CHAPTER FORTY

Kurt looked apprehensively at the small farmhouse as they drove slowly down the single lane drive. He knew damn well Randy didn't know anyone around here, so why was he going here? He glanced at Daryl, who was also looking around the farmyard. The look on his face told Kurt they were thinking along the same lines.

"Randy, what's going on? Why are we here?"

"Sam needs a place to rest, we need a place to hide. This will do just fine."

"Do you know these people?" Daryl spoke up from the back seat, where he was dividing his attention between the farm, Randy, and Sam.

"How the hell would I know them? Look, guys, if we stay in this van, out in the open, we're sitting ducks. I'm not going to chance it. So these people will have some unexpected guests for a bit - big deal. As long as no one causes a problem, no one gets hurt." Randy cast a quick glance at Kurt, then Daryl. "Understood?"

"Yeah." Yeah, they understood very well.

Killing the engine, Randy pulled up some distance from the house. The house was dark except for a dim light showing through the curtains at the side.

"Okay. Kurt, you check around back for a door. Daryl, you take the other side there, make sure it's secure. I'll knock at the door. When they open up, I'll go in; you two follow. I'll keep whoever answers the door occupied; Daryl, you check the rest of the downstairs; Kurt, you go upstairs. Remember, this is an isolated area - watch out for heroes. Get anyone you find downstairs. Once we've got them secured, we'll bring Sam in. Got it?"

"Randy, why the commando tactics? Maybe if we just ask for help..."

"Then maybe they'll let four strange men into their home in the middle of the night? Sure, that's going to happen. Just do what you're told. No problems, remember?"

For a moment, Kurt was sorely tempted to take Randy down. He was getting out of control. It was one thing to deal with a crooked mechanic, quite another to terrorize an innocent family. But then he looked at Randy, who was staring right back at him. There was something in his eyes that told Kurt it would be folly to try anything. Kurt knew that if he did get the advantage over Randy, he would only try to contain the man. But if Randy ever got the upper hand, Kurt would be dead. Probably Daryl, too. And then what would happen to that family inside the house? And quite frankly, even with Daryl helping, he knew their combat skills were far from honed. If they tried anything, someone would end up dead.

"All right, Randy. But so help me God, if any of these people get hurt..."

"Yeah, gotcha, Kurt." There was little acquiescence in Randy's voice, more disdain. But at least the warning was there. If Randy really didn't want any problems, he would have to consider Kurt's words.

The three men stepped quietly out of the van and moved hurriedly toward the house. When Kurt and Daryl were in place, Randy stepped to the door, Sam's gun held behind him. His knock was answered by a middle-aged man in his stocking-feet, shotgun in hand.

"Hi, there." Randy flashed a dazzling smile. "I wonder if I might have a word with you..." he pulled his gun swiftly to the front, pointing it directly in the man's face, "...inside..."


*****

The sun was still just a suggestion below the horizon when Hannibal crept up to the back door of Maggie's house. BA and Murdock had assured him that, although they had seen some signs of activity around the house throughout the night, no one was watching it right now. Apparently Face's pursuers assumed he would not make an attempt at contact during the day. Proved one thing - they definitely didn't know Face.

Despite reassurances to the contrary, Hannibal still kept a close eye on the perimeter. He waited by the garage for several moments before venturing across the short expanse of yard to the back door. He didn't bother knocking, but rather clumsily picked the lock and stepped quietly in. Face had tried and tried to show him the finer points of lock-picking, but he'd never really gotten it. Why bother, when Face was so good at it? Something he would rectify when he had Face back with them. They would all start learning a few things from each other. Long overdue...

Bringing his thoughts back to the matter at hand, he stepped through the kitchen and headed for Maggie's bedroom. He remembered the creak on that one step, and stretched over it to the next. He knew the door tended to stick a little, too, so he gave it a firm but controlled push when he opened it. Thank God Maggie was a heavy sleeper. She kept the phone by the bed, the ringer at high for just that reason. He remembered that all too well.

He bent swiftly over the bed, his hand going firmly but gently over Maggie's mouth. Her eyes slammed open, staring wildly at the man standing over her. Seconds later she relaxed; damn, she started crying, softly.

"Hey, Maggie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you that bad."

"Scared? Oh, John, you can be so dumb sometimes..."


*****

BA and Murdock were waiting at the edge of the property, waiting for Hannibal's signal. Once that came, BA would go back and get Frankie and the van, while Murdock went ahead to the house. The van would be hidden in an old shed and the team would be safely ensconced in the house to await Face. BA was getting impatient when Hannibal didn't signal right away.

"BA, c'mon, big guy. He and Maggie haven't seen each other in months, remember?" Murdock winked at BA suggestively.

"Shut up, fool! Don't wanna hear 'bout it." BA scowled, but Murdock caught that little twinkle in his eye. BA wasn't as priggish as he liked the team to think. Murdock grinned as BA settled down to wait. BA just scowled even harder at him.

It was maybe 10 minutes later that Hannibal finally raised the shade of the upper story window. All clear. BA grunted and headed back toward the van without another word. Murdock scampered quickly across the clearing and through the back door. It wasn't until he had shut the door firmly behind him that he relaxed, realizing only then how tense he had been for the last few days. Now he was somewhere familiar, somewhere relatively safe. Once BA and Frankie were just as safely in the house he would feel much better. But only when he had Face within arm's reach would he feel truly whole. Then the team would be one again.

He was startled out of his reverie by the arrival of Hannibal and Maggie. Maggie looked flushed and happy, even though it was tinged with apprehension. Hannibal had obviously told her why they were here, and about the other men who had been watching her house.

"Hello, Murdock. It's so good to see you again, even under these circumstances." She gave him a big hug.

"Thanks, Maggie. It's good to be back. Hopefully we'll all be home soon."

