Hannibal didn't get as early a start as he'd hoped for. A little matter of a raid by the local NVA in the pre-dawn hours. He'd spent way too long in the damp basement of the hotel before the all-clear was sent, and then he had to wait until he could get through the roadblocks. Fat lot of good those did - there was a fifty-fifty chance the guys manning them worked for the other side.
He reached the outskirts of Saigon well after noon, a full twenty-four hours after leaving Nha Trang. He was tired, frustrated and hungry. Angry when he was reminded to turn in his weapons. He immediately headed for MACV headquarters - not to visit, but because it was the one area in Saigon he knew well. There were actually good restaurants there. He'd get a decent meal, find a hotel and then try to find Peck.
He drove by the American Embassy, and immediately was reminded of one other very unpleasant aspect - the embassy, as well as many other buildings where Americans worked, was guarded by the Marine Security Guard. He wondered, as he dodged the sandbags lining the street, if these guys had heard about Peck.
That's all he needed.
It took some time to find a hotel, but after he'd gotten a decent room, and found a restaurant whose food was at least semi-familiar, he started to relax. And that was good. He definitely didn't want a replay of past events. He lit a cigar, and carefully pulled the paper out with Peck's address on it. He had no idea where it was, or how to get there. He looked up at the waitress, a young local woman.
A few minutes later, he was making his way to the jeep, concentrating on the scrawled map the waitress had made for him. She warned him that the streets may or may not be open; he might have to take detours. He'd smiled ironically at that; he'd found himself on a lot of detours, mainly in Cambodia or Laos. He doubted Saigon would give him much trouble.
He hadn't counted on the White Mice.
He wasn't sure if it was the fact he was in uniform, or if these guys were just used to pushing everyone around. He only knew he wasn't allowed to find his own way around the mess; he was forced to take their detours. Every one of which seemed to lead to yet another blocked road.
He tried to remain calm, unruffled, even as the sun moved further and further to the west. He would have preferred to have gotten this done before the nightlife started crawling out, but that apparently wasn't to be. Didn't matter. Kept telling himself that. Stay cool. Calm. He didn't want a repeat of the hospital. That was important.
That's what Wiley had asked him. Why was it so important he find Peck? Why did Hannibal want him back on the team?
Hannibal couldn't answer. Not in a way Wiley, or any of them probably, would have been able to understand. It was just in Hannibal's nature.
He remembered, back when he was maybe nine or ten, he and his brother coming across a bunch of his friends in the back alley, behind the house. They'd been all excited, yelling, throwing sticks. Their target was a mangy looking mutt, cornered between the garage and the neighbor's fence, growling, snarling. He'd obviously been into the garbage can, looking for scraps.
Just trying to survive.
The two of them had made his friends leave, and then, with a warning look at Hannibal, his brother had gone on about his business. The dog remained in the corner, still snarling viciously. Hannibal had tried to calm it down, tried to make friends. In the end, the dog bit him and ran away, and Hannibal had to go through those damn rabies shots.
Hannibal never did see that dog again. But he'd never blamed it.
Just trying to survive.
Hannibal had tried to rescue a lot of dogs since then, most not of the four-footed variety. It's why he went into the military, to begin with. He thought, what better way of helping people who just wanted to survive, live their lives, raise their families? Sometimes he just got bit all over again; sometimes it worked.
He hadn't given up on Peck because, so far, he hadn't been bit.
Dao Quy listened to the low murmur of his voice from the other room, glad he was speaking low so she wouldn't hear, yet wishing she could, just the same. She knew this phone call had something to do with those things she wasn't to be involved with, and it worried her. Especially after she found the gun.
She hadn't said anything about it. She hadn't been snooping this time, only putting her things away in the bedroom. An earring had dropped to the floor, and as she fumbled between the bed and the nightstand for it, she'd seen it, edging out between the mattresses. She knew he wasn't supposed to have it, knew he wouldn't have put it there unless he feared someone coming when he was most vulnerable.
Knew he wouldn't want her to know about it.
She pushed it back further under the mattress, just so it was out of sight, found her earring, and continued putting her things away. But the thought of it never left her mind.
