CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

October 26, 1973

2 Years, 8 months, 24 Days

Roy Cleary stared up at the wall of his office. At that piece of paper in the beautiful frame. "Doctor Royal Cleary, PhD, Clinical Psychology." Sounded so grand, so official, so...knowledgeable.

So why couldn't he get his patient to put on a pair of pants? Or stop running at walls? Or eat?

He rubbed his eyes and turned back to the file on his desk. The answer had to be in there some place. Something to give him the key, open the door, if only for a moment. Some way to connect with the man.

The interview the Army conducted with Mathew Arnhold, describing in detail (except where the Army had blacked out locations and units) his first meeting with Kyle Hanson and Templeton Peck. The conditions they were living in. The escape.

Nothing there described the man in the 'rubber room'. Undoubtedly he felt the same guilt Arnhold did about this Peck taking the flak to keep the other two healthy enough for the escape; and Peck's death undoubtedly added to that, but that was the 'normal' survivor guilt all soldiers felt to some degree. Certainly nothing to cause this kind of behavior.

The report from Benjamin Green offered more insight. Finding Hanson in the second camp, the conditions he was held in...like an animal. No way of knowing how or when he'd actually escaped, or how he'd survived before being picked up.

He looked disgustedly at the third and final file, from the Saigon Embassy. Thankfully the doctor there had been detail-oriented, but he definitely had no idea how to handle someone like Kyle. And the initial treatment...

There had to be something.

Shaking his head, he headed once more for the padded room where they had been forced to place the sergeant. They'd put him in a secured room at first, and he'd nearly destroyed it in his attempts to escape. Orderlies had managed to get him dressed in the regulation hospital pajamas twice, only to have him literally rip them off again. Food plates were thrown against the walls. Dr Marquez had strongly urged tranquilizing him, but Roy had been afraid someone would get hurt in the attempt.

He stood, watching through the small window, as Kyle made another run at the door. He couldn't do any real harm to himself in there, other than exhausting himself. Which was the only time he stopped. This time, he fell to the floor, and started pounding on it with his fist.

Roy knew why he hated being locked in. Green's report made that obvious. But they couldn't very well let the man run naked through the halls. Why did hate those pajamas so much? They were just thin, flimsy...

Arnhold. Arnhold's description of the prison garb - thin, flimsy, pajama-like trousers. Worn constantly, day after day, week after week...

He hurried down to the basement, where the patient "store" was. Donated items the patients could buy for 'tokens'. He grabbed one of the volunteers and together they started searching.

Twenty minutes later, he stepped carefully into the 'rubber room'. Kyle had immediately gone to the far corner, as he always did when someone entered, but his eyes were glued to the door behind Roy.

Waiting.

Roy smiled, and lay the nearly new pair of soft corduroy slacks on the floor.

"I thought you might like some 'real' clothes, Kyle."

He smiled again, and carefully backed out of the room, slipping through the door before Kyle could get up.

It had taken him some time - suspicion was still the SOP - but after nearly two hours, Kyle had put on the slacks.

And then proceeded to ram the door.


*****

December 22, 1973

2 Years, 10 Months, 20 Days

It had taken some doing. First, convincing the doctors, and then getting Murdock to agree to try. But, after a full four weeks of 'good behavior', Murdock was given a pass to spend Christmas with his 'uncle'. Considering how long he'd been confined to the hospital complex, Hannibal decided they would go up north, do some wilderness camping. They all could use some time away from the city, not to mention a good old-fashioned workout.

Now, Hannibal sat at the top of the hill, watching. BA was coming up fast, but not as fast as he used to move, and Hannibal wasn't real happy about that. Murdock would keep up, for a while, and then stop to check out some flower or bug or frog - or maybe nothing at all. And then he'd run to catch up again. That was okay with the colonel. Letting him run off some of that pent-up energy was one reason for the whole trip.

Wiley was further down the hill, and it was obvious he was struggling. He started out good, but almost immediately started losing speed, and he was breathing hard. He finally stopped completely several yards from the top, bending over, coughing and spitting. With a frown at the others, Hannibal headed down the hill.

Wiley had straightened up by the time Hannibal reached him, and gave a small chuckle, followed by another cough.

"Sorry, Hannibal. Too much soft living, I guess."

"Are you all right, Wiley?" There was no humor in Hannibal's voice.

Wiley sobered. "I don't know. I thought I'd picked up a bug, but that was almost three weeks ago. I, uh...I've got an appointment set up, see what's going on." He smiled. "God bless employee benefits, huh?"

Hannibal just shook his head. "Maybe we'll take it easy this week. Oh, don't worry," he forestalled Wiley's protest, "we'll be working out. But more along the lines of building up, not toning. And you let me know if there's any problems, got it?"

