CHAPTER SEVENTY ONE

He stood apart from the others, his back to them, as they listened, with a mix of disbelief and distaste, to Daryl's tale of murder and vengeance. Old news. He could feel the eyes on him when Daryl described the way Mick had died. Didn't matter.

Only two things mattered now.

One, getting rid of the threat from Mick's sons and 'family'.

Two, finding out who had killed Leandro. And why.

The first was easy enough. He could take care of that in a matter of minutes, and would do so. Piece of cake.

The other was not so easy.

The shot had come from behind them, up in the hills. No one had come down in the intervening time, nor had they seen any movement from the area the shot had had to have come from. Whoever it was was apparently laying low, digging in. They could, of course, go up after him. But he knew it would do no good. The shooter was probably either hidden too well, or long gone. They were good, that's all he knew for sure. Too good.

He realized he had been concentrating too hard on his speculations when he suddenly noted that Kurt was standing nearby. He, too, was watching the hillside. They caught each other's sidelong glances. Kurt smiled, sardonically.

"I believe we've heard the devil beating his drum, my friend. And I doubt it will be the last time." Still smiling, Kurt sauntered away.

He watched after him, contemplative. Turning his gaze back to the hills, he, too, smiled. His, however, was just a bit more venomous.


*****

"There's no other way, Colonel. None. Don't you understand that? If they can't find the killer, they will go after anyone and everyone who is close to you until they force your hand. And they won't stop with just roughing them up. We can't just ignore that!"

"I don't intend to ignore it, Daryl. But I don't intend to resort to cold-blooded murder, either!"

Hannibal was angry, more angry than he had ever thought possible. If he didn't keep reminding himself, forcefully, of Daryl's motivations, he would've gladly beaten the man into the ground. That he had re-joined the group, claiming a change of heart, when in reality he'd intended to murder Face...and yet, he'd done it to save them and those they cared about. Chosen that solution only because he didn't know Hannibal's methods, or how the team operated. He'd grown up with Mick, after all, and been with Stockwell too long. Way too long.

Hannibal sighed. He had to get himself under control. There were so many things he had to consider. Like the shooter. In those few minutes before Murdock and Kurt had come rushing from their stations, he and the others had stood stock still, shocked and confused. Hannibal's first rational thought had been bandits, and he'd grabbed Maggie protectively, turning to see where the shot had come from. But when nothing more happened, he'd been as puzzled as the rest. Two things kept him from sending anyone up into the hills to search for their supposed benefactor. One, he couldn't be sure the shooter was really on their side. Two, he couldn't waste time looking when they knew the rest of Mick's people would soon be knocking on their door.

They did know a few things now. With Mick dead, they had much more than just Stockwell to worry about. And the feelings of Mick's people would be strong, as Leandro had shown. With the threat of them going after civilians, the team would have to make a stand, and soon. His mind was already swirling with possibilities, what their armaments were, how to draw the enemy to them, who would do what and when...

But in the back of his mind, behind all the turmoil and anger and plans and questions, one thought kept coming back, loud and clear.

Face had diverted the enemy from them. Deliberately.


*****

Murdock and Frankie stood by the van, a shovel and pickaxe leaning against the side. Hannibal hadn't yet decided if they should bury Leandro, or leave him in the jeep when they drove it off into the desert. Frankie thought the latter idea was bizarre, but Murdock was patiently explaining that if they left him in the jeep, at least temporarily, it would serve two purposes - a more realistic decoy for Mick's people, plus a bit of psychological warfare. When it was over, the body would be taken care of, by one side or the other. Then again, Hannibal might decide he wanted no trace of Leandro found, since another body could serve as fuel for the vengeance fire. So Murdock and Frankie waited.

