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Disclaimer: The characters from the series 'A-Team' and any other characters used from television and film belong to their relevant owners and are used here only for pleasure and not for profit. Any similarities with real life characters or situations are unintentional and coincidental.
Certain chapters contain information regarding first aid measures in a wilderness situation. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, emergency treatment or formal first-aid training.
Summary: Hannibal leads the team into the Canadian wilderness to stop a gang of poachers, confident as usual that things will go according to plan...
Notes: Takes place around 1977...
Warnings: Descriptions of severe injury
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. - Rudyard Kipling
Gordon Benford stood nervously in front of the laundry. This was supposedly the final step he had to take, and thinking of the possible consequences to not only himself, but his family, he debated whether to open that door or not. Well, he hadn't come almost 2000 miles and gone through a gauntlet of odd characters and out-of-the-way places just to turn tail and run. Nerving himself, he pushed the door open and stepped in.
At first he thought no one was in the shop, until an elderly Chinese man popped up from behind the counter. They stared at each other for a few moments before the older man spoke.
"I help you?"
Gordon started to answer, couldn't, cleared his throat. "I was told to talk to a Mr. Lee. Are you he?"
"Yes, I Mr. Lee. What you want?"
"I need to get in touch with the A-Team. Can you help me?"
Mr. Lee looked closely at Gordon. "Maybe. Maybe not. Why you want this A-Team?"
Gordon sighed. He'd been through this story so many times already. "I need help getting rid of a bunch of poachers who are killing black bears."
"Mounties not help you?"
"They're trying but they don't have the man...how did you know about the Mounties? You know it's in Canada? Who are you?"
Mr. Lee didn't answer his questions, only smiled and motioned to the back of the shop. "This way, please, Mr. Benford." He had suddenly lost his accent.
Gordon moved behind the counter and through a doorway. In the backroom, he saw three other men standing there. The first a muscular black man with a Mohawk haircut; another, wearing a baseball cap, was idly moving his hand in the air, as if petting something; the third, a slim blond, looked back at him with a confident smile.
Mr. Lee followed him in, pulling off his wig and glasses after closing the door. Indicating each of the three men, he introduced Gordon to them. "This is BA Baracus, H.M. Murdock, and Templeton Peck. I'm Hannibal Smith. Now, you want to give us a few more details about these poachers of yours, Mr. Benford?"
Gordon had one more moment of hesitancy before plunging ahead.
"The area I live in is almost total wilderness. A few towns along the main highways, otherwise mountains, forests, a few scattered lakes and rivers. Beautiful, wild country. In fact, just two years ago they opened a huge wildlife park just north of us.
"The last couple of months, though, we've had trouble with a gang of poachers. There are always some now and again, but these guys are staying. They move around, and seem to know how to live in that kind of country without being seen. They're also becoming more and more bold as time goes on. Some of the shooting is getting close to the few homesteaders that live out there. Not to mention the havoc they're wreaking on the bear population of the area."
"They're poaching bear? Why? Fur?"
"No, body parts. In traditional Chinese medicine," he glanced ironically at Hannibal, "nearly every part is thought to have some use. The gall bladder is the most valuable, used as a remedy for a whole array of problems. The price per ounce is about 20 times the street price of cocaine."
"Yes, which is why there's so much poaching worldwide. I can't do anything about that, but I really would like to put a stop to it in my little part of the world. Especially now."
"Somehow they found out that I was working with the Mounties - reporting the areas where the poachers left evidence of their slaughter, or where they'd had their camps. After the government authorized a reward for their capture, they started making threats against me, and my family. Two days ago, they left a bear's head on the hood of my truck. Luckily I found it before my kids did. But if they're getting that bold..."
"Understood, Mr. Benford. Any idea how many there are?"
"Not precisely, but from the campsites I've found, I'd estimate no more than four or five. But like I said, they know how to survive out there. It's rough country."
"The Mounties have any idea who they might be?"
"They're guessing the leader is a fella named Rick Spiro. Apparently it's not the first time he's been involved in this type of thing."
"Well, fellas, what do you think?" Hannibal looked around the room, knowing already what the answer would be.
"Whereabouts is this place?" Murdock looked up from petting Billy, having noted that Gordon had ignored his gestures.
"British Columbia. Northern BC, actually."
"Oh, wow, communing with Mother Nature! Conversing with Flora and her sister, Fauna! Saving the bears of Jellystone! Dudley Do-Right, reporting for duty, SAH!" Murdock jumped up and smartly saluted.
"Oh, no..." groaned BA. "Count me in, Hannibal. Don't like guys cuttin off animal heads or puttin 'em where little kids can see 'em." He glared at Murdock. "But if the Fool's gonna be pullin this Dudley Do-Right thing..."
Ignoring the comment, Hannibal looked over at his XO. "Face?"
"Going to be expensive, Hannibal. Travel expenses, plus the gear we'll need for an area like that, supplies for an extended stay..."
"That's not necessarily a problem. I mean, if you can wait for the reward. It's not a large amount, except it's for each poacher captured, not just the whole gang. If you get all of them, it would really add up."
"Sounds good to me, Face. We're not wanted in Canada, after all."
Face just shrugged his shoulders. The idea of tramping around the Canadian wilderness did not exactly appeal to him, but it was for a good cause.
"Okay, Mr. Benford." Hannibal grinned, the Jazz already starting to simmer. "You've just hired the A-Team!"
"Benford wasn't kidding about it being wild country, Hannibal. Once we get to, uh, Fort Babine, there is no way to get where we're going, other than flying, horseback, or walking. Hell, Hannibal, even if we fly in, it'll take a day's hike just to get close to where these guys are operating."
"That a problem for you, Face?" Hannibal looked at his XO, recognizing the familiar grumble in the voice. While he always appreciated Face bringing up the practicalities of their missions, he also knew that anything involving drudgery or strenuous exercise was like poison to the younger man. Hannibal usually found it amusing. "You know, after we catch these guys, we should stay up there for a few days. Sounds like a great way to brush up on our survival skills, not to mention general training." His eyes glittered as he waited for the inevitable reaction.
The Colonel chuckled as he sauntered away from the desk, scattered with maps and lists that Face had been working on. Despite the complaints, Hannibal always felt confident that Face would look at every detail in planning their trips and make sure they had the equipment and supplies necessary. He never worried when Face was "doing his thing". But he liked to keep him on his toes, anyway.
He stood at the window of the apartment, watching BA work on the van. If they drove straight through, it was almost a thirty-four-hour drive to Fort Babine. BA was making sure the van was ready. Not that he really had to check it. The van was kept at peak performance, always. BA seemed to believe that what didn't need to be fixed, needed to be tweaked. Again, Hannibal had a feeling of total confidence in his sergeant. He almost felt bad about the syringe sitting in his bag, but there was no way he was riding in a van for 34 hours.
He moved away from the window and into the kitchen, grabbing a Heineken from the refrigerator. Murdock was bouncing around the stove to some unknown song, getting a large roast ready to toss in the oven. A battered Mountie's hat had replaced the customary baseball cap. Where the pilot found his 'props', Hannibal was never sure. But then, when it came to Murdock, Hannibal was rarely sure anyway. The only thing he always knew was, put that man in a cockpit and he was pure, solid gold.
Hannibal had two worries with Murdock on this particular trip. For one thing, Murdock was a pilot. He'd never received the intensive survival training the rest of them had, and, even in Nam, had not had a need for it. Not that Murdock was a babe in the woods. He had had the standard survival training in case he went down, and had no problem when training with the team, but Hannibal had never felt quite the confidence in Murdock as he had in BA or Face. It was a little thing, really. Just something to keep in mind.
The other worry was the plane. They would have to use a floatplane due to the terrain, and he knew Murdock had never flown one.
"Uh, Murdock, about the plane. You know anything about floatplanes? Like, landing on water?"
"Not to worry, Colonel. A Mountie is always prepared. I have studied the literature and I am, in said Mountie preparedness, prepared. I'll have us sitting on that lake like a silver swan..."
"Uh, I think it's the Boy Scouts that are always prepared."
"Same idea. Different uniform." Murdock grinned at him before returning to the roast.
"Uh, right, Murdock." Hannibal watched him for another moment before heading back to the living room. Sometimes you just had to go on faith...
"We're not slowing down, Murdock...the shore is getting pretty close, Murdock..."
"I see that, mon ami. Just a slight mis...cal...culation..."
"Everyone all right?" Hannibal looked over at BA. He was still sleeping peacefully, not bothered a bit that his seat was tilting forward at a nearly 45 degree angle.
"We're okay, Hannibal." Face's voice was very much aggrieved but steady.
"Just a mite discombobulated, Colonel."
