5 Years, 8 Months, 6 Days
The windshield wipers were moving back and forth, back and forth, the soft thud sounding over the low drone of the engine. The only sounds heard in the van. It was dark, the early morning sun totally obscured by black clouds and rain. They had been driving for almost an hour, on some damn two-lane highway, watching as far into the distance as they could see. Knowing that if Murdock spotted them first, he'd only run off and hide until they had passed.
Yesterday's search of the restroom, the complex around the gas station, and the neighboring town had yielded nothing. Not that either of them thought it would be that easy. Yesterday his goal had been to hide; today it would be traveling. Fortunately, the very weather that made driving difficult for Hannibal and BA would make it equally difficult for Murdock to catch a ride. The drenched look just did not appeal to most drivers.
At least they knew where he was headed, and were on the only road that led directly to the city where Southern Life was located. According to the locals, it should take them right past the hospital itself. Hannibal figured if they missed Murdock on the way, they'd catch him there.
Hopefully, before he tried anything stupid.
What would happen after they found him was another thing. BA was of the opinion that the only way to get Murdock back to LA without hog-tying him was to take him to the damn hospital and let him see that this guy was of no use to them. Hannibal hadn't said anything, but his jaw had tightened. BA knew that meant one thing - Hannibal agreed but wasn't quite ready to admit it. Or like it.
And of course, the bigger issue was Murdock's insubordination. Improvising during missions was okay; disobeying Hannibal was not. He still considered himself the CO, and if Murdock wanted to continue with them, he had to accept that. BA had, and so had Wiley. Even Ray had, whenever they'd gotten together. They were free to live their separate lives, as much as that was possible, but Hannibal always had the final say. Always.
But that was something to deal with later. Once all this crap was over and done with. When they could all settle down, talk like the soldiers and friends they were. BA sighed, causing Hannibal to glance over before returning his stare to the road ahead.
"Another couple miles, BA. Another couple miles."
He couldn't really see where he was. Like being in the shade. Light, but no light. His brain felt...clogged. He turned his head, wincing. Some small room. He could just barely hear voices on the other side of the wall. He tried to sit up, but couldn't move. He jerked his arms, legs, twisted his body, anything to break free. Over and over, until he had to stop, dizzy, sick.
And for what?
He remembered moving across the room, toward the orderlies. Grabbing the ball just as the guy was going to throw it again.
Not the ball.
The arm. Twisting it.
Didn't snap. More of a grinding noise.
The guy yelling.
He closed his eyes.
Lots of yelling.
God, he was so tired...
He didn't run, after all. Maybe the rain was too heavy for him to see anything but the headlights coming. But he stood by the side of the road, thumb out in the classic pose. Hannibal rolled down the window as the van pulled up beside him. The two men stared at each other, one pale, the other outwardly calm.
"Why don't you get in, Captain?"
Murdock looked up and down the road, licking his lips, stepping back from the van.
"I think we're going your way, Murdock."
Murdock stopped, looking at Hannibal like a beaten dog looks at an offered bone, and then climbed in the side door. Hannibal rolled up the window and settled back into his seat, staring straight ahead.
"There's a blanket in back. And some snacks from last night."
BA was glad Hannibal's voice was soft, matter-of-fact. No recriminations. Not yet. He glanced in the mirror in time to see the look of uncertainty from Murdock, before the pilot turned and reached into the back.
"Hannibal?" BA spoke just as softly, almost like he was afraid of setting one or both of them off again.
Hannibal just nodded, said, "Let's get it over with." That same neutral tone.
BA smiled, just a little, and pulled back onto the highway.
The door opened again. He could barely open his eyes this time. The last time, he'd seen someone in white come up to the bed, felt the sharp sting of a needle in his arm. Drifted off again.
The door closed, softly.
How many times were they going to shoot him up, anyway?
His head more or less fell to the side as he looked toward the door. Someone standing there. Out of focus.
No white uniform.
He closed his eyes. Somewhere, in the fuzz that was his brain, he knew something was off. Didn't matter. He couldn't do anything. Couldn't stop it. Whatever it was.
Too drugged to care.
Shuffling. Toward the bed.
A muffled giggle.
