CHAPTER NINE

Warning: Description of severe injury

Hannibal had explained to Murdock what needed to be done, but the pilot stood for a moment, looking at Face, the trap, BA, then Hannibal.

"No, I need to hold him up, Colonel. I'm taller than you. I'll have to bend over a little at first, but when we pull his leg out, I can straighten up and bring him up further than you could. It'll be easier that way, believe me."

"Can you hold him, Murdock? Even when I pull it out of there?"

"I will."

Hannibal didn't waste any more time discussing it. He figured Face had been in that trap for well over thirty minutes already. Time was running out. He nodded at the others.

"You pull it out and then you gotta get outta the way quick. That thing's gonna move some when I let go." BA frowned, still studying the trap.

"Okay. Murdock?"

The pilot nodded and he and Hannibal gently took Face under the arms. As BA slowly tipped the trap, they gradually adjusted until Murdock had Face's arm draped over his shoulders. They all kept their eyes glued to the trap, making sure the leg didn't get out of line. Slowly they got Face upright, Murdock firmly holding on. Finally, BA was ready to force the trap open. He looked at Hannibal.

Hannibal took a deep breath. He squatted down and with one hand, got a firm grasp on Face's leg just above and behind the knee, and got ready to grab the lower leg as soon as the jaws were far enough apart.

"Move straight back when I get it out, Murdock. Fast, but not too fast." He didn't look up to see Murdock's nod; he took it on faith that Murdock would move as directed, making sure he and Hannibal moved in sync. "Okay, BA."

BA got down on his knees, flexing his arms. He took several deep breaths before placing his hands on the arms on either side of the jaws. He glanced at Hannibal, then Murdock. They both nodded, ready. Taking one more deep breath, BA started pushing down on the rusty metal.

At first, there was no movement at all. BA took another deep breath and pushed down harder. There was a groan from the metal, and it jerked a fraction of an inch. Encouraged, BA kept pushing. Slowly the side arms moved downward and the jaws started to part.

Hannibal watched in horrified fascination as metal slowly pulled away from flesh and bone. He knew, if he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget that sound. For the first time, he realized what he was about to do - deliberately put his arm into that monster. He took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the upper leg.

BA pushed down further. The jaws seemed to be stuck. Sweat was running down his face. Damn! He was wearing down fast, but he didn't dare let up. If he let those jaws close again, not only would it cause more damage, but he honestly didn't think he'd be able get them open again. And if he couldn't open it enough to get Face's leg out...

Where it came from, BA would never know. But he pushed down with every ounce of strength he had in him. The jaws suddenly swung open, Hannibal reached down and grabbed Face's shin and pulled back. Suddenly Murdock, Hannibal and Face were careening back, their retreat barely controlled. BA waited a split second longer, letting them get clear, before he let go of the trap and threw himself backward, landing on his back in the mud. The monster trap sprang into the air, the jaws ringing as they snapped shut, and it thudded onto the ground, silent. BA was close enough to see bits of flesh still stuck to it. He felt the bile rise in his throat. Quickly, he looked over at the others.

Murdock was sitting on the ground, Face cradled protectively in his arms. Hannibal still had hold of his leg, blood spilling freely over his hands. He looked back at BA, pale and sweating, nodding toward the first aid kit.

BA struggled to his feet. They had a long ways to go yet.


*****

Spiro was working at his bindings with almost desperate effort. He didn't hold out any hopes for Smith's man. He'd seen what those old traps did to animals; he shuddered to think what it would do to a man. He figured they had maybe a half-hour yet and then Smith would be back, ready for blood. Their blood. And he didn't intend to be here if he could help it. The problem was, of course, that they had been tied with something close to maliciousness. It was hard to loosen ropes tied so tightly the blood was nearly cut off.

He looked over at his men. They were all struggling to get free, but none seemed to be having any more success than he was. Shit. Dead meat. He could see it coming.

Abruptly his men stopped struggling. He looked up and saw the black guy, BA, running back into camp. Without a word or glance, he strode to one of the tents and pulled it down. Bundling it up with the poles, he hurried back toward the streambed. Spiro watched as he tossed it all carefully over the edge and climbed down after it.

He looked after him thoughtfully. They must have gotten the guy out. That meant a reprieve, of sorts. Spiro began to have hope. The longer they kept him alive, the longer Spiro and his men had to find a way to escape. And with Smith one man down - hell, having a badly injured man to take care of - it would make it that much easier.

Spiro allowed himself a small smile. They'd see who got a taste of their own medicine...


*****

Hannibal had quickly cut the pant leg away. There were two ragged wounds on either side of the leg, almost encircling it. The blood was flowing out, not too fast, but steadily. He started rummaging in the kit.

"BA, bring one of the tents - just rip it down. We'll need it for a splint." BA immediately started up the bank.

Hannibal moved into automatic. It was the only way he could do this, the tedious and meticulous task of cleaning the debris from the wound. Bits of pant leg were stuck here and there, and there were actually flakes of rust caught inside. He refused to think of Face. This was just another wounded soldier in the field. Fighting the bleeding to see, he carefully worked the tweezers; small bits of skin that would die anyway he cut away. By the time BA returned, he was almost finished. He quickly opened a bottle of iodine and poured it over the injuries.

Holding the flesh together, he grabbed gauze pads and placed them over the ravaged areas. As soon as he had them in place, he motioned to Murdock and the two of them started applying direct pressure. As the blood soaked through, BA handed them more gauze to cover it. When that, too, was soaked through, it was replaced. They went through three more changes before the flow finally trickled to a halt.

Murdock sat back, and immediately checked Face's vitals again. So far, so good. The pilot was looking pretty shaken, and Hannibal was glad he could take a break. Not allowing himself to relax, he bound the wound firmly with several bands of the gauze.

He still wasn't done. With Murdock keeping a close watch on Face, he carefully removed the boot and sock, checking the toes for color and temperature. Good. So far, no problem with circulation. So far...

"Okay, BA, we can splint it as is. We'll need two of the tent poles, long enough to go from ankle to just above his knee." BA nodded. He knew how to do this part. He was just thankful they didn't have to realign the bone; he knew who would've had the job of pulling the leg straight and, feeling a bit ashamed, he realized he just didn't want to do it. Not now.

They worked quickly. This part, at least, was a routine they had done many times over in Nam. The only tricky part was arranging the padding, leaving enough room between the splints so they would be able to check the bandaged areas. Carefully they moved the injured man onto his side, Murdock's jacket under his head. A shot of antibiotics, a final check of his vitals, and they were finished.

The three men sat, silent. It had been a long time since they had gone through anything like this. No, they had never gone through anything like this, not with one of their own. They looked at each other, bloody, sweaty, exhausted, and suddenly Hannibal grinned at the other two. For a moment, BA and Murdock looked stunned. And then they realized - they had done it. Face hadn't lost his leg. He was alive. They had done it. At least for now. And 'now' was all that mattered.