CHAPTER FIVE

September, 1969

Lin watched carefully out of the corner of his eye as Lieutenant Angel picked the small berries. He knew the lieutenant was not happy about this detail, but he could hardly refuse. General Chow may have uses for him, but he was still an American, and the general was unhappy Angel hadn't yet 'converted' the other American. When Lin had indicated he could use some help with the cooking, Tommy Angel had been sitting indolently a few feet away. Now the two of them were scouring the jungle just outside the camp. Lin had pointed out a certain plant whose berries, when mashed up, were a tasty addition to otherwise bland food.

Lin didn't mention that the plant he'd pointed out was actually a cousin to the tasty one, though looking very much like it. Nor that once picked, the berries were indistinguishable from each other. And these berries had a very different effect.

Angel straightened up, and made a futile attempt to wipe the mud from his clothes. "Haven't we got enough of these things yet, Lin?"

Lin looked over, doing a quick calculation. "Almost, Lieutenant."

Angel sighed and bent back to his picking. Lin smiled bitterly. He would make sure the lieutenant didn't slack off. He had to have enough of the berries.


*****

"You sure you want to go through with this?"

"Yes, Murdock. I was worried, at first, but now when I see how Lieutenant Angel is treated, and how the General...I cannot stand by now."

"What about you?"

"I will eat the same food, and suffer the same effects. That's why it will not kill them." He chuckled softly. "It may not be so pleasant for Lieutenant Angel. He will be blamed for picking the wrong berries."

Murdock smiled tiredly. "I wish you'd come with us, Lin."

Lin shook his head. "No, I still have family here. It would be dangerous for them." He stood and looked around. "There are four others. On the far side of the camp. I did not give them spoons, as I don't know them, but your colonel should know. It will go hard on them, if they are left behind."

Murdock nodded. "Understood."

"I must go now, before I'm missed. I will not talk to you again. Good luck."

Murdock watched as Lin made his way back across the compound, waiting until he was out of sight. Smiling nervously, he began his daily concert.

"When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!..."


*****

Hannibal had, as usual, been studiously ignoring Murdock and Lin. He pretended to be asleep, watching through not quite closed lids, as another guard passed a few yards away. He caught a glimpse of Lin heading in the opposite direction and moments later, Murdock burst into song.

He smiled.

Whatever Lin had planned as a diversion was on schedule. He didn't know what it was; none of them did. Lin told Murdock only what he had to know, and Murdock passed it on to Hannibal when he was allowed to check Murdock's injuries. The only thing Hannibal knew was that Lin's diversion would be "obvious", and it should allow the men time to escape.

After that...

Hannibal sighed. The others knew even less than he did. Only that something would happen tonight, and it would allow them to make their break.

If Lin was to be trusted.

Hannibal pushed that sudden thought aside. They had no choice but to trust him. And he'd given them no reason not to.

Other than he'd first connected with them through Peck.

Sighing, he tried to drop his suspicions in that direction. Tried. Failed.

He was willing to give Peck the benefit of the doubt when it came to that botched escape. Murdock couldn't say for sure how the lieutenant had fallen - whether it was deliberate or just a badly timed slip in the mud. Wiley was sure, though, and he wouldn't lie about something like that. Then again, Wiley hadn't liked Peck from the beginning.

Hannibal had always been able to rely on Wiley's judgment; it had saved him many a headache. If Wiley had known the full details about the deal with Peck, maybe he would've, well, maybe not trusted him more, but been less guarded about him. Maybe that dislike had colored his perception of what had happened. Peck had screwed up his knee in the fall, after all.

Of course, that could've happened, planned fall or not.

But then Chow had come, and Tommy Angel. Hannibal couldn't ignore what happened after that. No one could ignore the very obvious fact that Peck had never been interrogated by the general. And Hannibal, himself, had seen Angel talking with him on more than one occasion as Hannibal had been dragged back from a session.

Then again, no matter how silver-tongued Peck might be, he would have no choice in how he was treated. And other than the interrogations, he was still treated the same as all the others. Worse, actually. No one had been allowed to check his injury. Lin was quite worried about that, apparently. Afraid they would leave the lieutenant behind if he couldn't walk.

Hannibal's jaw tightened. There was only one traitor they'd be leaving behind.


