Murdock stood alone in the center of the empty room and watched as the door ahead of him slowly closed shut. He wanted to cry, for he realized that he was living in one of those moments when from this day forward nothing in his life would ever be the same again.
Dr. Varjak knew he looked kind of odd. Of course, he had been in a rush to get to this location and the slightly off-centered placement of his newly acquired jet black hair didn't help appearances. Add to that his bulbous nose and massive over-bite and you had someone who appeared to be more caricature than man. None of that mattered, though. It was all in the attitude, not the appearance. He was the nation's foremost psychiatrist and he had an important case that he needed to look into. He was the best at what he did and he knew it. He approached the Washington D.C. Veteran's Adminstration Hospital and walked past the two military police officers who stood guard at the building's entrance. He showed them his credentials and proceeded past them.
The man who had asked to see him was standing in the waiting room of the hospital talking to two more MPs. He paused, took a deep breath, and walked up to Dr. Richter. Attitude, he thought to himself. It's all in the attitude.
"Listen," Richter said, "I don't care what your orders are. That man is a patient of mine and he isn't going anywhere...."
Just in time, Varjak thought as he tapped Richter on the shoulder.
"Are ju Dr. Richter?" Varjak said with an obscenely thick accent.
"Just a moment, sir. I'm in the middle of a conversation." Richter turned his attention back to the two MPs. "As I was saying, if you think you're going to move that man before I decide that he is well enough to travel, then they'll be needing two more beds in here for the both of you."
"Excuse me, Dr. Richter."
"I'm not sure what manners they teach you in the country you came from, but we consider it rude to interrupt someone when they are in the middle of a conversation."
"Und I don't appreciate beink asked to come to dis hospital and den beink ignored."
"I didn't ask...." Richter stopped. His eyes narrowed as he focused on Varjak. Suddenly, they widened in shock as realization set in.
"Oh my...um...wow...uh...I'm sorry Dr. ...uh...."
"Varkak," Varjak offered up.
"Yes. Okay. Dr. Varjak. I'm terribly sorry. I know how valuable your time is so let me show you to the patient right away." He looked at the two MPs. "We'll continue this later."
"Please follow me."
"How was my performance?" Varjak asked proudly as soon as he and Richter were out of earshot of the guards.
"Pretty hideous." "Well, it worked for 'Revenge Of The Sea Monster'. Of course, the Sea Monster didn't have any lines, but I always imagined him to be of German descent."
"That was German?"
"Of course. Hideous, huh? Well, it got the job done. Now, back to the matter at hand."
"Yes. Well, he was hurt pretty bad physically, but it’s nothing that won’t heal with some time and care. He’s scared right now though. Who can blame him? He’s becoming agitated...frustrated, and soon those emotions are going to turn into rage."
Hannibal absorbed all the information that Richter was feeding him, but couldn't help but be distracted by the surroundings. In one of the rooms he passed, a legless soldier stared at the wall ahead of him, probably lost in a world better than the one he currently lived in. Another man in a straitjacket slammed his head into a wall, pleading aloud for the people to get out of his head and leave him in peace.
Hannibal frowned. He hated this place.
Well…that wasn’t entirely true.
He understood the importance of the VA. It provided a valuable resource in the treatment of a soldier’s long-term physical wounds. More importantly, the VA played a role in the treatment of those wounds invisible to the human eye, but which leave scars on the human soul that can never go away. Any man who fought in any war was bound to have seen or committed atrocities no human being should ever have to see or commit. While the VA could never truly heal these scars, they could at least help those people live with the pain and horror that war brings.
So Hannibal didn’t really hate the VA. He just hated visiting the place. Every time he entered the building and looked into the wounded and haunted eyes of all the soldiers who fought in various wars - it didn’t matter which one for, ultimately, war is war - he saw a reflection of himself. He was no different from them. He realized that there but for the grace of God, and a little help from his friends, he could be the one lying on that hospital bed staring at the ceiling, or wearing that straitjacket, or crying himself to sleep every night in the hope that Morpheus would spare him the nightmares just once and grant him a peaceful night’s sleep.
