Party Town

PARTY TOWN

 

He shouldn't have been feeling so drowsy. Not on this side of midnight. Certainly the little club was almost airless, and the heat currently enveloping the city had turned the place into something approaching a steam bath; but even so, there was no excuse for being so light-headed. Face hid a yawn, and tried to focus on the conversation. He had been working at the club for three days now, finding out all that he could about the finances, and getting a good idea of exactly how the place was managed. With his head for figures, it had not been hard to unravel the mysteries of the accounts, and he was sure now that he had proof enough of the money-laundering operation that was underway. It was a good set up, he had to admit. The club might be small, but it was part of the underground music scene, and a popular venue with a lot of young people. They came and went, taking their disposable income with them, and not suspecting that they were being used to filter drug money into the wider economy. It was just the sort of plan that Face might have come up with himself, if he wasn't one of the good guys. He smiled at that thought, albeit drowsily. Nearly one of the good guys, perhaps. Possibly more half-and-half.

"You all right there, David?" The manager was looking at him oddly, and Face frowned. He wasn't all right, not really, but he wasn't going to tell Stephen Brookfield that. Brookfield was a tall, needle-thin man, with the sort of complexion that suggested he never left his basement offices, and the sort of smile that suited his death-pallor skin-tone down to the ground. There was a smirk in his eyes now, and Face decided that he didn't like it one bit.

"Fine, thanks. Probably just need some air. You want me to finish clearing up?"

"No, forget it. Let somebody else do it today." A hand rested on his shoulder, cold enough to chill Face's skin even through his thin shirt. He smiled back, the polite fašade that he had struggled to maintain over the last few days feeling like it was about to crumble. "There's a few things I'd like to talk to you about, if that's okay."

"Sure." He should leave. Something was up, and whatever it was, Face didn't like it. He should definitely leave. His legs had their own ideas though, and remained resolutely fixed to the bar stool. His arms didn't seem to want to move either. One hand brushed lightly against the glass that stood in front of him, and he frowned slightly. It was only fruit juice, of course. He wasn't fool enough to drink anything too strong whilst he was working in the enemy's lair - and yet... His frown deepened. Had there been something, hidden in the taste? Some inexplicable smokiness beneath the sharpness of the oranges? He tried to close his hand around the glass, but his fingers were becoming just as uncooperative as the rest of him.

"Just relax, David." Brookfield sounded perfectly polite, as he always did, but there was no denying the sinister implications now. Face gritted his teeth, fighting the heaviness of his limbs as the cold hand of his temporary employer slid down to the pocket where he kept his wallet, extracting it with a neat flourish. "Here we are. I hope you don't think me nosy, but... well, I am. And you, my friend, have given me more than enough reason."

"I always like to make people wonder." Face's voice sounded like normal, although it took some effort. Nonetheless, he was glad to hear it. He'd be damned if he'd let Brookfield know just how bad he was feeling. Brookfield laughed softly.

"And you've succeeded. Now what do we have here?" He flipped through the myriad cards inside Face's wallet. "James Harper, Paul Craven, Samuel Walker, Daniel Havencroft... And apparently you're a policeman, a journalist and a telephone engineer. I'm impressed. Most people only have time for one career."

"I'm a busy guy." With an almighty effort, Face turned around on his bar stool, summoning a cool, hard stare that belied the foggy state of his mind. His hand closed around the traitorous glass of orange juice, and with all the force that he could muster, he threw the liquid, crushed ice and all, right into that smug, grinning face in front of him. Brookfield flinched back, but only momentarily. Smile falling away, ice blue eyes flashing with fury, he raised a fist that Face wasn't too sure he could dodge. His own fists clenched instinctively, but he was still wondering how best to convince his legs to work, when, with an almighty, gut-wrenching roar, the front door of the club exploded inwards. In his right state of mind, Face might have ducked. Half-conscious as he currently was, he merely smiled somewhat lopsidedly.

