1 year, 1 month, 27 days
They worked in relative quiet, going through each of Wrenn's eight file cabinets, looking for any indication of dates or names that could have a bearing on their case. It was extremely frustrating since, as Face had mentioned, the files were nearly all encoded.
Murdock had cleaned up BA's wounds, luckily only a couple of gashes on his arm, and then gone to tend to Wrenn in the shambles of the bedroom. They all knew they should probably take him to a hospital, but none of them were inclined to do so. Sure, he'd taken a hell of a beating, but nothing life-threatening. Probably. Hannibal made the call; if he started going downhill, then they'd take him somewhere, sans any identification, and call an ambulance. Just another mugging. Unless or until that happened, there was too much else to be done. Too much at stake, and far too little time.
Neither BA nor Murdock had been so complacent where Face was concerned; they wanted him in the hospital. Period. When BA tackled him, Face slammed into the door, and the knife he'd been holding sliced across his stomach. He'd fought like a maniac, regardless, until they were finally able to subdue him.
That's when the argument began, and it was only Hannibal going into full-Colonel mode that settled the issue. Unlike Wrenn, Face would be in deep shit if they took him in. Harry was still in charge, and that added complications the Army could never compete with.
Hating himself even more, Hannibal also insisted that Face be restrained before they attempted any first aid. Murdock glared, but nevertheless brought more of the ripped up sheets along with clean linen for bandages. They all realized it was for everyone's safety; Hannibal also understood he was crossing a line with Face that could destroy everything he thought they'd accomplished. But when Face started yelling invectives in Vietnamese, plus something in what Hannibal thought was Laotian, his hopes rose that Face wouldn't remember who had trussed him up.
It had taken some doing, even though the cut wasn't that deep, but Hannibal had finally gotten the seeping blood stopped, and the last bandages on. He really needed stitches, but Hannibal figured trying to sew him up now would just wreak more havoc. Face had sunk into a semi-stupor, only waking up enough to send a baleful look when the colonel moved directly into his view. Leaving the two injured men in the hallway, Hannibal had made his way to Wrenn's bedroom, where he rolled up the duvet as Murdock tossed the last bloody rag on the floor. He'd considered moving Wrenn out so Face could have the bed, but time and logistics argued against it.
Using the bedcover as a litter, he and Murdock had carefully moved Face into Wrenn's office where they could more easily keep an eye on both men. Hannibal hoped Face would eventually come to enough to decipher the code, but he was in no condition to help with anything at that point...
Murdock straightened, shoving the latest file folder back in the drawer. He stretched and sighed deeply before looking at Hannibal, who looked at the two exhausted men, and Face still inert on the floor, possibly asleep, definitely unaware. Looked at the first halo of dawn through the windows.
"C'mon, guys. Let's see what Wrenn has in that fancy kitchen..."
Murdock sat at the table, slowly chewing the - well, whatever it was. It tasted good, but he didn't really know what anything was that Hannibal pulled from the fridge. The colonel had seemed impressed, so apparently it was stuff for fancier people than him. And that's what he was wondering about now. Wrenn had never seemed like the gourmet cook type; certainly loved eating well, knew all kinds of premium restaurants in Saigon and Stateside. But a cook? Not Wrenn. So why would he have all this fancy food?
The other men started when he abruptly stood and headed to the fridge. He opened the freezer compartment and carefully pulled the frozen plastic boxes out, reading the labels. Yeah, these weren't TV dinners, not by a long shot. These were ingredients an experienced cook would use. Somebody... He turned and stared at Hannibal, who suddenly got that "now what?" look on his face.
"Uh, Colonel, just wondering. Did you ever figure Wrenn for a good cook?"
"Wrenn? No way. He was lucky if he could heat up c-rations. Why?"
Murdock frowned, ignoring the question.
"You remember how Face suddenly decided not to shove me into that first room?"
Hannibal's turn to frown. "Yeah. What are you getting at?"
"The food in here. It's all pretty fancy for someone who doesn't cook, isn't it? More like something a chef would use."
"So, he probably has a cook, maybe a housekeeper - " Hannibal stopped, stricken. "Maybe somebody who would live here."