He couldn't let any of that bother him though. Attitude. It was all about attitude.
“Here we go. This is the room.” Richter said, snapping Hannibal back to the matter at hand.
Another MP stood in front of the door.
"Dr. Varjak is here to see the patient." The MP stepped dutifully aside.
Hannibal was about to turn the doorknob when Richter suddenly grabbed his hand to prevent him.
“I have to warn you, the patient is not quite as you may remember. He has been through a lot and…”
“Tanks, doctor. I vill be fine, though. I dealt vith many a strange ting over der years.” That wasn't a lie. War. Years on the run from the government…he had lived through and seen just about everything. His hand reached for the doorknob and was about to turn it and enter the room when a loud bang against the other side of the door startled him and caused him to recoil. He paused for a moment and waited for a second bang, but none followed. He peeked into the room through a small glass window on the door and his eyes narrowed in shock - or what would pass for shock - in Hannibal's case. He placed his hand on the doorknob once more, slowly turned it, opened the door, and stepped into the room.
“Hey there. Are you okay?”
The man was curled up like a fetus in one corner of the room. His head was buried in his arms as though by doing so, he could pretend that the rest of the world didn't exist.
Hannibal took a cautious step towards the figure. And then another.
The person in the corner did not move. Hannibal reached out and placed a supportive hand on the cowering figure’s shoulder.
“It’s going to be okay. I’m here. I’m going to help you get through this, Templeton.”
Templeton looked up. His once-handsome face was marred by cuts and bruises. Wrinkles and dark circles underlined once-perfect eyes that had brimmed with life and twinkled with schemes. Tears ran freely from those eyes. His lips trembled as they tried in vain to hold back the onslaught of emotions, mainly fear, he had been feeling.
“Templeton?” he spoke in a frightened whisper. “Is that my name? Is that who I am?”
“What happened?” Hannibal asked as he sat in the hospital cafeteria with Dr. Richter.
“That’s what I’d like to know, muchacho.”
Both men turned around and suddenly, as if appearing out of thin air, Murdock pulled out a chair and sat beside them.
“How did you get out of your room?”
“Where there’s a will…” Normally, there would be a slight mischievous quality to the words he had just spoken. There was so such quality this time.
“I locked your door myself,” Richter said, “and told you to stay there until we found out exactly what happened to your friend. I don’t want you getting upset.”
“Well, you know what they say, Doc? Don’t leave home without it.”
And with those words, Murdock handed Richter a thin, plastic card. Richter took the card from Murdock’s hand and looked at it. His own name and the words “American Express” were on the card.
“How did you…" Before Richter could continue, Hannibal cut him off.
“Let’s stick to the important problem right now, Richter. What exactly happened to Templeton?”
“He was found beaten and unconscious outside of a bar on Washington Street. There was no identification found on his person and no one inside the bar or in the neighborhood knew who he was. He was taken to County General. His wounds were treated, but when he woke up, he had no idea who he was or what had happened to him. We’re still waiting on the results of a few different tests to see if there was any internal or neurological damage.”
“Then how did he end up here?” Murdock asked.
“They found this on him.” Richter pulled a small object out of his pocket and held it up. Murdock took the cold metal object and frowned as he looked at it.
“Face’s purple heart.”
“They thought we were better suited to treat his other injuries,” Richter continued. "I recognized him as Murdock's brother, doctor, cousin, lawyer...am I leaving anything out?"
"He visited me as a priest one time. He wasn't very convincing. He kept hitting on the nurses."
"Anyway," Richter interrupted, "I told Murdock and he suggested I call you for help."
“Not just you, I called a certain man with a bad attitude. He should be waiting outside in the van at this very moment," Murdock added.
“You called…how did you…?” and before Richter could finish his sentence, Murdock handed him the small cellular phone.
“Here you go, doc. Battery needs to be recharged, though.”
Richter took the phone from Murdock.
"Anyway, BA's probably living up to the bad attitude part of his name, so you'd better get those gears a-turning, O glorious leader, and figure out how to get Face out of here."
