Two Fish Run Into a Wall

By Tipper


Part Two



Chapter Five


Somewhere outside Vista City….


Face rode ahead, habitually scouting for danger at point as they headed towards Vista City.  Sharp blue eyes scoured and examined the landscape, taking in everything with almost scientific precision.  His white horse moved quickly and easily around the landscape, turning and changing pace with only the slightest indications from her rider, almost as if she knew where he wanted to go before he did.  She was a very clever horse, fast and agile…and more temperamental than the highest strung Arabian.   Only Face could get near her…and she would do absolutely anything for him.   Anyone else just got kicked, bit or shoved.


Hannibal rode second, his chestnut quarter horse solidly built and powerful…if getting on in years.  The gelding was nearing old age, but Hannibal didn’t care.   He was strong, competent, and loyal. 


The colonel allowed himself to daydream a little as they moved, confident in Face to spot any trouble and for the gelding to get him away in time.  In fact, he was trying to figure out a way to not only build the dam, but to stop it from being destroyed again.  He still hadn’t figured out the second part yet.  According to the sisters, the local law appeared to be well in the pocket of the two Fishman brothers.


BA and Murdock rode behind, the captain humming something tunelessly, often repeating similar parts over and over again, while BA did his best to ignore the tedious noise.  Murdock rode a rented horse, a bay mare from the stables of Clearwater.  For some reason, the captain didn’t like the idea of keeping a single horse for too long.  Instead, he changed horses almost as often as he changed personalities…which, perhaps, was fitting.


And BA…rode Van.  The huge black horse dominated most others, both in size and in personality.  While Face’s mare might have been temperamental, Vandal…or Van for short…was just downright mean.  It mimicked its rider to a tee, liking those BA liked and attacking those he didn’t.  Murdock had lost several chunks of his clothing to the black beast (the captain refused to call Van a horse -- the word was just too limiting).  The bright red, feathered saddle that adorned Van’s back only seemed to add to the intimidating look of the thing.


And at that moment, Van was trying to take a bite out of the muzzle of the bay mare.  She shook her head and tried to shift away, but Murdock forced her back in line.  He had a reason for sticking close to the big man, and, from the look on BA’s face, it was about to pay off.


“Stop it, Murdock,” BA hissed finally.


Grinning inside, Murdock stopping humming, looking over at his best friend innocently, “What’s that big guy?”


“You know what,” the other growled.  “Stop that horrible humming.”


“Humming?  Was I humming?”


BA gave him full glare. In most men, that would have turned them to jelly.  In Murdock, it made him smile even more brightly.


“Oh, that humming!” the captain nodded, “but that wasn’t humming, BA, that was invention!”


BA groaned and placed a gloved hand to his face -- he knew he shouldn’t have said anything.


“See, I realized something the other day, when we passed those rail workers laying those tracks….”


“I don’t want to hear it,” BA interrupted, recognizing the manic look in the captain’s eyes. 


“They were singing while they worked,” Murdock continued undeterred, “You know what song I mean…” he cleared his throat, then began in a painful warble: “I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day….”


BA grimaced, growled, and tried to urge Van faster.  Murdock simply urged his own chestnut forward to match them, stopping his singing.


“And, well, I realized that they’ve got lots of songs to sing while they are working.  And not just them.  On the docks, you hear the longshoreman and the sailors sings too.  Songs like,” he cleared his throat again, lowering it, “What can you do with a drunken sailor, oh what can you do with a drunken sailor….”


“I know what to do with a singing Murdock,” BA hissed quietly, “Hooray and up he rises….” He flashed a fist, mimicking an uppercut jab, then reined Van back, to slow him down and ride rear.  Paying absolutely no attention to the threat, Murdock just followed suit.  BA rolled his eyes.  Murdock smiled.


“And cowboys, they sing those cowboy songs.  And miners.  And soldiers.  And factory folk.  You know that saying, whistle while you work?”  He started whistling.  He was actually very good at it, but BA was too annoyed to notice.


