*** *** ***


Bill had phoned Ralph later that morning and told him that they wouldn't be working on the Castillo case, something had come up. He didn't elaborate further. Later that afternoon, Bill drove over to Ralph's house to give him the bad news.


At the sound of the knocking on the door, Ralph called out, "Come in!" But whoever was at the door, couldn't come in. The door was locked.


"Ralph! Your door's locked," Bill called from the other side.


Ralph got up from the floor of the living room, where he and Kevin, his eight year old son, had been playing a board game and walked to the door, opening it.


"Sorry about that, Bill," Ralph said. He smiled but it faded once he realized the veteran Fed looked like he had just lost his dog. And Bill didn't even have a dog. "What's wrong?"


"Why's your door locked? You never have your door locked when you're home..." Bill walked into the house.


"Oh, I don’t know. Pam might’ve locked it when she came in." Ralph closed the door and followed Bill to the living room. "What's the matter, Bill?"


Bill sighed and put on a brave face as he turned back to Ralph. "I've been reassigned, kid. I'm being shipped to the southern front."


Kevin, seated on the floor still, was looking up at Bill. It was never good when this guy showed up at the house.


"Reassigned?" Ralph said. "What do you mean?"


"Exactly what it is. I've been given a new assignment. New marching orders. New town. They're sending me to Atlanta. I…get on a plane next Friday."


Ralph blinked, stunned by this sudden announcement. He knew Bill had worked in various other cities in his career, he had mentioned them over the past couple of years, but Ralph had always kind of figured that Bill would stay in LA for the rest of his career.


Pam came out from the kitchen to see who the visitor was. She smiled. "Hi, Bill. You're just in time for dinner."


Bill looked at her with apology. "I can't stay, Counselor, I have to get home and start packing, start settling some stuff before I leave next week."


"Leave?" Pam looked at Ralph.


"He's been reassigned to Atlanta," Ralph explained.


Pam looked at Bill. "Temporarily or...?"


Bill hesitated. "It's an..open ended assignment. Could be a week. Could be month." He paused. "Could be the rest of my career..."


"Bill, is this because of what happened yesterday?" Ralph asked.


"Yeah. Haven't you seen the papers? Seen the TV? It's all over the place! And it's really embarrassing! I committed the biggest screw up of my career. If not my life."


"But it was an accident!" Ralph said. "It's not like you were trying to run down the Mayor on purpose."


"I know that, kid. And Carlisle knows it. And Deputy Chief Caine knows that. The boys checked my car, they found the master cylinder had wonked out.  But the thing is Ralph, the brakes were starting to fail half way through the chase. I should have stopped and I didn't. It's bad enough I was risking public safety. Then I go and create an embarrassing situation for the bureau and for the Mayor. I'm lucky I wasn't totally terminated."


"For negligence, Bill, I think they'd have a strong reason to," Pam said.


"You better believe it, Counselor. I'm glad they're not terminating me but...I’m really not thrilled about this Atlanta thing!" Bill turned and walked over to the couch. "Carlisle couldn't keep the smile off his face when he gave me the news either. He hates me. God, he hates me..." Bill sighed and sat down. "It doesn't matter anyway, orders are orders and I have to do what I'm told. I've been told to go to Atlanta, that's where I'm going." Bill glanced at Kevin and then looked at Ralph. "Um...."


Ralph and Pam both sensed what direction the conversation was going next. Pam glanced at Ralph and shook her head as if to say, We’re not going to Atlanta...  "Uh, Kevin?" Pam said. "Can you come help me in the kitchen please?"


Kevin was watching Bill closely. "Yeah, okay," he said. The youngster got up from the floor and started toward the kitchen. "Why is it every time he comes here I get thrown out of the living room?"


As Pam ushered Kevin into the kitchen, Ralph walked over to the couch and sat down next to Bill. "You're thinking of the suit."


"What else would I be thinking of? This is really gonna put a monkey wrench into our little operation, Ralph, unless...um... well, unless you come with me."


Ralph hesitated.


"There is a chance they'll keep me there, um… permanently," Bill said, "but otherwise, I'll be there three, maybe six months at the most."


"Six months? And then what, come back here?"


"Yeah. Hopefully."


Ralph sighed and shook his head. "Bill...I can't start pulling up stakes every time the FBI decides to send you on a world tour."


"But, Ralph, the suit..."


