CHAPTER EIGHTTEEN

Hannibal had never seen anything quite so beautiful, and it wasn't the scenery he was thinking about. He could have been looking at a slime-covered fishpond and it would still have been beautiful. It didn't matter.

Turning excitedly, he called to the rest of the group and headed down to the shore. Within moments they were all gathered and allowed themselves a moment of respite. But only a moment. BA and Hannibal started the prisoners to work on setting up the camp. Hannibal chose a spot a few yards from the shore, hidden among the trees. He was taking no chances on scaring off the pilot by advertising their presence.

He had been a little leery of how willingly Richie had given directions to the landing point, but then again, that plane also represented one last chance for escape. Not that there was a snowball's chance in hell that Richie would get anywhere near it, but Hannibal knew it would be there in the poacher's mind.

As soon as the camp was settled, and the prisoners once again secured, Hannibal turned and moved reluctantly toward the tent where Face was. Murdock was still with him, and Hannibal didn't like the looks of either man. Face had a definite gray tinge to his skin, and his breathing was labored. Murdock looked like he was ready to fall apart, nervously rearranging the med kit, repeatedly touching Face's forehead, in constant motion.

"How is he, Murdock?"

"Not good, Colonel. Not good at all. I started using smelling salts, just to bring him around enough to get some water down him. But he never really comes to. I don't know, Hannibal, he just..."

"All right. I want you to take a break. Go get some sleep, or take a walk. Just take a break. I'll watch him."

Murdock reluctantly left the tent. Hannibal sat next to the cot, watching Face's breathing for a moment before gently raising him up to rest against his shoulder. He was gratified when the breathing eased, even if it was only a little.

Richie had said the plane was due tomorrow at noon. Hannibal could only hope that would be soon enough.


*****

Their plan was so simple, it had to go off without a hitch. Roger and Zach would stand around on the shore, as if everything was normal. They would greet the pilot and move him away from the plane, while Murdock slipped around behind and got in. Once Murdock was in the plane, Hannibal and BA would come out of hiding and take the pilot into 'custody'. Roger and Zach's cooperation was ensured with BA's gun held to Richie's head.

Piece of cake.

Hannibal figured Face would be on his way to a hospital within a half-hour after the plane arrived.

It had been another long night. Murdock was so wound up, Hannibal finally slipped him the knockout pill he'd been saving for BA. He'd be awake in plenty of time for the flight, and hopefully be in better shape to deal with Face on his own.

That part bothered Hannibal a lot. He had hoped Murdock would hold it together longer than this, but then he hadn't expected Face to sour, either. Well, he really didn't have a lot to do, once he got the plane in the air. Just radio for help and go where he was told to. He had the map with their position on it, so he would turn that over to the authorities. It sounded so simple, but Hannibal was worried anyway.

They were getting Face ready for the flight now. Hannibal had enough painkiller left to give him a full dose, but he held back. Face was out of it, anyway. Instead, Hannibal bundled the syringe and meds together and taped it to the stretcher. He also had written a complete history of the accident and subsequent actions for the doctors.

Finally, everything was ready. Hannibal went over every detail in his head, trying to find any flaws. He glanced down at Face.

"I could really use you now, kid. This plan has got to go without a hitch."


*****

Roger and Zach weren't too sure about their role in Smith's plan. It took the gun to Spiro's head and a nod from him to convince them not to cause problems. Spiro must have some plan in mind; he was being awfully cooperative with Smith. Confident in their own leader's abilities, they moved out to the shoreline, acting as normally as possible.

About five minutes to noon, they all could hear the distant drone of the plane. Everyone tensed up. From his hidden vantage point, Hannibal watched the men on the beach; BA had Spiro and the other two. Murdock, who had been kneeling by the stretcher, stood and watched the sky. In moments, the seaplane could be seen coming through a cleft in the hills on the far side of the lake. Murdock could feel his heart pounding. He couldn't mess this up. He wouldn't mess it up.

Hannibal looked away from the men on the beach, eyes drawn to the small plane as it got closer and closer. He almost willed it to start the approach, watching as it started dipping lower to the water. Then, just as he thought the plane would touch the water, the plane suddenly lifted up again and started swinging around, heading back away from the shore. He stood in agonized surprise as the plane continued to lift and then disappeared over the hills.

For a moment, no one said a word, no one moved. And then Murdock lost it. He ran screaming across the sand and into the water, waving his arms in the air, beating at the water as it came up to his hips. Hannibal remained where he was, calmly watching Murdock, not paying any attention to the two men on the beach, who were moving slowly back toward the camp, confused themselves as to what had just happened. BA roughly tied their hands and left them, marching across the sand and into the water, pulling the now still Murdock back onto the shore. BA let him slide down to the sand, where Murdock sat, staring out at the water, mumbling to himself.

BA came up next to Hannibal, turning so he could watch Murdock.

"They musta had a signal or somethin to let the pilot know if he should land or not."

"Yeah. Yeah, must have."

"Nothin more you could do, Hannibal. Richie woulda never told you what it was. I don't think his men even knew."

Hannibal didn't answer. What was there to say? Richie had held the trump card all along. They never had a chance with the plane. The time they'd spent hiking here...they would have been on the highway by now, on their way to that little town. The little town where they could have called for help. Help that they wouldn't need now.

"Hannibal?" BA was looking at him now, worried at the lack of response, the lack of anger, the lack of emotion. "Hannibal, we'll figure somethin else out."

"Something else, BA? There is nothing else. I gambled on this and lost. Face..." Hannibal turned, looked over at Spiro, who said nothing but raised his eyebrow in question. Give up now, Smith? He might as well have spoken out loud.

Hannibal moved slowly, mechanically over to the group of prisoners. He grabbed Roger's hands and with a quick jerk, pulled the ropes from his wrists. He then shoved him to one side. BA started moving up, not understanding what Hannibal was doing. Was he letting these guys go?

Hannibal stepped calmly over to Spiro, who now had a satisfied smile on his face. Not a wide smile, not a smirk; just...satisfied. Without saying a word, Hannibal pulled his service revolver and calmly shot Spiro dead center in the lower leg. Just below the knee. Spiro let out a yell and fell to the sand. The other men jumped back, expecting more shots, this time in their direction. Instead, Hannibal looked at Roger.

"Take care of him."

Then, revolver still in his hand, Hannibal walked over to the litter, and sat down beside it.