CHAPTER TWELVE

October, 1969

Peck had come out of the dark corner almost as soon as Hannibal had spoken. Stared at him for a split second before shaking his head and limping painfully for the alley. Hannibal moved to help him, but Peck almost spat out, "Pin!" and the caretaker ran to his side. Hannibal stood for a moment, watching as Peck took his seat in the Jeep, and Pin scrambled to get behind the wheel. Peck frowned over the back of the seat at him.

"Coming, Colonel?"

Taking a deep breath, Hannibal marched over and climbed into the back of the Jeep, and Pin took off like the very Devil was after them.

The ride back to the villa was long and silent. Pin, apparently wanting to ensure they were not followed, took the longest possible route. At least, it seemed that way. Finally even Peck had had enough. He said something and Pin took an immediate right turn, and within just a few minutes they were parked in front of the villa.

Pin hurried to unlock the gate. Hannibal climbed stiffly out of the back and stood by Peck, who hadn't moved.

"You going to let me help this time, or you want to sleep in the Jeep?"

Any retort Peck planned on making was cut short when Pin came back, and between them they helped Peck out of the Jeep, through the courtyard and up the stairs to his quarters. Dao Quy met them at the top of the stairs.

Hannibal relinquished his hold, letting Peck's 'wife' take over, and wandered into the living room as she and Pin maneuvered the ailing man into the bedroom. Pin came out a few minutes later, and waited until Hannibal looked directly at him.

"Yes?"

"Sir, Mr Butler wish talk with you, but Madam say not tonight. She wish you to stay, be guest."

"Mr Butler also wishes me to stay?"

Pin looked down.

Hannibal sighed. "Okay, Pin. Thank...Mrs Butler for me. I would be honored to be her guest."

Pin nodded, obviously relieved, and hurried back into the bedroom. Moments later he showed Hannibal his room and the bar, and made his escape from the apartment, leaving Hannibal to his own devices.

This was definitely not turning out the way Hannibal had planned it. He figured he'd come down here, find Peck in some hotel, rip him a new ass, and then they'd go back to base.

Instead...

He could hear, faintly, the murmur of voices from the bedroom. Uncomfortable, he wandered out to the patio, idly pulling out a cigar. The patio formed an L-shape, the longer side running along the front of the villa, the short end disappearing around the side, obviously connecting with the bedroom Peck had taken refuge in.

Fancy digs, all right. Very fancy.

Shaking his head, he reached for his lighter, moving to a chair in the inner corner of the patio. He was about to sit down and light up when he again heard their voices.

He didn't intend to listen. He really didn't.


*****

"I'm not sure how things could be going so well, and still be going to hell. I mean, we escaped. Escaped! It could only get better. It can't get better and worse at the same time. One way or the other. That's how things are supposed to work out, right? But it didn't.

"These guys didn't trust me as it was; didn't even like me. I knew that. Then they had to haul me around like a...I tried to make amends, split up my share of the food, but then Ray...I thought he was going to bite my head off. But hell, I had no appetite. Why throw food away? He didn't see it that way. He was so mad...I knew I'd lost him, too.

"Anyway, then Shipley took off. He just...lost it. I don't know if he knew what he was doing when he left, or thought he did, or if he was just in outer space.

"He was a nice guy; you could tell, even though he was so quiet, you could still tell. I liked him. And I just kept thinking of him, out in that jungle. Alone.

"I think I was glad the pain in my knee was getting worse. It made it hard to concentrate on anything but that. I was out of the action. I didn't have to be part of it any more. I didn't have to try any more.

"I didn't have to think anymore."


*****

Hannibal sat, unable to move, staring at the wooden block that made up the floor of the patio. Following the grain with his eye. Staring.

Ray had never told him Peck was giving away his food. Hannibal didn't know Peck and Shipley had even talked.

And Peck had never given any indication he was aware of how the others felt about him. Not once had Hannibal seen anything but that cocky grin, laughing off the comments like they were just good-natured ribbings.

What else hadn't he noticed?

He sat, unable to move, staring at the wooden block that made up the floor of the patio. Following the grain with his eye

Not really seeing them.


*****

"Cook was...Cook was a good guy. When we'd stop, rest breaks, he'd stay with me, talk, if we could. Said he had a wife back home, and a daughter. He was going to join his brother in some kind of electronics business when he got out.

"It was hard, hauling me around like that. The ground was rough, trees all over. Cook tripped once, and I slipped, must've yelled a bit. He felt so bad, but it wasn't his fault. I tried to tell him that, but he just kept saying 'I'm sorry, man, I'm sorry.' He had nothing to be sorry for, but he just kept saying it..

"Then...the colonel set us up to get rescued. We heard the choppers coming in. And suddenly, Cook and BA grabbed me, started running toward the birds. Hurt like hell, but I didn't care. I just wanted to be on that bird. BA shoved me up, and the other guys pulled me in. I was sitting near the door, and they pulled BA up next, and then...

"I saw Cook, reaching up. One of the guys next to me...I just saw his arm, reaching down...and Cook reaching up. And I wanted to reach down, and help, but I couldn't move...my leg was in the way...and I saw his face...when he...when he got hit...his eyes just got wide...and blood...out of his mouth...all over...he just fell back, away from the chopper and then we were going up and I could see him...down on the ground..."


*****

Hannibal remembered it. How Peck had been so quiet, after Wiley spoke to him. Calm. Hannibal thought too calm, considering. Meant to talk to him, but it was too loud in the chopper, and then the medics had hauled him off before Hannibal had a chance...

He should've talked to him. Later. At the hospital in Nha Trang.

He should have.


*****

Dao Quy closed the door softly behind her. For a moment, she was tempted to turn back around, join her Faceman in sleep, forget all about the trouble this colonel had brought to him. To them.

