8 months, 14 days
Face wasn't sure what he was looking for. Fiedler said there would be something, some token, a trophy - something Neumann would take out and look at on occasion. Something to remind him of the vermin he'd helped to eliminate. Something that would boost his ego when he felt his conscience twinge. Hannibal had been equally sure of it.
He'd found the papers almost immediately, stuffed in an elaborate wooden box in the lower cabinet of the den. Custom built, no doubt. Nothing too good for Herr Neumann! The papers were what both Fiedler and Hannibal had predicted - pompous ramblings describing his induction into the Party, the military career as a guard at the extermination camps. Proudly declaring his part in ridding the world of lesser beings.
Fiedler wanted those papers. Anything they could find to prove Neumann's identity, his role in the mass murders. Face shoved the reams into the briefcase he found under the desk and began looking through the remaining drawers. Mundane items - bills, notes on some work Neumann was planning for the house, appointment reminders - were tossed unceremoniously on the floor, along with the drawers they were in. He found some letters in German, dated recently. He shoved those in the briefcase. A swift inspection of the shelves yielded nothing of value.
No trophies? Nothing at all to gloat over?
He looked back at the carved box, still sitting on the desk. Had he missed something?
He picked it up, carefully examining the ornate designs. He turned it over carefully and found the inscription carved into the bottom corner.
"Aurek and Rasine, Warsaw, 1938"
Not Neumann's then. Rasine's wedding present? Anniversary? Whichever, the box had been given more care than its owners. When had Neumann confiscated it? Had he taken it from the couple, or found it among the stash of belongings later? Had he ever wondered about Aurek, or Rasine? Did they have parents? Children still alive?
Had they packed their most precious possessions inside before departing for the camps? Had it held the important family papers - wedding license, birth certificates, deeds? Things they would need when they returned to their home?
Had they still believed the lies? Still hoped for a future?
Had they still believed in rescue?
He lay the box carefully on the desk, backing away, staring but not seeing, his fingers moving almost by themselves to the string of dog tags that should have been around his neck. He'd lost them, somewhere - in Saigon, in jail, that hospital - he wasn't sure where.
Harry's trophies. Dog tags of the men he'd destroyed. And the man he'd... None of which Harry needed or wanted in the end.
Worthless to him.
Who had those tags now? Had that pencil pusher in Saigon sent them back to the Army? Did some redneck in Alabama have them, bragging about knowing the guys who wore them? Did whoever had them know anything at all about those men? Did they even care?
Face closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Opened them to stare at that box.
Neumann shouldn't have that box. It meant all the wrong things to him. And the people Fiedler would hand it over to - would they know anything about the owners? Would they see the people who put their possessions in there, hoping to save what meant the most to them? Or would it just be 'evidence' - proof of the monster Neumann and his kind were? Cold, hard proof. Nothing more.
It would say nothing to the bureaucrats and lawyers and politicians - nothing of real value. How could they possibly understand what Aurek and Rasine were like? What the days - hell, hours, maybe only minutes - meant when they realized what was happening to them?
Nobody deserved to have that box now. It belonged with its owners. The people whose love was put into that box.
Most likely all dead.
He grabbed the box with both hands and swung around, throwing it with all his strength against the solid wall of cabinets. The box burst into hundreds of splinters. Face stared at the huge scar in the cabinet door, breathing heavily. He closed his eyes, willing the buzzing to go away. Willing the anger to leave. Wishing...
"Well, that's one less thing to haul back with us."
Face didn't have to turn to know how Hannibal was looking at him. The same look he'd seen so many times over the last few months - half-angry, half-worried. Throw in a dose of confusion and frustration for good measure.
"Care to explain?"
"Everything Fiedler needs is in there." Face swung his arm in the general direction of the desk, where the briefcase sat.
Hannibal's voice was calm, quiet. As if that would help.
"Is he ready?"
"Yeah, he's ready. Just have to bring in the fridge." Hannibal paused, but Face didn't move. "I'll need help with that."
"Let's do it."
"Are you okay?"
Face finally looked at him.
Hannibal hesitated, unsure yet again of the man standing in front of him.
"Yeah, Hannibal?" Impatient. Angry. Wired. Oh, yeah. Big time.
"This guy, Neumann - he's going to pay for what he did. After all these years, he's finally going to pay. And you're part of that. A big part."
"So there's a lot of guys like him out there. Guys who pray on people who can't defend themselves. Guys who treat other people like dirt. Guys who'll get away with it, if we don't stop them. We can help the people they go after."
"I've heard the song and dance already, Hannibal. That's how you got us roped into this, remember?"
"Just reminding you, Face. We'll help people doing what we're good at. What we were trained for."
"I tried to help Kyle. All I did was get him killed."
Hannibal had wondered when that would finally come out. He slowly lit his cigar, resisting the urge to look at his watch.
"I understood a snake did that." Finally a reason to be glad he'd heard those nightmares.
"He wouldn't have gotten bit if he hadn't stayed behind with me. He would've gotten out, with Arnie."
"So he should've left you. Saved his own life."
"Like we did."
