CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

August 23, 1975

4 Years, 6 Months, 21 Days

He knew something was wrong, just from the way she was walking. That odd combination of determination and bounce was gone. The energy was gone. That was the only reason he stepped forward then, instead of waiting for her son to get on the bus. He thought he was helping, thought she would know, when he offered to go with them to the fair. But from the look on her face, he knew he'd done something wrong. But then it was too late. He'd already promised the boy they would go, and then the bus came.

Face stood back, looking away. He wasn't sure if they'd discovered he hadn't been in that truck yet or not, but there was no point advertising his presence. The bus pulled away, but Jenny stood there, not moving.

"Jenny?"

He could see the shudder from where he stood. Voice breaking, tears running down her face, she told him that the Army had made it official, that Jack was dead. Rambling on about Mr Bellows taking it so hard, wanting to tell Bobby himself, how she had known for a long time. Explaining while she fought to get control. Then, for just a moment, she looked at him, and he knew, despite her words, she wanted comfort, support. He couldn't move, and then she was gone, hurrying into the house.

He didn't know what to think. How he should feel about it. She'd known her husband was dead. In her head. Then again, a lot of people knew Face was dead. Had she still held out hope? Deep inside?

Then it hit him. Her husband was dead. Jenny was...free.

And he had no idea what that meant for him. For them.


*****

Jenny was calm when he came into the kitchen, but her smile was tentative. He knew she would be occupied today, making arrangements, calling people. The usual rituals surrounding death, no matter how delayed. He felt awkward anyway. She looked at his clothes, dirty from yesterday's activities. He smiled, tentatively. Like hers. He was changing into his own now clean clothes when the first of what he knew would be many calls came. He quietly slipped out the door, promising to come back that night for the fair. Feeling stupid for having suggested it in the first place. Before he knew what was going on.

He wandered away from the farm, being careful to stay out of sight. Not for his benefit. The last thing Jenny needed right now was more trouble from him. Because of him.

He went to the island. When he wasn't with Jenny, this is where he went. He felt strangely at home here. No people. No buildings. No traffic. Like Laos. With notable exceptions.

He thought about Jenny's husband. Jack. Even though she'd accepted it long ago, Jenny hadn't really moved on with her life, not completely. Still acted as though she had a husband, that she was still 'spoken for'. And after all these years Jack's father had still been looking for him.

He couldn't help but let his thoughts shift to Hannibal. All those months in that camp Face had waited, staying strong because he knew that Hannibal was out there, looking for him. Knowing one day Hannibal would come blasting into that camp and take him home. And then Kyle had come, and told him...

They'd never even looked for him. And that's when everything had changed.

Face looked around, taking deep breaths. There was no point in dwelling on that. It was always there anyway, hiding in the shadows; no point in dragging it out to glare at him. No point at all. He had more important things to worry about.

He had to think. He hadn't been, the last few days. Hell, hadn't for a long, long time. Survival mode, that's all. But over these same few days...Jenny had treated him like a person. For the first time in years, he'd been a human being again. Not a prisoner, the quarry, a patient, or a bum. A human being. He hadn't been sure how to handle that. Now...

He knew half the men in the county would be looking at her now. Pretty, young, the now widowed daughter-in-law to the big man of the county...she might as well have a target painted on her back. That wasn't hard to figure out. What he couldn't figure out was how he felt about that.

He didn't even consider love when he thought about her. He couldn't think about her that way. That kind of feeling was still too far out of his orbit, maybe always would be...but he did care about her. She was...strong. Smart. But with a sense of humor. The way her eyes twinkled when she teased him. And she hadn't been afraid to tease him. Hadn't been afraid of him. Hadn't looked down on him...

He liked her. And he didn't like the idea of some of those yokels laying their hands on her.

Like that deputy.

He knew one thing. She had given him so much in such a short time, now it was time to give back. He wasn't sure how, or if he would be able to give her anywhere near what she needed now, or deserved. Hell, he didn't know if he had anything to give.

But he knew he was going to try.


