CHAPTER EIGHTY ONE

He was thinking. He'd tried not to, for a long time, but the visions kept flashing through his head, a kaleidoscope of people and places and events...and he couldn't stop thinking about them. The photos. He'd looked at each one, just a glance at first, and then taking longer and longer before turning to the next one. And then he'd gone back to the beginning and studied each one. Carefully. Knowing he would find a flaw in them. Somewhere.

It had taken him a long time to admit there weren't any.

He'd started all over, yet again, looking at the photos with a new perspective. These were real photos of real people. At what point had they started merging his pictures with those of the young boy? At what age had they resembled each other enough?

Another flaw he couldn't find.

He'd tossed the book under the bed. He didn't want to see it. Didn't want to look at it. Instead, he pulled the remaining contents from the box and began sorting them. Chronologically. Then by type. Then back to time frame. Read them. Each one of them. Studied them. Over and over and over...

He hadn't yet slept when the priest arrived in the morning. He didn't want to talk to him, didn't want to listen to him. Every fiber of his body fought against the logic of what he'd already seen and read. The last thing he wanted was this man trying to persuade him to accept what was in that damn box.

And then, even after he'd told the priest that he'd planned on killing him, for God's sake, the old man had just shuffled over and sat down and started talking...the man had balls. No matter what he'd thrown at him, no matter what arguments he gave, the old man just stuck to his guns. Telling him about the why's and where's and who's...

And then something had clicked. Inside. He looked at a photo and from somewhere inside he knew who it was and where it was. And he'd looked at the next one and the next and the next and each one drew a shadow from his mind and made it real. He knew these people. Knew their names. Knew their ages. Knew what they'd done, what they'd said. And he knew when they'd left him.

They had all eventually left him.

Everyone except the priest. The old priest who sat on the hard floor, talking, listening, hour after hour. Letting him know, despite everything, that someone had cared.

And still did. Despite the threat.

This gentle, caring old man, with his soft, rumbly voice...

Damn.

That voice. The voice from his memory. From Sam's memory.

His father's voice...


*****

Father Magill stepped out of the chapel, feeling tired and yet refreshed. Or maybe relieved would be more accurate. Call him old-fashioned, or quaint, or even silly, but talking with Him always made him feel somehow confident and...safe. The feeling that, no matter how difficult things might get, He would make sure things turned out for the best, one way or the other. Not always the way one might wish them to turn out, but the way they should.

He'd only gone a few steps down the hall toward his room when Sister approached him.

"Father, I'm sorry to disturb you, but there's a gentleman to see you. He said to tell you a Colonel Smith had sent him."

Magill frowned. He and Colonel Smith had made an agreement - no interference. The colonel was supposed to wait until Father Magill contacted him. Something must have happened. Trouble from the military? Or that general Colonel Smith had told him about? The look on the nun's face reminded him of his pledge to the colonel to be careful. It was only then he realized the man might have lied about Smith. Sighing in frustration, he nodded at her and changed direction. Like it or not, Magill would have to see him.

He stepped into the small office where his visitor had been located. They looked at each other for a moment, each one openly appraising the other. Magill wasn't sure he liked the looks of the other man; he just didn't seem like the kind of person Colonel Smith would have any association with. At least, not voluntarily.

"You wanted to speak with me? I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be; I don't believe we've met before..."

"No, Father, we've never met. But we do have something - or rather, someone - in common. Lieutenant Peck."

Magill's suspicions were growing. "You said a Colonel Smith had sent you."

The man smiled, ingratiatingly. "In a way, he did. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here."

That decided the priest. "I'm afraid I have nothing to say to you, sir. If you'll excuse me..."

"Actually, Father, it would be in the lieutenant's best interests if we did talk. I have associates who may be able to, well, shall we say, clear the path for the lieutenant? And his friends, as well."

"Clear the path to where?"

The man smiled again, this time clearly appreciating the quickness of the man he faced. "To a place where he and his friends can start over. No ghosts haunting them. No recriminations. There would be a price, of course, but one they were already willing to pay. Interested?"

