CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

October 16, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 14 Days

Richter knocked, waited. It was only a courtesy, of course; he could've just walked in. But he and Murdock had developed a mutual respect that required such courtesies. Now, however, he frowned when the usual "Entré!" didn't come from the other side. He looked through the window. Murdock was sitting on the bed, facing away from the door. No way he hadn't heard the knock.

Richter opened the door quietly and stepped over to the bed. Murdock never moved, never looked around, didn't say a word.

"Murdock?"

"Yeah."

Richter pursed his lips, frowning deeper. He'd checked on Murdock several times yesterday, but hadn't disturbed his sleep. Maybe he should have. Something was obviously very wrong.

He pulled up a chair and sat by the end of the bed, getting his first good look at Murdock. He wasn't at all happy with what he saw. Rather than looking refreshed, or even rested, he looked like he hadn't slept in months. His skin was pale, eyes red-rimmed. And dull. Murdock's eyes were never dull.

Richter glanced at Peterson's notes outlining Murdock's story of his disappearance. For someone so cynical, Peterson had fallen for that hook, line and sinker. Obviously something serious had happened during those three weeks. Something that had caused a major problem for his patient.

And the sooner Richter got to the bottom of it, the better for all concerned.


*****

BA had driven south to San Ysidro. They'd gotten yet another motel room, on the edge of town; Hannibal said they'd look for more permanent digs today. BA didn't like it much, but had agreed, finally, with Hannibal's reasoning. LA would be too hot for them in another day or so. And if the military did track them down here, it was an easy hop over the border into Mexico. BA had huffed a bit at that. Like they could spend hours waiting to get through the border crossing. Hannibal had just grinned. Sure. BA would have to look for a new vehicle now, as well. One that could go cross-country.

What he really didn't like was Hannibal telling Murdock they'd be staying in LA. Again, he knew why, but still. It was one thing to lie to strangers so you could get a job, or make up things so the neighbors wouldn't get suspicious. But lying to Murdock? Hannibal wouldn't have had to tell him anything. Then, even if the military did come around, Murdock could honestly say he didn't know where they were. But this... this was using Murdock to decoy the MPs away from them. Without Murdock knowing.

And that meant Hannibal thought Murdock would give them away.


*****

The first thing Murdock found in the file was the intake report from the Army hospital in Mobile. A lot of notations had a later date written beside them, which puzzled Murdock at first. Then, reading Cleary's notes further down, he understood. Kyle - Face - had been "unresponsive". They would've gotten his personal information later, from his Army personnel file. Needless to say, Cleary's initial diagnosis included everything in the book. There were repeated notations that it was "preliminary" and subject to change after "further examinations".

Murdock had smiled wryly at that. Anyone who knew Face would've said that about the man himself. He sobered, suddenly ashamed. There really wasn't anything funny about that.

He turned to the next set of forms, frowning. A lot of medical terms. Why couldn't they just speak English? He rested the papers on his lap, staring at the lamp. Maybe he didn't need to read this part. He probably wouldn't know what half of it really meant anyway. And it wouldn't have anything to do with...

He sighed, shaking his head. It had everything to do with his mental state. And that meant Murdock had to read it. If he really wanted to help. So no shirking. No backing out when it got... bad. He had to read it all, remember it all. Hannibal could realize the file was gone any minute. And he'd know who had it, and come and get it. Murdock had to read it and remember it before that happened.

He sat up straighter on the bed, and began reading.


*****

There had been no discussion - just a look from BA - and Hannibal decided all three of them would go look for apartments. He knew full well who would actually make the decision. BA would look at everything from a defensive position, and check escape routes. That would be the extent of his interest. Face, of course, couldn't care less where they lived, or even what town it was in. Whatever Hannibal decided, Face was going along with. Ever since LA. Ever since he found out...

So Hannibal had to make the final decision, and he was looking for a lot more than defenses. He knew, for one thing, it had to be some place they'd be comfortable in for a long time. Unless the military interfered, he didn't want to be moving around. Face needed stability, not tearing around from one place to another. And quite frankly, he and BA could stand some of that as well.

