the room, `Brett Wallace, reporter for the Daily Herald newspaper, has been shot while riding the paper's float in the Memorial Day parade. Unconfirmed reports mention a bullet wound to the head. More news as it becomes available.'
Samantha gasped in horror, and Brett pulled her close, while Steven looked stricken, and little Becca wore a puzzled frown, wondering why everyone was so upset.
A strangled sob escaped Face's throat.
`You'll be okay, li'l brother.' B.A. murmured, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Face looked at him with dead eyes. It scared the bigger man.
`He's gone, B.A.,' he whispered flatly. `There's no way Hannibal could have survived a bullet to the head. He's...gone...and I'm alone...'
`No! Never alone, Faceman,' the Sergeant insisted. `You still got me and the Fool. C'mon, man; Hannibal wouldn't want you to give up.'
`I'll finish the mission, B.A.,' he said, `but after that...' He let the sentence hang.
B.A.'s heart stopped in his chest. He knew what Face meant. It was hard enough loving the young man and not being able to tell him, but to lose him altogether...
`Don't do it, Face,' he whispered urgently. `Don't give Lynch the satisfaction.'
`To hell with Lynch, and everyone else. I don't have anything to prove to anyone.'
Face turned his back and walked over to stare out the window.
Brett approached B.A.
`Will Arthur be all right?' he asked, concerned.
`I hope so,' the black Sergeant said. `Man, I hope so! Face - Hannibal meant more to him than anyone else on earth. He never really knew his parents, and was raised in a orphanage,' he added, falling back on their cover story. `Didn't even know he had family `til he got to `Nam, got assigned to our unit, and found out Sean was his uncle. Hannibal was the only father he ever knew. It was Hannibal taught him how to be a man, and now he's gone.'
`I see,' Brett said thoughtfully. `I'm sorry. It's my fault. I should never have let Sean do it.'
`Naw, man, you couldn'ta stopped him if you tried,' B.A. assured the reporter. `When Hannibal's on the Jazz, ain't no stopping him for nothing.'
`Well, I still feel obligated,' Brett told him. `Once everything settles down, I'll make all the necessary arrangements. And you'll both be welcome to stay with us as long as you like. We've all grown quite fond of you, especially the kids.' So saying, he drifted back to his family.
Moments later, the sound of tires on gravel had Face and B.A. instantly on alert, their grief forgotten. Gesturing towards the entrance, Face moved smoothly to the window, while B.A. took up a position next to the door.
Peering out, Face saw a figure in a police uniform climb the front steps and reach out to ring the cow bell that hung from the porch roof. As the bell sounded, Face crossed to a spot behind the door, and took hold of the knob.
Nodding, he pulled the door open, while B.A. yanked the stranger in through the door and slammed him up against the wall, shoving his pistol into the man's face.
B.A. couldn't believe what he was seeing. The ice-blue eyes and infectious grin of the newcomer were unmistakable.
Face turned ash-white.
`John?' he whispered in disbelief.
`In the flesh, kid!' Hannibal responded cheerfully. B.A. let him go as he turned and walked into the room, pulling off the police hat and windbreaker as he went.
`When they were getting the float ready,' he continued, `I found some clear plastic tubing and a rubber bulb syringe. I got the idea to fill the bulb with ketchup, and ran the tubing up my sleeve. Clive taped the end just under the hairline of the wig, so when I felt the bullet hit the vest, all I had to do was squeeze the bulb as I fell over. Mack and Jimmy got me into the ambulance before anyone could get a good look, and Marie interrupted the radio coverage of the parade with the announcement that Brett Wallace had been murdered by a bullet to the head. Reed will just believe that his shot went a little wide of the mark. Piece o' cake!' He spread his arms dramatically, and sat on the arm of the couch.
Face stared at his lover, and his mouth opened and closed several times.
Unable to get the words out, he stormed out of the house. Hannibal watched him go, stunned. He felt B.A. lay a hand on his shoulder.
`What the hell is wrong with Face?'
He felt B.A. lay a hand on his shoulder.
`Fool, they announced that you were shot in the head over the radio. The plan was for you to be shot in the chest. We all thought you was dead.'
`Jesus!' Hannibal ran his hand over his face, realizing what he had put his lover through.
`Go after him, man,' the gruff Sergeant said gently. `He hurting bad.'
Hannibal nodded, and followed his young lover's trail into the woods.
Face hadn't gone far, just down to the brook, out of sight of the cabin. Hannibal watched him for a few minutes, as he sat with his back against a tree, pitching pebbles into the water, tears streaming down his face. The tears he hadn't been able to shed in front of strangers. He refused to look up, even when Hannibal approached and sat down next to him.
