Murdock hit the top note at the end of Torno A Surriento and two dogs began to howl. A baby started to cry. A man threw open a window and yelled a stream of invective at the passing gondola.
“Murdock, I think people are trying to sleep,” Hannibal said.
“Yeah, be quiet, fool. You can’t sing.”
Murdock ignored BA’s words and started to sing O Sole Mio.
Face smiled sheepishly at the gondolier sitting beside him. The man was staring up at Murdock, who was wearing the gondolier’s straw hat and would have been wearing his striped shirt if only Murdock had had a few more lira.
“Be kind of ironic,” Hannibal said. “After all we’ve been through, to end our days, by being lynched by an mob of angry Venetians who need to get up early.” He grinned.
The man who’d shouted at them first was now arguing with another man at a window on the other side of the canal. The dogs were still howling.
“Seriously, Murdock, knock it off,” Face pleaded. “It’s after midnight.”
But Murdock was in a world of his own. Face sighed and turned to Hannibal and BA.
“You guys want to go for a drink before we turn in? We found this really nice little café bar last night, just a couple of blocks away. You should see the waitresses.” He turned to Murdock again. “Tell them about the waitresses in that café we found.”
“Molto belle.” Murdock kissed the tips of his fingers on one hand. “Molto belle.”
“Sorry, Face, I can’t do the late nights any more,” Hannibal said. “I need my bed.”
“And I gotta get up early to get a souvenir for Mama before we leave.”
“Okay. Hey, Mario Lanza, you want to grab a grappa with me?”
“Sì,” Murdock said. “Sì, Faccia.”
“Right.” Face shook his head. “Boy, I can’t wait till we get back to some place English speaking. No offence,” he added looking at the gondolier, who just looked puzzled.
Murdock manoeuvred them up to the landing stage as if he’d been a gondolier since he was a boy. BA got out first, turned back to give Hannibal a hand up. Face took out his wallet to pay off the gondolier, added an extra large tip and a smile. Murdock gave the man his hat back.
“See you guys in the morning,” Hannibal said. “Don’t be too late. We’re booked on that eleven a.m. train to Rome.”
They went their separate ways. As they vanished around corners the gondolier took out a cell phone and dialled.
“I just dropped them off.” He spoke in English, with an American accent. “But there’s a problem. They split up.”
Hannibal lit a cigar as he and BA strolled towards the hotel, a couple of blocks from the landing stage. The sound of the lapping water of the canal faded. The dark streets were quiet and deserted. Only their footsteps and the occasional yowl of a cat from an alley broke the peace of the night.
“Looking forward to going to Rome?” Hannibal asked BA.
“Yeah, man. I should be able to pick up some great souvenirs from the Vatican for my Mama.”
Hannibal smiled. BA would have to buy himself an extra suitcase soon to pack all the various bits of memorabilia he’d picked up on their journey around the tourist traps of Europe. His mother would need to clear a serious amount of shelf space when they got back to the states.
“It’s nice to see exotic locales without anybody trying to kill us.” Hannibal mused. “I really needed this vacation.”
“Yeah. That last job was tough. But at least we got a big pay off.”
Big enough for the four of them to enjoy a tour of Europe together. They’d done France already, moved on to Italy and had spent three days in Venice and were heading for Rome and then Florence. After that, well they were still arguing over whether to head to Greece or Spain after that. But there was no hurry to decide.
There was one deadline and that really only applied to Hannibal.
“You looking forward to going back to Paris?” BA asked.
Hannibal smiled. He certainly was. “Yep. Two weeks time and you guys are dropped like hot potatoes.”
BA chuckled and Hannibal blew a smoke ring and grinned.
“You said you was giving those things up.”
“What, just when I finally got really good at smoke rings?”
BA chuckled again, shaking his head. “Maggie will make you give ’em up.”
“She hasn’t even tried. She knows she can’t change me.”
“Man, ain’t no woman ever believed that.”
Hannibal puffed the cigar contentedly. No, BA was wrong. Maggie was too smart to think she could change Hannibal. Not at his… not now.
