CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

October 16, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 14 Days

Dr Richter looked at him for a long time. Calm. Always maintain the calm.

"I'll do what I can, Murdock. Is this - Phil? - willing to come in, talk to me?"

"No. No, he... he can't do that."

"He can't?"

"No."

Dr Richter leaned back in his chair.

"Can't, Murdock? Or won't?"

"What difference does it make?" Murdock shot off the bed, striding to the window and back. Took a deep breath. "He isn't going to be talking to you. Doesn't matter why. So you have to help me help him. I tell you what... what happened, and you tell me how to fix it."

"It's not that simple, Murdock. You know that."

"Well, you make it that simple!"

Richter frowned.

"I think we need to start at the beginning, Murdock. A lot of vets have problems from the war. What made this fellow so important to you?"

"I told you. He was my friend."

"So good a friend that you've never before mentioned him?"

"What - you want a Who's Who of my friends from Nam now?"

"No, but I do need to understand more about your relationship with him." Richter leaned forward, the frown still there. "You broke out of the hospital, Captain, and disappeared for nearly three weeks. Three weeks. You come back worn out, thin... I need to understand, Murdock. Or I can't help you."

Murdock remained by the window, silent.

"How did your Uncle Tyrone find out about him, Murdock? Did Phil contact your uncle?"

Murdock's only response was a very small shake of his head. Richter pursed his lips, eyes narrowed.

"So you told your uncle. And he offered to help you get to your friend?"

"Not exactly. I... I kinda... I... " Murdock let out a deep breath, sagging ever so slightly.

Richter thought back to the events just before Murdock's escape. That other friend, the funeral.

"You played on his feelings for that other man, didn't you? The family friend who died?"

"It wasn't like that."

"But that death put everything in motion, didn't it?"

Murdock turned, staring at Richter. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then abruptly turned back and stared through the window again.

"How did you find out Phil was in need of help, Murdock?"

"I didn't. I mean, I..." Murdock suddenly began pacing in front of the window, short, jerky steps. "I didn't know he needed help. Not then. I just... I just needed to find out..."

"Find out what, Murdock? What was it about Phil that made you need to find him?"

"Nothing! Everything!" Murdock's voice rose, anger in each word. "What does it matter? I just need to help him."

"Why you? Doesn't he have friends, family? Why is it up to you?"

"Because it's my fault!"

"What's your fault, Murdock? What did you do to Phil?"

"I... I didn't... do anything." Murdock grabbed hold of the curtain, crushing it in his fist. "I didn't do anything and that's why it happened."

"Why what happened? What happened to Phil, Murdock?"

Murdock shook his head, leaning heavily against the wall, still holding the curtain. Tight.

Richter took a deep breath. "Does your uncle think it's your fault as well?"

"No." His voice was muffled, soft. "He won't even admit it's his."

Richter sat back. "Mr Bradley had something to do with this?"

"Hell, yes! If he hadn't left - " Murdock suddenly straightened, let go of the curtain. His voice, when he spoke next, was calm, as was his expression when he turned and looked at Richter. "That doesn't matter. Now we just have to make it right."

Richter matched his gaze for a moment, then nodded slowly.

"So when did you find out he needed help?"

"When we found him."

"How long did that take you?"

"I don't know - a week, week and a half."

"So you and your uncle traveled around for over a week, looking for him."

"Yeah, and B... another fella."

"Another friend went with you? Why?"

"Why? Because we were all together in Nam, that's why!"

"All of you?"

"That's what I said!"

"Including your uncle?"

"Yes! No! He was... damn it, Doc!" Murdock whirled around, arms flailing in obvious frustration. "What the hell does it matter? You keep asking all these fucking questions and it doesn't matter!"

"I need to know - "

"You don't need to know a damn thing! Just forget it! Forget it!"

"Like you've tried to forget, Murdock?"

"Yeah, well, I can't, okay? I can't forget! None of it!"

Murdock flopped back against the wall, head back, eyes closed, chest heaving.

Richter remained quiet. None of this was making sense. He knew there were things about Murdock's family that were... hidden. Things neither Murdock nor his uncle wanted to discuss. This... friend. Suddenly appearing out of the past. Right after the funeral.

