CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

October 3, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 1 Day

"His daddy, huh?" Sheriff Pough stared hard at Hannibal, slowly chewing on a bit of apple. He held the remainder of the apple in one hand, the jackknife in the other, and carefully cut through another slice as he stepped slowly to the window. He nodded at the van parked in front, where BA and Murdock waited. "Don't spose those are yours, too?"

"They're with me, yes." Hannibal allowed a tinge of anger and impatience into his voice. After all, he was anxious to find his 'son', not yak with the locals. "Old Army buddies of Kyle's. Friends enough to want to help me locate him."

"Hmm." The sheriff looked again at the driver's license Hannibal had given him. "Well, I'm afraid your son's in a bit of trouble, Mr Hanson. Got himself arrested over in Walmouth County, just west of here. Appears he got into some sort of fight over there."

Hannibal closed his eyes briefly. Just the sort of thing he didn't want to hear. Glad, on the one hand, that he finally had a handle on the man, but not at all happy to find out it would mean a visit to another jail.

"I'm afraid it's not the first time, although he's never been charged with anything before. But..." the sheriff looked closely at Hannibal, "you might want to have a talk with Jenny Bellows before you go racing up there. Your boy's got some...problems. Jenny's the only one who seems to have gotten through to him. Talking to her might make it easier for everybody concerned, when you and your son make acquaintance again."

There it was again. That veiled contempt. Not that he blamed them for it. A father walking out on his son, regardless of age, wasn't right. Any more than a colonel abandoning his lieutenant...

"I'd appreciate it if you could call her, Sheriff, see if I could meet with her. I'd appreciate that very much."


*****

Sheriff Predmore listened as carefully as he could, though all this medical mumbo jumbo was going right over his head. He was tired and cranky from almost no sleep last night, and hanging around the damn emergency room most of the morning. The doctor looked at him with a frown.

"In a nutshell, Sheriff, his brain's a bit scrambled and his voice is gone, but both are temporary. He has to be watched for any respitory problems, but...damn fool's lucky that other prisoner woke up when he did." The doctor shook his head with disgust. "But jail is no place for him. I did some checking on this sort of thing, and he's only going to cause more problems, trust me. I'm calling the judge and see to it this boy's sent up to Southern Life Hospital. They know how to deal with these types."

"I don't know about that, Doc. The DA..."

"Sheriff, that man's no more ready for trial than the man in the moon. The DA can have him when those folks at Southern are done with him. Whenever that is."

Muttering to himself, the doctor turned and stalked away. Predmore shook his head, and moved toward the door. Once this guy saw that hospital, he'd wish he'd just done his time like a man.

Damn fool.


*****

They sat around the lace-covered table in uncomfortable silence. Jenny moved from one to the next, refilling their coffee cups, before sitting down once again to join them. She looked uncertainly to Hannibal.

"I know he sounds like...well, he..."

Hannibal smiled. Grinned. Finally chuckled. "Maybe to civilians, Jenny. But..." He flushed slightly, remembering that he wasn't supposed to be SF. Just the father of one. "I was in Korea," he added, somewhat lamely.

Jenny looked at him, and he saw a little spark in her eyes. "Why did you walk away? You sound almost...proud of him. Why now? Why not then?"

Hannibal shifted uncomfortably. "Did Kyle tell you anything about me?"

"No. He never talked much about himself. Or Vietnam, or the Army, or the hospital. Everything was just...at the moment." She looked down at the table, picking at the lace. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't make judgments about you. And you're here now."

"It's all right. There are a lot of things I regret." Hannibal frowned. "Leaving him was one of them."

Murdock jerked at that. BA just glared. A warning glare.

Hannibal ignored both of them. "I guess at this point I just want to try and make amends. And I'd appreciate any help you can give me in doing that."