"all right, let's get the gear out of here. We've got a long way to go yet."
It took some time for the men to extricate themselves and their supplies from the plane, which sat, tail pointing toward the eastern sky, nose buried deep in the reddish soil. Once Hannibal and Face had maneuvered BA out of his seat and onto the ground, they joined Murdock at the front of the plane. He was sadly looking at the bent prop, murmuring soft apologies to the aircraft.
"Well, Captain? What happened?"
"Sorry, mon Colonel. I failed to adequately adjust for that one little difference between floatplanes and regular planes."
"And that would be?"
"Ah. Yeah, that would explain things." Hannibal looked at the damaged prop. "I don't suppose there's any way of fixing that?"
"No, that's not likely, Hannibal. Even if we could fix it, that nosedive into the ground created some functional irregularities in the engine compartment - a compacting of components, if you get my drift."
"Hmm." Hannibal sighed. He could get angry at the pilot, but there was really no point in that now. Besides which, he'd known Murdock had never flown one of these things before and put him in the cockpit anyway. You don't blame the soldier for a command decision. "Well, okay, let's get BA out of here before he wakes up and sees..."
"Hannibal! That's a plane! You put me on a plane! A crashed plane! I crashed in a plane!..."
Hannibal checked their map one more time. He liked to keep a close eye on where they were supposed to be when in strange areas. They were slowly moving toward the last place evidence of the poachers had been found, still a good ten miles. At the rate they were moving, over rough terrain with full packs, it would take them at least five or six hours. Well, Benford had warned them.
"Okay, Face, you take point. And remember what Benford said about the traps." Face looked at him with some annoyance. Hannibal grinned back.
Their client had been full of warnings specific to the area they were moving through, not the least of which were the bears they were trying to protect. He'd also warned them about bear traps - huge ugly leghold traps that could snap a man's limb - left by trappers, both legal and illegal. Hannibal finally had to remind him that they were, after all, Viet Nam vets and knew how to look out for hazards.
He watched as Face shouldered his pack and headed out. BA followed a few yards behind, with Murdock between him and Hannibal. BA was silent, as usual, conserving his energy for the long hike ahead of them. Murdock, Mountie hat perched severely on his head, was instructing him on the history and traditions of the RCMP.
Hannibal grinned. He figured they'd have the poachers taken care of in two to three days. And then he planned on a few days R&R up here. It was indeed wild and beautiful.
Rick Spiro watched the plane fly overhead, unconcerned. In this country, it wasn't unusual. More and more tourists were coming to the newly opened national park, north of them. As long as they kept going north, he didn't care.
He turned and watched as his men finished gutting the bear. By the time they finished, there wouldn't be much left. Everything would then be carefully loaded onto the packhorses and moved to their camp. The next morning they would hand it over to the bush pilot, who would take it to their distributor. Within a few days, another nice little sum would be deposited into his account. Another few months and they would pack up for good. Head somewhere else. Spend their money and start all over again.
"Hurry up, guys, we haven't got all day. And be careful with that shit. Customers don't pay for damaged goods." He lit a cigar, suddenly thinking of the man who had first turned him onto the things.
Spiro had learned a lot from the Old Man. He'd admired him. Too bad the feeling hadn't been mutual. They just hadn't agreed on methods. Spiro didn't worry about civilians. Didn't worry about right and wrong, really. HQ wanted a bridge blown, he didn't care who was around when they blew it. Funny. He'd come back to the States with a 'rep', so he'd changed his name, brought together his old outfit, and set up shop, so to speak. Never been caught, never done time, thumbed his nose at the authorities. Nothing more than suspicions ever connected to him. And his old commander, "Colonel Conscience", was on the run for something everyone knew he hadn't done. Go figure.
Spiro puffed again on the cigar, wondering where Smith was now.
Face was behind BA, which typically was not a good place to be on a hike like this. BA had a habit of pushing back branches and expecting the guy behind to automatically catch them as they flew back. Since they all knew that's how it worked, they usually watched out for it. But Face had turned back to help Murdock with his pack, and, hurrying to catch up, caught one full force in the chest. He pulled himself up, catching his breath, and lit into BA, which should have told them something right there. But instead they all gave him a hard time about being out of shape, letting a little twig like that knock him down.
Flustered, Face took over point and pushed like hell. Forging a trail where there wasn't one, he pulled them ahead at a hard pace, taking the brunt of the heavy brush cover, stubbornly refusing to slow down. Now Face really needed a breather.
Hannibal called a welcome relief. They were all feeling the effects of the altitude, not to mention the up and down climbing, sometimes in thick woods, sometimes on rocky hills. Hannibal sat heavily, glad to have the weight of his pack off. He sat straight, though, and calmly pulled out a cigar, watching the others. He liked to keep an eye on them. Not that he'd say anything.
Sometimes it was Murdock that needed time out. The man used way too much energy talking when he should be worrying about breathing. BA wouldn't say anything even if he was having a heart attack, just keep going, but Hannibal had learned how to read the signs. Like when he quit paying any attention whatever to Murdock, not even a scowl in his direction. And then there was Face. He would grumble and moan and carry on like he was dying until one of the others faltered, and then he'd be right there with a helping hand. Or, like now, he'd decide he had something to prove and only a direct order would stop him.
He watched as Face leaned back against his pack, flushed with exertion. Hannibal knew they shouldn't have harassed him like they had. Face always thought there was more than a bit of seriousness behind it. But hell, after all these years he should know better.
This was just stupid. Feeling like this when he was almost thirty years old. Well, okay, closer to twenty-five than thirty, but still...He glanced over at Hannibal. He was watching him. Great. Hannibal probably called this break because of him. Okay, so he wasn't at his peak. He hadn't been running like usual the last few weeks, hadn't been getting the sleep he should have. Sherrie had been occupying him a little more than he'd expected. If he'd known sooner they were going to be scrambling through the Canadian fucking mountains, he'd have been in better shape for it. Didn't matter anyway. No one was going to be able to say Templeton Peck had held them back.
He looked over at Murdock and BA. Murdock was looking a little rough himself. Of course, he spent most of his time wandering around the VA, without the opportunities for exercise the rest of them had. Not to mention it wasn't that long ago he'd been a complete basket case. But he was keeping up. Face felt a little twinge of guilt. Sure, he was pushing himself, but that meant the rest of them were being pushed, too. He sighed. Okay. Time to grow up and quit trying to prove something...stupid...to people who probably didn't need proof anyway.
God, he really was tired...
"Okay, gang, let's hit the road. A couple more hours and we can stop for the night. Murdock, how 'bout you take point for a while?"
Murdock looked up, surprised. Hannibal was a bit surprised at himself. But then, why not? Sure, Murdock had crashed the plane, and he had his little 'problems', but that didn't mean he was really incompetent, or less than a good soldier. Time to remind him of that. Time to remind himself of that.
He smiled as Murdock snapped an elaborate salute, slightly nudging the Mountie hat still perched on his head.
"Semper fidelis!" Murdock grabbed his pack and slung it up over his shoulders as he headed out. Face and BA grabbed their packs and started after him.
"Oh, no, BA - you follow me this time!" Face grinned as BA growled at him but fell in behind.
Hannibal hesitated just for a moment. Something about that grin hadn't seemed quite right. But what the hell, as long as Face wasn't all riled up any more. Hannibal had started having doubts about this job. It was pretty ambitious, compared to the small time street hoods they'd dealt with so far. This was more of a throwback to Nam. And the team hadn't really been keeping in shape the way they should either. Had gotten complacent. Too used to easy city life. The tempers and sniping that had gone on today were probably just the wear and tear showing itself. A couple more days and they'd be used to the physical demands again. Used to spending all their time together again. And then they'd be ready to take on the bad guys. Which is really what they needed.
Hoisting his pack, Hannibal started out after his men. Things would work out just fine. As soon as they found the bad guys.
The campfire was down to a glow, the tents were up, and the food hung high between two trees, away from the campsite itself, the last due to advice from their Mountie in residence. BA was checking the gear for the last time that night, making sure everything was ready for the next day. Murdock was patrolling the perimeter. Face had already crawled into his tent.
They'd found the place they were looking for with little problem. A scattered collection of gnawed bones and some scraps of fur were all that were left of the bear the poachers had taken a week ago. The team had taken one look at the remains and then made camp several yards away, upwind. Not that there was anything left to stink; it was just the idea. If anything had hardened their resolve, the sight of those bones had done it. Murdock had taken it the hardest, of course. He'd been murmuring to himself about the "Mesdames Flora and Fauna" ever since.
