Getting to Know Ewe
by Elizabeth Kent
Face cautiously raised his head over the edge of the irrigation ditch and looked around. "I think we lost `em finally," he said, wiping water from his face with one hand. "They probably assume we doubled back toward the town. Murdock?" There was no answer. "Murdock?"
Irritably Face reached into the trench, grabbed a handful of T-shirt, and pulled. He grimaced a little when Murdock came up and spat water over the edge of the trench. "What were you doing down there?"
"Looking at the tadpoles."
As Face had, he looked around carefully. Seeing the coast was clear, they stood up and pulled themselves out of the ditch, dripping muddy water. Farmland stretched around them as far as they could see. In the distance, they could make out a house, and beyond that, a barn. Between them and the house, heat shimmered off a two-lane highway, and crows circled a field of ripening corn. It was a long, long way to the next town and a call for help.
"How's the foot, Face?"
"Hurts. I don't think I can make it a whole lot further." He rested a hand on Murdock's shoulder and leaned against him, taking the weight off his injured left foot.
"Can you make it to that farmhouse? Maybe we can get some help there."
"I don't want to involve anyone else in case Williams and his crew figure out we didn't go back to town. I don't want to put these people at risk."
"Okay, well, there's a barn over there. If it's not being used, maybe we can sneak in there and rest awhile."
"Let's try it then. Maybe they'll all clear out and we can sneak in and use the phone."
"Hannibal and BA are gonna be a little irritated when they find out we crashed the helicopter back there."
"We?" Keeping his left foot raised slightly, Face bent over and clumsily tried to squeeze water out of his pants legs. "I was just sitting there. You crashed it."
Murdock steadied Face even as he continued to scan the horizon. "Well it ain't easy flyin' a chopper that's out of all its essential fluids! And it ain't as if we had any other choices!"
Face and Murdock had joined the crew of bodyguards protecting Joe Williams, a wealthy land developer. He had plans for this area: strip malls, housing developments, amusement parks, industrial complexes, a secret toxic waste dump or two. He had it all figured out. All he had to do was intimidate the local farmers into selling their land to him. When they had resisted his strong-arm tactics and instead banded together to hire the A-Team, Williams had not been amused.
When he'd discovered by accident that his two newest bodyguards actually were members of the team, things had gotten downright ugly. Face and Murdock had managed to escape, but only just. They'd had to grab the only transportation available, and it had proven to be very low on important things like fuel. Add to that a certain amount of damage caused by bullets as they took off, and the ride was short and frantic, and the landing bumpy. They'd run out of fuel just short of a stand of trees and more or less crash landed in the woods. The landing had tossed them both around some, resulting in some painful scrapes and bruises. Face's ankle had been trapped under the wreckage, and Murdock had had some trouble pulling him free before Williams and his crew caught up to them. They had eventually managed to lay down a false trail that would lead the others toward the town that most people on the run would have headed for. That had been quite a few fields and several irrigation trenches ago, and by now the adrenaline rush was wearing off, and Face was feeling the pain.
"Okay," Face agreed. "Let's try the barn. I've got to get off this foot pretty soon."
With Murdock's help, Face made it across the highway and into the cornfield. By the time they got through the field and to the farmhouse proper, Face's face was white, and Murdock was all but carrying him.
"Thank God they don't seem to have a dog," Face said as Murdock lowered him to the ground just inside the edge of the corn.
"I'll go scout around, make sure the coast is clear before we try to go in there."
"Be careful, Murdock."
"You know me!"
"Yeah, I do. That's why I'm warning you."
Murdock laughed and leaned forward. "How about a kiss for luck?"
Face put a hand behind Murdock's head, pulled it down, and kissed him hard. "How's that?"
Murdock smiled. "Glad your lips weren't trapped in the chopper, Facey. I'll be back for more, soon." With that, he turned and slipped away, gradually making his way toward the house.
Holding his sore ankle, Face watched as Murdock carefully made his way along the edge of the house and peered in a window before disappearing around the other side. Several minutes later he tensed as he heard the rustling behind him, then Murdock was at his side.
"We're in luck," Murdock said. "Mom and the kids are watching television, and Dad must be in town. There's no car in the driveway." He stood and pulled Face to his feet, slipping an arm around Face's waist to support him. "Let's get in the barn before there's a commercial and someone decides to look out the window."
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Face leaned against Murdock and hobbled from cover to cover until finally they reached the barn and Murdock pushed open the door. Relieved to have arrived safely, Face took a deep breath. "Ah, the aroma of cow crap and hay."
"Horse crap, actually," Murdock said, closing the door behind him with one foot.
Face looked up at him. "How do you know the difference?" Murdock had been raised on a farm, and Face was always plying him with strange questions about life in the country.
Murdock inclined his head toward the far side of the barn. "Because those are horses."
Face studied the barn with interest. It was large, a newer addition having been tacked on to the old-fashioned structure that made up the rear of the building. The newer section housed a tractor, an old model-T Ford, and various farm implements. The older section had a few stalls for animals. Saddles, bridles, and other items for riding and caring for the horses were neatly lined up along the far wall beneath the loft. Two horses munched lazily in their stalls, not much concerned about the visitors. Several chickens scratched in the hay on the floor of the barn while a few others still sat in their nests in the center of the barn.
"Let's go up in the loft. It'll be harder to spot us there. Can you make it up the ladder?" Murdock asked.
"Yeah, I think so."
Face made his way carefully up the old ladder on one foot, holding himself up with his arms as he hopped from rung to rung. Murdock gave him a little push from behind when he got to the top, helping him over the edge and then following him up. In the loft a large pile of hay sat dead center, with feed sacks, blankets, and a variety of discarded plastic and wooden buckets arranged around the edges. It was warm in the loft, just short of being too warm, and gaps in the boards of the walls let in shafts of sunlight. The sweet smell of the hay disguised the odor of the horses just below them.
While Murdock explored the loft and made sure their position was invisible from the barn floor, Face lay on his back, exhausted. He'd almost fallen asleep when Murdock roused him. "Let's move a little further from the edge and get these wet clothes off."
"Murdock, I love you, but right now I'm just too tired for that."
Murdock rolled his eyes. "I just want to lay the clothes out to dry, Face, and I don't want you rolling over in your sleep and falling out of the loft." He tugged on Face's arm. "Now let's go."
Face crawled around to the other side of the haystack and collapsed against it. "This stuff's sharp," he complained sleepily.
"I know. I'll find us some blankets." Murdock looked through the blankets stacked around them then headed for the ladder.
"Where're you going?"
"Those are horse blankets. If you think the hay's uncomfortable, you should try laying on one of those for awhile. I'm gonna go see if I can get us something better."
He slipped down the ladder. Faced heard him murmur something to the horses but heard nothing else as Murdock made his way around the barn. Murdock could and would be silent, so Face wouldn't start worrying unless he heard noise. He lay with his eyes closed, trying to work up the energy to pull off his clothes. He opened one eye when Murdock finally returned with a couple of blankets.
"Found these in the Model T," Murdock said, raking hay out of the pile to form a bed which he laid the blankets over. "These are better. Now let's get out of these clothes."
Face sat up and pulled off his T-Shirt, using it to dry his hair and wipe the mud off his face. Murdock stripped quickly, laid his clothes out flat to dry, and returned to help Face. "Let me get this shoe off and take a look at your foot," he said.
Murdock untied the sneaker and started to ease it off. Face gasped and reached down to stop him, but Murdock intercepted his hand. "Sorry, Face."
Face nodded and reclined on his elbows, gritting his teeth and hissing as Murdock pulled off the shoe and then the sock. The outside of the ankle was already turning black and blue, as was the foot.
Murdock gently examined them, feeling Face start when he pressed on the bone running along the outside of the foot. "You may have a couple of broken bones, here," Murdock said sympathetically. "And it looks like the ankle is at least sprained. Hannibal's gonna want you off your feet for a few weeks."
"Hurts like hell," Face said.
"I know. I'll wrap it. For now, let's get those pants off and get dry."
Face undid his belt and opened the zipper, then raised his hips and allowed Murdock to ease off the jeans and then the briefs. He normally would have enjoyed being undressed like this, but at the moment all he could think of was lying still and waiting for his foot to stop throbbing.
Murdock laid Face's clothes beside his then rummaged around in the loft, finding a near-empty feed sack. He poured what was left of the feed into another sack, then got his knife and started cutting the bag into long strips which he wound securely around Face's foot and ankle. He pulled another feed sack over to prop Face's foot on then finally lay down beside him.
"This is cozy," he said conversationally.
"Yeah. `S nice." Face's voice was soft and slurred with fatigue. Murdock combed his fingers through Face's disheveled hair, absently trying to return it to some kind of order. "You sound exhausted."