"The first thing to do is get him out of that jail. He...he can't deal with being locked up, closed in." She smiled ruefully. "He would use the shower here," she looked embarrassed, "just because there was nothing out on that island, you know. But even though he'd clean up afterwards, the floor was always damp. And the shower curtain was always dry."

Murdock stared glumly at Hannibal across the table, and Hannibal thought perhaps he was finally starting to accept the realities of their situation. Of Hanson's situation.

"I know how it sounds, but he...he just needs time to sort it all out. And if people would just leave him alone, instead of expecting him to just suddenly start acting...normal...They say he's dangerous, but he's not. Not really."

"Somehow I don't think that guy he beat the crap out of would agree with you." Hannibal smiled wryly. "And I don't know how I can do anything about jail. If your father couldn't bail him out..."

"My father-in-law wouldn't." There was a touch of bitterness that Hannibal hadn't heard from her before, but mostly resignation. "He's convinced that Kyle needs more than just letting him be. He's decided that at least in jail he'll get some kind of help. I don't agree, but..." She shrugged.

"I thought you and he were pretty close. I mean, living here..."

"No, I mean, I love Mr Bellows, and he's been good to me and Bobby...but he's pretty old-fashioned about some things. And his main focus has always been Bobby. I can talk to him, but once he makes up his mind, what I say doesn't really matter. He's the boss." She grimaced, fiddling with the handle of her coffee cup. "I don't know if you and Kyle can make up for lost time. I don't know if he'd be willing - or even able to. He has a lot to deal with without that. But I hope you'll at least try to help him, Mr Hanson. He's a good man, and he didn't ask for any of this."

Hannibal hadn't thought it was possible to feel guiltier about his subterfuge, but he did now. Murdock and BA didn't didn't look much better.

"I'll do my best, Jenny. I can't promise what the outcome will be, but I will do my best."


*****

"Doctor, we have a problem with the transportation."

The voices were muffled, almost as if they were speaking into pillows. He knew some guy was standing right next to the bed, wearing white and writing on a clipboard, and he could vaguely make out another white-clad figure standing beside him. They were as fuzzy to his eyes as the voices were to his ears.

He tried to say something, but his voice didn't seem to work. His throat was sore; his neck was sore. Hell, he was sore all over. There was something over his face. He reached for it, but his hand only moved so far. Something was holding it down. And the other arm. His legs. He couldn't move at all, more than an inch or so.

Panic hit. He started yanking at the restraints, jerking his head, trying to get that...thing off his face. God, his neck hurt when he did that, but he had to get it off! He saw the man toss down the clipboard, and reach up above his head. He tried to see what the hell he was doing, but he couldn't turn his head that far. He kept jerking, trying to get free...

And then everything started blurring badly, slanting away into a heavy, heavy fog before disappearing altogether.


*****

The doctor let out a heavy breath and stepped outside, followed quickly by the nurse. She took his arm as he started away.

"Doctor, about the ambulance. That's why."

"Why what?" He glared at her, tired and anxious to get home.

"Why they won't take him. They're worried he might get violent, and they're not trained, or willing, to deal with that." She looked back at the closed door. "Everyone in town knows who he is, and what he did."

The doctor pursed his lips, tight, shaking his head. "You tell those imbeciles that they will uphold their contract with this hospital, or be looking for other work. I'll make sure he stays sedated, and he'll be restrained anyway." He glanced at his watch. "You tell them to be here at seven sharp tomorrow morning. I'll come in early and get him ready for our heroes. And you make damn sure he stays sedated tonight. I don't need any middle-of-the-night babysitting calls."

The nurse took one more nervous glance behind her before watching the doctor stalk down the hall and out of the ward.

Damn right he'd stay sedated.


*****

October 4, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 2 Days

BA kept glancing at Hannibal, but the colonel hadn't said another word after giving the terse orders to head for the ferry. They'd agreed to meet Jenny there, not only to let her know what had happened at the jail, but so she could show them where Hannibal's 'son' lived. Neither Hannibal nor BA had been particularly interested, but it was part and parcel of the job, the pretending. Murdock, on the other hand, had almost seemed eager.