By the light of the camp lantern, Hannibal was pouring over the map Benford had given him before they'd headed for the lake. On the map were all the locations their client had found, where the poachers had either camped or slaughtered. There was a pattern there. Somewhere. The slaughter points - Hannibal just couldn't think of them in any other terms - were obviously around areas where the bears would feed, or had water sources. The camps, on the other hand, seemed to be scattered almost randomly. And yet they weren't. There was something...
Some place. Some place the camps steered clear of. The camps were scattered around all the feeding areas and water sources except for one area. A lake, somewhat smaller than the one the team had landed on.
Hannibal sat back, thinking. The poachers were obviously using that lake to get their spoils out. That's why they kept their camps away from it. And that's why the team would be making a beeline for it. It would mean they would have to wait for the poachers, and chance more bears being killed, but it also meant they wouldn't be wandering around the wilderness hoping to find some fresh sign of them.
Hannibal looked at the map again and sighed. About twenty-five more miles. At least they wouldn't have to backtrack, but it meant another two days hard hiking. Well, nothing he could do about that. He looked back to where the bones rested. He thought about the bears he'd seen on television or at the zoos. About the bear he'd 'co-starred' with in one movie. Turning back to the map, he studied the area around the lake more closely. And started planning.
When Hannibal stepped out of the tent, Face was already up and looking intently at the map. Hannibal grabbed a cup and poured himself some coffee before settling down beside him. He waited patiently, wanting Face to give him his own assessment of the situation.
"You thinking that lake, Hannibal?"
"Possibly." Hannibal intended to stay neutral. "What's your idea?"
"I think the lake. Possibly this area over here," he pointed to another area, further south. "It's quite a ways from the known camps, but the terrain's flatter, easier access to this road over here." Face pulled out the topographical map they'd used the day before, and pointed to the same area. "But I don't think they'd want to mess with a truck going cross-country. Too many things can go wrong, and I don't think they'd want to chance losing their cargo. Planes seem to be the normal way of traveling around here. And their camps and hunting areas seem to steer clear of that particular lake. Gotta be a reason."
"I agree, Face. I figure a couple days' hike, get an idea of what the land around there is like, set a trap of our own."
"Okay, talk to Murdock, though. He can tell us where their plane would most likely come in through the mountains, just from the topo map. Might save us a little time and energy if we go to the most likely loading area to start with."
"Good idea. Okay, let's get breakfast and get ready to move. The sooner we get over there and set up, the faster we can put these slimeballs away."
Spiro was the first one up in the camp. He moved from tent to tent, kicking feet. He wasn't a morning person, but they had a lot to do today. Their bush pilot was due at the lake at noon, and the jerk wasn't above taking off if they weren't there ready for him. Then he wouldn't be back for another week. Spiro had already lost one load that way. He'd damn near shot the guy when he came back the next week; only knowing how much trouble it would be to find a new pilot kept him from it.
George came crawling out of his tent and started breakfast. Zach saw to the two packhorses, and Pete started taking down the tents and packing up. Roger went with Spiro to dig up yesterday's carnage. They would have four more stops to make on the way, digging up the packed animal remains they had buried to keep them cool. Once the plane arrived, everything would be packed quickly in the ice-filled coolers the pilot carried. The cargo would arrive at their distributor's in nearly fresh condition. It was a source of pride to Spiro that his customers were always satisfied.
The men said little to each other. They each had their jobs to do and that seemed to be the only thing they thought about. Spiro liked it that way. His people were well trained. He'd made sure of that when he'd handpicked them back in Nam. After their discharges he'd searched them out. Most of them hadn't been able to cope with the real world and were glad to be back in Spiro's fold. He liked that kind of loyalty - he knew they had no place else to go. That and their greed gave him the kind of team he needed to succeed. The Mounties didn't stand a chance.
They arrived at the lake and started unpacking the horses. Within a few minutes they could hear the drone of the plane. An hour later, their new provisions were unloaded, the cargo stashed carefully, and the plane was taxiing across the lake. Spiro smiled. Smooth. Just the way he liked it.
"Okay guys, let's head out. I want as much distance as possible between us and the lake before dark."
"Where to, Rick?"
"Northwest section, I think. Haven't been there for about a week. Should be some prime product waiting by now."
Face had been restless. They'd moved into an area of dense woods, the canopy so thick they hadn't even seen the sky most of the day. And Face didn't like that. Reminded him of places he'd just barely put away. Being around the guys, in their camouflage fatigues, wasn't helping. He just wanted some time to himself. Just for a little while. So, with BA and Murdock setting up camp, he told Hannibal he was going to scout ahead a little. He really hadn't needed the Colonel's reminder that it was getting dark and he should watch where he stepped.
He'd walked further than he had intended. But there was a reason. Shortly after leaving the camp, he'd come across hoof prints, horses', heading in the general direction of the lake that was the team's destination. They looked old, probably from the same time frame of those bones. Well, it was confirmation of sorts. He'd kept following them, hoping to get a firmer idea of the direction they were going. So intent was he in finding the now-faint trail, he didn't realize the dim sunlight was swiftly disappearing.
Damn. That's all he needed, to get stuck out here in the dark. Sure, he carried a flashlight but he wasn't sure he'd be able to see those hoof prints well enough to backtrack. He was about to turn around when he saw it. And he definitely didn't like it.
Hannibal was reviewing the maps with Murdock, looking at the hills surrounding the lake, trying to determine which direction they should be heading the next day. Murdock was explaining all kinds of things about updrafts and mountain waves and finally Hannibal had enough.
"Murdock, just tell me what part of the lake the plane would most likely go to, okay?"
"Oh! That's easy - right down here. See, then he's got this little notch between the hills to get out of."
Hannibal sighed in relief. "Thanks, Murdock. I really appreciate your help."
Murdock grinned, snapped another salute and wandered off to find BA, proclaiming to the world at large, "Mounties are trustworthy, loyal, helpful..."
Hannibal sat and studied the maps for a little while longer, until the sun started setting. It was then he realized he hadn't seen Face for a while.
He knew Face was uncomfortable with the deep woods. It wasn't just that he was city-born and bred. Hannibal had noticed a bit of edginess in all of them, including himself, as they'd hiked deeper and deeper into the forest. It was hard to see ahead of them, the sky all but vanished, there were noises in the brush around them as they disturbed various wildlife...too many reminders of another time, another place, combined with not knowing exactly what the hell was out there now. Murdock had gotten a little more 'abstract' as they'd hiked, his discourses moving from the Mounties to explanations of the various plant life and then on to the origin of the species. But none of it had taken on a manic flavor, so Hannibal hadn't worried that much. BA was watching the treetops a little too often, and checked behind them more than he had been. And Hannibal had realized, after they made camp, that, though he'd chewed on them, he hadn't lit a single cigar at their breaks. No, Face wasn't the only one this place had spooked.
Face deciding all of sudden to 'check things out' had bothered Hannibal, just a little. He had half an idea that Face was just trying to reassure himself, that the kid was letting it get to him. Of course, he couldn't tell Face he had to stay in camp. He'd never issued arbitrary orders, always had a reason. And he wasn't going to tell Face he had to stay just because they all had the willies. So he'd just 'reminded' him that it would be dark soon and to watch his step. Dumb. Face, of course, had immediately gotten his back up at being treated like a kid.
Now it was different. He should have been back already. God only knew what he might have run into out there. Hannibal stood, checked his flashlight. He wasn't sure he should use it, not knowing where the hell the poachers were. They could be ten feet away or ten miles. Not that he had much choice, if he was going to find Face.
He stepped casually over to BA and Murdock, said he was going to check the perimeter. No sense getting everybody, especially Murdock, all uptight. He'd take a quick look around. If he didn't find Face stumbling back to camp, then they'd have to mount a real search.
He headed out into the woods, flashlight flicking from side to side, back to the front. He found himself checking the trees overhead as well. Damn kid.
Face crouched down, torn between moving ahead, checking it out, and going back to the camp, letting Hannibal know what he'd seen. What he thought he'd seen. He tried to think. How far had he actually traveled? He couldn't remember what time he'd left camp, but it had to have been at least an hour, maybe more. Hannibal would be having a fit. Shit, maybe they were all out looking for him. Regretfully, he turned back, trying to make his eyes adjust to the near pitch-blackness, failing miserably. He didn't want to use his flashlight until he absolutely had to, but it was suicide to try and move through this mess without it. Glancing back, he carefully pulled his jacket off, shoving the flashlight into one sleeve. Keeping it just inside the cuff, he turned it on. Okay. He could make out the ground in front of him, but the glow from the bulb was shielded. Stooped low, he slowly made his way back.
A twig snapped off to his right and he jumped like he'd been shot. Shaken, he pulled his pistol and waited. He heard more movement from that direction, a muffled puffing noise, and whatever it was moved slowly away. He stayed put for another few minutes, willing his heart to slow, his breathing to even out. He was disgusted with himself for letting this damn place get to him like that. Fucking Green Beret, scared of his own shadow. Finally he forced himself to move out. Enough of this shit. Get back to camp. Back to the campfire, the light. The guys. Safety.