Now, she sat at the dressing table, brushing her hair, trying to ignore the low voice. Abruptly, it stopped, and moments later he was standing in the bedroom door.
"You look beautiful."
She turned to look at him, trying to smile back. He frowned, made his way over to her, the crutches making him ungainly. She hoped he would soon be rid of them; she was quite sure he had a graceful walk.
"Błn, I know you don't like this. I'm not real happy about it myself, but it's necessary. It's just...business."
"I understand." She stood and put her arms gently around his waist. "I only worry, because of your leg. If anything..."
"That's what I need your help with now. I need that bound up, tight. So I can leave these damn things here."
She stepped away, frowning. "You cannot do that, my Faceman. It could damage it again."
"I know, but it won't be for long. And the crutches would, well..."
"You must not appear weak to your associates. I understand."
Dutifully, she'd bound up his knee, and then, sensing his hesitation, had excused herself from the room. He came out shortly after, dressed in dark clothes, including a dark scarf around his neck. She could see the bulge in his jacket pocket. Outside a car horn sounded.
"You have to go now?"
" 'Fraid so. I, uh, don't know the area that well, so..."
She nodded. She stepped over and reached up, kissing him gently on the lips. "Please be careful, my Faceman."
He smiled, that cocky, confident smile she was growing to love. "Never fear. The proverbial bad penny." He laughed at her confusion before kissing her forehead. "Don't go to bed without me." Winking, he limped to the door and was gone.
She went to the door, listening to him moving cautiously down the stairs, calling for Pin. Minutes later, she heard the cab drive away, and the villa was silent.
Sighing, she went to the dining table and removed the dishes. They had eaten early, because of this 'appointment' of his. It only took a few minutes to clean up, even though she tried to draw it out as much as possible. She turned the radio on, but it was nothing but war news and she knew half of that was lies anyway. She sat on the couch, staring into space.
How long she sat there, she wasn't sure. She knew the villa grew dark, and finally she stood and lit the lamp in the corner. She stepped out onto the patio, staring down into the courtyard, watching as Pin moved quietly about, lighting the four lanterns. They were old and somewhat worn, but it gave the courtyard a soft glow, and Dao Quy and 'her Faceman' had stayed out there last night, not talking, just sitting.
Her reverie was broken when a jeep pulled up to the gate, and a man in American uniform stepped out. He looked up at the villa, then down at a piece of paper, before striding up to the gate and pulling the bell.
She stepped back from the patio, behind the curtain, watching as Pin hurried to the gate. She could hear their voices filter up from below, but not clearly. She could tell the American was getting impatient. Pin could do that to you. Then she heard the American's voice loud and clear.
"Templeton Peck. Dammit, I know he's staying here!"
She didn't stop to think, immediately recognizing the name of the Army lieutenant from the wallet. She stepped quickly to the banister and called down to Pin. They exchanged a few quick words in Vietnamese, while the American looked up at her. Shaking his head, Pin opened the gate and gestured for the man to follow him.
She waited nervously. She wasn't sure what to think now. Was her Faceman really in the Army, or was the ID a fake, and this man was here to arrest him? Was he a deserter? She dismissed that thought. Lam Thanh would not hesitate to deal with a deserter, but he would not have supplied such a villa and...her.
She had no more time to think, as Pin knocked on the door and let the American in, closing it softly as he left.
They stared at each for a moment, before she remembered herself. Whoever this man was, she had invited him into their home, and she would not embarrass her 'husband' with her poor manners.
"Please, will you sit?" She gestured to the couch, stepping back.
The American hesitated for another moment, before smiling and seating himself.
"Some tea, perhaps? It will only take a moment."
"No, no, thank you." He cleared his throat, and abruptly stood, bowing very slightly. "My name is John Smith, ma'am. Colonel John Smith."
She bowed in return. "I am Dao Quy."
"Well, excuse me, ma'am, but I seem to be in a bit of a puzzle here. I was told that my lieutenant, Templeton Peck, was living here, but your man claims there's no such person here. I'm hoping he's mistaken."
"No, he knows of no Templeton Peck."
