CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

November 23, 1976

5 Years, 9 Months, 21 Days

The last two years they'd gotten Murdock out for Thanksgiving. The first year, just for the day; last year, Richter had let him out for the entire weekend. All things considered, it had gone pretty well. A few rough spots, not unexpected when putting BA and Murdock together. But Hannibal could safely say they had all been able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Hannibal had no idea what to do this year. As of last week, Murdock still hadn't remembered any details of their little excursion. Or so he said. Richter believed him, but Hannibal wasn't so sure. He'd managed one more trip up there, a couple weeks earlier, and Murdock stuck to his story. But there was something in the way he looked at Hannibal when he said it. Something almost... furtive. But suspicious at the same time.

Had Murdock started remembering? If he had, why didn't he want anyone, including Hannibal, to know?

Hannibal shook out of his reverie, glancing around as he realized he'd stopped in the middle of the block. Nothing like drawing attention to yourself. He resumed his walk, heading for the phone booth on the corner. Taking his stroll. That was the phrase he used whenever he walked down here. BA would know where to find him if he needed to, Face had no reason to wonder, and Hannibal had some privacy to check on Murdock.

And a breather.

He made sure that one of them was always with Face; not too close, of course, but close enough. But he also made sure that he and BA had time away as well. Those few days in the van, his own need to take that first trip up to LA - he realized some decompression was necessary if they weren't all going to end up in the nuthouse.

Face just locked himself up in his room.

Hannibal slid the door to the booth closed and waited, still not sure what he was going to do about Murdock. Couldn't have him sitting across the table from a ghost. Then again, if they all went along with it... No. He sighed. They'd pulled off some crazy schemes over the years, but that was way beyond imagining.

Wishful thinking.

Carefully, he put the coins in the slot. Why someone couldn't figure out an easier way of making long calls on these things, he'd never understand. Every week he had to remember to get enough change so they wouldn't be cut off mid-sentence. A little thing, really. Just another straw...

"Veterans Administration."

"Uh, Psychiatric Unit, please."

"One moment."

He counted the seconds, then minutes before the desk answered. Plopped more dimes in. Made his request.

"I'm sorry, Mr Bradley, Dr Richter isn't in today. He did leave a message for you, however. I was just getting ready to call you."

Not good.

"Let's have it." No one could mistake the resignation in his voice.

"I'm sorry, Mr Bradley." He knew this lady. Nice woman. "There was... an incident last night."

"What happened?"

The clerk sighed, loud enough for Hannibal to hear. "I'm afraid he got into an argument with another patient... they came to blows."

Shit.

"What was the argument about?"

Again the woman hesitated. "They were arguing about the amnesty."

"Amnesty? For the draft dodgers?"

"Yes, sir. It took us all by surprise. Captain Murdock suddenly started yelling at the other patient, saying something about giving amnesty to everyone. More words were exchanged and before anyone could intervene, Murdock was... well, sir, he was pounding on the man. That's the only way I can describe it."

Hannibal felt light-headed, leaning against the side of the booth. "The other man?"

"Bruised, but nothing serious. Physically. But - well, being attacked in a place you're supposed to be safe..."

"Understood." Hannibal rubbed his forehead. He could feel the throbbing start inside. "And Murdock?"

"I'm afraid he's in the security ward again, Mr Bradley. He'll be there for at least 24 hours, and, well, with everything else, Dr Richter just doesn't want him away from the hospital. I... I don't think you should plan on Christmas, either, sir. Not unless there's a significant change."

The throb was quickly moving in the direction of pounding. "I don't suppose I can talk to him..."

"I'm afraid not. The rules - "

"Yeah - that's okay, ma'am. I know the rules."

He walked even more slowly back to the house. Just as well Hannibal hadn't talked with him - he'd have gotten an earful of "colonel talk" and that wouldn't have been right at all. Murdock couldn't help it. That's why he was in the VA to begin with. And Hannibal could certainly understand the frustration that caused the fracas. Yeah. He could've told Murdock that - at least once he'd calmed down. Then Murdock would know someone understood - Richter couldn't. Not without knowing who 'Uncle Tyrone' really was.

It brought home just how alone Murdock was up there. Maybe if Hannibal could've found a place closer... but he had to look out for the rest of the team. And LA was no place for them. Not now.

The crunch of gravel under his feet stopped him. Woolgathering again. He stood for a moment, looking up at the trees that barely concealed the house. He sighed as BA came in sight, one hand hidden behind his back; that he was irritated to see Hannibal just standing there was obvious.

"Well?"