Hannibal waited, knowing his statement could be taken several different ways. Knowing damn well Face hadn't considered the conundrum. Or maybe he had.
"Kyle was a sergeant. I was... he wasn't supposed to..." Face turned away, staring at the wreckage on the floor.
"I was your CO. I was supposed to look out for you. You, BA - and Wiley. You knew I would come back for you because that's what I was supposed to do. Just as you were supposed to look out for Kyle. You failed. I failed. So now what? Do we both spend even more years beating ourselves up because we only did what we could? That we acted on the circumstances and people we were supposed to take care of got hurt because of it?"
Hannibal sighed as Face continued to stare at the box.
"You were sick, Face. You'd taken beatings and God knows what else to keep those men safe from the same things. I had two other men to think about - two men I knew were alive. I can't change what happened, but I can try to fix it."
"There are some things you just can't fix, Hannibal!" Face jerked around to face him, startling Hannibal as he saw the tears in Face's eyes. Anger? Sorrow? "How can I fix Kyle? He's dead! And I might as - " He stopped, glancing everywhere but at Hannibal.
"Maybe you can't fix Kyle, Face. Maybe you can't get at Harry. But you can get these other guys. You and the team - we can do something about them. Maybe that isn't enough, but - "
"No, it isn't enough." Face stared angrily at him. "It'll never be enough." He looked once more at the box on the floor, staring at it for a long time. Hannibal waited. Finally, Face sighed, grabbed the briefcase and started for the door. He stopped next to Hannibal, swallowing hard.
"But... maybe it's a start."
Hannibal silently followed him through the door, a soft smile on his lips.
BA knew there was something wrong - well, besides this whole job. He hadn't wanted to come down here in the first place. Sure, the pay was good - if they weren't extravagant, they could live off it for four or five months easy. Not that long if Hannibal insisted on building up their supplies and munitions - man even wanted to find a damn warehouse to keep it all in. Like they were going to be some kind of damn army all by themselves. Well, that's what happened when you were in the military as long as Hannibal. Everything became a major operation. BA shook his head.
Damn "officer thinking" again.
He looked back up the road. Keep on track, BA. Hannibal and Face ought to be coming any time now, along with Neumann. If they'd even got the guy. He didn't like working blind like this. Even in Nam, they'd had ways of letting each other know what was going on, even if HQ didn't know. Hell, he might be stuck out here with Murdock for who knew how long, waiting to see if their plan had worked or not. If they'd gotten stopped, how long before Pereyra found out? He wasn't supposed to know anything about this part of it - how would he know if they'd gotten caught? Where they were held? If they were even alive?
They never should've come down here. They could've found something that didn't involve going to a foreign country - especially one where there was already fighting going on. Not that BA was afraid of a fight - but it had nothing to do with their job. Just another complication they didn't need.
And kidnapping... BA sighed. Hannibal insisted it wasn't kidnapping - he called it "a simple retrieval". Right. They weren't mercenaries. No - they were bounty hunters now. BA didn't like either. Sure, Neumann and guys like him deserved to be hauled in, but still... This wasn't exactly helping the little guy, like Hannibal kept saying they should do. Fiedler was hardly a "little guy". Man had money up the ass. Hiring them to do his dirty work...
"Any sign yet, BA?"
Damn! BA jumped like he'd been shot.
"What the hell you doin here, man? You sposed to be with the plane!"
"Well, I was, but it's been almost an hour now. And it only takes a few minutes to get her revved up."
"And we may need every one of those few minutes - so you get your ass back there and have it ready to go."
BA frowned at Murdock. He knew it. There was something wrong.
Murdock sighed. "Nothing, BA. You just be sure to honk when you get close so I know you're coming."
BA frowned deeper as Murdock turned and trotted off toward the plane. He just knew they should've let Fiedler get them a pilot. What the hell had Face been thinking?
'Cause there was definitely something wrong with Murdock...
There had been one 'iffy' moment, taking the refrigerator with Neumann inside out to the truck. One of the neighbors had come out to watch - made some comment that Hannibal only partially understood. Before he could try to make some reply, Face had come to the rescue.
"Hey!" He nodded angrily at the fridge and then the truck.
Hannibal had made an apologetic shrug to the neighbor, who frowned and went back into his own house. Hannibal grinned at Face, but it wasn't returned. He sighed. Face was apparently back to Strictly Business. Just as well - they were running late and BA would be having a fit. If Murdock hadn't driven him to murder already.
As Face drove the truck out of town, Hannibal thought about BA and Murdock. He was assuming they had been successful in getting the fuel truck and getting it to the plane and getting the plane fueled and... too many things to assume. He had every confidence in BA - Murdock was the wild card. Hannibal still didn't know what Face had had in mind, bringing him along. And now was probably not a good time to bring it up. Face, for all his business-like demeanor, was still wired and that was not the time to press him. On anything.
Both men started scanning the road as they approached the area where the plane was hidden. Pereyra had driven them down a barely discernible path, and they knew if BA wasn't at the junction they would never find it. It would take them maybe ten minutes to drive to the plane where Murdock would hopefully have the thing ready for takeoff as soon as they got Neumann aboard. A few hours later, a quick refueling in Costa Rica and then home.
