Suffering The Sea-Change
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them--
Face paused at the bottom of the stairs, keys in his hand, and stood irresolutely.
If it was just him, that would be one thing. But it wasn't.
He sighed and rubbed his stomach with his empty hand, enjoying the feel of the soft cashmere under his fingertips. The only way out of this was to take someone with him. But he didn't want Hannibal, those sharp blue eyes and that sharper mind. No. BA? He wouldn't come unless Face made it clear he needed him. Then he would, of course, no questions, but Face didn't want to do that. Making it clear he needed something was possibly his least favorite activity.
And Murdock wasn't here. He might have asked him if he were, he might not have, he just didn't know. He wasn't angry at the pilot, that wasn't it. But... Hell. That was it, wasn't it, or a large part of it? He wasn't angry at Murdock, Murdock wasn't (he didn't think) angry at him, yet they didn't feel like best friends any more. Face didn't mind working at it, but it was starting to be ridiculous. It was a good thing Murdock wasn't here. It saved him from having to decide.
And that left Frankie.
Face sighed again and walked to the entranceway to the living room. Frankie was there, lying on the couch with a book, his black-jeans-clad legs so long that his feet were on the other armrest. He didn't look up. Face paused, thinking about that. Frankie didn't, anymore. He just assumed he wasn't who you were looking for.
That wasn't right, Face thought. How long had Frankie been on the team now? Six months? Seven? Long enough that he shouldn't still feel like the redheaded stepchild, anyway. Long enough that they shouldn't treat him that way. They were stuck with him, after all, and maybe stuck with him wasn't kind, though it was accurate, but the point was that he was here, and not going away tomorrow. One of them, more or less, and reminding him that it was less didn't help anyone.
Besides, Frankie wasn't that bad. He'd learned quickly enough, there was nothing wrong with his intelligence. Maybe he was a bit pushy, or mouthy, or whatever you wanted to call it, and maybe a bit green still, but... He'd been green once, Face reflected. Greener than Frankie probably; it was hard to remember back that long. Back to that scared (he could admit that to himself) boy (he could admit that, too) eighteen years ago, very much out of his element, suddenly faced with people who wanted to kill him and surrounded by strangers who weren't that much more friendly. Not at first, some of them at any rate.
He had felt a great deal like Alvin Brenner in those early days, he remembered. It wasn't--hadn't been--a feeling he enjoyed. Ever.
Maybe he should think about being nicer to Frankie. After all, you never knew when you were going to want him to save your life. Or lie for you. Or just do you a favor. Like now.
Face crossed the distance between them and casually put his hand on the page.
"Hey, Face," Frankie said. "What's up?"
"I'm going for a drive. You want to come?"
The other man closed the book with an alacrity that argued he was close to being as bored, or restless, as Face was. "Sure," he said, sitting up. "Will they let us?"
"I don't know about you," Face said, "but right now I'm so stir crazy that if going over the fence is the only way, I'm going."
Frankie smiled, teeth very white in his brown face. "I'm game." He stood up, looking ready to follow wherever Face led.
And that was just a bit disquieting.
* * * * * *
Face paused by the Vette's front wheel and leaned over the car to polish a spot off the gleaming bonewhite surface with the sleeve of his sweater. He looked up at Frankie, ready to say something, but the other man just pointed out a faint water spot closer to him than Face. Sure, Face thought, leaning over to buff up the hood. Frankie's Cutlass wasn't exactly a classic, but he thought it was, and he treated it like it was. He understood the bond that could develop between a man and his car, at least a little bit.
Sweet Mary. I feel like I'm in high school.
Dear Diary: It happened! It finally happened! Templeton Peck asked me to go for a ride with him!
Worse, I feel like I'm in high school and a girl. I never actually felt like this in high school.
Of course, Templeton Peck wasn't in my high school.
I might have liked high school if he had been.
* * * * * *
"Get in," he said.
As Frankie opened the door one of the Abels walked up. It was Kutchner, the bigger of the two blond ones. He was constantly spoiling for a no holds barred with BA, and it made him erratic with the rest of the Team. "Where d'you think you're going?"
Face paused with his door open, hearing Frankie's shut. He shrugged. "Need to know," he said. "And you don't."
"Need to know, that is," Frankie said helpfully.
"The general didn't leave any word." Kutchner stepped in front of the Vette and crossed his arms.
