CHAPTER FOURTEEN

November, 1969

He didn't know how many times he'd gone out to the patio, stared down at the gate. Lost count long ago. Each time, willing Dao Quy and Pin to suddenly appear, flustered and embarrassed at being so late.

And they were late.

Terribly late.

He wandered back inside, picked up his glass from the bar, and swallowed the Scotch in one gulp. Poured another. Stared at the clock.

Sitting on the couch. Drinking the Scotch. Moving into the bedroom. Looking at the suitcases. His. Hers.

Patio. Staring at the gate.

Another Scotch.

Staring at the clock.

He was in the kitchen, fiddling with the stove. That one burner never would light properly. Dao Quy was always complaining about it. He should've fixed it before.

The bell at the gate rang.

Loud.

He was across the courtyard before he realized he'd even left the kitchen. Fumbling with the lock, opening the gate.

Staring into the street long after Lam Thanh had stepped inside.


*****

"So you're going to let him?"

"Yeah, Wiley, I am. With some ground rules. But I'll discuss those with him."

"What about her? I mean, we gotta..."

"You guys will treat her like you would any other lady. And I do mean 'lady'."

"Hannibal, she's..."

"BA, I know what you're thinking. I know what you're all thinking. But I've met her, talked to her, and she's not just another bar girl. She's...a real lady." He shrugged.

"But, Hannibal..."

"Hey, c'mon, guys. We all know this has nothing to do with her. Right? But you better remember one thing - if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here. Period. He's always done his job, and he's taken care of this unit. I don't care what he used to do, I don't care what people think he's done, and I don't care what he's doing in his personal life. He's always looked out for the team, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the only thing that matters. It's about time we cut the kid some slack."

Wiley and BA glanced at each other, and then Wiley looked over at Hannibal.

"So she's nice?"

"She's very nice. She was a physical therapist at the hospital. Then her old man got into trouble with the politicos. She's just doing what everybody here is doing - surviving."

"So Peck - he really...I mean..." BA scowled and looked at the floor.

"Yeah, BA, I think 'he really'. I also think we're going to see some real changes in him. For the better. But we have to meet him halfway. He's part of this team - time we started acting like it." He grinned suddenly. "And the first step is to quit calling him 'Peck'."

Murdock looked up from his seat on the floor, frowning at first, then smiling. "You got something in mind, Colonel?"

Hannibal grin grew even wider. "Just so happens, I do."


*****

Focus.

Focus. No different than out in the boonies. Don't see. Just do your job. Don't see the kids, the old women. Don't see the blood, don't hear the cries...

Focus.

"And Pin?"

Lam Thanh shook his head. "He was badly beaten. He is an old man, Em."

Focus.

"Do the police know who did it?"

Lam Thanh sighed. "Yes, but..."

"But?"

"There are...complications. The men were...Americans."

Focus.

"Military?"

"Yes. Marines."

He looked across the room. The suitcases just inside the door.

"Names?"

"I can get them."

He nodded, and Lam Thanh left, the door closing softly behind him.


*****

Murdock stuck his head in the door, frowning.

"Nothing yet, Colonel?"

"Nope." Hannibal kept working on his reports, not looking up.

Murdock hesitated, then stepped inside, casually moving along the length of the table.

"Something on your mind, Murdock?"

"No. We just thought they were supposed to be back a couple days ago. Just...wondering."

"They had planned on coming back then, yes. But his leave isn't officially over for another four days. Obviously they decided to wait."

"But wouldn't he have let you know? I mean...well...let somebody know?"

Hannibal put down his pen and rubbed his eyes. Stared at Murdock for a moment, thinking. He should've heard something by now. Peck wasn't answering his phone, and every other avenue he'd tried, official and otherwise, had been blocked. Something had happened down there, and it was something someone didn't want Hannibal involved in.

"How soon could you round up a chopper, Murdock?"


*****

Lam Thanh looked at him from across the room.

"We know where four of them are. The Army has them, and they will be transferred to Long Binh tomorrow morning."

"Is he one of them?" His voice was quiet, calm.

"It appears no. They found one, he gave up the others. But none will say where the last one is. All they know is he is hiding somewhere in Saigon."

