What happens in the field stays in the field - old military maxim
"Our country has a legitimate interest in preventing more leftist countries in Central America," Carla answered Face. "The FMLN in Nicaragua should be enough of an example for you."
"The leftists didn't kill Anaya," Frankie muttered.
"What was that?" Stockwell asked.
Face answered. "He said the leftists didn't kill Anaya. And he's right, and you know it. They also didn't kill the nuns, or Bishop Romero."
Stockwell cocked his head. "I wouldn't have pegged you for a sympathizer, Peck, whatever Santana might be."
With Stockwell Face ignored the swipe at Frankie, controlling what he showed. "I'm not. I don't have any politics; I can't afford them."
"But I don't like getting mixed up in other people's civil wars." He paused, then added, "I've had enough of that."
"I'm not talking about assassinating Cristiani. Or D'Aubuisson, for that matter; I'm just interested in recovering US property." He smiled thinly. "If it offends you so much, you don't have to go - I'm sure we can come to an arrangement -"
"He'll get over it," Hannibal interrupted. "They both will. Am I right?" He looked at Face, then Frankie, one dark-gray eyebrow raised. After they nodded - and they did, of course, both nod - he turned back to Stockwell and his aide. "So, what property and where is it?"
Carla opened her portfolio and laid a large photo on the table. Murdock grabbed it, his eyes lighting up. Stockwell had actually told Hannibal to make sure the pilot was there, and now they knew why. "Oh, purty," Murdock crooned.
BA's reaction was just the opposite. "I ain't getting' in that no matter what."
"Oh, big guy," Murdock said, "you won't have to. This is a one-man lady."
"And you can fly it," Stockwell said, rather than asked.
Murdock looked offended. "Of course I can."
"What if it's not flyable?" Hannibal asked the practical questions, always.
"It should be," Stockwell said, in his `don't ask more questions' tone.
So Hannibal, of course, did. "Not shot down, then?"
"No," Stockwell said with that little smug smile.
"And they'll have fuel there?"
Murdock looked up from the photo at that question and chimed in with one of his own. "Enough fuel to come back here? Or someplace else?"
Now Face was worried. Bad enough that Stockwell intended on them splitting up, but the notion of Murdock on his own in Guatemala or Mexico - he pulled himself up. Obviously Stockwell wanted that plane. Wherever Murdock flew it to, there'd be plenty of operatives there.
"We won't be able to get you into the US," Carla said, turning on the slide projector. "There's an airstrip in Oaxaca, here -" she flashed a second slide on the screen, this one showing an inset of an airstrip and its location in southern Mexico.
"That doesn't look very high-tech," Face said dubiously.
"Equipment is on its way as we speak," Stockwell said. "By the time you get to El Salvador, everything will be in place."
"So, plenty of fuel, then?" Hannibal repeated. Face shook his head, though nobody was looking at him. There'd be fuel; Stockwell wasn't about to let that plane be lost for that detail. If he'd thought it necessary he'd have had Murdock fly to El Salvador in a Starlifter, take it back out that way.
"Fuel won't be a problem," Stockwell said with finality. "The problem is getting you to the plane."
"And making sure that he can get off the ground," Carla said, her tone relegating all the talk about fuel to nonsense and possibly even an insult. Perhaps she thought it was - after all, it would be her job to have the details at her fingertips, and all this harping on whether the plan would work...
Am I actually sympathizing with Carla? Face caught himself comparing their jobs and gave himself a mental shake. Don't forget you don't actually do any of that anymore. Don't forget why. Don't forget whose fault that is. He forced himself to look at the screen, the generic Quonset huts and parking lots, and tried to calculate how many El Salvadoran soldiers might be there. Then that hit him and he asked, in the next pause, "Who's actually got it? Aren't we sort of propping up the government? Or don't they appreciate us properly?"
"They appreciate us."
"So it's the leftists?" Frankie asked.
"Is that going to be a problem, Santana?" Stockwell was ice.
"It won't be." Hannibal preempted Frankie, and decisively at that.
"I'd like to hear it from him," Stockwell said to Hannibal, his eyes still on Frankie.
"It won't be," Frankie said obligingly. "I can't afford politics, either." He grinned and added, "I just miss mine more, I guess."
"I don't care how much you miss them as long as they're gone."
"I have no problem with going to El Salvador and taking anything you tell us to take," Frankie said seriously.
"Good enough," Hannibal said. "Right, General?"
"Good enough," Stockwell agreed.
"You know," Murdock had been ignoring the byplay, studying the photo. "There's something very odd about this airplane."
"Yes, there is," Stockwell agreed. "And you will never tell anyone what it is. Is that clear?"
"Who'd listen to me?" Murdock asked.
"Let's not find out, hmm?"
"Okey-dokey," Murdock agreed amiably; he was well and truly hooked by the plane. It was starting to bother Face, though: separating the pilot and that plane from the rest of them seemed to be a key part of the plan. That thought chased itself around in the back of Face's mind while the briefing continued.
"I got a question," BA said. "You real sure this plane okay to fly. That mean it didn't crash, didn't get shot down. What happen to the pilot?"
"Good question. Carla."
"Revere, Captain Trent Revere," said Carla, looking at Stockwell as she clicked through several more aerial - satellite, Face corrected himself - shots of the camp that Hannibal would want to study later and stopped on a face that Face hated at first sight. In his mid-twenties, Revere looked broodingly handsome with an incongruously cocky gleam in his eye. Probably a typical zoomie test pilot... though what Carla said next erased that impression. "He was making his third test flight in the Condor. His flight path went absolutely nowhere near Central America. He flew normally for fifteen minutes, then broke radio contact and took off. He landed in El Salvador on his own."
She clicked through to another slide, a rather blurry shot of Revere in civilian clothes. "This was taken in San Salvador this morning. Don't expect to see the good captain there."
"But if you do -"
"You'd like him? I can see that," Hannibal said in his silkiest voice. "It would be extra, because it would complicate things."
"We can work something out, Colonel Smith. I'm sure of it."
"Yes..." Hannibal reached for the map. "In, get Murdock to the plane, cover his takeoff, and out."
"And the secretary will disavow any knowledge," Murdock chimed in.
"As always," Stockwell actually acknowledged the reference with a wry smile. "You leave tonight for Santa Ana."
"Tonight?" Face couldn't help saying.
"We have intelligence to the effect that they mean to move the plane in a matter of days. No time to waste. Your transport will be here at 8."
"Uh-huh," Hannibal was already deep in planning.
Two hours later most of the plans were made. Face had gone back and forth in his mind over whether or not to say something, but finally he had to. "Hannibal."
"What?" That was distracted; he didn't stop running his finger along the map while BA looked on.
"I've been thinking."
That got Hannibal's attention; those blue eyes focused on him. "What? You having second thoughts, not feeling up to going? Need another week?"
"No," Face said. "I'm fine. I'm thinking, we should all go to Oaxaca after."
"Wa-ha-ka," Frankie said.
"What?" Face and Hannibal both looked at him.
"Sorry. Just... not Ohks-aca. Wahaka."
They looked at him one moment longer and then, in unison, turned back to each other. "Why?" Hannibal asked.
"Stockwell's very keen on Murdock not talking about that plane. I wouldn't put it past him to tell us he'd crashed in Guatemala."
"And you'd believe it?" Murdock was offended.
"Why wouldn't we, fool?" BA chimed in.
"I don't crash!"
"Murdock, I've seen you crash. I've been on board!" Face said indignantly.
"Not with a plane in good condition!" Murdock protested.
"The point, lieutenant?"
"I wouldn't put it past Stockwell to tell us Murdock never made it, show us satellite shots of a crash, and all the time have the plane in storage and Murdock dead."
"That would be bad," Murdock agreed, no longer insulted.
Hannibal didn't look convinced, but then, he'd always trusted Stockwell more than Face ever had - or would. "That would be a lot of trouble for him to go to - and rather risky."
"But I wouldn't put it past him."
"Face, your paranoia is taking over your life."
"All I'm saying is, if we all go to - Wahaka, he won't be able to hide the plane. He'll have to trust Murdock to keep quiet."
"I never -"
"Of course not, captain," Hannibal said.
"This isn't about you," Face added. "It's about Stockwell - he's the one I don't trust. And if we all head for Oaxaca -"
"I could call 'em on my way in, ask if you were there yet, not that you will be," Murdock said helpfully.
"There is that," Hannibal said. "It must be three hundred miles across Guatemala; without Murdock we'll be at least a couple of days."
"I could find someplace else to park it and wait," Murdock said. "I don't mind."
"Stockwell might," BA said, saving Face from having to admit it. "Plus, ain't they havin' a civil war in Guatemala, too?"
"Who isn't these days?" Hannibal asked rhetorically, then qualified it. "At least in Central America. We're going to have to deal with that however we get out."
"Why don't we tell him to put a helicopter there?" Frankie put in.
Hannibal looked at him with a trace of surprise. "Where?"
"In Oaxaca. If he can take that airfield over so Murdock can fly that fighter or whatever it is in, he could have a copter there. Not a -" he hesitated, looking for the word, and Murdock jumped in.
"Not a gunship, but a good old Huey? No, wait, that's no good. Not enough range - I could probably get back to El Salvador, pushing it, but then I'd be dry. But a Chinook - that would work, Hannibal. Those babies got twice the range we'd need. We could even not go back to Stockwell's Oaxacan airstrip, go on further north, fool anybody tracking us. Acapulco, take a ship back - no, that's the Pacific. Cancn." His eyes lit up. "We could spend a night in Cancn; Stockwell could put us on a boat back - except he probably wouldn't."
"Don't get carried away, Captain. But that's a good idea," he nodded at Frankie. "Can you fly one of them without a copilot?"
"It's not recommended, but sure," Murdock said blithely. "All copilots do is wait for you to have a heart attack, anyway, that and the boring stuff."
"I'd sooner drive," BA said. "Civil war be safer than a crazy man in a helicopter."
"You can drive across war-torn Central America on your own," Face said with relief. "Personally, the sight of one of those big green ugly whirlybirds dropping out of the sky always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Particularly when people are shooting at me."
"Hannibal," BA said warningly.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Hannibal pronounced.
So it was decided, BA's demurral notwithstanding. Face was only about half-soothed, but he'd planted the seed. And then Murdock leaned over and said, sotto-voce, "Don't worry, Faceman; I'll be careful. Stockwell'll want that plane more'n he wants to gamble on me."
"I hope you're right."
"We'll make it clear, lieutenant," Hannibal shut down the discussion. "BA, you and I will review the transportation requirements; Murdock, take these charts. Face, you and Frankie start packing the weapons and your explosives." He looked at his watch. "We've got an hour and a half. I want everyone packed and ready by 6:30. I'm going to call Stockwell about the Chinook."
So Face and Frankie went to the gunroom. That call Hannibal was making was a source of irritation: Face still wasn't reconciled to being shut out of the procurement end; much as he'd always complained about it, it had been his job. Hannibal had been sarcastic with him once about it, saying `Well, now, Face, if we had access to unlimited funds and could just buy whatever we wanted, we wouldn't exactly need you, would we?' but as with all sarcasm, it had been built on truth. Now they did - at least so far Stockwell had never refused to give them what Hannibal asked for - and it left Face doing nothing that any of Stockwell's people couldn't have done - and in fact had done half a dozen times already. He'd tried to deploy with them two missions earlier, but Hannibal was having none of it, and his methods of testing Face's fitness had been to the point and left him collapsed in painful exhaustion. He was still not a hundred percent, but he wasn't staying behind one more time. Seven was just too many... All he needed was for Stockwell to start wondering exactly why he was still on the payroll. Or Hannibal - Face didn't want to be kept on out of pity, or even affection. So no complaining this time, no matter what.
Inside the gun room Frankie gave him a long look; Face braced for another question on his health, but all Frankie said was, "Join the army and see the world, huh? Not that I joined, but I am seeing the world. And I always did want to see Cuscatlán."
"Is that near Cancún? Because I wouldn't count on even going there, let alone having any sight-seeing time."
Frankie grinned. "No. El Salvador. Before the Spanish got there it was called Cuscatlán; it means Land of Precious Jewels in Nahuatl."
"In what?" Face said.
"Na-waddle," he repeated carefully. "It's the indigenous language in a lot of Central America, and some of Mexico, too."
"You speak it?" Face was impressed.
"Kinda sorta," Frankie confessed cheerfully. "Some dialects - I can get by in 'em anyway. I've made a lot of movies in Mexico and it comes in really handy to know at least what the locals call things."
"I can see that could work." Face picked up the first gun case. "I don't put in that kind of effort unless I plan to go back, you know?"
Frankie grinned. "You want to live in France?"
"I might enjoy it... What are you laughing at?"
"You." He laughed again. "Home-town boy." He squatted on the floor and started rummaging around in one of his boxes.
"Some of us are born tourists and some aren't." Face started selecting pistols to clean and pack.
Frankie dumped a small armload of detonators, wires, and other stuff on the table. "You mean that about Cancún?"
"Yes," Face said, watching Frankie sort through his equipment. "Why? Did you want to go to Chichen Itza or something?"
"I've been there," Frankie said. "I worked on a Mayan zombie piece three... no, four years ago now. They didn't really let us film there, but the director wanted a lot of color, so they filmed as much as they could - you know, kind of. We didn't actually blow any of it up, of course," he added.
"A Mayan zombie movie? Are you serious?"
"Straight-to-video," Frankie said. "I think they released it in Europe."
"Your career amazes me."
"Hey," Frankie looked up in indignation - probably mock, but Face wasn't entirely sure. "I don't act in them. My work is good."
"I have to admit that."
"Have you seen it? Chichen Itza?"
"No." The silence seemed to ask for elaboration. "I never really wanted to. I guess I was always interested in my own history."
"Stonehenge and castles and stuff? If we go to England we could do that."
For a moment Face actually could see it. The two of them, fog, green grass, a castle and some old stones... "Maybe we could go, someday, when we're done with all this."
"You don't think Stockwell will send us there?"
"To the UK?" Face shook his head. "No, not even Stockwell will jeopardize the special relationship. I think. Not that it matters." Here was the right moment to say what needed to be said. What he hadn't thought about before jumping into this relationship but hadn't really been able to totally shake since. Please, Lord, he thought, you may not totally approve of this, but please, let him understand.
"Because we can't be together."
"What?" Frankie's eyes went wide.
"In the field," Face said hastily, "in the field."
"Oh. That's good." Frankie paused. "Why?"
"Trust me. We can't do it."
"I trust you - but why?"
"There are reasons." Face paused. "Good reasons."
"Three reasons," Face started, but Frankie interrupted him.
"Three? One's enough if it's good. Three means they aren't good - and it doesn't matter how many there are if they aren't good."
"They're all good," Face said.
"They'd have to be. I can think of several times last year when it would have been a really good idea. Like Monte Carlo - you wouldn't have gotten sick."
"Maybe, and don't think you're the only one. But it doesn't work that way."
"Why not?" Frankie uncoupled something and tucked a piece of it into a carrying case before looking up and adding, "Seriously, Temple. Stop just saying there are reasons. Tell me. Why not - or why, or whatever."
"First," Face said, "it's a distraction."
"Sleeping with me is a distraction?"
Frankie's voice had that light, not-saying-what-I-really-think quality that had started bothering Face months earlier. He could hear the undertones: Bad enough if you know this will hurt, worse in a lot of ways if you don't know, and worst of all if you do know and don't care... So, not letting on that it does. The knowledge moved through Face's mind too fast for words and he only analyzed it after he heard himself answering.
"Staring at you and thinking about, if not actively planning for, sleeping with you is a distraction. Slightly, even a bit excitingly, risky if Hannibal's talking about something I should be paying attention to, enjoyable if nothing's going on, and, frankly, more than once over the last month life-saving." At that, Frankie leaned forward over the table and Face gave in and kissed him. Quickly, because the house wasn't empty and the door was open... "That's exactly what I mean," he said after a delicious moment. "It's distracting. In the field, when people might well be trying to kill us, it's a distraction we can't afford."
"Potentially fatal. Yeah, that's pretty good," Frankie admitted. "So why do you need the other two?"
"Well, the fact is that I know me, and while if some guy was standing there saying, `you can get laid and then I'll flip a coin and if it comes up tails I get to shoot you', I would probably say `no thanks', the way it usually works is not really enough to stop me."
"I have noticed."
"Yeah. And I'm getting to know you, too, and if it wasn't stopping me it might not occur to you, either."
"Possible," Frankie sounded rueful. "Though so far death concentrates my attention pretty well." He got up and rummaged around in a box on the floor up against the shelf. "So, what are they?"
"What are what?" Face was - what else - distracted by the sight of Frankie leaning over. "Oh, the other two reasons."
Frankie straightened up, his hands full of gizmos. Face thought he'd have to get to know what they were sometime. "Well, for one, Hannibal is always extremely alert when we're in the field. You think he's alert now?" Frankie sat down, nodding. Face went on. "In the field he misses nothing. If we're thinking about it, he will see it. He will."
Frankie tucked a couple of bits into his case. "That wouldn't be good." He looked up, dark eyes solemn. "So two excellent reasons. Is the third as good?"
Face closed the case on the four Berettas and looked at Frankie. "Better." He'd hoped he wouldn't have to explain it but he'd known better; he'd given it a lot of thought but still found himself choosing his words carefully. "It's the most important."
"More important than potentially fatal?"
"I'm serious, Frankie." Face folded his hands on the gun case. "Things happen in the field, you know what I mean."
"I know." Frankie shrugged fluidly. "I'm not worried about it."
"I can't suddenly stop doing things Hannibal expects me to do. Tells me to do."
"He really would start wondering. And if he's planned on it -"
"Temple, I know. I told you: I'm not worried about it. It's the job. I understand. But it's why I thought... you know. Remind you, remind us both, of what's not the job." Frankie looked down at his detonators - Face did recognize those - and then said, "But I understand why not. It's okay."
"But what I'm talking about is this: things happen that should be forgotten." Frankie looked back up at him. "Things you should leave in the field. I've done it all my life, and you've done it, too. But the thing is - you've never been in the field with someone who matters." Sure. Wimp out on the word, Templeton. He pressed on. "Tangling your personal life up in what happens in the field means you can't leave any of it behind."
"You really mean that."
"I do. Trust me - I know I keep saying that -"
"I do. But I want to understand you, too."
Face got up and picked up the long gun case. Assault rifles, he thought. Maybe a sniper rifle, just in case. He stacked the boxes up on his end of the table and looked across them at Frankie who, having said his piece, was carefully packing explosives. "Franklin."
Frankie looked up at him.
"Odds are - very high, maybe not this trip but real soon, Hannibal's going to come up with a plan that counts on me seducing some woman."
Frankie just nodded.
"And when he does, I'll do it. It won't be what I want - not any more - but I'll do it. And I'll work hard to do it - to succeed at it. And I'll probably enjoy it." He paused, but Frankie only nodded again. "I'll enjoy it because you won't enter my mind. You can't, not if I'm going to do it."
"Temple - I understand that. Like I said, the job's the job. Like the stealing and the... the rest. It's just - what's not the job -"
Face cut him off. "It's all the job. Twenty-four seven. I know what you're thinking, but it won't work. It's like everything else. You package it up and you say, that's the job. That's the service. What happens in the field stays in the field. That's not just permission to do shit you wouldn't do otherwise; it's how you stay sane. Because what happens in the field isn't your choice - it's your mission. Your job. And I know what you want. You want to wipe it out - what did you just say, remind me of what's not the job? But it doesn't work like that. It all gets tangled up. Say I lay some radical senorita to get hold of some base passes, or whatever. Then you sleep with me - and she's there. With us. And every time I think about that time, or you do, she'll be there. Every damned time. Like everything else." He took a deep breath. "I've seen it. It poisons relationships. The only way having an affair with someone in the field works is if it only happens in country. So you and I, we aren't together once we leave here. Not till we get back."