This is not a good day to tempt me, Face thought.
"That's because you don't need to know," Frankie pointed out. "He probably thought telling you would, you know, let you know."
Face had to smile. It wasn't the best time to annoy Kutchner, but then again was there really a bad time for that? He slid in behind the wheel. "No time to chat," he said, putting the key into the ignition. "But of course you're always welcome to tag along." He jerked his head at the back as he turned the key, ignoring Frankie's loud sigh of more disbelief than resignation.
Kutchner ignored him, too; he grinned in open triumph and began to walk around the Corvette. Face let him get around the fender and then broke the delicate balance between clutch and accelator. "Get your own car," he said as he spun the Vette down the drive.
Frankie laughed beside him, turning to look over his shoulder. "Won''t he call the gate?"
Face shrugged, slipping the car into second. "If he does, we'll just have to lose him on the highway." He glanced sideways at Frankie to see if he was still game; the laughing dark eyes that met his left him in no doubt. "And we can."
Face glanced down the drive, dropping into first as they came up on the gate. An Abel came out of the guard shack as they approached, and when they slowed he reached back inside and hit the button. The gate opened and Face waved as they went through. He stopped at the road to check traffic, then turned out in the general direction of Leesburg.
"That wasn't too hard."
Face glanced at him. The downside to having Frankie along was that he did talk. Of course, so did Murdock, so it wasn't like Face wasn't used to it. Now he just shrugged and shifted into third and then fourth. "We probably won't get away with it again."
Frankie smiled, those ridiculously expressive eyes way too happy. Face quickly reviewed what he'd just said. We. Again. He pushed the Vette through a turn, thinking. That reaction was all out of proportion. Had they really been that standoffish, that this was enough to make Frankie's day? His week, it looked like.
Apparently they had.
"So where are we going?"
Face shrugged, keeping his eyes on the road, suddenly and he hoped momentarily shy of meeting Frankie's eyes. "It's not where to, it's where from."
The single syllable was so comprehensive, so understanding, and so completely without follow-up that Face found himself adding, "I don't have any destinations on this coast."
"Not even New York?"
"I'm from L.A.," Face protested. "I don't like cities I can't drive in."
"Yeah. What is the point of that?"
Face shook his head. "Don't ask me. But today I just want to get outside the Beltway and drive. I need to think." As soon as he'd said it he wished he hadn't, but another sideways glance at Frankie reassured him. The Hispanic man was nodding, not put out, and as Face gunned the car a little faster down the Leesburg Pike Frankie leaned back in the seat, his arm on the windowsill, and looked out, not speaking.
And maybe he should have felt bad about that but instead he was grateful. Talking wasn't something he wanted to do right now. That was the whole point.
They were coming up on US Rt 1 before Frankie did say anything. "We should go across the river."
"Into Maryland? Why?" Not that Face cared, but he didn't want to find himself going somewhere to do something.
Frankie shrugged. "No real reason. I just get nervous being in a state where they need no left turn signs at freeway entrance ramps."
Face laughed. "That's a good point, but I want to get on the freeway, get away from traffic lights. You start hitting toll booths actually in Maryland."
"To Richmond, then?"
"Roanoke, maybe. Raleigh, maybe."
Frankie just nodded.
* * * * * *
The road, the sweet car (a shimmy over a hundred? Hannibal didn't know how to drive), and the comfort of a silent presence had worked its usual magic. Usual, that is, if you could find all the ingredients, Face reflected, glancing at Frankie in the rear-view mirror. The man had turned out to be an inspired choice. Face didn't know if he was too nervous to talk or too perceptive, and, to be honest, he didn't care. Frankie hadn't said a word since US 1. Face sighed in appreciation of his own state of mind and eased off the accelerator.
I've never seen him like this. He's driving like there's a demon after him. Close.
But not crazy. Even though we're in a cop magnet, he's not driving so we'd get a ticket. He's just... driving hard. Fast. Trust him to know where he could get off the freeway and find roads nobody else uses, long winding roads with no traffic lights for the nonexistant traffic.
And quieter than I've ever seen him. Not saying a word for the last couple of hours.
I'm not sure why he wanted me to come. Not for my company, that's for sure.
Or, at least, not for my conversation.
He doesn't want me to talk, but he does look over at me every now and then, as to make sure I'm still here and not asleep or something. He wants me here. Or someone, anyway. And I can do that.