The other thing he knew was essential was privacy. Which would make it not only more difficult to find, but more expensive. Finances were not a worry yet - but that brought up another consideration. Within two, maybe three months, he and BA would have to come up with employment of some sort. And it would have to be something close to their new quarters, just in case.

Hannibal closed his eyes for a moment. He thought he'd considered all the problems, all the complications, and had accepted the challenge. Now, with all of it suddenly staring him in the face, no longer something to deal with in the future, he began to have doubts.

Big doubts.


*****

Richter waited a few minutes, re-reading Peterson's notes, giving Murdock a chance to open up first. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't. Today he didn't.

"I have Dr Peterson's report from the other night. That was a quite an... adventure you had."

Nothing.

"I know there's more to this disappearance than you've said, Murdock. And I don't believe for one moment that you hijacked that van. Or that you've been wandering around LA for the last three weeks." He leaned forward, softened his voice. "I thought you trusted me, Murdock. I can understand... skirting the truth with Dr Peterson; I know you don't like him. But you need to tell me what really happened."

Murdock shifted and raised his head enough to stare out the window. For several moments he sat, still as stone. Then - a deep breath, a nod.

Richter allowed himself a small sigh of relief. He had hoped for this reaction, but hadn't been sure. With Murdock you could never be sure. Now if he could just keep it going.

"Let's start from the beginning. What made you want to leave?"


*****

Hannibal was staring at the house, heedless of BA's fingers drumming on the steering wheel or Face's occasional shifting around in the back. He and BA had perused the city and area maps last night, choosing the areas that were isolated and yet offered adequate escape routes. Hannibal had also checked the locations of hospitals, police stations...

He sighed. The real estate agent had given them three houses to look at, the only ones available in the area he and BA had finally settled on. None were ideal, but this one came the closest and Hannibal had signed the lease with somewhat hesitant relief. An older house, set back from the street and nearly hidden from the nearest neighbors. Only two bedrooms, but they could work around that. According to the agent, there was a Forest Department access road about a mile behind the property. Two freeways within ten minutes. And the Mexican border less than four miles away. Well, four miles cross-country.

Still too many close neighbors. And while having nothing but wilderness behind the property was good security-wise, it also offered Face a damn handy place to disappear. Then again, he knew Face could disappear as easily in the city as he could here. They just wouldn't give him the opportunity. Or, hopefully, the wish to.

He fingered the house key, then turned to the others, putting on his most optimistic grin.

"Welcome home, guys."


*****

Murdock tried to concentrate. He'd been thinking of how to tell the doc about Face, had a story all ready for him... where the hell was it? Lost in that... no. No, don't think about that now. Not now. Later. Later when Richter was ready. Primed. Not now. Get those pictures out of your head. Out. Out. Out.

Why had he ever read that file? Why? He should've listened to Hannibal. Hannibal always knew what was right. What they should know, what they needed to know, what they didn't. He never questioned him in Nam. Why now? He should've listened.

Should've done a lot of things.

No, no, get back to the story. The story. He'd taken off to help a friend. Yeah. Help a friend. Years too late, but what the hell, right? Not like it mattered. Not that any damage had been done. No. No damage. No problem.

No Harry.

He closed his eyes. Tight. Real tight. So tight little colored lights danced across his eyelids. Yeah. Little colored lights. Watch them. Concentrate on them. Nothing else. Nothing else. Don't see Face. Don't see him. Don't see what they did to him. Lights. Colors. Nothing else. Nothing else.

He should've listened to Hannibal. He should've.

He should've.


*****

Moving in had taken all of ten minutes. All they had were their sleeping bags and duffels. Hannibal just grinned when BA grumbled about the lack of furniture. They'd pick up some second-hand stuff over the next few days. Be a good way to get a lay of the land without being conspicuous, and get them all out of the house, too. He wasn't ignoring the tensions that built up, stuck in those motel rooms, the van...

He watched, surprised, as Face suddenly started moving around the house. After dumping the sleeping bags in the livingroom, Face had waited with the same detachment he'd shown since LA. But, Hannibal had noted, fidgetting more and more.