The colonel looked at her for a long time, his eyes narrowing slightly. Then he spoke, very softly.
"You do, don't you, ma'am? He wouldn't be using the name of Butler, would he?"
"You have business with this Mr Peck, Colonel?"
"Yeah, yeah, I have business with him all right. He's in a spot of trouble, back at our base in Nha Trang. I need to speak with him about it. It's important."
"It is serious, this trouble?"
"It could be. I really do need to talk to him, ma'am, so we can get this taken care of before it does get serious."
"You wish to help him, then?"
"Yes, I do, ma'am. And I really believe that Mr, uh, Butler, is this man. If you don't mind, would you tell me just what your...position is, in the household?"
"I am his wife."
The colonel abruptly sat down.
The cab dropped him off three streets away and took off almost before the door was closed. Peck didn't blame him. It was not exactly an area of the city anyone wanted to be in after dark. He, himself, might as well be wearing a neon sign. There weren't a lot of Americans in Cholon.
He smiled, grimly. He could be friend or foe to either side at this point. Another reason he'd never wanted to get involved in the drug trade. Only a few months ago, while he and the others were guests of General Chow, there had been a huge sting operation right here in Cholon. The local police, with the assistance of the Americans, had arrested two high-level Viet-Ching drug smugglers. And almost gotten themselves killed by the Vietnamese Navy, who were paid to provide protection to the drug boats coming in from Cambodia. If it hadn't been for the sudden appearance of police reinforcements...
He had his story straight, no matter which side he ran into. He wasn't worried on that count. Whether he'd be given a chance to tell it was another matter.
He stepped cautiously into the first alley he came to. The less he was on the main streets, the better. He'd given himself plenty of time to find the meeting place, not only because he was moving slowly, but because he needed time to check it out, position himself, defensively, offensively. Didn't matter that he knew the kid; he didn't know the kid's compadres. Had to bear in mind that he was coming to them, not the other way around. They didn't need his connections; they would only be a convenience.
He didn't like being on the short end of the stick.
The brief thought of a grenade landing in Wrenn's lap flitted through his head. Followed immediately by a picture of Dao Quy.
He shook them both off. Concentrate on the matter at hand.
It took almost an hour of shuffling through the garbage and people in the alleyways before he found it. He'd watched the people as he walked, some curious, some looking the other way, most suspicious. The kids, most of them war orphans - eyes gleaming at him, rich American. Alone. No innocents in these places. Survivors. Determined to make a good life for themselves no matter what. No matter how. He glared at them. Let them know, wordlessly, that he knew who they were, what they were, and he was ready for them.
Bring it on, kiddies. Bring it on. I'll end it.
That's what they understood. They moved away, and he deliberately kept himself from looking back.
Now he was here. He looked around, suspiciously. A small courtyard off the alley, the backside of a dingy cafe on one end, even dingier apartment buildings on the two sides. Lights coming on inside the apartments. Any one of them, all of them, could house the people who would knife him in the back at a moment's notice. His contacts could be sitting in that cafe, calmly drinking their tea, planning on how to dump his body when they'd gotten the info they wanted from him.
He looked around the alley. One short block ahead was a busy street. Lots of traffic, lots of people. If it was an American street, he could disappear easily. But here...at least he had the gun.
He moved cautiously into the courtyard, noting the high fence joining up with one apartment building. High enough no one could just jump over it. The nearest apartment door opened inward, and a narrow terrace ran the length of each of the upper floors, putting the first-floor area in near darkness. He could just make out the small tables sitting here and there in front of the apartments. He would have a clear view of all but the apartments directly above him, and cover from all angles; a quick shove would get him inside that apartment if needed.
He moved along the fence, staying in the shadows. He carefully turned a table over on its side and settled in a chair behind it. Pulled the scarf up just below his eyes. Took the gun out of his pocket, letting it rest easily on his lap. Made himself comfortable.
He had about an hour's wait.
Hannibal stared up at the woman, trying to get his mind focused again.
She was looking back at him, solemn, questioning. A beautiful, petite...gook.
He found his voice. Barely.
"Uh, when, uh, when did you get...married?"
She had the grace to blush. Looked down.