Hannibal dropped his fork and hurried down the hallway, Murdock and BA close behind, stopping at that first room. Hannibal cautiously opened the door and stepped through, fumbling for the light switch. Murdock, right behind him, noted almost immediately that no one was in the room - but there had been.
The colonel moved toward the half-open bathroom door, found the room empty. But the door squeaked, just a little. Just enough.
From the other door in the room came a muffled cry.
Murdock felt really sorry for the colonel. Now what, indeed?
For a moment, Hannibal seriously considered just walking away, calling the cops, and letting Face deal with the unholy mess he'd created. But he remembered what Face had told Murdock.
"You guys will be free of me as well."
Okay. Time to come up with another of his famous plans...
He gestured for BA and Murdock to leave, whispering, "You guys go check on Wrenn and Face, then get back to those files. I'll take care of damage control here."
"You sure, Hannibal? Maybe we oughta just grab Face and git, call the cops after we're long gone."
"No, BA, we can't leave Wrenn in a position to tell anyone about Face or this fiasco. We have to have something to discredit him, or at least keep him quiet. Just do what I said. We'll work it out."
Hannibal didn't wait for any more 'discussion'. He quietly but firmly closed the door and looked at the closet, where the noise was increasing. He thought for another minute, made his decision, and strode to the door.
He purposely did not look for a light switch, letting him see the woman from the light in the bedroom while he remained a silhouette. He didn't see any injuries, thank God. She was older but not exactly frail-looking. And feisty - she had to have been tied up for several hours now, but was clearly still angry at being treated this way. Reminded him of his mother when he'd come home after another of his childhood 'adventures'.
Well, at least he knew how to handle a woman like that.
Still standing in the doorway, he addressed her with firm sympathy.
"All right, ma'am. I'm John Proctor, with the FBI." He pulled out his wallet, flashing it dramatically in the dim light before shoving it back in his pocket. "I'll cut you loose, but until I know exactly who you are and what's going on here, I don't want any trouble from you. Understood?"
The anger still remained, but Hannibal saw that hope mix in. She nodded, eyes never leaving him.
Hannibal smiled to himself. This might work out after all.
Murdock checked over Wrenn, changing the cold packs, making sure he hadn't actually died yet. Not that that worried Murdock. He hadn't forgotten that talk in-country. Hadn't forgotten that without Wrenn, the guys might've stood a chance of being freed. The only reason Murdock cared at all about Wrenn's recovery was because of Face.
He could not get past the fact that Face had done this. Even after all he'd heard and seen since they found him, Murdock just could not accept that Face would beat the shit out of guy who was tied up, defenseless. And who was in the closet? What had he done to them?
Had to be that damn Harry. Had to be. The Face Murdock knew, however superficially, would not do this.
He just wouldn't.
Wrenn groaned and Murdock turned his attention back to the task at hand. He removed the now lukewarm rag from Wrenn's face, and that's when he had a spurt of hope that things might work out.
Both Wrenn's eyes were swollen shut.
He had never seen Hannibal, BA - or Murdock.
Hannibal had removed the gag and ties, being careful to avert his face as he stepped behind the woman. She sputtered and coughed, but made no effort to move. He quickly went to the bathroom and brought her back a tumbler of water, again making sure all she saw was silhouette or shadow. After he helped her drink, she said she wasn't really hurt, just stiff and sore.
"Did you see who did this?" Hannibal held his breath. So much depended on her answer.
"Not really. I was asleep, and the next thing I knew, this hand was over my mouth, and this voice - oh, it was a terrible, nasty voice!" Hannibal helped her take another drink, figuring any voice would sound nasty under the circumstances.
"He said not to make a sound, that he had some business to take care of, and he had to make sure I wouldn't 'cause problems'. Just like you!" She glared up at him, and Hannibal was really glad he was still in the shadows.
"Okay, then what?"
"Then he pulled me out of the bed and made me stand facing the wall. I could hear him tearing up my sheets, and then he wound a strip around my head, covering my mouth, tied my hands and pushed me into the closet. And then he tied my feet together! Like I was a threat to a man that size!"
