CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

The two men sat at opposite sides of the living room. Sam was nursing a beer. Randy stared out of the window, watching the various people wandering past on their way to their jobs, their lives in order, mundane, predictable. So unlike his own.

He forced his eyes from the window to his friend. The man he'd considered his friend. The man who wouldn't look him in the eye now, who just sat on the couch with his beer. Funny. He'd never noticed that Sam liked to drink that much before. Now it seemed like he was constantly slugging down something. Randy had to wonder how Sam could come up with all these schemes with so much alcohol in him. Or maybe it wasn't Sam who was thinking them up. Maybe they'd just thought it was.

Just another damn delusion...

He tried to think objectively about what that bastard Clifton had said. His first instinct had been to just get angry and dismiss it all as lies. Clifton would do that. Clifton would try to breach the trust Randy and Sam had. Maybe he'd succeeded. There were so many things that Randy didn't remember clearly about Florida, and those days in California. More like he remembered the feelings, rather than the events. That's why he didn't want to believe Clifton. The feelings he remembered did not coincide with the treachery their prisoner had described. And yet he did remember taking the pills. And Sam insisting that he take them. The question in Randy's mind, the real question, was why?

Sam had looked out for him, when Randy hadn't been thinking clearly, intelligently. He knew that. He knew that it had been Sam that had tried to get them away from Barish. And yet, if Clifton was to be believed, Sam had been working for Barish, right from the start. It made sense, yet it didn't. How else would Sam have known to get them away? Who to get them away from? And yet, why would Sam work for that madman? Why would he do that to Randy, to anyone? The Sam Randy knew wouldn't have had anything to do with that kind of shit. But then, what did Randy really know about Sam?

Shit. That was the problem. Sam wasn't real.

Sam wasn't real...


*****

The sun was at their backs as they moved furiously down the highway. BA was angry and his driving showed it. He swirled between the other vehicles, disregarding the horns around him. Commuter traffic was slowing him down and he didn't like it. Hannibal wanted to get to Minneapolis and find Face. Find him and bring him home.

BA just wanted to find him.


*****

Clifton sat in the dark. Waiting. He didn't worry about the time. Time was relative, after all. If he thought about it, time had stretched on forever. If he didn't think about it, no time had passed at all. So instead he thought about Randy and Sam. He had heard them talking in the other room. At first, quietly. Then Sam's voice, angry, clipped and angry. Then nothing.

He wondered when they would come back in. Which one would come. He knew one of them would. One of them would have questions they could no longer ignore. Doubts they could no longer hide. Answers they had to have.

One of them would come. He smiled.


*****

It was taking forever. Forever. F-O-R-E-V-E-R. He sighed and looked around the new rental van yet again. Nothing had changed. Not really.

Just everything.

He started thinking about what Hannibal had said last night. How angry he'd been with them. It really wasn't fair, though. To compare Face with him. It wasn't the same. Sure, he'd had a hard time back then. He hadn't always known what was real, what was craziness. And yeah, Face had stood by him. But that was different. Murdock couldn't help what his mind told him back then. When you're crazy, you don't have a choice.

Face wasn't crazy.


*****

Randy had finally gone to bed. He'd watched him without watching, seen him fidgeting, glancing over at him, waiting. Finally, he'd stood, stretched, hesitated, and then walked into the empty bedroom and closed the door. Sam had slumped down then, finally relaxing his stiff muscles. He'd been holding himself so tight for so long, it actually hurt to let go. At least he could feel something.

He wondered how much Randy really did remember about those months together. They had reminisced, of course, when they'd first gotten back together. But mainly about their time in Minneapolis. By some unspoken, tacit agreement, they'd skirted away from Florida and California. From that hospital in Colorado. Those were the black times. The time when things had been in free fall. When things had gotten out of control. When things that shouldn't have happened, happened. When people died.

They didn't talk about that.

