CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN

There was something about his demeanor that made her even more nervous than before. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but there was something "meaner" about him. It wasn't just that he'd gotten so nasty with her earlier. The way he was sitting, for one thing. Before he'd been slouched down, tired like. Now he was almost ramrod straight, and he was tensed up. He didn't just stare out the window any more, either. He was watching everything - including her - more closely. And the gun tended to be pointed in her direction instead of at the ceiling, which definitely made her nervous. He looked over at her and she quickly looked back at the road. Those eyes were so cold!

They'd been driving for almost four hours straight now and she was getting so tired. It was hard to keep her eyes open. She wanted to ask him if they could stop for a break, but she was scared to. He might just decide to leave her if he thought she couldn't drive any more. And she didn't want to find out if he'd leave her alive or not. Or if he had anything else in mind. Maybe when they stopped for gas next he'd let her get out of the car for a bit. She really needed the ladies' room, too.

He was looking behind them much more often now. She hadn't noticed anything odd. There was a car that had been behind them for some time, but that wasn't unusual to her way of thinking. They were on a highway, after all. But it seemed to make this guy nervous.

He was mumbling to himself yet again. That had changed, too. Before, she had only thought it sounded like he was talking with someone. Now it was obvious he thought he was having a conversation. One voice would be louder and sarcastic. Then he'd say something in a real soft voice. And then the sarcastic one would answer. It was really unnerving. Scary. Dear God, just let me get out of this in one piece.


*****

But it's not the van.

You idiot, of course it's not the van. You left the van in the ditch. They must have Maggie's car.

Oh. I don't remember what that looks like.

Big help, bud. I don't like it. Nobody drives that slow.

We're driving that slow.

Because you told the bitch not to speed, dummy! Nobody in their right mind would drive this Godforsaken road at the speed limit.

Have her speed up. See what they do.

Miracle - the kid has good idea.

"Hey, you."

The woman jumped. Scared, huh? Just wait.

"Take her up to 70."

"70?"

"Yeah, you know, seven zero? Do it."

He felt the car accelerate and looked back. For a moment the car behind them fell behind. Only for a moment. It picked up speed. A lot of speed. It was catching up.

Guess that answers that question.

"Okay, lady, we got a little situation here. So you get this junker flying a little low, understand?" The gun was only a few inches from her temple.

"Y-y-y-yes." The car sped up. So did the car behind. For a moment. Then it suddenly slowed down. Yeah, good. They'd seen the gun on her. Good. Let them think about that for a while.


*****

"That's them, Hannibal. That's the car the kid described." Murdock was watching from the back seat, nerves taut.

"You're sure?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, BA, keep them in sight but stay loose. We gotta worry about that woman. If you see an opening to force them off the road without too much danger to her, do it."

"Right, Hannibal."

"What if there isn't a place? Then what?"

"They've been driving for a while, Murdock. In this heat, that car can't be doing too well on gas. Eventually they've got to stop. We'll be there when they do."

They settled back, trying to relax until the right opportunity came up. BA kept a safe distance for several miles, dropping back occasionally but keeping their quarry in sight. Suddenly the car ahead of them sped way up.

"We been made, Hannibal." BA scowled.

"Damn. Get him, BA."

BA sped up, trying to catch up. This would be much trickier, because Face would not want to let them get close enough to pull any stunts. But there was a civilian driver, and that could work to their advantage. She wouldn't be able to outmaneuver them.

"Damn! Slow down, BA! Pull back!" Hannibal was shouting in his ear.

BA looked in surprise at Hannibal. He mutely pointed to the car ahead - where BA could easily see the silhouette of the gun pointed at the woman's head. He immediately backed off.

"What the hell is he doing?" Murdock was aghast that his friend would threaten anyone like that, let alone a woman.

"He's letting us know he's in charge, Murdock. Very much in charge." Hannibal sat back in defeat. "Keep back, BA. But for God's sake, don't lose him."


*****

Put that down! You don't need to do that!

Geez, bud, settle down. You didn't think I'd really shoot her, do you? That'd crash the damn car, dummy. You think I want to die? No way, Jose.

So don't do it again. I mean it.

Yeah, right...You'd like to see us dead, wouldn't you? Solve a lot of your problems, wouldn't it, bud? Fucking coward.

Enough!

Yeah, whatever.

I never should have let you go. I never...

Never should've agreed to Stockwell's plans. Don't forget, kiddo, you're the one who did that. Not me. This whole mess is your fault. I'm just trying to clean it up for you. You oughta be grateful.

"But you're making it worse!"

