CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

April 07, 1976

5 Years, 2 Months, 5 Days

He paced the floor, fingers playing absently with his lips. Every day he'd planned on this. And every day, he'd been unable to go through with it. Warring loyalties, ominous suspicions...damn his mind!

He slumped to the floor under the window. He really had tried to do what Hannibal asked. He'd quit writing the letters, and he hadn't put up a fuss when Richter suggested Father O'Malley stop visiting for a while. He'd taken down all but the one picture of Face, although he had hidden the rest away where the snoops couldn't find them. He'd done, in fact, everything they had asked.

But he couldn't stop thinking about him. Especially not after what Wiley had said that night. The night they'd gone out to celebrate.

No one had even mentioned Face. Murdock couldn't believe no one else remembered, but he'd kept his mouth shut. Hannibal had been angry enough that night. He remembered coming into his room and finding him standing in front of the calendar. And he'd just looked at Murdock like...like it made him sick to. But he'd just grabbed Murdock's overnight bag and walked out.

As the night wore on, Wiley was getting pretty tipsy. Well, they all were, except Murdock. They wouldn't let him drink anything but pop. But Wiley was getting pretty wound up, and who could blame him? He knew better than anyone that all that chemo was doing was postponing the inevitable. It was getting toward closing at the bar, and they'd started toasting things - people, holidays, non-holidays, anything they could think of, really. And finally, Wiley did it.

He got real somber, real calm, and everyone thought he was going to say something about the cancer. He took them all by surprise.

"And let us not forget our departed comrade in arms - Lieutenant Peck. The friend he should've been. May he rest in peace."

That had been puzzling enough. But Murdock, seated next to Wiley, and sober, heard and remembered the near whisper after.

"And may he one day let me rest as well."

Murdock suddenly looked up at the clock. Damn. Another hour had gone by and he hadn't noticed it. He missed so much of the day any more. One minute it was eleven o'clock, the next minute it was two.

And he still hadn't made the call.

Nibbling his lip softly, he stood and went to the door, peeking out into the hall. Nobody paying attention to him. They were getting used to him, he supposed. Sometimes he was deliberately batty, just to entertain himself. Other times...maybe that's where the time went. Off into his psychoses with the rest of him.

He took a deep breath, and stepped out into the hall. He wandered down toward the phone bank, keeping a wary eye out for the nurses, orderlies...and in particular, Dr. Richter. Richter hadn't liked his investigations. Hadn't liked that at all. Kept saying it was just a diversion from the 'real problem'.

He smiled innocently at any that passed by, looking at him with that now-what-are-you-up-to look. Luckily the phone bank was next to the door, so if anyone saw him there they would just think he was going out for a bit.

Richter was partially right. Murdock himself didn't know what getting all the nasty details about Face would prove. It wouldn't change anything. But it was like, until he knew everything, until he could tell Face's 'story', he could never lay him to rest.

He hung around the door for another few minutes, not only alleviate any suspicions but to gather his courage. And go over his speech. He'd practiced it so often it should slide right out of his mouth. Should and would were typically two different things in his case, though.

And, of course, as long he was involved with Face, he didn't have to think about Morrison. Morrison had started visiting again, glaring at him from the corner of his room. He'd learned from the last time, though. Knew how to hide from the colonel; it was really pretty easy. He just became somebody else for a while, until Morrison got tired of waiting for him to show up again.

He slipped out of the hall and into the phone bank. It wasn't really a room, by itself; just the end of the hall where they'd put a partition in to give callers a little privacy. If he took the first phone, he would be completely hidden from view. And it shouldn't take long. Not long at all.

He put in his coin, and listened for the dial tone, nervously peeking around the partition. He dialed quickly, waiting for it to be picked up, then waiting while the call was put through, again waiting for it to be answered. He heard the voice on the other end, and he forgot his well-rehearsed speech completely.

"Father? This is Murdock. Listen, I need you to find out something for me...I know, I know. But this is really, really important. I need to know if they ever found Kyle Hanson."


*****

May 22, 1976

5 Years, 3 Months, 20 Days

He flopped down under the shelter, drained. Again. He wasn't even sure how long he'd been gone this time. The days kinda ran together after a while. If he wasn't careful. He hadn't been careful this time.

He'd felt that buzzing in his body again. Spent a day just wandering around the island, getting more and more tense, more and more restless. He thought about going to the farm, getting the bike. But Jenny might be there, and she'd want to go along. He wouldn't have wanted that. He wasn't looking for that kind of sedate ride. He wanted to ride through hell.

