CHAPTER TWELVE

From the very beginning, Spiro was complaining, loudly. The men between the packhorses had their hands tied in front of them, and then were tied to a rope that went from one horse to the other. Over the rough terrain it was hard to keep up with the steady pace of the horses, and Spiro let the Team know it loud and clear.

"C'mon, Colonel. We can't walk with our hands tied like this. We can't keep our balance. This how you treat people? Colonel? Someone's gonna get hurt like this! Then what?"

Hannibal looked at Richie, cigar smoldering between his teeth. "I'd suggest you hang onto the rope, then, Richie. And be careful where you step."

Richie glared back at Hannibal, but it was all for show. Sure, it was hard, but nothing he and his men couldn't deal with. The main idea was to irritate. And despite Smith's cool demeanor, Spiro knew it was working.

Hannibal stepped forward, being careful himself where he stepped. He didn't think they were on any kind of wildlife trail, where traps could be expected, but he wasn't taking any chances. The path they were taking was really more of a series of small clearings. Hannibal had planned their trek to the lake with close attention to the terrain, wanting to stay on as level a ground as possible, while still allowing them enough time to reach their destination well before the plane arrived. The trip was still rough - there was no such thing as level in this wilderness.

He walked beside the litter for a few minutes. Roger and Zach seemed to have taken BA's warning to heart, and were handling the wounded man with kid gloves. Despite their best efforts, the ride was rough on Face, and it didn't take a close look to see it. He was sickly pale, and his eyes were closed tightly. Every time the stretcher was jostled, Hannibal could see him biting his lip. Enough.

"Hold up! Take a break."

The litter was positioned on the ground carefully, and BA moved in immediately to move the bearers back with the other prisoners. Hannibal knelt down next to Face, knowing Murdock would be there in moments. He checked the vitals, noting that the pulse was a little faster than it should be. He reached down and gently felt around the wounded area. Again, Face tensed. Hannibal wasn't happy; the skin around the bandage felt warmer than it had before. He'd like to give him more antibiotics, but couldn't for another few hours. Hannibal checked his watch. He and Murdock, after a hard look at reality, had worked out a schedule for the painkillers, and dosages. Face could have another shot in twenty minutes.

Murdock had knelt down beside them now. "How's he doing?"

"I think we're going to take a break until we can give him the next shot. This bouncing around isn't helping any." He nodded to Murdock and stepped off to the side. With a worried glance at Face, Murdock followed.

"It's not good, but I want to keep moving, try to get as far as we can before it gets too late in the day. When we stop, you and I better check him out a little more thoroughly. We may have to do some cleanup."

"Okay, Hannibal."

Hannibal looked at Murdock, trying to read him. He hadn't spouted anything about the Mounties since the little debacle over the medicines, but Hannibal had noticed he was repeatedly mumbling to himself. They didn't need Murdock going off the deep end right now.

"You okay, Murdock?"

"Sure, Colonel. Sure."

"Okay, because Face needs all of us now. We can't fall apart on him."

"I won't, Hannibal. I'll keep it together."

Hannibal nodded, gave him a soft pat on the shoulder, and headed back to check on the prisoners. Next problem.


*****

Hannibal didn't want Spiro and his men conferring, but they couldn't stop them completely without gagging them, and Hannibal knew, at this altitude, that was going too far. Though after listening to Spiro's complaints he was sorely tempted. The most the Team could do was make a nuisance of themselves with their close proximity. Spiro might be making plans, but it would take a lot longer to spread the word.

It was one of those moments when the prisoners could talk, as Hannibal and BA conferred. Spiro wanted to know how Peck was doing, what Roger and Zach had observed. He nodded, satisfied.

"Ok, you make sure he has as rough a ride as possible without being obvious. Got it?"

Roger didn't like that. "Hell, Rick, he can't do nothing to us."

"No, but the worse he is, the more distracted the rest of them are. And we're gonna make sure they get plenty distracted, got it?"

No one said anything, but Richie knew they would do as they were told. They'd be walking a fine line between their boss and Smith, but there was no real choice. They were looking at a lot of years behind bars if the colonel won this contest.

They stopped talking when Hannibal and BA stepped over to them.

"Okay, Kollman, you and McCaleb are next. Like BA told these two - you pull any funny stuff, and you'll wish you'd fallen into that trap. Understand?" Hannibal was staring straight at Spiro as he spoke.

Kollman and McCaleb nodded, but Spiro just smiled slyly at Hannibal. He and the colonel both knew Spiro himself would never get near the lieutenant. The real question was how strong a hold did Richie have on his men. How far would they go for him? Or more appropriately, who were they more afraid of?

"All right, get ready to move out." Hannibal left BA in charge of the men, and headed back up to Murdock and Face.

"All set, Captain?"

Murdock looked up, surprised at the clipped tone of voice. "Just shot him up, Hannibal. You okay?"

The colonel looked down at Murdock, startled. First BA, now Murdock. Better get a grip. "I'm fine. I'd just really like to pop Richie."

"After me, Hannibal. And I'm after BA." He grinned, and Hannibal found himself relaxing. "But," Murdock continued with more than a little regret, "it's against everything we Mounties stand for, to hit a man with his hands tied. But I might temporarily resign my post if the need arises."

Hannibal laughed out loud at that. "No, Murdock, I think we might need Dudley intact for this trip. But I give you permission to resign just before we put Richie in the hands of your 'comrades'."

"Thank you, Sir!" Murdock once again snapped a salute.

Hannibal walked up to take point, still chuckling. For a few moments he allowed himself to believe that things might just work out after all.