CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR

"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

It was over. Templeton slumped in the wheelchair, emotionally and physically drained. He had hoped, almost believed, that once he'd confessed, the images would disappear forever. That 'he' would be gone from his mind. That he would be free. God had forgiven him. He should be free. There was only one problem.

He hadn't forgiven himself yet.

Father Magill wheeled Templeton out to the car and helped him in. He was feeling almost as drained as the other man looked. Hearing the story from Hannibal had been hard enough. Hearing it in detail from his boy had been devastating. He would be praying a lot over the next few days.

It was a half hour drive from the church back to the farm, through rolling hills and woods. The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky. Father Magill couldn't help thinking that Someone was smiling down on them, pleased. It gave him great comfort. He hoped Templeton felt it.

They had gone perhaps five miles when they heard a loud pop, and the car veered sharply off the road, nearly sliding down into the ditch. There was a sharp jolt as it abruptly stopped. The engine coughed, sputtered, and died. The two men sat for a moment, dazed. Simultaneously, they looked through the windshield at the three men pointing guns at them.


*****

The phone rang at Maggie's. She was in the middle of an exam and let the answering service pick it up. A few minutes later, it rang again. When it kept ringing, she knew the service was trying to reach her. Must be important. She excused herself and hurried to pick it up.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Doctor, but I really didn't understand the message very well; they said it was important."

"Okay, Sal, no problem. What's the message?"

"It's ''Tell Smith he should go to church more often.' They wouldn't leave a name. Does that make any sense, doctor?"

Maggie tensed. She didn't like it. "No, but thanks, Sal." She hung up and called the farm. Hannibal answered himself. Relaying the message, she waited for an explanation. Instead, she got a dial tone.


*****

He'd shouted for Father Magill without response. Where had they taken him? What had they done to him? The last thing he remembered was seeing one of the goons pulling open his door and the fist slamming into him. When he awoke, he was tied up, blindfolded. His arms pulled behind him, harnessed to the rope around his feet. He was lying on the ground, leaves and grass pressing against his face. He thought there were people around him, but they weren't talking. They weren't moving much either; just enough so he knew they were there. He had no idea how long they'd been here. His arms and legs were numb and felt cold. The ropes were way too tight. That was deliberate, he knew.

Perfume. Suddenly he smelled perfume. He forced himself to sit up. Carla. He'd forgotten about her. Stupid, Peck. He should have known she wouldn't just walk away. But it had been so long since the attack on the farm. She seemed to like that, waiting and waiting between hits, making them complacent and then hitting them again. Sadistic.

She had a great teacher.

"Well, well, nice to see you again, Lieutenant. Hope you've been uncomfortable during your stay with us."

"Funny, Carla. Your sense of humor is exceeded only by your sense of fashion. That perfume's just a bit old, you know - I detect a faint hint of alcohol. Really should pay more attention to the shelf life."

He was rewarded by a swift and hard cuff across his ear.

"I wouldn't be so cocky if I were you, Peck. You're not exactly in a position to defend yourself. Or the priest."

"Where is he?" Face could barely control the anger that flared. Playing with Carla was one thing; having her mess with Father Magill another.

"Oh, he's being well taken care of. He's done nothing to me, other than dealing with you. It shouldn't take Smith very long at all to find him. You, however, well, that's another story." She walked behind him. "There are a lot of woods out here, did you know that? Lots of little hills and ravines. Quite the wild area, actually. Acres of it. Miles of it. So many places to look." She placed her hand on his head; he shook it off. She chuckled. He could swear she'd appropriated Stockwell's chuckle.

"How long do you suppose it will take them to find you? A day? Two days? A week? How long do you think you can wait?"

Face didn't answer. He had no answer.

"Well, I guess you'll find out, won't you? You thought I was going to kill you, didn't you? Well, you didn't kill me, so I'm returning the favor. But you do have to pay, you know. I don't have full use of my arm even now. It's a hindrance. And the damage you did to the organization - that wasn't good. I'm still doing damage control on that. I guess that's what this is - damage control."

He could sense her bending over him, her face close to his. "When - or if - Smith finds you, you tell him that I can get at any of you, any time, any place. Cause me any more problems, and I'll prove it to him. In spades." She laughed. It wasn't a pleasant sound. "Hell hath no fury, you know. Remember that."

He heard them moving away. He listened carefully but couldn't hear any cars. They must have left him some distance from the road. He had to get loose. He strained against the ropes, trying to stretch them even a little. Nothing. He lay back down on his side. Listened to the noises of the woods. Felt the sun moving slowly toward night. It was getting cold.


