Hannibal stood outside the door, slowly rolling the cigar between thumb and fingers. He wished he dared step outside long enough for just a few, relaxing puffs. But he couldn't, wouldn't. Not while the man he considered practically a son lay on the other side of that door, dying.
He glanced nervously up and down the hallway. He'd been very careful forging the admittance papers to the hospital, but that didn't mean they wouldn't be recognized if they weren't careful. To be caught now, after all this time...No, not after all they'd gone through. All he'd gone through. The treatments...
Not that they had done any good. Maybe added a couple of months, no more than that. And once again, it was their own government that had stabbed them in the back.
Hannibal straightened when he saw BA and Murdock hurrying down the hall, the urgency now due to the patient's insistence that he had something he had to tell them. Something he had to get off his chest. BA had immediately gone for Murdock, and now the three men nodded solemnly to each other before stepping into the room.
They sat close to the bed; it was hard for him to speak above a whisper. He looked up at each one in turn, as if making sure they were all really there. Hannibal reached over and took his hand, squeezing softly.
"Go ahead, Kid."
Normally they would be at the Delta Club, but the subject of discussion, a certain lieutenant, had walked into the club only moments before. The officers were now seated around the conference room in the headquarters building, and their discussion grew more heated with the amount of beer consumed. The lieutenant's CO, Colonel Wrenn, sat at the far end of the table, listening quietly. Hannibal perched on a desk, somewhat apart from the others, also listening. Watching.
"He's got to have an accomplice. He doesn't have clearance for that information." Major Clemens angrily picked at the label on his beer bottle and glared at the others.
"C-day info gets out all the time, security or not. Hell, half the camp knows before I do!" Hannibal smiled wryly.
"Yeah, but this guy - Hannibal, this guy is making a regular business out of changing MPCs. And that isn't the only thing he's dealing in."
"Oh, well, I don't know about that." The major almost physically stepped back, with a quick look at Colonel Wrenn. "But cigarettes, booze, meat...the guy's got a handle on everything that pays big on the black market, and he uses that to squeeze even more out of the MPCs."
Wrenn casually lit a cigarette while studiously ignoring the major.
"But how do you know it's Peck?"
"Hannibal, that kid's living better than a lot of us are! No way in bloody damn hell he can afford that stuff on his pay. A freakin' Cadillac sitting outside his house - house, mind you, not some damn hootch. Tell me how he paid for that!"
"So why hasn't he been charged?"
"Because he's too fucking smart, that's why. Nobody can prove that he's doing it. He's working with so damn many people around here...hell! By the time we find one, he's moved on to somebody else, and it comes down to his word against some gook's."
More beer was handed around, and the talk turned to schemes for catching Peck red-handed. Hannibal decided he had finally had enough. He said his goodnights and headed out into the humid night air. Hot as it was, Hannibal thought it was still cooler than in with all that 'hot air'. He pulled a cigar from his pocket, lit it, and was about to start a leisurely walk to his quarters when he was joined by Colonel Wrenn.
"You were pretty quiet in there, Jim. Had your eye on this guy, too?"
"No reason to. Those guys are full of shit, you know that."
"Sounds like more than that."
"Don't worry about it, Hannibal. He doesn't cut through red tape - he goes around it. Gets my guys what they need and when they need it. So he does have his uses."
"He keeps generating attention, he won't be much use to anyone. Could cause a lot of problems."
Wrenn looked at Hannibal, suddenly smiling. "Like I said, don't worry about it. I know how to deal with guys like Peck. And I know how to deal with...problems." With a nod, the colonel stepped out into the darkness.
Hannibal suddenly felt uncomfortable. He didn't like that smile, or the implications it held for Peck, even though he didn't know the guy.
It was late, and other than the sentries and medical staff, there were few people up and about. Hannibal didn't usually like being out at this time; the sentries, never quite trusting the night, were a little too quick with both the trigger and the rifle butt. Seemed like they always put the greenest guys on guard duty - usual military thinking.
The noise from the now bustling Delta Club was just fading into the background when Hannibal caught the soft hiss of voices coming from behind the hootches. His cigar went in the mud as his hand automatically went for his sidearm, and he shook his head, chagrined. Talk about green...
He stepped cautiously off the pathway, slowing to a stop as he realized the voices were speaking Vietnamese.
And one had an American accent.
He listened carefully. He couldn't make out everything that was said, but it was clear the two men were setting up a meeting of some kind. Then he heard two words that made things perfectly clear.
