CHAPTER FIFTY THREE

He awoke to a bright sun coming in the windows. Hannibal was gone. Father Magill was sitting beside the bed. He was looking out the window, hadn't noticed Face was awake yet. Face looked closely at him. It wasn't often he got to really look at the priest. This man he'd known forever. He was looking old now. Face had never thought about him getting old, dying some day. How many of the lines in that face had he himself put there? And yet the priest had always been there for Face. Always.

Face thought about last night. He wasn't sure if that had been real, or just his mind messing with him again. But as he thought about it, and thought about Father Magill, he made his decision. He would talk to Father Magill today. It was time. Maybe it would help get rid of him, maybe it wouldn't. But he needed that peace. Corny as it may sound, he needed to know he was okay with God again. That he wasn't abandoned. That he could have hope.

"Good morning, Templeton. How are you this morning?"

He surprised the priest. "I'm feeling better, Father." He cleared his throat. "I wonder if we could, uh, talk, uh, sometime today?"

"Are you sure, Templeton?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure."


*****

Face had wanted to go to church for this. Father Magill had contacted the local priest and made all the arrangements. He and Face drove there by themselves. Six disapproving eyes had watched them pull out of the driveway. None of Face's team members thought he was ready for dredging up all that garbage. And none of them liked being away from him for it. But confronting two of the most stubborn people in the world beat back their concerns. Face wanted to do this 'right'. And Father Magill backed him up.

The church was large but simple. Father Magill conferred with its priest for a few moments. Then he wheeled Face to a small chapel to the side of the sanctuary. They would have privacy and time.

Face steeled himself. Pushing himself back months ago, to where it first started. To that first meeting with Stockwell. Lying to the team. The planning. The first kill. Moving forward, to the next two. The decision he made about not killing the replacement. Playing God. And then he told about the others. The deaths the rest of the team knew nothing about. The ones he was most ashamed of. The ones he had caused just to save his own skin.


*****

The shots, quick in succession, had taken first Nabeeh, then Dahwar. He'd watched for only a moment, to make sure they didn't move again. Immediately he began crawling slowly backward. There were enough tall stands of grass to cover his exit, at least for the moment. He kept an eye on the encampment below, watching as the first moments of confusion and panic subsided, the rage when it was discovered their leaders were indeed dead, the frantic organizing of the search party. He had only moments before they would be surrounding him. He needed to find cover, a place where his suit would blend in so completely they would walk right by him without seeing him. He had picked the spot on his way in, a spot so close to a clump of desert brush he doubted anyone would get too close to him. They could look around it all they wanted; they wouldn't see him. In just a few more moments he was there, wiggling slightly to embed himself in the ground. He had a small cavity where he could lay his face and still breathe. A rude cloth mask covered his mouth and nose. He was completely concealed in six inches of dirt.

The shooting had been late morning. He felt the sun moving higher in the sky and gradually descending again. He didn't move. He made his body numb, his mind blank except for listening. It was the only way he could tell where his pursuers were. The heat was stifling, and thirst wracked his system. Still he didn't move. To move was to die. He probably would, anyway, but he was damn sure it wouldn't be because of his own mistake.

They had come close. Several times. Each time he held his breath, feeling like his very heartbeat would give away his position. Each time they had moved on. There were so many of them. Had he left any trail? He didn't think so. No, he was sure he hadn't. They would have found him immediately if he had. He was sure.

The sun was starting to set. He would wait until it was completely dark, and then wait some more. Eventually, long after they had given up for the night, he would sidle out of his hiding spot and start the long slow journey away. Hopefully, he would be far away before the sun rose the next morning. He dared not sleep. He had to know where they were. He had to stay alert.

Hours later he was preparing himself to move out. It would be harder than he had thought. A few of the more zealous followers were still out searching, using weak batteried flashlights. Didn't matter. A weak light was just as bad as a high powered one if it landed on him while he was moving. But he couldn't risk staying any longer. Thirst and heat would do the job for them if he tried to stay another day.

It happened when he had thought he was nearly safe. He had only a few yards to go before he reached the top of the hill. Once over that, he could chance running. Just a few yards. Then he heard him. Someone approaching from his left. He lay still. He was too exposed, he knew, but hoped that in the dark he would be unnoticed. He prepared himself anyway. Lay as flat as he could, slowed his breathing, closed his eyes, and waited.

The man stepped right on him. Nearly popped his shoulder out of joint. He rolled quickly, coming up immediately, knife in hand, grabbing him around the neck, jerking back. The knife went in, viciously. Again and again and again. He dropped with the body back onto the ground and waited. Nothing. No one running to his victim's aid. No one had seen, no one had heard. He lay for a few more minutes, catching his breath, the man's blood running over him. Then he moved on, shoving the body off to the side.

He got over the hill, crawled for a few more yards, stood in a crouch. Every muscle screamed at him. He felt dizzy, disoriented. He shook out of the suit; it was too bulky now when he needed speed more than cover. Slinging the rifle over his shoulder, he started a quick, quiet trot down the hill, away from the encampment, away from the pursuers. He had over two miles to run before he'd reach the hidden jeep. He wasn't safe yet...


*****

He was shaken. Father Magill handed him a glass of water. He spilled some just getting it to his mouth. He really didn't want to go on. But he knew he had to. He had to finish...


