"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, and 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, and 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, and 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, and 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. Cancún." His eyes lit up. "We could spend a night in Cancún; 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.
|Part One||Part Two||Part Three||Part Four||Part Five||Part Six|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
|Original Fan Fiction|
Star Wars |
Power Rangers |
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
|Go Back to List of Karen's Fiction|