The Achieve of the Thing


Chapter Five

The next two weeks passed without major incident, the operative word, as far as Murdock could determine, being "major": they were full of minor ones. For instance, Stockwell had been serious about him moving out, but to the general's surprise Hannibal had swung by Murdock's place on the way back from Union Station and told him to pack and come up with BA. "It won't cost Stockwell anything extra to feed you, and we need the team together. Officially."

"Yeah," said BA.

Face nodded agreement as well.

So he moved into the Langley safe house. Fortunately there was another bedroom so he didn't have to take Frankie's; that had occurred to him on the way up with BA. He hadn't been sure he wanted to do that, not with his feelings for Face about ready to boil over. It was hard enough to give him the time and space he needed; sleeping in the bed he'd almost certainly shared with Frankie... not a real good idea.

Stockwell objected, of course, but less so than Hannibal had expected. Face wanted to know if they'd just obligated themselves for extra missions.

"If we have, are you objecting?" Hannibal asked.

Murdock held his breath.

"No," Face said irritatedly. "I'm complaining, I'm not objecting. Did we?"

"Actually," Hannibal said, "no. He only mentioned it once. Which worries me."

"Oh, great," Face said, but instead of following up he turned on the television and found a college football game. Murdock knew Face didn't give a damn about the Atlantic Coast Conference, especially not Virginia, but he'd definitely put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign, so Murdock just sat down next to him and watched. Face didn't say much till halftime but he didn't leave, either. Good enough.

The next morning Hannibal informed them that it was time to do some serious training. "It was pure luck nobody got hurt in Toronto," he said, "and luck, while nice, is not what we want to depend on." He looked at Face, who'd managed to convince BA that he really didn't want any breakfast and was looking at the business section of the Post while he drank his coffee. "Especially you, Face. We've been cutting you slack for more than a month now, and while it wasn't your screw-up in Canada, you're losing your edge." He glanced around the table. "We all are. So starting today, we train."

So they did that for the next four days. Hannibal drove them all hard, himself no less than the others, and even BA was glad to crawl into his bed by nightfall. Those nights Face seemed to sleep soundly. Murdock, conditioned by years of hospital living to sleeping for a couple of hours and then waking up, to sleep again a few minutes later, got up and wandered up and down the hallway, checking while trying not to be too obtrusive about it. The others had grown used to his nocturnal perambulations and were no longer woken by them, even if he paused a few minutes near their door. As far as he could tell, Face was sleeping through the nights; he got his proof of that once the training went back to normal and light showed under Face's door in the dark hours.

Murdock hesitated every time he saw the golden strip along the floor, and every time he went back to his own room to sit in a chair awake and watchful until the light went out. He'd avoided a one-on-one with BA's mother, but she'd been looking at him that morning before Face woke up when she told them all to take care of him. The trouble was, Mama didn't know things, things that made it hard to take care of Face at all let alone the things that meant Murdock needed to wait, even if he wanted to push open Face's door and take him in his arms, kiss away his tears, and let him know he didn't have to be alone.

He had to let Face get through this, had to let him come to terms with his grief and guilt. 'Cause forcing things on Face was the worst mistake you could make. When he was pushed Face ran if he could and fought if he couldn't, and either would be bad. Very bad indeed.

After all, it hadn't really been so very long yet.

And when the light would finally go out, Murdock would go back to his own bed and lie awake himself, thinking, wishing, wanting... And his own dreams weren't always pleasant ones.

But during the day things were fine. At least until Halloween.

That was on a Tuesday this year, which meant a lot of the kids in the youth group BA had, inevitably, found might not be at the youth center for the Haunted House and the party. But BA was determined that those who came would have a great time, and, as usual, he had volunteered the whole team for the event. Frankie's contribution of various effects, which had been wildly successful year before last, would be missed, but that only, as far as BA was concerned, meant the rest of the volunteers had to work harder.

Face complained about it, but that was his usual form. He always complained and then he always enjoyed himself, and the complaining seemed to be an integral and necessary part of the enjoyment. This year it was a bit different. He was good with the kids, as he always was, especially when the terminus ad quem was relatively close, but Murdock thought he was working a bit harder at it than usual. And he was maneuvering to stay away, as much as possible, from the Hispanic kids, the Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Colombians Washington was so full of, who had flocked to him and Frankie the last two years...

Murdock sighed. It never rains but it pours.

