CHAPTER FIFTY SIX

Hannibal walked out of Face's room and gently closed the door. Face had cried quietly for a few minutes, getting embarrassed as hell about falling apart, while Hannibal talked softly about odds and ends until his friend finally calmed and drifted off to sleep again. Hannibal was not disturbed. It had been good for him, embarrassment or not. After all he'd been through, a few tears were a small enough release. He'd needed to let go. But now Hannibal needed to find Mama, concerned about that fever.

Mama looked at him full in the eye as he entered the living room where she waited. He cleared his throat, still, at his age, intimidated by this woman.

"I think Face is sick. He's got a pretty good fever."

"It's gone up again?" She shook her head. "I better call Maggie. It's been goin up and down all day."

"Yeah, probably a good idea. Uh, Mama, about Carla..."

Mama looked at him expectantly.

"You were right. You and Face. We need to do something about her, keep her from coming at us again. But we won't, uh, we won't do any 'real' damage to her. Or her people."

"I'm glad, Hannibal. I'm really glad." She smiled at him, the warm smile they all loved to receive from her. "I knew you'd come to your senses sooner or later - I was jus hopin it would be sooner." Then she strode from the room to call Maggie.


*****

Maggie was sipping coffee in the kitchen. Hannibal and Mama sat at the table with her, Murdock and BA leaning against the cupboard.

"Face has got the beginnings of a bronchial infection, but I think we caught it early enough so it shouldn't be a problem. Keep him sitting up as much as possible, plenty of fluids. I'll leave a prescription for him. He should be fine in three or four days."

"Well, that's a relief. I was afraid it was gonna be somethin serious. He's so wore down already..."

"That's still a concern. He doesn't have a lot to fight back with. No more nights in the woods and he should be fine." She looked directly at Hannibal.

Maggie could be infuriating at times. As if he had left Face out there. Okay, okay, don't go down that road right now. It wasn't the time to lose his temper.

"All right, well, as long he's taken care of, we're good then. Now, if you ladies will excuse us, we've got a little errand to run."

"Hannibal." He looked at Mama. "Remember..."

"Don't worry, Mama." BA squeezed her shoulder. "We'll take care of business like we always do."

The drive to the motel was silent. Each man thinking about his role, and trying to keep their tempers on track. They would have to have cool heads when they dealt with Carla. Not only to make sure they didn't go too far, but because Carla was dangerous. She lived in Stockwell's world. And Stockwell's world contained a lot of not very nice people. At the same time, they had to remember that she was not Stockwell. She had her own kind of venom.

They parked the van several blocks away from the motel. It was late afternoon. Broad daylight. People on the streets. They were going to send a message of their own to Carla. That they didn't care. If they wanted to get to her, they would.

There were two Ables at the back of the motel, one at each end of the drive. One Able disappeared around the corner of the building. The second was just getting suspicious when he came back around, gave a short wave. Everything okay. The second Able turned, went back to watching the street. His mistake. His companion was behind him in seconds. The unconscious body went with the first behind the dumpster.

"Rear secured."

Two Ables were parked in a car across the street. Casually dressed, Hannibal had almost missed them the first time he'd driven by. Carla was good. She'd learned a thing or two. But she was young yet.

The two Ables watched as the drunk wandered up the street toward them. They knew of Colonel Smith's disguises and had been warned to look out for any suspicious activity - any. And this drunk was definitely suspicious. He stopped two cars down, leaning against a tree, fumbling with his zipper. It looked like he was getting ready to take a leak. The Ables weren't sure if this guy was for real or not. While they were watching, a stealthy hand reached up, a couple drops of super glue going into each car lock. A moment later, a stream of pepper spray was leveled through the window. Yeah, these guys were all young yet.

"Front secured."

The drunk, in the meantime, had stumbled across the street to the motel, stopping a few feet to the east of the motel room. His mysterious 'assistant' came from the opposite side, casually reading a newspaper. As he walked in front of the door, he suddenly turned and joined the drunk in crashing through the door. A crash came from the back window only a second later. The door slammed shut again, and the street was quiet.

Inside the apartment, two guns were trained on the remaining Ables. The third, held by the drunk, was aimed squarely at Carla's head.

"Hi, Carla. Nice to see you again." The drunk grinned as he lit a cigar.


*****

Mama was covered in blood. Every time she raised the damp cloth to bathe his face, she dripped more blood on him. He could hardly breathe through it. He tried to push her away but his hands slipped in the gore. Everywhere he looked, more blood. Even when he closed his eyes.

"Lay still, hon, let me get you cooled off some."

"No, get away, get away..."