And not a word from Tyrone Bradley. Despite the closed doors to some areas of the family history, Murdock's uncle had been as helpful as he could, and Richter had come to think the man would never do anything to jeopardize Murdock's therapy. No. Bradley would never have taken Murdock out and not contacted Richter somehow, some way.

But this other man. This third man Murdock claimed had gone with them. What was his connection to Murdock? To this mysterious Phil?

What if Bradley had nothing to do with all of this? Murdock was not known to be the most truthful client. In fact, most of their therapy sessions were spent working around the tall tales and bald-faced lies. Particularly when Murdock had been having those delusional episodes.

Richter looked over at Murdock, still leaning against the wall, eyes still closed. Mr Bradley hadn't been the only visitor Murdock had over the last few months. That priest, those other vets. The letters he'd written. Richter didn't believe for one minute Murdock's tale of hijacking that van. That didn't mean one of his other visitors hadn't given him a ride.

But why? Why would they do that? Surely they must have realized that he was seriously ill.

But why would they know how sick he was? A lot of people thought you could pull yourself out of a mental illness. Maybe he convinced them he was being held against his will. That he would be okay if he could just get out of the VA.

Richter closed his eyes, rubbing his neck thoughtfully. So why did Murdock want out? What made it so important now? Had the decision to let him attend his friend's funeral been the wrong one? He looked down at his notes. Looked at the reports from the staff.

And knew.

"How long have the nightmares been back, Captain?"

"Nightmares? No, no, I don't have - "

"The nurses and orderlies both reported on that, Murdock." Richter sat back in the chair, watching carefully. "You don't remember them?"

Murdock stared at the ceiling for a moment. He slowly lowered his head, now staring at the floor.

"Murdock?"

"No. No, I didn't dream it. I didn't."

Richter sat, quietly, waiting. Murdock gradually moved toward the bed, sat down. Slowly. Everything deliberate, slow motion, wooden. Richter sat up a little straighter. Carefully.

"When you say you didn't dream it, you're talking about your friend, Phil, aren't you?"

The eyes remained closed. A little furrow appeared on Murdock's forehead.

"It wasn't a dream. I wish it was." Murdock looked over at Richter. "It was all there, in black and white. All of it. And I could see it all. Like watching a movie. And I can't... I can't get rid of it. It just stays there, in my head..." Tears began trickling down Murdock's face.

Richter leaned forward, speaking softly, treading lightly.

"Tell me, Murdock. What did you see?"

"Hell, Doc. I saw Hell."


*****

Hannibal sat on the floor in the living room, leaning as comfortably as he could get against the wall. Through the large front window, he could see BA heading around the corner of the house, his afternoon spent laying a trip wire around the front and side yards. Both he and BA would have preferred to have it further from the house, but they could only go out so far without the neighbors seeing them. At least they wouldn't have that problem in the back.

Hannibal turned slightly so he could see into the kitchen. When they'd gotten back, Hannibal had set Face up on KP of sorts. Wiping out the cupboards and drawers, putting away the few supplies they already had with them. Maybe it was just as well the furniture wouldn't be coming until tomorrow. The trip to town had been... well, not the best. Which was why Hannibal had given Face the task of organizing the kitchen. Kept him occupied but at the same time, nothing more difficult than deciding where to put the plates. And some time to gather himself together again.

Face hadn't given even a hint of argument about it, either, which surprised Hannibal. No, no arguments. Just that quiet detachment - and a hint that some things hadn't changed as much as he'd thought.

Hannibal sighed, shifting again, trying to get comfortable, and frowned. Something had changed - with BA. He thought it was a good change, but he couldn't swear to it. After BA had surveyed the yard, he'd come in and gotten Face and the two of them had started putting up the trip wires. That had surprised him - BA seeming to want Face's help. So maybe things were changing for the better, after all.

Maybe.

Hannibal looked out the window again, hearing BA's voice. The two men were looking at something toward the front of the yard, near the road. Probably trying to figure out what defenses they could put out there without throwing the neighbors into a panic. For his part, Hannibal was supposedly going over their finances, which BA willingly left to him; Face showed the usual disinterest. But what Hannibal was actually doing was thinking about that file and the man he now knew for sure had it.