Shit. He should've stayed in LA.
Hannibal had been moving through the dense growth for almost fifteen minutes. He knew he should go back; the guys would certainly have noticed his extended absence. That's all he needed, for the other two to start wandering around this place. Damn it, Face. Hannibal had thought he'd broken him of this sort of thing long ago. Just like a damn bloodhound. Get the scent of something off-kilter and away he'd go, forgetting everything except finding whatever it was that caught his attention. Damn near got the kid killed, more than once. Face had become an expert on cleaning latrines before he'd finally learned. But now he'd done it again.
What worried Hannibal most was that he didn't know why Face hadn't come back. Had he actually found something and was following up on it? Or had he run into trouble? Was he hurt or lost or just trailing something? He knew Face hadn't intended to be gone long, or to go too far, because he'd left his radio behind. That would be the last time that happened. They'd all keep their radios on them from now on; he didn't care if they just stepped off the trail to take a leak. And Face was going to hit the obstacle course heavy duty when they got back to LA.
He was just about to turn around when he caught a flash of light, just ahead. He stopped, watching. The light stayed on a pretty straight route, heading almost directly toward him.
Hannibal didn't know whether to yell at him or hug him. Instead, he spoke in a hushed voice. "Goddamn it, Face, where the hell were you?"
"Later, Hannibal. I just...let's get back to camp, okay?"
Hannibal recognized the tone in that voice. They needed to get back. Face was damn close to losing it.
"Okay, kid. Follow me."
They stumbled back into the camp a few minutes later to find BA and Murdock in a heated argument. The absence had indeed been noted, and the two remaining men were disagreeing sharply on whether or not they should go out looking for the missing men. When they saw Hannibal and Face, the reaction was almost comical. Murdock fell all over himself making sure his teammates were okay, pushing them toward the fire, practically dumping hot coffee on them while handing them their cups, babbling questions right and left. BA just stood there, glaring at them, arms crossed angrily across his chest. Hannibal almost flinched when he caught BA's eye.
Murdock finally started calming down and sat tensely near the fire. Hannibal looked at BA, who, with a disgusted shake of his head, also sat.
"Well, Lieutenant? Care to explain yourself?"
Face, also seeming calmer now, although he looked a little pale in the firelight, took a deep breath.
"I was just going to check around the camp, honest to God, Colonel. Then I saw some tracks - horses - heading toward the lake. I was only going to follow them long enough to see if they turned off, went another direction, and I...I lost track of the time. But then, maybe two miles from here, I saw a light up ahead of me. I think it was another campfire, Hannibal."
"You think or you know?"
"I know. It was a campfire. I think the poachers are no more than two, two and half miles from us."
Face and Hannibal stared at the map. Face was desperately trying to figure out precisely where he had gone, where the other encampment was.
"Okay, I walked for...yeah, up this little rise...okay. Okay. I've got it. I was right about here, the campfire maybe here...possibly a little further, but not much. Close enough to catch it through the trees."
"As sure as I can be, Hannibal. Close enough that we'll be able to see it before we walk into it."
"Okay. BA, armaments?"
"Ready to go, Colonel."
"Murdock, got the goggles?"
The pilot held up four pair of expensive night vision goggles, one of the benefits of Face having girlfriends in the right places.
"Okay, remember two things. One, these guys are used to living out here, they're used to hearing things in their sleep. So keep it quiet. Two, if any of you has to take off after one of them, follow their path exactly. They'll either steer you clear of any hazards or take them for you. Okay. Face, you lead the way. BA, you take the rear. Murdock, ahead of BA. Stick together. Face is with me. When we get up close, you two go left, we'll go right. Then wait for my order. Got it?"
His men nodded. They'd been through this many times before. They were ready. BA doused the fire as the others adjusted their weapons.
Hannibal nodded to Face, who led the way out of camp and into the woods. The goggles went on almost immediately. They were better suited for use with moonlight rather than total darkness, but at least they could see where they were going without falling over everything.
Hannibal never had gotten used to wearing these things. Sometimes he thought he was getting too old for military technology. He concentrated on watching Face's feet.
They seemed to be moving much faster than they should; Hannibal quit finding familiar landmarks within a few minutes. Now it was all new territory to him. He had to rely on the man ahead of him knowing where the hell they were going. Face stopped once, pointing to the ground, and Hannibal saw the old tracks that had first attracted the lieutenant's attention. Then they were on the move yet again.
Just over an hour later, Face came to an abrupt stop, whipping off the goggles. Hannibal was momentarily blinded by the distant light of the campfire blazing through the goggles before he, too, pulled them off. He got a fix on the campfire, then tapped Face on the shoulder. The goggles went back on, and they moved forward again.
Forty-five minutes later they were in position.
A burst of gunfire was followed by a commanding voice.
"All right, slimeballs, front and center, on the double!"
Within moments, four disheveled and wide-eyed men were standing in the center of the camp, hands raised high. Hannibal sighed. This was so easy it wasn't even fun. And then he took another look at the men. There was something familiar there.
"BA! Take a look at these guys. You know any of them?"
BA was surprised, but looked closer. Face and Murdock shared confused glances.
"What the...Hannibal, that's George Kollman...McCaleb...Deeds...and hell, Roger Innes. What the..."
"You got a great memory, Sergeant!"
The compliment came from the side, above them. Murdock and Face immediately aimed their weapons toward the treetops, searching desperately for the source.
"Tell your men to drop 'em, Colonel, or you'll be breathing out of your chest."
Hannibal knew that voice. He'd had a sinking feeling when BA started rattling off the names. That voice confirmed his misgivings.
"Long time, no see, Richie. Why am I not surprised that you'd stoop to something like this?"
"Sticks and stones, Colonel Smith. Now tell your men to drop their weapons. Last warning."
Face was already lowering his weapon. He looked at Hannibal, his expression clearly saying, it's not worth it. Hannibal nodded.
"Drop 'em, guys."
It took only minutes and Hannibal, Face, Murdock and BA were tightly tied to four separate trees surrounding the camp. Only then did Spiro show himself.
He stepped up to Hannibal, a grin spreading over his face. "Well, well. Never thought I'd run into you up here, Colonel. Things get too hot for you back in the States?"
"Just on vacation, Richie. Thought we'd do a little vermin hunting while we were up here." Hannibal grinned right back. "Wish I'd known exactly what vermin we were after, though. I'd have brought rat poison."
Spiro's grin slackened somewhat, but he maintained it. "Always had a flair for words, Colonel. I liked that about you. Yeah, really too bad we had a falling out. You and I could have had a real future, if you just hadn't been so damn righteous."
"Sorry, Richie. I just can't help being disgusted by slime."
That earned Hannibal a swift and hard smack across the face. He'd expected it and immediately looked back at Spiro with a grin.
"You really need to work on that temper of yours, Richie. That always got you into a lot of trouble."
"You're the one in trouble now, Colonel. I'd remember that."
"Uh, Rick? What we gonna do with these guys?" Roger was looking just a bit worried. Spiro realized he was in shaky territory here. They'd done a lot of things since getting back together, but they hadn't killed anyone. Yet.
"Do with them? Nothing, Roger. Sun up comes, we'll pack our shit and move on, just like planned."
"Just leave them here? Tied up?"
Spiro looked directly at Hannibal. "All tied up. Nice and tight. Like a Christmas present." Suddenly grinning, he turned away and walked across the camp toward his tent. "Hit the sack, guys. Roger, you take next watch. We leave at sunup." He looked back one more time at Hannibal. "Oh, and Colonel, let's keep things quiet tonight. I'd hate to shoot my old commander."
Spiro's men checked their prisoners one last time before going back into their tents. Roger settled himself in a spot where he could see all four men.
Hannibal looked around at his men and shrugged his shoulders. It was going to be a long night.
The morning sun filtered through the trees, highlighting the webs of mist that would slowly dissipate before the light disappeared in the thick branches. Hannibal opened his eyes; he'd managed several short periods of sleep, but his body was numb, cold, and his clothes damp. He looked over at this men and saw they, too, were uncomfortably greeting the morning. He thought about Richie's words of last night and wondered if he really intended to leave them alive. Probably. Four warm bodies tied to trees would certainly prove an enticement for the local carnivores. He didn't like to think about that.
