CHAPTER SIX

A burst of gunfire was followed by a commanding voice.

"All right, slimeballs, front and center, on the double!"

Within moments, four disheveled and wide-eyed men were standing in the center of the camp, hands raised high. Hannibal sighed. This was so easy it wasn't even fun. And then he took another look at the men. There was something familiar there.

"BA! Take a look at these guys. You know any of them?"

BA was surprised, but looked closer. Face and Murdock shared confused glances.

"What the...Hannibal, that's George Kollman...McCaleb...Deeds...and hell, Roger Innes. What the..."

"You got a great memory, Sergeant!"

The compliment came from the side, above them. Murdock and Face immediately aimed their weapons toward the treetops, searching desperately for the source.

"Tell your men to drop 'em, Colonel, or you'll be breathing out of your chest."

Hannibal knew that voice. He'd had a sinking feeling when BA started rattling off the names. That voice confirmed his misgivings.

"Long time, no see, Richie. Why am I not surprised that you'd stoop to something like this?"

"Sticks and stones, Colonel Smith. Now tell your men to drop their weapons. Last warning."

Face was already lowering his weapon. He looked at Hannibal, his expression clearly saying, it's not worth it. Hannibal nodded.

"Drop 'em, guys."

It took only minutes and Hannibal, Face, Murdock and BA were tightly tied to four separate trees surrounding the camp. Only then did Spiro show himself.

He stepped up to Hannibal, a grin spreading over his face. "Well, well. Never thought I'd run into you up here, Colonel. Things get too hot for you back in the States?"

Hannibal grinned right back. "Just on vacation, Richie. Thought we'd do a little vermin hunting while we were up here. Wish I'd known exactly what vermin we were after, though. I'd have brought rat poison."

Spiro's grin slackened somewhat, but he maintained it. "Always had a flair for words, Colonel. I liked that about you. Yeah, really too bad we had a falling out. You and I could have had a real future, if you just hadn't been so damn righteous."

"Sorry, Richie. I just can't help being disgusted by slime."

That earned Hannibal a swift and hard smack across the face. He'd expected it and immediately looked back at Spiro with a grin.

"You really need to work on that temper of yours, Richie. That always got you into trouble."

"You're the one in trouble now, Colonel. I'd remember that."

"Uh, Rick? What we gonna do with these guys?" Roger was looking just a bit worried. Spiro realized he was in shaky territory here. They'd done a lot of things since getting back together, but they hadn't killed anyone. Yet.

"Do with them? Nothing, Roger. Sun up comes, we'll pack our shit and move on, just like planned."

"Just leave them here? Tied up?"

Spiro looked directly at Hannibal. "All tied up. Nice and tight. Like a Christmas present." Suddenly grinning, he turned away and walked across the camp toward his tent. "Hit the sack, guys. Roger, you take next watch. We leave at sunup." He looked back one more time at Hannibal. "Oh, and Colonel, let's keep things quiet tonight. I'd hate to shoot my old commander."

Spiro's men checked their prisoners one last time before going back into their tents. Roger settled himself in a spot where he could see all four men.

Hannibal looked around at his men and shrugged his shoulders. It was going to be a long night.


*****

The morning sun filtered through the trees, highlighting the webs of mist that would slowly dissipate before the light disappeared in the thick branches. Hannibal opened his eyes; he'd managed several short periods of sleep, but his body was numb, cold, and his clothes damp. He looked over at this men and saw they, too, were uncomfortably greeting the morning. He thought about Richie's words of last night and wondered if he really intended to leave them alive. Probably. Four warm bodies tied to trees would certainly prove an enticement for the local carnivores. He didn't like to think about that.

There was movement from the tents as the poachers also woke to the new day. Hannibal watched them carefully. He vaguely remembered them, and was reluctantly impressed with the precision and seriousness with which they prepared for the day. Richie ran a tight ship; but then, he always had. Hannibal had never had a problem with him as far as his command over the men; it was the way he executed their orders. Richie had never given a damn about anything except completing the mission successfully. If that meant a lot of civilian casualties, or destruction of friendly villages, so be it. And he had no problem disregarding Hannibal's decisions if his way was 'more efficient'.

Richie's men, finished with their preparations, sat down, pointedly ignoring their captives, and ate breakfast. They talked softly among themselves, or at least listened as Spiro talked to them. Glancing again at his own men, Hannibal felt a bit of pride that they were, in turn, ignoring the poachers - and the smell of breakfast. He grinned to himself. His men would not forget this the next time they came across Spiro and his gang.

Finally, the moment came when the packhorses were loaded, the camp cleared away, and the poachers stood waiting as Spiro stepped over to Hannibal.

"I wish I could say it was nice seeing you again, Colonel, but unfortunately, it was more of an inconvenience."

"Well, next time I'll call first, Richie."

"I don't think I'll hold my breath for the call, Colonel. No offense, but I really do have more important things to do this morning than trade smartass barbs. Au revoir, Colonel."

"Aloha, Richie." Hannibal smiled happily at him until the men were out of sight. He looked over to BA, waiting.

BA scowled, raising his eyes to the sky. He took a couple deep breaths, and started expanding his muscles. It hurt like hell, the muscles tight and stiff from the night's inactivity, but he kept expanding and relaxing his arms until he could feel the ropes starting to stretch. He gave Hannibal a grin, and kept working the ropes. After nearly fifteen minutes, he was finally able to pull one arm loose. He pulled the rest of the ropes off, staggering for a moment as the numbness left his body.

"You okay, BA?"

"Yeah, Hannibal, but I catch up with those guys..."

It took only minutes to release the rest of the prisoners. They carefully stretched, feeling every protest from their stiff and sore bodies.

"Now what, Colonel?" Face's voice held just a bit more than a hint of reproach to it. "I take it you know these guys pretty well?"

"I know them very well, Lieutenant." He looked quickly around, getting his bearings. Things looked a lot different in the daylight. "We need to get back to camp, and hope Richie doesn't find it first. Once we get there, I'll fill you in on our friends. All right, move out."

Hannibal's tone of voice left no room for more discussion. As best they could, they double-timed it back toward their camp, hoping it would still be there when they arrived.