CHAPTER SEVENTY

Daryl watched as the colonel tried, in vain, to get Sam to let Dr. Sullivan look at his shoulder. Impassive as a mountain, and just as unyielding, Sam just kept backing away from the two of them. BA moved around to the side, shooting a questioning look at Smith, but the colonel just shrugged and shook his head. Sam stepped carefully over to a large boulder and settled himself down, watching the others as they climbed stiffly from the van. While his face remained bland, there was a flash in his eyes that told everyone Sam was strictly off-limits.

Daryl was not happy with this development. He hadn't wanted to stop so soon, and he didn't want Sam closing himself off. At least not to him. Sam obviously thought Daryl should be grateful to him for taking care of Mick; it was a macabre olive branch offered, and Daryl didn't want to lose it. He needed Sam cooperative, at ease with him. Slowly he stepped toward him. He knew it was dangerous, but he had to hold on to that connection.


*****

He moved slowly, stiffly, continually. Backing away, willing them to leave him alone, preparing himself if they didn't. He saw Baracus moving to the side. Not a good idea. He tensed, ready. Then it was over; Smith gave up, and he allowed himself to relax. He lowered himself down on a boulder, feeling the throbbing in his shoulder, ignoring it. Watched as the rest of the men climbed out of the van and stretched.

He hadn't expected this. They were still too close to the ranch for stopping. Smith should know that. Another case of letting emotions interfere with good tactics. Although he had to admit it was a damn relief to be out of that van, able to put some distance between himself and the others. The question now was what Daryl planned to do. Would he make his move this early? He hoped to hell not. Not that he couldn't deal with it, but he was still too close to the ranch. He didn't want to deal with Mick's men on top of everything else. He knew he wasn't up to that. Not yet.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Daryl walking toward him. He steeled himself. He didn't give a damn any more about the rest of them, but he needed Daryl on his side, at least for now. Daryl had to think he was off-guard with him. He had to keep Daryl thinking they were on the same side. He forced himself to stay calm as Daryl knelt down beside him.


*****

Leandro was livid. He pushed the jeep to its limits, taking shortcuts cross country whenever possible. He had to get back to the ranch before those men had gotten too far. Had to track them down, make them pay. All of them. Including that good for nothing nephew. He'd brought those men to the ranch. This was his fault. He would pay.

The moment he pulled into the courtyard, he was shouting orders. The other men, still ignorant of Mick's fate, were puzzled at his anger but immediately raced to his bidding. It took less than ten minutes for them to find the cave and the tracks leading from it. Leandro wasn't surprised at the direction they had taken - just the opposite of the one that man had told Mick. There was only one road for them to take; with the jeep, Leandro could outflank the winding road and catch up with them in only a few hours.

He gave his second in command terse orders and, without waiting for reinforcements, took off in the refueled jeep.

He never went to the office. He never read the letter left for him.

It wouldn't have mattered.


*****

"Sam..."

Daryl watched carefully as Sam looked down at him. He was pale, but his eyes were sharp. Good, he was probably thinking clearly enough, then.

"The colonel wants Dr. Sullivan to check out your shoulder, Sam. I know you don't want any of them near you, but it would sure help if you could do that. Calm everybody down a little. So they wouldn't need to watch you so closely. I know you don't like that." Sam didn't respond, just kept watching, impassive. "You and I have some things to discuss, Sam. We don't need them watching us, right? We need them relaxed. So we can take care of business. When it's time."

Sam looked at him, eyes squinting. Daryl could almost hear the wheels grinding inside as he considered his options. Crazy? Yeah, like a fox. Sam looked over at Colonel Smith, and, after another long moment, nodded, ever so slightly. Daryl breathed a sigh of relief and moved quickly over to Smith.


*****

BA wasn't happy. He was checking over the van while Maggie checked over Face. The coolant in the radiator was still at a good level, and the temperature gauge told him everything was fine, but the engine compartment seemed too warm to him. Something wasn't right, and this was not the time or place for a breakdown. He started the van up and hurried to the front, watching every moving part for a possible problem. Nothing. Damn.

When Hannibal called for them to move out, BA really wasn't happy. He would have preferred to spend some time really checking over the engine but he knew they hadn't put enough distance between themselves and the ranch yet. Shaking his head, he pulled Hannibal aside and explained his concerns. Hannibal was not at all happy.

"I thought you checked it out, BA."

"I did, Hannibal. Everything looked good. Still does. But that engine just seems too hot. There's somethin goin on that ain't right; I just need time to find it and fix it."

Hannibal sighed. He knew BA had done everything right; there was nothing the man didn't know about engines. "All right, BA. Will it last until nightfall?"

"If we don't run the AC, Colonel. That would put too much strain on it."

"Well, there's no way we can survive the afternoon heat without it. Damn." Hannibal looked back down the road they had just traveled. Things just weren't looking good. He figured they had only a short time before Mick's men were on their way after them, if they weren't already. But it wouldn't do any good to run the van into the ground, either.

"Okay, BA. Put as many miles as you can on it, then find a place with good cover. We'll hold up for the afternoon and give you time to get it fixed. But we have to get out of here by nightfall. There's no way we can take any more time than that."

BA nodded and climbed into the van, offering a silent prayer. He knew they were about to lose any advantage they might have had...


*****

They were bumping along the road again, the heat inside rising along with the sun. Daryl sat back, watching Sam, who now rested against a padding of blankets Murdock had fashioned to help protect his shoulder. Sam had allowed Maggie to examine him, but had refused to let her bind up the shoulder or give him any painkillers. The others thought he was just too spooked for it; Daryl knew he wanted to be ready, just in case. Whether he was thinking of Mick's people, or of Daryl, he wasn't sure.