Face went to bed as soon as they got home, but Murdock saw his light on at one thirty, and it didn't go off until five. Wednesday he spent the entire day cleaning every gun he could get his hands on and not talking.

He came down to breakfast Thursday in black. It wasn't his best color and he knew it, so he only wore it in formal wear (or biking), but this wasn't formal. It was an ebony Armani, with a dove grey shirt and a black four-in-hand, that made him look paler than usual, and somber, even though his hair and eyes were brighter. "No, nothing," he said to Hannibal, whose turn it was to cook. "I'm going to Mass."

Hannibal paused, looking at him. Then he nodded. "Of course, it's All Souls Day, isn't it?"

Face nodded.

"You havin' Mass said for Frankie?" asked BA. "I'll go with you."

"I will, too, if you don't mind," said Hannibal. "It's... the right thing."

Face nodded, his blue eyes warming suddenly. "Thanks, Hannibal. I appreciate it."

"Don't mention it," Hannibal said, touching his shoulder momentarily. "It's the least we owe him. And you."

Face shook his head. "I'm—"

"Fine, I know. Or," Hannibal cocked his head and said, mystifying Murdock, "are you good?"

Face dropped his gaze for just a moment. "Not quite yet."

"Well... maybe this will help. I need to change."

"I do, too."

"You coming, Captain?"

"Of course," Murdock said.

So they all went, Hannibal and Murdock in sober dark suits and BA in black with his gold gleaming in brilliant contrast. Hannibal and BA seemed to be paying attention to the service, but Murdock was paying attention to Face, as in fact he seemed to be mostly doing these days. There was a lot about the Catholic Church he didn't like, but there was no doubt that it had a hold on Face that he couldn't shake. Didn't want to shake, Murdock corrected himself conscientiously. From dipping his fingers in the water in the front of the church before crossing himself to the last genuflection, Face was absorbed in the ritual, and it eased him.

But only temporarily. By midafternoon he was pacing the living room. BA had gone out to work on the van, and Murdock was in the kitchen looking for an apple or something when he heard Hannibal asking, "And where do you think you're going?"

"Out," Face said.

Murdock shut the refrigerator and walked quietly to the door, looking out to see Face standing near the front door with his car keys in his hand.

Hannibal laughed once, shortly. "And what are you going to do? Nothing?"

"I'm going mad, Hannibal," he said. "I've got to get out of here."

"I know," Hannibal nodded. "I know. Go on, then, just be back in a couple of days. And take Murdock; that way I can tell Stockwell I don't know where you are and be technically telling the truth. I like that; gives me an edge."

"Hannibal, I want to be alone."

The colonel shook his head. "Not now. I don't want any of us going off alone." He didn't actually add especially not you, but Murdock could hear it.

So, apparently, could Face. "Hannibal, may I remind you we used to live alone instead of in each other's pockets like this? We might go days, weeks even, without actually seeing each other. I do remember how to use the telephone."

"You can remind me, Lieutenant, but I don't need it. And I take absolutely no pleasure in reminding you of all the ways now is different from then; I just do it. You go with Murdock or you don't go."

Face and Hannibal locked blue stares. Murdock kept very quiet, glad not to be caught in between those gazes and thinking that no one but Hannibal could get away with taking that tack, that tone, with Face. And it was the younger man's gaze that dropped first.

"All right," he said, and turned to Murdock. Or possibly turned on him, the pilot thought, meeting those eyes. "Hurry up."

As Murdock got into the Corvette, Face slewed around in the seat and said, "Look, Murdock. I'm humoring Hannibal here. Now, I don't mind your coming... I really don't. But I don't want to talk. I really, really don't want to talk. So, you can sit there, or sing, or even talk to yourself, I don't care. Just don't talk to me, 'cause I'd hate to have to put you out on the side of the road. If I have to do that, I might just head west and not stop till I get to LA."

"You don't want to do that, Faceman."

"Don't I?" Face held Murdock's eyes with his for a moment, and then said, softly, "Sometimes there's nothing I want more. So don't put temptation in my way, please?"

Murdock nodded. Face smiled sweetly at him and put the Vette in gear.

It was dark when Face pulled the Chevy truck into the yard. True to his expressed intention, he hadn't said a word to Murdock the entire way, except to ask him which fast-food place he wanted to stop at in Annapolis. Now he still didn't speak, just sat there staring at the old house almost as if he hadn't seen it before.