At some point, Hannibal would have to tell them about his trip tomorrow. For a short time, he considered just taking off in the morning, before they were up. Leave a short note and save the explanations for when he got back. At least that way he'd actually have something to tell them. He knew he couldn't say anything around Face about that file; he'd have to tell BA privately. But once he'd seen Murdock, and talked to Richter, he'd know what he could and couldn't tell them both.

Yeah, just leaving in the morning sounded pretty good. He'd only have to face the music once, that way.

On the other hand, he wouldn't be able to say a lot in his note, either. How could he, when he, himself, didn't know what the hell was really going on up there? He could say Murdock was having some problems - safe enough - but inadequate. BA definitely wouldn't accept that as a reason for leaving him alone with Face. Changes were coming, but Hannibal didn't expect miracles.

So BA wouldn't accept that, and he'd spend the day wondering where Hannibal had really gone; what, if anything, was really wrong with Murdock. Worrying about the MPs, if Hannibal would get caught. Maybe wondering if Hannibal would actually come back if he didn't get caught.

Yeah. Another casualty of this... mess. BA's trust. Of course Hannibal would come back. He'd never desert his men. Not... knowingly.

But BA was no longer sure of that. Of Hannibal. As if...

Then the truth shoved itself in his face. He'd kept telling himself that he wasn't dragging BA and Face up there because it was too risky; that's why they'd come down here to begin with. And Face just wasn't stable enough to take on another long trip like that; who knew what he might pull, or why? Plus he didn't want them seeing, or asking to see, Murdock; God only knew what state he was in, and what seeing that might do to all of them.

All good reasons. Very good reasons.

But he knew what the truth was. Knew why he needed to leave them here. Knew what he had been thinking about, deep under all those very logical reasons. Despite the circumstances.

Two and a half hours to Westwood. Two and a half hours back.

He closed his eyes.

Five hours.

Five hours, all alone.


*****

"Good night, Doctor. Don't stay too late."

Richter nodded absently at his secretary, and heard the office door close behind her. Ann had stayed late, not because of the workload, but to keep an eye on him. He knew that. Appreciated it. Appreciated even more that she hadn't made a big fuss about it, and had enough sense to finally go home without nagging him to do the same.

He turned back to his notes, trying to concentrate, failing miserably. Too many things to think about, too many things that just didn't add up. Like having sunshine on one side of the house and stepping around the corner to find a tornado.

No. Stepping right into the middle of it.

Murdock was still in the secured ward. Richter was taking no chances - not that Murdock was in any shape to make another run for it. The floodgates had opened and Murdock had described his nightmares in full detail. 'Hell', Murdock had called them.

Richter agreed. A hundred and ten percent.

What he couldn't understand was where it had all come from. Certainly, Murdock had been down when he returned from that funeral. But he'd quickly recovered - or so it had seemed. If anything, he'd been more upbeat than they'd seen him be in a long time.

Which was probably the signal Richter shouldn't have missed.

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Richter had seen it as a sign that Murdock was coming to grips with reality. Accepting that death was a part of life, in or out of war. Accepting the fact that he couldn't change that.

How wrong he'd been.

He glanced at the note from his secretary, detailing the call from Murdock's uncle. Odd coincidence that he should call today of all days, and yet Ann had said he seemed taken by surprise by Murdock's state. Add to that the fact that he was 'nowhere near LA'. Richter believed that. Mr Bradley had always come immediately when Murdock had had problems before. If he couldn't this time, he definitely wasn't near LA.

Which only led back to the man who'd helped Murdock escape. Whoever the hell that was. Possibly another man as well. Murdock kept referring to 'the others'. Plural.

But then, maybe that was part of his delusion, too.

Richter only knew with certainty that something had happened in those three weeks. Something that brought Murdock to the attention of the military again. Those Army officers showing up like that. The interest in Murdock had tapered off some time ago, once they realized that Murdock had had no contact with those other men. So why now? Why so insistent? Had Murdock met up with the wrong people? Said the wrong thing at the wrong time? But how in God's name could the Army think he knew anything about some mess in Alabama?

