Through a Glass, Darkly
by Elizabeth Kent
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Flames licked their way around the eaves and over the roof of the house. The air filled with thick, acrid smoke, and firefighters approached the building carefully. This fire was burning hot and fast. There wasn't much they could do here; the place would be a total loss. They best they could do was keep it contained.
Roused from sleep, some people stood in their nightclothes staring in disbelief at the burning house. Others scurried about counting heads, making sure everyone had gotten out. There were people missing. Three people, actually. But only two of them would show up on the official report.
Firefighters had carried out one body already. They tried to make their way through smoke and flame to the master bedroom only to be beaten back by intense heat. Whoever was in there, poor soul, would be dead by now. There was no help for it. They'd have to go back in to recover the body after the fire had been extinguished.
Watching from the perimeter where guards milled about discussing something in urgent tones, he watched, satisfied. Not what he had in mind, perhaps, but it had worked out anyway.
Revenge. Justice. It was a long time in coming, but oh, it tasted sweet. So sweet.
Hannibal Smith opened the front door to retrieve the newspaper and found himself nearly stumbling over a large manila envelope that had been propped up against the front door. Even in the dim porch light, he could see a large red stain covering the only word written on the envelope: Hannibal. He knew immediately who it was from and looked around, but he saw no one. He turned and went back into the kitchen, examining the envelope more closely in the light. There was no mistaking the lettering on the front of it. It was Face's script. Nor was there any mistaking the nature of the red stain that covered it.
"Murdock! B.A.!" he hollered up the stairs. "Get down here!"
With shaking hands, he tore open the envelope and pulled out its contents, quickly scanning them. There were several computer disks, neatly labeled; manila folders stuffed with documents, also labeled; and a couple of videocassettes. There was, however, no note, nothing personal, nothing to explain Face's six-month absence. And worst of all, there was no Face.
Hannibal turned to look over his shoulder. Murdock stood there, his face white, staring at the stained envelope. Hannibal knew Murdock would recognize Face's script immediately.
"Where is he?" Murdock asked. He already knew something was terribly wrong.
Hannibal sighed heavily. "I don't know. He only left the envelope." He fingered the stain, and his hand came away red.
"He's hurt," said Murdock.
"Yeah, I think he must be. He can't have gotten far if he's hurt." He turned and led the way out of the house just as B.A. came down the stairs and followed them out.
As it was only just getting light, it was difficult to see anything at all, but they could make out red stains on the porch and on the walkway leading to the front gate. B.A. ran back in the house for a flashlight and returned momentarily to begin following the trail. It led across the street into the shadow of a huge oak that stood there. At that spot they found a much larger pool of blood.
"Oh, no," said Murdock softly when he saw how big the puddle was.
"He must've been standing here to make sure I picked up the envelope," Hannibal said.
"He went that way," B.A. announced, shining the flashlight on the trail of blood that led down the sidewalk. They followed the trail around the corner where it led to the curb and then vanished.
"He must've had a car waiting here," Murdock said. "Hannibal, we've got to find him!" He began to pace back and forth in front of the spot where the blood stains disappeared.
B.A. laid a hand on his shoulder. "This ain't gonna help, man," he said gently. "Let's go on back to the house, see if we can figure out where he's gone." Comforting Murdock wasn't his usual role, but he'd taken it on in the months since Face had left them.
In silence they returned to the house, B.A.'s arm around Murdock's shoulders, Hannibal walking in front deep in thought. On the way back into the house, B.A. scooped up the newspaper, unfolded it, and stopped dead in his tracks.
"Hannibal, you need to see this," he said, handing Hannibal the newspaper.
The headline proclaimed, "Millionaire Businessman Murdered!" Under the headline was a picture of Ted Wright's estate engulfed in flames.
Murdock went even whiter, and B.A. guided him to a chair and made him sit while Hannibal scanned the article. Face had been at Wright's estate for the last six months, though the others had no idea whether he'd even been alive. Wright ran a successful investment firm but also laundered money and financed drug dealers. And that, as it turned out, was not the worst of it. They'd only just learned the depths of his depravity when Murdock had been badly wounded. Mistakenly believing that Murdock had been killed in the drive-by shooting ordered by Ted Wright, Face had left the hospital without Hannibal's knowledge and returned to Wright's well-guarded compound, presumably to finish what he had already started: gathering evidence against Wright. Hannibal had not harbored any illusions about Face's other motive for returning to Wright. Murdock was his best friend of fifteen years and his lover of only a few weeks. Face would want revenge, and as he scanned the article, Hannibal knew he'd gotten it.
Arson investigators were still sifting through the burned-out rubble of Wright's estate. A body burned beyond recognition had been found in the master bedroom, a knife embedded in its chest. Police were assuming it was Ted Wright, but a final identification was being delayed pending a check of dental records. The fire had spread rapidly, destroying the house and everything in it, and police didn't hold out much hope of finding enough evidence to identify the killer. A second victim had been found dead in the living room, possibly overcome by smoke and heat during a rescue attempt. Wright's other employees had escaped unharmed, one of them having been wakened by someone pounding on her door and yelling, but beyond reporting that fact, none of them were talking.
B.A. fingered the manila envelopes, also stained with blood that had seeped through the envelope. "Face did this, didn't he?" he said. "Got the evidence, murdered Wright, and burned the place to cover it up."
Murdock shook his head. "Not murder," he said. "Execution, maybe, or self-defense, but not murder." He stood abruptly, nearly knocking over his chair, his fists clenched. "All I care about is finding Face. Whatever happened, Wright had it coming to him, the murdering bastard!"
Hannibal did not disagree but still shook his head in consternation. They just plain didn't work that far outside the law. And of the four of them, he'd have thought Face the least likely to be able to bring himself to do this. But the evidence was staring him right in the face.
"He's losing a lot of blood," said Murdock worriedly. "We've got to find him."
"We could call the cab companies," said B.A. "Find out if anyone picked up a fare 'round here."
"That'll take too long," said Murdock.
Hannibal puffed on his cigar and thought. What would Face do? This mission was accomplished, wasn't it? What more could there be? Suddenly, he knew. "I know where he's going," he announced. "And we have to get there before he does something stupid."
He approached the building cautiously, keeping as much out of sight as he could, deciding to enter through the parking garage. It was still early, and he was lucky not to encounter anyone. Scanning the selections on the sign next to the elevator, he decided to start on a floor where he was not likely to run into anyone who would be asking questions about the blood spreading across his clothing from the wounds in his shoulder and side. It was easy enough to hide his condition in the dark; the taxi driver who'd dropped him off a few blocks back hadn't noticed a thing. But it was daylight now, and he'd be entering the brightly lit corridors of St. Luke's Memorial Hospital where hiding would be harder.
Selecting what he hoped would be the proper floor, he made his way undetected to the morgue. As he'd expected, it was close to deserted. He ducked into a linen closet, pulled off his soiled clothing, and rolled up some pillowcases, hissing in pain as he pressed them tightly against the wound in his side. He tore strips from a sheet to bind the makeshift bandage to his side before doing what he could to cover the wound in his shoulder. The bullet had caught him high, probably at least nicking the collarbone, and while it was not life-threatening, it hurt like hell. But at the moment, that was the least of his worries. He only had to last long enough to finish this one last job, and then it wouldn't matter what happened to him.
He crouched in a dark corner of the closet and rested for a few minutes. As he rested, he reviewed his plan, picturing a night six months ago when he'd stood in the shadows near the emergency entrance of this hospital. He'd been a different man then, weak, grieving, and broken, but even then, even in his grief, he'd known that one day he'd come back here and do this. Closing his eyes, he conjured up a vision: a man dressed in surgical scrubs. Grey hair, round eyeglasses, a bit over six feet tall, athletic build. As the vision walked toward him, he focused his attention on the name embroidered over the left breast: Benteen.
Carefully he stood, fighting the wave of dizziness that washed over him as he did so. Pulling on a pair of scrubs large enough to conceal his bandages, he discarded his bloodstained clothing in the hamper, made his way cautiously back up to the main entrance of the hospital and scanned the signs for the location of Benteen's office. Nobody questioned him as he made his way to the office. Once there, he looked around before he pulled a set of lockpicks out of the waistband of his pants, let himself in, and waited.
Dr. Wayne Benteen whistled to himself as he walked through his receptionist's office and made his way to his own. This was a good day for him. Ted Wright was dead. Ted Wright, who had made his life a living nightmare for more than five years. Ted Wright, who had invited him to his home, drugged him, and taken incriminating photos of him with one of Wright's young male employees. Photos that had stared him in the face every time he went to the storage facility to drop off his monthly tribute. Photos that would be sent to his wife, his employer, and the AMA if he failed to follow any of Wright's orders. If there was a god, Wayne Benteen was going to thank him every day for sending someone to remove this menace from his life for good.
And thus it was that as he stepped into his darkened office, he was totally unprepared for the weight that flung itself across his back and pushed him face-down across his desk. He opened his mouth to cry out before he felt a scalpel blade pressed against his neck hard enough to draw blood. "Please," he gasped, "take what you want. There's money in my wallet."
His assailant stepped back, keeping a hand on Benteen's neck, then turned Benteen to face him and once again held the blade to his throat. Benteen thought the man looked familiar, but in his panic, he couldn't think clearly enough to place him. "Please," Benteen said again. "Don't kill me. Please, I have a wife, little kids. I'll give you as much money as I have. I'll get you all the drugs you want. Please!"
"I'm not here for money or drugs," said his assailant.
Benteen felt a rivulet of blood run down the side of his neck and soak into his shirt collar as the scalpel bit deeper. "What do you want?" he whispered.
"Nothing. Just keeping a promise to a friend. You killed someone he cared about. Now I'm going to kill you." His voice was low, soft, almost gentle.
"Don't do it, kid," came a voice from just inside the office door.
Benteen's assailant spun about, pulling the doctor in front of him and keeping the scalpel pressed to the man's neck. Benteen found himself facing another slightly familiar figure he could not place. This man held a gun, but at the moment, he was not pointing it at anyone.
Hannibal took in the situation at a glance. Face was injured; he could see the blood seeping through the surgical scrubs, spreading across his right side and over his shoulder. He held the scalpel awkwardly in his right hand. That shoulder must hurt like hell, thought Hannibal.
The doctor was terrified and kept trying to pull away from the scalpel, and Hannibal feared his struggles would only cause him further injury. "Keep still, Doc," he said, keeping his eyes on Face. "Let me handle this."
The doctor stopped struggling. Hannibal put his gun back in its holster and raised his hands, palms out. "C'mon, Face," he said gently. "Let him go. It's all over now. Let's go home."
Face only pulled the doctor closer to him. "Face is dead," he snarled. "Now get the fuck out of my way!"
Unsure how to interpret Face's words, Hannibal took a step back. "I can't let you kill him, kid," he said, moving slowly to his right, further into the office and away from the door.
"Look, I already gave you what you were after. This is none of your concern." As Hannibal had hoped, Face was moving backward toward the door, pulling Benteen with him.
"Of course it's my concern," said Hannibal. "I know you, kid. You're not a murderer."
"Cut the crap," said Face, glancing over his shoulder toward the outer office. "I don't even know who you are."
"Murdock's alive," said Hannibal. "You don't need to do this."
Face's expression never wavered. The name obviously meant nothing to him. Hannibal sighed. They'd have to do this the hard way after all. He started walking forward, keeping Face's attention focused on him. As Face stepped backward through the doorway, a hand grabbed his right wrist in a vice-like grip, pulling it away from Benteen's throat, and someone else yanked the doctor out of his grasp. He struggled to pull free, but the grip only tightened until his numbed fingers opened and the scalpel fell out of his hand.
"C'mon, man, I don't wanna hurt you!" said B.A. as he struggled to hold on to Face. Suddenly all the fight seemed to go out of Face, and he fell to his knees heavily.
"H...hurts," he gasped.
B.A. released his hold and crouched next to Face.
"B.A.," Hannibal began, but it was too late. In an instant Face had snatched up the fallen scalpel in his left hand and, leaping to his feet, swung it at B.A. B.A. raised his arms to protect himself, and the scalpel sliced deep into the underside of his forearm. Face whirled and sprinted for the door, which opened just before he got there to admit the secretary. Murdock had released Benteen and raced forward, but he stopped short when Face grabbed the secretary and pulled her in front of him.
"Back off!" Face snapped. He held up the scalpel but was careful not to touch the frightened girl with it. He had no intention of hurting her, but he wasn't going to let the others know that. He glanced over to where his intended victim sat with his head in his hands. He'd have to come back for him later. He was gratified, however, to see that the frightened man had wet himself. He'd obviously made an impression on him! He took a step backward.
"Face, please! Wait!" said Murdock, holding out a hand. Face stopped. "Leave the girl. I'll go with you."
Hannibal looked up from where he was trying to staunch the bleeding from B.A.'s badly lacerated arm. "Murdock, he doesn't know you anymore," Hannibal said, breaking the news as gently as he could. Murdock could not have imagined a worse reunion with his lover, and Hannibal knew it had to be killing him.
"It doesn't matter," said Murdock. "I know him."
Face hesitated for only an instant. "Alright, you," he said, gesturing toward Hannibal with the scalpel, "take out your gun...slowly."
Hannibal left B.A. to apply pressure to his own wound and slowly removed his gun.
"Put it on the floor," Face instructed him. "Slide it over here."
Hannibal followed Face's instructions to the letter. It would be too easy for one of the civilians to be injured if they tried anything now. Slowly Face crouched, taking the receptionist down with him. He dropped the scalpel and picked up the gun in one smooth move, then stood again. Motioning with the gun, Face waved Murdock over. "Keep your hands up," he said.
Murdock stepped over to him, not even flinching as Face placed the muzzle of the gun in the center of his back. Face glanced at the girl he still held. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Face gave her a small smile. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" he asked softly.
The girl shook her head.
"Good. Okay, you can go," he said releasing her. "Just walk over there slowly and stay where I can see you, get your boss's car keys, and give them to this nice man here."
He watched carefully while she followed his instructions, his gun firmly pressed against Murdock's back. When she was safely across the room, he turned his full attention to Murdock. "Take off your jacket," he said, stepping back only a pace. "Give it here," he continued when Murdock had complied. He laid the jacket over his arm to conceal the gun and said, "Which car is it, and where's it parked?"
"Green Cadillac," said Benteen weakly. "Last spot on the left in the front."
The secretary brought back the keys and was rewarded with a smile. "Good girl," said Face. "Thanks. Now go on back."
Without knowing why she even did so, the receptionist smiled back before she returned to Benteen's side.
"You're not gonna get far, kid," said Hannibal. "You're bleeding like a stuck pig." He stood carefully. "Nobody here wants to hurt you," he continued soothingly. "At least let a doctor look at you before you go."
"A doctor!" Face exclaimed. "Like that one?" he asked, gesturing at Benteen. "Hey, haven't you heard? People die at this hospital!" He grabbed a handful of Murdock's shirt. "Let's go," he said again.
"We're going out of here nice and slow. If anyone follows us, he buys it."
Hannibal exchanged one long look with Murdock, who nodded at him reassuringly. The agitated, frightened man Hannibal had come here with was suddenly gone. This was the capable, self-assured pilot who had always looked out for Face, who had somehow always been right there when Face was in over his head. Murdock could handle this.
"Alright," said Hannibal. "Nobody will follow you. Just take it easy. We don't want anyone to get hurt."
Without another word, Face backed to the door, pulling Murdock with him. When they were in the corridor, he moved to walk alongside Murdock, holding his arm across his body both to keep the gun trained on Murdock and to conceal the blood stain on his side that was growing larger by the minute. He couldn't do anything about the one on his shoulder, and people gave him strange looks as they walked by but didn't say anything and didn't try to stop him.
Once out of the hospital, Face herded Murdock to the car, opened the passenger door, and said, "Get in and move over. You're driving."
Without a word, Murdock complied. Face got in, closed the door awkwardly, and leaned against it heavily, keeping the gun trained on Murdock. Murdock started the car and looked at Face. "Where do you want to go?" he asked as he backed out of the parking space and pulled out of the lot.
"Just drive," Face said. "I'll let you know when to turn." Now that the adrenaline rush was wearing off, the pain of his injuries and his blood loss were catching up to him. He breathed heavily as he pressed his hand to his side.
"How bad are you hurt?" Murdock asked, glancing down at Face's side.
"Just shut up and drive," Face snapped.
With a sigh, Murdock complied. Following Face's directions, he ended up in a largely deserted industrial district near the harbor.
"Stop here," Face finally said. When Murdock pulled over, they got out of the car. "Now we walk," said Face.
"You're not in any shape to walk," said Murdock.
"What do you care?" said Face.
"I love you," Murdock answered simply.
Face rolled his eyes as he pointed the gun at Murdock. "You can't afford me," he said, "and I don't do freebies. Walk!"
Puzzling over Face's strange answer, Murdock turned and walked.
As soon as the door closed behind Murdock and Face, Benteen dashed for the phone, but Hannibal quickly intercepted him.
"Hold on, Doc," he said. "You're not calling anyone."
"We need to stop him!" Benteen exclaimed.
"We're doing this my way," Hannibal said, holding Benteen by the lapels. "No cops, no security. Another man's life is at stake here."
Benteen nodded and turned away. Hannibal turned to the receptionist. "You alright, miss?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, but Hannibal saw that she was still shaking.
"I'm sorry you walked in in the middle of all that," he said. "That young man is a Vietnam veteran. He was in a POW camp for several months. Do you know about those?" She was very young, and he figured she probably either didn't know or didn't much care. To his surprise, she nodded.
"My mother told me my father died in one," she said. "They must have been terrible places."
Hannibal's opinion of her went up several notches.
"They were," he said. "My young friend sometimes has flashbacks and thinks he's trying to escape from the camp. He was injured this morning, and we brought him to the emergency room."
"And he must've thought you were taking him back to the camp," the receptionist finished for him, "and got away from you and ended up here."
"Yes," said Hannibal. "It's important that we keep this quiet, though. Vets get a bad enough rap as it is; I'm afraid if word of this gets around, he'll lose his job and end up in an institution or something."
"But isn't he dangerous?" she asked. "He's got a hostage."
This girl was very bright. Hannibal was almost sorry he couldn't tell her the truth. "That other man is his psychiatrist," said Hannibal. "I called him after our friend got away from us, and he came right down. He'll be able to deal with him"
The receptionist looked relieved. "Well, you have my word," she said. "I won't say anything to anyone. I think my father would have wanted it that way."
"He'd have been very proud of you," said Hannibal, and he meant it. "You're going to need to cancel the doctor's surgeries today and reschedule his appointments. He's not going to be in any shape to operate. Just tell people he called in sick."
"Of course," she said, picking up the phone.
Hannibal took the doctor's arm. "C'mon, Doc," he said. "We need to talk." He turned to help B.A. to his feet. "How is it?"
"Bleedin' pretty bad," B.A. admitted.
Seeing the condition B.A.'s arm was in, Benteen roused himself. "Come into my office," he said. "I'll take a look at it. Gail, could you make us some coffee, please?"
"Sure thing, Doctor," Gail replied.
As soon as they were in his office, Benteen opened his bag to take out some bandages, reaching for B.A.'s arm. "What the hell is going on?" he asked angrily. "That man was no injured vet. He came here to kill me!"
"He had a good reason," said Hannibal.
"Why? What did I ever do to him? And who the hell are you, anyway?"
"Don't you recognize me, Doctor? Wallace Huntington? Don't you remember coming into the waiting room six months ago to tell us Paul had died on the operating table after the drive-by shooting? Don't you remember what it did to his lover to hear that?"
"He's Rich Todd? The one who disappeared?"
"Yeah, he's Rich Todd."
"I had no choice in the matter," Benteen said, applying a pressure bandage to B.A.'s wound. "Ted Wright was,"
"Blackmailing you. I know. I've seen the picture," Hannibal interrupted. "This man just spent the last six months a prisoner on Ted Wright's estate, gathering evidence to bring him down."
"That man killed Ted Wright?"
"That man was trying to escape. How Wright died, I don't know. I do know that Rich Todd is the man responsible for giving you back your career and your reputation."
"And I suppose you're going to take over for Wright," said Benteen bitterly. "What do I have to give you to get you off my back?"
"Depends," said Hannibal.
"On how honorable a man you are, doctor," said Hannibal. "Are you as honorable as that little girl making coffee in the next room who's willing to shield the reputation of the man who just attacked her because she believes he's a veteran of the same war that killed her father? Are you as honorable as Rich Todd, who voluntarily spent the last six months looking for a way to bring down Ted Wright and save your sorry ass even though you let him think his lover was dead?"
Benteen had the grace to look ashamed. "What do you want?"
"Your silence," said Hannibal. "And when my son brings Rich back, I'll get in touch with you if he needs medical treatment."
"And you'll return the...photo?"
Hannibal reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and produced a manila envelope. "As far as I know, this is the only copy. Everything else was destroyed in the fire."
"And you're willing to give this to me now, not knowing if I'll double cross you?"
"If you double cross me, you'll wish to God all I had to use against you was a picture," said Hannibal.
"You're not really Wallace Huntington, are you?" said Benteen. "You didn't call your son Paul, you called him Murdock. And you weren't calling the other man Rich. Who are you?"
"Trust me, it's safer for you if you don't know," said Hannibal.
"Well, whoever you are, I owe you," said Benteen. "You have my word, if you think you can still trust it. I'll do what I can to help you." He looked at B.A. "In the meantime, we need to get you to a treatment room. You're going to need a few stitches."
There was a soft knock on the door, and Gail entered with a tray of coffee and a set of fresh clothes for Benteen, which she tactfully left draped over a chair. Benteen smiled at her gratefully as she left.
They waited for Benteen to finish dressing, then B.A. stood to follow the doctor to a treatment room. "You think they gonna be okay?" he asked Hannibal.
"Murdock will take care of him," Hannibal said. "The kid's lost quite a bit of blood. If nothing else, he'll eventually pass out, and Murdock will get in touch with us."
"Hope it ain't too late by then," B.A. said.
"Me too, B.A.," said Hannibal. "Me too."
"Get in," said Face, gesturing with the gun as he leaned heavily against the side of the boxcar. "Hurry up."
"Couldn't you at least have gotten us tickets in coach?" asked Murdock as he climbed in.
"You're a funny guy," Face said. "Now walk all the way over there and stand facing the wall."
Murdock did as he was told, though he was not altogether sure Face would be able to make it into the boxcar unassisted. He heard Face struggling behind him and sneaked a peek over his shoulder as Face finally pulled himself into the car.
Face stood and slowly made his way to the back of the car. He sank into a corner and motioned Murdock into the corner opposite him just as the cars lurched and the train started moving.
"Where're we going?" Murdock asked.
"How far east? San Bernardino? Nebraska? China?" Face drew a breath. "Yeah, I know. Shut up," Murdock said for him. "Okay."
As they sat in silence, Murdock watched Face carefully, worrying. Face propped himself up in the corner and kept the gun in his hand. He made a clumsy and only partly successful effort to stop his bleeding, which slowed considerably when he stopped moving around.
"Why don't you let me take a look at that?" Murdock asked. "Maybe I can get the bleeding to stop."
Face shook his head. "Just stay where you are. I don't need any help."
"Look, I really don't want anything from you. I just want to help you. Please," Murdock pleaded.
"No! Now shut up! You're giving me a headache."
Murdock sighed in frustration. He hoped Face would pass out soon, but every time he seemed about to drift off, he jerked awake again.
Finally the train slowed. Face sat up slowly. "We're going through a town," he said with an effort. "The train will slow down enough so you can jump off. Go to the door and get ready."
"What are you gonna do?" Murdock asked, standing.
"Nothing. I'm staying. You're not. Now get over there."
"I can't," said Murdock.
"What do you mean you can't?" said Face impatiently. "We're hardly moving at all."
"I'm not leaving you. You're hurt."
"What're you, my mother? I took you hostage, you imbecile. I've got a gun! I'm giving you a chance to escape, so would you just jump off the fucking train already?"
"Too late," said Murdock as the train picked up speed again.
"Christ, I should've brought the girl after all," said Face, sinking back. "Are you insane?"
"As a matter of fact, I am," said Murdock. He moved toward Face, and Face held the gun up.
"Don't come any closer."
"What do you think I'm gonna do?" Murdock asked. "I don't want to escape, I don't want to turn you over to the cops. I just want to take a look at you."
"No!" Face hissed. "Leave me alone!"
"Look, you got about another five minutes before you pass out anyway. Now, you can either shoot me or put the gun down, because either way I'm coming over there."
For several seconds the two men stared at each other. Finally, Face let his arm drop to his side, wondering just exactly when he'd lost control of this situation. Murdock knelt by his side and lifted the shirt, pulling out the wad of blood-soaked pillowcases. He examined the wound, then turned Face onto his side and looked at the back.
"Looks like the bullet entered in the back and came out the front," said Murdock.
"Oh, you're brilliant," Face returned sarcastically. "I hope you're not sending me a bill for this."
"Another inch to the right and it would've missed you altogether," Murdock continued as if he hadn't heard him. "It couldn't've hit anything vital or you'd probably be dead by now, but you've still lost quite a bit of blood." He tore up the least soiled bits of pillowcases and part of his flannel shirt to create bandages. "I'm afraid this is gonna hurt," he said as he applied pressure to stop the bleeding.
Face gasped once, then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he passed out. Murdock checked his pulse then pulled him down to lie flat when he had finished bandaging the wound. That done, he used his knife to slit the scrubs up the front so he could see the shoulder wound. As he pulled open the shirt, he nearly gagged at the sight of Face's torso. From collarbone to waist, he was a mass of bruises, cuts, and abrasions, with raised red welts crisscrossing the white scars of older injuries. Murdock had no doubt the injuries extended well below the waistband of the surgical scrubs and that he'd find identical injuries on Face's back. "Dear God, Face," he whispered, blinking back tears, "what has he been doing to you?"
The wound on Face's shoulder was not as serious as the one in his side, but Murdock could see white bone showing where the bullet had gouged the collarbone as it creased the top of his shoulder. He used the rest of the pillowcases and more of his shirt to bandage that and tried to make a plan. Looking out the door of the boxcar, he could see they were well out in the desert by now. Wherever the next town was, they were going to have to get off as the train slowed. He was pretty sure he wasn't going to be able to hold Face as they jumped. He'd probably have to toss Face out before he jumped, though he didn't like to think what that was going to do to Face's injuries.
With a sigh, he returned to the end of the car and sat by Face's side, laying a hand on his forehead. As he had feared, Face's temperature was rising. He'd done all he could for him, now he could only sit and wait until they could get off the train. As he sat, he ran gentle fingers through Face's hair and rubbed his cold hand gently between his own. As they traveled on, day became night, and a crescent moon rose over the desert. Face grew warmer and warmer and sometimes moaned as Murdock checked his bandages, but he did not waken. Murdock lay down beside him, confident that he'd feel it when the train began to brake, and slept.
Just past midnight, Murdock felt the train begin to slow and woke quickly, moving to the doorway to look out. Ahead he could see lights and hoped it was a decent sized town and that there'd be a safe place to jump. He sat Face up and carefully dragged him to the doorway. Face had lost a lot of weight in the last six months, and Murdock was glad for that only because it would make it easier to toss him clear of the tracks when he had to throw him out. Finally the train slowed to a crawl as it rounded a tight curve, and Murdock could just make out a gentle slope below. Hoping it was true that being relaxed helped prevent injuries, he lifted Face in his arms, stood, and threw him as far clear of the train as he could before he jumped himself.
Murdock rolled several times before he landed at the bottom of the slope, winded and sore but in one piece. Thankfully, he hadn't jumped off in the middle of a cactus patch. Standing, he stumbled through the dark, hoping he'd be able to find Face. All he had for a light was the tiny flashlight attached to Benteen's keychain. Designed to illuminate locks, not the landscape, it would be little help, but Murdock used it anyway. He found Face more by chance than by skill. He was lying in a heap at the bottom of the slope, still unconscious. Murdock ran his hands over Face's arms and legs, and nothing seemed to be broken, but a quick check with the tiny flashlight showed him that the tumble down the slope had opened both wounds again, and the one on Face's side was bleeding freely.
Murdock dragged Face back up the slope, lifted him into his arms, and crossed the tracks to the small town on the other side. The track seemed to run through the seedier part of town, though as far as Murdock knew, the whole town could be seedy. He knew he couldn't look for a hospital; there'd be too many questions to answer. He'd have to try to find a motel and take care of Face himself until he could contact Hannibal and get some help. Luckily, there were very few people around, and by keeping to the shadows, he was able to avoid the few people there were. Finally he found a motel with a blinking vacancy sign. It was a run-down, single story affair with torn screen doors and noisy air conditioning and the pretentious name Winchester Arms. There were very few customers, probably for a good reason. Murdock couldn't walk into the lobby carrying a bleeding man in his arms, so he carefully made his way around the back and temporarily deposited Face behind the dumpster, pulling a couple of empty cardboard cartons around him to shield him from passersby. He zipped up his jacket to hide the bloodstains on his own shirt and walked into the lobby, whistling tunelessly.
He was greeted at the counter by a purple-haired, bespectacled teen with a nose ring.
"Want a room?" the teen asked.
"Yes," answered Murdock, looking around the lobby to try to get some clue where he was.
"For how many?"
The teen looked around for the second person as he pushed a clipboard in front of Murdock.
"He's waiting outside with our stuff," Murdock said. He finished filling out the form and pushed it back to the young man.
The young man pushed it right back. "Don't got your car on here," said the teen. "Gotta have your license number."
"I don't have a car," said Murdock, returning the clipboard. "We hitchhiked into town. In fact, we're not even sure what town this is."
"Winchester," the teen answered. "Like in Winchester Arms, Winchester Cathedral, Winchester rifle..."
"Okay, I get it," said Murdock. "Are we still in California?"
The teen looked at him as if he'd grown a second head. "Don't you look at nothin' while you're in the car, man?" he asked.
"We were sleeping most of the time," Murdock answered, wondering if he'd been this rude when he was a teenager. "By the way, we've both got lots of blisters, and my friend fell and skinned up his knees pretty badly. You got a first aid kit around here I could use?"
"Nope," replied the teen. "Don't got one. It's a good idea, though. I'll talk to the boss about it. Welcome to Nevada."
Murdock sighed as he pulled out some money to pay for the room. This wasn't his forte at all. Face would have scammed them a first aid kit, a suite of rooms, and a hot meal by now and would probably have won some money at a slot machine. "Is there someplace I can buy some supplies, then? And some food? We haven't eaten all day."
"Convenience store a couple of blocks down the street. But they're not open."
"Well, then, what's convenient about it?" Murdock asked.
"It's the only one in town," said the teen. "And it's got a toilet anyone can use."
"Oh, well, that's different," Murdock said.
"Room twelve," the teen said, handing him a key. "How long you staying?"
"Two or three days, maybe," said Murdock. "We're pretty tired of walking. Listen, do you suppose I could have a couple of extra sheets?"
"I guess." The boy disappeared and returned shortly with two sheets.
"Thanks," Murdock said as he headed for the door.
"Hey, you ain't gonna cut them up or nothin' are you?" the teen asked, remembering Murdock's desire for a first aid kit.
"No, of course not," said Murdock as he stepped through the door and let it shut behind him. "I'm gonna tear them."
Having heard the phone ring, B.A. entered the living room as Hannibal answered it. It was well past midnight, but neither of them had even pretended they wanted to sleep. B.A. could hear the relief in Hannibal's voice as he said, "Are you alright? How's Face?"
B.A. went into the kitchen and picked up the extension in time to hear Murdock say, "...still bleeding, and I can't get my hands on any first aid supplies. Right now I'm tearing up the sheets. He's got a fever, and it's going up. We really need some help here, Hannibal."
"Okay, we'll be there as soon as we can, and we'll bring a doctor with us. Where are you?"
"Some little town called Winchester in Nevada. I'm not sure exactly where it is, but we've been on the train since about ten this morning and didn't get here until just after midnight. We're at the Winchester Arms, room twelve."
"We'll find it," Hannibal assured him. "Sit tight. Do the best you can for him until we get there."
Knowing what he needed to do, B.A. headed to the door to get the van ready. They'd be driving to Nevada. They might have been able to scam a plane without Face, but they didn't have a pilot. It was almost a shame because this time, he'd almost been ready to consent to flying. He readied the van and waited for Hannibal outside, studying a map of the western states to plot the shortest route.
Hannibal came out carrying a bag that B.A. knew held Murdock's spare clothing and another for Face. B.A. couldn't remember how many times he'd tripped over Face's overnight bag moving around in Murdock's room after they'd brought him home, but none of them had the heart to move it. To put it away would have been a sign they accepted his loss, and they had never been ready to do that.
"Let's get a move on, B.A.," said Hannibal. "We're meeting Benteen at the hospital."
"Route's a little shorter by car than by train," said B.A. " We should be able to get there in about eight hours."
"The faster, the better," said Hannibal, climbing in. "Let's go."
Murdock hung up the phone just as there was a knock at the door. His hand hovered over the gun Face had taken from Hannibal. "Who is it?" he called.
"Night clerk," the purple-haired boy on the other side of the door answered.
Murdock put the gun in the back of his pants, stuffed the torn sheets under the bed, and pulled a blanket up over Face to hide his bloodstained clothing before he went to the door and opened it.
The night clerk held out a plate with several peanut butter sandwiches on it. In his other hand were a couple of soft drinks. "I felt kind of bad you couldn't get a meal or nothin'," said the young man. "Thought I'd bring you something."
Murdock was touched. Maybe purple hair and nose rings weren't a hallmark of depraved youth after all. "Thanks," he said gratefully. "We're starving."
"You, uh, doing okay with the sheets?" the boy asked.
"Yeah, we just like to keep an extra set on top of the beds," Murdock said. "It helps keep the bedspreads clean when we're eating chips in bed. Thanks, really. I appreciate it."
The young man left as another car pulled up in front of the office. Murdock locked the door, set the sandwiches down, and retrieved the sheets. Sitting on the side of the bed, he pulled back the blanket and started to carefully pull off Face's clothes. He cursed vehemently and continuously as he saw the extent of the damage Wright had done to Face but managed to efficiently bandage Face's side and shoulder, stemming the bleeding once again.
He woke as Murdock tied off the bandage around his shoulder. He opened his eyes and looked around blearily, trying to remember where he was. He didn't recognize the room or the person leaning over him. Maybe Wright really had followed through on his threat and decided to share him with someone else. That's what he did just before he killed you. That much, he remembered. Was it his turn to die? He closed his eyes again, not really wanting to know.
"Face?" said a voice. "Hey, how are you feeling?"
Fingers combed gently through his hair, and a cool hand was laid on his forehead. In actual fact, he felt like hell. His shoulder and side were on fire, his head ached fiercely, and his stomach was queasy. But he couldn't manage to say that much. "Thirsty," he whispered.
A hand lifted his head and a glass of water was held against his lips but pulled away quickly when he began to gulp it. "Just sip," the voice instructed. He obeyed automatically, having become quite used to following directions to the letter, even when he was on the verge of unconsciousness. When he'd managed to get enough to slake his thirst, the hand carefully lowered his head and a cool, damp cloth was laid on his forehead. He was so tired, but he didn't dare drift off now. That was never allowed, either, not until Wright was done. But he had to be close. Knowing the usual drill, he struggled to find the energy to spread his legs. The other man stopped him with a hand on his knee. "No, don't try to move," said the voice. "Sleep now. Hannibal and B.A. will be here before long, and they're bringing a doctor. They'll fix you up good as new."
He heard the words indistinctly, unable to completely process them. He made out the words, "fix you up." Yeah, he'd get fixed up, like he always did. He'd feel okay again. He allowed himself to relax and drift back into the darkness where he didn't have to think, didn't have to remember, didn't have to hurt.
Murdock pulled the covers up over Face's battered body and turned off all but one small light before he ate a few of the sandwiches, drank a soda, and then settled down on a chair next to the bed and watched Face sleep. Over the last six months he'd imagined dozens of scenarios for his reunion with Face. He'd imagined Face might be fearful, angry, embarrassed, joyful, or even casually sarcastic, the way he usually was. But no matter what initial emotion his daydreams had featured, they'd all ended with him holding Face in his arms, whispering endearments, making love to him, making him forget whatever had happened to him. Murdock had known at the time those dreams were entirely unrealistic, but he hadn't been able to help it. His own need for closure on this was so great, his ability to patiently endure stretched almost to the breaking point, and his need for the comfort of his lover's touch so overwhelming that he had never been able to allow himself to envision a future where Face didn't come back to him.
It would have been bad enough if Face had simply died on one of their earlier missions or in Vietnam. God knew, he'd been close to death any number of times. And Murdock knew Face's death would have devastated him then, would have devastated them all. But to lose him now, when he'd finally, finally had the courage to admit to Face that he loved him and to see that love miraculously returned would be unbearable. He would never survive the loss. He wouldn't want to.
He sat alone in the back of the smoky bar and tossed back the last of his drink. A pretty waitress eventually appeared at his table, inquired whether he wanted another, and smiled in his direction without ever meeting his eyes. Without looking at his face. He was invisible because everyone wanted him to be invisible. Invisibility had worked for him for many years, had made it possible for him observe others who hadn't realized he was there, hadn't realized he was listening or even cared.
Only one person, one very sharp person, had ever realized or appreciated that he was listening all the time, that he knew so much more than he ever let on. That person had seen and appreciated the fact that he was in a position of power and had willingly put themselves at his disposal to enjoy the protection and privilege of that power. It was a power he'd exercised without any regrets whatsoever, even where that other person was concerned. Especially where that person was concerned.
How very clever he had been, moving incrementally from serving that person to being served by them. He had never had another person so completely dependent upon him, so completely in his power physically and emotionally, and he was surprised to discover how much he liked it. How arousing he found it. But sex was, after all, all about power. And having been so long without it had made it all the more satisfying when he was once again able to exert that kind of control over another person.
He missed it now. But he would have it again. He only needed to wait a little longer for his plan to work. For the moment, he would exercise the iron self-control he'd always exercised. He could take anyone he wanted. He could wait until closing time and take the little waitress who was carrying his drink across the bar. But he wouldn't do it. She wasn't the one he wanted. He stood up as she approached, dropped onto her tray the money to pay for the drink he was not going to finish, and walked away. He wasn't worried that she or any of the others in the bar would notice his arousal as he made his way to the door. They wouldn't. Because he was invisible.
"This is it," Hannibal announced as he studied the map. "Turn here."
B.A. made the turn and glanced around at the signs. Spotting the correct one, he turned into the driveway and pulled up in front of room twelve.
"We're here, Doc," Hannibal announced.
Wayne Benteen opened his eyes and glanced at his watch. It was almost ten a.m. They'd made good time, but he wasn't sure it was good enough. The man he was here to treat might already be dead. He climbed out of the van, bag in hand, and followed Hannibal to the door.
"Who is it?" came a voice from inside.
"It's me, Murdock. Open up," said Hannibal.
Murdock pulled open the door and returned his gun to his waistband as the others entered the room.
"How is he?" Hannibal asked at once, walking to Face's bedside with the doctor. The doctor immediately sat on the side of the bed and began an examination, relieved to see that though the patient looked like hell, he was still breathing.
"Fever's been going up all night. He's in a lot of pain, can't sleep comfortably. He's pretty disoriented, too. He's taken a little water, but that's all he's had since night before last. He keeps waking up, but I can't get him to talk to me."
Without having to be asked, B.A. brought in the boxes of medical supplies the doctor had brought along with him. B.A. was still distrustful of the man who'd caused Face such pain and was responsible for Face having returned to Ted Wright's compound, but he knew that right now Benteen was Face's best chance.
Benteen checked Face's vitals then quickly set up an IV.
"What's that for?" B.A. asked.
"To replace the volume of blood he's lost and help him recover from the dehydration." He pulled back the blankets a bit and carefully cut the bandages away from Face's shoulder and side, examining the wounds. "Yeah, these are infected, alright," he said. "But other than that, he's damned lucky. The bullet wound in his side is shallow enough to have missed any vital organs. I'll start him on some antibiotics to fight the infection, and beyond that, he'll need to rest and rehydrate."
"Can you give him something for the pain?" Murdock asked. "He's really hurting."
"Sure," the doctor replied, removing a syringe and a vial from his bag. "You look kind of beat up, too. Are you hurt?"
"Only a few bruises," Murdock answered shortly. "You just focus on him." Murdock was finding he was not in a very forgiving mood, either. Perhaps the doctor had stood to lose a lot if that photograph had been published, but it was nothing compared to what Face had lost as a result of the doctor's treachery.
After the pain medication took effect and Face seemed to be resting more comfortably, the doctor cleaned, stitched, and bandaged the bullet wounds then continued his examination. "This collarbone is probably cracked," he said, carefully palpating the area around the injury. The bruising was already spreading over Face's shoulder and onto his chest. "He'll need to keep this arm in a sling for awhile." He winced as he pulled back the covers and saw the extent of Face's other injuries.
On a chair on the other side of the bed, Hannibal narrowed his eyes, and his teeth tightened around his cigar, but otherwise he gave no outward sign of his distress. He'd suspected the kind of abuse Face was suffering in Wright's compound; the pictures and other evidence he'd gathered in the last six months had provided plenty of examples of the kinds of sick fantasies Wright played out with his victims. He and B.A. had taken pains to hide the worst of the evidence from Murdock, worried that he might try to storm Wright's compound and really get himself killed. He suspected that the visible scars were only the tip of the iceberg and couldn't blame Face if he retreated permanently from the situation, hiding his fear and pain behind the hostile personality currently residing in this tortured body.
Some time later the doctor finished his examination, and drew a few vials of blood, carefully depositing them in a cooler. "I'm going to have an AIDS test done," he said quietly. "No matter how careful he's tried to be, Wright's saliva could still have infected him through those bites. And there's no telling how many other partners he may have had in the last six months or whether he was allowed to use condoms every time."
Hannibal nodded his understanding as the doctor covered Face again. "How is he otherwise?"
"Well, better than I would have expected, physically. He'll be weak for awhile, but once he's replaced the blood he's lost and recovered from the infection, he'll be on the road to recovery. He seems pretty run down, which isn't too surprising considering where he's been. Beyond that, I can't say until we get the results of the tests I'm ordering. Psychologically, I think he's in pretty sorry shape if he doesn't even recognize you guys. Under normal circumstances, I'd recommend hospitalization and then lots of counseling both for him and for...," he glanced at Murdock, "for anyone who loves him."
"I'm afraid we can't really do that, Doc," said Hannibal.
"Even with professional help, there's no guarantee he'll ever recover from this," Benteen said. "I wouldn't like to speculate at all on his chances without help."
Hannibal sighed. He'd considered this possibility already. He could drop Face off at a hospital, even send him back with Benteen if they could pacify him enough, and let Decker know where he was and what had happened to him. Even Decker wouldn't deny him treatment, but he'd be incarcerated and never get out again. If he ever remembered the others at all, he'd know he'd been betrayed once again. And Murdock would never get over it, either. The separation would be permanent once Decker got Face; none of them would ever see him again, and Murdock would simply curl up and die. Hannibal's head told him that surrendering Face was the only logical choice; his heart told him it would be the worst mistake he could ever make.
"We can't do it, Doc. We'll have to find another way."
"Well, I'll look into it and see if I can find some way to help you. I feel responsible for this," said Benteen.
"You are responsible for this," Murdock said coldly. "And so are we." He turned to Hannibal. "We let him believe the success or failure of this plan was in his hands, even when we could see that it was falling apart. For years he's seen you pull off the impossible with your plans and felt like he had to do the same thing. We never told him your plans only work because he's a part of them, because you know how to delegate and he doesn't. We thought if we just played along, let him run the scam his way, he'd somehow pull it off. We never realized that he'd take a hundred percent of the responsibility for it when it failed. We'd hardly even allow ourselves to believe it could fail. We should have called the whole thing off after that first night in Wright's house before anything ever happened to him." Angrily he turned his back on the others and busied himself with Face's bedcovers.
Hannibal said nothing. Murdock had been patient and uncomplaining throughout his own recovery from wounds more serious even than Face's. He'd obviously felt guilty about what had happened to Face, but it had been easier to keep themselves busy looking into Wright's associates than to draw Murdock out and let him vent. This had been building for a long time, and Hannibal supposed he had it coming. He was the leader after all, and he hadn't done a very good job of it lately. He knew he should have sat Face down before he had gone back to work and explained to him that the success or failure of the mission was not the sole responsibility of the person who planned it and that it would not diminish Face in his eyes if it became necessary to let go of the plan. He stood and motioned to B.A. "Let's go get a room," he said. "As long as Face is sleeping, there's nothing more we can do for him. We need to get some rest."
The doctor remained behind when B.A. and Hannibal left. "You need to get some rest, too," he said to Murdock. "He'll be asleep for a long time yet. You won't be any help to him if you're dead on your feet." He gestured to the other bed. "Go over there and sleep. If there's any change in his condition, I'll wake you."
Murdock knew the doctor was right, though he was loath to give up his place at Face's side. But he was still sometimes short on stamina himself as he recovered from his own shooting, and the last twenty-four hours had taxed his endurance to its limit. He had a killer headache as well. With a sigh, he undressed and got into the other bed, dropping off quickly in spite of his worry.
Several hours later Benteen stood beside his patient's bed and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm. As he bent to place the stethoscope on the inside of the elbow, a hand suddenly closed around his throat with crushing strength. Choking, he looked up into a pair of cold blue eyes. He tried unsuccessfully to pry the hand away but finally had to settle for flailing about and knocking something off the nightstand before the man in the other bed startled awake, took in the situation, and vaulted out of his bed to help.
The whore struggled as Murdock pried his fingers from the other man's throat and pinned him to the bed. The man he was supposed to kill was standing right over him, and he wanted to finish the job. It was nothing personal; he didn't even know the guy. But he'd made a promise to Face, and he intended to keep it. Eventually, though, he gave up the struggle. He was growing dizzy, and black spots obscured his vision. Finally defeated, he lay quietly, eyes closed.
Not moving, Murdock looked up at the doctor, who had retreated to the far side of the room, rubbing his throat. "Okay, Doc, do what you have to do while I've got him pinned," said Murdock.
Benteen shook his head, unable to move. "He tried to kill me again!" he croaked. "I'm not touching him again until you restrain him!"
"Look, Doc," Murdock snapped, "I'm laying right on top of him, and he's just about to pass out. Even I can see that. Now come on!"
Benteen shook his head, and Murdock cursed angrily under his breath. A knock on the door signaled the arrival of B.A. and Hannibal with food and coffee. "What's going on?" Hannibal asked as he entered and took in the situation.
"He tried to kill me again!" the doctor exclaimed. "I can't work like this. What if I hadn't been able to knock something over and wake you up!" he said, directing his words at Murdock.
"You shouldn't have tried to get close to him when one of us wasn't here," said Hannibal. "You knew he wanted to kill you when you came here. I warned you about it while we were still on the road."
"Well, I thought he was too sick to be a threat," Benteen answered. "He should barely be able to move with the drugs I've been giving him."
For the moment Face was lying quietly, eyes closed. Hannibal observed the blood that was slowly welling from the site where the IV needle had been torn out during Face's struggle. "Shouldn't you be doing something about that?" he asked.
"When you restrain him," Benteen said.
Hannibal looked at B.A. and nodded. Murdock stood and took an angry step toward him. "That isn't necessary!" he exclaimed.
"It is if you want me to treat him!" said Benteen. He knew he had the other men over a barrel, and even though he owed them, he wasn't going to risk his life again when he'd come so close to losing it yesterday. Combative patients were restrained, and he had a combative patient. "Besides, it'll keep him from thrashing around and opening his wounds again."
"He's right," said Hannibal. "For the time being, we restrain him."
"Great," said Murdock, disgusted. "This is a great way to reward him for his six months in hell. You think he didn't go through that with Wright?" He turned to Benteen. "Why don't you just beat him up and rape him while you're at it!"
"That's enough, Murdock!" Hannibal snapped as B.A. returned with some lengths of cord from the van. "Help B.A."
Angrily, Murdock turned away from the others and back to the bed as B.A. approached it from the other side. He could see from the look on B.A.'s face that he wasn't any happier about this than Murdock was.
"Get me a couple of them hand towels, Hannibal," B.A. said softly. "Don't wanna hurt him."
As Murdock sat on the side of the bed, Face opened his eyes and looked around, watching as Hannibal brought out the towels. B.A. accepted them and folded one, carefully wrapping it around Face's wrist before he tied one end of the cord securely around it and then bent to throw the rest under the bed to the other side. Reluctantly, Murdock took the other towel and wrapped it around the other wrist. Face looked up at him steadily, seeming unsurprised at this betrayal. "I'm really sorry, Face," he said. "We just don't want you to hurt yourself." He bent and picked up the cord and started wrapping it around the towel-covered wrist, trying not to think about what Face must be anticipating. "I'll leave you enough slack to move your arms a little bit, okay? Nobody's going to hurt you." He looked at Face, trying to make eye contact, but Face was staring resolutely at the ceiling, his expression unreadable. "You let me know if this is too tight." He sighed heavily as he finished knotting the cord. He'd left Face enough slack to bring his hands together but not enough to allow him to raise them high enough to attack anyone. "Is that okay?" he asked.
Face nodded, resigned to his fate. He felt the other men passing a cord over the top of the bed both above and below his knees. He knew this was just another of their games. He'd played it with Wright often enough. Naked and bound, he'd lie uncomplaining while Wright bit him and cut him.
"How's that feel, my pet?" Wright would ask, watching a thin line of blood well up out of razor cuts. "Does that hurt?"
"No," Face would laugh, trying not to flinch as Wright's tongue traced the cuts, lapping blood.
"You want more?"
"Yes," Face would gasp in reply. "Yes."
And Wright would continue until he'd had enough or until he couldn't wait any longer to get Face into position and take him. Face had learned that the more enthusiastically he greeted the beatings and bloodshed, the quicker Wright would finish, and sometimes he didn't get hurt too badly. Usually Wright would untie him then, unless he was displeased with Face's performance, and then he sometimes just left him tied up all night. Those were the nights Face dreaded, as Wright would take him violently several times during the night, usually with little or no preparation. He couldn't resist a bound and helpless body, he said.