BA didn't like the sudden change in Murdock. But after talking to that Jenny yesterday, he'd talked almost nonstop about Hanson. Repeating things Jenny had told them, speculating about whether those rumors were true, wondering what else he'd done before getting to Sweet Hill...man sounded like a kid talking about some super-hero.

And never once had he brought up how crazy this Hanson guy had to be. Or wondered what had happened to him in Nam to make him that way.

But right now, it was Hannibal's sudden silence that worried him more. Despite their promise to do whatever they could, they all knew that bail was out of the question; they didn't have tons of money to begin with, and sure as hell they weren't going to risk it on some guy who could take off, never to be heard from again. BA knew Hannibal's visit to the sheriff was really recon, in case they couldn't talk this Perris dude into getting the more serious charges dropped. BA wasn't too happy about dragging another nutcase across the country, but he couldn't see letting the poor guy rot in jail for ten years, either. Not after...

BA flexed his grip on the steering wheel. Whatever Hannibal had learned from this Predmore, it hadn't been good news.

BA figured they ought to be getting used to that by now.


*****

The ambulance pulled off the highway and began moving slowly up the long, pot-holed drive to the entrance of Southern Life Hospital. The driver unconsciously gripped the steering wheel a bit harder; he'd been on edge most of the way up here, waiting for some kind of commotion from the back. He and his partner had flipped a coin to see who drove and who rode with the wacko. He should count his blessings, but he just wanted to dump this guy and get the hell out of there.

He pulled up in front, stopping a few feet from the entry, with its four massive columns reaching up to the very top of the four-story building. Stepping out of the ambulance, he took a nervous glance down the length of the building, stretching forever on either side of the entrance. Somebody had told him this place had over five thousand people in it, all retards or wackos. Man, he hated coming here. Felt a twinge of pity for the guy in back.

He opened the back door and his partner climbed quickly out, also looking nervously around. Sometimes the inmates were outside, but not often. Didn't pay to take chances, though. He grimaced at his partner, a new guy for this run.

"Okay, let's get him inside. Just don't pay attention to anything that's going on, y'know? Ain't none of our business."

"Whatcha mean?"

"You'll see. Just keep your mouth shut and we'll get this guy turned over and get the hell out of here."

They gave the gurney a yank, pulling it out of the back and dropping the legs to the ground. It was clumsy getting it up the stairs, and both men were hot and cranky by the time the front door opened and they wheeled it inside.

Lonnie breathed through his mouth, and smiled grimly at his partner. The whole place had a smell to it, like a giant chicken coop. All the state nuthouses had fallen on hard times; even had a big lawsuit over it. Didn't mean anything changed. As they walked up to the admitting desk, he watched the inmates around them. Most were sitting in chairs, doped to the gills to keep them quiet. Others sat on the floor, or wandered aimlessly from room to room. He heard loud voices from somewhere down a long hallway, and then a guy came running out, crying. He rushed past Lonnie, a big welt on his arm. Lonnie just shook his head. He didn't like messing with retards, but he didn't like to see them beat up either. But he took his own advice and pretended he hadn't seen a thing.

He signed the forms for the sour-looking woman behind the desk, and spent a few impatient minutes waiting for two orderlies to come. They led the way down another hallway to an elevator. The four men crowded in with the gurney; it was impossible to escape the stench once the doors closed on them. They went up to the third floor, down another long hall, and stopped at a huge door. One orderly pulled a key and unlocked it, motioning them inside. Another hall, shorter, and more forms to sign. They pulled the gurney up to a bed halfway down the ward, and the orderlies grabbed their new patient and plopped him on the bed. A nurse came over and after replacing the oxygen mask with the one by the bed, began checking him over.

Lonnie nodded to his partner, and they began the long journey back to freedom. As they drove away, faster probably than necessary, Lonnie breathed out.

