CHAPTER THIRTY

Nick heard the helicopter off in the distance. So did the men who had come with Charlie. He watched them searching the sky as he walked steadily toward Charlie's cabin. He'd kept an eye on the comings and goings the last two days, and was almost as mystified as the rest of the residents. It bothered him that Charlie hadn't let him know what was going on. And that surprised him. He hadn't considered himself the jealous type. But he'd been a part of this whole scheme from the very beginning; it just didn't seem right to suddenly be out in the cold.

He had to acknowledge that his dislike of Smith and the others wasn't helping his feelings any. The more he thought about it, the less inclined he was to see Ed belonging with them. And they didn't belong in the village. He'd heard people talking about them. About the way Smith had acted with those guys down at Queenie's. The consensus was that Charlie had gotten in over his head, that he never should have brought these men here. There was even a faction, a growing one led by the painter, Cal, that still wanted to sell the mineral rights over to Sinon and be done with it. Nick didn't like that, not so much about selling, but the idea that Charlie's leadership was being questioned.

Charlie had never been a benevolent dictator. But he had started this community, and was, for all intents and purposes, the 'spiritual leader'. Decisions that affected the whole were handled by a town council, of sorts, but they almost always sought, and followed, Charlie's advice. It had worked well in the past. The community had thrived, while maintaining the core values that had originally brought everyone together.

But things had changed, subtly, when Ed came. People were a little puzzled by him, but accepted his reclusiveness. The general feeling was that when he was ready, he would become a real part of the village, and, in the meantime, no one would intrude on his privacy. But then he had become involved with Sinon, and that same faction had started asking questions about him. About his past, where he had come from, why he had come here, what his intentions were.

Now, with all the activity, and the obvious government men who had arrived with Charlie, tongues were wagging, fast and furious. Cal was the one doing most of the talking. Nick shook his head. He didn't generally dislike anyone, but Cal had rubbed him the wrong way from day one. He was gregarious enough, and Charlie seemed to like him, but then, Charlie liked everyone. If he didn't, they didn't get to stay. Nick sighed.

Sometimes, even Charlie made mistakes.


*****

Charlie listened as the helicopter noise came closer. Two FBI agents came in the door, guns drawn, but held casually. He regarded them with a calm face, though his heart was beating hard and fast.

"Gentlemen?"

"We may have company, sir. Just a precaution."

"What...oh, the helicopter? Don't worry about that. It flies overhead a couple times a day. I think it's some tourist thing."

The two agents looked at each other before looking back at Charlie. Skeptical. Charlie smiled, maintaining his calm.

"We should probably verify that, sir. I hope you won't take offense..."

"No, no, not at all." Charlie knew full well they wouldn't be able to verify anything. That didn't matter. As long as Smith saw the cars...

One agent left, the other moved toward the back window, looking intently over the landscape. Charlie moved to the cabinet by the table, calmly pulling out the bottle of scotch. He had to force his hand not to shake as he poured a fairly large glass. Drinking slowly, he listened as the helicopter came closer and closer.

Then the noise faded away.

Sighing, Charlie downed the remainder of the Scotch. And poured another.


*****

"Bogies down below, Colonel." Murdock immediately began a slow turn away from the village, heading west.

Hannibal looked down, barely able to make out the vehicles scattered around the village. Murdock was right. There were cars there that obviously did not belong to the run-down flotilla of the village. He sighed, glanced back at BA and Face. BA had calmed down, but Face was starting to stir. He looked over at Murdock.

"Keep going west. It's a couple miles out, not far."

Murdock merely nodded, eyes focused on the desert flowing below him. It took only a couple of minutes before he saw the small dark spot pass beneath them in the middle of the bright sand.

"Got it, Colonel."

Hannibal nodded as Murdock brought the bird back around and began slowly dropping to the ground. Moments later, he and BA were carefully maneuvering Face out of the chopper, as Murdock ran ahead to prepare the trailer.

Face was definitely starting to wake up, and he was in pain. He moaned as they got him between them in a seat lift and started moving toward the trailer. The more aware he became, the more he began to struggle.

"Easy, Face, easy. I got ya, man." BA kept his voice low and soothing. "You safe now, okay? You safe."

"BA?" The voice was barely audible, and hoarse.

"Yeah, Face, it's me."

There was another small moan, and Face slumped down in their arms. He was quiet the rest of the way to the trailer.


*****

Gradually the pain started coming back, pulling at his consciousness, forcing itself into his head again. That wasn't right. He was supposed to be dead. Because he had told them. They'd killed him, after he talked. He wasn't...wasn't supposed to talk. Couldn't talk. Something...he wasn't supposed to tell...but he had. He had, and so he died. And he'd felt the safety, the peace, the strong arms of God protecting him...but now the pain kept getting worse, in spite of death, and he couldn't stifle the soft moan.