Home. That really sounded good.
Murdock wasn't comfortable with the colonel sitting in the co-pilot's seat. He'd liked it better when Face had been there, strangely enough. Neither one of them had said anything for most of the trip - Face had filled him in more completely on the job, but otherwise... The only downside was the silence left too much room for Murdock's Face to pop in with comments and suggestions. Trying to be helpful, of course; he was never anything but. He was just a little too persistent in wanting Murdock to talk about things with the real Face that neither the real Face nor Murdock was ready for. Sometimes Murdock's Face was as clueless about crazy people as most real people were - which was strange, considering he came from a crazy mind to begin with.
But Murdock liked having Face sit there. He knew Face wasn't trying to analyze him, wasn't trying to figure out if he was 'okay'. Either he didn't care or he was confident Murdock was okay enough to do the job. And he must have been sure Murdock could handle the flying or he wouldn't have come to get him. Unless Face had some kind of death wish, which Murdock had to concede wasn't impossible. But he didn't think Face would want to take the others out with him. Not that Face cared that much about them - Murdock didn't know what all had happened in the preceding months, or even since Face's first visit, but just the fact they were still alive must mean something.
No, Murdock was sure Face wouldn't want the others along for the Final Ride. He wouldn't want his death to be a "team thing". And that would be important to Face. Just from watching them during this trip, he knew that much. Face still didn't think of himself as part of the team and certainly wouldn't want his death to be.
So they were all safe, in that respect.
He glanced again at the gauges. He really, really wished Hannibal weren't here. Unlike Face, Hannibal would want to know why Murdock was trying the landing gear while they were still flying. Would want to know why Murdock was concerned about the various lights flashing when they shouldn't be - or not flashing when they should. And then Murdock would have to explain that something was wrong with the one strut, and that he didn't really know what. Just that it didn't look quite right. And then explain that Murdock hadn't mentioned it to BA so he could look at it.
In hindsight, he really should have - but then again, there wasn't anything BA could do about it anyway. Not out in the boonies like they were. And the take-off hadn't been too bad. No one expected that to be smooth, after all. Not like they'd been on tarmac. So really, all Murdock had to do was make sure they got back on the ground in one piece in Costa Rica and then BA and the airport mechanics could deal with it.
So that was okay then. He could resist messing with the landing gear and just fly on in to the airport. He wouldn't have to explain anything. They'd all assume it happened during the takeoff. They'd fix whatever was wrong in Costa Rica and then go home.
Yep. Just one more landing.
He'd done it a hundred times before...
Hannibal sat in the cockpit, pretending to relax, watching the view. Face was watching Neumann and BA was watching Face. It wasn't that Hannibal didn't trust Face, or that he didn't trust Murdock. But he wanted Neumann deflated - Hannibal was too close in age and military background. Having an obviously hostile younger man coupled with a black man... Neumann would feel the defeat that much sooner. Defeated men rarely caused problems.
But Hannibal did want to keep an eye on Murdock. Not only because this was going to be a long flight, but because BA had said something was bothering the pilot. He couldn't be specific, but he was sure. There was something else on Hannibal's mind as well.
How long had Murdock known about Face? And why hadn't he told Hannibal?
Hannibal had entertained the notion for a short time that Murdock was seeing Face as just a figment of his imagination, a coping mechanism. A stretch, to be sure, but Hannibal had heard Murdock 'talking' to Face when the lieutenant wasn't even around. On the other hand, he seemed to have no problem interacting with Face as a reality. Their conversations were real world - no off-kilter comments from Murdock at all. So did Murdock realize Face was alive or not? And if he did, was it simply because Face had presented himself and Murdock had no choice, or because he had actually remembered things? And if that was the case, how much had he remembered?
Hannibal didn't say anything for a while. He just wasn't sure how to approach it. More of the dancing around he'd done with every visit to the VA. Ask the right questions but not too many; don't bring up things that might trigger the wrong memories; find out how much Murdock had remembered since the last visit without making it seem like an interrogation. Hannibal thought he usually handled it pretty well. The only difference is that now they were several thousand feet in the air...
Murdock, for his part, seemed to be fully involved in his flying. Actually concentrating on it. Now that Hannibal thought about that, it seemed odd. Flying was second-nature to Murdock - he paid attention to things but the way most people drove their cars. But Murdock was watching the gauges like a hawk, and there was none of his usual banter.
How long had it been since Murdock had flown? Hell, must be almost five years now. Since he'd landed in the VA. Did Face realize it had been that long? No - why would he? Well, Murdock's concentration made sense now. Of course it did. He was a bit rusty, not quite as confident as before. Hannibal hadn't been in the cockpit on the way down or he would have realized it before. Damn good thing he had now - definitely didn't want to start asking questions about Face. No distractions. A little small talk maybe - ask about the fuel truck. BA had given them the gist of the adventure and it seemed to have gone smoothly.
Sure. He'd ask about the truck - safe topic, nothing that would really take Murdock's attention away from his flying.
Any other questions could wait until they were safely back in LA.