Face hadn't realized he'd shouted. It scared the woman badly. She jerked the wheel, and the car started to skid. It swerved from side to side, the woman crying hysterically as she tried to control the careening vehicle. They hit the gravel shoulder and she lost it. The car zipped off the road, down through the ditch and hung up on a thick growth of brush.

It took Face a moment to realize they'd come to a stop. The woman was frantically trying to open her door to escape. In a second, Face realized that the car that had been behind them was now rolling to a screeching halt on the road, only yards away.

Damn.

He shoved the gun in the woman's side. She stopped dead still.

"Okay, open the door slowly and get out. I'll be right behind you. Do anything I don't tell you to and you are one dead bitch."

The woman nodded and did as she was told. She stepped carefully out of the car. She heard him stumble a bit as he got out of the car, then felt the gun up against her ribs. He was leaning against the wrecked car, keeping her close. She looked at the three men who had piled out of the other car. She wasn't sure if they would be help for her or not. She started praying to herself.


*****

"Seems we have a bit of a problem here, Colonel." The man was almost mocking in his tone.

"I don't think so, Face. Nothing we can't work out, anyway. But you need to let that lady go."

"Uh uh uh, Colonel. She's my insurance. Can't have you running one of your plans, can I? No, there's a simple solution to this little predicament. You move away and let the lady and I take your car. I'm sure someone will come along eventually and give you a lift."

Hannibal was shaking his head. "Sorry, Face, you know we can't do that."

Murdock had been watching and listening, not so much to Hannibal, but to Face, and he sure as hell didn't sound or act like the Face he'd known. And yet, it did. There was something familiar yet foreign in the man holding the gun. If he was right...

Murdock stepped off to one side, slightly in front of Hannibal. Their quarry immediately shifted to meet the new challenge.

"Face, you have to put the gun down."

"Yeah, like that's gonna happen, Captain."

"I'm not talking to you, jerk! I'm talking to Face. Put the gun down. You don't want to hurt her. You don't want to hurt any of us."

"Try something, see how much I don't, bud."

"Shut up. C'mon, Face. You kept things under control for so long - don't quit now, okay?"

The man stood there looking at Murdock with nothing but contempt.

"You gonna just let it go, then, Face? Everything you believe, everything Hannibal taught you? Just let it go because it's too hard?"

Face hesitated. "No." He shook his head. "No, I didn't want to, Murdock. But it got away. I couldn't..."

"Nah, it's not gone, Face. Never was. If it had been, you wouldn't be going through all this hell. You've been battering yourself with guilt for so long, muchacho, you're just tired. I know how that is, you know I do. But this isn't the way to fix it."

"But Stockwell..."

"Stockwell's dead, Face. He died that night at The Meadows."

Face went white. The gun dropped to his side. The woman stood perfectly still. She didn't understand any of this but she wasn't moving until someone told her to.

"Dead? I don't...I don't understand...the farm..."

"That wasn't Stockwell, Face. That was Carla. She's in charge now. But you know she's not like Stockwell. She may be an ass but she's not in his league. Stockwell's not gonna hurt anyone else, Face."

"How do you know? Maybe it was a trick..."

Hannibal pushed forward. "I know it, kid. I know it because I took care of it. Believe me. He's not coming after anyone any more."

"He's really gone?"

"Really gone, Face."

Hannibal could not remember seeing anyone look so totally lost as Face did at that moment.


*****

Gone? Gone. No more. Dead. He wouldn't have to worry about him any more. Not now. Not ever. He realized he was still holding the gun. He didn't need that any more either. It fell to the ground. He saw Murdock motioning, realized the woman was still standing there. She ran to the pilot, sobbing. How many nightmares would she have now, because of him?

Chalk up another one, bud.

God, go away and leave me alone.

Sure. Sure, until the next time you need me to clean up for you, right? Then you'll come crying for help again.

No. I never want to see you again. You're history.

Sure, kid. Sure.

Face looked up. They were all staring at him. He sighed. He was so tired. So tired. At least now there was nothing holding him back. He could quit. It was over. All over. He could go away now and stay.


*****

Hannibal had been watching Face closely after the woman ran from him. He was staring off into space again, but his lips were moving and Hannibal thought he could hear him talking. This was new. And he wasn't sure he liked it. BA and Murdock had noticed it, too. The woman was the only one who didn't seem fazed by it. She watched him, but more out of continued apprehension than surprise.

Face suddenly stopped his mumbling and looked at the team. It was almost a look of resignation that went over his features, and they watched helplessly as his eyes shut down and he went back to his place of safety. It took Hannibal two quick steps to catch him as he fell.