“What?" said Richter as if suddenly slapped awake. “Are you crazy?” Richter closed his eyes as if waiting for the rimshot to his unintentional punchline.
“You can’t take him out of here,” Richer continued, but in a quieter tone.
“Hannibal, if Face has memory problems, he’s not going to get any help staring at four empty white walls in an eight-by-eight room. He needs to be in an environment he’s familiar with. He needs to be with friends who know him, who can perhaps trigger those forgotten memories.”
“Where did you get your degree, Dr. Murdock?”
“The school of life and experience. The school of familiarity. I’ve been where he’s at, doc.”
“Maybe. But contrary to the belief of everyone at this table, we can’t just have patients waltzing in and out of here whenever they or someone else chooses to.”
“That’s enough," Hannibal sternly said. Both men quieted down immediately. "This isn’t helping Face. Murdock's right, doctor. You said it yourself. Templeton isn't getting better. In fact, he's getting worse. We have to try this our way. If we’re not able to help Face, we’ll drop him right back here. In the meantime, BA can do some investigating and hopefully find out how his injuries occurred. Maybe that would give us a clue as to what happened to him.”
“This could cost me my job.”
“And it could cost Face his life,” Murdock said with a hint of desperation in his voice. “C’mon, doc. I know you. You’re like us. You’re one of the good guys. You’re one of the few docs who's actually in this for more than a paycheck.”
“I'm not just concerned for myself. Mr. Peck’s mind is in a very fragile state right now. It’s not a condition to be taken lightly. One slip, a wrong gesture, a wrong word, and there’s no telling what the consequences could be. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough.”
“I know, doc.” Murdock smiled as he spoke. “That’s why I’ll be there.”
“Oh, no, you won’t.”
“Please, doc. Face released me from a real dark place recently. I owe him big time. Please please please. Oh, please, please, please, please, please…”
“All right already. Enough. You can go, too. It wouldn’t be the first time a patient went missing for days.”
"Thank you, doc. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise you I’ll be good. I won’t fall asleep anymore during our sessions and…”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Anyway, explaining your absence will be easy. A shuffling of paperwork, administrative screw up... but how are you going to get Templeton out of here? The MPs are watching him carefully.”
“I have a plan,” Hannibal said "And I'll need your help, doctor."
"I don't think I like the sound of that." "Oh, that's okay," Murdock said, finally allowing a hopeful smile to cross his face, "You get used to it after awhile. Can I be the doctor, this time? I don't want to be the orderly again."
Hannibal opened the door to Face’s apartment. He entered and turned on the light. Murdock soon followed. He helped guide Face into the apartment. Face walked slowly. Every sense was working overtime trying to absorb every little detail he possibly could.
"How long do you think we have?" Murdock said.
"About 24 hours. It all depends on how good an actor the doctor is when the MPs find out that it's Richter tied up in Templeton's bed. Hopefully he can mislead them with convincing but false information about the terrorist would knocked him out and took Mr. Peck away."
"I just hope Richter doesn't get in too much trouble. He put a lot on the line for..."
"This is where he lives?” Face said, interrupting Hannibal and Murdock.
“Well, in a manner of speaking,” Hannibal answered. “This is one of the many places that Templeton…I mean, you have lined up throughout the country. Our…business requires that we not stay in any one place for a long period of time. We have to keep moving.”
“That van we came up in together,” Murdock added. “That’s more a home than these or any four walls.”
“I see,” Face said, not particularly caring for the answer he had just heard. “And these four walls that I’m not supposed to be really attached to, they're supposed to trigger my memory?”
“Well,” Hannibal responded, “that’s the theory, Face.”
“Face,” Face sneered. “How generic.”
“Why don’t you change out the orderly uniform and put on some clothes you're comfortable wearing?” Murdock suggested.
Face looked around the apartment. "Where..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. The bedroom is the second door down the hallway. The light switch is to your right."
Face left the duo. Murdock waited for the sound of the closing door before he continued. “Hannibal, can you give me some time alone with Face? This doesn’t seem to be going too well right now and I think I can help. I need to be alone with him, though.”