Magill stood for a moment before seating himself at the desk. "Go on."

"First, I have a question to ask of you. I would remind you to be perfectly honest with me, but I don't think that's necessary."

Despite himself, Magill allowed himself an ironic smile.

The man leaned forward, smile gone. Deadly serious. "Tell me, Father Magill. Is Lieutenant Peck a good man?"

Magill was taken somewhat by surprise. The glib words almost came out, until he looked into the other man's eyes. He wanted the truth, nothing trite. And it was important that he get the truth. Magill thought hard for a moment, then cleared his throat.

"Templeton Peck is a con artist. A liar. He cheats, he steals, he flaunts the law. He chases women shamelessly. He's broken nearly every commandment, much to my sorrow. And yet, if you're hungry, he'll give you his last slice of bread; if you're lonely, he'll be your friend; if you're in trouble, he'll risk his life to help you. And he'll ask nothing in return if you have nothing to give. By rights, he should be bitter and cynical; he is neither, although he'd like people to believe otherwise.

"You ask if he is a good man. All I can say is that he is my friend, and I am proud to have him as such. I would be devastated if I were to lose that."

The other man sat back, nodding, a satisfied smile on his face. "I thought as much. Good. Now, I have a rather interesting story to tell you..."


*****

He felt the headache coming on, the nausea. He fought it. Tried to remember what that psychiatrist had told him, how to beat them back. It was Barish. Barish had made him feel this way, every time the old memories had tried to surface. It had taken so long to learn how to fight it, push back the sickness, the consequences of trying to remember.

And he had done it. For a long time, he'd been able to fight back. But the memories hadn't come as he'd expected. No floodgates opening, no magnificent revelations. Only bits and pieces. An occasional flash. It wore him down, the constant battle to let the doors open, only to have such slender shadows flit through. He'd expected more. Wanted more.

He'd wanted it to work, damn it!

It hadn't. It couldn't. For one very good reason.

They hadn't understood. Hell, he hadn't, not until now. Hadn't understood that to accept the truth he had to accept all of it. He couldn't pick and choose. Couldn't block out this bit and that piece. He had to accept his life for what it was.

And that included Randy.

The pain slammed across his head and he reeled across the room. God, he had to fight it! He had to! But Randy...God...

Randy was dead...


*****

Hannibal woke up, startled. He didn't know what had awakened him. The apartment was silent, the men asleep. He glanced at the luminous dial of the clock. Too soon for the change of watch. So that wasn't it.

Slowly, quietly, not wanting to disturb the others, he climbed out of the bed and headed into the living room. BA was there, awake, watching out the window. Hannibal couldn't see his face in the darkness, but knew BA wondered why he was up at this hour. He stepped carefully to stand beside his sergeant, glancing down at the dark empty street.

"Anything?"

"Nothin, Hannibal. Not since that guy left earlier."

That guy. Hannibal hadn't seen him, but BA had. Nothing outstanding about him, nothing that would distinguish him from anyone else on the street. Nothing except he had come out of the Church building. That had bothered Hannibal. He didn't like it; he liked it even less knowing the man had gone in without being seen by any of them.

He'd been sorely tempted to go over himself, find out who the guy was, what he wanted, who he talked to. Tempted, but he hadn't gone. Father Magill would have contacted him if there was a problem. They had discussed it over the phone, several times. The failsafe. Hannibal knew what the dangers were, and had tried to impress that on the priest. He thought he'd done a pretty good job. Magill had promised to be careful. Very careful.

Hannibal sighed. So everything was quiet. Whatever had awakened him, it had nothing to do with the people across the street.


*****

He jerked awake, instantly tense and defensive. He looked around the room, listening for anything and everything. The only noise was a shuffling noise from the room across the alley. He looked through the telescope. The light was on in the room. The man inside was pacing, rapidly, holding his head. Almost bouncing from wall to wall. At intervals he would drop down to the bed, head down, folding in on himself. And then he was up again, pacing.

He stepped back from the scope, frowning deeply. He was tempted to go over there. Or call the priest. But he couldn't interfere. Not that much.

There were some things he couldn't do.