"Sure, Hannibal. Uh," he nodded up the hill, where BA had Murdock in a vise grip, "we'll probably get enough exercise just keeping those two apart."

Hannibal grinned. Some things never changed.


*****

January 16, 1974


2 Years, 11 Months, 14 Days

"I think he's making good progress, don't you agree?" Roy smiled as they looked across the cafeteria.

"Well, if you consider keeping his clothes on and eating to be progress, I suppose he has." Jeff shook his head and sat down at the staff table. "He's still refusing to eat any meat."

"So he's decided to be a vegetarian. Nothing wrong with that."

"And he still won't shower unless we leave the door open - which, I might add, has caused more than a few problems with other patients."

"Jeff..."

"He doesn't talk, won't take his pills, and he still can't - or won't - control his aggression. He's spent more time in lockup than any other patient."

"You call it aggression, but he sees it as defending himself. And I was going to talk to you about that lockup business. I thought it was agreed that was doing more harm than good."

"Carrot and stick, Roy. He ignores the carrots, so..."

"So every time you put him in there, I have to practically start all over again. He cannot deal being locked up. That's been quite obvious from the start."

"Then he'd better start learning how to follow the rules. Look, I know the guy must have gone through shit in that camp, but so did others and they didn't fall apart."

"Don't even start with that Slap-Them-into-Shape Patton crap, Jeff. Nobody knows the details yet because he won't talk. And your method of treatment is not going to change that. Sometimes I wonder why you even went into psychology."

"To help the guys that really need it. Soldiers." Dr Marquez abruptly stood and left the cafeteria, shooting the object of their argument an angry look.

Roy sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the table. He and Marquez had locked horns before, but never like this. He would have to talk to the administrator; Jeff's interference with his patient had to stop.

So maybe he was being overly optimistic. Kyle had made progress, but only to the point where he didn't need constant supervision. The 'panics' had nearly disappeared, and most of the more primal behaviors had as well. But...

He stood, and looked over at the sergeant. Sitting by himself, as usual, in the far corner. He'd more or less staked that out as his. Roy sighed. Kyle's lunch sat on the table in front of him, untouched, while Kyle stared through the window.

No, he didn't need constant supervision, but he did need someone to help him focus. Another thing to discuss with the Administrator. He'd requested a volunteer 'helper' for Kyle a couple weeks ago, but so far none had been assigned. Not surprising, really. The sergeant's reputation from those early days hadn't diminished with time.

Shaking his head, Roy headed over to the table.

What he really needed was a friend.


*****

May 29, 1974


3 Years, 3 Months, 27 Days

BA looked over at Wiley. His best friend. He knew there was something wrong, but he'd been pretty sure of that for some time. And it wasn't just that flu thing that kept hanging on.

"So you gonna tell me or just sit there and stew about it?"

"About what?"

BA fixed Wiley with that "don't screw around with me" look.

"I just have some things on my mind." He coughed, shook his head. "I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old. You know, you start thinking about things in the past..."

"Like Nam?"

"Well, yeah."

"What for?"

"I don't know. Just thinking about things that should've been...different."

BA snorted. "Like the whole damn thing."

Wiley looked out of the open garage door, watching the light midday traffic on the street.

"I've been thinking about Face."

BA slowly put the wrench down on the cloth covering the fender, and turned to look at him. "Ain't much point in that, is there?"

"Didn't do right by him, BA."

BA picked up the wrench again, started wiping it off. "Ain't nothin we can do about that, either. Not now."

"Do you ever...ever think maybe we were...that we..."

"We did what we did. If I was to do things different...hell, I prob'ly wouldn't even been in Nam. But I'd'a give him a little more slack, yeah. But Murdock said he was okay with us. Said that priest told him that."

Wiley let out a deep breath, coughing a little again. BA scowled at him.

"So what's with that bug, man? You had it a long time. Too long, huh?" Wiley didn't answer, and BA again turned to look at him. "Wiley?"

"It's cancer, BA."

The wrench hit the concrete floor with a wringing echo. "What!"

"Yeah. They, uh, said there's kind of a spot here, a spot there. Kinda...all over."

"Oh, man..."

"I don't want you to tell Hannibal. Or Murdock. Not yet."

"Why not? I mean, Murdock, yeah, but Hannibal?"

"Hannibal's got enough on his mind right now, with that movie deal. He's really excited about that, y'know? I'm not going to bring him down. I mean, it's not like there's anything he can do about it."

"Yeah, but..."

"But nothing. I'll tell him when I have to." He looked at the floor, and then up at BA. "I won't wait long, BA."


*****

December 1, 1974


3 Years, 9 Months, 29 Days

"So, there's been no further progress?"