Murdock finished with the last of the knots and checked them carefully. "How's that feel?" he asked. "Does it hurt?"
With a sigh, Face shook his head.
"It's safe now," Murdock said scornfully to Benteen. "Finish your job."
Finally, the doctor approached the bed. To his credit, he checked the bindings and Face's fingers to make sure the cords weren't cutting off the circulation. Face's eyes never left the ceiling as the doctor completed his examination, though he stiffened involuntarily when the doctor pulled back the covers to check his bandages. Benteen reinserted the IV needle and injected something into the line, and soon Face gratefully felt himself slipping into darkness.
"That should keep him under for awhile," Benteen remarked. He bent to pull the bedclothes back over Face, but Murdock batted his hand away and did it himself. Benteen stood back and watched the young man tenderly smooth his friend's hair. He didn't know who these people were or how much of the identities they maintained was actually true, but it was obvious to him that these two really were lovers.
Hannibal had stood back and watched the proceedings, trying to gauge Murdock's mental status. There hadn't been time to pay him much attention yet. The strain was beginning to tell. His short-tempered replies bordered on insubordination, and Murdock was usually the least ill-tempered of the four of them, growing angry only when very provoked or very troubled. Right now, he was both. Hannibal laid a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "C'mon, Murdock," he said. "Get something to eat and go get cleaned up. We'll keep an eye on him."
Murdock shrugged off his hand. "I'm not hungry," he replied.
"I need you in top shape," Hannibal said, "and so does Face. Go eat, take a shower, and get some more sleep if you need to. I don't need two of you down."
Without a word, Murdock stood and walked to the bathroom, glaring at the doctor as he passed by him.
"C'mon, Doc," said Hannibal, passing him a hamburger and some coffee. "Eat."
"Did you drop off the blood samples and turn in the paperwork I asked you to?" asked the doctor. While the others had slept, Benteen had made some phone calls to a local hospital that served several towns in the area and made arrangements for the blood tests to be handled from there. Benteen was a well-known and well-respected surgeon whose reputation had preceded him even to this sleepy town, and the locals were only too happy to oblige him and make his request a priority.
"It's done," Hannibal answered, unwrapping his own food. He heard the shower in the bathroom. If the results of this blood test were bad, Hannibal knew Murdock would be as good as lost to them. He'd hold it together as long as he could, take care of Face until the end, but it would destroy him. "How soon will we know the results?"
"They'll rush it through for me," said Benteen. "We can know within a few hours if he tests positive, but you understand he could still be infected even if he tests negative. He'll have to have the test repeated at intervals for awhile. If he tests negative now and still tests negative in six months, the chances are good he's clean."
Hannibal sighed heavily as he took a bite of his hamburger.
"His friend was covered in his blood when we got here," said Benteen. He didn't need to add the obvious...if Face were HIV positive, he could already have infected Murdock.
Another six months to wait. How much more could either of them take?
Detective Henry Parker shook out the contents of the large envelope onto his desk: several crisp manila folders, a couple of videotapes, some computer disks, and a short note addressed to him.
"Hey, what's that?" asked his partner, leaning over the desk and sifting through the papers.
"Don't know, Shelley," he answered, glancing up at the blonde woman. "But it was addressed to me personally." He sat down and started looking through the folders, pushing a few across his desk toward her. "Here, you take a look at some of these."
As Shelley started sorting through the papers, Parker picked up the note that had come with the papers. "Sergeant Parker," it read, "this should be everything the state needs to prove its case against Ted Wright. The drug running and money laundering were only a small part of what he was up to, as you'll see when you go through the computer disks and videotapes. It's a moot point now, I know, but maybe it will help some of the families of Ted Wright's victims get some closure. Make good use of it if you can. One of his victims was someone I care about. As always, keep your head down. J.S."
Sergeant Parker. He hadn't been called that in years. It wasn't his rank in the police department, but it had been his rank in the military. Keep your head down. And those initials. He knew who the package was from and shook his head, wondering how Hannibal Smith had managed to come up with the evidence that he and his team had been trying to find for years. He pocketed the note, feeling only slightly guilty. The team had helped him out of a tight spot a few years ago, and Smith had saved his life in Vietnam. He owed them, so he'd keep their secret. He knew without thinking very deeply about it that it had been one of the team that had been Wright's victim, just as he knew without thinking very hard which one it would have been. Only one of them would have caught Wright's eye. He must also have been the one who gathered this information for them. He hoped that meant Peck was still alive.
He glanced across the desk and saw his partner eyeing him speculatively. Detective Mary Shelley, a six-foot, two-inch bombshell, was tolerant of everything except being asked how Frank was doing. They had worked together for six years, and she knew Parker well enough to know when he was hiding something. She raised an eyebrow, but she didn't say anything, and he knew she wouldn't. She trusted him, and he trusted her, just like he trusted Hannibal Smith. "Let's take a look at these videos," he said.
An hour later, they sat shaking their heads. "Sick bastard!" Shelley spat viciously. "Whoever killed him was doing us a favor!" She felt ill, but as she looked around the room at the other detectives who had just finished watching Ted Wright rape, murder, and mutilate one of the young men who'd been an unsolved missing persons case for several years, she knew they felt the same way.
"Well, it's too much of a coincidence for this not to be related to his murder," said one of the other detectives. "And this had to have taken awhile to gather. Where the hell did this come from?"
"I got it in the mail," Parker said. He pulled his latex gloves back on and reached for the files, handling them carefully. "We'd better get this stuff worked up," he said, going exactly by the book. He knew he had nothing to fear. Smith was way too smart to have left any clues. They had a San Bernardino postmark, and that would be the only clue they'd find.
After spending a long day carefully going through the rest of the evidence and letting the arson investigators know he had something that pertained to their case, he went home and burned Hannibal's note. "Good luck, Smith," he said as he flushed the remains of the burned note down his garbage disposal. He stared into the swirling water, seeing again the terror on the young man's face when he realized that this time, Wright really was going to kill him. "Good luck, Peck," he whispered.
Murdock sat quietly on the side of Face's bed. As ordered, he had showered and shaved, eaten, and slept. Now he had returned to his vigil. Face had not wakened since Wright had sedated him again. Murdock had listened patiently while Benteen explained to him the risk that he might have contracted HIV by coming into contact with Face's blood and cautioned him about coming into contact with Face's blood or body fluids for the next six months. He would not, could not let himself think about what it might mean for them if Face contracted HIV. It was still a relatively new and not very well understood ailment, and he knew it was a death sentence. For himself he had very little fear. If Face died, nothing else would matter.
Hannibal came back into the room with the day's newspaper. Wright's death was still making headlines. The police were still saying there weren't many clues, but Hannibal didn't really know how much of that was Face's careful preparation and how much of it would be the misinformation police routinely fed the press. He'd have liked to get in touch with Parker and find out what the police really had, but he knew that to do that would jeopardize them both. If there was anything Parker knew that Hannibal needed to know, Parker would find a way to let him know. It would ease his mind to know that Face had successfully obliterated all traces of his presence. He knew how to do it. The question was, had he decided to kill Wright on the spur of the moment, or had he planned it out and taken the time to clean up after himself? Face was thorough, and he was familiar with the kinds of evidence-gathering procedures the police used. Under normal circumstances, he'd have been able to make a clean getaway and leave not a single clue behind. But he had no idea how much of the real Face existed anymore. Sighing, he turned the page and tried to concentrate on something else for awhile.
Benteen cautiously approached the bed, blood pressure cuff in hand. He felt a little better, a little braver, now that the patient had been restrained, but he still unconsciously rubbed at the bruises on his throat. He just wasn't cut out for this sort of thing. He was a pacifist, for God's sake, a liberal! He didn't believe in violence. He believed in equal rights, openly championed causes he thought were good and right. That's how he'd been lured into Wright's fucking trap in the first place. Intellectually, he knew the man on the bed was as much a victim as he'd been. More of a victim, in fact. And really, his heart went out to him. The poor kid had obviously been through an extended ordeal, one he couldn't possibly come through unscathed physically or emotionally. But his own heart raced every time he had to get near the bed. He couldn't get past the memory of the scalpel biting into his throat or the strong fingers cutting off his air. His hands shook a little as he wrapped the cuff around the man's upper arm.
"If you think you're scared of him," came Murdock's soft voice, "think what it must be doing to him to be tied to the bed and surrounded by strange men. You must know what he's going to think we've been doing to him while he was unconscious."
Benteen said nothing as he moved through his examination. "His temperature is down some," he reported. "He should start feeling a little better soon. Rest is the best thing for him right now."
"Well, he doesn't have much choice about that right now, does he?" said Murdock.
Benteen sighed. "Even if he were in the hospital, I'd have had him restrained," he said. "Any doctor would have. He's dangerous both to others and to himself right now. It seems cruel, but it's for the best. Surely you can understand that."
"It's easy to understand when you've never been on the receiving end of it," Murdock said flatly. He remembered waking up more than once at the VA screaming, disoriented, and restrained. He'd been frightened, trapped, and utterly helpless, surrounded by a sea of strange faces, not one of whom he could trust. All the logic in the world didn't make it any easier to live with.
"He's lucky to have you," said Benteen, trying to establish some rapport.
Murdock shook his head. "I'm the lucky one," he murmured.
"He'll be okay," said Benteen.
"No, he won't," said Murdock. "Don't patronize me, Doc. I probably know more about this than you do. He's not gonna be okay for a long, long time. Maybe never."
Benteen nodded. "Alright, granted. But he does have you on his side. That may be more helpful than you think. You...are planning on sticking around, aren't you?"
Hannibal looked up sharply from his paper and met B.A.'s eyes across the room. That was a stupid question. Murdock was going to let him have it now.
Murdock's voice was hard. "I'm not like you, Doc. I don't stick a knife in someone and then just walk away."
Benteen winced as Murdock looked away and returned his attention to Face. "It's partly my fault that he's in the shape he's in. I wouldn't leave him now even if I wanted to. And I don't want to."
"How long have you been together?"
"Together?" echoed Murdock. "Depends on what you mean by together. We've been together and apart for more than fifteen years, almost half our lives." His pain was evident in his voice.
"How long have you loved him?" Benteen asked gently.
Murdock shook his head. "As long as I've known him. Since we met in Vietnam."
"But you didn't tell him?" Benteen guessed.
"No. Too many things happened. We were captured, tortured, held prisoner for months. And I don't even remember all of what happened after that for a long time." He smiled sadly. "I've got some...holes...in my memory. But he stuck by me, no matter what. Always did. No matter how crazy I acted."
"Then why didn't you tell him?"
"Look at him, Doc. He's so beautiful, it almost hurts to look at him. Women fall at his feet. I had no idea he could ever return my feelings."
Benteen studied his patient's face. Yeah, he was a good-looking kid. He could see people being drawn to that face.
"By the time I was well enough to function again, well, our lives got complicated. And I was just afraid to say anything. It was enough that he stuck by me, stayed my friend no matter what. I wasn't gonna say anything to drive him off. I thought just being friends would be enough, you know?"
Benteen nodded. Listening to the conversation, Hannibal felt a sudden pang of guilt. 'I should've been the one doing this,' he thought to himself. But for the moment, he stayed out of it. Murdock was talking, and that's what was important right now.
"So it wasn't until we...until we started sharing an apartment several months ago that I got up the nerve to tell him." Well, that was close to the truth. As close as he could get without giving away who they all were.
When Face had told him they were going to impersonate a gay couple, share an apartment, be seen together in public, he'd been ecstatic. Even if it were pretend, Face was going to be all his for awhile. When they were together, he wouldn't have to sit back quietly and burn with jealousy as Face flirted shamelessly with every pretty woman that walked by. And as the weeks went by, all the feelings he'd managed to keep buried for so long had begun to bubble to the surface. The glimpses of vulnerability and loneliness, the clever wit and sharp intellect he'd seen when they'd chatted together over a glass of wine or a sink full of dirty dishes had caused him to fall in love with Face all over again.
"I should have told him sooner," he finished quietly.
Benteen reached across and squeezed his arm. "But you did tell him," he said. "Somewhere inside him, I believe he still knows."
"I hope so," Murdock whispered. "I hope so."
There were voices. No, a voice. Familiar. He knew it from...somewhere...sometime. It was soft, soothing. Wrapped comfortably in a warm blanket, tucked up in the dark corner, he kept his eyes closed and tried to think. He knew it. How did he know it?
He opened his eyes and prepared to sit up.
'No!' This voice, a new voice, was sharp. 'It's not safe. Stay where you are. Don't come out.'
Quickly he shut his eyes again. That voice, the one in his head, was always right. It's not safe, he thought. Not safe. He'd stay here where it was warm. Pulling the blanket more closely around himself, he huddled into the corner and curled up.
'That's better,' said another voice, this one gentle. 'That's better. Stay there.'
The ringing phone startled them all out of the light doze they'd fallen into as the evening progressed. Murdock answered then handed the phone across to Benteen.
"It's the hospital," he said.
As Benteen talked, the others waited tensely, knowing what the conversation was about. When he hung up, Benteen turned first to Murdock. "The AIDS test came back negative," he reported.
Murdock closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "That doesn't mean he's not infected," Benteen cautioned him, "but it's still a good sign for the moment."
"It's the only news we've had in a year that hasn't been bad," Murdock said softly. Maybe their luck was finally beginning to turn around. He knew Face wouldn't agree. He'd say that their little bit of luck was just a trick to lure them into complacence so that when disaster struck again, they'd be unprepared. Face had an unswerving belief that the cosmos was out to get him. They'd argued good-naturedly about it sometimes. It was one of the many huge differences in their basic personalities. Murdock was the eternal optimist, always believing things would eventually turn out. Even his mental illness hadn't been able to change that. But Face had never been anything but suspicious of good fortune; what little he'd had had never brought him any lasting happiness, only gotten him out of one scrape so he could get into another. "Call it divine retribution, cosmic justice, anything you want," he'd said once. "In the end, some people just always get screwed. It's just the way it is. I'm one of those people. I always have been." So he'd lived life to the fullest while he could, fully expecting every bit of happiness he experienced to be snatched away at any minute. Interestingly, he'd seldom been disappointed in his prediction. Had he been conscious to discuss it, his current situation would not have surprised him in the least.
He drifted back to consciousness, hearing voices around him. He lay with his eyes closed, trying to figure out the situation before letting the others know he was awake. His body felt heavy but not particularly painful at the moment. They must have drugged him, though he couldn't understand why they would. He was always cooperative. You made a better impression that way, got hurt less. But Wright had never shared him before. Not really. He kept threatening to, but so far, he'd kept Face's talented, willing body to himself. But it had only been a matter of time. And Face wouldn't have been able to handle that...not after his previous experiences. And Richie wouldn't either. He was a nice kid, but weak. But a whore...a whore was good at being shared around. No big deal. He tried to move his arms and realized he was bound. Christ, these bastards were into bondage, too. Well, whatever he had to do, he had to do. For now, he'd play along. Later, he'd kill them all.
He opened his eyes and blinked a few times, trying to focus. As his vision cleared, he saw a large black man come to sit on the side of his bed. A grey-haired man stood behind the other, looking over his shoulder. Who were these people? Friends of Wright's? Had he been captured after all? Only dreamed his escape? He couldn't remember.
"How you doin', Faceman?" asked the black man.
He opened his mouth to answer, but he couldn't get anything to come out. The man lifted his head and helped him sip some water. As the other man settled him back on the bed, he looked around. There were two more men asleep on the next bed, and that side of the room was dark. Was one of them Wright? He couldn't tell. He was still so tired, so disoriented. He tested his bonds experimentally. They were uncomfortable, not that he was about to admit that to the others. They'd just tighten them if he did. So he lay quietly and waited for his instructions.
The silver-haired man brought over something in a dish and then propped him up with a couple of pillows behind his head. The movement pulled at his injured shoulder, and he moaned a bit in spite of himself.
"Sorry," the other man apologized. "Let's see if we can get some of this down you, okay?"
Feeding him while he was tied in bed? That was weird. Even Wright never did that. They dressed for dinner every night and ate at the dining room table downstairs with candles, linens, fine china, and good wine. Well, what the hell. When in Rome...he opened his mouth cooperatively as the man dished up a spoonful of Jello. He ate what he was fed, drank something, then was allowed to lie flat again. The black man slipped his little finger between the rope and the padding around Face's wrist. "These ain't hurtin' you none, are they?" he asked.
"No," the whore whispered. It was the first time the others had heard him speak since they'd arrived.
"Think you can sleep?"
The whore nodded and closed his eyes. They wanted him to sleep. Weird. Well, he could do that. Maybe when he woke up, he could think more clearly, figure out what was going on. He felt the bed move as the other man stood up and walked away. Left alone, he could relax, and he drifted back into sleep.
Henry Parker glanced up as Shelley came into the office carrying coffee for both of them. He accepted his mug with a nod of thanks. It was early, and they were the only ones in the office so far.
"The arson investigators want to meet with us this afternoon," Shelley announced. Looking around to see that they were alone, she sat on a chair next to his desk and used his notepad as a coaster for her coffee cup. "Before they get here, is there anything you'd like to tell me?"
Parker sighed and rubbed his eyes. He'd been up late the night before debating how much to tell his partner. They couldn't work together without complete trust, but he also owed Smith and the others. And given that he was about to withhold information he knew might lead them right to who he suspected might be the killer, he wasn't sure how much he should say. If he were eventually found out, he didn't want to drag his partner down with him.
"C'mon, Parker," Shelley said as he hesitated. "How long have we been working together now? Six years? If you can't trust me by now, you'll never be able to. So spill it."
She was right. He owed her an explanation. "That envelope yesterday came from a guy I was in the army with. He saved my life over there, got me back more or less in one piece. Now he heads up a...a little group that uh..." he wasn't sure how to phrase it. "That helps people out when they're in trouble and can't get help from regular law enforcement."
"Ah, I see," she said. "I think."
"They helped me out several years back, before you and I were partnered up."
"When you were with Jack Barnes?"
"They're the ones who helped you find the guy that killed him?"
"Not only find him," Parker answered, "but collect the evidence to make sure the charges stuck."
"So why haven't they come forward to take credit for finding this information?" Shelley asked.
"Uh, well, they can't. They're not exactly...friendly...with law enforcement."
"Not exactly...oh shit, Parker. Tell me they're not fugitives." Seeing the look on his face, she knew that they were. And she knew who they were. "The A-Team," she hissed. "Jesus Christ, Parker, you're getting mail from the A-Team?"
Parker nodded. "They didn't commit the crime they went to jail for," he said. "I know them, and they just weren't the type."
"Parker," Shelley said, "one of them just stuck a knife between Ted Wright's ribs. Do you really know what they were and weren't the type to do?"
Parker shook his head. "I can't explain it all to you, Shelley. I don't know the whole story myself. All I know is one of them was being abused by Wright just like all the other young guys we saw in the videos."
"And you know which one it was? Because I'd bet he's the one that killed Wright."
"I've got a good idea," Parker answered. "And if he did it, I'd say it was because he either had to do it to get away or else he snapped. Could you have blamed any of Wright's victims for finally losing it and killing him?"
Shelley shook her head. "I don't suppose I would," she said. "Sounds so cynical coming from someone who's supposed to uphold the principles of law and order, but I wouldn't. But if I'm going to help you protect this guy, I'd sure like to know for my own peace of mind that he had a good reason...personally, I mean. I'd like to know for sure he really was one of Wright's toys."
"I don't know if I can do that for you," Parker said. "I suspect they're in hiding. Even if I try to contact them, I don't know they'll get back to me. They've already done enough for us."
Shelley shrugged. "We're breaking a law, here, partner," she said quietly. "If we're gonna do that, don't you think it'd be nice to know we had a good excuse for it?"
Parker smiled. "Partners in law enforcement, partners in crime. Kind of catchy, don't you think?"
"So's the flu," she answered, taking a sip of her coffee.
"Shel, if I had any suspicion at all that any of these men were really murderers, that they stood to gain anything by Wright's death, I'd turn them in myself. But they're good men, they're moral. And the one that Wright was messing with, he's not much more than a kid." He settled back in his chair, remembering. "When we were in Vietnam, we were all captured and ended up in one of the most God-awful POW camps you'd ever want to see. We were starved, tortured, exposed to the elements. You name it, it happened to us. Peck was barely twenty-one years old. He was singled out for...special attention. After we finally escaped, he never was the same. Anybody'd touch him, he'd bolt, hide in a corner. Used to have nightmares so bad we'd have to hold him down and put a hand over his mouth to keep him from waking up the whole camp. He was a wreck for a long time. When I asked Smith about it seven years ago, he said Peck was getting better. Still had nightmares sometimes, but didn't wake up screaming anymore. Didn't hide in corners. God knows what that bastard Wright did to him, but I'd bet he went through hell all over again. He had to have been there awhile to get this much information gathered."
"So what's our plan?" Shelley asked. "They're not going to find anything on any of the evidence we sent in to be examined yesterday, are they?"
"No, I'm sure they're not, but that doesn't have anything to do with me," Parker answered. "Smith's too smart to leave anything behind. Whether Peck got away from Wright's estate without leaving any clues, I don't know."
"And if they start finding clues that point to him?" Shelley asked.
Parker shook his head. "If he left clues, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm not going to destroy any evidence, and Smith wouldn't want me to. He sent me this stuff so I'd have something to go on, something to tell the families of the kids Wright carved up. He didn't send it because he wants my protection. I'm not going to tell anyone that I know it was he who sent it to me, and I'm not going to implicate the team in the murder investigation if I don't have to, but if Peck left evidence behind, I can't do anything to help him. Smith knows that, and he wouldn't ask me to do anything more than what I'm doing."
"You're sure of that?" Shelley asked. "I don't want to end up getting blackmailed by this guy a few years down the road."
"I'm sure of it," Parker said. "The team takes care of its own. It's always been that way. If Peck's name ends up connected with the killing, they'll disappear. Smith's smart, and he cares about his men."
"Okay, Henry, I'm in," said Shelley. "My lips are sealed."
Parker reached over and laid a hand on her arm, squeezing it gently. "Thanks, Shel," he said.
Shelley smiled then glanced up as another detective entered, his arms full of case files. "There's Stan with the missing persons case files. Bet we're gonna get a bundle of them cleared up today," she said, standing. "Let's get a move on, partner."
Parker returned her smile. She was the best. She really was.
Murdock sat on the side of the bed and spooned ice cream into Face's mouth, hoping to get in a few more spoonfuls this time before Face fell asleep again. Benteen was keeping him heavily sedated, though Murdock didn't really know if it was as much for Face's benefit as it was for Benteen's.
Not much more was required of the doctor now. Physically, Face was recovering. The antibiotics were helping the infection. Time, rest, and fluids would take care of the blood loss. Once the last bag of IV fluid and the medications that were in it had dripped through, Benteen would remove the IV, and B.A. would take the doctor home. He'd left careful instructions on how the others were to care for Face, cautioning them again about coming into contact with his blood or body fluids until they were sure of his condition, and he'd left prescriptions for more medications.
Face had woken a few times during the night, each time for only a few minutes, and he'd been quiet and passive each time, doing as he was told, asking for nothing, and making no further moves to attack Benteen. Murdock was pretty sure he didn't even know where he was and probably had no memory of how he'd gotten there. But he needed to keep up his strength, so they'd fed him every chance they got, seldom getting in more than a few spoonfuls before his eyes closed and he fell asleep again.
This time was no exception. Murdock put the bowl aside, straightened the covers, and checked Face's hands again to make sure the restraints weren't too tight. As soon as Benteen was out the door, he was going to be taking them off. It was bad enough when Face was almost too groggy to notice, but when the IV was out and the meds wore off, Murdock knew Face would completely lose it if he woke up and realized he was tied down.
When the time came for Benteen to leave, he pulled out a notebook and scribbled some directions. "I have a friend who has a cabin up in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It's a pretty little place. There's a town nearby, but the house itself is at the end of a long dirt road in the forest, and there aren't very many people around. He doesn't get up there too often anymore. Once I explain the situation to him, he'll let you have the use of it for as long as you need it."
"You can't tell anyone about us, Doc," said Hannibal.
"Don't worry, I won't give anything away," said Benteen. "I'll tell him you're old friends of mine with a son who's recuperating from a long illness. I'll send you prescription refills and come up occasionally to do more blood tests. I think it'd be best if you got him as far from L.A. as you can for awhile just in case any of Wright's people decide to talk and identify your friend."
Hannibal nodded, accepting the directions and looking them over. Benteen turned to Murdock. "I suspect you're going to be going down a long, hard road with him," he said. "If you decide you can't handle it, I'll do what I can to pull some strings and get him admitted somewhere...maybe somewhere on the other side of the country. It'd be a risk. They check backgrounds pretty carefully these days, but it may be you won't have any choice if he doesn't make some progress."
Murdock looked down at Face. "I'll get him through," he said. "He's gonna make it."
"Stuff's loaded," B.A. announced, coming back in. "You ready to go?"
"Just about," said Benteen.
He took one last look at his patient before he left. Face's temperature was almost back to normal, the inflammation of his wounds was decreasing, and his vital signs were normal. "Keep him quiet for awhile, but let him get up and use the bathroom now, and get him walking around the room a little if you can. When you're ready, go on up to Tom's cabin. I'll tell him today that you're going to use it."
. "Good luck, gentlemen," he said, picking up his bag. "You've got my pager number. Call me if you need anything."
The minute Benteen was out the door, Murdock turned to the bed and began untying the restraints. He tossed the rope under the bed, unwrapped the towels around Face's arms, and rubbed his wrists. There was no real reason for it; the ropes hadn't been that tight, but it made Murdock feel better to do something.
"What're we gonna do, Colonel?" Murdock asked.
"After he takes Benteen back, B.A.'s going back to Bel Air to pick up our stuff and get rid of the house. He'll be back in a couple of days. In the meantime, we do what we can for Face."
"I'm not a doctor," Murdock said quietly. "Once we're at that cabin, we're on our own. I don't really know what to do to help him."
"We'll have to play it by ear," Hannibal said. "If there's a close second to a psychiatrist around here, it's you. And you've been there yourself. Who else would be more qualified to understand what he's going through?"
"Understanding it and treating it are two different things. If he needs medicine, how are we going to get it for him?"
"If we can't help him, if you can't help him, then we'll talk to Benteen about the place back east. But let's give it a try on our own first."
Murdock looked up at Hannibal, and Hannibal could still see the strain of the last two days reflected in his eyes. "If I do the wrong thing, it could make him worse instead of better. I'm just not qualified for this."
"Murdock, we don't have any other real choice. We're fugitives. We're not like other people. We can't go get help when we need it. It's the price we pay for being who we are. I don't like it either, but if he goes to a hospital now and they see these wounds, they're going to connect him to Wright. From there, neither option is acceptable. He either goes to jail or he goes to an institution. He might get psychiatric help in the institution, but what do you think it'd really do to him to be locked up like that?"
Murdock shook his head. "It'd kill him," he said.
Hannibal rested a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "Yeah, it would. I know we're only a second-best option, but just like always, we're all he's got."
"That's not saying much," Murdock answered glumly.
"Don't discount it, Murdock," said Hannibal. "One way or another, you've been connected with him longer than anyone else he's ever known. Those fifteen years of friendship have got to count for something, don't you think?"
"I hope so," Murdock said. "I hope so. But I've got a feeling that if Face is going to get better, it's going to be because of him, not because of me. It'll be because he's in there somewhere trying to find his way back."
"But you're giving him someone to come back to," Hannibal said. "If he'd find his way back to anybody, it would be to you." Giving Murdock's shoulder one last squeeze, he walked out.
"Hey, Parker, how are you?"
Henry looked up from the case file he was reading and smiled. "Greg! Things are going fine for me. I'm clearing up some missing persons files here. They're about to become murder investigations. Hope you didn't have plans for a leisurely evening in front of the t.v."
"Yeah, I heard about that." Greg Cochran dropped into the chair next to Parker's desk and slouched, stretching long legs out in front of him. "I'm beat," he confessed. "Been gathering evidence from Wright's place since yesterday. Heard you've collected more evidence sitting here on your ass than I got in more than twenty-four hours sucking in ash and smoke."
"Some of us just live right," Parker said with a laugh.
Shelley entered the office then and took a seat at her own desk just across from Parker's. "Christ, you smell like a bonfire, Cochran!" she exclaimed.
"Good to see you too, Shelley," Greg answered. "I've been working for a living while you two sit around and have evidence fall into your laps."
"Poor guy," Shelley said unsympathetically. "You should be thanking us for helping you keep your job. With budget cuts and all, you should be grateful we're providing you some job security by getting these new murder cases on your desk."
"Yeah, the murder business is always a little slow in L.A.," Greg said.
"So what have you got?" Shelley asked. Knowing Greg's penchant for overblown scientific explanations, she added, "The condensed version, please."
Greg answered, "I can tell you in a word what we've found. Nada. Nothing. Zero. Zilch."
"You're kidding!" Parker exclaimed.
Greg shook his head. "No, I'm not."
"You trying to tell us Wright accidentally rolled over on a knife while he was smoking in bed or something and killed himself?" Shelley asked.
Greg smiled. "I wish he had," he said. "I wish he'd done that years ago."
"You're going to wish he'd died in childhood when you see what's on the videotapes we've got," Parker said.
"That I have no trouble believing," said Greg. "To make a long story short, we have two ignition points, and a different method for each. One fire started in the bedroom. It would probably eventually have burned itself out. The other started in the living room, and it's the one that spread and burned the whole house."
"Strange," Shelley said. "You think whoever started the first one realized they hadn't done a very good job and tried again in the living room on their way out?"
"Could be two different people, too," Greg said. "Maybe a team."
"A mob hit, you think?" Parker asked.
"Could be, I suppose," Greg said. "So far, the only prints we've got belong to Wright or his staff, and they're not talking."
"I wouldn't either if I thought the mob had offed my boss," said Shelley.
"What I can't figure out is why the mob would send you evidence," said Greg.
"Maybe Wright got too friendly with one of their kids," Shelley answered. "I'd be willing to bet he carved up a lot more guys than are accounted for in the evidence we got. If he picked the wrong victim and word got out, his days were already numbered."
"Yeah, I thought of that," Greg said. "It's a possibility. So far, though, I haven't come up with any real connection between Wright and the mob."
"We never did either, but we know there must have been one. Maybe that's where he made his mistake," Parker offered.
"Well, there are plenty of motives for lots of people to want Wright dead," Shelley said. "If nobody had killed him yet, his life wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel once this evidence became public. We've been trying to pin some of these murder cases and missing persons cases on him for years with no success. Now that we have proof he was responsible for these murders plus assorted other crimes this evidence points to, I can think of any number of people who'd like to get at him."
"Yeah, I'll bet," said Greg. "Just between you, me, and the lamp post, I don't think we're going to come up with anything at the crime scene. Whoever did it cleaned up after themselves pretty carefully. Unless one of the staff gives us a description, we won't have anything to go on."
Parker nodded sympathetically, but inside he was cheering. 'Good for you, Peck,' he thought.
"You think you'll get anyone on the staff to talk?"
"I don't know. They all seem to have amnesia."
"Given the number of young men they've seen come and go over the years, they'd have a hard time saying anything and coming out completely blameless," Shelley said. "And once one of them started talking and implicating the others, they'd be a target. I'd have a complete memory failure too if I were one of them."
"Yeah, me too," admitted Greg. "We'll keep looking, and I'm sure we'll keep browbeating Wright's people, but I doubt we'll end up with anything. Wright chose his employees carefully. They're used to keeping secrets. And I imagine they're going to keep this one, too."
The old man woke slowly. His room at the convalescent home was dimly lit. He could hear the voices of the nurses conversing quietly at their station down the hall. He glanced toward the brighter light of the doorway, but the light was suddenly blocked by a large, dark shape that slipped noiselessly into his room and approached his bed. Funny, he knew he was dying, but he hadn't thought the angel of death would be quite so large. Without fear and with only one major regret, he watched the angel approach.
Odd that the angel of death should have to ask his name.
"Yes," he answered weakly. "Have you come for me?"
"I've come to give you some news, Mr. Rudman. From Hannibal Smith."
Rudman focused on the man next to him. It was one of Smith's men, the one he'd called B.A. It had been a long time since he'd hired them. There'd been no word from them since, and he had feared they'd forgotten him or left with his money. But he'd waited stubbornly. He should have died long ago. With the oddly alert sense of hearing he'd developed as he neared death, he'd heard the nurses whispering, wondering what he was waiting for. "What have you found?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Rudman. Your son is dead."
Rudman closed his eyes and nodded. "I knew it already, I suppose," he said, his voice not much more than a whisper. B.A. had to lean close to hear him. "I've felt so much closer to him recently, almost like he's here. Sometimes I can almost hear his voice. Silly." His hand fluttered in the air as if grasping for something. B.A. clasped the man's hand and squeezed it.
"Ain't silly," he said softly. "He's waitin' for you. Gonna take you home."
Rudman smiled. "And Wright?" he asked.
"He's dead. He ain't going to hurt anybody anymore," B.A. assured him.
"Tell Smith...thanks," Rudman whispered. His voice was so soft, B.A. had to lean closer to hear him. "Had to know." He paused to draw another slow breath. "Missed him so much," he said. "So much to be sorry for, so much I never said."
"You can say it to him now, Mr. Rudman," B.A. whispered. "You got a good long time now to tell him all of it."
"I do!" Rudman said with a soft sigh of relief. "I do."
B.A. stayed with the old man and held his hand a few minutes more until Rudman had drawn his last shuddering breath, then he quietly slipped out of the room and went on his way.
Face woke to sun shining in through the gap between the drawn curtains. He blinked a few times, trying to remember what was going on, where he was. This wasn't Wright's house. He moved to sit up and gasped as the movement caused pain in his side and shoulder.
Face started. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a man that he thought he ought to know. He thought furiously. Moving his hands over his side, he tried to find the source of the pain. As his fingers encountered bandages, he began to recollect what had happened. This was the man he'd kidnapped when he was trying to kill Benteen. And Benteen had been here. So had the other men from the hospital. They'd had him... they'd... He held his hands up and looked at his wrists. He was not bound. Had he imagined it?
"You're safe," Murdock said gently. "Nobody here is going to hurt you. You need to rest and get better."
He was thoroughly confused. They could have killed him. Why hadn't they? He looked down at his chest and ribs but found no new bruising or welts. He concentrated and could detect no new pain anywhere. There were only the stiffness and pain in his side and arm from the bullet wounds and an overwhelming fatigue that threatened to pull him down into sleep again. He fought the feeling, trying to stay awake and figure out what to do. He had to get away.
"Face, just relax," Murdock said, taking a couple of steps toward him. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Stay away from me!" Face snarled, scrambling backward. Pulled up short by the headboard, he had nowhere else to go, so he huddled there.
Murdock stopped moving. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "I won't let anyone else hurt you, either. You're perfectly safe."
Face regarded him with open hostility. "I'm not stupid!" he spat. "I know what you've been doing."
Murdock shook his head. "No, you don't," he answered. "All we did was patch you up. You were hurt. Don't you remember? You were shot trying to escape from Ted Wright."
Face thought for a minute. He was still hazy, his mind clouded by the medicine, but as its effects wore off, his memory was returning. He remembered getting out of Wright's compound, his failed attempt to kill Benteen, ending up on a train traveling east. After that things were harder to recall. He remembered being surrounded by men, being tied down, another attempt to kill Benteen. That was all. "Where am I? How long have I been here?" he asked.
Murdock took a step sideways and sat on a chair near the foot of the other bed. "We're in a motel in Nevada. We've been here since the night before last," he answered. With his head he motioned to a bag on the table across the room. "There's some food in there. Would you like something to eat?"
Face shook his head and looked around the room. "Who else is here?"
"At the moment, nobody," Murdock answered. "Hannibal will be back later today, and B.A. will come back in a day or so."
Face was unsure what to do now. There was nothing handy to use as a weapon, and he was still too weak to do anything that required him to get close to his enemy.
"You want to use the bathroom?" Murdock asked. "The doc said you could get up and move around a little as long as you were careful. There's a robe there at the foot of your bed."
Face eyed the robe, the door, and the distance from the bed to the bathroom as if judging how fast he'd be able to escape into the other room. Slowly, wincing at the pull on his stitches, he moved away from the headboard and reached for the robe.
"You want some help with that?" Murdock asked.
"No!" Face sounded panicked. He struggled to get the robe on, every movement painful.
Murdock looked on sympathetically but made no move to assist Face. Face was jumpy, and Murdock wasn't at all sure he was completely aware of what was going on. Above all, he wanted Face to realize he was safe with them, that he could trust them. "You don't want to move too fast when you get up," he offered. "Stand up slowly and take your time. I won't move from here unless you ask for my help."
"I don't need any help," Face ground out through gritted teeth as he tried to stand. Clutching the robe around him, he made it three steps before he swayed and fell to his knees.
With a supreme effort, Murdock stayed where he was. Face struggled again to his feet and made it a few more steps before he had to stop and lean against the wall to regain his balance. "Face, are you sure you don't want some help?" Murdock asked.
"Stop calling me that!" Face snapped. "Face is dead!"
Murdock shook his head. "No, he's not," he said gently. "I don't believe that. He's too strong to die. He might be hiding in there somewhere, but he's not dead."
Face only glared at him and then stumbled into the bathroom. Shutting the door behind him, he slid down to the floor and sat there, leaning against the door. At last he was alone. He considered his options. There was no window, the door didn't lock, and nothing that he could use as a weapon had been left in the bathroom. He had no clothes, and he knew that at the moment he didn't have the strength to get very far even if he could get out.
Finally he pulled himself to his feet, used the toilet, then splashed some water on his face. He considered himself in the mirror. A grey, gaunt face stared back at him, its eyes rimmed by dark circles. Under the three-days growth of stubble there were lines on the face that hadn't been there six months ago.
He didn't want to go back out into the other room, so he sat on the floor again, leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes for a few moments, realizing how tired he still was. Perhaps he was a prisoner, perhaps not. Something about the man in the other room was so familiar. He wasn't sure, though, and he wasn't ready to chance it. But he wouldn't be going anywhere today. Today he just needed to rest. They all needed to rest awhile. Then he'd make a decision.
Hannibal knocked softly and waited until Murdock opened the door.
"Come on in," Murdock said as he opened the door. "He's in the bathroom."
"How is he?" Hannibal asked, setting a bag of groceries and supplies on the table.
Murdock sighed. "Like he was at the hospital," he answered. "But I think he feels a little better, overall. I hope so, anyway, because he won't let me get anywhere near him when he's awake."
"I don't hear anything," said Hannibal, looking at the closed door.
"He's asleep," Murdock answered.
"On the bathroom floor?"
"Yeah. I checked on him awhile ago and covered him. He just needs to be alone, I think. He hasn't been for days, and he thinks we've been molesting him while he's been unconscious. I think he just feels a little safer in there for now. But it does kinda tie the room up." He shifted uncomfortably, and Hannibal handed him his own room key. Murdock accepted it gratefully. "Thanks," he said. "I'll be back in a minute."
After Murdock slipped out, Hannibal busied himself straightening the room. He opened a window to let in some fresh air and get rid of the stale, medicinal odor of the sick room. He unloaded the grocery bag and stacked what he'd bought on a counter across the room. As he worked, he considered their next move.
They'd have to leave L.A. for awhile until the investigation into Wright's death had stopped being front page news. He knew he'd taken a bit of a chance sending the evidence Face had gathered to Parker, but he trusted Parker to keep their secret. Even so, there was a chance that Face had been too disturbed or in too much of a hurry to cover his tracks, in which case the police would soon find the evidence and eventually work out who had been the killer. If that were the case, there would have to be a major change in their lifestyle. They'd probably have to leave the country altogether. It was not something he particularly wanted to do, but he'd be willing to for Face's sake. So would the others.
For now, they'd take Benteen up on his offer of the cabin in Oregon. B.A. would be returning soon with the stuff they'd had at the Bel Air house. When Face was well enough to travel, somehow they'd have to coerce him into accompanying them. That could be the hardest part of all. Face had never been a particularly trusting person, not even where the team was concerned. True, he trusted them with his life when they were on the job, and he trusted that they'd follow through with the commitment they'd all made to each other so many years ago. But on a strictly personal level, he seemed to trust nobody. Except for sarcastic comments and general complaints, he kept his feelings about their assignments pretty much to himself. If the circumstances of a case took a toll on him emotionally, he never let them see it. Only when he was ill or injured did a chink appear in his armor that allowed the others a glimpse of raw emotion, and that chink was repaired as soon as possible. Generally, others saw what Face wanted them to see; the ability to do that was one of Face's greatest talents, and it was both a blessing and a curse. He seldom talked about his past. It was interesting, Hannibal thought, that even though they'd known Face for fifteen years, even though they'd shared almost every conceivable kind of danger and relied upon only each other since Vietnam, there were whole parts of his life they knew nothing about, and as he hadn't volunteered the information, they'd never pressed for details. Murdock knew him better than Hannibal and B.A. did, but there were parts of Face's past that he hadn't shared even with Murdock. Hannibal wondered how much that was going to work against them now.
The whore opened his eyes and found himself looking at a toilet. He glanced around and realized that he was alone, though the bathroom door was cracked open just a bit. He was covered with a blanket. Lying still, he took stock of the situation. He'd fallen asleep in here and been allowed to remain. The light was off, and someone had covered him. Parts of him still hurt fiercely; it was the pain that had awakened him. But he was an expert in pain, and he realized this was the pain of the bullet wounds. Once again, he'd slept without being bothered. He shifted slightly so he could look out into the brightly lit main room. He could just see the man he'd kidnapped sitting cross-legged on one of the beds. The man balanced a sketchpad on his knees and was intent on drawing something. Something about the way he held himself, the expression of intense concentration as he drew, was so terribly familiar, more familiar than it should be for the short time the whore had known him.
'It's Paul!' The voice was soft, and it broke as it spoke.
'Don't be stupid,' the whore answered. 'Paul is dead.'
'But...but it has to be. It's him!'
'Wishful thinking, kid,' said the whore. 'Don't believe everything you see.'
'I...I don't understand. They said he died. What about Benteen? Is he gone?'
The whore grimaced, remembering his failure. 'I told you I'd get him, and I will. He was here. This is just a trick, just to make us think we're safe. He'll be back.'
'Paul...' the other voice whispered. 'Please, please let me talk to him. Let me find out.'
'It isn't him!' the whore snapped. 'Stop being stupid. You can't trust anybody. Not anybody! Now shut up. I have to think.'
'Please,' the other voice began.
'No! Now listen, Rich, haven't I been taking care of you? Didn't I get you out of Wright's compound like I told you I would? Didn't I execute the plan perfectly? You think you're smarter than I am?'
'Alright,' Rich whispered, backing down. 'God, you're such an asshole.'
The whore laughed bitterly. 'Yeah, I am,' he said. 'I'm a professional asshole. It's the best-exercised part of me, after all.'
'That's not what I meant. We were hurt, too, you know.'
'Yeah, but you're not hurting now, are you? You want to go out there and get tied down again like Wright used to do to me? There's four of them now. You want to go out there and entertain them, go right ahead. I could use a nap. But don't come crying to me when you've got one of them inside you and the others are carving their initials on your chest.'
Rich cringed and shrank back. The whore laughed again. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I'll take care of you just like I always do. Just do what I say and everything will be alright.'
Face shifted in his dark, comfortable corner. There was an argument going on, and it was bothering him. He didn't like conflict, didn't like arguments, and he didn't want to get involved. Let the others settle it, he decided. He turned his face to the wall and tried to shut it out.
Rich sat next to Face in the corner. Maybe the whore was right. Maybe it wasn't Paul. Maybe it was a trick. God, he'd wanted so much for it to be Paul. He'd wanted it so much, he'd imagined it. He rested his arms on his bent knees and lowered his forehead to his arms. It was still so hard sometimes to remember Paul, to remember those strong, gentle hands moving over his body, making love to him then soothing him to sleep. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes against the pain.
Face whimpered. He wanted to sleep, wanted to go back to his little bed where it was dark and warm, but he couldn't get there. He hurt. His side ached, his head ached, his arm throbbed.
'Shhh, it's alright. I'm here.' Rich patted Face's leg reassuringly.
'Hurts,' Face whispered.
'I know,' Rich answered. 'I know. It hurts me, too.' He lay down beside Face and pulled him into his arms.
'Sissies,' the whore taunted them softly. 'Go back to sleep, then. As usual, I'll take care of it.'
Face sleepily registered the fact that he didn't like this person much, but the pain began to fade as he slipped into darkness again, so he made no protest. Rich sat up, pulling Face into his embrace and rocking him gently to sleep.
The whore sighed and got up stiffly from the bathroom floor.
Murdock looked up from his sketchpad to find Face standing in the bathroom doorway with the blanket clutched around his shoulders. His face was pinched with pain. It must be time for the painkillers.
"Face? You hurting?"
"Don't call me that!" Face said tiredly as if it were something he was simply weary of repeating. He took two steps and sank shakily into an armchair, his left hand pressed against his right side.
"What do you want me to call you?"
"Don't call me anything."
"Everyone's got a name," Murdock said. "What's yours?"
"I don't have a name, okay?" said Face defensively. "I'm just a whore. I'm nobody."
Murdock accepted that at face value and didn't try to argue. "Well, I have to call you something. What if I make up a name?"
The vehemence of the reply took Murdock by surprise. The whore seemed to fight some sort of internal battle, his attention turned inward. Murdock moved to set the sketchpad on the bed beside him, and the movement caused the whore to return his full attention to Murdock.
"You hurting?" Murdock asked again.
Reluctantly, the whore nodded.
"There are some pain pills you can take for that. I'm going to get up and get them for you. They're right over there across the room. I'll bring you a couple and a glass of water, okay?"
The whore nodded again. Murdock took his time getting off the bed and moving to the counter for the water and pills. Slowly he turned and approached Face. Face watched him warily, his body tense. "I promise I won't touch you," Murdock said reassuringly. "I'm just going to put these pills and this water on the table there in front of you so you can take them. Then I'm going to come back and sit on my bed. Okay?"
The whore watched him like a hawk, and Murdock did exactly as he'd said he would, moving carefully to avoid startling the other man. He returned to his bed and sat cross-legged again, watching as Face stared at the pills suspiciously.
"They'll make you sleepy," Murdock said, "and they'll ease the pain. That's all."
Face swallowed the pills, gulped a couple of mouthfuls of water, and sat back. "Where are your friends?" he asked. "They get bored?"
"B.A.'s gone back to Bel Air for a couple of days. Hannibal's still here. He's in his own room. The doc's gone back to L.A." Murdock could tell from Face's skeptical expression that he didn't believe him. "I wish I could make you believe what I'm telling you. None of us wants to hurt you. We know what you went through with Wright. We just want to help you get better. Nobody will touch you without your permission."
"Why didn't you just jump off the train when I told you to?" Face asked. "I don't want any help."
"Face is my friend. My lover," Murdock replied. "I want him back."
"Face had lots of lovers. It never worked out. It never would have worked out for him. He's better off where he is."
"Where is he?" Murdock asked softly.
"He's dead. I already told you that. He's not coming back."
Murdock let the subject drop. He picked up the sketch pad and drew a bit more while keeping one eye on Face. Face sat stiffly in the chair, radiating hostility and distrust. Eventually the medication took effect, and Face began to sag a bit in the chair as his body relaxed and he grew sleepy. Murdock closed the pad and set it aside.
"Pain any better?" he asked.
"Why don't you go back to bed, then," Murdock suggested. "You're going to fall asleep pretty soon."
"What're you drawing?" Face asked.
Murdock blinked, taken aback for a moment by the change of subject. "Um, clothing designs," he answered. Flipping open the pad, he showed Face one of the pictures. Face's eyes widened as he looked at the drawing. Murdock glanced down at the drawing to see which one it was. It was one of the jackets he'd designed for Face while they were living in the apartment together.
'I told you! It's Paul!' whispered Rich. 'He's not dead!'
'So what if it is?' the whore returned. 'So what if he's not dead? Why didn't he come for you? He left you to die.'
'He wouldn't,' Rich whispered again. 'I'm going to talk to him.'
'You can't stop me!' Rich hissed angrily.
'He'll hurt you,' the whore warned him. 'You're staying here!'
'Fuck you!' Rich exclaimed angrily. He shoved the whore out of his way and studied the picture.
As Murdock watched, Face seemed to change before his eyes. The closed, hostile expression he'd worn was replaced by a wide-eyed look of incredulity. Even the way he held himself changed, the defensiveness of his previous posture gone. He leaned forward in his chair and looked up at Murdock as his eyes filled with tears.
Murdock was stunned. He should have anticipated this. It made sense that if Face were protecting himself by creating other personalities, he'd make use of the persona he'd adopted and used for the last several months before he'd gone with Wright and during the months he was with him. By now, it would have been a comfortable role for him to play. And Rich must think he was Paul.
"I thought you were dead!" Face whispered as the tears began to spill. He tried to get out of the chair, but he was too weak to make it more than a couple of steps before he collapsed.
After a moment's hesitation, Murdock got off the bed and went to Face's side. He laid a hand on Face's shoulder, and for once, Face didn't flinch away from him. But, he reminded himself, this wasn't really Face. It was Rich, and Rich was much more needy than Face was...or at least than he allowed himself to be. He put his hands under Face's arms and gently assisted him to his feet. Face turned to him and rested his head on Murdock's chest, his uninjured arm going around Murdock's waist. "You're alive! Oh, Paul, I thought...I thought he'd killed you."
Murdock put his arms around Face and held him close as he cried. He didn't know if this was progress or not, and he wasn't sure how to respond. Should he play along? Would that make it easier for the Rich persona to stick around? Should he reject Rich outright and try to force Face's hand? He could feel Face sag against him, so he gently turned him and led him back to the bed.
Face crawled readily under the covers but clutched at Murdock's arm. "Stay with me, Paul," he begged.
Murdock sat on the side of the bed and Face curled up around him, clutching his hand tightly. Luckily, Face fell asleep rapidly without asking for any more explanations. Murdock watched him sleep and wondered what he should do. How many other personalities were they going to have to go through? How the hell was he going to draw Face out? He sighed and allowed himself to run his fingers through Face's hair and down along his uninjured arm in a gesture that was soothing but not sexual.
