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He was dreaming again. He could tell when he was dreaming because the sky was always crimson, bathing everything in eerie shades of red. No matter how hard he tried; he could never wake up from these dreams. ...... Dreams? Who was he kidding?...... These were full-fledged nightmares. They all went the same and ended the same. If he attempted to change the dreams it would end worse than it would have been to start with. Struggling against what he knew must happen before he could wake up was pointless but he struggled nonetheless. It was his instinct to struggle against the nightmare that had haunted him since leaving Vietnam. He was so close to consciousness that he could feel the sweat trailing down his neck in rivulets but he was weak and collapsed into the never-ending choke hold of the nightmare. He sobbed. Almost made it out that time........ almost. Wearily he trudged his way through the jungle's edge bordering a large freshly planted rice paddy that seem to stretch on forever. The water mirrored the crimson sky. His feet followed Hannibal's even though he didn't want to. God! He didn't want to do this.......... Not again!
He watched Hannibal in full combat pack, expertly snake between, around and beneath the underbrush. He followed Hannibal closely and looking back seeing the rest of the unit behind them. It was like this forever until Hannibal signaled. Holding his breath he decided that this time it'll be different...... it had to be different this time. But before he could get Hannibal's attention a fire fight broke out from what seemed to be everywhere. Pulling his rifle to his shoulders, he shot at the nearest movement next to Hannibal. A Vietcong soldier toppled forward out of the dense foliage. Hannibal turned and quickly nodded his thanks before diving on his belly shooting wildly into the darkness in the jungle.
Hannibal needed cover on the opposite side of him and he crawled through the muck till he was about eight yards to Hannibal's right. Looking back he saw that his commanding officer's other flank was well covered and several other men were heading his way so he crawled further down the line clearing a way out for them to escape. He was relieved to have the rice paddy to one side of him so he could focus on what was to one side and ahead of him as the fire-fight continued. He knew the men following him would cover his rear. He shot two more soldiers and then he was under sniper attack from ahead.
He rolled beneath some thick underbrush, panting heavily and frantically signally everyone else to get under some cover. The sniper was very close. About twenty yards if he had to guess. He laid there considering his options when a bullet whisped by his helmet. Without thinking about it he yanked a hand grenade from his pack and pulled the pin. He rolled to his feet and threw it in the direction he judged the position of the sniper then dove for cover once again. The grenade went off and it rained dirt and chunks of body parts on him. He flicked a piece of human flesh off his leg almost panicking. Hannibal barking orders at them all made him gather his thoughts and press onward. He found the sniper. Dead. He didn't even look at him and he moved forward as Hannibal ordered them. Then something caught his ear. A whimpering sound not far from the sniper's body and he whipped his rifle around towards the sound.
There was nothing for a few moments. The only thing he could hear was the sound of guns going off and bullets flying through the air. Then there it was again. A whimper. He decided to investigate. It could be a wounded soldier and wounded soldiers could be just as deadly as a healthy one. He had to make sure there were no weapons within reach before he had a chance to recover from the initial impact of the injury that had been inflicted on him. Once the weapons were well away from the soldier, he would leave a marker to indicate to proceed with caution for those who would follow him. He'd seen others kill wounded soldiers but he could never do that. As long as a soldier could do no harm to his unit or any other unit, it would be okay. Some of the others in his unit would try to convince him that I would be more humane to kill the wounded enemy soldiers when they couldn't be safely evacuated to a MASH unit. They would suffer under the care of their voodoo witch doctors, assuming if they lived that long. He didn't care about that. It was almost like kicking a dog when it's down.
He carefully moved along the jungle floor on his belly pushing his way past the dead sniper until he was right next to the source of the whimpering. He carefully positioned his rifle and pushed the final bit of foliage that blocked his view to the side. What he saw curdled his blood and he gasped, "God, no....... no..... no.......no......."
