Spongy pine needles gave underfoot, lending Amy's frantic footfalls an almost comedic bounce as she tore through the wood surrounding the establishment. Far behind her she could hear dogs baying along with hoarse cries of, "This way!" It didn't look good for her...

The young woman with the short, boyish haircut staggered on, wheezing. It was bad enough being pursued like this, but the fact that it was being done to her whilst strapped into a straitjacket made the outcome an almost foregone conclusion! She'd run some track in her teens and still tried to keep in shape but now couldn't even pump her arms, tied as they were around her and fastened at the back. Amy doubted that any of her friends had been in such a situation! Well, all except one, anyway...

The young reporter stepped off the river bank and into the stream, wading carefully. The last thing she wanted to do was drown if she slipped and couldn't get up again. She had to try to get those dogs off her trail though...

Suddenly, she stumbled into a hidden trench, the freezing cascade up to her chest. Sucking in a gasp of the pine-scented air she bit her lip to avoid a noisy exclamation - the water was icy!

Her teeth began to chatter and Amy Allen cursed herself for trying to 'get the gen' on the Institute so close to Christmas - why couldn't she have tried in Summer?

Of course, she'd had no idea of the character of Doctor Harris when she'd challenged him with her findings and her intended 'Less than Favourable' article, but she should probably have read the signs. She had no idea he would attempt to 'lose her in the system' though!

Teeth chattering so loudly she swore her pusuers could hear, she struggled up out of the water and looked down at her muddy, wet legs and straitjacket and again tried to wrestle with it but it was no good, she was stuck in it until somebody released her!

A solid-looking stub of a branch stuck out from a tree but the cries in the night behind her forced her on.

Escape was the main thing, even if she did manage to loosen the straps at her back the loss of her lead would only provide her with a helpful attendant who would tighten the sodden thing back up again! Knowing her luck anyway, she'd probably lose her footing and end up dangling off the branch till they arrived!

"Not far now," she mused, more with hope than actual knowledge, "That hole in the fence is around here somewhere!"

The barking of the dogs didn't diminish as she hurried along in a low crouch until she saw the high, mesh fence and straightened up to jog toward it.

The chainlink screen had once been nylon-coated but much of that had flaked away in the last twenty years and now scales of rust covered much of its surface.

Amy charged at it and bounced off, landing on her soaking rump. She almost howled in frustration, why hadn't she marked her escape-hatch more vividly? In the dark she couldn't make-out the patch of red primer against the rust of it!

Amy grimaced with discomfort and rolled to her knees, then struggled to her feet. Where was the gap?

She tested it at intervals, then nearly fell through and sighed with relief as she left the grounds of The Beckman Foundation, finding herself in identical-looking woods, but ones she knew led to the old, abandoned logging road she'd parked her Le Car off. Of course, she'd always tried to think ahead and for this reason had cut the flap in the fence and stashed her car before cabbing it in to the place. Mind you, she'd never foreseen being made a patient and stuffed into a straitjacket! How was she going to drive her car now? It was impossible unless she'd picked-up some foot-driving tips from 'Wacky Races', but she knew there was a spare phone stashed in the door-pocket. If she could just get one call out...

The forest began to thin and the dirt road was suddenly in front of her. Where was her Renault from here though?

Barefoot, Amy jogged along the rutted track sneezed and froze. Had anyone heard her? Putting her finger to her nose was a no-no in this little number! She listened carefully. Nothing, even the dogs couldn't be heard anymore. She concentrated on finding her car.

"Come on, come on - where are you Freddie?"

For once, she wasn't bothered if anyone heard her calling the little French car her secret, pet name and continued to jog along the road. Once again, she stumbled in her haste and crashed down into the mud.

To her shame, Amy Allen felt herself beginning to well up with tears but bit back her sobs and wriggled onto her side before rising. It was hopeless, hopeless! What if someone were to come along? Granted, the road was disused but anyone finding her here in this state would only call the institute to reclaim her!

"NO! Don't think like that, Allen!" She hissed to herself, "You're not a simpering girlie! You're Amy Allen, top reporter! Suck it up and carry on!"

As if a reward for her self-flagellation, she suddenly spotted the familiar, hump-backed shape of her car through the foliage and jogged-off toward it, the fronds whipping at her bare legs.

She lifted her leg and pushed her toe into the door's recess to flick the door catch but over balanced and fell over for the umpteenth time, this time feeling safe enough to curse her predicament, the hated restraints and her choice of automobile. She got up and this time got a decent purchase on the thing but it still wouldn't budge.

"HELL! What a dumb design!" she grumbled and peered into the hatchback. She could even see the bulge of her spare phone in the door-pocket!

"I just know I didn't lock it!" she gasped and then heard a branch snap behind her.

"Well well well. Out for a midnight jog, are you darlin?"

Amy's heart sank at the sound of the swaggering Cockney as he approached from behind her . She straightened and turned to face him. Statham grinned and jingled her car keys at her. He approached and tugged at her collar.

"Who'd have thought you'd be so much trouble in this little thing, eh?" he mocked, tugging her toward him by the front strap. He stood well over a foot taller than her and the institution's shaven-headed thug grinned down at her. She said nothing as he walked her back to his van which she could now make out in the dark.