Some time later, Hannibal came back to watch Face and allow Murdock to get some sleep. He found Murdock leaning against the headboard, legs stretched out on the bed, Face sleeping with his head in Murdock's lap. Murdock woke as Hannibal came into the room but didn't move.
"What's going on?" Hannibal asked.
Murdock gently moved Face back onto the pillow and stood, stepping away from the bed and motioning Hannibal to follow him. He accepted the cup of coffee Hannibal held out to him and took a sip before he replied. "It's Richard Todd."
Hannibal's eyes widened in surprise, but he only nodded, encouraging Murdock to continue.
"I think that both of the personalities are in a sense part of Face, but I haven't really got a handle on what makes one or the other of them emerge."
"Then where's Face?" Hannibal asked.
Murdock shrugged. "I don't know, and I don't know how to reach him, but I think the others can if I can get them to try for me."
"So these other...people...they are Face, but they're not?"
"Yeah," Murdock explained. "The part of him that remembers us, that remembers everything that happened in Face's life, is hiding or something. Right now we've got the whore, who won't even give himself a name, and we've got Rich Todd, whose history only goes back as far as Face himself made it up."
"Well, Rich seems to be a lot more comfortable with you than the whore," Hannibal said. He reflected for a moment on his words, speaking casually about these characters as if he'd known them for years. A whore! Jesus, did Face really think about himself like that?
Murdock nodded. "Yeah, but I don't know how good that is. He's going to expect to be able to have the same...relationship...to me that he thinks he has to Paul. He thinks that's who I am."
"But if he thinks you're someone he can trust and talk to, isn't that better than dealing with a hostile personality?"
"Yeah," Murdock began uncomfortably, "but Hannibal, he thinks I'm his lover! I can't be that for him."
"Why not? He's still Face, isn't he?"
Murdock pulled off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. He sat tiredly on his own bed and kicked off his shoes. "He's only a part of Face, and I don't want him to get too comfortable. I want my Face back, Hannibal, my Face. My lover. To give Rich want he wants now...it'd be like cheating on Face. I can't do that."
Hannibal nodded his understanding and sat down next to Face's bed, watching him intently. He looked more at peace than he'd seen him in the last two days. "What if this is as far as we can ever get him?" Hannibal asked softly.
Murdock shook his head. "I won't believe that," he said. "What Face has been through I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But he's strong, Hannibal, stronger than anyone knows. He's not going to check out permanently. I just have to find a way to let him know it's safe now to come home." His voice choked as his eyes filled with tears. "I need him," he whispered. "He's got to know how much I need him."
Hannibal looked at Murdock sympathetically. What could he say that would help? He had no words of reassurance; this wasn't an enemy he could fight with a good weapon and a clever plan. How many years had he watched Murdock grapple with his feelings for his friend, unable to share with Face the uninhibited affection he shared with B.A. for fear that Face would see the real meaning behind it? He'd hoped against hope that the two of them would finally find each other, but he'd never dreamed it would be under such trying circumstances that their love would finally blossom. When it had, he'd rejoiced as much as the circumstances allowed him to. If he'd known their love would finally lead to this, to one man lost inside his head and the other desperately trying to find a way to reach him, would he have made the same choice about throwing them together all these years? It was an interesting question, one more to which he had no answer.
"I'll sit with him," Hannibal finally whispered. "You go to sleep."
Face slept through the night for the first time since they'd found him. Murdock was back by his side when he woke the next morning. Face rolled from his side to his back, wincing at the pain, and looked around the room. He tentatively reached out a hand toward Murdock, and Murdock took it. "How are you feeling this morning?" Murdock asked.
"My back hurts a lot," Face answered slowly. "And my shoulder."
"It's time for another painkiller," Murdock said.
"Okay," Face said. He allowed Murdock to prop him up on some pillows then took the proffered pills. "These are going to make me to go sleep again, aren't they?"
"Yeah," agreed Murdock. "But you need the rest. You're hurt, and you've worn yourself down a lot in the last six months."
A shadow crossed Face's face. "Can I get up, Paul? I have to use the bathroom."
Murdock nodded and sighed. "Sure," he said. As Face slid out of the bed, Murdock reached for an arm to support him and helped him pull on the robe.
Face swayed for a moment and leaned against Murdock's chest until the dizziness passed. "I've missed you, so much," he whispered. Murdock held him but didn't answer. Face pulled back and looked up. "Is something wrong? What did I do?" Face asked.
Murdock shook his head. "You didn't do anything. It's okay. Let's get you to the bathroom now." He led Face toward the bathroom and left him at the door. "Can you make it from here?" he asked.
"I think so," Face answered. He was obviously confused and hurt by Murdock's lack of enthusiasm.
"I'll be right out here," Murdock said as he pulled the door shut.
Face used the toilet then lowered the lid and sat on it, trying to think. Something was wrong with Paul. Maybe he'd found someone new, someone he loved more than Rich. He must know what Face had been doing with Wright, and what Richie and the whore had been doing. It would be stupid to expect that Paul could want him back after this, to think Paul could forgive him for what he'd become. But maybe it was for the best because he couldn't stay, anyway. It wasn't part of the plan, and it was too late to change the plan now. But, God, it was going to hurt so much to leave him again.
While Face was in the bathroom, Murdock paced around the motel room considering how he was going to deal with the situation. Rich thought he was Paul, but Murdock knew he couldn't play that role for him, as much as he would have liked to. Rich would have to recognize him sooner or later as Murdock, as Face's lover, not his. The whore knew who Face was, though he had no recollection of the rest of the team. So Rich must know who Face was as well. He assumed Rich would recognize Hannibal and B.A. as Wallace Huntington and Calvin Hopkins, the roles they'd assumed for Face's scam, even though the whore had shown no recollection of any of them. The hostile, distrustful whore wasn't going to communicate with Face on their behalf, but maybe Rich would, if Murdock approached him right. If he could convince Rich that the others didn't represent any threat to Face, maybe Rich could convince him to come out. Maybe they could at least get some information from him about Wright's death and the fire, about what had been happening to Face in the sixth months of his captivity.
When Face finally emerged from the bathroom, Murdock looked him over critically before assisting him back to the bed. "Your color's a little better today," he observed as he adjusted the pillows behind Face's back. When Face didn't reply, Murdock sat on the edge of the bed and took his hand. "We've been frantic to find you," he said.
"I thought you were dead," Face whispered. "The doctor said you died in surgery."
"I know he did," Murdock whispered. "And you were gone before Hannibal could find you and tell you the doctor was lying."
"Who?" Face asked.
'Be careful,' the whore whispered. 'Don't trust him. He's trying to trick you.'
"Wright wanted you to believe Paul was dead so he could get you to go with him. He forced the doctor to tell you Paul was dead."
'What'd I tell you?' the whore continued. 'He's not even talking about himself. I told you he wasn't Paul.'
Rich was confused. Of course this was Paul. Wasn't it?
"Paul, if you've found someone else, I...I understand," he said softly. "Just tell me. Don't try to make me think you're not you." He reached up to stroke the side of Murdock's face. "I know you too well to mistake you for someone else."
Murdock sighed and shook his head. "Rich, Paul is...he's a part of me, like you're a part of Face. He's not a separate person. I'm Paul, but I'm more than Paul. And Face is more than you."
Rich looked confused. "Face," he began, "he's..." he stopped abruptly. As Murdock watched, the confused look was replaced by the same closed, hostile look he'd grown used to over the last couple of days, and the hand Murdock was holding was snatched from his grip. "He's dead. He's not coming back. Are you deaf or something? How many times do I have to tell you that? Give it up, already."
The whore shifted away from him, catching a quick breath as the movement caused pain. Murdock inadvertently reached for him.
"Don't touch me!" the whore snapped. Then he smiled. "Unless you've got some money. Told you before I don't do freebies." He laughed at the look on Murdock's face. "Yeah, you don't want it that bad, do you? It's easier to trick the kid into believing you love him, isn't it? Get it for free? Well, nothin's free! Ted Wright found that out." He rubbed his fingers together as if there were money between them. "So come on, pay up, John!"
Murdock gasped as Face's hand shot out and grabbed Murdock's crotch. "C'mon, I'll make it worth your while!" the whore laughed. Appalled, Murdock knocked his hand away and stood abruptly, turning away.
Hannibal walked into the room as Murdock fled, the sound of Face's mocking laughter following him from the room. Hannibal stood by the door and watched Face, not sure how to approach him. As the door slammed behind Murdock, the laughter abruptly ceased. Face looked Hannibal over as if sizing him up. "What do you want?" Face asked. "You gonna pick up where your friend left off? It's a hundred bucks. No, make that a hundred and fifty...for inflation. Paid in advance."
Hannibal hesitated for a moment, taking time to light a cigar as he sized up the situation. He rapidly reviewed and rejected several options as he considered how he'd always dealt with Face. But, he reminded himself, this wasn't Face. Not really. It was a hostile opponent, someone who stood between him and Face. Someone he needed information from if he was going to protect the Face he knew. So what was the best way to get it?
In a move that would not have surprised anyone on the team, he decided on the direct approach. "Well, I see Rich is no longer with us," Hannibal observed as he made a show of calmly puffing his cigar. Face didn't reply, but he watched warily as Hannibal sat in the chair across the room. "So who are you, anyway?" Hannibal asked.
"I'm a whore," Face answered.
There it was again. The assertion...the absolute belief...that he was a whore. It was unnerving to hear Face talk like this. Hannibal had to remind himself once again that this was an opponent, that he needed to play along to get crucial information. Knowing that he was going to hate himself for it, he used one foot to snag another chair and pull it closer to him, putting his feet up as he leaned back casually and took another drag on his cigar. "Yeah, I know that already," he said. "Tell me something I don't know."
"Make it worth my while," Face challenged.
Hannibal reached into his jacket pocket, took out a wallet, and drew out three fifty dollar bills. "Where do you want me to put it?" he asked.
Face laughed bitterly. "I'm supposed to be the one asking that," he said. When Hannibal didn't respond, he held out a hand. "Bring it here."
Hannibal stood and slowly crossed the room, placing the bills in Face's outstretched hand. He watched while Face held the bills up to the light, carefully examining them before turning tired, bored eyes to him. "Well hurry up and get your clothes off," he said. "I want to go to sleep." He threw back the covers and lay down, waiting.
"I don't want to have sex with you," Hannibal said, his reserve almost cracking.
"I don't give refunds," Face said. "If you don't like the way I look, close your eyes."
Only someone who knew Face as well as Hannibal did would have seen that beneath Face's mocking tone and carefully bored expression ran an undercurrent of fear. It was the same look Face had turned on him when he'd been forced to stand back and watch the guards in the prison camp drag Face out of their hut for more torture and abuse. Reminding himself sternly that at the moment he was not really dealing with Face, Hannibal made himself puff casually on his cigar.
"Cover yourself up," he said quietly. "I didn't pay you for sex, I paid you for information."
Surprised, Face pulled the covers back up. "What information?" he asked as Hannibal returned to his chair.
"What happened to Ted Wright?"
"What're you, a cop?" Face asked.
"No, I'm a friend of Face's," Hannibal replied
"Wright's dead," Face said.
"Yeah, I know," Hannibal said. "Face killed him, right?"
"No, I did it. Face was long gone by then. Besides, he wouldn't have had the stomach for it."
"Did you just kill him on the spur of the moment?" Hannibal asked.
"Of course not!" Face said, sounding offended. "I don't do anything on the spur of the moment."
Hannibal nodded. That sounded like Face. "So what are the cops going to find?"
"They'll find what I left for them to find," Face said. "And nothing else." His voice began to fade.
"What about Wright's people? They know you were there."
Face smiled sleepily. "Too scared," he said softly. Not scared of him, but scared nonetheless. "They'll never talk. Not to the cops."
It sounded like Face had planned the killing carefully and cleaned up after himself. He got careless sometimes, but never about something like this. It was a great relief to know the police wouldn't make the connection between Face and Wright. "You're pretty clever," Hannibal said appreciatively.
"Even a cheap whore has his uses," Face murmured. Unable to fight the pain medication any longer, he fell asleep.
Hannibal stood and crossed to Face's bed. "You're not a whore, Face," he said as he adjusted the blankets. He picked up the money Face had let fall from his fingers as he fell asleep. "You're not cheap, either." He placed the money on the bedside table where he knew Face could find it again then propped the door open with a suitcase and stepped outside. Murdock sat in a chair outside the room, his head in his hands. Hannibal pulled up another and sat down beside him. "He's asleep," he said.
Murdock nodded but didn't look up.
Hannibal waited for him to say something, but he didn't. "I think we're safe from the cops," Hannibal finally said into the silence. "He said he'd cleaned up after himself."
"You talked to Face?" Murdock asked, finally raising his head.
"No, I talked to the whore," Hannibal said.
"He talked to you?"
"After I gave him a hundred and fifty dollars," Hannibal answered. "I've got a feeling I'm going to have to find an ATM to get anything else out of him."
Murdock smiled slightly. "He only asked me for a hundred."
"Well, he learns fast. He's got a good understanding of the law of supply and demand."
Murdock sighed sadly. "Not the most attractive aspect of Face's personality," he observed. "But it's the part that's made him a survivor all these years. It's the part that can cope with pain and disappointment without showing it."
"It's also the part that pushes away anyone who gets too close," Hannibal observed.
"I know," Murdock answered. "I know he did it just to shock me, and it worked."
"You've got to keep trying, Murdock," Hannibal said. "As hard as it is. I can appeal to his...entrepreneurial side, pay him to give me information about some things or to cooperate with us. But I don't think he's going to let us get close to Face."
"He won't," Murdock said. "If we're going to get to him, it'll be through Rich. But only if I can keep him from retreating."
Murdock stood and paced back and forth in front of their room. "I don't know. Maybe after he learns to trust us, it'll happen on its own."
Hannibal ground out his cigar butt. "We can't stay here forever," he said "Pretty soon we're going to have to pack up and get to Oregon."
"If the police don't think he's connected with Wright's killing..." Murdock began.
"I don't want Face where the M.P.s can get to him while he's not himself," Hannibal interrupted. "Even if the LAPD doesn't want him for anything, the MPs do."
"I see your point," Murdock said. He stopped pacing and looked out across the hot asphalt of the parking lot, watching the heat waves shimmer over the pavement. "I'm going to play along with him, to a point," he said. "I'm going to do what I can to make him feel comfortable around us, and maybe when Rich is comfortable, he'll talk to Face for me."
Face didn't wake again until late in the evening. Murdock sat at the table across the room reading a book and didn't notice. Hannibal was napping on the next bed.
'He looks so sad,' Rich whispered.
'Don't be so gullible,' the whore answered. 'He already told you he doesn't want you.'
'You didn't even give him a chance to explain what he meant,' Rich hissed.
'I knew what he meant, and so did you,' the whore answered. 'You almost told him about Face.'
Face sat on the bedroom floor with his blanket around his shoulders and watched his little sister play with her dolls. He'd been quite ill and had to stay home from school for a few days, but he was feeling well enough now to be out of bed. He amused himself with the coloring book and brand new box of crayons his father had brought home for him yesterday. Across the room his mother sat in a white rocking chair and rocked his baby brother, who waved his tiny fist at the dust motes dancing in a shaft of sunlight that fell across his face. His mother was beautiful. Her eyes were blue, her hair blonde and curly like his sister's. She sat humming a lullaby to the baby while she fed him a bottle and watched her children play. Face was intensely happy. His brother would be home from school soon, and then his father would come home from work, and they'd all be together. Face sometimes got anxious when the family wasn't together, so he did his best to keep everyone around. Maybe his brother would bring him a new book to read. He did that sometimes because Face was so smart and such a good reader. His parents were very proud of him. When he was old enough, his parents were going to send him to the very finest college.
'No!' The shout startled Face and made him jump. He turned to look over his shoulder.
'What's wrong?' he asked fearfully.
Rich sat beside Face and put an arm around him. 'Nothing's wrong,' he said soothingly. 'Everything's fine.'
Face was suddenly very frightened. It was dark here. There was a mist floating in the distance, and Face could just make out figures in it. One was sitting, the other lying down.
'Who is that?' he asked. 'Where am I?'
'It's nobody,' Richie answered. 'It's okay. You're safe.'
'It's cold here,' Face whispered.
Richie fussed with Face's blanket a bit, pulling it more closely around him. Face tried to peer over his shoulder at the figures in the mist, one of which was moving now, but Richie blocked his view. Face leaned against Richie and closed his eyes. 'I'm hungry,' he said.
'I know,' Richie said soothingly as he wrapped his arms around Face and rocked him again. 'Don't worry. We'll get you something to eat.'
Face turned back to his family. His mother smiled at him as she bounced the baby in her lap. 'How about a couple of cookies for my big boy?' she said.
Face smiled happily, took his little sister by the hand, and followed his mother to the kitchen.
Murdock glanced up from his book as Face slowly sat up. He hesitated a moment, not sure who he was going to be talking to. When Face glanced around, spied the money on the nightstand, and reached for it, Murdock knew. He approached the bed, and Face watched him cautiously. "How are you feeling?" Murdock asked as he sat on the chair by the bed.
"You haven't eaten since yesterday. Why don't I make you something to eat."
Face nodded without speaking. He watched carefully as Murdock made him a sandwich, making sure the other man didn't slip anything into his food. He made short work of it, though, when it was delivered.
"Can I get you anything else?' Murdock asked when Face had finished.
Face shook his head again, so Murdock tossed the paper plate and cup and then returned to the bedside. "You feel strong enough to take a shower?" he asked.
Face thought about that for a minute. Since it appeared that neither one of them wanted to have sex with him, he was probably as safe from their attentions clean as he was dirty, and he didn't particularly like to stink. "Alright," he said. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood as Murdock handed him the robe.
"I'll get the water running," Murdock said. "Do you want me to help you get the bandages off? It's gonna be hard to manage it on your own."
"I suppose," Face answered non-committaly. He made his way to the bathroom under his own power and leaned against the sink while Murdock adjusted the shower and laid out the towels.
"You ready?" he asked.
Face dropped his robe, looked challengingly at Murdock, and stood waiting. Knowing that the last thing Face wanted right now was to be touched, Murdock moved slowly and carefully, explaining what he was going to do before he did it and stepping back immediately when he'd pulled off the last of the bandages. The wounds looked better, still somewhat red, but not as infected as they had been. Benteen's neat stitches were holding well. Face's skin was still mottled with the bruising and bite marks from his last encounter with Wright, and Murdock still couldn't look at him without feeling sick.
"There are a toothbrush and a razor on the counter for you," he told Face. "Do you think you can manage it with that shoulder?"
"I can manage," Face said. "Now, get out."
Murdock picked up the robe and hung in on the back of the bathroom door and left, pulling the door shut behind him. Face stepped into the shower stall and stood for a long time under the water. For the first time in six months, he almost felt free, and in a way, it was a frightening proposition. He wouldn't place any bets on whether he would make it through the night, or even through the shower, unmolested, but for now, he had complete privacy and was almost comfortable. The water stung on his wounds, but it was nothing compared to what he was used to.
He washed his hair awkwardly with one hand, bathed carefully, and finally got out of the shower and wrapped himself in a towel. He managed to shave without cutting himself, though he had to hunch over the sink because he couldn't raise his arm high enough to do the job right. He awkwardly ran a comb through his hair left-handed and then stepped over to use the toilet. Sitting on the toilet was an open duffel bag in which were several articles of clothing that he didn't recognize. They must be his, but he knew they were nothing he'd worn at Wright's house. Wright had bought his clothes while he lived there. He went through the bag carefully. The spare clothes in the bag were neatly folded or rolled. Though casual, they were all expensive, quality brands that he could never have afforded. Even the underwear was nicer than he'd ever worn.
He stepped into the briefs then pulled a pair of sweat shorts from the bag, figuring they wouldn't rub too much against his wounds. He tried to struggle into a T-shirt but found his arm too painful and stiff to get through the armhole, so he gave it up and put the robe on instead before he lifted the bag, intending to move it to the floor so he could use the toilet. One of the handles slipped from his hand and the bag tilted, spilling some of the clothing onto the floor. As he bent carefully to pick up the clothes and drop them back into the bag, he came across a package of condoms. "Glow in the Dark" was emblazoned across the package in lurid green lettering.
Instantly Richie was transported to the night Paul had made love to him in Wright's home. He'd left them on Richie's pillow as a gag, something he'd found while browsing through some shop. He closed his eyes, remembering the flowers, the champagne, the candles and soft music. He'd felt so loved that night, so much in love. It was the last happy memory he had of their time together. There was something else about that night, something that felt vaguely wrong, but he couldn't recall what it was and didn't want to recall it. He didn't want anything to sully this memory because it was going to have to last him a lifetime. Paul didn't want him anymore. But Paul was alive. Richie could be near him for awhile, at least, and be comforted by the fact that Paul still lived. It was something. He'd take whatever he could get.
'You're pathetic,' the whore taunted him.
'Shut up,' Richie returned angrily. 'He loved me once. Maybe he'll love me again someday.'
'Yeah, and maybe I'm the Virgin Mary.'
Richie ignored him and opened the door.
Murdock turned as the bathroom door opened. Face looked much better after the shower, though his pallor was more apparent without the four-days growth of stubble. Murdock summoned up a smile but stayed where he was.
Murdock breathed a sigh of relief. It was Rich he wanted to talk to, to establish a bond with. He held out his arms, and Face stepped into them and hesitantly returned his embrace.
"You feel better now, Rich?" Murdock asked.
"Yeah," Face answered.
Murdock held him a few moments longer, struggling with what he was feeling. He had to give Richie some affection, gain his trust so he'd stay. He knew it was too much to ask that the whore personality would be gone for good at this point, but if he could keep it at bay awhile, maybe he could get some information from Richie about Face. But having his arms around Face again, feeling the head resting on his chest, he was having to use every ounce of his willpower not to succumb to the temptation to play Paul Huntington to Face's Richie, to buy into the fantasy that had brought them together in the first place.
He glanced over at Hannibal's bed to find him awake and watching. Hannibal said nothing and did not move, but his expression made it clear he knew what Murdock was thinking. Murdock sighed and pulled back a little.
"Richie, I need to replace those bandages now. Can you make it back to the bed?"
Face nodded and leaned against Murdock as they returned to Face's bed. Face took off the robe, sat on the edge of the bed, and looked over at Hannibal, who had his eyes closed again, feigning sleep.
"Why is your father here?" he asked as Murdock moved about gathering bandages.
"We're all...going away for awhile," Murdock said.
"Well, Mr.Wright had a lot of friends. We just want to be sure you're safe, so we're going somewhere that we know will be safe for you."
Murdock returned to the bed with gauze pads, surgical tape, and scissors. He pulled on a pair of surgical gloves Benteen had left. Face had noticed him wearing them when he pulled off the bandages before Face's shower.
"Why are you wearing those?" he asked.
Murdock busied himself with the gauze pads for a minute. "Just to keep things sterile," he finally answered. He mentally kicked himself for lying to his friend, especially about something so important, but he couldn't take a chance on driving Rich away with too much bad news right now. There was time to tell him later. "These are healing well," he said as he began to bandage Face's shoulder.
"It sure hurts, though," Face said, flinching a bit when Murdock pressed the gauze against his wound. "I couldn't even get a shirt on."
"Well, I'll help you with that a little later," Murdock said.
"Those clothes in the bathroom...are they mine?" Face asked. "I don't remember them."
Murdock didn't look up from his bandaging. "Yeah, Richie, they're yours."
"Why don't I remember them?"
"Well, you've had a pretty rough time of it the last six months. Sometimes when a person is dealing with something like that, it's easy to forget other stuff." Murdock was disappointed. He'd put Face's overnight bag there on purpose, hoping the familiar objects would trigger a memory, bring Face out. It hadn't worked.
Rich decided not to bring up the condoms that he did remember. Paul might think Rich was making a move on him, trying to play on his sympathy. He didn't want that.
Hannibal made a show of waking up when Murdock had finished the bandaging, helped Face settle back against some pillows, and crossed the room to fix him something to drink. "Hi, Rich. How are you feeling?" he asked.
Face pulled a sheet up to cover his torso but smiled at Hannibal. Paul was lucky. Wallace had been so much more accepting of Paul's relationship with Richie than Richie's father had been. He'd always made Rich feel at home. That he was still willing to treat Rich kindly even when his son had fallen out of love was just another sign of the generosity of his spirit. "Better," he said. "Just really tired and sore."
"You've been pretty sick," Hannibal said. "You need to get all the rest you can now. It's going to be a little harder to rest when we have to head out."
"Paul said we're going away...somewhere safe. Where are we going?"
"To a friend's cabin in Oregon."
"I'm sorry for causing you all this trouble."
Hannibal shook his head. "It's no trouble. We're just so glad we got you back."
"But your business..."
"Don't worry about it. It'll take care of itself. I don't have to be in California anymore, anyway. My employees can handle it now."
"He's back in L.A. making the last-minute arrangements. He should be back sometime tomorrow."
Murdock came back to the bed with a cup of fruit juice. "Try to drink all of this if you can," he instructed as he sat on the bed beside Face and handed him the cup. Face relaxed against the pillows and finished the drink. "You want some more?"
Face shook his head and sank down onto the mattress. "I'm tired. Can I sleep some more?"
"Sure you can." Murdock took away the extra pillows as Face curled on his uninjured side and groped for the blankets. "It's warm tonight, do you need those?" he asked.
"I'm cold," Face murmured. "I want to be covered up."
Murdock complied, pulling the blankets up and tucking them around his friend. "Better?" he asked, patting Face's leg.
Face nodded slightly and closed his eyes, burrowed further under the blankets, and fell asleep.
In the pre-dawn darkness, B.A. loaded the last of their things into the van and backed out of the garage. All traces of their residence in this Bel-Air house had been carefully obliterated, and when the owners returned, they'd only have to wonder at the stupidity of the real estate company in renting their home out while they were gone. He drove to the apartment building where Face and Murdock had lived and headed up the stairs to their former home. Hannibal had continued to keep up the rent payments, and either he or B.A. had been over occasionally to clean, but most of Face's and Murdock's things had been left as they were in case Face somehow escaped and needed a place to go.
He flipped on the light switch and saw a couple of roaches dart away under the sink. As the noise of the city began to increase with the approach of dawn, he packed the few belongings Face and Murdock had brought with them and the couple of things that had been gifts from their friends Dan and Keith, who'd been murdered by Wright just a couple of weeks before Murdock's shooting. He had to shake his head in wonder as he looked around the tiny studio apartment. Small touches had made it homey: checkered curtains at the kitchen window that looked out on an alley, a braided rug over the worn and stained carpet, and on the nightstand next to the bed, a framed snapshot of Face and Murdock with their arms around each other . It was a far cry from the opulent surroundings Face usually scammed for himself and much less modern or convenient even than Murdock's room at the V.A., but B.A. suspected the two of them had spent some of the happiest moments of their lives in this dingy apartment. And he suspected that either of them would give up in a moment anything else they had to come back here and be together again, going to work every day, coming home, being a working-class couple. But it wasn't destined to be. As always where the team was concerned, circumstances had a way of bringing happy endings to everyone but them. He sighed, hefted a box in one arm and a suitcase in the other, flipped off the lights, and locked the door. He stopped only long enough to drop the keys through the manager's mail slot before he trudged to the van and headed for Nevada. As he drove by Wright's office building, he noted that it was closed and dark except for the offices where police detectives were already on the job sifting evidence to corroborate what Face had supplied for them. Too bad they were wasting their time; if there were anything to find there, Face would have found it. But they'd never know about what he'd gone through in the attempt; it was one more instance of a team member suffering terribly for the good of society, and society would never know about it. As he headed onto the highway and out of town, he didn't notice the two vehicles that took turns tailing him; the highway didn't have that many cutoffs, and it wouldn't be suspicious at all for the same cars to share the road with him off and on all the way to Nevada.
Face thrashed about wildly, tangled in the covers and making distressed, guttural sounds like a wounded animal. Murdock got out of his chair, turned on a light by the bed, and shook Face awake. Face woke abruptly and sat up gasping, clutching at his side.
"It's just a nightmare. You're alright." Murdock said quietly. "You're safe." Unsure who he was talking to, he didn't touch Face, just sat on the edge of the bed.
Face looked around the room suspiciously as his breathing slowed. Murdock stood up and stepped away. "I'm going to get you something to drink and some more pain pills," he said. "You were asleep and missed the last dose."
Face accepted the pills and water with shaking hands then sat up against the headboard. He was still desperately sleepy but afraid to fall asleep again and kept jerking awake as he began to nod off. Murdock sat in his chair and watched but didn't say anything. This was definitely not Richie; Richie would have turned to him immediately for comfort. Finally unable to stay awake any longer, Face slid down into the bed and fell asleep again. When he could see Face was truly asleep, Murdock pulled the blankets up around him and returned to his chair.
He'd had Hannibal buy him a notebook, and in it he was keeping track not only of the times Face ate and took medicine, but also of the circumstances under which each of his personas emerged. He hoped he could find some pattern that would help him anticipate their emergence. What he'd do with that information when he had it, he didn't know, but he thought he should have it anyway. As he recorded this latest incident, he reflected on how long it had been since his friend had had nightmares like this. They'd been bad during and after their time in the POW camp, gradually tapering off until the team was arrested and sent to prison in '72. Murdock himself hadn't been in very good shape at that time, but Face had told him later that he hadn't slept well for almost a year after that and had often awakened in the morning to find himself curled up in a corner rather than in his bed. His nightmares had resumed again after the night Wright drugged them both in his home and molested Face, though his reaction to them had not been as dramatic as in earlier years. Murdock shook his head as he reflected on his friend's predicament. What Face needed now and had probably needed for years was a good psychiatrist. Nothing about his life had ever been normal or predictable; it never matched the picture in his head of what and who he should be. Except for the relatively stable years he'd spent at the orphanage, his life had been one disaster after another, and he'd had virtually nothing to fall back on when that happened. No family, no lover, nobody at all except the team, and even they couldn't give him everything he needed.
He remembered a case when they'd found themselves working for a small orphanage in a one-horse town in the Midwest. The last day they were there, one of the children had been collected by the family that was going to adopt him. The youngster had been ecstatic, and so had the family. The child had run around saying goodbye to his friends, promising to visit, and had continued to return to the side of his new family, clinging to his new father's hand. His joy had been infectious, and they were all grinning like fools. All except Face. He was gazing across the room where the oldest boy in the orphanage sat watching the proceedings. Miguel was probably fifteen years old, and he'd been at the orphanage since he was three. He'd turned out to be a big help to the team, assisting Face in finding the materials they needed for the mission. Though he tried to hide it with forced laughter and jokes, the grief and pain on the boy's face were heartbreaking. Murdock had been shocked to find the same expression on his friend's face as he turned away and went into another room to gaze out the window at the lawn.
Murdock had followed him and stood beside him at the window.
"Miguel doesn't seem very happy today," Murdock had observed casually.
"He probably isn't," Face had answered simply, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"I wonder why."
Face had sighed and continued without meeting his friend's eyes. "How many times do you think he's watched this happen in the twelve years he's been here? How many times has he been passed over and left here while the only brothers and sisters he's ever known have been adopted? Do you know what it's like to be unwanted like that, to never be good enough?" He glanced back into the other room where Michael was hugging the other boy goodbye and making a joke about there being more cookies for him now. "It's never going to happen for him. He'll be here until he's eighteen, and he'll do his best to be helpful, and the adults around here will rely on him because he's bright and resourceful and can keep the younger kids in line. But he's never going to belong anywhere or to anybody. And he knows it."
Murdock had found tears in his own eyes. "That's really sad, Faceman," he'd said.
Face had shrugged. "I imagine he's used to it by now. It'll always hurt when the others get adopted and he doesn't, but he's almost old enough to understand now. He'll be alright."
Murdock had expected Face to take the boy out, buy him some ice cream, ply him with gifts to thank him for his help. But he hadn't. Murdock had been puzzled at first but understood later that Face knew the boy didn't want anyone getting behind his defenses. Not when it couldn't last. So Face had simply shaken the boy's hand, thanked him as he'd thank any other man who'd helped them, and left. But he'd been very quiet and very withdrawn for a long time after that. The others had wondered a bit at his depression, but he'd just laughed it off when they brought it up saying they should be grateful he'd shut up for awhile. Like Miguel, he wasn't letting anyone get behind his defenses.
Face had a bad night, waking from nightmares several times, forcing himself to stay awake longer each time. By morning Murdock and Hannibal had an exhausted and very cranky whore on their hands. He refused anymore pain medication because he knew it would make him sleep. The pain would at least keep him awake. He angrily refused food as well, fearing the others would slip him something. Instead he climbed out of bed, pulling a blanket with him. He wrapped the blanket around himself, retreated to a chair in a corner, and sat scowling at the others, his three fifty-dollar bills secured in the pocket of his shorts. Murdock shook his head in frustration, made some notes in his notebook, and busied himself stripping the sheets from the beds while Hannibal settled up with the motel. They were leaving as soon as B.A. returned. After his initial rebuffed attempt to get the whore to eat, Murdock had left the other man alone. Even the Face he knew was relatively unapproachable when he was in a bad mood, retreating into hostile silence. This persona embodied and magnified all of Face's worst traits...a deep-rooted bitterness and distrust, greed, and an almost conscienceless ability to use other people's weaknesses against them. He was not fun to be around.
B.A. made good time, stopping only once to get some food. It was early evening when he pulled into the driveway of the motel and stopped in front of Murdock's room. He almost hated to go in the room, fearing what he'd find, but he got out of the van anyway, stretched, and headed for the door. He grimaced when he spied one of Hannibal's disgusting cigar butts on the ground in front of the door and squatted to pick it up and put it where it belonged. A hail of bullets sprayed the space where his head had just been, shattering the windows and thumping into the door. He lay flat as the car sped away then ran for the van to get weapons ready in case it made another pass. Hannibal flew out of his room across the driveway as other guests emerged from their rooms to find out what was going on. The manager joined them.
"You okay, B.A.?" Hannibal asked as he reached the van.
"Murdock?" Hannibal called.
"We're alright," Murdock called, though he sounded shaky.
Hannibal turned to the other guests who were pointing in the direction of Murdock's room.
"Crap!" the manager exclaimed. "That's the second time that's happened this year!
Bunch of joy riders. You folks alright?"
The stunned guests nodded. "Well, if I were you, I'd get back in my rooms and lie low for awhile in case they come back," Hannibal told them. He turned to the manager. "I saw the whole thing. I'll call the police and get out a description of the car. You'll probably want to get in touch with your insurance company."
"Damn kids," one of the men muttered as he ushered his family back into their room. "Don't know what's the matter with 'em these days. Got no respect for the law or anybody else."
"I told you we should have just driven another hour and stayed with my mother!" his wife said sourly.
The man rolled his eyes and looked at Hannibal. "I'd rather take my chances with the bullets," he muttered as he turned to follow his wife back into their room.
"We're leaving," Hannibal said to B.A. "Stay here and keep watch in case they come back."
B.A. shook his head, angry with himself. "Didn't see nobody followin' me," he said. "Just didn't see 'em."
"It's water under the bridge, B.A.," Hannibal said. "Let's just get out of here before they decide to come back."
Hannibal entered Murdock's room to find him crouched protectively over Face behind the bed. Face's complexion was ashen, and he trembled violently. Seeing Hannibal's concerned look, Murdock shook his head. "He's not hurt," he said. "Just scared."
That both of them were alright was a miracle. Bullet holes marred the wall just inches from where Face had been sitting. Shards of glass littered the floor along with the remnants of the lamp that had been on the bedside table
"Get him dressed and let's get out of here," Hannibal ordered, grabbing the suitcases and striding out with them.
Murdock looked down at Face, who still lay beneath him. Just happening to be near, Murdock had snatched Face off the chair and fallen on top of him as the first bullets came through the window. He studied Face's expression, trying to decide if this was still the whore persona. "Richie?" he asked.
Face clutched at his shirt and buried his face in Murdock's chest. "Paul," he whispered, "God, Paul, what's happening?"
Murdock put his arms around him and drew him up to a sitting position. "It's alright, Richie. We're all fine. Now c'mon, we need to get your shoes on and get you out of here."
Hannibal reappeared in the doorway. "Hurry it up, Captain," he said.
Face looked up at Murdock strangely at the form of address, but he said nothing as Murdock hurriedly helped him get his feet into a pair of shoes. There was no time for a shirt; Murdock hustled him out through the broken glass and into the van as quickly as he could, and B.A. pulled out almost before they'd gotten the door closed. Gently Murdock settled Face on the floor in the back where he curled up and crossed his arms over his chest. Murdock laid his leather jacket over Face, saying, "I want you to stay down until I tell you it's safe, Richie. Okay?"
Face clutched at him. "Paul, don't go, please."
"I have to, baby," Murdock said, gently disengaging himself.
Face grabbed at him again. "No, Paul, you'll get hurt again. Please!"
Murdock disengaged himself again and pressed Face back down. "No, I'll be fine. Everything's gonna be alright. Lie still."
Still shaking, Face allowed Murdock to cover him again and head toward the front of the van where he accepted a weapon from Hannibal.
"Did you see the car?" Hannibal was asking B.A.
"Brown pickup," B.A. answered. "California plates, but I didn't get the license number. There was one like it on the highway with me most of the way here."
The pickup in question appeared less than half a block behind them. "There they are," B.A. said, glancing in his mirror. He stepped on the gas and slid around a corner. As they sped toward the highway, another car slipped in behind them. "There's another one," he said. "Blue Ford. I saw it on the highway, too."
"Alright, Murdock," said Hannibal. "Let's show 'em what we've got." Hannibal leaned out of the passenger window and began firing at the car behind them while Murdock headed toward the back.
"Keep your head down, Richie," Murdock instructed tersely. "Don't move, but brace yourself. The ride's about to get real bumpy." He threw open a back door and began firing at the cars behind them as B.A. weaved back and forth to avoid return fire. Murdock shouted in triumph as the blue car left the road and went down an embankment, its grill shredded, tires flat, and engine billowing smoke.
Unable to brace himself adequately with only one arm and too terrified to even open his eyes, Face was tossed around in the back. When B.A. made a sharp turn to ram the van into the pickup that was coming up on their side, Face's injured back was slammed into the side of the van, and he cried out and fainted.
Hanging onto the back door and trying not to fall out himself, Murdock saw Face rolling helplessly back and forth but could do nothing to help him. B.A. and the pickup driver bashed into each other several times before the heavy van finally outmaneuvered the pickup and sent it cartwheeling off the road to land upside down.
When B.A. finally got the van straightened out, Murdock pulled the back door shut and crawled to Face just as Hannibal made his way to the back to check on them.
"How is he?" Hannibal asked.
Murdock checked Face over quickly. "Looks like some more bruises but nothing broken," he reported. "But I think we practically scared him to death. How the hell did somebody find us way out here? Did Benteen rat us out?"
Hannibal shook his head. "They followed B.A. from Los Angeles," Hannibal said.
Murdock was shaken by the incident not because of the exchange of gunfire itself but because of what its effect might be on Face. How much deeper might it have driven him? "Who the hell were they?" he asked as he folded his jacket to put under Face's head.
Hannibal rummaged in a storage compartment for a blanket which he laid over Face. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe some of Wright's people, maybe some of his contacts."
"And whoever it is knows Face had something to do with Wright's death," Murdock said.
"Probably. They may think he's got more evidence squirreled away somewhere that he can use against them. That's what Wright was doing. How are they to know he won't do the same?"
"Hannibal, I don't know how much more stress and strain he can handle," Murdock said.
"I know, Murdock, but there's nothing I can do about it except get him to Oregon," Hannibal said.
"Well, let's make it quick, then," Murdock said. He combed gentle fingers through Face's hair, feeling for any sign of a head injury.
"We'll take turns driving and go straight through," Hannibal said.
Face came around shortly thereafter with a soft moan and jerked away when Murdock tried to touch him.
"Are you hurt anywhere?" Murdock asked.
Face refused to answer as he slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position, leaned against the side of the van, and pulled his blanket up around himself. He grimaced in pain at every movement and leaned to the right, favoring his injured side.
"You got thrown around some while we were trying to get away," Murdock told him. "You got kind of banged up, but I don't think it's anything serious. Why don't you take a couple of your pain pills now."
Face refused with a short shake of his head, looking away. He was not going to sleep. The pain was bad, but it wasn't as bad as he was used to feeling sometimes. Pain had a way of clearing his head, helping him think. He didn't mind hurting.
Murdock moved away from him, scribbled in his notebook some more, and sat in his customary seat behind B.A. He was close enough to hear Face and to see him if he looked just over his shoulder but far enough away to at least create the illusion of privacy for Face. He hoped that if he left him alone, Face would fall asleep on his own.
Face was afraid. He'd had a terrible nightmare with loud, frightening noises and a terrible roller coaster ride that threw him around and made him hurt. He cried, and his mother came into the room and pulled him into her arms. "There, there, baby," she crooned. "It's alright. Mommy's here. It's alright. Shush now."
She carried him to the rocking chair and sat with him. "That's my boy," she said as he calmed. "It's your turn to be in Mommy's lap now."
Face clutched his bear to his chest and settled against his mother as she rocked him. He inhaled deeply and smelled her rose-water perfume, the smell he always associated with her. She sang him a lullaby, her sweet voice blocking out all other sound. The rocking motion and familiar tune soothed him. He loved the hours he spent rocking in her lap. She was never too busy or too tired to sit with him. He sighed softly and drifted into sleep.
Murdock looked over his shoulder and saw Face's eyes were closed. He clutched Murdock's jacket to his chest and rocked slightly, though Murdock couldn't tell if it was on purpose or if he was just swaying with the rocking motion of the van. Either way, he was falling asleep, too exhausted to be kept awake even by pain. Even when he woke later from another nightmare, he couldn't manage to do more than just open his eyes and look around before he fell asleep again. He passed another uncomfortable, dream-plagued night in the van and woke the next day even more hostile and uncooperative than the day before.
The three other men shared the driving, stopping only long enough to use the bathroom or grab some fast food before they got on the road again. Occasionally they managed to coax Face out the van long enough to stretch his legs and use the bathroom, but for the most part he remained silent and wary, his attention often seeming to be turned inward. When late the next day they finally reached their destination on the western slopes of Oregon's Blue Mountains, they were all more than ready to put some space between themselves and the van.
As promised, the cabin was on a mile-long dirt road that wound through dense forest. There were no neighbors, and the only town was back down the dirt road and several miles down the highway. Wary of traps, they looked around the property carefully as they drove. Murdock, B.A., and Hannibal searched the perimeter of the cabin carefully for signs of recent disturbance just in case Benteen had given their identities away. Seeing nothing, they cautiously entered the cabin. It was empty and gave every appearance of having been unoccupied for some time.
Murdock looked at the spacious great room of the cabin and whistled in appreciation. This must be one of the perks of a six-figure salary, he thought. A large sandstone fireplace traveled up the far wall. A balcony extended slightly out over the main room on either side of the chimney. Murdock assumed the two doors he could see a few feet behind the railing opened into bedrooms. To the left of the entrance was a kitchen, separated from the great room only by a counter, allowing the cook to work and visit with guests at the same time.
Weapons drawn, B.A. and Hannibal made their way down a dim hallway to the right of the fireplace and up a flight of stairs that opened on the right. The stairs led to the balcony and the bedrooms. The hallway itself led to a tidy bathroom and a mudroom with a small but serviceable washer and dryer and the hot water heater. Another corridor to the left of the fireplace led to the spacious master bedroom. Large windows and skylights in the ceiling let in light and probably afforded a spectacular view of the night sky. A big, comfortable bed was situated in the center of the room. The near wall which housed the main fireplace had another firebox to allow a fire to burn in the bedroom. The master bedroom had its own generous bath with an antique clawfoot tub. The bedrooms upstairs shared a smaller but graciously appointed bath. The floors were hardwood throughout the cabin, with braided rugs helping to protect occupants from the winter chill this house would undoubtedly have.
Water was provided by a well on the property. A propane tank outside provided fuel for cooking and heating. Lights of various kinds, some battery-operated, but most good old-fashioned oil lamps, would need some maintenance but would suffice. When their search of the house yielded nothing untoward, Murdock returned to the van where Face sat in his usual seat staring stonily ahead through the windshield. When Murdock slid open the side door, he started violently and glared out at him.
"Sorry," Murdock apologized. "I didn't mean to startle you. Hey, the cabin's beautiful. You're gonna love it. It'll be a great place for you to rest. C'mon."
Reluctantly Face gathered the blanket more closely about him and made his way out of the van. Ignoring Murdock's offered assistance, he climbed the wooden stairs to the front door and allowed himself to be led inside. This far north and this high in the mountains, it was already chilly in the afternoons, and Hannibal was busy building a fire while B.A. went to unload the van. Murdock took a sheet off a large recliner and pulled the recliner up to the fireplace.
"Come on over here and sit in front of the fire," he said when Face remained standing by the front door. "You can rest while we get things taken care of around here."
Face hesitantly crossed the room and sat in the chair, pulling the blanket securely around him. B.A. walked in behind them with an armload of suitcases and supplies. "Where do you want this stuff?" he asked.
Hannibal gestured toward the balcony. "You and I will take the rooms upstairs," Hannibal said.
Murdock stripped another sheet off the sofa and discovered that it folded out into a bed. "Face can have the master bedroom," Murdock said. "I'll sleep out here on the couch."
Face ignored them all, staring into the flames. The others finished unloading the van, putting things away in the kitchen and bedrooms, checking on fuel supplies, and readying the house for occupation.
"Murdock, why don't you get some dinner going," Hannibal said. "B.A. and I will go into town and stock up on supplies." He glanced over at Face. "I've got a feeling we're going to be here awhile."
Murdock, already busy in the kitchen, acknowledged Hannibal's words with a wave. His first priority was to find a coffeepot, which he discovered in a cupboard next to the sink. He found some coffee in a cupboard and got a pot started. He kept an eye on Face, who did not seem inclined to move or to explore the house or grounds any further. "It's been a long time since I had to perk coffee," he said aloud to Face as he worked. "I hope I remember how long to let it perk."
Face ignored him. Murdock hadn't really expected an answer, anyway. Face's coffee was the worst of anyone's on the team; he wouldn't have any idea how long to let a coffeepot perk even if he were himself. When the coffee was done, he took a cup into the great room, sat on the hearth near Face, and offered him the cup. "There's no cream or sugar," he said, "but if you can drink it black, you should have something. You haven't eaten for a couple of days, now."
Face stared blankly at him for a moment before he reached out with his good hand for the cup. He wrapped his hands around the mug and just held it awhile, letting its warmth seep into his palms. Finally he took a small sip and then another.
Murdock stood. " This place seems very safe," he said. "I think you can relax now. We'll post a twenty-four hour watch, at least for awhile, just in case, but I don't think they're likely to find us here. " Again, Face didn't answer. "I'm going to go fix some dinner," Murdock announced.
He opened cans and rattled pots and pans in the kitchen while Face slowly finished his coffee. By the time Murdock returned to the other room, Face had almost fallen asleep. Murdock carefully removed the cup from Face's loose grip, put another log on the fire, and went back to the kitchen to track down some dishes to eat on. As he worked, he wondered how long this place was going to remain safe. Benteen was their weak link at the moment. If pressed, would he be able to keep their location a secret? Murdock suspected that by the time he had left them, Benteen had figured out who they were. He seemed like a genuine enough person, but he wasn't particularly brave, and that could be their downfall. If somehow someone found out he'd helped them, if someone threatened him, would he be able to resist? Probably not. But then again, Hannibal wouldn't want any civilian, even Benteen, to be injured or killed trying to protect the team. They took care of their own. Hannibal would have a contingency plan in place before tomorrow morning, and then Murdock could turn his entire attention to trying to draw Face out.
It was completely dark by the time Hannibal and B.A. returned with enough supplies to keep them for several weeks. By that time the house had warmed up some and a hot dinner was waiting for them. As they sat at the round pine table in the kitchen, B.A. glanced over the counter at Face, who was finally nodding off. "Should we wake him up and try to get him to eat?" he asked.
Murdock shook his head. "No, I think he needs the sleep worse than he needs the food right now. He's exhausted."
"You're exhausted, too, Captain," Hannibal said. "I want you to sleep the night through. B.A. and I will split the watch."
"Aw, Colonel, that's not fair," Murdock protested. "You guys are tired, too."
Hannibal shrugged. "Yeah, we're tired, but I want you to be able to give Face your complete attention. That's what we're here for, and I want you in top shape for it."
Murdock nodded, accepted Hannibal's logic. He'd never appreciated before the actual attention his psychiatrist had given him during their sessions. Richter had focused on him, had listened, had ignored any other distractions. Especially in the early days when he'd been truly and seriously ill, that attention had been precious. He'd never stopped to wonder how much energy it took to focus that long and that intently on someone. He gazed across the room where he could just see the back of Face's bowed head over the top of the chair. Face was going to need all Murdock's energy and then some.
After dinner Murdock built another fire in the still-chilly master bedroom. When he judged the room was warm enough for human occupation, he scooped some coals from the great-room fireplace into a pan, put a lid on it, and carried it toward the bedroom.
"What you doing, fool?" B.A. asked as he watched.
"It's a warming pan, B.A.," Murdock answered. "You rub it around on the sheets and get them warm before you get in bed. It's what the pioneers used to do."
"Good idea, Murdock," Hannibal said.
"Face hates a cold bed," Murdock said. When he'd managed to warm the sheets and blankets sufficiently, he emptied the coals into the bedroom fireplace and went back to the other room where he gently shook Face awake.
Face woke with a start and blinked up at Murdock before he gazed around, looking confused. He'd forgotten where he was or why he was there. "We're at the cabin in Oregon, remember?" Murdock said. "It's safe, everything's fine.
Face nodded then tried to curl back up in the chair, trying to go back to sleep. Having fought it for two days, he could resist no longer.
"No, you can't sleep here," Murdock said. He pulled the lever to release the footrest but didn't touch the other man. "You've got your own room here. It's got a fireplace and everything, and it's all ready for you. Come on. I'll show you."
