CHAPTER FIFTEEN

November, 1969

The entire building had been locked down. Hannibal, much to his disgust, had been forced to wait in the agent's office while a search was made. But you don't argue with the investigative arm of the Army. They weren't just enforcers, like the MPs, and they weren't corrupt locals like the White Mice. They meant business With Peck's career and maybe more on the line, he didn't intend to aggravate them. He did check the file cabinets, under "P", but they were locked tight. One day he'd have to learn how to break in with some finesse; for now, all he could do was stare at it.

It was nearly an hour later that he heard a siren, coming fast. He watched out of the window as it pulled up to one of the back doors, held open by several MPs, and the medics rushed in.

Hannibal paced the office for a long time. A very long time. Finally he saw the medics come out with a man on a gurney. Even from the office, he could see he was badly beaten. He watched as the ambulance started up and tore off in the direction of the hospital. Minutes later, the CID agent came slamming through the door, glaring at Hannibal.

"Come with me."

Hannibal didn't question him. He followed the agent out to his Jeep, and they raced after the ambulance. At the hospital, Hannibal tried to stay out of the way, but at the same time, he was watching.

Wondering if Peck would also be there.

He'd wandered outside for a cigar when the agent, Brookmeyer, finally came looking for him. He didn't look happy.

"He'll be okay, but he's bashed up pretty good."

"Did he say what happened?"

"Not quite. Said some Arvin came and took him down in the basement, then another guy came in and beat the shit out of him, trying to find out where his buddy, Mark Elkin, was."

"Could he ID the guy?"

"Strangely enough, no. But I have a pretty good idea who it was, just like you do."

"Elkin? That's the killer?"

"The alleged killer, yeah."

"So did this guy tell you where Elkins is?"

"Only after I threatened him with being an accessory after the fact for whatever happens to the bastard. I've got some men on their way now."

Hannibal dropped the cigar and smiled softly. "Shall we join them?"


*****

He looked up at the stairs leading to their...his apartment. It seemed to go up forever. He wondered, ridiculously he knew, if he started up them, and kept going, and going, for as high as they seemed to go, if he would find Dao Quy waiting at the top.

No.

Maybe if it was a ladder.

Jacob's Ladder.

Yeah.

No.

He shook his head, which was a mistake. If it hadn't been for Lam Thanh grabbing his arm, he'd would've gone down right then and there.

Lam Thanh. He'd owe him big time now. Big time. Especially after the cops came calling. Soon.

They started up the stairs, slowly. So slowly. He was surprised when they were suddenly at the top. He'd only taken a couple of steps. Hadn't he?

Bed. He really needed to lay down. Sleep. No, forget the cuts. Forget them. Doesn't matter. Just let me sleep.

No!

No, not in there. Never in there. The other room. The other bed.

Not our bed.

Not her bed.


*****

When they arrived at the address, Brookmeyer's men had yet to enter the building. They had it surrounded, and a few MPs were standing by a group of Vietnamese at the corner. Brookmeyer went over to confer with his men, and then came back to stand by Hannibal.

"Had a bit of crowd problem." He nodded at the group on the corner. "Friends of Elkins, looks like. Somebody must have tipped off the Americans."

Hannibal looked puzzled.

"This is the area of Saigon where a lot of AWOLs head for. Another reason we came out in force. The Americans generally disappear, but sometimes their 'protectors' get a little rambunctious. Don't like to see their meal tickets hauled away."

"So is he in there?"

"That's what we're told." Brookmeyer frowned.

"Problem?"

"Something we're not being told. They saw something, know something, but they aren't talking. So we're going to move a little slower than we normally would."

"You think the guy that beat up the Marine is here?"

"Might be. Or been and gone. We're about to find out." He signaled his men, and they began moving in on the building.

Just like walking into a village when you didn't know whose side it belonged to.

Hannibal didn't realize he'd been holding his breath until one of the MPs stepped out of the building, minutes later, waving at them. He and Brookmeyer both took off at a fast trot. When they reached the door, the MP shook his head.

"Gone?"

"Dead, Sir."


*****

As they'd expected, it didn't take long for the MPs to show up at the villa. Lam Thanh was long gone. He couldn't be found at the villa.

How long it actually took him to wake up he had no idea. Must have been some time, because the MPs weren't real happy when he finally got down to the gate. He knew they would take one look at him, battered and bruised, and know they had their guy. He hadn't expected to be treated like royalty, but he was a little surprised with the vehemence in which they got him into their Jeep.

Maybe they knew Cook, too.

The ride to CID was rough. He'd stiffened up, in bed, and now he was feeling the bruises as they hit every pothole they could see. His head hurt. A lot.

Then they were going inside. The lights were bright. Really, really bright. He wanted to cover his eyes but the MPs were holding onto him. He was taken into some kind of office, shoved into a chair. Then the MPs left.