He looked up. That kid. Eddie. The slow one who'd kept coming over to his corner. Standing in the middle of the room now.
He blinked, trying to clear his vision.
Eddie, standing there, vacant eyes, one hand over his mouth, muffling another giggle.
The other on his crotch, as he shuffled toward the bed.
They'd driven past the gates several times before pulling up into a small wooded area, but couldn't see the hospital itself. Hannibal didn't like the idea of going in blind. Nor did he like the plan they'd finally come up with, but it did no good to be Ronald Hanson if there was no Kyle Hanson. If they'd only been able to find a suit to fit Hannibal...
He turned his attention back to Murdock, who sat impatiently next to him on the van's bench. Delicately, Hannibal pasted the other half of the mustache above his upper lip. Nothing extravagant, just enough to draw some attention. That, with a pair of glasses and a conservative homburg, should keep anyone from accurately describing the real man. He didn't particularly care for the slight smell of mothballs coming from the suit, hastily purchased at a second-hand store, but maybe it wouldn't be that noticeable.
Finished, he sat back and looked at his handiwork. Sighed. It would work. If Murdock could pull off his part of it.
As if reading his mind, Murdock smiled. "I can do it, Hannibal. Nobody knows how to talk to hospital folk like I do. I'll find him, don't worry."
"But what about after, Murdock? Once you find him..."
"I'll be careful, Colonel. And I won't push him. Just find out if he can tell me anything about Kyle."
"And if he can't, or won't?"
"I'm outta there. Promise, Hannibal, cross my heart and hope to fly." Murdock winked. "But if he can, we pull him out, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Just make sure you can find your way back to him. I don't want to be running around some nut house..." He stopped, embarrassed. "Sorry, Murdock."
"No problemo, Colonel. Cleary said these places were bad." Murdock frowned. "Maybe we could pull him out anyway. For Jenny?"
Hannibal closed his eyes. Murdock still had this picture of Kyle Hanson in there. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Just make damn sure you don't mention anything about a breakout until he comes clean about Kyle. I don't want a bunch of fairy tales out of this guy."
Hannibal turned to BA. "You have that ID ready?"
BA nodded, reluctantly. He was no genius with these things, but he figured the doctored driver's license would pass muster, at least with people who probably hadn't seen an official FBI badge. "Just don't let em get too long a look at it."
"Righteo." Murdock slid the ID into his wallet and grinned. "Well, gentlemen - shall we go?"
He kept his eyes closed, tight, as he fought to stop the tremors. The hand that had gently pulled his pajama bottoms down was now fondling his genitals, and, try as he might, he couldn't shut out the soft humming, the occasional giggle, coming from the kid who stood next to the bed, his other hand still on his own crotch. He wanted to call out for help, wanted to scream, but he couldn't open his mouth, couldn't utter a sound. His body, his brain - drugged up inertia.
"Goddamn it, Eddie!"
His eyes shot open as the hand was suddenly yanked away. Voices, shouting, crying. The kid fell on top of him, body jerking as an arm flailed at him with a wire coat hanger. As the kid struggled, some of the blows came down on Face instead, stinging like a hot brand. More people crowded into the room, and the kid was finally dragged away.
"I told you to keep an eye on that pervert. Goddamn retard! Lock him up! I don't want see his ugly puss for at least a week, you got me?"
The door slammed shut, and there was sudden silence.
Trembling, Face tried to reach down for his pajama bottoms, but his hands wouldn't respond. Wouldn't move. He could do nothing but let the tears of frustration flow.
"I don't know why they'd send another investigator. Your people were here just yesterday."
Murdock's jaw tightened. If they'd come up here when Murdock first demanded it...
"Well, there's a few questions we have yet."
The matron shrugged. "Well, you won't get any more answers out of him today than you did yesterday. We had to sedate him."
"Why?" Murdock was definitely not happy. Sedated, this guy would be worthless to him, and Hannibal would never agree to stick around another day.
"He attacked one of the orderlies yesterday, that's why. Broke the man's arm." She stopped abruptly and glared at him. "You people aren't planning on changing that transfer, are you? He's still going up to Fort Knox tomorrow, right?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah. There's been no change there. No, ma'am."