Face rose slowly, sore muscles protesting. He looked around the great room almost as if seeing it for the first time. His gaze flickered over B.A. and Hannibal before returning to Murdock.
"Come on," Murdock said again. "Do you need some help?"
Face refused the offered hand, leaning on the wall for support instead as he followed Murdock to the back. Once to the bedroom door, he leaned against the doorjamb and looked around. He shook his head, refusing to go in. It was too big. The room was too big, the bed was too big. Too much like Wright's bedroom.
"What's wrong?" Murdock asked.
Face just shook his head.
Murdock slipped past him and went into the room. He thought he knew what the problem was. "This whole room is yours," he said. "Even the bathroom. Nobody's going to bother you in here. We won't even come in here without your permission."
"Then what're you doing in here now?" Face snapped.
Murdock sighed and raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'm on my way out. But, please, go to bed." Face edged further into the room as Murdock stepped out. "I'll come back in a little while and put some more wood on the fire," Murdock said. "I'll knock before I come in, but if you're already asleep and don't answer, I'll just let myself in and stoke the fire. Otherwise it's gonna get too cold in here. Is that okay?"
"I guess," Face said reluctantly.
Murdock nodded and closed the door behind him before he went back into the other room. Hannibal stood at the end of the hallway smoking a cigar. "You sure that's a good idea?" he asked, nodding toward the closed door.
"I don't know," Murdock said. "Like I told you, I'm just playing it by ear. But I think maybe if he feels a little more in control he'll be easier to live with."
"It's been a rough couple of days," Hannibal acknowledged.
"Yeah, he can be a real bastard, sometimes," Murdock said. "But it's hard to blame him under the circumstances."
Face stood leaning against the door for a long time before he could make himself move further into the room. Finally he lowered himself to the floor near the fireplace and considered his options. There weren't many. He was stuck here, at least until he was well enough to get away. He'd just have to do what he had to do, like he'd always done. One of them would be back pretty soon, maybe all of them. Nobody put a big bed like that in a room like this for a whore to sleep alone in. It was all talk. He shifted closer to the fire, getting as close as he could without getting burned. Wrapping himself more closely in his blanket, he lay on his side and stared into the flames. The heat radiating from it felt good soaking into his chilled skin. He'd stay here by the fire. It wouldn't last; pretty soon the other man would be back and would make him get in the bed. But for now, for the moment, he'd stay here. He lay quiet and tense, waiting for the other man to return, summoning up the mental discipline that prevented him from pulling away from the person who was hurting him. Remembering how to laugh aloud and beg for more. Long minutes passed, and the only sound he heard was the crackling of the fire. Staring into the flames, he shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor, still aware of the pain in his side and shoulder. Finally, though, his two days of sleeplessness caught up with him, and by the time Murdock knocked softly and then entered the room, Face was too deeply asleep even to dream.
Murdock shook his head sadly and stood for a long time just watching Face sleep. Poor Face, always suspicious, always on guard. How was he going to crack that shell? It had taken him fifteen years to get around Face's defenses the first time. And unfortunately, just loving him wasn't going to be enough. He remembered Face's words the last night they were together, when Face had known his plan was falling apart. "It's like a dark passage," he'd said, "and I'm just stumbling through trying to find the end."
Murdock had glibly assured him he'd find the end. "I'm gonna be there," he'd said. "No matter what." He sighed. "I'm here, Face," he whispered. "Where are you? How do I find you?" Walking to the bed, he stripped off the covers and carefully laid them over Face. He brought a pillow as well and, taking a chance, carefully lifted Face's head and slipped the pillow under it. As he'd hoped, Face was too far gone to wake at the movement. Maybe if he woke and realized nobody had forced him to move, he'd get into the bed on his own. Either that, or he'd throw the pillow and blankets into the fire and move to the corner. For all his endearing qualities, Face was still the most damnably stubborn person Murdock had ever met. He'd have to tell Hannibal to be alert for the smell of burning feathers.
That night it was Murdock's turn to toss restlessly in the grip of nightmares, horrible images that woke him up several times. Images of Face walking away from him hand in hand with Ted Wright, his clothing soaked with blood. Of himself running after them, calling for Face, screaming for him to come back as they disappeared into a tunnel and darkness swallowed them both. Images of blood dripping out from under the door of a locker, of himself opening the locker to find it stuffed with plastic bags full of body parts. Face's body parts. Images of a naked Face lying on a bed littered with fifty dollar bills, a knife embedded in his chest. Each time he woke, he felt compelled to get up and check on Face, to assure himself his friend was still there, still safe.
Waking from another dream toward dawn, he crept again to Face's room and stepped carefully over his friend to build up the fire a bit. He sensed rather than heard a movement behind him and looked over his shoulder to find Face awake and watching him.
"I'm just building up the fire," he said. "I'll be out of here in a sec."
"You don't have to go," Face whispered softly. "Can't you stay with me?"
With a sigh of relief, Murdock turned around. "Yeah, I can stay, but you need to go back to sleep." He reached out and touched Face's shoulder, squeezing it when Face didn't pull away. "I can't believe you fell asleep on the floor last night," he said. "If I put some more blankets on the bed, will you move over there and sleep?"
Face hesitated, glancing uneasily at the bed.
"I'll leave some blankets over here, and you can move back over here anytime you want. But I think you'd rest better in the bed. Can you do that for me?"
Murdock found more bedding in the closet and quickly made up the bed again, warming it as he had done before. When that was done, Face sat up stiffly and allowed Murdock to help him stand and move to the bed. He settled into the middle of the bed and pulled on Murdock's arm to make him sit as well. As Murdock sat on the bed and leaned against the headboard, Face leaned back against him, relaxing into his embrace. Murdock wrapped his arms around Face. After his vivid nightmares, it was immensely comforting to him to be able to put his arms around his friend's body, still warm, still alive.
"I think I like it here, Paul," Face said quietly.
Murdock was a little surprised Richie was even aware of the surroundings. "You know where we are?"
"Of course I know. You said last night."
"I wasn't sure you were aware of anything," Murdock said.
"I can see what's going on when I want to," Face said.
"That's great," Murdock said. "I'm glad to know that." He hesitated a moment. "Can Face see what's going on?"
Face's whole body tensed. Murdock could almost sense the internal struggle for control. He loosened his grip in case he needed to get off the bed quickly when the whore persona returned. Finally, though, Face relaxed again. "I...can't talk about him," Face said.
Murdock wanted to cry. Somewhere in there, the kernel of his friend still existed. "Richie," Murdock said quietly, "can you talk to him?"
There was another long silence before Face spoke again. "Yes," he said. Then he closed his eyes, turned to rest his head on Murdock's shoulder, and went back to sleep. Murdock snagged another pillow off the bed, jammed it behind his own head, and fell asleep also.
It was nearly noon when Face woke to the sound of rain on the skylights. He opened his eyes and looked up, watching the raindrops strike the glass panels above the bed. His movement woke Murdock, who had more trouble looking up at the panels due to the crick in his neck. Murdock eased Face back down to lie on the bed and then rubbed the cramp out of his own neck and shoulder. Face watched him, and Murdock grinned ruefully. "I'm getting too old to sleep sitting up," he said. "Too hard on my aging joints."
Face moved his own shoulder experimentally. "I don't think I hurt as much today," he said.
"That's good," Murdock said. "But don't rush it. Let it heal before you start moving it too much. Keep the sling on when you're out of bed."
With Murdock's assistance, Face got out of bed and used the bathroom, but he was content to return to his bed immediately. "I'm cold," he said as he scooted back under the covers.
"I'll build up the fire." It had burned down to embers while they slept, and the room was distinctly chilly. Murdock turned his attention to the fireplace, and by the time he got the fire going again, Face was asleep. When Face woke again a couple of hours later, he was alone, but the fire still burned cheerily in the grate and a sandwich and drink were waiting for him on the bedside table. Not interested in eating, he simply lay still and watched the fire.
Guarding Face, the whore scanned the scene. Nothing particularly threatening, at least not yet. Nobody had bothered him during the night. It couldn't last, of course, but it would give him a chance to make a plan.
Face was feeling much better now, his nightmares gone, the aches and pains of his illness nearly gone as well. He sat near the hearth and listened to his father read to him from the big book of children's poetry that Face always kept beside his bed. He couldn't read all the words yet, but he knew the poems by heart anyway and could recite them with his father. His favorite was called "The Owl and the Pussycat." They went away together and got married. He thought that was funny because everyone knew cats ate birds, and even though the owl was a wise bird, Face knew that someday that cat was going to try to eat him. Someday when he was old enough, Face was going to write another poem about the owl trying to stay one step ahead of the cat. Maybe the owl would wear funny disguises to fool the cat into thinking he was a cat too. Or maybe the owl would make up stories for the cat like in "Sheherazade," never telling him the end so that the cat wouldn't be able to eat him. The story would have a happy ending, he decided. The owl would be so clever that the cat wouldn't be able to get along without him. That would be cool.
Richie exchanged a glance with the whore as he passed him and continued on to where Face lay in the corner. He sat down next to Face and put a hand on his shoulder. Face sighed contentedly. 'What are you doing?' Richie asked.
'Ssh,' Face whispered. 'Daddy's reading. Leave me alone.' He shrugged off Richie's hand and concentrated instead on the sound of his father's voice.
The whore glanced over at Richie warningly. The door to the bedroom opened, and together they watched Paul approach the bed and sit on the side of it. He looked better than Richie had seen him for a couple of days. He was shaved and showered, dressed in a warm sweater and the khakis he customarily wore. He smelled good, too.
"How are you feeling, Richie?"
Murdock gestured at the untouched plate. "You haven't eaten."
"I'm not hungry."
"You're probably not," Murdock agreed. "But you really need to eat anyway. You're pretty run down, and you need to keep up your strength."
Face sighed and sat up. He allowed Murdock to hand him the plate and managed to eat most of the food, though he was obviously having to force himself to do so. He finally handed the plate back to Murdock and leaned back against the headboard. "This is a comfortable bed," he commented.
"It looks like it," Murdock said. "How come you wouldn't sleep in it last night?"
"He didn't want to."
"You know. The whore."
"Oh, him." Murdock nodded his understanding. "This must bring back some painful memories for him. I'm really sorry all those terrible things happened to him in Mr. Wright's house."
Face picked at the coverlet. "He's strong. He doesn't let it get to him."
Murdock nodded again. "You're safe here, Rich, and so is he. We aren't going to hurt you. I promise that. And we won't let anyone else hurt you either."
"I know. And I believe you. But he doesn't ever believe anybody."
"Well, I can understand that," Murdock answered. "When you've been hurt as badly as he was, I suppose it's hard to trust anybody again."
"Did those things happen to you, too?" Murdock asked gently.
Face shook his head.
"Did you know about them?"
Face nodded again, not looking up.
"And Face? Did he know?"
There was a long pause before Face replied, "I don't know. He's gone."
Murdock was confused. "But, but you said earlier you could talk to him."
"He won't listen anymore. He won't talk to me."
"But he's there?"
"He's there, but he's dead."
'Don't tell him any more,' the whore whispered angrily. 'You shut up!'
"Do you suppose I could talk to him?" Murdock asked.
'No!' the whore exclaimed. 'Tell him no!'
Face shook his head. "No, not right now," he said.
The whore seethed. He was in charge here. Nobody was going to get by him. 'You're going to be sorry,' he whispered angrily. 'Stop telling him things. It's none of his fucking business!'
As Murdock watched, a strange change came over his friend. Face began to squint in the light of the bright room and squeezed his eyes shut. He covered his eyes with his hands and began to rub at his forehead, suddenly looking quite ill.
Concerned, Murdock laid a hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"My head aches," Face whispered. His whisper turned into a moan as he lay down and pressed his face into the pillow.
Murdock could see the muscles in Face's back and shoulders stiffening in reaction to the pain. Quickly he extinguished the lights and pulled the covers up over Face's shoulders. "I'm going to go get something for you to take," he murmured before he left the room.
Left alone, Face curled up into a ball.
'I told you you'd be sorry,' the whore whispered again to Richie. 'Don't ever talk to him about Face again.'
'I'm sorry,' Richie said. 'Please stop hurting me.'
'You need to learn,' the whore said. 'You can't tell him things.'
By the time Murdock returned, Face was in the throes of a full-blown migraine. He slid an arm under Face's shoulders and propped him up.
"Swallow this," he said, slipping a pill between Face's lips. He held a glass of water to Face's lips, and Face swallowed obediently. "Shall I rub your back?" Murdock asked as he lowered Face back to the bed and gently encouraged him to roll over.
"Yes," Face whispered.
Murdock used every pain-relieving technique he knew to ease Face's headache, but it was hours before the pain subsided. Murdock had seen Face get a lot of headaches before, but he'd never seen one come on so fast. He sincerely hoped it wasn't a sign of a serious ailment.
B.A. took off his jacket and shook the rainwater from it before he stepped into the cabin. Hannibal had just relieved him on watch, and B.A. was returning to the cabin for some much-needed rest. Murdock had slept so badly the night before that Hannibal and B.A. had decided just to split the day watch between them again, reckoning that Murdock's distraction and fatigue would only put him at risk if anyone else were out here looking for them. As he stepped into the cabin, the smell of hamburger frying made B.A. suddenly aware of how hungry he was, and he looked into the kitchen to find Murdock standing at the stove cooking.
Murdock looked up and greeted B.A. with a nod as he entered the kitchen. "How's Face?" B.A. asked, reaching for a piece of fruit in the bowl on the table.
"He's sleeping again. He had a real bad migraine that just hit him out of the blue," Murdock answered. "I've been trying to help him get rid of it all afternoon."
B.A. made a sympathetic noise as he bit into the apple. "You need some help with dinner?" he asked.
"Nah, I can handle it," Murdock said. "It's just a casserole and garlic bread."
B.A. perched on a kitchen stool and watched Murdock cook while he finished his fruit. "Faceman don't even remember who he is anymore," B.A. said. "I don't get what's wrong with him, though. It ain't just amnesia. He's like a different person."
Murdock nodded as he adjusted the flame on the stove and reached for a can of tomato sauce. "He's like a couple of different people," Murdock said. "At least."
"You mean he got a split personality?" B.A. asked.
Murdock nodded. "Yeah, it's sort of like that, only that's not really an accurate description. I'm no shrink, but if I'm right, what we're seeing are little parts of Face's personality that are identifying themselves as different people. But they're not really. They're all part of him. They're like...like imaginary friends he's created."
"But why? Because of what was happening to him?"
"I think so. And because of what's happened to him before. Remember the nightmares and hiding in the corners? And the way he didn't remember those episodes?"
"So you think he's had this awhile? How come we didn't notice?"
Murdock shrugged and poured the contents of the tomato sauce over the ground beef in the frying pan. "I don't know. Maybe it's possible for the symptoms to come and go. Maybe it's something he's had since he was a kid and has just learned to hide it. You know how he's always been about protecting his privacy, never letting anyone get too close."
"You see this sort of thing at the V.A.?"
Murdock nodded. "Yeah, I've seen people like this. They switch back and forth between different personalities, and the host personality isn't even always aware of the others. It's a survival strategy that helps someone deal with abuse by pretending it's happening to someone else."
"So our Face, he's the host, and the whore and Richie are other personalities?"
"They're not complete personalities. They don't have any past, any history. I mean, Richie has some history because Face made it up for him going all the way back to grade school. But if you were to question the whore, you'd find out he doesn't know his own history."
"Are there others?"
"Maybe. There might be others...lots of others. We just haven't met them yet."
"So you know about this stuff?"
Murdock sighed. "I know enough about it to know I'm not qualified to treat him and that if I try, and I do it wrong, I could make him even worse." He gave the pan another stir, added some salt, then moved the frying pan to a back burner before taking a pot of boiling macaroni off another burner and emptying the pot into a colander in the sink. "I don't know, B.A.," he continued. "I can't find any trace of our Face. He must be there."
"Didn't the whore tell you Face was dead?"
"But he can't be dead, B.A.," Murdock said. "Part of your personality can't just die like that. He's in there somewhere."
"What's your plan?" B.A. asked.
Murdock shook the colander fiercely, and B.A. feared they were going to end up with more of the macaroni in the sink than in the pan by the time Murdock finished. "I think maybe we should talk to Benteen about that clinic in the east."
B.A. tossed his apple core in the garbage and started setting the table for himself and Murdock. Hannibal would eat later after B.A. relieved him. "What do we do with him in the meantime?" he asked.
"I'm not altogether sure," Murdock said. "All I know is that we have to make him feel safe here. I've got a terrible feeling he'll bolt if we don't watch him."
"You think he'd try to go back to L.A. and finish off Benteen?"
Murdock returned the macaroni to the pot and poured the sauce over it. "He might. I know he doesn't trust us yet...at least, the whore doesn't. He wouldn't even sleep in the bed last night. I think he might be keeping Rich from telling me about Face. He might even be responsible for giving him this headache."
"But why give himself a headache?"
"He doesn't see it as himself. It's kind of complicated, but I think they all think of themselves as having different bodies. They won't all experience the same things. Richie doesn't think he was raped by Wright. He thinks it happened to the whore and to Face. He only knows he was shot trying to get away with the others. I've seen one personality try to hurt the host or another personality by making them cut or scratch themselves...or worse."
"You mean one of them could try to get another one to kill himself?"
"Yes. I saw it happen once at the V.A."
"But I thought you said this was a survival strategy."
Murdock nodded, pouring the casserole from the pan into a bowl and pulling a foil-wrapped loaf of bread from the small oven. "It is. But if one of the personalities thinks that killing the host is the only way to protect him from more abuse, sometimes he does it. Because he thinks he has a different body, he doesn't understand that he'll be dying along with the host."
"Face never seemed suicidal to me," B.A. observed as they took their seats.
"No, he hasn't seemed that way to me, either," Murdock said. "But things could change. The things Wright did to him..."
B.A. sighed, remembering the damage to Face's once-flawless body. "He gonna need a lot of help," he said.
"What he's gonna need is a good psychiatrist," Murdock said. "Which I'm not. I've read a few of my shrink's books on it just out of curiosity, but I'm no therapist, and it seems irresponsible to try."
"So you gonna talk to Hannibal about going back east?"
Murdock shrugged. "I don't know. We've got the extra complication now of someone wanting to kill us. Above all, I want him to be safe." He looked up at B.A., his voice dropping almost to a whisper. "No matter what, no matter how many different personalities I have to endure, I can't lose him again. I can't let anything happen to him. He's suffered enough."
B.A. reached out to squeeze his arm. "So have you, fool," he said gently.
Wayne Benteen licked and stamped the envelope then dropped it into his outbasket. Nobody ever bothered to check addresses on the letters sent from the hospital. His correspondence would join the flood of letters, bills, and reports going into and out of the mailroom and would reach its destination within a couple of days.
His recent association with Wallace Huntington (whoever he really was) had made him almost as paranoid as that man and his companions. He'd been warned to be careful about contacting them and not to make any calls to them from phones that might be tapped. So calls from his office were out. And if somebody were watching him, a self-conscious trip to the corner mailbox would tip them off right away. But one more letter among the many sent out every day in an envelope no different from the others would go completely unnoticed. He had good news for Huntington. An old colleague of his was going on sabbatical for several months to write a book on his experiences in psychiatry. The book would be both a memoir and, he hoped, a textbook. He was well-respected, compassionate, and skilled. If anyone could help the troubled young man Benteen had treated, it would be he. Benteen had hardly been able to believe his luck when he'd run into the other man at a cocktail party and discovered where he was going. He'd rented a house near where Huntington and the others were staying. In fact, the land on which the house stood belonged to their mutual friend Tom Jennings, whose family had owned large tracts of the land for generations. It was a perfect location for a man writing his memoirs...it was close enough to town to allow easy access to the amenities but far enough away from everyone else to ensure the privacy needed to write. Feeling slightly guilty, Benteen had mentioned to the other man that he had a friend in the area whose son was in desperate need of a therapist, and his friend had agreed to meet with the young man and see if there were anything he could do. It was above and beyond the call of duty, and Benteen felt bad about even asking, but he knew he had to do something. He had to make amends somehow for his part in driving Richard Todd straight into Ted Wright's arms. Maybe this would help. Dropping some other ordinary correspondence on top of the letter in his tray, he stretched and turned his attention to the stack of charts for tomorrow's surgeries.
Murdock tossed another log on the fire and watched the shower of sparks fly up the chimney. He was going to have to go out and get busy chopping again soon; if they were going to be here for the winter, they'd need a lot of wood. There was plenty on the property, but it was going to need to be cut. They'd all taken turns chopping every chance they got. All except Face, of course.
Murdock sat on the raised hearth and regarded his friend silently. As he had been for most of the past two days, Face was asleep, curled up under his blanket in the recliner in front of the livingroom fireplace. When he wasn't sleeping, he usually sat silently and stared into the fire. He never asked for anything, never started a conversation, and sometimes wouldn't even respond when spoken to. It had been hard for all of them to deal with this sometimes fearful, sometimes hostile man whose personality could change in the blink of an eye for no apparent reason.
Murdock reached for his notebook and recorded his thoughts. If nothing else, it was helping him decide how to deal with Face on a personal level. Face was still switching back and forth between the nameless, distrustful whore and Rich Todd. They were seeing more of Richie and less of the whore as the days passed, which was a welcome change, as Richie was much easier to deal with. On the other hand, Richie had also changed since his painful migraine a couple of days before, a migraine he'd had for most of the last two days. He was quiet now, refusing to answer any questions at all about either the whore or Face. Murdock wanted to push him, try to get him to answer some questions, but he feared it would bring on another migraine if not something even worse, and he was reluctant to put Face through any more. As it was, Face was still weak, still easily-fatigued.
"Maybe I should wait until he's fully recovered from the shooting, until all those bite marks, razor cuts, and bruises have healed before I push him," Murdock wrote. "No, who am I kidding? I'm not pushing because I'm a coward. I'm afraid of losing him again, of pushing him away. When the whore is out, the tension is almost unbearable. He's so cynical, so hostile, sometimes I just want to kick him down the street. I keep telling myself and the others that it's a defense mechanism and that underneath, the whore is just as scared, just as vulnerable as Rich is. And on an intellectual level, we all understand that. But it's still hard to deal with. The whore still won't give himself a name, won't eat what's put in front of him, won't even sleep in the damned bed. Instead he curls up on the floor in front of the bedroom fireplace. I finally had to go bring in Face's sleeping bag and put mine underneath as a cushion so he'll at least be warm if not comfortable. If he even thinks you're going to touch him, he pulls away and snarls like a cornered animal. I hate myself for it because I always thought I could be the compassionate, understanding type, but when Face is like this, God help me, I can hardly stand to be in the same room with him. B.A. avoids him as well. In fact, he's gotten a mountain of wood chopped out there while the whore has been in here looking daggers at me.
Hannibal has fallen into the habit of treating the whore the same way he does Decker, throwing every challenge back in his face. And just like Decker, the whore backs down. It's got to be killing Hannibal to have Face like this. Face was always his right-hand man. If he were himself, he could make everything from cigars to propane appear almost magically with very little effort. Every woman in town would be making tracks out here to bring us casseroles and cookies, and we wouldn't lack for anything. We manage anyway, even without Face's gifts, but I know Hannibal always likes to watch him work. And these little vacations, the times we get away just to rest and recuperate, once we get settled, this is when we usually see Face at his best. Relaxed, easy-going, not worried about making an impression on anyone, not having to work a scam, just the nice guy he really is. Well, that's gone now, and I know Hannibal's missing it.
And me, well, I'm finding it a terrible temptation to play Paul to Face's Richie. I imagine us flying to some tropical island and spending the rest of our lives together. I could do it. I'm good at fantasy. I could be Paul, and I wouldn't love Face any less if the only part I ever got to see was the part that makes up Richie. And he'd be happy, I think, just being with me, being a regular guy. It would break up the team, of course, and we'd always be at risk because we've got enemies everywhere now. Eventually someone would recognize Face, and he'd be in no position to protect himself. But I'm so tempted to take the chance.
Richie loves me. He's silent and sad, but not hostile like the whore. He wants my affection, and after so long away from him, I could spend the rest of our stay here just sitting on the couch with my arms around him. When I push him, when I ask him hard questions about being with Wright, about Face and the whore, he clams up or falls asleep. He's afraid of the whore, afraid of being punished again for saying too much. I would be, too, if I got headaches like that. So I let it go, and for the moment we're just drifting along, enduring the changes when they happen, plying Rich with food and drink when he's out because he's the only one that will eat, and hoping, I guess, for a miracle."
As Murdock flipped the notebook shut and set it aside, Hannibal came in the front door followed by a gust of cold air. In his hand were an envelope and a letter. For the first time in days, he wore a hopeful expression. He sat next to Murdock on the hearth and handed him the letter.
"That's from Benteen," he said.
Murdock scanned the letter. "There's a shrink around here?" he said. "You're kidding."
"That's what he says," Hannibal answered. "Should have just gotten settled in yesterday."
"You think it's for real?" Murdock asked. "He's not just setting us up?
Hannibal shrugged and lit a cigar. "I think it's worth checking out."
Murdock looked at the name in the letter. Dr. Michael Arnold, Ph.D., with twenty years' experience dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related illnesses, had taken a year off to write a book. He'd agreed to see Richard Todd and see if there were anything he could do for him. Benteen was paying his fee.
"What do you think?" Hannibal asked. "You know we can't tell him everything. Can he do anything for Face without really knowing who he is? What his background is?"
"I don't know. All I know is I can't do this alone, Hannibal," Murdock whispered. "I just can't. Maybe I just love him too much to do the job right, to push him the way he needs to be pushed. And I'm afraid to experiment. Please, if there's any chance to get some professional help, any at all, let's check it out. Maybe I can at least get enough advice to help him myself."
Hannibal nodded. "Thought you'd feel that way," he said. "Okay, you and I will go check this guy out tomorrow."
Henry Parker loosened his tie and groped for his cup of coffee as he sifted once again through the reports on his desk. He was heartily sick of this case and wished it would just go away. Of course, it wasn't going to. Too many people were interested in what had happened to Ted Wright, especially since the news of his newly-discovered depravity had hit the newspapers. The families of his victims were suing his estate, his business associates were either trying to clear his name or distance themselves from the taint of their association with him, and Parker's contacts told him the mob was on the trail of the real murderer. Parker hoped not, but he trusted the team to take care of itself. He wished he could warn Smith, but he didn't know how.
He looked up and smiled when Shelley reached over his shoulder to refill his coffee cup. "Jeez, I wasn't expecting such service," he said.
"Don't get used to it, Henry" she returned. "I just happened to be up." She looked at the picture on his desk. "That the murder weapon?" she asked. "It's about time that report came in. Not in very good shape anymore, is it?"
"No," Parker agreed. "It's not. There's a heart carved on the handle, if you can believe it."
"No prints, I assume," she said.
"Not a one," Parker said with obvious relief.
"An ivory-handled stiletto," Shelley said. "Isn't that what we saw Wright use on the Rudman kid in the video?"
"Yeah, I think it was."
"Well, there's a little poetic justice," she laughed. "Killed with his own weapon. Bastard! I wish I could've seen the look on his face when that knife ended up in him!"
"Really, Shelley," Parker admonished. "You shock me!"
Shelley grinned at him as she turned to take the coffee pot back across the room. Yeah, she was glad to see Wright get his. She'd never seen murders as vicious as the ones she'd watched him do on the videos Parker had been sent. As a general rule, she didn't have much use for gays, but Christ, nobody deserved to die like that. To be tortured, stabbed, and carved up like that poor kid had been. If that's what had been happening to the man who killed Wright, she couldn't think of a police department in the country that would press charges against him.
Greg Cochran came in whistling and dropped another file on Parker's desk.
"Gee, thanks," Parker said. "I needed another one. I could almost still see my blotter."
"Think of it as job security," Greg laughed, echoing Shelley's words to him a few days earlier. "I'm just returning the favor."
"So what is it?"
"Thought you'd be interested in this fascinating bit of trivia," Greg said. "Remember those two former employees of Wright's that went over the cliff in Laurel Canyon a year ago? Dan Carlson and Keith Clark?"
"Yeah," Shelley cut in. "His personnel director and publicity coordinator. We thought their deaths looked suspicious but couldn't get enough evidence to blame anyone. What'd you find?"
"Well, we fingerprinted all Wright's employees as part of our investigation, and lo and behold, one of them matched a partial we got off the underside of the car. Lawrence Thompson."
"Thompson," Parker said. "Yeah, we've had our eye on him for awhile. He's Wright's valet."
"And maybe his hit man, too," Greg added.
"You think he did Wright?" Parker asked.
"If not, I bet he knows who did."
"Have you questioned him?" Shelley asked.
"No, I thought maybe you two would like to be there when we do," Greg said. "What do you think?"
Parker nodded. "Yeah, we'd like that. You got him in custody?"
"Yeah, we just picked him up."
"Okay. Let us get our act together and we'll meet you in the interrogation room in a few minutes," Parker said.
Greg nodded, waved at Shelley, and walked out.
Shelley sat beside Parker's desk and lowered her voice so she wouldn't be heard by others in the room. "What're you going to do if he fingers your boy?" she asked.
Parker shrugged. "If he does, there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all." But he sincerely hoped it wouldn't come to that.
Murdock slipped around a tree and lifted his binoculars to scan the area around the house. So far, so good. Only one car, no other tire tracks, no sign of anyone else around. He and Hannibal had been watching the place most of the morning, preferring to err on the side of caution. Smoke wafted from the chimney, and they could detect movement in the house.
They had left their cabin early before Face had even wakened. They'd left B.A. to keep an eye on him and watch the property. If he had to, B.A. could literally sit on him until they got back, but for the most part, he didn't have too much trouble with Face. The whore usually gave him a wide berth, glaring at him challengingly but saying nothing. Richie was comfortable enough with B.A.'s presence, would speak to him if B.A. spoke to him first, and did what B.A. told him to do. There wouldn't be much conversation, but Richie wouldn't give him a hard time, anyway.
Murdock watched the front door open as Michael Arnold came out. The man took a moment to stretch, breathe in the fresh air, and watch a couple of squirrels chase each other up a tree before he went around the side of the house, gathered a few more logs from the pile, and returned to the house. Murdock smiled as he lowered the binoculars and exchanged a glance with Hannibal. "Yep, he's harmless," he said.
The doctor deposited his load next to the hearth, tossed a log on the fire, and was just heading to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee when someone knocked on the door. Slightly annoyed at the interruption, he pulled open the door and stood gaping at the man who stood on the porch. "Murdock!"
Murdock grinned. "Hi, Doctor Arnold. Long time no see!"
"My God, Murdock, where have you been?" Dr. __________________Richter stepped out onto the porch and pulled Murdock into a hug. Murdock clung tightly to him, and Richter knew immediately something was wrong. He held Murdock a moment longer then pulled back. "I was so worried about you. Why didn't you at least call and let me know you were alright?"
Murdock shook his head. "I'm sorry, Doc. I couldn't. It would have been too dangerous for both of us."
"Are you the person Benteen was sending to see me?" Richter asked. "I assume you didn't just show up by accident. You've been away from the V.A. for a year. Are you having problems?"
Murdock shook his head again. "Not me, Doc. It's Face. He's...he's real bad."
Richter watched Murdock struggle for control as his eyes welled with tears. He put an arm around Murdock's shoulders and steered him into the cabin. "Come on in. Let's talk about it."
From his vantage point in the trees, Hannibal kept watch. He could hardly believe their luck in finding Dr. Richter, Murdock's own psychiatrist, here, practically in their back yard. It was almost enough to make him believe in providence. Richter knew all about Murdock and a lot about the team. Murdock could tell him everything and be assured of confidentiality. And maybe Murdock would do some healing as well. Hannibal hoped so. There were times Hannibal almost wished Face had been killed outright so they could do their grieving and move on. The last year had been hell for Murdock, and Hannibal was amazed his troubled friend had been able to hold it together as long as he had. Right now, Murdock needed Richter as badly as Face did.
Richter poured Murdock a cup of coffee and settled back to hear the rest of his story. Murdock had played games with him for years, dancing around the truth, never really opening up until after Richter had been kidnapped and the team had saved him. When it was no longer necessary to play games and keep up the lie about Murdock's involvement with the team, Murdock had opened up to him, and they'd finally made some progress in his therapy. He wasn't nearly as crazy as he pretended to be, but he wasn't entirely well, either. Of course, since he'd told Murdock he wasn't a real doctor as a ploy to try to shock him into telling him the truth about the team, Richter had then been obliged to show Murdock proof that he had, indeed, finished medical school. He was glad now that he'd taken the time to do that. It sounded like Face was in very bad shape right now, and Richter was going to need all of Murdock's faith and cooperation if they were going to work together to help his friend.
"What happened when you finally told him how you felt?" Richter asked.
"It was like magic, Doc," Murdock said. "Like we'd always been together and making love just cemented the relationship. We never really even talked about it, we just sort of fell into it. And for the first time in my life, I felt right with someone. Like we belonged." He stopped to sip his coffee then got up and paced. Used to Murdock's occasional agitation, Richter let him walk off his nervous energy while he doodled on a pad of paper and waited patiently. Murdock finally stopped pacing and stood looking out the window. "You've gotta help him, Doc," he said softly, turning back to face Richter. "I have to get him back."
"We will, Murdock, we will." Richter patted the chair across from him. "Come sit down and tell me the rest of it."
Richter listened with growing horror as Murdock told him how Wright drugged them and molested Face while they were both incapacitated, how Face had blamed himself for the deaths of their friends at Wright's hands, how Murdock had been shot and Benteen had told Face he was dead, driving him into Wright's compound for the next six months before they found him at the hospital attacking Benteen. When Murdock finally finished bringing him up to date, Richter shook his head slowly, amazed at the circumstances that had finally brought them together again.
"Okay, Murdock," he said, "I'm going to come over tomorrow and see Face. Right now, I doubt you'll be able to get him out of the cabin, though eventually I'll want him to come to me."
"Do you think you can help him?"
"Yeah, I think I can, Murdock. It could take a long time, but I can probably help him. And you're all going to have to work with me. You're with him all the time; I'll only be seeing him a few times a week, and less than that later. You can learn to deal with this and help him get better."
Murdock sighed and wrung his hands. "Doc, you should know something. He killed Ted Wright. And he tried to kill Benteen even after we had him in bed at the motel with all kinds of sedatives in him."
"I already had that figured out, Murdock," Richter said calmly. "I'm not afraid to work with him."
"And someone's trying to kill him, too," Murdock continued. "If you're working with us, well, there's a chance you could become a target too."
"Well, I've already got some experience with that," Richter said with a smile. "I came through it okay once; I don't suppose I'm afraid to try it again."
Murdock rose and held out his hand. "I can't tell you how grateful I am to have found you out here, Doc. I'm about at the end of my rope."
Richter took his hand and shook it warmly. "And I'm glad you found me, Murdock. Try not to worry. I'll do my very best for him, for both of you."
"I know you will, Doc. Thanks. B.A. will be here tomorrow morning to pick you up and show you where we are. What time do you want him here?"
"Nine's early enough."
"I've gotta warn you, though, Face is kind of uncooperative sometimes."
Richter couldn't help but laugh. "In that case, I know you're meant for each other!"
Hannibal watched Murdock leave the cabin and walk toward him. His whole body moved differently; he was looking almost like his old self. Murdock smiled at Hannibal and said, "He's coming over tomorrow. Face is going to be alright now. I know it."
Hannibal hoped Murdock's optimism wasn't premature, but he was willing to allow himself to feel a bit more hopeful as well. Richter was a good man with lots of experience dealing with traumatized people. If anyone could help Face, it would be he. "Let's get back, then," Hannibal said. "You're going to need to get Face prepared for this. He hasn't dealt with anyone but us and Benteen since he left Wright's place. He may not be very happy to see Richter tomorrow."
Murdock nodded, his smile diminishing somewhat. "Yeah, I know. But I wasn't always very happy to see him, either, and look at me now!"
Hannibal smiled and clapped Murdock on the shoulder before turning and leading the way back to where they'd stashed the van. Maybe things would be okay after all.
"Richter!" B.A. exclaimed, dumbfounded. "Here?"
"In the flesh!" Murdock said with a smile.
"But why use another name?"
"Keeps people from finding him, calling him up for consults. Just because he's not going to work every day doesn't mean he's not busy. He doesn't want to be bothered."
"'Cept by you."
"I always was his favorite patient," Murdock said.
B.A. rolled his eyes but said nothing.
"How was Face?" Murdock asked, glancing into the great room.
"Okay," B.A. reported. "He came out here on his own after he got up. I got him to eat somethin', and he been in the chair ever since."
"Okay, good. I'm going to go tell him what's going on."
B.A. watched Murdock walk into the great room and sit on the hearth in front of Face's chair. He was glad Murdock was finally going to get some help with Face. B.A. had watched them both suffer for far too long; it was time for something to go their way for a change. Pulling on a jacket and shouldering his weapon, he headed out to relieve Hannibal on watch.
Face opened his eyes and regarded Murdock sleepily as he sat down.
"Hey, how do you feel today?" Murdock asked.
"Where have you been?" Face asked, ignoring the question.
"I was just about to tell you about that," Murdock said. "I went to see a friend of mine who's living near here."
"I thought we were in Oregon," Face said. "Do you have friends in Oregon?"
"Yeah, I do. My old psychiatrist. You remember I used to be in therapy, right?"
"Yeah, but that was back east."
"Well, yeah, but people move around. He's actually here on sabbatical writing a book."
"Are you going to be in it?"
Murdock smiled. "I hope so. Anyway, he's coming over tomorrow."
Face stiffened. Murdock leaned forward but didn't touch him. "Richie, you know that Wright did some terrible things to Face while you were there. And don't worry, you're not telling me any secrets. That's something I already knew. Dr. Richter wants to come over and help him."
"But he's dead. Nobody can help him."
"Dr. Richter's very smart and very powerful. He can do a lot of things. If you ask him, Face can tell you what a good doctor Richter is and how much he helped me. He can help Face, too. I just want you to meet him and talk to him. Can you do that for me?"
Face seemed to be holding a conference with himself. "I...I don't know," he said.
"Well, I'd like you to think about it, Richie. He can't help you without your consent. You have to agree before he'll treat you. That means you can stop, too, whenever you need to."
"Just like that? I can just say I don't want to do this anymore and you won't make me see him?"
Murdock nodded. "That's right. But I hope you won't give it up. It's hard work, but eventually you'll feel better. Will you at least give it a try?"
Face sighed and looked away. "Alright," he whispered.
Dr. Richter shook hands with the others when he entered the cabin. Once again the others were dealing with the hostile, wary whore. He sat in the recliner wrapped in stony silence as the others talked and moved around him. He'd been awake again most of the night, sitting in front of the fireplace in the bedroom, and his fatigue was evident. Murdock pointed out his notebook to Richter.
"You might want to take a look at that, Doc," he said. "I've been trying to keep track of the switches and make some other observations. I don't know if it'll help you at all, but at least it's some background."
Richter nodded and picked up the notebook. "Thanks. It'll probably help."
"Do you want us to leave?" Hannibal asked.
"Yes, I'd like to see him alone," Richter said. "Just like any other patient. Eventually, we might include some or all of you as he gets better. But for now, I'd like to have some privacy."
"You got it, Doc," said Murdock, pulling on a jacket. "I'll be right outside, though, if you need anything."
When the others left, Richter crossed the room and sat on the hearth, regarding Face silently for a moment. In his present condition, the man looked years older than when Richter had seen him last only a little over a year ago when he'd come to break Murdock out once again. There was an unhealthy pallor about him, and he was much thinner than Richter remembered him.
"Hi, Face. I'm Doctor Richter, Murdock's psychiatrist. You probably don't remember me, but I remember you. You guys saved my life once. I'd like to help you out now, if you'll let me.
Face didn't answer him, but he didn't look away, either.
"How are you feeling today, Face?" Richter asked.
"Don't call me that! I'm not Face. Face is dead!"
Richter nodded. "Is he now? Well, I'm very sorry to hear it. I liked Face. Can you tell me who you are?"
"I'm a whore!"
"What exactly do you mean by that?"
The unexpected response to his answer brought him up short. For a moment, he floundered. "What?"
"What exactly do you do that makes you a whore?"
The whore looked at Richter in astonishment. "I have sex with people!"
Richter smiled. "I have sex with people, too."
"Ah. Is that all?"
"I get what I want. One way or another, I get paid."
"I see. So because you get something for it, that's what makes you a whore?"
Richter nodded again. "I see. Is that something you like to be?"
The whore shrugged. "What difference does it make? I'm good at it."
"What makes you good at it?"
The whore smiled slyly. "Keep 'em happy, no matter what. Give 'em a good ride."
"If you don't mind my saying so, it looks to me like whoever you've been entertaining hasn't been treating you very well."
"It just seems to me that if you were getting what you wanted to out of this line of work, you'd be a little healthier."
The whore shrugged.
"What if you didn't have to be a whore? What would you be then?"
"But I do have to be. Don't try to talk circles around me, doctor. I'm too smart for that. What the hell do you really want? You want a piece of me, too?"
"No, I just want to help you while you take care of Face. I'll bet it's been a hard job for you looking out for him all this time, keeping him safe."
"I don't need any help."
"Everyone needs help sometimes."
"You're just trying to get rid of me."
"What makes you think that?"
"I know how people like you think."
"People like me?"
"Shrinks. You ivory-tower, hyper-educated types with fancy degrees. You think you're better than I am just because I didn't go to school. You think you can do the job better than I can because you've learned the jargon?" The whore raised his voice, his face flushed. "Well I've got news for you. I've been doing the job while you were sitting on your ass in your fancy office. And believe me, it's not a job you want. But I've been doing it just fine without your help. You think you can just walk in here, get me to sign a paper or something, and then just take over and get rid of me. Well, it's not gonna work. I'm not stupid, and I don't care what you think of me!"
Richter shook his head. "Actually, no, I don't want your job. And I don't want to get rid of you. Not at all. You know Face better than I do. You know what he's been going through, and you know what he needs. I'm actually going to need your help. But I think that while we're at it, I can help you, too. Because you've been going it pretty much alone for a long time now, and I think maybe you need time to rest a little bit." He smiled a little. "Even up here in my ivory tower, I sometimes need a hand. And that's what I'm offering you. You don't have to take me up on it if you don't want to. But I sure hate to see you continue to be abused while you protect him." Richter could see by the way the other man shifted in his chair and looked quickly away that he'd struck a nerve. "That's how you got hurt so badly, isn't it? Looking out for Face? And I'll bet he hasn't even thanked you for it, has he?"
The whore sat silently for a long time, staring down at his lap. Finally, he shook his head.
"That's too bad," Richter said gently. "It's too bad you had to become a whore to save someone else, and nobody really knows or appreciates how much you've had to go through to do it."
The whore shrugged.
"I can help you, if you let me," Richter continued. "You've done something most other people couldn't do...something very brave and selfless. But you don't have to do it all alone anymore."
The whore didn't look up. "What can you do?" he whispered.
Richter smiled. He'd cleared the first hurdle. "Well, first of all, I can help you get your health back so that you feel better. And then I can help you sort through all the things that have happened to you. Sometimes it helps to talk about it, and I'll bet there hasn't really been anyone you could talk to about this before, has there?"
The whore shook his head.
"Would you like me to help you?"
The whore shrugged. "I guess."
Richter picked his bag up off the floor and set it on the hearth next to him. He opened it, but he didn't move to take anything out. "It's been about, what, eight days or so since you were shot?"
The whore shrugged again. "I don't know."
"It's probably about time to think about taking out those stitches," Richter said. "And usually before I start working with someone, I like to do a check up. That way if I decide to prescribe some medication for you, I know that I won't be missing something that could cause problems for you."
The whore's eyes narrowed. "Nobody touches me without paying for it!" he snapped.
Richter shook his head. "I think you've misunderstood the arrangement," he said. "You are hiring me, I'm not hiring you. I'm the one who gets paid."
"I've got nothing pay to you with except what I pay for everything else with."
"Well, that's not something I want," Richter said. "We'll have to come to some other kind of arrangement regarding my fee."
The whore glared stubbornly into the fire and didn't answer. Richter sat and waited. He was very good at waiting people out. As he waited, he picked up the notebook Murdock had left and thumbed through it, reading Murdock's record of his growing fear and frustration. Finally the whore sighed, reached into the pocket of his jeans, and pulled out three fifty-dollar bills. He thrust them at Richter. "That's all I've got."
Richter nodded. He took one of them and gave the other two back. "This'll about cover the initial consultation, the physical exam, and a few weeks of therapy," he said, opening his wallet and putting the money inside. "Hang onto the rest for now. I'll work out a fee schedule for you later. How's that?"
"What happens when I run out of money?"
"We end therapy. This is a professional, doctor-patient relationship. I have bills to pay as well. I'm not doing this out of pity or even out of kindness. I'm doing this because it's my job. And I do my job for money, just like everyone else does."
The whore looked at him with new respect and returned the remaining money to his pocket. Richter reached into his bag and pulled out his stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, and a thermometer. He laid them out neatly on the hearth then reached back into the bag and removed a manila folder with forms in it.
"It's going to be your file. I have to keep track of your vitals, the medications I prescribe, my fees, and so on."
"I'm going to take your pulse and blood pressure now, okay?"
The whore nodded. Richter kept his movements slow and casual. He laid gentle fingers on Face's wrist, keeping contact no longer than absolutely necessary.
"A little fast, but not abnormal." He stuck the thermometer under the other man's tongue. "Let's get your blood pressure while we wait." As he wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Face's upper arm, he kept a wary eye on him, mindful of the story Murdock had told him of the whore's repeated attacks on Benteen. Face stiffened under his touch but made no move to attack him. "Hmm.." He recorded his findings on Face's chart then looked at the thermometer. "Normal," he said. "Are you starting to feel a little better than you did?"
"Did Dr. Benteen leave you some antibiotics to take?"
"Have you been taking them?"
"They give 'em to me every day."
"Have you been taking them?" Richter repeated.
Again the whore glanced away. Richter sighed inwardly. Obviously Murdock wasn't the only one who'd perfected the art of hiding pills under his tongue.
"Is there a reason you don't want to take those pills? They're only to help fight the infection. You need to take all of them, even if you feel better and think they're not necessary."
The whore looked down at the blanket. "I don't want to take anything he gave me. I don't trust him."
"Alright, I'll tell you what. We're going to throw those out, and I'll write you a new prescription. If I do that, will you take them?"
The whore looked at him warily. "You'll just take the same pills and put 'em in a new bottle."
Richter stood. "Where are they? Let's see them."
"They keep 'em in the kitchen cupboard."
Richter left the whore sitting in the recliner and went into the kitchen. He looked in a couple of cupboards before he found them. He brought them back to the fireplace and showed the bottle to the whore. "Are these the ones?" He opened the bottle and shook a few out into his hand.
"Where's the bathroom?"
"We're going to get rid of these." He turned toward the far hallway. "Is it back here? Come with me, please."
The whore stood stiffly and followed Richter into the downstairs bathroom. He handed the bottle to the whore and said, "Dump them down the toilet."
The whore obeyed, watching the little pills settle at the bottom of the bowl. Richter flushed, and they watched as the pills disappeared in swirling water, then Richter took the bottle back and dropped it in the trash can before casually returning to the great room. Not knowing what else to do, the whore followed him and found Richter standing by the couch.
"I'll write you a new prescription before I go. Now, why don't you sit over here for a minute."
"I'd like to take a look at your shoulder and side to see if the infection is returning and if we should remove those stitches now. It'd be easier for me to do over here."
The whore sat obediently.
"I'll need you to remove your shirt," Richter said.
"Yes." For now, anyway. Richter knew that later he'd need to see and treat the rest of Face's injuries, evaluate the severity of the abuse himself, but for now, this was all the contact Face could handle.
The whore removed his shirt and sat. Richter had been warned what to expect, but even so, he couldn't help but wince at the sight of the partially-healed wounds. He said nothing, but he was careful about where he placed the bell of the stethoscope as he listened to Face's heart and lungs, not wanting to hurt him. "Well, your lungs are clear, and your heart's still beating. That's a good sign. Now let's get those bandages off and take a look at the stitches."
He carefully removed the bandages on side, back, and shoulder "I'm going to cut the thread and remove the stitches now. It should be a little less itchy with them out. This shouldn't hurt." He saw Face pale when he pulled out the scissors he was going to use and wondered what kinds of unpleasant memories they were evoking. "This'll just take a minute," he said as he bent to his task. Face tensed again, but he didn't pull away. He examined the wounds again. Benteen had done good work. "There, how's that feel?"
"You can put your shirt back on. Then let's go back to the fireplace and talk." As he returned to the hearth and started putting his instruments back in his bag, he knew Face would follow. He'd cleared the second hurdle, gaining a little of the whore's trust. But those were the low hurdles, the easy ones. From here on out, things were going to be harder as he tried to get past all the defensive barriers Face had built around himself. But he was a patient man and confident in his own ability to succeed. He settled Face back in the recliner and pulled out some forms and a pen. "Shall we get started?"
A little over ninety minutes later, Richter emerged from the cabin and walked over to where Murdock was still methodically chopping wood while B.A. cleaned and inspected the weapons. Murdock stopped chopping and laid the axe aside as Richter approached him.
"He's asleep," Richter reported, sitting on a stump. "Let's talk." His gesture included B.A.
Murdock sat on a log and pulled off his hat, wiping the sweat from his forehead as B.A. pulled his camping stool closer. "Is he okay?" Murdock asked.
"Did you make any progress?"
"Well, it's a little early for that. I just got him to talk to me a little, gathered some information. He's signed a contract and agreed to see me again tomorrow. We'll try to get started on some real work then."
"You made a contract with Face?"
"No, I made a contract with Richie and with the whore. Right now, they're shielding Face, claiming he's dead, but I think he's the one who is controlling their switching, and he knows we're here."
"Then why don't he come out?" B.A. asked. "We ain't his enemies. We're his friends. Why's he hiding? Why's he treatin' Murdock like this?"
Richter shrugged. "Fear, shame, guilt, anger, could be any or all of those things. Could be he just doesn't know who to trust anymore. Maybe he's not even sure himself what's real and what isn't right now. But I think he knows you're here, Murdock, even if it's only a dim awareness at the moment."
