CHAPTER SIX

Ronnie drove straight back to his apartment. Seeing that van in Peck's driveway had stunned him, but he figured Peck would be keeping the others occupied for quite some time yet. The first thing he did was call the military base. It took some time but he was finally put through to Colonel Decker. He gave Decker a post office box for contact. He planned to cancel the lease on the apartment, take the money and run. He knew the team hadn't lasted this long by being careless, and he didn't intend to be anywhere they could find him if Decker screwed up.

The phone call taken care of, Ronnie set to work packing. He had a huge wardrobe, thanks to Peck. Plenty of cash, too. He wished he could have gotten more information on his bank accounts, but he had enough. Once the car was packed up, he sat down with the phone and prepared to start transferring funds from some of Peck's accounts to his own.

It didn't take long for him to find out someone had been there before him. Everything was frozen. He slammed the phone down. Damn it! It had to have been the colonel, although how he'd been able to do it, Ronnie had no idea. He should've made his move sooner. But he enjoyed living the good life at Peck's expense, and, he had to grudgingly admit, Peck was extremely good company. Well, no point in crying over spilled milk. He still had plenty of cash, clothing, and that 'vette. He'd be able to get a pretty penny off that, even if he couldn't produce a pink slip. Plenty of people who didn't care about that little detail. It wasn't like Peck would report it stolen.

By the time he'd finished with the packing, loading and phone calls, and fixed his last meal there, it was time for the building manager to arrive for the day. Ronnie headed down to break the lease and hit the road.


*****

By midmorning, Face had recovered, more or less. He still had that damn headache, and felt worn down and shaky. But mostly he was angry. The problem was, he didn't know who he was most angry at.

First, Hannibal told him about the pills. Face couldn't believe it. Wouldn't believe it. Ronnie would not do that to him. No way.

The second shock came when Hannibal had told him about his now frozen accounts. Face was livid. It was going to be one hell of a mess getting that straightened out. Hannibal had no right to do that. The balls of the man. He wasn't his father, he was his colonel, and not even that any more.

Then he looked at their faces and knew there was even more. And he didn't think he was going to like it. At all.

When Hannibal told him about his inquiries, and what Amy had dug up, it sent him reeling. Literally. If BA hadn't grabbed him, he would have fallen. BA helped him to the couch, Hannibal and Murdock hovering over him. They knew hearing all of this would hit him hard; they hadn't realized it would be this bad.

He felt hot and cold all at the same time. It wasn't true. It couldn't be. Ronnie had been his best friend in college. His roommate. How could he have done that? How could he have made Face believe that he'd killed that guy in a drunken, drugged-up rage? And let him continue to think that, all these years after? And come to him now and taken advantage of that lie?

He remembered that night. At least the beginning. It was just after Leslie...he'd enlisted. Ronnie was so angry with him, but there was nothing either of them could do about it. Maybe it was that anger that had brought everything to a head that night. Ronnie had pictured the two of them going into business together after graduation. Taking the world by storm. Which was okay with Face. He liked Ronnie, knew he was almost as smart in business as he himself was. Between the two of them, they could have done well. Very well. But that ended when Face enlisted. And Ronnie had been very, very angry.

Face thought his friend had gotten over it. A few days after, he told Face he'd set up a farewell party at the beach for him. Face hadn't felt like partying at all, but went along with it, wanting to make amends of sorts to his friend. It really had been a great party; Ronnie was good at the social end of things. And Face had gotten drunk. Very, very drunk. He remembered someone handing him some pills. Different colors. He'd never done drugs before or since, but that night he didn't care. That was all he remembered until Ronnie had shaken him awake, sometime just before dawn. And then he'd seen the body. And listened to Ronnie telling him what had happened. What Face had done.

Ronnie had convinced him they needed to get rid of the body. Convinced him that he was on the way to the gas chamber otherwise. So they'd buried it deep in the sand. They'd thought about dragging it out into the ocean, but Ronnie said it would wash up.

