CHAPTER FORTY SIX

Carla's people had reported in early that morning. The van had left in a hurry at sunup. They weren't sure who was driving. Shortly after, Dr. Sullivan had arrived and almost immediately her car had raced after the van. Both were headed east. They had a man tailing and would report any further activity. As far as they could tell, only Dr. Sullivan and Mrs. Baracus were still at the farm with Peck. They had seen no one else.

That was interesting. Was Smith so sure of himself that he would leave Peck and the women unguarded? Or had something happened that would force him to do that? She needed to know who was in the van, who was in the car, where they were going and why. She contacted her people. Stop whichever vehicle they could. Now.


*****

How long he'd been walking he had no idea. If you could it walking. He was bruised all over. His right hand hurt like hell - he'd fallen on it more than once. He wished he could trust his legs more but they would just give without warning and down he'd go. He'd finally found the roadway again and kept to it as much as possible. Not so many things to trip over or step on.

The sun was almost directly overhead now and it was hot. He was sweaty and dirty and his head hurt. Hell, his whole body hurt. And those damn images. He had no control over them now. He walked into them. That was the only way he could keep going. Walk through them. He wouldn't let them stop him. Not now. He'd come too far. And Stockwell was still too far away. He'd find a ride. One way or the other.

Damn! He lay where he had fallen. He could feel the blood coming from his cheek where it had slammed into the asphalt. God, that hurt. Painfully, he sat up, wiping the blood away with his hand. He had to rest. He had to. He couldn't keep going like this.

He tried to stand. Couldn't. His body refused to move. So he sat. This was it. Either he would be able to get up and start moving again in a few minutes, or he'd just sit here until he was baked. Either would work for him.

It was the sound that made the decision for him. A car, truck, something coming up the road. The team? Or Stockwell? Or just a stranger traveling wherever. Didn't matter. One way or another he had to move.

He slid off the road, down into the ditch. He pulled one of the handguns from his waist, made sure it was loaded. He watched for the car. It came around the curve, slowly. Not the van. Stockwell? Stranger? Didn't matter. It wasn't the van. He needed wheels. He forced himself up, out onto the road. His left hand raised the pistol, aiming it at the driver's side. His hand was steady.

It took only a few seconds before the car screeched to a halt. It sat, motor running. Face moved slowly toward it, keeping close to the side of the road. He figured it was a civilian. Anyone else would have realized they had a more powerful weapon than he did. He got close enough to see inside. Shit. A woman, looking scared to death. He didn't want that. But he had no choice.

He opened the passenger door and got in. Pointed the gun up, away from her.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I just need a ride. A fast, careful ride. No breaking the speed limit, no weaving around. No calling attention to us. Understood?"

The woman nodded, tears starting to run down her cheeks. Damn.

"Look, I know you're scared. But I swear, I won't hurt you. The gun was just to get you to stop. That's all. So now we'll just start driving. As long as you don't get smart ass about this, we'll be fine. Now go."

The car pulled out slowly, gathering speed. Right up to the speed limit. No more, no less. Smart woman.


*****

The car was parked by the side of the road. Hannibal sat still, puffing on his cigar. BA stared out the windshield at the empty road ahead. Murdock sat in the back, pulling angrily at the loose strings on his jacket. They had driven for several miles, saw nothing to indicate Face had been anywhere near. He'd lost them.

"Now what, Colonel?" Murdock had snapped the last string and was distractedly looking for others.

"We keep going. There were a couple cars passed while we were looking back at the van. We need to try and catch up with them. Maybe they saw something. Maybe they even picked him up." He threw the half-finished cigar out of the window. "He didn't disappear into thin air. He's here somewhere."

The car pulled back onto the road. Again, BA ignored the speed limit.


*****

"There they are. Pull them over." They'd already checked the abandoned van. They knew they had to stop the car or Carla would have their heads. The dark sedan sped up, slowly gaining on the car with the three men in it. BA saw it immediately.