Mama sat back. The more she tried to make Face comfortable, the more agitated he became. She knew his fever was spiking high again. It worried her. She needed to get that fever down again.

"Please, baby, let me help you, we'll get you cooled down..."

"NO!" He grabbed her arm, tight, glaring at her. "Stay away from me!" He shoved with all his might. Mama fell back against the wall, stunned by his reaction.

"What on earth?" She wasn't hurt, physically. But she was scared. Sick he may be, but she was alone with someone who...well, she wanted help.

"Okay, Face, I'll leave you alone for a bit. I'll check back in a little while, okay, baby?"

He continued to glare at her.

Mama hurried to the phone. Maggie answered almost immediately. Mama told her quickly what had happened.

"He's definitely delirious from the fever. I can come over sooner if you'd like. Like now?" She'd noted the unease in Mama's voice.

"If you wouldn't mind, Maggie. I love that boy, but he's just not acting right. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I'll be there in a few minutes. I'll bring something to calm him down."

Maggie arrived in short order. She understood the other woman's skittishness. Face had shown how violent he could get when agitated. While Mama hadn't really seen that side of him yet, she'd heard about it. Maggie didn't want her to see any more of it. Especially not alone.

"Hi, Mama. I'll go see to Face right away, okay?"

"I wish you would. I don't mind tellin you, Maggie, he's scarin me some."

"Don't worry. This should help him relax and sleep. Then we'll see about getting that fever reduced."

She made sure she knocked on the door before entering Face's room. The last thing she wanted to do was startle him. He was laying on the bed, a thin sheen of sweat covering his face and arms. He wasn't asleep; his eyes were watching her every move.

"Hello, Face. I understand you're a bit uncomfortable tonight. I've got something that will help you relax a little, okay?"

"What is it?" Suspicious. That tone sounded unpleasantly familiar.

Deciding honesty was probably the best policy, she took out the syringe. "It's just a mild sedative, Face. Just to help you relax. You need to rest until that infection is taken care of, okay?"

"I don't think so. I think you need to put that thing back where you got it. Now."

Oh boy, this isn't good.

"All right, Face. But I need you to rest. It's not good for you to get all upset. Okay?"

"Sure, Doc. Noooo problem." She could swear he was leering at her. Hannibal, get home, soon.

"Okay, Face. I'll check in on you a little later."

He smiled at her. That was a definite leer.


*****

"So, what now, Colonel? Do I go the way of the general?"

"No, Carla, that was a special circumstance." Hannibal decided cavalier was the way to deal with this issue. No way was this broad going to know what pulling that trigger had done to him. "See, the general messed up one of my team. Nobody does that. And then he was gonna blow him away, and nobody does that either. You might take a lesson from that. It's not nice to mess with my team."

"So what do you intend to do?"

"Give you a little free advice. Kinda like you gave Face. See, we aren't exactly dumb. One thing we do is hunt down bad guys. We're real good at it. Really good. So while you may be able to find us, we can also find you. Like we just did. It might take us just a tad longer, but we get the job done. So I'm telling you, now, that if you or your goons come anywhere near Face, or any other member of this team, or anybody connected with this team, we will come for you. And you may find that Stockwell was the lucky one." Hannibal's voice was icy cold. He wasn't sure if he actually meant the implied meaning to his threat or not. No. He did mean it. This was her warning. Her only warning.

"I can have this problem taken care of before you get back to the farm, Colonel."

The bitch had balls, he had to grant her that.

"You might want to check with a few of our past acquaintances before you get too confident, Carla. We haven't survived this long without learning a few things. Honing a few skills. You may have a bunch of Ables to work with, but obviously they aren't quite up to par yet. They have a lot to learn. And you don't send people like that up against people like us. Y'see, Carla, something you have to take into consideration is how much each side has to lose, and how badly they want to put that up for grabs. I don't think your guys are quite willing to pay the price, just for your pride. Of course, maybe you've found a bunch of mindless drones, but they tend to lack imagination. Which we don't.

"Face it, Carla. You may have some power - but we've still got the advantage. We can think on our feet. And we're willing to take a lot of chances. You've got a bunch of people who can't wipe their asses if you don't tell 'em first. There is just no way we shoulda been able to get in here. They're good, Carla, but they're not good enough.

"So you just take any more thoughts about us and shove 'em up your ass, okay? And you leave 'em there. Because, so help me, you come near us again, it'll be the sorriest day of your warped little life."

He nodded to his men. Almost synchronized, they swung their weapons, knocking out the Ables, watching them drop to the floor. Carla's eyes were blazing.

"Ta ta, Carla. Don't bother seeing us out."

The three men strode from the room, walked casually back to the van, and drove leisurely back to the farm.