“Is there a point to this, fool?”


“Yes, yes, there’s a point!”  Murdock said, about to explain, when suddenly Face shouted something from where he was in the forefront.  The others instantly nudged their horses faster to catch up with him.


Face had reached the edge of a ridge, and was looking down a hillside.  Nestled about halfway down was a small town, with only one road going through it.  Clustered around this main drag were about twenty buildings, including the usual adobe jail and shop fronts.  Other buildings, ranchos and the like, were scattered in other depressions in the surrounding hills, all with etched dirt trails leading towards the town.  A little further down and off to the side, a narrow plain rested against the side of one set of hills, and therein rested the small convent.  Water ran loosely past  and around the simple building, flooding their grounds, rushing down from some place they couldn’t see from this vantage point.  Beyond the convent’s plain, the hills sloped away even further, to collect in a low endless set of plains that ran well off into the hazy horizon.


Vista City,”  Face said, looking at the town, a slight touch of whimsy in his voice.  “At least the name makes sense,” he smiled.  “It is a very pretty view.”


Hannibal frowned, “Yes…If you’re up here,” he agreed.  “But not if you’re down there.”  He was focused on the convent, his frown deep.



Chapter Six


The Convent….


The colonel had them ride around the small town, to avoid being spotted as they neared the convent.  A quick command sent Murdock and BA away to scout the surrounding hills, to seek out the area where the sisters had said the Fishmans wanted to open their mines.


Thus Face and Hannibal were alone as they neared the back door of the convent, the horses picking over the muddy soil, trying to avoid the rivulets that were scattered about from the reforming river.  Eventually, they both had to dismount to lead the horses, to prevent them from sinking too deeply into the mire. 


“This is no good, colonel,” Face said, picking his way through muck up to his ankles.  “We should keep the horses back against the hillside.  They couldn’t move through this stuff quickly in any event.”


Hannibal nodded, and the two turned around.  Not long after, both horses were tied up in a shadowed thicket near the base of the nearest hill, while the two men returned to sloshing through the muck on their own.  Amazingly, Face kept his tongue despite the wanton destruction to his navy tailored trousers, even when the sank up to their knees at times in the swampy water.


The back of the convent was marked by a wrought iron gate, shaped in a gentle arch, between two thick pink walls.  A large flagstone courtyard was on the other side, which until recently had probably been kept clean and free of debris.  It was probably about thirty to forty feet from the gate to the door, and that space was now filled with half broken pots of ruined plants and completely ruined flowerbeds.  Water at least four  to six inches deep swirled and eddied through the gate and over the courtyard.  The entrance on the far side was up two steps, which was the only reason the water probably wasn’t inside.  Of course, when the water first crashed through the blown dam, it had probably easily flooded the inside until the water leveled out.  The fact that the back door appeared to be half off its hinges and was open was more than enough evidence to support the notion. 


Hannibal reached the gate and, after looking around a moment for some kind of bell, decided instead just to push it open.  It responded with the squealing groan of twisted metal, and both men cringed.


When they looked up again, three nuns stood in the doorway watching them, all wearing full habits.  In the center, a tall woman with sharp blue eyes stared at him, holding a broomstick in her hands almost defensively.  To her left and right, Antonia and Frances stood quietly.


“You are Colonel Hannibal Smith?” the tall woman asked.


“Yes mother,” the colonel said, bowing his head, recognizing her authority as the mother superior without being told.  “And this young man to my left is my lieutenant, Templeton Peck.”


“Mother,” Face bowed his head as well, though he allowed a little of his usually dazzling smile to peek through.  A hint of a smile appeared on the mother superior’s face as she saw it, then she instantly hid it again.


“I am Sister Ethel,” she replied, still not relinquishing the broomstick, “and, as you have both guessed, I am currently in charge.  Let me tell you now that, had we not been forced to ask for your help as a last resort, you would not be here.”


Face glanced askance at Hannibal, but the colonel didn’t respond to that. 


