CHAPTER FORTY FIVE

Maggie was still half asleep as she tore down the road toward the farm. She had no idea what so urgent, but Murdock had said they needed her car immediately, that Face was gone, please hurry, so that's exactly what she had done. She still had her bathrobe on, for heaven's sake. She couldn't figure out how Face could be gone. Hannibal had shown her their new security system. A squirrel couldn't get through that network of cameras and other apparatus. So how did anyone get in, get Face, and get out again?

The three men were waiting in the drive when she got there. Hannibal practically pulled her out of the car as they piled in and took off. No word of explanation at all. She turned to go into the house and gasped when she saw the wreckage of what had been Face's wheelchair. Looking up at the house, she saw Mama gesturing for her to come in. Over coffee, she heard Hannibal and BA's theory about what had actually happened.

How, she kept saying to herself, how? Yesterday when she'd seen Face he was totally out of it. She knew that he shouldn't even be able to sit up by himself, let alone get into the wheelchair and out the door. And then to get to the van and...it just was not possible. Not unless the man had the will power of God himself. She said as much to Mama.

"I know. I thought they was crazy when they first tol' me, too. But I looked at those tracks out there and there was just no one else on this property. I shoulda known somethin was up with him. This past week, I've seen his leg or sometimes his arm jerk while he was sittin there, but when I'd go over he'd jus be starin off again. I thought it was just like spasms or somethin. But he musta been gettin hisself ready all this time. I wish now I'd'a said somethin."

"You couldn't have known, Mama. Good Lord, how could anyone have guessed something like this would happen? What I want to know is why? What on earth could make him put himself through that? I know he was badly shaken by that attack, but that much?"

"I don't know that either, Maggie. I can't imagine what would make him do it. All I know is I'm scared to death for him. God only knows what's gonna happen to him out there..."


*****

"Which way, Colonel?" They had raced to the end of the driveway; Hannibal wracked his brain to remember which direction he'd seen the taillights turn.

"Left."

BA rabbited out onto the main road. The van had a full tank of gas. Enough to get all the way into Nevada. BA pictured Face stuck in the desert in the middle of the day with no gas, no water...damn. He hit the gas. Forget speed limits.

Murdock figured Face probably had no more than a twenty minute head start. There weren't a lot of turnoff's on this road and no one expected him to take any anyway. He had some definite reason for leaving, which meant he would most likely take the most direct route wherever it was. But that's where they were stuck. Where the hell was he going? And why? It had to have something to do with the shooting. But Face wouldn't know it was Carla. No one had mentioned her to him. And Stockwell was gone...Face didn't know that.

"Damn. He's going after Stockwell!"

"But he's dead, fool."

"Face doesn't know that. And who else would make him go through all this?"

"Murdock's right, BA. And we gotta find him before Carla does."

It was nearly three hours later they found the van. Stopped precariously in a ditch just past a sharp curve. Face wasn't in it. Nor were several small hand guns.

"Okay, spread out. I don't care how determined he is, there's no way Face could walk any where. He's gotta be close. Just be careful. God only knows what's going through that head of his now."

BA moved across the road. There wasn't much cover on that side and he figured one man could search it quickly. Hannibal and Murdock moved apart and started down their side. At first it was the same hard ground as BA had found, but as they moved further east tall grass started spreading through. It didn't take long to find Face's trail. Hannibal stared at it in disbelief. It was obvious their friend had struggled mightily to walk, to keep going; the path veered first in one direction, then another. But he kept going in one general direction - east.

"BA, over here!" The three men started following the path of broken grass.


*****

It was harder driving the van than he had anticipated. With only one weakened hand to steer with, the van felt sluggish and he had to fight for every curve. Braking was agony, trying to force his foot to move from gas pedal to brake pedal and then apply the brakes. He took more curves than he cared to without braking at all. He wondered how far behind the team would be. They would have to get another vehicle - Maggie's probably. That would give him a little extra time but he needed to build the distance between them.

As time moved on, he was having a harder time keeping the images from coming at him. He concentrated on the road, trying to keep them at bay for as long as possible. By the second hour of relentless driving, they were taking over. The road would disappear and there were his victims, exploding and dying and falling. It would last only a split second, but it was a split second too long. He found himself careening along the road almost out of control. Still he kept going. Stockwell. He had to get to Stockwell.

Finally his luck ran out. His vision blocked by yet another nightmarish scene, he missed the curve. The van careened across the road, through the ditch and jerked to a halt, bottoming out on a sharp rise on the other side of the ditch. Face wasn't sure if he blacked out or not. He thought he might have hit his head on the driver's side window. He looked around, suddenly realizing that he was out in the middle of nowhere. He sat, staring out the windshield at the near barren countryside. Now what?

Get your ass out of the van and start walking.

Walking? Who are you kidding?

You want Stockwell? You want the team safe? Walk.

Face sighed. Okay. Fine. Whatever. He looked in the van. The storage locker was way in the back. He'd have to get at it from the back door. He had to have a weapon. As many as he could carry. Okay. Move.

Face landed flat on his face when he tried to step out of the van. For a few moments he just lay there. He wasn't going to be able to do this. He couldn't. He just plain couldn't. He was going to fail, again.

Loser.

I can't help it. I tried.

Loser. Always have been, always will be.

I'm not.

Then get up and get moving. You think Stockwell's just going to sit around waiting for your sorry ass to show up again?

Face reached up and grabbed the door handle, struggling to a standing position. He felt dizzy, lightheaded. Images started flashing at him. Focus. Focus. Stockwell. The images faded. Okay.

He leaned heavily against the side of the van. Every step cost him. It was like trying to walk on cement stilts. Only the cement kept crumbling out from under him. Didn't matter. He had to hurry. The team could come any time. He couldn't let them stop him again. He had to finish things this time. He had to.

Okay, back door open. Chest. Open it up. Padlock. He looked quickly around the back of the van and saw the tire iron. It would have to do. He picked it up with his left hand. Shit. He wasn't sure if he could knock the padlock off or not.

Loser.

Angry. He brought the tire iron up high and smashed it down on the padlock. Again. Again. Third times a charm. He opened the chest, pulled four handguns out, stuffed them in his waistband, two in front, two in back. Two boxes of cartridges in his pockets. Okay. That would have to do.

Rest. God, he wished he could just lay down somewhere and sleep. Forever. He really wanted to go away now. This was too hard. Too damn hard. God, hadn't he done enough already?

No, you haven't. You haven't finished the job yet.

He took a deep breath. Okay. It was a little easier walking now. Not much. But he was able to move without having to lean on the van. He'd get a couple yards before his legs would fail him. Get up, move a few more feet. Each time he got a little further before his legs would give out. I can do this.

Yeah, bud, you can. I'll help you...


*****

The trail ended at the side of the road, maybe 200 yards from the van. They searched the area and could not find any more trace of him. BA hurried back to the car. They would have to follow the road, try to find if he left it again.

And pray he hadn't gotten picked up by someone.