CHAPTER FOUR

Face woke the next morning at Ronnie's apartment. With a pounding headache. Ronnie had wanted to stop after the play and have a few drinks, so Face had taken him to an exclusive club not far from the theater. Face hadn't intended to drink so much. It just seemed like there was a fresh drink in front of him constantly. Face didn't remember ordering them. Even the meal he found himself eating hadn't done much to reduce the effects. He'd ended up giving Ronnie the keys to his 'vette and letting him drive them home. He didn't understand why his friend hadn't gotten that bad.

Face hated to think what the evening had set him back. Not that Ronnie had insisted on going out. He never insisted on anything. Just the opposite. He was quite apologetic when suggesting anything. He just seemed to suggest a lot of things. Face couldn't say no. After all, the man didn't even have a job yet. Things would be different when he had his own money coming in. Face was going to call back some of his contacts today and see what he could set up.

Yeah, things would be easier when Ronnie had his own job. When Face finally had him set up. When it was paid in full.


*****

Murdock was not happy. BA had dropped him off at the VA in the wee hours of the morning, and he'd been able to sneak back to his room unseen. He knew the nurses and Dr. Richter would have a fit when they discovered his return, but that wasn't what was bothering him. It was this friend of Face's. Ronnie. Hannibal had told them about his talk with Face, and BA had already told him the rest. It was obvious to everyone that the con man was being taken for a ride. Everyone except Face himself, apparently. But Face should know better.

They needed to find out who this guy was. Who he really was. What he'd been doing for the last twenty years. And what hold he had on Face. Because that was the only reason Face would allow himself to be used this way. This guy had something on Face, and it was something Face didn't want the rest of the team to know about.

Which didn't mean diddly.


*****

Hannibal was already making a few inquiries. Face had said that Cousins had not served in the military. A couple quick phone calls from 'General Hardin' confirmed that. So what had this guy been doing for the last twenty years?

Hannibal made the next call to the alumni office at the college Face had attended. If the woman who answered got the impression that her spilling the beans meant a rather significant contribution to the school, Hannibal couldn't really help that. Ronald Cousins had indeed been registered at the same time as Face. Within a couple months of Face joining the Army, Cousins had dropped out. The last address they had for him was in Santa Monica, but that was immediately after he left school. The woman had no idea why he'd dropped out. She did remember that there was some kind of scandal after he'd gone, but couldn't remember what.

So where else would one look for someone who'd effectively dropped from sight for twenty years? In fact, Hannibal realized, it was almost exactly twenty years.

Hannibal's next call was as Captain Hardin of the LAPD, to the records division of the LA County Courthouse...


*****

Ronnie had driven the 'vette back to the beach front house. Face sat in the passenger seat, head back, eyes closed. He couldn't believe the headache he had. And it didn't get any better. Ronnie had given him some kind of aspirin but it had only gotten worse. He stumbled into the house and settled down on the couch, Ronnie fussing over him like a mother hen.

The phone rang. Face started to get up, but a wave of dizziness hit him and he flopped back down. Ronnie hurried over and picked up.

"Hello?...No, this is Ron Cousins. Who is this?...Oh, yes, Colonel...Templeton's not feeling well...No, we, uh, went out last night to a play and then stopped afterward and, well, I guess we celebrated a little too much, heh heh...well, no, I wouldn't call it a hangover, no, just a headache, really...me? Oh no, I'm fine. I didn't have that much...no, I'm not much for alcohol...yeah, well, he was like that in college, too. Did cause a few problems, but...no, no, I'm sure he'll be fine...I'll let him know you called, Colonel..."

Face hadn't paid much attention to the call. He was still trying to fight through the cotton that seemed to be engulfing his brain.


*****

Hannibal was pacing. Fast. This was not good. Face never drank heavily. Despite his image, he rarely had more than a couple drinks at one time, ever. He'd told Hannibal once that he didn't want to lose control of the situation, social or otherwise, and alcohol did exactly that. Hell, he was almost phobic about it. Ronnie wasn't 'much for alcohol', huh? But he managed to get Face drunk. Damn.

He was still waiting for a call back from the courthouse. A little risky, giving out this number, but at least there really was a Captain Hardin, if anyone bothered to check. He called BA. Told him to come over, just in case. And to bring Murdock.

Then he did something he never thought he would do. Shortly after they had escaped from Fort Bragg, Face had set up an elaborate system for their personal finances. It was necessary so they wouldn't leave a paper trail. Each member had access to all the accounts; it was a practicality in case any of them were captured, to protect their assets. It was a matter of trust that that would be the only time that access would be used. Hannibal felt guilty, but only for a moment. One of them had been captured, to his way of thinking. And he needed to protect those assets.

He started making calls, seeing what funds had been used, transferred, spent. BA and Murdock arrived while he was in the middle of it.

BA heard part of the conversation, scowled, and walked out to the kitchen, pulling Murdock behind him. Whatever Hannibal was doing, BA did not want to hear. What he was talking about on the phone was none of BA's business. But he understood that if Hannibal was making those calls, things were more serious than he had realized. Exchanging looks with Murdock, he knew they were thinking the same thing.