The anger he had felt after finding his uncle was still there, as was the grief. But the cold, calculating part of his mind had shut down. He knew this was still necessary; it was the only way to keep Mick's sons from extracting their own revenge on the entire team. But it made him sick. Disgusted. And those very feelings made him realize what a mistake he had been about to make, how disastrous it would have been for him to stay with Mick. Because he knew, deep in his heart, that eventually Mick would start pushing him to enter the other part of his business, to become more and more involved in the hands-on dirty work. It would have been necessary, to make sure Daryl stayed, and stayed loyal. To make him a part of everything. To make him as guilty as all the rest.

Why he hadn't realized this before, Daryl could only chalk up to desperation. Wanting so badly to be out of Stockwell's world, but seeing no other alternative. Maybe that's why he'd thought of Mick to begin with. Mick had always provided an out, a way to salvage the messes Daryl found himself in. It was almost instinct to turn to the man again. And see where that had gotten him.

He glanced over at the colonel, unnerved to see those piercing blue eyes staring right back at him. Smith was not going to let Daryl off the hook. He would demand to know about the 'understanding' Daryl and Sam had suddenly developed. Daryl couldn't explain things to him yet; not until...not until Sam had been dealt with. He just hoped he could stay out of Smith's way until then...

He didn't know if he was relieved or not when BA pulled off the hot, dusty road and forced the van up into a small stand of trees. He knew that when they left here, at least one of them would be left behind.


*****

Leandro had overshot his target. Finding some fieldworkers along the road, he learned there had been no traffic along the road all morning. He looked up at the sun, throwing down its heat with a vengeance. As used to it as he was, even he was feeling the effects. He thought about all those people in one vehicle. Either they had stopped somewhere to wait out the heat, or whatever they were driving had broken down. It didn't matter; they would be sitting ducks out here. Especially since they would be watching behind them for trouble. He would be coming at them from the front.

He climbed back in the jeep, casting a quick glance at the arsenal in the back.

They didn't stand a chance.


*****

They had been resting for several hours. As soon as they had stepped out of the van, Hannibal had them tie blankets among the branches, forming an artificial canopy and providing more shade than the sparse leaves would. It prevented the sun from burning, but did little to keep the heat from depleting their already flagging energy. They set up a perimeter guard, two men, switching every hour. It was the longest Smith was willing to have any of them out in the sun.

BA worked feverishly on the van. He'd discovered the culprit within a short time after they'd pulled off the road. The fan was shorting out after running for a period of time; the engine compartment was not getting cooled off, other than what little air came through the grillwork. With Hannibal watching with concern, he was trying to trace down the problem, hoping it would be nothing more than a loose connection.

Daryl lay on the ground, pretending to doze. So far, the colonel had been too busy setting up their temporary camp, assigning guard duty, and conferring with BA to confront him. But Daryl knew it was coming. He looked over at Sam, who was also dozing a few yards away. Supposedly. Daryl had an idea he was sleeping about like Daryl was. He looked around once more; the colonel was deep in conversation with BA; Kurt and Murdock had just left for their turn on guard duty; Maggie and Frank were sleeping.

It was time.

He stood slowly, carefully, not wanting to bring any attention to himself. He moved over toward Sam, who opened his eyes immediately, silently acknowledging Daryl. Without a word, he, too, stood cautiously and moved away from the camp. Daryl hesitated for only a moment before following. Did Sam know what was coming? Or did he think they were meeting to make further plans? It didn't matter. Daryl didn't intend to give him time to realize what was actually happening. He didn't dare.


*****

The stone bounced off the grill of the van, and Hannibal and BA swung around, Hannibal's revolver coming up. With a sigh of frustration, he dropped it almost immediately. Exchanging mortified looks, he and BA moved back into camp, hands in the air, Leandro grinning behind them, his fully automatic rifle leveled at their backs.

Moments later, Maggie and Frankie were standing beside them, hands also in the air. Leandro saw Hannibal glancing worriedly around.

"You should keep better track of your men, Colonel." He spoke softly, not wanting to alert Kurt and Murdock. "That way." He again gestured with the rifle, and the four prisoners headed out of camp, following the path taken moments earlier by the other two members of the group. Soon, they were all gathered together, Leandro between them and the camp.

The look of shock and anger on Daryl's face made Leandro want to laugh out loud. But he sobered when he saw the other man, still calm, unrattled. He would be first.

"What's going on, Leandro? Didn't you get my note?" Daryl was trying very hard to act the leader. "I left instructions..."

"No, I didn't read any note. I don't take orders from a traitor, a murderer!"

Daryl paled visibly. "Leandro, I didn't kill Mick. I swear it!"

Startled, Hannibal looked at Daryl. "Mick is dead? Why didn't you tell me, Daryl? What the hell is going on here?"

"Shut up, all of you!" Leandro turned his weapon toward Face. "I know who the killer is. The same man who sent us on a wild goose chase, so we would be far away from the ranch when he murdered the patrón and helped his people get away." He glared at Daryl. "But you brought them to us; you convinced Mick that they were friends. If you hadn't come back, none of this would have happened. You deserve to die, as they all do! As they all will!" Leandro raised the rifle once more, finger on the trigger, aimed directly at Face. A grin spread across his face. "Le ver en el infierno!"

Leandro's grin faltered as a single shot rang out. As he collapsed slowly to his knees, the gaping hole in his chest overflowed with his blood. The rifle fell to the ground, covered immediately by Leandro's dead body.

Moments later, Kurt and Murdock came racing from the camp, stopping dead in their tracks, staring at Leandro and the group in front of him.

"What the hell happened, Colonel?"