As much as he was enjoying his time with the guys he was really looking forward to having a little quality time with Maggie. They’d been together seriously nearly a year. Since his life was more settled now, Hannibal had decided it was time to look into some of the things he’d missed out on. Grab them before it was too late. One of those things was Maggie.
He didn’t go on many missions any more. When he did it was to hand-hold clients and co-ordinate things from base. Face was in command in the field. And Hannibal was proud of him, of the way he handled…
A woman screamed.
“Italy sure is a beautiful country,” Murdock said, with a sigh, watching their waitress walk away.
“Yeah…” Face agreed. Then he shook himself. “Come on help me with these postcards.” They had a small pile of the cards on the highly polished wooden table top. A checker board pattern was inlaid into the wood and at a table in the corner two ancient looking men, one of them a priest, were playing chess.
The smell of coffee filled the café and the big cappuccino machine gurgled and hissed. Murdock decided he could stay in here drinking espresso all night. The café was off the tourist routes and they were the only foreigners. But the staff were friendly and even put up with his terrible Italian.
Murdock scribbled a postcard to Amy. The card had a picture of The Grand Canal on the front of it and the word ‘Venice’ in large letters. On the back Murdock wrote: ‘Greetings from Barcelona. Hey, it’s so strange, all the streets are flooded and the people here speak Italian. You know I think we might not be in Spain after all. I knew we should have taken that left turn at Marseilles. Love, Murdock.’ He stuck a stamp on it, then sipped his coffee, sat watching Face writing industriously on the cards. Murdock frowned. Face needed to learn to relax.
Face had kept them all very busy on their vacation so far, “doing” Europe, like typical American tourists. He’d chivvied them around all the sights and if they once flagged, or suggested it might be nicer to spend the afternoon in a pavement café watching the girls go by, rather than foot slogging around another art gallery, he came out with the refrain “you might never get the chance to see this again.”
After this vacation was over, Murdock decided, he would drop Face off somewhere with no tourist sights, no art galleries, no museums, no nothing, except a beach, and a cooler full of beer. And no means of getting back. Now that was a vacation. Of course, he thought, with a smile, Face would probably scam something and be home before Murdock himself.
“Are you going to write any more cards, or are you just going to sit there with a silly grin on your face?”
Murdock gave an even sillier grin and took a card. He addressed it to Frankie Santana, then wrote. ‘Hello from Moscow. It’s not nearly as cold here as I expected…’
Hannibal and BA were instantly alert as the shriek cut through the air.
“Where?” Hannibal snapped. Not inside a house. Outside, not far away. BA pointed to an alley and they ran to it, stopped short of the corner. Hannibal peeked round into the alley. Just for a second, but long enough to take in the scene.
“Blind alley,” he said to BA. “Two guys have got a girl in there. I don’t think she wants their company.” BA’s scowl deepened.
“Just two? Let’s get ’em.”
Hannibal nodded. Easy enough. BA could probably take the two of them out himself. Nice little present for the Venetian police, courtesy of the A-Team. He just hoped it wouldn’t end up delaying their departure tomorrow.
“Let’s go.” They went around the corner. They stayed close to the wall and were halfway down the alley when the young woman being pulled around by two men spotted them.
“Aiuto!” She shouted. “Aiuto, signori, per favore!”
Hannibal and BA broke into a run and were on the two men before they finished turning around. The woman screamed and ran past towards the street. It was over in seconds. The attackers were quickly dropped in a heap on the ground.
“Nice, BA,” Hannibal said. “Let’s make sure the girl’s okay then call the cops.”
“Yeah.” They started to turn. Dark shapes rushed at them. Too many. Heavily outnumbered Hannibal and BA fell almost as quickly as the two men they had just dealt with and hit the ground beside them, unconscious.
A man stepped up behind the ones who had taken down Hannibal and BA.
“Get them drugged and into the van,” he said, handing a small leather case to one of the others. “I’ll pay off the chick.”
“Right. Where’s the boss?”
“He’s gone to deal with Peck and Murdock.”
“Why not? Worked for these two.” He kicked BA in the side. “Can’t help themselves, this sort, not when there’s a damsel in distress.” He sneered the last part.