"All this runnin' for your life and swimmin' in irrigation ditches takes a lot out of a guy," Face said sleepily. " `M gonna sleep a little, okay?"
Face burrowed into his blanket, comfortable in the warm, hazy air of the loft, and fell asleep immediately. Murdock busied himself awhile taking steps to ensure their safety then lay down next to Face. They'd had a hard day, and there was a chance they might need to travel more after dark. They needed to rest while they could.
He reclined on one elbow and watched Face sleep. Face looked younger when he was asleep, the worry line between his eyebrows smoothed out in slumber. Face worried a lot. It was his function on the team, to anticipate all the disasters, all the miscalculations, all the things that could go wrong. Sometimes Murdock wondered why Face didn't have an ulcer from all the fretting. Of course, when things really did go wrong, they were all grateful for the amount of worrying he did. When Williams had discovered their identities, Face had already formulated a plan to escape from Williams's headquarters. He couldn't have known the chopper he'd figured into his plan was scheduled for servicing that day. When it had crashed, even before Murdock had freed him from the wreckage, he had hatched the plan to direct their pursuers back toward the town. He was a good guy to have around in a pinch.
And he was great to look at too. Really great. And great to touch.
Murdock used his thumb to lightly trace the curve of Face's hipbone and idly watched Face's abdomen and chest rise and fall as he breathed. Below them the horses snuffled and shuffled about in their stalls, and an occasional fly made its way up to the loft to buzz around their heads. If someone hadn't been trying to kill them, it would have been idyllic. Murdock lay down and slipped an arm under Face's neck and shoulders, pulling him closer. Face turned into the embrace, waking just enough to shift closer and lay his head on Murdock's shoulder before he fell asleep again.
A couple of hours later, Murdock woke abruptly to the sound of vehicles bumping up the dirt driveway. Two, maybe three, he thought. He turned his head and found Face already awake, listening intently. Murdock sat up and moved to the loft wall, peering through one of the spaces between the boards. In the driveway in front of the house sat a beat-up station wagon with fake wood paneling. Climbing out of the front seat of the car was a small, thin man in dirty jeans and a cowboy hat. Murdock didn't recognize him, so he must be the man who lived here. Exiting the cars behind him were people Murdock did recognize: Williams and his men.
Weapons drawn, they surrounded the frightened farmer. Williams swaggered around the yard. He was somewhat shorter than average, portly and bald. "Got two men we're looking for," Williams said. He fingered his handlebar moustache, a Snidely Whiplash wannabe. "You got `em in your house?"
The farmer looked over his shoulder at the porch where his wife and children were clustered. "You seen any strangers, Vi?"
Eyes big, Vi tugged at a strand of blonde hair that had worked itself loose from her ponytail and shook her head. "The kids and I were watching television for awhile and then started some chores. We were all in different parts of the house. I don't see how anyone could have gotten in."
Williams waved his gun toward one of his men. "Search the house."
As the man gestured for another one to accompany him and moved toward the house, Williams pointed at the barn. "Garfield, take a couple of men and go check in there."
Murdock felt Face move up next to him. Face said, "Murdock, we'd better get out of here."
Face reached for his pants and his gun, but Murdock stopped him. "I got it taken care of, Facey."
"Yeah. I have."
Face drew back, looked toward the edge of the loft, and back to Murdock. "This is gonna work, right?"
"Course it's gonna work. I think it's gonna work. I hope so, anyway."
Face checked his weapon and looked at Murdock doubtfully. "I hope so, too, because we've only got one way out." He and Murdock pulled their blankets out of sight and ducked behind the hay.
The barn door opened, and three men entered, weapons drawn. "You check the loft, and we'll look around down here," a voice said.
Footsteps echoed on the concrete floor as the men looked around. Face tensed, formulating a plan to quietly take the guy coming up the ladder, lure the others up, take them and their clothes, and try to make it to one of the vehicles before Williams spotted them. He heard the sound of splintering wood, swearing, and more splintering wood.
"God damnit! This fuckin' ladder's not worth shit!"
Face turned to look at Murdock, who was grinning broadly. When the sound of a loud thump, and even louder swearing, reached them, Murdock was convulsed with laughter and holding his hands over his mouth.
"Shit! Nobody could've got up there without breakin' their damn necks."
"Well, I don't see anyone down here, so let's get out of here."
Face held his breath until all three sets of footsteps had receded then slapped Murdock on the back and moved back over to peer between the slats. The three men who had been in the barn, one of them with a very dusty backside, answered Williams's questioning look with shakes of their heads.
"You see anybody, you call me," Williams told the farmer, giving him a little shove to emphasize his point. "Got it?"
The farmer gulped. "Yeah. I will. I promise."
"And I don't want to hear anymore talk about the A-Team coming in to wreck my business."
The farmer gulped again. "I had nothing to do with that. I told them it was a bad idea in the first place."
Williams nodded. "If I ever find out you were hiding or helping any of them, it's gonna go hard on you. And on your wife and kids, too."
Face sighed. "Trust us to find the only farmer in the valley who'd be glad to turn us in."
Murdock nodded. "Can't be a winner every time, Faceman."
With one more twist of his moustache, Williams and his men got in their cars, spraying dust and pebbles as they sped back down the long driveway to look elsewhere for their quarry. The farmer embraced his wife and children then went into the house with them.
Face sighed in relief and crawled back over to his blanket. "Hey, where are you going?" he hissed as Murdock made his way to the edge of the loft.
"I have to take care of something." As Face watched, Murdock lifted the ladder, turned it upside down, lowered it, and carefully climbed down, his long legs easily negotiating the spaces where rungs were missing. Curious, Face pulled himself to the edge and looked over. Murdock gathered the three ladder rungs that were lying on the floor, tossed them up to Face, reversed the ladder, and climbed back up again. He pulled up the ladder behind him and lay it on the floor of the loft.
"What did you do?" Face asked.
"I just loosened the bottom few rungs of the ladder just in case anyone decided to come up here and check."
"Good thinking," Face said with a smile. "Really good thinking, Murdock."
Murdock grinned the silly grin that made Face love him and started repairing the ladder. Face crawled over to help him, but Murdock waved him off. "I can do this alone, Face. You just go on over, put your foot up, and start thinking about how we're going to get into that house and use the phone."
Face acquiesced and stretched back out on his blanket, resting his foot on the feed bag.
"How does it feel now?" Murdock asked, glancing up from his work as he fitted the rungs back into the ladder.
"Still hurts. It's not as bad as it was, but I don't think I can walk on it."
"You figure out a way into the house, and I'll go."
Murdock worked awhile longer in silence while Face considered their options. From where he lay, he could just see through one of the larger spaces between the slats, and it gave him a pretty decent view of the front of the house. At the moment it was quiet. Unfortunately, all the really good scams he could think of at the moment required the use of a telephone, and if he had one of those, he wouldn't need to get in the house.
When Murdock finished repairing the ladder, he returned it to its former spot then rejoined Face in the hay. "Got any ideas?"
Watching the front of the house, Face smiled. "Yeah. I was thinking we'd just wait until they all went out to dinner."
"What makes you think they're gonna..." As Murdock watched, the front door opened and the family came out dressed in their Sunday finest, piled into the car, and left. "How did you know?"
"Makes sense. They've just been through a traumatic experience. They're out here isolated, feeling vulnerable. They're probably afraid you and I are going to show up on their doorstep and force them to hide us. So they're going to go into town where there are more people and they feel a little safer. They'll hang around in town awhile, maybe drop the kids off at a relative's house for the night, and then come back here later this afternoon, well before dark, take care of the animals, lock everything up, and barricade themselves in their cozy little house."
Murdock marveled at Face's analysis, realizing that this was probably exactly what they would do. Face was a very good judge of human nature when his hormones weren't overriding his brain cells. And Murdock felt certain Face was right about this. "What's the plan?"he asked.
"Simple." Face stretched and smiled smugly. "We go in the front door."
"The one they just came out of. They left the key under the pot of chives. As soon as we're sure they're not going to come back for something they've forgotten, you're going to go in, call Hannibal, and tell him to come get us tomorrow. And tell him that tonight he should call these guys and tell them the A-Team has left the area or something so they don't sit up all night worrying about us breaking into their house and murdering them in their sleep. Oh, and while you're in there, why don't you see if you can find us some food. I'm really hungry. Make sure it's stuff they won't miss."
Murdock bowed deeply. "Anything else, your majesty?"
Face thought for a moment. "Maybe you could grab a little ice for my foot while you're in there. And some water. It's warm up here, and we don't need to get dehydrated. Though I should think I swallowed almost enough water this morning to last a lifetime."
Murdock nodded. "Okay, I'll see what I can do. Maybe I can find some aspirin or something for the pain."
Face shifted and readjusted his injured foot, wincing at the movement. "That'd be great. Oh, and you'll probably want to put some pants on before you go down."
