CHAPTER SIXTY

They heard the explosion clearly. A handful of Mick's men, led by Daryl and Kurt, took off to check it out. The rest closed ranks around the house and outbuildings. Leandro was the only one of the men who hurried in to check on the occupants of the house. They had learned their lesson.

BA was in with Face, and immediately shoved the two solid boards against the window frames and slammed the bar across. His assault rifle found itself aimed at the door. Moments later there was a sharp rap at the door.

"Okay, BA?" Murdock on the other side.

"Yeah. What's goin on?"

"Don't know yet. I'll let you know when it's clear."

BA settled back, got more comfortable. It would be a long wait. Not knowing what was going on out there, not knowing if this was a ruse to draw the men away from the house, not knowing if Mick's men would do what they were supposed to...and then there was Face.

He glanced over at him now, quickly returning his gaze back to the door. He thought he'd seen Face at the worst he possibly could, back there at the cabin; now he thought different. Face hadn't said a word the whole time BA had been in the room. Maggie said he'd been silent ever since coming completely out of the sedative. Not only that, but he had no expression on his face at all. None. Just sat up against the pillows, staring at anyone and everyone who came in. If anyone came close, that damn shaking started. And that's what was the weirdest. Even then, he didn't look scared or nervous or nothing. Just shook, and stared.

No, he wasn't just staring. BA tempted another quick glance. There was something there. Like Hannibal when he was making up one of his plans against a really bad piece of work. But different. No glint of fun, no Jazz, like Hannibal always had. Something...lightless.

BA didn't know what it was, exactly; he just knew he didn't like it looking at him.


*****

Clifton had made one excursion from the hotel that day, to a small bistro down the block. He'd eaten, drank a little, and sauntered back to the hotel as if he hadn't a care in the world. Randy had moved to the back of the hotel, watching the lighted doors behind the balcony. Finally, long after the other hotel lights had gone out, Clifton's room also went dark. Randy stayed by the jeep, just in case, but Clifton never budged the rest of the night. Randy made himself as comfortable as possible, in the front seat of a derelict truck, waking at every little noise.

Dawn was just hinted at when Randy was aroused by the sound of fast footsteps going past the truck. The cab was high enough that he wasn't worried about being seen; by looking past the top of the dash, he could see the jeep ahead of him, and Clifton checking it over briskly. Randy glanced to his left, where the decrepit Dodge had pulled in last night. After the driver had staggered down the street, Randy had made a quick check of the vehicle, making sure there was plenty of gas in it. Moments after Clifton drove away in the jeep, Randy had the Dodge hotwired and was following.

Clifton made two stops. One at an ancient dry goods store on the outskirts of town, returning to the jeep with several packages. The next at a sporting goods store, where he came out with one small package. He made one last stop, for breakfast at the same small bistro as last night, before returning to the hotel. It took two trips for him to carry all his purchases in. Between trips, Randy quickly and quietly made his way up the decorative railing, and placed himself on the balcony next to Clifton's room. By peeking around the corner of the privacy wall, he could see nearly all of the room. Including the small kitchenette.

As he watched Clifton's preparations, he caught his breath. Clifton had sorted out all of his packages; most of the contents Randy couldn't quite make out, but he definitely recognized the small propane tank and bucket. When Clifton began carefully tearing open instant ice packs and spreading the contents on baking sheets, Randy knew what he was doing. And it scared the hell out of him.

But Clifton remained calm, relaxed. He carefully spread the contents from the ice packs on baking sheets, fresh from the store. Popped it into the oven as if it were a cake mix. Mixed a drink. Damn, that made Randy nervous. He never drank hard liquor on the job. All things considered, he might give up drinking altogether. He glanced behind him; no movement from the neighbor's apartment. That would be all he needed.

Randy continued to watch the activities in the apartment for only a short while. When Clifton began packing the dried ammonium nitrate around the propane tank in the bucket, he knew he had only a few minutes. He quickly shimmied down the rail and hurried to the jeep. He couldn't do anything overt, but he had to make sure two things happened. One, that the jeep got safely out of town. Two, that it didn't make it to the ranch. Randy quickly whipped open the hood. A slight adjustment to the carburetor should do it.

He hoped.

He had just time to regain his own vehicle when Clifton came around the corner, gingerly carrying a large box. Randy held his breath as the box was carefully seated in the back of the jeep. Now came the tricky part.

Making sure Clifton got his bomb safely out of town.


*****

He'd heard the explosion. He watched curiously as the black guy slammed the boards shut on the windows and took a defensive stance, facing the door. Heard the knock, the muffled voice on the other side. Then it was quiet again.

He smiled to himself at the nervousness of his 'guard'. Guard? Or guardian? He wondered about that for a moment, not really caring. It made no difference to his plans.

His plans. His alone. He'd heard the pilot telling the black guy that 'Randy' had left. It didn't surprise him. He'd known some time ago that he would be on his own. When he'd felt the bullet hit him. When the men he'd considered his had done nothing to stop it. Before the blackness had taken him, and held him, he'd known. He would have to take care of himself, depend on no one. Trust no one.