He pushed forward laying his rifle down next to him to free his hands to pick up the body of a small boy that had his back blown to pieces off an older girl. The boy couldn't have been more than six years old but the girl was showing signs of life. Her face was bloodied from a piece of shrapnel lodged deep in her eye. She whimpered and began to choke. He laid the boy's body on the ground neatly and focused on what he assumed to be the boy's older sister. He couldn't tell if there was any resemblance because of the blood gushing from the girl's eye. His hand shook hesitantly as it hovered over the eye. He tried to figure out what to do, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to touch it. He spoke to her in what little Vietnamese he knew and she seemed to be responding to it a little. She was going to die and he knew it as he watched helplessly as the blood pumped freely from her eye in time of her beating heart. He carefully picked her up and cradled her in his arms. She was barely a teenager. Her body was only in the beginning stages of transforming into a woman but she was still a little girl. Only a little girl. She whimpered again and he shushed her lightly and began to rock her, while saying the only phrases of her language he knew that wouldn't frighten her. She managed to open her good eye and looked into his foreign eyes. He kept saying the word ‘friend,' in Vietnamese over and over again. He never knew whether she understood him or even really heard him because her one good eye slowly glazed over before she went into convulsions. Once the convulsions subsided, he laid her out next to the little boy and left the scene. The fighting was over and when Hannibal gave the stand down command, he collapsed. He landed face down in the water of the rice field and didn't have the energy or desire to push himself up. He was drowning in six inches of water and didn't care. The next thing he remembered was Hannibal pulling him out of the water and he looked down at his hands only to see the blood of the children on them. Hannibal began to slap his face hard to get him to snap out of it.
He bolted upright, panting erratically and his clothes were saturated in sweat. Looking wildly all around, it took him a few minutes to register that he was in his room at the VA. It was still dark and he glanced at the clock. Barely four o'clock in the morning. He plopped back and looked at his hands using the light streaming in from the little window in the door from the corridor. No blood. He rubbed his eyes as he gulped air slowly until he was breathing heavily and evenly, forcing the nightmare from his waking memory. It had been over a decade since the children died on the edge of what must have been their family's plot of land and they haunted him at least two or three times a week. He relived their deaths a thousand times over and yet his reaction was always the same. He rolled off the bed and got on his knees and prayed for them until the sun came up.
When he heard the noises of the morning rounds of the VA began, he got up and gave himself a sponge bath from the sink and dressed himself. He wondered what Hannibal and the rest of them were doing this week and whether they needed him. He'd rather stay in the VA but since his friends were wanted men he didn't have much choice in the matter if he wanted to spend time with them. He was alone in the world with an exception of his friends and Dr. Richter. He went over to the window and looked at the grate that caged him inside his room. He was going to see them today as he opened the glass portion of the window and picked an orange string tied to the corner. This was their signal to him they would pick him up after noon and that he would need to break himself out. He sighed and packed an overnight bag then carefully hid it underneath the far corner of his bed. He carefully picked up a string of glass beads and tucked them neatly in his pocket. He was ready for them to pick him up.
He quickly made his bed military style and waited for the orderly to come by to give him his morning medication and to take him to the cafeteria for breakfast. He looked forward to seeing them once again. It had been nearly two weeks since he's been with any of them. This had been their routine since they broke out of Fort Bragg but sometimes they would come and get him just to spend time with him. That made him uncomfortable and it usually cut into his prayer time. He had to pray for the children and men he had killed in Vietnam. As long as he was working, he was doing somebody good and it didn't seem wasteful. He heard the familiar whistling of Garret, the day shift orderly on his floor come walking by letting the patients that were allowed some freedom out of their rooms. His voice was always cheerful and when Garret opened the door to his room, his smile filled the room. "Good morning, Mr. Peck."
Face nodded and accepted the little paper cup that held his morning medication from Garret. Garret stood over him as he swallowed the pills and washed it down with water. He opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out so that Garret could see he did swallow them. Garret smiled approvingly and marked the chart. "Okay you're free to go to breakfast, Mr. Peck."
Face nodded and slinked off to the cafeteria making his plan for escape for later during the day.