Frankie was quiet for a few minutes. When he finally spoke, he didn't say what Face was expecting. "This is what you meant."
"On the Chesapeake. That first day. `It's a very bad idea,' you said, `and I can no more not do it than I can stop breathing.' I thought you meant something else. But it was this."
"Yes." Face didn't even remember saying it, let alone what he'd meant; things had changed so much - he'd changed so much - that now, emotionally, that day was so long ago it was lost in the haze of old memory. But if he'd meant something else, whatever Frankie had guessed at and thought unimportant, it didn't matter now.
"Okay." Frankie nodded once, decisively. "Okay. If that's how it is, that's how it is."
Face nodded, too. "That's how it needs to be. But I don't mind telling you, I was really hoping we'd get a little more warning..."
"Lieutenant?" Hannibal called down the hallway.
"Almost ready," Face called back. The rifles didn't need cleaning, not really; he'd cleaned them all only three days before. He began packing them away as Frankie finished his own work.
"Half an hour, gentlemen," Hannibal said from the doorway.
"We'll be ready," Face answered.
It was winter in El Salvador, but that didn't mean much. No rain, of course - two days out of three it rained from May to October, according to the files, and only two a month the rest of the year - so there was that, but it was still warm.
74 now, and near 90 later on, Face figured, and dry, not humid, so it was bearable. Thank you, Captain Revere; you might be a traitor but you didn't do it in July.
Not that he'd had much time to do more than notice the temperature, or to get more than the most fleeting impression of El Salvador's new if small airport. They'd arrived just before dawn, thanks to the circuitous flight path they'd flown - DC to Texas to pick up this cargo flight which had also stopped in Mexico, instead of straight in. Not, Face had to admit, that straight in would have worked with all the stuff they were bringing; the government probably didn't appreciate them quite as much as Stockwell had implied, not enough to let them check boxes of guns and explosives in their luggage anyway. The transportation had worked smoothly and gotten them there in good order, all courtesy Stockwell. As were the two olive-drab utility vehicles waiting next to the hangar, nondescript utes that would probably run like Swiss watches. Of course, the forty minutes they'd had to clear customs, pack the two utes, and get on the road had also been courtesy of the general. He didn't expect to get much of an impression of Santa Ana, either. He'd lost track of how many places he'd been in the last year; they all blurred together. He wasn't a born tourist, but when he went somewhere he liked to know he'd been there, liked to be able to name something unique about it, something to make it into a viable entry in the How Many Places Are Like Home competition. Even though the answer was, always, None. But Stockwell's missions were always hurry-up-get-in-get-out... and this one more than most.
They'd had no help from BA, of course. Hannibal and Murdock had wrestled the unconscious sergeant out of the plane and into the first ute while Face and Frankie had fast-talked their way through customs, flashing fake passports and badges and a discreet amount of genuine colns. Stockwell's prints were all over how easy it was, but whether he could buy bringing in a drugged-up whatever-they'd-think-BA-was was open to doubt. By the time anyone had looked at BA, he'd seemed to be okay behind the wheel of one of the utes, and none of the agents were really interested in hiking across the tarmac, or even making Face do it - and take his money with him. Unfortunately, their cooperation meant Face and Frankie had to shift their share of equipment after all - though it was as small a share as Face could manage to make it.
He was unearthing the camera case from under the bags where Hannibal or Murdock had stowed it when the former came over to them, Murdock trailing a step behind. "Are we about ready to get underway?"
Face shrugged, dropped the camera case on the hood, and held out his hand. Murdock put the clipboard with the checklist into it. A quick glance was all Face needed to collate it with his own. "Everything that should have been here waiting for us was, so yeah. We're ready."
"Good." Hannibal glanced around, checking the area one last time. "Next stop, Santa Ana, or points nearby."
"Breakfast in town, Hannibal," Murdock protested.
"I told you to eat on the plane."
Murdock made a ludicrous face. "C-rats? Hannibal, that's not food."
"The rest of us ate," Hannibal said implacably, then added, "We'll get something in Santa Ana."
"In a hurry?" Murdock asked.
Hannibal fixed him with a cold blue eye. "Yes, captain. You heard Stockwell: they're moving the plane soon. It's at least two hours and maybe three from here. If we get there too late, there'll be much unhappiness, and I don't want any of it. Got that?"
"Got it, colonel. Burnin' daylight. Breakfast in Santa Ana. Let's saddle up!"
Face shook his head. Hannibal grinned. "That's the spirit. Let's go."
Face watched him walk back to the second ute and then turned and gestured at the driver's side door. "You drive," he said to Frankie. "You can read the road signs."
Frankie hiked an eyebrow - the first time he'd done that since they'd left the house in Langley. Face was glad to see it; once their hands had completely, genuinely by accident brushed when they were shifting crates in the ute and Frankie had backed away like he'd been burnt. Thank God Hannibal hadn't been anywhere around - he'd have been all over that. Face had to make sure Frankie understood they had to be normal, or what would pass for it. At least there was a long ride ahead of them to talk.
He picked up the camera case and turned to open the passenger door and stopped. Murdock was still standing there.
"What?" Face asked.
"I'm riding with you two."
Frankie leaned on the roof, looking amused. Face shot him a glance before turning to Murdock and shaking his head. "I think Hannibal's expecting you with him."
"Yeah," Frankie said, and he sounded amused, too. "He's not gonna have anybody to talk with."
Oh, don't say that; he'll suggest you go, Face thought, but Murdock didn't. Of course not, he knew how little either of them wanted that - Frankie or Hannibal. Besides, Face admitted, not only did Murdock actually like Frankie, of late he hadn't displayed any great desire to be alone with Face... Which was good. Really.
But Murdock didn't suggest Face go join Hannibal. Instead the pilot just shook his head and said, "True. But I don't want to be in that truck with BA when he wakes up."
Frankie laughed, and after only a moment Face did too. "I don't blame you," he said, and he didn't. Sure, BA had gotten easier to tranq for the outward bound leg of any trip - had to have, under Stockwell. But that didn't make him enjoy any of it any more, and in fact exacerbated things. Like the rest of them, BA was being coerced into doing things that he didn't particularly want - and with him, it was worse. Which meant he was liable to actually hit someone nowadays, instead of just threatening it. And considering that Murdock was the reason they were the ones going after this objective instead of some other government team, he just might act on the impulse to punch the pilot into next week, or at any rate through the ute's back window. Face would understand the impulse, too; it wasn't like the old days, when they were helping nuns or orphans or little farmers and shopkeepers. And for all that BA was, in the philosophical sense, absurdly patriotic, and though he hadn't said anything when Frankie and Face had sparred lightly with Stockwell, nonetheless he was well and truly tired of mixing into other peoples' politics. That he had to fly to do it wasn't the only reason, or even the main one.
"Oh, no," Face said. "You can ride with us, but you're in the middle."
"Sometime this morning," Hannibal called.
Murdock heaved a huge sigh and then climbed into the ute. Frankie slid in next to him and started the engine. Face raised his hand in Hannibal's direction and got in, putting the camera case on the floor between his feet. Then he shut the door and closed himself into the cab with Murdock and Frankie.
He'd wanted to talk to Frankie but that wasn't going to happen now. On the other hand, Murdock would certainly prevent any awkward silences. Or unfortunate digressions. He looked out the window at the airport and then back at the ute following them. He was suddenly seized by a fierce wish that they hadn't come. It wasn't just that his shoulder hurt, which it did of course (he'd have to take something as soon as no one was watching); it was the whole thing. If BA didn't want to be here, he wasn't alone.
Frankie eased the ute out of the parking area onto the service road, Hannibal right behind him, and then turned north. Murdock leaned over and craned his neck to read the road sign on the other side of the road, naming where they'd just been. "Comalapa. That would be funnier if it were Coma-napa."
"Maybe," Frankie said, but I don't think they were going for laughs."
Murdock shrugged, leaning forward again and looking around. "Face," he said after a minute, "I've been thinking about what you were saying."
"Good. Which thing?" he added.
"You know, about the plane and Stockwell. I don't think he's as creepy as you do, but he's creepy enough... Anyway, I don't want to die, so I was thinking. Hannibal's plan doesn't really change things. He can promise us a Chinook and not deliver one. Or rig it to crash."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, I was thinking. Maybe I could not go to Oaxaca."
"Wahaka," Face said and caught the flash of Frankie's grin on Murdock's other side. "And how would that help?"
"Carla didn't say it like that."
"I know. Carla mispronounces a lot of places."
"I suppose we all do," Murdock said. "Anyway, I thought I might land the plane someplace else and hitch to Oaxaca" - this time he pronounced it correctly - "and not tell him where it was till we were all back."
"Hannibal would not like that," Face conceded reluctantly.
"No. And anyway, I don't know where I could find to land that lady - she's special. I don't know exactly how, not yet, but landing at some little airstrip in Back of Nowhere, Mexico, might not be smart. Might not even be possible, depending on how much runway she needs."
"Plus," Frankie put in, "he'd probably find it."
"And if he didn't, and he lost it..." Face shook his head. That would not be good.
"He'd kill us," Murdock said. "So, I think we just have to figure that we're too valuable. And that you won't believe him if I don't show up."
Face leaned back against the seat. "You're right."
"We are, you know. Who else could he send on jaunts like this one?" He waved his arms, and the ute swerved slightly.
"Watch it," Frankie said.
"Sorry." He turned back to Face. "But we are."
"You better be sure. We're gambling your life on it."
"What's new, Faceman?"
What was new, indeed. Face sighed.
"Anyway, I'll be there with the Chinook." He patted Face's knee. "It'll be fine."
The ute didn't swerve but Frankie did accelerate pretty hard. Face felt an unfamiliar mix of amusement and warmth. "Watch it," he said. "You don't want to get pulled over for speeding."
"I won't be," he said, but eased off the pedal a bit. "Whoever supplied these trucks, they look too government for a cop to pull over, and the army wouldn't be worried about speeding."
"That's not that reassuring," Face said.
Frankie laughed. "You want reassuring? Here?"
"I don't want it. I'm just saying, that wasn't."
Frankie shook his head but didn't answer. Murdock looked from Face to Frankie and then shrugged and looked back at Face. "The way I see it, we don't have to worry until we get to Santa Ana and have to get onto the base. This is just a drive in the mountains."
"I expect you're right," Face said.
They were quiet for a few minutes, and then Murdock stared at something through the windshield, turning to follow it and almost squashing Face against the door. "Ohhhh, look!" he said. "Is that a condor?"
"No," said Frankie when Face didn't say anything except "Get off and sit down."
"Did you see it? It looks like a condor." Murdock was looking out the back window, twisting his body to get a better view.
"There aren't any condors in El Salvador," Frankie said. "They're moutain birds."
"These are mountains."
"Real mountains. Like the Andes," Frankie said. "That was a vulture, what you saw."
"Too bad," Murdock said. "I wanted to see a condor in the wild."
"Maybe you will, someday," Face said. "If they manage to breed them successfully, maybe we'll have some in California again one day." He paused. "And maybe Stockwell will send us to mess with Pinochet."
"Oh, don't even joke about that," Frankie said.
"Who says I'm joking? And Murdock, please sit still." That as Murdock leaned across him to look at the sky again.
"Face, let me sit by the window."
Face froze. Normally he'd let Murdock have the window, because he wanted it, and because if he had to ride next to Murdock then at least he could have Frankie on his other side distracting him from Murdock. But that - wanting Frankie against him - was new, and he'd spent most of the last year not wanting to be next to Frankie. But he would have let Murdock have the window anyway, probably, wouldn't he?
"This road is going to be mighty up and down and side to side," Frankie cut into Face's thoughts. "Let him have the window."
Face sighed mightily and pushed back against the seat. "He hasn't even eaten," he grumbled. Frankie just grinned and Murdock raised up and let Face slip under him while he moved sideways. As he'd suspected, the ute wasn't big enough for three to sit without contact. As he'd - what? feared? anticipated? - even through the olive drab fatigues they were wearing, he was vividly aware of Frankie's body. Oh yeah. This was going work so damned well. He looked at Frankie's hand - elegant, brown, long-fingered - as he changed gears for the first of what promised to be many hills and sighed internally. Then he pulled out the map. El Salvador had departments, not states or districts; they were in La Paz. He found Santa Ana (in Santa Ana, didn't that get confusing?). CA 1 - well, not California, obviously. Central America, he was going to assume, since it kept going across the border. So, take this - the 38, not a great road for the only way out of the airport, to San Salvador and pick up the 1 there -
"Is that a volcano?"
"Face, you didn't even look," Murdock complained.
"I didn't have to," he said. "There are at least twenty volcanoes in just this country, and four of them have erupted in the last century." He heard himself supplying far too much information but couldn't stop; at least he could do the intelligence and background checks, at least he could know stuff... "Where we're going there's one called Izalco that erupted for 200 years straight before it stopped, and then it erupted again about twenty years ago. So I'm sure you're looking at one." But he looked out the window, following Murdock's pointing finger. "Yes, that's a volcano."
"Is it alive?"
"How would I know? I'm not a volcanoologist. But I think they'd have signs up," he hastened to calm Murdock. "They knew weeks in advance with Mount Saint Helens."
"Crazy mountains, earthquakes," Murdock said. "You two must feel right at home."
"Not exactly," Face said, but it wasn't the complete truth. The landscape was familiar, somewhat. More exaggerated, of course, but the mountains here were the result of the same forces that had shaped California. Those lakes on the map were in the calderas of volcanoes, and his guidebook said that just two years ago there'd been an earthquake that resulted in 1,500 deaths, 10,000 injuries, and 100,000 people left homeless. That was a helluvan earthquake. Coalinga, back in '83, hadn't killed anybody, and Whittier Narrows, just last year, just three. An earthquake that killed 1,500 people? Maybe that was because it happened down here, where the infrastructure wasn't so good - the magnitude was about the same, after all. Whatever; Face really hoped they wouldn't have another while he was here. Earthquakes they couldn't predict as well as eruptions, after all.
Plate tectonics: Face could remember when that transformation of the way people looked at the earth had come about. The planet had suddenly gone from a world of unexplainable catastrophes to a living, breathing thing that shook with earthquakes and brimmed over with lava, building mountains and moving continents in accordance to natural laws. Face appreciated that. If you were going to get smacked around, it helped to know there was a reason behind it, something besides 'you made God mad...'. Of course, smart people stayed out of the danger zones... And yet Face was content to live right in the middle of one. Go figure... Danger. That was just another name for The Jazz.
Though Face was starting to think he preferred his jazz with a lower-case J. Must be old age, he thought wryly; time was he could get shot and not mind. Well, shot a little bit, anyway. He looked out the window past Frankie's profile and wondered just when he'd stopped being the kid. He wasn't old, but he was getting older. Well, aren't we all?
Still, Murdock had come surprisingly close to the mark. It wasn't the landscape, but with his lover on one side and his best friend on the other, he did feel almost at home... A new, pleasant, and somewhat scary feeling. Hopefully the scary would keep him from getting lost in the pleasant until the new wore off. Maybe he shouldn't have come along. Maybe he couldn't have told Hannibal he needed to get his emotional feet under him, that a month wasn't enough to be ready, but he could have blamed the injury, begged off... No. In the first place, he hadn't realized it, and more importantly he couldn't have stayed in Langley again, worried sick about Frankie, about Murdock, about all of them - Would you stop it, Peck? Not the time, not the place. He took a deep breath and focused back on the road map, letting Murdock's chatter wash over him and Frankie do the answering.
As they approached San Salvador Face reached for the camera bag. According to the map he might get a shot of a road sign for a souvenir. He pulled off the lens cap and focused, waiting. There: a road sign for Cuscatln Department. He didn't even try to pronounce the town listed on the road sign - Cojutepeque, probably not Spanish - in his mind, since that road led out of San Salvador in the exact opposite direction they were headed in. Too bad for Frankie, he thought as he snapped a photo of the sign; didn't look like he'd get to see the place.
"What'd you take a picture of?" Murdock asked. "The road sign?"
He shrugged as he capped the lens again. "BA can have it for his scrabook," he said, strapping the case shut and putting it back down by Murdock's feet. When he sat up he found Frankie's dark eyes on him.
But though Frankie's voice was warm his words were neutral. "Coyote Mountain. Perfect choice - for you."
Face wasn't sure exactly what to say to that, but he didn't have to say anything.
"Cojutepeque," Murdock gave it a Tex-Mex pronunciation, coyote-pekeh, "that's Coyote Mountain? Peque is mountain? I thought sierra was mountain."
"Sierra is a range," Frankie said. "Montaa is mountain. But tepec is Nahuatl for mountain, not Spanish."
"Wait," Murdock said, his voice eager. "So it's not coyote-peque, it's coyo-tepec? Coyote's coyo?"
"A coyote is cojotl. The TL just means it's a plain noun. You lose it when it's plural, or possessive, or anything but plain. Coyotes is cojomeh."
"That's cool," Murdock said. He picked up the map from the dashboard where Face had put it. "So this, uh, Quetzaltepeque coming up after San Salvador is what, Snake Mountain? Quetzal is snake, right, like Quetzalcoatl?"
Frankie shook his head. "No. Quetzalcoatl is feathered serpent, all right, but coatl is the snake part. Quetzal means, uh, well it's a kind of bird, really. I think it means a long feather."
"So this Lago de Coatepeque up here is Snake Mountain Lake?"
"It would be," Frankie agreed.
"That's one of your volcanoes," Face decided to join the conversation. "In fact, they both are."
"But they're not near Santa Ana... That one's Ilamatepec?" Murdock craned his neck to look at Frankie, who obliged him with,
Murdock then looked at Face. "You said Izalco."
"Here." Face pulled the guidebook out of his pocket. Murdock seized it avidly and started thumbing through the index. Face regarded him a little warily. A few years ago this would have signalled Murdock's conviction that he was a geologist or something, and led to chasing him up a volcano. Now it just meant he was fascinated, either by the language or the volcanoes or maybe both, and it would probably lead to nothing more exciting than Murdock badgering Frankie into expanding his vocabulary. It was odd, still, not to have to worry about Murdock.
The silence wasn't absolute - Murdock was flipping pages and whistling every now and again, and the engine was anything but quiet - but nothing was making a demand on Face. He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes for a moment. Only a moment, because he felt something on his wrist, brushing lightly. He opened his eyes and Frankie moved his hand back onto the steering wheel, while looking at Face's shoulder and asking a question with a nod and an expressive glance.
Face shook his head, but just barely, letting his eyes do most of it. I'm fine, was the message. Sure you are, was the answer delivered by an eloquent eyebrow. Face shrugged with his left shoulder. Fine enough.
Frankie gave him one last look, then seemed to accept it and turned his attention back to the road. Face glanced sideways at Murdock; the pilot was absorbed in the map and not paying the other two any attention. Good enough. Face closed his eyes and leaned back again. Just for a moment.
Face woke up to a hand shaking his shoulder. Dammit, he hadn't meant to fall asleep. Murdock was saying, "Wake up, Facey - here comes Hannibal."