“I don’t really want to get into that right now. You’re going to have to trust me. I think I’ve earned that.”
“I’m not sure I like this idea, Murdock.”
“Like I told the doc, Hannibal, Face pulled me out of a funky place after the Osborne case. I need to do this, or at the very least, try. I owe it to Face.”
“Okay, I’ll be downstairs in the lobby. If I hear anything from the VA or BA, I’ll come up here and get you.”
Hannibal left the room, leaving Murdock to stand alone in the living room. He had lied to Hannibal. He had no idea if he could help Face. He didn't even know how he was going to try.
Face emerged from the bedroom wearing a long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. "How do I look?"
"I think you look fine. Do you feel comfortable in them?"
"I guess so. They seem to fit like they were mine." "Then that's all that matters."
"Where's the other guy?"
"Hannibal? He had to step out for a few minutes to, um, run some errands. He'll be back though. Looks like it's just you and me, kid." Murdock simply stared at Face for what seemed to him to be the longest minute ever recorded in the history of mankind. “So, anything here spark a fire in that old brain of yours, Facey?”
Face sat himself down on the sofa off to the side of the room. “Well, ‘Facey’ has good taste in antiques and art. Well, at least I think it’s good taste. I like it anyway…or I guess I think I should like it, but…damn it!”
He slammed his right fist as hard as possible on the oak coffee table in front of the sofa.
“Son of a bitch!” he screamed as he clasped his right fist in his left hand, "Shit!"
Murdock rushed over to Face and sat beside him on the couch. He took Face’s hands in his own. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?” he asked tenderly.
“I remember what pain feels like.”
Murdock started massaging Face’s hands with his own. “Any better?” he whispered.
“Okay, then, time to roll the dice and go for broke. All or nothing.” Murdock placed his hand on Face’s chin and tilted it up in his direction.
Their eyes locked.
And they kissed.
It was a soft and gentle and sweet kiss.
Suddenly, nothing else existed. All of the pain, hurt, tragedy, and heartache disappeared.
All of those moments went away.
All that mattered was the here and now.
This one perfect moment.
At least that was how Murdock felt until the moment when Face shoved him away.
“What the hell?” Face said as he used his forearm to try and rub away every last trace of the kiss he had received from Murdock. “What did you just do to me?”
“My God, it’s worse than I thought. You don’t even remember what a kiss is?”
“I know what a kiss is, but this…”
“Hey,” Murdock cut in before Face could say anything else to wound him. “It worked for the princess and the frog. You may not have your memory back, but you sure do look like a prince.”
A hurt and wounded expression flashed briefly across Murdock’s face before he could suppress it. “Pouring ketchup on a salad is wrong. Spreading peanut butter on a banana sandwich is wrong, but it sure tastes good.” Murdock paused for a moment to see if he could get a smile or even the hint of a smirk on Templeton’s face, but there was none to be found. Murdock had been wrong. This was the longest minute in the history of mankind. “So, nothing, huh?”
“No. Perhaps we should get that guy, Hannibal, back in here.” Face stood up and headed for the door, but Murdock quickly rushed past him and stood in his path.
“No! No! I’m sorry about what just happened. Just forget about it, I’m sorry, I mean…let’s start over. Let me help.”
The words seemed to choke out of his mouth. Forget about it. That was a good one. Asking a man with no memory to forget about what just happened. Murdock would laugh if he weren’t the one involved in the memory. He grabbed Face’s shoulders. Face flinched at the touch, but offered no resistance as Murdock guided him back to the couch.
“Sit down. Looks like we’ll have to do this the hard way. Let me tell you about the man they call Templeton Peck.”
Rocko Lange had been a bartender at Finnegan’s Pub for thirty years. He often thought of himself as the working man’s psychiatrist. People would retire to the pub after a long and arduous workday and spill their guts to him. He had seen people at their worst or most foolish behavior, heard tales of theft, adultery, incest, embezzlement, rape, murder…a veritable catalog of human sins, all the things that separate mankind from the animals. So he pretty much thought he had seen and heard it all. That he could not be surprised.