Mistake. He felt his body being moved, lifted. No. No, not again. Not more of...that. He couldn't take any more. He tried to them push away. He was dead. Rest in peace...

Heard the voice. That familiar voice that he hadn't heard for so long...the voice that shouldn't be here, shouldn't be heard by the dead...

"BA?"

"Yeah, Face, it's me."

Oh, no. God, no...

They'd killed BA, too...


*****

They settled him gently on the couch. Murdock had performed a minor miracle, in that there were fresh linens already on the fold-out. Hannibal started checking Face out more thoroughly, while BA took a quick look at the kitchen and started heating water on the hot plate, searching through the cupboards until he found several washcloths and some disinfectant. He wasn't happy with the meager supplies, but it would have to do.

Murdock had slipped out of the trailer as soon as Face was in bed. He told himself it was too crowded in there, he'd just be in the way. They wouldn't notice. Hannibal was in full commander mode, the care of his wounded the only concern. And BA was making amends. Murdock wouldn't interfere with that, unnecessary as it was.

Besides, he would be needed later, when Hannibal and BA crashed. When they had done whatever they could, and all that was left was to wait. Wait for Charlie, wait for a doctor, wait for Face to wake up. In the meantime, he had a job to do. Nothing stood out in the middle of the desert like a large red and white helicopter. And they would need their van back.

He trotted out to the chopper, clambered in and started it up. The rotors started slowly turning, churning up dust and debris around him. As he lifted up, he caught a glimpse of BA at the back door of the trailer, just before the whole scene was blocked out by dust. Okay, he probably should have mentioned his journey to the guys, but he didn't want them to interrupt their job just to argue with him. He wasn't dumb enough to drop right in at Sinon's airfield, after all. Just close enough to retrieve the van before someone else found it. There was nothing to worry about. Nothing out there, anyway.

He thought Hannibal was going to be all right. He'd caught a glimmer of the Jazz back there at Sinon. He wasn't back yet, but he was moving in the right direction, despite himself. And BA...well, he was still dealing with that guilt thing, and Murdock would have to have a little talk with him about that Andy guy. But now that they had Face again, those two could begin healing. It wouldn't be easy, because they still didn't know they needed to heal. They didn't recognize it, like he did. Which meant a lot would be riding on his shoulders alone. He had a big job ahead of him. The biggest job he'd ever had.

He looked out at the expanse of empty desert below him. Thought about that dinky little trailer. Shook his head. He knew he had to keep his own head straight where Face was concerned. Make the Purple Wobblies disappear. Couldn't be angry, or confused, or hurt; he had to focus. Focus on one thing.

Face was going to need him.


*****

BA came back from the door, shaking his head, angrily.

"Fool's gone, Hannibal."

"He'll be back. Hand me that disinfectant." Hannibal remained calm, but inside he was berating himself for his laxness. The first inkling he'd had that Murdock wasn't even in the trailer was when they'd heard the chopper start up. That was number one. Secondly, he hadn't thought about the target they'd left, sitting only yards away from the trailer. It was a stupid mistake, and he was lucky Murdock had been on the ball enough to think about it. Hannibal had been too concerned with Face.

Damn. What had he told himself, over and over and over again? Don't get too close. Don't care so much. Keep your distance, remember to be commander, not father. And here he was, making the same mistakes. Worrying about one of his men, putting the rest in peril. Hadn't he learned anything?

He finished with the cut above Face's right eye, and stood up. BA looked at him, startled, as Hannibal handed him the cloth and disinfectant.

"You keep working on him, Sergeant. I'm going to check the perimeter." Then he was gone.

BA looked at the door, confused. What was that all about? He turned back to Face, saw his eyelids fluttering. BA glanced involuntarily at the left one and caught his breath. It was fluttering, too - inside the socket. He had to quell the sudden queasiness in his stomach. He forced himself to look only at the right side, realized that Face was trying to see through the swelling.

"S'okay, Face. This is gonna hurt, but I gotta clean out these cuts. Won't take long, I promise."

"Hannibal..."

"He's checkin outside. He'll be back soon."

"No...won't..." Face closed his eyes, sighed.

BA was going to argue, but decided there was no point. Face was out of it, didn't know what he was sayin. He rinsed the cloth in the hot water and started cleaning out the next cut. Face shuddered, then lay still.

"Yeah, that's okay, Face. You stay under for a while. Better that way."

BA continued with his job, in the silence of the trailer, not thinking about Hannibal or Murdock or Sinon. He would take care of Face, no matter what the others did.

He wouldn't run out on him again.