BA hadn't the luxury of time. The van had to be ready to go when the team was, and, depending on how their first volley went, it may have to keep going for quite some time. They were lucky in some respects; they had some extra gas now, siphoned from the jeep, and more armaments, thanks to Leandro's stash. BA paused for a moment, thinking about the dead man. He hadn't liked him, and he definitely didn't like what he'd tried to do. But that didn't mean he was glad the guy was dead. No one should've died; that was why they'd left the way they had. BA shook his head, regretfully. Hopefully, Leandro would be the last casualty. If Hannibal could come up with a plan to deal with cold-blooded killers, that is. BA moved back to the van's engine. That, at least, could be understood.

Hannibal was with Kurt and Daryl. He was going over the details of what he had planned so far with them. He knew he could simplify things for his guys, but these two didn't know how Hannibal's plans worked - or how to deal with the little glitches that might happen. He wanted them to be thoroughly prepared so they would work in sync with the others. Every now and then, he would glance over at the far side of their little encampment, where Face sat with Maggie. Not too close, but at least he wasn't constantly moving away from her. In fact, he seemed to be ignoring her completely.

Hannibal had made one attempt to talk to him, unsuccessfully. He had thought, by expressing his gratitude for the diversion, it might break down the barriers even further. To his frustration, the small in-roads he'd made yesterday had closed up once again; Face wanted nothing to do with him. As with Maggie, he ignored Hannibal's overtures, pointedly. He seemed totally engrossed in his own thoughts, whatever the hell they were.

With input from both Daryl and Kurt, Hannibal's plan was getting the final tweaks. They would start getting ready to put it into action shortly. Hannibal glanced up at the sun; it was getting low, and the lower it got, without actually setting, the better for them. Mick's people would be looking directly into the sun as they approached.

Hannibal straightened his shoulders. The planning was over. Time to get set up. He turned to give Murdock and Frankie their orders when the first shots rang out.

From the far side of the camp.


*****

He had shut out the woman's prattle the moment she started. Why would he care about her concerns? He knew she was only worried that he would somehow delay or prevent their getting out of here safely. As if he didn't want to get away from this hell hole. He'd eyed the jeep, knowing even as he did that Smith would have his own plans for it. Well, he would keep the option open. There were always ways around Smith's plans. Always.

In the meantime, he had work to do. He would have to get rid of the woman first, but that shouldn't be a problem. She had guts, but not enough. She would back down. He glanced over at the others; good, they were all occupied. Enough wasted time.

He stood abruptly and headed out of camp. The woman, startled, looked quickly over toward Smith, but then followed him. As expected. She would rather stay with him, alone, than chance losing sight of him while getting Smith's attention. Such dedication...

He waited until they were out of sight of the camp before he pulled the Beretta. He turned, pointing it directly at her. Smiled to himself at the look on her face. Keeping the gun aimed at her head, he slowly backed away. When he was sure she wouldn't follow, he dropped his arm and strode rapidly away. To Leandro.

The body had been covered with a blanket, in an attempt to keep the vultures away. It was working so far, although they were circling high above. The blanket did not, however, keep the flies and ants away. What he was about to do would certainly not help that situation, but it would accomplish the long-range goal, so any other considerations were insignificant. Tossing the blanket to one side, he looked thoughtfully at the body, confirming his plan. Carefully aiming the Beretta, he blew the back of Leandro's head off in three quick shots. He didn't have to turn the body over to know the face had also been obliterated. Four more shots to the torso completed that part of his task.

He pulled his wallet and emptied it of money. He left the rest. Quickly, he exchanged it with Leandro's, and then proceeded to pull all of the man's rings and other possessions from the body and clothing. Last, he drew the crucifix from around the bloody neck. His own watch went on the body's wrist. He stood, contemplating his work.

"What the hell did you do?!"

Ah, the voice of outrage coming from Fearless Leader. He turned, staring stone-faced at the horrified group. Calmly, he stepped past them, dropping Leandro's personal belongings, battered and blood soaked, at Smith's feet. His voice was hoarse, but steady, calm.

"Face is dead. We can leave now."