Murdock nodded his understanding. "Face will probably fight you all the way, Doc. He's not very trusting."
"He might," Richter answered. "On the other hand, he may have a very powerful incentive to get better. He's got you waiting for him."
"And the cops, and the mob, and maybe an HIV positive diagnosis," Murdock said bitterly.
"Maybe," Richter said. "But above all, Murdock, he's got you. And you have to keep letting him know it."
Murdock lowered his eyes, somewhat uncomfortable with B.A.'s presence. "Richie thinks I'm Paul," he said. "I know he wonders why I don't make love to him." He raised his eyes and looked at the doctor. "Would it help?"
"No, I don't think you should do it," Richter said. "It's Face you want to make love to, and you don't want to do it until he is ready. Besides that, you've still got the blood test results to wait out. It would be foolish to engage in sexual activity now and put yourself at risk no matter how much you love him. For what it's worth, I think Wright was narcissistic enough to be sure his victims were tested regularly so he would be protected, and the chance that Face has contracted HIV is probably pretty slim. But I know neither one of you will breathe easy until the six month window has passed, and it would be irresponsible of me to suggest you engage in any sexual activity with him until that time." He waited a couple of beats then said, "You haven't told him, have you?"
Murdock shook his head.
"It needs to be done. Do you want me to tell him?"
"No, I should be the one to do it," Murdock said. "You don't think he'll see it as just an excuse for me not to make love to him, do you?"
The doctor shrugged. "Even if he does, you still can't do it. You can't put yourself at risk."
Murdock nodded. He hoped Richter's optimistic conjecture was true and that Face had little chance of having contracted HIV, but where Face was concerned, the cards always seemed to be stacked against him, and Murdock feared to hope for the best.
Richter opened his wallet and removed the crumpled fifty dollar bill. He held it out to Murdock.
"What's this?" Murdock asked, accepting it.
"Payment for my initial visit, the check-up, and a few weeks of therapy."
"One of the fifties Hannibal gave him?"
"I gave back the other two. You'll need to find a way to keep him supplied with money so he can continue to pay my fee," Richter smiled.
"Hmm. I'll have to think how to do that. I bet by now he's got the serial numbers on all three of the bills memorized. If I give him back the same one, he'll know."
"I expect so. You've got quite awhile to figure something out before he needs to pay me again."
Murdock laughed sadly. "That's usually Face's department. He handles our finances and billing. He's got a talent for numbers."
Richter laid a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "Remember, Murdock, he's in there. We'll get him back."
Murdock returned Richter's smile and tried to believe it. After Richter had left, Murdock went back inside the house. Face was stretched out on the couch, the ever-present blanket draped over him, deeply asleep. Murdock knew Richter wouldn't tell him everything he learned from Face, just as he'd never tell Face everything he learned from Murdock. He'd never violate Face's confidentiality. But he'd somehow managed to win permission to share some small bits of information, just enough to ensure the others knew how to relate to Face. Somehow Richter had managed to win even the whore's trust. While it might be on a limited basis, it was trust of a kind. He'd signed the contract with an X, but he'd signed it. That Richter was some kind of miracle worker!
When B.A. dropped him off back at his house, Richter made himself a pot of tea and settled himself at the desk facing the sunny front window to review his notes and make a plan. He'd managed to get both the whore and Richie to talk to him, and he'd assured them both that he was working in their best interests to help Face, thanking them for protecting him so well, validating their role in keeping him safe. As he'd expected, though the whore was reluctant to agree to therapy, he was gratified to have his role as Face's protector acknowledged, to know someone understood how he'd suffered as protector, how he'd dealt with the abuse the others couldn't take. And it was obvious he didn't want to give up control of that role to Richter or to anyone else. He was going to be a tough nut to crack.
Richie was afraid. Afraid Paul didn't love him anymore, afraid someone would try again to kill them, afraid to tell what he knew about Face or any other alters because the whore would punish him. He'd whispered it to Richter, telling him about the headaches, the taunting, the threats to make Richie sorry if he said too much. Richter had called the whore out and, after some negotiation, extracted from him a grudging promise not to inflict any more headaches for the rest of the week. From what Murdock had told him, Face suffered from enough of those as it was; he didn't need to be bringing them on himself. The whore couldn't and wouldn't commit to any longer than that, and Richter knew they'd be renegotiating that agreement fairly often as time went by. He made a note to himself to get Face a strong prescription for the headaches he was likely to be getting as the stress of therapy and reintegration of the alters affected him.
He hadn't managed to get information about any other alters or to talk to Face himself, but what he had was a start. He'd work with what he had and hope for more in the future, as he did with every patient. It was how he'd started with Murdock. When he'd first been assigned to Murdock's case years ago, he'd found Murdock restrained in his bed, screaming and thrashing in the grip of nightmares and hallucinations that were only with difficulty controlled through medication and therapy. Or at least as much therapy as Murdock would buy into. Murdock was sharp, though. He'd watch the others in group, listen intently, read Richter's medical books, even do what he could to help the other patients. But he was never cooperative in therapy himself, never opened up. He could spin a fascinating yarn and often did. Only rarely did Richter catch a glimpse of who he really was, of what was troubling him, and those glimpses had come only when Murdock had been gone from the V.A. with the friends he wouldn't admit to having. He would sometimes return bruised and battered, other times looking haunted as he relived whatever events he'd just participated in, and on those occasions, he very often woke the ward with his nightmares. Richter could sometimes catch in those expressive eyes flashes of fear or anxiety, not for himself, but for one of his friends. He was often depressed for a long time when he returned. His team would have to lie low for awhile before they could spring him again, and Murdock knew it, knew they'd be out of contact. Though he had many friends among both the staff and the patients at the VA, his heart was somewhere else, and Richter had always known it. Once he'd caught a glimpse of Face, disguised as a doctor, breaking Murdock out. He'd watched the way Murdock interacted with the other man, the way he'd looked at him, and he'd known then where Murdock's heart was.
Murdock didn't carry pictures of his friends, didn't have anything in his room that would betray his connection to them. But he'd come back from an early excursion outside the V.A. wearing a sweatshirt Richter knew he hadn't owned when he left. It was grey, and printed on the left breast in red lettering was the name of some Catholic college, a cross standing in for the T in the word Saint. Murdock had never worn the sweatshirt again, but he kept it under his pillow for a long time before his friend somehow got it back from him. He kept coming back with the same sweatshirt time after time until finally his friend must have given up and let Murdock keep it. He seldom wore it, just kept it under his pillow or on a hanger on his closet doorknob where it could be seen from anyplace in the room, a sort of makeshift shrine. He was generous with most of his belongings, but he never allowed anyone else to even touch his friend's clothing, not even Richter.
Richter made more notes to himself on his treatment plan for both men, poured himself another cup of tea, then began to sift through his notes for the first chapter of his book.
Face peered through the fog at the wavering figures that moved about the room. Their voices were familiar but seemed to be filtered and distorted as if moving through water. He could hear the words and even understand them, and he even knew who was speaking. They couldn't really be there, of course. Especially not Murdock, because Murdock was dead. He was just making it up like he made up the stories to tell his little sister. He leaned back against the bedroom wall, pulling his blanket around himself like a cloak, and watched the others. This was safe enough. He didn't have to interact. The others would do that. Richie and the whore would face this world for him. All he had to do was project a feeling, an emotion, and one or the other of them would respond and take over. He, himself, was safe here. It was dark and close and warm here, and he was comfortable. When he got tired of watching, he'd go back to sleep again. But he was finding it more interesting to sit up for longer periods of time and just watch silently, and he realized that as time went by, he was watching more and sleeping less. Well, it was a nice fantasy, anyway, something to pass the time. He was happy here.
Murdock entered the kitchen whistling and poured some coffee from the pot on the stove into the thermos. Hannibal stood next to the sink mixing cocoa and water and watched. "You sure you want to do this?" he asked.
Murdock nodded. "Sure, Colonel. We've been here a month now, and you guys need to rest. And I really need to be doing something besides sitting around watching him and just taking an occasional watch. I want to pull my own weight around here. And anyway, I think he's doing well enough to spend some time without me now."
Face did seem marginally better since Richter had begun to see him. It was way too early to see much progress, but even the whore personality was somewhat less hostile now when he was out. Richie would eat with the others at the table when directed, and Murdock had even coaxed him outside for a brief period to sit in the sun. It usually wasn't long before he retreated back to his chair in front of the fireplace, but any progress at all was better than none.
Murdock donned a jacket and his cap then went to the fireplace and knelt beside Face's chair. Face shifted his gaze from the fire to Murdock. "Are you going somewhere, Paul?" he asked.
"I've got to go relieve B.A. on watch now. I'll be back in about four hours."
"You're leaving?" asked anxiously.
"It's just for a few hours, and it's all routine stuff. I'll be fine, and so will you. The others will watch out for you while I'm gone. If you need anything, you just ask one of them, okay?"
Face glanced over Murdock's shoulder to where Hannibal stood at the stove in the kitchen. "Okay," he said softly. He squeezed Murdock's hand where it rested on the arm of his chair. "Be careful," he said worriedly.
"Please don't worry, Richie. We haven't seen another soul except Richter since we got here. We're safe here, like I told you. I just want you to rest and relax. You're getting a lot better now, but you're still pretty weak, and now that it's fall, we don't want you getting sick."
Face nodded reluctantly and watched Murdock leave, staring for a long time at the door when it closed behind him.
Hannibal stirred the hot chocolate he was making and realized that very soon it was going to be done and he was going to have to go back in the other room and keep Face company. It was odd that he felt so uncomfortable with a man he'd known for fifteen years. The whole dynamic of their relationship had changed, and Hannibal didn't know how to deal with it.
To Hannibal, Richie was harder to read than the whore. He and the whore had developed an almost-friendly if adversarial relationship. Their verbal sparring matches reminded him of the arguments he and Face would have over cases Hannibal was considering accepting. Face played devil's advocate most of the time, pointing out the flaws in Hannibal's thinking, the hidden dangers, the difficulties, and the monetary cost of every mission. Others might see it as whining, but it served a valuable purpose, and Hannibal appreciated it. Face's criticisms helped Hannibal see and work the bugs out of his plan before he put it into effect, helped spark new ideas and approaches that were better than the original. It was a valuable service Face provided, and his canny awareness of the hidden dangers of a plan had helped save their lives any number of times. He missed Face. He missed him a lot. Giving the hot chocolate one last stir, he poured it into a couple of mugs.
Richie glanced up again as Paul's father came into the great room with two cups. He accepted the one Wallace held out to him. He tried to be cooperative, he really did, but he just did not feel like eating and drinking. He didn't feel like talking most of the time, either. He just wanted to sleep, wanted to forget. He didn't like talking to Richter about Mr. Wright, about what had happened at his house. He was always afraid he'd say more than he should. When he could, when Richter would let him get away with it, he'd let the whore handle the meetings with Paul's psychiatrist. The whore enjoyed the attention, anyway, and he was better at stonewalling than Richie was. Richie knew that he could never, ever tell the others everything that had happened in Wright's compound. They'd hate him. Paul would never forgive him for what he'd done. Never. It was better for everyone if they never found out.
"Try not to worry about him," Hannibal said as he sat on the hearth. "He'll be fine."
"Okay." He lowered his eyes and waited for the other man to go away, but he didn't. Finally Richie raised his eyes and studied Paul's father. Like Paul, he looked tired and worried. He knew they were worried about him, and he felt bad about that. "You don't have to stay with me," he said. "I'm okay."
"I'd just like to talk to you for a few minutes if that's alright."
Richie lowered his eyes again. "Okay."
"Rich, when you were at Wright's house, did you ever meet any of his business associates? Did they come to the house?"
"Were any of them the same people that you and Face gathered information on?"
"Do you remember their names?"
Richie would not meet Hannibal's eyes, but he seldom did that anyway. He seemed to be living in perpetual shame even though he did not believe he'd been the one to be abused by Wright. What else could be on his mind?
"Rich, did any of Wright's associates ever...hurt you?"
Richie hesitated then shook his head.
"Did they ever hurt Face or the whore?"
Well, that was a relief, at least. But it still didn't answer the question of who might be trying to kill Face.
"You do know what was in that envelope you brought me, don't you?"
"I've been trying to decide if any of the people you gathered information about might be behind the attempt on your life in Nevada."
Richie shrugged, and Hannibal sighed. This was less expensive than trying to get information from the whore, but not a whole lot more successful.
"Can you think of anyone Wright knew, especially mob connections, who might want to take you out?"
"I guess...maybe a few. I didn't meet a lot of them. Mr. Wright didn't let very many people come into the compound...just a few he knew really well."
"And they knew who you were?"
"Yes. I'd already met them at work."
"Do you think they suspected you were gathering information about them?"
Richie shook his head. "I don't think they knew then. They might now."
"How would they have found out?"
Richie shrugged again. "I guess maybe when they found out Mr. Wright was alone in his bedroom when he died, they might have wondered where I was."
"Did they...did they know what Wright was doing to you?"
"Mr. Wright wasn't doing anything to me!" Richie shot back defensively.
"Okay, okay, sorry. To the others then. To Face."
Richie hesitated, then said, "Yes."
"Aside from the ones you gathered evidence against, can you think of anyone else who might want to hurt you? Do you think anyone else had any reason to suspect you might have some evidence on them?"
Richie hesitated again before shaking his head. Hannibal watched him carefully, trying to interpret his body language. Rich wasn't being completely honest; Hannibal would have staked his life on it. He was twisting his coffee cup nervously in his hands, and he wouldn't even raise his head, let alone look Hannibal in the eye. When he raised a hand to rub at the back of his neck, Hannibal decided he'd better back off.
"How long are we staying here?" Richie suddenly asked.
"Well, I don't know for sure," Hannibal answered. "As long as it takes to figure out who's trying to kill you and find a way to prevent it, I guess. It'll probably be at least the rest of this winter. Why, don't you like it here?"
Richie shook his head.
"If I could figure out why someone wants to take you out, Rich, it'd probably make our stay much shorter."
Rich was tempted, but he heard the whore's warning hiss and obeyed it, subsiding into complete silence.
Hannibal sat on the hearth awhile longer, but when it was apparent he wasn't going to get any more information from Face, he stood and moved to the couch, giving Face some space. "Let me know if you need anything," he said.
'What are you hiding?' he thought to himself as Face nodded without looking up.
When Hannibal left, Face returned his attention to the fire and rubbed absently at his side. Now that Richter was here, he was looking after Face's injuries as well. He had removed the stitches from Face's shoulder, side, and back and pronounced him to be healing properly. Shortly after arriving, he had examined Face's other injuries as well, something Face had agreed to only with the greatest reluctance. Like the others, Richter had been appalled at the condition of the other man's body, but he had completed his examination quickly and with a minimum of fuss and discussed with Face the importance of not allowing his blood or body fluids to come into contact with the other men.
Murdock had sat on the hearth knee to knee with Face the evening of Richter's first visit to talk to him about the possibility of both of them being infected with the HIV virus. Face had nodded.
"I know," he said. "Face told me and so did the whore. They used condoms all the time, but they couldn't stop Wright from biting them. But Wright never touched me like that, Paul. I didn't get anything from him."
Murdock sighed. He didn't want to get into it with Rich right now. He was too tired himself, too overwhelmed with both fear for Face and relief for the heaven-sent gift of Dr. Richter's intervention. He knew that Richter had explained to Richie and the whore that they were both part of Face, but he knew Richie hadn't accepted it yet. He still believed his body was separate, both unmarked and uninfected.
Murdock sighed. "Face might have passed it on to you when you were wounded trying to escape. I carried you to the motel and got your blood on me, so there's a chance I might have become infected too. It's only a slight risk, but it's one we have to take seriously. That's why we all have to be so careful. That's why we can't make love."
Face had looked down at his lap, picking nervously at the blanket, and considered Murdock's words. Paul might have HIV. He might get AIDS. And he blamed Richie for it. "Alright," he said softly. He said nothing more about the subject and avoided Murdock's attempts to discuss it with him. When Richter had brought up the subject after his examination, Face had listened to his cautions and his careful recitation of any symptoms they should report but had refused to discuss the matter any further. If it were true that he might have infected Paul, he wouldn't want to even live anymore. He'd be a murderer, just like the whore.
Parker and Shelley took a couple of minutes to watch Lawrence Thompson in the interview room before they went in. Greg Cochran and another arson investigator were already in there trying without much luck to pry information from their suspect. He sat quietly, answering an occasional question but more often just looking away. He was a giant of a man, closing in on seven feet, and almost all muscle. According to the records, he was in his early fifties, but he was as fit as most twenty-somethings Parker had ever met. He'd have been very handsome if it hadn't been for the scarring that marred his face. He looked as if he'd been badly burned at one time, the left side of his face from chin to eyebrow covered with tight, shiny scar tissue that puckered the corner of the eye and pulled the side of the mouth into an unnatural perpetual smile. His left ear was missing completely.
"Christ," he muttered, "I'd hate to meet him in a dark alley."
Shelley nodded in agreement. "Look at those hands! They're the size of hams!"
Thompson looked up disinterestedly as Parker and Shelley entered the room and were introduced by Cochran.
Parker decided on the direct approach, something he'd learned from Hannibal Smith. "Why'd you do it?" he asked Thompson bluntly.
Thompson folded his hands and looked at Parker inquisitively. "Do what?"
"Kill Clark and Carlson?"
"I didn't kill them," Thompson said. "They lost control of their car and went over a cliff. It was in the newspapers. Don't you read?"
"We read plenty," Shelley said, flipping open the folder in her hand. "For example, I can read in this file that a fingerprint found on the undercarriage of the car matches one of yours."
"Well, that's not too surprising since I was under their car the day before they left the estate."
Shelley resisted the urge to glance at Parker. If Thompson was giving up information about the car this easily, he must have his bases covered. "And what were you doing under there?"
"Fixing an oil leak. Mr. Wright didn't like cars leaving oil stains on the driveway, and I'd noticed a leak when they first arrived, so I went into town and got the supplies I needed to fix it."
"And you have some proof of that, I assume," Cochran said.
"Not anymore," Thompson said. "If you remember, I lived in Mr. Wright's house, and when it burned, I lost everything. But I expect my credit card company has copies of all my records, and I charged the supplies."
Parker glanced at Cochran, who only shrugged. They hadn't checked that out yet. Shelley pulled out a photo and put it on the desk in front of Thompson. It showed the warped handle and blackened blade of the stiletto that had killed Wright. "Does this look familiar?" she asked.
Thompson nodded. "It was Mr. Wright's letter opener. A gift from his father, I believe, many years ago."
"And it got from his office to his bed how?"
"I don't know," Thompson said. "Perhaps he was reading some of his mail after he retired. He was a busy man."
"Yeah, we know," said Parker. "But he didn't stab himself with it, so who was in the room with him?"
Thompson sighed and shifted his considerable bulk in the chair. "I've already given a statement. I don't know what else you want me to say."
"I want to know who was in there with him. Someone put that knife in his heart and set the house on fire. Having lost everything, including your employer, I'd think you'd want to find the person who did it."
"Indeed I do," Thompson said softly. "I would very much like to find the person who killed him. Very much."
"Do you know who was in there with him?" Shelley asked again.
"He did have a young man in there with him when the evening began, but he left before I retired for the night."
"How do you know he was gone?"
"Because I got his coat for him and pulled his car around when he left the house."
"Who was he?" Parker asked, hoping to God he wasn't about to get a description of Templeton Peck.
"I didn't catch his name," Thompson said.
"How come you haven't given us this information before?" Cochran asked.
"Mr. Wright was a very private man," Thompson said. "He did a lot of good things for people and was a champion of equal rights. But he knew that people wouldn't understand his...unusual preferences. All the good he did might have been undone if the wrong people had found out about his private life."
"Well, he's beyond being hurt by it now, so tell us about it," said Cochran, pulling out a pen to take notes.
"There's a bar not too far from the office," Thompson said. "Lots of Mr. Wright's employees go there after work. It caters to a very eclectic clientele, and Mr. Wright enjoyed going there and visiting after work. He occasionally would bring home a young man for the night. Sometimes it was an employee, but other times it was just someone he'd met. This young man was one of the latter."
"What did he look like?" Parker asked. He dreaded the next words.
"He was young...probably in his twenties. He had black hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion. He was probably a little under six feet tall and was fairly slender."
Parker knew right away that Thompson was lying, but he didn't say anything. Let Thompson spin his fantasy for now. Parker doubted this man even existed, so he wasn't too worried about them picking up the wrong guy.
"Everyone knows Wright was very open-minded about same-sex couples. Why would he be afraid anyone would find out he was homosexual himself?"
Thompson shook his head. "No, it wasn't that," he said. "Most people would understand that. What they wouldn't understand was the...games he liked to play with his lovers."
"Games?" Parker echoed. "What kind?"
"Bondage games, mostly," Thompson said. "Basically harmless, but some young men might feel trapped. It's easy to change your mind once you're in the middle of an...activity...and panic."
"That's sick," Cochran said with a grimace.
"Is that right?" Thompson said. "Do you mean to say you've never thought about someone else taking control when you're having sex? You've never wondered what it would be like to be completely helpless while somebody else pleasures you and you don't have to do anything but enjoy it?" Cochran reddened and shifted uneasily as Thompson smiled. "Of course you have," Thompson said. "Lots of people have, but they just won't admit it. Mr. Wright enjoyed sex, and he liked to help other people enjoy it too. It's just that his tastes were a little exotic for some people. When they could learn to trust him, they enjoyed it."
"Did they enjoy the part where he cut them up and stuffed them in trash sacks, too?" Parker said, interrupting abruptly. "Or is that the part you enjoyed?"
Thompson maintained his composure and turned his attention to Parker. "As far as I know, Mr. Wright never harmed any of his lovers. There were one or two who were somewhat...put off by his desires. He didn't want any trouble, so he gave them promotions and helped them relocate across the country."
"And you can tell us how to locate these men?"
Thompson shook his head. "I was Mr. Wright's valet. I didn't ever go to his office, and I don't know anything about his employees other than the ones who visited the estate, and my knowledge of that extends only as far as the front gate. He told me a couple of the young men had relocated, but that's all I know about it. He never told me where they went."
"Let's get back to the young man who was visiting the night of Wright's death. Did he seem upset when he left?" Shelley asked.
"He was in a hurry, but he didn't seem particularly upset," Thompson said.
"And what time did he leave?"
"About eleven o'clock," Thompson answered.
"Do you know for sure that Wright was still alive at the time?"
"I didn't go up and check on him," said Thompson. "He usually calls me if he wants anything, and since he didn't call, I assumed he didn't need me, so I retired."
"Mr. Thompson," Parker said, "do you have a girlfriend?"
"No, Detective, I do not."
"No." He gestured at his scarred face. "I'm afraid I'm not very appealing to either sex."
"So you have nobody to vouch for your own whereabouts on the night of the murder?"
"The night staff usually retires just before I do. I suppose one of the guards might have seen the light on in my bedroom window during his rounds just before I also retired for the night."
"Do you have any idea how a fire might have started in Wright's bedroom?"
"No, sir, I do not." He gestured to his face again. "I'm sure you can understand that I have a terrible fear of fire. Even when Mr. Wright wanted a fire in his fireplace, I was never able to bring myself to light the match to start the fire."
"How did that happen to you?" Parker asked.
"Childhood accident," Thompson said. "I was trapped in a burning building, and part of it collapsed on me before I was able to get out. I'm very sorry not to be able to be of more help to you, but as I said, I had already retired by the time all this happened."
Parker sighed. This was a waste of time. Thompson wouldn't tell them anything. If he knew Peck when Peck was at the compound, he wasn't going to admit it. They were going to end this conversation knowing no more than they did when they came in, and pretty soon they were going to have to cut Thompson loose.
Face lay sleeping on the bloody sheets, the cuts and bites that extended from his collarbone to his thighs still oozing blood, his genitals swollen. His arms were tied to the bedpost above his head, the delicate skin on the underside of his arms covered with bruises. He opened his eyes and blinked tiredly as he was finally released.
"Difficult night, son?"
"Yeah," Face answered. He tried to turn onto his side and curl up on the soiled sheets.
The giant man slipped an arm under Face's shoulders and lifted him easily into his arms. "Let's get you cleaned up first and then you can rest in my room until you feel a little better."
"Okay." Face relaxed in the other man's arms. He had no pride left, and no energy, either. He was content to be taken care of.
In the three months he'd been here, it was always Thompson who released him on the mornings Wright had left him bound to the bed when he went to work. It was Thompson who carried him to the bath, checked and cleaned his wounds, and saw that he rested before Wright came back that night and expected Face to be ready for dinner. Thompson was a good guy. In spite of himself, Face had begun to like him.
Less than an hour later, Thompson carried Face into his bedroom and sat on his bed, holding the other man in his lap. Wrapped in a bath towel, Face leaned against Wright's chest and relaxed. He was grateful for Thompson's care and kindness and knew that he hadn't extended that to every golden boy Wright had brought home. Thompson had taken pains to be gentle with him when Wright hurt him. He took good care of Face, and as time went by, Face found himself looking forward to the comfort of Thompson's ministrations on the mornings Wright left him bound or too sore to move. He was happy to lean against the other man and be carried from bed to bath and back again as if he were a child. He knew he shouldn't be. He knew he should be fighting it. But it was so hard to be alone here, to throw himself at Wright every night and invite abuse. When someone cared about his comfort and welfare, it was just too hard not to respond.
For his part, Thompson knew the rest of the house staff would have been shocked to see a gentle side to him at all. They feared him, and for good reason. He'd killed many people in his time, some of them slowly. He'd helped Wright dispose of the bodies of the young men he'd tortured and killed. The rest of the staff knew that if Thompson were displeased with them, they were going to be very, very sorry. Permanently sorry. But Richie didn't fear him. Richie was curled up trustingly in his lap, head pillowed on his chest. He wasn't in any shape to be penetrated again today, and Thompson didn't want there to be any evidence for Wright to find of another lover. But there was more than one way to skin a cat. Richie looked up at him, eyes wide and body trembling as Thompson stroked a meaty hand up the inside of his thigh.
Thompson lifted Richie's chin and kissed him gently. "It's alright," he said. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to make you feel good. We'll make each other feel good." Richie's eyes opened even wider when Thompson gently fondled him, his touch tender and designed to bring only pleasure.
A small voice in Face's head screamed at him that this was wrong, that Thompson was a killer, that he was betraying Murdock's memory by doing this, but he couldn't help it. Thompson was his protector. Thompson was good to him. Face owed him. Besides, he'd already given his body away; it was no longer his to control. What was one more person? Especially if it didn't hurt. And it wasn't as if Thompson wasn't already well-acquainted with every part of Face's body. Undone by tenderness after three months of abuse and unable to help himself, Face pressed himself wantonly against Thompson's hand, hating himself all the while but not able to stop. When he climaxed, Thompson put both arms around him and held him close. Face fell asleep almost immediately, as Thompson had intended.
Laying Richie back down and covering him, Thompson went into the bathroom to satisfy his own need. He would ask nothing of the boy today, and tomorrow, the boy would be his.
That night Face sat at the dinner table next to Wright and picked at his food.
"What's wrong?" Wright asked. "Don't you like the food?"
"It's fine," Face answered. He knew he had to be careful. He couldn't betray Thompson with a slip of the tongue the way he'd betrayed Dan and Keith. He couldn't let one more person who'd shown him kindness be hurt by Wright. So he leaned against Wright's shoulder and sighed. "I missed you today," he said softly.
Wright was pleased. "We'll make up for it tonight," he said.
Wright didn't bind him that night, but when he finally laid aside his belt, Face knew he'd be too stiff to get out of bed unassisted the next morning. He greeted Thompson with a smile that day and wrapped his arms around the other man's neck as he was lifted out of bed and carried to a warm bath and then back to Thompson's room for a short nap cradled in Thompson's arms.
When Face woke, Thompson was lying in the bed next to him and caressing him gently. Again, Face's body responded. He was confused not only by his physical response to the stimulation, but also by the depth of his feeling for the man next to him. It wasn't love, exactly, but it was a kind of infatuation. Once again his guilt rose up, screaming objections, but he pushed it aside. This was okay, he reasoned as Thompson's hands moved over his body, because it wasn't like what he'd had with Murdock. Besides, Thompson was the only person left that he could trust. So it wasn't a betrayal. Not really. Not even if they did some of the same things. So he didn't resist when Thompson sat up, pulled Face toward him, and pressed Face's head between his legs.
Every time Face found himself in bed with Thompson or being pulled into a convenient back room and urged to his knees, he contended with his guilt and shame. He was giving himself to yet another man, making no objection, even enjoying it. How could he do this? How could he enjoy it? How could he live with what he was? Finally, it was easier just to be someone else. To be someone who couldn't object rather than someone who didn't. In Thompson's presence he became someone he'd been many, many years ago in another life, a life he didn't even consciously remember, when he'd been too young to say no.
Richter sat on the hearth facing the chair in which Face was huddled. "You've become very attached to that blanket, Richie," he said. "Do you really need it?"
"I'm cold," Face answered. "It's always cold here."
"I understand you had a very bad headache again last night," Richter said. "That makes about two or three a week in the month and a half you've been here."
"Has it been that long?" Face said.
"Yes. Are the pills helping?"
"Some. But they make me tired."
"They're supposed to make you tired. That way you can sleep and get over the headache."
"I don't want to sleep."
Face didn't answer.
"Do you have a lot of bad dreams?" Richter asked.
"What are they about?"
"I...I can't tell you. I don't remember."
"Is Mr. Wright in them?"
Face nodded again, still staring into the fire. His eyes were wide, and he looked frightened. Murdock had told Richter that Face had been having trouble sleeping. Nightmares would wake him several times a night, then he'd spend the rest of the night sitting up.
"Are you in them?"
Face nodded again.
"Is he hurting you?"
"Who is he hurting?" Richter waited a bit, but there was no answer. "Is he hurting Face?"
Face looked through the fog at the man sitting on the hearth. Face knew him, knew who he was. He'd watched the man interact with Richie and the whore several times since he'd been here.
"I'd like to talk to Face about it sometime," Richter said. "Can you tell him I'd like to talk to him?"
Richie hesitated a moment then said, "He already knows."
Whenever it looked like Richie was going to say too much, the whore would step in and put him in his place. Face could see he was about to do that now. It seemed so real, sometimes, like he could reach out and touch the images he watched move about in front of him. It was very disorienting, very troubling. He couldn't tell what was real anymore and what was not. And usually he didn't want to. There was pain waiting on the other side of that bank of fog where the images moved around. He could feel it when he tried...not a physical pain, but pain nonetheless. Sometimes he'd try to reach out with his mind, but he always recoiled from the agony of it. He couldn't do it. He just couldn't. He turned back to his family. But his happiness was tinged with sorrow. Was this real? Was he dreaming this family? The love they gave him? The way they anticipated and met his every need? Could he bear to lose this if it wasn't real? He felt his connection with them stretch almost to the breaking point and struggled desperately to hold on to the image and the feeling.
Richter could see the transformation begin to happen. Face would always blink rapidly when one alter was about to replace the other, and his posture would change. It was a transformation he'd seen happen in many different ways in many people during his career, but it never ceased to amaze him.
"I wish you'd quit screwing with that kid's head," the whore said. "You don't want me to hurt him, but what the hell do you expect me to do when he keeps doing things I tell him not to do?"
"You mean like when you made him stick his hand in the fireplace yesterday?" Richter said. "That is not acceptable. You're not allowed to hurt him."
Richter and Murdock had entered the room just in time to see Face reach into the fireplace and grab a handful of hot embers. They'd grabbed him in time to prevent serious injury, but he'd still ended up with painful blisters on the palm of his hand from wrist to fingertips.
"He made me do it," Richie had whispered painfully when Richter questioned him. "I couldn't stop him."
Richter had immediately called out and severely chastised the entirely unrepentant whore, who simply maintained that they didn't understand the situation, and further, it was none of their business. Richter had called a halt to that day's session but had come back to the topic today.
"It's your fault," the whore said. "You keep pushing him. Can't you tell he's not ready to talk to you yet? It upsets him."
"You don't think it upsets him when you make him hurt himself and when you keep giving him headaches?"
"I'm not giving him all those headaches. He's getting a lot of them on his own."
"And the burn?"
The whore shrugged. "He knows the rules. He can only tell you about what happened to him. He's not allowed to talk about...anyone else."
Richter nodded, accepting the whore's statement. "What about you, then?" he asked. "Can you talk about anyone else?"
"I could if I wanted to."
"So you could tell me about Face?"
"I told you already. He's gone."
Richter nodded. "I know that's what you told me. But you know what I think that really means? I think it means he's hiding somewhere where he can't be found. Someplace where he doesn't have to remember the pain. He's so far away that he can't even really tell if we're real. But if he comes back, you and I can help him deal with the pain. And he'll realize that Murdock is still alive and is waiting for him, too. You've helped him so much already, and you've carried so much of his pain, but he's going to need you even more when he comes back. Do you think you can keep helping him with this?"
The whore was silent a long time, thinking about Richter's words. Richter hoped that meant a breakthrough was imminent. As Murdock had predicted, the whore had fought them every step of the way in therapy, protecting Face fiercely, but Richter had felt that from time to time he could catch a glimpse of someone else looking out through the whore's eyes. Someone who wasn't Richie. It was a gut instinct more than a real observation that could be measured and recorded, but Richter's instincts had always been excellent. Face was in there. He was close. He just needed to be convinced that he was safe now.
"He's not going to trust anyone right now," the whore finally said. "Not even what he sees."
"Well, I don't blame him for that," Richter said. "Look at what's happened to him. Look how many times he's been hurt by people he trusted. Some people don't deserve to be trusted." The whore nodded in agreement. "I think it's really smart the way you've been protecting him all this time. And the way you've protected Richie, too. That's why I want you to stay right here while I talk to Face and make sure I'm not doing anything to frighten him. You can tell me if I say or do anything that hurts him. Are you willing to do that?"
After another long pause, the whore nodded again. Richter smiled, relieved. Finally they were getting somewhere. "Can you ask Face if he'll come and talk to me?"
The whore shook his head. "Face doesn't like me," he said. "He doesn't mind letting me be the one who gets hurt for him all the time, but he doesn't like me. I don't talk to him much, I just keep an eye on him."
"Ah, I see," said Richter.
"Richie can go get him. He talks to Richie." The whore sounded hurt.
"I appreciate what you've gone through on his behalf," Richter said. "He wouldn't have made it through his time with Wright if he hadn't had you to help him. I'm so sorry you had to be hurt like that, though."
The whore shrugged, though his eyes shone with tears. A major crack was developing in that armor.
"Here's what I'd like to do, if you agree. I'd like you to just sit here and rest a few minutes and I'd like Richie to go and talk to Face and bring him to see me. Then we'll just talk for a little while. And you can watch it all and tell me when I'm doing something that bothers him. Can you do that?"
The whore nodded. He pulled his blanket around him more tightly and closed his eyes. Richter sat quietly and watched the expressions flicker across the other man's face.
Richie sat next to Face in the dark and watched the family play together. Face wasn't with them, though. He was sitting across the room alone. His parents didn't seem to notice he was even there. Face looked sadly at Richie as Richie put an arm around him. They didn't need words. Face knew what he wanted. He clutched Richie's hand tightly and turned his back on his family. As he turned, he felt the cord that bound him to his family stretch tight and snap, and he cried out as he was catapulted into the fog.
Wayne Benteen stretched tiredly as he walked toward his office. It had been a grueling day, and he was looking forward to dictating the last of the paperwork and heading out.
"Gail, why don't you go on home now," he said as he walked past her desk.
"I'll be gone in a few minutes, Doctor," she said. "I just want to finish this filing. I've left a stack of letters on your desk, and your wife called and asked if you could stop and pick up another steak on your way home tonight. Your brother-in-law is coming for dinner."
Benteen groaned. Another night listening to his wife's brother try to sell his latest get-rich-quick scheme. It was a real shame he'd be morally obligated to save the man's life if he choked on his steak because that'd be the only way he'd ever get Marty to shut up.
"Thanks, Gail," he said. "I think." He heard her laughing behind him as he opened his office door. She'd heard him complain before about his worthless in-laws. He shut the door behind him and headed across the room to his desk. His desk lamp was on, and the letters that Gail usually left stacked neatly in his in-basket were scattered across the top of the desk. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and his breath caught in his throat as he heard the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked. He froze.
"Your timing could be better," a voice said. Just to his left, a giant of a man stepped into the small pool of light cast by the desk lamp.
"Thompson. What do you want?" Benteen managed to ask calmly.
"I've already found what I needed," the man said. He held up an envelope with Richter's pseudonym and return address on it.
"What do you want that for? He's just a colleague of mine who's on sabbatical. What do you have against him?"
"Nothing in particular," the man said, "but I'll probably kill him anyway. Actually, I'm just looking for a young friend of mine, and it sounds from Arnold's letter as if he's made that young man's acquaintance."
Benteen's mind raced. What had been in the letter that could have tipped him off? He and Richter had been scrupulously careful about not mentioning any names in their correspondence.
The other man knew what he was thinking. "Don't feel too bad, Doc," he said. "I'm good at reading between the lines. I figured Richie would come for you after he left Mr. Wright's estate. I had to lay low for awhile until the police stopped watching me, but they've moved on to another suspect now, so I can finish up my business. I followed the whole story in the newspaper. I know that Paul Huntington didn't die. I know that the apartment he and Richie lived in was recently vacated. It just seemed like too much of a coincidence that he dropped out of sight about the same time as Richie left. I had a sneaking suspicion he might try to find you. Since Arnold's talking about doing therapy for the young man you sent him, I can only imagine that it's Paul he's seeing, and where Paul is, I'll find Richie. And Richie is mine now." His voice was cold and emotionless, as if he were talking about a book or a set of golf clubs rather than another human being.
"Thanks, Dr. Benteen," the man continued as he put the letter in his pocket. "I'm all done here now." Benteen knew then that he was going to die.
Gail walked down the brightly lit corridor searching in her purse for her car keys. As usual, she and Benteen were the last ones out. She stopped cold when she heard the explosion behind her. She turned just in time to see a huge man step out of the office she'd just left. She ducked quickly into a small alcove, her heart hammering. She made herself as small as possible and prayed the man wouldn't see her as he walked by. He passed her without seeing her, and she gave him a couple of minutes to get on the elevator before she ran back to Dr. Benteen's office and unlocked the door with shaking fingers. She found Benteen lying on the floor in his office, a hole drilled in his chest. He was still conscious and held out a blood-covered hand to her when she came in. She dropped to her knees at his side and took his hand.
"Doctor!" she gasped. "Oh, my God. Let me call for help."
Benteen shook his head. "Gail...you have to...call someone for me. It's...important."
Gail grabbed the prescription pad that had fallen out of his lab coat and hurriedly scrawled the name and number on it before she pulled away and called for help.
"Tell him...Thompson...knows. Coming for...Rich."
"Okay, I'll do it," Gail said hurriedly. She pulled away and grabbed the phone to call for help. By the time she hung up and turned back to try to stem the bleeding from Benteen's wound, he was unconscious.
In the shock and confusion that followed the shooting, Gail forgot about the slip of paper she'd torn off the pad and stuffed into the pocket of her jeans.
Face was freezing cold and couldn't breathe. He couldn't see. He was aware only of a terrible, paralyzing fear.
"Stop it!" a voice commanded him. "Stop! It's alright. Open your eyes. You're alright. You're safe here. I won't let anything hurt you. You're safe."
Face opened his eyes and found himself cowering in a corner in a room he didn't recognize.
"You're safe," said the man crouching in front of him. "I'm Dr. Richter. I'm Murdock's psychiatrist."
Murdock. The grief hit him again like a ton of bricks, pressing him to the floor. He moaned and tried to curl up around the pain in his gut. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to even be alive. Why was he here?
"Face, Murdock is still alive. He's here."
Face didn't believe it. 'It's true,' a voice whispered in his head.
'He's telling the truth,' another voice said.
It didn't matter. Even if it was true, even if Murdock was still alive, he couldn't face him. Not after what he'd done. He could never face him again.
"Can you get up and sit in the chair for me?" Richter said. "You can come and sit in front of the fire. Come on." Richter held out his hand but didn't touch Face.
Seeing no alternative and responding to the no-nonsense tone in Richter's voice, Face ignored the offered hand and struggled to his feet. He made it the few steps to the chair and dropped into it heavily. Richter picked up the blanket that had fallen on the floor when Face bolted out of the chair. He put it on the chair next to Face and sat back down on the hearth. Face clutched the blanket to his chest and tried to make sense of his surroundings as Richter murmured soothingly to him.
As Richter stepped out of the cabin and shut the door behind him, he saw Murdock drop the stick he'd been whittling and leap to his feet. Richter realized he'd been with Face longer than he'd ever been in previous sessions and that Murdock would be frantic with worry. He smiled a little and put an arm around Murdock's shoulders.
"I've given him a sedative, and he's sleeping right now. But he came back for awhile. I think he might be on the way back, now."
"You talked to him?"
"For a bit," Richter said. "Long enough to let him know you're alive and to explain to him what's happening to him. But this is incredibly painful for him. He could only deal with it for a short time."
"This is good, though, right?" Murdock said.
"Yes, it's very good," Richter said. "But very hard, too. You'll have to give him some space. He doesn't want to face you right now."
Murdock tried to hide his disappointment. Richter had warned him, but he'd hoped he might be the person Face asked for when he came to himself.
"Try not to take it personally, Murdock," Richter said. "It's not that he doesn't love you. But he feels guilty, and he just very fragile right now."
Murdock nodded. "I know, Doc," he said. "It's just so hard to wait."
"He's tough," Richter said. "Don't lose hope. It's possible he could make a fairly rapid recovery at least to the point where he's functional and can maintain his identity. But it's not going to be easy."
Murdock shook his head. "I don't think he'd know what to do anymore if it were," he said.
"When he thinks he's ready, he'll take control himself, I think," Richter said. "For now, he's probably just going to watch."
"Does he remember everything that's happened?"
"I don't know. I think he remembers at least some of it. And part of our work will involve having the whore and Richie give him back the memories they're holding. But don't be surprised if his memory is kind of spotty for awhile."
Murdock sighed. "I wish he could just forget it all, Doc," he said.
Richter shook his head. "It's remembering and dealing with the memories that makes him better, Murdock, not forgetting.
"Do you think there's more that he isn't telling us?"
"I think there's more that he doesn't consciously remember, but I don't want to push him just yet."
Murdock looked up at the sky where clouds hung low. "Hannibal's been a little worried about someone finding us here. We're not used to staying in one place for so long. I'll be glad when it starts snowing and it's harder to get around up here. Once we're snowed in, maybe we'll feel safe."
Richter nodded. "From what I read in the newspaper, the heat's dying down a little in L.A. There's still no suspect in Wright's death. But I think it was wise to get Face up here away from everything for awhile. He needs the peace and the time to heal. And so do you, my friend."
Murdock met Richter's eyes then looked away. "Some days are really hard to get through, Doc. Sometimes I think it'll kill me to have him so close and not be able to touch him or talk to him like we used to. It's almost like he died but we can't get the body out of the house. And every day it reminds me how much we've lost."
"I know, Murdock. But things are beginning to turn around now. You just have to hold on a little longer. Don't give up on him."
Murdock walked to a fallen log and sat. "I'd never give up on him," he said. "But sometimes I don't know about myself. I'm afraid I'm losing my grip sometimes."
"The last months have been really hard for you," Richter said. "Between the stress and your injury, I'm not surprised you're having some trouble. Be patient with yourself." He put a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "Come on, let's go for a walk. He's going to be asleep for quite awhile."
B.A. was just coming back from watch, and after glancing questioningly at Richter and receiving a nod in return, he entered the cabin.
"B.A. will keep an eye on him. Let's go."
Thompson pulled his car into the parking garage of the building he was living in temporarily. He'd had to drive around quite awhile to lose his tails. Evidently Wright's former mob connections had pieced together the clues a little sooner than the cops had. He smiled to himself as he remembered the letters he'd sent several of Wright's associates detailing the evidence he had against them, evidence the police didn't have yet but would have soon if the associates didn't pay up. Evidence even he wouldn't have had if not for Richie's clever detective work and his accidental discovery of Richie's hiding place.
Face woke to the feeling of hands carressing him as he lay curled on his side. For one sleepy, muzzy moment, he thought it was Murdock and almost drifted back into sleep. He opened his eyes only briefly, and they focused on a manila folder lying on the pillow beside him. With a start, Face came fully awake and tried to sit up. A long, heavy leg came up over his own legs as an arm pinned him to the bed. His heart pounded. Wright had found him out. He heard soft laughter behind him.
"It's me, Richie."
Thompson. It was Thompson. He turned his head as much as the heavy weight would allow and looked fearfully at the man who held him down. With a smile, Thompson moved back and allowed him to roll over on his back.
"I've underestimated you, Richie," Thompson said. "And so has Mr. Wright." He sat up a little more and looked down into Richie's frightened eyes. "You're playing a dangerous game, Richie. You have no idea how dangerous."
"Yes, I do know," Face answered.
"What do you know?"
"I know he's got more ties to organized crime than the Godfather. I know he's using his legitimate business as a front for the other stuff he's into. I know other men he's hired have disappeared. And I know...I know he had Paul killed."
Thompson nodded. "And you came here to expose him?"
Face nodded. Well, he'd done his best. As always, he'd come up short. He closed his eyes and waited to die. 'I'm sorry, Murdock,' he thought. 'I tried. I tried.'
"I can help you."
Face's eyes snapped open. "What?"
"I can help you."
"Why would you do that?"
Wright shrugged. "Because I'm tired of watching Mr. Wright hurt you. And I'm tired of watching him use his power to control other people. I told you I loved you. Do you think I didn't mean it?" Wright felt Richie start when his hand closed around Richie's penis, but he was gentle, and soon he felt the boy relax. "When this is all over and you've given your evidence to the police, Wright will be ruined. And he'll know, Richie, that I've been helping you. So you've got to help me in return."
"What...what do you want?"
"I want you to hold back some of the evidence on certain of his associates. We'll let them know we have it after we're safe. We'll make them pay, Richie, for everything they've ever done. You help me set up a secure way to hide the money, and I'll make sure nothing ever happens to you. Then we both win."
There was something oddly comforting about that thought. And it was such a relief to have an ally in this place, someone who cared about him. He needed to think, though, needed to plan. As he retreated, Richie stepped up to take his place, moaning softly as Thompson stuffed the folder under his pillow then pulled Richie's body toward him.
Thompson smiled at the memory. He'd found the documents under Wright's mattress one day when he'd been changing the bloody sheets. The discovery had served two purposes: it had given him the ammunition he needed to blackmail Wright's mob connections, and it had cemented his hold over Richard Todd. He'd had been a little shocked to discover that this seemingly-innocent young man was actually clever enough to hack into Wright's computer system, something even Thompson had never managed to do, and to gather enough evidence of Wright's crimes to send him to jail for a long time. But he'd been delighted as well because Richie's discoveries had played nicely into his own plans.
He smiled to himself as he let himself into his home. He'd stay around a little bit longer just to make sure the heat had died down from both the cops and the mob before he went to Oregon to collect his prize. The former occupants of this luxury condominium would never need it again. He'd seen to that. He was sitting pretty now, the blackmail money from Wright's mob associates being transferred via a circuitous route into a Swiss bank account. The system Richie had designed for him virtually guaranteed he'd avoid detection but still have access to the money once he and Richie had left the country.
He poured himself a drink and strolled out onto the lanai to admire the view of the city spread out below him. It was a shame he wouldn't be able to bring Richie back here. He really missed Richie, missed the feel of the young man's soft skin as he bathed him in the morning, the thick hair he tangled his fingers in, the body that had been willingly presented for his enjoyment anytime he wanted it. Wright never knew Thompson's hold on Richie, never figured out Richie belonged to Thompson in a way he'd never belonged to Wright.
What a piece of work Richard Todd was. In Wright's bedroom, he was the textbook masochist, loving every minute of the abuse, getting off on the pain and begging for more, reeling Wright in easily through his act. It was a damned good act, Thompson knew, because he'd watched them. But with Thompson, Richie was like a child, his gratitude for Thompson's care transforming itself into a form of hero-worship that Thompson had to admit was damned gratifying. Gratifying in many ways. He was like two different people, sometimes, and while Thompson couldn't quite understand how Richie could pull off the transformation so completely and stay in character for so long so effortlessly, he could understand being two different people.
He glanced at his watch. It was time for dinner, but he wasn't going to go back out after he'd spent so long losing his tail. Instead, he picked up the phone and ordered Chinese food to be delivered. "Yes," he told the clerk after giving the address, "Wright. Andrew Wright. Thanks."
Face had returned to his dark corner, as tightly wedged in as he could get. Try as he might, he couldn't conjure up his family again. They were gone, and he was alone. Well, Richie and the whore were there, but the parents who had loved him, read to him, given him siblings to play with, had disappeared, and he grieved for them.
He looked out through Richie's eyes and saw the men who had been his only family for the last fifteen years. Lying still on the couch, he watched Murdock move about the room cleaning and straightening while B.A. cooked in the kitchen. Part of him longed to leave his corner and take control, talk to Murdock, let him know he knew him now. But he couldn't make himself do it. He couldn't face the others, couldn't bear to talk about what he'd done, what he was.
Murdock finally noticed he was awake and walked across the room to crouch beside him. "How you feelin', muchacho?" he asked.
Face cringed. He couldn't do it. Couldn't be this close. Couldn't make the contact. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, hiding his face in the corner and leaving Richie alone.
Richie's mind touched his briefly, calming him, then Richie sat up. "I feel okay, Paul," he said.
Gail's alarm woke her promptly at 6:30, and she had her feet in her slippers and was halfway to the bathroom before she remembered the events of the night before. She wouldn't be going to work today or tomorrow or the next day. Last night Wayne Benteen had died in her arms as she tried unsuccessfully to stop the blood pumping from his chest. How ironic, she thought, that he had died in his own office in a hospital with one of the best trauma units in the entire state. But the bullet, fired at close range, had done extensive damage to his heart; it was a miracle he'd lived long enough to give her the phone number he wanted her to call. The phone number! She'd forgotten all about it! They'd given her a sedative shortly after the police had questioned her last night, and she was asleep almost before her mother had arrived to take Gail home. She didn't even remember getting undressed the night before.
