CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN

The first thing Lori did every morning was start sorting through the selected law enforcement reports that had been entered into their system the night before. It was a boring job and one that Lori would prefer to let her assistant handle. But the boss was adamant about not letting an "underling" check the reports. Same with the emergency room entries. Lori had very specific parameters to be checking for. She had been doing this every day for the last week and a half. Ever since coming on board with the new boss. And every day for the last week there had been absolutely nothing to report. Starting up the computer, Lori had no expectations of there being any change today.

She was wrong, of course.

There. There was one of the things she had to look for. It had showed up a couple times before, but no other information matched what she was looking for. She pulled the full report to check it.

Well, two definite hits from her list. Maybe a third from the emergency room entries, although she couldn't figure out the connection between them. Lori hurried into her boss' office. Carla would want to see this...


*****

The next morning Maggie was a whirling dervish. In between patients streaming into her office, she was on the phone, calling on colleagues for any and all advice they could give her. She grabbed a quick lunch, leaving the guys to fend for themselves, and continued her frenetic activities until well into the afternoon. By the time she hung up the phone for the last time, everything was in place. John was not the only one who could come up with a plan.

Hannibal had been wandering aimlessly around the house most of the day. His mind was working at top speed but he had nothing to show for it. Every possible avenue he could think of for dealing with Face had been explored and abandoned.

He found himself building what he considered an unreasonable resentment toward the man. He thought of all that the team had gone through over the last several months. And he thought of Stockwell. The last look on his face. And while he told himself over and over that this was not Face's fault, a little nasty voice kept saying, "He could've come to you first." He knew why Face hadn't. Face knew that Hannibal could not have done anything to change things. Not in the long run. One look at the woman in the office told him that. Face had recognized that the team members weren't the only people Stockwell could threaten. And yet that voice stayed in his head.

BA did what BA always did when he was stressed. He tore apart the van's engine. Every little piece carefully cleaned, oiled, put aside until he put it all back together again. Though his movements were careful and meticulous, inside he was seething. He hadn't seen the attack on Murdock coming. And he hadn't been able to stop Face from running away. And he hadn't been able to stop Face from smashing his hand to pieces. He hadn't protected him. He kept thinking about that last night at Stockwell's. And what Face had been going through. What they'd all been going through. What was to come. And he wondered if he really should have pushed Face out of the way that night. Disgusted with himself, he immediately dismissed that thought.

Murdock was not at the house. He had started out that morning intending to just take a walk, clear the cobwebs from his head. He kept walking and walking, thinking. Random thoughts. About the last few months. What they could have done. What they should have done. What they were going to do now. About the VA. Wondering occasionally if maybe he shouldn't go see Dr.. Richter. Not for advice about Face. To get grounded again. He needed grounding.

It took almost two hours of steady walking before he found himself in front of the hospital. He hadn't intended to go here. As long as that's where he ended up, he might as well go in, see how Face was doing. So he ambled into Face's room, and sat in the chair by the bed, and watched his friend sleep, mangled hand held in place, pointed heavenward.


*****

"Okay, fellas, listen up. New game plan, effective the day Face gets released." She had gathered them all at the dining room table. The forlorn Christmas tree made the living room too morose. That would also change.

"The first thing we have to address is what happened yesterday. Murdock, BA - neither one of you is to blame for that. I have that on the authority of several very experienced doctors. It was the same sort of thing that happens to a lot of doctors their first time out. The only problem was that you, well, none of us, were expecting that burst of energy from him. Also, there were probably other signs of his agitation that were missed. Not because of laxness but because of inexperience. You should continue doing what you did, but be aware of not only verbal but nonverbal hints. A shifting in position, tapping his foot, sighing. In other words, body language. That's what got missed this time. I don't know what it might have been, but it was there. Now you know to watch for that 'something'. Okay?"

The two men looked at each other, not totally convinced, but willing to concede to Maggie's experts.

"Okay. Now, the day after Christmas, you'll be moving into the farmhouse. You'll also be getting a new team member. I've hired, on your behalf and on your payroll," she winked at Hannibal," a Mrs. Bette Lotz. She is widowed, middle-aged, and very competent. She will be taking care of Face, in so far as making sure he gets up in the morning, gets dressed, cleaned up, etc. She'll make meals for all of you and do light housekeeping. She is not there to take of the team, which I don't see as being a problem. She is going to be there to take of the little, but important, details. So the three of you can worry about the big, but important, details."

"What's she like?" Murdock was picturing Dragon Lady with her hair in a bun.

"She's a widow, as I said. She lost her husband about 20 years ago, and raised two boys on her own. When they got into high school, she went back into health care, and the last two years was working in mental health care. She's firm, but not autocratic. She has a lot of patience, a good sense of humor, and loves mothering. Given an honest chance, I think she's going to be just what Face needs right now. She'll be stopping by later this evening so you can all meet her. I don't see any problems," she looked sternly at each of them, "but the final decision is, of course, up to you."

Hannibal raised his eyebrows at her. "She sounds fine to me, Maggie. I don't see any problems either."

"Good. Now, as I said, Murdock will continue working with Face. Again after talking to some of my experts, I think it would be a good idea, at least at first, for BA to be with Face and Murdock as they talk. I think both of them will feel more secure if he's there. Otherwise, he'll be in charge of making sure Face gets out and gets some exercise and doesn't just sit around all the time. That doesn't mean an obstacle course. Just get him out for a walk every day, or a bike ride. Okay?"

"Sure, Maggie." "Got it, doc."

Hannibal looked at her expectantly, a bit of the old twinkle showing in his eyes. "Well, Maggie, where do I fit into your grand scheme of things?"

"You will do what you do best, Hannibal. Keep these guys going. Keep the team afloat. Murdock's going to have days when he won't think any progress is being made, that's he's messed something up, that he doesn't know what he's doing. You make sure you see those days and get him up again. You keep BA on track. I don't know if you've noticed, but the strain of having Face relying on him so exclusively is starting to show, isn't it, BA?"

The big man looked down, embarrassed. He remembered his thoughts of earlier that day.

"So, now that Face trusts you again, you need to share some of that responsibility. You take Face out for a walk or sit in on a session with Murdock now and then. Give BA some breathing room.

"And otherwise, you make sure things in general run smoothly. Work with Bette. Work with me. And make sure everyone, including Face, including you, have a little fun now and then.

"We took a big blow yesterday. And I can't tell you it's going to be any better at first. But we need to keep our eye on the goal. Face is going to come back from this. You all are. It's going to take time, but you will all be back, whole, again.

"Last, but not least, let's get that damn tree decorated."