I can be here for him.
And for a wonder, I don't even want to talk. I just want to watch him.
Well, to be honest, that's not all I want. But there are a hundred reasons why it would be a bad idea. So I won't. But it can't hurt anything to give him what he wants, can it?
* * * * * *
"We need gas," he said. "You hungry?"
"I could eat," Frankie said. "I could use a john."
Now that he'd mentioned it, so could Face. A nice thing about Virginia: no matter how far away you thought you were from civilization, you weren't very, really. Orienting himself by the sun, he turned east. "Diner food okay?"
"Diner?" Frankie sounded surprised.
"I can eat in diners," Face said.
"I'm sure, but--you know where one is out here?"
Face laughed. "No." He took the next corner, following the sign pointing towards I-64. "But when we find gas it'll probably be at a diner."
"I hope not."
It took Face a second, then he laughed. "Actually, if we're close enough to the freeway, we can find a real restaurant."
Face froze for a second, then the tone registered. "I was thinking, Taco Bell," he riposted.
Frankie laughed out loud, a teeth-flashing invitation to share the joke. Face joined in, feeling the last week's tension finally sink to his normal, manageable level of annoyance, the amount he lived with all the time. "We'll eat," he said finally, cruising around another turn. "And then I suppose we'd better think about heading back."
Frankie shook his sleek, dark head. "Here I was hoping you were planning on heading home."
That didn't even take Face a second. "I-64 to I-81, down to I-40, and then the 40 all the way across..." He sighed. "Retro me, Sathanas..."
"Hey," Frankie protested mildly. "I'm just saying."
"I know. I know. It's just... I'd love to. But I promised Hannibal to give him the time to get it sorted."
"We could come back," Frankie offered. "You know, in a week or two... Okay, okay. Don't tell Johnny I brought it up."
"I won't, compadre. Hey, there we are." Floating over the thick summer canopy that lined the road ahead of them, in contrast to the horse- and cow-dotted fields they'd been driving through, were the signs of life--Shell, Amoco, McDonald's, HoJo--towering like modern-day pillars of cloud. With a sigh of relief Frankie probably hadn't heard over his own whoop, Face headed towards them.
He pulled into the Shell station and Frankie leapt out of the Vette before it was completely stopped. If we do this again, Face thought, watching him lope across the lot, he has got to speak up. Trees are no substitute for porcelain.
Unfortunately, it was self service. He paused, then calculatedly got out and walked to the men's room, taking the key from Frankie and ducking inside. After washing his hands, he checked himself out in the mirror. Hair's a mess, he thought, good thing Murdock's not here to tell me to wear a hat, for God's sake. He straightened the fall, running his fingers through it, and shrugged. Good enough for someplace he'd never come back to.
As he'd hoped, Frankie was pumping the gas. Premium. Good man. Hands in his pockets he ambled across the lot. Frankie looked up at him and grinned. "I'm keeping the keys. I want to drive."
Face smiled. "Cashmere," he said. "Picks up fumes like you wouldn't believe."
"You do know it's June? What do you wear in January?"
Face shrugged. Frankie had on a brilliant blue shirt, short-sleeved, a color Face wouldn't have worn for anything on his own, but it looked good against the other man's cinnamon skin. "I'm cold in January," he said. "I dress warmly. This," he stroked the pale wheaten sweater, "is cashmere. It's not for warmth."
Frankie shook his head. "It's wool. You going to be wearing it in August?"
"I wore it in August back home. I'll wear it in August here."
"I was here for a week in August once. You won't."
"We'll see." Face paused. "If we're still here."
Frankie pulled the nozzle out of the Vette's tank, carefully, and stashed it back on the pump. "Okay. You want to eat here?"
Face shrugged. "Why not? I like Howard Johnson every once in a while."
"That's probably a good thing."
Face nodded. "Yes, it is. All things considered." He paused. "Yeah. All things considered."
* * * * * *
Face leaned back against the booth. It was late for lunch, early for travellers to stop for supper, and the room was empty except for them and the waitress who was sitting with her head bent over a thick paperback by the cash register. "No," he said, "if I never see Florida again it'll be too soon." Under the table's edge he rested his left hand on his stomach. "I'll retire in Palm Springs sooner." It was, he supposed, inevitable that the conversation had drifted around to recent events. Well, recent-ish.