The noise of the explosion had startled him, but the attack itself hadn't. He'd known as well as the rest of them that another attempt would be made by the other side to take him. And he knew the people here would prevent it. He was their prize. They had plans for him, that he knew. They expected him to go along with them. They would force him, if necessary. So he had to make plans of his own. Plans for the near future, when he wasn't able to move on his own. And plans for later, when he was able to deal with his own enemies.

And he had plenty of those.


*****

Randy's little adjustment to the jeep worked like a charm, although he'd had some moments along the way. The way Clifton drove with that thing in back...He'd been able to stay back, out of clear view of the jeep. He knew, basically, where Clifton was heading, and was able to keep track of the dust cloud ahead of him. The jeep was nearly at the ranch turnoff when it slowed to a sudden stop. Randy knew the time had come. This would be Clifton's last attempt on Sam or the others.

Clifton was standing in front of the jeep, peering down at the useless engine. He looked up when Randy pulled up a short distance behind him, not recognizing him until he got out of the car. By then it was too late; Randy held the Beretta firmly in his hand, pointed directly at the man's head, stepping close. Clifton stared for a moment, then laughed.

"I should have known you'd be along, Randy. As soon as the damn jeep started dying, I should have known." He moved around to the side of the jeep, close to the box in the back. Randy saw the long, homemade fuse hanging over the top.

"Don't even think about it, Clifton. I know what you've got there and I know how it works. So just step away. Far away."

Clifton stopped, but didn't move away. He grinned at Randy, carefully pulled a cigarette out of his pocket.

"And what if I don't? You shoot me? I don't even have to light the fuse, y'know. Just pull the thing over as I fall and let it drop. You know how volatile it is. You've seen what even this size can do. You're already way too close, amigo. I go, you go. Boom." His voice was soft as he raised his arms in a circling motion. Calmly lit the cigarette.

"You got a death wish, 'amigo' ?" Randy held his ground, eyes never leaving Clifton's, but watching his hands. "Somehow I don't think so."

"You think I want people believing I couldn't deal with you? That I let you get the best of me, not once, but twice? I might as well be dead. I'd spend the rest of my life watching my back; every two bit hustler wanting to make a name for himself would be after my ass. It would be a terrible inconvenience." Clifton took a deep drag from the cigarette, staring hard at Randy. "I like my lifestyle, just as it is. And if I die, and take you with me, my legend lives on, restored."

"You're crazier than I thought you were, Clifton."

"You're the one still standing there, Randy. Waiting to be blown to little pieces, right along with me. What's your excuse?"

"I don't think you'll do it. I think you'd rather take your chances with me than with your Maker. And I think you're betting I'll back down rather than die with you."

"First, I don't believe in a Maker. Second, I don't bet on how anyone will act. I only anticipate and prepare. What you decide to do is irrelevant. It's what I decide to do that matters." He took another drag from the cigarette. Held it up, pointing into the air. Grinned at Randy one more time.

"And I just decided."


*****

How long they sat silently in the room, he wasn't sure. Time didn't mean anything to him any more. His guard didn't move much, shifting now and then, glancing over at him occasionally. His mind was elsewhere. Plans. Contingencies.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. That same muffled voice. Baracus stood and hurried over to open the door. Murdock came in, pale.

"They found it. Out on the road, at the edge of the ranch. Looks like two vehicles, maybe a third. Hard to tell. Some kind of bomb. Nothing much left, just a big hole in the road."

"Clifton?"

"Not enough left to tell who it might have been, but most likely. As to who was in the other car..."

Murdock looked over at him. He stared back, impassive. So, two down. That left five. Six, if he counted their host. And he hadn't had to lift a finger. Sweet.

"Damn. Damn!" Baracus was shaking his head, anger and regret mixing in his scowl.

"We don't know it was Randy. Not for sure. It might have just been some poor sucker who got too close when it went off. Daryl and Kurt said it was hard to tell there'd even been a couple vehicles there. Everything was just blown into nothing. Literally."

The two men stood silently for a moment. A blast like that...they knew the realities.

"So what's Hannibal want to do now?"

"Lay low for a day or so, then head up to LA. He and Maggie got something worked out with Father Magill." Murdock again glanced over at the bed. "He's just not sure about Daryl and Kurt. He thinks Mick has something in mind. Doesn't know what, but it can't be good."

"We ain't gonna leave those two here. Daryl ain't gonna work for no gun runner, family or not. And you know Kurt wouldn't last..."

"I know, BA, I know. We just gotta hang in here until Hannibal works it all out. We won't leave anyone behind. You know that."

The two men talked quietly for a little longer. He watched them, growing bored. Father Magill, huh? Another blast from the past. Supposed past. They really thought a priest could change anything? That a white collar would make him believe one set of lies over another? That he would believe anything anyone told him about his past?

Fat chance.