He put his head down on the table. He couldn't sit upright any more. He just wanted to go back to sleep.

He heard the door open. It took him a second, to brace himself, but he sat up. Blinked, trying to focus.

Two men. One of them looked familiar.

No. Couldn't be. He didn't even know...

First thing the one guy wanted to know was what happened to him. He started to tell them, then remembered. Had to concentrate now. Remember.

"I got mugged."

That made the guy mad. Figured. Guy wanted him to confess. Make his job easy.

Tough shit.

Man, he was tired. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a second. Just a second.

"Lieutenant Peck!"

Shit. Would that guy ever shut up?

Then the second guy started talking. Sure sounded like Hannibal. Couldn't be. The colonel was up in...Nha something.

He sounded angry, too. But he was talking to the first guy. Good. He really didn't want to listen to them anyway. Either one of them.

He heard the door close. Looked up, surprised to see the second guy was still there. More questions. Stick to the story. The story.

Wait. He forgot. Damn. Concentrate. Had to tell them...alibi. That's right. Had to give them his alibi.

That second stop. The visit with the White Mice. All on the record. Sorry, guys. I was being mugged. I was reporting it. I was with Lam Thanh. Call him. He'll tell you.

The door opened and the first guy came in. The two of them talking, keeping their voices low. He closed his eyes.

Then he was being led out of the office, down the Hall of Lights, outside. No Jeep this time. Cab. Nice. Nicer, anyway.

There were those stairs again.

No Dao Quy at the top, though. Not for him. He automatically took a right, headed for the guestroom. Somebody took his arm, tried to take him in...there. He jerked free, stumbled into the right room and fell on the bed.

Saw Dao Quy waiting for him as his eyes closed.


*****

Hannibal closed the door softly, grabbed his coffee from the counter and walked slowly out to the patio. The sun had moved so it was beating down on this side of the villa now, and he sank into a chair, trying to get his thoughts together. Hard to think when it was so hot, and yet it didn't seem to take away the chill he felt.

He'd rushed back to CID headquarters after sending Murdock back, arriving shortly before the MPs arrived with Peck. After doing more fast-talking than he'd imagined possible, he'd gotten Peck released into his custody. Peck hadn't said one word to him the entire way back to the villa. Not even a thank you.

Not that Hannibal could blame him. He looked liked he'd been through the An Lao Valley, and more than once. Hannibal had offered to clean up some of the rougher looking cuts and gashes, but Peck just waved him off and went to bed.

In the guestroom.

He was still sleeping, as far as Hannibal could tell. He imagined Peck hadn't slept much the last few days. Or eaten. Or anything else except plan...

Planned too well. Or not enough. Hard to tell. Hannibal shook his head.

Typical.


*****

"I am sorry to disturb you at this time of night, Lam Thanh. But we have a serious situation on our hands, and your name has come up."

Lam Thanh smiled benignly, and stepped back from his door. He watched Brookmeyer carefully as he passed. The major was nobody's fool, that Lam Thanh knew. But he also knew his own position with the Americans. There were many things they would close their eyes to, to keep Lam Thanh 'cooperative'.

Nevertheless, murder was a serious matter. For the Army, they were more concerned with this Marine. For Lam Thanh, and thus some of his connections, avenging the death of one of their own was much more important.

He offered the major some refreshment, and made himself comfortable. He knew Brookmeyer would have many questions, but he had his answers ready. Not for the first time did he find himself admiring his American friend, Peck. Even in his grief, or maybe because of the cold anger it brought, he was able to come up with a plan that satisfied both their needs, and yet neither could ever be blamed for it. At least, not in any court.

He smiled to himself, only half-listening to the major's ramblings. Neither man could be blamed, and yet Lam Thanh could take credit for it. So, too, could the lieutenant. He may not have considered that before, but Lam Thanh knew that at some point, that would be of great use to him.

Great use, indeed.

"Yes, Major, I can indeed verify the lieutenant's story. As a matter of fact..."


*****

The phone rang, and Hannibal hurried to grab it before it woke up Peck. It was Brookmeyer. He didn't sound happy at all. Peck was to stay put for now; they were still checking out his story, although so far everything seemed to mesh.

Hannibal hung up, smiling cynically. He'd known the story would check out. Mugged. Right. But Peck had a witness, and they'd actually gone to the police and reported it. Had pictures and everything. Nobody would point out that he looked worse when the MPs picked him than he had immediately after the mugging. Because the witness, an 'old friend', had said he'd stayed with Peck for several hours after they left the cops, to make sure he was okay. No one was going to accuse this 'old friend' of lying. Because he had 'connections'.

Hannibal went out to the patio, where the sun was now hiding behind the buildings across the street. Sat down, thinking.

Brookmeyer knew Peck had beaten up that Marine. Knew it, couldn't prove it. Hannibal knew they could both live with that. Bastard deserved it.

