CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE



December 4 1977

1 year, 1 month, 27 days


Hannibal hadn't really liked giving Face a pill meant for someone else, and he was regretting it more and more as time passed and Face slept. Granted, there was more than ample reason for his exhaustion, but Hannibal worried anyway. Too keyed up himself, he'd nevertheless sent BA and Murdock to rest up in the guest room, reminding them of their other 'guest' in the next room.

That was yet another problem. Hannibal had taken her something to eat, telling her to stand facing the wall while he set the meal on the bed. That, of course, made her suspicious (she hadn't forgotten how Face had done the same thing), and Hannibal had had to come up an impromptu story about being 'deep undercover'.

Things were just getting too damn complicated.

Even knowing what they were now looking for, they'd been unable to find anything for the longest time. Wrenn was apparently anal about security, even in how he filed his encrypted stash. It had looked like a mishmash of disorganization, as if Wrenn had simply shoved random files into the various drawers. Then, almost by chance, Murdock found BA's file, not in the "J" drawer but filed under "B", surrounded by more supposedly random files. Hannibal surmised that Wrenn filed everything according to the real names, not the encoded ones - yet another obstacle to finding his secrets - and being able to quickly locate Murdock's file confirmed it.

Hannibal hadn't been surprised that neither BA's nor Murdock's files contained much, and some was not even encoded. Hannibal remembered some of the dates, and realized that Wrenn had taken note of some, though not all of the team's missions. He would definitely need to decode what he figured were the places, and see if he could figure out why Wrenn had paid attention to those in particular. Murdock's file was similar in nature to BA's, although the notations on the last page were lengthy, and all in code. Hannibal was somewhat hopeful when he saw that, knowing that clues to Wrenn's actions prior to and after Hanoi might be in there.

Hannibal's was actually several files in a small binder, and most of that in code. It would take no small effort to decode. He set it aside, discouraged, and looked in the drawer where Face's records were.

Not surprisingly, there were several binders, and everything was encoded except for dates - and there seemed to be hundreds of those. The last page, however, did show Wrenn's full hatred of the man. A hand-written notation at the bottom of the page, dated when the team was returned to Nha Trang. It was underlined, many times, circled several times, and had a series of exclamation points at the end. It was the only thing not encoded, and read simply, "PECK DEAD".

Hannibal had said nothing to the others, only had them put the files in the garage, ready to go when they left.

Now, he made another start going through the file cabinets, looking for any files that didn't concern the team, but could help hang Wrenn. He was getting more and more angry and desperate, and he didn't like the feelings. It was not how he handled things. But this was taking too much time, and getting too close to daylight, when a random phone call might come, some neighbor stop by. When he almost threw the desk lamp, he knew he needed a break. Now.

He stepped out onto the small patio behind the house. He pulled a cigar, methodically lighting it, puffing slowly as he gazed around, forcing himself to relax, to stop thinking, if only for a moment. He was hidden from view of the neighbors, what traffic there was was muted.

Quiet. Calm.

Normal.

There was little more he could do until Face woke up. He would not deliberately wake him - he needed his lieutenant rested, able to think, coherent. He really had only one thing to think about, one decision to make.

Stay or go.

If they stayed, it could mean being here another two or three days and in the end they could still come up empty. No guarantee Wrenn kept any other records from Nam, let alone what he knew about that robbery. And yet, Hannibal was certain there were records in that room that could spell disaster for Wrenn, records of things he wouldn't want the authorities to know about. Otherwise, why encode them at all? And frankly, Hannibal would be almost as happy to ruin Wrenn as he would be to clear his team.

If they left...

He carefully ground the cigar butt into the ground and headed back to the library.

There had to be another way, and by God, he would find it.


*****

The first thing Face was aware of was the whispering. A voice, so soft, telling him he had to wake up. Had to. He had things to do.

Unfinished work.

He forced his eyes open, obeying that voice, so soft yet so... demanding.

Do as you're told and you survive.

He started to sit up and fell back, gasping in pain. What the hell...

"Hey, Face. Don't move. You'll rip the stitches."

The figure hovering over him was blurred, but he knew that voice. Wasn't the whispering voice. No, this was...

Hannibal.

"You back with us, kid?"

Face blinked, Hannibal's face rippling almost into focus, and nodded carefully.

"Okay, good. Now, we're going to get you sitting up here. You don't move, just let us do the work, okay?"

Again, Face nodded. He still wasn't sure what was going on, or even where he was, but that whisper was still there. Hannibal seemed to want to help him, so if Hannibal knew what Face had to finish, they could do it together.