He was beginning to feel again and he didn't want that. His throat was stingingly raw and without warning the pit of his stomach began to convulse, sending the remaining contents to the bottom of the toilet bowl. The taste of old stomach acid and Jack Daniels burned all the way up as he gagged and choked on it. He had come home from the bar after getting kicked out of it and managed to make it back in one piece. He didn't know how he made it to his motel room and didn't care. He slept on the bathroom floor huddled around a fifth of the hard liquor. Waking up to throw up only to drink till he could sleep again. When he was finished, he raised his head leaving a trail of mucus and spittle hanging from his lips to the toilet seat. He awkwardly reached for the bottle to refuel his ebbing numbness to find he had forgotten to screw the lid back on the last time. Then he noticed that his clothes were drying and reeked of whiskey. He cursed under his breath and carefully positioned himself against the wall and thought about Starr.
She left him and he cursed her for it. A damn prostitute left him after everything he did for her. He came to her rescue three years ago when her pimp was beating up on her. He took her to the hospital when her johns got a little too rough on her and bailed her out of jail whenever she was arrested over the years. Starr and he had a good time in bed....... Hell, they fucked each others brains out long and hard till they could feel nothing else. He didn't care if she still prostituted herself and he never asked her about her johns as long as he got some sex when he wanted it in exchange for protection. He thought they had an understanding and it would be like this forever. He kicked the empty whiskey bottle and slurred. "Fuck her!"
He wiped his mouth and unsteadily got to his feet hanging onto the basin of the sink to pull himself up. Before he could get completely to his feet, someone knocked at the door causing him to loose his focus. His feet fell from beneath him and he cracked his jaw on the porcelain sink, sending him sprawling on the floor. He managed to tell the person at the door that it was unlocked through the haze of stars as his mouth filled with blood. It was BA.
BA sighed when he looked down at Murdock and shook his head. He bent over and pulled Murdock to his feet and turned his head away when he got a whiff of him. "Hannibal's gonna kill you, you know that."
"Let ‘im. He'll be doin' us all a favor."
"Did you and Starr have another fight?"
"We had a fantastic fuck the other night and after it was all over with she told me she was leaving me."
BA released him and he fell where he stood. Murdock remembered to whom he was talking to and was immediately sorry for talking trash to BA. "I'm sorry BA....... It's the hangover talking....... Hannibal has a job for us?"
BA refused to look at Murdock and nodded. Murdock closed his eyes and asked, "Are we flying anywhere?"
"That's good because even I wouldn't fly with me right now........ When?"
"'Bout three o'clock."
"What time is it now?"
"'Kay, that leaves .......uhm....."
"Eight hours................ I'll go get breakfast."
Murdock became queasy at the thought of having anything solid on his stomach. "Coffee....... Lots of Coffee."
"You're not gonna fall an' hit your head or sometin'?"
"Now that would be a real tragedy, wouldn't it?"
BA glared at Murdock and he backed down. "Okay big guy...... I'll get cleaned up and promise not to get hurt. Go get that coffee so I can get on my feet before we go get the preacher man."
BA sighed and stalked out of the cheap motel room. He went across the street to a small restaurant that served the area bums and prostitutes mainly and ordered a large breakfast for them both. After seeing Murdock in his current condition, BA started rekindling some thoughts he has had off and on over the years. At the moment he thought it was a good idea. He thought about taking Face out of the VA and leaving LA, Hannibal and Murdock. Face would be defenseless against Hannibal and Murdock's self-destructive behaviors if he was left with them. BA was tired of it all and he kind of thought Face was too. They stayed together initially because they thought it was their best chance of clearing their names. But they haven't had any new leads in nearly seven years. Various people who credit the A-Team to saving their lives or a buddy's life during the war had been searching for evidence that the A-Team were under orders to rob the Bank of Hanoi had turned up nothing. Face or Preacher man as Murdock had come to call him, wasn't getting better. He missed the old Face and thought if he'd get him away from the constant reminders of Vietnam, Murdock, Hannibal and the VA, he'd come back. Even just a little bit. But he knew Face needed Father Magill and Sister Catherine. They've known him since he was a boy and understood him, and knew how to reach him when he disappeared into himself. BA was never able to talk him out but he couldn't leave him behind with Hannibal and Murdock. They weren't healthy for Face and Face seem to like being around them.
