CHAPTER SIXTY ONE

Hannibal walked the perimeter of the courtyard, nodding automatically to the men on guard. He noticed that, although still alert, they had relaxed somewhat after the explosion that morning. They all felt the immediate threat was gone, although they knew replacements could, and probably would, be on the way soon. Hannibal felt that relief, too, but it was overridden with other, not so pleasant feelings.

It had been a very long time since Hannibal had lost a man. It didn't set well. He was angry. Angry at Randy, for taking off on his own. Angry at Clifton, for making the bomb. Angry at Stockwell, for starting this whole thing. Angry at himself, for everything.

He could've brought Randy around; he knew it. He was already starting to mellow out, working with Hannibal, working with the team. Starting to show that he was more than just a stone-cold killer. Or maybe it was just that Hannibal had started seeing him for more than that. Either way, the potential was there. It was! Once they got Face back, they could have done so much...Randy could have seen how it could work, how they could get things done without killing anyone. Maybe he could even have learned how to live without the anger. Learned to enjoy life, learned to trust people, learned to...Damn.

How the hell was he going to tell Face?


*****

Murdock and BA were sitting on the patio, a checkerboard between them, neither paying any attention to it. Murdock held a red piece in his hand, slowing turning it between his fingers. BA just sat, staring off toward the hills. Frankie was sitting with Face, now that the danger was considered over.

"I don't see Randy gettin hisself blowed up like that. Ain't right."

"I know. But look who he was up against."

"Randy coulda taken Clifton. Easy. Two of a kind."

"Exactly. It's like Hannibal going up against Face. Something like that, it's just a matter of luck. And Randy's luck ran out." Murdock gripped the checker tightly between his fingers. "Hannibal really feels bad about it. I think he really liked Randy. Despite himself." Murdock allowed himself a ghost of a smile. "Like Face, remember?"

BA just grunted. Murdock sighed.

"Think he knows what happened?"

"If he heard us, he understood. He ain't so out of it as Maggie thinks." BA never looked at Murdock, just talked to the hills.

Murdock frowned. "So, you don't think he heard us talking then?"

"I think he heard just fine."

Murdock frowned deeper. "But, he didn't say anything. Didn't even look any different. I mean, if he knew Randy was...well...I mean, he'd react, wouldn't he? He'd be...hurt, or angry, or...something." He looked at BA, almost pleading with him to agree. "He wouldn't just sit there, right? I mean, Randy was..."

"Randy weren't nothin to him. No more'n we are."

"BA, come on. He left us for Randy. Sure, maybe he was weird about him back there at the cabin, I mean, he was weird about everything then, but that's all over with now. Right? Right, BA?"

Two black angry eyes finally looked straight at Murdock. "Ain't nothin over, fool. Only thing's changed is now he don't talk. He's still thinkin, still plannin. Still hatin. Don't you think any different, just 'cause he ain't sayin nothin."

"BA..."

"Shut up, Murdock. I know what I know. And he ain't right yet. If anythin, he's more dangerous now than he was before. You remember that."

Murdock had a sudden thought, not pleasant. "Frankie?"

"I already tol Frankie not to go near him. Give him orders to call someone if Face so much as twitched. Frankie's still spooked, from the cabin. He won't go close enough to let Face do anythin."

Murdock sighed. "You're sure about this, BA? Have you told Hannibal what you think?"

"I'm sure. And I'm gonna tell Hannibal soon as he gets back from his rounds. He's gotta know before we try to take Face back to LA. Before somebody gets hurt."

Murdock stared at the red disk in his hand. Watched it drop into the dirt.


*****

Daryl kicked at a bit of rubble. He, Kurt, and a couple of Mick's men were still sifting through the bomb site. The local authorities had already come and gone. Mick had talked with the head honcho, given him a cock and bull story about a freak accident with ranch supplies. Daryl had a feeling the guy didn't believe him, but wasn't about to argue about it, especially when Mick said he would pay for the road repair. The sheriff had heard about the search for Clifton, the rumors of a gang war; he was practical, if nothing else.

They were gathering up what little was left of the vehicles now. Trying to figure out what kind of bomb it had been. And looking for...remains. They had found little pieces of metal, here and there, which seemed to have blood spatter on them. Daryl would check them out more closely when they returned to the ranch. But otherwise, there was nothing. Nothing at all.

As if Randy had never existed.

Daryl looked over at Kurt, who was kneeling down at the far edge of the crater, looking closely at the ground. They had barely spoken two words to each other since yesterday's disagreement with Mick, and after their initial search of the bomb site, and the conclusions they had been forced to come to, Kurt hadn't seemed willing to talk about anything to anyone. And Daryl found that he missed that trust, that connection.

