CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

Kurt had circled slowly around the western edge of Bad Rock, Daryl taking the east. This was something they were used to, were good at. No, were exceptional at. They had done surveillance for so long, the maneuvers were second nature to them. If they didn't want to be seen, they weren't. What they needed to see, they saw. Carla's choosing them for the original assignment had been overkill. They'd been bored up until Randy had bolted. This, tonight - knowing that the enemy was probably close, a deadly enemy at that, and that they were responsible for finding that enemy and thus keeping their people safe - this was what they lived for. This was what made their blood race and their hearts pound and made them feel alive.

Kurt found the first one. He was good, this one. Not quite good enough, but close. Kurt followed him as he moved slowly and carefully through the back streets. He was not on reconnaissance, not yet. This guy was headed somewhere specific. It took only a few moments for Kurt to see the partner, on the other side of the street. He watched the pair move confidently through the shadows. Too cocky, too sure of themselves. Not Stockwell's men. Kurt knew most of them, knew how they worked. These guys must belong to that doctor, Barish. He knew the kind of men these were, just from the way Sam had talked about Barish. He wished he dared take them out, here and now, but knew that would only give his own people away. Besides, he had a feeling he knew where they were going, and he needed to know how to get there.

Daryl had been having a very easy time of it. The streets were dark and wide, and mostly residential with plenty of cover. A few dogs, but they barked at anything and no one seemed to take any notice. It wasn't until he got close to the edge of town that he actually had to start working. He knew, almost immediately, who it was. The pattern of movement was too familiar. It worked to his advantage, knowing what they would do and when. They began to split up, moving off in different directions, looking the town over. He was torn, at first, as to which ones he should go after. Then he saw him and knew. Wherever he was going, that's where Daryl was going.

It took only a few moments for Daryl to realize that things were getting complicated. Wherever it was they were going, there were people coming from there. People that were trying to stay as invisible as they were as they moved through yards and alleys.

Daryl was like a kid at a three-ring-circus. Where to look next, what was happening where and when and by whom. One set coming, one set going, one set following - wait. Daryl almost laughed out loud. It was Kurt, following the newcomers. Everyone sticking to the shadows, moving slowly, cautiously. To the untrained, they would have been nearly invisible. A bit of a breeze rustling the leaves, an animal moving through the bushes. And yet Daryl, and he was sure Kurt, knew exactly who was who and where they were. The newcomers had not given any indication they had spotted anyone. These were warriors, not hunters. The distinction might not seem significant, but the difference was immense.

Daryl knew his people, Stockwell's people. The general paid very well, demanded much in return. The emphasis was on getting the job done, quickly, quietly, efficiently. The rewards for success were good; the penalties for failure extremely 'unpleasant'. But never severe. An almost 'corporate' attitude. Their weakness.

Kurt's quarry, however, were from a different mind-set. The ultimate warriors. Stockwell employed a similar group; rarely used, thank God, but they existed. The rewards and consequences were much greater. They were chosen with greater care, and trained much differently. They were cold, calculating, machine-like in their determination to complete the mission. Emotions were suppressed. Including 'instincts'. Their weakness.

Neither group were trained as deeply, or had an interest, in surveillance, and worked it only when necessary. Usually they would use people like Kurt and himself for that. For the set up. Once the hunters had done their job, the warriors would step in and do theirs. For Daryl, and Kurt, too, the stakes were high, the rewards low. If they failed, the mission failed. But they were not highly regarded. Bird dogs, that's the nickname they held. It didn't matter. They knew their job was vital. In this case, essential. Failure, for them, meant more than a demotion or transfer. More than disgrace and censure. Failure for them could mean dying at the hands of these warriors. So they used their training, their experience, their instincts - and they were damn good at it. To these other agents, they were shadows, seen but not seen, heard but not heard. To Daryl and Kurt, the other agents might as well have been elephants tromping through an open field.