“We need the dam rebuilt, and quickly,” Ethel continued.  “You know that we can pay you nothing, but Antonia told me that you are willing to accept that.  For that, we thank you.”


A tiny shudder ran through Face’s frame at the reaffirmation that they weren’t being paid. 


“Now, there are some other conditions….” Ethel continued, but Hannibal cleared his throat, stopping her.


“Mother, perhaps we could continue this inside?  My lieutenant and I are ankle deep in cold running water here, and, after our long trip to get here, I’m sure that we would greatly appreciate a chance to clean up a little and perhaps get something to drink?”


Her face hardened, but there was a softening to her eyes as she saw another shudder wrack the thin younger man’s frame.  This time, he was reacting to the water swirling around his boots, reminded of that fact by Hannibal, but she couldn’t know that the earlier one hadn’t been for the same reason.


“We don’t allow men inside,” Ethel began, her voice hesitant.  “Besides our own vows, there are other considerations and…”


“Mother, we don’t need to go deep inside.  Perhaps the kitchens?” Hannibal asked.  “I assume they are in the back here?  All we ask is the opportunity to sit down so we can discuss a plan.”


Ethel sighed, closing her eyes.  When she opened them a moment, later, she nodded. 


Frances, get Lieutenant Peck and Colonel Smith a couple of blankets and meet us in the kitchens.  Antonia, please make sure that all the rooms nearby are blocked and that no one interrupts us and…try to keep Hannah from…seeing them.”  In response to her commands, both women hurried into the shadows, and Ethel looked back at the two men.  She frowned again.

“You are not to go anywhere inside this place except with me, understand?”


Face sighed, and Hannibal gave a tiny bow.  Ethel’s frown deepened, then, looking again behind her for something, turned and nodded at them.


“Please, if you would follow me….” She waved them inside.



“How much did Antonia tell you?” Ethel asked, setting water on the small wood burning stove to boil.  Before Hannibal could answer, Frances bustled back in with blankets.  She gave one to Hannibal, then placed the one around Face’s shoulders herself.  He smiled at her, and she blushed.  Ethel gave her a dark look, so she quickly scampered away and moved to stand on the other side of the small stove.


Hannibal cleared his throat, “She told me that two men, brothers, have been demanding that you sell them your land.  They have apparently found a vein of gold in your hills, and wish to mine it.  When you wouldn’t sell to them, they tried intimidation, threatening to hurt you if you didn’t sign title over to them.”


Ethel nodded.  “That’s all true. We did try to reason with them at first, offered to let them mine the hills if they promised never to come near the convent and they gave us part of the profits, but, besides the fact that they laughed at the idea of sharing any profits, they told us that the only way to get the equipment to the mine area would have to be over this plain, which is infeasible.  We can’t have that kind of disruption, plus it would destroy our crops.”  She frowned, realizing that they were all pretty much destroyed now anyway.  “Also, we…have a woman here, Hannah her name is, whom we take care of, and who reacts very violently to the sight of men.  We couldn’t do that to her.”  She sighed, “They also told us that they needed to change our water supply, basically cutting off our streams and wells, because they wanted to use the river’s power to make water cannons to blast the hills.”  She shook her head, “obviously, though we have too much of the river now,” she gave a small smile, “we also need it desperately to survive.”  Her eyes rose to meet Hannibal’s, and the man nodded.


“And so, when money and intimidation didn’t work,” the colonel continued, “they went ahead and blew the dam.”


Ethel nodded, “it flooded most of the first floor, and completely flooded our basements stores.  One of our sisters, who was down in one of the rooms taking an inventory, was nearly drowned.”  She shivered, her eyes now looking towards Frances.  “She still hasn’t recovered from it.” 


“And Hannah was nearly apoplectic,” Frances added, watching the mother superior.  “We’ve two of us with her now, just trying to keep her calm.”