Shit! If this guy was being transferred tomorrow, that meant the MPs would be on their way already. Maybe even in town already. And when Hannibal heard about this latest debacle...
The matron shook her head and continued up the hallway. They were on the second floor, and Murdock was getting more and more depressed. Cleary had told Hannibal he wouldn't send his dog to this place; Murdock wouldn't have sent his dead dog here. If he had his way, he'd open the doors and set all these poor bastards free. Anything had to be better than this.
They stopped in front of a large wooden door, painted a dark green. She turned the handle, seemingly surprised that it wouldn't open. Shaking her head, she unlocked it with a huge key, and the door swung partway open. Murdock looked into the shadowed room and saw a man strapped to a bed, his pajama bottoms pulled down, completely exposed.
"What the hell?!"
The matron looked in. "Oh, that was that damn Eddie. Sorry about that, Mr Spidel. We've got a kid here does that to everyone who won't fight back. Don't worry, he's locked up now."
"So you just left this man like this?"
She bristled angrily. "I didn't, no. Must have been the orderlies. I suppose they were too busy to notice, getting Eddie out of here." She marched in and roughly yanked the pajamas into place. "There. Now you go ahead and see if you can wake him enough to answer your questions. Just shut the door tight when you leave; it'll lock by itself."
Murdock nodded and stepped around her as she swept out of the room, leaving the door partway open. With a slight shudder, Murdock pulled his shoe off and wedged it between the door and frame. No way he was getting locked in here by accident.
Straightening, he moved over to the bed. He wasn't at all hopeful. This guy hadn't reacted at all when the matron...
He stopped dead. Stared. His heart started pounding as if it was going to burst out of his chest. He couldn't get his breath. He staggered back from the bed, looking at the door. He should call somebody. Get help. This guy...this guy...
No. No, he couldn't tell anyone. Not here. Not here. Secret. Had to be a secret. He fumbled with his hat, his glasses, stepped toward the bed. Backed away.
God, he had to tell Hannibal. He had to go back. Now. He needed Richter. He needed...Shit, he'd be locked up for good. God. Oh, God. He should've listened to Hannibal. He should've.
Gone too far. He'd just gone too far. Thought he was strong enough to do this, but...now.
He sank to his knees by the bed. Slowly, body shaking, he reached over. Gently, very gently, he raised one of the man's eyelids.
"He'll be okay, Hannibal."
Hannibal scowled. "You saying that because you believe it, or because you want to believe it?"
BA shook his head, disgusted. Obviously, he didn't like this. They were sitting outside the hospital, just out of sight of the main door. Murdock had assured them that no one would notice him walk up to the door; they would notice the van sitting right out in front, with BA and Hannibal dressed the way they were. Hannibal had bowed to Murdock's 'superior knowledge'. That didn't mean he liked it any better than BA.
Hannibal looked at his watch. Murdock had been gone exactly 27 minutes. Surely that was long enough to find out what he needed to know. Okay. So he'd have to get past the front desk. He must have done okay, because no cops had shown up. Then it was just a matter of being shown to this guy's room. How long could that take? He looked up at the monster of a building. Well, okay. So maybe a few more minutes. And maybe he'd had to wait for someone to actually take him.
Then how long to try and talk to the guy? Five minutes? Ten? He should've been able to figure out if they'd get anything out of him in that time, surely. He should've been done by now.
Unless the guy was willing to talk. Then they might be here for an hour. Maybe more. Could Murdock hold it together that long?
Shit. Hannibal looked up at the building again. Nothing like sticking Murdock's head in the lion's mouth. He shook his head, disgusted. The last place he should send Murdock was a nut house. What if one of those doctors saw something? Recognized something?
And what about the other patients? How would Murdock react to them? How would they react to Murdock?
"Hey, here he comes."
Something in BA's voice made Hannibal straighten up. Fast.
Murdock stood slowly, pushing himself up from the bed. He felt ice cold and fire hot at the same time. His heart hadn't stopped it's pounding; he didn't even know if he was breathing. He couldn't stop looking at him. From the top of his head, down to his feet. His eyes stung as he saw the marks on his wrists and ankles, red and angry-looking from straining at the leather bindings. Skin gray with dirt, clothes stained with...