Murdock stayed in the truck, too, more than a little afraid that if he got out Face might actually take off. He was starting to wonder if Face meant to stay at all when the blond finally cut off the engine and got out. Murdock stayed in the truck, watching, as Face wandered around in the yard, occasionally kicking moodily at something it was too dark for Murdock to identify.

He'd finally figured it out, or at least he thought he had, but there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it: Face was missing Frankie's grave. Last year, he remembered, they'd been in Italy this time of year, and he remembered Frankie being a bit upset that he couldn't take care of his mother's grave and Hannibal pointing out that he couldn't have even if they'd been back at Langley and Face reassuring him that his cousins wouldn't let it be neglected "this year either"—now Murdock realized he must have missed Frankie's worry the first year. He wondered if Face had, since they hadn't been together yet, and then dismissed that thought as unimportant. What was important was, this was the Day of the Dead, and Frankie's grave was in Malaysia, totally out of Face's reach... and it would be the first grave he'd ever had to worry about, too.

He sighed, looking ahead. In three weeks Thanksgiving, and then Christmas... Face was going to get kicked a lot in the next couple of months, but Murdock couldn't think of a thing to do.

The front door slamming jarred him from his reverie. Face had gone inside. Murdock got out of the truck and climbed up the stairs to the front porch. Inside, the house was dark except for a light in the first bedroom. Murdock shifted his weight from one foot to the other, wondering what to do, and then Face came back into the hallway, carrying a box.

He pushed past Murdock without comment and went through the kitchen to the back yard. A minute later he came back in, without the box, and went back to the bedroom, emerging with another load. Murdock watched him uneasily; there was something almost fey about him, something that was making the hairs on the back of Murdock's neck stand up. He wanted to offer to help, but he didn't want to... to draw Face's attention. He didn't know if the prohibition against talking was still in place but it was a lot easier not to. By the time they got back to Langley Face would be glad of help unloading... Hell, Murdock distracted himself, not much of that's going to fit in the Vette. Is he planning on letting the Ables see the truck? He turned that over in his mind a couple of times and decided to wait till they were on the Beltway to bring it up.

Meanwhile Face had brought out a third load and come back, but this time he stayed in the kitchen, rooting around in a cabinet. When he straightened he had a can of starter fluid in his hand. Murdock decided just standing there was no longer the best policy and followed him out into the yard.

At least, he was relieved to see, physical self-immolation didn't seem to be on the agenda; Face was very careful as he squirted the pile of stuff he'd heaped up in the yard with the fluid. And though he started the fire by using his cigarette lighter, it was on a piece of cardboard he'd probably torn off one of the box lids. He tossed that onto the pile—pyre, more like, Murdock thought—and stood well back as it caught. The first leaping rush of chemically assisted flame illumined the blond's face and the set expression on it; the rose-brown sweater and rose-beige shirt had more color.

Murdock was very glad Face had saved the prints and the old bridle, and that he'd hung onto the photo himself.

As the flames steadied, Face abruptly turned and went back into the house. It took Murdock almost no time to follow, leaving the fire on its own. Face was in the second bedroom, going through the things piled up on the old desk and then swearing suddenly and just grabbing an armful and pushing past Murdock. As soon as he was down the hall Murdock picked up the photo album he'd leafed through while Face slept the first time he'd been here, opened it, and stuffed half the pages inside his jacket. Then he closed the album and dropped it back on the desk and went back outside. He had the feeling the only way to stop Face doing this was to hit him over the head, and he'd resent that. But even if he wouldn't want the pictures, Murdock did: Face was so damned happy in them.

Outside he watched Face toss things carefully onto the fire, feeding it. After a few minutes the blond went back into the house, emerging with another armload. As he began to add to the blaze a car pulled up behind the truck. Face ignored it, but Murdock started walking in that direction.

The driver opened the old coupe's door and got out. "Mr. Thomas? At you? What's gane on?" Well, thank God, it was Cal, not the fire department. Or the police.

Not that Murdock was really sure what to say to him. He shrugged. "He's burning stuff."

"Kin see at," Cal said. He looked at the fire and then turned back to Murdock. "I need to use the phane, call Anne an' tell her not to call the farmin."

"Good idea," Murdock said.

The boy was back out in a minute. "Anne says she's comin' ayver onner boskie."

That took a minute to figure out, and by then it was too late to tell him to call her back and tell her to stay at home. "I wouldn't bother him, Cal."

"Ain't gonna bother him, but at far gets outa hand Anne kin hep." He joined Murdock in leaning against the front of the truck.