"Worried about my modesty?"
"No, but you'll probably need the pockets."
"Face, you are just unrelentingly practical, aren't you?"
By the time Murdock had pulled himself into his damp khakis, worked his feet into wet shoes, and gathered his T-shirt, Face had decided the family was too far away to return before Murdock could complete his mission. Murdock slipped down the ladder and out the door.
Face watched as Murdock padded across the yard, retrieved the key, and let himself into the house. Fifteen minutes later, he reappeared with the shirt loaded with supplies, relocked the door, and replaced the key, stopping only long enough to pluck a few chives to drop in the makeshift bag before he made his way back.
When Murdock pulled himself back over the edge of the loft, Face said, "Did you reach him?"
"Yeah. He'll be here by five tomorrow morning. Says we should be ready to move out by then. He'll create a distraction, and we can get out of the barn and to the van."
"They having any trouble with Williams?"
"Nothing they can't handle. BA sent a couple of them to the emergency room already this afternoon. Hannibal is going to try and let it be known that he's got us back and we're heading out of town for a couple of days to resupply. Tomorrow we'll hit Williams hard, but tonight they'll think we're all back together and licking our wounds. Then they won't get any ideas about coming out here tonight to look for us again. All we have to do tonight is sit tight." Murdock laid the shirt down next to Face.
"Great." Face eyed Murdock speculatively. "Say, is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
Murdock grinned. "I'm glad to see you, but that's a banana." He put both hands in his pockets and pulled out the banana and a fat red apple. "Which one do you want?"
"The banana," Face said, reaching for it. "Thanks, Murdock." Murdock removed his still-wet trousers and shoes and laid them out again to dry. Then he sat by Face and bit into the apple.
Face consumed the banana quickly then unloaded the shirt. "Didn't have any trouble in there, did you?"
"Piece of cake,"
Murdock said with a smile as Face pulled out a plastic-wrapped slice of chocolate cake. "Jeez, Murdock, I wasn't expecting dessert!"
"Yesterday must have been someone's birthday. Looks good, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." Almost anything would have looked good to the men who hadn't eaten since the day before. Face put the cake on the blanket next to him and pulled out a second slice, which he handed to Murdock. This was followed by a hunk of cheese, a large bottle of water and a couple of cans of cola, a plastic bag full of ice, and an assortment of crackers culled from half-empty boxes in the pantry. "Good job, Murdock," Face said. He fingered the chives that had filtered through the other supplies and now lay on the bottom of the bag. "What are these for?"
Murdock took a chive, broke off a hunk of cheese, and laid both on a cracker. "Hors d'oeuvres."
Face laughed. "Hors d'oeuvres and dessert. I knew there was a good reason I kept you around."
"Some day maybe I'll be able to scam as well as you do," Murdock said.
"Don't get cocky!"
Murdock grinned and picked up the bag of ice, carefully packing it around Face's swollen foot. The bruising was spreading over the top of the foot and up the shin, and Face hissed when Murdock lifted the foot to adjust the bag and secure it with two strips of the feed bag. "Sorry," Murdock said. "This should start to help soon." He picked up his pants again and fished in a back pocket, producing a generous amount of toilet tissue in which were wrapped several aspirin. He handed the pills to Face then put the rest of the tissue across the loft next to the plastic bucket they were using as a latrine.
Face popped the aspirin in his mouth gratefully and washed them down with a swallow of water. He and Murdock shared more of the food then put the rest away to save for later. As they'd be spending the night in the barn, they didn't want to be up foraging when the family returned.
Now that they were relatively safe, Murdock straightened their blankets, fashioning one large bed then returning to the floor of the barn to get a couple of quilts he'd seen in the old car. Days might be warm here, but the nights could be cold, and they might as well be able to rest comfortably. Tomorrow they'd have to finish dealing with Williams and his goons, so they needed to be ready. That meant, as the colonel had reminded him, food, fluids, and rest.
"Look what else I found in the car!" Murdock said as he reappeared in the loft pushing the blankets ahead of him. He brandished a very old pack of cards.
Face smiled. Now he could teach Murdock some of the more...creative...approaches to poker. Together they'd be unbeatable.
The men propped themselves up against the hay and did what they could to dry and clean their waterlogged weapons before Murdock opened the pack of cards. "What do you want to play?" he asked. "Gin rummy? Two-man solitaire?"
"How about strip poker? He looked at himself, then at Face. "Guess not."
"How about just poker," Face suggested, taking the cards from Murdock and expertly shuffling them. He looked about the barn. "Well, it's not Vegas, but at least it's warm and dry."
Murdock smiled. "Too bad I can't get you a cigar and a glass of whiskey."
Face shook his head and began to deal the cards. "I'd love the cigar, but I don't drink when I gamble." He put down the extra cards and picked up his hand, concentrating on it intently. "It dulls your perceptions and lowers your inhibitions too much. Makes it too easy to make stupid mistakes. There's a reason casinos serve free alcohol."
Murdock nodded in agreement then examined his own cards."What are we playing for?" he asked.
Face shrugged, picked up a handful of hay, and held it out to him with a smile. "I'll see your piece of hay and raise you five."
"You're ruthless, Facey. I love you that way."
They played for a couple of hours, Face carefully considering each of his moves and Murdock making lightning-fast decisions that completely baffled Face. But whatever Murdock was doing, it worked because he won three of the five games they played before they heard the family's car coming up the driveway.
"I'm going have to make you play naked more often," Murdock commented as they put the cards aside and peered through the slats to watch the farmer and his wife get out of their car and hurry into the house. "I do a lot better when you don't have sleeves to hide cards in."
Face assumed the most innocent expression he could muster. "I don't know how those get there."
"They're just like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, aren't they? And once a card or two get up there, they just seem to multiply."
"Strange how that works, isn't it?" Face said mildly, watching the farmer's wife fish the key out from under the chives.
They heard her voice float back from the house. "You don't suppose those men Mr. Williams is looking for got in the house while we were gone, do you? Maybe I shouldn't have left the key out here."
The farmer looked at his wife worriedly as it dawned on him that that's just what might have happened.
"Yeah, it was definitely a mistake," Face said quietly.
"Definitely," Murdock agreed.
The farmer pulled his wife back from the door, and with obvious reluctance picked up a nearby shovel and prepared to enter the house ahead of Vi. Murdock shook his head sadly. "What the hell does he think he's going to do in there with a shovel? We really need to give this guy a few pointers."
Face nodded silently. Even if there had been somebody in the house, assuming they were armed and dangerous, a shovel was going to be no protection whatsoever. And even if they weren't armed, the house probably didn't have a whole lot of room to be swinging a shovel around. All the farmer would manage to do would be to destroy everything on the shelves and tables. Face was glad he wasn't going to have to use the shovel.
The farmer pushed the door open and stood just outside, peering into the house. "Mistake number three," Face said. "He's a sitting duck framed in the doorway like that."
Screwing up his courage, the timid farmer finally entered his house, followed closely by his wife, who clutched at the back of his shirt. Several minutes later the farmer returned the shovel to the yard, obviously much relieved to have found the house uninhabited and its contents undisturbed. At least as far as he knew.
Vi came out on the porch. "Shall I go find Bessie and Bossie? By now they'll want milking."
"Bessie and Bossie?" Face said. "These guys have no imagination at all, do they?"
"Our cows were named Frank and Bob," Murdock said.
Face turned to look at Murdock, shaking his head. "I suppose you named them, didn't you?"
"How did you know?"
"Well, at least it showed some imagination," Face said, keeping an eye on the farmer.
"Face, did you get to have any pets at the orphanage?"
"Not of my own, but there were a few stray cats the nuns took in from time to time, and they were our pets. Then Sister Hildegard came, and she was allergic to cats, so we had to get rid of them."
"Yeah. I would rather have gotten rid of Sister Hildegard at first, but she came in handy later."
"The first woman who fell under your spell?"
Face smiled. "No, not exactly. She taught me how to fight."
"Yeah. I got beaten up one day by this other kid. He was big and mean, a typical schoolyard bully. He got me out behind the dorm one afternoon and beat the crap out of me. When Sister found out, she was furious. But there was no getting rid of him. For obvious reasons, nobody wanted him, either."
Murdock reached out and lay a hand on Face's arm, an automatic gesture of sympathy and support. Almost every time they talked about his childhood, Face would say something in passing about having been unwanted. It obviously was a sore point, even though he spoke of it as if it were just another fact about his life, no more important than other details. But Murdock knew that it was.
"So when my eye wasn't swollen shut anymore, she took me out behind the dorm herself and taught me to fight. And she knew how to fight dirty, too. Hair holds, knees to the groin, you name it." He laughed. "You should have seen her, Murdock, rolling up the sleeves of her habit and showing me how to throw a left hook."
"What about turning the other cheek and all that other stuff?"