"These things happen. You have to look at it in terms of a process, not necessarily progress."

"Hmm." Major Shows tossed the file down the desk in front of Roy. "The Army, unfortunately, doesn't measure things that way. We look at results. And the results here are abysmal. The man's barely functioning."

"He's not that bad, Major. He had a bit of a set back the other day but he's always come back from those."

"Comes back, yes. Moves forward? No, I'm afraid we need to face some hard facts, Doctor. He's been here over a year. Only the special circumstances of his capture have kept him here this long. Once they read my report, I'm quite sure they'll start preparing to discharge him. Honorable, of course, but he'll be done as far as we're concerned. So..."

"So...that means I have to get him transferred to a VA hospital, and hope that he can adjust."

"Well, you have some time. The discharge won't go into effect until the end of the month."

"That's great, Major. That's just great. You know as well as I do how hard it is to find an opening at the VA. Especially for someone like Kyle."

Major Shows frowned, settling his hat carefully on his balding head. He sighed. "Tell you what, Doc. I'll hold off on my recommendation until the end of the month. If he shows any significant progress - and I mean, progress - toward at least being able to take care of himself, I'll try to postpone the discharge until you can find a spot for him. Maybe a halfway house. But that's the best I can do."

Roy glared at the door as it closed behind the major. He had to come today, of all days. That damn orderly, Willoughby, knew better than to grab Kyle. He moved slowly, but he did as he was told eventually. Damn impatience. And Kyle paid for it. Well, Willoughby would have that broken nose to help him remember...

Roy tossed his pen across the room. He'd have to talk to Kyle. He wouldn't answer, but he listened.

And the man wasn't dumb.


*****

March 13, 1975


4 Years, 1 Months, 11 Days

"You look a little down today, Captain."

Murdock softly chewed on his lip, looking at the bottom of the doctor's desk. New guy, but he seemed okay. Another one of those "don't-answer-without-asking" types, but he was used to that.

"Captain?"

"Yeah, well, I got some bad news."

"Bad news?"

Murdock looked up, head tilted, eyebrow raised. "Yeah, that's what I said."

Richter just waited.

"A friend of mine has cancer. And my...uncle isn't taking it too well."

"Is your uncle taking it worse, or better, than you are?"

"He's like family, okay? He was...he is...he is family. Practically the only family either of us have. Han...my uncle is worrying, a lot. And he's mad. 'Cause he's the kind of guy that wants to do something. About everything. And he...can't."

"The prognosis isn't good."

"No. Well...that's the hard part. They're gonna start chemo, and radiation, too. So it's not like he's gonna die. At least, not right away. But they don't know."

"And so you don't know how to deal with it. You want to be there for him, but you need to mourn, and all at the same time, you want to run from it all."

Murdock stared at him. "Yeah. Exactly."

Richter leaned back in his chair, staring back at Murdock. "You don't want to do this again, do you? Either of you."

"Again? What do you mean?"

"Your lieutenant."

Murdock shifted angrily in his seat. "That was different."

"Yes, but also the same. You're going to lose another friend. And this time, instead of torturing yourself because you weren't there for him, you have to live through his dying, day after day after day. You need someone to lean on, and instead, others need to lean on you. You don't want that, and yet you want to be there for your uncle, for your friend, because you don't want him to die alone like..."

"That's enough, Doc. Okay? Enough."

Richter watched as Murdock physically forced himself to stop shaking, tempered his breathing. He nodded slowly.

"Okay, Murdock. Enough. For today."


*****

April 21, 1975


4 Years, 2 Months, 19 Days

Roy set the phone down very carefully. He felt, for a moment, what Kyle must have been feeling for so long. Frustration, anger. Helplessness against the stupid, idiotic crap the world handed out.

The phone slammed into the wall.

Let them take it out of his pay.


*****

Face paid little attention to the twittering voice beside him. He looked around the room. Small, with four beds. Two men sat facing each other on the far beds, playing cards. There was one window in the middle of the wall. He could see the brick building across the alley through it.

"Okay, Kyle, I'll let you get settled, then. Lunch is right at noon. I see you don't eat meat; I'll see what we can round up for you today, and then we'll have to see about getting you back on track there. All right then, see you downstairs in a bit."

The woman practically bounced out of the room, and Face looked more closely at the card players. Charlie and Dean, the woman had said. They paid no attention to him. He moved toward the bed in the corner, noticing Kyle's name on a cardboard sign above it. Block letters written in black marker.

He sat on the bed, placing the small duffel with his belongings on the floor next to it. Looked up at the low ceiling.

Twenty minutes later, the cheerful little woman came up the stairs, looking for him.

Then she called Dr Cleary.