It figured. Peck would never really get married. Just a sham. Just like everything else he did. All on the surface.
He stood, feeling the disgust, not fighting it much. Not that he was prudish. He knew about and had no problem with his guys visiting the local whorehouse. But that was different. Those women knew it was short time. A quick hop in the sack and go on to the next.
This was...a lie.
And he couldn't help but wonder what promises Peck had made. What lies he'd told her.
What lies she'd told him.
"All right, Mrs Butler." He spat the words out, ignoring her flinch. "I need to know where he is. Now."
"I don't know. He had some...business to take care of."
"Business? What kind of business?"
"I don't know. I..."
"Who did he talk to? Anyone come to the house?"
"He spoke to someone on the telephone. I don't know who. Please..."
He saw the glisten in her eyes, softened his tone, reminding himself he wasn't someone who bullied women.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. It's just very important." Especially if Peck was starting up his old ways in this city. "Did he say anything at all?"
"Not to me. He didn't want me involved. The telephone call, that's all I know."
"Where is it?"
She pointed to the corner, and Hannibal strode over, grabbing the small notepad beside it. He'd hoped for this. Peck was scrupulous about taking notes before any foray into the boonies, about any projects Hannibal gave him. Once it was written down, he'd study it for a few minutes and then destroy it. Hannibal didn't know why, but it was definitely a habit of his.
He grabbed the pencil sitting beside the phone, and lightly scribbled over the top page of the notepad. Over and over, watching as the words gradually became clear.
An address and time.
He glanced at his watch. Less than thirty minutes. He held the notepad out to the woman.
"You know this place?"
Timidly, she took the pad and read. Frowning.
"It is in Cholon. Not a good place." She looked up at him, and he could see she was scared.
So. She cared for him.
"Do you know how to get there?"
"No, but Pin might." She hurried to the door, swinging it open and calling down.
Within very few minutes, during which Hannibal paced the living room, Pin came hurrying in. He and the woman conferred for a few minutes before she turned to Hannibal.
"Pin knows the way. It will be quicker - and safer - if he takes you."
"Let's go." Hannibal headed to the door, but the woman grabbed his arm.
"Please. Bring my Faceman back to me."
He stared at her. Cared for him? Oh, yeah. Big time.
He nodded, and followed Pin down to the courtyard.
Peck straightened slowly in the chair, watching as several figures drifted into the courtyard. A couple from the alley, a couple more from the apartment building opposite his position. Stiffened as he heard footsteps above him, and two more came slowly down the stairway only yards away.
He stayed still, caressing the gun in his lap.
Three figures came out of the back door of the cafe, stood for a moment, and then a fourth. Peck caught a glimpse of him.
Tuan. His man. Supposedly. He'd soon find out.
He waited until the group had congregated in the middle of the courtyard. He'd let them stew a few minutes. He might be the one initiating this, but a little power play wouldn't hurt. So he waited.
They were not a patient bunch. That was a weakness. Also a danger. When they started milling around, he knew it was time. He spoke softly, just loud enough, no louder.
"Hey, Tuan. Let's talk."
Hannibal hadn't liked turning the wheel over to Pin, but it was quicker to just let him drive than try to understand the directions in his broken English. He was afraid the frail-looking caretaker would drive like the old man he was, but Pin apparently had been in Saigon for some time.
Hannibal's knuckles were white on the frame.
After what seemed like hours, Pin suddenly pulled the Jeep over to the curb. He nodded at a small cafe.
"This is it?" Hannibal looked at the cafe, people moving in and out. Didn't look that imposing. Or dangerous. But Pin had told him what kind of business was conducted around here.
Pin was shaking his head. "No, sir, this not place. You go back. Back of here. That place."
Hannibal sat for a moment. He was alone, unarmed. And he didn't want to raise a ruckus, bring any unwanted attention to the goings-on behind the cafe. Just break it up, before Peck got in too deep.
He turned to Pin, who was watching the cafe nervously.
"You like Mr Butler, don't you, Pin?"
Pin nodded, quickly.
"Okay, then. Here's what I want you to do..."
