BEDROCK

The view over the lake was astounding. Elizabeth never ceased to marvel at the sight of it, especially as the seasons turned. In the spring it was a mass of new greens; buds ripening to the leaves of summer; flowers that broke open upon the trees, adding fresh pinks and crisp whites to the vista of perfect growth. Summer brought a deepening of the colours, casting reflections far across the lake as the waters stilled and levelled, drinking in the myriad trees in their height of season splendour; holding it all in a perfect mirror that seemed to deny the very nature of the lake. It seemed solid then; just another vast expanse of trees, that happened to grow upside down. It was hypnotic; relaxing; infinitely absorbing. Coupled with the silence that hung over all, it seemed to Elizabeth to be the most idyllic place in all of the world.

And now it was the end of the season again; late summer, with the leaves beginning to change their colours. The greens were fading in turn around the lake, converts to shades of red and gold, deepening past stages of oranges and yellow, and drifting earthwards as they lost their hold upon the boughs. The lake caught some of the fluttering colour splashes, and the many shapes of dying leaves floated gently on the almost motionless water. It looked particularly spectacular at sunset, with the backdrop of the sinking sun adding greater fire to the broad sweeps of similar flame that garnished the trees so impressively. It seemed a shame to think that it might all be gone soon; that the trees would be torn down, the lake polluted, the earth dug up into pits and furrows that scarred the earth irreparably. It would be a tragedy - but apparently it was an inescapable one, at least with the way things now stood.

"Mom?" The voice of her small son startled Elizabeth back from her thoughts, and she turned slowly away from the view over the lake. Jamie stood in the doorway, his hair a mess and his clothes covered in mud. It looked as if he had fallen in the stream again. She sighed.

"Jamie... Can't you stay clean and dry for more than five minutes at a time?"

"Sorry mom." He didn't look terribly sorry; in fact from the top curl of his unruly hair to the lowermost point of his fluffy white socks - grey socks now - he was the picture of childish delight. Apparently falling into a muddy stream every day was one of the things that he lived for. "I was running to get you, and I tripped."

"Running to get me?" She frowned at him. "Why would you be running to get me?"

"Dennis came back from the bank." The small boy was frowning now as well, reminding his mother very much of his father, in the way that his dark blue eyes darkened further. He was not a naturally serious child, and the frown did not rest easily upon his face. It seemed strange to see it there, where before there had been only smiles.

"Why did he send you to get me? Why didn't he come himself?" She was beginning to guess what the answer to that might be, and her son's growing frown did nothing to allay her suspicions. He looked at the ground.

"He didn't look very well. Sort of... messed up. I think he fell in the stream too. He said he was too tired to come and get you, but his car isn't working, so he had to walk back from the bank."

"He walked back? But the bank is twelve miles--" She shook her head. "You think that he fell in the stream?"

"He's all scratched up, like he fell in the bit by the brambles." He began to smile again. "And his clothes are all muddy. Are you going to tell him off?"

"I doubt it." She sighed, heading for the door. "Listen Jamie, I have to go and fetch Dennis. Will you be alright here on your own for a few minutes? I'll take the car, and I'll be back before you know it."

"Sure mom." He headed for one of the chairs, froze in memory of a similar incident once before, and turned around again. "I'll just go and get changed."

"You do that. And then stay away from that stream until I get back, okay? No more looking for fossils on your own."

"Okay." He sighed, sounding very much older than his seven years. Nearly eight years she thought to herself. Where had the time gone?

"Good boy." She grabbed the car keys. "See you in a little while."

"Bye." He headed off towards his bedroom, shedding socks and sweatshirt on the way, leaving a trail of little damp footprints on the carpet. She sighed. At least he had remembered to take his shoes off this time. That, at least, was an improvement on previous occasions. If there was one thing that Elizabeth had learned, it was that the stream that ran past her house possessed a kind of sediment with startlingly adhesive properties. Only several hours of solid scrubbing could successfully remove it from a pale grey carpet. It took even greater persistence to get the residue out of Jamie's clothing. She smiled bitterly to herself as she climbed into her car. The way that things were going, she wouldn't have to worry about the stream for very much longer. Pretty soon Jamie would be a city boy, without a stream or a mud patch in his sight.

Dennis was waiting just where Jamie had told her; sitting on a fallen tree just by the turning into Elizabeth's land. She stopped the car beside him, climbing out to look critically at his unkempt appearance. The twelve mile walk clearly had not been kind to him, for his shoes were scratched and his suit jacket torn almost to shreds. He had loosened his tie - a virtual first - and one of the lenses of his glasses was cracked. She walked slowly to his side, standing very still and very quiet for quite some while.

"What happened, Dennis?" she asked him eventually. He looked up at her, letting her see, for the first time, the extent of the bruising on his face. She winced. "Duncan?"

"Who else?" He shrugged. "Not that he actually did the dirty work himself of course. Perish the thought."

"But he was there." She nodded. "And I suppose that the bank didn't give us the loan?"

"Did you really expect them to? I mean what kind of security do we have here, Lizzie? We're sitting on a suspected gold seam. There's rumoured to be copper running under your land, and we already know that there's a lot of people interested. Everybody wants to get their hands on that kind of wealth, and fossils and pretty stones are no comparison. Banks don't want to talk about palaeontology and geology, Liz. They want gold."

"Don't I know it." She leaned over to help him to his feet. "You look like you could do with a bath. That's if Jamie has left you any hot water."

"He fell in the stream again, huh?" They shared a grin. "He'll miss it."

"So will I, believe it or not. Oh I curse it when he comes in dripping wet, but I don't know what I'm going to do with him if we have to move - when we have to move. He's just not the kind of boy to settle in a city." She sighed. "And we'll have nowhere else to go."

"There might be an alternative, Liz." He was staring up at her, eyes unblinking on the other side of those thick, round lenses. Dennis Yauta was not a man who spoke lightly about many things, so it was with great surprise that she heard his next words. "You remember that rumour we heard on the radio? About those mercenaries who help people out?"

"Dennis..." She shook her head. "Even if that rumour was true, what are we going to do with a bunch of mercenaries? So we're being pushed into a forced sale by some strong-arm men employed by a local businessman. These things probably happen all the time."

"I was beaten up, Elizabeth." He was staring at her, characteristically earnest, his small frame almost shaking with suppressed indignation. "They set fire to my car."

"They set fire to-?" She shook her head. "But weren't there any witnesses?"

"In that town? You're kidding. I'm just lucky that Duncan's men decided to play it safe, because otherwise I'd probably still have been in the car when they burnt it. And do you really think anybody would have noticed that?"

"No, I don't." She sank down onto the trunk of the fallen tree, shaking her head with a curious, lost look upon her face. "That's it then. If Duncan thinks that he can get away with behaving like that in a town full of people, what might he try to do to us, all on our own out here?" She blanched, rising suddenly to her feet. "Jamie! I've left him alone back at the house."

"He'll be fine." Dennis was already heading for the car. "Come on. We should be getting back to him anyway."

"Yeah. And I should start to pack." She thought about all of her belongings; the furniture handmade by her father. It was hard to imagine that she would have room for any of that when she moved to live with her aunt in New York. She would have to sell it all, or just leave it in the house to be disposed of by Claud Duncan. She shuddered at the thought. He would take such a perverse delight in destroying it all. She could almost see him, walking into the building with that oily, self-satisfied smile plastered all over his face, delighting in the knowledge that he had finally obtained the crown jewel in his business empire. He would probably burn the house to the ground. After all, what use would it be to him once he began to dig up the ground in search of the fabled gold?

"We should think about those mercenaries, Liz." Dennis rubbed at his glasses, trying to get rid of some of the accumulated mud and road dust.

"Oh? And what are we going to use to pay them? Chalcedony samples and a few interesting dinosaur bones?"

"We'll find a way. All that we need is a chance to get back on our feet. A chance to get the Centre up and running. I've heard that these people often agree to take a ten percent interest in firms that they help. A sort of a payment in kind almost."

"You've been researching your subject, haven't you."

"And you haven't thought about it yourself? I've seen you looking at certain newspaper articles. All it takes is one phone call, Liz. At least think about it."

"Yes." She smiled at him, surprised to see the happiness and relief that her one simple word awoke in his eyes. "But that's all that I'll promise to do. Think about it."

"Of course." He slid into the passenger seat of the car, waiting for her to climb in as well. She did so, starting up the engine quite slowly, her movements almost mechanical. "When you say just one phone call, what did you mean exactly?"

"There's some Chinese laundry in LA. Apparently that's the place to go for your first contact."

"A Chinese laundry?" She shook her head. "That doesn't sound very promising."

"Come on, Liz. They're wanted by the police. They can't exactly take out ads in the papers, and go manning a twenty-four hour office."

"I suppose not." She began to turn the car around, heading back to the house. "But come on. A Chinese laundry? I mean, whoever heard of a mercenary unit that operated out of a Chinese laundry? If you ask me, these guys are nuts."

"Maybe." He looked at her sharply, his pale grey eyes more intense that she had ever seen them before. "But can you really afford to ignore them?"

**********

"Hello?" There was nobody in the laundry, she was sure. It was her first time in Los Angeles, and she was going to get arrested for breaking and entering. She knocked hard upon the door, and again nobody answered. Again the door swung open a little, increasing her view of the darkened shop beyond. She had been inside once before, the previous day, and she knew the layout reasonably well. She knew it well enough to be able to find her way to the back office anyway, which was where she was supposed to be meeting Mr Lee. He had given her strict instructions in his strange mixture of downtown LA street talk and old-fashioned, formal Chinese. It was a little disconcerting to speak to someone who was quoting Confucius one minute and Elvis Presley the next - and the quotes themselves hadn't been nearly as off-putting as the impersonation.

"Hello? Mr Lee?" She raised her voice as far as she felt to be safe, then gave up and pushed the door open all of the way. The laundry stretched before her, dark and filled with shadows, awash with unexpected noises as the pipes settled and creaked. She walked further in, expecting at any moment to feel a heavy hand descend upon her shoulder, as a loud voice announced that she was to come quietly. At least if she was arrested she might meet somebody who could tell her something about the A-Team. All that she had heard so far had been Dennis's unsubstantiated rumours, and a few odd whispers on the streets since arriving in LA. There was talk of a madman reputed to reside in a local mental hospital, and somebody else who spent his days dressed as a sea monster, terrorising the tourists down at the film studios. All unofficial of course. Nothing that made much sense or sounded even remotely likely. After all, if so many people seemed to know where this team could be found, how was it that the police had not yet been able to track them down? Surely the A-Team couldn't be that good at staying out of the way? And surely they couldn't have made that many friends who were willing to help protect them from the highest echelons of American law? Elizabeth didn't know what to believe.

The back office was as dark and as empty as the rest of the building. Elizabeth let herself in, sitting down rather heavily on a chair behind the desk. It looked as if Mr Lee had forgotten their meeting - or maybe the A-Team just hadn't thought her worth their while. After all, she could offer them nothing in payment save ten percent of a venture that might never get off the ground. She supposed that overheads were high in a business such as theirs. Presumably weaponry and ammunition were not easy to get hold of, and if you were risking your life for total strangers, you probably did deserve a fairly decent wage in exchange for your time and courage. Lowering her head into her hands she sighed heavily and with real sadness. After so much time thinking that the A-Team were over-rated, or daft, or just plain mythical, she had come to believe in them as her only hope. Now it seemed as if they were a truly unlikely dream.

"Miss Jones? A male voice, light and melodious, sounded in the air above her head. She glanced up. There was a figure standing in the doorway, silhouetted against a light source that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. The man was quite tall, and he seemed to possess a powerful build. Beyond that she could tell nothing from his shape. She got the impression though, from his voice if nothing else, that he was smiling at her, and that his eyes were bright and kind.

"Yes?" Her first thought was that he was a policeman, until she realised that he had addressed her by name. She stood up quickly. "Are you with the A-Team?"

"Ssh. This way please." He gestured for her to follow him down the corridor, heading quickly towards the back entrance to the laundry. The light source bobbed along after them, and she thought that she saw another silhouetted figure behind it. She could not see enough to be sure, although she was fairly certain that she had heard the gentle sound of soft-soled shoes.

"Where are we going?" She kept her voice low, but was still shushed into silence. Intrigued, she allowed the man - men? - to escort her out of the laundry and into the narrow road that ran along the outside of the building. A black van waited there, its engine turned off, the headlamps turned very low. As the little group reached it a side door was pulled open, sliding on noisy but well-oiled runners. The man who had spoken to her gestured for Elizabeth to climb inside. She did so, slightly apprehensive but eager to know what was going to happen next. Somebody else climbed in after her and the door slid shut. There was a second's blackness without the presence of the bobbing torch - then suddenly the van's interior lights snapped on.

She was sitting in the comfortable body of what was clearly a spacious and powerful vehicle. Padded seats surrounded her, although not closely enough for her to be unable to see the weaponry that rested further back. She was conscious of air-conditioning that helped to cool her down, slowing her racing pulse.

"Are you alright, Miss Jones? I hope that I didn't startle you." She recognised the voice as the man who had spoken to her in the office doorway. He was sitting in the front passenger set of the van, twisted around slightly so that he could look at her. She found that she couldn't judge his age, although she was usually quite good at such things. He had silver hair which might have been premature in its colouring, and bright eyes of a clear, pale blue. There was a lot of fun in those eyes, along with a lot of intelligence and a great deal of character. She thought that she liked what she saw, but she wasn't certain. There was a hardness there too - a coldness and resilience that probably came from the jungles of Vietnam; or possibly even the troubles of Korea before then. He was smiling at her though, in a manner that she found quite delightful.

"It's okay. I, er - I'm fine." She smiled back, a little flatly. "How do you know my name?"

"Mr Lee passed on all of your information." He held out his hand. "I'm Hannibal Smith, and you've just made contact with the A-Team."

"I have?" She blinked around at the rest of the occupants of the van - a powerfully built man with a quite striking haircut, and a profusion of gold around his neck, wrists and fingers; a vaguely gawky-looking man in a flight jacket and baseball cap, who was watching her out of astoundingly cheerful eyes - whilst whispering confidentially to the glove puppet jammed onto his right hand. It was Thumper, complete with cheesy Disney grin, and had clearly been designed for somebody with much smaller hands. It turned to look at her as she stared at the man, and she felt oddly exposed under the steady scrutiny of a pair of black, glass bead eyes. The puppet turned away when she blushed, as if choosing to respect her privacy.

"Don't mind him. He's just cross because BA wouldn't let him bring Billy into the van." The voice came from just beside her and she jumped. Another man, this time clearly the one who had been carrying the flashlight inside the laundry, was smiling at her from the seat just next to hers. He looked younger than the rest of the group, although presumably that was just an illusion, and possessed the sort of freshly innocent grin that suggested its owner to be anything other than either fresh or innocent. His eyes were as bright and intelligent as the man in the front seat, but she read a lot else there as well. A lot of secrets; a lot of promises. His dark blue stare unnerved her at first, until she let the smile melt through her defences. Definitely somebody to keep a very close watch on, she told herself firmly. His grin broadened.

"Hi. I'm Templeton Peck."

"We call him Face." The man in the baseball cap was trying hard to perform a ventriloquist act with the glove puppet, and was not quite succeeding. "It's 'cause he hasn't got one."

"Thank you for that entirely useful interjection, Murdock." Face seemed to catch a look of indignation in his companion's eyes. "Sorry. I meant Thumper." The man with the baseball cap - Murdock, Liz noted to herself - appeared slightly vindicated. From the front of the van came a loud snarl.

"It ain't Thumper that's talking, fool. It's Murdock. Quit encouraging him."

"Aw, BA. Go easy on the Faceman. It ain't easy for us back here without Billy to keep us company."

"And quit talking about that non-existent dog of yours. There ain't no Billy, and he ain't getting into my van."

"Er, BA... If he's non-existent, he can't very well get into your van, can he. Be reasonable." Hannibal had somehow contrived to find and light a cigar, moving with such smoothness and silence that Liz had not been aware that he had moved at all. He smiled at her around a smoke ring. "In case you hadn't guessed, Miss Jones, my colleague's name is BA, which stands for Bad Attitude. It's nothing he can help."

"It's because he had a tough childhood," Murdock interjected, once again through the mouth of his little cloth rabbit. "And because Billy bit him last week."

"Billy?" She looked about the van, searching for another member of the team. Face hooked a thumb at Murdock.

"His dog."

"There ain't no damn dog, fool." BA shook his head, starting up the van's engine with an unnecessary amount of force. "It's just a figment of that madman's imagination."

"BA... You'll hurt his feelings." Face had turned as though to comfort Murdock, who looked momentarily downcast. He shed a few pantomime tears, then stroked Thumper's fabric head with a huge and carefree grin.

"Thanks Face. It's good to know you care. Billy appreciates it."

"Billy don't appreciate nothing. And if anybody here mentions him again in my van, I'm gonna kick that stupid imaginary dog of yours right up his stupid imaginary butt."

"BA..." Hannibal shook his head, clearly amused by the ongoing argument. Elizabeth, who didn't even begin to know how she should react to the men's behaviour, smiled a weak smile, and wished that there some windows in the back of the van.

"Are you going to take my case?" she asked in the end, uncertain where to look, or how to open the necessary conversation. Hannibal blew another smoke ring.

"I think so." He had turned around to watch out of the windscreen as the van moved along through the darkened streets. "We have another team member to contact, and then I think we'll be heading straight out for your place. How are things there?"

"I spoke to my assistant Dennis last night. Claud Duncan's men have been round at the house causing trouble. My little son is almost too scared to go outside. It's almost impossible to get him to school now, and I'm at my wits end. Dennis is doing his best, but with the best will in the world he's no match for Duncan's men. He's a scientist, and he's never fought anybody in his life. He's barely five foot five, and he's hardly in the greatest physical shape. After Duncan's men beat him up last week he's been terribly nervous. I hated to leave him up there on his own, but I didn't see what else I could do. I could hardly leave the place unattended with Duncan's men hanging around. They'd probably have moved in by the time that I got back."

"Well don't you worry about that, Miss Jones." Hannibal, clearly, had taken a liking to his newest client, and to the rest of the team it was now obvious where they would be spending the next few days. "Even if they've moved in lock, stock and barrel, we'll have them out of there before you can say 'Move over scumball'." He smiled at her, showing the more gentle side to his nature. "It's what we do best."

"Yeah." Murdock settled back into his seat, hugging Thumper close to his chest and nodding seriously. He smiled at her and she smiled back, beginning at last to relax. "It's what we do best of all. That and tiddlywinks."

"Oh." She looked about, searching for reassurance as her confidence once again began to ebb. She didn't receive any. Face was grinning at her in a manner that suggested he was as deranged as Murdock; Hannibal was smiling into his cigar, paying more attention to replenishing the flame than he was to supporting her. BA was merely glaring, his furious brow making her swallow very hard. Inwardly she began to quiver. Suddenly hiring the A-Team seemed like the worst decision she had ever made in her life.

**********

It was good to be home, even if it was in the company of a gang of the most extraordinary people that Elizabeth Jones had ever happened to come across. Her confidence in them had been boosted somewhat by the arrival of the fifth member of the team, Amy Allen, who in comparison to her male colleagues seemed startlingly normal. She was intelligent and competent, and of a roughly similar age to Elizabeth herself. They had spent much of the aeroplane journey talking together, getting to know each other, and sharing impressions of the team. Amy seemed amused by Elizabeth's apprehension, although she did little to lessen her fears. As far as Elizabeth could judge, everything that she had witnessed in that first meeting in the van was more or less the norm, for the four men had spent the voyage in a manner which had done little to change her opinions of them. Hannibal had been the picture of charm and sophistication, in between one or two very wicked jokes; BA had spent the entire flight asleep in one of the seats at the back - something to do with a nervous condition brought on by an old war wound, according to Murdock. Murdock himself, Thumper puppet and all, was the pilot, something which had scared Elizabeth almost as much as the time when she had woken up on a college walking holiday to find a large bear right outside her tent. She had smiled when the gangly lunatic had announced the fact that he was going to be her pilot, but she had not believed the claim. After all, who in their right mind would allow a complete madman to take control of an aircraft flying at fifteen thousand feet? In the event the flight had been uneventful enough, save for a rather hairy moment halfway through when Murdock had claimed rather loudly over the public address system that he was being besieged by cloud people. Face had vanished up into the cockpit for half an hour to find out what was wrong, only to emerge eventually with a broad smile and a complete lack of concern. Apparently he was used to Murdock's flying. Elizabeth hoped that she never came to think the same way.

"This your place?" Murdock was clearly impressed with the house. Elizabeth had to smile at his enthusiasm, despite her earlier misgivings about the state of his mental health. She nodded.

"My father built it. Every item of furniture is his own design. He built them all with local wood. There was a huge storm up here once when I was a child, and a lot of trees were torn up by the roots. He hated to think of them being wasted, so he came up with a project for himself. It was an anniversary present for my mother."

"He knew what he was doing." From BA, as Elizabeth was to learn, this was high praise indeed. He ran his hand over the simple carved banister beside the steps leading up to the front door. "This is nice work."

"I know." She smiled at him, warming to the surprising gentility that she saw in his eyes. He had been rather silent since waking up just after leaving the plane, glowering at anything that moved. It was a relief to see that the phase had passed.

"Mom!" Bursting through the front door with wild energy, Jamie hurtled down the steps and threw himself into his mother's arms. "I didn't know you were coming back today."

"I wasn't sure that I would be." She ruffled his hair. "Jamie, I want you to meet some people who are going to be staying with us for a few days. They hope that they can help us see off Claud Duncan."

"Cool." Jamie looked around at the little group, clearly not sharing any of his mother's concerns. "He's horrible. Some of his men were here last night. They were drunk and they threw a big stone through my bedroom window."

"They did what?" Elizabeth's voice was like ice. Jamie glanced up at her, evidently startled.

"It was okay, mom." He frowned at her, unsure how to take her anger. "It split open when it hit the floor, and there was a brilliant fossil inside. Dennis has been cleaning it up."

"That's... that's good." She smiled affectionately at him, then turned back to the rest of the group. "This is my son James. Jamie, this is Colonel Smith--"

"Hannibal." The white-haired leader of the team stepped forward to shake Jamie's hand. "This here is BA, and Amy, Murdock and Face."

"Hi." Jamie stared around at them all, clearly checking them out with a child's careful thoroughness. BA flashed him a grin.

"You been looking after this place while your mother was away?"

"Sure." Jamie did a passable job of making himself look taller. "I'm good at that."

"You look like it." BA dropped a hand onto the boy's small shoulder. "Want to show me around? I'd like to get a look at the place."

"Sure!" Jamie was delighted. He took off at speed, although BA had no trouble keeping up with him. Hannibal smiled after the pair. Even now it sometimes surprised him to see the change brought over his irascible friend by the presence of small children.