And said a quick, almost embarrassed, prayer for the poor bastard they'd left there.


*****

Jenny smiled as they climbed out of the van, but Hannibal noticed the quick glance behind them, and the waver of that smile when Kyle didn't follow. She spoke before he had a chance.

"I know I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up, but..." She shrugged, self-consciously. "I thought we'd go right up to his camp; it's a little cooler up there, and we can sit while we talk."

Hannibal nodded, and they stepped aboard the ferry. BA grabbed the rope and started pulling them across, while Hannibal and Jenny stood at the rail, quiet. Murdock couldn't seem to stand still at all, and shadowed BA until threatened with being thrown overboard. Abruptly, he came and stood by Hannibal, sullen but quiet.

A few minutes after docking on the other side, they were moving up the hill and into view of Kyle's camp. Jenny was explaining it was actually an old surveyor's shelter. Hannibal looked closely at the structure. The basic structure was made of saplings, and a series of tin sheets the roof. It had only one solid wall, at the back, made of a variety of wooden planks. The other three sides were merely tarps, tied back like curtains with odd bits of rope. A circle of stones formed a small fire pit just outside the front, with a second, even smaller one toward the back, sheltered from the elements. Tree stumps and more wood planks formed a somewhat slanting table, and three 'stools'. On the ground in the back corner was a mattress of leaves and pine boughs, covered by a sheet and thick blanket. It was tidy, Spartan and totally impersonal.

Hannibal couldn't imagine someone wanting to live like that.

It only took BA a moment's glance to lose interest in the shelter. Hannibal watched as he glanced around at the several small craters scattered about, various small plants not quite filling them. Obviously from the famous battle.

Murdock had immediately stepped into the shelter, examining every inch before plopping down on the mattress, "Indian-style", and stared at Hannibal. It was obvious he was through waiting. Sighing, Hannibal motioned to Jenny and BA, and they made themselves as comfortable as possible on the stools.

"Well, the news isn't good. It seems the night he was arrested, Kyle tried to hang himself..."

It seemed to take forever to give them the details, simple as they were. Hannibal figured Kyle had already arrived at the hospital, and Predmore told him it would be at least a couple of days before he was allowed visitors.

If he was in any shape to do so.

Hannibal eyes moved between Murdock and Jenny. He didn't worry about BA. He knew exactly how he would take the news - angry on the outside, sorrow on the inside. He and Hannibal would talk later, when BA was ready, not before.

Murdock had gotten very quiet and still, staring down at the ground. Hannibal frowned when he suddenly put his hands on his head, resting his elbows on his knees. He didn't say anything, and Hannibal wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

He looked at Jenny. She was staring, also, but out toward the woods that surrounded the shelter. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she was fighting for control.

A strong young lady.

She blinked her eyes, and looked back at Hannibal. Took a deep breath. Her voice only had a slight tremor when she spoke.

"You need to go see Ralph. Before you go up to the hospital. You have to talk to Ralph."


*****

October 5, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 3 Days

Sheriff Predmore hung up the phone, shaking his head. He knew he should have retired last year. He was getting too old for this crap.

Sighing, he reached for the phone, getting the long distance operator. Within a couple minutes he was waiting for the answer on the other end. A harried voice came on.

"Listen, this is Sheriff Predmore. We sent a guy up there yesterday, name of Kyle Hanson....yeah, that's the one. We got a little problem with him, identification-wise. I need to make sure he doesn't go anywhere for a while...yeah, the judge is being contacted. You'll be getting the paperwork, probably this afternoon. You just make sure...No, I don't know how long it will be. We gotta figure out who he really is, first...yeah, yeah, okay. Thanks."

He stared at the phone for a few more minutes, thinking about that fella who'd come in yesterday. Hanson's father. Frowning, he pulled out the paper with the phone number Hanson had given him, for the Bellows residence.

Might as well save that guy a trip.