Face woke up to a hand shaking his shoulder. Dammit, he hadn't meant to fall asleep. Murdock was saying, "Wake up, Face – 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, and 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, and 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, and 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, and 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, and 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 alemán, 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 Martí 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, "Sí, señor; 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. "Metapán… 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.
Frankie got a lot more than ten minutes...
They walked back in silence. That wasn't normal. Normally, Frankie would have teased him about Rosaria, and he'd have hit back at him, either about how he'd be happy to teach Frankie a thing or two or, later, as he'd gotten to know the other man better, just more self-referential humor, can't help it if I'm irresistible… Now silence was the best they could muster. He hoped like hell Frankie had … not meant it, he'd 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, and 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, and 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, and 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, and 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 schießt da drüben, würde 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, and 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.
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