Daryl watched as Kurt slowly increased the distance between himself and his targets. Apparently heíd seen what he needed to. Undoubtedly, Able 17 was heading wherever Kurtís people had already been, but Daryl never left anything to chance. He also needed to see how Able 17 handled the recon of this place. It would tell him a great deal of the other manís strategy. There would be time enough to compare notes when they met with Randy. Time enough because it was clear they would not be coming into Bad Rock tonight. Maybe not at all.

Almost an hour later, Daryl broke off his own surveillance and started maneuvering his way back to their van. The adrenaline rush was still there, but slowing. The excitement was over. Now came the necessary, but fatiguing part. Planning out their own strategy, how they would proceed, what were the contingency plans. All the things Daryl found boring as hell.

He was moving silently down the street when he saw him. Just a glimpse as the man worked the side door and slipped into the sheriff's office across the street. Had it not been for the silver hair peeking out from under the cap, he might have missed him completely.

Add one more to the list. One more, who apparently was not afraid of letting the sheriff know he was there. And that meant trouble.


*****

BA turned off the engine and let the black van roll to a silent stop in a small copse of trees. They had traveled a little used road to the back of Maggie's property. It was actually more of a trail, and it had taken all of BA's patience to drive his precious van through with nothing more to guide him than Murdock and Frankie, groping their way among the trees.

Hannibal had figured that at least Stockwell's Ables would be here already. They would have had access to information at the hospital that the team obviously didn't. And they definitely would have flown here. The team had considered flying, briefly, but Hannibal had decided that, BA aside, he wanted the van with its supplies ready at hand. He also had great confidence in Face's ability to stay one step ahead of damn near anyone.

The only people he was really worried about - and he admitted to himself, he was definitely worried - were these new guys. He had no idea who they were, why they wanted Face so badly, or what they intended to do to him if they found him. Remembering Maggie's warnings about the threat to Face, he figured they didn't intend any good for his lieutenant.

The team didn't go immediately to Maggie's house. Hannibal knew it was either under surveillance or possibly surrounded, already. They would have to take their time, and be sure of the situation they were walking into before making that first move. Plus, Hannibal intended to reach Hank. It may only mean two or three additional men, if that, but Hannibal wanted as many people on his side as he could muster. And having the local sheriff visible could possibly forestall any unpleasantness. He wasn't naive, however. If this was the kind of operation he assumed it was, a couple of dead deputies would mean very little to these people.

He left Frankie with the van, with instructions to stay out of sight in the brush, away from the van. He'd rather lose the van than another man. If anyone did come around, he was to give an owl hoot, so the rest of the team would be warned.

"No heroics, Frankie. I mean it." Hannibal could scowl as well as BA when he wanted to, and Frankie acknowledged the order.

Murdock and BA left to check out Maggie's. They would scout around, see if anyone was there, and then sit tight in the positions Hannibal gave them until he returned. Hannibal made his way to Hank's office. It gave him an opportunity to check out the town, as well. He noted a couple of people wandering the streets that probably shouldn't have been. He couldn't tell who they were, but it was obvious they didn't want to be seen. Hannibal was, thankfully, experienced enough with guerilla warfare to spot them anyway. He thought briefly about taking one of them back to the van for questioning, but decided, for once, to forego that. The immediate need was to let Hank know what was probably going to happen in his town, and hopefully get some help.

He slipped quietly down the sidewalk to the office, and over to the side door. It took only a few moments to open the lock and slip in. He thought he caught some movement across the street, but a quick glance showed nothing. He closed the door quietly behind him, and moved to the spare room, where Hank or the deputy on duty would catch a nap during the night. He was lucky; Hank himself was stretched out on the cot. Hannibal crept up, and placed his hand over the sheriff's mouth. Hank immediately woke and stared up at his 'attacker'.

"Shhh, Hank. Just me. The proverbial bad penny. And I've got some bad news..."