CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT

June 17, 1977

6 Years, 4 Months, 15 Days

The van rocked as BA climbed in, slamming the door.

"Clear?"

"Yeah. No uniforms. Plane's in the hangar. Looks like all the supplies are in there, too."

"Looks like?"

"I didn't take no inventory, Hannibal."

Hannibal knew it didn't matter anyway. If they were missing anything, it was too late to do anything about it now. He glanced at his watch. He'd told Fiedler they were leaving at noon - it was now almost 0700. By the time they got loaded and took off, Hannibal figured they'd have a good two hours on any military who might show up for the take-off. Not that he didn't trust Fiedler. He just preferred playing it safe.

He glanced around the field one more time. Theirs was the only other vehicle in sight.

"Any sign of - "

"He ain't here yet."

"I didn't hear him come back last night." And he'd waited up. They both knew it.

"Don't hear him less he wants you to."

"Didn't see him leave this morning."

"Nope."

"You still think he's going to show."

"Yep. He said he would. He will. Ain't lied to us yet."

Hannibal wasn't so sure about that, either, but decided to say nothing. It had been his idea to give Face some leeway in handling the supplies. A gesture, of sorts. He'd seen more and more of his old lieutenant coming out the last few months, and he wanted to encourage that. Build some confidence. Some trust. There'd been times when Face had hesitated a moment too long - that's when Hannibal suggested BA go along. But those times had been happening less and less. So when Face said he could handle this alone, Hannibal had let him.

Now he had to wonder if he should have.

*****

Face straightened his jacket one more time, turning to critically look himself over in the mirror. He adjusted his tie. Brushed through his hair. Tried not to notice the slight tremor in his hand.

He glanced at his watch. Late. Very late. Not that they'd leave without him. Still... Well, it couldn't be helped. There were time constraints. But Hannibal would definitely be unhappy, and Face didn't even want to think about BA. Frankly, he'd prefer not to think about any of this. Just walk out the door and keep on walking.

It wasn't the first time he'd felt that way, but it was definitely the strongest.

He left the washroom and walked quickly past the gas pumps, sliding into Hannibal's car. A quick glance in the backseat reassured him that the last of the supplies were still there. He hoped they'd be okay; he'd had to guess at some things. Nothing that couldn't be fixed later, of course. Still, he liked to have things right.

Just right.

Taking a deep breath, he started the car and maneuvered his way through traffic. Only three blocks, but it was rush hour and he was on the wrong side of the freeway. He didn't like driving on the freeway. Too many things distracting him. And not just on the road...

He shook his head, clearing those thoughts. Not going to give in to them. Not now.

Twenty minutes later, he finally pulled into the parking lot and found a place near the door, but not directly in front of it. Close enough for safety, far enough not to be seen from inside. The car may be Hannibal's baby, but it wasn't exactly a showpiece. One look and Face's cover would be blown.

Not that it was much of a cover.

Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he stared at the front door. It had been a long, long time since he'd pulled anything like this. Not since Saigon. Saigon and...

He swallowed and shoved the driver's door open. The hell with that. Hannibal and BA were waiting, and his window of opportunity here was shrinking fast.

He adjusted his sunglasses, then, straightening his jacket one more time, stepped through the doors and moved hesitantly toward the desk. He knew exactly where he was going, but he couldn't let that show. This was supposed to be all new to him.

"Excuse me. I'm looking for a Doctor Richter."

*****

"That's the last of it, Hannibal. Face got everything we needed and then some."

"I know that, BA. Now all we're missing is Face."

"He'll be here."

"You're sure of that, are you?"

BA was silent for a moment. Hannibal waited. Where Face was concerned, the sergeant was just as unpredictable as the lieutenant.

"Maybe he had trouble finding that guy. He said there might be complications."

"Yes, he did. But he wasn't very open about those complications."

"Hey, man - Face'll come through. He just a little rusty yet, that's all."

Hannibal shook his head. "I don't know, BA. I just get that feeling I should've let Fiedler supply the pilot...."

*****

"I'm sorry, but Dr Richter was called away suddenly. You just missed him."

"Oh, well, uh, that's okay, I guess. I was just picking up a friend of mine - Captain Murdock. The doctor said he'd let him visit for the weekend."

The woman frowned and pulled a large black notebook from the shelf. Glancing through it, she shook her head.

"There's nothing here about a weekend pass." Closing the book, she looked at Face, perplexed. "You do know that the captain is not... well, not very stable yet."

"I understand, ma'am. But I served with Murdock in Nam and the doc thought it might help. Something about a memory problem. Uh, maybe he left the pass on his desk."

"That could be. He has a few memory problems himself sometimes. You wait here, I'll go check."

Face watched as the nurse headed down the hall. This was the really sticky part. He'd called Richter yesterday, making sure to catch him on his way out. If the doctor was like those other shrinks, he would have at least made a quick note about Murdock's visitor before leaving. That would be all Face needed to talk his way out with Murdock in tow.

"What was the name, sir?"

Damn. Face hadn't even noticed her come back.

"Uh, Jacobson. Will Jacobson."

The nurse smiled. "There was a note on his desk. He probably meant to take care of things this morning, but, as I say, he was called away suddenly. I'll show you to Captain Murdock's room."

Face relaxed and smiled.

So far, so good.

*****

Dr Richter stood on the corner, shielding his eyes from the early morning glare. It wasn't a neighborhood he was familiar with and didn't look like a very safe one, either, which only added to his anxiety. Where were the police cars, the ambulance - where was his patient?

He double-checked his note, then looked again at the buildings around him. The building he was looking for should be on this block, but the addresses didn't match up. The number he was looking for just wasn't here.