She ran back to her bedroom and searched frantically for the jeans she'd been wearing, but they were nowhere to be found. Hearing her moving about, her mother came into the bedroom and found her tearing through her closet.
"Honey, what's wrong?" she asked.
"My jeans!" Gail said. "Where are my jeans?"
"The ones you were wearing last night?"
"Yes! I've got to find them."
Gail's mother put her arms around her daughter, trying to calm her. She remembered how she'd felt and acted when news had arrived of her husband's death in a prisoner of war camp. In her agitation, she had gone out into the yard and dug up every plant in the garden, everything that reminded her of her loss.
"Sweetie, calm down. I know you're upset, but it'll be alright. Your jeans were covered with...they were dirty. I put them in the wash."
"The wash!" Gail's eyes widened. "Did you check the pockets?"
"No, I didn't," her mother admitted. "They were such a mess I just tossed them in the washer with some bleach."
Gail pulled away and raced to the laundry room. The washer's spin cycle was just grinding to a halt as she entered, and she hurriedly pulled out the jeans and thrust her hand into the pockets. She didn't remember exactly where she'd put the number Benteen had made her take down. She encountered a couple of paper clips she'd stuck in her pocket and a couple of quarters. Finally she reached into a back pocket and pulled out a crumpled, soggy wad of paper. She opened it as carefully as she could, afraid it would tear, but the ink had run and the number was blurred beyond recognition.
"Shit!" she exclaimed as she burst into tears.
"Honey, what's so important about that paper?" her mother asked, following her into the room and pulling Gail into her arms.
"I don't know," Gail sobbed. "I don't know, but it was the last thing he asked me to do. It was important, and now I can't do it. Damnit, why did you wash them?"
"Shhh, it's alright," Gail's mother soothed her as she led her into the living room and sat her on the couch. She'd washed the jeans because they were stiff with blood, because she didn't want her daughter to have any more reminders of the ordeal she'd been through. When Gail's mother had arrived at the hospital the night before, Gail had been white as a sheet, her eyes wide and staring, her hands nervously twisting knots in the blanket the doctors had covered her with as they treated her for shock. She didn't want the horror of that place to follow her daughter home. She'd have burned the jeans if they hadn't been her daughter's favorite pair.
"Mother, I have to find that number."
"Do you remember any of it? Or of the name?"
Gail concentrated. She had a very good memory for most things, but the shock of Benteen's murder had wiped from her mind almost everything that related to the event. But she tried anyway. "Arnold," she finally said. "Mark, Marty, Michael...Michael. Michael Arnold."
"Another doctor, you think?"
"I don't know," Gail said. "But he said I had to warn him about something."
"Do you think we should go to the police?"
"I don't know. No, I don't think so." For some reason, Gail's thoughts strayed back to the young man who had briefly held her hostage a couple of months ago at work. She'd never even told her mother about the incident, trying hard to keep the confidence she'd been entrusted with. For some reason, she wondered if Michael Arnold was the older man who'd been so worried about him. Did Benteen suspect that he'd been found out somehow? Benteen had told her the man's psychiatrist had been able to calm him and take him home, but that they were all still worried about his mental state. What if somehow Benteen had been trying to warn him about something? Saying anything now would betray the trust not only of the man she'd given her word to, but also of Benteen, who'd entrusted her with this message.
She thought quickly. She remembered seeing that name on an envelope when she was sorting Benteen's mail. It was a doctor, and his return address was somewhere in Oregon. She remembered that because she'd been up in that area once or twice on vacations.
"What do you want to do about this, honey?" her mother asked.
Gail sighed. "I'm not really sure. Let me just think about it for awhile." If she could get into Dr. Benteen's office, she could find the number in his Rolodex. She said nothing to her mother about her intention, she just dressed and left.
Hannibal looked up as the first flakes of snow began to drift through the trees. He'd taken the late watch again, grateful for the solitude. It gave him a chance to think, to plan. He didn't like staying in one place like this. The longer they stayed put, the greater the chances were that someone was going to catch up to them. And there were a lot of people looking for them.
The M.P.s were, at the moment, the least of their worries. Someone had already tried to take them out in Nevada, and it had been only through pure dumb luck that none of them had been hit. Whoever it was wanted them, or at least Face, badly enough to keep looking. Though they'd seen nobody in the two months they'd been here, he wasn't about to let down his guard.
And the police were another matter altogether. He had no idea how the investigation was going. It was no longer mentioned in the newspapers, especially not this far north. He sincerely hoped they wouldn't pick up somebody innocent and charge them with the crime. If they did, he knew he'd have to go do something about it. But what could he do? Turn in the real killer? He knew he couldn't do that. Whatever Face's motives for killing Wright, Hannibal had to believe they'd been legitimate. He'd known Face for too long, seen him show mercy too many times, to believe he could be a cold-blooded killer no matter what the circumstances. There had to be more to the story than it looked like.
He paused to light a cigar, sighed, and brushed a few of the snowflakes off the shoulders of his jacket. He wasn't normally a big fan of snow, preferring the sunny warmth of Southern California, but now he was grateful for it. Once they were snowed in, they'd be harder to get to. Perhaps they could breathe a little easier then. Perhaps they could finally get their friend back.
Richter had told him of his brief contact with Face the day before, of how he'd had to coax him out of the corner as Hannibal had done so many times before. He'd been almost completely uncommunicative, saying only that he didn't want to talk and didn't want to be touched. Richter had managed to keep him engaged only long enough to admit to being grateful for the sacrifices his alters had endured on his behalf before the whore emerged again to say that Face didn't want to stay any longer. But the initial contact had been made, and Face's admission of gratitude had forged a bond between Richter and the whore. Richter believed the whore would become a willing participant in Face's recovery now, which was something the psychiatrist had been working toward for many days.
So there was hope, and for that Hannibal was very glad. He just hoped they could get Face back permanently before the mob, the cops, or the MPs showed up. A good, long, snowy winter would suit him just fine now.
Gail stepped out of her car and looked up at the windows of the fourth floor office that had been Benteen's. It seemed odd that it didn't look any different from the outside. Somehow something should show when such a terrible thing had happened just beyond them. She didn't want to go inside and see what she knew she was going to see, but she knew she had to do it. She couldn't let Benteen down.
She knew the office would be crawling with police and that they'd never let her in to search Benteen's desk. As she waited for the elevator and vaguely accepted the condolences of people who knew her, she tried to decide what approach she should take. Should she try to bully the police into giving her the letter? No, that probably wouldn't work. She wasn't the bullying type. Sex appeal? She glanced down at her flat chest and decided that approach wasn't going to work either. She entered the elevator and still hadn't decided how to handle the situation when the doors opened, and she had to either step out or ride it to the top.
As she walked down the corridor toward the office, she tried to at least look collected and professional. If she showed any signs of the hysteria she'd experienced the night before, she'd get nothing. As she neared the doorway blocked by yellow police tape, she smoothed her blouse, took a deep breath, and smiled up at the officer guarding the door.
"Hello, sir," she said. "My name is Gail Holt. I'm...was...Dr. Benteen's secretary."
The officer nodded but didn't move. "What can I do for you, Miss Holt?"
"Well, I need something from Dr. Benteen's office."
"I'm sorry, miss, but everything in here is evidence. I can't even let you have anything from your own desk."
"Oh, but it's just a phone number," Gail explained. "Please, do you think I could speak to the person in charge? What I need won't have any effect at all on the evidence. Please?"
"I'm sorry, miss, I don't think I can help you."
A pretty, blonde woman stepped up to the doorway from the other side of the police tape. "Problem here?" she asked. Looking beyond the woman and into the office, Gail could see all kinds of people moving about in the outer office dusting for fingerprints, taking photographs, going through file cabinets.
"No, detective," the officer said. "I was just explaining to Miss Holt that we can't let her in here to get anything while we're gathering evidence."
The detective looked hard at Gail for a moment. "Miss Holt. Gail Holt? Benteen's secretary?"
"Yes," Gail said.
The detective stuck her hand out through the tape. "I'm Mary Shelley," she said.
Gail shook the detective's hand, trying to maintain her professional demeanor. "Let me come out there for a minute," Shelley said, stripping off her rubber gloves. She lifted the police tape and stepped out under it as she stuffed the used gloves in the pocket of her blazer. "What is it that you need?" she asked.
"All I need is a phone number," Gail said. "One of Dr. Benteen's friends is out of town on sabbatical right now, and I don't think very many people know how to get in touch with him. He and Dr. Benteen went to med school together, and I know he'd want to know about the...about the doctor, so he can come back for the funeral."
Shelley pulled a pad out of her pocket. "I can't let you go in there," she said, "but I can probably find the number and let you know what it is. I'll have to check with the detective in charge first."
"Oh, I'd appreciate that so much," Gail said.
"Is it in his Rolodex?" Shelley asked.
"Yes, I think it is," Gail said.
"What's the guy's name?"
"Arnold. Michael Arnold. It's an Oregon address."
"Okay, honey, just wait here for a minute, and I'll go see what I can do," Shelley said.
Shelley nodded her thanks to the officer by the door as he lifted the police tape for her. She entered Benteen's office, stepped carefully around the large blood stain on the floor, and joined Parker at Benteen's desk. Parker was examining the envelopes that were scattered across the top of the desk.
"What's up?" he asked her.
"Benteen's secretary is at the door," Shelley said. "She wants a phone number from his Rolodex so she can notify one of his friends of his death. Is that okay?"
Parker considered the request for a moment and then shrugged. It was a harmless request, and he wasn't much into denying civilians information when it wasn't important to keep it from getting out. "Yeah, let's go ahead and give it to her. Who is it?"
"Michael Arnold. He's in Oregon on sabbatical."
"Oregon!" scoffed another detective who was working nearby. "Damn place is full of hippies!"
Shelley rolled her eyes. "Thanks for that insightful and sensitive generalization," she said as she flipped the card file to the proper place. Parker looked over her shoulder at the card.
"Arnold, did you say?" he asked.
"There's a letter from him right here." He picked up the envelope by the edges and looked at it carefully. "That's odd."
"Look at the letters in his outbox that he's already read. They've been opened along the top edge with a letter opener. Of these others that are scattered across his desk, the one to Arnold is the only one that's been opened, and it was torn along the right side. See that?"
Shelley nodded and took the envelope from him. She squeezed on the top and bottom edges to look inside. "It's empty, too," she said. "Did you find a stray letter lying around?"
"Not yet." Parker and Shelley carefully examined the papers on the desk and found nothing. "That's really weird."
"Well, do you want me not to give the girl the number?"
"Let's just go have a little word with her, shall we?" Parker said. He turned to a nearby officer. "We're gonna go spend a few minutes with Benteen's secretary," he said. "We'll be back soon. In the meantime, don't let anyone touch anything they shouldn't."
Gail checked her watch again as she stood outside and waited. She was growing very nervous. It had been more than ten minutes since the detective had gone back into the office. How long could it take to find a number in the address file? She hoped the woman wasn't having second thoughts about letting her have it. She grew even more nervous when a tall, dark-haired man emerged from the office with Shelley.
"Hi," the man said, holding out his hand. "I'm Henry Parker. I'm in charge of this investigation."
As Gail shook his hand, she hoped he wouldn't notice how cold and clammy her hands were.
"I understand you were with Dr. Benteen at the time of the attack," he said.
"Well, I'd just left the office and was heading down the corridor when I heard the gunshot," Gail said. "But I came back after." Came back and listened to his dying request, held her small hands over the hole in his chest that seemed too little to be bleeding so much, sobbed and cried out his name over and over as if that would bring him back.
Parker watched the emotions chase each other across the girl's face and decided to treat her gently. "I'm sorry you had to go through that," he said. He'd read the report the responding officers had taken before the doctors had insisted on being allowed to treat Gail for shock. "If you feel up to it, there are some questions we'd like to ask you. I know you answered a lot of questions last night, but it would really help us out if we could talk to you now."
Gail nodded but glanced at Shelley. "Does this mean you aren't going to let me have Dr. Arnold's phone number?" she asked.
Parker smiled. "Let's talk about it over a cup of coffee," he said.
In the cafeteria, Gail sat nervously as Parker asked her repeatedly about how she sorted Benteen's mail, how she stacked it in his inbox, how he usually opened envelopes. It seemed odd that such mundane activities as opening one's mail could be important in a murder investigation, but Gail cooperated.
Parker flipped open the file he was carrying and looked again at Gail's statement. She'd been pretty much incoherent the night before, unable to give them much of a description of the killer except to say that he was big. "Gail, have you remembered any more about the man you saw leaving the office?"
Gail closed her eyes, remembering. She couldn't have described his nose, eye color, or even his clothing accurately, but there was one characteristic she'd never forget. "Yes. I don't know why I forget this last night, but he had terrible scarring on one side of his face."
Shelley and Parker glanced at each other. Shelley asked, "Scarring? Like from a cut?"
Gail shook her head. "No, it was much worse than that. It was like someone who'd been burned. It was all along the side of his face." She touched her own cheek as she described it.
"Which side was it on?" Shelley asked.
Gail concentrated, remembering her position in the alcove. "The left," she said.
"You're sure?" Parker asked.
"Yes, I'm sure," Gail said.
Parker nodded. "Okay, that's a big help."
"Do you know who it is?" she asked.
"I have a pretty good idea," Parker answered.
Gail shuddered as she thought of how close she'd been to the man. If he'd even glanced her way, he would have spotted her. "You...you don't think there's any chance he'll find out who I am and come after me, do you?' she asked.
Shelley shook her head. "No, he's not likely to do that."
Parker thought to himself that Thompson probably had quite a few bigger fish to fry. If he'd spotted her, Gail Holt would have been dead in an instant. But now that the damage was already done, Thompson would hide out or skip town. Considering the missing letter, Parker figured skipping town was the most likely option.
"Can you think of any reason why the killer might have wanted to take a letter from Dr. Benteen's desk?" he asked Gail.
Gail looked puzzled and shook her head. "There wasn't anything important on the desk, really," she said. "There was a letter from Dr. Arnold, some correspondence from other doctors, a few reports, just the usual."
Parker nodded again. "Can you think of any reason why the killer might be interested in Dr. Arnold?"
Gail's breath caught in her throat as all the blood drained from her face. The killer was going after Dr. Arnold! No, wait, that wasn't right. The message was about someone else. Someone named Rich.
"Honey, you might as well tell us all of it," Parker said gently. "This guy is bad news, and if he's after Dr. Arnold, we need to get to the doctor before he does."
Gail folded her hands on the table and closed her eyes. She was a terrible liar, and she should have known better than to come here in the first place.
Parker took a few pictures and laid them out on the table in front of Gail. "Do you recognize any of these men?" he asked.
He watched her carefully as she scanned the pictures. Her eyes lingered on one of the pictures, but she shook her head.
"Are you sure?" Parker asked.
Parker gathered up the pictures, including the one of Templeton Peck, and put them back in his folder. It was Peck's picture she had lingered over, and Parker was getting a very bad feeling about this whole thing.
He sighed. He was about to do something that went against all his cop instincts, but he knew it was important to do. Whoever Michael Arnold was, and whatever he was doing in Oregon, Parker felt sure it was connected somehow to the A-Team and to Ted Wright's murder. He just had to find out why. He took out a pad of paper, scribbled his own phone number and the number he'd memorized from the Rolodex, and pushed it across the table toward the young woman.
"Here," he said. "Get in touch with Dr. Arnold as quickly as you can and tell him what's happened. Tell him he's in danger and needs to be careful. Can you do that? Tell him to let the team know. Give him this phone number and tell him to call me immediately."
Gail nodded, her eyes wide. She didn't know exactly what the detective was talking about, but she knew he understood her predicament. She smiled tremulously and took the paper, this time putting it securely in her wallet.
Parker stood and held out his hand again. "Thanks, Miss Holt," he said. "You've been a big help. We'll probably be in touch with you again soon. And we're sorry about Dr. Benteen, too. We'll get the guy that did it, I promise you."
Gail nodded. "Thanks, detectives," she said. "Good luck."
Shelley smiled, shook Gail's hand, and followed Parker out of the cafeteria. Gail sighed in relief. Now she'd be able to keep her promise to Benteen. She picked up her purse and went to hunt up a phone.
Shelley caught up with Parker at the elevator. "What the hell are you doing, getting a civilian involved like that?"
"Think about it, Shel," Parker answered. "I think this guy is connected somehow to the A-Team. If we contact him, he'll think it's a setup to get to the team. If Gail contacts him, he's more likely to take the threat seriously and get in touch with them. If they're near him, which I kind of think they are, they're going to be able to do a much better job protecting him than we can from here."
"What do you think Thompson wants with a shrink?"
"I don't think it's the shrink he wants. I think it's Peck. But he'll use the shrink to get to him, and the shrink won't survive it."
Hannibal tried to be quiet stamping the snow from his boots at the bottom of the stairs as he returned to the house. There was no sign of life. When B.A. had come to relieve him, he'd said the others were still sleeping. He carefully opened the cabin door and stepped inside silently. The room was still dark, the fire having burned down to embers, but he could just make out Face's blanket-wrapped form sitting very still at the bottom of Murdock's bed, just watching him sleep. Face glanced at him guiltily then avoided his eyes as Hannibal walked past him without comment and went into the downstairs bathroom.
As he used the bathroom, Hannibal idly wondered whether that was Richie or the whore. He'd grown pretty used to reading the body language of each alter and could usually tell as soon as he walked into the room who he was going to be dealing with. Perhaps because it was dark, he hadn't been able to be sure. It was odd, too, that Murdock hadn't noticed. Even in his sleep, he was very alert to any sounds of movement from Face's room, even through a closed door. Of course, when he wanted to, Face could move as silently as a cat; if he didn't want you to see or hear him, you didn't. Hannibal almost gasped aloud as he realized why he hadn't been able to tell which of the alters he had seen. 'Damn!' he thought to himself. 'Why didn't I say something, try to make some contact?'
By the time Hannibal emerged from the bathroom, Face had moved back to his customary seat by the fireplace and was studiously ignoring both Murdock and Hannibal. Hannibal sighed to himself as he walked past the chair. The whore's body language was perfectly readable now even in the darkened room.
Richter locked the cabin door then walked carefully across the snowy yard to the van where Murdock was waiting for him. He heard the phone ringing in the cabin but decided to ignore it. There was no answering machine, but if it was important, they'd call back later.
"Mornin', Doc!" Murdock greeted him as he climbed into the passenger seat.
"Good morning, Murdock," Richter answered, buckling his seat belt. He was well aware that even short road trips with the A-Team tended to turn into ninety-miles-per-hour demolition derbies, and he had no wish to tempt fate by remaining unbelted. Murdock grinned, knowing what Richter was thinking, and buckled his own belt.
"Quiet night?" Richter asked.
"He was okay last night," Murdock said. "He ate dinner with us, if you can call four bites of chicken dinner, then he just sat in his chair and watched me whittle."
"What are you making?" Richter asked.
"A chess set."
"That's pretty ambitious."
Murdock shrugged as he put the van in gear and drove toward the main road. "I figure I've got plenty of time. We're here for the winter." He flipped the switch to increase the speed of the wipers. "Wow! Pretty soon I'll be able to come get you in the snowmobile that's out in the shed."
"I can hardly wait," Richter said unenthusiastically. Like Hannibal, he preferred the warm climate of Southern California.
Murdock laughed. "It'll be a blast! Do you suppose it'd be alright to take Face out?"
"Sure, if you can get him to go," Richter said. "It's not like he has to stay inside. He's regaining his health, or he would be if he'd eat and take the vitamins I've left for him. He could go out and go for walks with you if you could coax him out of the house."
"He doesn't like the cold," Murdock said. "But he didn't used to mind going out in the snow. He used to like to ski. Said the slopes were a great place to pick up chicks."
Richter laughed. "It's hard to believe he'd have to leave the city to pick up women."
"Well, I think it was the hot tubs and the bars in the lodges that he liked," Murdock said. "He said it was romantic." He laughed a little. "Once when we went skiing we stopped to help a little gal that had sprained her ankle. He told her he was a member of the ski patrol, helped her down the hill, and we never saw him again until it was time for us to leave two days later. By that time he'd scammed us her family's beach house for three months and tickets to the entire Wagner "Ring Cycle."
"Love 'em and leave 'em, eh?" Richter asked.
"Oh, no, it wasn't really like that," Murdock said. He reached the main highway and carefully negotiated the turn onto the slippery surface. "He never promised her anything. But in those two days, he probably took better care of her than anyone she's ever been with before or since. She was a mousy little thing, really, not his usual type, but he made her feel beautiful, and by the time we left, I swear she was prettier than she was when he helped her off the ski slope." He took a moment to glance over at Richter. "That's just the way he is, Doc. When he's with you, he makes you feel like you're the only other person in the world. He's the most generous lover I've ever had." He stopped, unable to continue.
Richter reached across to put a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "We'll get him back for you, Murdock. He's already shown some improvement."
Murdock nodded. "Hannibal says he was there this morning."
"Is he sure?"
"He's sure. Face was sitting at the foot of my bed when Hannibal came back to the house this morning."
"Hmm. He took control all by himself. That's an encouraging sign."
"Well, I wish he wouldn't just do it when I'm not there to see it. I didn't really think I was going to be the last person he showed himself to," Murdock said somewhat irritably. He braked carefully as the car in front of them started to slide toward the ditch. They both watched in silence as its driver finally regained control and continued on his way.
"But you probably will be, Murdock. Think about it. After he'd already committed to a long-term relationship with you, he gave himself to another man and willingly participated in sado-masochistic sex acts that even pornographers hesitate to show." The whore had told Richter in great detail what he'd done with Wright, probably hoping Richter's disgust would drive him away. Richter had not shared the information with Murdock, though he thought the other man probably already had a pretty good idea what had gone on. Richter knew Murdock had seen pictures of Wright with his boys, pictures that had made even that seasoned combat veteran sick with worry for his friend.
"He's going to be a long time coming to terms with that," Richter continued. "He made the conscious choice to participate, so he's going to see it as his own fault. And facing you, knowing that you know what he did, is going to be one of the hardest things he'll ever have to do. He's not ready for it. Please, Murdock, I know it's hard to wait, but don't push him. He still has a lot of healing to do."
Murdock nodded. "Have you...have you told him that I don't blame him for any of it? Can you tell him that for me?"
"Sure I'll tell him. As soon as he's ready to hear it, I'll tell him."
Thompson carefully followed the weather reports for northern California and Oregon. He was aware that winter was setting in early, particularly in the mountains. That didn't bother him. He'd lived in New York for many years before he'd come to work for Ted Wright. He could get around in the snow easily. His only worry was avoiding the mob. He wasn't overly concerned, but it did mean a delay in his plans. He had to lie low awhile. He knew they wouldn't make an attempt on his life until he'd actually connected with Richard Todd. He didn't know how they'd found out he and Todd had been working together; someone probably leaned on one of the house staff. Perhaps he shouldn't have flaunted his relationship with Richie in front of them.
He'd allowed Wright's other help to see him with Richie knowing they'd never tell Wright. They were afraid of Wright, but they were more afraid of Thompson, so they pretended to look the other way. He'd wanted all those people who'd looked at him with pity or disdain to see that he could have a lover of his own if he wanted to, that there was someone who didn't look at his scarred face and turn away. But at the time, he hadn't reckoned on the course events eventually took. He'd thought only to rip off Wright and escape with Richard, leaving Wright to face the law, the mob, and the consequences.
As Ted Wright grew more and more depraved and made more demands on his lovers, he used them up faster. Richard Todd had lost weight during the six months he'd been with Wright, his athletic build deteriorating until he was just plain gaunt. He tired more easily, his wounds took longer to heal, and on occasion he tried to refuse Wright. It was a mistake; Wright always got what he wanted even if he had to take it by force. Richard should have known better, but he'd proven to have an unfortunate stubborn streak. Thompson had sometimes feared for Richie's life as the young man was beaten senseless before Wright raped him. The only good thing to come out of it was that Thompson's kindness the mornings after the beatings had strengthened Richie's bond with him. Richie had seen Thompson not only as a protector, but also as a kindred spirit. Another person Wright used, scarred and ugly, unloved and unlovable. He'd clung to Thompson as a drowning man might cling to a life preserver. And in his gratitude, he refused Thompson nothing. For some time Thompson had reveled in his triumph, flaunting Richie as if he were a prize, so nobody could have been more surprised than Thompson himself when he discovered he actually cared about Richie. It wasn't a romantic love. It was more like pride of ownership, the feeling one would have for a precious and irreplaceable antique. But it was more than he'd felt for anyone or anything since he'd sustained the injury that resulted in the scarring on his face.
Whatever the boy was doing in Oregon, whoever he was there with, Thompson was going to get him back. He'd worked hard for this prize, and nobody was going to stand between him and it. Nobody.
Richter set his steaming mug of tea on the desk and reached for the telephone. He needed to call in his authorization for a refill of one of Face's prescriptions. There was no dial tone. He jiggled the phone, but the line remained dead. Looking out at the amount of snow accumulating, he wasn't too surprised the phone service was out. He wouldn't be surprised if he lost his electricity, too. Luckily, there was a generator in the back, and B.A. had seen to it that it was in perfect working order. Well, he'd phone in the prescription as soon as the phone service was restored. In the meantime, he tossed another log on the fire and reviewed his notes on Face and Murdock. He was supposed to be writing his book, but that was becoming secondary to his crusade to see his friends heal.
His session with Face that day had begun about as he'd expected it to. The whore had been glad enough to see him but still jealously guarded access to Face. Following his own rule, the whore had talked only about himself, saying only that Face didn't want to come out.
"Why not?" Richter asked. "We had a nice visit yesterday."
"He just doesn't want to. He's tired."
"I imagine it takes a lot of energy to make himself come out here when he really wants to hide."
"You need to let him rest, Doc," the whore said. "Leave him alone for a few days."
Richie had been a bit more forthcoming, though not without great trepidation. He was afraid he'd get another headache if he said too much, but he did let Richter know that Face had been very afraid when he'd been out the day before.
"I know he was," Richter said. "But can you tell him that every time he does it, it'll get easier? I want him to know that we're his friends, that we care about him."
"Well, you say that now, but you might not always think so. What if he comes out and then can't get back and you change your mind?"
"Can't get back where?"
Richie had clammed up then, probably having received a warning from the whore to "shut the fuck up," as Richie quoted him as saying so often.
Richter hadn't pressed the issue. He knew Face could hear him and was probably sitting back and watching the proceedings. He turned his attention instead to Richie. Even when he seemed to be open, Richie was hiding something. There was an air of guilt about him as if he'd done something he was anxious to keep to himself. Richter had noticed it from the very first time he'd met the alter, and he had recently commented to Murdock on it.
"Well, I don't know," Murdock had said. "I thought he was just feeling guilty about what he'd done with Wright."
"But he doesn't think he did anything with Wright."
"Maybe it's because he thinks he may have HIV."
"Maybe," Richter had conceded, "but I think it goes deeper than that."
"Well, if there's anyone I've ever known who has a closet full of secrets, it's Faceman," Murdock had said.
Richter had questioned Richie, but Richie had been evasive. They'd made some progress, and Richter hoped the assurances he continued to send Face's way would convince the man to come out and take control of his alters.
He made plans for the next day's session before he returned to working on his book. This case would have made a fascinating case study for his book, but of course, he'd never be free to write about it. It was too bad. It was teaching him a lot, and he knew it would be instructive for others as well. But some things just weren't meant to be shared, and this case was one of them.
Gail Holt slammed the telephone receiver back into the cradle. She'd tried all day and half the night to get in touch with Michael Arnold but had no success. How the hell was she supposed to warn him now? She thought she'd been clever having been able to get away from the police at work without giving them any information, but now she was going to have to get in touch with them herself. She couldn't make contact with Dr. Arnold, and he absolutely had to be warned. Perhaps the police could do what she couldn't.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," she said as she dialed the number the detective had given her.
She hadn't really expected anyone to be at the detective's desk this late; it was past ten p.m. But he answered.
"Detective Parker?" she asked.
"That's me," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"This is Gail Holt."
Parker exchanged a look with Shelley. "Hello, Miss Holt. Something wrong?"
"Yes. I've been trying since this morning to get in touch with Doctor Arnold, but he isn't answering. I don't know what to do. The operator says the lines are down because of heavy snow."
"Okay, well, do me a favor, will you? Keep trying every hour. We'll see what we can do from our end."
"Do you think he's still alright?" she asked.
"Yes, I think he probably is. If the man who killed Benteen is going to try to kill Arnold, he's going to have to travel up there and then make his way through quite a bit of snow. I don't think he's likely to be able to get there in the next few hours."
"Okay, I'll keep trying."
"Thanks, Gail," Parker said. "You've been a real trooper throughout this whole ordeal. I appreciate your help."
Gail hung up and set her alarm for one hour later. She'd call every hour on the hour until she reached somebody.
Parker scrubbed tiredly at his face and went through his notes again, trying to make sense of what little he actually knew. If Peck had killed Wright, would Thompson go after him to avenge his boss's death? Somehow, he didn't seem like the type. Did Peck have some hold over him, then? Some evidence he had on Thompson's involvement in one of the murders? Perhaps Clark's and Carlson's? That made some sense, though what didn't make sense was that none of the evidence he'd received from Smith implicated Thompson in anything. He didn't think Peck would hold on to the evidence and try to use it to blackmail Thompson. Peck was a conman, but he wasn't the type to use blackmail. Had he inadvertently escaped with something Thompson needed or wanted? Maybe a list of phone numbers or names? And what the hell was their connection with Wayne Benteen?
Shelley suddenly hollered, "Bingo!" and slapped her palm on her desk triumphantly.
"Wayne Benteen was on duty the night Richard Todd's lover, Paul Huntington, was shot outside that restaurant. Remember that? "
"The driveby? The one where the woman was killed?"
"Todd worked for Wright. He dropped out of sight the night of the shooting."
"Who was in charge of that investigation?"
"Sanchez, I think."
"Great." Parker picked up the phone.
"Hey, it's after ten o'clock!" Shelley said. "In case you hadn't noticed, everyone who has a brain has gone home. Nobody's working but us."
"He's got teenagers. He'll still be up," Parker said confidently.
"You could just read his report."
Parker shrugged. "This is faster. Hey, Sanchez, it's Parker. Yeah, I do know what time it is. Why, did your watch stop?"
Shelley rolled her eyes. Sanchez might still be up, but he obviously wasn't too crazy about taking a call at this time of night. She listened while Parker questioned the other detective, apologized insincerely for the call, and hung up.
"Benteen told Todd that Huntington had died on the operating table, and Todd dropped out of sight that night."
"But Huntington didn't die."
"No," Parker said, "but that's what Benteen told him. He claimed later that he'd mistaken the men in the waiting room for the family of the woman who had died. He'd been called down to take a look at her in the emergency room, and she had died while he was in there."
"Oh, yeah. I read about that in the paper. Huntington's father never pursued the subject. I bet the hospital thought he was going to sue the pants off of them."
"Probably. Sanchez said the hospital didn't even bill the family for most of the medical treatment."
"So what do you think this means?" Shelley asked, flipping again through the file.
"I think it means that Richard Todd is Templeton Peck and that the rest of the team was right there under our noses the whole time the investigation into the shooting was going on. Damn, they were really taking a chance."
"So Peck thought Wright had had Huntington, or whoever he was, killed, and he went back to the compound, got stuck there while he dug up evidence, and then killed Wright to get away?"
"That sounds plausible."
"Luckily for him, it almost sounds like self-defense as well."
"But what I don't understand is Thompson's interest in him. If we had had anything on Thompson, we would have used it. Thompson knew we had no evidence against him before he killed Benteen. So why do it? Why is he following Peck?"
Shelley shrugged. "I don't know. But I'm going home. I've worked long enough for one day. You coming?"
"You go ahead. I've just got a couple more files I want to go through. Say, have you got any time off coming?"
"Yeah, a few days."
"Want to take a few days and go on a little trip together?"
"Why, you sly devil, are you asking me out? My husband's gonna kick your ass!"
Parker smiled. Shelley's husband was a computer programmer who stood a full six inches shorter than Parker. "It's strictly business. I wouldn't dream of trying to seduce you away from Harry."
"I assume we're going to Oregon."
"It's pretty this time of year."
"You ever been there?"
"No, but I read about it in National Geographic."
"I'll remind you of its charms when you're lying under the car trying to put the chains on," she said, standing and taking her purse out of the desk drawer. "I'll ask for a couple of days tomorrow," she said. "How soon do you want to leave?"
"Would it be too much of an imposition to ask you to dress warmly tomorrow?"
Shelley sighed dramatically. "I suppose I could manage it. But it's gonna cost you, Parker. You're gonna owe me about a month's worth of lunches when we get back!"
"I just want to check on Arnold myself. I'm hoping I can get to him before Thompson does."
"What makes you so sure we're going to get through the snow any quicker than Thompson?"
"Hey, you've got a four-wheel drive, haven't you."
"What, we have to take my car, too? How am I supposed to tell my husband I'm taking his car and going to Oregon for a few days with my partner?"
"I'll leave him mine. I'll even fill it with gas."
"You're too generous."
"I'll meet you at your house tomorrow and we'll come in together."
"Okay," Shelley sighed. "I'm in. See you tomorrow."
"Six? We don't start work until eight!"
"Yeah, but we want to get on the road before the traffic gets too bad. If you're ready to go, we'll just about have time to get authorization here and be out of town by seven."
"Alright, alright. Six it is. Bring coffee."
Richie crept into Wright's inner sanctum, his viewing room. Here he kept his videotapes. Richie had been here before. Wright liked to watch his tapes again and again, sometimes bringing Richie in to watch them with him. There were hundreds of them...tapes made of Wright's houseguests as they made love, tapes of Wright with any of the dozen or so young men who'd found their way into his bed through the years. Looking for evidence, Richie had skimmed through many of them in the last several weeks, though his time to be in this room alone and undetected was limited each day. He snapped another tape into the VCR and turned to select the next ones he would view. The sounds alone would tell him whether or not this was one of the tapes he'd need.
His breath caught in his throat when he recognized the voice. "I love your skin, Rich. Like silk." He spun to look at the screen behind him. He saw himself lying face-down on the bed in the candlelit guest room. And there was Paul...caressing him, leaning down to kiss his shoulders...whispering loving, comforting words. With a strangled sob, he tore the tape from the machine, smashed it open against the desk, and ripped out the long roll of tape. He heard the door open behind him and turned, tears streaming down his face, the mangled remains of the tape clutched to his heart.
"Ah, there you are. What's the matter?"
Arms came around him, fingers threaded through his hair. He could not speak.
"Did you find something that upset you?"
"You and Paul?"
He nodded again.
"Ah, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But it's not the evidence you need. Shall I show you the ones you want?"
"Yes, I know."
Richie moved to pull away, but the arms tightened their grip. "We've got time. First things first. I need you." The hands moved to his shoulders, pushing him down. Still clutching the ruined tape against him, Richie sank to his knees as the other man opened his pants.
When he was finished, he rose and waited for the other man to redress. The other man crossed the room and pushed on a cleverly concealed panel in the wall. Opening the panel revealed a small safe which the man opened. Inside was a stack of videotapes. He selected one and put it in the VCR.
Richie saw Wright standing over a man younger than himself, who looked more tired and care-worn than anyone that young should look. His naked body, covered with the same kinds of scars the whore carried, lay face-up on the bed, bound hand and foot. Wright was beating the boy with the buckle end of the belt. Over and over it came down, new wheals being raised with every stroke. Watching, Richie winced as the belt struck the boy's groin and he screamed in pain. As Richie had known he would, after the beating, Wright brutally raped the boy.
"Do you like that? Do you like having me inside you?" Wright growled.
"Please, please don't!" the boy begged.
Wright's hands tangled in his hair, pulling it viciously. "Say yes!" he commanded.
"Y...yes," the boy sobbed as Wright climaxed.
"That was good, wasn't it!" Wright said, pulling out.
Trying to control his sobs, the boy nodded.
"Would you like it again?"
Knowing what he was expected to answer, the boy choked out, "Yes, yes please."
"How about something a little sharper this time?" Wright said with a laugh. From under the pillow he pulled a dagger with a white handle.
The boy's eyes widened when he saw it, when he realized what Wright was going to do with it.
Richie trembled violently, but he made himself watch. He had to know that this was a murder, had to have absolute proof. By the time Wright had finished carving up the boy, by the time the boy's screams had gurgled into silence, he was sure. He watched Wright drag the boy's body off the gore-covered bed to finish dismembering it, heard the sickening crack as the boy's head smacked against the hardwood floor, and then he was leaning over the garbage can, retching.
The tape finally ran out, and Richie realized he was alone now. Carefully he rewound the tape, used his handkerchief to remove it from the VCR, and hid it in his briefcase. The safe behind him still stood open.
'Get another one,' the whore commanded him.
'No, no, I don't want to see anymore.'
'You have to. You need more evidence. He can't get away. We can't let him get away with this.'
'He wants to kill Face. He's going to kill him.'
'No, he's not. We're going to get out of here. Trust me. Do what I say.'
Obeying the whore as he always did, Richie fetched another tape, and then a third. Different young men, but the same murder, the same mutilation. He was sick with fear. But he had successfully carried out Face's instructions. He'd needed the tapes...needed absolute proof of the murders . As he carefully rearranged the remaining tapes to conceal his theft, he caught sight of a wrapped bundle in the back of the safe. Taking it out carefully, he opened it up. Inside were vials of clear liquid and hypodermic needles. This, then, was how Wright controlled the young men who became his victims. He kept them addicted to drugs. Jesus, it was so simple. They couldn't leave if they wanted to, their bodies first addicted to the drugs he supplied, their resistance to his violence then worn away by the addiction. And if Face had not been such a willing participant, so eager to indulge Wright's violent fantasies, he, too, would have been controlled through addiction.
He didn't dare take the drug kit; it would be too easily missed. He closed it up as he had found it and put it back in the safe.
'Wipe your prints. Wipe them off of everything!' the whore commanded.
Richie followed directions.
Thompson eased out of the parking garage, his lights off, and found his way out of town. Once he reached the suburbs, he quickly stole a car, changed its license plates and VIN number, and got on the freeway. He had everything he needed both for himself and for Richie when he found him. He drove carefully, not wanting to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol, and he kept a sharp lookout for tails. He didn't see anything, but that didn't necessarily mean they weren't there. The mob didn't rest, not even in the middle of the night.
By sunrise he was six hours out of L.A. and making good progress.
Richie stood at Wright's shoulder, the very picture of a competent junior executive, as Wright conducted the meeting. In attendance were half a dozen of his mob contacts, men who carefully concealed their involvement with the mob behind irreproachably legitimate businesses. He'd met these people before, seen them at parties and civic events with their wives and children in tow, heard their praises sung by the media for their involvement with various charities. As he watched them, he wondered if there really were any good people left in the world anymore, people who did things because they genuinely cared and not because they were using good deeds to hide their evil ones. Not that he had any room to talk. As he pretended to be Wright's lover, he was gathering evidence to bring Wright and all the others down. He was no better than they were. But it was too late to worry about that now.
Of the men in the room, a few were cordial to him, a few cool, knowing his position in Wright's household. They might do business with Wright, but they didn't have to like his perversion. Only one, Stephen Karnov, stared at him fixedly throughout the meeting, leering at him. A stoop-shouldered man with lank brown hair and yellow teeth, Karnov was the only one of Wright's guests who shared his predilection for sex and violence. He'd seen this man in the videotapes entertaining himself with young men Wright had grown tired of, young men too worn down by drugs and abuse to satisfy Wright any longer. The other men shunned him, as they might have shunned Wright had not their business dealings with him proved so profitable.
When Wright ended the meeting and the men began moving into the drawing room for drinks, Richie turned to straighten the papers on Wright's desk. He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped involuntarily, turning to find himself face-to-face with Karnov.
"Mr. Karnov!" he exclaimed.
Karnov's hand squeezed his shoulder then moved to caress his chest. Karnov smiled, his yellow teeth gleaming in the lamplight. Richie stopped breathing. He looked quickly over his shoulder to see where Wright was. Wright was just leaving the room. He looked back at Richie, smiled briefly, and left, closing the door behind him.
"I thought perhaps we could get a little better acquainted while the others have their drinks," Karnov said. "My goodness!" He pressed his hand more firmly against Richie's chest. "You're heart is hammering, Richie. Now, you're not afraid of me, are you? Ted doesn't mind, why should you?"
Richie was in a panic. If Wright was ready to give him away, that could only mean one thing...Wright was growing tired of him. And if that was true, it was only a matter of time before he ended up like the other men in the videos. But he wasn't ready yet...he needed more evidence of Wright's mob ties...ways to bring down the men he did business with. He needed an escape plan. How much time did he have?
Karnov put a hand behind Richie's head and pulled him forward to kiss him, his mouth open, his tongue roughly demanding entry. Richie tried to pull away as Karnov forced him backwards against the edge of the desk. Did he dare resist? He tried to push Karnov away, but twisted backwards as he was, his awkward position made it difficult for him to get enough leverage. Karnov's free hand found its way to Richie's crotch, fondling him roughly.
Richie panicked. His hand curled around a coffee mug on the desk, and he brought it up to smash against Karnov's head. It wasn't enough to do much damage, but it shocked Karnov enough that his grip on Richie loosened, and Richie pulled away, rolling away from Karnov and falling on the floor. Karnov was on him immediately, his hands around Richie's neck, squeezing hard. Richie clawed at the hands, but the other man was sitting on top of him. He fought for air as his vision darkened. He was going to die, and it wasn't even going to be Wright that killed him.
Just as he was about to black out, the weight on top of him suddenly disappeared, the hands released him, and he clutched at his throat, gasping for air. Above him he could see Thompson, his face inches from Karnov's, one huge fist tangled in the man's shirt front. Thompson was saying something, but his voice was low, and Richie couldn't make out the words over the sound of his own choking gasps.
Thompson released Karnov, who nervously adjusted his tie, shot Richie a venomous look, and retreated to the drawing room with as much dignity as possible. Thompson knelt beside Richie and helped him sit up. He moved Richie's hands away from his throat and examined the marks that were already beginning to develop.
"I don't think he's done any permanent damage," Thompson said. "Are you alright?"
Richie nodded, still unable to speak as Thompson helped him up off the floor to sit in the chair at the desk.
"Why don't you go upstairs," Thompson said soothingly. "I'll tell Mr. Wright you've gone to lie down."
"What...what about...Karnov?" Richie wheezed.
Thompson smiled grimly. "Don't worry about him. He'll be leaving early tonight for a liaison he finds more interesting than you."
Richie smiled tremulously. Thompson had rescued him again. But that only solved a part of the problem. The fact was, Wright was getting tired of him. From this moment on, his life was in danger. As he caught his breath, his eyes drifted over the top of the desk. Papers were strewn about, the lamp had been knocked over, and the coffee cup was shattered. Idly, he righted the lamp.
"Come on, Richie, let's get you upstairs," Thompson said, grasping his elbow. "I'll take care of this mess later."
Richie allowed himself to be led upstairs, where Thompson left him before returning to his other duties downstairs. As he pulled off his jacket, he felt an extra weight in his jacket pocket. Reaching into it, he found Wright's ivory-handled dagger. He stared at it stupidly, trying to figure out how it got there. He didn't remember having picked it up off the desk.
'Put it under the mattress,' the whore said.
'But he uses this to kill people!' Richie said.
'I know. Put it under the mattress. If he can't find it, he can't use it.'
'What if he finds out you took it?'
'At this point, what difference does it make? He's planning to kill Face. We have to hide the knife. Put it under the mattress.'
Richie wasn't entirely sure the whore was telling the truth. He lied a lot, even to Richie. But Richie didn't have any other choice, so once again, he followed instructions. Afraid to go back downstairs, afraid to fall asleep, he sat tensely on the edge of the bed the rest of the evening, nervously anticipating Mr. Wright's arrival.
Richie woke in the middle of the night from a vivid nightmare. He sat up and tried to slow his breathing and stop shaking. He didn't want Paul to hear him and come in. He had to think. He had to decide what to do.
Thompson was going to come for him. He'd said so, and Richie had never known Thompson to say one thing and do another. He'd promised Richie, "I'll find you. I'll find you, and we'll go away together."
But now he didn't know if he wanted to do that. He was so confused. He'd been confused ever since he'd fled Wright's estate. Had Thompson known Paul was still alive? Would he really do that to Richie? Richie couldn't believe it of him; Thompson loved him. He'd said so over and over.
He also knew that what he'd done with Thompson was wrong. But it hadn't seemed so wrong at the time. He'd thought then that Paul was dead. And even Face had left by then. And he'd enjoyed it most of the time. He hadn't liked it much that Thompson let other people see what they were doing, and he hadn't liked it that Thompson didn't ask him if he wanted to. He'd let Thompson have him whenever and wherever he wanted because he didn't know how to say no and didn't know if he even could. He didn't remember love being like that. But what difference did it make, really? He could never hope to love anyone the way he'd loved Paul or to be loved as Paul had once loved him. He should be grateful for what he got. And in the end, it didn't really matter. Paul didn't love him anymore. That much was obvious. Even the whore had been smart enough to see that. And any vestige of feeling he might have left for Richie would evaporate as soon as he knew what Richie had done. Leaving was really his only choice, no matter what his heart tried to tell him.
'You can't stay here, anyway,' the whore had said to him. 'Eventually the cops will come for you. You're as much a murderer as I am.'
'That's not true!' Richie had snapped, but deep inside, he knew it was.
In the days after Karnov's attempted attack, he and the whore had been on tenterhooks. Their time was running out. Richie had to finish gathering what evidence he could both for himself and for Thompson. The whore had thrown himself into Wright's abusive activites with as much renewed vigor as his declining health would allow. It had bought the two of them more time. They'd known the time might come when Wright would have to die, that it might be the only way they could ever escape, but they'd agreed to use it only as a last resort. Richie had refused to draw Thompson into the plot, insisting on protecting him. As Richie carefully obliterated all signs of their ever having been in Wright's home, the whore kept Wright entertained, and both of them watched him very, very carefully.
And one day, they knew. Wright had started looking for his missing letter opener, angry that it wasn't where it was supposed to be and threatening dire consequences if it did not turn up. Even Thompson had told him to be careful, to make sure he kept Wright happy. The strain was almost unbearable, and they knew the day was going to come when Wright would simply select a new weapon. They had to make their move first. When they had, the whore had carried out the plan. Motivated by fear and hatred, killing Wright was the easiest thing he had ever done.
Quietly Richie slipped out of bed and curled up in front of the fireplace, trying to shake off his nightmare, trying to drive away the cold that seemed to reach to the very center of his soul. Richie had thought about leaving and looking for Thompson, but the others watched him so carefully that he knew escape would be difficult. If the whore could help him steal the van, he could make it back to Los Angeles. But Thompson was smart. Even though their original plan had fallen through, Thompson would eventually find him here, and he'd expect Richie to go with him. And he would. Not just because he loved him, but because he owed Thompson his life. Without his help, Richie would never have escaped the compound alive.
It had been an odd experience; all his senses had been on overload, and he and the whore had both seemed to be present in the same body, their minds working together to save their lives. After Wright was dead, the whore had dressed, set the small fire to distract the guards, and they had gone downstairs. And there, in the darkness, Thompson had been waiting.
"Richie, what have you done?" he asked.
"Mr. Wright is dead," Richie answered.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I...I didn't want you to get involved."
Thompson pulled Richie to him. "You little fool!" he said. "I'm already involved. I got involved when I helped you gather that evidence." Thompson led him quickly to the door, checking to see where the nearest guard was. Richie needed time to get to the fence undetected, which he could do if the guard stationed just outside the house were neutralized. Thompson had beckoned to the guard. "Hey, MacArthur, I need your help. Mr. Wright's sick!"
When the guard was close enough, Wright had swung one huge fist and knocked him out cold before pulling him inside. "Okay, Richie," he said, "take your time crossing the yard. The perimeter guards won't be too suspicious if they think you've already gone by MacArthur. When you get there, get over the fence as fast as you can. When you're safe, find a place to hide and place an ad in the paper for Benjamin Thackeray to contact you about a class reunion. I'll find you. I'll find you, and we'll go away together. Just wait, and don't trust anybody else. They'll either arrest you or try to kill you. No matter how trustworthy someone seems, you can't trust anyone but me anymore. Do you understand?"
Richie gestured to MacArthur. "What about him?"
Thompson smiled. "I think he's going to have an accident."
"No, please. I didn't want anyone else to get hurt!"
Thompson's smile disappeared. "You should have thought of that before you decided not to tell me what you were doing. Now it's him or you! Do you want my help or not?"
Richie gave in, as Thompson had known he would. He pulled Richie close and gave him a fierce, hard kiss. Even in that short a period of time, they could hear the crackle of flames from upstairs. "Go!" he said, pushing Richie toward the door.
Richie went. He had hoped the fire would distract the guards, and it had almost worked. Richie and the whore had made their way to the fence and had almost made it over when they were spotted and fired upon. Richie retreated from consciousness, and the whore took over, running, dodging, and hiding until their pursuers gave up.
And it was the whore who had carried out the plan to find Benteen. Richie didn't even know about it, didn't remember ever being instructed by Face to kill the doctor. But the whore said it had to be done. From that point on, the whore had taken complete control of the situation, and Richie didn't even remember the trip to the hospital, the whore taking Paul hostage, or being on the train. He remembered nothing until he'd woken up on the bathroom floor and seen the lover he thought was dead. The lover who evidently didn't want him anymore.
When Murdock knocked softly on the door the next morning and entered to build up the fire, Richie was still awake, but he lay on his stomach and feigned sleep. He didn't want to face Paul. He could never hide anything from Paul, and he couldn't let him see this. He had to find a way to leave here without them knowing, to connect with Thompson before Paul found out what he'd done and what he was.