That was, until today.
“What…what did you just say?”
You could hear the tremor of Rocko’s words as he addressed the six-plus-foot, massively built black man decked out in gold chains who stood before him.
“Do you have a hearing problem?”
No. It’s just that…we don’t serve your kind here.”
“What do you mean, ‘your kind’?” BA leaned forward across the bar so that he stood an inch or two from the bartender’s face.
To Rocko’s credit, he didn’t back away. “The kind who drink milk. This is a bar. We don’t serve milk. Beer we got. Hell, wine we got. Milk, we don’t have.”
“Forget about that for now, then. Answer my other question. Did you see this man come into this bar two days ago?” He slammed a photo of Face on the counter.
Rocko knew the routine: take the photo, look at it without really looking at it, and hand the photo back to the man. No sense causing trouble and offending a future customer. “Don’t recognize him. Doesn’t mean he didn’t come in here, though. Lots of people come through these doors. You can’t expect me to remember every face.”
“Not every face looks like that, though. He was found beaten pretty bad just a few feet outside this place. Probably got in a bar fight.”
“There are almost as many bar fights as there are people who come through these doors. Now, I would have remembered him if he had come in here and tried to order a glass of milk. Sorry, pal, can’t help you.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Does it make a difference?”
“It’s the difference between a world full of pain for you if you don’t come clean right now.”
“Oh, you’re right about the pain part,” Rocko said through lips that smirked.
The solid wooden object came down hard on the side of BA’s skull.
“Okay. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that in 1972, Face was part of a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. They promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. How am I doing so far?”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“And today, we’re still wanted by the government. We survive as soldiers of fortune. If someone has a problem, if no one else can help them, and if they find us, then maybe they can hire the A-Team.”
“Exactly!” Murdock looked at the blank expression on Face’s face. “Still nothing, huh?”
“After over two hours of my enthralling you with glorious stories of your wondrous scams and our great times together, you mean to tell me that there are no bells going off up there?”
“Not even a little ring?”
“Okay then. We’ve tried the direct approach and verbal stimulation and neither one worked. Let’s try the visual approach.”
Murdock stood up and walked over to a closet near Face’s bed on the opposite side of the apartment. He opened the closet, knelt down, and slid out a small wooden box. He carried the box and laid it on the couch between Face and himself.
“Like Hannibal said, we are constantly on the move and have to pack up and move out, sometimes with only a moment’s notice. You like to travel light. Be prepared to get up and out in a flash. But no matter the situation, no matter how fast you have to leave a place, you always bring this box with you. I guess it’s your own little box of memories. Let’s hope it brings you some. Go ahead. Open it.”
Murdock pushed the box towards Face. Face stared at the box as if it were Pandora’s and then slowly and somewhat reluctantly opened the lid.
There was a photo lying face down on top of the pile.
“Is this family?” Face said as he reached into the box, pulled out the photo and flipped it around. “What the hell? ‘From one karma karma karma chameleon to another. Best wishes, Boy George.’”
“One of your greatest scams. Actually, it almost backfired, but in typical Face fashion, you came out unscathed.”
“You know, you told me about the war, all the missions we’ve had since we’ve been on the run. All the people we’ve helped. You’ve told me about all these great and elaborate scams he’s pulled, but you haven’t even told me about his family. Who are my parents? Are they still alive? Do I have any brothers or sisters? That’s what I need to know.”
Hundreds of words, dozens of sentences, a handful of lies and excuses crossed Murdock’s mind until he came up with the only answer he could possibly give to Face. The truth.
“I don’t know who your parents are. You never knew your parents. As for brothers and sisters, well, I don’t know. Could be.”
“Looks like even when he had all of my memories, he really didn’t have much of a past. He really wasn’t much better off than I am. How did he feel about this? Not knowing who he truly was?”
“You mean you? You know, Face, this third-person pronoun stuff is kind of freaky.”
“Okay. How did I feel about the fact that I never knew my family?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Didn’t he talk to you about it?”
“He never really brought it up in conversation.”