Face had brought out another stack by the time Anne arrived. She leaned her bicycle up against the old car and joined Murdock and her brother. "He burnin' Mr. Rivera's stuff?" she asked softly.

"Yes," Murdock answered as softly though he didn't think Face would notice.

After a minute she said, "At for Halloween? I mean, at's a three-day feast accordin' to the pagan books."

Murdock blinked in surprise. It was Cal who answered her. "He taled us they was Calflicks."

She shrugged. "Well, why else is All Saints an' All Sales right after Halloween, anyway?"

Cal didn't answer, just nodded. The three of them stood in silence watching Face burn the last year. Murdock had rarely felt so helpless in his entire life, at least not about something someone else was doing. This might be cathartic but he had the sinking feeling Face would regret the wholesale destruction in a week or two. Still, he had no idea how to stop it. He wished Hannibal had come, or sent BA; they'd have known what to say. But their situations were different... He also felt he should say something to the teenagers, explain this somehow, but he didn't know how to start. Then again, looking at their still, dark faces, he wasn't sure but what they might understand it better than he did.

Anne straightened up, shaking her head. "Ay, nay," she said softly. Murdock turned to look at Face; he had picked up a wooden box and taken the lid off. Murdock remembered looking at that, too; it was a little Nativity set. Face pulled out one of the animals and was about to toss it when Anne, moving too quickly for Murdock to grab her arm, grabbed his. He started and dropped the animal.

"Mr. Hard, you can't burn at." Anne's voice was gentle but firm. She picked up the little animal, a sheep probably, rubbed it gently, and tucked it back into the box. "At's haly. An' you'll want it at Chrismas, you'll see."

Face looked at her, actually seeing her, and then said, "Maybe you're right, Anne." He took a deep breath. "I should have asked you if you wanted something."

She shook her head. "Nay, thanks. I've got at picture, an' thase shirts he bought us up in Bawlmer." She took the box from him. "I'll put this in your truck," she said, and left him.

Murdock didn't know if she'd broken the spell or if there wasn't anything left in the house, but either way Face didn't bring out anything new. He went ahead and burned everything he'd already brought out, standing with his arms crossed over his chest and watching the fire leap and then die. After a while, Cal said softly, "Are youns comin' back?"

"I don't know," Murdock admitted. "Probably... I don't know."

"You got somthin' to write with? I'll give you our phane nummer, you kin call us about the boat if nothin' else."

Murdock dug a pen up in the truck's glove compartment and took the piece of paper from the boy and put it in his shirt pocket. "Thanks, Cal."

Cal shrugged. "We'll be gettin' on," he said. "Far's nearly dead an' we don't want to be inna way. Put your boskie inna back, Anne," he turned to his sister.

Before she did, though, she put her hand on Murdock's arm. "You're a good friend, Mr. Thomas."

"Thanks," Murdock said, wishing he were a better, or a worse, and then preempted her by grabbing the bicycle himself and stowing it in the car. He watched them back out and then pull away.

When the fire was completely out Face shook himself slightly and walked to the truck, moving slowly. "Let's go, Murdock," he said.


"I'm not staying here tonight."

"Sure, Face, whatever you say... You want me to drive?" Murdock offered.

Face paused. "Yes," he said simply.

Fortunately getting out—take the dirt road till you hit gravel, follow that till you hit pavement, follow that to 13—was easier than coming in, because Face was asleep in five minutes. Murdock turned on the radio low and let him sleep till he needed help finding the Vette. Hannibal and BA were still asleep when they got in, and without speaking Face and Murdock agreed to let them stay in bed. Murdock brought the album pages and the little Nativity set into his room and put them with the photo he was saving for Face. Someday he'd want them.


Murdock looked at the smiling, contented men in the framed photo and let his fingers drift across Face and sighed. He laid the picture face down on the wooden box and crawled into bed.

Face lay awake, curled on his left side with his right arm outstretched across the other half of the bed. His hand was empty, and the worst thing was he didn't even know what he wished was in it. If indeed anything at all. His watch was on the table but he didn't need it to know what time it was. Oh dark thirty, he thought, just before the dawn when it's always darkest. But dawn doesn't come. Not really. ' Still darkness falls around us And we must journey on...' Except no one ever tells us why.