He spotted a patrol car down the block and waved frantically. They pulled a u-turn and pulled up beside him.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"I hope so. I'm Dr Richter and I received a call that one of my patients was - well, supposedly here, threatening to jump off a building. But the address - " Helplessly he handed the note and his hospital ID to the officer.

The cop reached for his radio. "What was your patient's name?"

"Well, that's just it. I don't know. The officer who called me said the man wouldn't give them his name, just kept asking for me."

"Hang on, doc."

Richter began scanning the area as the officer spoke to the dispatcher. Every moment counted and he was already beating himself up for the possible consequences of the delay. How could he be so stupid? He had to have gotten the address wrong...

"Hey, doc - I'm afraid someone's pulling a sick joke on you, sir. Nobody knows anything about a possible jumper, and nobody from this precinct called you."

"What?"

"Sorry, doc. Pretty shitty trick to play, but at least you don't have to worry about your patient."

"Yeah. Thanks, officer. I'd better get back to my office."

Richter sat in his car for several moments, seething. Who the hell would pull something like this? And why?

*****

"I'll leave you gentlemen to get ready then. Just be sure to sign out before you leave, Murdock."

Murdock nodded, although he wasn't really sure what she meant by "leave". Frankly, he was still trying to decide if this was his Face or the real thing. He really needed to talk to Richter about that reality thing, but since he still hadn't come clean on the memory loss...

"Hurry up, Murdock. Pack a few things and let's get out of here."

Definitely the real thing. His Face never ordered him around.

"Uh, where we going?"

"Argentina by way of Chile. You're flying us down there."

"I'm what?"

"Shhhh!" Face glanced out the small window in the door before yanking open the closet, pulling out the duffel he found in the corner. "You're flying us to South America. Hannibal and BA are waiting at the airport."

"What airport? Why are we going to South America? And how did you get Richter to let me go?"

"We've got a job down there. And I didn't exactly get Richter's permission, which is why we need to hurry. He could be back any time."

"A job? What kind of job? And where's the doc that he has to come back?" Confused as hell, Murdock nonetheless started pulling clothes out of his dresser.

"I sent him on a wild goose chase. That's the only way I could think of to break you out of here. The nurse thinks he okayed a weekend pass."

"He'd never do that. Not yet."

Face looked up from the duffel, one of Murdock's t-shirts crumpled tightly in his hand. "I know that, Murdock! Jesus, will you just get your shit together? Or don't you want to go with us?"

"It's just... it's been a while since I did any flying. What kind of plane is it?"

"Gulfstream, I think. We'll have to land some place to refuel, but otherwise it should get us there and back. It's not like a big transport, Murdock."

"Size isn't the issue. I've never flown a Gulfstream. I don't know anything about the instruments or - "

"So you'll figure it out. You always said you could fly anything."

Murdock sighed. "Don't you know the difference between bragging for real and bragging for bragging?"

Face slammed the duffel to the floor and glared at him. "I promised Hannibal a pilot. Now are you a pilot or just another useless nutcase?"

Murdock drew himself up ramrod straight, fighting the urge to take a swing at him. "Fine. I'll go along. This time." He grabbed his duffel and headed for the door, stopping with his hand on the doorknob. "Just don't go making this sort of thing a habit, okay? I got enough problems with Richter."

*****

Hannibal recognized the sound of his car - it had a little tick that even BA had been unable to find or fix. He hurried to the front of the hangar, stopping short as the two men climbed out of the car.

No...

"I don't know, Face. What if - "

"You'll do fine, Murdock. It's like riding a bicycle. One look at those instruments and you'll know exactly what to do."

Murdock walked past Hannibal, not even acknowledging him, apprehension obvious on his face. Hannibal watched as he slowly put his hands on the nose and began going over every inch of the plane, hands almost caressing the body. BA stood to one side, mouth open, staring. Hannibal turned to Face, who was walking up with a deliberate casualness.

"Sorry we were late, Hannibal. Had to wait until the VA actually opened up."

"This... this was the complication you meant? Murdock?"

"Well, not Murdock so much as getting him out. But that went smooth as glass."

"Lieutenant, you know there's a reason why Murdock is in the VA, do you not?"

"Yes, Colonel, I do. I also know that Murdock is the only pilot we can trust to get us down there and back without turning us in." Face shrugged, strolling into the hangar. "Besides, he needed to get out of there for a while."

"He did, did he?"

"Yeah, Hannibal, he did. I don't care how nice it is, it's still a nuthouse. It's still being... locked up." There was a tone to his voice that Hannibal couldn't mistake. "Murdock needs to fly."

Hannibal shook his head and followed Face inside. Murdock was up in the cockpit now; Hannibal could see him frowning over the control panel. Maybe Face was right. It wouldn't have mattered if Fiedler gave them a pilot he trusted, not with a reward that big. And, not without some guilt, he knew he could've taken Murdock out for at least a couple hours on some of those visits.

Whether Murdock was stable enough for this kind of trip was another story.

BA had no such doubts.

"Hannibal! You see that? You see who our pilot is? You gonna let him fly us down to South America? That's - that's just - that's just crazy, Hannibal!"

"I know, BA, but just because Murdock's crazy doesn't mean he can't fly. Right? I mean - "

"How you know that, man? How you know he ain't gonna go berserk out over the ocean? Or the jungle? Or the mountains? Or - "

"BA, calm down! There's absolutely no reason he can't do this. I'll make sure someone's in the cockpit with him the whole time, so if there's any problems we can find a place to land before it's... dangerous."

BA glared at Face climbing into the plane.

"I know damn well who that's gonna be, too!"

Sighing, Hannibal went out to his car. He'd park it in the hangar with the van while they were gone. Hopefully, it would only be a few days, a week at most.

And then he was going to have a long, long talk with his lieutenant.