Frankie was already out of the ute. Face and Murdock scrambled to join him, Face taking a quick look around. They were parked under the trees well off the road in what Face assumed was the first spot Hannibal had selected on the map. BA was dragging the camouflage kits out of the other ute. "You all give BA a hand," Hannibal said. "I'm going to take a quick look around; we'll do something a bit more thorough once the nets are up."
Face waited till Hannibal had faded into the trees and Murdock and Frankie had joined BA in undoing camo bags. Then he rummaged around in the ute's glove box until he found the industrial strength aspirin and dry-swallowed two. He took another moment to shake himself fully awake and headed over to start unfolding a camo net.
Back in the army, he'd only watched the nets put up, of course, being an officer. But BA had made sure he'd learned how - Face had lost track of the number of times he'd fought his way through putting them up by himself, which wasn't easy. They went up much more smoothly with three or four - two on the poles and one (two was better) unfurling the nets to be raised. Once they were up the nets provided a shaded area to work under and kept the utes from being spotted, as long as no one flew over with infrared sensors, which wasn't likely. This time, with four working, the nets went up smoothly, and by the time Hannibal got back they were done with the main two.
Hannibal nodded in acknowledgement and said, "Lieutenant, grab some binoculars and come with me. Sergeant, you too. Captain - you and Frankie finish the camouflage and start unloading the trucks."
Face strapped on a sidearm before picking up the binocs. Hannibal had one, of course, and BA was carrying an M-16. The three of them ducked under the camo netting and then Hannibal led the way for a hundred yards or so along the hillside where they were parked. Most of the trees were pines with some scattered deciduous trees starting to lose their leaves; none were truly tall. Face took a deep breath, savoring the clean smell, and was grateful for their relative shortness, knowing what was coming.
"Get up there, lieutenant," Hannibal said. "Tell me what you see."
Face suppressed a sigh. He hated climbing trees. But neither Hannibal or BA was going to do it, so it was part of his job. His shoulder protested, but the aspirin was kicking in. Halfway up the tree, he had to laugh at himself: here was something he did that Carla and Stockwell couldn't provide. Take what you can get, Templeton, he told himself as he braced himself between two branches and uncapped the binoculars.
The camp below was familiar from the photographs Carla had brought them. Three Quonset huts - no; as he got a better look at them he could tell they weren't made of iron; some kind of temporary pre-fab huts, wood and probably canvas or something like that - one big enough to hold a fighter plane, the others apparently an office and a barracks of sorts, judging by what he could see through the windows and doors. Tents. A few trucks and a jeep. A couple of dozen olive-drab-clad soldiers milling about in an unorganized manner. While he watched, another truck pulled up and men began jumping out of the back. As the men formed up a ragged line, others began climbing into the back of the truck. Huh. He'd seen that dynamic before.
Face slung the binoculars over his shoulder and climbed back down. As he dropped the last foot or so he said, "New men just got in."
"Really?" Hannibal raised an eyebrow. "That's interesting." He paused a moment, then came to a decision. "BA, stay here and make sure no one comes up this way. Face," he jerked his head in a come-on gesture and headed back toward the utes.
Face followed, wondering what the colonel was thinking. He doubted he'd have to wait long to find out. He watched Hannibal, musing about how the man was the most adaptable person he'd ever known. It was what made him a successful leader. He was a great leader, too - people followed him willingly even if they didn't know where exactly he was going. But lots of great leaders led to disaster. Hannibal didn't. And part of that - a big part - was that he was able to adapt his plans almost instantly. If he actually had plans - Face wasn't sure he made really solid plans. After all, as Hannibal was fond of saying, plans didn't survive contact with the enemy.
"Frankie," Hannibal said as he ducked under the camo net. "Got a job for you."
Oh, no. Face did not like this improvisation already.
"Sure, Johnny. What?" Frankie put down the box he was moving and straightened up attentively.
"They got new guys in the camp down there. You head down there and ... blend. Keep your ears open, see what you can pick up. Don't take any chances and don't stay too long."
"Hannibal -" Face wasn't actually sure what he was about to say, so it was probably just as well the colonel didn't let him get started.
"It'll be fine, lieutenant. The newbies will think he belongs there, and the old hands will think he just came in. If he's careful, he'll get away with it, no problem."
Frankie looked at Face. Face took hold and said what he had to: "So, be careful then."
"Yeah, don't worry," Frankie said. "Careful is my middle name."
Face shook his head, laughing, then said, "You'd better take one of the M16s. About half of them have one."
"Don't do anything stupid," Hannibal added as Frankie went for a rifle. The Hispanic man waved a hand in their direction and ducked under the net.
He stood beside Hannibal and watched Frankie head off down the hill. Once he was out of sight, Hannibal said, "You really don't need to worry. We've used him a couple of times now, on his own. He does all right."
"You have?" Face said, then added, "Good to hear that."
"Surprised you haven't already."
He looked at Hannibal, puzzled. "Haven't what?"
"Heard." Hannibal was grinning at him. "As much time as you've spent with Frankie lately."
"Oh. It hasn't come up."
"Hasn't come up?"
"No," Face said, feeling the old grievance anew. "We don't talk about the missions. I ask, but he doesn't answer. Because you don't talk about them, and BA doesn't, and Murdock doesn't, and you apparently told Frankie it would upset me." He paused a beat and added, "And you apparently told him you'd kill him if I got upset and had a relapse."
Hannibal grinned again, in that almost smug way he had when he was caught doing something to you for your own good. "That's a radical reading of the line."
"Radical, but not wrong."
"We needed you back, kid," Hannibal said simply. "Couldn't take a risk."
That warmed Face all the way through. Even Hannibal adding "Frankie has the savoir faire of a twelve-year-old, after all" didn't dispel the warmth. But after a few moments standing side by side he needed to say something, move on to something else.
"I'm just as glad to not have to worry about him, because I'm using all my worry on how we're going to get Murdock into that plane and out of that camp."
"Don't worry," Hannibal said, "assuming that's possible for you, of course. I'm working on that."
"Working on it?"
"Don't sound so outraged. I have a plan. I'm adjusting it, that's all. New men in camp opens a lot of room to maneuver. Depending on what Frankie brings us, this may work very well indeed."
"Adjusting," said Face. "May."
"It's as good as we get," Hannibal said, "with one day to plan."
Face started to say something, then didn't, shrugging instead. "Would there be any point in my complaining about what that's a symptom of?" he did ask.
"None," Hannibal said. "Trust me, I do know the point's valid. It's just better than the alternative."
"Still. When it's not ..." Hannibal paused, then put his hand on Face's shoulder. "You'll know. Because we will go." He squeezed lightly. "Just not yet." He dusted his hands together. "Now, we need to get started with that diversion. Too bad Frankie's gone, but the rest of us can certainly lay Claymores."
"Oh, great," groaned Face. Not much got you that dirty.
"Shoulder not up to it?"
"My shoulder is fine," he said automatically.
"Good. Because Murdock is terrible at it, and we need eyes on the hill."
When they came back to the camp, Frankie was waiting for them. "You need Murdock?" asked BA.
"No," Hannibal said, pulling out a canteen and taking a drink. He handed it to Face and added, "We can fill him in on what he needs to know later. You need to hear it more than he does."
BA nodded and accepted the canteen from Face. "What you see, then?" he asked Frankie.
That was a pleasant surprise. BA hadn't ever refused to talk to Frankie, but he usually did it as little as possible. More things than one had changed since he'd been shot, he guessed. Ill winds, though from his perspective it had been about as ill as it got. He didn't want to see an iller one.
Frankie had pulled out the aerial shots of the leftists' camp and now he pointed at it. "Here's where they've got the plane, sure enough." His finger was on the largest of the pre-fab huts. "They're moving it tomorrow."
Hannibal glanced up. "You're sure?"
"Yes," Frankie said simply. "Everybody was talking about it; they're happy to see the back of it. They've been here too long. The new men? They're for the plane." He reached into the breast pocket of his olive-drab shirt. "I got this." He handed over a card.
"My God," Hannibal said in genuine shock. "How did you get this?"
Face took it. It looked like an id or access card - in Spanish of course. "Francisco Rivera?" Nerve. "What is this for? Hangar? Is that what I think it is?"
BA chuckled - giggled, almost. "What else would it be? Good work, Frankie."
"How did you get it?" Hannibal repeated.
"They were running everybody through the office," Frankie was trying not to show how proud the praise had made him, and almost succeeding. "I took a little chance, said I needed hangar access. The fact that I knew about it was good enough for the sergeant making the passes. No problems."
"Nice," Hannibal purred. "We could use a couple more of these."
"A couple more?" Frankie shook his head. "They're not that sloppy - these are photo ids. None of you will get past her."
"We can do photos. Her?"
"Yeah," Frankie said flatly. "She's got all the card stuff in her office." He tapped the photo, indicating the second pre-fab hut.
"Is it just her? Does she leave?" Hannibal was thinking out loud. "How hard would it be to get a couple, with names?"
"Not hard at all - if she wasn't there. Except she even sleeps in the back." He looked up as the quality of the silence changed. "They talked about her... she happens to be the only woman at this particular site."
"Could you get her out of the way?"
"You couldn't fill out the forms," Frankie said. "And anyway..."
"Anyway?" Hannibal asked.
"She likes Germans," Frankie said. Face glanced at him for a moment - he couldn't help it - but those dark eyes were shaded under the brim of the army cap he hadn't taken off and their expression couldn't be read.
"How do you know that?" Hannibal asked.
Frankie shrugged. "That's what they were saying."
Hannibal nodded, and then lifted his eyebrows as he turned to Face. "Sounds like an opportunity. How's your German, lieutenant?"
And didn't he hate always being right? Yes, he did. "Annehmbar, Herr Oberstleutnant."
"Good enough." Hannibal straightened. "You know what we need." He looked at Frankie. "Cards for Face and Murdock. We'll do the photos here."
"Face and Murdock?"
"With luck, they won't have to say anything. You on the diversions cuts the luck factor way down."
Frankie shrugged. "If Face can get her out of the office, I can make up the cards - copying this one. Ten minutes."
"Good enough." Hannibal straightened up. "Come back with those cards. We need to move tonight. BA - we need to lay a lot more diversions. I want everyone out of that camp when Murdock goes in."
"Everyone?" Face said, startled. "That'll never happen."
"I know." Hannibal shrugged. "But it's what I want. So let's make it happen."
"Take your camera," Frankie said.
"Why? I'm not going to be taking snapshots."
"I think you should. Think about it. Why would a German soldier be here? You should be a photographer - that'll let you take some pictures down there, too."
"Not bad, Frankie," Hannibal said.
Face followed Frankie down the hill, his Leica over his shoulder. After a couple of minutes he said, "I don't like this."
Frankie turned in surprise.
Damn. Face hurried to say, "We don't have enough time. I don't like that. Stockwell never told us when Revere stole the plane, did he?"
Frankie shrugged and started walking again. "They got the picture of him in San Salvador yesterday."
"I'm not making excuses for him," Frankie said. "I just think maybe we don't have room to complain about the time factor this time. Maybe he didn't find the plane until yesterday. And it's not his fault they're moving it tomorrow. Sometimes we just don't have time."
"I hate it, too," Frankie said. "But I don't think we can blame Stockwell. We just need to do what we have to do and get out of here."
Face laughed shortly. "I'm actually looking forward to wrestling BA into that Chinook."
Frankie laughed then, which made Face feel better. Not good, of course, but better.
They came to the edge of the clearing and looked carefully around before they headed into the camp. One sentry half-heartedly stepped out to challenge them, but Frankie flashed his pass-card and spoke cheerfully, gesturing at Face and his camera. Face caught the word alemn, which was close enough to French that he recognized it as meaning German. It seemed to impress them; he supposed the lure of European socialism - the Red Army Faction and all that - would captivate any faction of the Farabundo Mart National Liberation Front, hoping their Soviet backers would liberate them and too far away to know how precarious the whole Eastern European system was just now. Damn, he hated messing in people's politics...
He snapped a couple of shots - the guerillas probably had visions of being in Neues Deutschland or even Pravda and posed with smiles and raised rifles - and followed Frankie up the graveled dirt road - less gravel than dirt by now - towards the pre-fab huts. As the photos had indicated, there was more than enough straightaway off the hangar for the plane; clearly, Revere had landed it and they'd just left it where it was. Good thing, considering the time constraints... Face was looking around, memorizing the depths that reality gave to the aerial photos, so when Frankie stopped he almost bumped into him. "What?" he asked quietly.
"Maybe we should look at the hangar while we're here," Frankie said.
It wasn't hard to recognize that for what it was. But Face was in favor of stalling for as long as possible, himself. "Good idea," he said. "If your pass-card doesn't work, there's no need to get more."
Frankie paused, looking away; Face really wished he could see the other man's eyes. Then Frankie said, "Well, no; I mean, it got us this far. But we should know, anyway."
"Yeah," Face had to agree. "Let's see if we can get in."
There were a couple of guys on the door, who watched them approach with only a little bit of interest. That was always a security problem, Face mused; get inside the perimeter and just look like you belong, and you can often get pretty far before you're challenged. In this case, right up to the hangar door. Even before he'd begun working with Hannibal, he'd had a pretty good idea how far the right attitude and appearance can take you, but it never ceased to amaze him. Frankie's card and a few sentences of Spanish accompanied by a "Guten Tag" from him, and they were inside.
Face stood still for a moment, looking the place over and memorizing its details. The door wasn't big enough for the plane - the hut definitely had to have built around it - but the fabric walls wouldn't pose much of a problem. The back and right-hand wall were stacked with crates; clearly the place was used as much for storage space as a hangar. More, really, since the plane was just being stored, he realized. These guerillas didn't have any intention of flying it, even if they did have light aircraft and choppers other places. No back door: that was good.
"This really is a weird airplane," Frankie said.
Face blinked and turned his attention to it. After a moment, he saw what Frankie meant. Most warplanes had a fierce shape, everything pointed and sharp. This one didn't, but it didn't look built for speed or stealth, either. It was boxy and somehow heavy looking. And - "Where are the intakes?"
"I don't know," Frankie said. "Maybe the engine's like ... a space rocket?"
"Liquid fueled?" Face said doubtfully. "I don't know. It's not big enough - they have huge fuel tanks." He got closer, though not as close as Frankie was, and snapped a couple of shots for Murdock. "I don't know," he said again. "But that's not our problem. As long as whatever engine it has actually flies."
They turned. A man was walking toward them with a brisk, purposeful stride and a concerned expression. Frankie pulled out his pass-card and Face put together an expression of revolutionary zeal mixed with I-am-truly-impressed, with just a touch of harmlessness. Frankie's Spanish was suitably subordinate sounding, though when the man gestured at Face's Leica Frankie laughed and made what sounded like a joke. The soldier didn't laugh, just snapped something to which Frankie nodded and said, "S, seor; dejamos," which he knew. We're leaving, so he turned and did so.
"What did he say?" he asked as soon as they were outside and out of earshot of the guards.
Frankie shrugged. "He wanted to know if you'd taken any photos. I asked how stupid you looked."
"Oh? What did he say?"
"Go away." Frankie answered. "I guess you look smart enough."
"Don't think you can get away with that just because we're in the middle of enemy territory. I never forget."
Frankie grinned, but it faded after a moment. "We'd better get on with it." Not waiting for an answer he crossed the gravel to the second of the pre-fabs. He rapped on the door and, when a woman called out something, he answered and went in, beckoning to Face, who took a deep breath and entered.
"Friedrich Reinhart," Frankie was introducing him. "Sargenta Lopez y Garcia."
"Rosaria, bitte..." And a couple of months ago he'd have been more than happy to call her that, and take the hand she held out; greenish brown eyes, dark hair with curling strands escaping from a knot at the back of her neck, and a nice figure belted into those olive drab fatigues made her well worth a second, or third, look. "I have been once to Potsdam," she told him in stiff German.
Great, hers is almost as good as mine... "I am from Frankfurt am Oder, myself," he said.
She smiled at him, more than a bit flirtatiously. Frankie was hovering near the desk, as lost in German as Face was in Spanish, but waiting to get to work. The pre-fab had a wall separating the office from a back section. Somehow Face figured it would be easier to get Rosaria into the back than outside. He should get to work, himself. "May I take your picture?"
"Yes, of course!" She sat behind her desk.
That wasn't good, he thought as he took a couple of shots, fussing with the focus and exposure as if he cared. Frankie needed that desk. He capped the lens again, sat on the corner of the desk and leaned in.
"So, are you from Santa Ana, Fraulein Stabsunteroffizier?" He smiled. "Rosaria, I mean."
"No," she said. "Metapn... in the um, north."
"Ah. It must be a beautiful place."
"No, not really," she said, surprised.
"Well, perhaps not now that you have left it."
She blushed slightly and leaned forward.
"I was in Potsdam only and one day. It was very ... modern. Building again after the war, I think. But pictures of Germany look beautiful."
"It is," Face agreed. "You must come back and stay longer. Visit Leipzig, Dresden, the Oder."
"I would love that." Her voice was a little bit breathy. Likes Germans, indeed...
"Fraulein - Rosaria," he corrected himself with a smile. "Is there I wonder any chance of coffee?"
There was an industrial-sized urn in the far corner of the office, but, as he had hoped, she ignored that. "Well... Friedrich," she tried the name out with a swift glance upwards through her lashes. "I should not the office leave, but... Is he your, um," she was looking for the right word.
"Rivera?" Face said; Frankie glanced at them, but then wandered a little further away, glancing at an old newspaper. Face shook his head, though he wasn't entirely sure what he was negating. "He has been assigned to me; my Spanish is very bad, I'm sorry to say, unlike your beautiful German."
"You're too kind," she said, touching her throat. "My German is very bad."
"No," and that at least was true. "Your accent is charming."
"Well, if he stays out here... if the radio calls ..." she stood up and spoke to Frankie in rapid, commanding tones. He protested, she overrode him, and finally he threw up his hands in surrender, shaking his head even as he went and latched the door. Then he grabbed the newspaper, favored them with a disgruntled look, and sat down next to her desk.
She smiled at Face, moving closer. "Come with me, Friedrich. I will make you some very good coffee, grown right here in El Salvador."
"That would be lovely... Rosaria," he said, touching her arm.
She took his hand and pulled him lightly into the back room, where clearly she lived, and shut the door behind them. Face glanced around; Frankie needed ten minutes - Rosaria turned from the door and leaned into him, raising her face. She clearly had no intention of brewing coffee.
Her lips parted under his and her hands pulled him closer. The scenic beauties of East Germany seemed pretty far from her mind, too; judging by the tone of her voice as she murmured Spanish into his ear a few moments later, the attractions of one East German were all she was thinking of. Face closed his eyes and gave himself over to the task at hand.
It wasn't that hard. His body remembered and desired.
meant it all right ... but been right when he'd said this sort of thing wouldn't worry him, that he understood it was the job. He wondered if Frankie really needed to kiss the taste of Rosaria out of his mouth to believe it was gone...
But that way led disaster. He'd seen it. Even with nurses at a forward field hospital, you couldn't bring back home into the job.
He sighed to himself, taking care to keep it silent, then wondered if his silence was the best thing he could do, for either of them. Maybe a little glad-that's-over (though it wasn't entirely true) would ease Frankie's discomfort. Maybe he was reading too much into Frankie's silence; maybe Frankie was just not wanting any details but maybe he was just working to put it in the same category as laying Claymores or digging latrines: an unpleasant task now over, let's not talk about it...
