CHAPTER TWENTY

BA stood outside the tent. Half of him wanted to go back in there and pull that gun from Hannibal's hand and throw it in the woods. The other half was a mixture of sorrow and shame. Sorrow that it had to be, and shame that he didn't have the guts to do it himself.

But there was one thing he could do. One thing he knew Face would worry about. He could take care of Murdock. He could be there with Murdock when the shot came, and divert his attention, and keep him from going into the tent. Yeah, he could take care of Murdock, maybe not like Face had, but Face wouldn't have to worry about him.

He could do that much.

He moved calmly away from the tent and out to the shore, where Murdock was trying, unsuccessfully it seemed, to skip stones over the water. The waves were a little too choppy, and he was getting a little frustrated.

"Hey, BA. Y'know, I just can't get this to work. I never could. I don't understand it. Face can skip 'em for miles, and he keeps trying to show me how, and I just can never do it. Why d'you suppose that is?"

"Water's too rough, fool. Gotta have smooth water to skip 'em right. They're just hittin' the waves now. You wait until the wind goes down."

"You think so?" Murdock looked out over the lake. "It's funny, I don't remember there being a lake here before. They musta just built it." He got a puzzled frown on his face. "You'd think I woulda noticed them building it, though."

"Don't worry about it. It's here now."

"Okay..." Murdock sighed. "BA..."

"Yeah, Murdock?"

"Face isn't coming to get me out any more, is he?"

"What?" BA turned and looked at Murdock, startled.

"Well, I mean, that's why you're here, isn't it? Face finally decided to go out on his own, didn't he?"

Damn. BA didn't how much was real and how much was crazy for the pilot. "Uh, yeah, yeah, he did, Murdock. He, uh..." BA swallowed, "he asked me to tell you goodbye. He woulda told you himself, but..."

"I know. He doesn't like 'scenes'. And if he had come to say goodbye, he wouldn't have left in the end."

"He wouldn't?"

"Nope." Murdock sounded smug and happy. "You know why? 'Cause I woulda talked him out of going. I would've had to, you know. 'Cause if he goes out on his own, he'd get into trouble. He always did, remember, in Nam? He'd go out on the town by himself, and I'd always have to go get him out of fights - all those guys he scammed and then they'd get mad at him...I always took care of him..."

BA looked out at the water, the waves rolling in and out.

"I tried to, anyway. I really did..."

"I know you did, fool. And you did a good job. Ain't gotta have no regrets."

Murdock sighed, and threw another rock into the lake. He was about to throw another when he stopped, arm in mid-air. He cocked his head, and started looking up into the sky.

"D'you hear that?"

BA looked over at him. "Hear what?"

"That! Listen..."

BA looked up, searching the sky. He could hear something...a humming noise. What the...

He and Murdock were scanning the skies in earnest now. The noise was coming closer. Getting louder.

"There! There, look, BA! It's one of those seaplanes! Wow! See the pontoons? Man, you think it's gonna land here?" Murdock was as excited as a child.

BA just stood, in shock. It was a seaplane. It was flying over the lake, at the far end. Murdock started yelling and waving his arms.

"Hey, come over here, beauty! C'mon, sweetheart, let me see you close up. C'mon, baby!"

For a moment, BA thought the plane would just keep going. And then it started turning. Coming right at them. The wings waggled and it started floating down, straight for them.

"HANNIBAL!" BA moved faster than he thought he ever had in his life. "HANNIBAL!"


*****

Face was ready. His breathing had eased to a nice, slow, steady rhythm, like a very deep sleep. His features had relaxed, no more pinched look to his face, just calm.

And still, Hannibal waited.

It wasn't that he had doubts about what he was about to do. Face wouldn't have just slipped away; it wouldn't have been a 'peaceful release', whatever the hell that was supposed to be. No, just watching the way Face had relaxed with the painkiller was enough to tell Hannibal he was right.

It didn't make it easy.

He felt like he should say something to him, some final words, but that wasn't Hannibal's style. Wasn't Face, either. Too melodramatic. If Hannibal had ever tried to express his feelings out loud, Face would have run like hell in the other direction. No, if Face didn't know how much Hannibal liked and respected him by now...

Hannibal sighed deeply. Well, there was no point putting this off any longer. He stood, bringing the revolver up and cocking it. He'd already decided it would be through the heart. Face would never forgive him if he shot him in the head. He smiled a little at that, as he gently positioned the barrel over the chest.

"I'll miss you, kid."

"HANNIBAL!"

Hannibal's arm jerked as he fired, the bullet slicing through the side of the tent. What the hell...?

"No, Hannibal!" BA came tearing into the tent, panic on his face.

"BA! Damn it, you know I have to..."

"No, Hannibal, there's a plane comin in. A plane, man! We got a way to get him out!"

Hannibal felt ice cold. Dear God in Heaven, he'd almost...he couldn't believe it. A plane?

"C'mon, Hannibal! We gotta get Face out of here. Now!"

The tent flap was opened wide, and a white-faced Gordon Benford rushed in. "What was that shot? What's going on?"

"Nothing, nothing. What are you doing here? How...?" Hannibal felt like he was in a madly rushing dream.

"Some tourists saw your plane a couple days ago. The Mounties tracked me down, and we've been looking for you guys all over. It was just by chance we flew over this place and saw Murdock and BA on the beach. Is everybody okay? Where's..." That's when Gordon saw Face. "Oh my God. Is he...?"

"He's alive, barely. We have to get him to a hospital."

"Well, let's go then. There's room in the plane for all of us."