Thompson looked in his rearview mirror at the green truck several car lengths behind him. He'd spotted it off and on most of the day before. He'd driven through the night, stopping only to chain up as he reached the mountains in northern California. His tail had been quite a bit further behind him at that time, and he'd lost them for awhile when it took them longer to chain up than it took him. He'd hoped to shake them, but at this point, they were gaining ground. Eventually, though, he'd reach the cutoff, and when he was on a road with fewer cars, he'd take care of his pursuers. In a bag on the seat beside him were weapons, ammunition, and explosives. He was ready for anything.
Shelley yawned and stretched as she woke to the sound of clanking tire chains. "Where's the next rest area?" she asked.
"What, again?" Parker said.
"For cryin' out loud, Parker, it's been six hours, and I had three cups of coffee."
"If you were a man, we'd only have to stop along the side of the road."
"If you were a woman, you'd have noticed the signs and planned ahead," Shelley retorted. "Look, there's one. Two miles. For heaven's sake, don't miss the offramp."
"I guess we're not all blessed with my iron bladder," Parker sighed as he turned on the blinker and carefully maneuvered the truck into the appropriate lane.
The rest area was nearly empty; only trucks and a few brave vacationers occupied it. Shelley hopped out of the car without even putting on her jacket. As she reached the entrance to the women's restroom, she looked back and saw Parker messing with the chains. She smiled to herself. He didn't fool her for a minute. The moment she was through the door, he was going to make a dash for the men's room. "Iron bladder, my ass," she muttered to herself as she opened the bathroom door.
Thompson was tired. Pretty soon he was going to have to get some rest, but not until he took care of his pursuers. Luckily, due to the early hour and hazardous driving conditions, the highway was nearly deserted. He and his tail were the only cars he'd seen on the road for some time. He had to take care of them now before they figured out where he was heading. He didn't want them to get to Rich before he did.
He purposely fishtailed and allowed his car to leave the road. When his followers drew close, he jumped out of the car and fired into their windshield. The truck spun out of control, left the road, and tumbled down a short slope.
Thompson grabbed another weapon out of his belt and knelt at the side of the road. His pursuers, a man and a woman, were already out of their car and had their weapons drawn. It was obvious they'd both been injured; the woman had blood streaming down her face, and the man was trying to hobble to safety behind a tree, one leg dragging behind him. The man spotted Thompson first and began firing. He returned the man's fire and felled him with a single shot. The woman had crawled behind a rock, and Thompson had to move down the slope to get a clear shot at her. Footing was treacherous in the snow, and it was difficult to keep his balance and still keep an eye on his prey. She managed to move a bit further back, hoping to make it to some trees, but she was too groggy, and the blood in her face was obscuring her vision. She wiped a hand across her eyes and looked up just in time to see the muzzle of the gun in her face. She neither felt nor heard the shot.
Thompson stepped away from the body and turned to check his other victim. Before he could move, a fiery pain ripped through his shoulder and he fell face-first into the snow. Trying to ignore the pain, he rolled to the side and fired again on his assailant even as he cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have made sure the first one was dead before he went after the second one.
Even wounded, though, his aim was true, and the woman's partner dropped again. Thompson struggled to his feet and put another bullet in the man's head just to make sure he was dead. He might be stupid once, but he wouldn't repeat the mistake.
Quickly he tore his sleeve and checked his wound. It wasn't particularly serious. If he could stop the bleeding, he could still make it to Arnold's place. He'd have the doctor treat his wound before he killed him, then he could get Richie. This was a setback, but the injury wasn't life-threatening, so his plan could still work.
He made his way back to his car and grabbed one of his spare shirts from his bag, tearing it into strips to make a serviceable bandage. When he'd stemmed the bleeding, he looked back at the carnage below. The car was on its roof, and the bodies lay in rapidly spreading red pools on either side of it. The snow, which had let up earlier, was coming down heavily again, and pretty soon the bodies would be covered. Well, that was one problem solved.
He started the car and pulled carefully back onto the road. Driving one-handed in these conditions was going to be tough, so he paid careful attention to where he was going.
"Wow!" Murdock exclaimed as he looked out the window. "There's tons of snow out there! Hey, I bet we can use the snowmobile today!" He turned with a smile to where Rich was sitting quietly in his chair in front of the fireplace. "What do you say, Richie. Shall we get out of here for awhile this afternoon? Go visit Richter at his place instead of making him come here?"
Richie opened his mouth to say no and then reconsidered. No, he didn't want to go outside, didn't want to be cold, and didn't want to see Richter. But Richter lived closer to town than they did. Maybe while they were there, he could find a way to slip away. If Richter spent time with Paul, as he usually did after he was done talking to Richie, their distraction might be all he needed. "Alright," he said softly.
Murdock's smile grew wider. He hadn't expected Richie to say yes. Maybe things were looking up after all.
Later that afternoon, Hannibal looked sympathetically at Richie as Murdock tried to wrap a second muffler around his neck. "Murdock, he's not gonna be able to walk if you put any more clothes on him."
"Well, I just don't want him to get sick!" Murdock said defensively.
Richie walked to the door and opened it, something he'd never done on his own. "C'mon, Paul," he said. "Let's go."
Murdock grinned at Hannibal. "See?" he said. "I think he's getting better!"
Hannibal wasn't as inclined to be optimistic. For just a moment, he thought he'd heard something in the tone of Richie's voice, the same casual tone he'd heard Face use to pull off a hundred different scams. But he didn't dwell on it; Murdock knew what he was doing, and he'd watch out for Face.
Richie cooperated as completely as he could with Richter that day, and surprisingly, so did the whore, who was fully aware of Richie's plan. He even agreed with it. Thompson would take care of them and wouldn't ask for anything more than some very mundane sexual favors in return. After what they'd been through with Wright, that was a piece of cake. The whore didn't let the question of whether or not Thompson loved them bother him. Who needed love? You couldn't buy anything with it. But Thompson would be rich, now, and he'd spend money on them lavishly. They were on easy street, now. All they had to do was get away from Paul and the doctor. It would be the best thing for Face, too. All this talking to the shrink was getting them nowhere. Face was miserable, the whore was bored, and Richie was still sulking about Paul. The best thing for them all was going someplace warm and tropical with Thompson.
Richie rubbed his eyes and sighed when Richter ended their session.
"Tired?" Richter asked.
"I didn't sleep very well last night," Richie said. "Are you going to talk to Paul for awhile?"
"Do you think I could lie down somewhere for awhile?"
"Sure," Richter said. "Let me show you to the guestroom. You can lie down there."
When Richter returned, he poured Murdock a cup of tea as he prepared for their session and glanced outside at the heavy snow.
"Hannibal's not out there keeping watch, is he?"
"No, he's not," Murdock said. "He finally decided to pull the watch since we're pretty much snowed in. When it lets up and the roads are passable, we'll start the watch again. How are you doin' here on your own? Do you need anything?" Murdock knew Richter wasn't keen on driving in the snow.
"I'm fine, though I wish they'd get the phone lines working again. I need to make some calls."
Murdock sipped his tea and nodded. "Doc, how do you think he's doing?" he asked. "Doesn't he seem better today?"
"Yes, he seems better, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to be like this tomorrow. I was somewhat surprised to see him show up with you today."
"Well, I was kind of surprised too that he said yes when I asked him if he wanted to come out today. He's been so withdrawn the last few days, I really expected him to turn me down."
In the guest room, Richie carefully pried open the window and let himself out. Unfortunately, his jacket, gloves, and muffler were in the other room. He'd just have to do without them.
Knowing his dark clothing would make him conspicuous against the white of the snow, Richie tried to stay out from in front of the windows while he disabled Richter's car and the snowmobile. It'd be some time before either one of the vehicles could be used again. It would be growing dark in a couple of hours, though, so he needed to get started on his way to town right away. He shivered, blowing on his hands. There was a blanket in a plastic bag in the snowmobile, so he pulled it out and wrapped it around himself as he turned around to find the path into town and bumped right into the person standing behind him.
"I told you I'd find you, Richie."
With a gasp, Richie looked up into Thompson's face. He didn't know what to say. Part of him was profoundly glad to see the other man. He could stop thinking now, stop planning, and just let the other man take care of him. He quickly took in the bloody bandage wrapped around Thompson's upper arm and the two weapons stuck in his belt.
"You're hurt!" he exclaimed.
"Yeah, but it's not serious. A couple of Wright's mob contacts. But I took care of them. We're safe now. Come here."
Thompson held out his good arm, and Richie stepped into his embrace. It felt good to be held like this again, to be loved again. Why couldn't this be Paul? No matter, the decision had been made for him. He would go with Thompson.
"Who's in that house?" Thompson whispered.
"Just a...a psychiatrist. Dr. Richter. And Paul is there, too."
"Richter? Not Arnold?"
"No. His name is Richter. He used to be Paul's psychiatrist back east. Are we leaving now?"
"No, lover, we can't. I had to leave my car a few miles back when the snow got too deep on these side roads. We're going to have to walk back to it. I need the doctor to fix my shoulder, and we need to get you a coat." He could feel Richie shivering under the blanket. "Then we'll get out of here. We'll go someplace warm and private, and I'll show you how much I love you. How's that?"
"Okay," Richie whispered.
"Now don't be afraid," Thompson said as he pulled a gun. "Just play along. Do exactly what I say, and everything will be alright."
Murdock and Richter started when they heard the knocking on the door. Could anybody on legitimate business be out in this weather? Murdock unholstered his gun and stood to one side then motioned for Richter to open the door.
Standing on the porch was Richie. Behind him and towering over him was a huge, grey-haired man with a badly scarred face. He had one arm wrapped around Richie's shoulders, holding Richie close to his body. In his other hand was a pistol which was clearly pointed at the back of Richie's head, though Richie seemed not to notice. Richie stared ahead silently.
"You the doctor?" the man asked.
"Well, I've got a job for you. And tell Paul Huntington to step out where I can see him, too."
Murdock reholstered his gun and stepped into sight. "Richie?" he said. He recognized Thompson right away. He had met them at the front door and taken their bags up to their room when they had gone to Wright's home.
Thompson moved into the room, still holding Richie against him.
"Look, we don't want any trouble," Richter said. "If you need money or my car, go ahead and take them. Just leave Richie here. Don't hurt him."
"I'm not planning to hurt him," Thompson said. "You got a medical kit here?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good. I want you to fix up my arm. Then we'll leave."
"Where you goin'?" B.A. asked.
"I thought you pulled the watch. Ain't nobody out there, man. Who'd be out there in snow up to their ass?"
Hannibal shook his head. He knew that logically it didn't make any sense at all. But nothing had made much sense for over a year now, and he just wasn't comfortable lowering his guard. He still blamed himself for what had happened to Face and Murdock because he wasn't vigilant or suspicious enough.
"I don't know, B.A. It just doesn't feel right not keeping an eye on things. I know it's only a slim chance anyone could be out there, but I don't want anyone getting even a slim chance to sneak up on us."
B.A. nodded his understanding. Hannibal was still kicking himself for what he'd seen as his failure to protect his men. "Okay, but let's trade off every couple of hours. Nobody should stand out there in this weather for too long."
"Okay," Hannibal agreed. He pulled on his jacket, checked his weapon, and headed out. He wasn't very far into the woods before he found blood stains. They were in a sheltered spot under some trees where there wasn't much snow. Once they left the sheltered area, they and the footprints that accompanied them were rapidly disappearing under the heavy snowfall.
"Shit!" he swore. He contacted B.A. on the radio.
"You think one of them's hurt?"
"Well, it's either them or someone else. Either way, I want to get to Richter's as fast as possible. Can we make it in the van?"
"Don't think so, Hannibal. Snow's too deep. We're gonna have to walk it."
"Well, meet me here, then, and bring the extra weapons and ammo. Hurry!" The urgency in his voice was apparent even over the radio.
"On my way."
Thompson pulled out a chair at the dining room table and sat in it, pulling Richie down to sit on the floor at his feet.
"You," he ordered, motioning toward Murdock with the gun, "stand over there where I can see you."
Murdock complied, standing across the room directly across from Face and Thompson. Thompson turned his attention to the doctor. "Get your bag, Doctor," he ordered.
Richter moved to obey. Thompson's gun was still pointed at the back of Face's head. Richter came back with the kit and opened it slowly, making sure the man knew there were no weapons concealed in it.
"I want you to bandage up my arm properly. The bullet went through and didn't hit a bone, so it shouldn't be too taxing. Do it fast."
Richter carefully cut away Thompson's sleeve. As he'd said, the bullet wound was uncomplicated, and if it didn't get infected, it would heal fairly rapidly. There had been some blood loss, but unfortunately, not enough to seriously incapacitate him. He was still very, very dangerous.
Murdock stood quietly, trying to be inconspicuous and come up with a plan. He watched Face lean against Thompson's knee as if it were something he was used to doing. He stared at Face, trying to make eye contact, but Face refused to look at him. Murdock couldn't figure out why Face had gone outside or why he seemed to accept Thompson's presence so passively. Ever since they'd found him in Benteen's office, he'd refused to allow anyone but Murdock and later Richter to touch him. He avoided contact with both Hannibal and B.A. as much as possible. So why didn't he seem more afraid of Thompson?
Richter followed Thompson's directions precisely, unwilling to risk Face's life through any stupid heroics.
"What do you want?" Murdock finally asked when Richter had tied off the bandage.
Thompson motioned Richter away with his gun then stood, pulling Face up with him. "I've got what I came for," Thompson said.
"Richie hasn't got anything you want," Murdock said. "The evidence he brought my father has already been given to the police. It won't serve any useful purpose for you to hurt him."
Thompson smiled. "I know all about the evidence," he said. "That's not what I came for." He looked down at the man he held in front of him. "Go tie them up, Richie," he said. "There's rope in my bag on the porch."
While Thompson kept his gun trained on the other men, Face fetched the rope, tied Richter securely, and turned to tie Murdock. Suddenly Murdock lunged to the side, pulled out his weapon, and tried to push Face behind him, but Face threw himself on top of him and grabbed his arm. "No!" he screamed.
Wright crossed the space to them in a few easy strides, pulled Face away, and disarmed Murdock.
Murdock was stunned. "What the hell are you doing, Richie?" he said.
"For one thing, he was saving your life, you stupid bastard," Thompson said, backhanding Murdock and splitting his lip. "If he hadn't been in the way, I'd have blown your brains out!" He turned his attention back to Richie. "Good boy, Richie. Now finish tying them up."
Feeling completely betrayed, Murdock allowed Face to tie him. When he was done, Face returned to Thompson's side. Thompson stuck his weapon back in his waistband and smiled at him.
"Please don't hurt him," Murdock said.
Thompson snorted. "You still don't get it, do you? I don't need to hurt him." He put his hands on either side of Richie's face and tilted it up towards him. "Richie's my boy, aren't you, Richie? I take good care of my boy. Just like I have all along. And Richie always does what I say." He bent down and kissed Richie, making sure the other men could see his tongue thrusting into Richie's mouth as Thompson devoured him, his hands moving to Richie's hips to pull them tightly against his own. Murdock wanted to vomit when Richie moaned, the signs of his body's reaction to Thompson's caress unmistakable. He looked away when Thompson's huge hands rested on Richie's shoulders, urging him to his knees in front of him.
Thompson straightened his clothing and pulled Richie to his feet. "You're a good boy, Richie. Now go and wait for me on the porch." He looked triumphantly at the other men as Richie moved to obey.
"You won't hurt them, will you?"
Thompson shook his head. "No. For you, I'll let them live."
Richie could not even look at the other men. He kept his eyes on the floor as he walked to the door. Once there, he hesitated.
"Go, Richie," Thompson said. "I'll be out in a minute." He watched Richie walk out and then turned back to the other men.
"How are you gonna fix it so he doesn't hear the shots?" Murdock asked.
Thompson smiled and reached into his coat pocket.
Hannibal and B.A. raced through the snow toward Richter's house. It was three miles away straight through the trees on the route the snowmobile had taken. Richie happened to glance their direction and saw them floundering through the snow.
"Face!" Hannibal shouted, seeing him on the porch.
B.A. saw Face turn back to the cabin. "Hey, Face, take cover!"
Inside the cabin, Thompson heard the shouting. Cursing, he ran to the door and pulled it open. He forgot about the men inside when he saw the other two coming toward them with weapons drawn. He grabbed Richie's hand and pulled him along. "Hurry! Let's go!" he said.
Richie followed Wright passively. Now that his betrayal of Paul was complete, there was no reason to want to be found. No reason to stay any longer. He couldn't bear to see the condemnation in Paul's eyes. So he did his best to keep up, hoping the others would be delayed by stopping to untie Paul and Dr. Richter.
"What's he doin'?" B.A. exclaimed as he saw Face run into the woods with a strange man.
Hannibal didn't answer. Instead he burst into the cabin, afraid of what he would find. Murdock looked up with a relieved sigh. "Oh, man, Hannibal, your timing couldn't be better. He was just about to blow our brains out."
"What the hell is going on?" Hannibal asked as he and B.A. untied the others. "Who was he? Did he take Face hostage?"
Murdock quickly explained the situation. Hannibal nodded his understanding and handed Murdock a weapon. "Okay, we'll spread out. B.A. and I will try to get ahead of them." He held out a weapon to Richter. "Can you use one of these?"
Richter nodded and accepted the weapon.
"Then you and Murdock stay behind them. Don't let them see you. When we've got them between us, I'll give the signal. If you have to, shoot to kill, but don't fire unless and until Face is completely out of the way. Understood?"
"Colonel, I don't think Face wants to be found," Murdock said. "He went willingly."
"Murdock," Richter interrupted, "don't put too much stock in what Face says or does right now. You know it's not unusual for people who've been held hostage to begin to identify with their captors, to think they love them. If Thompson was the one who was kind to Face after Wright abused him, is it any wonder he'd fall under the man's spell?"
"We can debate it later," Hannibal said. "Right now, we're getting Face back whether he wants to be rescued or not. Now, let's go! It's starting to get dark."
In the woods, Richie was finding it tough going. The months of abuse and inactivity had taken their toll on both his strength and his stamina. As he stumbled and fell yet again, Thompson turned and pulled him up. "Come on, Richie, keep up," he said. They floundered on for another half hour before Richie fell to his knees, panting.
"I can't," he said. "I have to rest."
Thompson pulled him up and put his arms around him. "We can't, Richie," he said. "We didn't get much of a head start, and I want to get back to the highway. It'll be easier once we get there. Come on, Richie, don't give up on me now. You don't want the others to find you and make you go back with them, do you?"
"No." Richie knew he would die if he ever had to face Paul again.
"Let's go, then."
Richie nodded his acquiescence and tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but he was so tired and so cold, he just didn't know how much further he could go. Thompson turned and looked back at him, smiling a little as he reached out to touch Richie's cheek. He had to get Richie out of the snow and soon. They'd find another cabin somewhere else remote, or they'd lose themselves in one of the bigger cities up north. Portland, maybe, or Seattle. And then he was going to make love to Richie every day.
Hannibal moved as quickly as he could through the forest, less concerned about noise than he was about getting ahead of Face and the other man. This, at least, was something he understood. An enemy with a name and a face, someone he could deal with in the way he was trained to. He wasn't going to let anyone else get away with one of his men. Never again.
Up ahead he saw movement. Two figures made their way stealthily through the trees. At least one of them had a weapon. Hannibal silently made his way toward them. Great. The mob had found them after all. There was no time to signal B.A.; he'd have to handle it himself. He waited patiently until they got close. He might only get one clear shot, and he wanted it to count. One of the two figures stopped for a moment and then walked a few steps ahead.
"Freeze!" Hannibal commanded as he stood, his weapon pointed at the closest person.
The other person froze.
"Tell your pal to drop his weapon," Hannibal said.
"Do it," the man said over his shoulder.
The man's partner dropped the weapon and stood with hands raised. Hannibal stepped out from behind the trees and closed the distance between them.
"Parker!" he exclaimed in relief, lowering his weapon.
Seeing Hannibal lower his gun, Shelley dropped and rolled, grabbing her weapon as she did so. "Drop it!" she said.
"It's alright, Shel, it's Hannibal Smith," said Parker.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" Hannibal asked.
"Long story," Parker said. "And I do need to talk to you. Right now, though, we're looking for Michael Arnold. His life is in danger."
"He's with one of my men. Wright's valet Thompson has Face, and they're heading for the highway."
"We thought he might be out here," Shelley said. "We found a truck and a couple of bodies just off the road a few hours back. Must've been tailing him, but he caught on to them. He's pretty smart, Smith, and very dangerous."
Hannibal nodded. "I know," he said. He looked again at Parker. "Face isn't well right now. He thinks he's someone else, and he's with Thompson willingly. But no matter what, Parker, I don't want Face hurt. Are you in?"
Parker glanced at Shelley. "Oh, why the hell not?" she said. "It's not like we haven't already broken every regulation in the book and several laws."
Hannibal smiled grimly. "You'll fit right in with us, then," he said. "B.A. and I are heading for the highway. Murdock and Richter...Arnold...are behind them. Once they're surrounded, we'll take out Thompson if we have to. But we can't let him get back to his car."
"Okay," Parker said. "Shelley and I will go with you."
Murdock trudged silently through the woods with Richter by his side. He'd said almost nothing since they'd left the cabin. His kept his eyes on the snow in front of them, but Richter knew it didn't require that much concentration to see the tracks. Now that the snow had tapered off, Thompson and Face were leaving a trail a child could follow. He knew also that it wasn't their brush with death that had Murdock so bothered.
"Murdock, it was just another form of rape."
"He wasn't resisting it, Doc."
"No, he wasn't," Richter agreed.
"Thompson didn't even have to say it. Face knew what he wanted. How many times have they done this?"
"The number of times doesn't matter, Murdock. What matters is that it was coerced. You can't hold that against him, no matter how willing a participant he seemed to be."
Murdock shook his head, trying to accept it. Intellectually, he understood it. He knew Richter was right. But his heart had a harder time coming to terms with watching his lover pleasure another man in front of him. He'd expected it when it was Ted Wright, even though he hadn't actually witnessed it. What Face had done with Wright was part of a larger scheme and served a higher purpose. What he'd done with Thompson...it was just...obscene. That Face would have begun a relationship with another man...it was the last thing he would ever have expected. He was silent for a long time.
"It feels like a betrayal," he finally said.
"It was a betrayal. It was a betrayal of both of you. Could someone who really loves Face expect him to do that in front of you? He was manipulating you both. He knew Face would never ask to leave him and come back to you after what you saw him do. He knew Face's shame would destroy any connection he still felt with you. So he could kill you without ever worrying about Face finding out."
"I guess so, Doc," Murdock answered.
Richter knew Murdock would have a hard time putting this behind him. No matter how much sense it made intellectually, watching Face seem to enjoy what he was doing, or at least do it without any hesitation, would hurt for a long time. And Murdock had already been hurting for a long time. Being at the same time both an arm's length and an ocean apart from his lover, being responsible and not acting on his own physical impulses, being himself a victim of violence that had left him too badly damaged to participate in a rescue attempt, had to have created frustration and anxiety. Richter could already see signs of depression in Murdock when he'd found the man standing on his porch, and the signs were just getting worse. If Face and Thompson somehow eluded them, Murdock was going to be a wreck.
B.A. spotted Thompson and Face about fifty yards to his right. They were just about parallel with him, crossing an open area between stands of trees, but they hadn't spotted him yet. Thompson's attention was on Face, who kept falling as they trudged through the deep drifts. B.A. kept to the trees and out of sight as he followed them.
Thompson pulled Richie up one more time and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. The boy was exhausted. Thompson realized how much he had changed from the robust, athletic young man who had run rings around his companions on the basketball court the first time he'd been to Ted Wright's house. That man could have covered this distance in half the time without breaking a sweat. "It's not much further, Richie. The road's just on the other side of that stand of trees. Can you make it?"
Richie nodded, though he wasn't sure he could take another step. He leaned against Thompson's chest. "I'm so cold," he whispered.
Thompson closed his arms around Richie. "I know you are. You'll warm up when we get to the car. The plows will have been through, and we'll be able to drive away from here. You just have to keep going a little while longer."
He led Richie toward the trees, but just before he got there, a man and a woman stepped out of the trees, their weapons leveled at him. Thompson drew his own weapon, pulled Richie in front of him, and fired over his shoulder at the two people. Both of them quickly ducked back into the trees.
Thompson angled to the right, still pulling Richie with him. Just as they made the shelter of the trees, a figure dropped out of a tree, knocking Thompson to the ground. Richie fell and struggled to get out of the deep drift as Thompson and Hannibal struggled for Thompson's weapon.
Richie once again had the strange sensation that he and the whore were sharing the same body, looking at the scene through two sets of eyes but a common perspective. They had to protect Face. Face knew what was going on; even in the corner with his eyes tightly shut, he could see what he didn't want to see. There was no fog to separate him from the others now, and the pain was unbearable. He clawed at the corner, trying to make himself smaller, trying to get away, but he couldn't.
Richie and the whore knew what they had to do. Thompson was their protector now. He loved them in his own way, and he was the only one left who did. To protect Face, they had to protect Thompson. It was the only way. Taking momentary control, the whore lunged for the weapon Hannibal had knocked out of Thompson's hand. He struggled to his feet, pointing the weapon at the two men who were still rolling over and over in the snow.
"Stop!" he screamed. "Stop it!"
The two men separated, climbing to their feet. "Good job, kid," Hannibal said automatically when he saw Face pointing the weapon. To his surprise, Face knelt by Thompson and kept the weapon trained on Hannibal.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes, baby, I'm alright," Thompson answered. He took the gun back and laughed at the expression on Hannibal's face. He'd triumphed again.
"Drop your weapons!" he said to the others who were gathering around. "Richie, go gather them up and bring them over here."
Soon a neat pile of weapons sat in front of the two men, and Richie began to break them down without even thinking about how he knew how.
"Face," Hannibal said. "You can't do this. He's a murderer!"
"I'm a murderer," Richie said softly. "If you kill him, you'll have to kill me, too."
"Kid, don't say too much," Parker said. "I'm trying to ignore what I'm hearing, but you're making it hard."
Richie looked at him but leaned closer to Thompson. "Who are you?"
"Lieutenant Parker, Los Angeles police. You don't remember me, I know. But I know you."
Thompson pulled Richie close to him and stood. He kept his weapon trained on Hannibal. "We're leaving, Parker," Thompson said.
"Please," Murdock said softly behind them. "Please, Thompson, let him go. He doesn't even know who he is anymore. He can't possibly really love you."
"Why?" Thompson said, turning to face him. "Because I'm ugly? Because I'm old enough to be his father? That doesn't matter to him. I take good care of him. Better than you ever did, if you remember."
"Is that why you let Wright torture him for six months? If you cared about him, why didn't you help him get away?"
"Because we had a job to do. We were gathering evidence. You should be thanking us. We gave you enough to bring down Wright's entire organization."
"And what did you get out of it, Thompson?" Murdock asked.
"I got Richie, and we've taken care to provide a little...insurance...for our old age."
"In the form of blackmail, I'll bet. No wonder the mob's after you," Shelley said. "Unfortunately, you've made Richie a target now, too. Once they've hunted you down, they'll take him out as well."
"They're not going to find us. I have plenty of resources at my disposal."
"Face," Murdock said, "I know you're in there. I know you can hear me. Listen, Face, this man you think loves you and that you want to go away with was going to kill Richter and me at the cabin. He's the one who killed Dan and Keith. Don't you remember that? They were our friends, Face. Are you really going to go away and live with their murderer? Is that any way to honor their memories?"
Richie blinked and shifted his stance, and suddenly Murdock knew that it was Face standing there in front of him. The real Face. But there was none of the usual animation in his face, no light in his eyes. He might as well have been dead. He met Murdock's eyes for only a moment then dropped his gaze to the ground and kept it there. He did not speak.
"We're going to go now," Thompson said.
Murdock tried again. "Thompson, he's not who you think he is," he said.
Thompson shrugged. "I'm not who you think I am, either," he said. "In fact, I'm quite surprised nobody ever figured it out. I'm sure Ted must have told you his sad story about his brother Andrew who was supposed to have inherited part of their father's business but died in a tragic hunting accident. He loved to tell that story, even though he never quite got the end right."
"You're Andrew Wright?" Murdock asked.
"Yes," Thompson said. "Even Ted never figured it out. He tried to kill me in that hunting accident. He set the cabin we were staying in on fire and trapped me inside. The ceiling collapsed on me as I tried to get out. That's how I got this." He raised a hand to touch the scar on his cheek. "It was another twenty years before he saw me again, and when he did, he didn't recognize me. Even with all his vast resources, he never figured it out. And I've just been waiting for the right time and the right person to help me take him down. I knew someday it would happen. And it did."
"Face, you can't do this!" Murdock said.
Face sighed and looked up, his voice as exhausted and pained as his expression. "Please, Murdock, let me go," he whispered. "Let me go."
"Oh, Facey, is this really what you want?"
Face seemed to waver for a moment.
"Richie?" Thompson said. "Come on, Richie, let's go." He took Richie's arm and turned him.
It was too much. Too much. Face sank to his knees in the snow and buried his head in his arms.
Face didn't move. He couldn't move. He couldn't make this decision.
He didn't see the blur of movement to his left as Parker lunged at Thompson, didn't see Thompson raise his weapon. But he heard the sharp report echo through the silent woods, felt the blood splatter over him just before Thompson's body hit the ground beside him His head snapped up, and he saw Murdock holding a gun that had somehow remained concealed. Looking down, he saw what was left of Thompson, the left side of his face torn away, blood, bone, and brain matter littering the snow around them. For a moment he knelt there frozen in shock, then he threw himself across the man's body, sobbing and moaning, pressing his hands to Thompson's head as if trying to staunch the flow of blood.
Hannibal exchanged a glance with Murdock. They'd all seen Parker's peril, but only Murdock had been able to draw his second weapon in time. Murdock knelt beside Face and tried to pull him away from the man's body, but Face pulled roughly away from him and tried to crawl away. "No!" he cried. "Don't touch me. Don't touch me." Richter came forward and signaled Murdock to back off.
Face bolted back to his dark corner, screaming, clawing, hitting his head against the wall. He had to get away, get somewhere darker, smaller, somewhere this agonizing pain could not follow him. Richie and even the whore came to him and wrapped their arms around him as the three of them huddled in the corner together. Their protector was dead. The only person left who really loved them despite what they were, the person they'd counted on to take care of them. They were lost now, and utterly alone.
Hannibal came forward to place a hand on Murdock's shoulder. Murdock looked at him guiltily. Face hadn't seen what the rest of them had. He blamed Murdock for this; he thought Murdock had murdered Thompson so he couldn't take Face with him. "You didn't have any choice, Murdock," he said comfortingly. "You know that."
Murdock only nodded miserably. He knew it, but it didn't make it any easier to deal with. He hadn't killed anyone since he'd been in Vietnam. It hadn't been easy for him then, and it wasn't easy now. He stood and walked away from the others, wanting some privacy. The others let him go.
Hannibal turned to Parker with a sigh. "We need to take care of this body," he said, "and the others you found. If the mob is still after Thompson, they're still after Face. If these bodies turn up anywhere near here, they're going to be crawling all over the place." He glanced from where Murdock stood in the woods, his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket, his shoulders hunched and shaking, to where Face knelt in the snow, eerily silent now and still, his eyes staring emptily at nothing. "And right now, we'd never make it out alive." His eyes were drawn to Thompson's maimed body. "We'll have to bury them, and bury them deep," he finished matter-of-factly.
Hannibal saw Richter move to take charge of Face, crouching in the snow in front of the other man, speaking softly to him. He knew that his own presence was unnecessary there at the moment; if anyone could get Face off the ground and back to the cabin, it would be Richter. He hated to leave Face and Murdock alone when they were in such bad shape, but their survival might depend on how well he and B.A. could hide the traces of Thompson's activities in the area. That was his top priority right now. As always, his responsibilities superceded his natural inclination. Motioning B.A. to follow him, he headed up to the highway with Parker and Shelley to get what they'd need from the vehicles.
Hannibal stood beside the bed in the guest bedroom of Richter's cabin. "How is he?" he asked.
Face lay in the bed deeply asleep.
"He's heavily sedated right now," Richter said. "He'll sleep for a long time yet. At the moment it's too early to say how he is otherwise. He's suffering some from exposure, but the real damage is emotional. He was completely uncommunicative when I brought him here, and he hasn't moved or spoken since. But he's also completely exhausted and in shock. When he's had some rest, he may be a lot better. How's Murdock doing?"
"Not very well."
"I'm going to give you something to give him and help him sleep."
"He wants to be here with Face."
"I know he does, Hannibal, but I don't think that's the best thing right now. I'd like to keep Face here with me for awhile, maybe even a week or two. When the time is right, I'll send for Murdock and we'll hash this out." He hesitated. "It is safe for us to stay here, isn't it?"
Hannibal nodded. "For the moment, anyway, it should be. We buried Thompson and the two mob assassins he killed, and we had the car towed off to the local junkyard as a highway wreck. B.A is taking care of all that."
"How did the police know where I was?" Richter asked. "Did Wayne send them up?"
Hannibal glanced beyond Richter to where Face lay in the bed. There was no easy way to say this. "Wayne Benteen is dead. Thompson killed him to get the information to find Face. Evidently he knew Benteen already and must have known what he did the night Murdock was shot. If he figured out that Face would go after Benteen after he escaped and knew that somehow he had failed, all he had to do was lean on Benteen to get some idea where Face might be. Parker thinks Thompson must have discovered some correspondence between you and Benteen in Benteen's office and figured out that Face was here, so he came up to get you to tell him where Face was. Parker says Benteen's secretary has been trying to call you for the last couple of days to give you the news and tell you to be careful."
Richter shook his head. No matter where these men went, trouble went with them like fleas on a dog.
"Tell Murdock to hang on. I know he's hurting like hell right now, and I know he needs help. I'm going to get Face on a schedule, and he'll be in bed by nine o'clock every evening. Murdock can come by just before ten and we'll work together for awhile while Face sleeps."
Behind them, Parker and Shelley stepped quietly into the bedroom. "I hate to ask, Doctor," Parker said, "but I need some information if I'm going to let this case go down as an unsolved murder. I need to know for sure what Wright was doing to him."
"I know you do," Richter said. "I have Wayne's file on him with the notes from his initial examination."
"I'll take those, too, but I need to see it for myself," he said. He turned to Hannibal. "I'm not trying to be a voyeur, Hannibal, but you have to understand, Shelley and I are risking our jobs by withholding evidence. If this whole thing ever blows up in our faces, I don't want to be in any doubt that I did the right thing. Can you understand?"
Hannibal sighed "Yeah, Henry, I can." He nodded to Richter, who approached Face's bed, pulled back the covers, and began to pull off the sweats Face had shrugged into before Richter put him to bed.
Over the months the wounds had healed, but the scars were still evident on his chest, back, and legs. As Richter pulled on gloves and began pointing out to the detectives the evidence of prolonged sexual abuse, Hannibal marveled at how Face could have survived the six months of his captivity. He couldn't begin to fathom what it must have cost Face to endure that kind of torture night after night.
Parker and Shelley listened carefully and exchanged a few meaningful glances, comparing Face's injuries to the ones they'd seen inflicted on the young men in the videos.
"Alright, I think we've seen enough," Parker finally said. "Go ahead and get him dressed again."
"He must've been in pretty bad shape by the time he finally got out of there," Shelley said as Richter and Hannibal put Face's clothes back on him. "I don't think Wright would have let him live much longer."
Listening to them, Hannibal prayed he wouldn't have to make a choice between Face and Parker. He couldn't...wouldn't...allow Face to be taken into custody for this. "Parker," he said, "I've known Face for fifteen years. He's not a murderer, not by nature. He has killed, and I know he can, but no matter how disturbed he was, he'd never kill without plenty of provocation. I'd stake my life on it."
"I'd say you already have, Hannibal," said Parker. He turned to Shelley. "What do you think, Shel?"
Shelley shook her head. "You can't ask anyone to go through what he did and come out the other end okay. If Wright wasn't planning to kill him that night, it would have been soon." She looked back to where Face lay, picturing the dreadful scarring. "We owe him, anyway. He solved a lot of cases for us and got us the evidence we need to solve the others, and he risked his own life to do it. If he had to kill Wright in the process, well, cold-blooded as it sounds, I'm okay with it. I'm not bringing in a guy in his condition to stand trial for doing society a big favor."
Parker nodded and smiled in agreement. "We're going to have an unsolved murder for awhile, I think," he said. "As you suggested, Hannibal, I'll let it be known that Thompson and Richard Todd have been spotted in Seattle. That'll keep the mob busy up there and out of your hair for now. What do you think?"
"For now, that'll do," Hannibal said.
When the detectives left to return to the other cabin, Hannibal went to stand by Face's bed, watching him sleep. "Do you think Face is ever going to recover from this?"
Richter shrugged. "Nobody ever fully recovers from something like this. He's been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally by two men in the last six months. And that abuse is going to bring back memories of the abuse he suffered in Vietnam and possibly even before that."
"Before? He never said anything."
"He may not even remember it, if it did happen. It may have happened at a time when he was too young to consciously remember. Or he may have simply given the memory to another entity as he has to Richie and the whore. I don't know. It could take years of therapy to find out, and he may even decide he doesn't want to know it all."
"And that's okay?"
"For some patients, it is. For some, just dealing with the abuse they remember is hard enough. If the abuse they don't remember isn't interfering with their lives, there's not necessarily any reason to drag them through the process. Just dealing with the last six months is going to be painful enough for him, I'm afraid, and for Murdock, too. But you have to give them the time to do it, Hannibal. You've got to protect them both the best you can and let them heal."
Hannibal took out a cigar but didn't light it, just stuck it in his mouth and sucked on the end of it. "I'm not convinced the threat from the mob is gone yet," he said. "I think they're going to keep tracking him until they find him."
"I don't think Face can take even one more thing," Richter said. "Not right now."
Hannibal nodded. "We'll make sure nothing happens to him this time," he said. "And in the spring, we'll arrange an accidental death for Richard Todd, get him buried in a nice grave back east, and let the mob think the problem is solved. In the meantime, Doc, please just do all you can for my men." He let his gaze linger on Face's still body. "We've been through a lot in the last fifteen years. Those two especially. They've followed me without question, risked their lives dozens of times for me and for our clients. They've given up any semblance of a normal life to do what we do. I thought when they finally figured out their attraction for each other and did something about it, it would make their lives easier. They'd have a connection with each other that they both needed and never could make with anyone else. Instead, their lives have been a living hell ever since. Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have discouraged the attraction?"
"No, Hannibal," Richter said. "You did the right thing. I've known for years how Murdock feels about Peck. Even I tried to encourage him to act on it. If things hadn't taken the turn they did with Ted Wright, getting Face and Murdock together would have been the best thing for both of them. Even now, their love may be their salvation."
"I hope you're right, Richter," Hannibal said. He turned away and bent to retrieve the weapon he'd leaned against the doorway when he came in. "B.A., Murdock, and I will keep watch here and at our cabin. When Parker starts spreading the story that Thompson and Face have been spotted in Seattle, it'll probably distract the mob for awhile while they check it out. By then, maybe we'll be so snowed in nobody can reach us. In the meantime, we'll take care of getting in food and supplies for the rest of the winter for you and for us."
Richter nodded. "Face needs to feel safe again, Hannibal."
"He needs to be safe again," Hannibal said. "I let him down once; it's not going to happen again."
Face remained silent for the next three days, refusing food or drink, and Richter could not coax even the alters out. He sat huddled under a blanket on the floor in the corner of his room where he could see all the doors and windows. Richter sat patiently with him, trying to break through Face's stubborn defenses. Finally, on the evening of the fourth day, the whore ventured out and spoke to Richter, but with none of his usual bravado. He was as frightened and lost as the others.
"Why did he do it?"
Richter had to tread carefully. "Are you asking why Murdock killed Thompson?"
The whore nodded.
"He didn't have a choice. You didn't see it, but the rest of us did. Thompson was going to kill one of the police officers. And after he'd done that, I don't have any doubt that he would have killed the rest of us as well."
The whore glared at him angrily. "I don't believe you. He said he'd let you live. He wouldn't lie about that. He loved us."
"You're right. In a certain way, he did love you. But not in the way you thought. Not in the way you need to be loved."
The whore closed his eyes and pulled the blanket around himself where he sat in the corner with Richter sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of him. He looked as if he were tuning Richter out, but Richter knew he was listening intently.
"He loved you the same way someone loves their most cherished possessions. He liked to show you off. To him, you were a symbol of his victory over his brother. A trophy. He managed to win your affection through your gratitude for his kindness, and he used that to manipulate you into doing anything he asked you to and believing anything he told you. And I think you can be sure that if the time ever came when he thought he couldn't keep you, he would have destroyed you as well."
"Are you going to take me to the police now?" the whore asked.
"No," Richter said gently. "The police aren't interested in you. They're not going to press any charges."
The whore seemed to accept that explanation and did not ask any more questions. Richter managed to get him to eat a few bites of food and drink something before he retreated to his bed again.
Face sat silently at the small table in Richter's guest bedroom, his hands wrapped around a steaming mug of tea. He stared out at the snow falling in fat white flakes. Beside him Richter nursed his own mug of tea. In the three weeks since Thompson's death, Face had come out from behind Richie and the whore more and more often. Sometimes he would talk, and sometimes he wouldn't. Sometimes he just sat and watched what was going on. Other times, as he had today, he wandered restlessly around the house touching things, reaching out tentatively toward an object as if he feared it would disappear. When it didn't, he would pick it up, turn it over in his hands, run the tips of his fingers over the surface as if he were blind.
"Why are you doing that?" Richter asked him gently.
On every other occasion, Face had ignored the question. Today he did not. "Is this real?" he asked softly, tracing the design on the side of a red plastic mug with a fingertip.
"The mug is real."
Face continued to trace the design over and over. It was an airplane, a white biplane embossed on the side of the cheap mug. Murdock had brought the mug back as a souvenir from an air show he'd attended with Face a couple of years ago, and Richter had carted it around with him from place to place mainly because it was unbreakable. And because he had a soft spot for Murdock.
Face replaced the mug and continued his journey around the room, touching things, asking the same question. Finally he reached the bathroom and stood for a long time looking into the mirror at his own reflection before he reached out to touch it. "Am I real?" he asked.
Standing behind him, Richter nodded. "You are real."
Face continued to stare at his reflection. "How do I know? How do I know I'm not just somebody that someone else made up?"
Richter considered the question for a few moments, trying to decide where to take this conversation. "Before you first came out," he asked, "where were you?"
Face thought for a moment. "At home."
"Tell me about your home."
"My family was there."
"Who is in your family?"
"My mother and father, my brothers, and my sister."
Richter led Face back into the living room and made him comfortable on the couch, allowing him to wrap up in the afghan he automatically reached for. He questioned Face further, drawing out the descriptions of the perfect family Face had invented. His heart ached for his patient, wishing he really had had the loving storybook family he'd made up for himself.
"Where do you spend most of your time at home?"
"In the playroom."
"Can you close your eyes and see the playroom?"
Face closed his eyes. "Yes."
"Books. Toys. My sister's dollhouse. A red balloon. My mother's rocking chair."
"It sounds like a nice room."
"Are there windows?"
"What are they like?"
"They're big. They have green and yellow curtains. The moon is shining through them."
"So it's night there?"
"Is it always night there?"
"No. I like it better at night."
Face was silent a moment. "At night, everybody's home. Everybody's safe."
Richter nodded to himself. "I want you to walk to the window and look out."
In his mind, Face obediently walked to the window.
"Look out and tell me the first thing you see. Do it quickly."
Face stiffened, pulling the afghan as tightly around himself as he could.
"Quickly, what do you see?" Richter repeated.
"I...I can't see anything. Just...fog."
"Open your eyes, Face. Look at me."
Face obeyed, his eyes darting around the room before focusing on Richter.
"Why do you think you would see fog outside when the moon is shining through the window?"
"I don't know."
Richter stood. "Come with me, please," he said. He walked to the door, pulled on a jacket and boots, and took Face's jacket off the hook by the door, holding it out toward the other man.
Reluctantly Face stood, discarding the afghan. He pulled on the jacket Richter held out to him and thrust his sock-clad feet into his boots, looking confused and unhappy.
Richter opened the door and stepped out onto the small porch, motioning Face to follow. Face went outside, the first time he'd been out of the house since leaving with Thompson three weeks earlier.
"What do you see, Face?" Richter asked.
Feeling somewhat foolish, Face described what he saw.
"Do you remember seeing this before?" Richter asked.
Richter pointed toward a small rise just beyond the edge of the property. "Have you ever been to the top of that rise?" he asked.
Face shook his head.
"Let's go see what's there."
Face didn't really understand where Richter was going with this, but he followed anyway, trudging up the snow-covered rise, finding himself somewhat winded when he reached the top. From the small rise, he could see a stream burbling its way through a snow-covered clearing. On the far side of the clearing lay a fallen tree along which two squirrels chased each other. The wind was picking up, stirring up eddies of soft, powdery snow, and dark clouds gathered on the horizon.
"What do you see?" Richter asked.
Face described the scene as he saw it.
"What is the temperature like?"
Richter scooped up some snow, holding it out to Face, who took it gingerly.
"Make a snowball."
Face followed directions.
"Does that make your hands cold?"
Richter nodded. "Now throw it."
"Anywhere. Except at me." Richter smiled a bit.
Face hesitated, looking about, then threw the snowball at an evergreen that stood alone halfway across the clearing. As it thumped into the tree, several crows exploded from the branches, cawing loudly and angrily.
Face looked at Richter expectantly.
"Did you know the birds were there?" Richter asked.
"This is how you know you are real. How you know this is real," Richter said. "There is a world that exists independent of your understanding. You can't anticipate it or control it. You didn't know this clearing was here, and yet when you came over the rise, here it was. You didn't know the birds were in the tree, but when you startled them, they took off."
Richter led the way back to the house, letting Face mull things over in silence as they walked. When they got back to the house and pulled off jackets and boots, Face curled up on the couch again, shivering, and pulled the afghan over him. Richter tossed another log on the fire, warmed his hands for a minute, then sat in an armchair near the couch.
"When you go away," Richter said, "and Richie or the whore come out, where do you go?"
"Where do you sleep?"
"I...I don't know. I just sleep."
"Not in your parents' house? In your own bed?"
Face shook his head.
"I can't get back."
"Why can't you get back?"
Face finally understood the point of the conversation. He felt his eyes fill as his throat closed up. "It...it isn't real," he whispered. "I made it up."
"But the others...did I make them up? Or did they make me up?"
Richter chose his words carefully. "You are all real," he said. "You are all part of the same person."
"No, we can't be. We didn't all do the same things."
"Face, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to Richie for a few minutes," Richter said. "And I'd like you and the whore to just watch. Can you do that? And then I'll talk to you again in a little while."
Richter sat back and gave Face a moment to compose himself. Richie and the whore had become adept at switching at his request, at least when they were cooperating with him. Face was new to the experience, and it sometimes took him a few moments longer to accomplish. As Richter watched, Face blinked, shifted in his seat, and Richie was there.
Face looked around. There was the whore, sitting on the floor in a small pool of light in the center of the room. This must be his inside reality, the one Richter had told him about before. It was sparse. He wondered if it would be okay for him to put a rug or something in it.
'Pay attention!' the whore snapped, pulling him down. The whore let Richie and Face out more often than he used to, content to take a back seat, but he always paid close attention to what was going on. He was Richter's second in command, his lieutenant, as it were, and it was his job to pay attention, to make sure nothing went wrong, to help Richter keep the others safe. Face didn't like him much, but he respected him, and he knew he owed him. So Face sat and turned his attention to where Richter and Richie sat talking.
"Face is sad," Richie said.
"Maybe you should have let him keep his family."
"He has a family. Murdock and B.A. and Hannibal are his family."
"Like Paul is my family?"
"Paul and Murdock are the same person," Richter said gently. "Just like you and Face are the same person."
Richie shook his head. "No, Doctor," he said. "Paul told me that, too. But you see, Face and I are...we're like brothers...but we're not the same."
"In your inner world, you're brothers," Richter said. "But out here, in the outside world, you're the same."
"But the same things didn't happen to us!" Richie insisted.
It was time, Richter knew, to push a little. He stood, motioning Richie to follow him. They went into the guest bedroom where Face was staying, and Richter closed the door behind them. On the back of the door was a full-length mirror.
"I'd like you to take off your sweatshirt for a minute, Richie."
"But it's cold!"
"It'll just be for a minute. I want to show you something."
Richie shrugged. He trusted Richter, though, and liked him, so he did as he was told.
"Come and stand here beside me," Richter said, standing in front of the mirror.
Richie complied, his eyes meeting Richter's in the mirror.
"Look at yourself," Richter commanded, putting a hand on Richie's shoulder and urging him a step closer to the mirror.
Richie looked at himself in the mirror. The scar on his collarbone he expected, as well as the one on his side. Those were from the bullet wounds he had suffered. But when he looked, really looked, for the first time, he could see more. Scars, ugly white scars, criss-crossed his chest and belly. He could feel a slight sting, hear the whispered echo of leather whipping through the air. Richter kept a hand on Richie's shoulder and turned him a bit so he could look at his back. More scars.
Stricken, Richie turned to Richter. "He did it to me, too?"
Richie shook his head. "I'd remember. It can't be!"
"The whore is holding those memories for you. He's protecting you until you can bear to remember them yourself."
"No! This can't be my body!"
"The scars are there," Richter insisted gently. "In your inside world, you have separate bodies. But out here, in the real world, all of you share one body."
Richie pulled away and pulled his sweatshirt back on. He pulled another one on over it then pulled the coverlet off the bed and wrapped it around himself. He didn't want to believe it, but he'd seen the evidence with his own eyes. "I...I need to think about it," he said.
"It's a lot to take in all at once, isn't it. Why don't you rest a bit while I talk to Face."
Again the transformation took place. Face made no move to discard the coverlet or extra sweatshirt, though he did move to the small table beside the window to sit. Turning his vision inward, he watched Richie take his place in the small pool of light. Grudgingly but gently, the whore put one arm around Richie's shoulders as Richie leaned against him seeking warmth and comfort.