There was movement from the tents as the poachers also woke to the new day. Hannibal watched them carefully. He vaguely remembered them, and was reluctantly impressed with the precision and seriousness with which they prepared for the day. Richie ran a tight ship; but then, he always had. Hannibal had never had a problem with him as far as his command over the men; it was the way he executed their orders. Richie had never given a damn about anything except completing the mission successfully. If that meant a lot of civilian casualties, or destruction of friendly villages, so be it. And he had no problem disregarding Hannibal's decisions if it was 'more efficient'.
Richie's men, finished with their preparations, sat down, pointedly ignoring their captives, and ate breakfast. They talked softly among themselves, or at least listened as Spiro talked to them. Glancing again at his own men, Hannibal felt a bit of pride that they were, in turn, ignoring the poachers - and the smell of breakfast. He grinned to himself. His men would not forget this the next time they came across Spiro and his gang.
Finally, the moment came when the packhorses were loaded, the camp cleared away, and the poachers stood waiting as Spiro stepped over to Hannibal.
"I wish I could say it was nice seeing you again, Colonel, but unfortunately, it was more of an inconvenience."
"Well, next time I'll call first, Richie."
"I don't think I'll hold my breath for the call, Colonel. No offense, but I really do have more important things to do this morning than trade smartass barbs. Au revoir, Colonel."
"Aloha, Richie." Hannibal smiled happily at him until the men were out of sight. He looked over to BA, waiting.
BA scowled, raising his eyes to the sky. He took a couple deep breaths, and started expanding his muscles. It hurt like hell, the muscles tight and stiff from the night's inactivity, but he kept expanding and relaxing his arms until he could feel the ropes starting to stretch. He gave Hannibal a grin, and kept working the ropes. After nearly fifteen minutes, he was finally able to pull one arm loose. He pulled the rest of the ropes off, staggering for a moment as the numbness left his body.
"You okay, BA?"
"Yeah, Hannibal, but I catch up with those guys..."
It took only minutes to release the rest of the prisoners. They carefully stretched, feeling every protest from their stiff and sore bodies.
"Now what, Colonel?" Face's voice held just a bit more than a hint of reproach to it. "I take it you know these guys pretty well?"
"I know them very well, Lieutenant." He looked quickly around, getting his bearings. Things looked a lot different in the daylight. "We need to get back to camp, and hope Richie doesn't find it first. Once we get there, I'll fill you in on our friends. all right, move out."
Hannibal's tone of voice left no room for more discussion. As best they could, they double-timed it back toward their camp, hoping it would still be there when they arrived.
They had not seen any signs that the poachers had gone near their camp, but Hannibal insisted they approach with extreme caution. After making sure it was safe, he then insisted on cold rations for breakfast, not wanting the smell of a campfire or food wafting through the forest. Immediately after breakfast, the men made a fast change of clothes and packed up. They were tired, sore, tense and angry. The fact that they needed to backtrack and pick up the trail of the poachers did nothing to alleviate the situation.
Hannibal had given an abbreviated history of the connection between himself and his former lieutenant, with BA adding a few terse comments about the other men. Now they all knew what they were facing - men who were as well trained as themselves, who had the distinct advantage of having been living in this wilderness for some time, and who were willing to leave four people helpless to the elements.
Hannibal had taken point on the way back. He knew how angry Face was, and wanted to keep the pace reasonable. His men were already worn down and he didn't want to aggravate it. He intended to get close enough to keep an eye on the poachers, but no closer. He would not engage them again until the team had at least one night of rest.
After a lunch of more cold rations, the team was again on the march. They picked up the trail easily; it was hard to miss the horses. BA had taken point mid-morning, then Hannibal put Murdock up front again. He knew Face was getting more and more upset with what he considered the slow pace, but that couldn't be helped. He shook his head. Face could hold onto his anger longer than any two men, and then, in the blink of an eye, forget all about it. Sometimes Hannibal thought Face kept the anger only as long as he needed the energy. Or, in this case, the diversion. Anything was better than thinking about their surroundings. He wished he had a diversion like that. Something to keep his mind off the trees, the smells, the sounds. Something to keep his mind on the job and the job alone. But he couldn't. Not in this place, not with those men.
It wasn't that he couldn't put aside the memories. He was perfectly capable of doing that. When he did think about it, it was in a detached, clinical way. Much the same way he'd studied ancient military history. That's all it was. Mainly. Even after they'd started this soldier-for-hire scheme, the similarities between their new life and the old hadn't bothered him. Instead he'd had...fun. But they'd been in LA, sometimes the outlying areas, mainly hit and run jobs. Over in a day or two. Then back to a normal life. Or at least, as normal as they could get. But this job...
It wasn't even memories that were surfacing, causing problems. Even with Richie, it was the man that bothered him, not the memories. No, it was the feeling. Being here, being on patrol, camping out, tracking these guys, even the clothing. It brought back the feelings from Nam. The feelings of not being safe. Which was stupid. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that in LA, they'd felt safe. There were rules there, even if they didn't always apply to the team or the guys they went after. But the rules applied to everything and everyone else, even the MP's. Everything was 'known'. They didn't have to worry about anything except the job.
Here, like in Nam, it was all different. There was wildlife to worry about. The elements to worry about. Hell, a sprained ankle could mean disaster. Not knowing what was around the bend, over the hill. Not knowing the rules. Because there weren't any. Not any 'civilized' ones. Here, if you didn't think about what you were doing all the time, you could end up dead from stupidity. That was the difference. That constantly being on guard. Never being able to really relax.
He shook himself. Introspection was not his strong point. He didn't like it. Take care of today, of now, let the future take care of itself, let the past lie. He'd learned to live that way a long time ago, and he saw no reason to change now. He brought himself back to the present, as Murdock came to a halt up ahead and signaled to him. About time.
Grinning, he moved forward.
Spiro moved at a fast pace after leaving Smith and his men. He wanted to get his own men away from the area and back into the routine, back on the job, before they had time to think about what would be happening back there. He wanted them busy, so by the time they could think about it, it would be too late, and they would be just as guilty as he. He'd have no problem with them then.
They stopped only long enough for a short, cold lunch, and then moved on through the afternoon. It was late in the day when Spiro finally called a halt and they started setting up camp. The men were tired, which was good. They would all call it a day early, sleep hard, and by morning would have come to terms with what had happened. That chapter would be over and done with, and they could get back to their normal routine.
They sat up for some time after dark, going over the plans for the next day. They already knew the places they would set the bait, and each man had his own preference. Spiro just liked to make sure. He sent Roger up the tree for first watch. He'd started using that position early on, when they'd almost had a cat come into one of the tents while George had been on the opposite side of the perimeter. That's how he'd known Smith was coming. You could see all around the camp from up there, and much sooner, too. Roger wasn't given to thinking about things, either; he just did what he was told. As long as he got paid, he didn't really worry about what they were doing. He would concentrate on his watch, not on Smith.
Spiro smiled, satisfied with his plans. Tomorrow would be a new day.
Hannibal stood just to the side of the tree, watching the moving figures ahead. He could just make them out, but it was obvious they were making camp. He was relieved about that. His own men were nearing the end of their rope. Unfortunately, it would be another cold camp tonight. They were too close for a fire, but no way they were backtracking. Turning back, he issued low orders and BA and Murdock quickly made up their own camp.
Hannibal and Face moved forward to do a recon of the area. About halfway between the two camps, they split up, Hannibal moving to the left, Face to the right. They met back at camp less than an hour later, and began making their plans. As darkness fell, BA took his position for first watch, while the others crawled wearily into their tents and let exhaustion take them.
Hannibal had taken last watch, taking the time to go over the details of the raid. They would move out as soon as it was light enough to see, and be in position as the sun broke over the hills. He thought about Face's reaction to the plan. It wasn't unexpected. He'd come up to Hannibal afterward, wanting to know why he was in the 'safe' position. Hannibal had given him a bunch of bullshit about being his 'trump card', but he knew the lieutenant hadn't been totally satisfied. Hannibal himself wasn't sure why he hadn't given that job to Murdock. He usually wanted Face in a key position. It was just that Face had not been acting like himself. The whole time they'd been up here, he'd been tense and irritable. For some reason, Hannibal didn't want him on the attack in the morning. Instead he'd be lying in wait, at the opening Hannibal was deliberately giving the poachers. It was his way of getting back at Richie. Unfortunately, Face hadn't quite seen it that way. More of his insecurities coming out.
Well, the kid would get over it. He looked up at the sky, realizing it was almost time to move. He started waking the team.
Face moved quickly and quietly toward the stream. It was down in a gully, surrounded by steep banks. Once in the gully, he ran carefully along the water's edge, slipping a bit in the soft ground. He slowed when he figured he was parallel with the poacher's camp, listening for any movement toward the stream, looking for a place to position himself for the assault. Or rather, the non-assault on his part. He frowned, thinking of that pathetic explanation Hannibal had given him last night. When the Colonel had lost confidence in him, he didn't know, but he'd damn well show him he could do his job as well as the rest of them.
