CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE

"How long has he been like this?"

"Close to two weeks now. Dr. Garr tried to bring him out a couple days ago, but he was too...disturbed. Daryl cut it down a little this morning. So far, so good."

"Hmm. Well, I think I agree with Daryl. If we gradually bring him out, instead of doing it so abruptly, I think it will be easier on him. I don't like keeping him so heavily sedated for so long." Maggie frowned, watching Face closely. Finally she nodded. "Okay, John. I need to examine him, especially that shoulder wound, so I know exactly what's going on. I'll meet you all in the library in a half hour or so."

Hannibal nodded and left her to do her job. Walking down the hall toward the library, he could feel the weight lifting from his shoulders. Maggie was here; it would work out now.

He was almost feeling like his old self as he stepped into the room where the team was waiting. One look at their faces told him he'd relaxed too soon. He spotted Mick's man, Leandro, talking to Daryl, tense. He stood, alert, waiting for the bad news.

Daryl saw Hannibal at last, broke off from Leandro. "Colonel, Mick's on his way back. We may have a problem."

Randy spoke, practically growling. "There was a message for Leandro when he got back tonight. Someone was poking around the county records this afternoon. Specifically, the land records. Tax records. One of the files pulled was for this property."


*****

Mick was angry. He hadn't been this angry in a long, long time. Not even when he was forced to leave the States. He had paid good money, lots of it, to ensure his privacy. His security. Now, someone had talked. Said just enough to let someone know where to look.

He would find out who. He wasn't worried about that. He had to set an example. That's the way things worked. You made a deal, you paid the money, no one reneged. It was a matter of honor. You kept to the bargain. Someone broke that agreement, they would have to be dealt with. It wasn't a matter of revenge. Nor even of punishment. But you let one get by with it, and you couldn't trust the others. An example. See, this is what happens. So don't do it.

That's what had made him so successful. Not just his business sense. Not just knowing where to be at what time. He could be trusted to uphold a bargain, and he expected the same of his associates. If he said he could get the merchandise, he got it. If he said it would be a certain place at a certain time, it was there. No one had to worry about Mick Marucchi.

No one, except one who talked.

Sure, he'd had to deal with this sort of thing before. That was business. But there was more to it, this time. Because he knew that it wasn't so much to do with him, as it was with his nephew and his friends. And that's what made him so angry. No one messed with his family. Especially not with Daryl. He sometimes thought he was fonder of his brother's son than of his own. There was something missing in his two sons, something that kept them from being 'nice' people in a not-so-nice business. Daryl had that something. That something that made him agonize over the hard choices. Something that made him do what he had to do, but not like it, not accept it as just business. And it made him special to his Uncle Mick.

And now, some lowlife was coming after him, using his uncle to get to him.

Nobody touched Alfredo Marucchi's family.


*****

"Well, Face's shoulder is a little rough, but it shouldn't be a problem. And he's calmed down some, so I think we can continue to decrease the sedative. Another week and he should be..." Maggie stopped, realizing that the men in the room were not really paying attention to her. "What's the matter?"

"I don't know if we'll have a week, Maggie. Someone's been snooping around. We may have to relocate in a hurry."

"That's not good, John. And I mean, not good. When I said the shoulder shouldn't be a problem, I meant if he weren't moved again. The bullet did a lot of damage to the muscles, and while they're healing, he just shouldn't be moved around. Especially not on these roads."

"I know that, Maggie." There was a tone to Hannibal's voice that Maggie had never heard before, at least not directed at her. "But we have a pretty good idea of who's looking for us, and I need to be able to deal with him from a position of strength. Not like this."

"You're willing to put Face at risk just so you can strike a better deal?"

"Dr. Sullivan." Randy's voice was controlled, but there was a hint of derision in it. "Under the current circumstances, we are on the defensive. Which means Stockwell can decide who he's willing to spare, who he's determined to get rid of. He might show us some leniency. That's the best we can hope for. While our host enjoys a certain protection here, when push comes to shove, we are on our own. None of the locals will be willing to help us out if it means putting their own lives at risk. And Mick's men have one loyalty, to Mick; maybe to Daryl. The general can bring in an army of his Ables to take us, and no one is going to lift a hand to stop it. So unless you want to see a good many of us buried, you'll be ready to do what you can to stabilize him for a rough ride. Do we understand each other?"

Maggie looked from Randy to Hannibal. While his face showed he didn't like the way Randy had said it, she knew John agreed with him. Angrily, she nodded and went back to Face.


*****

Clifton watched the ranch below for a few more minutes before giving up. This wasn't the place. Frustrated, he packed the binoculars in their case and moved back toward the jeep. It was the third place he'd looked at since dawn, and he was tired. He'd chosen the top five candidates, based on the closeness in time to Marucchi's departure from the States. He had two left. If he hurried, he could get to both of them before noon.