*****

Wiley was doing sit-ups. It hurt his back, going up and down on the bamboo bottom of the cage. It was harder now, because of the bruises, but he ignored that, just as he always did. They had all done whatever exercising they could in the small confines; not only did it keep their muscles from wasting away, but it gave them something to do. The guards didn't like it, and now and again would give them a wallop with their rifle butts, but it didn't stop them.

He finished his fifty just as Murdock's song echoed through the camp. He smiled, though he knew the guards would soon put a stop to it. But not before he'd managed to let them know at least a little of what was happening. It had taken him a moment to realize what Murdock was singing this time, but when he did, he smiled even more.

Tonight for sure.

He looked for BA and Ray, but instead, his glance caught on Peck. Surely he had heard the song, understood the meaning. But he hadn't moved.

Wiley frowned.

Was he too sick? Wiley dismissed that. Peck was probably the healthiest of them all, except for his leg. So why wasn't he reacting? Something to show he was prepared.

Or maybe he was prepared. Maybe he knew something the others didn't. Something that traitor, Angel, had told him.

Wiley leaned back against the bars.

Maybe Chow was also prepared...


*****

Ray was watching the camp activities carefully. All afternoon the gooks had been busy. It had taken him a while to figure it out. Stupid. These weren't just guards; that was only an additional duty. These were soldiers, fighting a war.

Now the question was if the whole camp would be moving again.

He'd heard Murdock's signal as well as the others. But what if something had changed? There was no way to let everyone know the moment something happened. Then again, though they were hurrying, there was no excitement to it.

His fingers idly rubbed the mud where his spoon was hidden. This was a planned outing, then. Something they'd known about in advance. Something Lin had known about.

Ray looked across the camp, where the kitchen was set up. Lin was busy, making up packets of food. Probably for the ones going out on the mission. From the looks of it, that would be a good share of them. Only a few left behind. Wouldn't need many; they only had ten prisoners, and none of them were in great shape. Then again, with so many soldiers gone, the ones left were going to be extra cautious.

He hoped that Lin and Hannibal knew what they were doing.


*****

The troops were moving out now, disappearing into the jungle. In a couple more hours it would be totally dark. BA had noticed how much they were packing and figured these guys would be traveling some distance; probably join up with another bunch and go play hell wherever they found some Americans.

BA was of two minds about that. He was glad these guys were leaving, but if he was right, it meant there weren't any Americans close by. And that meant a bigger chance of getting caught before the team could find any friendlies.

BA looked around him, disgustedly. He didn't care what was out there. As long as they were out of here.

He turned his attention to the remaining guards. They'd split into two groups, one maintaining a close watch on the prisoners, the other moving toward the kitchen. Whatever they were getting to eat, it smelled damn good. He looked at the empty bowl outside his cage. Sure as hell wasn't what the prisoners had gotten. Then again, he guessed they were lucky they'd gotten anything today. Lots of days they didn't. That would change, too. Wiley was one good hunter, knew a lot more than even the SF had taught them. Ray was no slouch, either. Yeah, they'd eat pretty good after they got out of here. Rain or no rain.

He looked over at Ray, who nodded. Wiley, the same. He couldn't see Hannibal or Murdock, and those four other guys who'd come in with the general didn't know what was going down yet. He checked out Peck. Funny. He'd been moving around that morning, trying to do something with that leg again, but he hadn't moved all afternoon. Looked like he hadn't even eaten. Well, he'd better wake up and smell the coffee pretty damn soon. They had to be ready whenever...

BA looked closer.

Damn...


*****

Hannibal was quickly sawing away at the rope holding his door closed. The rope was wet, which made it harder to cut through, but he was getting there. He glanced over at Murdock; he was sawing more slowly, in deference to his ribs, but he was making progress.

Even though he was pretty sure all of the guards in camp had succumbed to Lin's magic, he still kept glancing about. One or more of them may not have eaten enough of whatever it was Lin had given them. But it seemed the entire camp was down for the count. How long was another question.

Finally, the last strands of rope snapped and Hannibal pushed the door open, climbing stiffly out. No matter how much they'd tried to keep limber, almost two months of being almost continuously in these cages made it hard to get moving. But they'd loosen up once they got everyone free and headed out of this hell hole.