*****

Hannibal raced through the house, calling Murdock and BA. Just from his tone, they knew something had happened to Face. Without question they followed him to the van. BA tore down the drive, heading for the church without even asking.

They found the car first. The front tire had been shot. Face's wheelchair was still in the back. No sign of either Face or Father Magill. Perched on the dash was a little toy van.

"Damn her!" Hannibal's wrath was almost a physical presence. "All right, look around. See if they left anything. And look sharp!" He knew that last was unnecessary but he was looking for anyone, anything, to take out his anger on. How the hell did this woman always know the exact time to wreak the most damage on them? Every damn time Face was most vulnerable, she was there. "Damn her!"

He blamed himself for this. He'd gotten lax, thinking they were safe at the farm. Well, they were. He should never have let them go to the church. At least not by themselves. He should've protected them. He should have remembered Carla. He shouldn't have dismissed her.

"Hannibal! Over here!" Murdock was shouting from a clump of small birch trees, a few yards from the road.

Hannibal and BA rushed over. Father Magill was laying under the trees, loosely tied and blindfolded. Other than being stiff from laying in one position for nearly an hour, he was fine. And angry.

"They struck him, Hannibal, as he sat there defenseless! What kind of animals are they?"

"Did you see where they took him? Did they go in a car?"

"No, I didn't see. I was blindfolded almost immediately and dragged up here, where they tied me up. I didn't see anything after they hit him." The priest looked so forlorn. "I'm so sorry, Colonel. I should have listened to you."

"Not your fault, Father. Mine. I knew these people were still out there and I didn't take them seriously enough. Don't worry. We'll find him."

The four men searched the woods around the car for the next hour. By then it was obvious that they had taken Face away from the area. There was not a single sign of his having been anywhere but in the car.

BA took Father Magill in the van and slowly drove up the road, back toward the farm. Hannibal and Murdock each took one side of the road and followed on foot. They were all looking for any sign of a car or people. It was another long mile later that they found the only clue - tire tracks just off the shoulder of the road. Some broken down grass leading off into the woods. Then nothing. Too much short grass, hard packed ground, rock. But at least they knew the general area. They continued the search for another hour before conceding that there was just too much ground to cover. They would have to get help.


*****

Wakey wakey, bud.

He couldn't feel his arms or legs at all. He felt cold all over.

C'mon, bud, enough laying around. You gotta get outa here.

I'm a little tied up at the moment, in case you hadn't noticed.

Yeah, yeah. But you know, bud, when they tied you up they didn't really take into consideration your right hand.

So?

So the wrist might get a little sore, but I'll just bet you can slide that hand out. If you work at it.

Face wiggled the right hand. At least he thought he was. He couldn't feel anything.

C'mon, quit horsing around. You can't feel it so just do it. Geez.

Face started pulling. He could feel some pressure on his wrist, that was all. Okay. He kept pulling, twisting, pulling some more. He started to sweat. His hand was starting to sting now. Must be getting loose, the feeling coming back. He kept pulling. Suddenly his arm jerked back, hand free. Pain. Oh, God, what pain! His arm muscles didn't want to extend, they were cramping, the blood rushing back into his wrist and hand was like stinging nettles. He lay down in agony.

C'mon, c'mon, we haven't got all day.

He took a deep breath. The ropes, free of his wrist, were looser now. Not much but enough. He went through the same painful procedure to pull his left hand out. By the time the pain subsided, he was drenched in sweat. He pulled off the blindfold, seeing stars. God, he just wanted to sleep.

We're not done yet, bud. Quit being such a wimp. Get the ropes off and get moving!

This was much harder. He couldn't do anything with his right hand and trying to untie thick knots with his left hand was nearly impossible. Every now and then he had to stop and catch his breath. But he kept at it. The pain wasn't quite so bad, as his legs had been straight out to begin with, but his feet still ached long after the circulation was restored.

By now it was completely dark. The sun had set long ago, the moon had yet to rise. He couldn't see the stars because of the canopy of trees. He had no idea where he was or which direction to take. He didn't even know if he could walk. All he felt was pain and weariness.

He hadn't heard the other guy for a while. Sure, where are you when I need you?

You don't need me, bud. Remember? I'm dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.

A playful singsong voice laced with poison.

I don't need all of you. Just part of you.

Uh uh. Don't work that way. Not any more. It's all or nothing, bud.

Okay, then it's nothing.

Fine. See how you do on your own...oh, and hey - don't forget the cats.

Cats? What cats?

Mountain lions, bud. Mountain lions.