But Elkins was another matter.

They'd gotten the path report back. He'd been beaten to death; that was obvious. But the path report couldn't tell them by whom.

Hannibal sipped his drink. Watched as the glow from the sunset dimmed.

Brookmeyer was positive Peck was involved. Knew he'd had at least a part in both beatings. Knew it. Couldn't prove it. Not yet.

Brookmeyer believed it. Hannibal didn't want to.

Hannibal heard the bedroom door open, and he stepped inside. Peck was standing in the living room, pouring a drink at the bar. He looked a hell of a lot worse in the daylight than he had last night. He looked up at Hannibal, expressionless, and slowly made his way back to the bedroom, his drink sloshing onto the carpet as he went. The door closed, and Hannibal heard the lock snap in place.

He shook his head, refreshed his own drink, and moved back to the patio.

Couldn't prove anything. Not guilt.

Not innocence.


*****

Brookmeyer threw the papers down on his desk and headed for the coffeepot. He nearly threw that down when he discovered it empty. He looked at his watch. Two in the morning.

"Winslow! Coffee!"

He went back to the desk as his harried corporal rushed in. Picked up the coroner's report. There had to be something he was missing. He began reading once more, barely noticing when the corporal set a cup of coffee on the desk and slunk out of the office.

Brookmeyer picked up the photos. Those they'd taken at the crime scene, and the coroner's. Hard to believe one man could do that to another.

Hard to believe one man could have done all that damage.

One man...

Brookmeyer picked up the coffee, stared at the photos.

Then he saw it.


*****

Hannibal was rummaging in the nearly empty kitchen when he heard the bedroom door open. He looked up to see Peck, dressed only in a pair of rumpled jeans, wander out to the patio. He got a good look at the bruises and scowled.

If that was from a mugging, he was Queen Victoria.

He took the last two cups of coffee out to the patio, and placed one on the small table in front of Peck before sitting down opposite him. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, and then plunged in.

"I'm sorry about Dao Quy, Lieutenant. Very sorry. I wish you'd let me know."

"And that would have changed anything?"

"No, but...I think it would've helped if someone had been here for you."

Peck looked up at him, and the bruises and cuts there almost made Hannibal wince. Peck's words did.

"I have friends here, Colonel. You'd be surprised."

Peck did not want sympathy. That much was obvious.

"Okay, maybe we should talk about one of those friends. The one that helped you out the other night. And exactly what happened."

"I gave my statement."

"I know what you told CID. I want to know what really happened."

Peck leaned back, and Hannibal could practically see the calculations and strategies running through his head.

"What do you think happened, Colonel?"

"I don't think you were mugged, for one thing."

"Okay."

"So were you?"

Peck smiled sarcastically. "No, I ran into a door."

"Did you beat up that Marine?"

"Which one? Someone said there were two."

"Look, Lieutenant, maybe you don't realize the trouble you're in. This isn't some little scam of yours."

"The trouble is over, Colonel. It's done. Believe me."

"Because of your friend? You really think he can keep you from a murder charge?"

Peck actually went pale at that, but went doggedly on. "There won't be any murder charge. I didn't kill anyone." He picked up the cup, and looked over it at Hannibal. "Or do you think I'm lying about that, as well?"

Hannibal hesitated. He didn't want to believe it. No. Peck might have beaten the hell out of the sorry bastard, but...Then again, this was about Dao Quy.

Peck put the cup down and stood, slowly. Waited.

"No, Lieutenant. I don't think you'd do that."

Peck nodded, otherwise expressionless, and went back to his room.

Hannibal sat for a while longer. Wondering if he'd hesitated too long.

Wondering if he, himself, had told the truth.


*****

Brookmeyer pulled the Jeep up in front of the villa and stepped up to the gate, noting the memorials along the fence. Frowning, he reached up and rang the bell. He was about to ring a second time when he saw Colonel Smith coming down the stairs and across the courtyard. He stopped on the other side of the gate. Didn't unlock it.

"I take it this isn't a social call, Major. You need us down at headquarters?"

"No, Colonel. Actually, I'm just heading home, but I thought I'd let you know that your man is free to go."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah. We found a mark on the body. Type of thing the local street lords like to use as a reminder not to mess with them. I figure someone didn't like his merchandise being murdered, decided to make an example of him."

"I see. So you're going after her pimp."

"We'll be working with the White...local police, yeah." He knew Smith understood it would go no further. You couldn't find a more corrupt group than the National Police.

"Okay, Major. I appreciate your coming here and letting me know."

"Do me a favor, Colonel. Get Peck out of here, before any more trouble comes his way."

Smith nodded and turned, heading back up to the apartment. Brookmeyer looked up at the balcony, saw Peck standing there, watching.

Brookmeyer clenched his jaw and stepped to his Jeep.

"One day, Peck, one day..."