CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

October 15, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 13 Days

Murdock stood by the corner of the building, staring at the white stucco as he picked it off the building. Slowly inserting a thumbnail, then a quick angry jerk, watching the tiny bits fly off into the bushes. From time to time he glanced up at the big double doors leading into his building. He needed to go in, face the music, but he wasn't ready. Not yet.

The guys had dropped him off a few blocks away. Hannibal had damn near glared a hole right through him as he told him to go straight to the VA. No "funny business". Murdock knew Hannibal hadn't forgotten - or forgiven - that little bit of rebellion back in Alabama. He'd almost said something, something nasty, but a growl from BA, along with a nod toward the back of the van, and Murdock had kept still. Just nodded and headed away from the van, not looking back as he heard it drive away, only glancing around to make sure there was nobody watching.

As if the Army would know he was suddenly going to appear right here, right now...

He flipped another bit of stucco, not even watching it this time. Didn't matter, any more than what Richter would say when he suddenly appeared right here, right now. Well, that wasn't true. He needed Richter. Needed him on his side, now more than ever.

He straightened, looking again at the double doors. He adjusted the duffle on his shoulder, hearing the crinkle of papers inside.

Yeah, he was going to need Richter.

He sighed and headed for the doors. It was late. Real late. Another hour and the sun would start peeking over the buildings. He wasn't even sure the night shift would know who he was. It had been almost three weeks after all, and the night shift was notorious for its turnover. Which really didn't make sense - all they had to do was walk the floor every hour and make sure nobody'd hung themselves that night.

He pulled at the door handle, knowing full well it would still be locked. He liked to cover all bases just the same. If he could've sneaked in to his room and just shown up for breakfast, acting like he'd been there all along... hell, he could claim he'd never been gone. And when they said otherwise, he'd just look confused. Maybe get angry. No. Not angry. Better to look confused and lost... maybe get a little teary-eyed. He'd seen that work more than once. But could he just produce tears at the drop of a hat? He could use that method acting that Hannibal was always talking about. Yeah, think of something real sad... He stared out toward the street.

That wouldn't be hard to do.

Didn't matter anyway. The doors were locked. No sneaking in. So now what? Ring the bell and wait, see if they let him in?

What if they wouldn't? What if he'd been gone too long? What if they'd given his room away?

Shit! What if they'd given all his stuff away? He didn't care about the clothes; he'd taken his jacket and cap already. And most of the other stuff was just junk he'd picked up here and there at the VA's canteen. But he didn't want to lose his photos. He could get more of Hannibal and BA, but Wiley... well, he wasn't sure he wanted those. He wasn't even sure if he still had them. He might have torn them up. And he only had the one of Face. No, he could get more of him now, too. So that was okay. Maybe. But all the stuff O'Malley had brought him...

"Murdock?"

He looked up, staring at the face on the other side of the glass door. What was his name? Hayes? Hawkins? Honeywell! That was it. Honeywell. Murdock always gave him a hard time about being a millionaire in disguise. He hated that. Which was why Murdock did it, of course.

For just a moment they continued to look at each other through the glass, Honeywell's mouth hanging open, like he was staring at a ghost. Murdock frowned.

"Well, you gonna stand there all day or you gonna let me in?"

Yeah, that did the trick. Honeywell unlocked that door faster than a scalded cat and took Murdock by the arm, firmly but gently, as they say. Like Murdock was gonna take off running. Hello, Honeywell! I came to you guys, remember?

Murdock started to turn down the corridor toward his old room, but Honeywell pulled him past the corner and down toward the locked ward.

Not good.

"Hey, man, why we going down here? I just want to go to bed!"

Honeywell just shook his head. Yeah, Murdock knew the drill. Been a long time since he'd tried to run off, but he remembered. It might be a long time before he saw his room again.

But thinking about last night, it would probably be a long time before he left it again...


*****

Murdock glanced at his watch, frowning. Hours, he'd thought, but his watch said no. He would like some breakfast, but his watch said it was still too early. He wasn't sure if he believed it or not. That watch was typically a liar. At least in here. Didn't matter; until whichever shrink was on duty cleared him to stay, the government wasn't going to hand out any free breakfast anyway.

Honeywell had, thankfully, not tried to take away his duffle. Just put him in the isolation room and told him to wait. At first, he'd just sat on the couch, the only piece of furniture in the room, and stared at the window. High up on the wall and covered in thick plastic grating, it at least allowed him to watch as the first signs of daylight appeared.