He sighed, wishing he could sleep. He hadn't in days, not since he and Murdock had come back from the Eastern shore Friday morning. Not to say really sleep. He'd close his eyes and go off for a short time, a few minutes, and then he'd jerk himself out of a dream and lie awake again for hours. Like tonight... He was becoming exhausted, catnapping through the day but not getting any real rest. It couldn't be more than another day or two before Hannibal noticed and then what? He clenched his fingers in the sheet. Murdock already had noticed, he was sure of that, but Murdock hadn't said anything. Wouldn't. Didn't want any part of Face's problems, that was becoming obvious.

Oh, God, he thought wearily. Just let me sleep for once. But he wasn't counting on it. And he was almost afraid to, anyway. Tonight he hadn't dreamed of Frankie dying, or Murdock in his arms. Tonight he'd been so tired and ground down he'd dreamed of the camp again, which he hadn't done in years. Much as he hated the other dreams, he'd rather them a thousand times, rather the pain of Frankie's blood on his fingers or the bitter knowledge that Murdock wasn't really... He clenched his jaw and tried to empty his mind of everything but one chosen thought. He'd used to be able to do that when he'd needed to. Maybe he was out of practice... Or, more likely, he just couldn't think of anything that didn't sneak up and bite him.

He heard BA and Hannibal going down the hallway, talking softly. It wasn't as early as he'd thought. A mixed blessing: if he didn't have time to try to sleep again at least he didn't have to keep lying there, awake, wanting. He rolled onto his back and wondered what the hell he'd do if Stockwell sent them somewhere today. Hannibal thought he'd lost his edge earlier? Today he didn't even have any place to put an edge. This was no good. He had to do something to get some sleep.

Tranqs. They had a lot here. Some for Murdock, his prescriptions in case he needed them, and some for BA, in case they had to fly. BA's were too strong, he needed to be able to wake up if someone knocked on his door, but Murdock's... they weren't really tranqs, just kinda strong sleeping pills. If he lifted a couple of those he could get a good night's sleep. Bad dreams wouldn't kill him, he knew that for sure.

Plan in hand he felt more like getting up and facing the others. He'd only have to deceive Hannibal another day—if they got sent off somewhere today they'd almost certainly fly and he could grab a tranq while they were packing and nap on the plane. BA might try to stuff more food into him, like he was a baby bird for Christ's sake, but he had to admit that he hadn't been eating much. He'd lost nine pounds since... Malaysia.

He shook his head and got out of bed. ' There's nothing either good or ill but thinking makes it so.' What a load of dingo's kidneys, as those Aussies back in Saigon used to say. Malaysia was as bad as it gets. He shook his head again as that stray thought he didn't want to face slipped through his mind almost too quickly to notice, a little whisper, not the worst. The hot water of his shower cleansed his body, and at least quieted his mind.

He dressed carefully, a dusty rose shirt under his camel sweater with the cream and rose accents and dark brown slacks. The rose gave him a little more color, which he needed. Not as much as he needed caffeine, of course, he thought as he headed down the stairs. The thought must have made him smile, because Hannibal's greeting was a bit relieved. He poured himself some coffee, gave BA some pro forma argument about breakfast—pancakes again—and waited to see what Hannibal had on the schedule.

That, thank God, was not physical training. Instead they spent the day going over operational codes. Face had a hard time keeping the new ones Hannibal had come up with in his memory, but the older ones were automatic responses. Murdock was the one who drew Hannibal's wrath, which gave Face the chance he needed to get into the pilot's room and find his meds.

"What are you planning on doing with those?"

Damn. Murdock had sneaked up on him.

"Give," Murdock said, grabbing Face's wrist. His brown eyes were blazing.

"Oh, for God's sake," Face said. "I took two. Two." He rubbed his wrist as Murdock put the pills back into the little bottle and stuck that into the pocket of his khakis. "If I was planning to kill myself I'd have done it weeks ago, and I'd use my gun. Not your sleeping pills."

"Yeah? Two before I got here. What were you planning on doing?"

"None of your business." Face tried to push past him but the other man grabbed his sweater and shoved him up against the dresser.

"The hell, Face. What affects the team is my business, and those are my pills, which makes it my business."

Face hardly heard him, he was fighting his reflex reaction to being pinned and too tired to do it well. He had Murdock's wrist in his right hand and was bringing his left around to smash the pilot's elbow before he could stop himself; he didn't actually break it but it hurt the other man, that was certain. Pain and awareness of his error both flashed across those dark brown eyes but anger, or something very like it, overtook them and he grabbed Face's other wrist and pushed him back. They struggled for a minute, but Murdock's position and lack of lack of sleep gave him the advantage. He glared at Face.

