CHAPTER FORTY ONE

Both men waited for several minutes, listening. When no outbursts came from the bedroom, both visibly relaxed. Randy returned to his seat at the table, bracing himself for Hannibal's onslaught. He had a pretty good idea what the subject would be, and was prepared to take his tongue-lashing without a whimper.

He was very surprised at Hannibal's first words.

"I'm sorry things have turned out the way they have. For all of us. Not just this," he gestured toward the bedroom, "but all of it. We - I - handled it all wrong."

"If you're apologizing, don't. You only did what you thought best."

"No, not really. But that's neither here nor there. My point is that it's time to get our act together. We have to get Sam straightened out. After that, what happens is up to him. Whatever he decides, I'll go along with."

"What about the others? They don't seem too happy to be here."

"They have some things to work through. They'll come around." I hope. "In the meantime, I need to know what's really been going on. When did he start drinking?"

Randy sighed, ran his hand over his face. "Shortly after he came to Minneapolis. After leaving you guys. I didn't pay much attention to it at first. He wasn't out of control, a few beers now and then, to relax. Then we went after Mrs. Baracus. I made a big mistake. Showed him the photo albums she had. Pictures from Nam of all of you. That night, he drank himself into oblivion. I should have known then things were going in the shitter. I think that's when he really started losing it.

"I don't know what happened at the cemetery. That wasn't supposed to happen. No one was supposed to get hurt. He was only supposed to keep you guys in line. When he found me helping you, I think something snapped. Then, we had Clifton. We were working him, but nothing he couldn't handle. Sensory deprivation type stuff. But Clifton was smart. Brought up Sam's original role in Barish's experiment.

"Frankly, it took me by surprise. I hadn't really thought about that part of things. About Sam voluntarily working for Barish."

"Voluntarily? It was never..."

"I know that! But, like I said, I hadn't even thought about it, hadn't been prepared for Clifton to bring it up. Neither was Sam. And Clifton kept referring to Face, and that it was Face who hadn't had a choice, but Sam had, on and on. It took me by surprise; it tore Sam apart.

"I got him the hell out of there, but the damage was already done. He hit the booze almost immediately. Didn't want to talk about it, said Clifton was full of shit. But he wasn't sure. I could tell. And, I'll admit, I had some doubts. I didn't remember a lot about that time; still don't. Now, of course, I know the score. It just took a little time for me to figure it out. Anyway, I ended up going to bed, Sam stayed up, drinking."

"And then he tried to kill Clifton." Hannibal hadn't wanted to consider that possibility, had preferred to think it was Randy again. Obviously, he'd been wrong.

"Basically. And I stopped him. He wasn't himself. It was the booze." Defensive. Protective. "I guess that was pretty much the final straw." Randy's voice was matter-of-fact, but Hannibal caught the tinge of regret that seeped out. "I brought him up here, hoped we could salvage things, but it didn't work out. He made one try to get away, go after Stockwell again, and, again, I stopped him. After that he just fell into the booze bottle and never came out." He looked up at Hannibal, anger in his eyes. "With friends like us, huh, Smith?"

"Yeah." Hannibal got up, poured them each more coffee, sat down heavily. Looked around the kitchen. Hoping to lighten the atmosphere, he nodded toward the lake. "This is a nice place. Belonged to your grandparents?"

Randy stiffened. "You did your homework."

"It's how we found you. Tax records. You paid up just before coming here."

"Ah. Necessities of government screwed me up again." He, too, looked out toward the lake. "Yeah, this was the old homestead. Home, sweet home." Hannibal caught a hint of bitterness in the voice.

"They raised you, didn't they?"

"More or less. I was born and raised not far from here. When my parents and one brother were killed in a car accident, my other brother and I came here to live with my father's parents. I was eleven, my brother was fifteen."

"Must have been a great place to grow up."

"Yeah, right." Randy chuckled, mirthlessly. "Ala 'On Golden Pond', right? My grandmother was a cold hearted bitch whose only joy in life died in a car wreck. If she said anything to us, it was 'shut up'. My grandfather was an anarchist, from the 'old country'. Hated government, any government, any authority. Only reason he took us in was because he couldn't stand the idea of the state raising us."

"Sounds cold."

"He used to beat the shit out of us if we so much as spoke without his permission. He hated authority, but he made damn sure there was only one boss in his house." Randy stared out into space, frowning. "My brother lasted about a year."

"Ran away?"

"My grandfather beat him to death."

"I...I'm sorry."

Randy shrugged. "He mouthed off when he shouldn't have. Caused my grandfather no end of trouble, although he came out of it all right in the end. Back then, people didn't care so much what you did with your kids. Called it an accident. But I learned my lesson. I toed the mark, right up until my eighteenth birthday. Then I got even. I joined the Army. The ultimate Government Authority. Pissed him off but good." Randy smiled, bitterly. "I'm surprised he didn't write me out of the will, but again, that would have meant his property would go to the state and no way in hell he'd let that happen."

"When did they pass away?" Hannibal was hinting for details, details he didn't think he wanted to know, but he needed to.

"A while after I left. I remember I'd just finished my SF training." Randy again got that faraway look in his eye. "Lots of bums and scum roam through these wilderness areas, y'know? Apparently one of them decided to rob the place, and dear old Granddad got himself killed trying to defend his property. My grandmother died a short while after that. She was totally gaga by then, anyway."

"A bum, huh?"

"Yeah. A bum." Randy looked at him, and the coldness in his eyes made Hannibal flinch.

"All that shit, yet you kept the place."

"Yeah, figured it would be worth something some day. And I don't believe in ghosts. I've seen a lot of people die, Smith. No one's come back for me yet."





