Chapter 1 - Where's the Rear Guard?
Bad Rock, CA - February 21
BA crouched down low behind an outcropping of rocks, waiting for the signal that would come any second. The crescent moon lent little illumination, the darkness lessened only slightly, but the team had scouted the area before the sun had set and BA was confident in his path. The dark silhouette of a cabin 50 yards in front of him was the target. A young boy named Jimmy was inside, held against his will. That would soon change if BA had anything to say about it. He had faith this plan would go smoothly. Or, at least as smoothly as one of Hannibal's plans was capable of going. Simple rescue mission. Grab the kid, tie up the kidnappers for the police to pick up, and get outta Dodge. They didn't even need Murdock for this one.
The short, sharp whistle ripped through the quiet. BA moved quickly, holding his gold chains down with one hand, his 9mm gripped tightly in the other. He could see his breath plume out in front of him as he ran in the cold night air.
He reached the top of the porch two seconds before Hannibal. A quick look and a gesture had BA taking point, Hannibal a step behind and to his left. BA kicked the door open, sweeping his weapon across the room and training it on the lone guard leaned back against the wall in a rickety wooden chair. He'd obviously been caught unaware and probably asleep, as he jumped up and stumbled forward, eyes darting around the room as the door splintered open. BA's first thought was disbelief that they'd found some mastermind kidnapper. The guy was short and plump, wearing a nylon windbreaker and sneakers, not anywhere near appropriate dress for the terrain or the temperature. He seemed inept for pulling such a daring plot against a City Councilman's kid. The kidnapper righted himself and reached into his jacket, but a low growl from BA made him jerk. He lost his grip and the gun he'd been pulling out clattered onto the old plank floor.
"Kick it over here. Now!" Hannibal ordered.
The terrified thug complied quickly, throwing his hands up over his head. "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!"
A muffled sob came from the corner of the room where the boy, all of 9 years old and 60 pounds soaking wet, was tied up on a small cot. His hands and ankles were bound with a thick rope, and he had a blindfold over his eyes and a gag in his mouth. BA was infuriated. He held the guard at gunpoint while Hannibal searched him, finding another weapon in an ankle holster. As soon as that gun was safe in Hannibal's possession, BA lunged at the terrified guard, holding him up by his collar and giving him a few shakes.
"Why you treatin' a little kid like that? He better not be hurt, sucker!"
"He's fine, he's fine! We didn't hurt him," the guard cried, dancing on the toes of his shoes as he tried with both hands to dislodge BA's grip on his shirt.
Hannibal untied the boy and helped him up, tossing the pieces of rope at BA, who caught them one-handed as he dropped the guard in a heap.
"You're ok now, son. We're here to help you," Hannibal assured the shaking child.
BA glared at the guard and made good use of the rope, returning the favor for Jimmy as he trussed the guy up, pulling a little tighter than necessary on the final knot. Hannibal and BA turned back toward the door with the boy in tow and Hannibal checked the immediate vicinity, motioning BA ahead. Hannibal ushered the boy, who hadn't yet uttered a word, out behind him. BA edged down the porch stairs sideways, sweeping the forest for any sign of movement. He was starting to think the kid was in shock and he should comfort him when his right leg suddenly buckled underneath him and he went down hard. He hadn't registered the sound of the gunshot and he didn't hear the echo of it as Jimmy had started screaming as soon as BA stumbled. He could see the kid out of the corner of his eye, kneeling on the ground by the bottom stair, hands over his ears, rocking and wailing over and over again. BA moved to get up and comfort him.
"BA, stay down!" Hannibal ordered sharply.
BA froze as Hannibal pushed Jimmy down into the dirt and crouched down with his gun at the ready, scanning the area for the shooter.
"Where the hell is Face?" Hannibal pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and threw it to BA. "Can you apply pressure?"
BA caught it without thinking and looked down at his leg as the white-hot pain flared with the realization that he'd been shot. He reached down with the cloth, warm blood soaking through almost immediately. He pushed down harder and winced at the pain. This was bad. His hand was now covered in his own blood. He could feel it dripping down over his knee, soaking his pants. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, forcing away the gray that had started to edge into his vision. "Hannibal…"
"Hang on, Sergeant." The Colonel's voice was hard now, full of steel, as he assessed the situation. One man down, one missing, in the dark of night with a hysterical child and an unknown number of assailants waiting to attack.
Hannibal made some quick decisions and held his hand down on the back of the boy's head, gruffly ordering him to stay down. He didn't know if the boy had even heard him but he could see BA was losing blood at an alarming rate and that was his first priority. As he crawled over to help BA, Hannibal was giving serious consideration to knocking the boy out cold. He pulled the bandana out of BA's pocket and had just put both his hands on the wound to try and staunch the blood flow, when rapid fire rang out from the south, followed by the sound of a revving engine and spinning tires. Hannibal dropped down onto BA, causing him to grunt with the added pressure.