`I'm sorry, Tem,' Hannibal said contritely. `I didn't mean to hurt you. If I'd come up with the idea in time, I would have let you know, and avoided all this. But by the time I'd thought of it, you were already gone, and there was no way to get in touch with you.'
`You're the only one who's ever loved me for who I am, John,' Face said softly, his voice breaking, `and I thought I'd lost you forever. Then you come back from the dead, and joke about it!'
`I was wrong to do that, baby,' Hannibal said, pulling the younger man closer. He should have realized that Face's heart was a fragile thing, and the shaking body he held in his arms told him he'd screwed up badly. `I should have known you'd be listening to the radio, and that you'd be grieving. Please forgive me, baby.'
Face started to shove Hannibal away, but the older man held him even tighter so Face cried out his pain into his lover's shoulder.
`Don't you ever do that to me again, John! I can't go through that again!'
`Never, Tem; never,' Hannibal promised, rubbing his lover's back, soothing him.
When Hannibal and Face returned to the lodge, both were calm and ready to get down to business.
`Everythin' okay, Colonel?' B.A. inquired softly. Hannibal just nodded.
`Sean,' Brett said, `while you were out, Sam Katz called. They caught the chief on tape right where Arthur said he'd be. Tom's got it now.'
`Great!' Hannibal said. `Now, where are those papers you collected?'
`Right here,' the reporter told him, holding up a briefcase. Hannibal took it, his eyes shining.
`Time to beard the lion in his den,' he announced. `Brett, call Tom and tell him to meet us at the mayor's office. Stay here until you hear from us.'
`All right, Sean. We'll be waiting for your call.'
Hannibal turned to his men.
In the conference room at City Hall, Deputy Christopher Murray watched as Mayor Torby uncorked yet another bottle of champagne. He took note of all the bankers, investors, and other would-be parasites waiting to suck his hometown dry.
`Well,' said Torby with a smile, `this is certainly a Memorial Day to remember.'
`Yeah,' said one of the bankers. `Now you can run the town the way you want to, without interference from that goodie-two-shoes reporter, or anyone else.'
`Aren't you worried about some sort of backlash when they found out who the trigger-man was?' asked a second.
`Nah,' said Reed. `I don't care who knows it. We've got `em cowed, and no one'll dare to go against us now.'
No sooner were the words out of his mouth when the door crashed open and three men armed with semi-automatic weapons burst in. Quickly, they scattered to strategic points in the room. The leader let loose a volley towards the ceiling, grabbing everyone's attention.
`I hate to burst your bubble, pal,' announced Hannibal. `You may have some of the people of this town scared, but we're a whole other kettle of fish.'
`W...Wallace?!' Torby stuttered.
`Sorry, Mayor,' Hannibal smirked, `I'm not Brett, though I was on the float today. Like Mark Twain, the report of our death has been greatly exaggerated. Now, everyone back up against the wall!'
`Murray!' yelled Reed, `arrest these clowns! Charge `em with weapons possession, endangering public safety, and anything else you can think of!'
`Sorry, Chief,' Murray said, pulling out several sets of handcuffs. `You picked the wrong errand boy. But it'll sure give me pleasure to put you behind bars in your own jail.'
`Hey, listen, guys,' said the deputy mayor. `Let us go, and we'll make it worth your while. I mean c'mon, there's plenty here for everyone.'
`Sleaze-balls never learn, do they, Hannibal?' asked Face.
`No, they sure don't,' the older man replied. `Tom?! Bring `em on in!'
Tom Atkins entered the room, accompanied by Brett Wallace and Judge Hargrove. Several more deputies followed, and promptly joined Murray in securing the room.
`Well, do you believe me now, Judge?' Brett asked.
Hargrove just shook his head.
`I guess I owe you an apology, Brett,' the judge replied. `You hear about this sort of thing in the big cities. I guess I just couldn't believe it could happen in a small town like ours.'
`Well, here's the proof in black and white,' said Atkins, handing over the briefcase Brett had given Hannibal. `Inside you'll also find a videotape taken this afternoon, showing Chief Reed here on the roof of the bank, trying to murder Brett during the parade.' Reed groaned when he heard that. Tom crossed to where Murray was putting handcuffs on his former boss. `Y'know, Chief, I was always dead-set against your little reign of terror. But when you threatened my family - well, that just made me all the more determined to see you brought down. Have a great time in jail!' With that, he turned his back and walked away. `Murray! Get them out of here!'
Murray lost no time escorting the blustering mayor and his cronies out of the room and into the waiting squad cars.