“What kind of sports did he like?”
"Um...wow...I don't know. I don't think he, I mean you, liked sports."
“But you’re not sure.”
“How about favorite films? Books? TV? Did he have any friends other than the 'crack commando unit'? Did you really know who Face was?”
Murdock tried to speak but couldn’t find the words to say. Face was right. How well did he really know the conman? Murdock reached into the box, pulled out a scroll and handed it to Face. Face unrolled the scroll, spread it out before him, and stared incredulously at its contents: nothing, a totally blank piece of paper with the exception of a single blue dot in the center of it.
“This was given to you by someone who was once special to you. Out of all the valuable and beautiful pieces of art you own, it’s the only piece of art that you carry with you from place to place. The rest you keep in storage.”
“Art? There’s nothing on it but this one dot.”
“Facey, that line is just the beginning. When I look at it, I see bluer than blue skies and willowy white clouds ahead of me for miles and miles. Nothing ahead of me, nothing behind me. Just sky and clouds and freedom. That’s what I see now. I’ve seen different things when I’ve looked at it in the past. One time I looked at the canvas for about thirty minutes and saw an entire episode of 'The Beverly Hillbillies'. Lousy show. Love Granny though. Who knows what I’ll see tomorrow. That’s the beauty of it.”
Face looked at it for a moment. “Do you know what I see? Nothing. A vast wasteland. A void. Kind of like this Face person you keep talking about. Who did you say gave this to him? ”
“It was given to you by…someone. A woman who was once very special to you.”
“What happened to her? Did she leave him? Did she die?”
“She left you. Believe it or not, a woman left you. She found the one, let’s say person, who could steal her heart and soul away from you.”
"She was special, huh? Then what the hell is this?” He pulled out a small but thick black book.
“Um. It’s exactly what it looks like. Like I said, we’re constantly on the run. Face makes contacts from place to place and, um…”
Face riffled through it, his rage increasing as he turned from page to page. “He kept a black book. He kept a fucking black book!”
He whipped the book across the room. It hit the wall so hard that its spine shattered and pages flew across the room.
Marcus Simpson thought he felt his spine snap when he was hoisted over the large black man’s shoulder and thrown into the wall on the other side of the bar.
“I pity the next fool who tries to play pool with my skull!” said BA, holding the broken pool cue in his hands.
Three of the five men who surrounded him took baby steps forward. They stopped and took giant steps backward when BA snapped the cue stick again and ground the remains into sawdust.
“Now, then,” BA said calmly as he spun around to face Rocko. “You were about to tell me about the man in this photo.”
Rocko looked into the dark pools of BA’s eyes. The words were spoken calmly, but there was no mistaking the consequences if he didn’t give the man the information he requested. “All right already. This man came into the bar two nights ago. He ordered a beer and then proceeded to piss everyone off.”
"You sayin’ he was lookin’ for a fight?”
“All I’m saying is that he came in here with an attitude. Within five minutes, he managed to hit on every single broad in the place. I’m telling you, the man was amazing. He could’ve banged every single one of them if he'd wanted. They fell hard for pretty boy’s eyes. Well, them broads had boyfriends and one of them was Marcus Simpson, the man you just made fly across the bar. Marcus has plenty of friends and they did a song and dance and made pretty boy not so pretty anymore. Come to think of it, I don't think he came in here looking for a fight. I think he came in here to get his ass kicked. He didn’t even really try to defend himself. That answer your questions? Can you leave now before I lose more cue sticks?”
BA slumped down onto the bar stool. “Yeah. You answered my questions. And raised about a dozen new ones. I think I need a drink.”
“I told you, we don’t serve milk here.”
“Did I ask you for milk! I think I need the hard stuff! Make me one of those Shirley Temples and make it to go!”
Now Rocko could honestly say that he could no longer be surprised.
“Whoa, there, Faceman,” Murdock said as he knelt down to pick up the pieces of paper scattered across the floor. “Calm down. What’s wrong?”
Face bent down and picked up a handful of paper from the floor.
“This man, Face,” he said as he crushed the papers in his hand. “He’s a pig!”