*****

Face was starting to think he'd been more than just precipitous that morning. He had never gone to a county fair with a small boy before, and he found he was getting dizzy trying to keep track of where they were going next. He also hadn't thought about the number of people who actually went to these things. Touching was something he had yet to get used to, let alone like, and the fairgrounds were practically wall-to-wall people. He thought he'd been hiding it pretty well, until Jenny abruptly decided the two of them would go on the Ferris wheel while Bobby was busy with the latest kiddie ride. Face wasn't all that excited about the ride itself - something about being up in the air with no means of escape - but at least he'd be away from the crowds for a few minutes. He definitely needed the breather from that.

They had no sooner reached solid ground than Bobby was pulling Jenny toward the shooting gallery, eyes on the stuffed animals practically filling the booth. Face followed more slowly behind them.

Jenny shot first. She wasn't bad; actually hitting what she aimed at. It just took her forever to aim. And she was unable to hit enough in the time given to collect a prize. She was in the middle of apologizing to Bobby when the boy turned to Face.

"Kyle, you shoot now!"

He looked at the prizes, one a huge teddy bear. To win that he had to hit ten targets before the board flipped. He looked skeptically at the barker.

"That gun fire that fast?"

"That's what they tell me." With a smirk, the barker handed the air rifle over the counter.

Face took it, and brought it up. He hadn't held any kind of gun for a long time, but it felt natural. And he wanted that bear. Not just for Bobby. He wanted to wipe the smirk off that barker's face.

He squeezed off ten rapid shots. As the barker unhappily reached for the bear, Jenny grinned at him.

"A man of many talents."

He looked at her, wondering briefly if she understood exactly how he got that good. Or if it would matter. A discussion for another day. Maybe.

It was getting late, and they stopped for a quick lunch before leaving. Another thing Face had completely forgotten about - money. Not much you could buy for a dollar and change. It was embarrassing when he was forced to make no protest when Jenny pulled out her billfold, but she didn't seem to think anything of it.

They got their hot dogs and found a picnic table that didn't look too messy. Jenny was going to take Bobby to the bathroom, but she stopped and looked hesitantly at Face.

"Thank you."

He frowned, puzzled. "What for?"

"Making life nice again." She smiled, almost embarrassed, and headed off with Bobby.

He stared after her. How did she always manage to blind-side him? He'd been feeling that once again, she was taking care of his needs, and he'd been trying desperately to think how to stop that, how he could make things right for her...and she thought he already had.

He would have a lot to think about tonight.

He looked absently down at the hot dog. He hesitated a moment, consciously reminding himself that things had changed now. He took a deep breath, followed by a big bite. Relaxing, he settled back in the chair, his thoughts going again to Jenny.

He was sipping at the cola when he felt the gun stuck in his back, the voice of the deputy hissing in his ear.

"Make a move and I'll blow your guts out."

The weasel appeared at his side, hiding what was obviously another gun in an empty popcorn bag. In less time than it took to drop the cup on the ground, his wrists were handcuffed behind his back. Cece came over to the other side, blocking as much of their actions as possible. The deputy, Dave, pulled Face to his feet, and he glared at Cece as he jumped back. There was no mistaking Face's intentions toward that little bastard.

They walked quickly, but casually to the parking lot, and Face was shoved in the back seat of a station wagon. Dave got in on the other side, and Cece drove out of the lot. A few blocks later, Dave sidled up next to Face, pushing the barrel of his gun under Face's chin.

"Messing with Jenny Bellows got you in trouble, buddy. There's plenty of fellas in this county been wanting a shot at her, and now that Jack's dead, one of us is gonna get it. But not you. 'Cause you ain't gonna be here."

Face turned and looked Dave right in the eye, never saying a word. But in his head, Dave ceased to exist. This was the enemy. This was the man who would hound Jenny until she gave in. This was the man who had no love for Jenny, only greed. This was the man who would kill him, because Face would protect Jenny from him and anyone else like him. This was the enemy, and the only thing he saw now were Harry's eyes - and this time, he saw the fear behind them.

They pulled up to the granary, and Cece ran up and banged on the door. Homer, the one Face had shot with the arrow, came grumbling out. He didn't recognize Face at first, not until Dave sarcastically introduced him as "Robin Hood". When Homer shoved the shotgun through the open window, he was sure he'd have his head blown off right then and there. But Dave had something else in mind.

