He'd gone way too far north. Way too far. It was cold. Windy. They ran into snow somewhere south of North Platte. Where the hell was North Platte? Nebraska. No. Not Nebraska. Shit.
He'd fallen asleep in the overheated cab of the 18-wheeler that picked him up at a truck stop near Springfield, Missouri. He'd had a hell of a time finding a ride before that. Had walked for miles. He'd literally stumbled into the cafe at the truck stop. Luckily, he'd fallen against an older guy, not some hot shot. After Face apologized, the guy told him shut up and sit down, get something to eat. The driver reminded him of BA. He'd had to count out his money before looking at the menu. He kept thinking of the money tucked away in all those accounts. But he wouldn't touch that. It wasn't his any more.
The trucker watched him, grabbed the menu and gave the waitress the order. Face tried to protest at the enormity of the meal, but the trucker just told him to shut up again. They didn't say another word until Face had finished eating and the trucker paid for both meals. He looked Face up and down, growled, "C'mon, then," and headed out to his truck. Face had fallen asleep in the first few miles and hadn't awakened until they pulled into a warehouse lot.
Somewhere south of North Platte, Nebraska. Where it was cold, windy, and snowing.
The trucker mumbled something about having to head back the way they'd come. Face didn't think it would be wise to ask to ride along. The old trucker shoved a twenty into Face's hand, told him to get a coat at the Salvation Army, they were cheap. Looked at him one more time, then looked off into the distance. "Got one 'bout your age. Don't know where he is. Dead, most likely." Stiffly got back in his truck and drove off.
Face looked around. He could see the city skyline not that far away, a few miles. Adjusting his duffel and shoving his hands in his pockets, he started walking.
He didn't know it, but it was the day after Thanksgiving.
Murdock was up at the break of dawn. He dressed quietly so as not to wake the rest of the house. Down the stairs, past the kitchen. Peeked into Face's room. Shoulders sagged. Empty.
He moved into the living room. He thought so. Carefully he placed the afghan over the silver haired man sleeping on the couch. The shades were still up, so he gently pulled them down before the light came in to wake Hannibal. He took one last, sad look at him before going into the kitchen. He quickly started a pot of coffee, made some toast, which he left half eaten on the table.
The meal yesterday had been agony. He supposed the food was actually good, but it had all tasted like cardboard to him. Hannibal had tried to put up a good front, but he also left his plate almost untouched. BA had eaten, but Murdock knew it was only because he knew Mama would be watching him especially. When he thought about it, even Mama and Maggie had eaten sparingly. A lot of leftovers.
After dinner, things had gotten worse. There really was nothing to occupy them then. They had all sat in the living room for a while, trying to make conversation. Hannibal had gotten a couple inquiries from potential clients, but was still checking them out. He hadn't said it took longer without Face. Didn't have to. He'd know in a few days if they'd be taking either of the jobs. BA had said he might as well stick around then, and Mama said that was fine with her. Murdock then said he didn't have anything urgent so he could wait, too. Silence descended on the group.
Eventually, Maggie said she had to head back to her place. Mama announced she was going to bed, the dishes could wait until tomorrow for once. BA and Murdock stayed after it was plain that Hannibal was going to wait up. Just in case. They had given up shortly after midnight. Hannibal had said a distracted good night, standing by the window. Watching.
Murdock looked once more into Face's room, as if expecting him to have magically appeared in the last twenty minutes. Then he shrugged on his jacket and headed for the meadow.
He was so cold. There was a lot of traffic, surprisingly so, but no one was stopping for hitchhikers. It took him well over an hour to move into the city proper. The sidewalks were filled with people, and it didn't take a genius to realize they were in a frenzy of Christmas shopping. He saw a sign in a window. Stopped short. Good Lord. He was shocked to discover the day.
He turned away, suddenly feeling sick at heart. He hadn't even thought about the holiday. He thought about Hannibal now. Murdock, BA. They'd always spent Thanksgiving together. Always. Except once. Last year. Last year's hell.
He should call. He should do that at least. Let them know he was okay. He had the number for the farm in his wallet. Just in case. He had to find a phone. Inside. He was too cold to stand around outside. He hurried from store to store, asking for a pay phone. Stupid people. Why didn't they have pay phones inside? Pushing through the throngs, into hot stores, out into the cold, back through the herds of shoppers into the overheated stores once more. Finally, he came to a small cafe, with a public phone at the back.
