CHAPTER FIFTY ONE

Yet another week had gone by without a word or sign of Ed. Nick was growing more and more concerned about Charlie. He wished, with all his heart, that he hadn't brought up the possibility Ed had been killed. Charlie had dismissed the idea, since Ed had been alive and relatively well when he saw Dr. Bursey. But the idea was planted in his mind, now. The military was after them, after all. And who knows if they had gone up against another bunch of crooks, or if more of Sinon's people had indeed shown up. Hell, they could've been in a car accident. The possibilities were endless, and Charlie had gone through most of them. And a palpable amount of Scotch, as well. People were starting to talk. They were getting very concerned about their leader's well-being. Several had spoken to Nick about it.

It was way past time to do something about the whole situation. Dr. Bursey was their last link to Ed, and that trail was over a month old. But it was a start. And Nick had connections. So did Charlie. Loathe he might be to rekindle old acquaintances, Charlie was going to do just that.

They were going to find Ed. And they were going to bring him home.


*****

"You'd be able to get rid of the patch, at least."

"No."

"It doesn't look that bad, Ed. It really doesn't."

"Murdock, it doesn't move. I'd be looking to the side with one eye and staring straight ahead with that...thing. I'd rather people stare at the patch than that."

"Ed..."

"No! Now leave me alone!"

Face stomped out of the room, and Murdock slumped in his chair, defeated again. Hannibal looked up from his book. He'd wisely stayed out of this particular discussion, but he was with Murdock. Every day, they'd try to convince Ed to at least consider having some work done. So far, it had only succeeded in making him angry.

"Don't worry, Murdock. He'll come around. Maybe we need to back off a little, just for now."

"But he needs to get started on this, Hannibal! It may already be too late for some of it!"

"Murdock, calm down. Going ballistic is not going to change his mind."

"Well, being nice hasn't, either. Maybe we oughta just..."

"Jus what, fool?"

BA stood in the doorway, and he didn't look happy. "You been at him again, haven't ya?"

"It's for his own good, BA. You know that."

"No, I don't, Hannibal." BA stepped over to the pile of pictures laying on the coffee table, and picked up a fistful. "You look at these and think that it's gonna make that much difference? You really think all the pain he'd have to go through is worth it?"

"Whose side on you on, BA?" Murdock hadn't calmed down one bit, and Hannibal wasn't any too happy, either.

"Didn't know there was sides to this, Murdock. But if you want them, then I'm on his. He don't want surgery, and he don't wanna be here. And maybe it's time you two figured that out."

"He doesn't know what he wants, BA. That's why we're here." Hannibal put his book down and stood up. It was always better to stand when talking to BA. "Between the accident and those voices, it's a miracle he's functioning at all. We're not trying to force him into anything, BA." Hannibal looked hard at Murdock, who angrily flounced down on the couch. "But we need to help him in the right direction."

"Why is this surgery so important to you guys, Hannibal?"

"Because Face, I mean, Ed..."

"No, you meant Face. You both want Face back, and you think if he goes through all that crap, he'll decide to be Face again. It ain't gonna happen! He's Ed now, and he wants to be left alone. So drop it." BA grabbed the rest of the pictures and ripped them in two. Tossing them on the floor, he glared at each of the stunned men and stalked out of the room.

Murdock and Hannibal stared at each other, open-mouthed.


*****

"What about that colonel? He's some kind of bigwig with the Pentagon now, isn't he? He should be able to find out something."

"Jack? Yeah, he might. I don't know, though. It could put him in a bit of a pickle, and he was always straight with me. I'd hate to get him in trouble."

"If he's smart enough to have gotten where he is, he's smart enough to cover his ass now. You want to find Ed or not?"

Charlie just glared at Nick. He reached over and started pouring a glass of Scotch. Nick grabbed the bottle and strode over to the kitchen sink. Charlie watched in amazement as Nick poured the contents down the drain.

"No more of that shit until we find Ed. Got it?"

"Just what are you implying, Nick?"