"I'd like to take a look around the inside as well," he announced, sliding smoothly back into his rôle as leader of a military operation. "Murdock, check out the lake. If Mr Duncan's men have been hanging around here the last few days, I want to make sure that they haven't done anything. Look for signs of pollution or other damage. Anything that might be in their favour when it comes to trying to run these people off their land. Face, check out the perimeter. Break out some weaponry, but keep it discreet. Remember there's a small child around. Keep in touch."

"Come on, Colonel. I always get the perimeter." Face sounded like a sulky child. "Can't I--"

"Get moving, Lieutenant." Hannibal's tone of voice suggested that this mild form of rebellion was a frequent occurrence. Face sighed. Clearly he had not expected his request to be granted. He flashed Elizabeth a smile that quite took her breath away, and shrugged philosophically.

"Sometimes it isn't easy being a hero."

"What would you know about that, Face?" Amy was smirking at him. Face looked wounded.

"Amy, you really hurt me sometimes, you know?"

"Get moving, kid." Hannibal jerked his thumb in indication of the appropriate direction. Face sighed.

"I'm going. But if I should happen not to return--"

"Face..."

"I'm going." He turned about, marching smartly back to Elizabeth's car and drawing an automatic pistol from under the back seat. Perhaps it was an illusion, but as he checked the load, grabbed some spare ammunition, and stowed the weapon away in his waistband, Elizabeth was sure that that jokey, play-boy look had vanished from his countenance completely. Instead she caught a glimpse of a hard, trained soldier - a professional in every sense of the word. Then the gun was gone and he was heading away into the trees. She wondered if it had all been a hallucination - the sun had, after all, been shining brightly in her eyes.

"Something wrong?" Amy's voice called her back to the present, and Elizabeth almost jumped. She looked around. BA and Jamie had vanished from sight, and both Murdock and Hannibal were also no longer in view. She was alone by the steps with Amy.

"Nothing." Shaking herself momentarily, she managed a stiff-shouldered shrug. "I guess they just take some getting used to, that's all."

"Tell me about it. They're the best at what they do though. Sure, they squabble - but they pull together when it counts. Hannibal is the greatest leader, and the others follow his orders without question when they know that they have to. BA... well I guess he can be a little scary, but he's actually really gentle... sometimes... Murdock is crazy, there's no denying that, but I'd trust him with anything or anyone. And Face..." She frowned. "Well I guess I'd trust him with anything too... so long as it wasn't female. Trust me on this; if anybody can help you, it's them."

"I hope so." She dredged up a smile from somewhere within her, feeling very tired all of a sudden as the adrenalin from the trip began to wear off. The worries of the last few days were beginning to catch up with her again, and yet for the first time in a long while she was beginning to feel some kind of hope shining through the tension. She gestured towards the steps. "Coffee?"

"That would be great." Amy followed her up the steps and in to the house. "You can show me some of this legendary furniture."

"Yeah." Already brightening, Elizabeth headed for the front room. Maybe Amy was right. Maybe the A-Team were just what the doctor ordered. She was fairly certain that it wouldn't take long before she found out for sure.

**********

Hannibal decided that he liked Elizabeth's little house in the woods very much indeed. Quite apart from the spectacular view and the secluded peace of the place, the entire area was a veritable gold mine in terms of fossils and interesting rocks. The plan to turn the land into a site for research and learning sounded more than viable to him, and he could well imagine spending a happy few days wandering along beside the lake or the stream, examining the latest geological discoveries. Murdock was in his element, and Thumper the puppet had soon been abandoned in favour of a sizeable fossilised insect. Elizabeth did not seem to worry about his tendency to treat it rather roughly, and although she sometimes cast him the occasional disturbed look, that seemed to be more as a reaction to his habit of talking to the stone than to his actual handling of it. As she came to know the team better she relaxed a lot, and Hannibal's already high opinion of her increased all the more. Her son was clearly an intelligent child, with a sound knowledge of the rocks amongst which his mother had chosen to work. If he was at all afraid as a result of the ongoing feud with Claud Duncan, he showed no sign of it. Hannibal could understand why. The lake exuded an incredible air of calm that he felt sure would soon ease the wildest of hearts. To allow Duncan and his men to turn the entire area into a mine, in search of something that might not even be there, seemed nothing short of criminal.

The rest of his team had apparently been equally affected by their surroundings. Amy had taken to lying beside the lake, sketching the outline of a story that she planned to write for her paper, whereas normally the scent of a story would have seen her gripped by an almost frantic enthusiasm. BA and Murdock had not argued about anything since arriving, and Face was similarly charmed. In between patrols around the perimeter, he spent his time sitting on the steps of the house, talking to Elizabeth. Hannibal didn't know what it was that they found to talk about, but clearly their client was enjoying it as much as the incorrigible Faceman. He had never quite got the hang of their 'no personal involvement with clients' rule. Hannibal had given up trying to enforce it a long time ago.

It was nearly three days after their arrival when Claud Duncan's men came back. A pair of large jeeps drew up the winding dirt road towards the house, preceded by a short radio message from BA, who had been in the woods with Jamie. He returned from his walk just as the jeeps drew up, but Hannibal signalled to him to stay back. He didn't want to reveal all of his cards straight away.

"Hi." Sauntering slowly towards the jeeps, Hannibal relit his waning cigar with a match struck on the side of the nearest vehicle. He blew the match out, tossing it into the interior of the jeep, then grinned cheerfully at the men seated inside. "How can we help you?"

"We're here to talk to Miss Jones." A large, powerfully built man in a grey, tie-less suit arose from the depths of the jeep, unfolding himself from his seat like some sea monster belonging in one of Hannibal's Aquamaniac movies. "Who are you?"

"Miss Jones's new associate." Hannibal puffed a plume of smoke in the man's general direction. "Pleased to meet you."

"Her new assistant?" The big man laughed. "She did tell you that she's about to go out of business, didn't she? I hope you haven't invested any money in this place."

"Who said anything about going out of business? This place seems to be doing okay to me. It's got great potential." Hannibal ran his eyes over the two jeeps, taking a quick moment to calculate the odds. There were about seven men that he could see, which put things slightly better than two to one. Easy odds in his reckoning, although at least one of the men was large enough to present a serious problem.

"Oh it may be viable on paper." The big man smiled down at him. "The bank has other ideas though. It's a sad fact that you can't do anything these days without some considerable financial backing, and Miss Jones just doesn't seem able to get that. This place is going into business only as a mine. A gold mine."

"You know that there's very little chance of those gold rumours being true." Hannibal folded his arms. "As I hear it, there's little chance of finding anything of any real value."

"That's as may be." The bigger man also folded his arms, increasing his size noticeably. "But we're still going to look." He glanced past Hannibal, looking towards those other members of the team that were visible. Murdock was standing beside the lake, his fossil held protectively in his hand. Amy was sitting beside him, her notebook resting on her lap, her pen frozen mid-word. Face was standing on the steps of the house, having just risen to his feet as the jeeps drew up. He had been sitting there talking to Elizabeth, who had remained seated at his behest. He came down the steps now, wandering over to join Hannibal, studiously keeping his stride as casual as possible.

"Face." Hannibal glanced back at his second-in-command as though sensing his approach. "Do you have the results of that little survey you carried out earlier?"

"Sure do, Colonel." Pulling a notebook from his pocket, Face flicked to a particular page. His handwriting covered the paper, patterning it with dark blue lines. "Preliminary survey shows no indication of the presence of either gold or copper. I tried out some experiments in the stream, but there are no gold particles in the water that I could find." He sounded faintly disappointed. "Certainly there are no nuggets lying around anywhere on the surface. If there is a seam on this land, it's so small that it would never be cost-effective to dig it out."

"That so?" The big spokesman looked down at him with an expression of amusement on his face. "Funny. Mr Duncan's survey came up with entirely different results."

"Then Mr Duncan should ask for his money back. He's been given bad information." Hannibal blew a smoke ring, then grinned back at Face. "As it happens, we specialise in the exchange of information, and we'd be happy to speak to Mr Duncan personally."

"I don't think that's going to be necessary." The big man gestured to his fellows, who rose together out of the jeeps. "The only information we're interested in exchanging is the kind that tells us when you people are moving off this land, so we can get started on the mining work."

"Ah." Hannibal took a few moments to puff thoughtfully. "There's a problem with that. You see, we're not intending to move off this land. Quite the opposite in fact. We're waiting for you to move off, so we can get started with our work - namely turning this charming little spot into an area of geological and palaeontological research."

"Yeah." Face offered the big man one of his amiable grins. "That's rocks and stuff."

"That so." The big man looked down at them both, regarding them with much the same kind of expression that he might have turned on a rat, or a particularly pesky insect. "That's a real shame, that is. It looks like me and the boys are going to have to make you change your minds."

"I hope not." Murdock had approached soundlessly during the conversation, and now stood beside Face. His fossil was in his hand, a small, roughly circular mark that had once been an eye regarding the intruders from within its ancient rocky bed. "Me and Mr Fish here like our minds just the way they are. 'Sides, I've promised him that his cousins are going to be liberated once the Centre is set up. They've been buried in these rocks for far too long."

"Er... that's an insect, Murdock. It's not a fish." Face indicated the fossil in Murdock's hand. The pilot stared at it momentarily.

"It's in disguise, Face." The voice in which he announced this was so scathing that it clearly suggested Face should have been able to guess something so blindingly obvious. Hannibal grinned around his cigar.

"Yeah, Face. It's in disguise."

"What are you people talking about?" The big man made as if to knock the fossil from Murdock's hand, but the lanky pilot dodged swiftly behind Face, poking his tongue out at his would-be attacker. The infuriated man made a lunge for him, only to be brought up short by the loud and persistent clearing of a very angry throat. He glanced up. Elizabeth was standing on the steps of the house, just where she had been standing before; but apparently she had taken advantage of the conversation to sneak inside the building at some point. She stood there now with a double-barrelled shotgun in her arms, levelled firmly at the big man who was still trying to crush Murdock's beloved fossil.

"It was good of you to come here today, Mr Phelps, but we're really not interested in hearing any more from you or your men. I think it's time that you packed up and left."

"You want to be careful who you point that gun at, Miss Jones." Phelps was looking towards her with an evil glint in his eyes. She shifted the gun in her grip, as though to get a better aim.

"And you want to be careful who you threaten when you come here. Dennis tells me that you made life very awkward while I was away recently. I don't appreciate it when drunken layabouts throw rocks through my son's bedroom window. That's not the way to get me to move out. It's just a damn good way to get me angry." She brandished the gun. "I don't like getting angry, but when I do get that way, I tend to do it very well."

"That so." Phelps seemed to be considering something, then turned and looked back at his confederates. The six men that he had brought with him, all standing around the jeeps, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. "Seems to me that my boys and I are going to have to show you what happens when we get angry. What do you think, boys?"

"I figure we should take this place apart." One of the men, a nasty-looking character somewhat smaller than Phelps, stepped up to stand shoulder to shoulder with his larger associate. He was chewing a large wad of tobacco, and he spat into the ground after he spoke. The tobacco stain splayed out in the dirt, brown like drying blood. Elizabeth frowned, the reaction not at all what she had expected. Hannibal nodded to Face, and he went quickly to relieve the young woman of her unaccustomed weapon.

"Nice try, Liz." He kept his voice low as he took the gun. "But it's best to let Hannibal play this out with a free rein. He knows what he's doing."

"There's going to be a fight. I don't want anybody getting hurt, especially not when Jamie might see." She looked around, having spotted BA, and wondering now where he had left her son.

"BA will have told him to stay clear. He's a good kid. He's probably waiting in the trees until it's all safe." He laid a hand on her arm. "Don't worry about us, okay? Just go back inside, or head over and wait with Amy. She can handle herself pretty well if the fight starts to head in that direction."

"I don't want there to be a fight at all." She gestured at the gun. "That's what that was supposed to be for."

"Yeah, but you know and I know that this gun isn't loaded." He smiled at her. "Look, I don't especially want a fight either. It's not my favourite way to spend a pleasant evening. Fact is, Hannibal's got things planned, and you've got to let him do things his way. He's probably planning to check these guys over. See what they're made of. That's important information if we're going to take them out permanently."

"So you're going to fight." She took a step back. "Fine, then fight. But if you get yourselves killed--"

"Don't come running to you?" He grinned, and put the gun down on the steps. "Everything's going to be okay. You haven't seen BA in action yet. Seven against four is nothing when he's on our side."

"Seven against six, if it comes to a proper fight. Even seven against seven if Dennis lends a hand." It was an absurd assertion, made all the more so by her knowledge that Dennis was somewhere inside the house, probably oblivious to the confrontation going on outside; and hiding underneath his desk if he was aware of it. Face nodded nonetheless.

"That's the spirit. I'll, er... be back in a minute." He cracked a winsome grin. "I hope." She nodded back towards the others, beginning to converge now, Hannibal and Murdock looking a trifle besieged. Murdock was sliding his fossil into a pocket with exaggerated care.

"You'd better get moving then."

"I'm on my way." He went back down the steps with what seemed to her to be an unnecessary haste. It was hard to reconcile the team as they were now with the way that she had become accustomed to them - as jokers rather than fighters; men who argued amongst themselves, and acted like childish eccentrics. Now they were beginning to exude a strange sort of menace; moving with a new fluidity; acting as if they wanted to fight - and if that was truly what they wished, there was little chance that they would be disappointed. Even as Face was making his way back to his beleaguered comrades, Phelps and his men were beginning to push and shove at the pair, goading them without turning to outright violence. Phelps, it seemed, was looking to see how far the men could be pushed; to see how prepared they were to fight. Perhaps he believed that they were geologists like Elizabeth and Dennis. Elizabeth found that almost funny. Since her first meeting with the team she had been waiting to see how good they really were. Now she and Phelps could find out together.

"It's not too late, you know." Phelps was massaging his knuckles. "You can still walk away from this. Just back away, and let us make the final arrangements to take over ownership of the place. Mr Duncan might even be grateful enough to make it extra specially worth your while. There's a lot of money tied up in this land."

"That's an interesting offer." Hannibal smiled around at Face and Murdock. "Isn't that an interesting offer? But the answer's still no, Jack. I'm sorry."

"Name's not Jack." Phelps reached out for him, gripping him by the collar. "It's Tony... and you're really asking for a rearrangement of your ribs, you know that?"

"I didn't realise you were a physiotherapist." Hannibal beamed at him, then took the cigar from his mouth and ground it out on the bigger man's lapels. The leather of Phelps's jacket hissed and fizzed as the hot, glowing end of the cigar burned a hole right through it. Phelps let out a bellow of rage, swatting Hannibal's hand aside, and lashing out with his fist. Hannibal ducked easily, moving beyond the bigger man's reach. In the same moment, spurred on as though by some psychic message from their spokesman, the other men converged upon the A-Team. Amy shouted out a warning to Murdock, about to be brained by a giant fist heading for his right ear. He dodged with ease, catching the man off balance and spinning him to the ground. Face easily stayed out of the way of his first attacker, engaging a second man whilst the first was still wondering where he had gone. Hannibal caught another of the enemy with a stunning blow to the jaw that sent him reeling and spinning into the path of one of Face's would-be attackers, sending the pair of them down to the ground in a tangled mess. Face finished off his second attacker with a similar, single blow, then glanced back at his CO.

"Thanks, Hannibal."

"Don't mention it." Hannibal was wishing that he had not been so demonstrative with his cigar, for he missed it now. It was always good to clamp one between his teeth in the midst of a fight, providing him with something to grin around. It gave him that grizzled war veteran look that he loved so much. In the absence of such a tool now, he merely clenched his teeth and favoured the gathering with one of his harder, more wicked grins. It was short lived, however, for with two of their comrades out of the fight, the remaining five men regrouped rapidly, concentrating their forces so that the A-Team was at considerably less of an advantage. Murdock went down, stunned by a blow from a man bigger even than Phelps; and when Face tried to go to his assistance, he found himself severely out-manned. Hannibal was pinned down by three of the attackers, one of them Phelps, and Face was left with two men of obviously lesser intelligence, but who clearly had more than enough strength to make up for that. He dodged the first blow that came his way, had to spin immediately out of the way of another, and found himself twisting straight into the path of a third. He missed the main force of the punch, allowing his instincts to take over - but the blow was still sufficient to knock him to the ground. He kicked out, sending one of his attackers tumbling, but had barely made it back to his feet before both of his assailants were coming at him once again.

Nearby, Hannibal was having no greater luck. His first shower of punches had done plenty to weaken the first of his opponents, but not sufficiently enough for the man to no longer be a problem. It was Phelps that was the greatest cause for concern, for with his added size and strength he was a constant threat. One blow from Phelps would likely be the end of the fight for Hannibal, as he was very well aware. Twisting aside from a tyre lever that swung towards his head, he seized the weapon from the grip of its determined owner, and hurled it to one side. It rattled and bounced its way across the nearest of the jeeps, taking off a good deal of paint. Nearby, still waiting at the edge of the trees, BA decided that he had stood by long enough. As Hannibal was seized abruptly by a second attacker, his arms pinioned with discouraging force, BA strode into the midst of the fight. He grabbed one of the men from behind, spun him around with the merest fraction of his strength, and sent him flying headfirst into the side of one of the jeeps. He crashed to the ground and lay still.

"What the-?" Taken by surprise Phelps gaped open-mouthed at this new arrival. BA glowered at him, living out his nickname to full effect.

"Surprise." His voice was a guttural growl. Faced by this powerful rock of a man, Phelps blanched, and took a step backwards. Hannibal tripped him neatly, sending him stumbling into his associate. BA caught Phelps by the front of his cigar-damaged jacket, hauling him to his feet, and pulling him at speed into a waiting, heavily be-ringed fist. Phelps went limp.

"Nice, BA." Hannibal was already preparing to finish off the third of his attackers. "Go help Face."

"I'm on it." BA turned about, looking towards his other friend. Face was in serious trouble, worn down by a man too big for him to fight directly, and struggling against his second opponent as well. Even as BA stormed towards the battling threesome, Face was grabbed from behind by the larger of his two attackers. The second swung a fist straight at his paling countenance - only to meet with BA's waiting palm. He caught the man's fist in his own, squeezing until the unfortunate assailant sank to his knees with a wail. The big man holding Face hurled his captive aside, turning instead to BA. Face scrambled to his feet and went to assist Murdock.

"I don't know who you are," BA's latest opponent was cracking his knuckles loudly as he sized up the new arrival, "but you're going to regret getting involved."

"I already am involved, fool. We're a team, and you're standing in our way." BA flexed his gold-encrusted fists. "If you know what's good for you, you'll back off now."

"You back off." The big man massaged his knuckles. A still-dazed Murdock let out a whoop of delight.

"Go get him, BA!"

"Shut up, fool. Go play with Billy." BA was moving in for the kill, not wanting to be disturbed by the inane contributions of his aggravating confederate. Chastened but not silenced, Murdock retrieved his favourite fossil.

"Mr Fish is rooting for you, big guy." He held up the elaborate stone creature, waving it above his head like a flag. BA glowered.

"I told you to shut up!" Swinging both of his fists at once, as though seeing Murdock's face superimposed upon his enemy, BA launched an almighty assault. The big man before him had no means by which to stand up to such an attack, and soon fell backwards to the ground. BA hauled him somewhat roughly to his feet, and pitched him headfirst into one of the jeeps. Hannibal was already bringing over another of the men, and dropped him in after his associate. Face and Murdock dragged over another between them.

"There." Dusting himself off, looking pleased with himself despite the less than triumphant way that things had so nearly gone, Hannibal pulled an unlit cigar from his pocket. He bit off the end, spitting it at Phelps as he sprawled in semi-consciousness on the back seat of a jeep. "Now, you go back to your boss Mr Duncan, and you tell him that Miss Jones is not selling her land. And you tell him that the only gold being mined up here is going to be the metaphorical kind. This operation deals in fossils, dig?" He grinned around the cigar. "Excuse the pun."

"You're dead." Phelps struggled to sit upright, but an unconscious comrade draped across his waist made it impossible. "I'm going to come back up here with more men, and I'm going to take you people apart."

"We'll look forward to it." Hannibal grinned at him insolently. "Just be sure to give us a call first, and we'll have some tea and cake ready."

"You can joke now, pal." Phelps was livid. "Just you wait. You'll be a dead man by the end of the week."

"Just get out of here. Crawl back to your boss, and tell him there's been a change in the situation up here." Hannibal kicked the jeep, and one of the less battered men inside started up the engine. The second jeep responded likewise, and together the two vehicles moved forwards. The A-Team stepped aside to watch them go.

"Nice, guys." Grinning broadly, Amy joined the rest of the team to watch as the jeeps moved away. "But maybe you shouldn't leave it quite so long next time, BA."

"I was waiting for Hannibal's signal." BA folded his arms, turning his powerful scowl upon his commander. "Damn fool never gave me no signal!"

"Sorry, BA." Hannibal clapped him on the shoulder. "Nice work anyway though."

"They'll be back, though, won't they. Like they said." Elizabeth had joined them, and she looked concerned. Hannibal nodded.

"Oh, they'll be back alright. Obviously they're very determined to own this piece of land."

"Yeah, but why?" Serious now, and with his fossil no longer taking an active part in the conversation, Murdock shook his head in confusion. "I mean, Faceman did a survey. There's nothing up here worth paying a fortune for, mineral-wise. Just the fossils and interesting rocks, and surely that's nothing that a man like this Claud Duncan guy is going to be prepared to go to all this trouble for."

"He's probably just using that as an excuse. Very effective scam if he can pull it off. I've known it work for others." Face became aware of a number of eyes turning to look at him, and he shrugged. "Well look at it this way. He tells everyone that there's gold here. That means that everybody is behind his attempt to gain ownership of this land. The banks agree to support him over Liz, calling in her loans early because of the chance of a quick profit for themselves once Duncan starts up his mining operation... The authorities are unlikely to take any complaints seriously, because at least as far as the letter of the law is concerned, it's all perfectly legal. It is legal - unless he's been using falsified geological information to back up his claims. Even if he wasn't being strictly legal, they'd probably still support him, because they'd consider gold to be of more importance to the country than fossils could ever be. So Duncan brings in his miners and equipment, and he levels this place, finds nothing..."

"...And winds up with a very nice piece of real estate that nobody but him is interested in anymore. No strings attached, and he can develop it in any way he sees fit." Hannibal nodded. "He's probably planning to build on it. Question is, how do we prove that?"

"He's bound to have documents." Murdock was back to playing with Mr Fish again, clearly having decided that he had been serious enough for one day. "All we have to do is find them."

"We'd never get close enough. Even if we make a raid, and go right in to his headquarters, we wouldn't have the time to find what we were looking for. He's too well protected. Plus I doubt that he even keeps his most sensitive stuff in a place like that." Hannibal sounded thoughtful, a sure sign that a plan was coming on. "What we need is an inside man." His twinkling eyes turned themselves upon Face.

"Yeah, but that'd never work, Colonel. They've seen all of us." Face caught the gleam in those bright eyes, and shook his head. "No. No way. Oh come on, Hannibal..."