Richter sat at the table next to Face, watching him. Finally Face sighed and met Richter's eyes. "I wanted to die, you know," he said. "The first night, after Murdock was shot, I wanted to die. I was going to find a way to send Hannibal the evidence, and then I was going to let Wright kill me."
"They wouldn't let me."
"Why do you think that was?"
"I don't know. I just know that they always were there to help me. I started telling them what my plan was, and as time went by, I just kind of let them do more and more. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to forget." He shook his head. "I guess I did, because I can't remember very much now."
"For the moment, that's okay. I want you to spend more time catching up on your rest and getting your health back. As time goes by, when you're ready, we'll get your memories back for you. Be patient with yourself."
Face sighed and sat in silence for awhile. Richter left him alone with his thoughts but returned later with two cups of tea and took a seat again at the table. Face again contemplated the red plastic mug. It was gaudy, but cheerful and sturdy. He looked more closely at the design. In black pen, Murdock had drawn Snoopy standing on the wing of the plane, smiling and fearless, his scarf trailing out behind him in the breeze. How like Snoopy. How like Murdock.
Richter watched Face blink back tears as he stared down into the tea cup, his hands wrapped tightly around it. He said nothing, though, as he went to the nightstand for a box of tissues and brought it back to the table.
This had to be real, Face thought, because it hurt. Because he was lonely and scared and lost. He could never make up a world so grim.
Murdock was tired by the time he'd trudged three miles through the snow to Richter's house. He didn't want to take the snowmobile because he didn't want the noise to wake Face, who would surely be asleep by now. B.A. had found a pair of snowshoes in the storage shed, so he'd donned those for his walk. The path was easy enough to find even in the heavy snowfall, so he didn't really mind the walk.
Face had been with Richter more than three weeks now, and true to his word, Richter had gotten him into a routine. He was in bed fast asleep every night by nine, and he was finally eating something three times a day. At least that's what Richter said. Murdock didn't have any other way to know because he hadn't been allowed to see or talk to Face the whole time. The offer had been made, but Face had refused, and Richter had abided by his decision.
Murdock didn't really want to go see Richter, and he knew his very reluctance was a bad sign. It had been a very long time since he'd been reluctant to visit with his psychiatrist. The days he had been were some of his worst times, the days he'd been most ill. Even when he wasn't really telling Richter anything, he'd enjoyed talking to him. Now he couldn't even think of anything to say. How could he verbalize the emptiness and the numbness he felt? How could he talk about how he felt when he didn't know if he felt anything at all anymore? Well, that wasn't true. He felt things, but they were things he didn't want to feel. Things he was ashamed to feel.
He was angry. Angry at Wright, angry at Thompson, angry at Hannibal, at himself, and even, maybe especially, at Face. But he shouldn't be angry at him. Face was the victim here, the one who had been abused and manipulated.
The one who had turned to another man for comfort when Murdock had been sitting and waiting for him patiently for six months.
No, that wasn't right. It wasn't fair. He knew Face couldn't help what had happened, had no longer been in any condition to resist Thompson's shrewd manipulation. It wasn't as if he'd simply gone out and found someone else; it wasn't as if he'd known Murdock was even still alive. But it hurt so deeply to see him be intimate with another man right in front of him, to see him docilely accept the man's attentions. He was just plain jealous. And pissed. Really pissed. And even though Murdock had saved Face's life, had killed another human being for his sake, Face had still rejected him, crawling away from him as if he were to blame for all of it. It wasn't fair!
He'd worked himself into quite a state before he got halfway to Richter's house. He stopped to rest for a couple of minutes and calm himself before he continued. He finally got back on his way and rapidly covered the rest of the distance. On the porch, he unfastened the snowshoes and leaned them against the rail. As he did so, Richter opened the door.
"I wasn't sure you were going to make it tonight," Richter said.
"Stopped to admire the view," Murdock said, brushing the snow off the legs of his pants and stepping inside. He stopped cold when he got past Richter and heard the door close behind them.
"He decided he wanted to see you after all," Richter said behind him.
Face looked better than he had the last time Murdock had seen him. He was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, and he was nursing a cup of tea. He would not look up from the tea, but he acknowledged Murdock's presence with a slight nod. Murdock took a couple of steps toward Face, and he tensed up, shrinking back in his chair.
"Easy, Murdock," Richter said softly. "He still doesn't want to be touched."
"But it's...is it?" Murdock's voice trailed off.
"It's him," Richter said. "It may not be all evening, but he's getting better and better at staying out, and his alters are cooperating." He walked to the table, picked up a mug, and poured tea into it from the pot on the table. "Let's sit down and get started. You two have a lot to talk about."
Richter idly noted as he entered Face's room that it was snowing heavily again. He hoped it wouldn't prevent Murdock from keeping his appointment that night. They'd begun to make some progress, and he wanted to see it continue. Right now, though, he had other problems. He tightened the knot on the ties of his bathrobe and sat on the side of Face's bed. He'd been wakened from sleep by Face's cries and found him sitting straight up in bed, a pillow clutched tightly to his chest.
Face looked at Richter then closed his eyes, hunching more tightly over his pillow as if his stomach hurt. "I'm sorry I woke you up," he whispered.
"It's alright. Are you ill?"
Face shook his head. "Just a nightmare."
"Okay. Just take a few deep breaths and calm yourself." Richter glanced at his watch. It was half past four. This was the third time since he'd put Face to bed at nine o'clock that Face's cries or the sound of him thrashing around had brought Richter into the room. As Face finally released the pillow and sat up, rubbing his hands over his face, Richter could see that he was exhausted. The last two nights it had been sudden painful headaches that had kept him awake; tonight it was nightmares. He badly needed some rest. And so did Richter. More out of habit than anything else, he took Face's wrist and counted his pulse.
"Face, I'd really like you to take something to help you sleep tonight. You've been through the wringer the last couple of days, and we could both use some real rest. Why don't you let me give you something, then we'll chat a little while we wait for it to take effect." He knew Face was very leery of taking anything. He'd remembered and told Richter about his discovery...Richie's, really, but it was one of the memories he'd just given back to Face...that Wright controlled the young men he abused through drug addiction. And Face had always had a horror of addiction as it was. He might be self-indulgent in many ways, but that would never be one of them. Though Richter had prescribed him a mild sedative to help him sleep, he very seldom ever took it.
Though he was reluctant, Face knew Richter was right. He was wiped out. As often happened to him after a severe headache, he was completely drained, and he could scarcely work up the energy to move from a chair to a bed and back again. But for some reason his mind was working overtime, crowded with images, words, and feelings he couldn't sort out, and when he did manage to fall asleep, it was only to be assailed by nightmares. He could see that Richter was tired, too. Finally, he nodded.
Richter brought him the pill and a glass of water then helped him settle back, straightening the bedclothes and returning the blanket Face's thrashing had knocked onto the floor. That done, he sat on the bed again. "Tell me about your dream."
Face closed his eyes. "I was at work...at Wright's firm...and the office was full of people I worked with. Only their families were there, too. And while the adults were visiting, I kept watching their little kids start walking down the hallway towards Wright's office. The hallway was dark, and I was afraid to go down there myself. I'd take a couple of steps in and grab a kid as he started down and bring him back, but while I was doing that, another one would get by me, and I'd have to go try to get him. But kids kept getting by me, and by the time I'd see them, they'd be so far down the hall that I was afraid to follow them. I tried to make myself go, but I just couldn't do it." How could he explain the unreasoning and overwhelming terror he'd felt standing at the end of that dark passage, knowing what lay at the end of it? The shame of standing there and watching little children go to their deaths while he did nothing, hamstrung by the fear of what would happen to him if he allowed himself to take too many steps into the darkness. "And so then I was back in my office and all their parents were sitting around drinking cocktails and talking and not even wondering where their kids were. And I kept going from person to person trying to interrupt their conversations and get them to listen to me so I could tell them what he was going to do to their kids, to get them to find their kids and keep them in the office with them, but nobody would listen. I thought, you know, if I could just get one person to go with me, maybe I'd be brave enough to go down there. But they wouldn't even stop talking long enough to listen, no matter how much I screamed at them." He sighed and opened his eyes. "Sounds stupid, doesn't it?"
Richter shook his head. "No, it just sounds like a nightmare. And like you've had a lot on your mind lately while you're trying to sort out how you feel about all this. I think maybe Richie and the whore are giving you back your memories too quickly. We'll have to slow it down some and see if that helps you sleep better."
Face sighed. "I wonder sometimes what all those people at work must think about all this. I ruined it all for them, you know. They had good jobs, benefits, a nice place to go to work, and now, I'll bet there's nothing left for them."
"Did you like working there?" Richter asked.
Face nodded. "Yeah, I did. I mean, it wasn't exactly like just having a job because every time anyone's back was turned, I was breaking into file cabinets and hacking into computers instead of really working. And I knew Wright was into something crooked. But the people that worked for him in his office, like Dan and Keith, they were alright. You know? They were nice people. They treated me and Paul...Murdock...really well. Some of them even invited us over sometimes...backyard barbecues with their families, stuff like that. Stuff regular people do."
"You like doing stuff regular people do?"
Face nodded again. "You read about it, you know? Wife, kids, a dog, a house with a swimming pool. But I never got to really see what it was like before. I went from the dorm at the orphanage to the dorm at college and then to the army." He shrugged. "It was nice to feel normal for awhile. It was nice to be part of something."
"You were happy."
Face was surprised for a moment then realized it was true. He had been happy. "Yeah," he said, "I guess I was."
"Hold on to that," Richter said. "Remember how it feels. And remember that even in the middle of Wright's depraved little world, there were good people, nice people, who treated you well and respected you. It wasn't all bad. It's often very, very bad, but it's never all bad."
Face thought about it, tried to remember how many truly good, accepting, compassionate people he'd met in his short stint at Wright's corporate headquarters.
"And while some of them will perhaps struggle financially for awhile while they try to find other work," Richter continued, "you need to also remember that what you did probably really did save the lives of at least some of their children. As young men followed their fathers into Wright's employ thinking they'd found a business that really took care of the family, there's no reason to believe Wright wouldn't have started picking his victims from the local gene pool. They may never know what you did for them, but you'll know. They were good people, people who treated you as an equal, and you really have given them something in return. Chew on that for awhile and see if it makes sense to you."
Face lay silently, staring up at the ceiling. When Richter could see that the sedative was taking effect, he turned off the bedside lamp he'd flipped on when he came in. "See if you can sleep now," he said.
Face made a sleepy noise of assent, turned on his side, and curled up under the blankets. Richter sat by his side until he was sure Face was truly asleep before making his way wearily back to his own bed. Once there, he turned off the alarm he'd set. They were both going to sleep in tomorrow, he decided. They'd earned it.
It was another three weeks before Richter felt Face was well enough to return to their cabin. In that time, he made fairly rapid progress. Murdock continued to go to Richter's at night, sometimes after Face had gone to bed and sometimes a little earlier when they would both participate. Their meetings together were sometimes filled with long, awkward silences while each searched for some way to explain his feelings. Other times they were filled with tears and anger at each other and the world. Face didn't even have a complete memory of everything that had happened to him; the whore and Richie carried those memories, and only slowly were they giving them back under Richter's direction. Unfortunately, Face's memory of the events of the day of Thompson's death were vivid and complete. He could not explain even to himself how completely he had given in to the other man. His guilt remained a hard lump in his chest that he could not dislodge. Eventually, he and Murdock were back on an even keel, their old friendship beginning to reestablish itself, though it was more restrained than it had been. But Face could not bring himself to allow anyone but Richter to touch him. Murdock tried to understand it. It was as it had been after Vietnam. They'd have to work at it. But he was willing to do that. Face wasn't ready to have a lover yet. Maybe he never would be. But he was ready for a friend again, and Murdock could be that for him.
As the winter progressed, Richie and the whore took control less and less often until finally each of them was reintegrated and Face was more or less whole again. His depression hung over him like a cloud, and he spent a lot of time indoors wrapped in a blanket. He played over and over in his mind the events of the last year, dwelling on the small things he should have noticed, the things he should have done and said, the mistakes he'd made. The shades of Dan and Keith, of the woman killed in the driveby, of Wright, Thompson, Dr. Benteen, even of the guard, MacArthur, pursued him through his dreams, and their silent accusations had him struggling out of sleep to find himself completely out of bed. Richter worked with him every day, knowing time was of the essence. With the spring thaw would come the renewed threat of detection by the mob, and Face needed to be as well as possible by then. He worked with Murdock as well, knowing Murdock's healing was as important as Face's. When he was ready to accept it, Murdock's love would be Face's best medicine.
B.A. sat at the kitchen table fussing with some parts, trying to assemble a radio. Hannibal was on watch, Murdock was doing some work on Richter's cabin, and B.A., left to watch over the still-sleeping Face, was tired of listening to the silence. He'd have been grateful even for Murdock's usually annoying singing, but Murdock hadn't sung in almost a year. He was as quiet as Face these days. B.A. wasn't much of a talker, but he listened more than people ever gave him credit for. And he knew the team. He could tell by the sounds of their voices what their moods were well before they ever came into a room so he could see the expressions on their faces. And when there was nothing but silence, things were grim.
Even when they were on a stressful case, on edge, there was conversation. Murdock acted crazy, Face either indulged Murdock's insanity or made sarcastic comments about the chances of their coming through the case alive, and Hannibal glibly assured the others that everything would be okay. They each had their own role in that kind of situation, as if the automatic responses to each other created a kind of energy that sustained them even while each was busy with his own thoughts, reviewing his part of the plan, working out his timing. Like a machine in perfect working order, there was noise that let you know it was working. When the noise stopped, when the finely tuned machine ground to a halt, that was when you knew there was trouble. And right now, the team's machinery was dead silent.
B.A. thought perhaps it would help to bring in some noise from the outside, to remind the rest of the team that despite their own problems, life was going on somewhere. Other people, people just like them with triumphs and traumas of their own, were getting by somehow. Besides, as someone who listened a lot, B.A. knew the power of music to calm, soothe, and inspire. And he knew Murdock and Face both loved music, though their tastes were not the same as his. If nothing else, the radio would at least fill up the oppressive silence that echoed more loudly than screams through the house.
He looked up from his work to find Face standing right at the end of the hallway watching him. He looked tired, as if he'd had a bad night, but he was showered and dressed. And, as usual, silent. He made himself smile as he beckoned Face closer.
"I'm just puttin' together a radio for us," he said. "Thought you might like some music."
Face just shrugged, but he sat at the table next to B.A. and watched. B.A. began asking Face to hand him things, to hold parts while he soldered or wired bits together, and Face complied silently. Face was okay with things like this...little things. B.A. had been amazed that Face could pick locks with a paper clip but couldn't pound a nail straight to save his soul. The time passed pleasantly enough, and finally the radio was finished. B.A. stuck in a battery and fiddled with the knob.
"Let's see what we can get," he said. Reception wasn't likely to be too good up here, but he hoped he could get something. Finally he managed to pull in a classical music station. "How's that?" he asked.
B.A. gathered up the leftover parts and arranged them under his tools in the toolbox then stood. "You can listen to it anytime you want," he said. "Take it into your room at night if you like. I got lots of batteries, so you can keep it on all night if you want to."
Face looked up at him. "Thank you," he whispered.
Already the atmosphere in the room seemed to lighten a bit. B.A. smiled. It was the same reassuring grin the gruff man gave the small children who always seemed to flock around him. "It's okay," he said. "We needed some tunes around here."
That night Face took the little radio to bed with him, and when Murdock went in to check on him, he heard the tinny strains coming from under Face's pillow, though Face himself was sound asleep. When Face woke from nightmares, the little radio reminded him he was not alone, that there was someone else in the world awake when he was, and the music soothed him back to sleep. After that, he spent a lot of time with B.A., sitting silently at his elbow and watching him work, content to sit in silence and watch the other man work miracles with spare parts. B.A. accepted his presence, wishing he could repair Face and fix his broken parts as easily as he had assembled the radio.
Murdock and Richter stood at the window in the kitchen of the team's cabin and watched Face as he stood outside and assisted B.A. with repairs to a second snowmobile that B.A. had found in the shed behind the cabin. Never one to remain inactive when machinery was sitting around in disrepair, B.A. had requested Face's assistance when Richter was finished with him for the day. Face had shrugged on a heavy coat and gloves and silently gone outside to help.
Under B.A.'s direction, Face held what he was asked to hold, cleaned and oiled parts, and handed B.A. tools and parts.
"How does he seem to you these days?" Richter asked.
Murdock shrugged. "A little better overall, I think," he said. "But not happy. He's so quiet, it's easy to forget he's here, sometimes." He nodded towards where the men were working. "They've been working on that engine for a couple of days, and they hardly exchange two words. B.A. tells him what to do, and he does it, but he rarely starts a conversation. Not with any of us. B.A. doesn't mind; he's not much of a talker anyway. But it's harder for Hannibal and me."
Richter nodded. "What's hardest for you, Murdock?"
Murdock busied himself rinsing a glass one of them had left in the sink. "I want to hold him, Doc. I want to make love to him."
"Your last blood tests came back negative," Richter said. "So did the sample from Thompson's body. When both of you are ready, there's no reason not to."
"I know. But I don't think he's ready. He's getting a little better, but it's taking so long." He turned away from the window and sat down at the kitchen table. Richter sat across from him and watched Murdock turn the salt shaker around and around in his hands. "I'm ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I'm sorry Richie reintegrated. He at least let me hold him."
"He's letting you touch him sometimes, isn't he?"
"Yeah, sometimes. Most of the time I can put my hand on his arm now, and he doesn't jump like he's been burned. But he avoids touching any of us as much as he can. You noticed the way he lays the tools down next to B.A. instead of just handing them to him?"
"It's as bad as it was after Vietnam," Murdock said. "He's so jumpy sometimes, I have to start talking to him while I'm clear on the other side of the cabin so he knows I'm coming into the room. He's getting headaches all the time now, and he won't let me help him at all. Before the reintegration, he at least used to let me rub his neck. Now he just suffers alone."
"Have you broached the subject with him?" Richter said.
Murdock shook his head. "No, I don't even want to approach him about it until I know he's ready to think about it."
"Maybe he's already thinking about it."
"Maybe he is," Murdock said. He stopped rotating the salt shaker and reached for the pepper instead, giving it the same treatment. "He's always been hard to read, and we've never really known what he was thinking. He's good at talking a lot without ever really telling you anything, you know?"
Richter smiled. He knew only too well how good Face was at carrying on conversations without ever giving anything away. Almost as good as Murdock.
"You two need to talk about this," he said. "And I think if you wait for him to bring it up, you're going to be old and gray before he ever does."
"Do you think he doesn't...want to be involved anymore?"
"I think he's carrying around a shit load of grief and guilt right now, and it's more than he can handle. He feels so guilty about everything that's happened that he can't imagine you could ever forgive him or love him again."
"Did he tell you that?"
"You know I can't tell you what we talk about. I'm just giving you the best advice I can as your therapist. Talk to him. Honestly."
"Will he be honest or just try to bullshit me?"
Richter shrugged. "I can't say what he'll do. He might open up to you, and he might not. He might not even know himself what he feels. Do you know what you feel?"
"I know I love him."
"Even after he had an affair with Thompson? I know you can forgive him for Wright because he was more or less a prisoner and it was his only way to get to Wright's computer files, but can you forgive him for turning to Thompson? For loving him?"
"Face didn't love him!"
"I know that, and you know it, but he doesn't. And right now, he's hard to convince. He depended on Thompson like a child depends on his father. He turned to him for comfort. He gave into him completely. Face formed a bond with him, unhealthy but strong. And right now he doesn't have the understanding or the vocabulary to express the way he feels. So he identifies it as love because it's the only thing he knows to call it." He paused. "And you, my friend, are jealous."
"Of course I'm jealous!" Murdock snapped, slamming the pepper shaker down on the table. "No matter how I try to rationalize it, it hurt like hell to see him go with Thompson, to choose him over me."
"In the end, he didn't choose Thompson over you. What you're really pissed about is the fact that Face didn't even flinch when Thompson unzipped his pants."
"Well, how do you expect me to feel about that?"
"I expect you to feel like you do. And I also expect you to be honest with Face about it."
Murdock sighed. "I'm afraid I'm going to scare him away if I do that, Doc. He's not very good at conflict. He's always avoided it, always tried to smooth things over. And if he can't do that, he walks away. Look what he did when he thought I was dead. He jumped right straight from the frying pan into the fire. And when he couldn't escape that conflict, he ran away into his own head. What if I make him do that again?"
"Is that what you're afraid of? That his reintegration is going to dissolve? Or that you're going to see some other personalities we didn't know about before?"
"He's on the edge, Doc. Even Hannibal and B.A. can see it, and they haven't been in therapy for ten years like I have. How many guys have you seen over the years that looked like they were getting better and then went over the edge and ended up locked up for the rest of their lives?"
"He's fragile," Richter said. "I'll grant you that. But he's not weak. They're not the same thing. He has to face what's happened to him in the last year. He has to learn to deal with what he sees as his failures."
"He's not a failure!"
"I didn't say he was. I said he sees things he's done or not done as failures on his part. Seven people have died since he first infiltrated Wright's office, and he feels responsible for every one of them. He knows if he had made different choices, things might have been different."
"Doc, I hope you're not letting him believe this is his fault."
"I'm not letting him believe anything at all. I'm just helping him figure out what he really does feel, what happened, and try to put it in perspective. The fact of the matter is that if he had made different choices in some of those matters, things might have ended differently. Whether they'd have been better or worse, nobody can say. And as little as we repent the loss, he killed a man. That's weighing pretty heavily on his conscience right now. You've got to let him acknowledge his part in the way events unfolded so he can see things as they really are. He needs you, all three of you, to help him sort it out. It's going to take a long time, Murdock."
"But that's still not addressing my original question. What if this confrontation drives him away again?"
"For what it's worth, I don't think it will. There may be other personalities we haven't seen yet, and if they manifest themselves, we'll deal with it. But he's stronger than anyone gives him credit for, I think. Like you did, he's learning how to talk about what he feels. And you're right. It's slow, and he's sometimes very reluctant, but no more than you were. If you love him, you can't keep avoiding the issue. He's got to know he can say what he feels without someone telling him not to feel that way. And he's got to know you're being honest with him about your feelings. He's got to know where you're coming from if he's ever going to be able to repair his relationship with you, and if you're ever going to be able to teach him again what love really is."
"You just said he was carrying more guilt than he could handle. Why do you want me to pour on more?"
"Do you think he doesn't already feel guilty about Thompson? It's not the guilt he feels I'm worried about, it's his inability to express it and work through it. He can't ask the dead to forgive him, but he can ask you, if you give him the chance. He can work through this one small part of his guilt with someone who can forgive him and lighten his load a little bit. You've got to let him acknowledge that he hurt you. Whether or not he was in control of or even really understood the situation is another matter entirely." Richter reached across the table and laid a hand over Murdock's. "When he knows you can forgive him, maybe he can forgive himself."
"I can forgive him anything. I always could. In a way, I can't really blame him for turning to Thompson. He thought I was dead. He's always been so...so unaccountably grateful for any little kindness anyone shows him. Maybe because he grew up not really expecting it. He'd do anything for anyone who was nice to him or who acted like they needed him. It gets him in trouble all the time. He just can't say no."
"But he can say he's sorry. Let him say it, Murdock, and don't try to tell him not to be. He's sick of being the victim. You're going to have to make the first move, but let him own this one."
Murdock nodded. "Okay, Doc."
They were interrupted as the door opened and Face and B.A. stepped in brushing snow from their clothing. "Sorry to interrupt," Face said quietly, not quite making eye contact. "It's snowing too hard to stay outside."
"It's okay," Richter said, standing. "I should head back, then. I've got some phone calls to make before the lines go down again."
"I'll run you back, Doc," B.A. said. "Then I'm goin' to relieve Hannibal."
"How are you managing to keep a watch out there in the snow?" Richter asked.
"Built a little shelter under the trees for when it's snowing. Not very warm, but it keeps the snow off. If it gets too bad, Hannibal'll pull the watch. But if there's any chance of anyone still travelin' around out there, he wants to know. Don't want no surprises."
Face had shed his jacket and gloves and was sitting in his accustomed spot in front of the fire, his blanket around his shoulders again, staring morosely into the flames. Richter walked over and sat on the hearth for a moment. "I'll see you tomorrow, Face, if the weather isn't too bad to make the trip."
"Take your vitamins."
"And your headache prescription if you need it."
"And go stick your head in the toilet."
"What?" Face finally looked at Richter, puzzled.
"Just wanted to make sure you were listening," Richter said with a smile.
Face's lips twitched into a tiny smile. "I was."
"Good." Richter stood, took his leave of Murdock, and followed B.A. out of the house.
Face lay miserably on the floor in front of his bedroom fireplace. Outside the wind shrieked around the corners of the house, blowing snow into drifts that would probably block one or more of the exits in the morning. It was no wonder they'd named this state after the French word for hurricanes: ouragan. The storm had blown up two days ago and still showed no sign of abating, the world beyond the windows nothing but a swirling whiteness that obscured even the shed not twenty paces from the back door.
In the woods beyond the house, tree branches snapped under the weight of the snow and the force of the wind. Hannibal had pulled the watch until the storm passed, reasoning that nobody could possibly make it through this blizzard to their cabin. As they'd hoped to be, they were snowed in.
The others were gathered in the great room. Hannibal's bedroom had floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with books of every kind. Hannibal was enjoying a rare break from planning the watches, checking booby traps, and trying to anticipate the moves of the mob as they searched for Richard Todd. He puffed lazily on his cigar and read a history of the Roman empire.
B.A. had discovered several books of poetry and browsed through them, occasionally alternating between those and the snowmobile manual. Murdock had tried to explain to B.A. the connection between the intricate workings of a snowmobile engine and the complex structure of an Elizabethan sonnet only to be told, "Shut up, fool!" So he had retreated to the kitchen to study some cookbooks he'd found in a cupboard and plan a meal.
But Face had had a headache all morning, having slept badly the night before. Between the howling wind and the nightmares that had assailed him several times during the night, he'd been awake more than asleep, and the tension had manifested itself in a migraine that grew steadily worse as they day went on. Not wanting to sleep, Face had put off taking the pills Richter had prescribed for him until it was almost too late for them to work. Then he had retreated to his bedroom, built up the fire, and unrolled his sleeping bag, building a warm nest for himself in front of the fireplace. He hadn't felt compelled to do that in weeks and feared that Murdock would believe the reintegration of his alters was beginning to unravel. But it wasn't that. He just needed the solitude and comfort of a safe place.
There was a time, he reflected, when his refuge would have been Murdock's embrace. Even before they'd become lovers, Murdock had been the person with whom Face felt most safe, most at peace. With Murdock he'd never had to pretend to feel well when he was sick, happy when he was sad, or brave when he was afraid. When they finally had become lovers, the first night he'd fallen asleep wrapped in Murdock's arms, he'd known this time he'd found a lover he'd never leave.
He'd been wrong. He had left, and while he was gone, he'd betrayed his lover not once, but twice. Oddly, though his relationship with Ted Wright was perverted, it wasn't the one about which he felt most guilty. Perhaps the fact that sex with Ted Wright always involved pain that was itself punishment enough for the act made it less difficult to remember than his intimacy with Thompson. In an odd sort of way, he'd loved Thompson.
Richter had told him that Thompson was going to kill the detective, but Face had suspected it wasn't true. Thompson had sensed Face's hesitation and felt betrayed. He had allowed the others to kill him. Somehow, Face knew that. And he knew that that, too, was his fault. Sometimes a terrible wave of grief for Thompson swept over him, taking him by surprise. It was different from the grief he'd felt for Murdock when he'd believed him dead, but it was grief nonetheless. Even if it had been true that Thompson was going to kill Murdock and Richter despite his assurances to the contrary, even though Face hated the shameful display he'd been compelled to put on in front of the other men, he missed Thompson. He felt guilty for loving him, and he felt guilty for grieving for him. There was no way out.
Even after the integration of his alters and Richter's assurances that the three of them together were more than the sum of their parts, Face knew that deep inside he still was and always had been a whore. All his life he'd used his charm, his sex appeal, even sex itself to get what he wanted or needed, including things for the team. Regardless of the motive, regardless of his own condition at the time, he'd sold himself to Wright and to Thompson, using his body to get what he wanted. He hadn't used to mind it so much, not back when he felt like he had some control over who he sold himself to and what he got in return. But somewhere along the line he'd lost that control. He'd lost control over his desires, his reactions, his entire life. And he'd taken others down with him.
He sighed and pressed his head against the hard floor. Murdock and the others had gone out of their way to be kind to him in the months since he had emerged from the fog of his fantasy. He remembered very little of what had happened between leaving Wright's compound and taking his first tentative peek at the world beyond the fog; all he had were echoes of the memories of Richard Todd and the whore. Vague memories, but strong feelings. Richard had longed for and welcomed Murdock's affection, but the whore had flat out rejected any offers of kindness. It was as if the two of them were battling it out in his heart now, and Face didn't know how it would end.
He wanted to be comfortable being touched again, wanted to be able to be intimate again, but he didn't see it ever happening. He occasionally found himself remembering what it was like to make love to Murdock, remembering the feeling of Murdock's arms wrapped tightly around him as they kissed or those long, beautiful fingers tenderly caressing him as they lay side by side. But into those thoughts would intrude sudden memories of other hands that bound him, tortured him, and then brought him ungently and unwillingly to climax while the other man sated himself in Face's body. Or memories of hands that pulled him to his knees to perform a service whenever and wherever the other man wanted him to, his consent to the act assumed rather than solicited. He was dirty...filthy. He'd let them do those things to him, and Murdock knew it. Everyone knew it. They could see it. Despite his outward kindness, Face didn't see how Murdock could ever trust or love him again. He might say the words, but how could he really mean them? Murdock would be much better off finding someone who would and could be true to him, who could give him the unstinting love and affection he craved. Someone who didn't flinch every time another person came near them. Someone who wasn't Face.
There was a soft knock at the door, and after Face's reply, Murdock opened the door and came in. Due to the storm, the room was nearly dark except for the light cast by the fire which had still not managed to ward off the chill.
"You okay, Face?" Murdock asked.
Face lay on his side and looked into the fire. "Yeah," he replied.
"Your head ache?"
"Why don't you get in the bed?"
"It's warmer here."
Murdock came to kneel on the floor near Face's head. Face steeled himself and managed not to give in to his instinct to move away.
"Can I get you a pillow and a couple more blankets?" Murdock asked.
"Yeah, thanks." Face accepted the pillow gratefully and balled it up under his aching head while Murdock draped another thick blanket and a down comforter over him.
As Murdock sat quietly beside him, Face closed his eyes and tried to will the muscles in his back and neck to relax and wished he'd taken his medication earlier.
Murdock watched Face shift about under the blankets and knew he was not finding any way to lay that eased the pain. "I'm gonna go make you up a couple of hot packs," he said. "Maybe that'll help."
Face didn't reply but waited impatiently until Murdock returned, hoping the moist heat of the packs would force his uncooperative muscles to relax. By the time Murdock returned, Face was having to concentrate hard to maintain control of his roiling stomach.
"I'm back," Murdock said softly as he came into the room and knelt beside Face again. "Do you want me to help you with them?"
He didn't, but he was too sick to argue. He rolled onto his stomach and cushioned his forehead on his arms. Murdock pressed one of the packs against the back of Face's neck. Long practice had taught him exactly how to position it for maximum effect.
"I'm just going to put this other one under your sweatshirt on your back. Okay?"
Slipping back into his old habit of warning Face every time he was about to touch him was fairly easy for Murdock, but he hated having to do it. The most wonderful moments he'd ever had were the few minutes after they made love and before he slipped into sleep, when he felt Face's body relax completely against him. It was that more than anything that had assured Murdock that Face loved him because it was something he'd never given anyone else. And it was gone now, maybe forever.
Murdock lifted the bottom edge of the sweatshirt and slipped the pack up between the sweatshirt and the T-shirt Face wore under it, resting the pack between Face's shoulder blades. "This isn't burning you is it?"
"Can I stay, or do you want me to leave you alone?"
"You don't have to stay."
"I know I don't have to. I want to."
Face sighed. Sometimes he wished Murdock would stop being so damned nice to him and just let him have it. He might feel better about what he'd done if Murdock would just haul him outside and beat the crap out of him. The punishment would feel better than this constant kindness that just made his load of guilt heavier and harder to bear.
"You can stay," he murmured. Maybe this was his punishment, to be killed with kindness. Because what else was there for him to do? He could never atone for the things he'd done, the people he'd hurt, the deaths for which he was responsible. It was seven now, with Benteen. Richter had finally told him what had happened. He remembered planning to kill Benteen, and though he hadn't been the one to pull the trigger, he'd been the one to lead Thompson to the doctor. Seven deaths...the innocent and the guilty...everybody except him.
Thirty minutes later, the packs were too cool to be effective, and Face was still hurting too much for the medication to allow him to fall asleep.\
"Face, this isn't working for you," Murdock finally ventured. "Why don't you let me rub your back. I know you don't really like to be touched right now, but I hate to see you suffering like this. Do you think you could stand it for just a little while?"
Face considered it. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. It wasn't sexual, it was just what he'd always done before they became lovers. If he could keep in mind who it was, if he could focus, maybe he could stand it. He sighed. More kindness, more punishment. Why not?
"I...I guess I could," he whispered.
Murdock smiled broadly and held his hands up to the fire to warm them. He removed both packs, feeling Face flinch involuntarily as Murdock's hand reached under his shirt.
"It's okay, Facey. It's just me," Murdock murmured soothingly. He didn't put his hand under the T-shirt. Face had become very shy about his body in the months they'd been here. He never let anyone see him unless he was fully dressed, and he wore only heavy, long-sleeved clothing. It wasn't so bad now when it was snowing, but Murdock didn't know what Face was going to do when spring came and the weather got warmer. So Murdock massaged Face through his clothing, relying more on pressure than on friction to ease the tension.
Face felt all his muscles tense when Murdock touched him but tried not to pull away. Finally, though, he began to relax. Murdock had been doing this for him for so many years that he knew exactly where to find the knots of tension, how much pressure to apply and for how long. In spite of himself, Face finally fell asleep.
When Face's breathing changed and indicated he'd fallen asleep, Murdock stopped rubbing his back. Carefully he readjusted the blankets, put another log on the fire, and left Face alone to rest.
For the first time in many days, it was not snowing. Murdock stepped out of the cabin and stopped at the top step, turning to make sure Face was following him. He had urged Face to come outside with him while he shoveled the snow on the path from the shed to the back of the house. Face stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him, looking up at the leaden sky. Murdock followed his gaze.
"Looks like it'll be snowing again soon," Murdock remarked as he took the snowshovel off its peg on the side of the house.
"Can I do that?" Face asked suddenly.
Murdock looked at Face in surprise. This was the first time Face had asked anything of him. He'd followed directions passively or had silently taken a turn cooking dinner or cleaning up the kitchen, but he'd never actually come out and asked to do anything.
"You sure you want to? This gets old after awhile."
"I'm...tired of sitting around," Face replied. And he was. For a long time he'd done virtually nothing but sit in front of the fire. He hadn't had the energy to even move, hadn't felt like talking or eating or even reading a book. His only activity was listening to the little radio B.A. had cobbled together for them. But eventually, almost imperceptibly, his depression had begun to lift a bit. He'd begun paying attention to the conversations the others were having, to notice things that were happening around him. And he'd grown restless, needing to move.
Murdock shrugged and held out the shovel. As Face reached for it, his shoulder bumped against Murdock's outstretched arm. Murdock prepared to step quickly away, but Face didn't react to the touch at all. When nothing happened, Murdock breathed a sigh of relief. "It's all yours," he said, relinquishing the shovel.
As he watched Face work, Murdock had to laugh at himself for feeling so elated over such a small thing. The contact was momentary only, inadvertent, and would have gone unnoticed by most people. And except for the massage he'd reluctantly allowed Murdock to give him several days ago, it was the closest Face had let anyone but Richter come to him since Thompson had been killed...since Murdock had killed him.
Murdock's elation disappeared abruptly. He'd put off the conversation with Face as long as he could, hoping to find a way to ease into the topic. Like there was any way to ease into a conversation about watching your lover perform oral sex on another man. He'd tried to find a way to bring it up several times, but every time he looked into Face's eyes, the sorrow he saw there choked him up.
Yeah, Face had become another man's lover, and he had done to that man something Murdock had thought he would be the only one Face would ever share that with. It had hurt Murdock deeply to see it happen, to will Face to refuse and instead see him willingly submit.
And Murdock had killed the man, the only one Face had believed could still love him back, could still want him. Had killed him in front of Face. He would never forget Face's horrified expression as he looked at the shattered remains of Thompson's head or the terrible sounds he'd made as he flung himself on Thompson's body. It was another conversation he had put off, not sure he really even wanted to know the depth of Face's feelings for the other man.
Richter had explained to Face over and over that what he felt for Thompson was not real love, that Thompson had manipulated Face through his gratitude and confusion, but Face remained unconvinced. Whatever it was he felt, he identified it to himself as love, and it was going to be awhile before he was ready to let go of the notion.
Murdock stood on the porch watching as Face shoveled half the distance along the path to the shed before he stopped to lean on the shovel. Murdock descended the stairs and joined Face on the path.
"Hard work, isn't it?" he commented.
"I'm out of shape," Face answered softly.
"Let me finish it," Murdock said. "I've been doing this every day since it started snowing."
"You have?" Face hadn't noticed where Murdock had been when he wasn't in the same room with Face. For such a long time, he hadn't cared where anyone was. He was beginning to realize now how much he'd missed of the last six months.
"Yeah, except during blizzards. I tried that one day and had shoveled halfway to the highway before I realized I wasn't finding the shed. I almost didn't find my way back to the house, and by the time I did, Hannibal was about to send out a search party."
Face shook his head. How on earth could he have missed all the commotion Murdock's disappearance in a blizzard would have caused?
"B.A. threatened to tie me to the end of a fishing rod next time I went out so he could reel me back in when the snow started."
Face shook his head again and handed the shovel over to Murdock before making his way back to the porch to sit on the bottom step. The physical exertion had felt good, but he was surprised how quickly he tired. He sat quietly, eyes closed, and listened to the little sounds around him. When he heard the front door open, he looked up to find B.A. standing at the top of the stairs, gloves in hand, ready to head to the shop he'd made up for himself in the shed. He'd asked Murdock to shovel out a space next to the shed so he could service the van without having to leave tools lying around in the snow.
"Hey, fool! That space ain't big enough, man," B.A. hollered testily.
Murdock stopped shoveling and turned around. "Well, if it ain't big enough to suit you, why don't you just come out here and shovel it yourself!"
Face watched the exchange with interest, not having witnessed one of Murdock and B.A.'s arguments for many months. Murdock turned back to continue his shoveling, and B.A. gathered up a handful of snow from the porch rail, making a perfect snowball in just a few seconds. As Face watched, the snowball arced across the distance and hit Murdock square on the back of the head, exploding in a shower of white powder and knocking off his hat.
"Hey!" Murdock turned and reached for a handful of snow himself, but B.A. shook his head and pointed down to where Face sat. Disgusted, Murdock retrieved his hat, jammed it back on his head, and started shoveling again. B.A. giggled and pulled on his gloves, winking at Face when Face turned and smiled at him, sharing the joke. It was the first time B.A. had seen him really smile in six months, and he was glad he'd been the one to make him do it.
"What time you got to go see the doc today?" he asked Face as he went down the stairs.
Face realized he didn't actually know. It was another thing he didn't pay attention to these days. When Murdock or one of the others told him to get up and go somewhere, he got up and went. Beyond that, one hour, one day, one week pretty much blended into the others. He shook his head and shrugged a little.
"It's okay," B.A. said soothingly, seeing Face's confusion. "I'll check with Murdock."
B.A. strode down the path, snatched the snowshovel from Murdock's hands, and proceeded to shovel out the space he needed while Murdock returned to the porch and sat next to Face. Now that he wasn't exercising, Face was beginning to shiver in the cold air.
"Let's go in before your butt freezes to the step," Murdock said. "I'll make us something to drink."
Face followed Murdock back into the house and into the kitchen. Considerately, B.A. had left a teakettle on the stove over low heat, and the water was just beginning to simmer. Face watched as Murdock adjusted the heat and pulled cups and teabags out of the cupboard. Watching Murdock putter in the kitchen, Face thought back to the evenings they'd spent together in the downtown apartment. He'd almost forgotten how comfortable, how right it had once felt to be with him, even before they'd acted on their attraction to each other.
When the water boiled, Murdock poured it over the teabags in the cups, put just the right amount of sugar in Face's tea and milk in his own, and set the cups on the table. He checked his watch as he sat down. He was due to relieve Hannibal in a couple of hours, but they had time now to talk if he could just find a way to bring it up. He leaned forward a bit and rested his crossed arms on the tabletop.
"How are you feeling these days, Face?" he asked.
Face shrugged. "I guess...a little better," he said.
"You seem to have a little more energy."
"I think I do. Not like I should, though. You'd think...as long as it's been..."
"No, it doesn't work that way. It's not like you wake up one day and suddenly feel better, like you're back to your old self. For me it was a lot more gradual than that. Sometimes it feels like it's going to take forever. You can remember when you used to be happy and feel like doing things, but you can't quite see yourself ever being that way again."
"Is that what you feel like now?" Face asked. He realized as he asked that he had lost touch with Murdock somewhere along the way. He used to be so in tune with Murdock's moods. He'd been so wrapped up in himself lately that it hadn't even occurred to him to wonder what Murdock felt.
Murdock sipped his tea and tried to frame his response, a response that would ease them into the topic they really needed to discuss. "I think that's about right," he said. "It's been hard since...since I was hurt. I missed you so much, Face. I still do."
Face stared into his cup. "You...I...you shouldn't..." He faltered, then took a deep breath and tried to forge on. "I'm sorry...about Thompson. I...I know it doesn't change anything, but...but I never meant for it to happen. It just...it just did. And then...when he came here to get me...I don't know...I don't know why I..." He faltered again and sighed heavily, resting his head in his hands. "I never meant to hurt you." Face finally raised his head, though his eyes continued to focus on the tabletop. "I'm sorry."
Murdock wanted to shrug it off, wanted to tell Face it wasn't really his fault someone else used him as he'd been used so many times before. But he remembered Richter's words. Face wanted to own this, to acknowledge his part in hurting Murdock.
"Well, I won't deny it hurt to see you...to see you were obviously having a sexual relationship with him," Murdock said gently.
"I...I didn't want to do that in front of you," Face said, his face burning with shame.
Murdock sighed. "I really wanted you to tell him no."
"Why didn't you?"
Face shrugged without looking up. "I could never tell him no," he said softly. "And he wouldn't let me if I'd tried."
"Face, how could you even think you loved someone who never let you say no? Who just used you like he did?"
Face shook his head. "I don't know. I just know I did. I don't have any excuse for it, and I don't expect you to forgive me for it." He rested his head in his hands again.
Murdock unconsciously reached out to touch Face's arm, caught himself just in time, and lowered his hand. "Oh, Face," he said gently, "I can forgive you anything. I always could. I love you. I've never stopped loving you, and I've never stopped hoping you'd come back to me."
Face shook his head. "I have blood on my hands, Murdock. I'm a murderer and a whore. You don't want me."
Murdock was momentarily taken aback by the self-loathing apparent in Face's words and voice. "I have blood on my hands, too," he said.
Face shook his head. "He didn't leave you any choice," Face said. "It's my fault."
"How is it your fault?"
"He was here because of me, and I couldn't even make up my mind. He came all this way for me, and I led him right into an ambush."
Murdock shook his head. "Look, Face," he said, "I let you take responsibility for getting involved with him in the first place, but for Christ's sake, don't cheapen what I did by trying to make it your fault, too. I pulled the trigger. I killed him. I knew you cared about him, and I killed him anyway. And sometimes...sometimes even I'm not sure if I did it to save Parker or because I wanted him out of the way."
Shocked, Face finally looked up. "You'd never do that!"
Murdock looked at Face evenly. "Maybe not consciously, not if I had time to think about it. But I didn't have time to think. It was all over so fast, and I didn't even think about it until it was done. I did hate him, Face. I hated what he did to Dan and Keith, I hated what he made you do to him in front of me, I hated him for taking you away from me. And I hated him for putting me in a position where I had to shoot him. Please, just let me take the responsibility for doing it. It doesn't matter whose fault it was or why it happened. The fact is I killed him, and I did it in front of you." Murdock saw tears in Face's eyes as his own filled. "And I wish to God I hadn't had to do that to you," he finished.
"God, Murdock," Face choked out, covering his face with his hands, "how the hell did all this happen? Everything I touch turns to ashes."
"We're here together, Face," Murdock whispered as he wiped tears from his own face with his sleeve. "We've still got each other."
Face shook his head. "We can't go back," he said. "It can never be like it was. Not after what I've done."
Murdock leaned forward across the small table. "No, we can't go back. But can't we start over?"
Face didn't answer, but after a moment he lifted his head, and Murdock could see the tears spilling down his cheeks. Murdock took a breath and got it over with. "Face, I love you, no matter what you've done, no matter what you think you are. I've always loved you. If you still love me at all, I'll wait forever for you to get better. If you don't, I'll do my best to be satisfied with just being your friend again. But I will never, never stop loving you."
Face tried to find his voice around his tears. "I'm not worth it," he finally said.
"That doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all. All I want to know, Face, is do you still love me?" Murdock's heart pounded as he waited for the reply. Had he lost Face completely?
Face closed his eyes and took some deep breaths, making a monumental effort to regain some self control. Just as Murdock was about to give up on getting a reply, Face opened his eyes and met Murdock's gaze. "Yes," he whispered. "I love you." He looked back down at the table, tears dripping from his lashes onto the polished wooden surface. "I tried to forget you...to forget everything. But even there...where I was...I still thought about you. I couldn't get away from it. Even with Thompson, even though I loved him...it wasn't like it was with you. I knew I'd never love anyone again like I loved you. But I wanted...I just wanted to belong to someone again."
"You don't belong to anyone," Murdock said. "You belong with someone. With me. And I belong with you." He held a hand out across the table palm up, an invitation only. "Please, baby, let's try again."
Face sat staring at the hand a few moments then slowly reached one trembling hand out and clasped Murdock's fingers with his own. Slowly, gently Murdock's fingers tightened around his. As Face lay his head on the table and cried, Murdock rested his head on his other hand and allowed his own tears to fall.
Face walked side by side with Murdock, grateful for the fact that Murdock let him be quiet. It had been a very long time since he'd felt like talking much, and with Murdock, he didn't really have to. It was enough just to be together.
As they walked, Face caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and halted abruptly. Murdock stopped, too, and as they looked into the shadows of the trees, they made out the dark shape of a deer foraging for food. Sensing the men, the doe stood still, its nose quivering in the cold air. Face could almost sense its apprehension as it studied them. With a suddenness that startled Face, the deer leapt away and silently melted back into the trees. "How do they get through the winter here?" he asked. "The snow's so deep, how do they survive?"
"They don't all. The weak ones die. The strong ones, the adaptable ones survive." Murdock looked at the empty spot where the deer had been then back at his friend. 'Like you,' he thought. 'Beautiful and wild and strong, surviving by wits and instinct. And like the deer, not always able to distinguish friend from foe.' Noticing Face watching him, waiting for him to continue, he recalled himself to the present. "It's a tough life," he said, "but more of them survive than not." He smiled. "Then in the spring they can come to the cabins and piss everyone off by eating their gardens."
Face almost laughed. Murdock glanced at his watch. "We'd better keep going. Hannibal will be waiting for me to relieve him, and he won't be happy if I'm late."
Hannibal stood in the snow and smoked a cigar, blowing smoke rings up into the trees. There had been no sign of activity other than their own since Thompson had tried to take Face. He wasn't fool enough to think the threat had died, but for awhile, at least, it had been sidetracked. Parker's sources told him the mob was still looking for Richard Todd in Seattle and would probably also be sending people to British Columbia to search for him there.
They had passed a quiet, restrained Christmas, let New Year's go almost unremarked, and spent February thinking about warm places they could go when Face was feeling better. It was early March now, and where they were, the snow was still deep, and the cold still kept the watches fairly short. Murdock would be coming to relieve him soon, so Hannibal drank down the last of the coffee and crouched to screw the cup back onto the top of the thermos. He looked up in surprise at the sound cutting through the cold air: a loud crack followed by a shout of surprise. He leaped to his feet and looked across the clearing behind him.
Murdock lay on his stomach in the snow with Face sprawled half on top of him. Next to them lay a large branch that had broken under the weight of the snow. Face raised himself on one arm and rolled Murdock onto his side.
"Are you alright?" he asked breathlessly. He had acted on instinct, knocking Murdock out of the way just in time and falling on top of him.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Murdock reassured him, trying to use his sleeve to wipe the snow from his face but only succeeding in transferring the snow from his sleeve to his face. He raised his head a bit more to look at the branch. Had it hit him, it would have been very bad for his health. "It didn't hit you, did it?" he asked Face.
"No, I'm not hurt," Face said as the two of them struggled to sit up in the deep snow. He shivered and made a face as snow slipped down the back of his jacket and under his shirt. They assisted each other to their knees before a large mound of snow, disturbed by the vibration of the snapping limb, slipped off a branch above them and landed on their heads.
Face cursed softly then began to laugh, the first genuine laughter Murdock had heard from him in almost a year. Murdock laughed too as he and Face brushed snow from each other's shoulders. As their laughter faded, Face moved one hand from Murdock's shoulder to his face, brushed away some of the snow, and rested the palm of his hand on Murdock's cheek. Murdock turned his head, pressed a kiss into Face's palm, then turned back to him. "I love you, Face," he whispered as he leaned forward.
"I love you," Face breathed, closing his eyes as Murdock's lips brushed his own, a gentle, tentative kiss.
As Murdock pulled back, not sure how the advance would be accepted, Face made a small sound of protest and leaned forward to find Murdock's lips again.
Hannibal smiled to himself and stepped quietly back into the shelter of the trees, turning away to give the others some privacy. They'd be alright now, finally, and would find healing in each other's arms. It was where they belonged.
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