CHAPTER TWELVE

Hannibal leaned against the railing, watching the waves come in, rolling up against the rocks below.

Three days. Three days had passed since BA had spotted the car. Yesterday the search party had found a battered crucifix, the broken chain caught on a root about halfway down the cliff. But no body. The Coast Guard didn't think they would find one, considering the rocks and the marine life.

Hannibal sighed. He and BA would have to disappear today. They'd been too visible around the authorities as it was. They hadn't been recognized yet, in the turmoil, but he knew their story was starting to fall apart. It wouldn't take too much more and they would be looking at MP uniforms. Their client would let them know if anything turned up; the man had been a godsend through all of this. Hannibal supposed it was guilt and gratitude combined. He wondered how much longer either would last.

He took the cigar from his mouth and raised his arm to toss it over the railing. And then he stopped. He looked at the cigar, and then down at the water. Closing his eyes tightly, he took a deep, slow breath and turned from the railing. He held the cigar butt until he reached the car, and ground it roughly into the ground.

BA didn't look at him, didn't even move until the door shut. Then he silently pulled the car out onto the highway.

They had waited long enough. One more thing left to do before disappearing.

They had to tell Murdock.


*****

"All right, Amy. Thanks. Let me know if he calls again." Hannibal hung up, pulling a cigar from his pocket. It remained unlit in his hand as he contemplated the phone.

"Amy? Somethin wrong?" BA looked up from the couch.

"No, some guy called her, wanting to find and hire us. She told him she didn't know where we were, but he was pretty persistent. I don't know why she bothered to call; she knows we're not taking any cases right now."

"Maybe it's time we did take one, Hannibal. It's been 'most two months now."

"With just the two of us?"

"Three. Murdock ain't that bad any more. He could do it. Mostly."

"Yeah, well, until he can do it totally, we're not dragging him out on a job. The last thing we need is for him to go ballistic out in the field."

BA looked like he was going to argue, but Hannibal abruptly turned and stalked out, moving almost angrily into the kitchen. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he stepped out onto the patio, feeling the cool evening breeze coming around the corner of the building. He looked around the grounds, dissatisfied. They'd been here only a week and already he was feeling the need to move on. He was so tired of...everything.

Maybe BA was right. Maybe they did need to start taking on jobs again. But Murdock...no. No way he was going to take a chance on losing him again. Absolutely no way. He glanced back into the house. But with just the two of them...more chances of something going wrong, of being unable to handle it. And with BA's tendency to think he could take on anyone and win...No, he couldn't risk taking on any jobs right now. Maybe later. Maybe.

He was not going to lose anyone else.


*****

Hannibal sat in the park, smoking, watching. BA and Murdock were over by the ball field, watching a Little League game. Hannibal shook his head. BA had shown so much patience with the pilot the last couple of months. Oh, he still got angry and called him "Fool"; Hannibal didn't think that would ever change. But it happened less often than it used to. And BA actually went out of his way to get Murdock out of the VA, take him places.

It was one of the few times the three of them had gotten together in the last couple of months. Hannibal and BA had finally parted ways. Pretty much amicably. BA finally had had enough of being constantly on the move with no purpose other than to be on the move. So he had gone back to LA proper, working at a couple different after-school centers, and working during the day at a friend's garage. He was getting back to the life he'd had before...Except for two things. They still weren't going on any jobs.

And he still drove the old sedan.

Murdock was doing better, but he still hadn't completely gotten back to himself. The last time Hannibal had talked with Richter, the doctor had more or less said Murdock had progressed about as far as he could. If he hadn't had to deal with the double whammy of first the accident, and then...

Some things you just don't get over.

One thing Richter had told BA, and that BA had grabbed onto with full force, was that going back on jobs would probably be good for Murdock. They might have to be a little more selective about what they took on, but Richter thought Murdock needed that, well, normalcy. He needed the team. So BA tried even harder to get Hannibal back to work. And tried to get the three of them together whenever possible.

But Hannibal just couldn't get excited about taking on clients. Hell, he had no interest in it, whatsoever. He liked the way things were now. Murdock at the VA, BA working a normal job. Both taken care of. Both living lives separate and somewhat distant from his.