He had no doubts as to what was transpiring. The very thing his fellow officers had been arguing about in the officers' tent - the complicated money trade. Soldiers would trade their military currency to the locals, sometimes for as much as three times what it was worth. The locals, who couldn't actually use the MPCs, would then trade them back to other soldiers for real American money, again at a rate higher than the military would pay out. Both sides ended up happy - the locals now had money they could actually use, and the soldiers had more spending money than they'd get exchanging through the Army. The only problem, of course, was that it was illegal.
Hannibal hesitated. He could step in now and end the deal, take the soldier into custody and scare off his contact. There were only two issues with that. One, the locals - and many soldiers - took these transactions very seriously, and God only knew what either of these guys was carrying. Hannibal couldn't see any reason to get either man injured. The second issue was more convincing - he didn't really have a problem with the exchange.
He did want to find out who the soldier was, though. At least whether or not it was someone under his command. With his rep, the last thing he needed was one of his guys brought up on charges. Again.
He stood perfectly still, waiting for the conversation to end, catching a few more details. He didn't know if he'd need the info, but it was always useful to have an ace in the hole. He didn't know how long the two had already been there, but it was only a couple minutes before they finished their discussion and parted. The local disappeared into the darkness, and the soldier slipped quietly away in the opposite direction.
Hannibal followed the soldier.
They made two more stops. Each time the soldier waited behind a hootch, and within moments another soldier would step around to meet him. Each time the conversation lasted only a couple of minutes and then the "dealer" was on his way again. Unfortunately, Hannibal wasn't able to get close enough to listen in on these meetings, but he didn't need to. If this was who he thought it was, he did indeed have a thriving business going.
After meeting with the last man, the soldier moved more casually, apparently no longer worried about being seen. He moved to the front of the hootches and calmly lit a cigarette before moving down the long path. Hannibal watched from the shadows as he stopped at the sentry post and chatted with the guard, laughing at some joke, and then moved on past the perimeter toward the village.
Hannibal waited a moment, not wanting his own passage from the camp to be noticed by the man ahead of him. The way the guy was strolling along it wouldn't be hard to catch up with him. If the guards thought it strange that Colonel Smith was leaving the camp at that time of night, they didn't question him. He smiled to himself. No one questions a 'legend'.
It didn't surprise him when his man eventually walked up to a small house just off the main road. As the man unlocked the door, Hannibal peered around the dark street. Four houses down, the street took a sharp turn to the right; the neighboring houses were close in, with numerous pathways leading off the street into deeper darkness. The infamous Cadillac sat at the back of the house, facing a maze of streets and alleyways. Hannibal nodded his head. The military may know where Peck lived, but they wouldn't easily catch him if he knew they were coming. And Hannibal didn't doubt that somehow, Peck would know.
He waited in the darkness until he saw a light at the back of the house, then he stepped up to the door and rapped hard. He waited only a moment before pounding again. Loud. Before he could raise his fist a third time, he felt the wrong end of a gun stuck in his side.
"Kinda late for visitors, buddy."
"Kinda dark for my birds to shine - buddy."
A split second hesitation and the barrel came away from his side.
"Sorry, sir, you're right - it is too dark to see who's who. Would you like to come inside?"
Hannibal smiled to himself. The kid was good - an apology, a defense, and an olive branch, all in one smooth delivery. He was more than happy to accept the invitation - he wanted to see what else this guy would throw at him.
Based on what his friends had said earlier, Hannibal expected to see a fair amount of creature comforts when he walked in the door. He wasn't sure if he was disappointed or not to see an old couch and a teetering coffee table facing the door. A white sheet formed a wall behind them, not quite blocking a view of an old wrought iron bed. He turned and smiled at the lieutenant.
"I don't need much. Just...privacy. Sir." He smiled slightly, and Hannibal noted it. Cocky, or just confident? "Have a seat, Colonel." He motioned to the couch while pulling two beers from a crate by the wall. He handed one to Hannibal. "The real stuff, as a peace offering. I really didn't know it was you, sir. I wouldn't have pulled the gun if I had."
Hannibal smiled to himself. The kid knew all the tricks, all right.
"So, Colonel Smith, are you here to arrest me, or do business with me?"
Hannibal, beer half-way to his lips, looked up at him. "You cut right to the chase."
"You followed me, Colonel. People don't usually do that for social reasons."
This time Hannibal allowed himself a long swallow before responding. Just how long had Peck known he was being followed? And he knew who Hannibal was...did he also know where Hannibal's quarters were?