"What the hell are you doing, anyway, Face? Why don't you talk to me?"

Face stilled for a minute and then twisted free. Murdock grabbed his sweater again and he slapped at the pilot's hand. "Why should I?"

"We're team-mates, Face." Murdock paused a minute and tightened his grip. "I care about you."

"Sure." Face managed to pull loose and moved three steps sideways, getting out of reach. "Sure. Well, I'm fine, all right?"

"Face, you're not. A blind man could see it. And now you're stealing my pills?"

"What do you want to hear? I can't sleep, all right? Half the time I see him and the other half—" Face was too off balance to keep himself from starting that sentence but he could stop it dead in its tracks and choke it into non-existence.

"The other half what?" Murdock asked, his eyes even angrier.

"None of your business." Face backed away a couple more steps and Murdock came after him, grabbing at his arm. Reflexively Face struck out, connecting with a glancing blow on Murdock's shoulder. It caught the other man off-balance and sent him staggering back to fall on his bed. Face stared at him for a few seconds and then was out the door and in his own room.

"Murdock!" Hannibal's voice from downstairs.

Face swore to himself, at himself. If I can't get the pills... I can get drunk. And laid. That'll do it. He reflexively looked at himself in the mirror and stripped off the sweater, twisted out of shape, and grabbed a jacket. He needed to get gone while Murdock was occupied with Hannibal.

"We have to find him," said Hannibal. "I don't like the idea of him out there alone. Not in the mood he's been in lately, not just today, but..." He shook his head, clearly worried, and Murdock hadn't even told him everything. "Murdock, where is this place of his? We should check there."

"No sense in that now, Hannibal. He won't be able to be there for hours yet. If we drive out there and he's not there, we'll lose ten, eleven hours... We should look around town first. Later I can call his neighbors, see if he's there."

"Where is it?"

"It's out on the Eastern Shore," Murdock said.

Hannibal nodded. "All right, then. I doubt he's still around Langley, but he might be in Arlington. BA, you check around there; Murdock, you and I will split up and look in DC. He's driving the Vette so he shouldn't be too hard to spot."

"If he's still driving it," Murdock said.

"Well, we'd better hope he is, Captain. Otherwise, it's going to be damned hard to find him."

"He prob'ly is," BA put in. "He want us to find him, down inside. He want us to prove we come lookin', want us to prove we think he worth the trouble."

Hannibal looked at BA, raised his eyebrows, and nodded. "And if we don't find him—"

"He won't come home on his own. He be sure he right."

"Well, he's not. We're going to find him and drag him home kicking and screaming if we have to," Hannibal said. "And then we're going to knock some sense into that thick head of his if it's the last thing we do."

"Right on," BA growled.

"Right, colonel," Murdock said.

"So let's not waste any more time. BA, you drop Murdock where he can get the Metro to Georgetown. I'll check Northwest and work my way down."

Murdock and BA rode in nervous silence to East Falls Church. Murdock was trying to decide what to say to Face if he found him, hoping one of the others would, scared one of the others would—BA was probably right, Face was out there hoping they'd look for him and with every minute that passed convincing himself that they wouldn't, that not only didn't they need him (that wasn't a new worry for him) but that they didn't want to put up with him any more. And in spades for Murdock... He had no idea what to say. He didn't know what BA was thinking but the look on the big man's face discouraged conversation.

At the Metro he expected BA just to let him out but instead he pulled into a parking place. And Murdock hadn't taken three steps before BA's hand grabbed his jacket and he found himself up against the van. "BA," he protested, pushing at the hand, "let go. We don't have time for this."

"I got somethin' to say."

Murdock sighed. "Okay. What?"

"What you doin', fool?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I thought you loved him," BA said astonishingly. "How long you gonna let him go on hurtin' before you do somethin' about it?"

"BA, this is not the time—"

"No, it ain't. It's late, way late. I just hope it ain't too late. An' if it is, fool, I'm gonna make you sorry you been puttin' it off."

Murdock flinched at the intensity of BA's emotion. "He doesn't want me to do anything."

"You mean he ain't asked you. 'Course not. He don't know how to ask. That don't mean he don't want."

"BA, we're wasting time. We need to find him—" Murdock tried to push past him, unsure which he wanted more: to find Face or to escape this conversation.

The black man grabbed him with a heavy hand. "Ain't gonna do any good to find him if you ain't gonna give him what he needs. He just go again. It ain't like you don't want to, is it?"