And maybe Face should never have said yes to Frankie a month ago. He'd halfway thought so at the time, but he'd been so close to drowning he hadn't been able to resist. He'd said it just yesterday: Frankie had been lifesaving. But was it fair to the other man? "What could it hurt?" Frankie had asked.
"You," Face had said. "It could hurt you."
Frankie had refused to accept that. But maybe he should have said no anyway. No matter how much it would have hurt.
And maybe he should say something now. Something, anything... "I am definitely going to be glad to see the last of this place."
Frankie smiled, about half-wattage. "Amen to that. Even if we don't get a hour in Mexico."
"You aren't still hoping for that?" Face asked with relief.
"You never know. Stockwell's given us rewards before this."
"For a one day mission?" Face shook his head. "He's more likely to hand us another job."
Back at the utes, Hannibal took a snapshot of Murdock and one of Face, then handed the camera to Face. "Get these developed," he said. "Frankie, here's what we've done so far. What do you suggest we add?"
Face missed his answer as he ducked under the canvas somebody had draped over the back of one of the utes to make him a makeshift darkroom. He printed the shots he'd taken of the camp and the plane and then set to cropping and printing the pass-card photos. He wasn't thinking about anything else, just making sure the pictures came out right, that he and Murdock had the appropriate not-entirely-professional look that Frankie's card had, that the shots of the camp were clear and sharp... The tang of the chemicals in the air overrode the smell of Rosaria that lingered in his nostrils (and his mind), but he needed a drink to get her out of his mouth. Hannibal had probably packed some, just in case; Face wondered how hard it would be to find it. Maybe coffee would do...
He emerged with the photos, still slightly tacky, to find Murdock the only one there. "Colonel took the others to lay some more diversions," he said. "Frankie said you had pictures of the plane?"
"Yes." He handed them over and dropped the others on the hood of the closest ute. While Murdock studied the prints in silence, Face took the cards Frankie had forged and affixed the photos. Fortunately the real ones weren't laminated; that would have hard to fake. He stared at Friedrich Reinhart and Hernando Mercado for a few minutes, then looked up at the real HM across the ute. "Murdock? ... Murdock?"
"Did Hannibal say he wanted me to join them?"
"No." Murdock looked up. "He said for you to stay put, not go traipsing around so's you and them were missing each other all over the place like a French farce. They'll be back any minute." His eyes went back to the photos.
Face shrugged and leaned against the ute, warm in the late afternoon sunlight under the ragged shade of the camo net. He found himself rubbing his shoulder and straightened up. The aspirin was in the other ute. So, he discovered, was a hip flask of whiskey. Two pills, one swallow ... He put the flask away hurriedly as he heard the others return.
"Okay," Hannibal said. "I'd prefer it if we had more time to watch them, but Frankie says they told him evening chow's at 1900, so that's when we go. We'll start setting off the explosives at 1910; that should have most of them eating. Frankie and I will be handling that - BA will be ready with one of the trucks. Frankie said he didn't think you'd need BA with you?"
"Good enough. We'll need to make sure everything we want to take is in that one, with room for one of us in the back," he added parenthetically. "BA will be here." His gloved hand tapped the map about a quarter of a mile up from their current site, and then moved along a line between that spot and the leftists' camp. "The explosives are along here. Try not to run into them when you're coming back," he said to Face. "We'll rendezvous with BA by 1930; that should give you plenty of time. Murdock, if that plane won't fly don't waste time; you and Face get out, understand?" He waited for an answer that didn't come. "Murdock, I don't want you and Face spending a lot of time in there. ... Murdock!"
"Guys?" Murdock was still bent over the photos. "I don't think any of you should go into that hangar."
"Ain't no hangar, just a shed." BA could be contrary for the hell of it sometimes, Face thought. "An' why not?"
"Well... I just don't think you should."
"Why not?" Hannibal asked, looking between Murdock and Face. "The plan is set. Why didn't you say anything about it before now?"
"Well, I didn't know."
"Know what?" When Murdock didn't answer right away, Hannibal sat back and raised an eyebrow, pointing his cigar at the pilot. "If you have something to say, Murdock, you'd better say it. We don't have a lot of time to fool around, here."
"I just think, all of you should stay outside -"
"Ain't nobody goin' but Face an' he already been in there," BA pointed out. "Less you think you need me."
"No, no," Murdock said. "But Face, you should stay outside, and I'll go in and get the plane -"
"Which works if everybody leaves the hangar," Face said. "It only takes one guy staying inside to shoot you. Somebody goes in with you."
Murdock shook his head. "I really think you shouldn't."
"Why not?" Hannibal asked again.
"I got a funny feeling about this."
"Now?" Face couldn't help saying. "You waited till now?"
"I'm serious. I got a good look at that plane just now, and, well, I shouldn't say anything else. It's just... I kind of have an idea about it and it bothers me."
Hannibal leaned forward. "Murdock, I need more than `it's just' or `a funny feeling.' What are you talking about?"
"I said from the start there was something weird about this plane, and now that I've seen it, I'm pretty sure I know what it is. I kinda had an idea, 'cause it shouldn't be here."
"What does that mean?"
"It's simple. It's too far away."
"What?" Face asked. "From where?"
"Where was Revere flying out of? I know Carla didn't say, but he's Air Force, so Utah or Nevada or maybe California. What's that? 2,500 miles if it's one, and probably more."
"So," Murdock spread his hands, "Look at that plane! It's a fighter."
"So?" Face repeated, then regretted it as he caught the look on Hannibal and BA's faces; they got it. Well, he reflected, Frankie didn't seem to.
Murdock sounded exasperated when he answered. "2.500 miles? Face, that's impossible. You can slap 3 external tanks on a Phantom and only get about 1,400 miles. With a Hornet, about 2,000 - still nowhere near enough, and why would he have external fuel tanks on a training flight? Those are for ferrying! This is at least 2,000 miles farther than normal range."
"Then how did he get here? Refueling somewhere?"
"I wouldn't think so. Where would he dare? And if I'm right, nobody'd let him leave again."
"Well, obviously he did," Hannibal observed. "Unless you're wrong about the range."
"Well, that's it," Murdock said. "I think I am. I think..." He looked indecisively around before saying, "I don't think I should say anything else. Stockwell doesn't want you guys to know."
"Oh? Do we need to know, captain?"
"Well, no. Not if you listen to me and just do what I say. Stay away from there."
"You better not be holdin' out on us," BA said, menace in his tone.
"BA, I can't help it. Stockwell -"
"Forget him," BA responded. "I wanna know what you talkin' about." He paused, took a step forward. "Now."
"BA," Hannibal stopped him. "Don't. If you damage him, he won't be able to fly the plane, and then we'll be stuck."
"Plus, we went to a lot of trouble down there," Face said.
"Trouble? Is that what you kids are calling it now?" Hannibal said with a grin, but didn't give Face - or Frankie - a chance to answer, which was probably just as well. "Murdock, Stockwell may not want us to know, but that's the thing about plans: they don't survive contact. We have a plan, and I'm not changing it on a hunch." He fixed Murdock with one of his patented stares. "Whatever it is, you better tell us."
Murdock sighed. "Okay, colonel. But you didn't hear it from me... I think it might be kind of dangerous for you guys to be around that plane."
"Dangerous?" Face said. "Dangerous how, exactly?"
"Well, like I said, there's no way a regular fighter could have gotten down here... You guys got a look at it, right?" He glanced between Face and Frankie. "When you went in there this afternoon."
Face's worryometer redlined. "Get to the part where you tell us how dangerous. And why."
"Did it look odd?"
Face didn't like the way Murdock wasn't calling the plane `she' anymore. "What do you mean by `odd'?"
"Squared-off, sort of?" Frankie asked. "Not very aerodynamic for a fighter. I did think that."
"Yeah," Murdock said. "A box... A box with wings."
"Which wouldn't make for fuel efficiency," Hannibal observed.
Murdock sighed and gave up. "I think it's nuclear."
There was a pause.
"There are no nuclear airplanes," Hannibal said finally. "Nobody's ever made one."
"No," Murdock agreed. "Nobody has. But that doesn't mean they aren't trying... Anyway, they're heavy, reactors. Very heavy."
"What are you getting at?"
"I mean, one way you could lighten it up is to skimp on the shielding."
"Skimp on the shielding?" Frankie repeated.
"You mean that thing is radioactive?" BA demanded. "That's crazy."
"Not seriously radioactive, just maybe a little bit..."
"I ain't goin' near no radioactive airplane. An' you shouldn't either, Hannibal."
"I don't -"
BA overrode Murdock. "An' you two shouldn't for sure, Faceman. Not twice."
"But I can?" Murdock was comically offended.
"You got to," BA said. "If we gonna get that plane back to Mexico, anyhow."
"Murdock?" Hannibal was serious.
"We can't let them get it to Russia, can we? They wouldn't care if it did kill pilots - all they'd care about is how far they could extend their reach. We can't let them have it."
"We could blow it up," Face suggested, half seriously. He expected what he got: Hannibal, BA, and Murdock all said, "No!" almost in unison.
"Not an option, lieutenant," Hannibal added. "This is exactly the kind of thing we can't let out of our hands."
"Maybe not, but Hannibal, seriously -" Face started.
Murdock interrupted. "It can't be that dangerous -"
"It's radioactive -"
"And you're going to fly it anyway?" Face demanded. "You think Stockwell would care if you dropped dead in Mexico?"
"It can't be that dangerous," Murdock repeated. "Not for the pilot."
"What makes you say that?"
"Oh, come on. Carla said this was Revere's third flight. If it was that dangerous, he wouldn't have been walking around in San Salvador happy as a mudlark."
"So why shouldn't one of us go into the hangar with you? You'll probably need cover, you know."
Murdock shrugged. "I could be all wrong. I didn't get a really close look yet. But if they skimp on the shielding around the sides and back, that won't affect the pilot. Radiation's like light - it goes in a straight line."
"Even the Air Force isn't that cavalier with mechanics," Face said; he was not at all happy with this theory and trying to remember where exactly Frankie had gone...
Murdock shrugged again. "They could pull the reactor. Or wear special gear. Look, the plane clearly flies and Revere's been flying it without dying. I just worry that maybe you should be careful, that's all." He was looking at Face, since that was the plan.
Face paused, looking at Hannibal before answering. "I appreciate that. But if you don't get out of here with that - that precious plane, the whole trip is a bust. So I'm going in to cover you. Period."
"Hannibal?" Murdock turned to the colonel.
"Face is right. You need cover. We can't guarantee to pull all of them out. He's going in." He held up a hand. "No arguments. But Face? In case he's right, try to keep a good distance from the plane - especially its back end."
Face and Murdock carefully made their way to the camp. Face had his Ruger M77 over his shoulder, with two box cartridge magazines in his pockets. Murdock had made a face on seeing it, but he hadn't said anything. It was more than possible than somebody would stay put, and have to be kept out of the way. Face intended to keep them out of the way, keep Murdock safe, and give him cover to get gone. He would have the tool if the need arose.
Their cards and some attitude got them past the single sentry. They paused along the edge of the camp, waiting. Face checked his watch. A minute and a half - Frankie was obsessively on time when it came to explosions. Came from the movies, he guessed - if you had stunt men running through your pyrotechnics, everything had to be perfectly timed. Things didn't work out that well in real life, but that didn't stop Frankie from trying.
Even though they were expecting it, the thunder of the Claymores going off made them both jump. The camp came alive, soldiers swarming out of the mess tent and the pre-fabs and running towards the explosions. Face and Murdock watched most of them leave and then headed for the pre-fab hangar. A couple of soldiers were vacillating in the doorway. Murdock pulled out his pass and headed past them while Face yelled. "Gehen Sie dahin, man schiet da drben, wrde der Flugzeug nehmen. Gehen Sie!"
He had no idea if they understood him, or just recognized German and thought he was in charge, but they went. The hangar lay empty before them, except for the Condor. Murdock headed straight for the plane. Face scanned the pre-fab, making sure it was empty, and then heard footsteps across the gravelly yard out front. He turned and saw four soldiers headed for them. The guys whose actual job it was to protect the plane, no doubt.
He shoved any thought of radiation out of his mind and sprinted toward the back of the hangar, where a stack of large crates rested on the ground. He unslung the rifle laid it on top, then grabbed the edge and vaulted up. He lay down on the crate and picked up the rifle. Its stock was smooth against his cheek, and the barrel cool in his hand. He'd packed his Ruger because if the moment came he wanted something he was comfortable with.
And this was the moment. He slipped the box cartridge in and shouldered the rifle, taking aim at the first soldier running across the floor, leading him just slightly, squeezing the trigger gently. The soldier jerked, sprawled across the floor, twitched, and lay still. He worked the bolt, ejected the cartridge as he swung the barrel to focus the scope on the second soldier. The third one had time to react. He didn't know what to do - keep heading for the plane or hide from the sniper, so he actually did neither for long enough to die with only one shot.
The plane's engine fired. Murdock was taxiing now. Face didn't look at him, kept scanning for the fourth soldier. Stay down, and you'll stay alive.
It had been a long time since he'd killed anyone. Not as long as Hannibal would have said if he'd been asked, but five... six? No, five years. That mob guy, a hitter for Denham. Had to ... he'd have killed Hannibal otherwise. Of course, Hannibal didn't like killing - he had some theory that they'd lost the right to do it when they lost the backing of the government, so Face hadn't told him - or BA, who was worse on the topic - about any of the half dozen he'd killed since '73. He had tried not to - five years, now - but people didn't always give him the chance.
The plane roared through the fabric-covered slats, breaking out into the open. It bumped over one of the soldiers' bodies. One of the soldiers he'd killed to have this moment happen, Murdock leaping from the ground into the sky where he belonged. One of the soldiers he'd killed...
It didn't bother him. Of course, he'd never had to shoot anybody he cared about - friend or enemy. Closest he'd come to that, he supposed, was that bastard Tommy Angel, that Hannibal wouldn't let him shoot. That would have felt good. This ... this was just satisfying, the way doing anything well was satisfying. As well, of course, as keeping a teammate alive. Keeping them all alive.
Keeping Murdock alive.
Yeah. That felt better than good.
He slung the Ruger back on and jumped off the crate. The plane was gone and the diversionary explosions were less frequent. It was time to go. BA would be waiting, and Hannibal and Frankie on their way. Definitely time to leave.
Face took a quick look at his watch. 7:21. Damn. Nine minutes to make it to the rendezvous. He flattened himself against the remains of the wall beside the hole Murdock had torn through it and sighed. Very nearly dark already. Twenty minutes... He'd known when Hannibal said it that it wasn't going to be enough time. Five to get up there, five for Murdock to get gone, ten to meet the others... A half mile, and ten minutes was more than twice the time that would take. But that was on a road you knew, in the daylight, with no one shooting at you. Though maybe the shooting would make you run faster, he thought with a chuckle.
Still, it wasn't enough time, and he'd known it. He should have held out for 7:45. He hadn't, because he knew why Hannibal had cut it so close: didn't want Murdock getting caught up and wasting time and running the chance of getting caught if the damn plane wasn't flyable. Hannibal hadn't wanted to give Murdock time to do anything but make the go/no-go decision. And that was a good idea, and he'd known that, too. Probably there was a bit of Hannibal not wanting him running around the camp, nosing out anything interesting - the way Hannibal's mind works, that would run the gamut from Revere to Rosaria, and who knows what in between. In and out. That was what Hannibal liked - in and out, go/no go - and in fairness, Face had to admit that in and out was a good idea. But still - the sun was nearly gone and the Salvadoran night was coming on fast - he didn't relish the notion of trying to make a half mile in the dark in nine minutes. Make that eight.
He should have held out for a full half hour. He knew why he hadn't: he hadn't wanted to get into a discussion of his health. So now you're going to prove you're not incapacitated by doing more than you would normally? Not the smartest thing you ever did. And standing around won't make it any smarter. He took a breath and shook his head to clear it of extraneous thoughts. Introspection on your own time, Templeton.
Outside soldiers were still running through the gathering darkness as the explosions continued in the near distance. They couldn't have missed the plane leaving, but whoever was out on the hill was still there, and so the guerillas were in confusion - only eleven, twelve minutes after all. Somebody would get them in order soon enough. Don't stick around to see it.
He started to duck out the hole, then spotted a cap on the floor and grabbed it. It might help him blend in and couldn't hurt. He headed across the camp toward the main gate at a run, the Ruger knocking against his hip. Part way there, he broke stride; a Jeep was parked askew outside the office hut. For a moment he was tempted to take it - Jeeps didn't have keys, after all - but he thought better of it. If the Team heard an engine, they'd take off, or set a trap, or both. But he didn't need someone chasing him in it, either, so he broke stride long enough to draw his sidearm and shoot out a tire.
Then he was haring down the path toward the gate. One guy was there, looking towards the line of explosions. He turned towards Face as he heard footsteps crunching the gravel and hesitated, clearly unsure whether Face was reinforcement or enemy, but as the distance between them shrank he obviously came down on the `enemy' side, bringing his rifle up and shouting, "Alto!"
"Not likely," Face muttered, though he did in fact skid to a stop, raising his hands. The guerrilla lowered his rifle and started to speak; Face didn't wait for two words before slugging the man on the jaw.
Or trying to; the guerilla pulled away and the blow glanced off. Face had to duck under the swinging rifle and close in, punching hard to the ribs. The guerilla doubled over, dropping his weapon; Face clasped his hands together and hit him hard in the back of the neck. The man went down and Face bolted on through the gate. He probably should have picked up the rifle, but he'd wasted too much time already to be heaving bodies around... Just run, Templeton.
A bullet whined past his ear. That had to be a different guy, no way he'd gotten up that fast. Maybe the fourth guy from the hangar. At any rate, reinforcements, which was another good reason to just run. And yeah, getting shot at did make you run faster, he was discovering. A second shot made him break stride, weaving to his left, and then back again. Serpentine! Peter Falk's cry from The In-Laws went through his mind as he wove his way from one side of the road to the other. The edge of the road gleamed in last dusk, curving away to the east. Face called the map to mind and cut off the road into the trees. If he kept straight at the right angle, he'd hit the road again about fifty yards from BA's position.
What had to be the last of the diversionary blasts went off, quite close. He stumbled but saved himself from falling by grabbing a tree. He stood there a moment, catching his breath, then shook his head to clear it and headed through the trees at a slightly more moderate pace. He didn't want to trip over a tree root or hole in the ground in the darkness of the trees. He should make it there in time. If not ... well, it probably wouldn't kill him to hoof it another four miles.
The very thought made him speed up again.
As he came up on the road again, he stayed under the trees and paralleled it. He figured he still had twenty yards - and couldn't see anything that far away in the rapid mid-tropics nightfall - when he heard shots. He stopped abruptly, looking down the road behind him as he unslung the Ruger. More shots and he realized they were coming from in front. Great. Well, at least it probably meant the guys were still there. Ill winds and all that, he thought as he began to make his careful way toward the sounds, pistol out and ready.
Four guerrillas were using a ute for cover, firing down the road. Face took a minute to be certain that it wasn't the Team's ute, and then he took his own cover behind a tree and fired a couple of shots, aiming low at the wheels. The guerrillas reacted by dropping to the ground or spinning around in obvious confusion. Face fired again, and this time the ute sagged on the left front. Now they had his location and were shooting at him, but fire from the Team (he thought. Hoped) pulled some of them back around. Face took a couple more shots, then started making his way through the trees around the guerrillas.