After a while he'd started pacing. He wished that doctor would get here. He wanted to get back to his room, get that file out. He was tempted to pull it out now, but didn't dare. He glanced at the door, saw one of the nurses peering in. She smiled at him and left. He didn't recognize her, and that smile confirmed she was new. Most of the staff was nice but wary. Murdock didn't exactly have a stellar reputation here.

Almost four and half years he'd been in here. And he hadn't had a fight for over two. So okay, he'd played a few games with the staff since then. But he hadn't gotten lockdown for...

He jumped as there was a sudden knock and the door swung open. Shit. Peterson. Murdock had never seen eye-to-eye with this guy. Why the hell hadn't he waited until Richter came on duty? Peterson was one of those docs who thought if you had all four limbs you just needed a good kick in the butt to get straightened out.

Peterson let the door slowly swish to a close, looking at Murdock with that same sneer he always had. Richter said Murdock was just projecting, that Peterson was a good doctor.

Murdock knew better.

"Well, Captain. The prodigal son returns."

Murdock wanted to make a smart-ass comeback, but held it in. Peterson, for better or worse, was the doc on duty and that gave him the power. If he said Murdock couldn't come back, Murdock didn't come back. So he kept quiet, concentrated on his 'cover story'. Looking at Peterson, he put on a confused frown.

"I don't know what the big deal is, Doc. I know I'm not supposed to take off, but I wasn't that late getting back. At least, I didn't think I was. Not until I got back and the door was locked."

For a long moment, Peterson just stared him. Good. Caught him off-guard.

"Captain, how long were you gone?"

Murdock slumped back against the couch. More confusion. Lots more.

"I musta fell asleep, Doc. I walked for a long time and... I woke up and it was dark."

He'd missed something. Peterson wasn't buying it.

"Captain, you did not go for a walk. You took off in a van. And it wasn't a matter of hours - you were gone for nearly three weeks. So you want to try this again?"

Damn. That's what he'd forgotten. The van. He'd messed that up. Was supposed to just walk up to the van, casual-like, not draw attention. But he'd gotten too wound up for that. Hannibal had glared, but then they had to take off and the Jazz had hit and... Well, okay. He couldn't claim to just have walked away. So Plan B.

"I couldn't help it, Doc. I was just walking along, minding my own business, and I saw that van sitting there, engine running, door open - it was like, like it was calling out to me. I tried to turn away, but it kept calling and calling... and I hadn't been out of here for so long... and next thing I know, I'm in the van, yelling at the driver to go! And I guess it scared the hell out of him, y'know? A crazy man jumping in like that, screaming at him... who wouldn't? So he took off, with me in the back, still screaming..."

Murdock fell to his side, the picture of dejection. Peterson was staring, open-mouthed.

"I don't know what came over me, Doc. And I'm so... so ashamed." He pushed himself upright and put his head in his hands. "I made him drive for miles. Every time he tried to talk, I started screaming again. I don't even know where I wanted to go - I just wanted to go someplace!" He looked up dejectedly at Peterson, who was now scribbling notes.

Gotcha. Go easy now. Don't lose him again.

"We drove for a long time, and I started thinking about what I'd done. How wrong it was. And I felt bad for the guy, real bad, Doc. So when we stopped at a light, I jumped out and ran. I knew I had to come back here, but I didn't know where I was. And I started walking and walking and walking and walking and - "

"Okay, Murdock, okay. You got lost. But for three weeks?"

"I didn't know it was that long, honest to gosh, Doc! Pretty soon it got dark, and I found a place to sleep, in some park, and... and I kept waking up in some different park, and then I woke up and just... just knew where I was and where the VA was and... and I came... home." He made that last word as pathetic-sounding as he dared. Peterson was workable, but still a skeptic.

Peterson had stopped taking notes now, watching Murdock. Murdock, in turn, stared helplessly at him before flopping back on his side, bringing his knees up close to his chest.

"I'm sorry, Doc. I'm so sorry, so sorry, sorry, sorry..."


*****

Murdock watched through the window as he munched his toast, the rest of his breakfast on the tray in front of him. New room, new view. That's all it would be for a while, until Richter decided he could be trusted again. All things considered, Murdock figured he'd gotten off easy.

They still hadn't brought his things out of storage, but he'd been assured nothing had been thrown away, so that was okay. He didn't need any of it right away anyhow. His fingers wandered over the duffle, sitting on the bed beside him. He wanted to read it but right now, he wasn't sure he had the energy. Now that he was home, safe, he wanted nothing more than to forget about all that. For a while. Just a while.

He pushed the tray to one side, and slid the duffle under the bed. He'd look at that later. He wanted to talk to Richter about Face, and he didn't want to waste any time doing it.

Especially now, after the way things had gone last night... God, last night...