"Uh-huh. And then he left?"
"Yes. He told me again not to cause problems, because he wouldn't like that - and he sounded so cold and mean - and then he shut the door on me." Tears started trailing down her cheeks. "He didn't... he didn't hurt Mr Wrenn, did he?"
Hannibal sighed. Little white lie time.
"Mr Wrenn will be okay. Apparently the intruder didn't find whatever he was looking for and left. But you need to answer me honestly now - do you know anything about Mr Wrenn's business dealings? Any people who showed up here? Names he might have mentioned?"
"No, no, he never talks about his work. He sometimes has dinner parties here for his clients, but he always lets me go visit my daughter after I have the food prepared." She frowned. "Sometimes he was awfully insistent on that, even when my daughter had other plans. So I would go to a movie instead." She looked defensively at Hannibal. "He just didn't want me stuck in my room while his guests were here. Mr Wrenn is not a dishonest man!".
"Well, that's what we're here to find out. We've been watching Mr Wrenn for some time, you understand, and while he may or may not be directly involved, it was his associations that got our attention. But you don't know anything at all about that, do you?" Hannibal hoped he'd put just the right amount of disbelief in his voice. He wanted her cooperative - very cooperative.
"No, I already told you! He never discussed his business with me. He never even... takes phone calls... except in his office." She suddenly looked nervous. "Do you really think he's..."
"As I said, that's what we're here to find out. Now, I'm going to believe you, for the moment anyway. But I want you to stay right here in your room while my men and I are finishing our search. I don't need any civilians getting in the way, or maybe trying to 'help' Mr Wrenn."
"Oh, no, sir! I'll stay here, I promise! I won't make a peep!"
Hannibal took a last glance around the room, disconnected the phone, and carrying it with him, left the woman still sitting obediently in the closet. As he closed the bedroom door, he smiled softly.
Piece of cake...
BA was not happy. His arm was hurting like hell, for one thing. Not that they were huge wounds - more like really big paper cuts. But they hurt like hell anyway.
And then there was Face. He'd obviously tried hard to get loose while the rest had been out of the room. The bandages were soaked with blood and he was drenched in sweat. BA sighed; Face seemed to look right through him, and BA wasn't sure if that was that spaced-out phase he always seemed to go through after one of his 'adventures', or if Harry was still around.
Okay, LT. First things first.
"How long you been out, Face?"
The question seemed to confuse him.
"How long were you passed out?"
"I... I don't know."
"Well, I'll tell you. Long enough for me and Hannibal to get here and find Murdock - and you. So we ain't gonna have no talk of us not bein here, right?"
"How - "
" 'Cause Murdock told us how you was seeing us when we weren't here yet. So now you know we are here, and we ain't no ghosts."
"I was supposed to be gone... before..."
"I figured that. Didn't work out that way. Now I gotta re-do those bandages."
Face looked down at his stomach, wincing. "How did..."
For a moment, BA was stumped. How to explain something that would blow things up again? He decided on the bulldozer plan. Didn't like lying, but...
"You tripped. Didn't think you were that clumsy, but that's what happened." He moved on, quickly. "You lay still - I gotta go get some clean bandages."
"Okay." Face didn't look like he was totally convinced, but it was plausible enough for him to accept. For now.
BA left, running into Murdock as he came out.
"Got some work to do on him - you go see if you can find something for the pain. But don't you go in talkin to him. And tell Hannibal to stay out, too. We gotta get our story straight first."
Leaving Murdock open-mouthed, BA stalked into Wrenn's bedroom.
Murdock was playing a pinball machine in Wrenn's game room, but Hannibal knew he was getting both bored and stressed with the waiting. He was willing to deal with that until BA got done with Face. He didn't know what his sergeant had told Face, but it seemed to be working - at least there was no indication of anyone trying to kill anyone else in there. So they would wait until they were let in on BA's 'magic'.
Hannibal found himself wondering about that rather odd relationship between BA and Face yet again. Saying opposites attract would not only be trite, but not entirely accurate. The two men had never actually liked each other, but since they'd found Face again, there was... something between them. Protectiveness on BA's part but only to a point. He didn't like the stunts Face pulled, but was ready at the drop of a hat to pull him out of them - then give him hell about it.