"Comp'ny, Hannibal. Not cops neither."

Hannibal glanced back. No one drove that kind of car around here. Had to be. Was Face with them? No, they'd come from behind. They couldn't have found him first.

"Lose 'em, BA. We don't have time for bullshit."

"Can't with this thing, Hannibal," BA nodded at the dash of Maggie's car. "Don't have the guts."

Hannibal sighed. He was going to owe Maggie big for this one.

"Okay, Murdock. Head down." He pulled himself around in the seat, pulling his automatic at the same time. Two shots took out the rear window. He rapid fired at the car behind, hitting the grill half a dozen times. Steam spewed out of the engine compartment and the black sedan screamed to a halt.

"Okay, Sergeant. Let's catch up with those cars." He lit another cigar. Then grinned. That had felt good.


*****

Joe had warned her about taking this road alone. Time and time again. She wouldn't brush him off next time. God willing there was a next time. She kept glancing at the filthy man with the gun. He was crazy, she knew that. And violent. That gun. Who'd he shot? Who'd he killed before commandeering her car? Was she next? At least he kept it pointed at the roof and not at her.

He kept staring straight ahead, watching the road. Occasionally he would glance out the rear window. He never said a word to her after those first commands. But he was talking. Mumbling to himself. Or to someone. What she could hear almost sounded like he was arguing with someone. If she ever got out of this, she would never, ever take this road again. Even with Joe. Never.


*****

He shouldn't have done this. He shouldn't have taken this woman hostage. He was doing it again. Screwing things up, making everything so much worse. He should let her go.

Yeah, and let Stockwell dance away as well, right?

I could take the car. I don't need her, too.

How are you going to drive, bud? Our little friends are dancing like sugar plums all through your head. You can't stop them. Can you?

I can drive. I can control them.

Bullshit. You've lost it. Let me handle things. I can do it for you.

No. I've seen how you handle things.

Ditto, bud. See how screwed up you've made things. You should've let me do this my way.

Shut up.

Yeah, whatever.


*****

They had stopped two cars so far, and a pickup. Other than scaring the occupants half to death, they had accomplished nothing. No one had seen the van on the road, no one had seen a man walking. All they had done was lose precious time.

They had had to pull off the highway to get gas. More out of desperation than hope, Murdock had asked the attendant if she had seen anything unusual that morning. At first the girl said no, but then changed her mind.

"Oh, well, there was that one car..."

"What car?"

"About a half hour ago, maybe a bit longer. Nice lady driving, kind of a scuzzball with her, if you know what I mean. She pulled in and Danny - that's the other attendant - filled up the car for her. Said she was in a hurry and her brother wasn't feeling well. Danny said he was really weird, y'know?" She snapped her gum.

"Where's this Danny? Can I talk to him?"

"Yeah, sure, he's over there filling up that truck."

Murdock almost ran to the other attendant. He spent a few minutes talking to him, then hurried over to their own car.

"Okay, they were here, Hannibal."

"They?"

"Yeah, single woman and Face. The attendant said he was really out of it, mumbling to himself. The woman claimed he was her brother, that he wasn't feeling well. They headed back to the highway, maybe 45 minutes ago."

"Let's go, BA!"


*****

"Mister?"

Silence. He was still staring out the window.

"Mister?"

"What?"

"Uh, my husband, well, he'll be wondering where I am. How much, uh, how much farther did you want to go? I mean, well, he'll be wondering, you know?"

"We'll go until I say we stop. Now just shut up."

You didn't have to talk her like that.

She needs to keep quiet. I can't think with her yammering like that.

She's just scared.

Like I care. We need to get as far east as the junker will take us.

I told you I didn't like your methods.

Tough. You can't handle it, bud. I need to deal with all your crap so just shut up and let me.

Ok.

Damn right, 'ok'.

Face stared out the window. Watched his victims explode, fall and die. Over and over and over again...