Face looked at his hand for a moment and remembered. He'd asked her the same thing. Wasn't it wrong to fight? Weren't you supposed to turn the other cheek? He'd always relied on his mouth to keep him out of trouble, and it usually worked. With everyone except Kevin.
"Templeton," she had said, turning his hands over in her own, "the world is full of Kevins. They're bullies who prey on smaller, weaker, nicer people until someone makes them stop. If the good Lord didn't ever want you to fight back, he wouldn't have made your hands so they could close up into fists, would he?"
Well, there was no arguing with that. Face had learned his lesson well, and the next time Kevin had bullied him, he had used those fists and his knee to good purpose. That time it was Kevin who ended up with the black eye. And when Kevin had complained vociferously to Sister Hildegard, she had looked him up and down and said, "You reap what you sow, Kevin."
"She was a wonder, Murdock. She taught me survival skills, taught me how to take care of myself and others, too. She was tough as nails, but I loved her."
"Is she still there?"
Face grinned. "Yeah, she's still there, training another generation of little kids to kick ass."
Murdock looked outside. "Here comes Vi with Bessie and Bossie. We'd better lie low."
Quickly they scanned the loft to make sure everything was out of sight then arranged their bedding so they could lie down and still see most of the barn below them. Face lay on his stomach, keeping his foot propped up behind him as much as he could. Murdock lay down by his side and put an arm across his back just as Vi opened the barn door and led the cows in. The animals obediently made their way to their stalls, content to chew their cuds while Vi milked them. Vi switched on a little transistor radio and tuned it to a local station then pulled up a stool and started milking.
Face watched Vi work. He'd never actually watched anyone milk a cow before and found it interesting. "That looks like it'd hurt," he whispered softly to Murdock.
Murdock smiled and shook his head. "Don't hurt 'em," he said.
Face watched the rest of the proceedings in silence. Vi was comfortable with the animals and with her work, talking to the animals as she worked with them, her strong hands maneuvering them into position, washing their udders, her movements deft and efficient. She sang snatches of songs with the radio as she milked, occasionally blowing out of her face the strand of hair that seemed destined never to remain in her ponytail.
"Is that hard to do?" Face asked softly.
"Nah. Not once you get the hang of it. Gets old, though, especially when you have to get up before dawn to do it every day." He shook his head. "Trust me, you wouldn't like it."
Face smiled in agreement. Still, he'd always wanted to milk a cow once before he died, just to say he'd done it.
When Vi had finished with the milking and was about to take the milk into the house, her husband came in leading a sheep. "I think I'll put Lambchop in here for the night," he said.
"Alright, Norman," Vi said. "But hurry in, okay? I don't like you being out here alone when those men could be anywhere around." She looked nervously toward the barn door. "They could be watching us right now."
"I'll be quick," Norman said, tuning the radio to a different station. "Why don't you go on in and see that all the doors and windows are locked."
As oldie after oldie floated in tinny strains from the little transistor, Norman did his chores, putting out fresh food for the cows, the chickens, and the sheep before turning his attention to the horses. "Hey, Billy," he said to one of the horses. "How about a good brushing before you turn in for the night. Sound good?"
"Billy?" Face mouthed to Murdock, grinning.
Norman kept up a one-sided conversation with the horses as he groomed them, commenting on the weather, the financial problems he was having and the profit he stood to gain by allowing Williams to buy him out, and his fear of retaliation by other farmers who had brought in a group of ex-soldiers to help them resist. "Don't know why they're fighting it," Norman said to Billy. "We can all make a tidy profit and move to the city and do something that brings in more money than it takes out. That'd be nice for a change, wouldn't it?"
Billy whinnied, and Norman patted its neck. "Yeah, I know, Billy. It's not the same as being out here in the country, and I will miss you and Bluebell. I really will."
Face looked at Murdock, eyebrows raised.
Murdock leaned closer to Face and started to sing softly, "A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course." Then he nuzzled Face's ear. Face started and pushed him away, laughing silently. Murdock leaned in again. "Come on, Wilbur!" he said before humming the rest of the Mr. Ed theme song.
Face shook with suppressed laughter, his face turning red with the effort. Below them, Norman finally finished the grooming. "Now where are your blankets?" he asked the horses. "I know I had that blue and red one here last night." He sighed and looked around, hands on his hips. "I hope the kids didn't take it somewhere." He lifted a few things and put them back, his search unsuccessful. Face glanced uneasily at the loft edge, where the blue and red blanket lay.
"I just don't see it anywhere!" Norman complained.
Peering through a knothole in the floor of the loft, Murdock could see Norman move a few things off an old blanket chest and open it up, rummaging around. Murdock carefully wriggled to the edge of the loft and leaned over the edge, quietly draping the blanket over the side of the stall. When Billy turned his head to look at him inquisitively, Murdock put his finger to his lips and winked. Billy turned back to his food. Murdock took one more quick glance at Norman, who still had his head buried in the blanket chest, then pulled himself back up into the loft.
"Ah! Here's Bluebell's," Norman exclaimed triumphantly, pulling a grey blanket from the chest. He turned and saw the other blanket. "Hey, here's the other one! How come I didn't see it before? That's really weird." The situation, however, seemed to require no more investigation. Norman was in too much of a hurry to return to the house to worry about it. He draped the blankets over the contented horses, wished them a final goodnight, then turned off the radio and left.
Face sighed in relief as the door closed behind the farmer. He watched the man walk back toward his house. Vi stood on the porch waiting anxiously. When Norman returned, she put her arms around him and pulled him to her. Gentleman that he was, Norman wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans before he put his arms around Vi and kissed her gently.
"I was starting to worry about you," Vi said.
"Don't need to worry, sugar," Norman said, trailing kisses along the side of Vi's face. "Everything's going to be alright now." In a very Gone-With-The-Wind gesture, Norman swept Vi into his arms and carried her into the house. Her delighted laughter continued as he closed the door behind them with his foot.
"Ah, isn't that sweet?" Murdock said, smiling.
Face returned Murdock's smile then rolled back onto his back. "Yeah, it is," he agreed. "Now if they can just relax and forget about the desperados lurking around the house, they should be able to have a nice, romantic evening."
"Word should be getting to them about us any time now. I told Hannibal to make sure everyone knew well before dark."
"Good. I'd hate to see them waste a perfectly good chance to make love."
"Maybe they're just gonna put in a video and go to sleep in front of the TV."
"No, they won't do that." Face was confident. "The way they see it, they narrowly escaped death today. That's gonna remind them both what it'd be like to lose the other one. They'll make love to celebrate the fact that they're still alive to do it."
"Yeah, I do. A close call always does that to people."
Murdock leaned closer, his breath warm in Face's ear. "We had a close call today, too."
Face smiled. "I guess we did at that."
Murdock looked around them. "This isn't exactly the most romantic setting in the world."
Face smiled. "I always wondered what it was like to really have a roll in the hay." He shifted a little and tried to lift his ankle, hissing at the pain.
Murdock scooted down and lifted Face's foot off the feed sack, resting it on his lap and removing the plastic bag of melted ice. The swelling had gone down some, but the foot was turning several shades of green and blue. "I'm afraid this isn't gonna do you any good now. How's the foot?"
Face shrugged. "The ice helped. So did the aspirin. It still hurts, but I'll live, I guess."
Below them a flatulent cow mooed contentedly as it found relief. Face wrinkled his nose in disgust and gagged a little. "Next time I listen to Father Maghill tell the Christmas story, I'm going to remind him how unappetizing a barn really is."
Murdock laughed a little. "Like I said, not a very romantic setting." He carefully returned Face's foot to its spot on the feed sack and lay down on Face's left. The last rays of the sun shone through the gaps in the wall, and the air was still warm and hazy with dust. It might not be romantic, but it was at least comfortable, and they were both naked. And they were alone and unobserved for the first time in the better part of two weeks. Murdock shifted a little to lie on his side, put his free arm around Face, and gently stroked Face's ribs. Warm, naked, and lying in a soft bed. What could be better? With his fingers he traced each of Face's ribs then drew his hand down Face's side to his hip, his thumb rubbing the soft skin in the little hollow where Face's leg joined his hip. That always turned Face on. He looked up at Face's face, expecting to meet the lustful gaze that always turned Murdock on in return. Instead Face was staring up at the roof of the barn, oblivious to Murdock's attentions.
"Do you ever miss living on the farm, Murdock?"
Slightly taken aback, Murdock thought for a minute then shrugged. "Sometimes I do a little."
"You had cows, right?"
Murdock wondered at Face's sudden fascination with cows. "Yeah, we had cows."
"That where you learned to ride?"
Murdock shifted closer and nibbled Face's ear. "That's where I learned to ride horses, anyway." His hand moved to Face's flat stomach, fingers splayed as he stroked up to Face's chest then back down. "There's lots of things I like to ride better."
