CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT

Hannibal had wanted the team to relax, unwind, get a good night's sleep. He sighed, hoping BA and Murdock were getting one, because he sure as hell wasn't. For the last hour or more, he'd been listening to Face toss and turn in the other bed, mumbling occasionally, but mainly just in almost constant, restless motion. Hannibal found it strange that such a quiet disturbance could completely disrupt his sleep. Finally, when the tossing became thrashing, he got up and stepped over to the other bed.

"Hey, kid, you okay?" He was still finding it hard to call him Ed.

The movements stopped abruptly, but there was no response. Hannibal reached over and turned on the lamp. He was totally unprepared for the sight.

Face was lying flat on his back, sheets and blanket tangled around him, looking straight at Hannibal, both eyes wide open. Hannibal hadn't even considered that Face wouldn't wear the eye patch at night. He couldn't help the sharp intake of breath. It was a gut reaction. Face immediately snapped his eyes closed and rolled over to his side, away from Hannibal.

"What do you want, Colonel?"

Hannibal tried to act like nothing had happened, but he knew he'd just made another big mistake. "You were pretty restless, kid. Can't sleep?"

"I'm fine."

Hannibal sighed. He was pretty sure neither of them would be getting any more sleep that night. He stood, grabbing his jacket and rustling through it for a cigar. He thought for a moment and took out a second one.

Peace offering.

He sat on the edge of Face's bed, lit up. Waited for a moment until finally Face sat up, still facing the wall.

"Something you wanted, Colonel?" His voice was tired. No. Resigned.

"Yeah. Have a cigar." When Face hesitated, Hannibal casually reached over and gently tossed the eye patch over to him. He studied his cigar until Face had it in place, then held the other cigar out. Again, Face hesitated, then reluctantly took it along with the proffered lighter. In a moment, he'd shuffled back to lean against the head of the bed, and contemplated Hannibal through the smoke.

"So?"

"Well, I figured since neither one of us could sleep, we could talk."

"About what?"

"Well, what was keeping you awake, for starters."

Face made a dismissive noise. "Nothing. Just thinking about tomorrow. That doctor."

"Having second thoughts?"

"Maybe." Face sighed, looking for somewhere to dump his ashes. Hannibal handed him an ashtray from the table, and he set it between them. "I just...I can't help thinking there's no point to it. Not any more."

"Because we've seen the real you? So nothing matters now?"

Face looked away.

"Face....Ed, how many years have we been together? We know you inside and out, kid. And there's nothing about you that we can't accept. No matter what you look like, no matter what you want to call yourself. We accept you for you."

"How can you, when I can't even do that? You don't know me, Hannibal! Because I never let you. I was whatever you wanted me to be, whatever the team needed me to be. That's where I took my cue. That's how I knew who to be. That's who you know. Not me."

Hannibal didn't say anything, but it was obvious he was skeptical. Face was determined to make his point, to make Hannibal understand.

"Why did you pick me to be on team, Hannibal?"

"We needed a supply officer, and you had a rep for getting anything and everything."

"When did you first hear about me and my 'rep'?"

Hannibal sat back a little, thinking. "A while after I put in the requisition for a supply officer. I don't know precisely. "

"I know precisely. Six weeks and two days after you put in the req, Colonel. Because I'm the one who put my file on your desk. Because that's how long it took to build up my contacts and make use of them. That's how long it took to make sure that so-called rep got around camp. Before that, I was just another green lieutenant that you wouldn't have looked at twice."

Hannibal chuckled. "Well, so I got conned. You were what I was looking for, so what did it matter?"

"I was exactly what you were looking for, Colonel. Exactly. Someone who could get whatever the team needed, whenever it was needed. That's what you wanted, that's what I became. You don't know me any better now than you did back then. Because I'm just a figment of your imagination. What you want to see. What you need. What the team needs. Only I'm not even that any more."

Hannibal stared at Face. He wasn't making any sense. It wasn't possible that someone could just...invent themselves, just like that. Then again, isn't that exactly what Face had done each and every time he had to run a scam for the team? Or every time he needed a new place to live? Found a new girlfriend? Hell, every time he got bored. But those were just temporary. They didn't last. He couldn't do that day after day. No way...