All things considered.
I wish I knew what all those things are. I wish I knew what was really bothering him, why he wanted me with him instead of one of them.
He's back to normal, on the surface. Cool. Shiny. Crisp. Chicken, broiled; rice, not potatoes; green beans, steamed... Smiling.
But he's wearing cashmere, and that's wool. You're warm in that.
You're warm in that, Templeton; you're wearing that for warmth, even if you're not cold.
I just wish I knew why. I just wish I could do something about it.
* * * * * *
Frankie took a long swallow and put down his coffee cup. "Not Malibu?"
"Palm Springs before Florida, that's all."
"Ah." He shrugged. "I kind of liked it."
Face answered without thinking. "I used to." Why on earth had he said that? Was one afternoon of silence enough to knock down his wall? He looked up, ready with more words to change the direction of what he'd let go of, send it down an entirely different road. But when he met the warm dark gaze across the table all the words seemed to slip away. He hesitated, and then heard his voice saying, "I've been there before, and I did like it. What's not to like? White beaches, green water, palm trees, sun..." He shrugged. "But I have a tendency to associate places with events. Or," he hesitated but he'd said too much to stop. "With people. There are a few otherwise quite charming I'm sure places I won't go back to if I have the say."
Frankie dropped his gaze to his coffee cup; Face's followed, to see a long finger circling the cup's rim. It was only a few seconds before Frankie spoke; his tone made it clear he was trying to lighten the mood but he picked the wrongest thing to say he could have. "So you won't be changing your name back to Bancroft then?"
"I'm not Richard Bancroft." That wasn't just curt or decisive, it was bitter. No, it was actually vicious. Face heard himself and was appalled. So much for someone to listen--
"All right. Sorry. Templeton... Face."
Face looked back at Frankie. He was holding his hands up, half serious and half not, half in defense and half in surrender, and Face realized he couldn't tell where the halves overlapped. Then the names registered, and the tone--if the gesture was half in jest the tone was entirely sincere. Before he knew he was going to, he said what he hadn't thought he'd be saying to anyone, not since Murdock no longer wanted to hear much... "I'd rather be Alvin Brenner than Richard Bancroft."
And Frankie said, "Who's Alvin Brenner?"
The words hung in his mind. He stood up abruptly enough that Frankie, startled, set his cup down the spoon, spilling what was left of his coffee. Face pulled a five out of his wallet and dropped it on the table, picking up the bill. "Let's go."
Frankie followed him, not saying anything. He'd driven the half a block between the Shell station and the HoJo's, and pocketed the keys, but now without a word from either of them he handed them over as they left the restaurant.
* * * * * *
Face drove for thirty minutes, too fast for the road, keeping himself too occupied to think. Half of what he'd said today had come without thought and he didn't want to start second-guessing himself now. Frankie had put up with his mood, somehow brought him out of it--driving by himself would have made it manageable, but looking across the table in the diner, talking about Mexico... he'd actually forgotten how snarled up he'd felt. Frankie didn't deserve to suffer for not knowing something, for innocently and without malice poking at Face's almost sorest spot.
I talk too much.
And I say the stupidest God-damned things.
And the day was going so well.
* * * * * *
Even now, Frankie was very uncharacteristically quiet, leaning back, his elbow out the window... Face found himself slowing the Vette as a new thought slid into his mind. Uncharacteristically?
He snuck another glance via the rear-view mirror at the other man. Frankie talked, sure; Frankie talked a lot. Too much, you could say, and Face had. They all had, and Hannibal as much as any of them, if not more. But Hannibal had been almost surprised at how annoying Frankie could be, and Hannibal had worked with him before.
So maybe... Maybe Frankie talking was uncharacteristic. Maybe Frankie didn't talk when he was comfortable. Face looked back almost twenty years at a very talkative second lieutenant, and at a man, nothing like that young anymore, who used words to hide a multitude of sins and weaknesses.
He looked in the rear-view for real, and then he dropped into first and pulled off the road onto the grass. He turned off the engine; in the silence crows could be heard, and traffic off in the distance. He looked across the field, at the horses grazing as if no one ever fed them in those white stables behind them, and then he slewed around in the seat to look at Frankie, leaning against the door, silent and waiting. Face took a deep breath.
"I used to be Alvin Brenner. He used to be me. Whatever..."