Face shivered, thinking about how cold-blooded it all sounded. How panicked he'd been. And he remembered how he had been persuaded not to go to the police, because it would mess up Ronnie's life. Now, of course, he knew the real reason. But back then, he'd gone off to the Army, gone to Nam, and had more than Leslie swimming around in his head. More than enough reasons to put himself in harm's way. Until he'd met Hannibal.

All these years, he'd never forgotten Ronnie's voice, telling him what Face had done. He'd racked his brain over the years, trying to remember the act and it tore at him that he never could. How could one forget killing someone like that? Many nights he'd wake up with nightmares, imagined memories of the murder swimming in his head. And yet, that's all it ever was to him - imagination. During conscious periods, it was a total blank. And now he knew why he'd never remembered. It had all been a lie. A vicious lie. Why? Why would Ronnie do that to his supposed best friend?

Face shook his head. He felt sick. Physically and mentally. He didn't know if he should feel anger, shame, betrayal, relief...He looked up at his friends, lost. Now came the worst part of this whole thing. Because now he'd have to tell Hannibal what a coward he had been...


*****

Murdock looked worriedly at his friend. He could only imagine the anger and betrayal Face was feeling right now. Taking this guy under his wing when he hadn't even heard from him in twenty years, only to find out that the bastard had lied to him in the worst possible way. And topped it off by stealing from him - that's the way Murdock looked at it anyway. Stealing.

"Face, I know it's hard to accept what Cousins did, but at least now you know what he's really like. A low-life, a murderer and rapist. He's not the guy you thought he was. You're better off without him, even if it did cost you to find out."

"You don't understand, Murdock." Face was speaking so softly the men could hardly hear him. "Ronnie... is not the only one to blame for what happened."

"Hey, you did what you thought was right for a friend, Face." Hannibal spoke up then, angry that Face would even consider sharing the blame for Cousins fleecing him.

"No, I'm not talking about now, Colonel." The formal title startled them all. "I don't give a fuck about now. I did that to myself. My choice." Face took a deep breath. "I'm talking about back then, back in college. The girl. The murder. Ronnie wasn't the only one involved."

"Face, no, man! That girl, she said herself you were too drunk to do anything. You didn't do anything wrong other than getting snockered, muchacho."

"She didn't know. She'd already gone. She wasn't there when I..." Face swallowed hard, "when I helped Ronnie bury the body."

The silence pounded in Face's head. He couldn't even look at his teammates. He didn't want to know what they were feeling, thinking. He pushed on.

"Ronnie...said that I had attacked the girl...that I had the fight with her boyfriend...and I had killed him. He said if we didn't hide the body, I'd go to the gas chamber. So instead of doing what I should have done, I looked out for me, good old number one. I helped Ronnie hide the body so no one would know a murder had been committed. I did it to save my own skin." His voice was heavy with disgust.

"You didn't know, Face. Ronnie lied to you." Murdock spoke as softly as Face had, but there was a pleading tone to it.

"That doesn't matter, Murdock. I acted on the truth as I knew it. Oh, I wanted to turn myself in later, but then I thought Ronnie would be tried as an accomplice, and I couldn't do that to him." Ironic anger in the voice now. "But that doesn't matter, either. I still tried to cover up my crime. And I continued to cover it up - for twenty years. Twenty fucking years..."


*****

BA had listened to Face quietly. He'd been angry at Ronnie. Angry enough to pound the guy into the ground, if he'd been there. But to hear what he'd done to Face, and Face's actions...it was almost too much. He wanted to smash his fist into a wall. Into Ronnie. Into Face. That thought didn't last long, though. It couldn't. This was Face.

He thought about the kids he'd seen back home. So many in the same place Face had been. Maybe not murder, but caught up in things they shouldn't have been and no one to tell them what they should do. No one except the same people that got them there in the first place. No time to find that someone who could give them the direction they needed. In a way, Face was lucky, going into the Army, finding Hannibal. Finding the Team. That had saved him, in the long run. In more ways than one.

