CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

August 21, 1975

4 Years, 6 Months, 19 Days

He drove through the gully and up on the dirt track between the fields, pulling up and hiding the bike in the trees. From there he could see the back of the Bellows' house. It looked quiet, and he was about to head down when he heard a car coming up the drive. He looked quickly, watching as the deputy pulled up by Jenny's car. He watched as they talked for a while, and then the deputy drove away. Face didn't know if the guy was checking up on her, or if they had something going. Somehow, he didn't think Jenny would have much in common with someone like that.

He had another thought, but brushed that away. Quickly.

As soon as the deputy was out of sight, he rode the dirtbike down into the yard, figuring she'd be angry that he'd taken it. Angry that he'd come back at all.

Instead she smiled at him.

"Having fun?"

He looked up at her. Being chased by a bunch of gun-toting hillbillies, fun? Remembering how he'd left them, though...

She said something else, about the hurricane of '68. Trying to make conversation. He fiddled with the keys. He had to say something.

"Nice machine."

She told him she and her husband used to ride all the time. Gave her a sense of freedom.

"You feel that way when you ride?"

He looked up, over the hills and woods. Freedom?

"Yeah..."

She smiled at him again, and with a quick, "Wait here," she hurried into the house. He started to get nervous. Not that he thought she was calling the sheriff. Something else. This wasn't what he'd planned on. And when she came back out, dress replaced with jeans, he got even more nervous.

And yet he went with her to the barn, unloaded the second machine, and followed, willingly, as she took him down to the ferry, the only means of reaching a small island her father-in-law owned. She said it was the perfect place for the bikes. And she could ride. Both rusty at first, it didn't take long before they were tearing through the woods, taking jumps, hairpin turns, and...laughing. He had no idea how long they rode, he only knew that too soon their tanks were nearly empty, and they were back on the ferry. He began hauling on the rope, dragging it across the river.

She shook back her hair. "I didn't think I'd remember how to ride like that."

"Once you've done something you like, you don't forget." It was getting easier and easier to talk to her. To Jenny.

"Is it just as hard to forget the things you don't like?"

He concentrated on the rope. How was he supposed to answer that? Hard didn't describe it. Impossible. Harry...Kyle...Hannibal. They were with him every minute of every day. No matter how hard he tried to put them away, hide from them...they were stronger.

They'd always be stronger.

"You don't talk much, do you?"

"I lived in the jungle for eight months. I didn't talk to anybody...I liked it."

She didn't take the hint. "Wouldn't it have been easier just to tell Mr Bellows you didn't know Jack?"

"Maybe." Probably. But if he talked to Bellows, it wouldn't have ended with Jack. Bellows would've wanted to know what outfit Face was in, when, where had he been. Things Face did not want to talk about. Ever.

She said Bellows was a nice man, just obsessed with finding his son. Started talking about her husband. Face didn't care about her husband. He wondered if Hannibal had tried to find him. Before telling everyone he was dead...

"Why didn't you leave after you got away from those men on the bridge?"

He straightened, looked at her. Why? He'd tried. He'd only stayed because he needed Bellows off his back. But why hadn't he left after he told her? Or after he left those goons in the woods? Why had he come back? He looked at her. He couldn't answer that.

"Why didn't you turn me in?"

Her turn not to answer. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, and didn't have a chance to think about it. There was the sound of a boat starting up, and they watched as the one they called Big Ben took off up river.

They looked at each other. Trouble. Again.


*****

August 22, 1975

4 Years, 6 Months, 20 Days

He watched from the tree as Bellows said his goodbyes that morning and drove off. He waited a bit longer, until the school bus came and picked up the boy. He wasn't ready for that yet. He doubted the boy was, either. Once the bus was out of sight, he dropped out of the tree and headed for the back door. He stopped there. She had told him to come by for breakfast. All the same...

He rapped, hesitantly, on the door. Waited until she told him to come in.

"Since you when did you start knocking first?"

"Since I started getting breakfast." She laughed. He hadn't meant to be funny.

Now he was here, he again felt that discomfort, that feeling that he was trespassing, even when he was invited. He made a half-hearted attempt to at least straighten his hair, knowing it was useless.

"Go on in and sit down."

He'd never seen a woman who smiled as much as Jenny did. Not one that wasn't paid to, anyway. Even Dao Quy...

He stopped there. One of those places he wouldn't go any more.

Jenny kept herself busy around the house while he ate. His thoughts were on that guy from yesterday. Ben. There should've been some fallout from that by now. But Jenny hadn't said anything about the sheriff - or that deputy - coming around again, or calling her, asking questions. He didn't like that. He never liked it when things got quiet when all hell should be breaking loose. Always meant trouble.

Always.

He was just finishing the coffee - Jenny made very good coffee - when she came in with a basket of laundry. She tried to be subtle, polite, offering to wash up his clothes. He could feel his face get hot. She had some 'spare clothes' he could wear, and a bath in the laundry room...