Murdock stared into those dark eyes, seeing the concern under the anger. "No. Of course I do. But he doesn't want me."

"You really are a fool," BA said without rancor. "He been wantin' you for years."

"He never—"

"He in love with Frankie, 'cause Frankie in love with him. Takes two. But he love you, he prob'ly love you while he with Frankie, which gonna hurt him even though Frankie didn't mind 'cause Frankie knew what he knew." BA sounded absolutely certain; Murdock wondered how. "But he love you and now Frankie gone he need you."

"He doesn't—"

BA shook his head and Murdock fell silent.

"Face don't know how to be in love," BA said simply.

Murdock was skeptical, and he must have shown it, because BA shook his head, scowling in that way he had when he thought you were missing something obvious.

"He only been in love once before, and he was too young and it didn't work out. Bein' in love not easy, even if you grew up seein' it how it supposed to be done, which he didn't. Even what he remembers of his mama, his daddy wasn't there. And that Becktal woman, she left him. Didn't even have the courtesy to say goodbye, just left him. An' used him later when she needed him—you know she knew he'd come to save her. Why she didn't tell him she was a nun in the letter." BA shook his head; he hadn't liked her much. "So he don't know how to do it. To him, somebody love and somebody use. With Frankie, it was different. Frankie knew better, he saw his mama and daddy till she died, but he didn't have enough time to teach Face. It all new and scary to him, Murdock, and it hurts. Hurts real bad. Ain't no wonder he's fightin' it, runnin' like this."

"What are you saying, BA?"

"I'm sayin', you better find him."

Face emptied his glass and raised his hand for another.

"Hey, Face."

He looked up. Murdock was standing there, looking so much like himself it hurt. Classic Orioles baseball cap, bomber jacket over a black t-shirt, khakis, sneakers... narrow, high-cheekboned face with those eyes. Face looked away from those eyes. "Go away," he said distinctly.

"Come on, Face. Let's go."

The brunette wrapped herself around his arm. "Don' go," she said, sounding remarkably like the backup singer in Johnny Mathis's 'What Will My Mary Say?' He patted her hand and she looked daggers at Murdock. "You go."

"Come on, Face," Murdock repeated in that patient tone which said he might just stand there for an hour.

Face shook his head. The waiter came up with his scotch and started to reach around Murdock to put it on the table.

"He doesn't want that." Murdock put his hand on the waiter's arm.

"Yes, I do," Face contradicted him, tapping the table beside his empty glass.

"No, he doesn't. You've had enough."

The waiter hesitated. Face looked at Murdock and said, with distinct precision, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Templeton Peck is, unhappily, imperfectly pickled. And I want my scotch."

The waiter put the drink down and left. Face picked it up and drank half of it.

"Come on, Face. Let's go."

"He don' want you, muchacho," the brunette said. "You go."

"He doesn't want you either, muchacha. He wants to engage in a little vicarious transgender necrophilia, and you really wouldn't like it." Incomprehension and apprehension mingled on her pretty face. Murdock added, "There are plenty of handsome guys in this bar who want to get laid; you ought to go find one. Run along, hon."

She spat something—Face's Central American Spanish wasn't very good—at one or the other of them, maybe both, and got up and flounced away. Murdock took her vacated seat.

"Come on, Face."

"You don't have any right to do that."

Murdock shook his head.

"I can fuck who I want," Face insisted.

"Yes, I think that's indisputable. But 'can' and 'should' aren't always the same."

Face paused. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, for one thing, you used to have better taste."

"I'm out of practice."

"Good thing."

"Go away." Face drank half of what was left in his glass, wondering if he could make it last forever, like Zeno's Tortoise, steadily covering diminishing half-distances and never finishing the course.

"Not till you come with me." Murdock was still sounding terribly patient. Terribly, awfully, horribly patient.

"I am not," Face said definitely, "going back to Langley."

"I got no problem with that."

Face drank the next half. "Why are you here?"

"Because I care what happens to you. And you'll get hurt staying here and getting drunk and," Murdock paused momentarily, "whatever."

"Laid," Face said. "The word is 'laid'. There are others, if you prefer."

"I don't."

"Why the hell do you care?" Face finished the drink; it hadn't lasted very long at all, let alone forever.

"I'd be happy to discuss it with you if I thought you were sober enough to understand, which, despite your elocution demonstration, I don't. Come on, Face, let's go."