Frankie said, "When?" Then his eyes lit with comprehension. "You didn't know your name."
Face shrugged, hoping the effort didn't show but not trusting that it was so.
"So you picked Templeton Peck?"
For a moment Face sat in silence. It still hung in the balance, whether he would say anything else, and then he remembered Frankie calling him "Templeton" in the restaurant and reverting to "Face" right away. Names... Frankie had said "Don't tell Johnny" earlier. Frankie always said "Johnny." Face hadn't heard what Hannibal had said the first time the younger man had called him by his his nickname, but he'd seen the ice in the blue eyes, felt the freeze from across the firing range. Frankie hadn't said "Hannibal" since. BA, too... he'd growled when Frankie had tried "sergeant", told him he hadn't earned that.
Funny... everyone he knew but the Team called him Templeton. And among all those nobodies, all those shadows passing in the darkness, were one or two closer almost than was bearable. Father Maghill, Leslie once... The ones he was closest to called him Face--so did a lot of people he'd crossed the path of, met once, would probably never see again. What did it mean? What the hell did any of it mean?
When he spoke, he wasn't telling anything as much as he was looking for somthing. "Not right away. I went through a few in high school. And junior high. I settled on this before I went to college. I guess I'm stuck with it, but it works."
"It's a good name," Frankie said seriously. "Classy, but solid. Sounds like an old family name." He paused, looking a bit puzzled. "I'm surprised they let you, or were you just, you know, thinking of them?"
Face shook his head. "No, for real. It is odd, I suppose, but they were great about that. One of the kids from back before World War II was a judge. He did it for us for $20, though he would only do it once a year. It would take almost that long to save twenty," he added. "Some of the nuns, they thought it was ridiculous. Don't all teenagers hate their names?" He could still hear Sister Benedict: Not again? What is it now?
"Especially if it's Alvin."
Face laughed. "Father Maghill once said he thought he understood: names were important and we were trying to find our own, since we didn't have one... I don't know if he really thought that was it."
"Names are important. Magic, even."
Face nodded. "That's it, of course. Plenty of people named Alvin are happy. Or Jacob, or Luke." Frankie's dark eyes didn't demand, they just accepted, and Face said it out loud. "What was happening was, we were saying 'if Alvin Brenner's not good enough, maybe somebody else will be...'"
"And Richard Bancroft wasn't."
That wasn't a question. Frankie got it.
"Old A.J. certainly didn't stick around. Ellen was enough... not little Richard."
"I thought Murdock said you didn't even know where he was."
Frankie's eyes widenend slightly, and a muscle jumped in his cheek as he restrained some comment. For just a moment Face thought about asking him what he wanted to say, but he knew if he did they'd get sidetracked (at best), and he wouldn't ever have this conversation with him again, and something inside him didn't want that to happen. "I didn't even know if he was alive or dead," Face said. "I didn't even know if he was, for that matter. I didn't remember him at all." He heard the emphasis on 'him' and hoped Frankie hadn't. He continued quickly, to deflect it if he had. "But he existed. And if he hadn't divorced her, if he just left, he had his rights. Hell, for Catholics--"
"Especially back then."
"It wasn't the dark ages. It wasn't even the nineteenth century."
Frankie's smile was a bit triumphant. Face was inclined to let him have it: he'd lightened the mood, if only a bit. "Still, it sounds to me like he'd forfeited his rights," Frankie observed.
"The law doesn't see it that way. By the time he was long enough gone, I was too old." A neat capsule of his youth, if not entirely accurate. There were those people who'd ended up taking Tony, for one. But it was the bottom line.
"It turned out better," Frankie said finally.
"A man like that? You were better off not knowing, better off thinking he was dead. But I know you don't think so. And I know what you should have learned, though I'm not surprised you didn't."
Face raised his eyebrows. "What?"
Frankie shrugged. "Your father was a perro. Running out on his family--twice," Frankie held up two fingers. "He was the one with the problem, not you. Men don't leave their children because it's easier."
"Well, at the risk of sounding like a pop-psych book," Frankie grinned a little, "real men don't..."
Face laughed. But it was time to get off the subject before he said too much. "Your father... You get along with him, or you just don't want him on your hands?"
