CHAPTER SIXTY SIX

Hannibal was watching Mick closely as the two men sat in the library. Mick had 'asked' him to come see him, and Hannibal was curious as to what the guy had in mind. He'd noticed some increased activity around the ranch and it added to his, well, nervousness. He was still waiting for the Jazz to kick in, wondering if it would.

Mick finally put away the papers he'd been busy signing, smiling apologetically at Hannibal. He came around the desk and leaned casually against it.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Colonel. Some things I had to finish up. I'll get right to the point. I'm sure you've noticed that my men have been 'engaged' the last few hours."

"I had."

"It's nothing to concern yourself with, I assure you. Some trouble with a shipment. However, it does cause some concern for me. You see, I will have to send the greater share of them off on an errand tonight. And that means the men remaining will be, well, a little tense. I'm not expecting any trouble from Stockwell. My sources indicate things are quiet from that area, so far. However, my men are not so easily persuaded. So, I would greatly appreciate it if you and your men could stay in the house this evening and tonight. Just until my other men return. I hope you understand."

"Of course, Mick. Not a problem. In fact, if you'd like a little help with guard duty..."

"That won't be necessary, but thank you, anyway. I am a little concerned about your lieutenant. He does have a habit of, well, wandering..."

"I'll keep an eye on him, Mick. Don't worry."

The two men made polite conversation for a few more minutes before Hannibal took his leave. The whole conversation with Mick set the alarms ringing. On the one hand, it was a perfect time for their escape. On the other hand, it was also a perfect setup. There was one person who would know, and wouldn't be able to lie to him about it.

Daryl.


*****

He watched the preparations throughout the afternoon. Mick was making no secret of his men preparing for some operation. Smart. It wasn't as if the team were Mick's only concern right now; the man had a business to run, after all. He wondered what cock and bull story Mick was feeding Smith right now. And whether or not Smith was buying it.

He turned, started wandering back toward the house. He knew he was on a tight schedule now. Smith would start looking for him soon. Wanting to keep track of him, keep him out of the guards' way, make sure he got to the van. But he had things to do, and Smith couldn't suspect anything. He headed for his room, keeping an eye out for any of the team.

Once there, he slipped off his shoes, climbed into bed, making sure he was completely under the covers. It wasn't unusual for him to take naps during the day, considering how much time he spent walking about at night. He waited. He knew Smith would look around the house first, but eventually would check out his room. He just hoped he wouldn't take too long.

While he waited, he thought. He was taking an awful lot of chances now, for someone who shouldn't mean anything to him. But there was some niggling thought in the back of his mind, something that kept telling him he needed to do this. Daryl would be making a big mistake, a big mistake, if he chose to stay with his uncle. Frankly, he didn't know if Daryl would decide to or not; he wasn't willing to take that chance. The choice had to made for him. After that, Daryl's life was his own. He would have to make his own mistakes.

He heard a light knock at his door. Took a quick glance at his watch. Cutting it close. He closed his eyes, made his breathing deep and regular. He heard Smith come in; knew it was him from the cigar smell. Listened as he stepped near the bed.

"Face..." Quiet, not wanting to wake him if he were really asleep. How considerate.

A few seconds of quiet, then Smith stepped quietly out of the room. He listened. Murmured voices outside his door. He figured that. Smith was leaving someone there, to keep an eye on him when he 'woke up'. Not a problem. He'd taken that into account. It might get a little hairy if Smith thought about the window; but then, why would he?

He waited a few more minutes, carefully checking his watch. Everything hinged on Mick being where he usually was at that particular time of day; he was counting on the fact that Mick would not want to raise suspicions any more than they already were. When it was time, he slipped out of bed and crept to the door. Listened. He couldn't hear anything, but that was meaningless. He moved to the window, carefully moving the curtain enough to see clearly. Good. The way was clear.

As he cautiously opened the window and climbed out, he decided it was a good thing Smith had posted someone outside his door.

He would just have to erase any traces outside his window.

Perfect.


*****

"It's legit, Colonel. Mick told me about it earlier. One of his shipments was hijacked last night. He found out who did it, now they just have to, uh, straighten things out."

"You've already got the euphemisms down pat, haven't you?"

Daryl had the grace to blush.

"So, you've decided, then. You won't be going with us. Have you told Kurt?"

"Not yet. I, uh, kinda thought..."

"That when the time came, I'd tell him we were leaving without you? You think that's right, Daryl?"

"I think it's best in the long run, make the break cold."

"Are you going with the others tonight? To 'straighten things out'?"

"No. Mick asked me, but I told him I didn't want to get involved in that part of the business. Besides, I thought I'd be of more use to you here."

Hannibal raised an eyebrow.

"I can keep Mick occupied, have a discussion with him about just what I will do in his organization. It's something that needs to be talked over anyway. That way if you want to move out a little earlier..."

Hannibal nodded. "Well, I won't say I'm disappointed, because you know that. I will say I appreciate all that you've done for us, for Face. If you ever change your mind, you have a place to come. Remember that."