Face ignored the nibbling. "What about sheep?"
"Never rode a sheep."
Face sighed patiently. "But you had them, right?"
With an exasperated sigh, Murdock sat up. "What's this sudden interest in the farm, anyway? You don't even like the country. We're finally alone, I'm trying to make love to you, and you want to talk about barnyard animals? What gives?"
Face looked hurt. "I'm just trying to get to know you," he said.
"You've known me for fifteen years, Face. There's hardly anything left to know about."
"No, that's not true!" Face sat up a little too, propping himself on the haystack behind him. He reached out a hand, and when Murdock grasped it, he pulled Murdock to him. Murdock slipped an arm around Face's back and leaned against him, resting the side of his head on Face's chest. He waited to hear Face's explanation. Face wrapped his arms around Murdock's shoulders and squeezed. "Last month when you were so sick and we were taking care of you at the Winslows' house, Mrs. Winslow asked me about you. She didn't know about us except that you were my best friend. And while I was trying to tell her about you, I suddenly realized how little I'd taken the time to learn. All I could tell her was you lived on a farm with your grandparents. I couldn't tell her anything about them or the rest of your family or where you went to school, or whether you'd ever broken your arm falling out of a tree or anything. And I realized I had so many questions I wanted to ask." He kissed the top of Murdock's head. "I'd never taken the time to ask you about your childhood or about your family. We always talk like there was nothing before the war and like our only history is with each other. I'm an orphan without even a real name, but you know more about me than I know about you and your family. I...I just wanted to know."
Murdock turned his head to press a kiss to Face's chest. "Aw, Facey, I'm not keeping things from you deliberately, you know. It's just that it doesn't come up that often. But if you really want to know..."
Murdock settled himself more comfortably against Face. "We've got all night to make love. I just never thought I'd see the day you'd rather chat than have sex."
Face smiled. "I never thought I'd see the day I cared enough about the person I was sleeping with to ask about their childhood. But I want to know what it was like for you growing up on a place like this."
"So where were we?"
"What happened to them?"
"Okay, but just remember, you did ask. Well, my cousin Jim-Bob..."
"Jim-Bob?" Face interrupted. "C'mon, Murdock, nobody's really named Jim-Bob."
"Well, it's just too bad you weren't around to tell my aunt that!" Murdock said. "Do you want to know the rest?"
"Okay, okay, don't get all bent out of shape. So what happened?"
"Well, my cousin Jim-Bob took an...unnatural...interest in the sheep."
Face looked confused. "Huh?" Slowly it dawned on him, and he grimaced. "Jeez, and people say we're perverts!"
Murdock nodded. "The sheep were never really comfortable around him after that."
"I can imagine."
"We finally had to get rid of them."
Glancing over the edge of the loft, Face said, "I hope Lambchop isn't hearing any of this. That's too bad, Murdock. How much had you been making on the wool?"
"We didn't raise our sheep for wool."
"Oh, you sold them then."
"No, we ate 'em."
Face was shocked. "Ate 'em? You ate Lambchop?" He looked down at the sheep and shook his head. "After you named them and everything?"
Murdock almost laughed aloud at Face's shocked expression. "They taste the same whether they have a name or not."
"But eating your pets...I mean, that's like eating Billy!"
Murdock shrugged. "My brother used to take paint and outline the different cuts on the sheep just so I wouldn't get used to thinking it might be gonna hang around." He smiled ruefully. "Kind of heartless, but it worked."
"Are you sorry you left, Murdock? Don't you ever wish you could go back?"
Murdock considered the question carefully before he answered. "Sometimes I think about the good things about that kind of life and miss it. It was more laid back than our life is now, even though it was plenty busy. And we were in tune with the seasons and the weather and planned our time according to that." He smiled fondly. "My grandfather could sense a storm coming when the sky was still blue. Some of my best memories are of sitting in the kitchen at night helping Grandma can vegetables and make preserves."
Once he started, the stories flowed. For over an hour Murdock reminisced about the farm, his childhood, what little he remembered about his mother. He had lost memories after his mental breakdown, but they were the more recent ones, memories of imprisonment in a POW camp, of a fiery crash into a small village. They were memories Face held for him. Someday, when he thought Murdock was ready, Face would tell him. But not yet.
Face listened to Murdock's stories, asking questions, happy to see Murdock so animated as he recalled his childhood. "Sounds nice," Face said. "Sorta like `Little House on the Prairie.' How come you don't go back?"
Murdock's expression darkened. "Little farm communities aren't real welcoming anymore when they find out you're not like everyone else. I went back once on leave. While I was there I told my brother I was gay. You can imagine his reaction."
Face nodded sympathetically and rubbed Murdock's arm. "Have you talked to him since?"
Murdock shook his head. "No. The family has pretty much disowned me now. Don't want much contact with someone who's crazy and perverted."
"I'm sorry you lost your family, Murdock."
Murdock tilted his head a little to look up at Face. "You're my family now."
"Please don't tell me you love me like a brother." Face lay his hand over Murdock's where it rested on his chest.
Laughing now, Murdock finally sat up and kissed him. "No," he said when he pulled back, "I can't seem to work up any brotherly feelings for you."
"I hope not. But you'd better try that again and make sure."
Murdock kissed him again, more deeply this time. "Nope, no brotherly feelings at all."
"Then let's make love."
Murdock helped Face lie back down and straddled him, careful of Face's injured foot. "Are you sure you're still in the mooooood?" he asked.
Laughing, Face put his arms around Murdock's neck and pulled him down. "Yeah," he whispered, raising his hips a little to thrust teasingly against Murdock's, "I am, if...ewe...are."
"Oh, Face, that was baaaaaaaad." In the deepening darkness, Murdock could just make out Face's huge grin. Face loved puns. When he let himself go, Face's sense of humor could be almost as outrageous as Murdock's. They laughed together. Like the farmer and his wife, surviving had made them giddy with relief. Knowing the cause did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm, though, as they kissed one another hungrily. Murdock stroked Face's cheek. "It's getting too dark to see you," he said. "I guess you'll have to find me by touch then," Face said softly.
"I was hoping you'd say that." Murdock rubbed his hands up and down Face's arms and combed his fingers through the sparse hair on Face's chest then down his sides to his hips.
They were both sore, achy, and tired, but the need to couple, to be one again, overrode their weariness and pain. The jubilation of surviving today would give way tomorrow to the stress of another confrontation. Another chance to die. They seldom talked about it; it was simply a given that they would not pass up any opportunity to make love, just on the off chance that the end of the next day might find only one of them still living. BA made an occasional grumbling comparison to rabbits whenever he caught them making out, but even he understood.
Face sighed happily and relaxed, surrendering control. Only with Murdock did he surrender the rigid control he usually had over his emotions and reactions. Only with Murdock did he give his body completely and unashamedly to another person for their enjoyment. He could neither explain nor understand how Murdock tapped into this side of him, but it was such a relief to be able to trust someone else enough for them to be in complete control. He shivered in anticipation as Murdock's hand lingered teasingly between his legs before moving on down his thighs. "How long has it been since we did this?" Face asked.
Murdock kissed Face's collarbone from shoulder to neck. "Two weeks," he said, pressing his lips against the other collarbone, "twelve hours, and," he glanced at his watch, "about thirty-two minutes."
Face stroked Murdock's hair gently as the lips moved down the center of his chest. "What? You don't know how many seconds?"
Murdock kissed one nipple, then the other. "I got distracted." He moved down and knelt between Face's legs, stroking them gently.
Face was soon nearly delirious with pleasure. Murdock's warm, calloused hands were gentle but firm as they moved over his body, sometimes kneading muscles, sometimes just stroking the skin. Occasionally they worked their way back to Face's groin, making only brief contact until Face finally slipped his hands over Murdock's and held them between his legs. Murdock laughed. "Face, you usually hold out a lot longer than that. What's up?"
"It's been two weeks, twelve hours, and more than thirty-two minutes," Face murmured, releasing Murdock's hands when they seemed to be willing to stay where they were for awhile. "Oh, yeah, that's good," he moaned. "That's good."
"You want me to rub your back?"
Face sighed happily. "Yeah, would you? It's kind of sore, anyway. I think I twisted it a little when we fell out of the sky today."
Murdock helped Face turn onto his belly, arranging his foot as comfortably as possible in the hay. Starting at Face's neck, Murdock rubbed and kneaded until Face's muscles were practically jelly. Then he rested his hands on Face's backside and kissed his way down Face's spine. "Did I find all the sore spots?"
"Yeah, you did," Face said. "Feels good." He loved the way Murdock made love...it was slow and soft and gentle, but not like a woman. He understood how tactile Face really was. Though Face rarely allowed others prolonged physical contact with him, with the right person, he reveled in touch. And Murdock was the right person. Face pressed his lips to Murdock's hand as it stroked up his arm and covered his own hand. "Thanks, Murdock."