CHAPTER FORTY ONE

Both men waited for several minutes, listening. When no outbursts came from the bedroom, both visibly relaxed. Randy returned to his seat at the table, bracing himself for Hannibal's onslaught. He had a pretty good idea what the subject would be, and was prepared to take his tongue-lashing without a whimper.

He was very surprised at Hannibal's first words.

"I'm sorry things have turned out the way they have. For all of us. Not just this," he gestured toward the bedroom, "but all of it. We - I - handled it all wrong."

"If you're apologizing, don't. You only did what you thought best."

"No, not really. But that's neither here nor there. My point is that it's time to get our act together. We have to get Sam straightened out. After that, what happens is up to him. Whatever he decides, I'll go along with."

"What about the others? They don't seem too happy to be here."

"They have some things to work through. They'll come around." I hope. "In the meantime, I need to know what's really been going on. When did he start drinking?"

Randy sighed, ran his hand over his face. "Shortly after he came to Minneapolis. After leaving you guys. I didn't pay much attention to it at first. He wasn't out of control, a few beers now and then, to relax. Then we went after Mrs. Baracus. I made a big mistake. Showed him the photo albums she had. Pictures from Nam of all of you. That night, he drank himself into oblivion. I should have known then things were going in the shitter. I think that's when he really started losing it.

"I don't know what happened at the cemetery. That wasn't supposed to happen. No one was supposed to get hurt. He was only supposed to keep you guys in line. When he found me helping you, I think something snapped. Then, we had Clifton. We were working him, but nothing he couldn't handle. Sensory deprivation type stuff. But Clifton was smart. Brought up Sam's original role in Barish's experiment.

"Frankly, it took me by surprise. I hadn't really thought about that part of things. About Sam voluntarily working for Barish."

"Voluntarily? It was never..."

"I know that! But, like I said, I hadn't even thought about it, hadn't been prepared for Clifton to bring it up. Neither was Sam. And Clifton kept referring to Face, and that it was Face who hadn't had a choice, but Sam had, on and on. It took me by surprise; it tore Sam apart.

"I got him the hell out of there, but the damage was already done. He hit the booze almost immediately. Didn't want to talk about it, said Clifton was full of shit. But he wasn't sure. I could tell. And, I'll admit, I had some doubts. I didn't remember a lot about that time; still don't. Now, of course, I know the score. It just took a little time for me to figure it out. Anyway, I ended up going to bed, Sam stayed up, drinking."

"And then he tried to kill Clifton." Hannibal hadn't wanted to consider that possibility, had preferred to think it was Randy again. Obviously, he'd been wrong.

"Basically. And I stopped him. He wasn't himself. It was the booze." Defensive. Protective. "I guess that was pretty much the final straw." Randy's voice was matter-of-fact, but Hannibal caught the tinge of regret that seeped out. "I brought him up here, hoped we could salvage things, but it didn't work out. He made one try to get away, go after Stockwell again, and, again, I stopped him. After that he just fell into the booze bottle and never came out." He looked up at Hannibal, anger in his eyes. "With friends like us, huh, Smith?"

"Yeah." Hannibal got up, poured them each more coffee, sat down heavily. Looked around the kitchen. Hoping to lighten the atmosphere, he nodded toward the lake. "This is a nice place. Belonged to your grandparents?"

Randy stiffened. "You did your homework."

"It's how we found you. Tax records. You paid up just before coming here."

"Ah. Necessities of government screwed me up again." He, too, looked out toward the lake. "Yeah, this was the old homestead. Home, sweet home." Hannibal caught a hint of bitterness in the voice.

"They raised you, didn't they?"

"More or less. I was born and raised not far from here. When my parents and one brother were killed in a car accident, my other brother and I came here to live with my father's parents. I was eleven, my brother was fifteen."

"Must have been a great place to grow up."

"Yeah, right." Randy chuckled, mirthlessly. "Ala 'On Golden Pond', right? My grandmother was a cold hearted bitch whose only joy in life died in a car wreck. If she said anything to us, it was 'shut up'. My grandfather was an anarchist, from the 'old country'. Hated government, any government, any authority. Only reason he took us in was because he couldn't stand the idea of the state raising us."

"Sounds cold."

"He used to beat the shit out of us if we so much as spoke without his permission. He hated authority, but he made damn sure there was only one boss in his house." Randy stared out into space, frowning. "My brother lasted about a year."

"Ran away?"

"My grandfather beat him to death."

"I...I'm sorry."

Randy shrugged. "He mouthed off when he shouldn't have. Caused my grandfather no end of trouble, although he came out of it all right in the end. Back then, people didn't care so much what you did with your kids. Called it an accident. But I learned my lesson. I toed the mark, right up until my eighteenth birthday. Then I got even. I joined the Army. The ultimate Government Authority. Pissed him off but good." Randy smiled, bitterly. "I'm surprised he didn't write me out of the will, but again, that would have meant his property would go to the state and no way in hell he'd let that happen."

"When did they pass away?" Hannibal was hinting for details, details he didn't think he wanted to know, but he needed to.

"A while after I left. I remember I'd just finished my SF training." Randy again got that faraway look in his eye. "Lots of bums and scum roam through these wilderness areas, y'know? Apparently one of them decided to rob the place, and dear old Granddad got himself killed trying to defend his property. My grandmother died a short while after that. She was totally gaga by then, anyway."

"A bum, huh?"

"Yeah. A bum." Randy looked at him, and the coldness in his eyes made Hannibal flinch.

"All that shit, yet you kept the place."

"Yeah, figured it would be worth something some day. And I don't believe in ghosts. I've seen a lot of people die, Smith. No one's come back for me yet."