Alabama. Sure. Richter didn't care what Murdock might have told his 'benefactor' - no one would take Murdock clear across the country! That was just ludicrous. And again, just because it had something to do with that colonel and his men.

Richter sighed, rubbing his forehead. He thought he'd never have to deal with that type of military thinking again. Bull-headed nincompoops. He'd had to threaten to call their CO before they'd finally left. As if he'd let them interrogate Murdock, in the condition he was in.

Full circle. Murdock. Richter had seen a lot of men fall apart, and it was never easy to witness, but he'd never expected... Murdock had problems, but he'd always had an awareness that helped him cope. Maybe not in the most constructive ways, but still... No, this was a Murdock he'd never seen before. The words rushing out, a confused tangle of details and innuendo... The usual vulgarities of Nam coupled with odd bits and pieces that made no sense - even some kind of island sanctuary. Richter had finally quit trying to talk sensibly with him, instead only kept him from getting too wildly out of control. And finally, after what seemed like hours, Murdock had worn himself out. Or given up. As quickly as it started, the talking stopped, and Murdock had faded into himself, refusing - or unable - to even acknowledge Richter's presence.

He looked again at the note about Bradley. He was on his way, apparently.

None too soon.


*****

"You what!"

Hannibal closed his eyes. He hated it when BA's questions didn't sound like questions. Always meant he was not going along with whatever Hannibal had planned. At least, not without an argument. The raised volume guaranteed that argument.

"Look, I'll leave first thing in the morning - early morning. Before daylight. I'll be back mid-afternoon at the latest."

"And what am I sposed to do in the meantime? I can't - " BA stopped, glancing over at Face before turning his glare back at Hannibal. "They deliverin the furniture tomorrow, or did you forget about that?"

Time for a little reminder of his own. "No, Sergeant - I didn't forget. I'm sure you and Face can handle that very well. Together."

Hannibal knew BA had a lot more to say about it, but Face decided that was the moment to head up to his room. He hadn't looked any happier than BA at the announcement, but hadn't said a word. Hannibal gave him time to get up the stairs before he stood to follow, and gave BA that "colonel look", as Murdock called it. They would continue their discussion after Hannibal had Face sorted out.

Hannibal stopped at the top of the stairs, momentarily preparing himself before confronting Face. And confrontation it would be, that he knew. He'd seen the anger in Face's eyes down in the living room, knew how long it took for the man to calm back down.

Straightening his back almost unconsciously, he took the few steps to the door and knocked lightly. Calm. Keep it calm. In control.

"It's open."

Hannibal blinked. Face never left his doors unlocked. What little shred of certainty he'd felt a moment before disappeared. He had no idea what he'd find in that room now.

Face was sitting in the corner on his still rolled up sleeping bag. He faced the door but was staring at his hands, folded over his knees. The light from the dying sunset gave everything a rosy glow, but it wouldn't be long before the room was in darkness. Hannibal didn't like that thought.

"I know neither you nor BA is happy about this trip, Face. But it is necessary."

"Murdock?"

The quiet question surprised him. Lucky guess? Or was Face getting back some that perceptiveness that had made him so successful in Nam? But how to answer?

Honestly. That's what Hannibal had decided earlier. After thinking about all the things he could say. And then thinking about their whole situation here. This was supposed to be a new start for Face. For them all. Get him over all the shit that had happened, get him to move on, start living again. Hannibal couldn't accomplish that with lies. He didn't have to tell him everything. But he wouldn't lie to a direct question either.

"Yeah. Murdock's having some trouble. I, uh... well, the VA thinks I'm his uncle. So I have to go up there and make sure everything gets smoothed out."

"That happen a lot?"

"Occasionally, yeah."

Hannibal waited, watching. Saw him lick his lips. Saw his knuckles whiten.

Then it hit him. Face wasn't angry.

He was scared.

"You'll... " Face cleared his throat, "you'll... " Face looked at Hannibal for the first time. The question there nearly broke him.

"I'll come back, Face. I will always come back."