*****

They found the body too soon. Way too soon. He still had a good mile to go to get to the jeep when he heard the echoes of their shouts bounding off the surrounding hills. He picked up the pace. Faster. Faster. Too late. He knew it. He'd never make it to the jeep. A quarter mile later he heard the roaring of their vehicles. They would know which direction he'd gone just from where the body lay. They were coming and coming fast. His breathing was getting ragged. He started looking for cover in the false dawn. Damn. This is it, kid.

As far as he knew, they had one armored vehicle. The others were beat up jeeps and old trucks, a couple cars. Rag tag army. Good enough to take him out easily. Unless he could set up an ambush of some kind. He kept glancing around him as he ran. Nothing. Brush and a few emaciated trees. God forsaken country.

Half mile to go. If they got within sight now he'd have to abandon the jeep altogether. He'd never make it to it and going close would only alert them to its existence. He had to keep it hidden from them in case he needed it later. If there was a later.

He took a quick glance back. He could see the dust from their vehicles coming over the hill. They wouldn't be far behind. That's when he saw it. A small grotto, formed by several large boulders on the side of a hillock. God is good, he thought.

A fast u-turn, running at full speed. Keeping his fingers crossed there would be no snakes, he practically dove into the cavity. Breathing hard, he readied his rifle and settled into position. His was an almost impenetrable position. But if he didn't catch a break in taking them out, they just had to sit back and wait. He thought for a moment about that, then pulled one bullet from his belt and stuck it in his pocket. Now he was ready.

He could hear them now, getting closer. He tried to determine how many vehicles there were but there was no way. He had two choices - let them go by and hope they kept going, or start taking them out as they passed. It all depended on them.

They were getting closer. The noise level was rising constantly. Roaring engines echoing around him. Dust coming now. Damn. Cutting the visibility to almost nothing. He caught glimpses of vehicles, filled with fanatics. Guns raised, waving in the air. Occupants screaming their anger. Total sensory overload.

And then they were gone. They hadn't seen him on the flat land and assumed he was further ahead of them. He still had a chance. He was less than a half mile from the jeep. At the rate they were going, they would be a couple miles away in minutes. He might just make it before they realized their mistake.

The dust hadn't settled when he pulled himself out of his shelter and started running for the jeep. He pushed his already aching lungs and legs to the limit, breathing in the dust. Listening to the roar of the horde moving further away. Waiting to hear them turning back. Running. Running.

He stumbled up to the jeep, covered in desert camouflage in the scrub. He could barely climb in, lungs unable to suck in enough air. He turned the key, the engine roared to life. He pushed it into gear and tore onto the desert - and found himself heading straight for an old Chevy. A straggler. Six rifle wielding passengers.

He headed straight for them. He knew there was a damn good chance they would not veer away. But they might. If not, he would and swing quickly around behind them. Then he'd have them.

They didn't swerve. Not a foot. Shooting as they careened toward him. Bullets whizzing by his head. Praying if they hit him it would be in the head. He didn't want to face their version of justice. At the very last second, he pulled the jeep to the side, whipping around behind them. The old car couldn't maneuver that easily. Before they could make a quarter turn, the jeep was stopped and Face was firing. He wasn't aiming for the men in particular. He wanted the car stopped, stationery targets. He hit the engine compartment two or three times. Steam poured out, it rolled to a stop, men jumping out and firing. He returned fire, ignoring the barrage coming at him. One by one the men dropped. And then it was quiet.

Face watched the bodies for several minutes. No movement. He didn't think the others would have heard the firing over their own noise but he couldn't be sure. He did a quick once over of himself and the jeep. He had a few ricochet scratches, the jeep more than a few non-mortal wounds. Taking a deep breath, he put the jeep in gear once more and headed for the desert.

For the next three days, Face and his hunters played cat and mouse across the desert. It hadn't taken long for the terrorists to realize they'd overshot their prey. It was easy for them to follow the jeep tracks. Now it became a matter of just trying to stay far enough ahead of them to attempt losing them in the many small villages. It hadn't worked. No one in the villages was willing to tempt fate and lie about having seen the lone jeep. Gas was obtained at gun point; no one would sell to him once the hunt became known. He began avoiding the villages after several residents tried to collect his hide. He got within a mile of the city before finally running out of gas. Luck was with him as he was able to sneak aboard a crowded bus that delivered him to the heart of the city. The terrorists did not follow en masse after finding the jeep. He didn't know how many came after him individually; he was safe in the crowded streets. But until Face finally made contact with Stockwell's people, he moved with eyes in the back of his head. He didn't feel safe until he was flying across the border into Greece.


*****

Father Magill had listened with growing horror to Face's story. It was not just a tabulation of transgressions. Face was reliving everything. It was important that Father Magill not show any emotion, any judgment, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. He was appalled at what Templeton had done, and yet he could feel the stress and terror that his protégé must have been experiencing for so many days. And he knew it hadn't ended there. That there was much, much more...


*****

Face stopped. He took another long drink of water. He was shaking inside. The images were fighting to come out full strength. He could feel the other pushing. He was scared now. He had to finish this quickly. He had to get it all out before he was overrun. He had to get straight with God before they took over.

Taking a deep breath, he began recounting his sadistic hunt for Stockwell. He sent up a little prayer on the side - give me the strength to finish.