*****

"Face, you can't go with Murdock. You just...can't."

Face pushed away, his back now against the side of the van. Hannibal could see the puzzlement clearly - but was there a split-second glint in his eyes as well?

"Why not?"

Hannibal hesitated. Not the time or the place to take him back there, not if he could help it.

"Well, for one thing, that felony charge is not going to just disappear. And I don't care how careful we are, somebody's going to figure out who you are."

Face looked him full in the eye now. Yeah, no mistaking the anger this time.

"You know damn well those charges aren't worth that much effort. They've probably already dropped the felony count. So tell me why I can't stay here. Not worth the effort - again?"

Hannibal felt himself wince. He should've known that wasn't done with. Not yet. But now he had no choice. If Face didn't have the full story about the robbery, how could Hannibal ever turn him around? He sighed. How was he supposed to give Face the full story when he himself didn't know it?

"Okay, Face. There is more to it. I know you saw some of the news reports. The Army's been after us for a long, long time."

"You broke out of Fort Bragg."

"Yes, we did."

"You were mercenaries."

Face almost spit the words out, and Hannibal could feel the heat rising to his face. He shifted uncomfortably, shoving a duffle out of the way.

"Yes, we were. For a while. It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but we were at the end of our rope. We'd been living off friends and other vets for too long. We got to the point we didn't know who we could trust, and didn't want to get those we could into legal trouble. So yeah, we did that. And got out of it as quick as we could. Found jobs that gave us some... flexibility. And stayed in hiding."

"So what's that got to do with me?"

Hannibal stared at him, surprised. "Face, they're after all of us. The whole team. And that robbery is a hell of a lot bigger than a fist fight."

"The robbery?"

The look Face gave him was not one of curiosity. Not puzzlement, either. No, that earlier glint was now a definite glare of suspicion. Damn. Face definitely didn't know the whole story.

"Face, you remember when we got back into Laos and the radio wasn't there? That was only the start.

"It took us almost a week before we came in contact with any Americans. Ran into some big operation, but we got lucky and..." Hannibal faltered a bit. They'd gotten lucky; Face... He pushed that aside for later - and longer - discussion. "We got picked up by a chopper, taken back to Khe Sanh. I knew there was something wrong then, because we were sent down to Nha Trang.

"It all went to hell then. We were picked up by a gang of MPS, shackled and hauled hell-bent for leather down to Cam Ranh Bay. That's where we found out we were being charged not only with the robbery, but with aiding and abetting the enemy, and being AWOL, just to top things off."

Murdock's head jerked up. "That was that damn Colonel Wrenn's doing. He put in that AWOL and - " Murdock stopped suddenly as Face stared at him, ashen.

"Wrenn? He - "

Hannibal inwardly shook his head. He'd hoped to gloss over Wrenn's involvement. Another thing that needed discussing, but at a later, more "stable" moment. Too late now, though he gave Murdock a warning glare.

"Yes, he was involved, but the whole thing came from a lot higher up. How far up, I still don't know. Anyway, they charged us and sent us first to Okinawa and then to Bragg. It wasn't until we got back to the States that our attorney told us what happened."

Hannibal took a deep breath, again wondering how much Face knew already. He didn't think it was much. Every word Hannibal uttered seemed to be hitting him like a brick.

"Dumb as it sounds, I kept thinking Morrison would be able to straighten it all out. I knew there must be something wrong, even wondered if he'd been arrested as well, but... I just knew it would get fixed. Then I met with our attorney. He told us Morrison had died in a shelling the night of the robbery."

A sound came from Murdock, almost a low moan. Hannibal frowned at him, but he'd pressed his head against the window of the van, eyes closed.

Face hadn't reacted at all. Just sat still, staring at the back of the seat. He was still pale, and Hannibal had to wonder if he had taken in anything after that mention of Wrenn. Hannibal straightened and plowed on.

"Captain Curtis died in the same attack as Morrison, so the only two officers that I knew were involved were gone. The lawyer said they couldn't locate my copy of the orders and I couldn't name names or bring in any other proof of being ordered to Hanoi - nothing. So we were fu... done for. And I knew what that meant."

Hannibal took a deep breath, trying not to think of the many weeks they'd been locked up at Bragg, going through that sham of a trial. He'd never in his life been down that low, and just thinking about it made him sick to his stomach.

"That's when Ray got involved. We knew we had one chance, and that was to break out and try to find some way of proving our innocence. Someone, somewhere, had to know the facts, could clear us. But we couldn't do anything locked up, and there were only two ways we would be getting out. We chose escape."