It took some doing to get Face propped up against the wall with pillows, even with both Hannibal and Murdock doing the work for him. He really wished they'd just left him alone. But that damn whisper got louder, and he pushed past the dizziness and pain.

Finish the job.


*****

Hannibal repeated his earlier steps with the housekeeper when it came dinner time. She was getting more impatient, wanting to know how much longer the men would be there, why this 'search' was taking so long. Hannibal had to get rather curt with her, but knew full well their time was getting very short.

Wrenn was also not happy. He had come to enough to let anyone he heard come into the bedroom know he was in pain, hungry, thirsty, and going to kill Peck at the earliest opportunity. Hannibal gave strict orders that no one was to say anything when around Wrenn. He may not be able to see them, but he would definitely recognize their voices. No longer concerned about Wrenn taking a bad turn, he was left mainly alone. Only once, when BA felt he was getting a little too loud, a gag was placed over his mouth. Just for a moment, but he got the picture. He kept quiet after that.

What made Hannibal uneasy was that Wrenn didn't seem to understand who they actually were. Wrenn surely would have connected Face with the rest of the team. That he hadn't meant the Army either didn't know Face was actually working with the team again - a long shot - or it was keeping the whole 'dead/not dead' debacle under very tight wraps. Hannibal didn't know why they would do that - unless it had something to do with that new guy who'd arrived with Lynch. He might have to do more checking on that major.

He headed back to the library, where Face was "holding court". Hannibal felt a bit guilty at his detachment, but it was actually a bit fascinating to watch. Face still wasn't really "with them", as he'd claimed; Hannibal was pretty sure that dose of Darvon had been a bit too much. But that reality-fog seemed to allow him to do exactly what was needed - focus almost exclusively on the task at hand. Hannibal wasn't blind to the sudden silences, with just a slight tilt of the head. Face wasn't thinking about the cipher when that happened. He was listening to something.

Someone.

After the first couple times, he also noticed that Face seemed puzzled by whatever he was hearing. And thankfully, it didn't take much to bring him back on track. It gave Hannibal hope that maybe, just maybe, Harry was finally losing some of his power. Maybe this whole thing with Wrenn had pushed Face in the right direction after all.

But for now, charts of coding scattered in front of him, he seemed very much in command. Hannibal had no problem with that at this point; Face was substantially faster at untangling the whole mess than he was. Face also understood the two-fold purpose of finding the right files. So Hannibal's job was to make sure neither BA nor Murdock got too pissed off at the curt orders Face had issued as he quickly translated the codes for more names. Hannibal was also looking for specific dates among those files, dates Face seemed to think were important to their secondary purpose - bringing Wrenn down.

Finally, with several stacks of folders on the floor, and BA at the point of shoving them down Face's throat, Hannibal called a halt.

"Face, enough is enough. There's no way we can decode all these things. Bad enough we have to deal with Wrenn in there. His housekeeper's about ready to mutiny."

Face looked puzzled. "His housekeeper?" Damn it. There was that look again - Harry making his presence known. "Oh, her. She'll be alright. Just don't let her out." He calmly went back to his work.

"Face!" Murdock's outrage beat Hannibal to the punch. "She's an old lady!"

Face looked at him impatiently. "She's not that old, Murdock. And she wasn't hurt, after all."

Time to defuse.

"Okay, old or not, hurt or not, we have to get out of here - soon. We need the shit on Wrenn and fast."

Face sighed. "Why don't you guys take a break and I'll start decoding."

"You're sure you can find what we need in this mess?"

Face smiled with grim satisfaction. "I can pull enough out of just those three files to prove Wrenn was dealing in drugs and weapons theft in Nam. That ought to be enough to pique the military's interest - and make them doubt any statements Wrenn might make against us. Shouldn't take more than a couple hours."

"All right. You get what you need decoded, but," he glanced at his watch, "you've got two hours, no more. Then we're out of here. Period." He looked at the others. "Go bring the van and get it loaded. I'll write down all the details of the codes and filing system, and we'll leave it all where they can't miss it. The Army will have the right people to handle it from there. We'll give them a call when we're a long way from here."

BA and Murdock almost immediately started for the door. As Hannibal followed, Face called him back.

"Wrenn's still alive." Statement, not question.

"Yeah, Face."

"Okay. That's what it was, then."

Hannibal almost asked, then thought better of it, and left Face to his decoding. But until they were ready to leave, someone would be sitting outside Wrenn's door.


*****

You must finish things. Now. Before he stops you.

Not yet. I have to finish this first.

Why? He gonna be dead. Who care about stupid papers?