When he figured it was safe he angled back towards the road. Sure enough, another ute was parked on the side of the road, three men behind it facing the guerrillas. Face laughed silently in relief and made sure he spoke up before they heard him and took a shot at him in the darkness. His choice of words was fueled by the adrenaline rush that accompanied the relief: "Nice of you to wait."
"You're late, lieutenant." Hannibal's sharp tone was fueled by relief as well, Face knew.
"Well, then, let's not stick around."
"We bein' shot at," BA said, "case you didn't notice."
"I did," Face said. "But they can't follow us; I shot out their tires."
"Very good," Hannibal approved. "Let's go. Frankie," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, "in the back."
Frankie nodded and headed for the back of the ute. Face followed him with his eyes, then felt Hannibal's hand on his shoulder, pushing. "Let's go," Hannibal repeated. "Before they get lucky and hit our tires. Or gas tanks."
"Or us," BA growled, already behind the wheel.
Face climbed on in, letting Hannibal have the shotgun position. Second time in the middle, he thought, wishing he was in the back with Frankie but knowing Hannibal hadn't been ready to let that happen. He'd say he wanted to talk, but he was always a bit possessive when they'd been split up like this. It was probably just as well: it was a bit scary how much of that rush of relief had been because there'd been three men there. He didn't want to explore the thought of only two, so he talked instead. "I thought we were going."
BA seconded that. "Hannibal - get in. No wastin' time."
Hannibal grinned at them - the Jazz, man! - and turned to squeeze off a few more shots from his M16 before jumping into the ute. The engine was already racing and BA had his foot off the brake before Hannibal could shut the door. "You take too many chances, Hannibal," he growled. Which was his way of showing relief.
Hannibal grinned at the both, wiggling his eyebrows. "We saw the plane take off. I presume Murdock was flying it?"
"Good. No problems, then?"
"None we didn't handle," Face answered, shifting the Ruger to a more comfortable position. "They weren't as confused as we'd hoped, but nothing major."
"Here, give me that." Hannibal took the Ruger and laid it up against his M16 against the door. "You didn't have to use it, did you?"
"Had to take a few shots, keep heads down," Face said.
Hannibal leaned back. "A lot of that around," he said. "Still, almost done. Once we get to the LZ, it'll be about three hours till Murdock's back."
"If the Chinook is waiting for him," Face said a bit sourly.
"It will be." Hannibal sounded smug.
Face bit back his next statement; he knew he was just coming down from the high of the last hour. There wasn't anything serious to his griping, and he didn't feel like listening to Hannibal defend Stockwell, even if only half-heartedly. Instead he leaned back and looked at his watch. "So we should be back in Mexico before midnight. Sounds good to me."
BA shifted beside him but didn't speak. Face wondered briefly how Hannibal planned to get the big man onto the helicopter. He hadn't said a word to Face about it, and he wouldn't now. Presumably he and Murdock had come up with some routine while Face had been hors de combat; it would be interesting to watch. Hannibal interrupted the thought by pulling out a cigar, and Face reached into his pocket for his lighter. "Thanks," Hannibal said, drawing on the cigar. "I love it - "
"It ain't together yet," BA said. "We still got a long way to go."
"I suppose you're right," Hannibal said. "But you're raining on the parade."
"I ain't the rain," BA said with a chuckle. "Just the weatherman."
Face had to laugh at that, and so did Hannibal. Just for the moment it felt like the old days, just the three of them. Simpler days in so many ways... he was almost nostalgic for them. But only almost, because he knew what he'd be missing. Murdock whole. Frankie here. So he just leaned back against the seat and let BA drive and Hannibal smoke, all of them in silence.
Soon enough they reached the spot Hannibal and Murdock had settled on the landing zone. BA slowed to a stop and Frankie jumped out of the back and came up to the window. Hannibal said, "We'll leave a guard here, hour shifts. Frankie, you take the first one. Here -" he started to hand him Face's Ruger through the window.
"Not that one," Face said. "Take the M16, Frankie."
"Good catch," Hannibal agreed, passing the semi-automatic rifle out instead. "These bolt-actions take a lot of practice, that's a fact. BA, let's get off the road, down that way. Frankie, if anybody comes along the road, you just hide. Don't start anything. If they look like they're going to stick around, come get us. We won't be far."
"Right. Someone will be up to relieve you in an hour."
BA put the ute in gear and slowly headed into the trees. About a hundred yards in he stopped again, and then backed and filled until they were facing the road. Then he killed the engine. After a few minutes he leaned forward to speak past Face. "Hannibal, I ain't getting' in that helicopter. I told you that."
"Yes," Hannibal nodded. "Yes, you did."
"I meant it, too."
"I know you did."
BA looked at him, and then at Face, a scowl of suspicion on his face. "I mean it. It ain't much more than 200 miles to Mexico from here."
"I know. We can be there in two hours in the Chinook."
"Once Murdock get here. Five hours if you lucky, more likely six, him goin' there an' back here an' then back there. I can be there that fast drivin'," BA said. "I made sure to put a gas can in back."
"BA," Hannibal said soothingly. "I'm glad you said `I' there, because there is no way the rest of us are passing up a helicopter ride out of the middle of one civil war and across another one. But if you'd really rather drive across Guatemala, we aren't going to stop you."
"Of course not. Face, do you care?"
Face shrugged. He wasn't sure why Hannibal was playing it this way, but he didn't really care if BA drove back as long as he himself didn't have to. BA's flying phobia was real and Hannibal hadn't said the first thing to him about how they were going to overcome the big man this time. Maybe they weren't going to. Maybe Hannibal had started letting BA have his way when he could; maybe he was just trying to annoy Stockwell; maybe he figured BA would regret it... Whatever, Face was not up to fighting with BA. Hell, why not let him drive, if it came to that? Face honestly had no desire to do it, but he could sympathize with BA's attitude. "I said so yesterday," he said.
"Good." BA said. He turned his head, then whipped it around again. "You ain't druggin' me. Go on an' get out now, and I'll - "
"You can't leave before Murdock gets here," Hannibal said reasonably. "You won't know where to meet us. And I don't see why the rest of us should sit out in the night cold till then. By your own call it'll be another three hours or more."
BA glowered. "I'm not stayin' here for three hours, waitin' for you to try somethin'. I'll go relieve Frankie." He got out, shut the door, and then looked doubtfully in the window. "You ain't goin' to mess with this engine, are you?"
Hannibal shook his head. "Now, BA, why would we do that? Either we'd be stranding you in the middle of El Salvador, and you can't think we'd want to do that, or we'd have to tell you we'd done it, and you have to know we don't want to do that."
That made BA laugh. "Thanks, Hannibal," he said. "I'll send Frankie back."
Face watched him disappear in the trees and then said, "Are you really letting him drive back to Mexico on his own? Then what? We all drive back to Virginia?"
"Of course not, Face."
"Not what? Driving back to Virginia? Or him driving back alone? That's not really safe, and I'm not going along." Nor is Frankie, but he didn't say that out loud, since he couldn't imagine Frankie agreeing to it. Well, unless Hannibal put on some psychological pressure...
"Neither, of course. Well, maybe from Mexico. We might all from Mexico, depending on what the general's laid on for us." He stretched, then opened the door. "Let's go meet Frankie."
"What?" And then he realized. "Frankie's drugging him?"
Hannibal shrugged. "Murdock and I did it the last four times, so he was watching you like a hawk. It'll get complicated again now, but this time it should have been easy."
Should have... It took all of Face's self-control not to jump out of the ute and tear up the hillside, yell at Hannibal, or both. He managed it, if only just; getting out of the ute he followed Hannibal up the slight slope towards the road.
Hannibal was still talking. "I'd hoped to put it off a while yet, we might have to give him another shot on the chopper."
"He's going to be mad," Face predicted.
Hannibal snorted. "You think? Of course he will, but he'll also be in Mexico. I had no intention of letting him drive back from here."
"The time will come," this prediction was more serious, "when he won't forgive us."
"I know it." Hannibal stopped and looked at Face in the faint light - the moon was new and not helping - and asked by remarking, "You're very negative today, even for you."
"Sorry." And he was, though for different reasons than he'd have been a month ago. "I'm just ... I don't know."
"Tell me the truth, Face. Is your shoulder all right?"
"I'm fine, Hannibal," he answered automatically, and then paused and answered more honestly. "It's not bad, it really isn't. I've been better, but it's not a problem. I guess I'm just ... out of practice."
"I suppose you are, at that. Well, first time back nerves, I guess. Get hold of yourself; it's all over but the shouting."
"Don't jinx it, Hannibal," Face said. "There's still a lot could go wrong."
Hannibal laughed. "Back to normal already. C'mon, let's go meet Frankie."
Frankie was waiting for them where they'd left him. BA was leaning up against a tree, unconscious, and Frankie was heading back to the road when they got there. Hannibal called softly, and Frankie trotted over to them. "I got him when I gave him the rifle. He wasn't expecting it," he said, his tone adding `just like you said'.
"That's good," Hannibal said. He dropped to his heels and pulled up one of BA's eyelids. "He'll do nicely till we get where we're going." He stood up and pulled his glove back on. "I'd hoped to do this later; we'll probably have to give him another shot. Well, can't be helped." He looked appraisingly at Face and then turned to Frankie. "Give me a hand getting him back to the truck. Face, you take this watch."
Resigned, Face held out his hand for the M16 and then watched Frankie and Hannibal lug BA down the hill, Frankie holding his shoulders. He checked his watch: 8:45. About an hour and a half till Murdock showed - and he might get stuck with the whole watch, though he'd bet Frankie would remember. Oh well, at least, despite Hannibal's remark to BA earlier, it wasn't cold. Not really - seventy-five, probably. He took one last look down the hill, though they were out of sight, and then moved nearer the road.
He didn't like the dark. The dark was full of memories and if you avoided those you ran into other things you didn't want to think about. Like, why had he put Frankie and him off limits? When he got relieved (if) it would have been really ... nice ... to be able to steal a quick kiss. Or a long, promissory one. Feel Frankie's hard, warm body, see himself in Frankie's black eyes... Oh, stop it. You know why: you can't hurt him.
It's as simple as that.
Don't hurt Franklin.
Don't hurt him, and don't lie to him...
So stop thinking about him, right now.
But that wasn't a good idea, as it turned out, because the thoughts he'd already had had primed his body, and now, in a vicious feedback, his body turned his mind to the closest available thing. For a moment he saw again Rosaria's tan body, felt her fingers on him hard enough to bruise, to scratch if her nails hadn't been clipped short, heard her panting voice... He pulled away from that memory as quickly as he could and found himself in another dark place.
He'd already thought of Tommy Angel and the camps once today, which made it easier to fall again into that obscene mockery of what he was trying to avoid. Angel ... He knew why Hannibal hadn't let him kill him, but Hannibal didn't know why, not the whole reason why, Face wanted to. He'd never told Hannibal, never in fact said a word to Hannibal or Murdock or anyone. Maybe BA. He didn't know... He remembered BA caring for him, had one crystal-bright memory of Lin Duk Coo with two bowls in his hands and fear and pity fighting each other in his eyes; he remembered BA spooning one bowl down him ("c'mon, LT, swallow this, don't make me hold your nose now") and using an old torn t-shirt to daub the other one on him... He might have talked to BA, so much was hazy, because it was safe enough; BA wouldn't talk back, wouldn't ever say it... And it was true that, whether he had said anything or not, BA hadn't ever brought it up.
After the camp, Face had taken the aggressive part of his own sexuality and chained it to the basement floor of his subconscious, and then put enough bullets into its brain to kill any monster, or at least he hoped he had. It had taken Father Engarry, and months, to sort though it all... Father, and Jill, not that they'd known each other even existed. Father had told him not to fear his desires, that all that mattered to God was love. "He doesn't obsess over sex, not the way the Church so often thinks. Sex is even sacramental. What bothers him is when sex is misused... Don't hurt people. Don't lie to them. That's what matters," he'd said. And "When you do fall in love with someone, don't worry what other people think. Just be kind to him. Don't hurt him."
"Him?" Face had asked.
"Isn't that correct?" Father had said. "In English? Someone is `he'?" But though Father had been willing to pretend for a while, he had seen the truth even that early, he'd made that clear enough when he'd judged the time right. Taught Face how to deal with it. Taught Face a lot he'd needed to learn, in fact. Now Face wanted to call him - though God only knew if he was at the parish still... He might even be dead. That had been a long time ago, after all, and Face had made no particular effort to keep in touch, especially after Jill. Father knew too much. That he wanted to talk to him now only meant that he was afraid of falling back into that dark place. But he didn't really need to talk to the Hungarian priest. He knew what he needed to do; he remembered the lesson: don't hurt him. And he wouldn't, no more than he had to. Keeping him away from the dark might make him feel excluded, but it was for the best. Frankie deserved to stay untouched by darkness... He'd never killed anyone, and he deserved to still have that be a terrible thing, just to start. And he deserved to have his love stay ... pure was as good a word as any. In this darkness Face had remembered what he'd meant: Loving Face would get Frankie hurt, eventually. He leaned up against a tree and wondered why he was so weak.
He was a user, he knew that. Leslie had taught him not to be on the wrong end of a relationship again. But then Father had told him what to do to make one work anyway and Jill had showed him how, and then Leslie had shown back up with a reminder in case he'd been in danger of forgetting why. He'd been so lost when Frankie offered to save him he'd forgotten what Father had said. But that didn't excuse him from his responsibilities: to Frankie; to God; maybe even to himself, for what that was worth. And - he remembered, safely enough now, what had started this whole bout of introspection - it wasn't as though taking care of Frankie would be without reward. He smiled into the dark Salvadoran night. No, Frankie would make it worth his while.
By the time Frankie showed up to relieve him, Face was back in control - of his memories and thoughts as well as his actions. "You and Hannibal have a good chat?" he asked as he handed over the rifle.
Frankie shrugged, his expression hard to read in the darkness. "We talked about the new Aquamaniac. Johnny thinks he's lost the essential joie de vivre of the character."
Face laughed. "He would. There have been people up and down the road, not many, but none have even slowed down. I expect it'll stay quiet."
"I can't believe they aren't out looking for us. Johnny says they probably just folded their tents and lit out." That was almost a question.
"Probably. I mean, the plane's gone. Catching us would have been nice, but they don't know who we were. If we were Salvadoran troops, things could get nasty in a hurry."
"Still seems strange."
"And they might still come. But Murdock should be here in a half hour or so, if that plane was as fast as an F16."
"I hope it was." That was heartfelt.
Face was careful in his reply. "Me, too. Mexico never seemed so desirable a destination."
There was a brief pause, and then Frankie said, "You'd better get back to Johnny. He said he didn't want us chatting and forgetting to be vigilant."
"Oh, I just bet he did," Face said, not having to fake the annoyance. "Like we would. Sometimes he mother-hens just a bit too much."
Frankie grinned. "I think he's just afraid I didn't give BA the right dose."
That made Face laugh, which was a good note to leave on. Back at the ute, Hannibal was still nursing his cigar and looking at a map. BA was sprawled across the rest of the seat, so Face just made do with sitting on the floor with the door open, pulling the Ruger out to lean up against the ute's side next to him. "Checking roads?" he asked jokingly after watching Hannibal for five minutes.
"Ummmm," Hannibal said. "Driving back from Mexico won't be a problem if it comes to that."
"If we can find a vehicle," Face said. "And if these papers are good for the border guys in Texas."
"They would be. And if they aren't, Stockwell would make them so."
"You sound awfully confident of that."
"Well, Face, whatever else Stockwell may want or not want, he doesn't want us getting fingerprinted by the Feds."
Face laughed. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted. He put his foot up on the edge of the ute's floor. "I almost wouldn't mind a long drive."
Hannibal folded up the map. "Me, either, kid." He lifted his head. "Do you hear that?"
Face did: the glorious syncopated beat of a double-rotor helicopter. A lot of memories were tied to that sound, all right, but he was able to ignore them now. He stood up, shut the door, and said, "Let's go."
When they reached the edge of the LZ the Chinook - ghost gray in the darkness, no markings visible and running lights off - was just settling down. The ramp was let down and two guys jumped out; Face stopped dead, reaching for his sidearm. They held up, looking back inside the cargo doors, and then Murdock's voice called out, "Come on, guys. They're okay."
Murdock himself came next, letting the rotors spin down as he ducked low, despite the Chinook's height, and ran across to meet them. "Let's get it loaded. Stockwell, said not to leave anything behind that might id us as Americans."
"Not to worry, captain," Hannibal said. "Everything we brought with us is in the back. Give me a hand with BA, somebody."
Frankie shouldered Face aside, who let him. As he and Hannibal shifted BA out of the cab, Murdock was saying to the other men, who had come up by then, "Everything in the back goes on board. Let's go. Sooner we're loaded, sooner we're gone." He grabbed a box himself and headed for the chopper. Face figured it was the only box he'd carry, but the other two guys were already loading themselves up. He picked up the rifle case and headed for the Chinook himself.
Murdock took the case from him and slid it along the floor. Face started to say something, but one of the strangers - they had a Abelish look to them now he saw them in some light - was there and he had to move out of the way to let them hand over their loads. And then Hannibal was there with a bag saying, "Move it, lieutenant. This stuff won't shift itself."
That was true enough. Face headed back for another load. Hannibal and the two strangers pretty much ignored him as long as he was carrying something but Frankie gave him a disapproving look and took one of his cases off Face's next load as he passed him headed back to the ute. Face started to say something this time, but decided to give it up as a lost cause. Besides, the aspirin was wearing off, and he wasn't really loathe to carry a lighter load, if the truth were told.
With five of them the unloading didn't take long. Face climbed up into the Chinook next to Hannibal and watched Frankie bring the last box. Hannibal reached down and helped Frankie get it in, and then gave the Hispanic man a hand up. Murdock was giving the cargo the fisheye while the other two moved stuff around until he was satisfied. He started to head up into the pilot's compartment but Face stopped him. He looked back and said, "What?"
"Who are they?"
"Couple of Stockwell's men," Murdock said. "He wants the Chinook and all his stuff back tonight. Don't worry - he wants it, and they don't look expendable." He turned to head for the pilot's seat. "Close `er up," he hollered back over his shoulder. "Face, get settled. Let's get out of here."
And that was something Face could agree with whole-heartedly.
It was only ten miles to the Guatemalan border as the crow - or Chinook - flew. That was about four and half minutes. To be safe, Face waited seven before he relaxed, allowing for some zigzagging. He'd tried to hide it, but Hannibal leaned over and yelled at him, "We clear now?" He had to yell over the sound of the rotors; one of the other men had handed them those yellow spongy earplugs, so Face could just make out the words. Any real conversation was impractical at best. He looked across the roomy interior; the Chinook was made to hold 50 troops or 28,000 pounds of cargo and so was empty with five men (one was up with Murdock) and a few boxes. Frankie was sitting next to BA and couldn't hear anything, but he was watching them. Face nodded, gave a thumb's up, and leaned back against the shaking wall and watched the stranger.
Face hadn't relaxed all the way, of course. He didn't have to worry about some rebel with a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile now, and hopefully no one in Guatemala would take exception to a helicopter. They hadn't annoyed anyone in that country, after all. But there were still two strangers - two Stockwell-provided strangers - in the helicopter, and he could all too easily imagine a scenario that started with pistols - no, tranq guns - and ended with bodies in the Gulf of Mexico. He had absolutely no intention of mentioning it because it was paranoid even for him, as Hannibal would say. But though the scenario was unlikely it wasn't impossible... He stayed watchful, his eyes flicking from Frankie to the stranger to Hannibal and around again. On one trip he caught sight of an incongruous pile of luggage: around a dozen suitcases, mismatched, stacked up beyond the last of the folded-out seats.
