CHAPTER SIXTY FIVE

"He smiled? I mean, it wasn't like, gas or something?"

"Murdock..."

"Okay, okay, it just...just seems kinda sudden, y'know, Colonel?"

"I don't know, Murdock. It's only been, what, a few months? C'mon, guys! Not only did Johnny get a smile out of him, but he's agreed to see Father Magill. We should be happy about this. Right?" Frankie grinned widely at the group.

Only Hannibal smiled back, a fact the colonel took note of. He sighed. "Okay, Murdock, BA, what's the problem?"

"Well, he didn't really agree to meet with Father Magill, Hannibal. He just agreed to meet some guy, thinking he can walk away from it if he wants to. And that's not exactly the case, is it?" Murdock played with the bill of his cap, frowning at Hannibal.

"No, not exactly, Murdock. But a little white lie got us a little closer to the ultimate goal, right?"

"Not exactly a little white lie, Hannibal."

"Close enough. So, BA, what's your problem with this?"

BA looked away. He wanted to believe that Face was coming around, but...

"I don't think he just had a change o' heart, Hannibal. I think he understood from the other night that we was gettin outta here. And I think he decided then to come along with us."

"And last night?"

"He conned you. Pure and simple." BA was looking Hannibal fully in the eye now.

Hannibal stared at BA. "BA, I can read Face's scams like a billboard. This wasn't..."

"This wasn't Face, Colonel. When you gonna accept that? Yeah, he's in there, somewhere, but this ain't him, not yet. You keep hopin, Hannibal. That's okay, s'long as you know what's what, now."

Hannibal looked at the other men. Murdock kept playing with his cap, not looking back at him. Frankie looked confused, frustrated. He looked over to the corner, where Kurt and Daryl had been listening, but not saying anything.

"How about it, Kurt? Daryl? You agree with BA? You think he's capable of pulling off a scam, in the condition he's in?"

The two men looked at each other before Kurt finally answered. "Colonel, I hate to say it, because I like Sam. But right now, I don't think we know what he's capable of. I wouldn't take anything he does at face value. So, yeah, BA's right. We have to watch him. But if he's willing to come with us, that's what we all want in the short run." Kurt looked at BA. "The colonel may be right about him, too, BA. So we give him the benefit of the doubt, but keep our eyes open just the same. I also think the sooner we get out of here, the better."

"How's the van, BA?" Hannibal grabbed that opening like a life preserver.

"It'll work. I gotta make a few adjustments before it'll get to LA, but it'll work long enough to get us a good ways from here first."

"Okay. We leave tonight, as soon as the house is quiet. We'll go separately, starting around one. Take it easy with Mick's men; we don't want to raise any alarms. We can always make another try tomorrow night. If we're not all there by three, we call it off, sneak back and wait." He looked around at them again. "Any questions?"

"What about Face, Hannibal? How do we get him out there?"

"I'll bring him. After all, he trusts me now. Or thinks he's hustled me. But he'll come with me, either way." They all noticed the hint of bitterness in Hannibal's voice.

The men began dispersing, everyone with mixed feelings of relief and misgivings. Daryl hesitated, waited until the others had gone, leaving only Hannibal.

"Uh, Colonel, I..."

"Haven't decided yet, Daryl? I wondered about that." Hannibal looked at him, like a stern uncle. "You know what he's about, Daryl. You really want to be involved in that?"

"He's family, Colonel."

"Is that all that important, Daryl? Families can mess you up as much as they can back you up, you know."

"So I've been told. Look, I just don't know what I'm going to do, yet. It's not like I've got a wide range of options."

"You stay with Mick, you run out of options completely. And you know how it will end, eventually. No one's luck lasts forever. Especially not in Mick's world."

"I know. But maybe that's a big reason to stay. I can help the luck last a little longer."

Hannibal sighed. He liked Daryl, wanted him to make the right choice. But it had to be his choice. "Okay, Daryl. You think about it. I want a definite answer by suppertime. But think hard about it. Okay?"

"Right, Colonel. Thanks." He headed out the door.

No one noticed the figure standing outside the window.


*****

He had to move fast now. He'd expected them to leave soon, but not tonight. He was disappointed with Smith, but it wasn't unexpected. He should have known Baracus would cause problems. He would have to do something about that. But carefully.

In the meantime, he had more immediate concerns. He had to know what route Smith intended to take. It wouldn't do to have Mick's people in the wrong place. Not at all. The question was, how to find out. He knew Smith wouldn't come out and tell him. Nor would Baracus or Murdock, not that he would go near either one now. Kurt and Daryl had their own problems. Maggie wouldn't know or care. She was just along for the ride.

Which left Santana.

He smiled.

It took some doing to find Santana alone. The man was way too gregarious. Eventually, however, Frankie had wandered over to the corral, stood there watching the horses meandering about. He joined him. Stood several feet away, pretending to watch the animals. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Santana look over at him, curious, cautious. He knew Santana was still gun-shy from before. He also knew the man's ego. The chance of connecting with Smith's number one boy, when the others hadn't, could not be passed up. He waited patiently for the first tentative step. He didn't have to wait long.

"Hey, Face..."

He looked over at him. He found it curious that he wasn't nervous - well, as nervous - around Santana as the others. He didn't say anything, just looked. Waited.

"Johnny says you're all set to go with us. That's great, man, really great."

He waited a moment, then nodded.

Santana grinned.

Success.

"Hey, I hope your shoulder's feeling better, Face. I mean, this could be kind of a rough trip, y'know."

He raised an eyebrow. Keep talking.

"Oh, I guess Johnny hasn't had a chance to talk to you about the details yet, huh?" Santana hesitated. Afraid of talking out of turn? He decided to add a little enticement...

He turned, started walking away.

"I mean, I don't suppose he'd mind if I told you, though..." Santana spoke hurriedly, not wanting to give up the glory just yet.

He stopped, turned. Waited.

It was just too easy.


*****

Mick was working at his desk, taking care of the latest shipping details. To anyone watching him at the ranch, it might have seemed he was a man of leisure. But he kept close tabs on every aspect of his operation. The ranch merely made it more pleasurable. And safer.

He heard the voice of his guard outside his door, and looked up as it silently opened. The guard let the lieutenant in and Mick chuckled as he noticed the wide berth his man gave him. Intelligent and sophisticated as his close attendants were, superstitions carried through generations could not be completely buried. Mick had heard his men mention "el mal de ojo" - the evil eye. He really shouldn't laugh at them. What made his men nervous also made them make mistakes. It would be just as well when these men, in particular this man, were gone.

He stood a few feet in front of the desk, staring at Mick. His contempt didn't elude Mick. He knew exactly what the lieutenant thought of him. He also knew he was being used. It didn't bother him. He was getting adequate compensation for being used. More than adequate, really.

"You have something for me, my silent friend?"

The lieutenant pulled out a paper, on which he'd drawn a crude map. Tossed it on the desk. Mick picked it up, looked at it carefully.

"You're sure of this?" Mick frowned as the man nodded. It wasn't the route he would have chosen; but then, Colonel Smith was known for being unconventional.

"When?"

Three fingers held up.

"Tonight then?"

Another nod.

He pushed a button under his desk; in moments, Leandro appeared. The two men conferred for a few minutes; Leandro left abruptly, glancing at the lieutenant as he moved to the door. Mick picked up his telephone, dialed the number.

"General? I have news..."

Mick paid no attention as the lieutenant quietly left the room, smiling.