"It's a simple operation, Face. Easy in, easy out. You just have to make sure that you can get a look through Duncan's personal stuff. Take a look around, find what you need, and that's it."

"Yeah. Except that it's never that easy. Pretending to get caught is... well it's embarrassing. It looks so unprofessional."

"But you're the best actor we've got, Face. You're good at this, you know you are. And what could possibly go wrong?"

"Everything, now you've said that." Face sighed. "I hate this. I really, really hate this."

"I know, kid." Hannibal dropped an arm around the shoulders of his second-in-command. "But look at it this way. When Montgomery faced the Germans; when Eisenhower faced the--"

"I get the picture, Hannibal. And neither of them had to get themselves caught by the enemy. It never goes smoothly."

"The Jazz never runs smoothly, kid." Hannibal lit his cigar, grinning all the while. "That's what makes it the Jazz."

"What's he talking about?" Confused, Elizabeth turned to Amy. The young journalist smiled, although there was a degree of concern in her eyes.

"He's got a plan to find out what Duncan and his men are really up to. Trouble is, it's far from foolproof."

"No plan is foolproof, Amy." Hannibal sounded faintly admonishing, although his eyes still sparkled and shone. "Question is, who are the fools?"

"You're going to go after those men, aren't you. You're going to take the fight to them." Elizabeth wasn't sure why that bothered her so much, especially since she had hired these men specifically so that they would fight for her. Hannibal smiled at her.

"Sometimes the better part of valour is anything but discretion, Liz. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is." He glanced at his watch. "Get everything together guys and gals. We move out as soon as it gets dark."

**********

"I'm telling you, Mr Duncan. Those guys were professionals." Clinging grimly to the last few shreds of his pride, Tony Phelps faced his boss across the broad expanse of a giant oak desk. Claud Duncan stared back at him, unblinking and uncompromising.

"So you let them beat you up and chase you away with your tail between your legs. What do I pay you for, Phelps?"

"I'm sorry sir." Chastened, Phelps looked at the ground. "I, er... I was trying... that is..."

"I don't care what you were trying to do, Mr Phelps." Duncan rose to his feet, still glaring at his apprehensive underling. "All that I'm interested in are results, and I don't want to hear anything from you unless it's news that Elizabeth Jones has signed her land over to me. I won't hear this talk of geology and palaeontology when there's real money to made out of all that rock."

"Yes sir." Phelps fidgeted helplessly. "It won't happen again sir. You have my word that the next time I see those guys, I'm going to bury them. Every single one of them."

"You'd better." Duncan turned his back. "So do you know who they are?"

"No idea, sir. One of them claims to have completed a geological survey of the area. He knew there was no gold or copper to be had up there, so maybe they're just more geologists. She's had the one guy working for her up there for some time. Maybe they're more of the same."

"Geologists that double as bare knuckle fighters?" Duncan shook his head. "Unlikely. I'd never have thought of young Elizabeth as being the type to hire a gang of heavies, though."

"Maybe she got wise to your scheme. We know that she's already done her own survey of the area, and if she's had other people looking at the mineral deposits as well, she might have realised what your intentions were. Maybe that made her get wise, and hire some people that she thought might be able to protect her interests."

"Yes, well. You're going to make sure that it doesn't do her any good, aren't you." Unseen to Phelps, who had a view only of the back of his boss's head, Duncan was arching an eyebrow. "And by the looks of things, you might be getting a chance to start working on that right now. I certainly don't recognise that van."

"Sir?" Phelps stepped forwards, looking past the older man to the road visible through the glass of a broad picture window. Down below them, rolling casually through the gates, was a large black van with a dramatic red stripe. It slowed to a sauntering halt directly opposite the large main doors of the office building, and the side of the van slid back. Two men climbed out, just as the front doors of the van swung open to expel two more.

"Hey!" A guard, stepping out of the lobby, made to intercept the foursome, only to be frozen in his tracks by a fierce glare from BA. The big man knocked the unfortunate guard aside as though he were little more than a skittle to be bowled over by a skilful throw.

"Keep out of my way, Jack." He left the guard lying on the tarmac, the impression of several golden rings pressed firmly into the taut skin of his forehead. Murdock stared down at the fallen man, his expression undeniably impressed.

"Anybody ever tell you you'd make a great fossil hunter, BA? With my expertise and your strength we'd--"

"Shut up, fool. Expertise? You wouldn't know a Tyrannosaurus from a Stegosaurus." BA led the way through the glass doors, Murdock trailing in his wake. He had his persistent look on his face.

"A lot of people are fooled by the apparent differences between those particular dinosaurs, BA. In actual fact the old Steg is a master of disguise, and has been fooling experts for ages. If you actually take the time to speak to one..."

"Quiet, fool." BA was staring ahead, past the line of security guards that marked the edges of the corridor. "This place isn't exactly deserted at nightfall, is it."

"Did you expect it to be?" Hannibal moved up to take the lead, apparently heedless of the men watching him so closely. "They're on battle stations right now. Our friend Tony Phelps will be in with the boss right now, whining about how we took him by surprise. Perfect time to make an entrance, I'd say."

"Excuse me." One of the security guards, who easily continued the trend amongst this particular gang to be larger than the average thug, stepped away from the rest. "Mr Duncan says that he will see you now."

"That's damned decent of him." Hannibal clicked his fingers. "Cigar, Face." His second-in-command stepped up with one immediately, along with a silver-plated cigarette lighter he carried as a matter of course. It was a vastly expensive model - not that he had paid for it - neatly monogrammed with a set of initials in fancy script. Not his initials, needless to say. He couldn't remember whose they were. It did a good job with Hannibal's cigars, though.

"This way." The security guard swung his gaze over the group, flickers of a frown darkening the corners of his eyes, before he added, "sirs." Hannibal grinned around his cigar, still smouldering in preparation of its eventual burst into full glow.

"Thank you. Lead on." He fell into step behind the big man, aware that the other guards seemed to be staying behind, or at the very least were maintaining a respectful distance. It all seemed so perfectly civilised - so honestly open and friendly. He wasn't fooled. Hannibal Smith always looked as though he was relaxed, comfortable and happy - but the truth was that he rarely relaxed at all. Not when he was on a job; and certainly not when he was playing right into the hands of a man that, even though they had not yet met, he was beginning to dislike very much indeed.

**********

Claud Duncan was not quite what Hannibal had been expecting - if indeed he had been expecting anything at all. Crime bosses, at least in his lengthening experience, tended to be large men, exuding an air of power that affected their underlings, and impressed those with whom they came into contact. Claud Duncan on the other hand was a small man, owlish almost, possessed of the kind of physique and appearance that reminded the A-Team of Elizabeth's bookish assistant Dennis. He was barely five feet in height, with hair like Albert Einstein's, and a pair of tortoise-shell glasses that rested squarely upon a large, bulbous nose. One of the lenses was heavily tinted, the other blackened out entirely, and a solitary, very bright eye peered out at the world through the left lens, suggesting a mind that missed nothing. Thin, spindly arms and legs were stuffed into a suit that looked as though it had escaped straight out of the fashion pages of Gentleman's Quarterly - no doubt, thought Hannibal, Face would know the designer by the cut of the material alone - and yet the suit itself was worn with no respect at all for its evident quality. It looked as if it had been slept in every night for a week, the silk tie - hand-painted unless appearance deceived - being tightened into a most unstylish knot so small as to be practically invisible. If Duncan was aware that his clothes were the very height of fashion, clearly he did not care. Apparently it mattered nothing to him, either, that his apparel was worth several month's pay for most of the ordinary people of America. Perhaps it was a statement about how little money really meant to him. Perhaps he was just a lout. Hannibal suspected the former, but was willing to consider the latter as well. He didn't like the glint in that solitary visible eye. It suggested violence, and a very great deal of it. He couldn't see what colour it was through that thick, tinted lens, but he could see the lights that lit it, and he knew them well. He had seen them in the eyes of a hundred men out in Vietnam - the men who had enjoyed the killing, and had not stopped when the need for gunfire was over. Insouciant as always, however, Hannibal did not let the slightest part of his feelings show, and instead blew a long, thin cloud of smoke into the air.

"Hi." He grinned around his cigar, shifting his grip on the automatic rifle he held so casually under one arm. His team would provide the fire power if it became necessary. For him the gun was just a prop; there if he needed it, but otherwise just a quietly insinuated threat. "You must be Claud."

"Mr Duncan." The little man regarded him with an air of calm and sophisticated hatred. "And you are?"

"The tax collector." Hannibal grinned even more broadly, and puffed another trail of smoke. It hung in the air above Duncan's head, but the crime boss did not flinch.

"Is that so. Perhaps you have some identification then, Mr..."

"Reagan. Ronald Reagan." Hannibal shook his head. "Figured I didn't need any ID, Claud. Most people see the guns, and then they just give us whatever we want."

"I see." Claud made a show of straightening the absurdly ruined tie, his one eye running all the while over the four members of the A-Team. It settled lastly on Murdock, hovering with the barest hint of uncertainty as the pilot rearranged his armaments so that his fossilised friend could sit more comfortably. He had rigged up a holster on his belt where the piece of stone could rest in a security of sorts. Murdock grinned back at Duncan, who glared a little more powerfully, and switched his gaze back to Hannibal. "And what is it that you and your men want with me, Mr... Reagan?"

"Money." Hannibal did not take his eyes of the diminutive leader of men. "Face?"

"Right." Face stepped forwards, stowing away his gleaming automatic pistol in its shoulder holster as he approached, reaching at the same time for a notebook in the back pocket of his jeans. "The way I see it, we're saving you money by coming here directly, Mr Duncan. See, Miss Jones has been thinking of suing, what with all of the stress that you've been putting her under lately. We figure she'd have a pretty airtight case if she took it to court, no matter how powerful you are in these parts. She's a very respectable lady, and her father was an extremely famous geologist. He worked on the lunar rocks project back in '69-'70. There are plenty of people willing to stand up and argue her case."

"Your point being?" Duncan was eyeing him with a particularly venomous expression, but Face was in one of his more courageous moods. He smiled back in the face of the growing wrath, and flipped over a page of the notebook.

"My point being money, Claud. Now, taking into account lost earnings, the indefinite suspension - from the bank's point of view - of the plan to convert that piece of land into a research centre, and the cost of certain pieces of equipment, furniture and other sundries destroyed by your men, I make the total about a quarter of a million dollars." He shrugged. "But I'm a fair man."

"He is," Hannibal confirmed. The two shared a cheerful grin.

"Fair is fair, after all. We're all businessmen here." Face flicked over a final page on his notebook. "Which is why I'm willing to settle, out of court, for the sum of fifty-seven thousand, two hundred and eighty-nine dollars and twenty-seven cents." He frowned. "Actually it's twenty-six point zero one five cents, but I rounded it up a little there. Hope you don't mind."

"And I'm supposed to pay this fee?" Duncan laughed shortly. "There's no way you'll be getting it from me. My money is locked in the safe beneath my desk. It's secure there, and it's staying that way. That is my final word."

"Safe, huh." Hannibal raised an eyebrow, looking askance at Face. "He's got a safe."

"I bet it isn't a very safe safe." Murdock wiggled his gun as though in excitement. "No safe's a safe safe when the Faceman's on the case. Right Face?"

"Something like that." Face flexed his fingers. "Let's take a little look shall we?"

"You'll never get it open." Duncan sounded disparaging. Hannibal's grin reached its widest extent.

"Never say never, Claud. And never trust your greatest treasures to a hunk of metal under your desk." He watched dispassionately as Face checked the safe over. "What do you think, kid?"

"No problem, Colonel. This is one of the old 486 models. Sturdy enough at first glance, and the salesmen'll tell you that you can't buy better, but the truth is they cave in at the slightest pressure." He flexed his fingers once again, then bent towards the safe door, his movements taking him out of the line of sight of the rest of the inhabitants of the room. There was a series of tiny clicking noises as the wheels spun around, a low metallic thud as of the heel of a hand being slammed rather heavily against something rigid and hard; and then the solid clunk of the handle being turned. Face stood up, several piles of neatly bound bank notes in his hands.

"There's nothing in the safe but money," he announced, apparently to no one in particular. Hannibal nodded, for the statement meant there would be no easy way to get the paperwork that they hoped would prove Duncan's illicit dealings to the authorities. It was looking increasingly as though Face would have to go through with Hannibal's plan to get himself caught by the enemy, in the hope that that would give him the opportunity to get to wherever Duncan kept his greatest secrets.

"Then let's get what we're after," the colonel told him. "I'd like to get out of here fairly soon. It's nearing ten, and I'd hate to miss the Ironside rerun at half past."

"Fine. I think we said fifty-seven thousand two hundred and eighty-nine dollars." Face flipped through the notes at a startling rate, before separating the correct amount. "It'll have to be two hundred and ninety though, as there doesn't seem to be any small change in there. We can't make the twenty-seven cents."

"Doesn't matter. We can spend the extra seventy-three cents on soda. I'm feeling thirsty." Hannibal took the money that Face handed him, and slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. "I guess that's it then. Nice doing business with you, Mr Duncan. Perhaps we can do it again sometime."

"Oh, we will." Duncan was watching him closely, as though attempting to burn every square millimetre of Hannibal's visage into his brain. "Count on it."

"I am." For a second Hannibal's carefree tone had gone, and his voice was entirely serious. "We'll certainly meet again, Claud - and we'll go on meeting until you're put out of business permanently. I don't like the way that you treat people, and I plan on making sure that you don't hurt anybody else. And you can count on that."

"Big words for a man with a lot of guns to back him up." Claud was smirking, but the smirk wavered, however fractionally, at the sudden ice of Hannibal's glare.

"Any time you want to leave the hardware - and the back-up - at home, is okay by me, Claud. I'd be happy to meet you one on one. You know where to find me; for the time being at least." He lifted the automatic rifle into its firing position. "All right boys. Let's move out." As one they moved towards the door, making their exit with military precision. There was no sign of Duncan's other men; the assorted heavies who, unlike Phelps, had not been in their commander's inner sanctum. The corridors were deserted.

"Well that went well." Beginning to think that he might manage a stay of execution, Face glanced about as they ran back through the building towards the entrance. Hannibal smirked, well aware of the younger man's meaning.

"Too well." He slowed as they approached a junction. There was nobody waiting around the corner, and he frowned. "Where is everybody?"

"Hiding. They don't want any prisoners." Face took the next corner first, checking around it as Hannibal had done with the previous one. "Oh."

"Trouble?" Hannibal sounded as though his interest had been piqued, and Face glared at him.

"Six men. Big guns."

"Fine." Thinking quickly Hannibal gestured to his men to fan out. "Face, take the rear. Murdock, BA, take the front, but go far apart. I'll watch the middle." He flashed his second-in-command a wicked grin. "You're up, kid."

"You're all heart, Hannibal." Face drew his pistol, checking the clip. "If I don't make it out of here, I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that I hope we don't meet in the afterlife."

"You know, anybody would think I was giving you a tough mission." Hannibal dropped an arm around the younger man's shoulders, grinning all the while. "You'll enjoy it, you know you will."

"About as much as I'd enjoy having my vital organs removed with a blunt safety pin during a national anaesthetic shortage." Face sighed. "The things I do for this team..."

"It's the Jazz. You know you love it." Hannibal gave his shoulder a brief squeeze, and for a second the ever-jovial eyes were serious. "Good luck, kid."

"Thanks, Colonel." They waited for a brief moment, whilst BA counted them down on his fingers. Murdock's hand tightened upon Mr Fish, as though for good luck - and then, guns blazing, they started forward. Taken by surprise, the six men in the corridor almost failed to fire back, leaping for cover behind the reception desk even as Murdock and BA were almost upon them. There was the sound of a feeble return fire, growing more persistent as the six men recovered their wits. BA and Murdock reached the outer doors, turning about to cover the progress of Hannibal and Face - which was when everything started to go wrong.

With a crash reminiscent of the louder days of the war, the front doors exploded in a shower of glass and broken masonry, sending BA and Murdock dashing for cover. Five men, Uzis blazing, barrelled in through the newly widened doorway, their guns spitting flame and hot lead. The reception desk took the worst of the barrage, but the six men behind it seemed to be inspired rather than cowered by this new danger, and came up as one, firing upon the four intruders. The five men in the doorway fired back, heedless of their colleagues, and yet miraculously managing to leave all six of them unscathed. Hannibal, caught in a vicious crossfire, took a flying leap behind a row of potted plants, sheltering behind scant cover as he looked about for his men. BA and Murdock were pinned down near to the doors, their cover even less substantial than his. The only one of them not in immediate danger was Face, who had not yet made it around the corner into the midst of the furious fusillade.

"Your rifle!" It took Hannibal several seconds before he could understand Face's words above the noise, but they sunk in eventually. The lieutenant was waving at him, gesturing to the automatic rifle Hannibal still gripped, uselessly, in his arms. Timing his movements carefully, Hannibal sent the weapon skimming across the floor towards his cohort, only just avoiding having his hands blown off by flying bullets in the process. Face seized the gun, snatching it up even as the advancing shots were scarring the floor on a trajectory leading straight to his suddenly exposed arms. He dashed back into shelter behind his wall, took a deep breath, and asked himself for the zillionth time what he was doing in this business - then with no other choice open to him, he spun around and came out shooting.

The six men behind the desk leapt back under cover, and the five men by the doors, now steadily advancing, were taken completely by surprise. They fell back together, scrambling for cover, one or two of them dropping their guns in the process. Face advanced grimly, backed up before he had reached Hannibal by BA and Murdock, who stepped out of hiding with their machine guns at full blaze. The lights in the ceiling shattered, and hot glass rained down. The pot plant behind which Hannibal was sheltering blew apart in a shower of plastic and rubber, proving its status as less than living to start with. The pot itself crumbled and cracked, and Hannibal, covered by Face, joined BA and Murdock with a swiftness that came from a long life of physical action. They were almost at the door before the six men behind the desk came up again, guns blazing once more. At the same moment another man appeared around the corner behind Face, gun levelled upon the fleeing lieutenant.

"Face!" Murdock's voice rang out clearly above the gunfire. Face looked up, dropping by sheer instinct as the gun behind him burst into life. Bullets rang out over his head, and he rolled over, shooting back at the new arrival from a lying down position. Now some distance away from him, Hannibal, BA and Murdock had all reached the door.

"Come on, Face!" Hannibal sounded as though he had forgotten Face's mission to be captured - either that or he was trying to make it all seem as realistic as possible. The point was a dead one now anyway, for Face was cut off, unable to cease firing in order to move. He glanced back at his friends, providing cover at the door, and for a second considered making the run anyway. With their increased gunfire temporarily distracting a good percentage of his attackers, he rolled over and over, before stumbling upwards to make a low, crouched run for the nearest available cover. He had almost reached the door when the large window before him, all that remained of the plate glass surrounding the destroyed doors, burst apart in a shower that temporarily blinded him. He went down, stunned, hitting the floor in an explosion of splintered glass. At the same moment, the five men who had made their retreat through the doors reappeared on the grass verge outside. Hannibal took one last look inside the building, but of Face there was no sign.

"Fall back!" The five men were shooting at them from the relative safety of a low stone wall that ringed a welcoming flower bed directly opposite the front doors. It was not hard to fire above their heads, keeping them down where they were less of a threat. Keeping together, firing together, Murdock and BA provided the heavy assault that allowed Hannibal, with his recently diminished firepower, to lead the way to the van. He tugged open the door, climbing in behind the wheel, thanking the stars that BA always kept a spare set of keys beneath the seat. It would hardly be convenient to ask him for the main set now. Jamming them into the ignition, he turned on the engine, revving it loudly.

"Get going, BA!" Taking over the task of providing covering fire, Murdock indicated that BA should make a break for the van. The sergeant nodded, understanding that there was no time to argue. He ran quickly, keeping low, leaping into the passenger seat as Hannibal swung the van about and threw the door open. Barrelling past him, no time for words, BA hauled open the sliding doors in the back of the van. Murdock, running for life now that there was no one to cover him, pounded towards the van with his heart several feet ahead of him. Hannibal swung the vehicle around as Murdock came within reach, and with his lungs working overtime and his legs feeling ready to drop off, Murdock threw himself through the open doors. BA slammed then shut, Hannibal spun the wheel, and the A-Team's increasingly battered van tore away down the short stretch of road leading back to the main thoroughfare. The sound of gunfire faded away in the distance, and with a long-held exhalation of pent-up breath, Hannibal lessened the pressure on the accelerator, and let the van ease back to a more comfortable speed. He sighed.

"I love it when a plan comes together."

"If that was your plan, you're crazy." BA had returned to the passenger seat, and was glaring at the colonel as though he were somehow damaging the van by his heavy-handed driving. "We nearly got killed, my wheels got shot up again, and Face is hardly in control of the situation back there."

"He'll be okay." Hannibal had lost his cigar in the fight, and was beginning to suspect that Face had his spares. He scowled. "Although he could have given me a cigar before he left."

"I hope he didn't get hurt too badly by that window." If Murdock was genuinely concerned - which he undoubtedly was - he gave no sign of it. "He was wearing one of his favourite shirts. Mr Fish says--"

"Mr Fish don't say nothing, fool. That's a rock, and rocks don't talk." BA folded his arms, looking even more grouchy than normal. "I can't believe my wheels got shot up again."

"Never mind BA. We've got fifty thousand dollars here that's sure to buy you a fair amount of bodywork. Maybe we'll even throw in a hot wax and an oil change." Hannibal looked momentarily dark. "There's going to be a heavy bill to pay this time out - and I'm personally going to see to it that Claud Duncan pays every last cent." His eyes narrowed. "Even if I have to shake them out of him one by one."

**********

Back at the Duncan Offices, a cheap-suited heavy carrying a fully loaded Uzi 9mm approached the unmoving figure with caution. Behind him two of his colleagues fanned out, following in his wake as an equally cautious rear guard. Still the figure on the ground failed to move. When he was within six feet of it, the tentative gunman came to a halt, staring down at the prostrate form with a decidedly unfriendly glower. Face was unconscious, face down in the splintered remains of a heavy window frame, a shower of glass fragments covering his motionless body like rainbow-strewn confetti covering a bride. The Uzi-toting heavy took another step forward, then reached out and nudged Face with his foot. There was no response. Finally beginning to relax, the man took another step forward, and rolled the inert figure over onto its back. The closed eyelids, framed by a tumble of golden brown hair that had gone unusually awry, gave the face added youth - but the image of surprising harmlessness had no effect on the minions of Claud Duncan. Unrelenting, they converged upon the fallen figure, and with a rigid sense of ruthlessness they hauled the lone A-Team member to his feet. Head sore, Face opened his eyes, jerked back to wakefulness by the rough handling. He grinned at the men that surrounded him, making no objection as they confiscated the handgun in his shoulder holster.