He was yanked out of the car, and pushed along into the granary. They walked down a narrow hall to an elevator of some kind, like a vertical conveyer belt. Cece went up first, and then Face was handcuffed to one of the handholds. He looked up as it started moving. A narrow tunnel, barely big enough for one man. Dark, so he couldn't really see the sides.

A tunnel like he'd seen before. Crawled and scrambled through until he could see the moon.

But there was no moon at the top of this tunnel.

The elevator moved up, slowly, steadily. Seven floors. To a storeroom. Hands once more cuffed behind him, Face was shoved into a chain-link enclosure. He kept his face wooden, emotionless. He wouldn't let these bastards know what he was feeling.

"Well, I hear you escaped two times. Hell, this oughta be a piece of cake for you." Dave's voice was heavy with victory. "Well, you get the urge, go ahead. Give it a try."

The three men chuckled as Homer padlocked the gate. Face turned to watch, quickly turning back when Homer looked up and smirked at him. He listened as the elevator slowly trundled back down, carrying his captors.

He was alone. He looked slowly at the metal fence surrounding him. Maybe eight feet square. About the size of their 'cell' in the cave. Above him, a single bright light hung from the ceiling. Just like the embassy storeroom.

He could feel it building. All his anger from earlier started seeping away, suffocated. He stared up at the light, not seeing it, hearing a voice, off in the distance, getting closer, closer every second. A familiar voice. Jeering. Angry.

Harry's voice.

Harry's face.

Looking down at him.


*****

At night, during the dry season, he could sometimes see the moon above him. Through the bamboo. He would watch for the moon, wanting its light. If the moon was out, it was easier to see if the snakes were coming.

Sometimes, he would fall asleep before they came. He would wake up, feel them coming down into the pit. Seeking his body heat. Feel them slide over him, until they found the warmest spot to sleep. He would lie very, very still.

It became second nature to lie very, very still. Not to move. No matter where they crawled, no matter how much they hissed.

If you didn't move, they didn't strike.

Sometimes he thought about moving. Thought about provoking them. So it would be over. But that would be a sin.

Sometimes he hoped the guards would forget about the snakes when they came to get him up. Then it wouldn't be his fault if they struck. But the guards always remembered. Always were careful to check, so they wouldn't get bitten themselves.

Most of the time, though, he was grateful for the snakes. Because Harry knew they were there. So if he kept still, he was safe from the snakes, and he was safe from Harry.

But there were nights Harry didn't care. He would make enough noise to wake the snakes. Face would hear them hissing, angrily. Feel them moving sluggishly at first, then suddenly they would raise up, wrap around the bamboo, and slither out. And then the bamboo would be lifted away. Face would close his eyes, and pretend not to feel the fingers grabbing his hair. Pretend not to feel the side of the pit dragging along his back as he struggled to get his balance and climb out before Harry lost his patience. Pretend not to feel...

He remembered seeing the footprints, in the mud by the river. He had made his way along the bank. A few yards further down he'd seen them. Tracks, at the very edge of the water. The only place the ground was still soft. Boots. Harry and the others had gone this way.

He looked around him once more.

Totally alone.

He turned, looking once more at the tracks, leading into the river.

He slowly waded in after them. The current pushed against him, trying to knock him down, but he staggered on. He would not be left behind. He would not let them throw him away. He would find them, and make them see him, make them take him with them. He would do whatever they wanted him to. As long as he could go with them.

He stumbled onto the far bank, falling on the rocks, cutting his hands, his knees. But he got up and searched for the footprints coming out of the water. Searched frantically until he found them, and then he followed them. He would follow them wherever they went. However long it took.

But they knew he was following. They hid their trail. One minute it was there, the next it was gone, invisible on the rocks and gravel. He stared around the jungle. Tried to get his bearings. He knew he had to go back. Find Dimitri. Find Dimitri and it would be okay. They wouldn't leave a prisoner, not one as valuable as the Russian. They'd go back for Dimitri. And when they took Dimitri, they would have to take him, too. They had to.

But he kept walking and walking, and nothing looked familiar. He couldn't find that cliff. He couldn't even find his own trail. And he couldn't find Dimitri, no matter how hard he tried.

And finally he fell to the ground, exhausted. He rolled over on his back, staring up at the canopy above him, crying like a child, a weak, simpering child, wondering why.

Why Hannibal hadn't come back...