There, just up ahead. A cleft in the bank, providing a perfect three-sided foxhole. He could slide up into that and have perfect cover for firing on the camp. He looked at the surrounding bank critically. Maybe an eight-foot climb, but it looked fairly solid. He took one last look up and down the gully.
He saw the chain first. Big. Rusty. His eyes followed the chain and widened in shock when he saw the bear trap. Huge. From end to end, longer than a shotgun. Two heavy metal jaws yawning open, with crocodile-sized teeth on the underside. He looked about for a stick or branch to trigger it, then thought better of it. The noise from something that monstrous slamming shut would have the poachers on his ass in seconds. Shit. Well, no reason to go anywhere near it now. Once they had these guys in tow, he'd come back and set it off. No way he would leave that for an animal to step in.
He turned his attention back to the task at hand. Hannibal and BA should be just about in position now. Slinging the rifle strap over his shoulder, he began the short climb up the bank and into the cleft. His feet slid a couple times on the mud, but he managed to get into position without a lot of hassle. Cautiously he peeked over the edge of the bank. He grinned. He was almost perfectly centered on the camp, able to see everything going on.
He settled back down, finding a good foothold on a large rock, and waited for Hannibal's signal.
"Ready?" Hannibal spoke low to Murdock, still watching the camp ahead of them. The men in it were just getting up, starting to move around. Hannibal had to get moving.
Murdock nodded, his Mountie hat hanging by its straps behind his head. Hannibal took a close look at him. Okay, he was ready for this. He hadn't cracked one odd remark since the morning ritual of irritating BA.
"This one's for Yogi." Murdock scowled and took the safety off.
Hannibal sighed and moved up with BA. They had to circle the camp, BA taking the 9:00 position, Hannibal noon. They quickly but quietly moved through the woods, circling wide.
Luck was running with them almost from the start. As they approached BA's position, they saw Zach tending to the horses. Hannibal glanced at BA, who winked back. As Hannibal moved on toward his own position, BA moved silently up behind the poacher. Hannibal continued on his way, always in awe at how stealthy a man like BA could be. One down, four to go. Piece of cake.
It took only a few more minutes before he was in position behind a large tree. He checked his watch. Face should be settled by now. He took another look at the camp. The four remaining men were now seated around the campfire, eating breakfast, not a care in the world. Hannibal grinned in anticipation of the shock Richie was in for. Still he waited. Not until he noticed Richie glancing over toward the horses did he make his move.
"Hey, Richie! This is the ghost of yesterday past! Drop 'em!"
Face heard Hannibal's shouting, listened as the first volleys began. He rose up into position, aiming his automatic toward the camp. He still didn't like it, but orders were orders. Don't fire until they came right at him. He was Hannibal's coup de grace. His reply to Richie's tree act. The poachers would think they had an escape route via the stream, and then Face would open up, stopping them in their tracks. So he waited for them to come, keeping out of sight but ready.
It took only a couple of minutes, and the men started running for his position. He waited, letting them get closer, his own angry humor letting them gain confidence before he started firing, his body almost vibrating, in sync with the rifle as it fired round after round. It was almost comical, watching them come to a skidding halt as the bullets ravaged the ground around them. Face grinned. It was over in seconds. The poachers threw down their weapons, and slowly turned back to the camp. He saw Hannibal, Murdock and BA walking calmly into the camp, rifles trained on the defeated men.
Still grinning, he again slung his rifle over his shoulder, and, grabbing the edge of the bank to pull himself up, pushed off on the rock. He wasn't expecting the rock, loosened by his activities, to break away from the earth. He suddenly found himself sliding down the bank toward the stream. He immediately started quick stepping backwards, trying to gain some control over his fall.
He landed upright at the bottom, momentum pushing him back further toward the stream. As his right foot came down, he heard a click and the iron jaws seized his leg. An icy fire raced through his body, his vision blurred with a red-orange glow before going black. He hit the ground, out cold, before he even had time to cry out.
Warning: Description of severe injury
"So now what, Colonel? You gonna leave us here, teach us a lesson?" Richie glared at his former commander, who stood grinning, cigar between his teeth, weapon pointed, as BA and Murdock securely tied their captives' wrists and ankles.
"Well, Richie, I think the first order of business is a nice, hot breakfast for my men. And then, we're gonna march you slimeballs outta here and into the waiting arms of the Mounties. How's that sound?"
"Sounds like you've got a long trip ahead of you, Colonel. A very long trip."
"Why don't you let me worry about that, Richie? You've got enough to think about." Hannibal, still grinning, headed over to check out the supplies and equipment in the camp.
Murdock, finished tying up his men, looked over toward the streambed, expecting to see Face coming into the camp. He hadn't really noticed the absence before, thinking his teammate was finding a place to climb out of the gully. It shouldn't have taken him this long, though. After another look to make sure Spiro's men were securely under BA's glare, he started walking over to Face's position, straightening his hat. A Mountie had to look proper, no matter what the circumstances, after all.
As he got close to the edge of the gully, he saw where the ground had given way. Murdock stopped, grinning. It was obvious Face had slid down the bank and was probably down there fuming, too stubborn or embarrassed to call for help. The pilot shook his head. Face always thought he should be able to do everything perfectly, and just got into more trouble trying. One day he'd learn it was okay to be human. In the meantime, the team just kept pulling him out of gullies and giving him shit about it.
Murdock thought of the fun he would have with this; Hannibal would be sure to razz him about it. For a few moments, Murdock thought about just letting him find his own way out. It was probably mean, and Face would get angry, but he always got over that. And usually got even, one way or another. Murdock could just see his face when he did eventually climb out. Although, Face had been a little less forgiving this trip. He frowned a little. Maybe he better just help him out of there and save the kidding for later. Yeah, that would probably be best. Murdock was crazy, but he wasn't dumb.
He stepped up to the edge of the ditch, watching his step. Finding a firm place he looked down, expecting to see Face all red-faced and angry.
Hannibal had just started looking through the camp. These guys were very well supplied, had damn near everything they could want for surviving out here on their own. Despite himself, Hannibal was impressed. Between the two camps, they could last for months.
He jerked around, bringing his weapon up. He saw Murdock over by the bank of the stream, waving his arms wildly. He hurried over, seeing that BA had come to quick attention, watching the captives for any sign of a trick. Moments later he was beside the pilot.
"What's the problem, Murdock?"
Without replying, Murdock turned and slid down the bank. Hannibal stepped forward, totally confused. Then he, too, looked down and his stomach turned.
Murdock was kneeling by a prostrate Face, who lay pale and unconscious by the stream. It was the leg that shook him. Caught grimly tight in a trap nearly the size of the man himself. Without another thought, Hannibal skidded down the embankment, and rushed to his lieutenant's side.
Murdock had his hand on his friend's shoulder, bent down close to his head, mumbling fast and low. Hannibal checked Face's pulse, found it fast and weak. He glanced again at the leg.
"Murdock! We're going to need BA down here. Send the medical kit with him. You stay with the prisoners, and keep your mind on them!"
Murdock looked up, glaring at the last command. But command it was. Hannibal's voice was pure steel. The pilot gave Face's shoulder one last gentle pat, then stood and practically flew up the embankment. Barely remembering to pick up his dropped weapon, he ran back through the camp and into the woods where the team had left their own packs. He grabbed the first aid kit, glad for once that it was so cumbersome. They should have everything they needed in there.
He ran back into camp, thrusting the kit into BA's astonished hands.
"Take it down to the stream. Face got caught in a trap. It's bad."
BA didn't wait for further explanation. He handed Murdock his weapon and hurried away. Murdock watched him for a moment, until Spiro spoke up.
"Bear trap, right? Too bad, man. Might as well shoot the poor bastard now and put him out of his misery." He grinned up at his guard.
Amazingly, Murdock grinned right back and knelt down by the man's face. His eyes had a maniacal glint to them, which wasn't lost on Spiro.
"You know who I am, muchacho? They call me Howlin' Mad Murdock, 'cause I'm crazy as a loon. And you know what else? There's only one person I'm thinking about shooting, unless he keeps his fucking mouth shut..."
Spiro gulped, and looked away. He wasn't stupid, either.
Hannibal checked the leg more closely after Murdock left. It wasn't pretty. The heavy jaws had it just below the knee, and had crushed it to less than half its normal size. The skin was literally split open; the large teeth on the underside were embedded in the muscle. Blood was seeping out, but thankfully was dark red - by some miracle, the arteries were intact. Hannibal knew once they had that god-awful thing off, the blood flow would be a lot worse. It would be something to get ready for before they released the leg.
