CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

"What the hell did you do that for? You coulda killed him, you moron!"

'My sentiments exactly.' Face opened his eye, looking through a haze of dust. He couldn't see the men, but their voices were close. Too close.

Damn.

"I shot low! Damned if I was gonna go climbing around like some damn mountain goat. Besides, now he knows we mean business."

"I think he knew that all ready." There was second's pause before the voice continued. "Well, smart guy, how you gonna get him down from there? And back to the boss?"

The pause this time was longer.

"Shit."

"Yeah, shit, bright boy. All right, look. You shot him, you get him. I'll head back to the chopper and meet you at the top of the canyon."

"The top? Christ, Mitch..."

"If you think I'm tryin to land that bird down here, you're dumber than I thought. Now get your ass up there and make sure he's alive. And make sure he stays that way."

Face could hear shuffling footsteps echoing softly against the canyon walls. The pilot. A chopper. The chopper. The one he'd seen or heard almost daily, off in the distance. It had never come over his way before. Sinon's people must have followed Charlie, somehow.

He heard some scrambling below him. The other guy, trying to find his way up. That would take some time. He'd never found any pathway; only momentum could get a person up far enough to even start the climb. So he was safe for a while.

He tried moving, thinking he could crawl away, find a hiding place. Or maybe find a rock or branch to fight the guy off. Something. Anything was better than lying here, waiting. But the first movement brought a sharp burning pain just above his knee, in the fleshy part of his leg. It took his breath away.

And then the voice was back.

"Don't even think of moving, buster. Not unless you want a bullet in the other leg."

Face sighed, closed his eye, and waited. For a while, it had been like before - the game, him against the bad guys. He could almost feel the Jazz. When the bad guys were far away. Now...now, he was going to have to deal with this guy, up close and personal. And this guy was going to see him. See him for what he was. He felt the fear stirring inside.

He couldn't get away from it. Edward Mordake, Alvin Brenner. It didn't matter. No matter what he called himself, he was as big a coward as Hannibal thought he was.


*****

"Face?" Hannibal tried to cover, knowing it would do no good. "I just misspoke, that's all. I meant Ed."

Hannibal was right. BA wasn't buying it.

"Then why you so uptight? You don't even like this Mordake guy." BA stepped up close, right in Hannibal's face. "What's going on, Hannibal? You been actin funny ever since you come back from here. Worse than before. So you tell me what happened up here last night. And I don't want no more lies! What happened with Mordake, and what's Face gotta do with it?"

Hannibal stared into the angry face in front of him, stricken. How could he tell BA that Face was alive, after all? Or had been, until Hannibal had gotten through with him. Who knew, now? But if he was still alive, if he hadn't done anything yet, there was still a chance. A chance to save him. Really save him this time. A second chance for all of them.

And Hannibal wanted that second chance.

"Edward Mordake...is Face, BA. The suicide was faked. So he could...so we could all have a fresh start."

BA stepped back. Instead of the anger Hannibal had felt at the news, BA looked worried. Almost afraid.

"That ain't so, Hannibal. You know that ain't so. I know you miss him, and so do I, but you can't go makin up that he's alive, Hannibal. That won't do no good."

"I'm not making it up, BA. I swear, he's alive. He was here, last night, and this morning. He's been pretending to be this Ed Mordake. He's been hiding here, BA, because he decided he couldn't live in the real world any more. He built his own little life here, where he didn't have to have people around him, where he didn't have to be reminded all the time of what he was and what he is.

"Last night, when he realized I was here, it frightened him so badly...I frightened him, BA! If I were going to imagine Face being alive, would I imagine him that way?"

BA was no longer looking worriedly at Hannibal. Now he looked confused, hurt...

"This morning, I had the chance to talk to him, and, God forgive me, instead of grabbing that kid and making him understand how much a part of us he was, I let my anger get the best of me. I let him have it with both barrels, and then we left him up here, alone.

"I'll tell you everything later, BA, but right now we have to find him. Before he...before he does it for real this time."

Whatever BA was thinking, there was no telling. His face was completely calm. He turned, started looking around the trailer. Moments later, he stopped, and nodded at Hannibal, looking out toward the desert. Hannibal stepped over, saw the tracks.

Three sets.

"Now we know, Hannibal. So let's go get him before those guys do." BA's voice was soft, determined.

Hannibal nodded, his chest tight. Together, they headed out into the desert.


*****

They were moving into the outskirts of the city. Charlie had asked for the address, and was concentrating on finding the right cross streets. Other than that, neither man had said anything for the entire twenty minute drive.

"There it is." Charlie's voice was strained, hoarse. Murdock looked up, saw a huge bus station, filled with people and busses and taxi's. That didn't seem right. Why would Mordake come here if he was such a recluse...so phobic about people...

So phobic he lived out in the middle of nowhere...so phobic he couldn't leave the apartment...

"Charlie..."

"Yeah?" Charlie was concentrating on finding his way through the throng of people and vehicles, looking for a place to park.

"What does Ed look like?"

"Huh? Oh, he's uh...hang on." Charlie slid the jeep into a parking slot, sighing. "I guess the key must be for a locker. Where the hell..." he leaned forward, looking out the windshield for some sign of a storage area.