"Hey, colonel." He made it to his feet then, just as the smoke cleared to reveal Hannibal Smith, grinning around an unlit cigar. There was an AK-47 in one of his hands, and a grenade in the other. From previous experience, Face didn't doubt for a moment that the pin was no longer in it. He clapped Brookfield on the shoulder, and broadened his dozy smile into something that was almost his trademark grin. "I should introduce you," he slurred, happy that his legs were still holding him up. "That's Hannibal Smith. I'm Templeton Peck. And you're going out of business."

"Get moving, Face." Hannibal threw the rifle to him, reaching back as he did so to take another from BA. Face wasn't at all sure that throwing an automatic rifle to a barely conscious man was a good idea, but somehow his hand managed to catch it anyway. His brain hadn't quite caught up, and was still wondering if he should warn the colonel not to throw it, but he decided that his brain was best ignored.

"You'll never get away with this." Brookfield was backed up against the bar, staring at the crazy-looking white-haired man on the stairs. "I don't think you know who you're dealing with."

"Sure I do." Hannibal came closer, his stride slow and swaggering, his black-gloved fingers idly spinning the grenade over and over. He was keeping the handle pressed down, but Face wasn't at all sure how. Neither, clearly, was Brookfield. "You're a slimeball. A grade-A, king-sized, fully-graduated-from-Slime-Academy, slimeball. And you're going out of business." He nodded to Face. "Empty the cash register, kid."

"Sure." Great. More walking. Nonetheless, Face's legs seemed happy to obey his orders this time, possibly because there was money involved. He found his way behind the bar almost more by luck than by judgement, flipping open the till, and hauling out the satisfyingly large amount of bills that were inside. He tried to stuff them into his jacket, then remembered that he wasn't wearing it. There wasn't room in his jeans, either. Damned fashions. Two years ago they'd all been wearing flares, and he wouldn't have had any trouble then. Drainpipes just weren't the sort of clothing that enabled one to steal vast amounts of cash. He'd have to remember that in future.

"Face..." Hannibal was looking slightly exasperated, and at last, at a loss, Face grabbed a spare bartender's apron from behind the bar, and wrapped the cash up in it, tying the apron strings in a nice, big bow. He couldn't help smiling then, slightly dopily, he was sure. Brookfield's eyes narrowed.

"You really, really are going to regret this," he hissed. Face pointed his AK-47 at him, and beamed.

"Now now. Don't be impolite. We're customers, Stevie, and the customer's always right."

"Come on, Face." Hannibal was starting to back away up the stairs, BA moving behind him with almost synchronised precision. "We only broke in here because we got word that Lynch is on the way. We need to move."

"And if Hannibal's saying that, you know we're in a hurry," growled BA. "Get moving, Faceman. I left Murdock behind the wheel of my van. I wanna be back there yesterday."

"I'm coming." The money was heavy though, and his legs were beginning to protest again. Face tripped over his feet as he left the bar, and nearby, Brookfield twitched. He knew, thought Face. Of course he did - he was the one who had slipped whatever it was into that drink. He must know just how out of it Face was. The addled lieutenant was just realising that he should probably have mentioned all of that to Hannibal by now, when a long, surprisingly strong arm shot out and encircled his neck.

"Game over." Brookfield's grin was back out again - Face could hear it in the triumph in his voice. A hand was tugging the rifle out of his weakened grip, and although he tried, he could not stop it. His head was twisted at an odd angle, and breathing was suddenly very hard indeed. He struggled weakly, but that unidentified drug seemed to be taking its revenge. Across the room, Hannibal sighed, his disappointment almost comical.

"Face..."

"Sorry, colonel." There were footsteps coming from behind - reinforcements, clearly, and not the good kind. Somebody twitched the apron full of money from his hand, and another somebody went to take Hannibal's gun. Nobody seemed inclined to take the grenade away from him, but presumably they felt secure enough that he wasn't going to use it. Not now, given the circumstances. Face wasn't nearly so sure.

"Get down here," somebody was saying to BA. Face could barely see the big sergeant, his vision beginning to fail him in spectacular fashion. He could see a dim blur that he thought was Hannibal, and beyond that a brilliant flare of gold that had to be BA. The club itself was rapidly disappearing. This wasn't good. Now didn't seem the time to mention it however, and he kept his mouth shut. Stayed quiet as BA's gun was taken, and the sergeant and colonel were herded over towards him; stayed quiet as Brookfield threw him hard up against the bar. Stayed quiet even when the distant wail of sirens broke through the fug in his brain, and told him that his dire straits had just got even direr. He couldn't help but smile at that thought.