Tuan and the others had nearly jumped out of their skin at Peck's voice. He smiled in the dark corner, even as he saw several flashes of light on metal among the group. Not unexpected.
Tuan stepped forward, staring at the corner.
"Is that you, Anh Peck?"
"You know it, Tuan."
He knew he was being rude, ignoring Vietnamese customs, but he didn't worry about it. He and Tuan had done business before, although not of this nature. Tuan knew how it worked. Just as he understood why Peck remained hidden.
"Quite a crowd, Tuan."
"Only my friends, Anh Peck. It is a...bad neighborhood."
Peck allowed himself a short chuckle.
"You come out, meet my friends now?"
"Only the one I came to meet. You said he'd be here."
"He's here. Inside."
Damn. Not the way they did things. No way the boss would let a kid speak for him out here while he waited inside. Only meant one thing.
A dry hole. Wrenn wouldn't be happy about that. Peck wasn't too happy about it, either. In Tuan's eyes, he'd lost face with Peck when he couldn't bring his boss; that meant Peck would tell others how Tuan hadn't had the clout with his boss to produce, and thus make Tuan lose face with a lot of important people.
Peck sighed. Didn't leave Tuan with a lot of choices. Or Peck. Damn. The kid probably tried to talk his boss into a direct deal. He was young, wet behind the ears. Should've known better. But, Peck had told him he just wanted to test the waters. All Tuan had to do was convince his boss to talk.
He gripped the pistol a little tighter. He didn't have enough ammo to take everyone out, and no hope of doing that anyway. Wouldn't have to, of course, if he just took out Tuan to begin with. The confusion then would buy him enough time to break down the door to that apartment and take cover inside. Most likely these boys didn't want to attract attention; that's why the knives instead of guns in their hands. They'd scatter after that first shot, before someone called the White Mice. So his best bet was to take Tuan down. Not that he wanted to do that. Not really. He liked Tuan.
But he liked living better.
Hannibal was moving slowly down the alley, trying to keep track of where that cafe was. Problem was, of course, that these damn alleys were practically streets themselves, with shanties and lean-tos built up against the actual buildings. The people in the alley looked at him, startled. They didn't like seeing an American uniform here. Could only mean trouble of one kind or another. They melted into the darkness as he proceeded through.
Not the first time he wished he had eyes in the back of his head.
He heard the voices first. He stopped, crept slowly to the corner of some apartment building, and cautiously peered around the corner. Just enough to see what was going on. A bunch of young punks, maybe a dozen, standing in the middle of the courtyard. A kid in the front was talking to someone over on the other side. Hannibal couldn't see who, but he heard the response and knew he'd found his man.
He moved back around the corner. He hoped Pin hurried up. Hoped he remembered what he was supposed to do. Hoped his loyalty to Peck held up.
"Come on out, Anh Peck. We talk. Then you meet Sang Lo. Make deal."
Peck stood slowly, quietly, keeping the gun down below the overturned table. Didn't want the glint of metal to give him away. Not yet.
"Why don't you come over here, Tuan? No offense to your buds, but my business is with you and your boss." He took a small step toward the apartment door. "Better yet - you go inside and get Sang Lo. We'll enjoy the night air while we talk."
Tuan was shaking his head. "No can do. Sang Lo want more information first. Then he maybe talk with you."
Peck took another step. Gripped the gun, slowly pulling back the hammer on the Colt.
Hannibal heard the sirens in the distance, moving fast his way. He saw the distinctive headlights of the Jeep pull into the alley just ahead of his position. With a quick wave of his arm, he let Pin know where he was and took a step back from the building.
In his best Vietnamese, he shouted as loud as he could. "Halt! This is the police!"
It took only a moment for it to sink in. That, and the sirens sudden halt in the street in front of the cafe. Well, not quite in front of it. Pin had reported a robbery four doors down. Within a minute, maybe less, the men in the courtyard had scampered up the stairs of the two apartment buildings, disappearing into the dark upper reaches.
Hannibal nodded at Pin in the Jeep, who pulled up close to a high fence. Calmly lighting a cigar, Hannibal stepped into the courtyard.
"I'm waiting, Lieutenant."