"Hey guys." Faintly disorientated, but nonetheless still chatty, Face let his grin widen. "How's it going?" He was silenced by a heavy blow to the stomach with the butt of a rifle, but held as he was by his captors it was not possible to double up and let the pain subside. Thinking increasingly unpleasant thoughts about the plans of his commanding officer, Face allowed the men to manhandle him back down the corridor. Some days he really hated his job. And then, he thought, with a definite sourness, there are days like these, when I hate it even more.

**********

"How's it going at the offices?" Night had deepened and lengthened and finally broken, and daylight was beginning to creep over the trees behind the house. The lake, still in relative darkness, glimmered and shimmered in the reflected glow from the lamps on the steps where Hannibal was sitting. BA, striding back towards the house after parking his van, sat slowly down on the step nearest to the colonel.

"They moved out just before dawn broke. Murdock's following them, but it looks like they're heading for Duncan's house." He glanced up as Amy materialised at his side with a cup of coffee, and offered her one of his rare smiles. Coffee was always a good idea when one had spent the entire night sitting in a van at the other end of a walkie-talkie from Howling Mad Murdock. It felt as though the crazy pilot had spent every one of their eight hours on watch talking continually about his fossilised companion, Mr Fish. BA had tried threats, violent tirades and even calm reasoning in an attempt to make his colleague shut up, but nothing had worked. He had put it down to nervousness in the end. Murdock was worried about Face, as they all were.

"Did they all go?" Hannibal asked, accepting another cup of coffee, this time from Elizabeth. BA shook his head.

"Five of them went. I couldn't see many faces, but Duncan and Phelps were there, and they had Face with them. They went in one car - a black sedan, with this year's plates."

"Claud Duncan's personal vehicle." Elizabeth didn't sound as if it was her favourite car by any means. "He bought it very recently, just after driving a young family out of their house in the next town. Word is that he foreclosed one day, got them out the next, and by the day after that he was already raking in a massive profit from the resale. He'd probably already sold it before he even gained possession." She scowled at the coffee jug in her hand. "That car was bought with blood money, just like everything else that man owns. I can't believe you left Face alone with him."

"Face knows what he's doing. He's a professional, just like the rest of us." Hannibal knew that his words were likely to fall on deaf ears, for female clients - particularly young, female clients - had a tendency to mother his second-in-command to a degree that was frankly annoying. Either that or by the end of a mission they were about ready to marry him.

"I hope so." Even Amy sounded worried, and she had been with the team for long enough to know that plans such as this one had worked flawlessly on many occasions before. Well, more or less flawlessly. At any rate they had worked, and that was the important thing. "What happens next?"

"Face makes his move. He's got to find us something that'll point the finger at Duncan - prove that he's up to something illegal. That way Elizabeth can take it to the sheriff and get the law behind her. You see, Liz, if you're still hoping to get the bank to finance your research centre, you'll need a better legal standing than the one that you have at the moment. You have to prove that you make a better financial investment than Duncan. Ordinarily I'd favour using less orthodox means to deal with a man like him, but this way we should be able to get your research centre a good head start as well as shutting down that slimeball Duncan. That's got to be reason enough to dispense with the big fight this time around."

"I hope you're right. You make it all sound so simple." Elizabeth sat down on one of the porch chairs, staring out across the patchily lit lake. Amy smiled.

"Hannibal makes everything sound simple. It's one of his greatest talents." Hannibal shot her a look of mock outrage.

"Everything is simple." He blew a smoke ring, as though in illustration.

"Ain't nothing simple except you." BA drained his coffee and then leaned back against the banister. "Man, nothing ever goes the way you say it will."

"It does in the end, BA. It does in the end."

"Yeah, but never because of anything we do. Luck, man. That's all that keeps your plans working."

"Oh ye of little faith." Hannibal smiled broadly, leaning back to watch the early dawn light as it began at last to flood the surface of the lake. "This time it's all going to go exactly according to plan. You just wait and see."

**********

Face didn't much like being locked up - which was a shame really, he couldn't help thinking, because he seemed to spend so much of his life that way. It had started in his youth, when he had easily taken the St Bart's record for time spent in police cells - quite an achievement given the nature of some of his alumni. Then had come the army, where he had promptly been arrested by the military police; followed by his initiation into the tutelage of Hannibal Smith - which had been followed almost immediately by a long spell in his own personal cage courtesy of the Vietcong. Now that the army - and the stockade at Fort Bragg - were far behind him, nothing much seemed to have changed; for he still seemed to spend large amounts of his life locked up somewhere, tied to something, or being generally manhandled. Sometimes he managed all three.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" The man standing before him, asking questions in a voice that indicated a rapid decline of patience, seemed to be growing larger with every breath. "Who are you?"

"I told you already. Lieutenant Templeton Peck, US Army. Special Forces." Face smiled as only he could, in a fashion guaranteed either to charm or to annoy. Clearly his interrogator came firmly in the second camp, for he showed no signs of softening. "The government is looking into the tactical opportunities available to us in geology. We think there's a lot to be learnt from your basic rock structures. Igneous rocks for--" He was cut short by a single blow to the chin, which silenced him effectively. His attacker scowled.

"You'll talk."

"There's no point in making him." The room's only other occupant, Claud Duncan, sauntered closer to the pair in the centre of the floor. His single visible eye was narrowed behind its tinted lens, almost entirely hidden, yet still obviously alert and observant. "Who he is doesn't matter, and we know who he's working for. That much is obvious. The real question is how far this going to go." He eyed Face without expression, speaking in a voice entirely devoid of malice or irritation. "Just how determined are your friends to protect that little piece of land down there?"

"Hannibal doesn't like to disappoint a client." Face wished that he could wipe the thin trail of blood away from his chin. It was beginning to tickle. Duncan nodded slowly.

"He's a professional. That certainly makes sense. But is he willing, say, to sacrifice you for the benefit of his mission? If I were to tell him to pull out, and make it quite clear that failure to do so would result in your death, what exactly would his reaction be?"

"You don't want to know." For all his play-acting at cowardice and incompetence, Face was by no means lacking in courage. He held the gaze of his captor without blinking. "If you make a threat like that, he won't stop until he's taken this place apart - and you with it."

"Is that so." Duncan's eye glittered, and his mouth twitched. "Perhaps we should find out."

"You'll regret it if you do." A movement off to the side warned Face that another blow was coming his way, and his powerful instincts steeled him to expect it. It never materialised. Duncan reached out, stopping his accomplice before the fist could fall.

"Not now." His voice was hard. "There's no point." He was silent for a moment, and then gave a brisk, hard nod. "Get the men together. We're going over to Miss Jones's place for a little chat with her newest employees."

"Sure, boss." His assistant turned smartly and left, moving with a brisk step that suggested a military background. Face watched him go.

"You're leaving so soon? I'll get lonely."

"There'll be plenty of people around to keep you company." Duncan pointed towards the door. "Including somebody in the corridor right out there. Make no mistake, Lieutenant. If you try to get out, you'll be shot down. You might be a useful hostage, but I have no objection to getting rid of you entirely if you happen to make a nuisance of yourself. I don't like troublemakers."

"Oh I never make a nuisance of myself." Face smiled at him, once again all innocence and cordiality. "I'm allergic to pain, and I certainly wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of anybody around here."

"I'm glad to hear that." Duncan spun about. "By the way - you'd better still be here when I get back. I'm likely to take it personally if you're not, and when I get personal, other people tend to get hurt. I should so hate to have to do something nasty to any of the people in that charming little spot beside the lake. There's a small boy, isn't there. I've seen him from afar. Such a sweet child."

"I get the point." Face forced himself to relax, despite the fact that every muscle in his body was itching to get to work on the ropes, eager to get his mission completed. "I stay, or you do something very unpleasant."

"You're not as stupid as you look." Duncan offered him an extremely unfriendly smile. "Good day."

"Be seeing you." Face watched him as the door snapped shut, then forced himself to remain inactive for several moments more. He heard footsteps clacking sharply on the floor outside; the faint murmur of voices; then silence. He waited for a little longer, hearing a jumble of assorted noises, some fading, some growing. After a few seconds there was a rattle of metal against metal, and a hatch in the door opened. A pair of dark, shadowed eyes stared through the hatch, fixed intently on Face. Face stared back, unable to see much of the man beyond the door, but seeing enough to recognise someone with evident stamina and determination - if very little brain power. He offered the man a cautious smile, and the hatch was once again slammed shut. There was a long silence. Deciding at last that the coast was clear, Face took a deep breath that served to focus him, concentrating hard on the uncomfortably tight ropes around his chest and wrists. He didn't remember Hannibal mentioning ropes when they had discussed this mission. He had made it all sound so easy - as he always did. Capture, possible brief interrogation, the likelihood of some physical discomfort - Face remembered objecting particularly strongly at that point - and then escape. There had been talk of the simple picking of locks, and the possible removal of one or two guards. Face liked picking locks. That had been the one part of the plan that he was entirely happy with. The one part that he was sure that he could do. Needless to say, Hannibal's plan had in no way gone as it was supposed to. Instead of being locked in some empty storeroom as expected, he had been bound hand and foot and tied to a metal chair - which was in turn bolted to the floor - in a room that looked suspiciously like a mediaeval dungeon. The walls were made of stone, and - as he had been able to see when brought in through the door - were at least eighteen inches thick. The door itself had no keyhole on his side, and was clearly made from reinforced steel. He had heard bolts being drawn as well as the turning of a key in a lock and, given the fact that he was in Claud Duncan's home, the entire building was very likely alarmed. He was rather good with alarm systems on the whole, but he still wasn't entirely sure how he was going to get past this one. Not when he had to break out of an apparently impregnable prison cell first. Next time, he thought to himself as he struggled against the ropes, Hannibal could be the one to get himself caught. The problem was, of course, that somewhere along the line such things had become Face's responsibility. He wasn't sure how it had happened, but he wished that he could turn it about. In the meantime, with nothing else to do and no alternative courses of action, he concentrated his strength upon the ropes. He had to break free, or Hannibal's entire plan would fail; and if that happened he would probably never hear the end of it - if any of them survived. The way that things were going so far on this mission, Face was beginning to think that increasingly unlikely. Maybe fifty million years down the line it would be the A-Team's bones that another generation of Joneses would be digging up out of the lake. The thought, rather bizarrely, made him smile - and with renewed vigour, he set about getting himself free.

**********

The day progressed slowly, and in its usual fashion - or what had become so in the short time since the A-Team had become a feature of the local landscape. Dennis sat on the porch, studying rock samples brought to him by an overly-enthusiastic Jamie, whilst Elizabeth painstakingly catalogued the fossils she had collected over the previous week. In between explaining some of the finer geological points to Jamie, Dennis was working on numerous other projects, cataloguing this, cross-referencing that; all under the watchful gaze of Hannibal Smith. A boyhood interest in rocks had been reawakened in the agile mind of the A-Team's commander-in-chief. Whilst keeping a close eye on the approach to the house, Hannibal was watching the passing collection of rocks with more than a little attention, commenting on them occasionally. Dennis smiled up at him at one point, amazed by the sponge-like abilities of the man's remarkable brain. He could almost believe that Hannibal had a degree in geology, so salient were the points he picked up on and mentioned. A shy and retiring man by nature, Dennis Yauta came alive when he was dealing with rock samples and pages of chemical analyses. Hannibal's interest had made the usually quiet geologist almost chatty, and his jokes about mineral content and sedimentary patterning became almost fluent. Elizabeth smiled at the change in him, a change that normally she was the only one to witness. It was a long, long time since she had seen Dennis open up in such a way to anyone save herself, and he had not even relaxed in her presence since his recent assault at the hands of Duncan's men. It made her appreciate Hannibal's presence even more. He truly was, she felt, a remarkable man; and one that she could almost imagine becoming a permanent part of the scenery. It would be a joy to have the entire team move in full time; Jamie was already devoted to BA; Murdock had brightened the place up remarkably, even going so far as to begin, with Jamie's help, a series of papier-mâché models representing the animals locked in their fossil states in so many of the rocks that lay around the place. Amy was fun to talk to, and a welcome companion after years of living alone with Dennis and Jamie; Hannibal was strong, capable, intelligent, and managed to give the impression that he could easily right every wrong that ever happened to befall the world, whilst Face... She had to smile at that thought. Face's attractions were obvious. Somehow, though, she couldn't even begin to believe that the interest he had shown in her was by any means unique. There were probably strings of women back in Los Angeles to whom he gave an equal amount of his amiable attentions. She gave a rueful smile as she sorted through her piles of at times barely legible notes. Somehow it seemed that, even if it was likely that the A-Team would want to move in permanently, it probably wouldn't be a very good idea to ask them.

"Trouble." Hannibal's voice pulled her away from her thoughts, and she glanced up. It startled her that he was still aware of the world beyond the porch, for he had seemed to be giving Dennis his full attention.

"Where?" She made as if to rise to her feet, but he slowed her with a hand gesture, bidding her to remain in her place.

"Coming down the road." He nodded, just as the nose of a long black sedan edged around the corner. "Our Mr Duncan if I'm not mistaken."

"That's certainly his car." She shut her working diary with a loud snap. "I don't think I want to know what he's after."

"I think we can probably guess." A large van was following in the tracks of the sedan, and Hannibal could see at least five men on board. Added to the likely contents of the sedan that made a probable total of nine men, and he was severely under-manned at the moment. With Face indisposed and Murdock watching Duncan's house, the A-Team was down to half strength. Amy might have argued with that, but in times of battle Hannibal rarely counted her amongst their number. Enthusiastic and courageous she might be; a solider she was not. Taking up an unlit cigar, Hannibal strolled casually down the steps to meet the approaching vehicles. In the corner of his eye he could see BA, standing with Jamie beside the lake. Amy was there too, undoubtedly unarmed. Even the usually ever-ready BA was only carrying a handgun, preferring to limit his armaments when in charge of a small child. The sedan drew to a halt mere inches from the colonel's legs. Hannibal bit the end from his cigar, and spat it at the shining fender before him. One of the car doors opened.

"Still playing the tough guy?" Tony Phelps, his jaw line bearing a good many marks from his previous day's encounter with the A-Team, climbed out of the sedan with the air of a rock star stepping from his stretch limousine. Hannibal smiled at him.

"Still playing the ballet dancer?" He watched dispassionately as the glowering senior heavy went to open one of the rear doors in order to allow Duncan to make his exit. Phelps moderated his scowl as he opened the door, doing his best to look the part of a chauffeur. Duncan nodded a brief display of thanks, before smoothing some of the more persistent wrinkles in his expensive, designer-label suit.

"Mr Reagan, Miss Jones." There was a note of good humour in his voice, as though he were greeting old friends. Hannibal allowed him a small smile in return.

"Mr Duncan. Nice to see you again. Was there something you were wanting?"

"Wanting? No, not really. Not exactly, anyway." Duncan smiled at him, before drawing out a cigarette lighter and offering its flame to the cigar-chewing colonel. Hannibal stepped forwards to accept the gesture, and the two men shared a grim stare. Hannibal broke it, grinning behind the newly glowing end of his cigar.

"So why did you stop by? Not that it isn't pleasant to see you. We don't get a lot of visits here, and it's always good to see the neighbours. Coffee?"

"No thank you." Hannibal's cheery air was beginning to grate on Duncan's nerves, and it showed in the glitter of his sole visible eye. "Actually I just came to offer you a little deal."

"A deal?" Hannibal raised his eyebrows, still grinning in his best infuriating manner. "Well speak on, Claud. We're all ears."

"Good." Duncan smirked briefly, as if certain that his announcement was going to have a profound effect on this irritating, grinning fool before him. "It's about your friend. The lieutenant."

"You found him?" Hannibal nodded. "That's good. I noticed that he'd wandered off."

"We did rather more than just find him, Mr Reagan. He's a guest of mine at the moment, and I had in mind a little trade..."

"Such as?" Hannibal's eyes had narrowed a fraction, and his voice had taken on the slightest hint of an icy edge. Duncan and his men did not notice it, but BA and Amy, who knew the colonel well, spotted the change in that steady voice straight away. BA stiffened, ready for action the moment it seemed likely to become a necessity.

"Such as your friend for this place. You get Miss Jones to turn over the deeds to me, and I allow your friend to live. I'm going to get this place anyway in the end, and you might just as well let me take it while your friend is still alive. Not that it wouldn't be a pleasure to kill him."

"I'm sorry to hear that you haven't been getting along." Hannibal's tone was dry, even though the touch of sarcasm in his voice was not echoed by his body language. "But to swap Face for the house?" He frowned slightly. "Seems like a pretty uneven deal to me. Maybe if you were to throw in half a million dollars as well."

"Perhaps you're not understanding me." Duncan raised his voice, as though speaking to a particularly dense and infuriating underling. "I'm not proposing a sale, Mr Reagan. If you don't sign over the ownership of this place to me, you'll never see your friend again."

"Fine. Keep him." Hannibal puffed out a stream of smoke. "To be honest with you, he really only gets in the way. Always getting himself caught. I'm probably better off without him."

"You're bluffing." Duncan didn't sound entirely sure. Hannibal blew a long puff of smoke at him, this time succeeding in making the visible eye blink in irritation.

"Am I?" He shrugged. "Why don't we find that out? Oh, and one little point, Claud. When I said that my name was Reagan, I was joking. You might want to work on your sense of humour a little." He puffed in silence for a minute or two. "Name's Smith. Colonel Smith. Has Face told you why we're here?"

"Face?" Duncan guessed to whom Hannibal was referring. "Oh. He spun some cock and bull story about secret army reports into geology, and the tactical applications of fossilised dinosaur bones. I assumed he was lying."

"Yeah, well it's not far off the truth. We are here for the fossils, and for the rocks - and whether we're here on government business or not, we're pretty determined not to leave in a hurry. As a matter of fact, we're going to stay here until we're sure that Miss Jones is going to be left alone to run her research centre in peace. Face understands that, and he wouldn't expect me to agree to your deal." Inwardly he knew that the truth was something rather different, but he did not allow the responding smile to show. "I'm sorry, but I can't agree to your deal. What I can agree to is shutting you down and destroying your empire." He shrugged, once again grinning around his cigar. "And leaving you penniless and destitute. Actually that's my favourite part, to be honest with you. It has a neat kind of justice about it, don't you think?"

"You're a real funny man, aren't you." Duncan regarded him silently for a second, his single, mobile eye filled with poison. "Alright, have it your way. Just don't expect to get your friend back. He's history."

"I've forgotten him already." Hannibal kept up the firm and unrelenting eye contact right up until Claud Duncan had climbed back into his car. The assorted gunmen and heavies who had accompanied their sordid leader followed suit; but not until the two vehicles were disappearing back around the corner did Hannibal breathe a sigh of relief, and allow himself to relax. BA joined him, his usually serious face even more serious then normal. Together the two commandos watched the road until the fading sound of the cars had gone completely.

"Face better have got himself loose," BA commented. "Or I don't much fancy his chances." Hannibal smiled at him, his usually twinkling eyes rather sober.

"Face is on his way home by now," he told his companion, with perfect conviction; but BA couldn't help thinking that there was doubt visible in the rugged face. "Wait and see."

**********

It took a lot of work to loosen the knots, but eventually, just as he was beginning to feel that he would never get himself free, Face felt the bonds give way. With a little insistent wriggling he was able to extricate his wrists and arms, finally letting the ropes fall to the floor. He stretched, rubbing his sore wrists, all the while thinking unpleasant thoughts about Hannibal Smith. It didn't help that he knew they would all evaporate just as soon as the cheerful colonel flashed another winning smile.

Conscious of the guard outside the door, Face stood up quietly, then collected the rope that until so recently had tied him down. It was a long piece, thin but strong, and proved easy to manipulate into a lariat. It took several attempts to get the noose over one of the beams in the ceiling above, but once he had succeeded he pulled it tight and left the end of the rope swinging. Kicking the metal chair as hard as he could, so that it shook and rattled against its restraining bolts, he dashed for cover behind the door. It was only a second before he heard the door hatch being opened. There was a brief silence, an exclamation of panic, and then the sounds of the door being unlocked. Face tensed, ready for action, listening as the door was swung wide open. The guard hurtled into the room, staring up at the ceiling as though he fully expected to see his prisoner disappearing through a non-existent skylight. Face waited until he was roughly in the middle of the room, about as far away from the door as he was likely to get, and then made a dash for the corridor. The guard turned just as Face was darting through the doorway, and with a bellow of rage he turned about to give chase. Just in time Face slammed the door shut, dragging home one of the bolts to seal the enraged guard inside. A thunderous shaking and pounding made the corridor ring, but nobody came running. No voices demanded to know what was going on. Offering the world one of his best and most heartfelt grins, Face straightened his clothing, ran a hand through his hair to ensure that it was looking its best, and then turned about and strode jauntily down the corridor. Now if only the rest of this mission went quite so easily. And if only he could believe that it would.

It was not hard to find his way to Duncan's study. Having assumed by the lack of windows and natural light that he was below ground level, Face made for the nearest flight of stairs and followed them up. He was greeted by a large expanse of polished wood flooring that he vaguely recalled being unceremoniously bundled past earlier in the day. By the looks of things now, it was well past noon. He wondered how long he had before Duncan and the others returned from their 'chat' with Hannibal and the others. The last thing that he wanted was to be caught by a bunch of men angry from a fruitless excursion. At least he hoped that it had been fruitless. Duncan had a lot of men and a lot of guns on his side, and Hannibal was not exactly holed up in the perfect tactical spot. Quite the opposite in fact, for the wooden walls of Elizabeth's home would not stand up to much gunfire, no matter how many storms and winter winds they had lived through.

Duncan's study proved, somewhat predictably, to be behind the biggest and most grand of the doors, and was situated on one of the upper levels of the building. There were several floors in all, but none of the lower ones bore anything that seemed likely to be the room Duncan would choose for himself. Face glanced into many nonetheless, seeing storerooms, guest bedrooms and mini offices; nothing impressive or ornate enough for a man with Duncan's clear sense of self-importance. As soon as he saw the broad, carved doors, with their heavy and elegant doorknobs, however, Face knew immediately that he had reached his goal. He tried the handles surreptitiously, just in case there was somebody in the room; a secretary or a guard, or some other minion. The doors were locked, predictably, but that was easy enough to rectify; and there proved to be nobody at all inside. Large pieces of mahogany and redwood furniture filled the impressive space, forming an ecologist's nightmare as well as an impression of vast and unashamed wealth. Heavy velvet curtains hung by the windows, bound back by silken cords. There were paintings on the walls as well; originals if Face's limited expertise was not failing him. The frames were gilt-edged and opulent, almost drawing attention away from the pictures inside. All old paintings he noticed. Nothing modern or nouveau. Clearly Claud Duncan was as conservative as he was rich and ruthless. He looked about, wondering where was the best place to start looking.