"Richter won't release him. So, just the three of us."

"He still ain't remembered?"

Hannibal shook his head. BA was of the opinion that Hannibal should just tell him Face was alive and safe and answer any questions with bare-bone facts only. Murdock would just have to learn to live with that. If it were only that simple. If Murdock was only that compliant...

"No, from what little they would tell me, he hasn't."

"What, Richter thinks bein with family would hurt?"

"Well, there were some other problems..." Hannibal lit a cigar, stalling for time. Face would be showing up soon, to see what was going on, putting an end to BA's questions.

"What other problems?" BA took a step closer, glancing back at the house. He knew exactly what Hannibal was hoping for.

"Murdock got into a fight. With another patient. So, he's - "

"Locked up again. That damn fool!"

BA jerked around and stalked up to the house. Hannibal stayed put for a few moments longer. He'd have to tell Face now, but that would be easy. Face didn't ask questions, didn't demand answers. Murdock wasn't coming. That would be all he'd want to know.

Sometimes Hannibal envied that detachment.


*****

December 10, 1976

5 Years, 10 Months, 8 Days

Murdock sat on his bed, looking suspiciously around his room. As far as he could tell, nothing was missing. Once he knew the staff had quit checking through that little window in the door, he'd launch a more thorough inspection. No point in making it obvious he didn't trust them. He was already in enough hot water.

Not that he'd gotten into any more fights; he hadn't even snapped at anyone the last few days. But he didn't feel like joining any of those stupid classes they had, and he sure as hell didn't feel like talking in the group sessions. Refusal of either was enough to label him a 'problem'; they didn't like 'problems' here. Patients were supposed to try, and Murdock was refusing to do that.

Why should he?

His world was filled with people he couldn't talk about, people he couldn't talk to, people who weren't there when he needed them to be...

And people he hadn't been there for when they needed him.

He glanced at the little window. No one had peeked in there for a long time now. He stood, waited, then moved slowly over to the door. Listened. Peeked through the window himself, out into the hallway. If he leaned far enough to the side, he could just see the clock.

Not quite eleven.

Tomorrow was Saturday. Hannibal was supposed to be coming. Like he looked forward to that. More questions from Hannibal. More evasions from him as well. Blaming it on Richter - "Oh, he wants you to remember on your own." Yeah, right.

Murdock moved over to his desk, started sorting through the drawers. At least all his photos were still there. He picked up the one of Face. Stared at it. What had Kyle told them about Face? He couldn't even remember finding Kyle. And Hannibal said they didn't. But he knew they'd found out about Face. He knew that. He just couldn't remember what they'd found out, or from who. He just knew they had. But...

Fuck.

How the hell was he supposed to remember when he had to keep switching Kyle with that damn Phil? Why the hell couldn't he just tell Richter about Kyle?

Because that would mean telling him about Alabama, and Hannibal didn't want Murdock to mention Alabama. Didn't want him to admit to being anywhere near Alabama. Like anything had happened there.

Well, something had happened there. Murdock knew it. He just couldn't figure out what. There were pictures in his head - but what was real and what was delusion? Richter thought most of what he told him was delusion. And when Murdock told Hannibal about them, he just got all... weird. Like he couldn't decide if he was happy or... nervous.

Nervous. That's what Hannibal was. All the time. Like he was afraid of what Murdock would remember.

Murdock moved back to the bed and flopped down. Hannibal wanted him to remember, Murdock knew that. Because Hannibal wanted Murdock to get better. He always had. But there was something else. And if Murdock were absolutely honest with himself, it was that something that kept him from remembering everything. Kept him from forcing himself to remember.

Because there was something Hannibal didn't want remembered.


*****

December 24, 1976

5 Years, 10 Months, 22 Days

He washed the plate and carefully inspected it; rinsed it thoroughly, again inspecting it; placed it softly in the rack by the sink. Found the next in the hot soapy water and repeated the process. Next he would do the saucers. Then the cups. Then the bowls. Last, the pans and silverware.

That was his routine. He never varied, because that meant he'd miss something. Just like he searched the house before he even started. Especially the porch. Hannibal had a habit of leaving his coffee cup on the porch railing in the evening. Search the house, stack the dishes, run the water (don't forget the soap), then wash. Plates, saucers, cups, bowls. Last, the pans and silverware.

He placed the frying pan carefully on the rack and dried his hands. He knew Hannibal was watching him. Depending on his mood, he'd either be smiling or frowning. Hannibal liked Face actually doing something besides sitting up his room; he didn't like the routine, the habits. But Face didn't care. He was paying his way, doing chores around the place, and if he had his own way of making sure it got done right, so be it.