Face was more thorough than BA. Opened and shut every window, every door. Knew which window got stuck halfway, which door didn't lock properly, which one squeaked. Probably knew exactly how many steps between each one, too. Then Face headed upstairs. Hannibal had already checked it out, and figured he knew which bedroom Face would want. He gave him a few minutes, then followed.

He came up the staircase to the upper hall and took a short left. The smaller of the two bedrooms, at the back. Hannibal knew Face had already double-checked the window facing the distant mountains at the back of the house. He himself had already checked that. About a twelve-foot drop to the ground below. Difficult, but doable. Not an exit Face would use unless he was forced to.

Face was looking at him. No expression on his face; just looking.

"You want this one, Face?"

Hannibal didn't miss the glance at the high ceiling, nor at the doorway Hannibal was blocking. He stepped back, making a show of looking around as if inspecting the hall.

"If that's okay."

First thing he'd said since LA. But it would do. Hannibal nodded.

"No problem."

He headed back downstairs, knowing Face would check the rest of the upstairs just as carefully as he had the rest of the house. At least that much was predictable. Like the bedroom. The driveway was long enough, the front yard open enough that there would be ample warning of a frontal assault. Face would want to keep an eye on the rear. Yeah, that much was predictable.

Face had been quiet; not unusual, but after all the revelations yesterday, it made Hannibal nervous. Give them another day to settle in, then Hannibal would have to sit down and make sure Face had the whole story. From the day he was... left. Hannibal deliberately pushed away those thoughts, but it reminded him there was one more thing he had to get from the van. He'd already found a hiding place where it would be safe. He smiled mirthlessly. If Face knew he had it, no place would be safe.

He pulled the box of cigars out from under the seat, laying it, along with his jacket, on the front seat. He didn't glance back at the house; he knew Face would be watching from the upstairs window. He opened the glove compartment and pulled out the file, hiding it with his body. He pushed it in between the folds of his jacket, then checked the glove box to make sure nothing had been left. Saw the scrap of newspaper, caught on a screw.

He pulled out the file and opened it.


*****

"Murdock?"

He looked up, blinking. Question. Answer the question.

"I... I went to help a friend."

There. That wasn't so hard. It was the truth. Stick to the truth as much as possible. Easy. Piece of cake.

"Who?"

Name. Name - think of a name, Murdock! Damn. An easy one. One you'd remember. But one he can't check up on.

Think of a goddamn name, Murdock!

"A buddy of mine from Nam. Phil. Phil... Johnson."

Oh, that's a great name, Murdock, you idiot. Like he's not going to see through that one.

"You and he were close?"

"Well, yeah!" Murdock didn't bother holding back the frustration. "Why the hell else would I take off like that?"

"Okay." Richter's voice was calm. Richter was always calm. "He contacted you, asking for help?"

"No. I, uh... I found out he was in trouble. Through mutual friends."

"I see." Richter sat back in his chair, tilting his head as he regarded Murdock. "One of those mutual friends your uncle? Because I couldn't reach him all the time you were gone."

Shit shit shit. Of course they would've tried to get hold of Hannibal. Damn, he'd screwed up on this whole thing.

Okay, the truth. Remember the truth.

"Yeah. Yeah, my uncle knows him. And when I said I had to go help, my uncle helped me."

"Why didn't you come to me, Murdock?"

For the first time, Murdock turned and looked at the doctor, glaring cynically. "Why? Would you have let me go? Given me a free pass for who knew how long?"

"No, I wouldn't have. But I would have tried to help you, and your friend."

There it was. There was the opening. He'd walked right into it and Murdock hadn't even had to ask. He stared at Richter. Just say it, Murdock. Tell him about Face. Tell him the horrors. Make him see those horrible despicable pictures that squirm in your head like a bunch of fucking maggots.

Say it. Say it, Murdock. You have to, to help Face. Call Richter's bluff and make him help you. Make him help you both.

He opened his mouth, the words sticking in his throat.

It's the only way to get rid of those pictures. Those maggots. Take that step. Take it, Murdock.

"Then help us now."