Ethel looked back at Hannibal, “We would just leave, colonel, but, besides the fact that we don’t have anywhere to go -- we’re not exactly central to the church’s bailiwick out here -- we can’t just move Hannah.  We made a promise to someone when we took her in, and we can’t just leave her…or leave without him.”  She lowered her eyes.


“And what you would like us to do…” Hannibal prompted, “is…?”


“To rebuild the dam,” Ethel said.  “None of the townsfolk will help us.  They’ve all been promised greater prosperity for themselves and the town should the mines happen.  The Fishmans have essentially bought them, including the poor excuse for a sheriff here.  I’m almost surprised he hasn’t evicted us, though…truth be told…all of this land, including the town, belongs to the convent.  He has no right to evict us…we’ve more right to evict him…except that, for all our great estate, we have no real money or power…at least not in the physical sense.”  She shrugged, and that small smile was back.


“And what happens after the dam is rebuilt?” Face asked.


She looked at the younger man, and shook her head.  “Then your job is done.”


“But,” Face frowned, “what is to stop them from blowing it again?”


“Well, we’ve written letters to the territorial governor and to the bishop.  We hope one or the other might be able to provide us with some help.  Protection once you leave.”


“The governor?”  Hannibal looked at Face.


“Governor Hopewell is governor of this territory, I think,” the younger man replied, shaking his head.  Ethel frowned at the slight communication.


“You don’t think he will help us?”


“Maybe if he’s replaced, he might,” Face replied darkly.  “But the bishop, on the other hand, he might be able….”


“I admit, I do not place great faith in his ability,” Ethel interrupted.  “He has no real clout here.  The church is not what it once was, and we’re so far out of the way.  I once wrote to him, asking for aid to take care of some local poor, and we received a form letter addressed “Dear sir.”  I wonder if he even knows we’re here.” 


“He might, if he knew what the Fishman wanted this land for,” Hannibal suggested.  Ethel shrugged.


“Well, regardless,” Face said, looking at the colonel, “any dam that can hold back as much water as we’ve seen outside is going to have to be pretty strong, colonel.  When you told me we were building a dam, I was thinking something a lot smaller.  I’m not sure the four of us can build it on our own.”


“Four?” Ethel looked at them.


“Two more of my men are scouting around, mother,” Hannibal said.


“No, I meant…there are only four of you?  From your reputations, I thought you must be a small army.”


Hannibal grinned, and Face rubbed his hand on the back of his neck, waiting for the colonel’s response.


“We are what we are,” Hannibal said, “and most of the time, in most situations, that is more than enough.  However, something this labor intensive…I think my lieutenant is right.  We will need help.  And, if we get help from the men I’m thinking of, then perhaps we can solve the protection problem as well.”  He looked over at Face, who was nodding.


“Who are you talking about,” Ethel asked.


“There is a town north of here,” Face said, “protected by seven men who….”


Four Corners,” Ethel interrupted, looking at them both, “You’re talking about Four Corners.”


A small frown etched itself into both men’s brows.


“Yes, mother,” Hannibal said, “that’s exactly….”


“No.  I’m sorry.  I can’t allow that.  Under no circumstances can I allow you any contact with the men there.”


Neither Hannibal nor Face knew what to say to that.  The surprise was evident on their faces, but the mother superior didn’t budge. 


“Why?” Face eventually stammered out.  “They are good men, honest….”


“I made a promise to someone and, beyond that, you will simply have to trust me.”  She stood up, brooking no further argument.  “If you wish, either Sister Antonia or Sister Frances can take you up to see the dam area now.”


Hannibal frowned deeply, glancing at Face, who merely looked annoyed.  Still he stood.


“That won’t be necessary, mother,” the colonel said, “we can find it on our own.”


“There are two other items I need to discuss with you,” Ethel said, “before you go.”


Hannibal inclined his head, while Face leaned back in his chair.


