CHAPTER THIRTEEN

It took a long time to set up camp. A long time. BA was getting more and more tense, as he and Hannibal watched Spiro's men set up the tents. He didn't like these guys handling hammers and stakes; mostly he didn't like that they kept looking over at Spiro every time BA or Hannibal told them to do something. Every now and then he'd see Spiro looking over at Murdock and Face, with the damn smile. BA knew Spiro was at fault for a lot of the problems Face was having. But he hadn't been able to catch his men doing anything other than what they should. He just knew they were doing something. Face wouldn't be in that much pain if they hadn't.

He also knew it was the lower dose of painkiller that was causing problems. And that was really becoming a bone of contention between Hannibal and Murdock. Sure, they'd come to an understanding of sorts. But as it became harder and harder for Face to hide the agony - and he was trying real hard to hide it - the more anxious Murdock got. He'd at least gone back to that Dudley Do-Right thing, which, as much as BA hated to admit it, was a good thing. It actually helped keep Murdock on track. But there was a tone coming into it as the day passed that BA did not like at all.

And Hannibal. BA looked over at him, trying not to be obvious. Hannibal was watching the last tent going up, looking casual, cigar smoking, but BA could tell he wasn't nearly as relaxed as he was pretending to be. Spiro was really getting on everyone's nerves, but especially Hannibal's. Richie knew all the buttons to push, all right. He'd gotten to know the colonel real well over in Nam; too well, it seemed. He knew exactly what to say, when to say it, to get under Hannibal's skin. BA had never seen anyone who could do that.

Spiro himself was secured over by the horses, smirking. It wasn't just Hannibal he knew about. He knew military tactics. He knew the strain the Team was going to feel, was already feeling. Three men to guard five, take care of a wounded man, move them cross-country through very rough land - something would have to give, at some point. They all knew that's why Hannibal was pushing to get to the lake as quickly as humanly possible. Once there, it would be easier to watch the prisoners, not moving all the time, setting up a new camp in a new area. Once they were at the lake, and Murdock had taken Face on the plane, they'd be settled in, and it would be easier for the two remaining men to watch the prisoners until help arrived. The success of the whole expedition relied on their reaching the lake before all hell broke loose.

Four more days. BA only hoped hell would hold off that long.


*****

Murdock was trying to make Face more comfortable, but there wasn't a lot he could do. He'd given him some more water, and wiped off his face, and let him squeeze the daylights out of his hand, but that was all. Hannibal had been right to worry about that wound. Murdock had checked it a few minutes before and it felt a lot warmer than it had. And Face had damn near jumped off the stretcher when he'd touched it. Murdock looked over at the other men. As soon as the tents were up, he and Hannibal would have to get a good look at the leg, and he just knew it wasn't going to be easy for any of them.

"Murdock..."

He quickly looked down at Face, wiping away any worry that might be showing. "Hey, Muchacho, they're just about done with the tents. We'll have you settled in in no time."

"Hurts..."

"I know, buddy. Just try to hang on a little while longer and we'll get you something for it, okay?"

Face just closed his eyes. Murdock wanted to yell, or hit something, or...something. They were letting Face down. He shouldn't have to go through this. Not when they could do something about it. He just shouldn't.

He looked around at the trees and the brush and the camp and wished to hell they had never come up here.


*****

Hannibal carefully removed the bandages, trying not to jar the splint any more than he had to. He kept glancing at Face, noting regretfully how the hands were so tightly grasping the poles of the litter, but not a sound came from the man. Hannibal had always known the kid had guts; he was going all out to prove it, too.

"You can holler if you want, Face. It's going to hurt."

Face just looked up at the top of the tent and closed his eyes. Hannibal sighed and returned to the bandages. Murdock took them away as Hannibal peeled them off, dumping them in a hole he'd dug just outside the tent. When Hannibal finally took the last of them off, he saw exactly what he'd been dreading. The skin was red and puffy, and hot to the touch.

"Okay, Murdock, he's got an infection starting. I don't see any pus yet, so maybe we've caught it early enough. Get that other bottle of iodine and boil some water. A lot of water. We've got a lot of work to do here."

He stood up to stretch cramped muscles, and glanced again at Face. This time the look was returned, fear in the eyes. And resignation. Hannibal wished he could tell him it would be okay.

A few minutes later, Murdock brought in the first of the pots of boiling water and iodine, and they began the process of cleaning the wounds.


*****

He stood beside the cot. He'd sent Murdock out, letting him know he wanted a few minutes alone with Face. Murdock thought he knew what Hannibal wanted to do, that he was going to explain about the painkillers, but that was only part of it. The colonel had seen so many more injuries than Murdock or BA, both in Nam and Korea. He'd seen enough to accept certain outcomes as likely, others as inevitable. He wasn't about to say anything to the others; there was no need for that yet. But Face needed to know what was going on.

"Face? You awake, kid?"

"Yeah." He was still very pale, and hadn't quite stopped shaking yet, but he opened his eyes, waiting.

"Face, we gotta talk a bit here." Damn, he didn't want to do this.

"Not...good, huh?"

"No, Face, it's not good. I think we got most of the infection cleared out. We'll keep pumping in the antibiotics, cleaning it out. We should be able to fight it off, but, well, these things can be pretty stubborn." Hannibal ran his hand over his face. "We're going to hijack Spiro's plane at the lake, but it'll be a couple days before it comes back. That's why we have to skimp on the painkiller. Have to make it last. You understand?"

"Yeah."

They sat for a moment in silence before Face spoke again.

"Hannibal...am I...will I..."

God, what Hannibal had dreaded. He'd planned on being totally honest with him, but he couldn't. Not yet, anyway.

"Hey, we found it early. Like I said, we'll keep up with the drugs and cleaning it and..."

"And...if that...doesn't work?"

"We don't have to worry yet, Face. Not yet."

There was another silence, this time broken by Hannibal.

"I'm sorry, Face. Sorry it's got to be so rough for you."

"S'okay, Hannibal...shoulda watched...where I was...going..."

"Don't worry. You'll run a few laps around the obstacle course when we get home, Lieutenant."

"Sure...Colonel...any...time..." He drifted off, finally.

Hannibal stepped out of the tent and pulled out a cigar. Before Murdock could ask him anything, he moved away to the edge of the camp and stared out into the darkness.

There were some things a guy never got used to.


*****

Spiro had watched Murdock boiling the water, taken note of how long they were in the tent, heard the moans. He knew what was going on. And when Smith didn't come out when the crazy guy did, he figured there was bad news. Finally, he saw the Old Man step out and walk away, not talking to anyone. Probably the guy inside was either dead or was on his way out. He'd seen that same stance many times in Nam. It was never good.

He lay back on his cot, frowning when the ropes on his wrists pulled. He wondered about the guy in the tent. Dead? Or dying? He idly wondered how long it would take. Would Smith bother going to the lake afterwards, or head them south toward the road? It would all depend on how far they got before the guy croaked, he supposed.

Well, he'd know in the morning. Then he could really start planning.