“No, he’s not. Sure, he’s slept with dozens…okay, hundreds of women. But he never disrespected them. He loved them in his own way. He never forced them to be with him. He made them feel good and…and, um…okay, you’re right. He is…I mean, you are a pig.”
“He schemes and scams for a living. Every other word he utters is a lie. He assumes different identities almost every day. He has no family, very few friends. You told me he once had someone who meant the world to him. Is there anyone special in his life right now?”
“I…I don’t know,” Murdock said reluctantly, but honestly.
“I don’t think I like this man.”
“I don’t like him either. I love him.” The words were out. There was no going back.
“I love the mischievous gleam he gets in his eye when he’s concocting a plan, and the slightly crooked smile he gets when he reluctantly verbalizes a plan that he knows no one will like. Sure, he cheats and scams and swindles, but it’s almost always for a good cause. It’s usually to help someone else out. I know that when we’re out on a mission, he’ll cover my back. I know that he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to give his life to save mine and I would do the same for him in a heartbeat. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a bad person to me.”
“Well, you did say he was a good liar.”
The door behind them opened and Hannibal stuck his head into the room. “Murdock. Can you come out here for a moment? We need to talk.”
“Can it wait?”
“No. It can’t.”
Murdock re-entered the room about ten minutes later. Face was looking through some of the bureaus but stopped when Murdock entered the room. “What did Hannibal have to say?”
As he said this he spun around to face Murdock and walked straight into a powerful fist that knocked the conman to the floor. Even if he’d seen the blow coming, it was delivered with such speed and power that there was no way he could have stopped its effect. He fell like a stone weight to the floor.
“You son of a bitch,” Murdock said as he pinned Face’s shoulders to the floor with his knees and rained punch after punch on the conman’s face. “You were right all along, weren’t you! You lied to everyone, including yourself! You pulled the greatest con you could pull! You even scammed yourself!”
“What are you talking about?” Face said weakly, not even trying to defend himself.
“Give it up! I talked to Hannibal! I talked to BA! There’s nothing wrong with you! We got the test results from County General. There’s nothing wrong up there!” He punched the side of Face’s head. “Maybe this’ll be like the movies. If I pound that lying thick skull of yours long enough, you’ll start remembering things. If you ever forgot them in the first place!”
“Damn it, Murdock! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Get off of me! Jesus Christ, I'll get Billy to sic you!"
Murdock punched Templeton’s face again. He raised his hand to strike another blow, started to bring it down, and stopped the fist in mid-strike. “Wait a minute. I didn't tell you about Billy tonight. How did you know about Billy? What kind of game are you playing, Faceman?”
Murdock rose slowly to his feet. His anger subsided for now. He extended a hand to Face. Face took it and rose to his feet.
"Oh my God." he whispered as if fearful he would wake the dead, "I remember..."
And with those words, Face fell, unconcious, to the floor.
“Face…Face. Are you okay?”
“Murdock? What’s going on? How long was I out?”
“A few minutes. How do you feel?”
“Like I had my head pummeled twice over the past few days, that’s how.” Face rose slowly from the floor. Murdock helped him up and walked him over to the bed. Face sat down. “I’m sorry.”
“I should be the one saying I’m sorry. I guess I let my anger get the better of me.”
“No. I’m sorry. I remember everything.”
Murdock, stunned, took a step back as if he were the one who’d been hit. “You knew all along.”
“No. I honestly didn’t remember anything for the past two days.”
“But the doctor said there was nothing wrong with you except for a few cuts and bruises. Nothing that could cause any type of memory loss. BA said you went out that night looking for a fight. That you went to that bar and hit on any living creature with two legs and a pair of breasts. Are you that scared about what happened between us the night before? Do you realize how you saved me?”
“And I was trying to save you again.”
“I don't understand. Are you saying you forced yourself to forget everything you know and love? You forced yourself to forget me?”
“I didn’t force myself. I didn’t plan any of this.”
“Maybe not intentionally, but you were looking for a fight that night. Something was bothering you. Jeez. And people call me crazy.”