“First,” she said, “I would appreciate it if only you or Lieutenant Peck ever come here, and that only rarely.  I will recognize you now and it’s simply easier that way.  And if you could avoid…coming unannounced, I would appreciate it.  There is a little boy in the village who often comes out here.  If you need a gofer, you can use him.  His name is Miguel.  You’ll probably come across him on your way to the dam.  He’s often about.  His English is poor, but we have been teaching him and he has been practicing….”


Hannibal nodded, already deciding to try and avoid using the child at all.  He didn’t want any children mixed up in this.


“And two?” Face asked.


“Two,” Ethel licked her lips, “I would ask that you never use your guns.  I do not want anyone dead or hurt because of this.  We would leave and beg for hospitality somewhere else before we ever do that.  Although, with Hannah, we may not be likely to get it.  Still, even as vagabonds we would be better off than if we knew anything we had done had caused harm to another.”


Hannibal frowned, “Mother, with all due respect, it will be extremely difficult….”


“The only purpose of a handgun is to kill, colonel.  I will not have that on my or any of my sisters’ heads.”


“And if someone attacks us, or you?  What do you expect us to do?”


“Run away.  Leave.  Besides, I do not believe they would ever harm us directly.  We are not a danger to them.  And, if you do not threaten them, perhaps by leaving your guns elsewhere, then I do not believe they will try to harm you either.”


“But,” Face was frowning, “what about the sister who was in the basement when the dam broke?  What if she hadn’t gotten out?  What if more of you were down there?  And this Hannah, surely she’s already been badly harmed by all this.  Mother, they have already caused harm to you, and the fact that you haven’t left will only make them more angry and desperate.”


“And if your bishop sends an army to protect you, you know that, just as the Knights Templar carried swords, so they too will be carrying rifles and pistols,” Hannibal shook his head.  “What makes them different from us?”


“An army would prevent them from acting merely by its presence, colonel,” Ethel insisted. “not because of their guns, but because of their size.  You, however, are not an army; there are, as you say, only four of you.  You would have to use those guns if engaged.  The Fishmans would not be foolish enough to engage an army.”


“Do not fool yourself, mother,” Hannibal said, “an army would be far less likely to intimidate if  it didn’t have its weapons.”


Ethel shook her head, “Violence only begets violence, colonel.”


“Yes, I am aware of that, but the violence here has already begun,” Hannibal said.


“It has not reached a level which would warrant escalation,” she insisted.  “Please, I must insist on this point.”


Hannibal looked at her, then narrowed his eyes.  “Mother Superior, I can not ask my men to disarm.  Be aware that we are not mere gunslingers or everyday citizens, we are soldiers.  We are well trained, and very conscious of what guns can do.  We are aware that the use of our weapons is only and always a last resort in any conflict.  Nevertheless, you are asking us to enter a dangerous situation, and we must be able to protect ourselves and you.  If there were no trouble here, if we were only just building a dam, then I would have no trouble complying…but when self-defense is a likely need, we must be able to both carry and use our weapons.”


Ethel looked down at the table, then back up at them.  Her eyes were troubled now.


 “Soldiers,” she repeated.


Hannibal gave short nod.


She frowned, then sighed.  “Will you at least promise not to use you guns except…except when there is absolutely no other option, including running away?”


Hannibal gave a small smile, trying to imagine trying to tell BA they’ll have to run away if attacked.


“Colonel?” Face was waiting.  Could they really do that?  Run away? 


Hannibal blew the air out of his cheeks, then nodded at Sister Ethel.  “Yes, mother, I promise.”


Face swallowed, his jaw tense.  When Hannibal glanced at him, the lieutenant shook his head slowly. 


“That goes for all of is, lieutenant,” the colonel said darkly. “Consider it an order.”


Ethel and Frances both looked at Face as he tried to stare Hannibal down.  Then, abruptly, Face shut his eyes and lowered his head.  Hannibal gave a curt nod and looked back at Ethel.


“All right?”


She gave a tiny grimace, but nodded.  “Yes.”



