CHAPTER TEN

Murdock was watching Face. He still hadn't awakened, but was stirring.

"Now what, Colonel? How do we get him out of here?"

Hannibal looked up at the steep and slippery bank. He didn't want to even try taking him up that, but he didn't want to haul him all over trying to find a low spot, either.

"I got it, Hannibal." BA had been looking at the bank, also, and the surrounding trees. "You get a litter built, I got the rest." Without another word he got up and climbed up the bank.

Bemused, Hannibal watched him disappear toward the camp. He knew if BA said he could do it, he could.

Hannibal looked at the remains of the tent. They could use that for a stretcher, but it would be bulky and stiff, not a very comfortable ride over the next few days. He looked over at Murdock.

"You stay with him; I'll go see what I can find for a stretcher. You okay with that?"

Murdock was once again checking Face's pulse. "Sure, Colonel. You suppose we oughta give him a painkiller?"

"Not yet. I don't want to give him anything until he comes to."

Hannibal was a little concerned that Face hadn't awakened yet. And he didn't want to say anything more to Murdock about their medical supplies. He knew they'd brought a normally adequate supply of analgesics, but certainly not enough for this. He needed to see what kind of medical supplies Spiro had. He needed to figure out the quickest way out of this place. Needed to figure out how to deal with Spiro and his goons. He looked around him, at the total wilderness that he knew so little about, and, for perhaps the first time in his adult life, felt nearly overwhelmed.

"We'll make it, Colonel. We always do." Murdock spoke softly, but determinedly.

Hannibal looked over at him, disgusted his doubts had been that clear. Murdock looked at him with such confidence. He hoped he could live up to that honor. No, he would live up to it. He would get them all out of this alive.

He stood up, headed for the bank. "I'll go find the stuff we'll need, and when BA is ready, we'll get Face the hell out of here."

Murdock watched him go, a smile on his face.


*****

BA had double-checked the ropes on the poachers. He knew they'd been trying to work loose; he also knew how angry Hannibal had been when he tied them up, so he wasn't too concerned. He smiled to himself. Hannibal usually kept his cool, no matter what, but you sure didn't want to fool with one of the team. At that, BA's normal scowl returned. He hoped Hannibal didn't come up with some hair-brained plan to get them out of here. It was one thing when they were full-strength, but with Face all messed up like that...

He shuddered, thinking about the disaster below. And immediately put his mind back on his task. He gathered up all the rope he could find, pulling on it to test the strength. It would work. He saw Hannibal going through Richie's pack, pulling out heavy shirts. They'd be ready about the same time. Good. The sooner they got Face into camp and comfortable, the better they'd all feel.

BA went back to the bank and started slinging the rope into the branches, between two of the bigger trees. He pulled hard on them, testing the branches he'd selected. Satisfied, he tied off the rope and ran another line. When he had three tight lines running together between the trees, he headed back to the camp and returned with one of the horses.

Hannibal, in the meantime, had returned to the stream, and he and Murdock were busy buttoning the shirts around the two remaining tent poles. They hurried, as Face was getting more and more restless, starting to mumble anxiously. Finished with the makeshift litter, he looked up at BA.

"Okay, what are we doing, BA?"

"You get him on the litter, we'll tie the ropes around it and up over these ropes, and then we'll pull him up with the horse. Ain't quite a block and tackle but it's the best I could do in a hurry."

Hannibal looked at BA, then over to Murdock, grinning. "The man's a genius, Murdock, a pure genius."

"What do you expect from a Mountie, Colonel?" Murdock grinned back at Hannibal, the grin getting even bigger when he saw BA's scowl deepen.

"Ain't no Mountie, fool."

Murdock cocked his head. "No, that's right. I'm the Mountie. You must be the Moutinette!"

Hannibal chuckled as he moved the stretcher next to Face, suddenly getting serious again as he looked at his lieutenant. His eyes were starting to flutter, and his hands were twitching. The mumbling became louder, faster. Damn. He was caught between relief that Face was finally waking up, and wishing he'd waited until they had him moved.

"Hold on, BA. He's waking up."

Murdock eagerly moved over to Face's other side, waiting for those eyes to look up at him. They snapped open suddenly, wide and frightened.

"Burning! I'm burning!" The shouts were panicked, as Face sat bolt upright and started clawing at his injured leg. He grabbed at the splint, at the bandages, trying to tear them away.