And Face took it. For the most part anyway. Basic dislike or not, Face seemed to respect BA. He at least listened to him, and to a certain extent, seemed to trust him. Well, Face knew how BA felt about lying - which was another paradox. Lying, or at least distorting the truth, was almost an integral part of Face's personality. And BA accepted that, even when he called Face out on it.
Well, whatever the nature of their relationship, it seemed to be working. That's what mattered, in the long run. Hannibal could only hope he and Face would get there one day...
Murdock had moved from the pinball machine to looking through Wrenn's collection of books. Hannibal took the opportunity to look around as well, curiosity taking over. A few first editions on the shelves, artwork that didn't exactly come from Woolworth's. He looked around the rooms, now lit by the sun. All in all, Wrenn had done pretty damn well, considering he'd only been with that development company for four years. Hannibal was pretty sure Wrenn didn't have the real estate acumen for this kind of success
Be interesting to find out who hired him - and what they got in exchange for the cover...
BA came in, wiping his hands on a towel that probably hadn't seen real dirt since it was made, and spoke without preamble.
"Here's what's what, guys..."
While Hannibal was impressed with BA's handling of Face, he was less than happy with BA's adamance about stitches. The longer they were here, the better the chance of discovery, and they were already stuck here until nightfall. But after looking at the new and already pinkish bandages, he had no choice but to agree. Hannibal sent Murdock back to the van for their medical kit, and had BA make sure both Wrenn and the housekeeper were staying put.
As for himself, he settled down on the floor next to Face, determined to get any information he could about that damn code before giving him the Darvon Murdock had found. The clock in his head ticking away the minutes, he got straight to the point.
"Okay, kid. I know what you want to do with these files, and I want that as well. Very much. But I need to know what this code is all about, because we haven't got a lot of time. What do you remember?"
"There's a key word. He used... " Face frowned. "He used 'smack'. Yeah. 'Smack'."
"Smack? Okay. So what does that mean?"
"It tells you what... codes to use... for the letters."
"You mean there's more than one code?" Dear God, they'd never get through all these files.
"Yeah, but they're... easy. Just... takes a little time." Face closed his eyes, starting to drift off.
"C'mon, Face, focus! Tell me what you mean!"
"Okay." He swallowed. "It's the Vigenère... and shift..." Focused he was - understandable, not quite.
Hannibal tried to be patient, but Face was fading fast. He knew about the Vigenère; it was complicated, but workable. How fast was another question.
Deliberately or accidentally, Face came up with the magic phrase.
Just like that, Hannibal was in the backyard at his family's home, he and his brother playing with the "magic" decoders they'd gotten from Ovaltine. Caesar's shift cipher! How could he be so dense?
"What about the key word, Face? You said Wrenn used 'smack'."
"First letter. S."
Okay. Hannibal stood, spotting and pulling down the wall calendar. On the back, he wrote out the alphabet in large letters. He tore off another sheet and did the same.
"Okay. 'A' isn't 'A' - it's 'S'. Right?" He positioned the two alphabets so the 'A' of the first lined up below the 'S' of the second. Now he was getting it.
"To start. Second... alphabet... 'M'."
Hannibal sighed as the voice fell to a whisper, but Face wasn't done. Not yet. He made a grab for the pen, hissing in pain. Hannibal immediately handed it to him, and watched as Face moved the papers, back and forth, awkwardly scrawling a series of letters, crossing some out, determinedly re-writing. Finally, the pen dropped from his hand and he pushed the sheets toward Hannibal. He pointed to the first set of letters - "Aairx" - and looked at Hannibal.
The next set - Xsci. "Peck."
Uirbely. "Murdock. Look for those. Look..."
Hannibal's grin was returned by an exhausted but almost triumphant smile.
"Okay, Face. I want you to take this pill - it's for the pain. When Murdock gets back, I'm going to have to sew you up."
"Yeah...," Face replied with obvious effort. "If he changed.. the key... we're screwed..."
'Might be anyway, kid,' he thought, as he helped Face down the pill. 'Might be anyway."