"That Face?" he asked through gritted teeth.
"I really hope so," Hannibal answered as Jimmy finally stopped screaming, the silence a welcome reprieve.
BA looked over and knew the boy was close to hyperventilating as his chest heaved with wracking breaths.
"It's ok, little man. Everythin' ok." He tried to sound calm, but the words came out sharp and forced as the pain in his leg flared.
"Hannibal!" Hearing Face call out to him had Hannibal huffing out a small sigh of relief.
"Over here, Face. Stay down, BA's been hit. I don't have a position on the shooter."
"It's all clear," Face panted as he ran over to them and knelt down at BA's side. "Hang in there, BA." Face pulled out his flashlight and handkerchief and Hannibal moved his hands so they could get a look at the wound.
"Where were you, man?" BA ground out.
Hannibal felt Face tense and glanced up to catch the slight shake of his head.
He motioned for him to do something with the boy while he split the leg of BA's pants and tried to stop the bleeding.
"Face gotta remember how to cover a position. You was supposed to be the rear guard. Now I ain't gonna be able to drive my van."
"BA, you need to stop moving!" Hannibal barked. "We gotta get back to the van, Face."
"He gotta pay for messin' up!"
Ignoring BA's accusations, Face knelt next to Jimmy and checked him over. The kid barely flinched.
"There's a jeep parked behind that stand of trees east of the cabin. They covered it with a tarp and some branches but it couldn't have been there very long, the engine was still warm. You find any keys? The guy I knocked out didn't have any on him."
Hannibal shook his head as he took BA's pulse. "There's a guy tied up in the cabin. See if he has the keys, or you'll have to hotwire it. Get going, Lieutenant."
Face jumped up and ran inside. He was running back out the door in less than three minutes. "No keys. I'll be back in fifteen minutes."
"Make it ten," Hannibal ordered.
Face sprinted toward the jeep as fast as he dared in the dark.
"Faceman gotta pay for me gettin' shot, Hannibal. I gotta make him pay."
"Shouldn't we find out what happened first, BA?"
"No!" he insisted. "He's gotta pay!"
Hannibal tied two of the cloths together, using the third as a pad underneath to cinch them tight around BA's leg. "Just hang in there. We'll get you to a doctor as soon as we can."
BA pursed his lips and clenched his fists, trying to breathe through the pain.
Less than ten minutes later, Face roared up in the jeep. He ran around to help load BA into the back. Hannibal jumped in next to BA, and Face set Jimmy in the front seat and strapped him in. Dirt and debris shot out from behind the tires as Face put the jeep in gear and quickly sped down the mountain.
"Alright, Face. Let's have it." Hannibal ordered as he kept pressure on the wound.
"That first shot had to come from a rifle but I only saw a Beretta. The shot came from the south but I found the recon guy west of that, over by the jeep."
Hannibal mulled that over for a minute. "A third man?"
"Maybe more. I picked up the trail but they tore outta there before I could get a good look."
"OK, as soon as we get to the van, I'll find the nearest doctor and then call Mr. Buckley and have him meet us on the way so he can pick up Jimmy." Hannibal took off his jacket and propped it behind BA's head. The wounded man leaned back against it and closed his eyes, the pain evident on his face.
Jimmy turned around in his seat and eyed Hannibal. "You know my dad?"
"Yes, son. We're taking you back to your dad. You're safe now." Hannibal assured him.
Jimmy nodded and leaned back into the seat.
"Do you know the men that took you?" Face asked him.
Jimmy looked around nervously and shook his head. "Can I have some water?"
"We'll get you some as soon as we get back to our van, son."
"How many were there, Jimmy?" Face pressed. "This is important. Do you remember how many different men were keeping you in the cabin?"
"They didn't take the blindfold off but I heard them talking. There were two in the cabin but one went outside once to talk to another guy. He yelled a lot."
"What were they yelling about?"
"I don't know but he was really mad."
"Ok, good boy." Hannibal patted Jimmy's head and felt him relax.
Face's grim look was highlighted in the rear-view mirror by the dashboard light. There had definitely been a third man involved and he had gotten away.
At the base of the mountain, the Man leaned back in his seat and watched the road from behind the trees. The black and gray van with red detailing emerged from the access road and tore off toward the nearest town, trailing dust in their hurry to get to a doctor. The Man smiled smugly. It wouldn't be long now. If things kept going this well, he would be able to finish this little project earlier than expected. He spent a few minutes packing, his night vision goggles and rifle before he headed off after the van.