He looked at Face, sitting on that couch, staring at the floor. The self disgust radiated from him. The kid shouldn't have gone through all that. He should have had somebody, somebody besides that jerk Cousins. Well, couldn't do anything about that. But he had somebody now. He had the team now. BA just hoped he realized that.


*****

Murdock was watching Hannibal. He would take his cue from him. Because Murdock couldn't think right now. Didn't want to think right now. Watch Hannibal. Or BA. BA was strong. He could handle this. Murdock couldn't. Hannibal was strong. He would know what to do. Murdock didn't. Murdock didn't want to be here. He wished he was back at the VA. Anywhere but here.

His eyes slid to Face. Fled from that. Didn't want to see him sitting there, didn't want to think about what he had done, what had been done to him. Didn't want to imagine what he had thought about all these years. Didn't want to think about him having that inside and not telling anyone. Not telling the team. Not telling him. Keeping it inside.

He wanted to make Face feel okay. He wanted to grab him and shake him and tell him it wasn't his fault. He wanted to make Face understand that it was Cousins that had screwed everything up. He wanted Face to quit blaming a teenager for not acting like an adult. But he couldn't move, couldn't talk.

He watched Hannibal. Hannibal would know what to do. And then so would he.


*****

Hannibal stared out the window, thinking. Knowing that Face had not only helped hide a body, but had done so thinking he was hiding his own crime, had shaken him badly. He knew the others felt the same. He forced himself to remember how old Face had been back then. Just a kid. Eighteen? Maybe not even that. Who knew? And no one backing him up except Ronnie.

He turned to look at Face. Still sitting on the couch, looking down at the floor. Couldn't look any of them in the eye. Ashamed. Afraid. Suddenly Hannibal wasn't looking at a fully grown man. He was looking at that scared kid who tried to act so confident. The same kid that had shown up at camp that day, needing someone to keep him alive even when he acted like he didn't care what happened to him. They'd all wondered at his carelessness with his own life. They thought they understood when they'd found out about Leslie. But now it made even more sense. The baggage he'd been carrying with him at that age...

"Just a kid..."

"What?" Face looked up, startled. BA and Murdock watched Hannibal, waiting.

The hell with it. Ronnie was the one who needed to pay.

"What name is the 'vette registered in, Face? We need to report it stolen. Stolen by a guy who's in violation of his parole."


*****

It had been a long three days. Hannibal had suggested Face stay with him, supposedly until he could find a new place of his own, but in reality because Hannibal wanted to keep an eye on him. The shame Hannibal saw every time their eyes met was so intense it made him uncomfortable. And yet Face would not talk about it. Preferred to punish himself by withdrawing as much as he could from them.

On the third day, there were several telephone calls, none of which Face paid any attention to. He sat on the balcony, nursing a beer, looking out at a beautiful vista but seeing nothing. Finally, Hannibal came out and rapped him on the shoulder.

"Okay, Lieutenant, time to snap out of it. Come with me." There was no questioning or arguing with that tone of voice. Face practically jumped out of the chair and followed Hannibal out of the front door.

There, shining in the new wax job BA had just finished, was his prized corvette. BA carefully wiped a last few spots off, while Murdock bounced behind the steering wheel, beating out a quick staccato on the horn, much to BA's displeasure.

"What...where...how...?" Face couldn't believe they'd found his car already. At all.

"The what's, where's and how's don't matter. But don't get all excited yet, kid. You get the car back under one condition."

Face looked at Hannibal, realizing that he was serious.

"You accept the fact that teenagers make some really stupid mistakes, but that doesn't change how your friends feel about you twenty years later."

Face looked at him, at the others. All three were now solemn and dead serious.

"I mean it, Face. First time you start wallowing in self-disgust after this, the car goes right back where we found it."

Face took a deep breath. Hannibal did mean it - and not just about taking the car back.

"Okay, Hannibal. Agreed."

"That's better." Hannibal grinned as he pulled out a cigar. "I love it when a plan comes together!"

"Hannibal!"


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