"They know where he is."

"I think so, yes. But they will not tell the CID. They are more afraid of him."

"I need to talk to the first one."

"I don't know if I can arrange that. It is...difficult."

"Difficult?" He turned, and Lam Thanh could see what the last few days had done to his friend. "Difficult? No, it's not difficult. This," he grabbed a framed photo from the table, held it above his head, "this is difficult!" He threw it violently against the wall, and Lam Thanh winced as the glass shattered.

"I need to talk to him." The voice was calm, quiet once again.

Lam Thanh sighed, nodded. "I will arrange it."


*****

It had taken Murdock a while to round up a chopper. It wasn't like getting a rental car, after all. He wished Hannibal realized that. But then, ever since Peck - no, change that - ever since "Faceman" had come into the fold, Hannibal expected everybody to produce at the drop of a hat.

He was running through the pre-flight checklist now, after letting Hannibal know he'd finally gotten the okay. Hoped to hell his CO didn't check into this. Although when someone from SF called on them, they usually didn't question it. That wasn't their job - ensuring a successful mission was.

Murdock wasn't sure about this one. Whatever Hannibal had in mind, it didn't bode well for the LT. Then again, Murdock was pretty sure Faceman was in plenty of hot water already. He figured Hannibal had the same feeling. The colonel seemed to have a sixth sense about things like that.

He jumped a bit when Hannibal climbed aboard. He hadn't even noticed him coming up to the bird. Better get his head on straight.

Straight as he could anyway.

Hannibal looked at him, and he nodded back.

I'll be fine, Colonel. Always am, once I get in the air.

It's on the ground that it gets dangerous.


*****

The Marine was shoved into a small storage room. The door closed, and he was left in total darkness. He'd known there was something wrong shortly after he'd been taken from his cell. That the guard was Vietnamese didn't bother him; a lot of Arvin had guard duty. But this one had smiled at him.

Not a nice smile.

He'd thought, at first, it was just another interview. The CID kept pulling him in at all time of the day and night, trying to trip him up, make him tell where Markie was. He kept saying he didn't know. And he'd keep saying that. After seeing what Markie did to that whore, his lips were zipped, man.

But it wasn't another interview. They'd gone a different way, down into the basement, past what must have been the boiler room. For a minute, he thought maybe Markie had bribed the guards, was going to get him out.

But then he'd been shoved in here.

He couldn't hear anything out in the hall. He hollered a few times, but no one answered, came running. He felt his way around the room, bumped into a small table in the middle, and felt metal shelving along the walls. Couldn't find a light switch.

He found the table again, and sat on the edge.

Waited.

Sweated.


*****

Murdock tossed his helmet on the seat, shut the door and hurried after Hannibal. He almost collided with him at the abrupt stop.

"You wait here, Murdock."

"What?"

"I don't know what's going on, okay? So if all you know is that I commandeered this bird and its pilot, there's no trouble."

"Colonel, what's going on?"

Hannibal shook his head. "No trouble, Murdock. That's all you need to know." He started walking away, then turned and looked back.

"Stay with the bird. Just in case."

Murdock watched, mouth open, as Hannibal disappeared into the night.


*****

The door opened, suddenly, and the light from the hall nearly blinded him as he scrambled up and away from the table. Not enough so he didn't see the man come into the room. Then the bulb overhead, high up on the ceiling, flickered on, the door closed, and he looked, squinting, at the new occupant.

It took him a moment to realize this was not another guard. Another moment to see the wooden baseball bat in his hand. And the calm look on his face.

He wasn't the smartest man in the world, but he knew he was in a world of trouble. He had a pretty good idea who this guy was. But he was a Marine, after all. He'd been in combat, and more than a good share of bar fights. He'd just as soon not be here, but he wasn't going to back down.

The man looked at him for a moment, then smiled and slowly placed the bat on the table. Stepped back, still smiling. Almost...inviting him to grab it.

The Marine licked his suddenly dry lips.


*****

The gate was closed, locked. No lights in the villa that Hannibal could see. He rang the bell. Waited. No sign of the caretaker. What was his name? Pin.