Hannibal turned away, watching the motel sign through the curtains of the window. But wasn't that the way Face lived, after all? His whole existence was one scam after another. One character after another. Whatever he needed, he became the person who could get it. Became what the mark wanted him to be. Became whoever he needed to be.

Hannibal looked back at Face, who, very calmly, very quietly, very sadly, was watching him.

Was there ever a time when Face was actually Face?

Whoever the hell that was.

He turned away, frowning. He heard Face speak softly behind him.

"Now you understand, Hannibal."


*****

BA and Murdock were standing by the van, both nervously watching the highway. It was not quite daylight, but they were anxious to be on the road. They were still too close to the battlefield to be complacent.

The door to the second room opened, and Petey bounded out, running to Murdock. Then Face stepped out, leaning heavily on the door itself. He took a small step outside, his left leg not quite holding his weight. For a split second it looked like he was going down, until an arm shot out and grabbed him.

"Damn it, Ed, I said wait for me!" Hannibal stepped out, pulling the door closed with his other hand. Shaking his head, he helped Face over to the van and without further comment, the four men climbed aboard. The van pulled out onto the highway, headed for Redding.

Other than a quick take out breakfast, they drove straight through, arriving about an hour before Face's appointment. BA circled the block, looking for anything and anyone that appeared out of place for the neighborhood. He parked on a side street, with a clear view of the front door.

"Okay, Murdock, check it out." Hannibal lit a cigar, watching the building.

Murdock slipped out of the van and walked casually across the street. A sign was beside the door, noticeable from the street, directing Dr. Bursey's patients around the corner. Ignoring it for the time being, he stepped inside and glanced around the lobby. There was a receptionist's desk in the middle, with a wall of elevators behind it and several rows of chairs in front. It was empty at that time of the morning, except for the receptionist, sorting out papers behind the desk. Murdock strolled over.

"Morning." He smiled pleasantly.

"Good morning. May I help you?"

"I have an appointment with Dr. Bursey this morning. Or rather, a friend of mine does. Just wanted to make sure we were in the right place."

"Well, you're in the right building. Dr. Bursey's patients use the side door, around the corner. It's a private entrance. There is a sign..." She pointed toward the door.

"Yeah, I saw that. I just thought maybe we could use this entrance.."

"I'm sorry, we can't access his suite from here. He's not actually part of our clinic, you see..." The receptionist looked at her files, obviously wanting to get on with her own work.

"Okay, thanks. That's all I needed. Toodle-oo." He grinned and walked out. He stepped quickly around the corner. That side of the building faced the parking lot. Another sign directed Murdock through a side door, which opened into a small alcove with a single elevator. In a moment, Murdock was on his way to the third floor.

The lobby, if one could call it that, was more like a small living room. A large comfortable couch and two matching chairs, small fireplace, and a Victorian-style desk serving the receptionist. The young man behind it looked up, frowning slightly.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"A friend of mine has an appointment with Dr. Bursey this morning. I was just..."

"Oh, the gentleman from Dr. Feist?"

"Yeah. That's him."

The receptionist looked at his watch. "You're a bit early, but Dr. Bursey won't have any other patients this morning. If you'd like to have him come up, Dr. Bursey will be here in about twenty minutes."

"That would be great. Thanks."

Murdock hurried back to the van.

"Good set up, Hannibal. Only access is a door around to the side, open view from the parking lot. One elevator, straight up to the suite. Bursey's due in about twenty minutes, but no other patients are scheduled for this morning, so anyone else going in..."

"Is all mine." BA smacked his fist into his palm and grinned.

"The receptionist said we could go up and wait, if we wanted." Murdock looked over at Face, who looked like he was half asleep.

"Sounds like a good idea." Hannibal thought about the parking lot, people coming in and out. The sooner they got Face upstairs, the easier it would be. "How about it, Ed? You ready?"

Face looked up then, sighed heavily. "Sure, why not?"

In a few moments, the van was parked with a good view of Bursey's door, and within easy reach should BA need to interrupt an unwanted visitor. Hannibal and Murdock walked on either side of Face, lending more than physical support. He hesitated a moment before getting on the elevator.

"It's okay, Ed. We're with you all the way, buddy." Murdock squeezed his arm.

The three men moved into the elevator, and Face took a deep breath as the doors slowly closed.