"That suit has caused enough grief and trouble for me, Bill. If this assignment to Atlanta turns out to be permanent, you're expecting me now to uproot everything? How do I explain the sudden departure to my class and the school? What about Kevin? What about Pam? What about me? Don't you think that maybe I don't want to go to Atlanta?"


"Well, I'm not exactly thrilled with it either..."


"But the idea of you going off at a moment's notice is easy, you're not tied down. You don't have a family...." Ralph stopped short. "I mean....kids and stuff, you know. Um... responsibilities..." Ralph cringed, finding each explanation worse than the original. He put his forehead down into his hand. “Aw geez…”


Bill waved it off. "Bah, I know what you mean, Ralph, don't sweat it." He stood up and paced. "It would certainly disrupt things for you, whether it was for three months or for good."


"It would disrupt everything. Like I said, that suit has disrupted a lot of things in my life already. But to completely uproot and move two thousand miles away, for a few months or for good, might be asking too much. There's no guarantee I'd be able to get a job in Atlanta. I'd have to find something. I'd have find a school for Kevin and a place to live and...all kinds of stuff. And...well, I don't want to move..."


Bill stood quiet for a moment. This is it, he thought. The deal breaker. He couldn't blame Ralph really. Bill, himself, wasn’t jumping for joy to move to Atlanta.


"You don't know that this assignment is permanent anyway," Ralph said. "And maybe it's not."


Bill turned to face Ralph. "But what if it is, Ralph? What are we gonna do?"


Ralph sighed and ran a hand through his blond hair. "I...I don't know, Bill. That'll be something we'll have to think long and hard about if it turns out you're in Atlanta for good." Ralph stood up and stepped toward Bill. "I'm hoping you're not, of course."


"So am I. The last thing I need is to finish my career in Hillbilly Hell. Gun totin' rednecks with no teeth and bad intentions. I saw Deliverance..."


"Bill," Ralph admonished, "Atlanta happens to be a very modern, fast growing city. This may surprise you but they have indoor plumbing and electricity and dentists."


Bill was still rambling on, oblivious. "...they'll have me working on a moonshine ring. Or a stolen tractor Syndicate. Or...or....gaaahh..." Bill paced away from Ralph.


Ralph shook his head at Bill's absurdity. "You know, it might be a good thing for you to have to work with out a net for awhile."


"Huh?" Bill came out of his wallowing stupor and looked at Ralph. "Work without a net? What are you talking about?"


"Me. And the magic jammies? I think it'll do you a lot of good to have to work out scenarios that don't require the easy route. Ralph, holograph on this. Ralph, fly over there and see what's going on."


Bill was stunned. "Ralph! How can you say that? The easy route? If it hadn't been for you and the suit, we wouldn't have caught those two turkeys yesterday. If hadn't been for you and suit, the space shuttle would've crashed and blown Bakersfield off the map! If it hadn't been for you and the suit, the Spoilsport missiles would've launched and we'd all be radioactive mush in the very short and very final World War 3! There were no other scenarios that would've worked, Ralph, except you and the suit!"


"I'm not downplaying that stuff, Bill. I'm talking about some of the run of the mill stuff you've had me do."


"Ralph, nothing we've ever done has been run of the mill!"


"How about that time you dragged me all over town to holograph in on all the people you had on this mile long checklist that you wanted to get done quicker so you could go fishing?"


"Okay, yeah but we ended up stumbling on something bigger that time."


"How about that time you kinda suckered me and my class into looking for that gold?"


"We found it didn't we?"


"Which we all ended up giving to Harlan."


"Well, doesn't that count as that goody two-shoes stuff you gripe about wanting to do with the suit every so often?"


Ralph didn't have a comeback for that one. He sighed. "Okay, okay. My point is, Bill, you got along without me before you met me, I think it'll do you some good to see if you can get along without me now."


A slow grin spread across Bill's face and then he broke into a laugh. "You think the ol' geezer can't cut it anymore, that it? I'm getting lazy, that what you're trying to say?"


"Welllll," Ralph held back a smile, "in some respects, maybe..."


"Ha! Yeah...well, we'll just see about that." The amused look never left Bill's face and his eyes reflected the mischievous plotting going on in his head. "Tell you what. While I'm in Atlanta, helping turn around one of the worst field offices in the country, I expect you to still put on the suit every so often and do something with it. Save the world. Help an old lady across the street. Whatever tickles your heart, Ralph. And we'll compare notes once a week or so. I'll even call you, so you don't have to pay a long distance phone bill. How's that?"


Now it was Ralph's turn to grin. "You're on."