“Exactly. They call you crazy. I should be the one to have my head examined. I envy you. When you see a person, you see them for what they are. When I see a person, I see a mark…a target. I size them up and think to myself, what can I get from this person, what can they do for me? You. You’re a good person. Confident in yourself and who you are. Me, I second guess myself all the time. You say that I pull scams to help people. I’m not so sure about that. I pull scams and cons because I like to. Because that’s what life is. A game. A con. That’s the way my mind works. Every second of every day. I question just about every single action I make. I question the motives and intents behind them and I usually don’t like the answers I come up with.”
“All I know is that you helped me that night. That was a good thing you did for me.”
“Was it? I don’t know. Maybe I was being selfish. Maybe I just didn’t want to lose a good friend. Maybe I was tired of being alone. Maybe I did it more for me than for you. You see what I mean? Questions upon questions. I didn’t want you to be hurt by my actions.”
“I’m a big boy, Face. I knew what I was getting into and who I was getting myself involved with.”
“That’s true, but it doesn’t wipe away my motives and my actions or the consequences of those actions. I didn’t want you to be another target or mark. I didn’t want to be the cause of any more pain in your life. You’ve been through enough of it already. Forgetting everything, well, that was the safe way out. Lose the baggage…start with a clean slate. I don’t know. And I’m tired of not knowing. I’m just tired of it all. I’m tired of all the scams, of sleeping around like a dog in heat, of having to be a different person almost every day of my life. It’s time to be myself, but there’s just one problem. I don’t know who that person is. I don’t think I know myself any better now than I did when I had no memories.”
“I know you’re a good person.”
“Maybe. But I think I need to find that out for myself. And not define myself by how you or anyone else sees me.” Face slowly rose from the bed. He steadied himself and headed for the door. “I’m going to tell Hannibal that I’m okay. That everything is okay.”
“You’re not coming back here, are you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But not today.”
“I can tell Hannibal if you’d like. Spare you the trouble…”
“No. I have to do it myself. He’s done a lot for me. I owe him that much, at least.”
“Okay, then. I guess this is goodbye for now.” Murdock extended his hand.
Face took it and they shook hands for a moment. Then Face wrapped his arms around Murdock and gave him a strong and gentle hug. Murdock wrapped his arms around Face’s waist and hugged him back.
Their embrace warded off the fear and pain that loneliness brings, the type of loneliness that not even being with family and best friends can overcome. The type of loneliness that can be conquered only by being with the one person who can, with a single glance, look into your heart and soul, see you for who you truly are, and accept that person. The type of loneliness that can only be whisked away by being with the one you love. And as Face tightened his fingers around Murdock’s waist, they were safe, protected from the loneliness.
Never let go.
Murdock closed his eyes and smiled and allowed himself a moment to dream of another life and in that life, they would be together. Happy and without a care in the world. They would never have to let go.
Safe in each other’s arms.
Murdock broke away slowly from the embrace and gave Face a benign push back. “You go off now and find yourself. Go and find for yourself the good man that I know is in there and give me a holler when that person gets back.”
Face stayed and stared at Murdock. He turned around but found that he couldn’t move forward.
“Go on now,” Murdock said as he looked away from Face's eyes. "Do I have to push you out?"
“Thanks for everything, Murdock. I’ll see you soon.”
And Face walked to the door, solemnly opened it, and stepped out of the room, fighting every urge to turn around and look back.
He exited the room and closed the door behind him.
“Goodbye,” Murdock said quietly to himself.
Now is not the time for tears.
Murdock stared at the door for a few minutes, still fighting back the urge to release all the pain he was feeling in the form of tears.
He turned around and glanced slowly around at what had been, until a few minutes ago, Face’s apartment. What should he take with him? Was there anything Face would want when he got back? If he got back? He would be back.
Murdock walked over to the sofa and unrolled the scroll lying there. He half-smiled. He saw before him on the blank canvas a new portrait of a different Face, filled with new potentials, new hopes, and new possibilities. He smiled, but he wondered…amongst that new landscape, was there any room for himself?