Hannibal had never been easy to please anyway.

He took the dishcloth and started wiping down the counters. He was taking extra care today. Habit from the orphanage - always had to have everything spick and span anyway, but especially for the holiday. He hadn't worried about it for a long time, but now he had to make an effort.

Face had half-expected Hannibal to bring Murdock down from LA, but he just said the same thing again - Murdock wasn't ready. Sometimes Face wondered about that. One minute they were all together in the van and Murdock seemed okay. Now no one knew anything about him except what little Hannibal told them.

He looked around, noting that Hannibal was indeed watching him, and he didn't look away when their eyes met. No smile, but no frown either. He was studying him today.

That typically meant trouble. A discussion. A talk.

And BA wasn't here to create a diversion.

He glanced up at the clock. BA would be almost to Denver by now. His mother was meeting him there, at the home of some guy they'd known over in Nam. Face barely remembered him. He'd shipped out just after Face arrived, before Face even joined up with Hannibal. Hannibal had set it up, said BA needed some time with his family. Face just wondered if BA would come back. He'd said he would. That didn't mean anything. Hannibal always said that, too - but Face still waited to see if he would.

But it was just the two of them now. It made Face nervous. No matter how many times Hannibal - and BA as well - had told him what really happened after the robbery, he couldn't quite rid himself of the suspicions. He could understand why BA put up with him - Wiley. Nothing made a man feel worse than having his best friend turn out to be a bastard. But Hannibal?

Face may have blamed him, before he knew what happened. Before he accepted what happened. Not any more. Right or wrong, the colonel had trusted Wiley, like he trusted all his men.

Most of them.

Face closed his eyes. Tight. It didn't matter why Hannibal was staying. His head couldn't deal with that shit today. No. Focus on today. Nothing else.

That was more than enough.

*****

Hannibal watched as Face finished up the dishes. He hadn't offered to help - he knew better. Ask for help and Face was right there, doing whatever he was told. Offer to help and he either got angry or went nearly catatonic. Lately, anger had been the typical response. It shouldn't surprise him. Things had been building up for a while now.

Face was trying very hard to fit in - too hard. At the same time, he was putting equal effort into evading any talk of what had happened to him, or what he expected to happen now. He would sit quietly, apparently taking in whatever information Hannibal would give him about the arrest and trial, about what they had done after the escape - but he would not, under any circumstances, talk about himself. Face would just walk away. Other times, BA would suddenly appear with some project he needed Face's help with. And that situation - BA and Face - was as frustrating as it was gratifying.

He wouldn't call it connecting. No way Face was ready or willing to do that. But they seemed to have formed some sort of alliance, which was a step in the right direction. At the same time, its purpose appeared to be thwarting Hannibal's rather awkward attempts to help Face deal with his... issues. And those had to be dealt with if they were going to get Face back.

He frowned when Face suddenly closed his eyes, turning his head slightly. Okay. He knew that look. Question was whether to push and see if he would talk about those thoughts or just let it go. Or maybe now was the time to see about that other thing. Hannibal glanced casually at his watch. They still had time to take it slow. It was only three miles.

He looked around the living room. BA had picked up a plaster Christmas tree while gassing up the van. It now sat on top of the television set, a foot high with gaudy decorations painted on it.

The guys had always gotten together for the holiday, but it was mainly because they had nowhere else to go. Decorations were unheard of and the idea of exchanging presents never came up. It was just a time they needed to be together. But when BA brought that thing home, Hannibal hadn't needed the accompanying glare. It was just another way BA was trying to help Face, and Hannibal would not spoil it. He kept his mouth shut.

But it had given him an idea.

"Colonel?"

Hannibal straightened. Smiled. Casual. Brush away the fact he'd been staring at Face without even realizing it. "I thought we'd go for a little drive."

"Drive?"

Have to be blind to miss the suspicion in that look.

"Yeah. You haven't really seen San Ysidro yet, and with all the Christmas decorations..." Face still looked dubious. "When I was a kid, it was kind of a tradition, drive around look at all the houses decorated up for the holiday. Thought you might enjoy that."

Yeah, the gears were clicking now. Would he let his doubts about Hannibal win over the need to fit in?

"Okay. Sure."

Hannibal smiled, ignoring the fact that the "Sure" was anything but. It was true, though. Face hadn't seen anything of the city itself in all the time they'd been here. A couple trips to the grocery store - disasters Hannibal would just as soon forget. Even if the second half of his plan didn't work, at least the kid would get out of the house for a while.