*** *** ***


Bill spent most of the next week tending to various things and packing. His last few days at the bureau were muted. Agents and colleagues shuffled by his desk every so often to wish him luck and say goodbye. A couple of jokers warned him to stay away from the Mayor of Atlanta and swimming pools. Somebody else with a darker sense of humor, and had also seen Deliverance, warned him to stay away from the northern woods of Georgia. Another agent, originally from the South, gave Bill a few crash lessons on Southern-isms; the most important of which was that “y’all” was singular and “all y’all” was plural.


As he got closer to Friday, and his apartment became more and more bare looking, Bill found himself becoming reflective about his career, about Ralph and the suit and how his life changed after that night in the desert.


He paused for a break at one point and sat down in the middle of his apartment. It was Thursday afternoon. He had walked out of the LA bureau for the last time that morning. First thing the next morning, he would be on a plane to Atlanta. Surely if this transfer wasn't meant to happen the green guys wouldn't have allowed it would they? He couldn't help but wonder if the green guys were okay with this hopefully temporary split of the team or should he have tried to convince Ralph more about making the trip to Atlanta too?


Or should I have tried harder to stay here in LA? How do I know we're doing the right thing? How do I know I’m doing the right thing? he wondered.


Of course, things had happened so fast that maybe the green guys weren't aware of what was going on. No, they gotta know. They're green guys, they know everything....


There had been no "signs" however. No messages through the radio, prompting a drive to Palmdale in the middle of the night to talk to dead people or a face-to-face meeting with the green guys themselves. Which was just as well, Bill didn't care for that stuff anyway. But...were they on the right path? Would the assignment to Atlanta be only temporary?


Or was it all a test of some kind? Maybe this is one of those single events that would tie into something bigger down the road. And the success...or failure...of that bigger scenario would be determined here and now.


Bill closed his eyes. Now his own inner drivel was getting to him. You’ve been hangin’ around the kid too long…


He stood up from the chair and walked into his bare kitchen. Ralph had been right. For Bill to up and leave a place was pretty simple, at least logistically speaking. Packing up the apartment was easy and Bill had little to tie him down by way of family at least. Except his old partner, Harlan, who had been left blind by a terrible accident and lived up in the hills like a hermit. He was practically like family. But Bill took some comfort in the fact that Harlan didn't live alone now. There was Ira, the stubborn old man that Ralph and Bill had met who had refused to give up his land to progress to the point of ending up in an armed standoff with police, who was up there now. Bill visited a couple of times a month and figured he could still fly back to continue to do that, so nothing much there would really change. Still, he would have liked to have the time to drive up to tell them he was heading to Atlanta and that it might be awhile before they saw him again. As it was, he asked Ralph to let them know he was going to be gone.


Bill had various friends and acquaintances in LA but…there had been no long goodbyes there either. He had avoided it by putting up a good front, saying he'd be back in LA in a few months time. Inside, however, he feared he’d never be back.


Which meant the most difficult goodbye was going to be to Ralph and Pam. He'd stay in touch, obviously to make sure Ralph was still doing stuff with the suit. He'd fly back to visit. But...he couldn't help but wonder the same heavy nagging question he had posed to Ralph a week earlier about this Atlanta assignment. What if it is permanent? What are we gonna do?


It was clear Ralph didn't want to uproot and move. Bill understood but the prospect of being in Atlanta for good and all alone depressed the hell out of him. Those damn magic jammies and the kid and the counselor had grown on him.


Bill closed his eyes again. Damn drivel... He drew in a deep breath, opened his eyes and forced himself out of his self-pity. He still had a few more things to do before the next morning and none of it was going to get done on its own.


When the next morning did come, it seemed too soon. Bill dressed in black pants, black shirt and his khaki field jacket and waited outside his apartment building for Ralph and Pam to pick him up. Bill was only bringing two suitcases with him, along with his worn brown leather satchel, which was his sole carry-on for the flight. Everything else he would have shipped to him once he was settled in somewhere. He was about as ready as he could be for the trip except for one thing.


Saying goodbye to Ralph and Pam.


He was no more ready for it by the time Pam’s white VW Beetle pulled up to the curb. He reminded himself that he'd see them again, but somehow, something told him to be prepared for the possibility that he wouldn't.


He didn't talk much in the car, except for idle conversation. Ralph prattled on about some end of year project the kids in his class were doing, which Bill welcomed as it filled what would otherwise be awkward silence.