He looked up as BA came sliding down and stepped to Face's side. Whatever BA thought about the situation, he was not letting it show. Except that instead of a scowl, his face was entirely blank. No emotion whatever.
"Open up the kit, BA. He's gonna bleed like crazy when we get that thing off. Well, when you get that off." He looked over at the sergeant, saw him looking at the trap. "You can get it off, can't you?"
BA stepped over to it, scrutinizing from a respectful distance. He sighed heavily.
"Yeah, I can, Hannibal. But not layin on its side like that. See, I gotta push down on these end pieces, that'll open the jaws. But it's gotta be upright." He looked at Hannibal, then at Face.
At first, Hannibal didn't understand. Then he realized what BA meant. He couldn't open the trap unless it was sitting up, and it couldn't be sitting up unless Face went up with it. If they tried to move the trap without moving Face, it would just tear at the muscle, pull on the bones...shit. Time was wasting.
"We need Murdock, Hannibal. If you're holdin him up, and I'm openin the trap, someone's gotta pull the leg out and get him clear. And it's gotta be fast, 'cause I don't know how long I can keep it open."
Hannibal looked at Face. He was still out of it, pale and starting to sweat. They would have to secure Richie and his bunch before they could bring Murdock. More delays.
"Okay. You stay with Face. Murdock and I will secure the prisoners and get down here. Fire off a round if...things..."
BA nodded, and Hannibal scrambled up the bank.
Murdock was waiting anxiously as he came into camp. "Is he okay? Have you got him out?"
"No. We need to tie these guys to the trees - tight. We need you down there to help." Hannibal grabbed Richie by the shirt. "You give me any trouble with this and I will shoot you. I'm not wasting any more time on you than I have to. Got it?"
Spiro nodded. With Murdock's gun trained on them, Hannibal quickly cut the ropes binding their ankles, and one by one tied them unmercifully tight to the nearest trees. Spiro was last. Hannibal gave him one last glare.
"My man dies, you're gonna get a taste of your own medicine, Richie. And I'll enjoy every minute of it."
With that, he and Murdock rushed for the streambed.
Warning: Description of severe injury
Hannibal had explained to Murdock what needed to be done, but the pilot stood for a moment, looking at Face, the trap, BA, then Hannibal.
"No, I need to hold him up, Colonel. I'm taller than you. I'll have to bend over a little at first, but when we pull his leg out, I can straighten up and bring him up further than you could. It'll be easier that way, believe me."
"Can you hold him? Even when I pull it out of there?"
Hannibal didn't waste any more time discussing it. He figured Face had been in that trap for well over thirty minutes already. Time was running out. He nodded at the others.
"You pull it out and then you gotta get outta the way quick. That thing's gonna move some when I let go." BA frowned, still studying the trap.
The pilot nodded and he and Hannibal gently took Face under the arms. As BA slowly tipped the trap, they gradually adjusted until Murdock had Face's arm draped over his shoulders. They all kept their eyes glued to the trap, making sure the leg didn't get out of line. Slowly they got Face upright, Murdock firmly holding on. Finally, BA was ready to force the trap open. He looked at Hannibal.
Hannibal took a deep breath. He squatted down and with one hand, got a firm grasp on Face's leg just above and behind the knee, and got ready to grab the lower leg as soon as the jaws were far enough apart.
"Move straight back when I get it out, Murdock. Fast, but not too fast." He didn't look up to see Murdock's nod; he took it on faith that Murdock would move as directed, making sure he and Hannibal moved in sync. "Okay, BA."
BA got down on his knees, flexing his arms. He took several deep breaths before placing his hands on the arms on either side of the jaws. He glanced at Hannibal, then Murdock. They both nodded, ready. Taking one more deep breath, BA started pushing down on the rusty metal.
At first, there was no movement at all. BA took another deep breath and pushed down harder. There was a groan from the metal, and it jerked a fraction of an inch. Encouraged, BA kept pushing. Slowly the side arms moved downward and the jaws started to part.
Hannibal watched in horrified fascination as metal slowly pulled away from flesh and bone. He knew, if he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget that sound. For the first time, he realized what he was about to do - deliberately put his arm into that monster. He took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the upper leg.
BA pushed down further. The jaws seemed to be stuck. Sweat was running down his face. Damn! He was wearing down fast, but he didn't dare let up. If he let those jaws close again, not only would it cause more damage, but he honestly didn't think he'd be able get them open again. And if he couldn't open it enough to get Face's leg out...
Where it came from, BA would never know. But he pushed down with every ounce of strength he had in him. The jaws suddenly swung open, Hannibal reached down and grabbed Face's shin and pulled back. Suddenly Murdock, Hannibal and Face were careening back, their retreat barely controlled. BA waited a split second longer, letting them get clear, before he let go of the trap and threw himself backward, landing on his back in the mud. The monster trap sprang into the air, the jaws ringing as they snapped shut, and it thudded onto the ground, silent. BA was close enough to see bits of flesh still stuck to it. He felt the bile rise in his throat. Quickly, he looked over at the others.
Murdock was sitting on the ground, Face cradled protectively in his arms. Hannibal still had hold of his leg, blood spilling freely over his hands. He looked back at BA, pale and sweating, nodding toward the first aid kit.
BA struggled to his feet. They had a long ways to go yet.
Spiro was working at his bindings with almost desperate effort. He didn't hold out any hopes for Smith's man. He'd seen what those old traps did to animals; he shuddered to think what it would do to a man. He figured they had maybe a half-hour yet and then Smith would be back, ready for blood. Their blood. And he didn't intend to be here if he could help it. The problem was, of course, that they had been tied with near maliciousness. It was hard to loosen ropes tied so tightly the blood was nearly cut off.
He looked over at his men. They were all struggling to get free, but none seemed to be having any more success than he was. Shit. Dead meat. He could see it coming.
Abruptly his men stopped struggling. He looked up and saw the black guy, BA, running back into camp. Without a word or glance, he strode to one of the tents and pulled it down. Bundling it up with the poles, he hurried back toward the streambed. Spiro watched as he tossed it all carefully over the edge and climbed down after it.
He looked after him thoughtfully. They must have gotten the guy out. That meant a reprieve, of sorts. Spiro began to have hope. The longer they kept him alive, the longer Spiro and his men had to find a way to escape. And with Smith one man down - hell, having a badly injured man to take care of - it would make it that much easier.
Spiro allowed himself a small smile. They'd see who got a taste of their own medicine...
Hannibal had quickly cut the pant leg away. There were two ragged wounds on either side of the leg, almost encircling it. The blood was flowing out, not too fast, but steadily. He started rummaging in the kit.
"BA, bring one of the tents - just rip it down. We'll need it for a splint." BA immediately started up the bank.
Hannibal moved into automatic. It was the only way he could do this, the tedious and meticulous task of cleaning the debris from the wound. Bits of pant leg were stuck here and there, and there were actually flakes of rust caught inside. He refused to think of Face. This was just another wounded soldier in the field. Fighting the bleeding to see, he carefully worked the tweezers; small bits of skin that would die anyway he cut away. By the time BA returned, he was almost finished. He quickly opened a bottle of iodine and poured it over the injuries.
Holding the flesh together, he grabbed gauze pads and placed them over the ravaged areas. As soon as he had them in place, he motioned to Murdock and the two of them started applying direct pressure. As the blood soaked through, BA handed them more gauze to cover it. When that, too, was soaked through, it was replaced. They went through three more changes before the flow finally trickled to a halt.
Murdock sat back, and immediately checked Face's vitals again. So far, so good. The pilot was looking pretty shaken, and Hannibal was glad he could take a break. Not allowing himself to relax, he bound the wound firmly with several bands of the gauze.
He still wasn't done. With Murdock keeping a close watch on Face, he carefully removed the boot and sock, checking the toes for color and temperature. Good. So far, no problem with circulation. So far...
"Okay, BA, we can splint it as is. We'll need two of the tent poles, long enough to go from ankle to just above his knee." BA nodded. He knew how to do this part. He was just thankful they didn't have to realign the bone; he knew who would've had that job and, feeling a bit ashamed, he realized he just didn't want to do it. Not now.
They worked quickly. This, at least, was a routine they had done many times over in Nam. The only tricky part was arranging the padding, leaving enough room between the splints so they would be able to check the bandaged areas. Carefully they moved the injured man onto his side, Murdock's jacket under his head. A shot of antibiotics, a final check of his vitals, and they were finished.
The three men sat, silent. It had been a long time since they had gone through anything like this. No, they had never gone through anything like this. And certainly not with one of their own. They looked at each other, bloody, sweaty, exhausted, and suddenly Hannibal grinned at the other two. For a moment, BA and Murdock looked stunned. And then they realized - they had done it. Face hadn't lost his leg. He was alive. They had done it. At least for now. And 'now' was all that mattered.