He was between the same rock and hard place he's been in since the thought first occurred to him years ago. He sighed as he shelled out the money for the breakfast and six cups of coffee before heading back to the seedy motel that Murdock was staying in. When he entered the room, he heard Murdock taking a shower. He lined up the coffees and began to prepare them the way Murdock liked them, extra sweet. Once he was done he began to eat a sausage biscuit while looking at all the empty beer and liquor bottles strewn about the room. Murdock stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around him and plopped down before devouring and gulping down everything before him. "Why do you drink all this garbage?"
Murdock stopped in mid bite of a forkful of pancakes and glared at BA. Then around the mouthful of food he growled. "Don't start on me again this morning. I've told you a hundred times already."
"But you still remember don't you?"
Murdock swilled down half a cup of coffee while glaring at BA and hastily wiped his mouth before grabbing his clothes off the bed that seemed the least dirty at the moment. "After I shave we'll go get some more coffee and get Preacher man. He's a lot more fun to talk to."
BA shook his head as Murdock walked back to the bathroom with a slight stagger.
Face nodded approvingly when he saw his overnight bag was beneath the bush where he told Peter to put it. He could depend on Peter to do simple things for him in exchange for chocolate bars. The staff didn't like for him to have chocolate or any candy because it made him hyper and unmanageable for a few hours. Face would sometimes give Peter chocolate just to watch someone thoroughly enjoy himself over something so simple. Every time he gave Peter a chocolate bar it was like watching someone transcend to heaven in a state of purity that it would provoke a genuine smile from Face because he had made someone happy. Peter's mind was simple because he took a bullet in the head in Vietnam and had the mental capacity of a five-year-old. Face made a decision to leave during lunch so he could spend some time by himself. "Templeton?"
Face turned and looked over his shoulder to see it was Peter. Peter was almost a mirror image of Face in build and size. The only thing that immediately that made them stand apart besides Peter's piercing green eyes was that Peter had a disfiguring surgical scar that ran from the base of the corner of his nose, across his cheek and disappeared into his dark blonde hair. "The candy bar is in your slipper under your bed Peter. Don't eat it until after you eat your lunch. You think you can remember that?"
Peter smiled awkwardly and nodded. His smile disappeared and he backed away. "I-I'm sorry. You're talking to Jesus. I didn't mean to bother you."
Face looked at the Rosary beads in his hands and looked back. "Yeah, I was talking to Jesus. Come back here, you're not bothering me."
Peter took a few hesitant steps forward and when Face pat the spot next to him, Peter grinned broadly and jumped on the picnic table to sit next to Face. "You going away again?"
Face sadly studied Peter and nodded slowly. "Remember, it's our secret."
Peter giggled and clasped his hand over his mouth. When he trusted himself not to laugh out loud, Peter removed his hand and snickered. Face sighed. "You stay out of trouble while I'm gone and I'll bring you some bubble gum baseball cards. I don't want to come back to find you locked in the padded room. Okay?"
He nodded eagerly. "I'll be good. I promise.......... How long will you be gone this time?"
"Not really sure but you know I'll send you a post card if I'm gone for more than a couple of days."
"I 'member. I 'member good."
"Yeah, you do don't you?........ can you tell me the ABC song?"
Peter began to sing ‘I know my ABC's' with enthusiasm over and over again as Face's mind returned to his prayers while half listening to Peter skipping letters, obliviously happy. Soon he was able to tune out Peter's bad rendition of the child's song and he continued his meditative prayers that was more like desperate begging, pleading and bargaining. ‘Please, don't let me dream till I get back, please. Don't let me dream that dream.' Face closed his eyes and saw the deep red crimson sky against his eyelids. ‘Oh, God, no. No. Oh God, please.' His pleads went unanswered as he just stared at the blood red sky. He looked down at his hands to ‘see' that they were covered in blood. "Templeton?........ Templeton!"
Face's eyes flew open and he felt Peter's hand on his shoulder. "You were shakin' bad........ real bad. No one saw."