Finally, Hannibal came out into the kitchen. He was scowling almost as darkly as BA.

"Face has been spending a lot of money. Way too much. And all in the last week. All since this Cousins fella showed up. If he keeps this up, he's gonna be broke in a month."

"He said somethin about gettin this guy a job, through his contacts. So maybe he won't have to spend so much then. Maybe this guy is gonna pay him back."

"Yeah, and maybe the moon's made of cheese. This guy is trouble, BA. He and Face went out last night. Face got plastered. Cousins answered the phone at his place this morning, sounding very chipper. Face had a headache - bad enough that he couldn't come to the phone."

"Face doesn't drink like that." Murdock was adamant. Face hadn't gotten drunk since Nam.

"He did last night. I also called the college and the military. The guy dropped out of college shortly after Face joined up. Disappeared a few months later, after some kind of scandal. Shows up here almost exactly twenty years later." He looked sharply at them.

"Prison?"

"I'm waiting for a call back."

"Didja call Amy?"

"Yeah, she's checking things on her end. One way or the other we're getting to the bottom of this."


*****

Face woke up sometime in the afternoon. He knew it was afternoon because the sun was hitting him full in the face through the west windows. He felt like he'd been run over by a truck. He staggered into the bathroom, turned on a hot shower. Stood under the scalding water as long as it lasted.

When he finally came out, he still didn't feel good, but at least felt like he would live. He looked around. The house seemed different. Something...out of place. He looked around again. The desk. His briefcase with his personal papers had been moved. He looked through it. Someone else had been through it. Certain papers were in the wrong place.

"Ronnie?" Silence.

He stepped outside, looked at the carport. The 'vette was gone.

Face moved slowly back to the living room. Sat down on the couch. Something was wrong. Very wrong. If only he could think straight.


*****

Amy called back.

"I don't think you're going to like this, Hannibal. Ronald Cousins was arrested and convicted of the murder of one Lonnie Saenger. The murder occurred while he was attending school with Face, but he wasn't arrested until several months after he dropped out. Apparently, he was attending a beach party, drugs, alcohol, the whole nine yards. Things got out of hand; he tried to rape a girl, and her boyfriend, this Saenger, interfered. Cousins killed him and hid the body. According to testimony, he threatened the girl to keep her quiet. She didn't say anything for a couple of months, but then broke down and it all came out."

Amy hesitated. "Hannibal, she said Face was there when it happened, but was too drunk or...stoned...to do anything. Anyway, apparently neither the DA nor the defense felt he would be a credible witness, so there was no point in trying to bring him back for the trial, or even getting a deposition. Hannibal, I just don't understand why Face would want anything to do with someone like that."

"I don't either, Amy, but I'm going to find out. Right now."

Hannibal still had his hand on the phone when it rang again. The county courthouse. Short and sweet. Not only did they confirm Amy's information, but Cousins was in violation of parole. In other words, they couldn't find him.


*****

Face heard the car pull in and stepped wearily out of the door. Ronnie was just getting out, talking to someone still in the car. He stopped, startled, when he saw Face, and motioned for whoever it was to stay inside.

"Hey, Tem. Feeling better?"

"Yeah, Ronnie. A little. Where were you?"

"Oh, I had some errands to run. I would've waited for you, but I wasn't sure when you'd be up again. Hope you don't mind. I didn't want to disturb you." He looked so apologetic. "I'm sorry, Tem, I wouldn't have taken it otherwise, but I don't have a car and, ...well, I got you some stuff for your headache. Believe me, they really work..." His expression changed to almost puppy-dog hopeful.

Face sighed as he took the pill bottle. "Thanks, Ronnie. And don't worry about the car. I was just..." He shook his head. He almost felt guilty asking the next question. "Uh, did you open my briefcase for some reason, Ronnie?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. I was going to tell you. The colonel called again; he said you had some papers he needed. He was pretty insistent, but I didn't want to disturb you. I didn't know exactly what he was talking about, but I saw your briefcase and thought they might be in there. I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to pry..."

"No, no problem, Ronnie. I just wondered. Uh, who's in the car?"

"Oh..." Ronnie actually blushed. "That's Tia. I met her a couple days ago. She lives in the same building as me. I was gonna ask you if I could borrow the car, take her out to dinner. Oh, I'd have to borrow some money. I mean, I haven't asked her out yet, just took her for a drive, I wanted to ask you first, you know. I mean, if you can't, that's okay, but..."

Face sighed. "Don't worry about it, Ronnie. Go ahead." He took out his wallet. He was surprised there was any cash left in it. "Here, take her out someplace nice. Just be careful with the car, okay?"

"Sure, Tem. Thanks a lot. Really. I mean, I know you owe me, but still..."

"Just take the car, Ronnie. I'll see you later." Face turned and went back into the house. His headache was getting bad again. He sat on the couch, looking at the bottle of pills. OTC. Okay. Label said take two every four hours. Standard. He shook out two, giving them a quick glance. Something odd about them, but he didn't pay much attention. Swallowing the pills, he slid down against the pillows and closed his eyes.