Once at the airport, Bill rattled off a string of last minute instructions to Ralph as they walked through the terminal. Bill reminded him, for what had to be the tenth time that week, that he would call Ralph once a delivery address in Atlanta had been provided to the shipping company for the rest of Bill's things. Then all Ralph had to do was drop the packages off at the depot.


"Don't worry, Bill, I know what I have to do," Ralph said. "I'll make sure you get your guns."


Pam smiled. "Gee, Bill, how come you're not just bringing them with you on the flight?"


"Because they really frown on that, Counselor. I could pack them away into my luggage but with the way airlines are always losing luggage or rerouting it, I'd rather not take the chance on my guns ending up in East Chapeepee."


"East Chapeepee?" Pam said.


"I think it's in Massachusetts," Bill replied. "Anyway, point is, I don't want to lose my guns."


"American Airlines Flight 261 to Atlanta, Georgia is now boarding at Gate 12..."


"That's your flight isn't it?" Ralph asked.


"Yeah...." Bill looked around the airport and seemed uncomfortable. He finally looked at Ralph and Pam. "This stinks. I can't even say it."


"Then don't," Ralph said. "Just say 'see you later.'" 


"Yeah," Pam added, "you'll be back, we'll see you again before you know it." She stepped to him to gave him a hug. "Good luck in Atlanta, Bill."


"Thanks, Counselor..." Bill let go of Pam and then turned to Ralph.


There was a moment's pause. Bill looked like he had something he wanted to say but the words just weren't coming.


Ralph sensed this was difficult for Bill. To be honest, it was somewhat difficult for Ralph too. To spare any further awkwardness, he put his hand out. "Good luck, Bill," he said. "Show 'em how it's done down there."


Bill grasped Ralph's hand with a firm shake. "I'm gonna give 'em hell."


"That's the spirit."


“Yeah. And Ralph…don’t forget about the suit, ok?”


Ralph nodded. “I won’t.”


Pam smiled as the boys let go of their handshake. Bill looked at her and Ralph for a moment longer. "You two take care of yourselves..."


They nodded.  “You too,” Ralph said. “Watch out for those Southern women now…”


Pam laughed.


Bill smirked. “Wiseguy.”  Another call for Bill’s flight came over the PA system. Bill tucked his leather handbag under his arm and picked up his suitcases. He nodded one last time to Ralph and Pam and then, not trusting he could hold himself together any longer, turned and started for Gate 12. Pam and Ralph watched him go and both saw as he paused halfway across the terminal to put one suitcase down and dig into the breast pocket of his field jacket. He pulled out his aviator sunglasses, put them on, and then picked up the suitcase marching onward to the terminal.



*** *** ***


Special Agent David Turco made his way through the tables of a dimly lit bar somewhere in LA and proceeded to the rear of the establishment.  There, the brown haired 42-year-old Fed found a booth occupied by a lone patron, a man in a sharp looking suit with snow-white hair and a handsome tanned face. The man looked at David cordially as David sat down across from him.


"You know I run a risk meeting you like this," David said, by passing any formal greetings.


"I know," the other man replied. "But I have a delicate request that could not be made through the usual modes of communication." He poured a drink for his guest from the bottle of brandy that was on the table.


David accepted the drink and gave a nod in thanks. "What's up?"


The man sipped his brandy and then raised his light brown eyes to David. "You have a car in your impound that once belonged to Johnny Diamante."


David paused to recall and remembered the modified grey '66 Dodge Charger. He nodded. "Yeah. An old Charger."


"I want it."


David was about to ask why, but he'd learn long ago to never question. He sighed. "You're asking for the impossible."


"You can get it done. I need it within two weeks."


"Wait a minute, wait a minute. That car was used in an attempt against a Federal agent's life. That car disappears somebody's going to be asking questions."


"The trial of which has long since been over and frankly the FBI has little reason to hang on to the evidence anymore. Isn't that true?"


"That may be true but the agent who was targeted in that case made sure that that car stays mothballed. It doesn't leave the Federal impound until he says so."


The silver haired man looked at his brandy glass. "My sources tell me that as of this morning he is no longer in LA." He raised his eyes to David. "Therefore, you should have no problems on that end."


Figuring his associate had an answer for everything David relented. "I'll see what I can do."


"Not what you can do, Turco, what you will do. I have parties interested in that car and they will pay a good price for it. You'll get a good cut yourself. You get me that car and you get it to me in two weeks. That's the deal." The man stared at David for a long, heavy moment, the light brown eyes appearing darker and cold.  "If you don't, then you and I have a problem. You more than me.”


~Chapter 3~