"Charlie?"

"What? Oh, well..." Charlie remembered he'd promised Smith he wouldn't say anything, but now... He sighed, looked over at Murdock, wondering if the man could handle this. Nick's report had included the pilot for the team, and Charlie wasn't sure how stable he was, especially considering the state the other two were in.

"Let me make it easy, okay?" Murdock wouldn't wait. He, too, stared straight ahead, but he wasn't looking at anything outside. "His face is badly scarred, the left side is paralyzed, and he's lost an eye. Probably wears an eye patch." He looked at Charlie. "How'm I doing?"

Charlie looked down at his hands, drumming nervously on the steering wheel. Swallowed.

"Very good, Mr. Murdock. You did very good, indeed."

Murdock nodded, looked off to the side.

"Okay. Okay. Okay..." Took a deep breath. "Let's go find that locker."

His voice shook only a little.


*****

"Ahh, that ain't nothin. Just a flesh wound. And Mitch thought I didn't know what I was doin."

Face felt rough hands checking his leg, felt something being wrapped tightly around the wound. Too tightly. He kept his eye closed, not wanting to look at the man. If he didn't see him, he didn't have to be there. Like an ostrich, in reverse.

Then the guy grabbed his shoulder, rolling him over on his back. He turned his head sharply to the side, but it didn't matter.

"Holy shit! What the hell...man, what happened to you? Geez." The man laughed. "God Almighty, but if that ain't the ugliest mug I ever saw. No wonder you hide out here. I wouldn't wanna be seen in public either, bud." Still laughing, the thug grabbed Face by the arms and jerked him up.

For a moment, Face thought about fighting back. Maybe if he did, the guy would make a mistake, and Face would end up at the bottom of the canyon. Maybe...

"C'mon, bud. That leg ain't that bad. Let's move it."

No, he couldn't move. He couldn't. He just wanted to sit there, hide within himself. He didn't exist. He thought about his friends, back at the trailer. Maybe they would tell these guys to leave him alone. Maybe they would protect him. Scare these guys off. Maybe...

A hard slap to the face brought him out of his daze. It hurt. God, it hurt. The scars weren't totally healed over yet, and the skin was sensitive as hell. Not to mention his jaw, which still ached many days.

"Get up, damn it!"

He tried. But he felt dizzy, confused. He wanted to be back at his trailer. Back with his friends. His friends didn't think he was ugly. They didn't laugh at him. He wanted...

Another slap to the face. This one hit his eye. No, hit his eye-that-wasn't. He felt the plastic eyepiece jab the bone on the side.

Oh, God...

He heard the helicopter in the distance. No, no, it was coming to get him. To take him to his enemies. Deliver him unto evil...

He felt the man grab him by the back of his shirt and start dragging him. Dragging him over the rocks, the brush. He tried to get up, tried to stop him, but the man just kept dragging him. The front of his shirt was up tight against his throat. He pulled at it, reached up, tried to grab the man's hands.

The man let go, and he fell to the ground. Then the man had him again, this time by the front of the shirt.

"Now you gonna get up, Ugly? Huh?"

Felt himself shook like a dog shakes a rag. Nearly in tears, he nodded, and pulled his right leg under him, pushing up when the man pulled on his shirt. He was supported only by a hand gripping his left arm like an iron vise. They climbed over the rocks, up the steep rise of the canyon, moving slowly, painfully for the top.

After a while, Face faded away. His body kept moving, but his mind was back at his trailer, and he played with Petey, and talked with his friends, and everything was fine, just as it had always been.


*****

Hannibal and BA hadn't gone far when they heard the chopper. Quickly taking cover under a Joshua tree, they watched as it sailed overhead, close to the ground, heading west. The Sinon logo was clearly visible on the side.

BA looked at Hannibal, frustrated.

"We can't outrun that, Hannibal. They gotta have him or they wouldn't'a sent that out."

Hannibal had to agree. Frustrated, angry, he felt something inside he hadn't felt in a long time, not since the camps. It wasn't the Jazz.

And it wasn't good.


*****

It had taken some time to find the public lockers, and longer to find the one they were looking for. Charlie was getting more and more tense, while Murdock seemed to be working on automatic pilot. He was methodical and determined. When they finally found it, he inserted the key calmly and opened the locker.

Inside the locker was a paper grocery sack, and in the sack were papers. A thick bundle of papers. Murdock thumbed through the first few, and went pale.

"What's the matter? What are they?" Charlie was practically shaking.

Murdock gulped. "I don't know exactly, Charlie, but we gotta get back to Hannibal. Now."

Without another word, Murdock grabbed the bag, holding it tightly to his chest, and headed back to the jeep, Charlie not a step behind. They stopped only long enough for Murdock to use a payphone to call Hannibal, leaving a message on the van's phone. Minutes after that, Charlie pulled the jeep away from the bus station, and was heading back to the village, fast.

Murdock's mind was in a turmoil. If the rest of the papers were in the same vein as those first few, he understood why Sinon was so intent on getting those mineral rights. Why they would want to cloak their activities as normal, legal mining activities. One word had jumped out at him. Had scared the shit out of him. And made him fear for the life of the man in the middle of all of it.

Uranium.