CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

Face's body went the way of his mind just before the top of the canyon. One moment he was limping painfully along in the grip of his enemy, the next he was lying on the hard ground, air blue with his captor's anger, his side battered by the man's boot.

The assault ended abruptly when Mitch grabbed his partner and shoved him away. Angry words were exchanged, but it was short-lived. Moments later, the two men dumped Face's body unceremoniously into the back of the chopper, and the big bird lifted off in a cloud of sand and debris.

It flew fast and furiously across the desert. No one in the chopper noticed the black van racing through the brush toward the village.


*****

Charlie hadn't asked Murdock a single question on the way back to the village. He knew, just from the captain's reaction, that whatever was in those papers was dangerous, and that told him he would get no information until the rest of the team was there to hear it. He was praying that they would arrive back at the village and Smith would have found Ed safe and sound, but somehow he knew better. He gripped the steering wheel a little harder and pushed down on the accelerator.

The twenty-minute drive seemed to take twice that, and Charlie pulled up in front of his cabin only moments before the black van slid to a stop. The four men, grim-faced and angry, trooped into the cabin, BA taking a last glance around to see if they were being watched. Satisfied, he stepped inside, taking his post at the door, where he could see anyone approaching.

Hannibal waited impatiently as Charlie swept the table clear and pulled it into the middle of the room. Murdock placed the bag on the corner and pulled the contents out, starting to sort them carefully. Hannibal took the first bundle and began running through it. As soon as he placed one sheet on the table, Charlie picked it up and read. Murdock took up where Charlie left off. BA would glance at the silent group now and then; he didn't need to read anything. Hannibal would tell him what he needed to know so they could get Face and bring down Sinon.

BA had tried not to let Hannibal see what his bombshell had done to him. He was trying hard not to think about it. All he wanted to concentrate on now was the rescue. Hannibal would come up with a plan and they would go in the front door and that would be that. That Sinon bunch would be taken out, and Face would be back with them where he belonged, and then...

BA scowled, and tried to concentrate on keeping watch. He wasn't stupid enough to think that things would go back to the way they used to be. If Face had gone to all that trouble to get away from them, he wouldn't just come back to them. He must really hate them. Not without reason. Look what they had done to him.

Look what BA had done to him.


*****

The blackness faded to gray, and he could hear voices behind him. Slowly, carefully, he raised his head, opened his eye, looked around, trying to get his bearings. It took only a moment for him to see he was in some kind of office. A large window to his right looked out on the city. From very high up.

Damn.

"Hey, looks like Ugly's awake, boss." God, he hated that voice. He was suddenly swung around in the chair, making him gasp as the room spun, literally.

"Feeling better, Mr. Mordake? I apologize for Andy. He gets a little 'involved' in his work." The voice was deep, cultivated, the chuckle more menacing than humorous. "Of course, if you hadn't run like you did, we might have been able to work things out more comfortably."

"I doubt that." He tried to make his voice strong and confident, but could barely speak above a whisper. His whole face was aching, his ribs felt like spaghetti, and his leg burned. He looked up at the man standing in front of him, and the coldness in the eyes that looked back at him made him wince.

He knew what he had to do. He had to keep buying time, time for the guys to check out the documents, realize what they had, and then get it all to the proper people. Time enough, at least, for them to figure out how much danger they were in if Sinon found out what they had.

Hell, there was no 'if'. These guys would find out what Face had uncovered, and who had it. He knew that. There was no way he would be able to keep it from them. He wasn't strong enough to fight them for long. Already, he could feel the tremors of fear running through his body. These guys would do whatever necessary to make him sign over those mineral rights, and in so doing, he would spill the beans. He just hoped he'd have the guts to last long enough. He'd never know, of course. He didn't expect he'd be around long enough to be rescued, even if the guys could figure out where he was.

He again looked up at the man standing in front of him. He swallowed, hard.

This was going to hurt...


*****

"Does this mean what I think it does, Colonel?"

Hannibal sat back from the table, running a hand over his face. He looked up at Charlie, weary and worried.

"If you mean, is Sinon planning on secretly mining high grade uranium, processing it and shipping it overseas, yeah, that's exactly what it means, Charlie."

"How do they expect to get away with it? The government..."

"The government would think they were mining rare minerals for electronics use. They have their inspectors picked out for bribes, their processing plant refitted, the customs people targeted, transport arranged. Their customer has already paid a huge advance. Everything's ready to go - all they need is the legitimacy of those mineral rights to keep anyone from getting suspicious.

"And now they have Face..." Hannibal stopped, blanching as he looked at Murdock. Charlie had the same strained look as he glanced at BA.

"It's okay, Colonel. I recognized his handwriting." Murdock looked down at the table, shuffling papers.

"And I told BA out at the trailer." Hannibal sighed.

"Well, at least we don't have to pussy-foot around that any more." Charlie tried to smile, but it didn't go very far.

"Murdock, are you okay?" Hannibal frowned at the pilot, who was still messing with the papers.

"Yeah, Hannibal. Let's just worry about getting Face right now, okay?" Murdock spoke a little too quickly, but he looked up, finally. "Any idea where they might have taken him?"

"None. All we know is they probably picked him up in a chopper."

Murdock brightened. "Really? Their own?"