"Sounds like trouble, boss," said somebody, presumably in reference to the sirens. Brookfield muttered something under his breath.

"All right. Move them out the back," he said, and a strong hand caught hold of Face's arm, dragging him back upright. A dizzying tumble of colour rushed past him, the world apparently choosing that moment to start spinning in a different direction to normal. That was interesting, thought Face. It didn't happen often.

"I hate to seem uncooperative," said Hannibal, in that lazy tone of voice that Face knew so well. A gun hammer clicked, but if the threatening noise bothered the colonel in the slightest, he didn't show it. "But we have to be some place else."

"Hard luck," growled Brookfield. By Face's confused reckoning, there were probably some half dozen guns pointing at them now, one of them his own AK-47. Hannibal, nonetheless, was unfazed.

"Sorry, slimeball." Face heard another click, not a gun this time, but the unmistakable sound of Hannibal's Zippo flaring into life. He saw the flame, lighting up the far extremities of his foggy vision, and for a second Hannibal's grin came brilliantly into focus. "But I hate to be late for an appointment. Face?"

"Colonel?" It wasn't really possible to stand to attention whilst being held in a half-nelson by a gorilla, but Face made a faint stab at it. He had a horrible suspicion that he knew what was coming next; and had his mind been working at its usual speed, he would have been complaining by now. Extensively.

"Remember that fight we had in that little bar in Saigon?"

"I do," growled BA. "I damn near got my foot blown off."

"Er, Hannibal..." Face knew what was going to happen. Knew it even through the confusion, and the blurring, and the dizziness. He should explain; should warn the colonel; should-- But as he was tugged backwards by his guard; as half a dozen guns prepared to fire; as Brookfield barked an order for his prisoners to damn well stand still; the grenade left Hannibal's hand. It seemed to fly towards him in slow motion, as lazy in its movements as Hannibal had been in his; and, damn it, Face really should have warned him. Should have mentioned the semi-consciousness, and the fact that he was half-blind, and the fact that his arms currently seemed to belong to somebody else. On the other hand, this was Hannibal. He probably wouldn't have minded.

"Look out!" yelled Brookfield, the only other man present who knew that it wasn't a great idea to be throwing live explosives to Face right now. Half of the enemy dove for cover, including the man who had been holding Face; and suddenly able to move again, the lieutenant put out a hand for the grenade. He should definitely at least try to catch it. Hannibal might be annoyed if they all blew up. Somehow his instincts came into play, and the grenade was in his hand before he was really aware of it, his fingers snapping shut, and holding the handle tight. Hannibal laughed then, pulling the gun from the hand of a nearby guard, and pointing it happily at Brookfield.

"Like I said," he drawled, puffing a stream of smoke towards the ceiling. "We have to be going."

"You're not getting away with this." Cowering on the floor, Brookfield raised the rifle that he had taken from Face, but Face spun in an instant, kicking it out of his hands. It clattered away across the floor, and Brookfield flinched.

"Money," said Face loudly, and the man who had taken it from him held out the apron in a shaky hand, eyes fixed upon the grenade that the younger man was still holding. Face grinned. Okay, so he still felt as though his head was on upside down, and the sirens outside were growing louder by the moment, but nonetheless things seemed to be going swimmingly. He was vaguely aware that this was quite likely only because his brain wasn't working properly, but he decided not to think about that too hard. Being drugged apparently had its good points.

"We need to get out of here, Hannibal," said BA from nearby. Face still couldn't see him, but the big sergeant's voice had a reassuring solidity to it, even if his body didn't.

"Not with my money!" As the sirens outside reached a crescendo, Brookfield was rising up off the floor, a tiny Derringer pistol in his hand. Face, caught by surprise, found himself looking straight down the muzzle, aware vaguely that the rest of Brookfield's men were recovering themselves; were moving to retake the initiative. BA was growling something; a hand was looming up out of the fog to reach for the money in Face's hand; and, quite suddenly, there was a van coming through the window. Face wasn't sure how that had happened. Weren't they below road level here? He was sure that the club was in a basement. Presumably that was why BA was bellowing something about ripping the damn fool's head off. Whatever he was saying, however, was drowned out by the ferocious bellowing of the team's vintage M16.