Face forced himself to ignore him. Dead or not, Wrenn's reputation had to be destroyed, his actions in Nam exposed, along with whatever the hell he'd been up to Stateside. No matter what Wrenn had in the team's files, the Army could claim they were faked. Only exposing all of Wrenn's corruption, both then and now, would give the team an unassailable defense.

He had to destroy Wrenn, in every sense of the word.

He went back to work, shifting his makeshift charts quickly, jotting down names, dates, places, amounts. Every now and then, he would reach too far, move too quickly, and be forcefully reminded of that cut across his stomach. He was less and less inclined to accept BA's explanation for that, but still not quite remembering how it had really happened. He sighed. He knew eventually Harry would fill him in, and in great detail.

Not sure what he'd do then.


*****

Hannibal glanced down the hall, got a nod from Murdock, now sitting in front of Wrenn's door. He had a book open in his lap, but it was mainly for show. Just found a quiet place to read, should a certain lieutenant come his way.

Hannibal went looking for BA, who'd taken a cautious walk around the perimeter, watching how often patrol cars went by, planning their departure. He found him at the back door, cleaning up the cigar remains with a paper towel, shaking his head at Hannibal's carelessness. They knew they'd eventually be identified - no reason to make it easy.

"Sorry, BA."

"Yeah. Gotta make a sweep of the house, too."

"Right. Murdock and I can handle that - I need you to figure out how to lock up Wrenn and that housekeeper. I haven't found any keys for the bedrooms. And you need to do it quietly - I don't want them to know until long after we leave."

For the first time since they'd left LA, BA smiled. Just a little.


December 5 1977

1 year, 1 month, 28 days

He didn't know how long he'd been working when there was a knock at the door, and Hannibal stepped in.

Interesting, that knock...

"Face? One more hour, no more."

"It won't take an hour for me to finish things."

Hannibal looked at him for a long moment before nodding and walking out, leaving the door open.

Face quickly finished the notations, and began his next quest. The idea had come to him not long after he'd started decoding, and the more he thought about it, the better he liked it. He hoped Wrenn had a copy - was quite sure he did. In that one binder he'd made sure had been pulled, without telling them whose it was, specifically asking BA to get it. He didn't want to take a chance on Hannibal figuring it out. It would definitely go with the team, but not until he'd gone through it.

He stood, painfully, pushing past the spasm. Ignore it. He had to look in that file. Make sure.

He had to find Morrison's signature.


*****

Hannibal had set Murdock to clearing out Wrenn's bedroom, solemnly promising to help when he got done with the rest of the house. Murdock clearly wasn't happy about it, and no one could blame him for that, but someone had to stay between Wrenn and Face. Hannibal still wasn't sure Face wouldn't remember who had tied him up earlier and saw no point adding possible fuel to the fire.

Hannibal had just finished wiping down the pinball machine when BA came in, frustration making his usual scowl even more intimidating.

"Hannibal, that A-hole don't have one tool in that garage! Not one! What man doesn't have at least a hammer or -"

"Settle down, BA. What exactly do you need?"

"I need a vise, and a hammer, and a metal saw."

Hannibal sighed. He thought they could improvise on the tools, but it didn't sound like the quiet he'd wanted, and he said as much.

"I'll work in the garage - nobody'll hear anything. Not like I'm building a damn tank!"

"Okay, okay. Let's take a look in the kitchen - and you can tell me exactly what you're planning."

"It's simple, Hannibal. Break the handle off a kitchen fork and bend the tines. Then you just stick the tines in next to the latch button when you close the door and shove the handle in between the tines." He shrugged. "Can't nobody open the door from the inside; they gotta be able to pull that handle out."

Hannibal grinned. Leave it to BA to know about this shit...

It took only moments to find the meat tenderizer, a perfect substitute for the hammer. The saw was a definite problem, until BA noted he could probably do without it if they could find something for the vise. They found and discarded several kitchen tools before Hannibal spotted the perfect replacement, and held it up triumphantly.

"What the hell is that?"

"That, BA, is a gourmet vise-style nutcracker." He quickly demonstrated how it worked, and BA shook his head, grinning.

"How'd you know that?"

"A couple years stationed in France, BA. Can't help but pick up a few useful cooking ideas over there."

BA chuckled as he grabbed forks from the drawer. "Should have these ready in no time, Hannibal."

"Great. Just remember to wipe you fingerprints off."

BA nodded and headed once again for the garage. Hannibal smiled until he looked at the stack of dishes still sitting on the counter. They'd have to be hand-washed - he wouldn't trust the dishwasher to remove fingerprints. He glanced in the direction of Wrenn's bedroom, sighed, and started filling the sink.

Even Murdock had his limits.


