CHAPTER TWO

"Benford wasn't kidding about it being wild country, Hannibal. Once we get to, uh, Fort Babine, there is no way to get where we're going, other than flying, horseback, or walking. Hell, Hannibal, even if we fly in, it'll take a day's hike just to get close to where these guys are operating."

"That a problem for you, Face?" Hannibal looked at his XO, recognizing the familiar grumble in the voice. While he always appreciated Face bringing up the practicalities of their missions, he also knew that anything involving drudgery or strenuous exercise was like poison to the younger man. Hannibal usually found it amusing. "You know, after we catch these guys, we should stay up there for a few days. Sounds like a great way to brush up on our survival skills, not to mention general training." His eyes glittered as he waited for the inevitable reaction.

"Aww, Hannibal..."

The colonel chuckled as he sauntered away from the desk, scattered with maps and lists that Face had been working on. Despite the complaints, Hannibal always felt confident that Face would look at every detail in planning their trips and make sure they had the equipment and supplies necessary. He never worried when Face was "doing his thing". But he liked to keep him on his toes.

He stood at the window of the apartment, watching BA work on the van. If they drove straight through, it was almost a thirty-four-hour drive to Fort Babine. BA was making sure the van was ready. Not that he really had to check it. The van was kept at peak performance, always. BA seemed to believe that what didn't need to be fixed, needed to be tweaked. Again, Hannibal had a feeling of total confidence in his sergeant. He almost felt bad about the syringe sitting in his bag, but there was no way they were riding in a van for thirty-four hours.

He moved away from the window and into the kitchen, grabbing a Heineken from the refrigerator. Murdock was bouncing around the stove to some unknown song, getting a large roast ready to toss in the oven. A battered Mountie's hat had replaced his customary baseball cap. Where the pilot found his 'props', Hannibal was never sure. But then, when it came to Murdock, Hannibal was rarely sure anyway. The only thing he always knew was, put that man in a cockpit and he was pure, solid gold.

Hannibal had two worries with Murdock on this particular trip. For one thing, Murdock was a pilot, not a soldier. He'd never received the intensive survival training the rest of them had, and, even in Nam, had not had a need for it. Not that Murdock was a babe in the woods. He had had the standard survival training in case he went down, and had no problem when training with the team, but Hannibal had never felt quite the confidence in Murdock as he had in BA or Face. It was a little thing, really. Just something to keep in mind.

The other worry was the plane. They would have to use a floatplane due to the terrain, and he knew Murdock had never flown one.

"Uh, Murdock, about the plane. You know anything about floatplanes? Like, landing on water?"

"Not to worry, Colonel. A Mountie is always prepared. I have studied the literature and I am, in said Mountie preparedness, prepared. I'll have us sitting on that lake like a silver swan..."

"Uh, I think it's the Boy Scouts that are always prepared."

"Same idea. Different uniform." Murdock grinned at him before returning to the roast.

"Uh, right, Murdock." Hannibal watched him for another moment before heading back to the living room. Sometimes you just had to go on faith...


*****

"Murdock?"

"Yeah, Face?"

"We're not slowing down, Murdock...the shore is getting pretty close, Murdock..."

"I see that, mon ami. Just a slight mis...cal...culation..."


*****

"Everyone all right?" Hannibal looked over at BA. He was still sleeping peacefully, not bothered a bit that his seat was tilting forward at a nearly 45 degree angle.

"Face? Murdock?"

"We're okay, Hannibal." Face's voice was very much aggrieved but steady.

"Just a mite discombobulated, Colonel."

"All right, let's get the gear out of here. We've got a long way to go yet."

It took some time for the men to extricate themselves and their supplies from the plane, which sat, tail pointing toward the eastern sky, nose buried deep in the reddish soil. Once Hannibal and Face had maneuvered BA out of his seat and onto the ground, they joined Murdock at the front of the plane. He was sadly looking at the bent prop, murmuring soft apologies to the aircraft.

"Well, Captain? What happened?"

"Sorry, mon Colonel. I failed to adequately adjust for that one little difference between floatplanes and regular planes."

"And that would be?"

"No brakes."

"Ah. Yeah, that would explain things." Hannibal looked at the damaged prop. "I don't suppose there's any way of fixing that?"

"No, that's not likely, Hannibal. Even if we could fix it, that nosedive into the ground created some functional irregularities in the engine compartment - a compacting of components, if you get my drift."

"Hmm." Hannibal sighed. He could get angry at the pilot, but there was really no point in that now. Besides which, he'd known Murdock had never flown one of these things before and put him in the cockpit anyway. You don't blame the soldier for a command decision. "Well, okay, let's get BA out of here before he wakes up and sees..."

"Hannibal! That's a plane! You put me on a plane! A plane that crashed! I crashed in a plane!..."


*****

Hannibal checked their map one more time. He liked to keep a close eye on where they were supposed to be when in strange areas. They were slowly moving toward the last place evidence of the poachers had been found, still a good ten miles. At the rate they were moving, over rough terrain with full packs, it would take them at least five or six hours. Well, Benford had warned them.

"Okay, Face, you take point. And remember what Benford said about the traps." Face looked at him with some annoyance. Hannibal grinned back.

Their client had been full of warnings specific to the area they were moving through, not the least of which were the bears they were trying to protect. He'd also warned them about bear traps - huge ugly leghold traps that could snap a man's limb - left by trappers, both legal and illegal. Hannibal finally had to remind Benford that they were, after all, Viet Nam vets and knew how to look out for hazards.

He watched as Face shouldered his pack and headed out. BA followed a few yards behind, with Murdock between him and Hannibal. BA was silent, as usual, conserving his energy for the long hike ahead of them. Murdock, Mountie hat perched severely on his head in contrast to the fatigues he and the others wore, was instructing him on the history and traditions of the RCMP.

Hannibal grinned. He figured they'd have the poachers taken care of in two to three days. And then he planned on a few days R&R up here. It was indeed wild and beautiful.