"And that, folks, is that," said Hannibal a second later, as Brookfield's men all raised their hands. Brookfield himself was still pointing the Derringer at Face, but there was a slump to his shoulders now, and Face chose not to be intimidated by the gun. With his free hand - the one that wasn't clinging desperately to the grenade, in the hope that his far-too-heavy fingers didn't fail him - he reached out for the weapon; and with the other, he punched the loathsome businessman right on the jaw. Brookfield's eyes rolled up into his head with pleasing immediacy, and Face offered the grenade a bright grin. He should think about hitting people that way more often.

"We hate to punch and run, boys, but we gotta go." Hannibal snatched the money back from whichever goon had taken it this time. "Come on, everybody. Back door, Face?" Face didn't answer. "Face?!"

"Oh. That way." He pointed vaguely with the grenade, rather entranced by the deely-boppers that Murdock was wearing over his baseball cap. Back door. Right. Sadly that was going to require walking and, even more likely, running. He really should have mentioned the drug thing before now. By the sound of the sirens, they had mere seconds before Lynch would be bursting into the club, hauling them all back to their cells at Fort Bragg. He smiled dreamily. "Say, Murdock. Are those windmills?"

"Space windmills." Murdock's smile was almost the twin of Face's own. "You okay, Face?" Trust Murdock to notice that something was wrong. For some reason Face had never been able to hide anything from him. He shrugged, dimly aware that Hannibal and BA were already in full retreat.

"Back door," he said, and pointed again in the approximate direction of the exit. Or possibly at the restroom, he wasn't sure. Murdock's arm hooked itself through his, and suddenly they were moving. They might even have been flying - was it possible to get lift from a pair of deely-boppers? Face wasn't sure, but then if anybody could do it, Murdock could.

"Flash, I love you!" trilled Murdock, as the club sped past them, and the dark red blur of the back door loomed up ahead. "But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"

"Shut up, fool." BA was on Face's other side then, hauling him up a flight of steps, and onto the street. The air was cool here, and fresh, and it didn't make the slightest bit of difference. Face still wasn't at all clear on which way was up.

"Grenade," he mumbled, waving his right hand, anxious that somebody should take the bomb if he was at all likely to pass out. Somebody took it, and he was gratified when it didn't explode.

"Relax, kid. It's a dud." Hannibal, as ever, sounded cheerful and calm, not at all bothered that the army would probably be after them at any moment. "Here." There was the sound of a car door opening, and Face felt himself being stuffed onto the back seat of something comfortable, spacious, and almost definitely stolen. He grinned.

"I think I'm flying," he mumbled, and heard Murdock laugh.

"Feels good, right? Why walk when you can fly?"

"Just remember," growled BA, from somewhere up in front. "What goes up, must come down." A car engine started up, the roaring impossibly loud. "And don't think I'm forgetting about my van."

"It gave its life for the team, BA," said Murdock, and Face couldn't help but laugh. Hannibal laughed as well, the sound almost drowned out by the screech of the tyres as the car lurched off down the street.

"I love it when a plan comes together," he said, and BA harumphed loudly from up ahead.

"Plan? What plan, fool? Was Lynch turning up a plan? Was Face getting doped up a plan? Was Murdock destroying my wheels a plan?"

"It worked, didn't it?" asked Hannibal. Another siren burst into life behind them, apparently trying to argue with his logic, but BA merely growled. They were driving faster then, and the bright, bright lights of New York were playing havoc with Face's tangled brain. He leaned closer to Murdock, staring at the deely-boppers, racing around with a ferocious energy in the breeze from the half-open rear window.

"Been meaning to tell you," he said, to nobody in particular, as the city's neon lights did their best to hypnotise him. "I think I may have been drugged."

"That's okay, Faceman," said Murdock, throwing an arm around his shoulders. "It really doesn't show."

Somehow, Face couldn't help thinking that that shouldn't sound nearly as reassuring as it did.

 

THE END