He stepped back, slowly, shuffling toward the door. He had to get out of here. Had to get Hannibal.
He took one last, long look before he opened the door. He had to be sure. Absolutely sure.
He almost forgot to grab his shoe as he closed the door. He thought for a moment about leaving it open, just a little. Then he remembered Eddie. The way the orderlies had left...He closed the door quietly, but firmly. Made sure it locked.
He hurried down the hall, noting how many doors he passed, the hallways he moved down, windows, stairwells, duty stations.
He shook his head at the matron as he passed the front desk. She started to say something, but he ignored her. His focus was on the front door. Out of here. Away from here.
The door swung open and he forced himself to walk down the long steps. Once he hit the gravel of the drive, his pace picked up and he was almost running by the time he reached the van. He slammed the side door open, falling into his seat.
The next thing he knew, the van was moving. He panicked, started shouting, crying. They couldn't leave! They had to go back.
They couldn't leave him again...
"Murdock..." Hannibal looked at BA, who just shook his head. He was scowling his worried-sick scowl, and Hannibal didn't blame him. Hannibal didn't think either of them had ever seen Murdock in this state before. Hysterical, or damn close to it. Words rushing out, tears, his body shaking like a point nine...
"Murdock, c'mon, pal, take a deep breath. That's it, breath deep, slow. You have to calm down, okay, so we can understand what you're saying, okay? Deep...and slow..."
He watched as Murdock, still with tears in his eyes, started breathing as he was told. Slowly the shaking quieted, though not disappearing completely. Finally, he nodded at Hannibal.
"Now, I want you to start from the beginning. We aren't going anywhere, so don't worry about that. I want to hear what happened, Captain, concisely, professionally."
"We have to go back, Colonel. We have to get Face out of there."
Hannibal felt like he'd been gut-punched. He stepped back, staring at Murdock. He glanced at BA, but he'd turned away, slamming his fist into his palm.
"Murdock...that wasn't Face. Face is dead."
"No! No, we thought he was, but he's not, Hannibal, he's not, he's in there, he's up there on the second floor, behind that green door, and they let things happen to him, Hannibal, and they drugged him and strapped him down, and we gotta go get him, before they come get him, the Army..."
Murdock stopped, took another deep breath, head down. "Colonel. Face is the guy in the hospital. He's alive. And the Army is going to take him to Fort Knox tomorrow. We have to get him out now."
"Murdock, it can't be Face. He's..."
"He's dead, yeah." Murdock glared at Hannibal. "And you know he's dead, right? So just walk away. Just like you did before. Don't bother finding out. Just leave him. Again!" Murdock shoved away from the van and stalked off.
Hannibal stared at the ground, shaken. He was sure Murdock had completely lost it, but the words cut into him just the same. He felt a hand on his shoulder. BA.
"Hannibal, you okay?"
"Sure, BA. Murdock's gone off his nut and I was just reminded how I left a man to be tortured and killed, but other than that, I'm just peachy!"
With his usual style, BA ignored the outburst and got right to the point. "We gotta check it out, Hannibal. You know it, as well as I do. If we don't, Murdock..."
Hannibal sighed. God, he was so tired. "Yeah, BA, I know. Murdock will always think we left Face here, and he'd never forgive either one of us. But I don't think the three of us can just waltz in there demanding to see him." He looked at BA. "And what happens to Murdock when we prove it isn't Face? Will he see it? Or is he so far into this...mirage that he'll still think it's Face?"
BA looked up at the sky. The clouds were slowly drifting away, leaving a clean, blue sky.
"And what if it is Face?"
"What? How could it be, BA? My God!" Hannibal paced a couple steps, turning back to BA. "Do you realize what you're saying? Jesus, the odds of that...you realize the kind of Rube Goldberg scenario you're talking about? There is just no way!"
"I'm just sayin, Hannibal. What if it is?"
Hannibal shook his head. Were they all going nuts? "All right, BA. What do you think we'd do? If it is Face, we pull him the hell out of there. Satisfied?"
BA nodded, impassive. "Okay, so what's the plan?"