BA and Frankie arrived a few minutes later. BA also received a big hug, which embarrassed him to no end, although he appreciated it. Maggie hesitated a moment before giving Frankie a hug, also.

"It's nice to meet you, Frankie. Hannibal told me how you helped save their lives. I'm very grateful to you for that."

Frankie blushed, almost as embarrassed as BA had been a moment before. "Hey, doc, I'd do it again in a minute."

Maggie quickly made coffee, while Hannibal and Murdock started breakfast. They talked as they worked and ate, bringing Maggie up to date on what they knew, while she filled in some of the blanks from her experiences. Maggie had mixed feelings about the possibility of Face showing up. On the one hand, she would be so relieved to know he was safely back with the team; on the other, she worried about these other men and how far they would go in order to recapture him. She half-listened to the men as they started discussing various scenarios, and what they could possibly do to gain and maintain control of the situation. It dawned on her suddenly how really vulnerable they all were.

She and the team were essentially prisoners in her house. While she would be free to come and go, there was no doubt she would be followed wherever she went. Even if Hank's added rounds put a damper on the activity, there was no way he could keep them at bay for long. When Face showed up, it would mean the battlefield would be her house. They would have the element of surprise on their side, but only for the initial onslaught. After that, they would be fighting cornered. No where to run, no back door.

"Everything depends on Face." Hannibal lit a cigar, sitting back in his chair and sighing in frustration. "If he realizes the place is being watched, which I have no doubt he will, he may decide to try and sneak in anyway. If he's healthy, I have no doubt he can do it. If he's not...I don't know. He might decide not to come in at all. That would be safer for him, safer for us, and definitely safer for Maggie. But it would also mean we'd be back to square one as far as finding him. Damn.

"Well, all we can do is prepare for the first choice. Make damn sure we're as fortified as we can be. Try and figure out an escape plan, one that keeps Maggie safe as well."

Their thoughts were interrupted by Maggie's phone. Frowning, she hurried to answer it. It was still early, which probably meant some kind of emergency.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Dr. Sullivan. Jack Potter here. Say, Emily's come down with something, feeling real bad, having a hard time breathing. I hate to ask you, but d'you suppose you could come out and take a look at her? I'd bring her in but the car's not too reliable lately..."

"Oh, Jack, um, yeah, I think I could do that. I can be there in 15, 20 minutes."

"Okay, doc. Thanks a lot."

Maggie hung up the phone and headed back to the kitchen. She quickly explained what had happened. Hannibal wasn't happy about it, not liking her going out by herself but there was little he could do other than admonish her to be careful and watch her back.

Maggie hurried to her car and carefully drove away, watching for any strange cars. As far as she could tell, no one followed out into the countryside.


*****

Jack Potter hung up the phone, letting out a long breath.

"She's on her way, maybe 15 minutes."

Randy smiled.


*****

Hannibal stared out of the window, watching the sun slowly rising above the tree line. He was worried about Maggie. He knew she often made house calls. She was in the midst of farms and ranches; necessity didn't always allow people time off to run to the doctor's office. But under the circumstances, he looked at everything with suspicion. Not that there was anything he could do about this; not directly. But he could do something.

"Sheriff's office, Hank here."

"Hank, this is Hannibal. Listen, do you know a Jack Potter?"

Hank sighed. It was too damn early in the morning to be dealing with Smith. Especially after last night. "Yeah, Smith, I know him. Why?

"He called Maggie this morning. She went out there on a house call. I was wondering if you could take a quick run over there, just check things out."

Hank was skeptical. "You think it's a setup? I can't believe Jack would have anything to do with these guys, Smith. He's lived here longer than Maggie or me. And why get her out there? They'd want Maggie where Peck could find her."

"I know, it's probably nothing, but, still..."

"Okay, Smith. I'll run out there. How long ago did she leave?"

"Maybe 15 minutes. I gather she should be arriving there right about now."

"Yeah, she should. I'll call you, let you know what I find out."

"Thanks, Hank." Hannibal hung up the phone, looking up to see BA, Murdock, and Frankie all looking at him curiously. He shrugged. "Just a precaution, guys. Can't hurt."

No one said a word, but BA's scowl and Murdock's rolled eyes told him they weren't buying it.


*****

Maggie pulled up to the ramshackle farmhouse. Strange, Jack hadn't come out to the porch. As often as she'd been out here, professionally and personally, Jack always met her on the porch and showed her the way in. Just the way he was. Emily must be worse than Jack had let on. She hurried up to the door, not noticing that the dog wasn't barking at her heels. She knocked firmly on the door.

A man she didn't know answered. Her immediate reaction was alarm; she had the sudden urge to turn and run for her car. Then she saw the gun. Pointed, not at her, but just to her side. She looked at the man's face closely. He smiled at her, almost apologetically, through the screen door.

"Dr. Sullivan? Please don't be alarmed. We don't want to hurt you. But we need a doctor, and things are a little, well, unsettled in town right now." He opened the screen door with his free hand, almost inviting rather than demanding that she enter. Again he smiled. "I promise, Doctor, you help us out and you can go. No one's going to get hurt."

Reluctantly she stepped past him into the entryway. She looked questioningly at him and he pointed up the stairs. He followed behind, close, but not too close. At the top of the stairs, she again looked at him and he pointed to a door to the right. She moved toward it, the man staying at the top of the steps this time. She knocked softly, not wanting to startle whoever might be on the other side. A muffled voice told her to enter. She pushed the door slowly open.

A man stood by the window, holding a gun. An insolent smile was on his face, eyes cold as ice. Another man lay on the bed, obviously desperately ill, from the flushed face and restless movements. She stared from one to the other, speechless. When she finally found her voice, she could only utter one word.

"Face...?"