*****

Face carefully folded the precious papers into his pocket. Two really good samples, one rather scribbled, but it would work. He wasn't going to be actually copying them, after all, so seeing a scribble could only help. There'd been a couple others in the binders, but he left them. Didn't want Hannibal getting suspicious, after all. And he did not need more interference from that front.

Which reminded him...

He stepped carefully to the door, hand resting lightly on his stomach. He wasn't sure he'd even be able to do this. He had no weapons any more, other than his bare hands. Not that that would be a problem. It would no doubt hurt like hell, having to hold Wrenn down while he finished the job, but he didn't consider that a problem, either.

No, the real problem was he just didn't feel like killing him now. There was no thrumming in his head, no excitement building. There was nothing. And yet he knew he had to do it.

Shit. He couldn't even remember why, now. Hannibal would get the Army in here, looking at all these files, and Wrenn would be history. He'd be right where he'd put Hannibal and the others. Who knew - maybe he'd die in prison. Face smiled. Yeah, that would be good. Wrenn would die locked up while the team was free...

You never be free if you don't kill him. He caused everything to go wrong.

"I know that. But - "

You coward. You always coward.

"No!"

Harry laughed.You not kill man who gave you to me. Ha! You like what I do, then!

Face took a furious step toward him, but Harry was gone, only a quiet echo of his laugh remaining.

When Face moved into the hall, there was no thrum, no excitement, not even anger. Only cold determination. If killing Wrenn meant ridding himself of Harry, then Wrenn would die.

Period.


*****

Murdock hadn't paid that much attention to the mumbling filtering up the hall from the study. Face had been doing that most of the night as he worked on those codes. But that last one sounded wrong. He tossed the last of the bloody rags in the trash bag and headed for the door. Just in time, as Face was headed his way. Murdock drew the door shut behind him, and held his finger to his lips. It would be just his luck if Face gave him away at the last moment.

"All done, Face? I was just clearing up in there so we can get outta Dodge."

"Uh, yeah. I've got one more binder to take with us, though, and, well, I can't quite lift it." His hand went to his stomach.

"Oh! Okay, well, BA and Hannibal are clearing the rest of the house; just let 'em know..."

Murdock knew that look. Always got it when Face saw through him and didn't like it.

"Face, you can't - "

"Yeah, I can, Murdock. Can - and will. I have to. It's the only way."

"The only way for what? C'mon, Face, you're not a stone-cold killer. You're not!"

Face looked away. "How would you know what I am?" The voice was so quiet now Murdock just barely heard him.

"I know because you didn't kill Hannibal."

Face's head jerked up. "What?"

"Back there in New Mexico. BA told me what happened."

"BA's the only reason I didn't - "

"No, Face. No. If you'd really wanted to kill him, you would've done it before BA got back up. Just like you could've killed BA instead of just knocking him out. Just like you didn't kill any of the guys you fought. You did a lot of damage, but you didn't kill them."

"This... this is different, Murdock! This is Wrenn! This is... I have to do this!"

"Why, Face?"

Hannibal stood a few feet behind him, voice calm, quiet.

Face spun around, stumbling against the wall. Both Murdock and Hannibal reached for him, but he pushed away. Murdock looked at Hannibal, hoping he could come up with something. And quick.


*****

Face hadn't heard the colonel come up behind him. Didn't want him here, not now. Just get this over with. Finish it. Then he could walk away. Everything he needed to do, done.

"Face? Why do you have to kill Wrenn? We've got enough to ruin him. Isn't that enough?"

"No. I have to finish this or..."

"Or what? What happens if you don't?"

"Nothing happens! Nothing changes! He'll... he'll stay... and..."

Hannibal was suddenly beside him, hand on his shoulder, and when Face saw BA come into the hall, he knew he was done. He couldn't fight them all.

"Things will change, Face. We'll make them change. But we can't do that if you kill Wrenn. That would kill us all. You understand, kid? You can't let him decide your future. You're the only one who can do that."

Things never change now. He lie, like always. You believe, like always. Harry smirked at him, standing beside BA's bulk.This one, too. You think he never lie - but he the one who cut you. And your precious colonel? He tie you up - just like those other men did. Just like that hospital did. Harry laughed now.Just like I did...

Face looked at Hannibal, at BA. Was it true? Had they attacked him? Thinking of BA's explanation of the cut, he knew. Harry was right. It was all a lie. It always had been.

Defeated, Face nodded. It was over. Not in the way Hannibal thought. But it was over. He knew that now.

He allowed himself to be guided into the living room, sat quietly on the couch, Murdock close by. He closed his eyes, waiting to be summoned to the van, driven away from his only hope of salvation.

You always mine now... always...