"I will, Colonel. I appreciate it." He looked at his watch. "Well, I have a few things to take care of before I meet with Mick. I don't know if I'll see you before you take off..."

"Good luck, Daryl."

Hannibal watched, regretfully, as the young man walked away. Wondered what the hell Kurt was going to do, when he found out...


*****

It was easy enough getting in to see Mick. His men were used to his coming and going, unfettered, to see their boss. And they wouldn't be disturbed. Mick's men knew better. They never disturbed the boss while he was in conference. Never.

Mick looked a little surprised to see him. Then concerned.

"Problem, my friend?"

He just shook his head. Nodded outside.

"Oh, you're wondering about the preparations. Not to worry. I've already explained to both Smith and my nephew about a hijacked shipment. They won't think anything of it." Mick looked at him, speculatively. "You're going with Smith tonight?"

Another nod.

"Well, don't worry about Stockwell. I've already told Leandro to make sure the general doesn't get his hands on you. He'll make sure you have plenty of opportunity to slip away."

You lie so well, Mick.

"Of course, you're welcome to come back here. I could use a man of your talents."

Nice try, Mick. But I have other plans.

He moved casually around the room, looking at the various knick-knacks, photos. Mick watched him, curious. Not yet suspicious.

"Oh, Daryl's decided to stay on. You and he could work together, if you'd like." Mick chuckled. "I'd be unbeatable with you two around."

You're already beaten; you just don't know it yet, Mickey.

He had moved to the shelves behind Mick's desk now. Mick had turned in his chair, forced to look up at him. Curiosity was leaving; suspicion moving in. Time was running out.

"Was there something in particular you wanted, Lieutenant?" There was a slight edge to Mick's voice.

He turned, looked down at Mick. Smiled.

And moved.


*****

"Everything quiet?"

"Hasn't stirred, Hannibal. I looked in a few minutes ago and he was still sleeping."

"Okay, you go ahead and get something to eat. I'll go in and wait for him to wake up. He might as well get used to my being with him. Remember, everyone eats, then go to your rooms and wait. When you see the coast is clear, head out."

"Got it, Colonel."

Murdock moved down the hallway, and Hannibal turned to the door. He knocked softly before entering. Face was still in bed, but stirred as Hannibal stepped into the room.

"Hey, Face. Sleep well?"

A pair of blue eyes stared back at him, calmly.

"We'll be heading out tonight, Face. You and I will head out later, after everyone's gone to bed. You okay with that?"

A moment's hesitation, then a nod.

"Good. How about we get something to eat, then we'll come back here and just take it easy for a while? Okay?"

Hannibal watched as Face slid soundlessly out of bed, slipped into his shoes, and waited. Smiling, the colonel led the way out of the room and down the hall.

Maybe BA wasn't all that astute, after all...


*****

Daryl sat in the chair, facing the windows, watching the sun fade out behind the mountains. He'd been sitting there for some time now, thinking. He had a lot of decisions to make now. Decisions that could affect a lot of people.

Mick hadn't shown up for supper; that wasn't unusual, especially with a job going down. He'd fixed a plate and taken it to Mick's office. Figured they could talk things over while Mick ate. He'd nodded to the guard at the door, exchanged some pleasantries, then Daryl had gone on in.

At first, he thought Mick had fallen asleep at his desk. He'd smiled, sympathetic. Mick worked way too hard, too many irons in the fire. It had been another reason Daryl had decided to stay. He could take a lot of the background crap off Mick's shoulders. Let Mick deal only with that part of the operations that Daryl didn't really want to know about anyway. He'd set the plate on the table by the window and gone to waken his uncle.

The minute he touched him, he knew. Gently, he'd pulled him up from the desk, so Mick was sitting up in the chair, and checked his carotid. Sighed. He wasn't sure what he was feeling. Mick wasn't young any more, and there'd been a lot of stress lately, but he hadn't thought he would just go, just like that. It was a shock. It hurt.

Daryl stood there for several minutes. He needed to let someone know. Leandro. He'd know what to do. Mick would have had things in place for this. But Leandro was with the men, on their way to deal with the hijackers. Sighing in frustration, Daryl looked once more at his uncle. That's when he saw it.

He supposed the initial shock of finding his uncle dead had made him miss it at first. That was the only excuse he could think of for not seeing it immediately. He leaned down, looked closer. Neat. Very neat. A coroner probably would have missed it. Only another professional would have seen it. That very little dabble of blood in the nostril. It didn't come from Mick hitting his face on the desk. There wasn't enough blood for that. Besides, Daryl knew exactly what had caused it. He'd never done it himself, but he knew how.

A very thin, long needle, shoved up the nostril, up into the brain. Instantaneous death. Quick. Quiet.

There were several people at the ranch who could've done it. Only two he knew who might have.

So Daryl sat in the chair, facing the windows, watching the sun fade out behind the mountains. He had a lot of decisions to make now.