He wouldn't tell her anything that had happened tonight. When she asked why the colonel had come, or what this trouble was he had spoken of, he just shook his head. He thought Smith wanted nothing more to do with him; he wouldn't explain why. If he didn't understand why, or just didn't want to talk about it, she didn't know. Too many things she didn't know.

And only one person who could - or would - tell her now.

"Hope you don't mind."

The colonel was at the bar, holding up a filled glass. He looked tired. She shook her head, tried to smile. She would play hostess, for her 'husband's' sake, but she must have her answers.

"He asleep?"

"Yes. His leg is very bad. He should not have gone tonight."

"You got that right." Dao Quy looked at him, sharply. There almost seemed to be more regret than reproach in his words.

She steeled herself. What she was about to do went against everything she had been taught. She walked steadily over to the bar. The colonel watched her, seeming to know his night was not over.

"I am sorry, Colonel Smith, but I must speak frankly with you. I must know what happened between you and my husband. He will not tell me, and I cannot help him if I do not know."

"You keep calling him your husband - you know he isn't, not really. You know that when his leg is healed up, he'll be going back to the Army, and you'll be left here."

Dao Quy straightened up, dignity filling every inch of her small frame. "I know this. I knew that from the start."

"Yet you still want to help him? Get involved with things that have nothing to do with you, things that will be his life after you're gone?"

"Is that so hard for you to understand? Is that not why you are here, to help him, even when he is no longer part of your life?"

"No longer...? What do you mean?"

She looked at him, confused. "He said you wanted nothing more to do with him, that that is why he came to Saigon. But he wouldn't say what had happened."

The colonel sighed, and placed the glass, halfway to his mouth, slowly down on the bar. Stared at it for several minutes. Dao Quy waited.

"I made a mistake, Mrs Butler. A big mistake..."


*****

"That's enough, Captain." Turning back to the hapless Marine in his grasp, he rasped, "You get your asses out of here, and if I see one jarhead anywhere near these men again, I'll come down on you so hard, you'll wish you were back in Khe Sanh!"

The Marines, glaring and wincing, struggled to their feet and moved sullenly away. Hannibal watched until they were out of sight and turned on his lieutenant.

"Now, you want to explain yourself, Lieutenant?"

"I just don't want any more trouble, Colonel. They're hotheads, nothing more."

"Hotheads, huh? They were about to do some major damage, Peck, not only to you, but to Murdock. And you just want to drop the whole thing! Why? You press charges and this whole damn thing gets put to rest."

Peck looked up at him, and anger was in his voice.

"What whole damn thing, Colonel? You mean Cook? That's not going away. They told me what those gooks did to him after we left. Told me what they found when they went back for the body. What was left of it. Is that what bringing charges will erase?"

"That was nobody's fault. It's a war, dammit. People die."

"Then what would change, Colonel? What did you mean, it would get put to rest? What else is there? The camp?"

Hannibal felt that warning growl in his head, telling him to back off, cool down. He ignored it.

"Yeah, Lieutenant, the camp. And what you did there."

"Colonel..." Murdock took a step forward, but Hannibal's glare almost physically shoved him back.

"Just what did I do, Colonel?" Peck's voice was soft, cold.

"You tell me! You tell me, because so far, you haven't told anyone just what your scheme was. I know you got Lin to help us out, but was that the original plan? Or did that happen after you hurt your leg? When you knew you'd need help yourself, after an escape?"

"Is that what you think?"

"That's all I'm hearing! The only thing you've told anyone is that you 'buttered him up'. For who? For us? Or for you? If you're some kind of fuckin hero, tell me exactly what you did, what you said, so I can answer the questions the brass are throwing at me."

"You know damn well what I did, Colonel! He's laying in a grave on his parent's farm!"

"Is that what you want to do then? Divert all the attention to Cook? Take the blame for that, focus the anger on that? Why? So no one does look too closely at what you and that gook had planned?"

"That's it, Colonel. You hit the nail on the head. I wondered when you'd finally figure it out."

It was at that point that BA and Ray had pulled Hannibal away, practically dragging him off the patio, away from the hospital itself. Wiley had stared at Peck for only a moment before following.

The last thing Hannibal saw was Peck, head in his hands, with Murdock standing angrily beside him.


*****

"I lost my temper. Lost my control. The next thing I knew, he'd rigged the paperwork and taken off."

"You really believe he was collaborator?"

"No! No, he may be a lot of things, but...no. And if I'd had my brains in gear at the time, I never would have said those things. I should have realized he felt guilty about Cook, but at the time, all I could think was that he was just feeling sorry for himself, using Cook...I was wrong. But he never gave me the chance to tell him."

"So now, you come to help him. To...make amends."

"Yeah. Something like that."

"Even though you do not trust him, even yet?"

Hannibal's head jerked up and he stared at her. Sighed.

"I trust him to a point. I see...potential. I don't want him to waste that. Screw it up. But, no. I don't trust him completely."

"Very well. You trust him to a point. I will trust him the rest of the way. Between us, maybe we really can help him."

Hannibal looked at her, smiling at him. Confident. Trusting. He smiled back.

"Faceman, huh?"


*****

When he awoke, much later that morning, his first thought was Smith. The second was the pain in his knee. Third, what he was going to tell Wrenn.

He kept his eyes closed. It seemed like a very good morning to stay in bed.

He heard the bedroom door open, and the smell of hot tea and that porridge Dao Quy had made into an art form.

Fourth thought - he was starving.

He opened his eyes, watching as Dao Quy strode to the side of the bed, placing the tray on the bedside table.

"I have a message for you, from your colonel."

"My colonel?"

"Yes. He had to leave early this morning, but he said when you are through...goldbricking...you come see him. He said to tell you his list is getting longer every day."