Nudging Hannibal, he pointed at them. Hannibal raised his eyebrows; across the way, Frankie looked as puzzled. The noise prevented them discussing it, but maybe, Face thought, maybe they'd be driving back after all. That might assuage BA's wrath somewhat. As long, he reflected, as the car was good enough.
The Abel (had to be) was wearing a headset and sitting in the stolid way Stockwell's people had, probably with a totally vacant mind. At least, as the minutes stretched away into a second hour Face began to think there might not be anything on it, like a plot. He began to wonder actively about driving; nudging Hannibal again he pointed at the map the colonel had stuck in his shirt pocket. When he got it he began looking at the roads north from the Oaxacan airstrip he assumed they were headed for. Dark as it now was, there wasn't any point in getting up and looking out one of the chopper's few windows; he wouldn't know where they were going in the daylight. But planning gave him something to think about.
About ninety minutes into the flight, the Abel pulled the mike down and spoke briefly. Then he unbuckled and made his way up toward the nose where the pilots sat. After a few minutes Murdock came out into the cargo compartment, moving easily through the piles of boxes and crates. He got even with Face and Hannibal and shook his head at them. Dropping on his heels, he opened a case and tossed a headset across to Frankie before handing two more to Hannibal. As soon as they got them on, the pilot smiled widely and said, "We're all set and copacetic, Colonel."
"Where are we going?" Hannibal asked.
"More importantly," Face said, "who's flying?"
"One of the guys. We're in Mexico now, he can handle it."
"Where's he flying us to, captain?" Hannibal asked again.
Murdock smiled and looked at Frankie. "You should be happy."
"Chichen Itza?" Frankie grinned back.
"Ish," Murdock nodded. "Merida, actually. There'll be a car. And then a hotel, and tomorrow -" He paused and looked at his watch. "Yeah, it's still today. Tomorrow there's a boat, to Miami. And then a train back to DC."
"A train?" Hannibal asked.
It hadn't really been a question. Murdock shrugged. "Or a car, if you insist."
Hannibal smiled, and that probably settled that.
"A boat from Merida?" Frankie asked skeptically.
Face wasn't sure of the reason but he knew Chichen Itza wasn't on the coast. Probably Merida wasn't, either.
Murdock wasn't put out, though. He just laughed and said, "No, from someplace called Progreso. There'll be a hotel car to the dock. We're picking up some cruise ship back."
"Didn't you see the luggage?" Murdock pointed at it.
"We saw it," Hannibal said. "We just didn't know what to make of it."
"Stockwell sent it," Murdock said. "Without me saying anything, I might add. It was on board when I got there. He must've meant us to take this boat the whole time."
"He's bribing us," Face said sourly.
Hannibal laughed. "It's not a bribe, Face. It's more like a bonus."
"Yeah," Frankie chimed in. "He hardly needs to bribe us."
Face had to agree. "When you put it like that," he said. "I guess so."
"I wish it was a bribe," Murdock said. "I wish we were bribable."
"You are," Face couldn't help pointing out.
Murdock laughed. "Oh, Faceman, long as you guys are stuck, I am too. And a cruise ship isn't a bribe for me, anyway."
"What's the idea there, anyway?"
"Well," Murdock gestured widely in the general direction of the luggage, "all the tickets and stuff are in there. Which reminds me - those passports we used in San Salvador? We need to leave them on board. Seeing as how you don't need passports and such on cruise ships. The story is, we got off another one to spend time at the ruins and are going back on this one... I guess Stockwell's paying a lot to fill some empty cabins."
"He probably has something on the line's directors," Face said, then added, "But it is a good idea. Back in Miami in a couple of days, no customs to worry about..."
Hannibal had been watching them, and now he nodded cheerfully. "I'm glad you approve."
"What's to disapprove of?" Face asked rhetorically. "A night in a good hotel - it is a good one?" Murdock nodded. "- and two on a cruise ship. Nice."
"Three more driving back," said Frankie. "Unless we stay in a Motel 6."
"Three? It's only fifteen hundred miles. That's three long days, not four."
"Hannibal, the five of us in one car? We'd better be taking long breaks," Murdock said. "It's not like we have a deadline."
"We'll see," Hannibal said, in that tone that said it was all he was going to say. Considering that BA was going to have quite a lot to say about it, there probably wasn't any point to talking, anyway.
Face looked at his watch. It wasn't `today' any longer - midnight had come and gone. Something occurred to him. "Isn't Yucatn further than Oaxaca?"
"Facey," Murdock was reproving, "didn't you notice the extra fuel tank?"
"In the dark?" he riposted, but the truth was he probably wouldn't have in broad daylight.
"Well," Murdock relented, "it's a small one, we're only doubling the range, not tripling it. `Cause you're right - the triangle is longer than just down and back."
"So," Hannibal said, "we're not almost there?"
"Two hours to Mexico, but Mexico's big."
"Oh, right," Murdock nodded. "No, closer to three. So -" he looked at his watch again "- about forty minutes yet. And I should get back." He headed front again,
The Abel came back and sat in the same forward seat as before, looking at the same nothing and ignoring them. But the headset he was wearing meant he'd heard the whole conversation with Murdock - Face quickly reviewed that and found nothing he wished unsaid - and would hear anything they said now. Hannibal knew that; it was probably why he'd shut down the talk about their return trip, come to think of. But Face looked across the cargo compartment at Frankie, tapped his headset on the earpiece and shook his finger. Frankie cut his eyes toward the Abel and then nodded, leaning back and crossing his arms.
Forty minutes of silence. He didn't have any logistics to think about - a car ride, another car ride, a boat ride? Planning for after Miami was pointless; he rather leaned toward a train himself, Amtrak ran to Boston and beyond. But Hannibal wasn't crazy about trains; whenever you brought them up, Hannibal complained about them being coops, traps, dead-ends, not to mention considerably less than private. So they drove, or they flew, and flying would be out this time. But planning for it was self-evidently pointless; BA's input would be required. So the next forty minutes stretched out before him, empty and needing filling. To keep himself from thinking, Face unstrapped and found the rifle case. He pulled it into the center aisle and opened it, then reached for his Ruger. Hannibal raised his eyebrows.
"We won't be taking these onto a cruise ship," Face pointed out.
Hannibal nodded and handed him BA's M16. Face broke them both down, cleaned and packed them, and then Frankie's as well. Though he felt their (he hoped) different gazes on him, neither Hannibal nor Frankie offered to help him, which, as was apparently obvious, was how he wanted it. Idle hands, as the nuns had always said.
He managed to stretch the task out until the Abel spoke. "We're coming in to land; you'd better strap in, Mr. Peck."
He pulled a final strap tight and latched the case. Putting it back in place, he clipped it in and sat down in the nearest seat. Murdock set the Chinook down gently and throttled back, but left the engines and rotors turning. They unloaded the luggage, two bags for each of them; the Abels and the driver of a big car which was pulled up by the side of the road gave them a hand. Then Hannibal and Frankie unbuckled BA and hoisted him to his feet. He reacted slightly when they did, and even stumbled a bit as they walked him down the ramp. "Let's get him in the car," Hannibal said. The driver opened the door for them and then jogged onto the helicopter.
Face watched them settle BA inside, then he turned to watch Murdock talking briefly to the pilot. Murdock patted the side of the helicopter fondly before he came to join Face, watching the ramp close up. He put a hand up to hold his baseball cap in place as the twin rotors spun up and drove a blast of air at them. Face's hair blew in the false wind and he staggered slightly before regaining his footing. Murdock turned when he reached Face and the two of them stood shoulder to shoulder watching the Chinook lift away and vanish into the dark sky.
Hannibal joined them. "BA's waking up," he said. "I think we'll wait till he does."
"Yeah," Murdock agreed. "Wouldn't want to be driving when that happens. Good way to have an accident."
"You know where we're going, then?" Face said. "Since the driver took off?"
"That way," Hannibal pointed. "Six miles to Merida, and there's a map to the hotel in the car."
Something was niggling at Face, and now it hit him. "Frankie! Get away from there."
Frankie, who'd been leaning against the side of the car, jerked upright. "What?"
"Come over here, idiot. You think he won't remember who drugged him? Stay out of his reach."
"Good idea," Hannibal said. "Face and I will talk to him."
Face sighed. "If he punches somebody, I hope it's you," he said.
"You duck if he swings," Hannibal said. "We don't need you in the hospital again."
"Don't worry." But in fact he deserved to get punched if BA woke up swinging; he'd known there was no way Hannibal meant what he was saying, and he'd let BA think it. On the other hand, that was the way it always went... and he was the least guilty of them, so he wouldn't have any trouble ducking and letting BA get the others first. He trailed Hannibal to the car, but before they got there BA was sitting up. And angry.
They trotted the last few feet. "BA," Hannibal said. "Glad to see you up."
"Where are we?" That was menacing.
Hannibal didn't dance around it. "Mexico. Yucatn. You know I couldn't let you drive -"
"You drugged me - Frankie drugged me?"
"Don't get mad at him." Face said.
"I ain't. He just do what he told." A brief pause, and Face was beginning to think BA was still too groggy to do anything, and then the big man erupted through the open door and swung at Hannibal.
Hannibal clearly had had the same idea as Face, as he didn't even duck. BA's fist caught him on the jaw and sent him sprawling. The big man didn't wait for him to hit the ground before turning toward Face, who backed up a couple of steps. "BA, I did not know -"
"You knew somethin'," BA said. "You knew he didn't mean it."
"I didn't know," Face said a bit desperately. "I guessed it, okay, but that's all."
BA took a deep breath. "I ain't gonna hit you, Face. Might hurt you bad if I did. But I'm mad, and I ain't gonna forget it." He turned to Hannibal, who was, wisely, sitting on the ground instead of getting to his feet. "You lied to me, Hannibal."
"Yes, I did. But I couldn't let you drive through Ecuador, BA, that was never going to happen. And you know it - you knew it." He rubbed his jaw. "I knew you weren't going to like it, I admit -"
"I don't like to fly, Hannibal."
"I know. Unfortunately, there are times we don't have a choice."
"We?" That was scornful.
"We," Hannibal repeated. "All of us are having to do things we don't want to do."
The pause was long enough that Hannibal began to gingerly get to his feet. BA offered him a hand, which he took, also gingerly. But once he was up BA didn't let go of his hand. Face took a couple of steps toward them, aware that Murdock and Frankie were also approaching.
"This is Mexico. I'm not flying back from here," BA said.
"None of us are," Hannibal assured him. "We would drive if that was the option. But it's not. We're sailing."
"What kind of boat?"
BA thought about that and then he nodded, smiling at last. He let go of Hannibal's hand. "Okay, Hannibal." He pointed at him. "This time." He stretched his arms, working out the kinks. "Where is it?"
"We catch it tomorrow night, at Progreso. But we're spending tonight -"
"What's left of it," Murdock put in.
"- in Merida, which is six miles away. So we need to get on the road if we're going to get any sleep, or dinner."
"Get in," BA jerked his head. "I'm starving."
"The luggage," Frankie said.
"Luggage? We got luggage?"
"It would be hard to be on a cruise without it," Face said, relieved that it had been so easy.
"Awright, then," BA got into the car and popped the trunk. "Load it up."
Face started to say something, then shook his head. No point in arguing. Frankie and Murdock had brought six of the suitcases over already, so while they loaded those into the trunk he grabbed the last four suitcases and headed for the car. Murdock and Frankie both reached for one but Face pulled away. Dammit, he could carry some suitcases thirty yards. They fell back, exchanging a glance. He shook his head and ignored them as they followed him to the car, where he wedged the bags into the trunk. They just fit. Of course, Stockwell had known how much trunk they'd need. Damn, damn, damn... a convenient cage was worse than a jagged one. He slammed the trunk shut with more force than necessary and looked up to see the other two getting into the back seat, on the same side, Frankie first.
He shrugged and headed for the other side, only to see Hannibal there. "Front seat, kid," the colonel said with a grin. "BA doesn't want us there."
Face grinned - there was going to be a little fallout for a while yet - and opened the front door.
"Just get in, Faceman, and don't say nothin'."
"Easy enough," he nodded and got in. BA waited until he shut the door and then pulled away into the night.
Six miles isn't very far. Until they reached the edge of Merida, they didn't talk. Then BA shoved a tourist map at Face, who navigated them through the town to the hotel. As he pulled into the parking lot, heading for the rental car spaces where their instructions said to leave it for pickup, Frankie said, "You know, maybe we should have changed?"
"Hmmm, yeah," Face said; he should have thought of that. "Five - okay, four," he nodded at Murdock, back in his bomber jacket and khakis, "guys in fatigues might make the front desk nervous, no matter what Stockwell's told them."
"True. Frankie," Hannibal turned to him. "You and Face sort out those suitcases. Find everybody something suitably touristy; just a shirt should be enough. We'll dump these later."
BA popped the trunk, and he, Murdock, and Hannibal watched as Face and Frankie pulled out the suitcases, opened them, and found in the smaller ones IDs and tickets. That helped them parcel out the bags, and get everybody into something casual or, for BA, bright red and sleeveless. The olive drab trousers were subdued into something that would pass casual muster, at least. Face checked his ID: Robert Selden. Could be worse... "New names," he said.
"Make sure you use the right ones from here on," said Hannibal. He checked his. "Jonathan Norwood... that'll be easy enough."
Estéban Vega for Frankie, and Murdock was William Hope.
"Billy," Face said and wished he hadn't.
"Yeah," said Murdock. "I don't know if Stockwell knows enough for that to be a joke or not. How about you, big guy?" He plucked the driver's license out of BA's hand and read the name out. "Bosco Washington. Now that is a joke."
"Ain't nothin' funny about it." BA snatched the card back. "At least it's a real name."
"It's a fine name," Hannibal said.
"It's just that it's yours," Murdock tried.
"You ain't calling me that." BA brandished the license. "It's Bosco Antwan."
And that was funny, but Face didn't laugh.
"All right, let's go," Hannibal said, picking up his bags. They followed him across the parking lot into the large, tiled lobby and up to the front desk. "Norwood and party."
"Ah, yes, sir, Mr. Norwood," said the clerk. "Welcome; we were beginning to worry. Your rooms have been held, per the fax. We weren't able to get all of them on the same floor; I hope that won't be a problem?"
"No, of course not," Hannibal said expansively. "Where are they?"
"Two on the fourth, together, two on the fifth but on opposite ends of the hall, and one on the third. Will that be satisfactory?"
Hannibal nodded but didn't say anything; apparently he was waiting for the clerk to parcel out the rooms according to Stockwell's instructions. Face, a little more familiar with reading situations like this, realized that Stockwell had actually said `five rooms together' and the clerk was waiting for input. Instinctively he gave it. "Mr. Norwood, why don't you and Washington take the two on the fourth floor? I'm sure he'd prefer that... Vega can be on the fifth with me -" self-serving, that, now come up with a reason "- so he'll be handy if someone calls from Caracas -"
Hannibal interrupted. "He's not a business tool, Selden." They'd been doing this so long it was second nature to them both, making things up on the fly. "William, you take the other fifth-floor room. Selden, you can have the one on the third floor."
The clerk, studiously poker faced, handed out the keys. Face took his, happy enough with the way things had turned out, and waited till they had all signed their new names. That done, they headed for the elevator. Face dropped his bag on the floor and stretched.
"Tired?" asked Hannibal.
"Yes. Hungrier than tired, though," Face answered. "But the first thing I'm doing is taking a long hot shower."
"That does sound good," BA agreed.
Face was drying his hair when someone knocked on the door of his room. He went to the door and called through it. "Who is it?"
"Me," Hannibal said.
Face opened the door and let him in, glad he had a towel wrapped around himself.
"You coming down to dinner?"
"I thought we'd be lucky to get room service; it's nearly two." He went back into the bathroom and picked up the blow dryer.
Hannibal laughed. From the sound, he was leaning against the wall outside the bathroom's open door. "Face, this is no cheap hotel. Plus it's a resort. And Stockwell's spending money, so the kitchen is still open. It's a party."
"A party," Face repeated. "I'm starting to have the feeling that Stockwell knows this was tricky but intends to pretend it was run-of-the-mill when it comes to our indentures."
"Starting?" Hannibal said. "We're a valuable asset and the man doesn't intend to let us go a minute earlier than he has to. It's going to have to be considerably more complicated than getting a plane back, however special -"
"Special?" Face cocked his head and decided his hair would do for a Mexican hotel he'd never be back to. He slotted the hair dryer back in its holder and went out into the room.
Hannibal was continuing. "- for him to let go. We'll make it, but this isn't the kind of mission that will do it."
Face snorted. "If saving the Attorney General isn't enough, I'm not sure I want to know what would be." As soon as he'd said it, he wished he hadn't. He knew: all the strings Stockwell had had to pull with the DC cops, the FBI, the hospital, the therapists ... It all added up. He really hated thinking that his screw-up had actually put them deeper in the hole.
"Stop it, Face."
Face froze, his hands holding the trousers he'd pulled out of the suitcase. "What," he tried, "it's a bad color?"
"You got shot. It caused problems. But you need to stop beating yourself up over it."
"I mean it. The situation was a mess, and your getting shot complicated things, but don't fool yourself: there was never any guarantee that Stockwell would have behaved any other way. After all, that wasn't a mission; it was on our own time. The man's more than capable of saying it didn't count against our agreement. Get dressed, Face. Dinner's waiting."
Face pulled on the trousers. "My getting shot didn't help."
"That's true," Hannibal agreed. "But stop thinking we'd be gone if you hadn't been."
Face randomly grabbed a shirt. Pale gold polo, it would do. Hannibal's words were welcome, even if he didn't believe them one hundred percent. (Then again, what did he believe one hundred percent?) But they eased the twin-edged guilt that pricked his conscience a few times ... every day. Hannibal only knew the half of it.
But that was all he needed to know. Face pulled his shirt on and then sat down to put on his shoes and tried to think of something to say. But Hannibal didn't wait for his answer. Instead, he asked:
"What do you talk about?"
"You know, you and Frankie. If it's not the missions."
"Oh, you know," Face said. "Women. Cars." He paused and looked over at Hannibal. "Los Angeles."
"I love LA, Face," Hannibal grinned. "Look at that mountain -"
Face pointed at him. "Oh, no, Hannibal. You're from New Hampshire. You do not get that song. Because, well, you don't get it."
Hannibal shrugged, still grinning. "Fair enough." He was quiet for a moment. "I'm actually glad to hear it."
"That you don't get LA? I've said that before."
"No." He leaned against the wall and looked across the room at the vibrant, Maya-themed artwork. "That you've got someone to talk to. Because I know you hate not being there. I know it makes it harder for you than if Stockwell had set us up in California."
Face's laugh was short and incredulous. "Don't believe it. We could be in the middle of Wilshire and I'd still hate it non-stop."
"No, you wouldn't. There'd be whole ten-minute chunks where you'd be content."
"I doubt it." What difference did it make where the cage was? At home it might even be worse...
"Maybe not," Hannibal was conceding. "Even so, you'd be happier. So I'm glad you and Frankie discovered you can get along." Then he laughed. "I'm surprised you talk about women."
"Why?" he asked; Frankie hadn't really hidden anything, but he wasn't out to Hannibal, either, and it probably wasn't a good idea.
"He's not exactly in your league. In fact, he's barely out of Single A."