Chapter Seven


“This just keeps getting better and better,” Face groused as they rode along the ridge over the plain, in the direction of the ruined dam.  “We’re not only doing manual labor for no pay, but if someone shoots at us, the most we’re going to be able to do is run away with our tails between our legs.  Ever had a bullet in the back, Colonel?  I understand they’re nasty.”


It was the third such comment since they left the convent, and Hannibal was finally beginning to lose his patience.  He was already thoroughly annoyed by the mother superior’s “conditions” and his lieutenant was not helping.  The thought of having to run away was eating away at him, and that last comment from Face about being shot in the back…he suddenly had an image of one of his men being shot as they ran away, and it made his blood run cold. 


Face sniffed, “I still can’t believe that….”


“Face,” Hannibal said slowly, “Stop.”


The lieutenant frowned; he knew that tone. 


Perhaps it was the trousers.  They were ruined beyond repair.


“I’m just saying…” he began.


“Now.  Stop now.”


Or maybe it was the fact that the whole escapade had been planned in his absence.


“This is a right mess you’ve gotten us into this time, Hannibal.  A real humdinger.”


“Christ, Face!  Give it a rest!  You’re whining would try the patience of a saint!”


Face took a breath, considered his options, then shook his head.  He realized suddenly that this wasn’t whining.  Thing was, something about this whole job had been gnawing at him the wrong way since they talked with Sister Ethel…


“Hell, even if we build the damn thing, they’ll just blow it again.  And what will we do to stop them, huh?  Do you expect me to talk them out of it?”


That did it.  Hannibal reined his horse in sharply, turned and glared at Face.  The lieutenant rode up alongside and arched an eyebrow. 


As soon as he saw Hannibal’s face, Face knew what it was that was driving him.  It was because they were in over their heads.  Hannibal was underestimating the enemy.  If he wasn’t, he would never have agreed for them not to use their guns. 


“Come on, Hannibal.  What do you expect us to do, huh?” the conman pressed.  “Maybe you will have Murdock confuse them into giving up?  Or BA threaten them with his growling?  That’ll work great when they start firing at us.  Who knows, maybe your arrogance alone will repel the bullets.”


Hannibal’s eyes narrowed.  Face frowned.  Despite the logical side of him telling him to shut up…his ego just took over, and instead of talking reasonably about what was bothering him…he was falling back on sarcasm.  Come on, Face, he told himself, say something straight out….


“Colonel, I’m only trying to point out that I think….”


“I gave you an order, lieutenant,” Hannibal hissed.  “I’m not going to say this again. Shut up.”


“We’re wasting our time, here, colonel!  Without guns, you’re putting all of us at….”


“Shut up, damn it!  The decision has been made, and you will follow orders!”  The colonel’s stare would have frozen a basilisk.


“Fine!  Lead us to a slaughter! That way you can use our bodies for the dam’s wood!” 


Hannibal caught his breath; Face had gone too far with that image.  “That’s ENOUGH!  Not one more word, or I swear I’ll…”


“Or you’ll what?  Risk my life?  You do that already.”


Hannibal grabbed the lapel of the younger man’s dark blue jacket and lifted him out of the saddle slightly, as if he were about to hit him.  Face looked down at the hand, glared at his colonel, and ripped the jacket out of Hannibal’s hand.  He back stepped his mare until he was a few feet behind the other man.


“So, you want me to stop questioning you, is that it?” he asked coldly.


Hannibal narrowed his eyes in answer.


Face sprouted an impudent smile, “Then obviously my company also grows wearisome for you.”


Hannibal also knew that tone in his lieutenant, but, just as Face had already gone too far, he also was unable to stop himself.


“Yes,” he heard himself saying, “I think it has.”


Face nodded, “Fine.  Then, after this is over, I will release you of the burden of my presence.  Is that better?”






“Fine,” Hannibal kicked his horse forward, until he was a good ten feet in front of Face.


The lieutenant licked his lips.  Damn it, where the hell had that come from?


And how the hell was he going to get out of it?





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