Face was looking down, hands clasped tightly together. Finally, he looked up, not at Hannibal or Murdock, but toward the front of the van. When he spoke, his voice was filled with loss and confusion.

"I thought... I thought you came back heroes."


*****

Wrenn.

Wrenn.

If what Hannibal said was true, if Morrison had died the night of the robbery... That's why there was no radio. Wrenn would have had access to all Morrison's records. Hell, he was next in the chain of command. He would have to have known about the robbery.

Had to.

It didn't matter. He would've found out after. He had plenty of time to change those orders, cancel the radio, the pickup. List the team as AWOL - that would just be the start.

Wrenn had set them up.

No.

Wrenn had set him up. The rest of the team would've just been the coup de grāce. Wrenn wouldn't have known about Face until after the team was back - and then it would've been too late, even if he'd wanted to save them. He'd already set things in motion.

Face could just see it. The original orders would've been lost. Then Wrenn would've sent some memos - questions, first. Colonel Smith was 'missing'. Had he been called back to headquarters? No? How strange. A couple of his men were missing as well. Wrenn would promise to investigate. Thoroughly.

That was all it would take to get the ball rolling. Done in a couple of hours. Then passing word along about the flight to Udon. By that time the brass would know about the robbery. It wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to put that flight, the missing men and the robbery into one stew. Not with Wrenn adding the spices.

Face listened with ever-increasing despair as Hannibal told about their imprisonment, the escape. The accusation in his voice when he'd brought up the mercenaries - damn. What choice had they had, really?

Because of him.

Because he'd screwed over Wrenn, and set the wheels in motion for that final betrayal.

All the months, the years in the jungle - the anger at Hannibal for leaving him. All the time thinking...

Shame rolled over him, and he was unable to look Hannibal in the eye.

"I thought... I thought you came back heroes."


*****

The van was almost suffocating in the silence. Hannibal didn't know what else to say, not after that.

Heroes? He should've considered that. Not that any of them had really expected a ticker-tape parade. It was their duty to complete the mission, just like any other mission. And that missing radio had given them all qualms. At the same time, it had been more important than anything else they'd done, and there had always been the expectation of... appreciation for its completion. Face would have carried that expectation with him. And Hannibal knew it would have grown over the weeks and months... and years. Added to the anger and resentment.

Shit. No wonder he'd wanted to kill Hannibal back there. And Hannibal couldn't blame him.

He took a deep breath. That didn't change anything now. Except that Hannibal had to make damn sure Face understood why they weren't going to get him into the VA. He had to know exactly why.

He shifted again, so he could look Face right in the eye, and spoke softly.

"Face, if I could be sure you would be safe from the military here, I would do everything and anything I could to get you in. But all it would take was one orderly, one nurse - hell, somebody's relative or buddy - to recognize you and it would be all over. The Army would be here quicker than scat and haul you off to Leavenworth. And that would be almost as bad as that shithole we pulled you out of.

"I - we - want you to get the help you need, Face. We all want you to be the man you were... before. I know things were never the way they should've been in Nam, between you and the others, and I take full responsibility for that. And I take the responsibility for the hell you've gone through these past years. I should've been able to do something, think of some way, to... "

Hannibal stopped. There was no point in going into that now.

"I can't put you in the VA, Face, because I can't guarantee you'd be safe. And, by God, I am going to keep you safe from now on. You are never, ever going to go through that shit again."

Anything Face might have said was lost as BA slammed his way into the van.

"Gotta go, Hannibal. Cops."

Face stared straight ahead as they drove away, never saying a word.

Not even when they dropped Murdock off and tore off into the night.


*****

Murdock woke to a soft rosy glow outside his window. He didn't need his clock - which still hadn't been returned to him - to know the day was almost gone already. He sat up slowly, stretching carefully. A full supper tray still sat on the bureau by the bed, but he didn't care.

He was tired. He'd slept all day, but not a restful sleep, as he'd hoped. And wish as he might, he hadn't awakened with a sense of determination, the idea of really helping Face giving him purpose.

Instead, he was just tired. He looked around the room. Not his old room, but... he was home and he just wanted that to be enough.

But the memory of his dreams kept coming back, and he knew there was only one way to be rid of them. Not knowing the facts always made things worse. Imagination could be a double-edged sword, giving you hope or giving you nightmares. He needed to have the hope, to know he could help Hannibal, BA and Face. He couldn't do that until he could enlist Richter's help. And there was only one way to be rid of the nightmares and help his team.

He reached under the bed and slid out his duffle. The file was a little worse for wear, but still intact. He sat back on the bed, and looked at the sun sliding down over the top of the buildings.

Turning on his light, he began to read.