Face laughed. That was safe enough. "Come on, Hannibal. Just because someone's no good at something, it doesn't mean he's not interested in it."
"Well, that's true enough. He take notes?" Hannibal laughed. "C'mon, Face, I'm starving."
Party turned out to be a truer word than Face, for some reason, had been expecting. He wasn't really sure why; it wasn't the first time Stockwell had provided some entertainment. The others were already there, which was kind of a shame; Face would have liked to see how BA had deflected his, if only for entertainment value. He always did deflect them; he had occasionally been attracted to a client, and then he'd been shy and gentle and amazingly ... shiny. But hookers weren't his thing, though he was generally polite and had been fierce over their rights more than once in the past. Now he was sitting at the end of the table nearest the buffet that had been laid out for them, tucking away scrambled eggs with gusto. Face did a quick check - there was more than breakfast food. His last meal - if you could call some granola bars a meal - had been more than eight hours earlier. He headed for the buffet
When he'd loaded up his plate, he sat down in the empty seat next to BA. The blonde (Stockwell was nothing if not thorough; he'd sent them a black girl, a Hispanic, and a blonde, brunette, and redhead) sat next to him. "Hi," she said. "You must be Robert. Or is it Bob?"
"Robert," he said.
"Hi, Robert. I'm Dulcie."
She was, too. Big blue eyes in a triangular face with masses of honey-colored hair. You couldn't accuse Stockwell of not trying. Hannibal joined them, sitting between the brunette and the black girl BA had turned down. The conversation had to be superficial, of course - talk about the Mayan coast and ruins and beaches. The girls were flirty and full of fun, which was to be expected. And a few months ago, Face would have been as happy to accept as Murdock and Hannibal, who were chatting up the other three. But now, it wasn't even tempting; more astonishingly, it wouldn't have been had Frankie not been sitting on the other side of table, uncharacteristically silent. Face was just running on autopilot, waiting for tomorrow, and feeling surprised at how willing he was to do it.
BA finished his meal and stood up. "I'm goin' to bed. See you tomorrow."
"Sleep tight, big guy," Murdock said, grinning.
BA shook his head and then smiled one of his broad, happy smiles. "I ain't gonna waste my breath sayin' the same to you. See you tomorrow."
After a moment, Frankie dragged his hand over his face and said, to no one in particular, "I think I'm going to bed, too."
Hannibal looked up, ready to make a joke, but Frankie forestalled that by telling the dark-haired girl next to him to stay put. "I'm wiped out," he said. "And my head's killing me. See you guys tomorrow." He left, and she shrugged and turned to Murdock.
Face watched him leave, and decided he'd leave pretty soon himself. He did want to finish eating, but he didn't need to sit around with drinks and the girls for another hour or two and then crawl into bed and sleep it off. What he needed was Frankie. Maybe Frankie would still be thinking they were in the field, but even so they could talk. It hadn't been forty-eight hours yet, but it felt to Face like much longer. And the amazing thing was, set against the Team and alcohol and willing women, a game of cards with Frankie was winning, hands down.
He barely recognized himself.
Dulcie leaned over, breast brushing against his arm. "You're not going, too, are you, Robert?" she asked breathily.
He looked at her, catching Hannibal's glance out of the corner of his eye. Earlier the colonel had kidded him about giving notes to Frankie, but this was something that Frankie had taught him. He remembered a conversation from four, maybe five months ago. Somebody always gets hookers for a wrap party, especially in Mexico, Frankie had said, but he'd never met a working girl who wasn't happy to get paid for doing nothing and not mentioning it. But not so soon; he should stay for at least one drink. "No, not hardly."
"Glad to hear it," Hannibal "We were starting to feel slighted, weren't we?"
Murdock nodded, getting up. "I saw flan. Anybody else want some?"
"I do," Face said, his mouth watering at the thought of it.
"A little bourbon to go with it?"
"Absolutely," he said and accepted the glass Hannibal handed him across the table.
After a while a young man came out and cleared away the dishes, two more taking care of the buffet table. The eight of them sat with the bourbon a while longer; you could tell the girls were hired because they barely participated in the conversation, though they laughed a lot. The conversation was general and light, of course, but Face enjoyed it. It had been a while; before Virginia, before Stockwell, they'd celebrated like this sometimes, BA joining them with milk and sly jokes. But celebrations didn't fit the end of Stockwell's jobs, and they just didn't anymore. This was more about him being back than their getting that plane, which might be satisfying on an abstract patriotic level, or a puzzle-solving plans-working-out one, or a visceral we're-still-alive one, but hardly produced the kind of glow that came when you looked at small-time shopkeepers whose livelihoods you'd just saved. Even Hannibal and Murdock were drinking harder and talking more brittlely. But he had to admit, if BA had stayed, then even with the girls, who he had to admit gave it that slightly skeevy Stockwell air, he would have stayed too. But without him, and with them, it threatened to turn into the sort of party he wasn't in the mood for.
He finished his second drink and set the glass down with a rap. "That's it for me, I need my beauty sleep."
"That's probably a good idea," Hannibal acknowledged, pouring himself a fourth drink. He glanced at Dulcie, but Face didn't plan to leave her behind; that would raise too many questions tomorrow.
He stood and looked down at her with a winning smile. "Shall we, honey?" he asked, holding out his hand. She smiled and gave him hers. "Goodnight, gentlemen," he said with a little bow and escorted her out into the lobby. He rang for the elevator and they got in. She must have picked up on something; once the door slid closed she let go of his arm. She was still standing close enough that the tropical scent of her filled his nostrils, but the physical contact was gone. And he was grateful for that; it had just been confusing the issue.
In the last month or so Face had come to realize things about himself. For instance, he'd had to admit that well before the real turning point in his relationship with Frankie - which had not been the day he got shot; sure, Frankie had only spoken up because of that day, but Face hadn't fallen into his arms just because he'd said `I love you', not just because; there had been groundwork laid even if he hadn't realized that was what was happening. No, it had been that day after they'd come back from Florida, that day he'd asked Frankie on their first drive together... But well before that day he'd been aware of Frankie on a physical level. His long legs, his elegant hands, the cinnamon of his skin and the depth of his dark eyes... He'd always assumed most men noticed things like that about other men but just never said so; after all, he'd figured it out early: don't say it. He rarely even let `they're a good-looking couple' cross his lips, so much did he want to be normal; but for the longest time he hadn't thought that other guys just didn't notice.
And then he'd finally had to admit that they didn't, and to wonder for a day or so if that meant he was gay. But then Leslie had come along and he'd shelved that whole line of speculation. How could he be gay when he had a girlfriend? Only very recently had he wondered about picking a girlfriend who wouldn't sleep with him, and this right after the Summer of Love. At the time, while his fraternity brothers were getting laid right and left, he'd preened himself on the purity of his girl, which was, of course, as much if not more his Catholic sex-and-women hang-ups (Father Maghill wasn't as easy on sex as Father Engarry, and the nuns? Scary) as anything else. But it hadn't been a real warning because he hadn't been a virgin. A few high school experiences, some frat parties ... and then faithfulness to Leslie.
And then Vietnam. The things - all the things, sex, drugs, death - that happened there were almost unreal, until they became all too real, too real to ignore. Not just the camp, though that had certainly colored his existence for years. Murdock, too.
And how many years had he denied that? Denied the attraction and the meaning behind it. Denied what it meant about him.
Father Engarry had helped him put it in perspective, and he'd settled on knowing that Murdock was ... well, whatever it was he was. Friend, family, loved one... Over many years that emotion had settled into a quiet, barely felt ache. He'd listened to Jill and he'd had more women than he could, literally, remember, and things had been fine. Just fine.
And then life had sucker-punched him again. If Face didn't recognize himself now, that was to the good, because he had recognized himself all too well over the past year, the black, growing rage that would culminate in something stupid and destructive. He'd recognized it, but of late hadn't been able to do anything to stop it.
And then Frankie...
Now there was something completely incomprehensible.
He blinked, realizing they were in front of his door. He unlocked it, and let Dulcie precede him. She halted halfway from the door to the bed and turned to look at him. She half raised a hand, then stopped and said, "What do you want?"
"Nothing," he said, glad she was a pro and that he didn't have to soothe any hurt feelings. Frankie had said that, too; pick up a girl in a bar and she wants you, all a hooker wants is to get paid. But an explanation was probably a good idea. "I don't want to get into it with them - they don't appreciate my fiance as it is. But I can't - well, you know."
She canted her head and said, "And what about me?"
"You'll be paid, don't worry," he said. "I'm not about to say anything. If you're asking what you should do," he shrugged, "you can stay here if you like, or leave as long as nobody sees you."
She smiled at him, and for a moment sensory memory threatened to overset his equilibrium. Frankie thought they were in the field, he was asleep by now, what could it hurt?
What can it hurt?
You. It could hurt you, he'd said. And, If you put yourself in reach, I'll use you.
No, you won't. Frankie had been so certain, so inexplicably and unshakably certain. And at this minute the only thing that mattered to Face was keeping that certainty undamaged. Frankie might be asleep, he might not see him until morning, but when he did he wasn't going to have anything to hide.
He waved at the minibar. "Have anything you like," he said. "Stay till morning."
"I think I will," she said. "It's a nice room. What about you?"
"I'll share with one of the others," he said.
"You don't have to do that."
He looked at her and thought, why not? She might deserve it. "Yes. I do."
She laughed softly. "She's lucky, Robert. I'll slap you if you change your mind."
"I won't," he said. "But thanks for the offer."
She smiled again, not even a little wistfully, and looked around the room. "Don't worry," she said, "I'll be gone early; I'll just take a nap."
"That's fine. Sweet dreams." And with that he left.
I do, he'd said, but he didn't really. The temptation was very small - so small he was startled. He rang for the elevator, then changed his mind. Two flights weren't too many to climb, and he'd hate to meet Hannibal or Murdock coming up. He took the stairs two at a time, not really caring what exactly was going to happen. Tonight might be celibate, but tomorrow?
Two decades of denial gone by the board, in a handful of weeks. Sure, Frankie knew the magic words, but Face didn't really believe in magic. `Let me stop you being lonely' didn't get a straight guy into a gay man's bed no matter how lonely he was.
And here he was, hardly able to wait to get there.
Maybe mummers never recognized themselves.
He laughed out loud. The flat fact was, he didn't care. About any of it.
He eased open the stairwell door and checked the hall. Murdock probably wouldn't care if he did see him, but better safe than sorry, and it was Murdock who set up the distance that existed between them now. Not that he blamed the pilot. And not that this was something he cared about, for that matter.
He knocked softly on Frankie's door. If Frankie was asleep he could get through the door, and would, but best to knock. After only a few moments Frankie appeared, enticingly disheveled in an unbuttoned shirt, which he began buttoning as soon as he saw who was at the door. That, unfortunately, answered that question, but Face pushed past him anyway. He'd figured on it, after all.
"What are you doing here?"
"Checking up on you," he answered cheerfully. "How's your headache?"
"Like you bought that," Frankie said. "Aren't you tired?"
"No," he said honestly if a little surprised at himself. "Too late, or early, or something." Before Frankie could say anything, he added, "What about you?" He glanced at the bed, which was still made up, a book lying open face-down on it. "Doesn't look like you were in bed. Yet."
"Face, we're still on the clock."
"Frankie, we're done," he tried. "Tomorrow we leave. Far as I'm concerned, we're on vacation."
"We're still in Mexico, Face. We're still in the field."
Face sighed. "Why are you so, so -" He couldn't think of the appropriate word.
Frankie shook his head and then laughed. "Look, I'm just remembering what you said."
"What I said? What? When?"
"Paraphrasing: that unless somebody was standing over you with a gun you might not do the smart thing."
"Now you pay attention ..." Face sat on the desk and looked at Frankie. His lover was uncomfortable, Face could tell that, on the verge of asking Face to leave. He didn't want that asked; if it was he'd have to, and he wanted to spend the rest of the night with Frankie one way or the other. He looked away, his gaze settling on the brilliantly-colored painting of a Mayan ruin with parrots that hung on the wall, twin to the one in his own room. And suddenly he knew exactly what to say. "Let's go watch the sun rise."
Frankie looked relieved, then puzzled. "Dawn's not for a couple of hours yet."
"Not here. Let's go," Face said. "Let's watch the sun come up from the temple."
"The temple?" Frankie was startled, but Face heard the undertone that said he really wanted to.
"The temple. It's what, 75 miles? That's about right... We find a driver -"
"Johnny said to stay in."
"Frankie, c'mon. We've done this sort of thing before -"
"No, I mean, we can't charge a taxi to the hotel without him knowing."
"Oh. Well, yes, you're probably right about that, but we don't need to. I've got cash." To Frankie's lifted eyebrows he explained, "I never go anywhere without cash. Especially not for Stockwell. I didn't use any of it, so I've still got five hundred dollars, in tens and twenties. I figure if I offer a cabbie, I don't know, a hundred? he'll be happy to drive us there and wait to bring us back."
"For a quarter of a million? I imagine so."
"No, I said a hundred."
"Temple, one dollar is over twenty-five hundred pesos." Frankie took in his surprise. "You didn't know that?"
"No," Face said defensively. "It was like thirty the last time I looked, a few years ago. Hell, it was only twelve when I was in high school. Twenty-five hundred? That's worse than lira, for crying out loud."
"No kidding," Frankie said soberly. "Last time I was here, like eighteen months ago, it was well over two thousand, and it's a lot worse now. It's been in freefall since '82." He shook his head. "I mean, we'd be down here filming, you know? And we'd need something, or they'd just come out and try to sell us stuff - food, maybe, or stuff for the set - and we'd know it cost them about a hundred pesos, 'cause we'd see it in town, or hear them talking, but they'd be offering it to us for, like, a thousand. I mean, that is an outrageous markup, ten times the price, but it was still not even a half dollar, so you couldn't even get mad. Sometimes you'd just go ahead and give them a dollar for it, which was twice what they were asking or more, but still... It always made me feel like ... Hell, I don't even know how to explain it. It was unbelievable." He shook his head. "The country's going to collapse."
"We can't stop it," Face said. He couldn't have explained how listening to Frankie was making him feel right now. Angry, and a little amused, and something that felt oddly like pride... "Not personally. But we can give a hard-working driver a nice windfall, and still have plenty left over to get inside Chichen Itza." He smiled winningly. "Hannibal won't be up till ten, if then. We can have been there and back for hours."
Frankie hesitated a moment longer, then capitulated. "I need to change," he said. "And you need a jacket."
Face didn't argue it, just nodded. "I'll meet you at the elevator," he said.
He let himself into his room. In the bed, Dulcie turned over and murmured something he couldn't make out. "Nothing," he said, "I just forgot something. Go back to sleep." How odd that she was, he thought; sleeping around strangers was just ... Well, he didn't do it. She, on the other hand, apparently did, as he heard nothing more. Odd.
He shook it off and contemplated the dresser where he'd put his suitcases. Whoever had packed for them (he was doing his best not to think about that and what it meant, because, really, what was the point?) had put in two jackets, his camel sports jacket and a pale blue windbreaker he didn't remember ever seeing before. But since the camel one was badly wrinkled (first thing he'd do on the ship was have the steward get things cleaned), he put the blue one on anyway. It was probably better for this, for that matter... and it fit. He zipped it up halfway and made sure he had his wallet and key before he headed for the elevator. As he opened the door he paused and then thought, What the hell, and dropped forty dollars on the bedside table.
After a few minutes, it went past him up to the fifth floor, and then began to descend again. At his floor it stopped and he got on, joining Frankie, who'd changed into jeans and that green Henley shirt he loved, with a brown leather jacket Face didn't remember. Somebody had done a lot of shopping, he reflected. Nice shopping, too: Frankie looked sexy as hell. Somewhere along the way, Face reflected, whatever he'd been doing with his life, he'd managed to get very lucky.
It was a little bit scary. He could lose it all so easily, and that would be the thing that tipped the balance and sent him straight to the Dark Side - or Hell. He shook it off. Just watch your step, Templeton, and it won't happen.
The door opened onto the lobby and Face took a quick look to make sure Hannibal and Murdock weren't coming before he and Frankie crossed the tiled floor to the big door. It was very dark outside; Merida was fairly big, but they were on the outskirts and it wasn't nearly as light-producing as Washington. A couple of cabs were parked in the square outside the hotel. "Get us one," Face said and watched Frankie go up to one, lean in and talk to the driver.
So very sexy...
Frankie straightened and waved him over. "Raul will take us out and back for one fifty."
Face eyed him. The price was almost certainly Frankie's idea, but what the hell. It was a dollar a mile, and waiting free, which was hardly out of line. He'd been squirreling money away for years, so if tonight cost him a hundred more than he'd first thought, big deal. Besides, he could almost certainly get it out of Stockwell over the next few months.
"Up front," Frankie added. "Plus, he says it'll probably cost us fifty to get one of the guards to let us in."
Face was pulling out his wallet. "I hadn't thought of that. I guess it will be before opening. Well, get in. We don't want to be late."
Frankie grinned and opened the back door of the cab. Face handed eight twenties to the young, bearded driver and waved off any change. Then he slid in next to Frankie. The driver looked back over the seat at them, grinning. "Chichen Itza!" He revved the engine and took off.
The drive took ninety minutes. They didn't talk, just sat in the dark and looked out at the Mexican sky. It was full of stars, the kind of sky Frankie liked. Face could take it or leave it, but he found himself enjoying watching Frankie look at it. The road signs went by - Hocchel Kantunil, Libre Union, Piste - and they turned off. Several more miles and in a sky just beginning to turn light Face could make out the huge black shape of the pyramid. The driver slowed and turned into an empty parking lot; he pulled up next to the guard.
"Let me have the fifty," Frankie said. "I'll talk to him."
"Here," Face handed over sixty. "Give him all of it. It's worth it."
Frankie's teeth flashed. "I am so glad this was your idea."
"You'd better hurry; dawn's on its way."
Frankie grinned again. Face got out of the car and stretched, then leaned in to say to Raul, "Espera en al alba," hoping he'd remembered the verb right.
Raul gave him a huge smile. "Si, senor," he said. "I wait." He held up a tattered paperback.
Face nodded and walked over to join Frankie by the chain across the entry.
"Does that say what I think it does?" Face gestured at the signboard.
"Yes, it does. Yes, fifteen dollars. It also says it opens at nine. The sun will be long up."
"Not complaining," Face said. "It's still cheap."
Frankie cocked his head and then laughed. "You are enjoying this. Good."
"It was my idea," Face protested.
"I know. But I was worried you just wanted to because I wanted to."
Face looked at him. "I do want to because you want to. Not `just' but if you want to, there must be something to it."
"You won't regret it. Come on."
The guard unhooked the chain for them; as they passed he said something with one of Face's Spanish words in it - cuidado. "Be careful of what?"
Frankie laughed. "He said, be careful; don't fall off."
"Very funny. Where is it?"
Frankie led the way. It was too dark to see much, but the huge bulk of the pyramid dead ahead off the parking lot was impossible to miss. "This place is bigger than I thought," Face said after a few minutes.
"It's a city," Frankie pointed out. "Okay, it's a pre-Columbian city, but still. It's not just a couple of buildings. You could spend all day here." He laughed. "Some people can, anyway."
"At least you've already been here," Face said, coming to a halt. "My god. How high is that?"
"Twenty seven meters. But there are stairs."
"Twenty seven... A meter is three inches more than a yard, so every four meters is another foot, so ... almost thirty yards. Eight stories."