He stepped into the bathroom. The clean clothes were already waiting on a hook behind the door. He looked around. It wasn't exactly tiny, but...he swallowed. He looked quickly at the door. A lock. But only on the inside. Okay. Inside was okay. He closed the door, turned the lock. Unlocked it. Locked it. Took a deep breath, looking around him again. The walls seemed close, but he didn't really feel like they were closing in. Not yet, anyway.

He slowly took off the coat, and dropped it on the floor. Next the boots, socks. He hesitated a moment, fingers on the shirt buttons. The shirt was like a second skin. He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken it off. No reason to. Until now. He methodically unbuttoned his shirt, letting it fall to the floor on top of his coat.

Reached for the button on his slacks. Came to a full stop. Looked again at the lock on the door. At the hospital, he had to take showers with the orderlies there. It was either that or have the door closed and he couldn't stand that. And he knew they watched. Just like the guards...

He reached over, double-checked the lock again. He knew there was nobody else here. Not yet. What if someone came while he was...No, Jenny would warn him. This was safe.

This was safe.

The slacks joined the shirt and coat. He could feel Harry staring at him. Looked quickly around the room. Empty. He turned on the shower and stepped under the spray, pulling the curtain automatically. Instantly he whipped it back, and leaned against the wall, shuddering.

Stupid, stupid, stupid...

It took several minutes before he could straighten up. Looked at the curtain, the room. Grabbed the shampoo and started scrubbing it into his hair. It was hard, because of the tangles, but he kept working it in, pulling when he had to. He scrubbed and rinsed several times before he felt it was actually clean.

He took up the soap next, looked at the wash cloth, then at the back scrubber. He grabbed the scrubber and started on his face. Scrubbing until it felt raw. Neck, shoulders. Felt that horseshoe-shaped scar on his shoulder, how Harry had given it to him. His face in the dirt, Harry's hand on his back. A short knife, with a blunt edge. Harry, smiling that way he did. That sudden swirl of the knife, laying his shoulder open, Harry's hand pushing his head down into the dirt so the scream wouldn't carry. And then the blade drawn down his back, slowly, until it pressed against his balls, and Harry, laughing that soft laugh. And then he'd just gotten up. Walked away. Laughing out loud. One of the other guards had slapped a bandage over the gouge on his shoulder before he, too, had just walked away.

Face shook himself, took a deep breath, forced his concentration on scrubbing again. Over his chest, where he knew the cigarette burns were almost invisible now. His sides, back. More gently there. The nerves still stung in some places. Then down his legs, ankles, feet, watching the dark water sluggishly swirling down the drain.

He finished the rest of his shower quickly. Even his own hands made him feel queasy. He stood for a few minutes in the still hot torrent of water, just letting it run over him, before finally shutting it off.

He dried off with a thick, soft towel. Wrapped it around his shoulders for a moment, savoring the softness, and the clean smell of it. Then he quickly wiped up the thankfully small pool of water on the floor. Next time he'd close the curtain. He would.

If there were a next time.

He looked to the sink. Smiled softly, shaking his head. A brand new razor, toothbrush and comb setting on the counter. It took some time, getting rid of the beard, combing through his hair, but he stood back from the mirror finally, looking critically at his reflection.

At least he looked clean.

Realizing how long he must have been in here, he quickly got dressed. Felt strange. Clean clothes. The shirt was soft, not like the shirts that came through the hospital laundry. Jeans, too. Without that disinfectant smell. He looked at the pile of clothes on the floor. Without that smell.

He unlocked the door and stepped out. The laundry basket was right outside the door, and he threw his old clothes in, taking one last look at the bathroom. It didn't look quite so small, from the outside.

He hesitated a moment before going toward the front room, where he could hear Jenny moving about. Wondering what else she had planned for her new 'project'.

He stopped at the door. Jenny was struggling with a curtain tieback, and she stared up at him.

"Oh, my gosh! I'll have to get used to you all over again!"

Once again, Face chose diversion over directness. He pointed at the curtain, offering to help. He took the hammer and knelt at the window, and was about to nail the tieback in place when he saw something moving across the road.

"Get away from the window!" He knew his voice came out harsh, but he concentrated on the figure by the tree outside. He stepped to the side, then moved to the other window. Seeing that was clear, he opened the gun cabinet, pulling a rifle. He heard Jenny's sharp breath. Still not as sure of him as she pretended. He took the scope off the rifle, moving back to the front window and using the scope to check out the intruder.

He handed the scope to Jenny, who instantly recognized Cece.

"I'll go outside. If he's got a gun, rap on the window."

He moved out on the porch, casual. He felt relatively safe; he doubted if Cece or anyone else who might be out there would take a chance shooting at the house. And, like Jenny, he knew that there would be more, either now, or on their way. He also figured the sheriff wasn't involved this time. Not this way.

He waited a minute or two, then just as casually moved back inside. Jenny was still watching through the scope.

"He called someone on a radio."

"Then we wait."