Peter looked around them at the various caretakers on the ground to make sure they weren't looking their way. Face was sweating profusely and he gently pat Peter's hand that was on his shoulder in gratitude and to reassure Peter. Peter scrunched his forehead up. "You don't forget my baseball cards. Okay?"
Face swallowed hard and nodded while catching his breath. "I won't."
Face made a note to pick up some extra cards for Peter. "Thanks Peter. C'mon lets go get an early lunch. The sooner you eat lunch the sooner you can eat your chocolate."
Peter jumped off the picnic table and started running to the building. Face shook his head slightly and slowly followed, thinking how lucky Peter was. He didn't remember anything about the war and had the mind of a small child. His needs and wants were simple and uncomplicated, and it didn't take much to make him happy. What little joy Face permitted himself to feel was in granting a few of Peter's wishes; chocolate and bubble gum baseball cards.
BA glanced to the back of the van at Murdock sprawled between the seats on the floor asleep with thick dark sunglasses hiding his eyes. His snore could be heard over the engine running and Hannibal shot an angry glance over his shoulder. BA spotted Face waiting at the corner where they usually picked him up when he had to break himself out on a Thursday. They had a different place to meet for each day of the week he would break himself out of the VA. Face quickly climbed in and shut the sliding door. BA greeted him. "Hey, Faceman. Any problems?"
Face looked anxiously at Murdock sleeping and not looking too good from his point of observation. He shook his head and answered in a small voice. "No."
Hannibal looked over his shoulder and with a cigarette hanging from his lips he said, "We've already checked out the client. Already paid half up front."
Hannibal handed Face an envelope and continued as Face counted the cash. "Seems a couple is missing their daughter and they believe she's in LA. They want us to find her. We're checking out Hollywood Blvd. and the usual first. Here's a picture. Seventeen, brunette, blue eyes, freckles...... Missing for about a year now. Parents want to keep the law out of the picture..... They give me the impression that they're wanted by the law but they want their little girl back."
Face knew what the usual meant....... Red light district and the more questionable parts of LA. Maybe even the morgue. He immediately started praying for the girl and her parents. Hannibal flicked the ashes from his cigarette out the window and said, "When Murdock decides to wake up, we'll get him to ask his girlfriend to help out in Hollywood."
BA swung his head around. "Don't do that to him, man. He and Starr broke up last week and she broke it off with him in a real bad way."
"She helped us on other cases."
"Hannibal! Don't you dare do that to him. He's hurtin' real bad."
Hannibal glared at BA for a moment before nodding slowly. "As a last resort."
BA's yelling woke Murdock up and he achingly sat up slowly and cradled his head. BA swore under his breath a little as Murdock moaned. After adjusting to being awake for a few moments he looked around him and noticed Face in his usual seat next to the sliding door. He grinned broadly in spite of his splitting headache. "Preacher Man. Hope you've been praying for all us sinners out here."
"Been drinking again, haven't you?"
"Gotta stop drinkin' to be drinkin' ‘again.'"
Hannibal sharply called Murdock down. "Stop it right now! You owe me a twenty-mile march already. Do you want to tack on an extra five?"
"Yeah? You and who's army?"
"BA will be joining you then."
BA sighed angrily and Murdock protested. "Hey! Don't get on the big guy's case because you have a bone to pick with me!"
"Face will be joining you two now."
Murdock shut up before Hannibal put himself on the march with them and started adding extra miles. He couldn't tolerate an overnight march with Hannibal finding ways to make his life more miserable. It was going to be bad enough that BA and Face were going to be punished because he was being a smartass.
BA repeated his plea on Murdock's behalf. "Don't do this to him Hannibal."
Murdock could tell they were talking about him and he gingerly pulled himself to his seat. He forced a smile on his lips for Face's benefit and asked, "Don't do what to me?"
Hannibal took a long drag on his cigarette and said, "About a teenage girl who's been missing for about a year. Gonna check Hollywood to see if anyone had seen her on the Boulevard and we need you to talk to Starr."
BA struck the steering wheel. "Thought you were gonna do that as a last resort, man."
Hannibal shrugged his shoulders. "That was before he copped that attitude."