Finally, when the sun was almost straight above him, he took off. Pulled across the ferry, and headed for the highway a couple miles away. He knew no one around here would give him a lift. Just as well they didn't know when he was gone, anyway.

Unfortunately, there was very little traffic on the highway. He tried to think what day it was. Sunday? Didn't matter. He kept walking. He kept his head down, trying not to look in the ditches, into the woods, across the fields. If he didn't look, he wouldn't see them. Wouldn't think he saw them. Sometimes he got confused on that. Couldn't really tell the difference between them being there and not. So he tried not to look at all.

He'd hear them coming.

By the time he'd walked the six miles to the next town, he was really wired. He'd tried to concentrate on his feet. Even counting his steps. But he couldn't keep that buzzing away, that feeling of being surrounded by...something. Making it hard to breathe. It was like being back in that hole. No room to move. No way of breaking free.

Caged without a cage.

He'd gone down a couple side streets. Deserted, or almost. If he saw someone coming, he detoured. Through a back yard, down an alley. Hid in a couple garages. Looking for something; he just didn't know what. Anything.

Then he saw it. Providence again. Had to be.

His Cadillac.

Okay, he knew it couldn't be his. But it looked just like it. Maybe not the rust spots. And the color was different. Hardtop, not a convertible.

But it was his now.

He turned, walked down a block, slipped into a back yard. He pulled the cap out of his coat pocket. Spoils of war. He'd found it floating after the battle at the ferry. That battle...so many times he'd wished he'd just kept going. Never stopped in that place. That battle had done something. Something it shouldn't have. Opened the door he should've kept closed.

He looked up the street. He didn't know why he was doing this. Trying to steal a car like that in the middle of the afternoon. Practically a one-way ticket to jail. But that's what made it worth doing. The 'practically'. The knowing that the only thing between him and jail would be his own decisions, his own skills, his own daring.

He pulled the cap low over his forehead, slouched a bit, pulled the gloves on. Felt a twinge of guilt; Jenny had given him those for Christmas. Light, fitted gloves, just right for the cooler winter nights of Alabama. Hands in his pockets, he started walking up the street, watching for anyone coming out of a house, looking out a window. Picked up a small stone, tossing it casually as he walked. Amazing what a small stone could do to a car window. In the end, he was somewhat disappointed when the car was unlocked. Two seconds to hotwire it and he backed out of the driveway with a squeal of tires, ripping down the street, out of town, hitting the highway.

Watching to see how long it took for the cops to show up.

And they had. Not like big cities, where stolen cars were a casual thing. Here it was probably the event of the month. Maybe even the year.

It had been something, all right. Leading those cops back and forth across the countryside. But in the end, it was the mundane that brought it to an end.

He'd run out of gas.

He gunned it the last mile, then ran it into a shallow ditch by a creek lined with trees and brush. He always kept an eye out for places like that. Places where he felt right at home. Where he knew how to hide, right in plain sight.

He ditched the hat. It was the identifier. With the gloves and that hat, they'd never be able to prove he was the thief. As long as he didn't get caught here. When the moon came out, he'd slipped away, gone cross-country. Slept in a field the next day, and moved out again after the sun set.

Old habits die hard.

It had taken a few days to work his way back home. He wasn't sure exactly how long. But he was glad to be back. He was out of energy. The buzz was gone.

The next morning he woke up, and he was still tired. Hungry. He wandered down to the farm, waiting until the big white Caddy drove away. Watched as Jenny looked over toward him, not seeing him, of course. Saw her sigh, and walk slowly back to the house.

Ashamed, he walked slowly to the back door. Knocked lightly. And waited to see if she would let him back in.


*****

July 15, 1976

5 Years, 5 Months, 13 Days

"But I had to stop you. And the only way I could was to get him away from you. I didn't know..."

Hannibal stepped away from the window, moving slowly to the foot of the bed. He felt the anger foaming inside, and forcibly held it in check. He had an idea what he was going to hear next, and he knew he didn't want to hear it. But Wiley was still his man, and it needed to be said.

"What happened with Dimitri, Wiley?"

"He did fall from that cliff. But Face didn't. He was down with Dimitri when I found them, but he was okay. Dimitri had broke both legs in the fall. Face wanted me to go get you guys, so we could bring Dimitri out of there. And I was going to. But then, on the way back to you, I knew...this was the make or break deal.

"The...lie was out before I really thought about it. And then I...I couldn't take it back. I knew what you would do, Hannibal. No matter what Face had in mind, you would've backed him up, maybe even taken it one more step. That's what you guys did. Neither one of you knew how to say no."

