CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Spiro was now resigned to the idea that they would indeed make it to the lake. BA was keeping too close an eye on him to try anything else. He was starting to think maybe his plan from the other day had backfired on him. Sure, it had pushed back their progress a day, but they were still going to make it in time. In time to see the plane go flying off without them. He chuckled at that, stifling it quickly when BA glared at him. He sighed. That was something he hadn't thought about. Giving Smith and his men time to rest up. Time to get organized.

But then, he hadn't thought Smith would give up on his man, either. And it was obvious he had. He'd been keeping an eye on things, and the Old Man hadn't been back once to check on the litter. Just left that up to Crazy. But then he couldn't understand the rush to the lake. Unless Smith just wanted to keep the others from knowing. Sure, dummy. Just keeping up morale.

Well, well, well. Be a double whammy tomorrow then. No plane and a dead man. Wonder what the hell Smith planned to do then?


*****

BA scowled at Spiro. Didn't see why the guy was chucklin like that but it couldn't be anything good. He quickly looked at the other two, but they had their eyes glued to the ground in front of them. They'd been slow movin that morning, stiff and sore from being tied up, but BA didn't care one bit. He wasn't a mean man by nature, but these guys...

He looked up ahead at Murdock. He felt sorry for the pilot. Never thought he'd think that, but it was true. He was worryin so much about Face. Tryin to hold it all together for him. Not that Face knew it. Face was so far out of it...BA had never seen anyone go downhill so fast. It scared him. It really did. He kept thinking back to what he'd promised Face and he had a sudden, horrible thought. Had he misunderstood? Had Face meant he didn't want to be buried here? Did Face think...God, he hoped not.


*****

Murdock was ready to get Hannibal to take a break. Face was just...he didn't move or twitch or even moan. Giving Roger and Zach a fierce warning look, he moved ahead a few feet.

"Hannibal! We need to stop for a bit."

Hannibal turned around with a start, saw the look on Murdock's face, and nodded.

Murdock immediately had the men put the litter down, and marched them back to BA. He helped tie their hands to the rope with the others, and then went back to Face, grabbing the now hated kettle on the way. In a few minutes, he had a space cleared and a fire started, the kettle in place. He moved back beside the litter and started bathing the hot face with cool water. He tried to get Face to swallow some water, but most of it just dribbled away. He would've cried with frustration, but he'd told Hannibal he wouldn't fall apart, that he'd keep it together for Face, and he would. Like a good Mountie. A good Mountie was cheerful, loyal, brave...no, no, that was a Scout. He was a Mountie. Dudley Do...no, no. He wasn't a Mountie. He shook his head, sadly giving up Dudley. No. He wasn't a Mountie any more. He was just a broken down pilot who was trying not to lose his best friend.

He looked over at the kettle, realized the water was finally hot. He got ready to clean and soak the wound.


*****

Hannibal didn't go back when they stopped. Instead, he knelt on the ground and pulled out the maps again, although he figured he must know them by heart. Double-checked his path, his numbers. Nothing had changed, they were still on course and would arrive, even with this delay and doubtless others, well before nightfall. And then in the morning they would prepare for the plane. And they would take the plane and put Face on it and Murdock would fly him out of this godforsaken place. And then the Mounties would come and he and BA could leave, too. And go...wherever Face was.

Actually, it was a good thing they were in Canada. They'd be able to take him to a hospital right away, no questions asked, no worrying about the military barging in on things, just let him stay until he was recovered enough to go home to LA. Oh, sure, they'd have to find some place to hole up once they got back, Face would take quite some time to heal up, but that was okay, they'd find a place, a nice place, a big condo, or maybe a beachfront house, where Face could sit out on the beach and meet all the bikini-clad girls, soak in their sympathy...

That's what they'd do. They'd find a place on the beach for him.


*****

Some time later, Murdock signaled the rest that he was ready to go. All his ministrations had really accomplished nothing, but at least he felt like he had done something. Hannibal nodded and started forward. He hadn't even come back to check on Face. Murdock didn't blame him. The colonel and BA had seen enough last night. He was actually glad he hadn't been there. It was bad enough to see him now; he didn't think he could've handled watching the actual downhill slide.

He adjusted his pack and moved ahead, walking calmly and steadily beside the litter.


*****

Face opened his eyes, watched through a haze as trees passed by overhead. He looked at the figure ahead of him, saw only a colored blur. He didn't know this guy. He was aware of someone just behind him. Didn't know him, either. He tried to turn his head, but his stomach flipped and he closed his eyes and stayed still. Where was Hannibal? Or Murdock? He hadn't seen BA for...a long time. None of them, for a long time. Just these strangers. Always these strangers.

His leg was burning, but he didn't try to put it out. It wouldn't stop burning no matter what he did. He knew that. Besides, they'd stop him. These guys, they wanted it to burn. Wanted him to burn. Burn up into ashes so they wouldn't have to deal with him any more. And he was burning. He could feel it, all over, burning all over. Soon he'd just be ashes, floating on the wind. Well, that wouldn't be so bad. Floating away like that.

Ashes to ashes...

Where was Hannibal?

He didn't want to die with strangers.