The safe was rather easy to find, stashed away as it was behind the largest of the paintings. It was also extremely easy to open - at least for a professional in such matters, as was Face - and so it came as no surprise to the lieutenant when he found it more or less empty. Only a few unimportant documents lay on the metal shelf inside, and he shut the door again with a disconsolate clang. His internal clock was telling him that it had been a long time now since Claud Duncan had left him alone in his cell, and therefore it could not be long before the crime boss returned; wanting blood, if Face knew Hannibal. Duncan would very likely head straight for the cell, and would naturally soon discover that it contained, not one suitably cowed A-Team member, but one very irate, if rather dim, guard. He quickened his pace, working faster, turning over the chairs to see if there was anything pasted beneath, checking under the table for secret drawers, and feeling the walls for hidden panels. Occasionally voices sounded outside the room, and he froze; but always they went on by, and no-one tried to gain entry to the study. Clearly his escape had not yet been discovered, and he drew heart from that. Soon, however, his frustration began to bubble over. How much longer could he hope to remain here, without somebody finding him? The clock on Duncan's desk told him that he had been searching the room for some thirty minutes, and that it was well over an hour since a delegation had headed out to speak to Hannibal up at the lake. It would not take them that long to get there, and he couldn't imagine that they would stay terribly long. Hannibal would make it clear very early on that there was nothing for them to discuss; that he was not prepared to make any kind of a deal. After that there would be no reason for the conversation to continue. Face stood in the middle of the room, pondering options and judging time lapses. Five minutes? Ten? It certainly did not seem that it could possibly be any longer before Duncan returned and, upon finding his absence, came looking for him. Face didn't much want to be around when that happened; but he couldn't leave without the necessary proof. He didn't doubt Duncan's viciousness for a moment, and he knew that the threat involving Jamie was very likely more of a promise than an idle comment. Face wanted the means to get rid of the man permanently before he left this place; to be sure that that threat had no chance of being carried out. With this in mind, his patience now at its lowest ebb, he gave the desk leg a hearty kick. To his surprise, given the evident quality of the other wooden furniture, the leg responded with a loud crunch, and a large crack appeared. Quickly Face dropped to the ground. Behind him, coming faintly through a window, he heard the sound of a vehicle approaching, followed closely by the echoing noise of another. He ignored it, scrabbling at the table leg with his fingers. Quite obviously, whilst the other three legs were solid oak, the fourth was hollow, and apparently made of something rather less resilient. Up close it was possible to see a slight difference in the grain, and in the colouring, but otherwise the four legs were indistinguishable from one another. Inside the fourth, however, distinguishing it by a good deal more than mere patterning and shades, was a small hollow cavity. It was hard to squeeze his fingers into the gap, but he did not feel that he had time to turn the desk over to do the job properly. His knuckles caught a sharp edge of the broken wood, cutting open and dribbling blood. He ignored it, merely thinking of it as one more thing to blame on Hannibal. In the distance he could hear voices now, but not like before. This time the voices were angry, and they were unmistakably growing louder. Closer. More defined by the lessening distance. He could recognise Duncan's voice amongst them, louder than the rest. Closer than the rest too, and getting closer all the time. He pushed harder, taking more skin from his knuckles, and felt his fingertips grazing paper. Something rustled, and the wood, or wood alternative, cracked further. He made a grab for the contents of the hole, felt them within his grip, and tore them free. Fortunately the pages themselves did not tear. Not bothering to take the time to look at them; trusting by pure instinct that they must be what he was looking for; he stuffed them inside his shirt and ran for the window. It was alarmed, he was sure; he could see the box beside it, but had no time to make any attempt to bypass it. Instead he merely tore open the window.

The sound of the alarm filled the house, although Face had no way of knowing that. All that he could hear was the speaker in the study, blaring in a steady rise and fall that echoed and wailed like some exceptionally manic air raid siren. Down the corridor shouts rang out, lost in the louder screams of the alarm, but revealed once again in the quieter phases between. Face ignored them, just as he was ignoring everything else. It was Hannibal's fault anyway, and he concentrated on that thought. Blame Hannibal, and ignore the rest. Ignore the men with guns coming down the corridor towards him.

He scrambled through the window with an agility that might have pleased him, had he had the time to think about it. Outside there was a balcony; a steady, solid cast iron affair that rang beneath his feet. Beneath was an identical balcony; above was another. There were more to his left and his right. He took a moment to ponder his next move, interrupted by the violent pounding on the study door. Somebody was trying to get in. Claud Duncan's shout echoed above the others, indignant and incensed. Face could almost imagine him telling the men doing the banging to stand down. He had a key, and it was better to use that than to ruin a perfectly good door. Face allowed himself a smile; and then heard a shout below him. Three guards had run onto the lawn beneath, and were pointing and yelling. He groaned. Definitely one more thing to blame on Hannibal. He sighed at the injustice of it all, and clambered up onto the railing of the balcony. Inside the study, the door opened. Feet came rushing into the room, and Face made a wild leap for the balcony above. He grabbed hold of it, hauling himself up, making a second leap for the roof that was the next step up. It was harder to pull himself up the sloping side of the roof, his clothes catching on the sharply projecting edges of the tiles. Shots rang out beneath him, but they all went wild. At this angle he was sure that nobody on the ground could see him. That was definitely just as well, he thought, with some relief. He was hardly best placed to carry out any serious evasive manoeuvres whilst lying on a steeply sloping roof many feet above the ground.

He went up the roof as best he could, pausing only when he reached the very top. Beneath him, in a manner that was almost unsettling, what looked like most of the county lay stretched out at rest. It was beautiful; a world lying bathed in the mid afternoon sun. It reminded him, oddly, of the first time that he had climbed onto the orphanage roof, when as a very small boy he had first seen something approaching a panoramic view. Turning away from the view now, he slid down the other side of the roof. The gunshots were further away from this side of the building, but he didn't think that it would be long before the guards followed him around. He wondered if he would have the time to reach ground level before Duncan's employees realised where he must be heading, and came around to meet him. There was only one way to find out, and with a recklessness that might have horrified him under different circumstances, he jumped down onto the first balcony. The sound of his feet hitting the cast iron was almost deafening, even above the insistent scream of the alarm. He almost lost his footing; almost pitched head first over the rails; but managed to balance himself at the last moment. Without waiting to steady himself further, he vaulted over the railing and landed heavily on the balcony below, repeating the uncomfortable process until he had reached the final balcony, with only one more storey between him and the increasingly enticing ground. Beneath him he heard gunshots - and saw three men running onto the gravel path below. He groaned, throwing himself to the floor. So much for spectacular getaways. Perhaps the guards would offer to let him go if he gave up nicely. Maybe he could convince them that he was just the window cleaner.

A lull in the rattle of gunfire below provided him with an opening, and for something to do if nothing else, he took a quick look over the railing to get a better look. Perhaps there would be a chance of overpowering the guards, or of outmanoeuvring them; or maybe just finding a way of avoiding them altogether. Certainly that last option would be his favourite. He frowned. With nothing in view to explain their unexpected behaviour, two of the guards were lying face down on the ground, their guns thrown aside. Even as Face watched, the third lowered himself down to join them. A triumphant laugh followed his sulky surrender, and Face recognised it at once. He grinned. Some distance away, standing just in his view beneath the overhanging branches of a heavy green bush, stood Murdock. He was holding a machine gun that seemed rather too heavy for him, but his cap was pushed back to a jaunty angle, and Face would have sworn that he could see a merry grin plastered across that pale, crazy countenance. With nothing else to do but to trust in his friend, he completed his awkward descent. The short distance to that overhanging bush seemed an exhausting run, but he made it, letting Murdock half drag him under cover. Behind them shouts and gunshots echoed, but both commandos ignored the ruckus, running instead for the battered car that awaited nearby. Face recognised it as Elizabeth's ungainly machine; a '69 Chevy that must have been owned by a demolition derby star at some point in its career, for it had the looks and performance of something that had rolled off the production line in 1949, rather than twenty years later.

"You okay, Faceman?" Murdock did not sound even remotely concerned, which was reason enough to suspect that he was considerably so. Face managed a breathless grin.

"Give me a week or two to recover, and I just might be. I don't suppose you've got any brandy in the glove compartment?"

"Might be a couple of cartons of orange juice." Murdock nodded at his fossil, sitting on top of the dashboard. "Mr Fish doesn't like alcohol. He says it's why the dinosaurs became extinct."

"It is, huh." Face leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "Well right now I think I want to be extinct. Wake me up when we get back to the house."

"Sure, Face." Murdock started up the engine, his natural exuberance thoughtfully dimmed in response to his friend's exhaustion. Face smiled at him, his eyes still closed.

"Thanks, Murdock. For... you know."

"No problem, Faceman." Murdock turned the car about, taking it out of the brush and back to the road. "No problem at all."

**********

In the growing light of dusk, Hannibal and Face pored over the documents that the latter had liberated from their hollow table leg home. Just as Face had predicted, his anger at his commanding officer had faded just as soon as the team had all been together again; but then, in all honesty, he had never hated the danger and the adventure as much as he liked to pretend. Maybe Hannibal knew that; maybe that was why it was always Face that he chose for such tasks. At the end of the day, given that the situation had not been fatal, perhaps it didn't really matter.

"I think you struck gold, kid." Putting down the few sheets he had been examining, Hannibal pointed to one or two neatly typed phrases. "These detail the inquiries Duncan has been making into building on this land. He's got plans for some kind of a leisure complex, which would tie in to the mentions later on about increased tourist facilities nearer to the town itself. Everything has been costed, and if I'm reading this correctly, he's already hired the men who are going to be doing the building and excavations."

"This is a geological survey." Face held up the remaining two sheets for the colonel's inspection. "It ties in perfectly with the survey I made, and with what Elizabeth and Dennis had already discovered themselves. There is no gold here, and no reason to suspect that there might be any. There's no copper either. Certainly there's plenty else, in terms of minor gem deposits; but that's purely of interest from a scientific perspective. As a gold mine this place would be useless."

"And Duncan knows it." Hannibal grinned around at the others, and particularly at Elizabeth. "That's all we need. After they see this, the bank will have to withdraw their support from friend Duncan. They've already been pushing the point of the law by taking his interests above yours, but I think this will be enough to get them back on your side. I figure you can start assuming that that loan is already yours."

"We'd better get this stuff to the sheriff." Face glanced towards the clock, startled to see how much time had passed since his return with Murdock. It seemed that this day was forever shooting past him in unnoticed chunks. "I don't think that Duncan was joking when he said that he'd take it out on this place if I escaped from that cell. He threatened Jamie directly."

"Then we'd better get moving." BA pushed his chair away from the table, rising quickly. Hannibal followed suit.

"Maybe you'd better stay here, BA." He shared a quick glance - a wordless conference - with the sergeant. BA nodded.

"Sure, Hannibal."

"Amy, I'd like you to come with me. You're not a fugitive, and that can be a definite bonus when we're dealing with the law." Hannibal flashed the young journalist a small smile, which she answered with interest.

"I'm with you, Hannibal." She sounded excited.

"Face, Murdock. Let's move out." Hannibal collected together the papers and slipped them into his inside pocket, so recently vacated by the money that was now hidden safely beneath the floorboards in Jamie's room. "Take the others into the woods, BA. Stay low. I have a feeling you're going to get a visitation, and I'd rather these good people were well out of the way when that happens."

"Okay, Hannibal." BA headed for the stack of armaments on the counter before the window, selecting a pair of automatic rifles and a pistol, along with a cache of grenades. The Thompson was in the van, and he intended taking that too. It was the best weapon that the team had for use in a siege situation; and if that was what he might be facing, he was going to be prepared. Just as long as the temperamental sub machine gun did not jam on him, as it had been much given to doing just lately. It would be extremely hard to rectify that situation on his own.

"Hold on a moment. I'd much rather go with you than hide in the woods, Colonel Smith." Elizabeth sounded almost disappointed, but was clearly determined. Hannibal offered her one of his cheeriest smiles.

"I'm sorry, Liz, but it's for the best. My team and I can handle this better on our own, and you'll be much safer with BA. Think about Jamie. He needs you, especially if there really is going to be trouble."

"I suppose." Her eyes trailed to the small boy, watching the adult conversation with wide eyes that lingered between interest and confusion. Obviously he wasn't sure that he understood what was going on, but he wanted to be a part of it nonetheless. He seemed to quite like the idea of a trip into the woods with BA, his new hero; and the idea of making such a trip with some serious artillery was clearly pleasing to his excitable nature. She had to smile. It would be nice to be a child again sometimes, and still be able to believe that guns were merely cool playthings. The way that Duncan's men waved them about, she didn't think that she would ever be able to see them the same way again; not even on the television.

"We'll be as quick as we can. With luck Duncan won't even get a chance to come out here; if he's planning to anyway. We'll get this stuff to the sheriff, and he'll have Duncan under arrest by the end of the evening. Once we can prove that he's been acting dishonestly as regards his claim of there being gold on this land, we can show everything that he's been doing to try to gain possession of this place. We'll need your testimony for that, Liz."

"Nobody listened before." She sounded hot and bothered by that, which she was. Nobody had taken the slightest bit of notice when she had complained about the gunshots, and the bricks through her windows, or even the occasion when Dennis had been beaten up. It was just as if the sheriff had not believed any of it. Hannibal nodded.

"We often find that. But with this evidence to back us up, we've got a strong case. Don't worry, Liz. We'll have everything back to normal here within days. Maybe even hours, if we can really get things moving."

"That would be wonderful." She meant it too, even though a large part of her didn't want the team to leave. Face gave her hand a squeeze.

"Maybe we can go out for dinner to celebrate?" he suggested, eyes bright in the light from the ceiling lamps. She had to smile at his audacity. Hannibal rolled his eyes.

"Face..."

"I'm coming, Colonel." He smiled again at Liz. "You know the kind of thing. A quiet restaurant... a scattering of candles... a little sublime music to sharpen the--"

"Look sharp, Lieutenant." Hannibal was on his way to the door, Murdock at his heels. Amy was standing nearby, a smirk on her face. It never ceased to amaze her just how many of their female clients wound up falling to the Faceman's charm in the end. Face answered her smirk with a smile of his own that was almost flirtatious, then proceeded to the door in the colonel's wake. Amy followed on, shaking her head with silent laughter. Incorrigible. He was completely incorrigible - but then of course, so were the others. When all was said and done, it was probably what kept them all alive.

**********

"Sheriff Williams?" Amy was using her best officious tone, and clearly it had had an effect on the ageing lawman. Apparently he didn't see many beautiful and bossy women, and he seemed to appreciate the combination. Amy put aside her unexpected disgust; most people did not inspire that kind of a reaction in her, particularly as a first impression; and offered him a taut, frigid little smile.

"That's me." He stood up, revealing a body now past middle age and leaning towards fat, where once had evidently been an impressive physique. It didn't look as if it was all down to age; he looked as though he had probably given up working out, or taking any kind of strenuous exercise some time ago. His star of office was dull too, suggesting that it hadn't been polished in some while. She didn't like the symbolism of that; the idea of other things being tarnished as well. "And you are?"

"Amy Allen, LA Courier." She held up her press card, and watched him peering at it with evident interest. Maybe he fancied the idea of his name appearing in print; if so, he certainly wouldn't be the first. "I'm here to do a story on one or two local affairs that have been brought to my attention recently. The readers of the Courier are very interested in science and scientific matters, and I'm sure that there's a great human interest story in the tale of a woman trying to build a research centre up at the lake. My readers will be--"

"Now hold a minute, Miss Allen. There's been no talk of building that research centre in a long while. The bank is seriously considering foreclosing, and taking possession of that piece of land - and if that happens, it's likely that the place will be bought by one of our local businessmen--"

"Mr Claud Duncan. Yes, I know all about that. He's persuaded the bank - rather displaying a lack of impartiality on the bank's part as I'm sure you'll agree, although that doesn't necessarily concern my readers - that foreclosing is the best course of action for them. He's been telling everyone that there's... 'gold in them thar hills', if you get my drift."

"There is. I've seen the geological survey, and it's very impressive." Sheriff Williams was talking like a man with a piece of the action; as if there was a sizeable chunk of the profits from this venture waiting for him when it was all over. Amy wasn't sure quite where she had got that impression from, but when added to her strange suspicions of the man it smacked of something unpleasant. She persevered nonetheless.

"That's just the point, Sheriff. I have reason to believe that that survey was faked - and before you say it, yes I do know that that's a very serious allegation. I'm not given to making up stories, I can assure you. I do have proof."

"Proof?" The sheriff sounded interested, making her wonder if she had perhaps been wrong about him. He certainly looked now like a man interested by a possible piece of information. She nodded.

"Definite proof. I can prove that the survey was a fabrication, and I can also prove that Mr Duncan knew about it - maybe even came up with the plan in the first place." That much at least was a certainty, but she didn't want to push too hard, and give the sheriff cold feet before they had even begun. "I think I can also prove that he has plans for that piece of land going far beyond digging for non-existent gold. He plans to build there, having acquired it under false pretences. He's not running Miss Jones off her property for the sake of gold and copper, and other things that will be of benefit to the country. He's doing it so that he can build a leisure complex. Endless tonnes of concrete, extensive building, fun fair rides and the like. The woods will be destroyed. One or two quite rare species of bird--"

"Now hold on here a minute, Miss Allen." Williams was holding up his hands, as though to rein her in. "Don't you think that you're getting a little ahead of yourself? Not only are you making some pretty serious allegations, but it also seems to me as though you're reading an awful lot into a few sheets of paper."

"A few sheets of..." She trailed off. "How do you know that my evidence came on a few sheets of paper?" She realised the answer to the question even as she was asking the question itself, and she froze. Williams was still smiling pleasantly at her, without a trace of a change of expression. Amy blanched and took a step back.

"Simple, Miss Allen. That proof only exists in one form; and that was stolen from Claud Duncan's house just a few hours ago. He reported the crime to me. Seemed rather upset about it. His home was violated. That's a pretty traumatic experience, as you'd know if you'd ever been burgled."

"And I don't suppose that he told you exactly how the 'burglar' came to be in the house in the first place?" Amy could see the distance burn of Williams' eyes, and she knew that he was entirely aware of the situation; from start to finish, just as he had probably always been. She looked towards the door. Outside, just opposite the building, was the A-Team's van, and inside were Hannibal, Murdock and Face. There were listening to the conversation by means of the small microphone clipped to the inside of one of her lapels. She wondered what they were thinking, and if they were willing her to return to the van. She returned her gaze to Williams for a moment.

"There isn't much point in my staying here any longer, is there. It looks to me as if you've already chosen sides." He didn't flinch at her words, and neither did he show any sign of guilt or admittance. Instead he merely smiled at her.

"Nonsense, Miss Allen. There's every reason for you to stay. There's also every reason for those friends of yours across the street to come over here now and join us. Would I be right in assuming that they can hear every word?"

"I beg your pardon?" She thought that she was doing a fairly good job of feigning innocence. He laughed, as if he appreciated her performance, and might have been taken in by it under different circumstances.

"Nice try, Miss Allen." He gestured out of the door, to where the van was clearly visible. "It's not exactly a common vehicle, is it. I mean, the world may be full of GMC trucks, but they're rare around here. And certainly there's nothing in these parts that's coloured like that. I'm willing to bet that if we were to go over there and knock on those doors, we'd find three wanted men and an escaped mental patient, which is reason enough in my view to do just that." He grinned at her, and she understood the first impression she had got, of something untrustworthy and very unpleasant. It was something in his eyes, or behind them. Something that spoke of a real nastiness. Something corrupt and vile. He hid it very well, most of the time. That didn't stop it making itself known where there was nowhere left for it to hide. He reached out for her, but she moved back out of his way.

"It's quite simple really. You see, once Claud had come to me with his tale of woe, it was very simple for me to work out who it was that he was up against. Colonel Smith and Lieutenant Peck, plus another man with a very distinctive appearance? It's obvious to a man in my position. I even have their photographs on file, although they're old shots admittedly. Taken in 1976, I think, when they were in custody for a while not far from here. I have fingerprint samples too, and it won't take much for me to go over to Claud's house and check the place over for a match."

"So you know more than you should. Big deal." Amy glanced once again towards the van. There had been no sign of movement from within, which suggested to her that the team were biding their time, watching and listening, and trying to gauge whether perhaps Williams might be bluffing, in part at least. "I suppose it serves us right for trying to clear things up by legal means." She nodded at him, stiff and distasteful. "I'll be seeing you, sheriff."

"Oh I can't let you leave, Miss Allen." He leaned over his desk, pressing a button on the intercom positioned behind a stack of yellowing files. Only now did she notice the dust on those files. Just how long had it been since Sheriff Williams had done any real law keeping? She took a step away from him, but when he straightened up again he was holding a gun in his hand. It was only small - a Derringer, like the one that Face and Hannibal sometimes used when they were doing undercover work, and wanted a more subtle means of defence.

"I'd put the gun down if I were you, Sheriff." It was as much a plea to him as it was a way of letting the others know about her situation. "The freedom of the Press--"

"Has no bearing on us here and now." He smiled at her, and she got the impression that he fancied her a great deal. She wanted to hit him, but didn't dare do anything with the gun pointing at her chest. Her mind worked over the options, and she considered throwing something at him, drawing off his fire, distracting him - any number of things that she had seen the team do time after time. The problem was that, even though it was easy for them, and they always made it seem easier still; even though they moved smoothly and surely, and with the skills of long practice; she knew that it would never work that way for her. She would be clumsy, and something would go wrong. That was the sort of manoeuvre that looked good on TV, and even better on a huge cinema, in the dark, with the security of celluloid non-truths. It didn't work nearly so well in real life, and she would have to be insane to try it. All the same, she felt like a failure for just standing there, and not trying anything. She heard footsteps.

"Miss Allen. It's good to meet you." She knew Claud Duncan's voice, and she turned towards it. He was standing in the doorway of an inner office, arms folded across his rumpled, expensive suit. His one eye was watching her like a hawk's, and she felt certain that he was about to pounce. Metaphorical talons, sharp and ready to slice.

"So now what?" She was calm when she asked it, and she knew that her calmness impressed both men. Maybe they thought that she was just some tag along civilian - maybe she was - but clearly they had not expected her to be anything more than that. There was a reason, though, why the A-Team let her stay with them.

"We kill you." Duncan's voice was as cold as ice. "Unless of course your friends agree to step out of their van right now." He raised his voice, presumably for the transmitter that he assumed she had hidden about her. "If they walk across the street unarmed, and with their hands in the air, I might be happy to listen to reason. I might be happy to let you live. In fact, I think you can count on it. Otherwise, Sheriff Williams here will shoot you now, and your friends can collect your body later. Make no mistake, Miss Allen. I mean what I say."