Murdock was watching Face. He still hadn't awakened, but was stirring.
"Now what, Colonel? How do we get him out of here?"
Hannibal looked up at the steep and slippery bank. He didn't want to even try taking him up that, but he didn't want to haul him all over trying to find a low spot, either.
"I got it, Hannibal." BA had been looking at the bank, also, and the surrounding trees. "You get a litter built, I got the rest." Without another word he got up and climbed up the bank.
Bemused, Hannibal watched him disappear toward the camp. He knew if BA said he could do it, he could.
Hannibal looked at the remains of the tent. They could use that for a stretcher, but it would be bulky and stiff, not a very comfortable ride over the next few days. He looked over at Murdock.
"You stay with him; I'll go see what I can find for a stretcher. You okay with that?"
Murdock was once again checking Face's pulse. "Sure, Colonel. You suppose we oughta give him a painkiller?"
"Not yet. I don't want to give him anything until he comes to."
Hannibal was a little concerned that Face hadn't awakened yet. And he didn't want to say anything more to Murdock about their medical supplies. He knew they'd brought a normally adequate supply of analgesics, but certainly not enough for this. He needed to see what kind of medical supplies Spiro had. He needed to figure out the quickest way out of this place. Needed to figure out how to deal with Spiro and his goons. He looked around him, at the total wilderness that he knew so little about, and, for perhaps the first time in his adult life, felt nearly overwhelmed.
"We'll make it, Colonel. We always do." Murdock spoke softly, but determinedly.
Hannibal looked over at him, hoping his doubts hadn't been that clear. Murdock looked at him with such confidence. He hoped he could live up to that honor. No, he would live up to it. He would get them all out of this alive.
He stood up, headed for the bank. "I'll go find the stuff we'll need, and when BA is ready, we'll get Face the hell out of here."
Murdock watched him go, a smile on his face.
BA had double-checked the ropes on the poachers. He knew they'd been trying to work loose; he also knew how angry Hannibal had been when he tied them up, so he wasn't too concerned. He smiled to himself. Hannibal usually kept his cool, no matter what, but you sure didn't want to fool with one of the team. At that, BA's normal scowl returned. He hoped Hannibal didn't come up with some hair-brained plan to get them out of here. It was one thing when they were full-strength, but with Face all messed up like that...
He shuddered, thinking about the disaster below. And immediately put his mind back on his task. He gathered up all the rope he could find, pulling on it to test the strength. It would work. He saw Hannibal going through Richie's pack, pulling out heavy shirts. They'd be ready about the same time. Good. The sooner they got Face into camp and comfortable, the better they'd all feel.
BA went back to the bank and started slinging the rope into the branches, between two of the bigger trees. He pulled hard on them, testing the branches he'd selected. Satisfied, he tied off the rope and ran another line. When he had three tight lines running together between the trees, he headed back to the camp and returned with one of the horses.
Hannibal, in the meantime, had returned to the stream, and he and Murdock were busy buttoning the shirts around the two remaining tent poles. They hurried, as Face was getting more and more restless, starting to mumble anxiously. Finished with the makeshift litter, he looked up at BA.
"Okay, what are we doing, BA?"
"You get him on the litter, we'll tie the ropes around it and up over these ropes, and then we'll pull him up with the horse. Ain't quite a block and tackle but it's the best I could do in a hurry."
Hannibal looked at BA, then over to Murdock, grinning. "The man's a genius, Murdock, a pure genius."
"What do you expect from a Mountie, Colonel?" Murdock grinned back at Hannibal, the grin getting even bigger when he saw BA's scowl deepen.
"Ain't no Mountie, fool."
Murdock cocked his head. "No, that's right. I'm the Mountie. You must be the Moutinette!"
Hannibal chuckled as he moved the stretcher next to Face, suddenly getting serious again as he looked at his lieutenant. His eyes were starting to flutter, and his hands were twitching. The mumbling became louder, faster. Damn. He was caught between relief that Face was finally waking up, and wishing he'd waited until they had him moved.
"Hold on, BA. He's waking up."
Murdock eagerly moved over to Face's other side, waiting for those eyes to look up at him. They snapped open suddenly, wide and frightened.
"Burning! I'm burning!" The shouts were panicked, as Face sat bolt upright and started clawing at his injured leg. He grabbed at the splint, at the bandages, trying to tear them away.
Hannibal grabbed Face's hands before he could cause more damage, while Murdock grabbed him around the chest, trying to calm him down. They could both feel the terrible shaking in his body.
"Face, it's okay, you're not burning, you're not!" Murdock was practically shouting in his ear, trying to reach through the panic and pain, but Face just kept yelling and fighting.
"BA, take his hands!" BA had rushed down the bank once more, and now grasped the struggling hands, holding them together and away from the leg. Hannibal rushed to the first aid kit, pulling out a syringe and the painkiller. Quickly he drew out a dose. Murdock helped him pull down the shoulder of Face's jacket, and without waiting, ripped the sleeve open. The needle went in and after more long minutes of struggling, Face finally slid into a daze.
BA looped the ropes and tied them tightly around the stretcher where Face was looking dully at the preparations. He ran the ropes through his hands as he climbed one more time up the hated bank, then threw them over the suspended ropes and carefully fastened them to the packsaddle. He went back, looked at the men waiting below.
"You ready? You gonna keep up with him okay?"
"We run into trouble we'll yell, BA. Just take it easy."
BA scowled back. As if he wouldn't be careful. He stepped up to the horse's head, taking the bridle and gently urging her forward. Obligingly, the horse started moving. BA watched the ropes slowly pull tight, and start sliding over the rope bridge between the trees.
Below, Hannibal and Murdock held onto the stretcher as it slowly started lifting up. They held it away from the bank as it glided by, having to scramble a bit on the soft earth. In a few minutes, it was above the ledge and they guided it carefully away from the crumbling bank. BA stopped the horse and they quickly undid the ropes.
Hannibal grinned at him as he walked over. "Worked like a charm, BA." BA just scowled again. Like anything he put together wouldn't work right.
In a few short minutes, Face was safely in one of the tents, the stretcher now resting on a camp cot. Murdock was sitting with him, while BA fixed the hot breakfast Hannibal had happily planned for them earlier. The Colonel, in the meantime, was talking to Spiro.
"C'mon, Colonel, at least untie us from these trees, okay? It's inhumane!"
"Tell me about the plane, Richie. Then I'll let you guys loose from the trees. When is it due back?"
Spiro glared at him. One thing he should've remembered about the Old Man - he was stubborn as hell. Sighing, he decided cooperation would be the best route, for now.
"It comes once a week. He was just here Tuesday; he won't be back until next Tuesday."
Next Tuesday. Shit. Five more days. Hannibal glanced at the tent where Face and Murdock were. Wait for the plane, or go cross-country? Hannibal looked back at Richie.
"No way of getting him before that?"
"No. Radios don't work out here - too many mountains in the way." He couldn't help another small smile. "Kinda puts you in a quandary, huh, Colonel? Awful hard to move an injured man along with five guys that just don't want to go with you."
Hannibal smiled right back. "You know, Richie, you never could keep your mouth shut. Hope you're not allergic to bark."
Hannibal turned and walked calmly away. Inside he was seething. For two cents, he'd leave these slimeballs right there, just the way Richie had left them. But the A-Team didn't do things that way. He kept reminding himself of that.
Five days. It would probably take two, maybe three to get back to the lake. He walked over to his pack, pulled the maps out. Looked at the road Face had pointed out. It would take at least four days to reach it. At least. The nearest town was maybe ten miles from where they would hit the road. A good four-hour jaunt. Cross-country or plane, it didn't make much difference.
Either way, Face was probably screwed.
Spiro knew he shouldn't have expected to be released from the tree after baiting Smith like that, but he'd gotten the reaction he wanted. The Old Man may look calm, but Richie knew exactly what was going on in that brain. If there was one thing he'd learned under Smith's command, it was the art of rattling the enemy. Over the next few days, Richie planned to do a lot of rattling. He knew how to get to Smith. There were a lot of things he knew about the man. How much he cared about the welfare of the men entrusted to him, how much he treasured making his famous plans work, how much he reveled in success. That he didn't consider himself a fool. All that was about to change.
Knowledge was power. And Spiro had the power. Like the thing with the plane. Sure, he'd told Smith when it was due in next. But there was one thing he hadn't told him, and wouldn't. The signal. The pilot would look for the signal, the signal that said there were no Mounties around, that all was clear. And when he didn't see it, he would just fly off again, to return the following week.
And the following week, Spiro had no doubts he and his men would be there, with another full load to go.
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