Hannibal opened his mouth to respond, but a look from BA stopped him. He nodded, instead. Wiley was using up all the strength he had to make this 'right'; arguing would only squander that, and in the end, be worthless anyway.

"I know it was wrong, Hannibal, but I had to make a choice. And I chose the three of us instead of him. I've lived with that for a long time. I should've known better. I should've trusted you more. But, there were so many things going wrong, I...I just couldn't take the chance."

Hannibal knew Wiley wanted, needed him to say he understood. Needed...absolution. Forgiveness. But Hannibal was filled with too many other things. Anger. Rage. Disbelief. Betrayal. He looked at the man in the bed, wasted away; the man he'd worried over, fought with, trusted with his life. Just as Face had trusted him. Just as Face had trusted Hannibal. He wanted to pound that man into the ground, and at the same time, he wanted to give him whatever he needed. The man he'd loved like a son was dying, for God's sake. And he'd just confessed to treachery of the lowest kind. He wanted to give him that forgiveness. He wanted to, so badly...

But Hannibal was thinking back to a villa in Saigon, and an overheard conversation.

"I just kept thinking of him, out in that jungle. Alone."


*****

July 17, 1976

5 Years, 5 Months, 15 Days

BA was washing up the breakfast dishes in the small kitchenette. Slowly, methodically. The dishes were stacked neatly to one side. One by one, he ducked them into the hot soapy water, scrubbed it thoroughly with the dishrag, then rinsed it under the faucet before placing it in the rack. Then he picked up the next dish. He put all his concentration on his task.

And then the dishes were washed, rinsed, dried and put away. And he stood in the kitchenette, just as methodically folding the dishtowel and placing it over the now empty dish rack to dry.

And he had nothing left to do.

He went into the small living room of the apartment he and Hannibal had shared the last couple of weeks. Heard Murdock in the shower. He'd been in there a long time. Normally BA would've hollered at him, but he was glad, today, that Murdock was taking his time. Glad for the pilot, because he didn't get a chance to take long showers at the VA. Glad for himself, because he needed time for himself.

Hannibal had already left for the hospital, taking a cab. He hadn't said anything, but BA knew he wanted to be there, just in case. That was Hannibal, though. No matter how he felt about what his men had done, they were still his men. Something he kept saying about the whole outweighing the part. As long as they did their job, as long as they looked out for the team, he could forgive them anything.

Almost anything.

That's where they all were now. Wiley had been looking out for the team. But he'd betrayed one of them to do it. Betrayed him in a way that could only have had one outcome.

Wiley had killed Face. Maybe not by his own hand, but...

But he'd done it to save the rest of them. Done it for the good of the team. That's the way he'd seen it. He had no other choice.

Only later, he'd realized what he'd done.

BA wandered out to the small patio. It overlooked the pool at the apartment complex. Nobody out there yet this morning. Empty. A little breeze blew through the leaves of the potted plants.

Quiet.

Wiley was BA's best friend. Had been almost from the very start. There wasn't anything about BA that Wiley didn't know, and BA had thought he knew everything about Wiley. No, he did know everything. Maybe that's why he wasn't really surprised when Wiley told them. Angry, yes. Disappointed? More than anyone could imagine. But surprised? No. That was what Wiley would have done. The way he would have thought. It wouldn't have had anything to do with his liking or disliking Face. He'd told the whole truth there. But the way he saw Hannibal and Face, the combination...that had everything to do with it.

He'd seen a threat to the team and acted on it. And because of that, BA had told him that he understood, that he forgave him.

Because of that, BA had lied to his best friend.


*****

Hannibal had arrived early that morning. Call it a sixth sense, intuition, gut instinct. He just felt he needed to be at the hospital. He'd left BA and Murdock back at the hotel. They were both having a hard time reconciling themselves to...everything; someone they considered a brother, dying, and at the same time, learning that he had betrayed one of them in the worst way...

It didn't really matter now, whether they were here or not. They had all done what they could to let Wiley know they didn't blame him, truth or not. It was what you did with someone who'd saved your ass time after time. And yesterday, while they were all there for him, he'd slipped into a coma, a little more at peace.

Hannibal pushed open the door to his room, heard that gentle swish over the noise of the activities in the hallway. Strange, how he could always hear that. He moved into the room, startled to see a nurse standing by the bed. She smiled softly and stepped over, taking him further from the bed.

"I'm glad you're here, Mr Bradley. It won't be long now. I'm sorry."