Murdock slumped low in his seat and stared at the wall of the van. Face made himself smaller and glanced nervously from each men. He clutched his Rosary, dropping the envelope of cash not noticing it fell to the floor and began to silently pray. BA gave him a worried look through the rearview mirror. He hoped this mission wasn't going to end in a trip to Father Magill's Office.
Hannibal inspected Face's clothes and puffed intently on his cigarette. Face used to get him cigars and not just any cigars, the best of the best. Hannibal never found out where he got them either but since Face's breakdown in Vietnam, a cigar was a rare treat because the kind he liked were too expensive to buy on a regular basis. Hannibal smiled as he completed the circle around Face. "Okay, Father Templeton, you hit the city morgues, Murdock and I will hit the red light districts and BA will checked the East side."
Face adjusted the wired-framed glasses that kept sliding down the bridge of his nose. He inspected himself in the full-length mirror at the cheap motel room Hannibal got for them to use as a base. He looked very sharp in the black priestly robes and he saw BA shaking his head in disbelief in the reflection of the mirror behind him. He turned around and looked questioningly at BA. BA heard the silent question Face was asking and he gave Hannibal an angry glance. "I don't like the idea of you going to the morgues. You know how you are after you see dead people."
Dead children to be exact but why bring that subject up? BA stood up and placed a steady hand on Face's shoulder. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."
Hannibal glared at BA and Face nodded that he understood but the look he gave told BA he was going to do it anyway. BA sighed in frustration and gave Face's shoulder a firm pat before turning to face Hannibal's anger head on. Face stepped in between the two men. "I will do it like I always do it. End of discussion........ Don't be mad at BA. I've been acting more withdrawn than usual lately and he's just concerned. What do I do when I can't find any information in the morgues, Colonel?"
BA sighed in frustration because Face would do anything Hannibal wanted him to do, including impersonate a priest. Something that goes against everything Face was, to do something that he would consider to be an outright act of sacrilege. And to have Face remind BA of everyone's ranks by making it a point to call Hannibal, ‘Colonel' was almost too much for BA. Hannibal gave a thoughtful look and smiled. "Check out the shelters and soup kitchens."
Face nodded and Hannibal glanced over at Murdock sprawled out on the bed. "Wake him up and let's get going. We're getting paid a handsome amount and we need to deliver."
Hannibal handed out copies of the picture of the girl and Face and BA woke Murdock up. Murdock looked around in confusion and when he recognized Face, he smiled broadly. "See Hannibal's got you in your right clothes Preacherman. You look more real than the real thing in that get up. Ever consider doing it for real?"
Face helped BA pull Murdock to his feet and gave a slight nod. Murdock and BA exchanged a worried glance and Face said, "But they don't take people who reside in mental facilities for long periods of time."
Murdock asked the question he really didn't want to know the answer to. "You've been checking it out, haven't you?"
Face didn't answer and glanced at BA. "I think he needs more coffee in him."
"I'll do it............. You go do what you need to do. The sooner you do it the sooner it'll be over. If you get into trouble I won't be far from the van so you can reach me."
Face nodded quickly. "SOP."
Standard Operating Procedures. BA watched Face walk out the door with Hannibal and was distracted by Murdock's question. "Can you believe it? Preacherman wants to be a priest............. Somehow it fits with him."
BA sighed heavily and thought the priesthood wouldn't be a bad place for Face. "You heard what he said. They don't take head cases in the seminary. He has to get better before they'll take him........... C'mon, let's pour some coffee in you and get going."
Murdock didn't hear BA and he had a big stupid grin on his face. "Wouldn't it be somethin' if we could get Preacherman in the seminary? I think he'd love it there......... We got to get him in there somehow."
"What are you talkin' ‘bout Fool? He's a head case and has been one for over twelve years. You think he's going to get better over night and they'll accept him just like that."
"Stranger things have been known to happen."
BA followed Murdock out the door without saying another word because Murdock had a determined look that told BA to stay out of the way. It was good to see Murdock determined about something besides trying to drown himself in liquor. They found a lunch wagon and BA purchased a half a dozen coffees for Murdock. Then an idea occurred to him as Murdock gulped the coffee down one cup after another. "If you really want to see Face join the priesthood, we're all going to have to help him and that means you can't be a problem for him to be worryin' about................. No more drinkin'."