He got change from the cashier and made his way back to the phone. He pulled out the paper with the phone number on it. His fingers shook as he dropped the coins in the slot, whether from the cold or nervousness he didn't know.
Carefully he dialed the number, calling collect. He didn't have enough money for a direct call, not if he wanted to get a warmer coat and something to eat. He waited while the phone rang and rang. There must be someone there. Unless...had they gone to BA's, in Chicago? No, he was sure they were going to meet at the farm.
The operator's machine-like voice came on, asking if they would accept the call.
"Yes! Yes! Face! Is that you? Where are you? Are you okay?"
"Yes, Hannibal. I'm okay. I'm sorry. I should've called sooner."
"Where the hell are you? What have you been doing?"
"Uh, well, I'm in North Platte, if you can believe that. I, uh, I've just kinda been hitchhiking around for a while."
"Hitchhiking! What the hell...?" Face could hear Murdock in the background. Giving Hannibal hell, from the tone of his voice. There was a shuffling, then Murdock came on the line.
"Face? Where are you, buddy?"
"North Platte. Nebraska."
"What are you doing there, Face?" Not angry, very calm. Curious.
"Well, I guess I got here by accident. I hitched a ride with a trucker and fell asleep and woke up here."
"So you really have been hitchhiking? Why?"
Face sighed. He didn't want to have to explain things to everybody. "Look, I just called to let you know I'm okay. I didn't realize what day it was or I woulda called yesterday. Sorry."
"You didn't know it was Thanksgiving? Face, are you okay? Really?"
"Yeah, Murdock, really. I...I'm better than I've been for a long time. No more...things, you know?" He glanced around but the diners weren't paying any attention to him.
"Well, that's good, Face. That's real good. Uh, Face? When you coming home?"
That stopped him. He hadn't considered going back to the farm. "I, uh, I don't know, Murdock."
BA came on the line then. Face figured he'd be angry. Real angry.
"Hey, Face." Another surprise. BA's voice was quiet. "You okay?"
"Yeah, BA. I just...I can't come back yet."
"Hannibal said you in Nebraska. You want me to pick you up on the way back to Chicago? I got a spare room."
Face almost said yes. But he wasn't ready for that yet. He needed to make sure he was really free first.
"Thanks, BA, but I can't. Not yet."
"Okay. Mama wanted you to know, she's sorry she left like she did."
"Tell her not to worry about it, okay?"
"Okay. You got my number, right?"
Hannibal came on again. "Face, I think you should come home, kid. We can work things out."
"It's not that, Hannibal. I just need some time yet. Okay?"
He heard Hannibal's deep sigh. "Okay, kid. But let me know how you're doing, okay? Where you are now and then?"
"Sure, Hannibal. I'll do that. Look, I gotta go now."
Quick goodbyes. Dial tone. Face hung up the phone. Headed back out to the street. It was so cold. He stopped in the midst of the crowd. He knew he wouldn't call them again.
The blood had frozen to all the people...
"So now what, Hannibal? Try to find him agin?"
"No, BA. He doesn't want to be found. And he doesn't want to come home. Until he does, there's no point in going after him." Hannibal sighed, lit a cigar. "He's found some peace, I guess, rambling around like this. I guess he's entitled to that. No, damn it, he is entitled to that." He looked at his remaining men. "We'll do what we've always done. Take care of the bad guys. Live our lives. When he's ready, he'll come back."
Hannibal stepped out into the yard. Stared out at the meadow. Moved determinedly toward the barn where his office was now. Mumbling to himself, "He'll come back."
He never did find the Salvation Army store. He wandered the streets, not daring to talk to anyone. He had stopped one person to ask directions. As the man tried to direct him, Face couldn't make out the words because of the blood pouring from the man's mouth. He walked away while the man was in mid-sentence.
"Guy's nuts..." the man grumbled.
He had to get back on the road. He had to get away from all these people. Had to get free again.
He never should have called them. Never should have gotten dragged back into that trap. He understood why he kept seeing the blood now. It was them. They were the reason he'd killed those people. They were the reason. Not Stockwell. Stockwell had only used him. If it hadn't been for them...they were the reason he'd destroyed himself. To save them.
To save himself, he had to leave them. Completely. Totally. Irrevocably...