"I'm not implying anything, although there are plenty of folks around here who have. I need you thinking clearly, Charlie, and that means no booze. Period."

Charlie looked at Nick for a long moment before he suddenly chuckled. "Nick, I knew there was more to you than a simple woodworker." He shook his head, still chuckling. "Okay, boy-o, let's get to work. What did you have in mind for poor old Jack?"


*****

BA went looking for Face, and found him in the garage. Why there, BA had no idea, but he was sitting at the workbench, fiddling with some tools. He dropped them like hot pokers when BA opened the side door.

"S'okay, man. Jus me." He stepped over to the bench. He could tell from the way Face was sitting that he was more than a little stressed. He'd picked up the tools again, and was turning them over and over.

"I talked to them, Ed. Tol them to leave you alone, bout that surgery stuff. You don't want it, you don't have to have it. 'kay?"

Face just nodded, still turning the wrench. BA waited, knowing eventually Face would speak his mind. He did wonder if he was just thinking, or if he was listening. That was always a bit of a gamble when you tried to talk to him.

"When can I go home, BA?"

BA sighed. It always boiled down to that. There had been times when BA was tempted to just load Face and his dog in the van and take off, take him home. But he'd been through one split with the team. He wasn't going to do it again unless there was no other way.

"Soon, Ed. Okay? Just...give 'em a break. They are tryin. And they're not doin this to be mean or nothin. They want what's best for you. They just haven't got it through their thick skulls what that is yet. Okay?"

"Yeah. I just..." Face sighed, and suddenly dropped the wrench and propped his face in his hands.

"Ed? You okay?"

"I don't like it here, BA. I want to go home. I want to go home now! Why won't they let me?"

"C'mon, man, it's not that bad, is it?"

"There's too many people."

"Nobody comes here, Ed. You don't have to worry bout them."

"But they're out there. Watching. Listening. All the time."

BA frowned. He didn't like the sound of that.

"And Hannibal...he lies to me. Why?"

"Hannibal ain't lied to you that I know of, Ed. What makes you say that?"

"He lied about letting me go home!"

BA sighed. "He ain't really lied, man. He just...put it off for a little."

"And he lied about...that guy."

Oh, man. Here was trouble. "What guy?"

"You know."

"He didn't lie to you, man. You missed that guy by a mile."

Face looked up then, staring hard at BA, and then shook his head. "You're a lousy liar, BA. Always were. So don't do it. I know Face shot him. I know he killed him."

Warning bells were ringing loud and clear in BA's head. "How can you be so sure? You were pretty...out of things then..."

"I was scared shitless, BA. Okay? Scared shitless. But...they saw it all. And they...they told me what he did." He looked again at BA. "You think I'm nuts, don't you? Talking about Face like he was someone separate from me. But it's the only way I can think of him now.

"The fact that he really killed that guy doesn't bother me half as much as the idea that you guys might think it could happen again. That if I had to, I could go in against the bad guys and be part of the team, just like before. Bits and pieces of the way he was come out, and then everybody starts thinking I'm going to be 'okay' again."

Face looked down at the wrench, picked it up, gripping it hard. "I can't do that, BA. I can't. Just the thought of...I almost got Murdock killed back there, BA. One of my best friends, and I couldn't open my damn mouth."

"Nobody blames you for that, Ed."

"You don't understand, BA. I'm scared. I'm scared all the damn time! I know it's stupid, I know it's nuts, but I can't help it. What if more of those guys show up here? What if Hannibal gets another client? What if Murdock finally loses it? What if a goddamned neighbor stops in to say hi?"

Face stood suddenly, throwing the wrench against the wall. BA stepped back, on total alert.

"Damn it, BA! I'm tired of being afraid! I'm tired of looking like a freak, a monstrosity! I'm tired of not being what everyone wants me to be, what I used to be. I'm tired of...I'm...tired...of everything..." Face slumped against the wall, slid down to the floor, folding his arms over his knees and laying his head down.

BA stood where he was, watching his friend. Face wasn't the only one who was scared.