Frankie's smile was fond and sad both. "We get along. It was better when Mom was alive, but we get along." His gaze drifted over Face's shoulder for a minute. "It was rough when he got sick. I was not an easy teenager--" He grinned suddenly, that flashing smile that Face couldn't remember having seen before today. "Or at least that's what all my aunts tell me."
"Aunts? How many?"
"Six. My father's sisters."
"And every one of them wanted to take over for Mom. Which wasn't happening. So every one of them gave Pop an earfull everytime they got a chance."
"You don't sound terminally estranged."
Frankie shook his head. "That was when I was a kid. We're good now." He got solemn. "We were. I don't know what they think now."
That was a good point. God alone knew what Stockwell, or his people, had said. "At least you know your father's still being taken care of."
"Yeah." The dark eyes got even darker, another expression Face hadn't seen before. How many parts of Frankie had he kept them unaware of? How many parts had they not even tried to see? Face felt an unfamiliar emotion, one he hadn't felt since... college? A long time ago, whenever it was.
He shied from it, grabbed for something else to say. "You just have aunts?"
Frankie grinned again. "Not exactly. They're all married and they all have kids. Some of them have grandkids. Cousins everywhere. In New Mexico, too, where my mom was from. And my abuelita."
"Big family. Like Murdock's, only a lot more."
"Not really. I mean, you know that's why."
"Why?" Face was lost. "What why?"
"Murdock didn't get along with his family."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Frankie looked sideways at him and shrugged, a fluid movement. It had to be an Hispanic thing, that oddly natural uncultivated grace, like there was music all the time... "Never mind."
Face blinked and replayed his question. Maybe it had come out sharper than he'd meant. Maybe he'd meant it sharper than he should have. "No, really," he said. "What did you mean?"
Frankie slewed around in the seat and looked at him for a moment. "Nothing much," he said finally. "Just, well, Murdock doesn't understand what you're missing, because he had a family and didn't like it much."
Face thought about that. Murdock's point had been valid, though not exactly as the pilot had meant it: Face would have have hated the waiting for Bancroft not to say anything. But he had never really sounded as though he understood Face's perspective, even the perspective he was more or less making up in his own mind. Maybe Frankie was right; maybe Murdock could only appreciate intellectually the hole in Face's life. Maybe it was foolish to want him to, maybe it was impossible for him to. And maybe there wasn't anything to his silence, and then his words, except misguided emotion.
Maybe? Of course. Murdock was his best friend. Of course Murdock only meant his good.
It had gotten a little bit harder to remember that lately, for reason or reasons Face didn't understand. How many years had he spent wishing, praying, for Murdock to come back to them, only to find himself baffled when it happened? What had Murdock said to him, back in Florida, on the ground where Face had knocked him (though he'd regretted it almost at once)? He'd said their friendship meant they didn't have to apologize for things.
But a lot of things had changed, not just the obvious. He and Murdock weren't easy with each other any longer. They weren't who they had been, Murdock... wasn't who he had been. Was finally who he should have been all along. And if the price of that was that now he and Face had to say they were sorry, had to find new ways to interact, well, then; it was cheap for the value.
"Murdock's sorry, you know."
Face blinked, finding himself looking at the road. He turned back toward Frankie, saw encouragment, and acceptance.
"He told me, he thinks he was right, but he knows you don't--"
"--and he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know you do."
Face half laughed. "I don't know what to say, either. As long as we've known each other... We're a pair, all right."
Frankie's gaze flickered, just briefly but noticeably. Oh, good move, Face chided himself. Remind him he's the stranger.
"You should try," Frankie said. "He wants you to."
"I will..." Face looked down the road, then back at Frankie. "Next time he comes around, we'll talk again." He turned the key in the ignition. "Don't worry about us. We're okay. We're at cross-purposes. We'll settle." We will: settle down, and settle things, and settle for... It will work out.
"Good." Frankie half smiled. "That'll make Johnny happy. Happier, anyway."
"Nothing will make him happy as long as we're here." Although Hannibal did have the gift of finding contentment in places Face himself could not. Hannibal wanted to be gone, but he wasn't as unhappy in the meantime. Face envied him that, him and BA both. He'd never known content for more than a few hours at a time. This afternoon had been a good time.
He pulled out onto the road, backed and filled, and headed back the way they'd come.
* * * * * *
Face pulled in at the little store, closed who knew how long. But in front of it, just like he'd remembered, a phone booth. He parked in front of it.