"Maybe you should tell me what you want first, Lieutenant. Or maybe I already know. You're getting tired of it. It's routine now, isn't it? The only excitement left is pushing the stakes higher, going for more and more deals, knowing it's drawing attention, doing it anyway. The money doesn't matter any more. It's pushing the envelope, seeing how far you can go without getting caught.
"But you knew you'd get caught eventually. You knew the Army was getting fed up, and you knew that was making some people nervous." Hannibal was gratified to see the split-second look of surprise. He pressed. "You knew you had to make plans for that." Hannibal stopped as Peck smiled softly. "Damn it, you knew you were going to get caught, so the trick was to get caught by the right person!"
The smile broadened to a grin. "Bingo."
Hannibal shook his head. "You didn't know it was me at first. Going through those...transactions was a bit reckless."
"Not really. Both those guys had legitimate business to discuss." Hannibal could swear there was a twinkle in those eyes.
"Only time they could catch me. I'm a busy man."
"Family problem having to do with a soldier. Have to be discreet in these matters, you know."
"Nice and innocent, huh? And what made you think I'd want to 'do business' with you?"
"It would be a case of mutual benefit, Colonel. You think I'm good with the black market, you should see me with the Army supply chain."
"I have a supply officer."
"Yeah, who takes twice as long to get you half as much as you need. I've made his acquaintance. Give me a week, you'll need a good replacement."
Hannibal looked at him, suspiciously. Peck practically glared back.
"Nothing like that, Colonel. He's a good kid, but he doesn't belong out here. He'll be a stateside desk jockey in a week. You just give me the word."
"I can't authorize a transfer out of here."
"You don't need to." He held up his hand. "I'll make sure you have what you need, when you need it, and without screwing over some other combat unit. You just don't ask how I do it. That's the deal."
"You're making terms with the guy that could put you away?"
"No, I'm putting forth an offer that an astute man would realize is golden."
Hannibal stared at him for a quick moment. "Golden, huh?" Cocky little bastard, but...he was right about the clerk. And Wrenn had said he was good with supplies. "You'd have to give up this place. My guys stay together."
"I can live with that."
"And you give up the Caddy."
"I don't see any reason to do that."
"It attracts too much attention. Get rid of it."
The lieutenant sighed. "If you knew what it took to..." Hannibal stood up. "Okay, okay! I'll dump the car."
"Third, you work strictly under my direction. No independent dealing."
"Colonel, come on! That's what made America great - the entrepreneurial spirit! Where would we be today if..."
"That's the deal, Lieutenant."
Peck shook his head. "You drive a hard bargain, Colonel, but fine. Only company business."
Hannibal looked at him suspiciously. "You agreed awfully quick to having your empire dismantled."
"Well, actually, I won't have time for that. I have something else brewing - completely legal."
"And that would be?"
"An Officer's Club with a little more... ambiance. I mean, after all, I'll probably be spending more time there now."
Hannibal couldn't help but chuckle. "All right, Lieutenant. Make it happen. I want to see just how 'golden' you are." Shaking his head, he stood and moved to the door, his host following him out to the dark street. Then, thinking of Wrenn, he turned and looked sternly at his soon-to-be lieutenant.
"Just remember, kid, you've made some enemies, and they aren't going to forgive and forget. So I wouldn't get too cocky."
"Even under the wing of the famous Hannibal Smith?"
There was just a hint of sarcasm in the tone and Hannibal didn't like it. " 'The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something that can be learned in no other way'. Mark Twain said that. A very wise man."
"It's something to think about, all right." Peck gave him a cynical smile, and Hannibal lit a cigar, watching this new man of his walk casually away.
"It certainly is, Lieutenant. It certainly is..."
"I always admired you. Did you know that, Hannibal? Always."
Hannibal smiled quickly before looking down at the polished floor of the hospital room. Too polished.
He'd never been comfortable with this, helping soldiers pass on. Not in Korea, not in Nam. Especially not now, when it was one of his own. If they had time, if they knew it was coming, if they could, they wanted to make those last hours, last minutes, to count for something. As if their whole life had collapsed down to those last few words. It wasn't right, somehow, for men to think that way.
"Hannibal?" The voice was soft, a bit raspy. But strong. Surprisingly so.
"Yeah, kid, I know. I..."
"That's why I did it. I've been ashamed of it, every day, ever since. But I wanted you to understand why. It wasn't him. I had nothing against him."
Hannibal straightened in his chair, glancing quickly at BA and Murdock, seated on the other side of the bed. They looked as confused as he was.
"What do you mean, Wiley? Nothing against who?"