They had talked about Barish. And the experiment. But only in terms of what Barish had done to them. Not what Sam had done. Sam hadn't brought it up, Randy hadn't thought about it. And Sam had been glad of that. He'd thought about it, now and then. Dismissed it. That hadn't been Sam. That had been the robot that Barish had created. The changed Sam. The Sam that Barish had manipulated. Not the real Sam.

The only problem was how to convince Randy of that. Make Randy believe that, had Sam been himself, he never would have gone along with Barish and the experiment. It had only been when Sam realized that Randy's life was in danger that he'd come back to himself, had gotten Randy out of that mess.

But did Randy realize that? Did Randy realize that the 'real' Sam would never have done that shit to him?

It was Clifton. Clifton that had caused all the problems. Those lies. Trying to bring Face into it. Trying to make Randy believe that Face was the victim, that Sam was some kind of monster, that Face was the one who tried to save Randy, Face who wouldn't have gone along with Barish. Which was crap.

Face wasn't even real.


*****

His leg was aching and he almost had second thoughts about making this trip so soon. Almost. He knew time was of the utmost importance. They had to get to Minneapolis, and figure out the general area where Face might be, and they had to do it before the charge ran out on Clifton's tracking device. At least they had a better idea of where to look, ironically thanks to Stockwell. And that was another very good reason to hurry.

To say Stockwell had been unhappy to discover who the extortionist was, was the understatement of the year. And his reaction to finding out that Face was with him, had been with him all the time Stockwell had been told he was doing 'reconnaissance', was worse. Stockwell had allowed the team to continue in their search, but let them know his own Ables would be conducting their own. And no one had to tell Hannibal that it would be far safer for Face if the team found him first.

It was an indication of Stockwell's frame of mind that he had allowed Carla to bring Hannibal Randy's files. Had he not been under so much stress, and so ballistically angry, he never would have allowed it. Rather, he would have made Hannibal stumble along on guesswork, figuring that his Ables would find the men first. But Stockwell, for the first time possibly in his life, was rattled. The past months of having his empire chiseled away had definitely taken its toll.

Which was yet another reason for the team to find Face before Stockwell. Find Face, find Randy. Find Randy, find Clifton. And then all of this shit would stop. What Stockwell did with Clifton, Hannibal could care less. But Randy had information, and Hannibal would make sure that was used to keep them all safe. And hopefully keep those pardons from flying out the window.

They just had to find them first.


*****

Clifton blinked his eyes as the door to the bedroom opened. He could see the silhouette standing in the light, but couldn't make out which one it belonged to. A moment later the darkness engulfed him once again. The silence was almost absolute, and it wasn't until Clifton held his own breath and heard the soft breathing from the corner that he knew someone else was actually in the room. He still wasn't sure who.

"May I help you?" Overly polite, but with the slightest sneer to his tone. Designed to be innocently irritating.

"You lied."

Ah.

"Now, Sam, why would I lie?"

"Because you're essentially an evil man."

"Evil? Hardly. I do my job. Just as you did."

Clifton heard a shuffling noise. Peck was coming closer, slowly.

"I had no choice."

Clifton let out an exaggerated sigh. "You keep harping on this 'choice' thing. You always had a choice. It was the unfortunate lieutenant who..."

"Bull."

Clifton hesitated in his response. There was something a little too calm about that voice. He tensed slightly as the warning flashed through his mind.

"Does Randy think it's bull?"

Silence. Bulls-eye.

"Apparently Randy is a little more willing to look at the facts. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. Wouldn't be so...uptight. Correct?"

"He'll realize what you're trying to do with your lies, in due time. You caught him off guard. You won't do that again."

"You can't hide from the truth forever, Peck. Accept it."

"Oh, I have, Clifton. I know what the truth is, and I know, because of that, what I need to do now. Randy started this to stop the kind of thing Barish was doing, the things Stockwell is doing. Randy wanted to use you to that end, and then let you go. He figured you'd be useless after your credibility was destroyed. But you're too dangerous. Way too dangerous."

His voice had shielded the sound of his movements from Clifton. In an instant, the gag was back in the man's mouth, tape quickly wrapping it in place. Damn.

His eyes widened when he felt the cord around his neck...