Hannibal caught the tone in Murdock's voice. "Yeah, company bird. Why?"

Murdock looked over at Charlie. "Sinon got their own airfield? Or a hangar somewhere?"

Charlie was catching on now, and smiled, evilly. "They've got their own airfield, just a few miles outside the city."

Murdock grinned, and the others started grinning back.

"So, what are we waiting for?"


*****

He was lying on the floor now, in the corner of the office. He'd managed to crawl there after the men had left, trying to stay conscious. He didn't know why he wanted to move at all, but some instinct made him seek a place where his back was protected. That's all he was doing now. Acting on instinct.

He coughed, and blood flew out onto the carpet in front of him. He felt sick to his stomach, dizzy. The boss, whatever his name was, had let Andy have at it when Face had refused to sign. The guy wasn't one for patience. Andy had him for a while, and then the boss would make him stop long enough to catch his breath. As soon as Face could talk enough to refuse them once again, the beating had started again.

After the third round, Face had told them about the documents. He was able to hold back about Charlie and the guys, but these guys knew they were running out of time now. They needed to know where the papers were, how to get them, and Face wouldn't tell them.

Not yet.

Apparently, the boss had grown concerned now that they'd end up killing him before he could tell them what they needed to know, thus the respite. Give him time to think things over. Give him time to hurt in peace.

But they'd be back. And it would start all over again. He reached up, trying to wipe the blood from his face. Much of the scarred skin had broken open again. The eye patch was gone, as was the conformer, broken when Andy had backhanded him...the second time, the hundredth time?

He kept hearing that bastard's voice.

"What's the matter, Ugly? Cat got your tongue? Let's loosen it up, huh, Ugly?"

He knew the guy was doing it deliberately. Andy really wasn't as dumb as he seemed. He wasn't just a muscle man. He knew how to hit below the belt mentally as well. And Face knew he shouldn't let him.

He couldn't help it. He couldn't fight it any more.

He couldn't fight any of it any more.


*****

Mitch was leaning back in his chair, smiling over the centerfold. How the hell did they do that stuff? Amazing. Absolutely amazing...

Then he was looking up at the ceiling, his head ringing from the impact with the floor. He tried to get up, only then realizing there was a boot on his chest. He blinked hard, and focused on a massive black guy standing above the boot, glaring a hole through his soul. A second later and a silver-haired guy with a smile that made his skin crawl was looking down at him.

"You must be Mitch. I'm Hannibal Smith. This is BA Baracus. BA for Bad Attitude. You don't want to make him any madder than he already is, so I suggest you tell me where you took Mr. Mordake. And quickly."

Mitch not only told the guy where Mordake was, he told them how to get there. And a whole lot more...


*****

Charlie ran the jeep partway up on the curb, barely remembering to put it in park before leaping out. He reached into the back and pulled out the box they'd put the precious documents in. Clutching it tightly, he hurried up the sidewalk toward the massive building. It was supposed to be a two hour drive to Vegas; he'd whipped it down to nearly half that. He glanced back at the highway patrol officer and waved, gratefully. He was more than glad he'd taken time to call in a couple of markers before heading out. Having a police escort had cleared the road in more ways than one.

Now he just had to hope that his contacts had cleared the way through the bureaucracy at the NRC as well.


*****

"Now, remember, guys. This has to be quick, and it has to be quiet. If they have any inkling we're on the way, Face is as good as dead."

"We ain't dumb, Hannibal. Let's git."

Hannibal glanced over at Murdock. The pilot still seemed on a high from the helicopter ride over here, and BA's nerves were raw. Neither man was in the state of mind Hannibal wanted for this kind of maneuver, but he had to take it on faith that they would do their job. He forced himself to calm down. He had to remember they were a team, they were in sync, they would do this right.

He nodded, and BA opened the door leading down from the rooftop helipad. Hannibal hoped to God that Mitch bastard hadn't lied about the security codes...


*****

"Well, Mr. Mordake. I trust you've had ample time to reconsider. I want those documents. I want them now. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll have to let Andy talk things over with you again. You don't want that, do you?"

Face looked over at the feet of his enemies. He couldn't raise his head enough to look up. He couldn't open his mouth enough to talk. That was good. That was good. He couldn't tell them anything if he couldn't talk. He couldn't betray the team...

He felt himself jerked to his feet. His knees were rubber, he shook all over. Whether from the beatings or from fear, he had no idea. He knew he was afraid. Deathly afraid. He wished Andy would finish him off. Get it over with. He knew he would, in the end. Whether he told them everything or not...

It would be quicker if he told them. Then he wouldn't feel anything any more. Get it over with. Maybe they'd be merciful, just put a bullet in his brain. He hoped they would. There were so many ways they might do it.

God, let it be a bullet.

Please.

He felt the blow, whipping his head to the side.

"Where is it, Mr. Mordake?" Calm, low voice. "Where is it?"

His head slammed against the wall.

"Tell me, and it'll all be over, Mr. Mordake."

He felt the heavy ring on Andy's finger tear across his cheek. Tears started falling. He couldn't help it.

He couldn't stop them.

"Tell me."

"Tell me."

"Tell me."

The words started coming from his swollen, bleeding lips.

He couldn't stop them.