CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Hannibal moved slowly out of the tent and moved toward the campfire, where BA was fussing over a large kettle. He sank down on a stool, poured a cup of coffee and took his first real look over the camp. He smiled a little when he saw their prisoners. Well, BA had said they wouldn't be a problem. His gaze came to a stop when he came to Face's tent.

"He's sleepin. Woke up a couple times in the night, but went right back to sleep again."

"The infection?"

"We're holdin our own. Don't think it's spreadin, but it ain't gettin any better, either."

"Probably a good idea to stay put today, then." Hannibal looked over at BA, bemused. "Would you really have 'taken' me, BA?"

"Yeah." There was no amusement in BA's response. He abruptly handed the spoon over to Hannibal and walked over to Face's tent. "You ain't no Superman, y'know. 'Bout time you learned that." He deliberately turned his back on his CO and stepped into the tent.

Hannibal chuckled. He had to admit, a night of uninterrupted sleep had done wonders. He'd have to make sure BA got his sleep today. Tomorrow they'd get to the lake and the day after Face would be on the plane to a hospital. Probably another day or two before the Mounties showed up to take Richie and his bunch off their hands. Sipping at his coffee, he started thinking about the plane, and exactly how he planned on taking it.

Murdock popped out of their tent a few minutes later and immediately headed over to see Face. He came out a few minutes later with a frown on his face.

"Problem, Murdock?"

"BA practically threw me out. I'm supposed to eat breakfast and get ready to take care of Richie's guys. I'm supposed to help him with them so they don't get out of line."

"Sounds like a good plan, Murdock."

"So BA's in charge now?"

Hannibal looked over at the captain. "No, Murdock, BA is not in charge, but I think his plan for these guys is a good one. Look, everyone's on a short rope right now. We've all been trying to do too much all at the same time. If we're going to get out of this, we need to start working together more. So you help BA with Richie, and I'll look after Face. When that's done, BA's going to get some sleep, I will deal with Face and you will deal with them. And then we'll change over. No more running around trying to do it all. If we had done this before, Richie wouldn't have had the opportunity to pull that shit yesterday."

Murdock looked down at his coffee cup. He hated it when Hannibal got that 'be reasonable' tone to his voice. Especially when he was right.


*****

Murdock was watching the prisoners, which consisted mainly of making sure they weren't talking to each other. BA had insisted they remain tied hand and foot, and no one argued with that. Spiro was several feet away from the others.

"Hey...Murdock, is it?"

"Shut up, Richie."

"Okay, okay...but how's your buddy doing?"

"I said shut up."

Richie shut up, looked around the camp. He knew Smith was in with Gimpy, and BA was sleeping. This was probably the only chance he'd have with this guy and time was getting short.

"Glad he didn't get banged up too bad yesterday."

"What about 'shut up' don't you understand?"

"Hey, I'm just saying it wasn't intended to get anybody hurt, y'know? I mean, wouldn't you try to escape?"

Murdock ignored him. As long as he didn't say anything to the others, let him talk. Murdock had the idea that to someone like Richie, being ignored was as bad as getting gagged.

"Hey, how'd you guys get up here anyway? Fly in? How come you're not going back to your plane?"

Murdock flushed. He couldn't help it. If he hadn't crashed...

It wasn't lost on Richie. "Plane trouble, huh? Happens up here. Engine trouble?"

"You could say that." Murdock flushed deeper.

"Ha! It crashed, didn't it?" Richie cocked his head, grinning. "And you were the pilot, weren't you? I remember you now. Howlin' Mad Murdock! Of course!"

"Will you keep your mouth shut, or you want me to put a gag in it?"

Richie sat back, still smiling. Gag or not, he had to push the last button.

"Tough break, man. For your friend, I mean..."

The gag was a little too tight, but it was worth it. Just to see the look on Crazy's face...