For almost an hour they drove, seemingly aimlessly. Hannibal did most of the talking, pointing out and commenting on various houses. Face would nod, smile now and then, or frown at some absurdly lavish display. Hannibal thought Face was starting to relax, and, shortly before midnight, put the second part of his plan into action.

He'd been gradually moving toward his destination, moving in a slowly shrinking circle around the address. Now he took a left and pulled up a block away. Face looked at him, frowning.

"We won't have much of a Christmas celebration, but I thought maybe we should do something." He smiled, got out of the van and slowly started walking down the street. A moment later he heard a door closing and footsteps behind him. He slowed more, allowing Face to catch up with him. Nothing was said as they made their way up the street, finally stopping in front of the building.

A Catholic church.

Hannibal knew this would be tricky. He wasn't sure at all how Face would perceive this gesture. He could've just asked him - but that would've made it too easy for Face to refuse, retreat into his room.

"I don't know how religious you are, kid, and frankly, I thought about this for a while. Maybe you don't feel comfortable attending any Mass, let alone this one. But I thought you should have the opportunity. If you want to."

For a moment, Face stood, watching a few stragglers hurrying into the church. Finally, his shoulders slumped and he turned back toward the van.

"Face?"

Face stopped, speaking so softly Hannibal could barely hear him.

"Thanks, but... it's not for me." He looked back at the church one more time. "Not any more."


*****

December 31, 1976

5 Years, 10 Months, 29 Days

He jumped when the door upstairs slammed shut. Looking into the living room, he faced BA's angry glare.

"I did like I always do. He started to leave; I followed. He didn't like it."

"It's okay, BA. As long as that's all that happened, it's okay."

"Maybe for you." BA pushed his way past Hannibal and headed out to the garage, barely closing the outer door without slamming that himself.

Sighing, Hannibal walked slowly across to the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee. It was the third such incident since Christmas and it worried him. He hadn't forgotten about those incidents in Alabama - when 'Kyle' would disappear, coming back bedraggled and "embarrassed", as Jenny called it. And always coinciding with some fracas in a nearby town.

He took a sip from the cup, grimacing at the too-strong coffee. He hadn't ignored the timing of these episodes and that Christmas Eve trip, either. Neither man had spoken on the drive back to the house, and Face had gone directly to his room, not to emerge until late the next day. By the time BA got back the day after Christmas, Hannibal could practically count on one hand the number of words he and Face had spoken.

BA, of course, picked up on the tension immediately. While thrilled at visiting his mother, the twists and turns to get there, and then coming back to this, did nothing to maintain that feeling. Hannibal could see the alliance between the two men starting to unravel, as Face seemed less and less able to contain his...

His what? Anger? Frustrations? Or was it just the stress of being cooped up with BA and Hannibal for so long? Trying to keep up the facade, pretend he was adjusting, when in fact he was just putting on an act.

He heard the front door open and close - quietly. BA walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge and grabbing the milk. He stood for a moment, holding the carton, staring at it. Finally he looked at Hannibal, his own frustration obvious.

"You gotta talk to him, and this time I ain't comin in between you two." He had the grace to look uncomfortable. "I thought I was doin the right thing, but... well, he's gettin back the way he was when we found him. You gotta get him talkin now." BA scowled at the milk carton. "And he ain't gonna hide in his room, either. You go up and talk to him, and if he won't let you in... I'll open that door myself."

"I don't know if this is the best time, BA. He seemed pretty wound up already and - "

"And that's the time to do it, Hannibal. When he can't control things so good. That's the only time he's gonna let go. That's the only time he ever has."

Like it or not, Hannibal knew BA was right. And, like it or not, he knew the longer he waited, the more time Face would have to build up the defenses. Grimly, he set down his coffee cup and headed upstairs. He heard BA following, stopping a few steps from the top.

He stopped in front of Face's closed door. He no longer bothered trying the door first - Face always locked it. Several times. A habit he couldn't seem to break, though Hannibal knew he'd tried. Just as well. Barging in on him, like so many things, only caused 'problems'. Hannibal knocked gently but firmly on the door.

"Face? I need to talk to you."

Silence.

Hannibal knocked again, louder this time.

"Face, unlock the door."

He looked down at BA, who was already moving up the stairs. The two men looked at each other.

"He's not going to like this..."

"I know, Hannibal. I know."

One swift kick and the door flew open. No angry outburst greeted them. Alarmed, Hannibal stepped inside.

The window they had thought was too high for escape was wide open.