Face stared at the empty glasses on the table. "I'm not going to Langley," he repeated.

"No problem."

Face looked up into those brown eyes and capitulated. "Okay." He pulled out his wallet and dropped two twenties on the table.

Outside the brisk November wind made him blink. The sky was dark and clear, though Washington was far too brightly lit for many stars to be visible. Not as bright as LA, of course, but few places were. He liked it, though; one of man's better achievements, that, driving back the night even if it drove away the stars...

"I think we should get a dog."

"A dog?" Frankie sounded incredulous. "What would we do with a dog?"

"Leave it out here. Anne and Cal would take care of it."

Frankie propped himself on one elbow. "I'm sure they would. But we can't buy a dog and leave it out here for weeks at a time, months maybe... I didn't think you even liked dogs."

"I don't mind them. But I'm not talking about a pet. I mean a watch dog."

"Oh." Frankie lay back down again, looking up at the sky. "There's not a lot of casual crime out here."

"I know."

"I thought you liked it out here."

"I do," Face said. "It's just... dark and empty."

Frankie laughed softly. "City boy."

"Oh, come on. You grew up in LA same as I did."

"True... except for the three years I spent in Miami. Arizona, not Florida."

"When was that?"

"I was fourteen. Mom was dead and Dad was starting to get sick... he sent me to spend the summer with my mom's family and I ended up staying till I finished high school." He laughed. "I thought I was gonna go crazy at first. This place is like a bustling metropolis in comparison."

Face winced in sympathy though he envied Frankie his relatives. "I guess they must not have minded having you."

"My abuelita, she insisted I stay. Had a couple of cousins around, it was okay. Probably kept me out of a lot of trouble..." He was quiet for a minute. "And my grande abuelo, my great-grandfather, Hastiin Chee... He liked me. He taught me to ride, some other stuff. Like stars." He pointed up at the sky. "There's 'A'tse'ets ozii'."

"There's what?" The guttural word—phrase?—didn't sound a bit like Spanish.

" 'A'tse'ets ozii', the First Slim One. There—" he reached over and turned Face's gaze in the right direction.

"I think that's Orion."

Frankie laughed. "Anglo," he said, and then, "Yeah, but the Dineh, the Navajo, they don't call it that."

Face was intrigued. "They're the same, just with different names?"

"Oh, no... Well, some. The more obvious groups, I guess. Like the Milky Way, that's Yikaisdahi, Awaits the Dawn, or the Pleiades, the Flint Boys, Dilyehe'. But others aren't, like Revolving Man and Woman, Nahookos bika'ii and Nahookos ba'aad; he's the Big Dipper and she's part of the Little Dipper and Cassiopeia, and the North Star's what they revolve around, their hearthfire. And Scorpius: that's split into two. The head is 'A'tse'etsoh, the First Big One, and the tail is my personal favorite, Gah heet'e'ii, Rabbit Tracks."

"Rabbit Tracks?"

Frankie laughed. "Yeah. They are exactly like... and they kind of skitter along the horizon. It's cool." He rolled over onto his side and looked at Face with eyes as dark and bright as the summer sky over their heads. "Though I'm thinking of changing. To Hastiin Sik'ai'i."

"Okay, I'll bite—"

"I know..."

Face resisted the low, suggestive tone long enough to ask, "What's that?"

"Man With Legs Apart..."

There was no resisting that. It was hours later that he found out it was a real constellation, most of what was Corvus to Europeans...

"Face?" Murdock was being patient again.

He briefly wondered how many times Murdock had already said it, but just answered, "What?"

"Where do you want to go?"

Face laughed shortly. "Back inside."

"No. Where else?"

He'd already given up but he saw no reason to make it easy for Murdock. He's not making it easy for me... "There's a really nice bar two blocks that way." He gestured widely.

"Face, you've already had more than enough."

"That's your opinion."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I don't fucking care as long as it isn't Langley."

"I think—"

"Or there."

Murdock paused and then shrugged. "My place—"


"I thought you didn't care?"

"I lied."

Murdock sighed. "You've definitely had enough... but I expect the only thing to do with you right now is get you drunker, someplace you can sleep it off."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"We need to find a decent hotel, then."

Face pulled his car keys out. "The Vette's right over there," he gestured.

Murdock snatched the keys from him. "You are not driving."

It was momentarily tempting to picture smashing up the Vette at 90 mph, but only momentarily. He shrugged and climbed into the car, leaned back, and closed his eyes. "Surprise me," he said.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6


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