`Tom,' said Hargrove, `I'm appointing you Acting Chief of Police. Of course, with the mayor and deputy mayor both under indictment, it looks like I'm going to have to call a special election to replace them.' He looked at Brett. `I wouldn't be surprised if you were elected, should you decide to run for the office.'
Brett looked out the window at the police cars pulling out, headed for the jail.
`You know,' he said, `I just might do that!'
A black Chevy Malibu pulled up outside the local post office, and three men got out.
`You sure `bout this, Colonel?' B.A. asked. Hannibal nodded.
`Your mother deserves to hear, Sergeant,' he said. `It's been a while since I wrote to Elizabeth, but I'm sure they've stayed in touch, knowing my sister. So let's see if Samantha can help us.'
They were just entering the lobby when an olive-drab sedan pulled up. Immediately, they headed in different directions as a young man in an MP's uniform stepped inside and headed for the counter.
Samantha turned from where she was talking with Brett.
`Can I help you?' she asked as the young man reached into the large manila envelope he was carrying.
`Yes, ma'am,' he said as Hannibal sneaked a glance in his direction. `We're delivering these to all post offices. Normally we mail them, but there's a Colonel Lynch who wants these delivered personally, to make sure they arrive.' With that, he handed her a large poster folded in quarters.
Samantha took it, her curiosity peaked. Unfolding it, she shared it with her husband and assistant. She prayed that the surprise she felt didn't show on her face.
`All right, Corporal,' she said, noticing the stripes on his sleeve. `I'll care of this.'
`Thank you, ma'am,' the young man said, then turned to leave.
As he got into his car and turned the key, Hannibal and his men sauntered over to the counter, filled with trepidation. They could see the way their hosts were studying the poster.
After an awkward silence, Samantha spoke.
`I don't know what this is all about, but I judge a person by his actions, not by what someone tells me about him. As far as my family and I are concerned, we have no cause to question our trust in you. Without your help, I'd be a widow, my children would have no father, and our town would still be in the grip of corrupt politicians lining their own pockets with our money. I can't thank you enough.'
With that, she tore up the poster and threw it in the trash.
`Suffice it to say,' Hannibal said as his men breathed a sigh of relief, `that what we did, we did under orders. Now, the government has turned its back on us, but we hope to rectify that situation some day. In the meantime, we do what we can to uphold what we believe in, and make an honest living for ourselves. Thank you for believing in us.'
`No sweat!' Brett told them pointing to the trash bin. `We never saw those guys!' His laughter broke the tension. `Oh, by the way, we took up a collection at the paper, and some people chipped in around town. It's not much but hopefully it will get you down the road a little ways." Brett held out an envelope to Hannibal. `And the remaining members of the town board voted to call in an independent auditor to go over the books. So you could be looking at a sizable reward after all the legal wrangling makes its way through the courts.'
`Thank you.' Hannibal took the envelope and slid it into his jacket pocket without even looking at it. `But now,' he said, motioning B.A. forward, `we have a favor to ask of you. Albert wants to mail a letter, but it can't go there directly. Is there any way we can, say, send it the scenic route?
`Hand it over,' Samantha said with a smile, thinking of the friends she'd made at a recent Postmasters Convention. `I just may have a way.'
`Uh, Hannibal,' Face reminded him, `don't you think we should get going?'
`Sure, Face.' Turning to the Wallaces, he held out his hand. `He's right. It's time we were moving on. But I have to say that it's been an honor working with someone who stands up for what he believes in, and doesn't back down when things get rough.'
Brett pulled Samantha close as he reached to shake hands with the men who'd saved his town.
`You just take care of yourselves, y'hear?' he said. `We'll never forget you.'
`Did you see that poster?' Face whined as he got into the back seat of the Malibu. `That wasn't even a decent picture of me!'
B.A. giggled as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the road that led out of town.
`Now, Face,' Hannibal chided with a grin, `you know the authorities always choose the worst photos to use on their "Wanted" posters. You should be grateful. It'll work in our favor.'
`I know, Hannibal,' Face sighed. `But it's still disgusting to think that that's the image of me that'll be plastered all over the country.'
`Speakin' o' which, man,' B.A. said, `that means Lynch is startin' to play hardball.'
`Well, guys, I guess this means it's time to head north again,' Hannibal said. `At least it'll be a lot warmer than Minnesota.'
Face was about to agree when he looked down the road.
`Uh-oh!' he murmured.
Up ahead was the military sedan that had been at the post office.
Corporal McDermott slowed somewhat as a black Chevy station wagon passed him on the left. A puzzled frown crossed his face as three hands waved to him out their respective windows. Putting it down to the friendliness of the locals, he waved back as the car disappeared in the distance.
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