"Hannibal will never do that." She hoped that he would hear her, and agree to stay away. "He doesn't give in." But from across the street she could already hear the sound of the van doors opening. She turned around, stiff and unfortunate, hoping that she had been mistaken in her hearing. She hadn't. Already the three men were stepping out into the street, pulling the doors shut behind them, walking out into the road with their hands above their heads. Passers-by were stopping to stare - one or two people pointed or shouted. Hannibal smiled around at them all like some actor taking his bows at the end of a performance. Murdock looked uncharacteristically serious, as he was given to doing occasionally, when he wasn't sure that Hannibal was being serious enough. Face's expression was unreadable, although that might just have been because he was behind the others, and slightly too far away to see with any clarity. Claud Duncan smiled.

"Well well. What do we have here." He went over to the intercom, and barked a short order. In moments Tony Phelps was emerging from whatever hidden recesses the building possessed. There were three more men with him, all carrying guns, and all looking as if they were eager for some kind of action. By the time that the A-Team had made it across the street, the men were arranged in a line across the room, flanking Amy and cutting her off from the door. She looked past them as Hannibal turned the handle, stepping into the room with a jaunty grin that seemed entirely genuine. He was still gripping his cigar between his teeth, but this time it wasn't lit.

"Hi guys." His tone was bright and friendly. Phelps moved over to usher him inside, making it clear that Face and Murdock should follow. He stared out past them, clearly looking for BA. Hannibal saw the suspicion in his eyes.

"We left BA up at the lake," he said, his tone somewhere near serious at last. "We couldn't leave the place undefended."

"Makes sense." Duncan smiled at him. "Not that it makes much difference now. Pretty soon there won't be a living soul left up there save the men on my payroll. Anybody else will be fish food." He smiled unpleasantly. "And there won't be many fish left up there either, for much longer. Copper mining doesn't do a lot for the wildlife, whether there's any copper to be mined or not."

"Big business. Free enterprise. The power of money." Smirking around his cigar, Hannibal cast his cohorts a sidelong glance. "Don't you just love this country?"

"Shut up." Duncan turned away from them, waving a dismissive hand. "Get rid of them."

"You want us to dump them somewhere boss?" Phelps sounded as though that option was one that would please him immensely. Duncan hesitated.

"No," he announced finally. "Lock them in the cells. I might want to talk to them later, and even if I don't we can always hand them over to the authorities. I could do with a legal feather in my cap, and it can't hurt to have the military police on my side." He smiled at Hannibal; a grim mockery of the colonel's own cheery smile. "And whilst you're sweating it out in the cells, my friends here will be up at the lake, dealing with your friend and your client. Not to mention her assistant and her son."

"You might not find that quite as easy as you think," Hannibal warned him. Duncan laughed.

"Big words, Smith. Big words." He waved a hand at Phelps. "Get them out of here. Then take the men and get up to that lake. You know what to do."

"Sure boss." Phelps was positively bristling with suppressed excitement. Gripping Hannibal by the arm he marched him towards the cells, as though he couldn't wait to get on with the attack on BA and the others. Hannibal didn't resist. At this point it was not worth the risk, and any attempt was sure to be doomed to failure. He made no objection when his hands were cuffed behind him, and he was pushed into a cell. Amy, similarly cuffed, was pushed in after him. The door clanged shut.

"Not exactly five star accommodation, is it." Hannibal glanced about. "Still, it's warm, I suppose. Spacey too, although the view's not much to write home about..."

"Shut up." Phelps finished cuffing Murdock and Face, and pushed the pair into a second cell, slamming the door shut with a resounding clang. "There'll be plenty of time to talk later, if Mr Duncan decides to come here and speak to you properly. Until then, just keep your mouths shut. Understood?"

"Understood." For a second Hannibal's voice was icy, and Phelps's fierce glare wavered.

"Some time soon," he muttered eventually, staring straight at Hannibal as soon as his nerve had returned to him. "Some time soon I'm going to tear that smirk off your face and feed it to you. Understand that, wise guy." Hannibal stared back at him, meeting his unpleasant glare with an equally fierce glare of his own.

"I'll be waiting," he told the big henchman, the jokes now gone entirely from his face and his voice. He had lost his cigar on his way to the cell, and apparently his grin and his wisecracks had gone with it. "And I always win." And despite his own scathing smirk and determined display of machismo, Tony Phelps couldn't help believing him.

**********

It was surprisingly comfortable in the woods. BA felt oddly relaxed, as though the blowing of the autumn leaves and the scent of damp woodland vegetation was having an anaesthetising effect on his battle-heightened senses. Always on the alert, he would often find it hard to unwind when the A-Team was on a case, no matter what was happening. The sounds of the lake brushing against its sloping shore; the wind blowing gently through the trees... he could feel the instincts of half a lifetime ebbing away as his muscles began to relax.

"Getting comfortable?" Elizabeth sounded amused. BA glanced up at her with one eye closed, struggling to maintain his usual scowl. The attempt failed, and he had to smile.

"I always thought I was too much of a city guy to get used to this. But it definitely has a certain something."

"It's incredible, isn't it." She sat down beside him, on the stump of a fallen tree. "The silence, the peacefulness. If I wasn't a geologist, I think I'd be a forest ranger. I love this place. It's so... self-sustaining. So..." She shrugged. "So wonderful."

"It's a great place for Jamie to grow up in." BA turned to watch the small boy for a while, smiling at the sight of him as he scaled a sloping tree trunk. "I don't much like the idea of Claud Duncan getting hold of it all."

"He'd cut down most of the trees, dig everything up. He'd certainly bulldoze the house." She shook her head, some of the strain that she hid so well beginning to show through. "All of my father's furniture... the house itself... All gone. I doubt I'd be able to get much out before he moves in."

"That not going to happen, Liz." BA flashed her one of his stern looks, designed to instil a little of his own steadfastness and resolution into her foundering confidence. "By now Hannibal and the others will be on their way back here, after giving those papers to the sheriff."

"I hope so." Elizabeth gave a wry smile. "We're not exactly best placed to defend ourselves if anything goes wrong, are we."

"Don't be so quick to list our faults." BA was still watching Jamie, who had now been joined by a surprisingly agile Dennis. "We've got enough guns for one each, and we're not exactly low on ammo. You'll soon find you can shoot good enough when they're shooting back at you."

"I hope so." She lowered her eyes. "Actually I don't. I almost think I would be happier if I couldn't shoot back. I know that they want to kill us, but I still don't know that I could actually kill one of them."

"Then don't." BA flashed her one of his rare smiles. "I haven't killed anyone since the war ended. Once I got out of Vietnam, I swore I'd never do stuff like that again. I've fought people for years since coming home, and it's always been guns blazing and explosions all over the place. It doesn't mean that people have to die. With these guns-" and he slapped the stock of the trusty old Thompson sub-machine gun- "it's almost easier to miss than to score a hit. They recoil so much that if you don't know what you're doing, you're more likely to shoot ten rounds straight up into the air than you are to go anywhere close to your target."

"Oh." Her mental image of firing an automatic rifle from the hip faded immediately. So much of looking like one of the Dirty Dozen, heroically defending her son. It was clearly going to be more a case of clinging on for dear life, whilst trying to avoid wasting too much precious ammunition on birds, squirrels and tree tops. "In that case, if I should happen to shoot you... well I'll just apologise in advance."

"There won't be any shooting anyone." He sounded just a little too confident to reassure her completely. Somehow she got the impression that BA was rather used to Hannibal's plans backfiring. "Give it another half an hour, and then the others will be back up here with the sheriff, and Claud Duncan will be moving into a cell at the County Jail. You'll get a nice letter of apology from the bank, and everything can go back to normal."

"I hope so. I really hope so." She leant back against the nearest tree trunk, glad of the carpet of dry, fallen leaves to sit upon. The forest floor had never seemed so comfortable. It seemed that the voices of her son and her assistant were coming from a long, long way away, and were fading with every passing moment. You're going to sleep, she chided herself, but didn't bother to try to resist. It was far too much like hard work.

"BA?" Jamie's voice rose above the quiet of the forest, filled with a note of inquiry. Careful to move quietly, so as not to disturb the sleeping Liz, BA rose to his feet and went to the bottom of the tree. It was a tall one, that provided a good view over the lake. Dennis had been showing the small boy some of the things that were visible from such a well-placed vantage point - including the house, the stream, and the rock face that provided the main source of fossils.

"What's is it?" BA did not attempt to climb the tree. There was little point when their voices carried so well.

"Some trucks just drew up outside the house." Jamie sounded uncertain, with a child's grasp of a deteriorating situation. Dennis, who had been admiring the view in the opposite direction, turned about rather suddenly.

"He's right, BA." His voice sounded firm, without a trace of its usual slight quaver. "Three trucks. Duncan's men."

"You sure?" BA was already on alert, even though his position was by no means yet known. Dennis looked down at him, eyes bright and nervous behind the thick lenses of his glasses.

"Very sure. I'd know those men anywhere. Some of them are the ones that attacked me the day before Liz went to LA to hire you. They've got a lot of guns." He frowned. "Duncan is with them. He's in the second truck. They're looking around." He frowned hard, "I think they're here for us."

"Probably." BA wondered what had happened to his friends, but knew that there was no time to give much thought to that problem now. His first priority had to be to protect his little group. "Okay, I want the pair of you down here. Quick as you can, just in case one of them looks out this way. If you can see them there's a chance that they can see you, and we don't want to give away our position."

"Oh. Right." Dennis gestured for Jamie to precede him, then slid rather awkwardly to the ground. He looked less agile coming down than he had appeared when going up, but he reached the forest floor without injury. Jamie was already heading towards his mother.

"What do we do, BA?" The geologist looked very young all of a sudden, but whether that was because of his fear, or whether it was just the green- and orange-washed light beneath the trees, the commando couldn't tell. "Where do you suppose the others are?"

"Something went wrong at the sheriff's office. Maybe they're locked up there." BA was trying to make himself feel better, as well as attempting to make things seem less serious than they probably were. "No reason to kill them. Duncan would want to find out more about them first. With a bit of luck they'll get themselves free and come out here to join us. That would improve the odds no end."

"Yeah..." Dennis's expression clearly showed that he knew what BA was trying to do. He forced a smile. "We'd better get moving then I suppose. I know somewhere. It's sort of like a cave. It would probably be easier to defend than this place."

"Good." BA clapped him on the shoulder, making the little man wobble and wince. "Lead on."

"Oh, er... right." Dennis looked startled that his plan had been accepted, but it seemed to give him added strength. He squared his shoulders in a way that made BA hide a smile, then strode over to the others.

"Come on." He bent to pick up the rifles, almost dropping them again when he realised how heavy they were. "We're moving out."

"We are?" Elizabeth looked questioningly to BA, who nodded slowly.

"Nothing to worry about necessarily. It's just a precaution." He hoisted the heavy sub-machine gun onto his shoulder, and handed the automatic pistol to Elizabeth. She smiled in dubious gratitude. Somehow, when BA had first taken them all into the woods with so much firepower, she had thought that he was being over-protective. Now she began wondering if they were going to be protected enough.

"Where are we going?" she asked, trying to herd Jamie before her, so that she could be sure he would not wander off. Dennis pointed ahead with one overloaded arm.

"That way. The cave where I picked up that near perfect trilobite last year. It'll be a good place to hide out in until we're sure that the coast is clear." His eyes drifted back to BA, who nodded approvingly. For all his shakes and his quivers, not to mention his almost comically timid character, Dennis seemed to possess a talent for putting his colleague at ease. She nodded at him, evidently reassured. With a son to look after, she had a greater need to remain calm than the rest of them, and BA wanted to keep her as far out of the breach as possible, for as long as possible, to ensure that Jamie was safe. He only hoped that it would not be necessary to wind up giving the boy a gun as well.

The cave was long and dark; more a half-covered ravine than a true cave in fact. Phosphorescence leant the walls an unearthly glow, and highlighted the fossils that projected from the rock walls at unexpected intervals. There was no moss or lichen, and the floor and walls were almost entirely dry. The partial roof was covering enough, then, to prevent any rain from dripping through. Dennis looked flushed and excited as he gestured about at the spacious interior.

So what do you think, BA?" He sounded like a child asking for praise from a much-admired hero or idol. BA nodded.

"Looks good. So long as we can keep both ends covered, we should be okay with the roof."

"From above you can't see the opening. They'll just assume that the roof is complete, like with an ordinary cave. The other end is too narrow to get through, but I guess they would be able to shoot through it." Still flushed, Dennis looked delighted with himself for having thought of such an eventuality, although evidently the possibility of being shot at had terrified him. He looked quite unsteady for a moment, as if he would have to sit down. Elizabeth gave her head an unhappy shake. It did not bode well for their survival if they were going to have to rely on Dennis to save them. Poor, sweet Dennis, who had barely spoken to anyone save Elizabeth and Jamie in seven years - until the A-Team had burst their way onto the scene. He was so shy that he could have made the most demure of maidens appear brash and forward. She didn't believe for a moment that he would be of any use if it came to a fight.

"Should we really be hiding here?" She asked the question from the darkness to her assistant's right, and made him jump like a startled gazelle at the sudden noise. She sighed. Further proof that they were all doomed.

"What do you mean?" His voice gentle, or what she could only assume served as such for him, BA turned to her. She could not see him, but she was sure that he could see her. There was something about the way in which he spoke that suggested he could see everything clearly.

"I mean that they don't know we're here. We have a head start on them - we could get away from here. Find the others."

"The others could be anywhere. Besides, Duncan knows that we weren't with them, so he's going to assume that we stayed back at the lake. That's why they came here. They'll already be scouring the forest, and it's only a matter of time before they find something. I did my best to disguise our trail, and throw in a few red herrings here and there, but they're going to trace us eventually. If we try to make a break for it, we'll be hemmed in before we have a chance to get anywhere. There are just too many of them." He touched her arm, making her jump - she had not realised that he was so close by. "But don't worry. We're safe enough in here." She wasn't sure if it was her that he was trying to reassure, or Jamie. The boy was holding her hand, excited about the cave, but worried at the evident concerns of the adults. She forgot, sometimes, just how fast he was growing up. He was so much more aware of what was going on now than he had been two years ago - even one year ago. She patted his hand, expecting him to pull away and tell her not to be so silly. He didn't. Instead he seemed to lean into her touch, appreciating her comforting presence. That worried her. She had hoped that he was too young to understand the danger they were in, but clearly he wasn't. Her heart beginning to feel heavy, she turned towards the entrance to their hideaway. Something caught her eye, although at first she was not entirely sure what it was.

"BA, look out!" She hissed the words, trying to whisper and shout at the same time, her voice climbing to an unexpected falsetto. Crouched in the cave opening, BA glanced up, looking instinctively towards the thickest places amongst the trees. He saw movements there, and ducked back inside the cave just in time to avoid the bullets that knocked chunks from the stones lining the entrance. He breathed a short sigh.

"Thanks."

"Looks like it wasn't too difficult to find us after all." Hugging Jamie close to her, Liz tried not to look too afraid. Dennis had gone very pale, and was doing his best to emulate her apparently fearless poise, without too much success. He was shaking, and trying hard to cover it.

"We'd better get further back." BA herded them away from the entrance, thinking fast all of the way. It didn't seem as though there was a lot of hope, even if he tried to be very optimistic. Duncan's men had undoubtedly surrounded them by now, and there was a limit to the kind of defence that BA could put up. He had several guns, and no immediate shortage of ammunition - but what then? And what if Duncan had grenades, or if he just decided to light a fire at the cave's entrance? Even with the ventilation from the incomplete roof, the smoke would still very likely become unbearable in such a confined space. It would be a choice of suffocate or surrender, and surrender would undoubtedly mean death. He thought of Jamie, and wondered what other options there might be. Try as he might, he couldn't seem to think of any.

"We have to keep them away from the entrance, don't we." His voice reedy and quiet, Dennis spoke at BA's elbow. The big sergeant glanced down at him, barely able to see him in the darkness.

"That would be best, yeah."

"Okay." The little scientist squared his shoulders, and picked up the nearest gun. It was big and heavy, and it made him look very awkward, but he held it as if he had been firing such things all of his life. BA had to smile. The recoil would probably send the poor little man staggering. Still - it seemed to be their best hope.

"Yeah. Okay." He retrieved the old Thompson, which had seen the A-Team through more sticky situations than he cared to remember. It was showing its age now of course, and it seemed to be jamming a lot just recently - usually choosing the most inconvenient moments to do so. It was still the best chance though. Its firepower was second to none, and he was sure that Duncan's men would not have anything that powerful. If nothing else it would make them keep their heads down. "You ready, Dennis?"

"Are you kidding?" The faint light from the entrance reflected off the thick lenses of the geologist's glasses, illuminating the paleness of his eyes and skin. "I've never fired a gun in my life."

"There's a first time for everything." BA tried to remember the first time that he had fired a gun, but he couldn't think straight at a time like this, and there didn't seem to be any point in dwelling on the issue. He sunk low, making himself as small as it was possible for a man of his size to become. "Hug the rocks. Keep low."

"I certainly don't intend on sticking my head up any higher than I have to." Dennis was edging into the lead, and BA pulled him back a little way. The scientist was one of the most unlikely heroes that he had ever encountered, but he couldn't fault the little man's courage. It was reluctant courage, admittedly; but sometimes that was the best kind. It was certainly the most genuine kind. He slapped the little man on the back, almost causing him to fall and drop his gun.

"Ready now?"

"Yeah. I guess so." Dennis took a deep breath. "I just pull the trigger, right?"

"That'll do. Don't worry too much about aim. There won't be time, and they won't be bothering much either. Just make a lot of noise, and try to keep them back. Make them run for cover." He glanced back into the darkness. "Keep Jamie back there, Liz. Have a gun ready just in case, but make sure you keep flat against the walls."

"Be careful." Elizabeth was still being brave, putting on a commendable act for her son. BA felt a new surge of anger charging through him. Claud Duncan had a lot to answer for. He only wished that Hannibal was there to help him make the enemy pay.

"I can see them." Lying flat in the cave entrance, Dennis was peering out into the wild and tree-filled world beyond their immediate surroundings. "There are a lot of them."

"Don't think about it." BA reached over to check that the safety on his companion's gun had been turned off. "Just shoot."

"Good plan." Dennis sighted rather awkwardly along the length of the barrel, finding it hard whilst lying full length on the uneven, rocky ground. "Would this be a good time to mention that I'm a pacifist?"

"Not really, no." BA gave his back an encouraging slap that knocked the glasses from the smaller man's nose. "Okay?"

"Okay." Dennis took a deep breath. Above his head a series of gunshots rang out, and a shower of stone dust fell onto his back. He released his breath. "Okay."

They fired together; a steady stream of bullets that sent chunks flying from the trees, and tore the leaves apart even as they were drifting to the ground. The sub-machine gun in BA arms chattered and crashed, leaping in his grip as though demonstrating its own anger in tandem with his. Duncan's men leapt for cover, running and darting amongst the trees, shouting to each other as they hurried about. A few more gunshots rang out, less than before. Clearly most of the attackers were too busy taking over to worry about shooting back. BA wasn't fool enough to believe that that might last.

"Watch the right." He was turning to the left even as he said it, looking up as well as about, searching out any possibility of an attack from a new quarter. There didn't seem to be any. Perhaps the enemy had not had the time to work their way around behind them, or above them as yet. He sent off a few more rounds at the sheltering enemy, conscious all the time of the possibility that the gun might jam. Beside him Dennis shouted out that his gun was empty, and BA threw him another clip by sheer instinct, not thinking about whether or not the little man would be capable of fixing it in place. He needn't have worried. Dennis Yauta might not have been a fighting man, but he possessed a startling intellect, and it was not hard for him to work out how to remove the spent clip, and insert the fresh one in its place. The gun once more juddered into life, barking out its angry defiance.

"BA!" Elizabeth's voice called from inside the cave, higher than normal, and showing signs of panic. "Gas!"

"What?" He ducked back inside, staring around, recognising the smell even before he saw the faint wisps of the substance in the air. Tear gas, or something very similar. He gathered up the last of their weapons, pushing Liz and Jamie towards the entrance. "Keep low."

"Where's Dennis?" Liz sounded hoarse, the gas already taking effect. BA pushed her out into the fresh air.

"Just keep low." The sounds of Dennis's gun alerted them to the presence of their companion, further out than before, edging forwards away from the cave in an attempt to provide better cover for his friends. BA had to admire the man's determination. He was evidently still terrified, but he was handling it well.

"Move to your left!" Shouting it above the sounds of the gunfire, BA gestured to Dennis to move away from the cave. The geologist did so, crawling and scrambling awkwardly as he tried to keep as close to the ground as possible. Together the little group skidded and slid over the uneven terrain, eventually coming to a halt in the midst of a pile of rocks on the bank of a narrow stream. The water was brown and sluggish, its bed a mass of pebbles.

"Now what?" Elizabeth was still holding Jamie close to her, wishing that the rest of the A-Team was there, adding their firepower to the limited supplies available now. BA glanced back at her.

"We make it count. Everything that we've got left." He handed a few grenades to Dennis. "They've got us pinned down, but we have a good bit of natural cover here. We should be able to hold out a long time."

"Unless they've got explosives too." She nodded at the grenades that Dennis was now gripping in his sweating and shaking hands. "This is crazy. Maybe if we give ourselves up they'll let Jamie go."

"I don't know what they'll do if we give ourselves up, but I don't think we want to find out." BA glanced towards the little boy, who was struggling to show that he could be as brave as his mother. Clearly he was terrified.

"Then what do we want to do?" Elizabeth was not angry with BA, but the anger that she was feeling had no other outlet. He seemed to understand that.

"I don't know." It was a terrible thing to have to admit to his troops in the heat of battle - but BA was completely stymied. Such tasks as this were Hannibal's business. He was supposed to be there to come up with the ideas, and to give the orders. BA wasn't used to being in command, and he was finding that he didn't much like the responsibility. "All that we can do is to hold our own here for as long as possible. That way the others have got a chance to get over here." He nodded, clinging to this idea like a lifeline, and letting his usual stubbornness take hold once again. "We have to keep this up until the reinforcements arrive."

"You think they'll come?" Dennis, clearly, was remembering BA's earlier uncertainty over where exactly his friends might have got to. They all knew that there was a very real possibility that the rest of the A-Team was dead; but all of them were willing to hope that they might be on their way at that very moment. BA nodded.

"I think that they'll come. If they can be here, they will be. You can count on that."

"We are, aren't we." Elizabeth brandished the second rifle, ready now to add her own firepower to the guns of the two men. There was no longer any sense in protecting Jamie just with words and the mere comfort of her presence. There was more that had to be done now. Dennis gripped one of his grenades, trying not to notice just how much his hands were still trembling. He hoped that he could throw straight. Ball games had never been a particular strength of his at school, and he was not altogether confident of his aim or the power of his throw. There was one way to discover his abilities, he supposed fatalistically, and holding the handle down firmly, he pulled out the pin.

"Make that count," BA told him. Dennis nodded, smiling up at the bigger man with a look that fluttered somewhere between wretched disillusionment and devoted hero worship.

"I will." Beside him Elizabeth was ready with her gun, and BA was steadying the Thompson for another machine symphony. The geologist took a deep breath, hoping, as always, that it might somehow help to steady his nerves. It didn't. Deciding that it probably didn't matter any more anyway, he threw the grenade.