He rang the bell again, and stepped back, looking up and down the street. Then he saw them.

Small bouquets of flowers, placed against the wrought-iron fence. Candles burned down to mere stubs. He stepped closer.

Two small pictures.

One was of the caretaker.

The other...

Hannibal stared bleakly up at the dark villa, then began climbing over the fence.


*****

Lam Thanh was waiting nervously on the corner. He heard someone coming down the street, stumbling. He stepped around the building and collided violently into him. For a moment, he thought his friend was going to hit him. Instead, the man fell back against the building, breathing hard. Even in the low light of the street, he could see dark blood on him.

"You are hurt. I will take you..."

"No. I've got the address. Get your people. He'll have friends there."

"I'll call them. But let us handle this. You should not be involved any further."

Peck pushed himself upright, took a deep breath, slowly let it out.

"I'm going. You can have him when I'm done."


*****

It didn't take long for Hannibal to realize the villa was empty. He stopped, looking at the suitcases just inside the bedroom door. What the hell had happened? Car accident? And where was Peck?

He moved back to the living room, grabbing the phone. It took a while for the operator to understand his garbled Vietnamese, but eventually he was put through to the local police station. After more fumbling, they were able to find someone who spoke English.

At the mention of Dao Quy, there was a sudden silence. The voice on the other end came back cold, impassive, suggesting he contact the military police.

The line went dead.

Hannibal hung up, feeling icy cold. Minutes later he was on his way to CID headquarters.


*****

"I can't believe this. Why wasn't I told before now?"

"On our end? Because we just got handed My Lai on a platter, that's why. The last thing we need is some other damn reporter finding out about this. Our orders were to keep it quiet, at least until we find that jerk off that killed them. What I'm wondering is why didn't Peck contact you? You're his CO."

Hannibal had an idea, but he wasn't going to bring this guy into team business. He looked coldly at the agent. "You know what this is really all about."

"Doesn't take a rocket scientist. Those jarheads don't know when to quit. Just one more reason to keep it quiet." He pulled some papers out of the desk drawer. "You're not going to like this any better. JAG contacted me this morning."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. Peck was...put in touch with this woman through a man who's very prominent. Has a lot of connections both in and out of the government. Connections that certain people don't want compromised."

"So even if you find this murdering bastard, they're going to cover it up!"

"Not my call, Colonel. I know what I'd do with them, but...tomorrow morning they'll be on their way to Long Binh. One year hard labor, dishonorable discharges, heavy fines, five years suspended sentences if they keep their noses clean up there." The agent shook his head. "They want them out, they want them quiet."

The door to the office slammed open, and both men jumped as a corporal practically fell in.

"Sir! One of the prisoners is missing, Sir!"


*****

They'd made two quick stops, one so Lam Thanh could call in his men, before going to the address Peck had gotten. They stayed in the car at the end of the street, waiting. They'd hardly spoken since getting in the car back at the Army brig. Lam Thanh straightened up when finally, after what seemed like years, he saw his head man come out of the dilapidated building in the middle of the street.

Peck, who had been staring out the side window, didn't react at all.

Lam Thanh's man came up to the driver's window and bent down, speaking softly. Standing back up, he looked up and down the street, carefully tucking the revolver in his belt and covering with his jacket. Then he nodded.

"Okay, Em. The man you are looking for is inside. His friends are gone. I'm asking you now, to let this go. Think of Dao Quy. Would she want this?"

Peck stared ahead, at the building which two men were now guarding. He sat for a moment, then looked at Lam Thanh.

"No, she wouldn't want this. But then, she's dead, isn't she?" He stepped out of the car, and slowly walked up the street.

Lam Thanh watched until he entered. He sighed deeply and nodded to his man by the car, who followed Peck inside.


*****

Murdock woke with a start. Hannibal was pounding on the windshield of the chopper.

Loud.

He blinked as the rising sun struck him in the face, and more or less slid out onto the tarmac.

"Hannibal, damn, where you been? You look like..."

"Never mind that. You go on back to Nha Trang, let Darnell know I'm going to be down here for a couple more days. Tell him I'll explain when I get back."

"Colonel, what the hell is going on?"

"Peck's been arrested."