A noise behind made him jump, only to realize it was Murdock finishing up. Hannibal hurried over to help him out. Slowly the two men skirted the hut that had separated them from the others. He had Murdock sit on the steps while he went to check on the others, grabbing a flashlight and rifle from one of the drugged guards.

He found Wiley helping Ray cut the ropes on the cages that held the other four prisoners. Hannibal didn't think he would ever forget the look on their faces. Disbelief, fear...hope. He helped them, one by one, over to the hut where Murdock waited. They were much thinner than his team, but then, they'd been with Chow the whole time.

"You guys gonna be able to keep up, or you need help?"

"Don't worry about us, man. Point us east and we're gone."

Hannibal chuckled. "Well, just don't get too gung ho on me, okay? We don't want any mistakes that put us right back here."

"Got it, sir."

Hannibal nodded and looked around. Ray and Wiley were gathering up more weapons and flashlights from the downed guards. Hannibal sent the two healthiest looking of the new guys to find canteens, with instructions to empty them thoroughly. They'd fill them up again with fresh water from the river a mile or so back. Murdock had told him Lin had doctored the food, but he wasn't taking any chances.

He took one last look around. The weapons being gathered, canteens and any medicines pilfered.

Now he just had to find BA and Peck.


*****

He heard the guards dropping. Heard the garbled mutterings as they slowly slipped into unconsciousness and fell. Heard the grating sounds from around the otherwise silent camp, as the others began cutting away at their prisons.

He heard it all, but there was not a thing he could do about it.

He'd realized it early that morning. When it first dawned on him, he'd thought he could work past it. He was strong-willed, he could deal with the pain. But it wasn't the pain that defeated him. No amount of will would make that leg bend, and no amount of wishing would make it straighten. It was as if it were frozen in place, and if he couldn't move it, he couldn't reach the door.

So that was that. The others wouldn't take the time to get him out. Why would they? Besides the fact they all had him pegged as a traitor, he would only slow them down.

Knowing that, he'd called it quits. He lay back down, closed his eyes, and let his mind go back home. Even as he heard the sounds of the escape in progress, he kept the pictures in his head. He knew he'd never see it any other way again.

And the his cage began to move. Not the rough shaking of the guards, but more of a tremble. He opened his eyes and looked over his body toward the door. He couldn't believe it.

"BA? What are you...?"

BA looked down at him, and even in the dark he just knew he was being glared at.

"What d'ya think I'm doin? I'm gettin you outta there."


*****

As soon as BA saw the first signs of the guards getting drowsy, he knew it was going down. Waiting only until he knew all the guards were starting to feel the effects, he dug his fingers into the mud, pulled the spoon out and started working on his escape. A couple of guards made an attempt to aim at him, but he ignored them as their rifles slid useless out of their hands.

He was probably one of the first ones out, and he made a beeline for the lieutenant's cage, stopping only long enough to search the body of one guard, grabbing his flashlight. He'd look for the rifle later. Right now he had to get Peck freed.

As soon as he found the right rope, he dropped the flashlight and started slicing. He cut Peck's question short.

What'd the damn fool think he was gonna do, leave him?

It took him only a moment to cut through and he yanked the door practically off. Grabbing the flashlight, he pointed it at Peck.

Damn. For a guy who was usually so cold and smart-ass, he actually looked scared.

"Can you scoot outta there?"

"I don't know. I think so."

"Then get movin!"

It took two tries before BA knew the kid wasn't going anywhere on his own power. He should've realized - Peck had been practically immobile for days now.

"Problem, BA?"

He jumped, not having heard Hannibal coming up behind him. He was never so glad to see anyone in his life.

"He can't move, Hannibal. Gimme a hand."

They each got on either side of the cage, reaching between the bars and lifting Peck up enough to move him forward. It was slow going, even with Peck trying to push himself forward. Too slow; every minute they were in the camp was another minute taken from their actual escape, and they all knew it.

BA was glad it was Hannibal's call.

"BA, take his feet. Okay, kid, hang on. This is gonna be rough."

BA was impressed, despite himself. The lieutenant didn't even scream as they yanked him out. Just passed out.

Without a word, BA pulled him over his shoulder, guiltily thankful he was so thin.

Hannibal looked at the group now gathered around them and nodded.

"Let's get the hell out of here."