"There are stairs," Frankie repeated. "If we're going to watch the sunrise..."
Face shook his head. "Suddenly the `don't fall off' advice seems more reasonable."
"We should climb on the north side."
"Why is that?" Face asked, following Frankie around a corner.
"There are ninety-one steps on the other sides. And the stairs on the north side are the main ones. Here, feel this carving."
Face did. It was some of that elaborate stylized work and he had the feeling he might have had to ask in daylight; at least the darkness was an excuse. "What is it?"
"Coatl," Face remembered. Weird to a Catholic boy, or at least an Anglo one...
"Right. This is Kukulkan's temple - he's Quetzalcoatl in Mayan."
Face began climbing. "Which reminds me: why was Coyote Mountain a perfect choice?"
"Oh..." Frankie sounded a bit embarrassed.
Face made an effort and remembered something from his freshman year at UCLA. "The Trickster, right?" He'd paused to catch his breath under cover of thinking and now he resumed climbing a couple of steps behind.
Frankie took a couple more, then paused himself, though as far as Face could tell it was more to wait for him than because he needed to. "Well, kind of. I mean, yes, he is, but he's more than that. Coyote was there at the beginning. He helped make people, and the holy ones... 'No one knew what to do, so they asked Coyote'."
Face shook his head, grateful for the dark and the distance. "You ask advice from a Trickster, it might not be that good ... and if you know he's a Trickster, you might deserve what you get."
"If you know he's a Trickster," Frankie began, paused, then said, "you might want what you get."
Another pause followed, during which Face tried to think of something to say that wasn't a joke or a seduction. He failed. They climbed another thirty or so steps and Face stopped again. Frankie, five risers ahead, stopped too and turned around. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Face said; to prove it, he closed the distance between them. "Stairs are different from the flat. A whole different set of muscles. But don't tell Hannibal, okay?"
Frankie laughed, then said seriously, "Don't overdo. It would be bad for you, and Johnny would kill me."
"I'm fine," Face repeated. "I just need to catch my breath a bit more often, that's all. Come on, we don't want to miss it." He led the way and Frankie caught up after only a couple of steps.
The top of the pyramid was crowned with the temple, its door facing the north and them as they reached it. Had it been light, Face might have gone inside, but instead he walked around the corner to the eastern side. He looked down the white stone stairway with its plain edging and turned to Frankie, an eyebrow raised. "That doesn't look longer."
"What?" Frankie asked.
"Don't pretend you don't know what I mean. There are ninety-one steps on the other sides, you said. I should have counted... There are ninety-one on the north, too, aren't there?"
"Actually, there are ninety-two."
Face had to laugh. "Some trickster."
Frankie joined him and they sat on the upper stair. The sky ahead of them was beginning to lighten but true dawn was still some little time away. The Yucatan night was still dark - sunrise was close but twilight here would be that swift, subtropical twilight, that fleeting thing Face remembered from Vietnam - and it was warm. Above them the stars were still clearly visible, bright and numerous. Frankie leaned back, bracing himself on locked-elbow arms, and looked up the sky. "This view is worth it, though, isn't it?"
Face looked at Frankie's profile against the sky and said, simply, "Yes."
They were quiet for a while. Face watched the twilight grow, revealing the shapes of the nearby buildings and the trees on the horizon. They were close enough that he could smell the scents that he had learned so well over the past month, Old Spice and Vitalis and that faint scent that was Frankie after climbing ninety-two steps on a warm night. Who would have thought that combination would be so comforting? The silence between them was an oddly charged thing that he wasn't sure of; it didn't feel like sex was imminent, but it was different from the silences they'd shared before they started sleeping together. He supposed sex and long-term relationships changed everything. He was also aware how absurd it was to say this was a long-term relationship, but the fact was, badly as it reflected on him, that he had in fact been with Frankie longer than anyone since Leslie, which made this unique. Maybe this was the right time to bring things up, because he simply wasn't sure any more than he'd been right. Frankie wasn't trained. Compartmenting might not be possible, let alone easy. The sky was white over the trees in the southeast where the sun would appear. "Why did you leave so early?"
"BA left earlier."
"Yeah, but BA doesn't much care for booze and girls. One or the other and he'll sometimes stick around, but you must have noticed that when Hannibal and I start `boozin' and whorin'' BA tends to leave. You, on the other hand... you don't mind drinking and you at least pretend to like the girls. So why'd you leave?" When Frankie didn't answer right away, he sighed and said, "Was it me?"
"We're in the field," Frankie said. "You said about Johnny, you had to behave the way you usually do."
"When he's watching," Face said. "I took my hands off her the minute we got into the elevator. We're not in the field as far as I'm concerned, and even if we were, that wouldn't have been advancing the mission. Franklin, trust me -"
"I do," Frankie said.
"I just didn't want to watch it. It was making me crazy, and Johnny might have spotted that."
"Stuff like that shouldn't make you crazy. There's never anything in it, and there won't even be any it from now on."
"I know. I should know, anyway." Frankie looked at him. "It's just ... I got a little crazy, looking at her. I mean, that sergeant, that was one thing. That didn't count - I wouldn't have cared about that even if we hadn't talked yesterday."
"Was it only yesterday? Damn," Face said. "And that didn't even happen, not in real life."
"I know," Frankie sounded certain of that, anyway. "But this ... It's why I said we're in the field. If we're not, then -"
Well, damn, and yet it was funny, too.
Frankie kept talking. "- then is this... does this mean that's what you really want? I can deal with being number two; but number two billion?"
"Two billion?" Face couldn't help exclaiming.
"You know what I mean. Sure, probably half the women in the world are too old or young or ..." Frankie blew out an exasperated breath. "Anyway, like I said, it was just a momentary attack of crazy."
"You should know how crazy," Face said. "You're the one who made me realize how exactly opposite it really is."
Frankie looked at him with eyes as dark and brilliant as the sky over the brightening horizon, high over the first colors of the sunrise.
"You, Franklin. You can trust me. I will never betray you."
"You sound so sure. How the hell can you be so sure?"
"I know you."
"How? I don't recognize myself," he said. "I'm not like this."
"Yes, you are."
"I never have been." Not since Leslie, if in fact he'd been like that for her.
Frankie smiled. "You are. It's why I love you, Temple."
Temple... "With you I am."
"If that's true - and I'm not saying it is - I'm not going anywhere." Those dark eyes grew concerned. "What? What about that scares you?"
Damn his quickness. But he could answer this. "Nothing scares me. I'm just confused as hell. No, that's not true: Confused isn't the right word. Surprised is better."
"Why? I know you walk away a lot, but who's walked away from -" Frankie stopped abruptly. "Damn. I'm sorry."
"What for?" Then he realized. "Oh, Bancroft. No, he doesn't count. Really. There was a girl... in college." He sighed, remembering those days, those feelings. "She just ... disappeared. I guess I took a while to get over that." If indeed I am, but that was going unsaid.
"I'm not going anywhere. You can trust me."
"I don't know why."
"Oh, Temple. It's so easy." Frankie smiled at him. "Coyote created the stars."
And that made it impossible to keep on keeping his distance. He reached for Frankie and pulled him close, feeling his arms close around him, holding him tight. They sat quietly, his cheek on Frankie's chest, for a timeless interval. Then, "Temple?"
"Hmmmm?" He didn't move.
"Look at that," Frankie said softly.
Face turned, not letting go, and saw the sun cresting the trees in a blaze of gold under the red, crimson, purple, and deep blue bands reaching up into the sky over their heads. He sighed. "Pretty," he acknowledged. Frankie laughed softly.
Birds had been calling for some time, and as the sun rose higher they broke out into a real chorus of screams, calls, and hoots. Parrots, he supposed, and other tropical birds. There were wild parrots in LA, but he'd never been around them first thing in the morning. He sat up and looked down the side of the pyramid. He let go of Frankie and, putting his hand on the leather-clad shoulder, leveraged himself to his feet. Stretching, he walked around the corner to look around.
"This place is huge," he said to the approaching Frankie. "I had no idea." He waved his hand outwards. "I thought there was one pyramid, one temple, maybe a few other things. This is enormous."
"It is." Frankie sounded a bit proud. Face filed that away for later teasing. "Like I said, you could spend all day here, or more."
"Yeah, no kidding. But not today, unfortunately."
Frankie looked at his watch. "No kidding. It's almost 6:30."
"We've got plenty of time still," Face said. "But okay, we'll go." He walked along the edge of the platform, looking along the view to the west and then the northwest.
"That's the Ball Court," said Frankie. "It's the biggest one they've found."
"I should have brought the camera," he said. "Oh, well. Maybe we'll get back here."
"We don't have to," said Frankie.
"No," Face said, looking at him. "No. No, we don't. But I'm glad we came." Without waiting for an answer he started down the ninety-two steps on the north face. Frankie followed him silently, catching up a quarter of the way down. At the foot of the steps Face stopped for a good look at the stylized feathered serpents on either balustrade, running his hands over the curves and angles. Frankie tapped one of them gently and murmured something too soft to hear, then looked over at the cafeteria building.
"It's too early," Face said. "They'll be serving breakfast when we get back to the hotel."
"Well, then, let's go."
Raul was sleeping, his paperback draped over the steering wheel. "Despiertate, Raul," Frankie said. "We need to get back."
Raul sat up and rubbed his face. "The sunrise," he said, "very beautiful, no?"
"Very beautiful, yes," Face said. "The whole place."
Raul beamed and started the car.
The return trip only took seventy-five minutes, as Raul could now see the roads. They didn't talk much, because there wasn't much to say they wanted Raul to hear, just leaned back against the seat and looked out at the scenery and each other looking at the scenery, and every now and then just at each other. The traffic got heavy when they got to Merida, but Raul bulled his way through it, horn and accelerator getting about three times as much work as the brakes. He came to a screeching halt in front of the hotel. "Gracias, senores," he said as they got out. "I thank you very, very much, and hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Mexico."
Frankie said something in Spanish, and on impulse Face pulled out another twenty. "Gracias, Raul." The driver grinned again, took the money, and screeched away.
They turned to walk into the hotel and pulled up short on seeing BA, gleaming with gold and wide awake, striding toward them. It was way too late to pretend they were just going out.
"Good mornin'," BA said.
"Morning." Face said. "Is everybody up?"
"Faceman, don't you be crazy now. You know Hannibal didn' go to bed till way late. Ain't no way he be up at eight."
"No. Of course not." Which was a relief, as far as it went.
"You two have a good time?"
"Good. I'm goin' shoppin'. See you later."
"BA," he put out his hand and stopped the big man. "Don't you want to know..." That trailed off, and he tried again. "What are you..." He couldn't figure out how to ask it.
BA looked at him and shook his head. "LT," and BA didn't often call him that now, and it was significant when he did; Face wasn't sure exactly what it signified, but he'd learned to pay attention. "LT, you back now, and you safe, and that really all that matter. Long as you stay careful, I ain't gonna have anything to tell Hannibal." He canted his head and looked at the two of them for a long moment, then smiled his sweetest smile. "Now. I'm gonna go buy something for Momma. Hannibal have a noon wakeup. See you at lunch."
He left the hotel and Face watched him, wondering exactly what he meant.
"Well, that settles it," Frankie said, his voice almost creamy.
Face forgot about BA's intentions. "Settles what?" he asked, and his voice sounded breathless even to himself.'
"If BA doesn't care that we left the hotel when Johnny didn't want us to, and if he's leaving himself, then the mission really is over."
Face turned away from the door to see a look in Frankie's eyes he'd resigned himself to not seeing till they were on the boat, if not back in Langley. "It's definitely over," he agreed.
Frankie raised his eyebrows and headed for the elevator. Face followed him, jostling him as they entered. Frankie elbowed him back, a rough purposeful contact that sent a shock through Face's nerves. He pushed the button for 3, several times. Frankie laughed and then leaned in and kissed him. It was a quick, hard kiss, and it left Face's nerve ends singing and him flatfooted when the door opened again. Frankie beat him out of the elevator, but had to wait for Face to fumble the key out of his pocket. The door opened and Face pulled Frankie inside and pinned him up against it for a long kiss.
Frankie responded eagerly, his hands all over Face, mussing his hair and then unzipping the jacket and dropping it onto floor, sliding under the polo shirt, warm against Face's skin. Face tried to mirror the action, but though Frankie's jacket was unbuttoned, his shirt was snugly tucked into his belted jeans. Face tugged to no avail; he'd moved his head and Frankie was now biting his ear gently, and Face growled softly and then licked his throat. Frankie shivered and then pushed Face away, towards the bed. Face registered that it was unmade and, fortunately, empty; he'd forgotten all about Dulcie, and she didn't stay on his mind for more than a moment now, since she was gone. Shedding his jacket he pulled his shirt loose and began to pull it over his head; Face reached to help him, but when the lean torso was bared he let go of the cloth and leaned in, running his hands along Frankie's ribs and sucking on a nipple. Frankie gasped and grabbed at him; his arms were still swathed in shirt and Face had to fight out of it. When he had, Frankie grabbed him and overbore him back onto the bed. Face went down eagerly and pulled Frankie in close for another hungry kiss, pulling away only long enough for Frankie to yank the polo shirt over his head. Bare skin met as they clung to each other, mouths seeking and finding those places they were learning on each other's body - Frankie's throat, and that spot over his collarbone, Face's shoulder blade shivering under Frankie's nails drawn over them. They were lost in each other and Face lost track of for how long.
After the first frenzy, as though they'd been apart for weeks instead of a few days, they slowed, gentling their grips into caresses. Face leaned over Frankie, bracing with one hand, and kissed him thoroughly. Then he sat up and reached to untie the laces of Frankie's desert boots. He chucked each one off onto the floor in turn, then pulled off the thick white socks. He'd meant to go for the jeans next, but instead he held Frankie's left foot in his hands and rubbed the instep, then bent his head and licked the length of it, holding firmly against the reflex - Frankie was ticklish - and sucked on the big toe. Frankie relaxed and moaned softly, a sound that fired Face's hunger. Now he did move upwards, kissing Frankie's stomach while he unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans. Frankie helped him by raising his hips, and then, as Face stripped the jeans off, Frankie reached to loosen Face's khakis.
As soon as they were naked, Frankie pushed Face onto his back and stared at him, his eyes soft and luminous. "God, Temple, you are so beautiful."
Face pulled him down for another kiss, and felt his body warm against his own from head to toe. Warm and also eager: Frankie's hands were caressing his body and his cock was pushing against Face, prodding and rubbing against Face's own. They hadn't been together long enough to have a routine - Face didn't even know if he wanted that or feared it - but today he knew what he wanted to happen. He ran his own hands down Frankie's back to his ass, digging his fingers in. Frankie's hands tightened on Face's shoulders and he gasped Face's name, the name only he used. Face rolled him over and spent a couple of moments sucking on his nipples, moving from one dark nub to the other. Frankie buried his hands in Face's hair and moaned in pleasure. This couldn't last.
But one big difference: it didn't have to.
Face pulled away and reached into the drawer. Whoever had packed for him had raided his bathroom; just as Frankie had gotten his Vitalis and Old Spice, Face had gotten his selection of hair sprays, his Faberg and Aqua Velva and the rest, all of it dumped into the small bag along with toothpaste and so on. Including the small jar of Vaseline which he had hopefully put within reach when unpacking. He pulled it out and handed it to Frankie.
"You're sure, Temple?" Frankie asked, sitting up and putting his hand on Face's shoulder, his fingers caressing the back of Face's neck.
"I want you in me," Face said, leaning forward until his forehead touched Frankie's. "I want you..."
"You got me," Frankie said, kissing him quickly and then uncapping the jar. "You got me." He laughed then, adding, "And I'll get you, my pretty."
Face laughed, too, watching Frankie pick up a dollop of jelly. He turned around, resting on his forearms and lifting his ass; suddenly, just as Frankie touched his hips he snickered and then said, "Arf arf."
Frankie laughed helplessly; Face braced as his lover collapsed, leaning on his back for a moment. Fortunately for Face's patience, Frankie was at least as eager and slipped his hand between Face's legs even before he'd recovered from the joke. Face drew in his breath sharply as one of Frankie's long fingers pushed inside him; he shivered with anticipation as his lover pushed his finger in and out several times. Then the finger was gone, almost immediately replaced by two, the Vaseline cold this time but warming up quickly. Frankie worked at preparing him, scissoring his fingers. Face tried to relax, but he was too keyed up. He couldn't wait any longer. "Now," he said, "now, please."
Frankie hesitated. "Are you sure, Temple?"
"Now, Frankie, dammit, please..."
"You sound sure," Frankie said hoarsely. He pulled out his fingers and Face felt the head of his cock pushing against him, then into him. There was a momentary pain, nothing at all, and then his body relaxed and yielded to Frankie and flooded with pleasure. Frankie reached for him and pulled him upright, caressing his stomach as he found his rhythm. Face locked his hands around Frankie's other arm and leaned back, his eyes closed. Frankie's hand drifted down across Face's abdomen to his cock, and he added that pleasure to Face's almost overloaded senses. "God, Temple," Frankie said, and repeated it. Face only moaned as the pleasure seethed through him, building until he came, shuddering and triggering Frankie's answering spasm, his arm tightening around Face, whose fingers were clutching it with bruising force. For a long moment they remained on their knees, then they collapsed, Frankie pulling them sideways away from the wet spot. Face lay face down, gulping for air, and managed to turn over and collapse on top of Frankie, who tightened his hold and sighed deeply. Face lay, listening to his lover's heartbeat and wishing he'd thought to set the alarm for a wakeup.
After a moment Frankie dragged the covers over them, muscling Face off the bed for a moment before he almost unwilling moved his legs to help out. "Lazy," Frankie murmured.
"Worn out," he answered. "Can you reach the clock?"
"Just sleep," Frankie said. "We'll be okay."
Face started to sit up. Frankie tightened his hold. "I'll get it," he said, stretching out his arm and snagging the clock. "I can't see it, he said, "you'll have to set it. 11:30, probably."
Face did and Frankie put it back. "Teamwork," Face said.
"Yeah," Frankie agreed, wrapping his arms back around Face. "But you'll wake up anyway. We'd have been okay."
"We will be," Face said. "But no harm in being safe..."
"Ummm," Frankie not quite said; his breathing was slowing and he was three-quarters asleep already.
But even though Face hadn't slept either, despite everything he wasn't tired. He probably would sleep some, but right now he was content to lie there, happy in the knowledge that he had managed to do what he needed, somehow, to keep this man in his arms.
In his life.
They'd meet Hannibal, Murdock, and BA for lunch, and whatever was up with BA wouldn't come up, since not telling Hannibal seemed to be the key to it, and later they'd go to Progreso and their cruise ship. And someday they'd go back to LA... He hadn't looked further into the future than a few months in literally decades; even that long a forecast had generally been non-existent or depressing. But now that dark future was as luminous as the night sky, or Frankie's eyes: the darkness of an exciting unknown, not a terror or a nothing. Face knew he was going to have work his ass off not to screw it up, because he had no idea what to do to keep someone around, but he was pretty smart, if he said so himself. He could figure it out.
He could make this work.
He closed his eyes and listened to Frankie's heartbeat.
What happens in the field, the sergeants had always said, stays in the field. And maybe things could get attached, so you couldn't keep them entirely out of the field. But if you brought it to the field, you could take it home with you. That was the thing, wasn't it? If you couldn't leave it behind at home, you couldn't leave it behind anywhere.
He sighed. Frankie's arm tightened briefly. Face smiled and relaxed utterly.
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