What did you expect?
They are a pair, even if they're not a couple.
But still, this has been a good afternoon. He's easier in his mind than he was, and that's good. And I don't think he minds having talked to me. I thought he was minding it, but no.
And the drive was good.
Maybe we can do this again. He said next time, he did say it.
* * * * * *
"Calling Johnny? Probably a good idea."
"You're right," Face realized. "After you call, I will."
Face smiled. "Call your dad."
* * * * * *
Frankie's conversation wasn't very long. Face sat in the Vette and watched the other man, wondering what he was saying, what his dad already thought, how it felt. BA was going through something like that; Face remembered Mrs. Baracus with deep fondness and wondered off and on if BA was really letting her think he was dead, or if he'd slipped word to her and was just not letting Stockwell know. The rest of them didn't have that problem.
I know the number. I know Johnny would kill me, Stockwell too probably, but I don't care. "Room twenty-three."
"Who's calling?" That's Aunt Teresa, no way I couldn't recognize her voice. "Francisco? Is that you?" And they will call me that, no matter how often I, or Pop, protest. "I can't believe you're calling." She's hissing into the phone.
"Let me talk to Pop."
"He's asleep. I'm not going to wake him up, there's no use. You know how long it takes him. You can't stay on the phone."
In the background I can hear one of my cousins, I'm not sure which. "Who is it, Mom? Frankie?" He grabs the phone from her. "Frankie? Is that you?" It's Tony. "Man, what are you into? There were Feds here, Frankie. Uncle Martín wouldn't even tell us what they said, but he's not a happy man. What the hell are you into?"
"It's drugs, Antonio," Teresa says sharply; she's probably trying to get the phone back. "Mexico, movies, his hair... of course it's drugs."
"Mom," Tony protests, and then he gets the phone back. "Look, Frankie, forget what I asked. Don't tell me; this phone is probably bugged. You shouldn't call again. And for God's sake don't come."
"Tony, how's Pop? Really?"
"He's no worse. I'm not lying, Frankie. He's no worse. There was a scare, about the money, it must have been when whatever happened happened. You know how expensive a place like this is private, if he wasn't covered--but it got straightened out. He's not happy about whatever's going on, but he's okay. I'm telling you, primo: don't come here."
"Hey, forget it. Family. And for God's sake don't say anything you don't want the Feds to know. You probably been on too long. Take care, man."
* * * * * *
Families, he thought. They were like one, the four of them, right down to the sibling rivalries and feuds. And they closed ranks around each other when they needed to, like a family. And Frankie... He wasn't exactly like an adopted kid, because they hadn't wanted him. Maybe he was like the kid in all those movies, the one where the parents marry each other and the kids hate each other. It wasn't that bad, but...
Ellen felt like that about him.
On the outside looking in. He'd felt like that for so long now, he hadn't even noticed that out there, in the big outside, he was actually inside something. Something warm and strong and taken for granted until it started to fall apart.
Until he started to lose it.
He sighed, leaning back and watching Frankie, his shoulder against the side of the phone booth, loss and worry in the lines of his lean body. Frankie was losing, too.
I did it once, he thought. Maybe I can do it again. It won't be the same, but that doesn't mean it won't be good.
He got out of the car as Frankie walked slowly back. "Your dad okay?"
Frankie nodded. "He's the same."
Face realized he didn't have any clear idea what that meant. There'd be time for that. "Hey," he said, "I can tell Hannibal we got stuck in traffic or something. You up for a drink? Maybe several?"
Frankie's smile came back, slow but real. "I could drink."
"It's a plan." Face took a deep breath, feeling a kind of calm surrounding him. "We should do this more often."
"Assuming we can ever get away again."
"I'm going to take that as a personal challenge."
"Should I worry?"
Face smiled. "If you like," he nodded. "If you like."
* * * * * *
Face paused beside the car, one hand on the door, and looked at Frankie. Hannibal, as the Aussies in Vietnam had used to say, wasn't best pleased, but that was past fixing. Staying later wouldn't make him worse. "Charlottesville?"
If I like?
You have no idea.
And I guess that's how it needs to stay.
But I'll always say yes when you ask. Like Tony said, family.
However it works out.
* * * * * *
"Sounds good to me."
"Then Charlottesville it is." He hesitated only a second. "You want to drive?"
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