**********

"We should never have tried to do this the legal way." Regarding the cell walls with a sense of glum self-defeat, Face heaved another in a series of heavy sighs, and kicked the solid iron bedstead. A dull clanging noise arose, echoing slightly against the stone.

"Oh, I don't know about that." Hannibal still sounded cheerful. "It was a pleasant change. We should chat with sheriffs more often."

"The only place that's going to get us is locked up more often." Murdock seemed to have been affected by the Faceman's sour mood. "And we spend far too much time locked up, anyway."

"You should try doing my job." Face clearly considered himself to be far above his prison quota for the month. Hannibal flashed the pair a jovial grin.

"Honestly. To hear you two talk, you'd think we were in trouble." He stood up, going to the wall of bars that separated his cell from theirs. "Cheer up, guys. Come on. How about a smile."

"Hannibal, if you really think that you can persuade us this is part of some plan..." Murdock sounded tired, his usual games gone, his characteristic good cheer evaporated. Hannibal sighed.

"Oh ye of little faith. Maybe this isn't the plan as such - as we worked it out together, anyway. It is, however, most definitely a plan. Quite a good one too, even if I do say so myself."

"Don't you always?" Amy had apparently taken to Face and Murdock's side, sharing their failing spirits. Hannibal went back to sit beside her.

"Listen, I'll admit that things don't necessarily look good..."

"We're handcuffed, and we're locked up in jail. In a few hours BA will be dead, and you'll be on your way back to Fort Bragg." She glared at him. "I don't want to think about what will happen to me, and as for Elizabeth and Jamie..."

"In a few hours we'll be fine, and Claud Duncan will be on his way to prison, along with everybody who works for him." Hannibal's smile was starting to become infectious, and Amy felt her resistance beginning to wane. She frowned.

"How do you work that out?"

"Simple!" He leaned back on the bunk, as though it were the most comfortable reclining seat in the world, instead of a hard metal bench topped with a thin rubber mat. "All that we have to do is get back to the lake, and stop Duncan's men from winning up there. We round them up, grab them, and turn them over to the authorities. It's the perfect arrangement. We've got old Claud angry enough to have gone up there himself. We can catch him in the act, gun in hand. There's not an honest policeman in the county who won't arrest him. Then all we need is an independent geologist to prove Elizabeth's claim that there's no gold. There'll be other charges to answer for then."

"Good plan." Murdock was nodding in what at first appeared to be agreement. "But haven't you forgotten one little thing?"

"One minor point, yes." Hannibal shrugged. "Even my plans aren't always perfect. Maybe somebody will visit us and take pity."

"I left Mr Fish in the van." Apparently caught up in Hannibal's odd enthusiasm, Murdock frowned in thought. "Maybe he'll notice how long we've been gone, and call for help. He might even drive the van through the wall and rescue us himself."

"Is he any good at picking the locks of handcuffs?" Face did not sound particularly inspired by the growing lunacy. "Because otherwise we're not going to be much good to BA."

"I'm sure he can manage if you give him a few pointers." Murdock brightened. "Or maybe I could."

"Huh?" Face clearly was not following the pilot's line of thought, but Murdock was looking positively inspired. Sliding from the bunk, he lay down on the floor, and began a frenzied, industrious wriggling. His long, lanky form, often the source of ridicule and teasing, soon proved its fine worth, for as he wriggled and flexed his shoulders, he managed to pull one foot through the loop of his bound arms. The second came much easier, and in seconds he was on his feet again, hands now cuffed before him. He was flushed by his exertions, not to mention by his success, and was able to throw the others no more than a breathless, wordless grin.

"Nice, Murdock." Hannibal's own grin had come back out for an encore. "Face?"

"Inside pocket of my jacket." The Faceman stood, shrugging his shoulders to make the jacket slide back, making the pockets more easily accessible. Murdock searched through them quickly, soon finding the hidden inner pocket that contained the tools of Face's nefarious trade. A small leather pouch fastened with a zip contained the array of shining metal picks and skeleton keys, with which he could gain entry though almost every lock. Murdock opened it.

"I'd better free you first," he told his cellmate. Face nodded, understanding the logic of that. He, after all, was better placed to handle the rest of the locks quickly, whereas if Murdock were to free himself first, or anyone else, valuable time would be lost.

"The smallest one." Face nodded at the pick in question, although his words were enough to direct his comrade to the right tool. Murdock pulled it out, holding it carefully, for it seemed as though it would easily slip between his fingers and get lost on the floor. Face turned his back. "Okay... now put the tip inside one of the locks. Move slowly, and get the feel of it. You'll be able to feel the shape of the lock itself... the levers inside that respond to the shape of the key."

"Yeah." Murdock was concentrating hard now, all of his usual jokes gone.

"Okay. Use the point of the pick to probe those. Remember that there's nothing you can break, so there's no need to be gentle, but you might find it easier work if you don't get too rough with it. You've got to make the lock think that you're using the key."

"I'm right with you, Face." The lines of a heavy frown made Murdock's brows run together. He set to work, gently pushing the pick into the lock, feeling around, pressing, scratching and digging. There was a discouraging lack of response from the handcuffs, and sweat soon beaded up on his forehead. It was hot in the cells, which did not help matters much, and it was painful to have to hold both of his hands together, thanks to his own cuffs. Face was having to hold his own wrists at an awkward angle, so that the locks were more easily accessible to his partner, and the pair were soon feeling increasingly irritable. Murdock sighed.

"This is useless. I'm not getting anywhere."

"Keep at it, Murdock." Hannibal could see that tempers were beginning to fray, but he was determined not to let the captain rest yet. "Concentrate."

"I am concentrating." Murdock almost dropped the pick. "Damn. Stop jiggling about, Face."

"I'm not jiggling." Face could feel his arms protesting at their uncomfortable position. "Just get a move on. It's not difficult."

"For you maybe. I don't have your experience." Murdock fumbled about with the pick for a little longer, catching the tip in one of the locks, and once again nearly dropping it. "My talents lie in rather less criminal areas."

"This from a guy who lives in a mental home under false pretences." Face heard the pick slip in the lock once again. "Will you concentrate, Murdock!"

"I am concentrating!" Murdock sighed, wiping the sweat from his eyes and starting again. Face, who could not wipe the sweat from his own eyes, shifted irritably, and tried not to move too much. He did not want to make things any harder for his would-be rescuer.

"Just take it steady, Murdock." Hannibal's voice was filled with easy patience and encouragement. Murdock responded to the sound, frowning less, relaxing a little more. His eyes narrowed. Time passed. Amy grew restless. She was beginning to think that they were never going to get out of this place.

As usual with the A-Team, it was just when things were beginning to look their bleakest that everything finally began turning their way. Just as every one of them was about to give up hope, the cuff that Murdock was working on came suddenly undone, opening with a click that made him drop the lock pick on the floor. Taken by surprise by the sudden freedom, Face gave a startled jump. Murdock pounded him on the back.

"I did it!" He looked delighted. "Look at that! I did it! Move over Faceman, there's a new locksmith in town."

"Nice one, Murdock." Face bent to retrieve the pick, and made short work of the second cuff, then repeated the favour for Murdock. In all the manoeuvre took just a few seconds, and it was with an equal speed that he swapped the small pick for a larger size, and opened both cells doors. Murdock frowned.

"You're making me look bad, Face."

"Yeah, Face." Hannibal ushered Amy ahead, so that her hands could be freed first. "You're supposed to do it slowly."

"If you want to sit around in here for another couple hours, that's fine with me." Face exchanged a tired grin with his commanding officer, before completing his liberating work. Amy massaged her wrists.

"That is the last time that I am ever going to be locked up in a prison." She sounded like a straight-A student bemoaning her first detention, and Hannibal clapped her on the shoulder.

"Never mind, kid. At least it was a crooked sheriff's prison. It's not like it was official."

"And that is the only reason that you're still on my Christmas card list." They shared a smile, before Amy looked around at the little group in solemn concern. "What happens now?"

"Now we go after Duncan." There was no joke in Hannibal's smile now; in fact there was not really even a smile. Just a grim expression that made his eyes hard and cold.

"And then what?" She didn't really need to ask. All of the A-Team's missions seemed to end the same way - with a shoot out or a fist fight, or a combination of the two; with explosions and gunfire, or the rattle of a hundred improvised forms of weaponry made from bits of rusted pipe. It had shocked her the first time that she had seen it. Now she accepted it as a part of the procedure; a necessary part of the final humiliation and defeat of the bad guys.

"They probably haven't left us with much weaponry." Murdock was heading out of the cell area, back towards the front office. The others followed.

"The van's still out front. Back doors are open." Face peered through the window, moving cautiously as though expecting sniper fire from out in the street. Somehow Amy wouldn't have been too surprised if there had been, and she found herself pressed against the walls in readiness should there be any such assault.

"Then we have to assume that they've cleaned it out. I would, given their position." Hannibal glanced about, checking the room out for weapons. They were not best placed for their famous improvising whilst missing the input of their master mechanic, but he felt sure that there had to be something of use in the sheriff's office. Smoke grenades or tear gas perhaps; even a stock of guns. Even a cupboard full of odds and ends was better than nothing, for he was good at making use of the useless. It had become his trademark long ago, even before the sweltering jungles of Vietnam.

"Over here, Colonel." Murdock had opened one of the other doors that led out from the main office. A long dark stairway led downwards, and a cold draught suggested a damp and rarely used room. "I think we've got us a cellar."

"I think you're right." Hannibal joined him at the door. "Lights?"

"Here." Murdock reached into the doorway, his fingers touching a switch just visible on the wall at the top of the stairs. A single dusty yet powerful bulb burst into life, shining down upon a gloomy room filled with junk. Hannibal grinned.

"Now this has promise. Follow me, lady and gentlemen. We have work to do." Amy sighed.

"I knew I should have worn my overalls."

"What's life without a bit of oil and grease?" Hannibal led the way down into the gloom, his excitement a veritable beacon for the others to follow. Amy went after, looking about her with trepidation and a strange sort of interest. As soon as she saw it she knew that the cellar would be their saving; although, as always, she had no idea how the contents could possibly be used. She knew only that Hannibal, his remarkable brain already working at its most imaginative, would have compensated for the loss of BA, and was already figuring out a way by which they could utilise the mishmash of bits and pieces without having to get too technical. The young journalist had to smile. If BA had known how much his three team-mates were bemoaning the fact that he was indisposed, he might have been touched. He might even have been a little less grouchy than usual. Or possibly not.

"Murdock?" The change in Hannibal's voice was one of the things that she was not sure she would ever get used to. The transition from joker to professional in the blink of an eye - from clown to leader of men without pause for thought. The change came to his colleagues too, without hesitation. Gone was the grousing and the banter; gone was Howling Mad Murdock and the preening Pretty Boy Face. Instead both men were ready to obey orders.

"Colonel?" The lanky pilot might have saluted in a lighter moment. Now instead he remained still and stiff-backed.

"That paint over in the corner. How much is there, what type is it, how flammable is it likely to be. You know the drill. Check out those old paint cans, and see what else there is. Face?"

"Colonel?"

"See if you can get that shelving down. Find all of the tools that you can, and get the lot up into the main office. Those metal shelves might just come in handy as battle cladding for the van. I don't know that BA will be too pleased with the way it looks afterwards, but I don't fancy the odds against us with only an unprotected vehicle to deflect the firepower. When you've finished, give Murdock a hand. Amy?"

"Yes?" She almost felt that she should have answered in a military fashion as well, but somehow it would not have felt right.

"Jars. Empty ones. If they're not empty, tip the contents out, whatever it is. There's probably some kind of a kitchen upstairs, so see what you can find in there too. If you can't find jars, tins will do. Just make sure that you can find something to secure the openings. When you've found them, give them to Murdock."

"Better see if you can find some string too. Better yet, some wool." Amy wasn't sure if Murdock had directed his comment to her or to Face, but she nodded nonetheless. The captain caught hold of Face's arm as he walked past, laden down with several tool boxes and a pair of very large mallets. "See if you can find something to soak the wool in. Anything to make it burn."

"Gotcha, Murdock." Face headed up the stairs. "I'll look for matches too."

"And get us some other bits and pieces. Something flammable or corrosive. Anything that'll burn well." Hannibal might just as easily have been talking to himself, but Face nodded at his back.

"Right." He turned away, taking the stairs two and three at a time. "Coming, Amy?"

"What? Oh, right." She followed him up the steps, leaving the cellar and its two busy occupants behind. "What exactly is Hannibal planning?"

"A little improvised arsenal. His speciality. You should know that by now." Face unloaded his tools onto the floor, then headed for one of the main office's several inner doors. It proved to lead, just as Hannibal had speculated, to a kitchenette. The lieutenant disappeared inside.

"Any jars?" Amy followed him, still not entirely sure what was going on. "And I know that Hannibal is improvising. I'm just not sure what it is that he's hoping to improvise with."

"Jars or tins." Face stopped midway through rummaging about inside a broom cupboard. "Flammable substances, such as gloss paint, or better yet, paint stripper. Add a good lid, a nice fuse..."

"Molotov cocktails." She nodded. "You think it'll work?"

"Very well, if we play our cards right." He turned back to his rummaging. "Now this might be useful."

"What?" Eyeing the contents of a wall-mounted cupboard with some trepidation, Amy began to ponder how exactly to scoop out the moulding contents of several half-empty jars of peanut butter. Face rattled his way through more clutter.

"Bleach. Cleaning solution. This must be where the cleaning lady keeps her bits and pieces."

"Or cleaning man." Amy couldn't resist it. Face eyed her around the edge of the cupboard door.

"Or cleaning man," he conceded eventually. "Either way, I think we can use most of this stuff. Ah ha."

"Is that a good 'ah ha'?" Amy had discovered a suspiciously sticky spoon, and managed to overcome her reluctance to pick it up. She began to scoop out the contents of the jars as best she could, covering her hands with the mouldy substance in the process. Face emerged from the broom cupboard looking triumphant.

"I don't know. Depends on how much you like peanut butter."

"Funnily enough, I used to like it a lot. I'm going off it now. Why?"

"Because the sheriff obviously recycles. There are several carrier bags full of empty jars in that cupboard." He gestured behind him, and she scowled.

"And you couldn't have told me that straight away?"

"They were buried at the back." He offered her a conciliatory grin, then began gathering up his various trophies, adding to them a threadbare rug that was thrown carelessly upon the tiled floor. "Come on. We'd better hurry."

Down in the cellar, Murdock was covered in paint. Amy handed him the jars, watching as each one was inspected, approved, and set aside. He took the various cleaning solutions with equal enthusiasm, pounced upon the rug with unbounded delight, and began studiously unpicking the woollen fibres from the edges. Face left him to it, beginning the task of pulling down the heavy metal shelves, whilst Hannibal, working in a corner on his own, was stripping down a pair of guns that looked as if they might have been manufactured some time in the eighteen nineties. Amy went over to see if she could help.

"Hold this." Hannibal was making use of her assistance before she was even sure that he knew she was there. She took the piece of metal that was handed to her - she thought that it was something involved with the firing mechanism - and tried to look knowledgeable. Hannibal smiled, still hard at work.

"You can always trust a sheriff to have some serious firepower." He gestured at the pair of weapons. "These are heavy calibre guns. Riot stuff. I doubt that either one of them has been fired since it left the production line."

"Can you get them working again?"

"Does Murdock like tap dancing?" He grinned at her confusion, well aware that she didn't know the answer to that one. "Question is, can we make the ammunition count? It's old, and it might not fire very well."

"I'm sure it'll be alright if you tell it to be." She smiled as she looked about at the junk-strewn cellar. "You know, it's at times like this that I feel really useless."

"Don't." He gestured to the boxes of gun shells that were scattered around the floor at his feet. "Start collecting them up. Check them out, and dump anything that looks damp or damaged in any way. There's plenty for you to do, kid, even if you don't know what it is that you're doing."

"Okay..." Unsure quite how to tell when a shell was damaged beyond use, Amy settled to the task with hesitation, although she soon found herself working with speed. Behind her she could hear Murdock busy at his own job, the glass jars chinking gently all the while. Hannibal was next to her, working with speed and skill, and Face was off to one side, struggling with the metal shelving. It was an atmosphere that might have been filled with the camaraderie of hard work and job satisfaction, had it not been for the sense of urgency that pervaded all. Everyone was worried and on edge, concerned for BA and his little band of civilians. Even Hannibal seemed faintly irritable, and nobody spoke.

"I wonder what BA is doing?" Amy asked the question to a room filled with activity, not really expecting an answer. Murdock glanced up from where he was busy poking hastily improvised fuses into jars filled with foul-smelling concoctions.

"He's probably wondering where we are." He picked up another jar lid, and began to drill a hole through it with a penknife. Amy nodded slowly. Whatever the big sergeant was doing, she hoped that he didn't think he was alone - and she hoped equally hard that they could get to him before it ceased to be an issue to him at all.

**********

BA was running low on bullets; something that he had not imagined happening quite so soon. The pressure was great, with Duncan's men sending a constant fusillade in the direction of the sheltering fugitives, and it was necessary to return fire to a similar degree just to stay alive. So it was that the stockpile of ammunition began to dwindle quickly; and Dennis had thrown the last of his grenades. BA was proud of him, for the little man had overcome his natural timidity in his desire to protect his friends - even if it was beginning to look as though his efforts had been useless.

"My gun is empty." Elizabeth put the weapon down, her sharp eyes telling her that there was nothing else with which to fill it. All that was left in the pile of spare ammunition were two clips for the handgun. The big sergeant flashed her an encouraging smile.

"It's okay. Don't mean nothing."

"The others aren't coming, are they." She huddled down amongst the rocks, holding Jamie close to her.

"They'll be here if they can." BA was beginning to wonder if his friends were in any position to come. After all, Hannibal had never failed before to arrive in the nick of time - and the nick of time was now fast beginning to pass them by.

"They don't seem to be running low on bullets, BA." Dennis was peering past the rocks, trying to get a good look at their attackers. It seemed to him that the men were advancing again. He fired the last few shots from his own gun, the twin of Elizabeth's, and then leant back against the rocks. It seemed to him that the enemy was no longer even bothering to duck for cover when he fired. Clearly they had realised that his aim left a lot to be desired.

"They're a little better prepared than we were. I wasn't expecting it to last this long." BA was on the alert for more tear gas. He had already given Jamie instructions on how best to grab the grenades when they came, and where to throw them so that their emissions would be downwind. He didn't like getting the boy to do such a job, but it would be all hands to the task if Duncan's men decided to begin using the grenades again. Jamie was smaller, and would probably be better at sliding about amongst the rocks in order to get the job done.

"They're going to kill us, aren't they." Elizabeth was staring at him with determined eyes. BA hesitated, then gave her a brief nod.

"If they can, yeah. We have to make sure they can't." He fired off a few more rounds at their advancing attackers, then ducked back down again. "It's not over yet, Liz. We still have some bullets left, plus we can all run pretty fast if we need to. We have a fair bit of cover to our left and right, and they're not expecting us to make a run for it. They think we'll stand our ground and try to fight it out. They don't know how low on ammo we are, either. We still have some aces in our hand."

"I'm not convinced." She smiled at him, still holding her son tightly by her side. "But I guess it's better than nothing."

"It's always better than nothing." He fired again, this time allowing the gun to run until it was empty. He was careful not to fire after that, for the last thing that he wanted was for the enemy to hear the dull clicks that indicated a gun out of ammunition. "Okay. Ready when you are."

"Where do we go?" Elizabeth was looking up and down the surrounding countryside, not at all certain that there was anywhere looking safer than anywhere else. BA frowned.

"Head west. It'll take us further away from the lake and the house, and into where the trees are thickest. I did a lot of scouting around up here the first day, and Face checked out the perimeter a little further on. The trees lead onto a farm of some kind eventually. Empty I think."

"That's right. It used to belong to a couple named Gerring, but they sold up to Duncan about six months ago. The place has been empty since then." She frowned at him. "There's nothing there that might make especially good cover, though. Only a few buildings made of wood."

"But Face left some extra ammo up there, and a couple of guns." BA shrugged off her evident admiration. "Common practice. Helps to guard the rear, just in case. There's a radio there too. Maybe we can get in touch with the others that way, at least if they're still anywhere near the van."

"And if we can get to it." Dennis watched as BA checked over the handgun, collecting up the two spare clips that were all that they now had with which to fight back. "That's not going to be much good at this distance, is it."

"Not much, no." He clicked off the safety. "But better than nothing, at least until we can get somewhere safer. Ready?"

"Ready." Elizabeth hugged Jamie one last time, then released him. Dennis nodded.

"I'm ready too."

"Good, 'cause I want you to take the lead." BA banged him on the shoulder "Good luck."

"Thanks." Dennis had paled again, looking whiter than the colourless sky above them. "West, huh. That's er..."

"That way." BA pointed, and Dennis coloured slightly.

"Thanks. Never was much good at directions. Just rocks."

"There's more important things than knowing what direction you're looking in, at least in your line of work." BA smiled over at him. "Maybe we'd--"

"BA!" Jamie was pointing up into the sky. "A grenade!" He seemed excited at the prospect of being able to do something of use after being unable to do anything for so long. He jumped away from his mother, making a dash for where the grenade seemed most likely to land.

"No! Moving faster than he had done in years, BA made a grab for the boy, dashing from cover in order to catch hold of him and drag him to the ground. The grenade came down - and with an explosion that deafened both man and child it blew apart in a flash of fire. The ground shook.

"Jamie!" Elizabeth dashed towards them, catching him up into her arms. "That - that--"

"That wasn't a gas grenade." BA rubbed his head, looking and feeling somewhat less than his best. He glanced back. Duncan's men were advancing again, and this time he was not holding his gun. He could see it glinting on the floor several feet away. Dennis glanced down at it.

"Don't do it Dennis." Stumbling back up to his feet, BA shook his head. "It's really not worth it."

"But--" The little geologist hesitated, then shrugged his shoulders and let himself relax. He was still standing there, confused and uncertain, when Duncan's men surrounded the little group, and almost knocked him off his feet.

"Hey! Leave him alone." BA tried to get closer to his newest friend, only to be stopped by a powerful blow to the jaw by one of Duncan's men. It was the attacker's fist that came off worse from the encounter, and BA glared at him so fiercely that the unfortunate assailant paled and took a step back.

"Don't let him get to you." It was Phelps, striding forward with a smug look on his face. "He's a dead man. He can't do anything to hurt you."

"Oh yeah?" BA stepped towards him, ring-encrusted fists clenched. "Maybe you want to test that theory yourself, sucker."

"I don't think so." Phelps smiled at him, and raised his gun. "We've got your friends, so we really don't need you. So... goodbye. I wish I could say that it's been fun, but it really hasn't. Not one little bit." He pointed the gun directly into the snarling face before him, and tightened his finger on the trigger. Elizabeth gasped, turning Jamie around so that his face was hidden.