Hannibal grabbed Face's hands before he could cause more damage, while Murdock grabbed him around the chest, trying to calm him down. They could both feel the terrible shaking in his body.

"Face, it's okay, you're not burning, you're not!" Murdock was practically shouting in his ear, trying to reach through the panic and pain, but Face just kept yelling and fighting.

"BA, take his hands!" BA had rushed down the bank once more, and now grasped the struggling hands, holding them together and away from the leg. Hannibal rushed to the first aid kit, pulling out a syringe and the painkiller. Quickly he drew out a dose. Murdock helped him pull down the shoulder of Face's jacket, and without waiting, ripped the sleeve open. The needle went in and after more long minutes of struggling, Face finally slid into a daze.


*****

BA looped the ropes and tied them tightly around the stretcher where Face was looking dully at the preparations. He ran the ropes through his hands as he climbed one more time up the hated bank, then threw them over the suspended ropes and carefully fastened them to the packsaddle. He went back, looked at the men waiting below.

"You ready? You gonna keep up with him okay?"

"We run into trouble we'll yell, BA. Just take it easy."

BA scowled back. As if he wouldn't be careful. He stepped up to the horse's head, taking the bridle and gently urging her forward. Obligingly, the horse started moving. BA watched the ropes slowly pull tight, and start sliding over the rope bridge between the trees.

Below, Hannibal and Murdock held onto the stretcher as it slowly started lifting up. They held it away from the bank as it glided by, having to scramble a bit on the soft earth. In a few minutes, it was above the ledge and they guided it carefully away from the crumbling bank. BA stopped the horse and they quickly undid the ropes.

Hannibal grinned at him as he walked over. "Worked like a charm, BA." BA just scowled again. Like anything he put together wouldn't work right.

In a few short minutes, Face was safely in one of the tents, the stretcher now resting on a camp cot. Murdock was sitting with him, while BA fixed the hot breakfast Hannibal had happily planned for them earlier. The colonel, in the meantime, was talking to Spiro.

"C'mon, Colonel, at least untie us from these trees, okay? It's inhumane!"

"Tell me about the plane, Richie. Then I'll let you guys loose from the trees. When is it due back?"

Spiro glared at him. One thing he should've remembered about the Old Man - he was stubborn as hell. Sighing, he decided cooperation would be the best route, for now.

"It comes once a week. He was just here Tuesday; he won't be back until next Tuesday."

Next Tuesday. Shit. Five more days. Hannibal glanced at the tent where Face and Murdock were. Wait for the plane, or go cross-country? Hannibal looked back at Richie.

"No way of getting him before that?"

"No. Radios don't work out here - too many mountains in the way." He couldn't help another small smile. "Kinda puts you in a quandary, huh, Colonel? Awful hard to move an injured man along with five guys that just don't want to go with you."

Hannibal smiled right back. "You know, Richie, you never could keep your mouth shut. Hope you're not allergic to bark."

Hannibal turned and walked calmly away. Inside he was seething. For two cents, he'd leave these slimeballs right there, just the way Richie had left them. But the A-Team didn't do things that way. He kept reminding himself of that.

Five days. It would probably take two, maybe three to get back to the lake. He walked over to his pack, pulled the maps out. Looked at the road Face had pointed out. It would take at least four days to reach it. At least. The nearest town was maybe ten miles from where they would hit the road. A good four-hour jaunt. Cross-country or plane, it didn't make much difference.

Either way, Face was probably screwed.


*****

Spiro knew he shouldn't have expected to be released from the tree after baiting Smith like that, but he'd gotten the reaction he wanted. The Old Man may look calm, but Richie knew exactly what was going on in that brain. If there was one thing he'd learned under Smith's command, it was the art of rattling the enemy. Over the next few days, Richie planned to do a lot of rattling. He knew how to get to Smith. There were a lot of things he knew about the man. How much he cared about the welfare of the men entrusted to him, how much he treasured making his famous plans work, how much he reveled in success. That he didn't consider himself a fool. All that was about to change.

Knowledge was power. And Spiro had the power. Like the thing with the plane. Sure, he'd told Smith when it was due in next. But there was one thing he hadn't told him, and wouldn't. The signal. The pilot would look for the signal, the signal that said there were no Mounties around, that all was clear. And when he didn't see it, he would just fly off again, to return the following week.

And the following week, Spiro had no doubts he and his men would be there, with another full load to go.