Face turned back onto his back and pulled Murdock down to lie between his legs as they kissed. He wrapped his arms around Murdock's shoulders, holding him close. Face's tongue didn't hurt, so he made good use of it, gently assaulting Murdock's mouth, tickling his lips, working his way past Murdock's teeth to push his tongue against Murdock's own. He felt Murdock's chest expanding and contracting against his own as they breathed, Murdock's hands on either side of his head, fingers gently rubbing his scalp, Murdock's erection grazing his own whenever they moved. Murdock's bulk lay atop him like a heavy blanket, pressing him into the hay, and he couldn't have moved if he'd wanted to. And he didn't want to.
Face moved his own hands down to Murdock's hips. Like a cat, his fingertips kneaded the firm flesh of Murdock's backside. Then he simply ran his hands up and down Murdock's sides, loving the way the silky skin felt against his palms. Their fatigue was evident in their slow, languorous movements, but the pace didn't diminish the pleasure they found in each other's bodies. Finally Murdock pulled back a little. "Top or bottom?"
"Okay. Bottom it is." Murdock crawled away from Face momentarily, groping his way to a low shelf on the far end of the loft.
"Hey, don't fall out," Face said.
"What are you looking for?"
"Lube." Murdock lifted various cans, pulling off the lids and sniffing.
"You think he keeps it in here?"
Murdock crawled back with a can. "Found it."
Face reached out and groped around in the dark until he felt the can Murdock held. "Should I be afraid to ask what that is?"
"It's just bag balm. The cows find it soothing."
"Well, this'll be a first."
"Does your foot hurt too much to do this the way we usually do?"
"Yeah," Face admitted. "And I'm a little too sore right now to hold my legs up that long, anyway."
"Okay, let's try another way, then." Murdock dragged the feed sack up and laid it lengthwise beside Face. Then he dragged another over and laid it on top of the first. "What're you doing, building a wall?" Face asked.
"Just a shelf, Facey." Murdock folded a blanket and laid it over the feed sacks. "Okay, let's have you lay on your side." He helped Face turn on his side. Holding the injured foot, he raised Face's leg, bent it at the knee, and laid it atop the sacks. "Does that hurt?"
"No, it feels okay for now," Face said. "Good thinking."
Face could hear the laughter in Murdock's voice as he said, "I'm highly motivated."
Murdock moved around and lay down, spooning himself up behind Face. He kissed the back of Face's neck and his shoulders, draping an arm over Face's waist and closing his hand around Face's erection. Next to him, Face moaned in pleasure as Murdock touched him in the places and ways he knew Face liked best.
Finally the hand let him go and behind him Face heard the lid being removed from the balm. In moments Murdock's hand was back, a slick finger sliding easily into him. He pressed himself against the finger.
"Feel good?" Murdock asked.
"Udderly wonderful," Face said.
Murdock groaned in protest. "I like you better as the straight man."
"If I was a straight man, you'd be in big trouble right now."
Murdock took his time preparing Face, more able than usual to control his own needs. Finally he prepared himself with a generous amount of the bag balm and pulled himself toward Face's backside. "You ready for me?"
"I'm always ready for you," Face murmured. "Go ahead."
This position took a little more maneuvering at first, but once Murdock had carefully pushed inside Face, he could lie down and pull Face into his arms. "How's that?"
"Perfect," Face sighed. What could be more perfect than being filled with the man he loved? Than having Murdock's attentions focused solely on him, on his pleasure? Than knowing that without shame, he could indulge the urges that had plagued him since adolescence? For years his carefully-publicized affairs with women had been punctuated by frantic couplings with other men in bars, bathrooms, and dingy motels. They were encounters that at best gave him enough relief to concentrate on his work, but they occasionally were rough, even violent couplings that left him torn, bruised, and hurting.
It was after one of these encounters when he'd been drugged and brutalized by a man he'd brought home from a bar that Murdock had found him naked and unconscious on top of his rumpled bed, still bleeding and littered with bruises, portions of his anatomy showing black and blue finger marks that could not be explained away by the convenient and often-used excuse of a jealous boyfriend. When the man had let himself back into Face's apartment for another go at him, not realizing Murdock was still there, Murdock had beaten the man to within an inch of his life. Face had come to and staggered to the bedroom door to find Murdock crouched over the other man, holding him by the lapels and shaking him furiously. "Hurt him again, and next time I'll kill you, you bastard!" Murdock had snarled.
"He likes it rough," the man had said defensively. "The pretty boys always like it rough. They like to be dominated. And what the fuck do you care, anyway?"
"Because I love him," Murdock had said, his voice low and hard. He had glanced up to find Face slumped against the doorjamb, a blanket clutched around him, eyes wide and full of fear and shame. For a moment the world had narrowed to just the two of them, though Murdock had not loosened his grip on the man he had on the floor. "Because I love you," Murdock had said, and this time his voice was gentle and warm and comforting.
"I love you, Facey."
Face smiled to himself as the hand that rested on his hip glided across his belly to his erection, squeezing it gently before moving back to his hip. "I love you, too, Murdock."
The man had been more right than he knew. In some respects, Face did like to be dominated. Not in a black leather and whip sort of way, not in a way that hurt, but in a way that meant he didn't have to make the decisions. He liked to be taken care of, sometimes even to be babied. Not exactly the kind of reputation he wanted to have as a commando, but there it was. And Murdock, by his very nature a nurturer, instinctively took on that role. And Face loved it. He wanted Murdock to use him, to fill Face's body with his own, to own Face in a way nobody else did. In bed, there was nothing he would have denied Murdock, nothing at all. But Murdock had never simply used Face, never left him unsatisfied or hurt. He took what Face freely offered but gave back in equal measure both physically and emotionally.
Pulling Face a little closer, Murdock thrust into him slowly, gently, in short strokes, taking care not to jar Face's leg. He kissed Face's back and shoulders, caressed him with his free hand. He loved Face fiercely, so fiercely that it sometimes frightened him. When he was buried to the hilt in Face's body, he never wanted to leave it. This was when Face truly belonged to him, when there was nobody else to interfere, to endanger them, to try to take Face away. He knew now, as he had known when he had found Face beaten and unconscious, that he could easily kill anyone who hurt Face again. He'd literally seen red that night when the man came back into Face's apartment while Murdock was tending Face's injuries. Murdock had stood in the shadows just long enough to ensure this was the right man.
Bigger than Face or Murdock, the man had stood over Face's bed laughing. "See you roused enough to get under the covers, didn't you, pretty boy?" He'd thrown back the covers and undone his pants. "Ready for another go, slut?"
Through a red haze, Murdock watched the man pull off his belt, double it up, and prepare to strike Face with it. He leaped from the shadows and wrapped his arm around the man's neck, only barely stopping himself from snapping it. He dragged the man into the next room, his rage and the element of surprise easily making up for the difference in their size. Had he not looked up and seen Face in the bedroom doorway, he might have killed the man then and there.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?"
"You've never hurt me. Only my foot hurts, and that's not your fault. Don't stop, Murdock." Face pressed his rump against Murdock's groin. "God, it feels so good, so right. Please."
"Okay, Facey." Murdock pulled back and thrust again. "Okay. Oh, baby."
Enjoying the leisurely pace, Face sighed and pulled Murdock's arms more tightly around him, giving himself over completely to the unbearably sweet arousal Murdock's movements caused. He was in no hurry to have it satisfied, but he trembled in Murdock's arms as Murdock moved in and out of him, his fingers tracing light circles on Face's chest, his thumb teasing sensitive nipples. Murdock thrust one last time then held himself inside, squeezing Face tightly and burying his face in Face's shoulder as he finally came. Through his own trembling, Face could feel Murdock quivering in reaction to his climax. Murdock whispered Face's name over and over. Finally Murdock relaxed and spent a few minutes quietly recovering.
"Oh, man, Facey. I saw stars. I saw...I saw galaxies, even."
Face laughed. "What do you expect after two weeks and more than thirteen hours?"
Murdock sat up a bit, resting on one elbow and leaning over Face. He could feel Face trembling with need and let his hand stroke gently down Face's body to his crotch. Face's hips bucked against his hand. "Let's get you more comfortable, okay? Then I'll take good care of you." He lifted Face's leg off the feed sacks and guided it as Face turned onto his back. He lay between Face's legs and stroked him.
Face spread his legs a little more and moaned as Murdock traced his erection with his tongue.
"You like that?" Murdock repeated the action more slowly this time and Face took several gasping breaths.
"Oh, oh yeah, Murdock. It's perfect. Yeah."
Tired as he was, Murdock wanted to keep Face on edge for awhile, make sure his release was as sweet and explosive as his had been. Within minutes Face was incapable of speech and probably, thought Murdock, of coherent thought. There were not only no words, there were not even any syllables in the sounds Face was making. Below them, the animals stirred restlessly.