Vince Statham put a companiable arm across her shoulders as he steered her toward it and she knew that there was nothing she could do. She was caught again.

"You've been a very naughty little girl," he goaded, "and you'll have to be punished for what you've done..."

He pulled open the door of the Econoline, hefted her into the passenger seat and took great care to strap her in with the belt - he wasn't taking any chances this time!

He crossed to the driver's side and got in, casting a long look at her muddy legs and gave the closest a good squeeze.

"Ooooh, they're icy, they are luv! Don't worry, we'll soon have you nice and warm! Snug as a bug in a rug..."

Statham was grinning as he started the Ford but when the engine caught he turned to her to see the flat look she was giving him and arched an eyebrow in question.

"You don't understand," she muttered, "I've got friends. They'll find me and you'll be so, so sorry..."

Vince was intrigued. "Oh yeah? Your boyfriend going to beat me up, is he?"

"No," she answered flatly, "my boyfriend's an architect. He won't find me but they will."

The orderly put the van into reverse and backed onto the road. He swung it around before putting his foot down to head back to the Beckman Foundation.

Taking the bends far too quickly, they slid around them with the back end hanging-out and bounced over the ruts. It wasn't having the right effect though. She merely sat there, unimpressed till they eventually approached the big, electric gates to the place.

"You know, its going to be funny," she said, smiling. It wasn't a nice smile. "I hope they let me watch."

"Hard, are they?" he asked, unimpressed. She just sat there and smiled at him as the van moved through the gates. The Econoline crunched over the gravel drive, through the grounds and stopped at the foot of the ornate steps leading up to the front doors.

"This place is going to be razed to the ground and your'e going to wish you were never born. We're going to wipe this gothic monstrosity off the map."

"Oh yeah, you and whose army?"

IN NINETEEN SEVENTY TWO A CRACK COMMANDO SQUADRON WAS IMPRISONED FOR A CRIME THEY DID NOT COMMIT. THEY PROMPTLY ESCAPED FROM A HIGH SECURITY STOCKADE AND ESCAPED TO THE LOS ANGELES UNDERGROUND, WHERE THEY NOW HIRE THEMSELVES OUT AS SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. IF YOU'RE IN TROUBLE, IF NO ONE ELSE CAN HELP, AND IF YOU CAN FIND THEM, MAYBE YOU CAN HIRE 'THE 'A' TEAM'!



CHAPTER ONE

"I'm a-tellin' you boy, that little lady's got more fire in her belly than a whole passel-full of rattlesnakes!"

Henry Sternhagen didn't need this. He was already under enough stress being the editor of The Sentinel without having this Kentucky-fried loudmouth bawling him out in his own office!

"I mean, look at 'em out there boy," the cowboy indicated with a swirl of his fringed jacket at the other workers in the office who, through the venetians could be seen to be typing, chattering and generally doing the work of office staff everywhere. "They're SHEEP! Thats what they are, sheep! Why, you give me a half a dozen reporters like Amy Allen and we'll rule the dailies!"

"Thats as may be Mr..?"

"Lestrade, Charles P Lestrade - aren't you listening there boy?"

"Yes, yes, alright! But how can your entire takeover of this paper hinge on just one reporter?"

Lestrade reared back. "Why, haven't you read any of her exposes of the recent year?"

"Mr Lestrade, Miss Allen is a freelance, she writes for four other papers that I know of! I don't follow her output fanatically as I only read ours! No," he finally snapped, "I'm sorry but I don't know where she is or who she's working for!"

The cowboy walked dejectedly out of the office block and crossed the street, stopping at a hot-dog vendor where he stayed for a few minutes, eating his purchase without enthusiasm.

After watching the front of the building for ten more minutes, he turned about and stepped behind a fruit stall to the grubby alleyway behind. Approaching a black van he stepped up into the passenger seat.

"No luck guys. Her boss doesn't know where Amy is and hasn't seen her in a month." As he said this, he pulled a small, ribbon-wrapped package from his inside pocket and twirled it before setting it down on his lap.

Behind the wheel, a black man-mountain draped in gold chains turned to him with concern as did a fair-haired man (as handsome as they come) in a dark blue blazer. the two seemed unsettled by their leader's humour. He seemed lost, adrift and Hannibal always had a plan...

"I don't like it. Amy wouldn't disappear like that! Not go and not tell us!" The driver snarled.

"Well," Hannibal said whilst peeling off his moustache and removing his Stetson, "we DO have one more paper to try."

Smoke billowed from the rear of the vehicle eliciting a coughing fit from Peck and a scowl from Baracus.

"Oh Lestrade, you have much to learn!" claimed a voice with the clipped tones of an English accent, followed by the head and shoulders of a deerstalker and cape-clad intruder from the back, "...quite simply, you SEE but you do not OBSERVE."

"Did you have to choose the name 'Lestrade'?" queried Face.

Despite the Lieutenant's misgivings and the bizarre behaviour of the fourth member of his team, the Colonel was grinning again.

"Pray enlighten me, Holmes..."


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