He took the scope, watching Cece. Jenny, worried, headed out of the room and a moment later, he heard the piano. Louder, more strident than before. He smiled. Her way of dealing with the frustration.

He turned back to the window, and within a short time, saw the line of trucks go past the farm, a sheriff's car in the lead. Had to be that deputy. He shook his head. About as subtle as a jackhammer, these guys. He had a pretty good idea where they would set up their trap, too. That trail out of the gully was a little too obvious. He should've thought of that before.

Too late now.

He walked in to where Jenny was still playing, a little softer now. He hated to interrupt her, but he had things to do.

"They're here. I'm going to take a look around."

"But what if they start shooting?"

Face answered before thinking. "I could take a gun and start killing a lot of them." Then he saw the look on her face. Smiled, trying to reassure her. "I don't think I'll have to. Just keep them busy until Bellows gets back."

He left the house, trotting toward the ravine. He took his time, making sure he was seen going down into the brush at the bottom. Then he crouched down, started scrambling along the bottom, toward the far end. They'd be expecting him to come straight out, and into their ambush. He had other ideas.

The road was a long curve, and he came out at the far end of the trucks. He moved along the row, wanting to get to the deputy's car at the head of the line. That should have exactly what he needed.

He opened the door carefully, and there it was. A box of shotgun shells on the seat. He took it out, carefully pulling the shells apart, pouring the gunpowder back into the box. All the time, watching the men on the other side, hiding behind trees, waiting for him. He didn't have much time.

He reached in, pulled the hood release. It banged a bit, and that big guy turned, loudly telling the rest to quiet down. Face would've laughed under other circumstances. He felt under the hood, found the ignition wire, gave it a jerk and pulled the loose end over the hood. He poured some of the gunpowder on the ground under the car, a rock holding the wire in the middle of the pile. Slowly he crept back, shaking out the powder as he went. He kept moving from one vehicle to the next.

When the powder ran out, he crawled under the car and cut the gas line, gasoline pouring out onto the road, following the slope to the next truck.

He was ready.

He sneaked up on a big red pickup. In one fast move, he opened the door, hopped in and started it up. With a squeal of tires, he backed it down the road, swinging it around and racing away.

He heard the first explosion - the deputy's car. Then a series of them - if all had gone well, they'd gone from seven vehicles to two now. He grinned.

Two he could handle.

He powered down the road, grinning like a hyena. He hadn't felt like this in...Then he saw Cece, running up the road towards the truck. The spy...

He revved the engine and headed straight for him. The twerp finally realized his mistake, took off running the other way. Face got right up next to him, reaching out, grabbing the back of his bib overalls and shoving with all his might. Cece went flying down into the ditch as Face started laughing.

It had been a long time...

He took a cutoff, knowing exactly where he was headed. The gravel pit he'd seen the other day, before he took the bike back to Jenny's. It was perfect. And he knew these yokels would be thinking the same thing.

He swung the truck between the sheds and machinery, coming out behind one building, and cutting between the two pursuers. The yellow pickup, loaded down with men in the back, was right on his tail now.

Right where he wanted them.

He raced up a high hill of gravel, following the truck path, pouring on the speed, knowing the driver behind him would be determined to keep up. But Face had an empty jacked-up truck, not an older heap overflowing with people. He also knew when to turn, and slurred around the corner, laughing as the other truck kept right on going over the edge of the pile, bottoming out and throwing its load out and down the hill.

One down. One to go.

Luck - and the cloud of dust slowly filling the gravel pit - was on his side. Sarge couldn't see, and rammed headlong into the foot of another hill of dirt. Face sat at the top of the hill, looking down at that Jimmy, just waiting for him. He gunned the engine, and raced down the hill, hitting the bump just ahead of it, shearing off the top just above the seats. He landed hard, pushing the top and grill of the Jimmy ahead of him as he roared off.

He didn't know if that Jimmy was still drivable, but he was taking no chances. He headed for town, racing past the Bellows' house, honking at Jenny as she stood by the drive. Moments later he spotted the nearly demolished Jimmy, a speck in the rear-view mirror.

He tore into town, letting the other drivers rabbit out of his way. Swung around a corner just as he spotted the sheriff across the street. Time to put an end to it now. He headed for the river, where he'd seen the bridge was out.

He pushed the accelerator down. He had to keep these guys close enough to see where he was going, but not close enough to see what he was up to. He yanked part of the fishing rod off the rear window, wedging it between the seat and the accelerator. He drove through the barriers as he came up on the river, opening the door, and at the last minute, leaping from the truck. He landed hard, tumbling down the steep embankment, coming to a sudden stop just shy of hitting the water. He painfully climbed up into some weeds, just in time to see the truck make its descent into the river.

He listened to the mix of gloating and moaning from the men as they ran up to the edge of the missing bridge. They were quite sure their troubles were over - until the sheriff came stalking up, hauling the deputy away to 'explain things'.

Face waited until all but the hapless truck owner had left before he made his way along the river bank, headed back to the Bellows'.

And Jenny.