Murdock pulled back for a moment. "Shh, Facey, you're giving the animals inappropriate thoughts." Leave it to Face to give off enough sexual energy to turn on even the barnyard animals. He'd be a positive menace on the farm.
"It wouldn't be so bad except the sheep is down there all by itself."Indeed, a soft, discontented bleating floated up to the rafters.
"I'd better finish you off before it figures out how to climb a ladder." Murdock closed his mouth over Face's erection. Face retained just enough sense not to cry out as his hands gripped the blanket on either side of him. Within seconds Face climaxed, taking great gasping breaths as he emptied himself. Finally spent, he was barely conscious of Murdock climbing back up beside him and pulling Face carefully into his arms. He slipped an arm around Murdock and held on tight as he slowly returned to earth.
When Face's breathing finally evened out, Murdock stroked his hair and kissed his forehead. "Did you see stars?"
"You saw sheep?"
"Heard...sheep. Is Lambchop okay?"
"Yeah, Lambchop's okay. Are you okay?"
"I'm great. Thanks, Murdock. You're incredible."
"You make it easy, muchacho. You're universally irresistible."
Face yawned and snuggled closer. "Time to sleep now?"
Face felt Murdock pull a blanket up over them as he drifted off, too exhausted for even the pain of his broken foot to keep him awake. His sleep was deep and dreamless, and he woke only reluctantly when someone shook his shoulder. He opened his eyes to darkness.
"Time to get up, Faceman. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."
"How would you know?" Face grumbled. "It's dark."
"Farmers always get up in the dark. It's a rule. Besides, Hannibal will be here at five. We need to get dressed and get some food in us before he does." He stooped and lit a small lantern he had found, keeping the light turned down low and shielding it between feed sacks.
Face looked at his watch. Four a.m. With a sigh, he sat up. "Are our clothes dry?"
"Yep. A little chilly, but dry." Murdock was already dressed and was shaking out Face's clothes. "Shall I help you?"
"Just help me get the pants over my foot. I can do the rest."
Murdock looked at Face's foot before he helped him with the pants. The swelling was coming back, but there was nothing they could do about it now. He tucked Face's shoe and sock into his jacket; there was no way Face was going to be able to wear them now. When Face was dressed and using his fingers to straighten out his hair, Murdock brought the rest of the food over, and they devoured it quickly. Murdock straightened up the loft, putting things back as they had found them. No point in leaving a mess.
"Now what?" Face asked, glancing at his watch. They still had plenty of time.
"I'm gonna milk the cows."
"Least we can do to pay Norman back for his hospitality. Not to mention the chocolate cake."
Face nodded in agreement. That was just the kind of thoughtful thing Murdock always did. He pulled Murdock close and kissed him. "You're a great guy, Murdock."
Murdock grinned and started down the ladder. Face followed him, holding out his broken foot and negotiating the rungs with the other. Murdock remained just below to guide him. At the bottom of the ladder, Murdock put Face's arm around his shoulders and helped him hop to a stool.
Face watched Murdock move around the barn, putting away the blankets and cards they'd borrowed from the car, sidestepping the chickens, and getting the milk buckets together. Lambchop wandered over and butted at Face's hand, gazing up at him worshipfully. Face stroked the sheep's nose and laughed a little when the sheep licked his hand. Looking up, he saw Murdock grinning at him and shaking his head. "What?"
"She likes you, Facey. Talk about animal magnetism!"
Face looked at the sheep seriously. "Hey, I'm not like that. Sorry." But he continued to pet her and tried not to visualize her with cuts of meat painted on her thick wool. Lambchop nibbled delicately on Face's sleeve, but after Murdock spread some fresher hay for the animals, she eventually wandered away.
When Murdock sat down to milk, Face hopped over and leaned against the stall to watch. Like Vi, Murdock was comfortable with the animals, talking to them as if they were old friends as his long fingers made easy work of the milking. "Hey, Face," he said, looking up, "you want to try this?"
Face hesitated a moment then smiled. "Sure."
Murdock helped him to the stool and showed him what to do. He wasn't as comfortable with the animals as Murdock was. In fact, when he was sitting that close to the cow's hind end, he found it rather intimidating. But Murdock squatted beside him and coached him, and soon Face was squirting milk into the bucket like a pro. "Hey, it works!" he exclaimed.
Watching him, Murdock smiled indulgently. Who'd have thought a man who drove flashy sports cars and paid more for a shirt than most people did for a whole suit would be happy sitting on a stool and milking a cow? But Face looked blissfully happy, and Murdock was glad for him.
The orphanage had done all it could for him, but there were only so many experiences it could afford to offer its children. He wondered how many other facets of an ordinary childhood Face had missed out on as he grew up there. He turned to go tend to the other cow and saw Lambchop standing behind him.
"Huh-uh," he said to her, giving her head a pat. "I saw him first."
Chores finished, Face and Murdock stood by the barn door and looked out as the headlights of the van drew closer. At the top of the driveway it made a u-turn so the passenger side was facing away from the house. Clad in a sheriff's deputy uniform, Hannibal got out of the van and approached the house where a sleepy Norman and Vi met him at the door.
"What's wrong, officer?" Norman asked.
"Nothing's wrong, sir," Hannibal said. "The sheriff just wanted me to notify you that as of this afternoon, none of you are going to have to worry about Joe Williams any more. He's being taken care of."
"Jeez, he's kinda getting the cart ahead of the horse, isn't he?" Murdock observed.
Face nodded in agreement. "Guess he's got a plan."
As soon as the passenger door slid open and Hannibal had maneuvered the couple around so their backs were to the barn, Murdock helped Face scramble across the yard and into the van. Shortly thereafter Hannibal sauntered back to the van, lighting a cigar, and climbed into the driver's seat. B.A., Murdock, and Face looked up at him from the floor in the back as he started the van and drove back to the highway. Once there, he pulled over and let B.A.drive. "How's the foot, kid?" he asked, moving to the back to take a look at it.
"I'm pretty sure it's broken," Face said. "But I think I can get through the day."
"Looks like it," Hannibal said. "Good job on the first aid, Captain." He cut off Murdock's makeshift bandage and wrapped the ankle and foot securely in an elastic bandage, gave Face some more aspirin, and returned to his seat.
"What's the plan, Colonel?" Murdock asked.
"Pretty simple, actually."
Face rolled his eyes at Murdock. He'd heard that one before. "Front door again?"
Hannibal puffed his cigar and held up a small tape recorder. "Just for effect. What we really need is right here. We recorded this last night. It's Williams and Frank Villanueva."
"Villanueva?" Face said. "As in organized crime boss Villanueva? As in `Don't get me involved, just send me the money' Villanueva?"
"Yep. And once this little bombshell makes it into print, and Villanueva is directly implicated in the plan, Williams is likely just to be a wet spot on the pavement."
It had been Face and Murdock who had bugged the phone while they were there, so Face was glad something useful had come out of their near-disastrous infiltration. Hannibal played the tape for them. The conversation was short and contentious, with Williams reminding Villanueva how much he stood to gain by financing Williams' scheme, especially when the oil wells were dug and the industries began to move in...industries Villanueva owned and which generated a lot of toxic waste. In turn, Villanueva expressed his doubts about Williams' ability to outwit the group the farmers had hired to drive him out and the vast displeasure he was going to experience if his name were dragged into the whole mess.
"Why do we need to go in there?" Face asked. "Once we get this to Amy and it hits the papers, Williams is going to be toast."
"One," said Hannibal, ticking off the points on fingers, "I want to let Williams know we've been here and that we'll be watching him in the future. Two, I want to give him a head start on Villanueva. Williams is a creep, but I'd just as soon not be responsible for him being a dead creep. Three, it'll be fun."
"Hannibal, I don't think Faceman's up to a major confrontation here," Murdock said. "We had a rough day."
"Face is going to stay with the van," Hannibal replied. "This little job doesn't require all of us. Face, you can be lookout this time."
"Fine with me," Face grumbled. He'd just as soon have abandoned Williams to Villanueva's tender mercies. Crashing in a helicopter, breaking a foot, and trudging along on the broken bones for hours always put him in a murderous frame of mind. He turned his seat toward Murdock and rested his foot on Murdock's lap, dozing lightly for the rest of the ride back to Williams' headquarters.
"Hang on, guys," Hannibal warned as the van blew through the guarded gate. He leaned out the window to fire back at the guards, causing them to scramble for cover. Just before the van came to a screeching halt in front of the house, Hannibal handed the weapon back to Face. "Can you stand?" he asked.
"Yeah," Face said, accepting the gun.
"Okay, honk if there's a problem."