“Well I’m not volunteering to be the bait again,” said one of the two men who had lured BA and Hannibal into the ambush, scowling and rubbing his very sore head.
Face dropped the stack of postcards into the mail box and caught up to Murdock. Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed two. Murdock yawned and stretched.
“I think I’ll sleep all the way to Rome tomorrow.” he said.
“But you’ll miss all the scenery.” Face protested. “That’s the point of travelling by train, to see the countryside.”
“You can tell me about it later.” Murdock said. “Anyway I’ve done Venice to Rome by train before.”
“Yeah, but if I told you about it I’d have to kill you, so…”
A woman’s scream pierced the night air, making Murdock gasp.
“What the hell?” Face said. “Where did that come from?”
“This way I think.” Murdock hurried off, towards an alleyway. A glance around the corner told him all he needed to know.
“Couple of guys making a nuisance of themselves to a lady,” he reported to Face and gave him a speculative look.
“Let’s go,” Face said, with a small sigh. If he ruined this suit he’d only just bought a week ago in Paris someone was going to pay, heavily. They stepped into the alleyway.
“Hey, fellas,” Face called. “This a private party?” The two men turned.
“Get lost, Yankees,” one of them snarled.
When Face and Murdock didn’t, one of the men stayed where he was, holding onto the young woman, and the other started coming up the alley. He pulled something from a pocket, there was a metallic sound and steel flashed in the moonlight.
“Oh boy,” Face said. “Okay, I’ll take flick-knife, you get his friend.” The knife wielding man smirked wolfishly at Face.
“Roger,” Murdock snapped, moved fast, as if to go past the man with the knife. He didn’t pass. He grabbed the man’s wrist, spun with him, slammed him up against the wall. Face ran past them towards the other man, who came running to meet him. Face blocked a swing from the attacker, and pounded his fist into the man’s gut, doubling him up, and smashing his face into Face’s knee as it came up fast. Face heard a crack and the man howled in pain, fell down holding his nose, which was pouring with blood.
“Great,” Face muttered. That blood would never come out of his pants. He turned away to help out Murdock. A shadow fell onto him, a man jumping down from a fire escape. Face collapsed under the weight of his attacker and hit the debris littered ground, all his breath forced out in a rush. The man whose nose Face had just broken lashed out with a foot from his sitting position and kicked Face hard in the back.
Face moaned and struggled to get out from under the man on top of him. More men were piling into the alley. Trapped.
“Murdock!” Face gasped, before a boot smashed into the side of his head and sent him spinning down into darkness.
When Murdock saw Face taken out he lost all restraint. He’d intended to disarm his assailant without permanent damage, but the situation had changed in an instant and Murdock changed with it. He grabbed the man’s arm in both hands and brought it down hard across the edge of a metal garbage can, heard bones break before the sound was drowned by the scream. The man fell to his knees and Murdock kicked him away then snatched the dropped knife up from the ground.
Men poured into the alleyway. Trapped. Face was down and Murdock had no chance of getting to him. Several men came at Murdock.
“Get back!” Murdock yelled, brandishing the knife. They hesitated. Murdock hoped none of them wanting to be the first to tackle the wild-eyed, knife-wielding maniac.
“You think you can take us all out with that little thing?” A voice came from the back of the group of men. A voice Murdock knew, from a long time ago. The men parted and the speaker stepped up. “Even you can’t be that crazy.”
“You want to bet on that?” Murdock said, controlling his surprise, keeping his voice hard.
“No, I don’t.” Douglas Kyle pulled a gun, pointed it at Murdock and pulled the trigger. Murdock gasped, but what he felt wasn’t the punch of a bullet, more like a bee sting. He grabbed at his chest, pulled free a dart. Kyle watched him, grim faced. The rest of the men grinned.
“You…” Murdock began, then staggered forward, towards Kyle. He tried to wield the knife, but his fingers had gone numb and clumsy. Kyle knocked Murdock’s arm aside. Murdock heard the knife skitter away across the ground. Darkness rushed him and he stumbled, fell into Kyle’s arms.
Kyle tossed the limp Murdock to two other men.
“Get them ready. We’re already behind schedule. I want to be in Albania by tonight.”