They needed to get moving. They had to get Face back to the farm, and they had to get this woman back to her family. Somehow they had to deal with what Face had done to her. They couldn't stop her from going to the police if she chose to, but maybe they could convince her not to. Ironically, right now was when they needed their con man the most.

Hannibal motioned for BA to take Face to the car. "Put him in the front, BA," he said, nodding toward the woman.

Murdock and Hannibal flanked the woman in the back seat. She had calmed down considerably but was still understandably upset. Well, they had at least a four hour drive back to the gas station to try and reach some sort of 'understanding' with her. Hopefully keep Face out of jail. Hopefully keep them from going back on the run. Hopefully.


*****

For the next few hours, Hannibal and Murdock talked with the woman, whose name, they learned, was Molly. First they had to calm her down, try to reassure her she was safe. Not an easy job, with both Face and BA sitting right in front of her. Finally they were able to soothe her enough that she could tell them what exactly had happened to her. Then they explained, broadly, the "emotional problems" Face had been having.

"Under normal circumstances, he's not at all dangerous." Murdock was oozing sincerity.

"So, when he gets upset, this other person comes out? Like Sybil?" Molly wasn't sure she believed in that sort of thing.

"No, no, not at all like that." Murdock sat on the edge of the seat so he could more easily look directly at her. "It's like, well, like when you were in the car. The way you behaved - is that the kind of person you usually are?"

Molly thought about it. No, usually she was a take charge person, didn't let anyone push her around. She dealt with customers at a wholesale lumber yard - no, she was not easily intimidated. But then, those customers didn't carry guns.

"Exactly. You have one dominant personality under normal circumstances. But you knew that wouldn't work here. So you took on a different one - submissive, cooperative. It's what we all do - take on the personality trait that suits the situation, what we need to do. That's not 'Sybil' - that's just normal."

"This guy had been threatening our friend." Hannibal would be playing a little loose with the truth here but it didn't really matter. He had to make his point. "Normally, he would have been able to deal with it in a reasonable manner. But, because of the problems he's been having, he, uh, overreacted. And he did things he never would have normally, in order to protect his family."

"But this man who was threatening him, he'd dead now?"

"Yes, he died just recently. Unfortunately our friend didn't know that. That was our fault for not telling him."

"So, now that this guy is dead, your friend will be okay? He won't try this kind of thing again?"

"Well," Murdock didn't want to sound too Pollyanna; Molly didn't appear to be stupid. "I can't say that he's going to be okay. He has other problems. But, now that he knows the threat is gone, there's no reason for him to take this kind of action again."

Molly thought about it for quite some time. She had relatives with 'problems'. She didn't understand it all that well, but she knew enough to know their actions weren't always their fault. But she might have been killed, too.

"I don't know. For someone so damn harmless, he sure seemed to know what he was doing. And he didn't seem to be real worried about any 'family'. Damn it, he pointed that gun right at my head. He could've killed me!"

"I don't think he would have, Molly." Hannibal was again playing with the truth. He honestly didn't know what Face might have done. "He's not a violent man. I think if it had come down to the wire, he would have let you go. I'm sure of it."

"So sticking that gun in my ribs was a bluff?" The anger in Molly's voice hadn't dissipated.

"Yeah. I know it was horrible for you, Molly, but please try to understand. He wouldn't have hurt you, not really."

Again, Molly had to think. She knew what they were trying to do, all right. They didn't want trouble with the police. Well, she could understand that. And there was something about the way they talked about the man that made her think he really wasn't a bad person. Just sick. Well, she really didn't want to mess with the police, either. If she pressed charges, it would mean a trial, publicity. The last thing she wanted. The last thing Joe would want. And it certainly wouldn't make her boss very happy, either.

"Okay, I don't really want to see him in jail. And there are other concerns I have that make me not want to go through all that stuff, either. But what about my husband? He's going to wonder what the hell happened to me. He may have called the police already. And my car - it's wrecked."

The twinkle came back into Hannibal's eyes. "Your car was stolen. You were left stranded out in the middle of nowhere, until you were picked up by another motorist and brought to the gas station. You didn't get a good look at the man because he had a stocking over his head. No one pays attention to car thefts. There won't be any publicity." Hannibal really wanted a cigar. "We'll send you a cashier's check to cover the cost of any repairs to the car, or a replacement if need be. How does that sound?"

Molly thought it made sense. Car thefts around her area were nothing new, and if they were willing to pay for the car...

"Okay. But if you don't come up with the money for the car..." She absolutely glared at him.

Hannibal laughed. He liked this woman. "Don't worry, Molly. You'll have it by the end of the week."