"Will do." Face moved out of the way as the van stopped. He already had the sliding door open, and Murdock jumped past him and out the door, quickly moving into position around the side of the house as BA and Hannibal went predictably through the front door.
Inside, Williams and his men, most still clad in their nightclothes, were scrambling to react to the frantic call from the gate guards. Hannibal fired over their heads. Murdock came in through the back, herding several people in from that end of the house while BA moved about calmly disarming their captives.
"Who are you?" Williams demanded, though he already knew. Who else could it be?
"Why, we're just a bunch of law-abiding citizens who don't want to see this nice community overrun by an organized crime boss like Frank Villanueva." Hannibal replied. "And as soon as a transcript of this tape hits the papers, we won't." He pushed the play button and treated Williams to a small excerpt from the recorded call. Williams blanched. He knew a death sentence when he heard one. "Now if I were you, Williams, I'd be packing up and moving along before the paper hits the newsstands this evening."
In the yard, Face stood by the open driver's door of the van, supporting his gun against the open window, and looked around. So far he hadn't detected any movement at all. Suddenly two black cars roared down the driveway, and he didn't have to think very hard to figure out who it was. Frantically he honked the horn. Inside, Hannibal exchanged a quick glance with BA. "Keep `em covered," he instructed BA. "Kill anyone that moves." Sometimes it was nice to have an unwarranted reputation as a cold-blooded killer. He knew BA would have no trouble at all with Williams and his crew. With a low growl, BA nodded.
"Murdock, you come with me." As they stepped out on the porch, they saw Villanueva standing in the yard with half a dozen of his men. On the ground in front of him lay Face, bleeding from a wound on his temple. Villanueva had the rifle he had hit Face with trained on Face's head, and he was standing with one heavy boot on Face's broken foot. His long, dark hair was combed back off his forehead, and his black eyes glittered coldly in the early morning light.
Murdock locked eyes with Face. Long practice prevented him from showing any other sign of his distress, but he knew this could be the day they dreaded, the day one of them buried the other.
"Hey, Murdock, look what the cat dragged in," Hannibal said. "Another slimeball to add to the collection."
Villanueva ground his heel into Face's ankle, and Face gritted his teeth to keep himself from crying out. "Maybe you won't be quite so cocky if I blow out this one's brains."
"Won't make much difference," Hannibal said, shrugging. "He's just another one of Williams' goons. Must've slipped out the back. How'd he get by you, Murdock?"
Murdock shrugged. "Sorry, Hannibal. It won't happen again."
Hannibal returned his attention to Villanueva. "Kill him if you want."
Murdock shivered at the coldness of Hannibal's tone. He really did sound as if he didn't give a damn. Murdock met Face's eyes again. Face was white with pain, and blood dripped down the side of his face and pooled on the ground underneath him. But Face's gaze shifted to a ceramic pot on the porch rail by Murdock's elbow, and he nodded almost imperceptibly when Murdock raised a questioning eyebrow.
Hannibal had seen the silent exchange as well and thought he knew what Face had in mind. When Murdock's elbow sent the pot crashing to the ground, Face used the momentary distraction to bat the rifle away from his head, twist his body, and drive his free foot into Villaneuva's groin. As Hannibal and Murdock fired over the heads of the others in the yard, Face pulled Villanueva to the ground and climbed on top of him, quickly getting his hands around the other man's neck.
All movement stopped as Face tightened the pressure on the other man's neck. Blood dripped from his head onto Villanueva's face. "Call off your dogs," Face spat, "or I'll break your neck."
"Better listen to him," Murdock drawled. "I've seen him do it before, and it's pretty ugly."
Villanueva gave his men a signal, and they all dropped their weapons. Face held himself in position until Murdock had disarmed all the men. That done, Murdock covered the yard while Hannibal strode over to where Villanueva was slowly turning blue.
"Let him up, Lieutenant," Hannibal said, laying a hand on Face's shoulder.
Slowly Face eased up on Villanueva's throat and reached for Hannibal's offered hand. Hannibal pulled him up and handed Villanueva's rifle to him. "Sorry, kid," he said. "Didn't think he was going to show up so soon. But it's just as well. Now he and Williams can get together and have a nice little chat."
Twenty minutes later, Murdock sat in the open passenger door of the van applying a bandage to Face's forehead. Face sat sideways with his broken foot stretched out in front of him and his other foot resting on the ground. Hannibal appeared beside them and asked, "How's he doing?"
"I'm fine, Hannibal," Face said, answering for himself.
"Just a bump on the head," Murdock affirmed, "but the foot's another story. He needs to see a doctor."
"We'll get him there in less than an hour," Hannibal promised. He lay a hand on each man's shoulder. "Good work, you two. I hope it wasn't too bad spending the night in the barn."
Murdock looked at Face and smiled. "We did everything just like you ordered, Colonel," he said. "Food, rest, and fluids. And we got to know each other a lot better, didn't we, Facey?"
"I bet," BA grumbled as he joined the others. "We ready to go now, Hannibal?"
Hannibal looked back at the barn. "I think we've got everything tied up here," he said.
In the barn, Williams, Villanueva, and their men were securely tied. Williams wore a sign that said, "Read all about me in the paper tonight." Villanueva's sign read, "I'm with stupid," and had an arrow that pointed at Williams.
"The sheriff will be here soon," BA said. "I just called him and explained."
"Then let's roll," Hannibal said. He climbed into the front passenger seat as BA got in and started the van, leaving the others to sort themselves out.
Murdock rested a hand on Face's cheek and stroked it softly. "Almost lost you today, muchacho," he said.
Face shrugged. "Guess we cheated death again," he said.
"Guess we'll need to celebrate that tonight, won't we?"
Murdock grinned. "I'm feeling giddy with relief already." As their lips met, he was already planning the celebration.
"Let's go guys," Hannibal said impatiently as the sound of police sirens reached them.
Two weeks later Father Maghill, up early as usual, heard the doorbell ring. Wondering who could be coming by so early and hoping there wasn't yet another waif left on his doorstep, he hurried to the door and opened it before the bell could ring again and wake anyone. His eyes widened in surprise. "What in heaven's name?" he spluttered.
There on the porch was a white sheep. Around its neck was a plastic cylinder, and in the cylinder, a note. Maghill read the note while the sheep butted his hip and tried to make its way into the house. "Dear Father Maghill: Strictly speaking, I am not an orphan. But I was about to become mutton stew until two nice young men acquired me. Well, one is nice. The other is simply devastatingly gorgeous. I think you probably know who I mean. This afternoon a truck will arrive with all the materials you need to build me a nice pen and to fix up the old barn in the back for me. One of these days soon I'm going to be joined by a calf and its mother, and then you can teach the children how to shear a sheep for wool and how to milk a cow. Food and supplies for both of us will be taken care of by an anonymous benefactor. Please give me a good home." At the bottom of the letter were a smudged hoof print and the word "Lambchop" written in backwards capital letters.
Maghill laughed heartily. "Well, Lambchop, I think we've got a better use for you than mutton stew," he said kindly. "Let's go find a nice place out back for you to wander around until your pen is built." Whistling "Sheep May Safely Graze," the old priest led the sheep away.
Norman and Vi again counted the money the young man with the broken foot and his friend in the baseball cap had paid for Lambchop and for one of the cows and its next calf. It was several times the agreed-upon amount. "It's enough to make up for everything we've lost the last couple of years!" Norman exclaimed. "It'll get us out of debt and give us a good start for next year."
"Oh, Norman, it's the answer to our prayers," Vi said.
Smiling, Norman lifted Vi into his arms. "I think we should celebrate."
Vi giggled and clung tightly to Norman's neck. "I love you to death, Norman."
"I love you, too, Vi." Norman twirled around with Vi in his arms before carrying her into the house.
Hannibal extinguished his cigar and glanced into the living room as he walked by it on the way to bed. Murdock and Face had unfolded the large sofa bed so they could lie comfortably and watch television together. But neither of them was watching it. Instead they lay in the center of the bed, Murdock curled up around Face's back, both of them sound asleep. Hannibal stood watching them for a moment. He hadn't been too crazy about them getting together in the first place, wondering whether having one of them in peril would cause the other to make stupid mistakes. But so far his fears had proved unfounded. They had shown resourcefulness, ingenuity, and courage at Williams' headquarters and helped them all avoid what could have become a very nasty, very bloody confrontation. The team had always been more than the sum of its parts, but in the years since the two of them had come to him and confessed their relationship, their bond steadied them both, brought out the best in each of them. Quietly Hannibal turned off the television, laid a blanket over the pair of sleeping lovers, and left the room, turning off the light behind him. As Hannibal's footsteps receded, Murdock lifted his head. "They've gone to bed, Facey," he whispered. "It's just us."
Face turned in Murdock's arms. "Sounds like something to celebrate."
"Yeah," Murdock said softly, tracing Face's lips in the dark. "Let's celebrate."
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