Murdock sputtered in his coffee and he looked at BA incredulously. It took a moment to find his voice. "Now that's real cold you know?........ Telling me the only thing that's stopping the Preacherman is my drinking problem."
"I didn't say that."
"That's how it came across........ The last time I tried to quit was nastey........ Felt like I was dying and I don't want to go through that again."
BA's eyes widened. "You did that by yourself?"
"Didn't want anyone to see me like that."
"As opposed to the way I found you this morning? Sleeping in your own puke on the bathroom floor?"
"I hit...... Starr when I tried to quit........ It got real ugly."
"Is that why she's leaving you?"
"No....... That was a year ago. I never hit a woman in my life till then. My daddy said a real man never ever hits a woman, no matter what.............. I don't want to talk about this anymore."
Murdock got up to leave and BA forced him back down on the bench. "Look man......... if you ever want to quit, I'll be there for you. Just let me know but don't do it for Face. Do it for yourself."
Murdock grinned and nodded. "I can always count on you to care. ............... But I have a feeling it's going to take something drastic to happen for me to quit if it doesn't kill me first."
BA sighed. "I was going to keep this idea to myself but I think it'll be the thing you need to know........ I've been thinking about leaving LA and taking Face with me if things don't improve soon. The Vet groups that have been working on our case haven't produced anything new in over seven years. It's getting pointless to stick around here anymore and watch ........... you and Hannibal self-destruct."
Murdock's eyes rimmed with tears and he stared at the sidewalk for a long time before speaking. "When you go, make sure you get Templeton into that seminary school. I'll need someone with a direct connection to the main Big Guy upstairs. I thought about running too but I can't......... I thought if I ran and they caught me, I could get clean but I've heard that it worse in prison. .............. When you do decide to go, don't tell me. Just take Templeton and run and don't look back."
Murdock got up and walked away without looking back to take care of his assignment. BA wanted to stop him but couldn't find a reason to. He had never heard Murdock call Face by his rightful name before and thought it was chilling the way he said the name. He said it in such a way like it was sacred or something. Murdock had practically given him permission to leave and had given him his blessing in a strange sort of way. And he didn't say ‘If' he said ‘When' he left. The cryptic remark that Murdock made told BA that when and if he and Face did leave, Murdock would either die or get caught by the military police eventually.
If he got caught by the military police he'd stand a chance to get clean because military prisons were different than regular prisons. BA thought when he did leave LA with Face, he'd call the authorities and tell them where to find Murdock. At least he'll be safe from himself and Hannibal's wrath when they discover that they are gone. He imagined that Murdock would drink himself to death for sure without him and Face around to curb his drinking and putting him in Fort Bragg would save his life. BA realized the reason why he stuck around for so long was because he was hoping that things would return to the way things were before Face's breakdown.
Face's humor and skills kept them all buoyant and good-natured amidst the chaos. He remembered how eager Face was to please everyone and kept everyone comfortable with all his elaborate scams. Hannibal's good humor deteriorated with each passing year and Murdock needed professional help. His drinking had become progressively worse with time and was pushing the limits of everyone's tolerance. The only ones that hasn't changed over the years was himself and Face and he felt like he was stagnating. BA pushed himself to his feet and put these thoughts to the back of his mind. Right now they had a teenage girl to find.
Hannibal took a long drag on the cheap cigarette as he looked down the street at the hookers and drug pushers continued to come out to peddle their wares. The whinos and junkies began to creep out of the alleys and rundown buildings. The sun was setting and the darkness of the city was creeping out under the cover of night.
He began approaching the known snitches that hung around the street to direct tourists to the real action. He'd show them the photo of the girl and came up empty by the time he reached the end of the street. He fit right in the scenery and he felt like he belonged there. It was as far removed from Da Nang as he could get. Or so he thought, when he saw a little teenage Asian prostitute climb into a candy-apple red Porsche. She might have been Vietnamese. He wasn't sure because he only got a glimpse of her. She couldn't be more than fifteen and she was new to the street. He hadn't seen her before and she still had a fresh look about her. He'd give her another week or so before her line of work start tearing her down and break her spirit completely. He should know. Him of all people should know best of all.