Hannibal nodded, returned the smile sadly and sat down beside the bed. He watched as the breathing got softer and softer, and thought about all the good things Wiley had done, and how Hannibal had relied on him for so many years.

It could've been so different. Should have been. Hannibal hadn't done his job. He looked out for his men, in more ways than one, but he hadn't looked out for his team. Only cared about how they worked together out in the boonies. Hadn't seen, clearly, how it was once they were back at base. How important that was. Kept putting off those discussions, put off making them clear the air, ignored the sniping.

Hannibal hadn't left Face back there. But he was just as guilty as Wiley.

Whatever Wiley had done, it was for the good of the team. The team that Hannibal had taken for granted. He wouldn't think about Face now, or about all the questions left unanswered. Time enough for that later.

One of his men was dying.

That was all that mattered right now.


*****

July 20, 1976

5 Years, 5 Months, 18 Days

Murdock carefully straightened his tie, adjusted his cuffs under the jacket, balanced his hat just so. He looked in the mirror, stepping back to get as full a view as possible. Straightened his shoulders, got that soldierly sullenness on his face.

Today he was a soldier again. Sane, somber, professional. He would not embarrass Hannibal with any outbursts. He would not disrupt with foolishness.

Today he would say goodbye to a friend.

Regardless of how much he hated him.

He would have liked to talk to Richter about that. How one could hate and love the same person, at the same time. Maybe he could figure out a way to do it, without telling Richter who Wiley really was. To tell about Wiley was to admit who Hannibal was, and BA. It would be difficult, under those circumstances, to tell Richter why he hated Wiley. And he didn't for a moment believe Richter would accept the sudden appearance of a new person in Murdock's life. Someone who was that important to him. Someone Murdock hadn't thought to mention before this.

He wouldn't be able to talk to Hannibal or BA. They weren't in any better shape than he was. They'd tried to talk it out, last night, but the words just kinda died. Hannibal had gone out, returning late that night. BA had gone out as well, taken the car to the car wash; so he said. Murdock knew it didn't take five hours to wash a car.

Ray was coming for the funeral, but Hannibal had laid down the law on telling him anything about Wiley's confession. Not that anybody argued. Why ruin Ray's memories?

Then, of course, there was the other thing. Murdock's own dirty little secret. Not Morrison. He would never, ever tell anyone about that. And that was purely out of selfishness. He needed the guys. He couldn't stand it if they walked out on him. He knew that.

But he needed to tell them about Face. About the camp. About Kyle Hanson, and Mathew Arnhold, and Ben Green. There had been too many lies. Face could never be at peace until his team knew the whole truth.

Never.


*****

Hannibal had expected a small funeral. A very small funeral - the three of them plus Ray, pallbearers provided by the funeral home. But Ray had insisted on taking care of the arrangements, and Ray could do things Hannibal and the others couldn't. When the remaining team members arrived at the small church, they were amazed to see nearly two dozen veterans in dress uniform waiting for them. Wiley might be buried in an unmarked grave far from his home, but he would go out with full military honors. Hannibal was, if not glad, then at least satisfied, with that, even if it was unofficially.

Things were not so satisfactory afterwards. Ray joined them at the apartment, reminders that they were still wanted fugitives notwithstanding. By mutual consent, they hadn't told him about Face, and Hannibal had no intention of telling him at any time. He gave BA and Murdock a warning look. As Murdock called it, his Colonel Look.

For a while it worked. With a couple of beers, they were able to put aside the darker things and talk about 'the days' with fond remembrance, laughing and smiling. But it didn't take a genius to realize that any time Face was mentioned, there was a pause, or a frown, or a sudden stricken look, no matter how quickly covered up.

"Uh, guys, I know you're thinking about Face. I have been, as well." Three startled men looked at him. "Well, I mean, that was such a...such a shitty way for it to happen. But you shouldn't feel guilty."

"Guilty?"

Ray looked over at Murdock, who looked sick.

"Yeah, I mean, we could give Wiley a decent funeral, but, with Face...well, things were just too hot for you guys back then. But, well, like I said, I've been thinking about him. I talked to my preacher, and if you guys wanted to come back in a couple Months, we could have a nice memorial service. Finally lay him to rest. It's over five years now; it's time."

Hannibal looked uncomfortably at BA and Murdock, but nodded. "Yeah. You're right, Ray. Five years is long enough. Time to put it behind us."

"Except for one thing." Murdock stared at the bottle of beer in his hands, a determined look on his face. "It hasn't been five years, guys."