*****

Hannibal stepped out of the tent. The tension that had been so blissfully gone that morning was coming back. He had thought, like BA, that they were at least holding back the infection. Now he wasn't so sure. The puffiness was starting to spread, the skin beginning to darken. Face was getting restless again, too, and felt a little too warm. Hannibal sighed. Two more days before that damn plane arrived.

He filled the big kettle with more water to boil. That was another thing. They were getting low on water. As the kettle heated, he pulled out the map. They'd been moving pretty much parallel to that stream. It was now about a mile and a half from camp. They'd have to load up one of the horses with the empty water jugs and get them filled up. And then boil it all. Well, BA would be getting up soon. He could take one of Richie's men with him and take care of it. BA could handle one of them with his little finger.

Hannibal glanced over at the prisoners, noting that Richie was now gagged. It didn't surprise him. The man always did have a big mouth. He shook his head. He really had let Richie get to him the last couple of days. He shouldn't have. He knew exactly what the guy was trying to do, and he'd been succeeding. Because Hannibal had let him. He'd let his concern for Face override everything else. He couldn't do that any more.

Hannibal sighed. He wasn't going to give up on Face, but he had to accept the realities of the situation. Even if Face did make it over the next two days, he still had a long way to go. And there were two other men on his team he needed to take care of. That stunt of Richie's yesterday...there could've been a lot more serious injuries than a few bruises. But Hannibal had been worrying about Face, not helping BA watch them.

And Murdock...Hannibal was getting concerned about him. Even after last night's rest, he still seemed too intense. Murdock typically went one of two ways when things were getting to be too much for him - either more and more outlandish in his fantasies, or more and more serious and intense. Hannibal was torn between giving in to him a little more, letting him be close to Face more, and trying to keep him away from that. God only knew what would happen if Face didn't make it.

And what about himself? What would he do if Face...he shook his head. He wasn't going to go there. Not now. He'd deal with that when he had to. If he had to. Damn.

Angrily he pulled the kettle of now boiling water from the campfire and headed back into the tent.


*****

By nightfall, plans had been settled for the next day. BA would have Spiro and two men again between the horses, but he would stay with them at all times. BA had reiterated his promise to Richie to gag him and throw him over a horse if he said one word, and Richie knew he would.

Murdock would be in charge of the two men carrying Face, and Hannibal would be on point. He figured they could get to the lake within four or five hours if they didn't stop. They all knew a non-stop hike probably wouldn't happen, but it gave them a goal.

Hannibal had kept Murdock away from Face as much as he could, telling him that he needed to be rested for the plane trip. While it was true, he mainly didn't want Murdock to watch the downhill slide Face was taking. Tomorrow would be bad enough, but he'd also have to be watching the carriers and where he was going. He wouldn't be able to fixate on Face.

It was partly self-preservation on Hannibal's part that he was taking point. All day he'd watched the infection slowly creeping further and further. He'd watched as the initially low fever rose. No matter what they did, they couldn't stop it. He kept remembering his conversation with Murdock, the pilot's demand that he come out and say it. The problem was, he didn't know if he could do it. He tried to think back to his training, to the problems he would face. Shit, if he didn't do it just right, Face could bleed out in a matter of minutes.

Damn. Damn!

BA came into the tent. They had maneuvered the schedule so Murdock would have no contact with Face until morning, when they headed out, again giving the excuse of the plane trip. There had been something in Murdock's acceptance that Hannibal hadn't liked. Something resigned about it. Hannibal began to wonder if he should've asked about Spiro that morning. If the man could get to Hannibal the way he had, what might he have said to Murdock?

"All set, Hannibal?"

"I guess. He's not any better. Watch the fever; if it starts going up fast, let me know."

"And what would you do that I wouldn't? Hannibal, give it a rest. Ain't nothin any of us can do that we ain't already doin. We just gotta keep doin it and pray for the best."

"I know, BA, I know." Hannibal moved out of the tent, then turned back. "If he..."

"It ain't gonna happen. He's got more fight in him than you give him credit for, Hannibal. Always did."

Hannibal just nodded and headed for his tent. BA once again settled down next to the cot. He wished to hell they had never come up here.