He listlessly tossed a piece of tire rim to the ground. Everything was going to hell. He'd thought coming to Mick's would be a safe haven for all of them. Instead... He was so sick of it. Stockwell. It all began and ended with Stockwell. A good man was dead now, because of him. Daryl didn't care what Randy may have done in the past; it didn't matter. Randy hadn't done those things because he enjoyed it, like Clifton. It hadn't been a game to him; it had been his job, his duty.

Daryl had already decided he was not going back to Stockwell. Never again. He had been considering Mick's offer. Seriously. Oh, he knew it was on the wrong side of the law; but, after working for Stockwell, was it really that different? Supplying guns to terrorists or patriots, it was just a matter of viewpoint. Like Mick said. Daryl had tried to tell Kurt that, tried to get him to come along with him into the organization. But Kurt would have none of it. And Daryl was waffling. He didn't want to lose Kurt's friendship. Didn't want to lose his partner. But Mick was family. How could he turn his back on that?

He watched as Kurt slowly stood and stared out into the hills. Randy's death had hit him very hard. Even more than Daryl, Kurt had respected Randy's intellect, his presence, his integrity. It had been part of the reason he had so readily agreed to help the colonel. Now Randy was gone, and Daryl's empathy with the loss Kurt felt kept him from saying yes to Mick. So far.

But Mick was family, damn it. Had always backed up Daryl, helped him when he needed it, never expected anything other than loyalty in return.

Daryl thought back to something Randy had said, when Daryl told him of Mick's offer. And even though Daryl knew Randy didn't like or trust Mick, he had taken what he said seriously.

"Family's just an accident of birth. Doesn't mean a damn thing. A good friend, now that's something worth keeping. Worth holding on to. No matter what. Don't let your family come between you and a friend. Don't let anything come between you. Ever."

He might not agree with it totally, but he had listened. Seeing that Kurt was still staring off into the hills, Daryl started walking over to him. Randy may be gone, but Kurt wasn't going to lose everyone. Not yet, anyway.


*****

He watched Santana carefully. The kid was scared of him. He almost laughed aloud at that. Because Santana had every right to be afraid. He could snap his neck with one move. Maybe it would come to that, maybe it wouldn't. All depended on the necessities of the moment. For now, Santana was just a cog in the wheels of his fledgling plan. Him, and the woman. The two weak links in the colonel's group. The two vulnerabilities he'd be able to work with. Santana, because he was a coward, inexperienced, gullible. The woman because she was too sympathetic, too engulfed in what she thought he was.

That confused him. If 'Face' was just a figment of Stockwell's imagination, then why would the woman act as if she had really known him? Was she that good an actress? Maybe she wasn't as weak a link as he had thought. Maybe she was more dangerous to him than he realized.

Something to keep in mind. The female of the species...

He brought his mind back to the present in a snap. Santana was standing, looking at him. What had he done? Had he said something, without thinking? Made some movement that caught the kid's attention? Santana stepped a little closer to the bed. Try as he might, he couldn't stop the trembling from starting, his heart from accelerating. Santana stepped back again, frowning. Looked toward the door, licking his lips. Looked back again, finally sat down, still watching.

The trembling quieted, as did his heart. He hated that. Hated it! The one thing he could not control, as hard as he tried. The one thing that could jeopardize everything.

He was afraid of these people...


*****

"I'm quite certain it will be in the next few days. The one is nearly ready to move; their doctor is being a little too cautious, but even so seems anxious to leave here...It makes no difference to me, one way or the other. As long as it happens away from the ranch, and quietly...No, he stays here, with me...I'll take care of him, if need be, but Daryl will not be leaving with the rest...No, I already told you, he's dead. Both of them. And that was...absolutely not. I had nothing to do with it. Your man...he was under your employ, if not your control. I must say, I'm surprised at that. You must be losing your touch..."

Mick allowed himself a chuckle at the other man's reaction. Old enemies were almost as good as old friends; you could always rely on them to react predictably. Stockwell was no exception. Mick could still play him like a fine-tuned violin.

A few more minutes of strategizing, antagonizing, and Mick had finalized their plans. Stockwell would not know where the ranch was; he would only know where to pick up Smith and his men long after they had left Mick's. The general's people would be waiting, Mick's men would be following. They would box in the Team and that would be the end of it. By the time Daryl knew what had happened, it would be too late. He would have no one to go to except Mick. Mick would have his nephew, and a powerful, if reluctant, new ally to boot.

Now he only had to wait for the colonel to make his move.