"You can't do that!" The volume of Dennis's voice surprised even him. Phelps gave a short laugh.

"Don't worry, wimp. There'll be plenty of bullets left for you." He cocked the hammer with obvious relish. "For all four of you. I'm not fussy." He smiled unpleasantly at BA. "So long, 'sucker'."

"Hey, bozo! There room in that gun for a few bullets for me?" With a fanfare played on an imaginary trumpet, Murdock leapt out of the bushes nearby, one of the pilfered guns from the sheriff's office held in his arms. He leaned against a tree, the gun pointing casually at the little group of bad guys. "It's bad news to leave me out of a party, guys. I'm nuts. Disappointment might make me psychotic."

"Huh?" Phelps turned, his men turning as well, all of them raising their weapons to point at Murdock. The pilot gave a whoop of excitement, spinning around and diving headfirst back into the bushes.

"Get him!" Duncan's voice rose above the questioning clamour of his men. Three of his cohorts peeled away from the main group, dashing towards the bushes. When they got there, Murdock was gone.

"Where did he go?" One of the men, staring into the bushes with an expression of total confusion etched onto his face, stared around at his companions. From nearby there came the sound of another improvised fanfare.

"Over there!" The threesome spun around, guns raised, sending a quick volley into the bushes that seemed to be the pilot's latest cover. Instead, however, their quarry's hatted head popped up out of a different bush altogether.

"Hey guys! Want to party?" He rose up, making a perfect target of himself, and adopted a deep British accent. "And there I stood, frozen in the midst of the jungle, surrounded on all sides by spear-toting savages. There looked to be no way out. No hope. No chance of returning to Blighty for that last cup of tea. What was I to do?"

"Huh?" One of the three men started towards him. "You're dead, pal."

"And then it came to me!" Murdock's eyes lit up. "I threw back my head, lifted my hands to my mouth, and uttered the magnificent cry of the triumphant bull ape!" He fixed the threesome with an intense stare. "And into the jungle clearing came, not elephants. Not gorillas. Not even Nigel, my trusted crocodile friend. Instead there came--" He spun around, gesturing with his hands, playing himself another fanfare. "Salvation!"

"Just kill him!" Phelps could hear Murdock's voice, and was not sure why his men had not yet silenced the rambling fool. He turned around, taking his eyes off BA for the briefest moment - which was all that the big man needed. He made a grab for Phelps's gun arm, seized it by the wrist, and tugged. The gun fired harmlessly into the air, and Phelps found himself flying after the bullet. He crashed to the ground several feet away, hearing the sound of a roaring engine coming nearby. He raised a dazed head, dimly aware that a heavily armoured truck was speeding towards him. It took all that he had to roll himself out of the way of the thundering vehicle, throwing himself out of the path of its wheels - and straight into the trunk of a large tree. His head connected with solid wood, and he dropped to the ground.

"Yes, that's right!" His British accent dropped in favour of the tones of a quiz show host, Murdock was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. "You've won tonight's star prize - the A-Team!" His voice snapped back to normal, and he swung his gun to point at the three men who were to have been his executioners. "Start kissing earth, suckers. And if I see those beady little eyes looking at anybody again before I tell you, I'll have you eating lead so fast your ghosts'll get indigestion."

"Come on, Murdock!" Shouting from his position atop the armoured van, Face was waving to his colleague, the second of the big guns held in his arms. He fired a jarring blast into the ground at the feet of Duncan's oncoming employees, then disappeared back inside, as Hannibal, gripping the wheel with a manic look in his eyes, gunned the engine and sent the doctored truck flying forward. Duncan yelled to his men to fall back and regroup.

"Fire at the wheels! They don't seem to be as well protected as the rest." He was staring at the truck in confusion. How could it be the A-Team? And what had they done with their van? It was covered in sheets of metal that looked oddly like shelving. And where had they got the guns? He had been sure that his men had removed all of the weaponry from the lockers in the back of the vehicle. Most of it was now in the jeeps back at the house by the lake, and the rest was being used by his own men. They couldn't be armed.

"They only have two guns!" He shouted it loudly, determined that all of his men should hear. "Regroup! Fire hard and fast. There's nothing they can do."

"Wanna bet?" Hannibal was leaning from the window of the van, his cigar held in one outstretched hand. Around the now halted van, Duncan's men were gathered. There was a clear certainty amongst them that the A-Team were dead to rights. Still grinning, Hannibal disappeared inside the van, emerging with what looked like a jam jar gripped in his hand. He held it aloft, then pressed the tip of his cigar against the piece of wool dangling from the jar lid. There was a hiss as the sodden wool caught fire, the smell of smouldering thread rising above the damp, earthy smell of the forest floor - then Hannibal, still grinning, tossed the jar to the ground, slammed the van into reverse, and drove like a madman back through the hole in the undergrowth from which the vehicle had burst. Duncan and his men stared at the jar, seeing a strange concoction of gloopy liquids mixing and bubbling around inside. Duncan frowned.

"Bomb!" He wasn't sure which of them had shouted it; he just knew that he was running. Dashing for the bushes, Duncan hurled himself forward; just as the air around him tore apart in a shattering explosion. Somewhere he thought he heard a disembodied laugh - then another explosion and another. Leaves and twigs cascaded down upon him, and he came up spluttering - just in time to see the van doors open and the aggravating lieutenant he had fleetingly captured come bounding out, arms full of jam jars. Behind him was a girl, similarly laden.

"BA!" Face was waving, heedless of the guns around him, at least until the bullets came too close. He leapt for cover then, looking almost upset that the bad guys were firing at him. BA and Murdock gathered around him, sheltering as best they could from the angry fusillade still threatening them all. Face unloaded his collection of Molotov cocktails upon both of his associates, taking the handgun from BA in return.

"What did you do to my van, sucker?" BA was looking threatening. Face shrugged.

"Not my idea, BA."

"No, but you hammered all the pieces into place," Murdock piped up. BA glared at them both.

"Just give me some matches," he snarled, his eyes telling them that he was not nearly as angry as he was pretending to be. Face handed him a cigarette lighter, then ran for cover in the trees with his new gun for company. Murdock scampered for similar cover nearby, and Amy and BA headed towards the besieged geologists still hiding in their rocky cover.

"Hi!" Amy settled down next to Elizabeth and Jamie. "How are things?"

"Amy!" Elizabeth shook her by the hand, causing her to drop her armload of bombs all over the floor. Jamie made as if to pick one up, but was glared into immobility by BA. Dennis, however, seized one immediately.

"Light me up, BA." He was looking almost comically resolute, and BA had to smile.

"Take it easy, brother. No need to risk getting your head blown off." He pulled the little man into cover, then lit the end of the fuse with the lighter. "Wait three seconds, then throw it."

"Gotcha." He did not bother to aim, and merely threw the bomb with clear disregard for anything and anybody in the vicinity. Murdock scampered out of the way of the resulting deluge of earth and dead wood.

"Watch it, muchacho!" His voice floated back to them as a yelp. Dennis blushed.

"Sorry!" He grabbed a second bomb, undeterred, and smiling at him, BA moved forward to add his own, rather more measured input to the proceedings.

In the trees, Face was exchanging fierce fire with a number of Duncan's men. The sounds of the explosions nearby had all of the enemy nervous, and Face was using that to his advantage. He fired twice in quick succession, shooting the gun from the hand of the nearest man. Another turned to flee - and ran straight into Murdock, who was standing before him with a bomb in either hand, and a lit match between his teeth. He grinned.

"Hi there. Going my way?" The man blanched, threw his gun to the ground, then tore away into the forest. Murdock stared after him, almost disappointed, then snatched the match from his mouth as it began to burn his lips.

"Look out, Faceman!" Lighting the two fuses, he hurled the bombs away from himself. Face saw them coming and dashed for cover, almost knocked off his feet by the twin blasts when they came. He emerged from a bush looking decidedly dishevelled, and glared at his unrepentant partner.

"Murdock!" Dragging leaves from his hair, he stamped earth from his trousers, glaring all the while. Murdock shrugged, grinned, then widened his eyes.

"Look out, Kimosabe! Bandits at six!"

"Huh?" Face spun around, seeing two men coming towards him. He raised the handgun, and the two men froze. "Thank you. Now maybe--" He broke off as the two men spun around and ran away. Face sighed. "Why is this never easy?"

"Better round 'em up, Rowdy. Mr Favor will want every head back by nightfall."

"Wait here." Weary, Face turned around and headed out after the men. The forest was thick in that part of the forest, the undergrowth growing thickly, so that it was difficult to pass. It was not easy to keep the two men in sight, but he soon saw them again, struggling onwards through the rough terrain. At a run, Face scrambled up onto the side of a fallen tree, ran forwards along the sloping, moss-covered length of its giant trunk, and took a flying leap towards his quarry. They went down altogether; a tangled threesome lost almost immediately in bush and scrub. Neither of the two put up much of a fight, and it did not take long for the tired lieutenant to overpower them both. He grinned down at their defeated forms.

"So long, guys. Have a nice day."

Back at the van, Hannibal was in his element, steering madly between trees, and hurling lit Molotov cocktails out of the driver's window. All around him men were throwing down their weapons, but Claud Duncan himself still remained defiant. Hannibal sped towards him, eyes hard, cigar gripped tightly between his teeth. He could see the furious leader of men, gun raised, ready to take the final shot that would send the colonel out of the fight once and for all. Hannibal began to smile.

"Ready for it, Claud?" He murmured the words so quietly that he barely heard them himself. "Well so am I." Slamming on the brakes, he grabbed the last of the bombs and leapt clear of the van. It slowed to a halt, skewing sideways, sending another handful of the enemy scrambling for cover - right into the waiting fists of BA Baracus. Duncan stared after them, then turned back to watch Hannibal's approach.

"I have the gun, Colonel Smith." He was smiling unpleasantly. Hannibal nodded, taking his cigar nonchalantly from his mouth, and holding it up to the bomb in his other hand.

"And I have the bomb, Claud. Shall we lose them both and discuss this thing properly?"

"I don't think so." Claud was smiling, clearly ready to fire. "Goodbye, Smith."

"Goodbye." Still grinning, Hannibal jumped aside. He dropped the bomb, not caring for it at such close range, and instead rolled to his feet in one smooth manoeuvre. Duncan tried to dodge aside, but couldn't quite make the movement in time. Hannibal caught him by the scruff of the neck, and in two swift blows took him down. Duncan stared up at him, eye glazed and glasses askew, and Hannibal bent down to retrieve the crooked businessman's fallen gun. Behind him, BA and Dennis were coming up, using the few remaining jam jar bombs to herd a group of beaten henchmen before them. Amy was doing likewise, using one of the riot guns stolen from the sheriff's office.

"That was wonderful!" Running up with Jamie at her side, Elizabeth was clearly ecstatic. Hannibal grinned at her.

"We do our best. Oh." He turned to Duncan, and snatched something from his coat pocket. "I nearly forgot. Next time, I think we'll give this to a policeman we know that we can trust." He held out the papers that Face had stolen. "Perhaps you'd better take care of these for the time being, Liz."

"Thank you." She held them tightly. "Now what?"

"Now we hand these people over to the authorities." Hannibal was looking very pleased with himself. "I think that went rather well, don't you?"

"Well?" Amy was looking decidedly doubtful. "BA and the others were nearly killed before we arrived."

"Ah." Hannibal smiled at her, gesturing around him with his cigar. "But they weren't. Everything went exactly according to plan."

"What about my van, man?" BA was looking gruff as he examined his beleaguered wheels. Hannibal shrugged.

"It'll come up good as new, BA - and it's all going on Mr Duncan's tab anyway, so I shouldn't worry about it. It's only a bit of armour plating, and it did help save your life. So what are you complaining about? We made it through, didn't we? Unscathed too."

"Huh." Face wandered over to join him, clothes and hair rumpled, nursing an injured hand. "I think I broke a finger."

"Ow." Murdock, his walking a little unsteady, also came over to join the others. He leant against Face for support, one arm folded across his stomach. "And I think I broke a rib."

"Hey!" Looking up from where he was busily massaging his knuckles, BA frowned deeply "It looks like I scratched a ring!"

"You were saying?" Amy asked Hannibal. He smiled at her.

"Okay. Maybe not quite unscathed." He pulled a slightly battered looking cigar from his pocket and unwrapped it, eyeing his team all the while. They all had their injuries, himself included, but in all honesty making it through unscathed was never what counted. They had merely made it through - and at the end of the day nothing else really mattered at all.

**********

"I guess this is it then." She felt reluctant to say goodbye to them, now that it had come to the final moment. Hannibal gave her hand a warm shake.

"You're going to do just fine, Liz. This place will be booming in a year."

"I hope so." She smiled. "I know so. The bank has come through for us. Embarrassment perhaps... or maybe it was Hannibal's letter to the shareholders." She frowned. "While we're on the subject, Face... Just how did you come to know all of their names and addresses?" He grinned, slipping an arm around her shoulders.

"Oh, you know. It's all about contacts. Who you know, what they know..."

"One of 'em's from LA." Murdock had evidently heard the full story from Face, and was happy now to parrot it out to his attractive audience. Face made as if to stop him, but Murdock continued unabashed. "Face used to date his daughter when he was still at school."

"Murdock..." Face was going faintly red. Murdock grinned.

"Her dad must figure you've got some really embarrassing information about him, huh Face? You must hear a lot of interesting things when you're hiding in a back room trying not to be discovered with a guy's daughter."

"Yeah. Thanks for that." The Faceman rolled his eyes. "Don't listen to him, Liz. He's insane. Nothing that he says has anything like a ring of truth about it."

"Actually it all sounds very plausible." She laughed at him. "If I'd known that you had that kind of information about the bank owners, we could have started there. We needn't have fought Claud Duncan at all."

"That was necessary." Hannibal sounded serious. "A man like that needs to be taught a lesson, and it'll be a long, long time before friend Claud ever points a gun at anybody again."

"And I'm grateful for that. You've made my home safe for my son again, and that's worth more than I could ever possibly pay you."

"All part of the service." Hannibal pulled open the front passenger door of the van. "It's been an honour helping you out. I think we've all learnt a little something while we've been up here, too. It made me feel ten years-old again, looking at stones and fossils."

"Any time you want to come back, you'd be welcome." Dennis was looking shy again, and he blushed a bright shade of red when BA banged him on the back.

"We'll do that, brother." He ruffled Jamie's hair. "So you make sure you behave yourself, okay? 'Cause if you don't, your mother will tell me all about it. You got that?"

"Sure, BA." Jamie offered him a quick, impulsive hug. "Will you write?"

"Of course. I want to hear all about things when they get set up here, so you've got to write to me too." BA returned the hug, his large and bulky frame looking odd next to the small boy's scrawny figure. Murdock clapped the big sergeant on the shoulder.

"Aw... You look real cute when you're sentimental, big guy." BA glared at him, but refrained from making his usual rejoinder. Amy felt sure that the scene would have been very different had Jamie not been present. She shared a smile with Elizabeth, and shook the geologist's hand.

"Goodbye," she offered, somewhat lamely. Elizabeth nodded.

"You'll come back when we're open?"

"Are you kidding? I'm planning at least one article on this place. It's a great story. Plus I get to build on my reputation as the foremost authority on the A-Team. My career is going to thank me for it."

"Then I'll reserve the exclusives for you." Releasing the other woman's hand, Elizabeth followed her to the van. Murdock was opening the back door, waiting back to allow Amy to get in first.

"I'll write a story abut this place too." Practically bouncing into the van, Murdock skidded past Amy into his own seat. "I'll call it Mr Fish And The Rock Monsters. I reckon George Lucas'll be interested."

"Sounds good, Murdock." Hannibal glanced back at him, grinning broadly. Murdock looked even more excited.

"You can star in it, Colonel. There's the rôle of the head rock monster, and I see him as looking kinda like the Aquamaniac, only with less scales. You'd get to eat rocks and breathe fire."

"Just give my agent a call." Hannibal pulled his door shut, and wound down the window. "But give it a week or two, okay? I've been thinking of taking a holiday."

"Man, you're asking for trouble. Always encouraging him." BA climbed behind the wheel, his patented scowl already plastered across his face once again. Elizabeth stifled a giggle. She had become so used to the team during the short time that they had spent together, and she knew that she was going to miss their odd banter, and peculiar mix of half-meant threats and insults.

"I don't know, BA. I think there's a future for rock monsters." Face climbed into the van after the others, taking up his customary position on the floor beside Murdock's seat. "I see merchandise... T-shirts, action figures, lapel pins. An album - rock music, naturally. Posters and comic strips. An animated TV series. It has real potential."

"Shut up, fool." BA started the engine, even though the back door was still wide open. Amy hastily reached over to pull it closed. Murdock ignored the implied hostility, already busy in trying to sell Face on the next stage of his idea. Mr Fish, apparently, had at least half a dozen ideas for sequels to his tussle with the rock monsters. Elizabeth caught the lieutenant's eye just before the van door came between them, ending their warm smile of farewell. It looked as though Face was already regretting his joking remarks about merchandise.

"Say, where is Mr Fish anyway?" They were pulling away from the lake when Amy suddenly realised that the fossil was nowhere in sight. Murdock smiled, much like a small boy trying to be brave.

"He wanted to stay behind with his friends. It was a tough decision, but we figured... well, you know. A rock's gotta do what a rock's gotta do." He shrugged. "Turns out that Mr Fish has a wife, and a whole lot of baby fossils to care for. I - I wanted to take them with me to the big city. I really did. We were close, and it was a great friendship and all, but I just couldn't have that many of 'em in my room at the hospital. I said I'd write to him, and he said he understood. He promised to name his next kid after me."

"It wouldn't have worked anyway, Murdock. He was too cold and stony." Amy patted him on the shoulder, and he nodded his grateful thanks.

"Yeah. I know. But... well we had some fun, you know? I'm gonna miss him."

"I know a pretty little ammonite. I can introduce you if you'd like." Face was busy playing with a calculator, trying to work out the net cost of their latest mission. Murdock brightened immediately.

"You do?" At first he was delighted, before shrugging as if he was no longer quite so sure. "Maybe in a week or so. I don't know that I'm ready for it just yet. It's too soon."

"You're weird." BA was watching him in the rear-view mirror, his usual glower not quite disguising the twinkle in his eyes. Murdock smiled.

"I saved your life, BA. You've got to be nice to me."

"Yeah." BA scowled again, even more heavily this time, and with even more of a hidden smile within his eyes. "But that doesn't mean that I have to like you."

"You hurt me, you know that?" Murdock leaned back in his seat, pulling his cap down over his eyes and folding his arms. BA smirked.

"You carry on talking about some fossil like it's alive, and I really will hurt you." Hannibal rolled his eyes.

"Sometimes I despair of the pair of you."

"You despair of them?" Amy was amused. "You should try looking at it from the client's point of view. They're told that they're hiring professionals, but all they see is a bunch of squabbling schoolchildren. It's not exactly inspiring."

"They change their minds once they see us in battle." Hannibal was grinning around his cigar, pride shining bright within his eyes. "Squabbling or not, we're still the best."

"We'd be better if Murdock wasn't nuts," BA interjected. Murdock glared at him.

"And we'd be even better still if BA wasn't such a grouse."

"Does it matter?" Hannibal leaned back in his seat, puffing a series of smoke rings that floated into the air above his head. "We are the best. Now make up, the pair of you. I don't want a single squabble before LA."

"We driving back?" BA was watching him through suspicious eyes. Hannibal sighed.

"BA, would I try to trick you into getting on a plane?"

"Yeah. You would." The big sergeant squared his shoulders, gripping the wheel with tightened fists. "But I ain't eating anything, and I ain't drinking anything, until I see the LA city limits right in front of me. And if anybody tries anything with one of those little darts, or if anybody pretends to swat a mosquito on my neck, I'm gonna start taking people apart. Understand?"

"We're driving back, BA." Hannibal smirked. "Honestly."

"That's good." He seemed to relax slightly. "In that case, I guess I can make up with Murdock."

"Aw gee, BA. That means so much." Leaping forwards, Murdock held out a hand, eager to shake. "Come on. Shake on it big guy, huh? Go on, go on, go on, go on..."

"I'm driving, Murdock." BA sighed, then reached over and took the proffered hand. "Now sit down and shut--" He broke off, feeling the tiny pin-prick in his palm of a secreted needle. His eyes glazed as he attempted a frown, before the drug took effect, and a beautific smile spread its way across his relaxing face.

"One of these days," he muttered, before his head fell forwards onto the wheel, "I'm gonna learn to..." He drifted off, not finishing the sentence. Hannibal caught the wheel, and guided the van to the side of the road.

"You know, I feel kind of bad about that. He was being all friendly." Murdock climbed out to help carry the unconscious sergeant around to the back. Face grinned.

"Well if it's any consolation, he'll be anything but friendly when he wakes up."

"That's your problem, Faceman. I'll be back at the hospital doing ink blot tests with Doc Friedman." Murdock arranged BA so that he looked relatively comfortable, then slid into the front seat next to Hannibal, who was already gunning the engine once again. "He says I should be seeing butterflies, but all I keep seeing is that big ugly mudsucker's face, grinning at me from every page."

"BA grins in your ink blots?" Amy was intrigued by the suggestion. Murdock shrugged.

"What can I say? I'm nuts, after all." He put his feet up on the dashboard, and set his cap on backwards. "Can I fly the plane back home, Colonel? Can I, huh? Can I?"

"It's a commercial flight, Murdock. Sorry." Hannibal pulled the van back out onto the road. "Maybe next time."

"Okay." He felt around inside his jacket, and eventually came up with Thumper, looking a little wrinkled after his long time out of service. He jammed the puppet onto his hand, then pulled his cap down over his eyes, and settled his little fabric friend to watch out of the window. Despite the jokes, he was tired; as were they all. It was always a time for relaxation and rest after a mission, especially one that had so nearly been fatal. Behind him BA's gentle snores mingled with the sounds of the engine. Amy was drifting off to sleep, lulled by the sounds of the road beneath the wheels. Gradually, quietly, Murdock's puppet slumped against the window glass, indicating that the pilot was also entering the land of nod. Hannibal glanced in the rear-view mirror. Face was asleep too, sitting on Murdock's vacated seat, arms folded across his chest, head resting on the side of the van. Alone in his wakefulness, Hannibal smiled, then reached out for the radio controls, looking for some music to drive to. The faint sounds of some recent chart hit floated through the van, mixing with the quiet sounds of an A-Team at peace. The colonel let himself relax, and smiled a deeply satisfied smile as he headed the van towards the freeway. Ahead lay the airport, and then after that, home. Distinctive in its striking livery, the trademark vehicle sped on through the quiet country traffic, and inside Hannibal began to sing along with the radio. He was feeling tremendously happy, and he didn't care who knew it; not that anybody did. Oblivious to the musical endeavours of their commanding officer, around him the A-Team slept on.

THE END