Distance. That's what he liked.

He'd forgotten one of the basic tenets of war. You don't get too close. Your men had to trust you, and to do that you had to show that you cared about their welfare. You took care of their physical needs, their emotional needs. Became not only their leader, but their father, their confessor, their friend. And they would follow you to hell and back.

But as the leader, there was one thing you had to accept. Some of them wouldn't come back from hell. And others would, but in pieces.

Which is why you didn't get too close. Getting too close to men who could get killed or maimed could cloud your thinking, or worse.

Lately, he'd thought a lot about Nam. And Korea. About the men he'd left in both those godforsaken places. And how he'd left them. He couldn't think in terms of killed, wounded. Soft phrases like "they didn't make it" or "we lost him" left a bitterness in his mouth.

Instead he saw them. Saw them. They weren't just killed. They were blown to bits, or riddled with bullets, or skewered like animals. They weren't just wounded. They were...

He tried to draw the line there. Too close to home. Way too close.

That's what went wrong. He'd gotten too close to them. He knew he had become what he was only supposed to represent. They had become dependent on him, on each other. Become a family, instead of being a unit. Emotional bonds that became too strong, too intertwined.

That's why what happened to Face had taken them all down. They hadn't reacted to a member of the unit getting hurt. Hadn't reacted to the collapse of a comrade. They'd all gone through that in Nam and survived. They should have this time. But instead, they'd dealt with the injury and death of a family member. A brother. A son.

That had been Hannibal's fault. His own ego nurturing that dependence. From the very damned beginning. He enjoyed, quietly, being more than just the CO. Made him proud.

Hannibal stubbed out the cigar on the bench. Pride. That's what had destroyed the team. Not the accident, not the suicide.

Hannibal's own goddamned pride.

He should've let them go after Bragg. Should've let them melt into the underground, start new lives. Instead, he'd kept them tethered to him, thanks to the paranoia of being wanted men. Taken that uncertainty and woven it into an adventure. Turned it into the Jazz. With Hannibal calling the tune.

Well, it wouldn't happen again. That's why he didn't object when BA moved out. Why he didn't get together with them that often. Why he didn't encourage BA getting together with Murdock. Why he pushed them all into their own individual, separate lives.

If they ever went on another job, he would remember.

Never get too close.


*****

"Hannibal, I've tried, but he just kept calling. Today, he showed up at the paper. If he keeps it up, the military will be all over me again, and I don't think my boss is going to be so understanding any more. I mean, I haven't had a story about you guys for ages, and..."

"Okay, Amy, okay! I get the picture." Hannibal was not happy, but he couldn't let Amy get fired because of this nutcase. "Do you have his number?"

Hannibal wrote down all the information Amy had gotten from the persistent client-to-be, and what she'd been able to dig up about him herself. He sighed as he read it over. Some little town near to where California, Nevada and Arizona met, bad guys trying to run things, as usual. Well, he'd check the guy out, see if it was legit.

Maybe it was time to get back to work.

He picked up the phone and started dialing.


*****

"You sure bout this, Hannibal?"

"Damn it, BA, you've been pestering me for months to get back to work. Now I get us a client and you start pulling this..."

"Okay, okay! Jus seems kinda sudden." BA looked down at the engine he was rebuilding. "You want Murdock, too?"

"If he can do it. Seems a simple enough job."

"He's doin a lot better, if that's what you're askin." BA scowled up at him.

"If there was a problem, I'm sure you would have informed me. Now, is he up to it, or not?"

"Yeah, I think so. You want me to go get him out?"

"Yeah. We'll leave first thing in the morning. Meet at the warehouse tonight. We've got to get the weapons cleaned and ready." He hesitated. "We'll need transport."

"I'll take care of it." BA started back at the engine. "See you tonight."

"Yeah."

Hannibal left the garage, checking for any suspicious vehicles. His decision about not getting too close seemed to have taken seed. BA's whole attitude said this was business. Just business.

Good. That was good.

It just didn't feel that way.