He should have contacted Stockwell, gotten more men down here. Would have been much easier, much faster. But Clifton had his own agenda. And he didn't need Stockwell's interference. He smiled, mirthlessly, as he put the jeep in gear and maneuvered down the rocky hillside. Smith wasn't the only one who didn't let Stockwell in on his every move. It was one of Stockwell's faults coming back to bite him in the ass. He liked to hire the best for his special Ables, his special operatives. But the best weren't sheep. They liked to think - and act - for themselves. That's what made them the best. It also made them harder to control.

He'd learned a few things about Smith, Randy, and the others. Knew they were nearly on a par with his own expertise. Close enough to really make this a challenge. He would not underestimate them this time. But he felt confident in the outcome. He would be probing their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities. And their weaknesses, while few, were powerful. Their loyalty to each other was the biggest. A close cousin was their protectiveness of a downed man. They ran as a pack; what weakened or endangered one, endangered them all.

That was the key. To weaken the pack, one by one. To destroy them, one by one.

Clifton smiled. He could hardly wait to get started. Time enough for Stockwell when he was finished.


*****

Maggie was adjusting the IV flow when Hannibal walked in. He frowned, watching her, glancing at Face.

"Maybe we should rethink that, Maggie."

"Maybe you should leave the doctoring to me, Colonel. I would think you have enough to worry about with your little war coming."

"Maggie..."

"Don't, John. I am not in the mood for more military crap. Defense, offense, negotiations...it's all a big game to you. You act like it's so serious, so dangerous, but you live for that, and don't try to tell me you don't." She glared at Hannibal, at the same time trying to soften her tone. "I know you're worried about him, I know you're trying to keep all of these men safe. But he needs to come out of this. The longer he's kept drugged, the harder it's going to be to get him back into the real world. I mean it, John. You take care of your problems. I'll take care of Face." She allowed a small smile. "In other words, trust me to do what I know, and I'll trust you to do what you know."

"Deal, Maggie." He moved close to her, enveloped her in a hug. "I'm glad you're here. Very, very glad."

"Well, I'm not so sure I'm glad, but I know I need to be." She laughed a little, then got serious again. "Mick was in, just after breakfast. Apparently he's not happy about more than a few things, but he was civil, anyway. Asked me, if I saw you first, to come to his office. Just off the library."

Hannibal reluctantly released her and sighed. "Guess I'd better go, then. He and I have a lot to discuss."

Maggie watched as he walked away, relaxing as she saw his shoulders straighten, his stride lighten. Much as she claimed to hate what they called the 'Jazz', she was glad to see it coming back.


*****

"Well, it always comes down to that. Fight, or flight. I have a dozen men who will obey orders no matter what. They've been with me for years and won't run away now. The others, well, I would prefer, quite frankly, to send them away before anything happens they shouldn't be witness to. They wouldn't make good soldiers anyway. So, coupled with your people, we have, what, eighteen men against whatever General Stockwell chooses to use.

"The other option is flight. I can have you and your men flown out of here this afternoon, situated in a very nice chalet in Switzerland, by late tonight, if that's what you choose."

"And you?"

"I have no intention of leaving my home, Colonel. I like it here. I will deal with Stockwell in my own way. And then I have some business matters to take care of. So I can once again enjoy my solitude in peace. And so my nephew is free to live his own life."

Hannibal looked at Mick, long and hard. He had a pretty good idea what the man had in mind, but he didn't want to know any details. In another life, he would be taking this guy down, hard, but right now, his men were more important. Hannibal would work with the Devil himself if he could get the team to a safe place to regroup.

"This isn't exactly what you had in mind when we arrived, is it, Mick?"

"What do you mean, Colonel?"

"The locked room. No vehicles. No phone. Just what did you have planned for us?"

Mick chuckled. "I hadn't quite decided yet. I wanted you here until I did. An offer of employment had definitely entered my mind."

"And if we turned that down?"

"Well, there was always Stockwell, or the Feds. Or, to placate my nephew, I could have just let you go when you were ready."

"Would you have turned him over to Stockwell?"

"Of course not. In fact, I have every intention of convincing him to come back into the fold. He could be very useful to me now, after his experiences with the general."

"Somehow I can't see Daryl working for you."

Mick smiled, at ease. "You don't like me, do you, Colonel? In fact, you would love to see me locked up for a very long time, wouldn't you?"

"It's what we do, Mick. Put away the bad guys. And you have to admit - you're definitely one of the bad guys."

"Well, that depends on your point of view, doesn't it, Colonel? On the one hand, I supply terrorists with arms. On the other, I'm helping patriots, much like the French helped our own patriots back in 1778."

"Our people didn't kill innocent women and children." Hannibal's voice was cold.

"No, you're right. That didn't happen until we went after Indian land." Mick's voice was just as cold.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but we have a real problem." Randy stood at the door, looking murderous.

"What?" Both men stood at the same time.

"Kurt's missing."