Prostitutes always flocked near the bases in Vietnam, setting up little shacks along the roads to sell themselves to the GIs. Always smiling, always laughing. Always playing the shy little naive Asian girls. While most soldiers liked them young,..... the younger the better, he liked the women. He always went for the older prostitutes because they knew how to soothe him. They knew how to really please a man. He found a prostitute that he really liked and would go to her every time they returned from the bush. Her name was Lily.
She spoke choppy English but said very little to him. Every time he went to her she would do the same thing. Undress him, bathe him, feed him, and massage the tension out of him, all while he talked about everything under the sun. He'd talk to her about anything but the recent mission he just got back from. Anything and everything but the mission---the killing, the maiming, the hurt and the cries of the dying. After he was all talked out she'd take him to her bed for the night. He always paid her handsomely. He'd wake up to a hot meal waiting for him and his clothes that had been cleaned during the predawn hours, drying on a rack by the cooking fire. She didn't have an alarm clock and it was always a mystery to him to how she would wake up an hour before sunrise every morning. He was never late returning back to the base the following mornings. It wasn't long till he was doing business with her exclusively and spending more than the nights after returning from the bush with her. Lily turned away all of the other soldiers when his visits became frequent. She could afford to live comfortably on the fees of the services she was providing for just him.
He only asked her if she needed or wanted anything and nothing else. He didn't want to know where she came from, about her family or what she hoped for the future. After a year of this arrangement, he came in from the bush one day and notice that her stomach was unmistakably bigger. He was stunned at first and he asked her if it was his. He knew it was his of course but she was a prostitute after all. She shamefully nodded and he picked her up off her feet and swung he around while laughing and kissing her. She looked at him puzzled by his reaction. "Not mad?"
"No! Oh no, I'm not mad. Why should I be mad?"
"I not careful. Baby not good."
"Now why would you think something like that. The baby is very good, Lily. In fact it's the best thing in this whole stinkin' part of the world."
Her eyes were uncertain and she began to remove his clothes for his bath. He stopped her and proceeded to do everything for himself as she cooked his meal while giving him curious glances. He made love to her that night instead of having the usual straightforward sex. He felt alive for the first time in ages and he began to feel again.
Then everything came crashing down around him within months after he found out Lily was pregnant. Face killed a couple of kids by accident and totally lost it. He was the best supply officer Hannibal ever had and one of the best soldiers of the outfit. When they shipped Face back to the states once he was designated as being unfit for combat, that left a huge gap in his unit's skills. In Face's place, they sent him two wet behind the ears boys that nearly got the entire unit killed on their first day out in the bush. He refused to take them on the Bank of Hanoi job.
When they returned from Hanoi, reeking of success, they found the base was being shelled heavily. Hannibal raced to Lily's shack outside the base to find her dead. He had no idea how far long she was but she was big enough to begin waddling when she walked. She didn't have much longer to wait till she could deliver.
Days after being evacuated, he learned from another prostitute that Lily was only nineteen. He was grief stricken from the loss of Lily and the baby, and now he found out that he's been sleeping with her since she was barely seventeen. How could she look so old and be so young? He asked some of the other prostitutes how old they were and to his surprise, most of them were only teenagers. They all looked so old and worn. They were beaten down by the war and what they did to survive. He buried his head in his hands when he began to realize he was a statutory rapist and he had impregnated a little girl. Now she was dead, along with his unborn child. This was all too much. Hours later, the MPs found him and placed him, BA and Murdock under arrest for the robbery at the bank.
The neon signs to the peep shows and adult bookstores began to outshine the setting sun. Hannibal looked back down the street and thought it was getting too crowded. He flicked the butt of his cigarette on the sidewalk and it bounced onto the street, leaving a short trail of dying embers. He looked at the young prostitutes trolling for johns and felt nothing. He hadn't felt anything since Lily.
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