Chapter 1: South Carolina
As the smoke clears and the plane's engines power down, Hannibal and Murdock exchange relieved looks. Murdock gives him a thumbs up.
“Everyone all right back there?” Hannibal calls. There is no reply.
He glances at Murdock and gets up gingerly from his seat. He’ll have bruises tomorrow.
When he enters the cabin he sees BA, still out cold, but it takes him a second longer to locate Face. Then he sees him, slumped against the far wall, his head at an odd angle. His eyes open.
Behind him, Murdock groans as if the sound is being ripped from him, and he pushes past Hannibal. Hannibal wants to follow but the plane door is rattling like something's trying to get in. A scrabbling. Claws on metal.
Murdock is shouting and now BA is waking up, but instead of going to them Hannibal walks over to the window, moving like he’s in some kind of fugue state. A dark form is throwing itself against the glass. He opens the door and it bounds in, knocking him to the ground, something huge and black.
Chapter 2: Borneo
They are trying to reach him but they are too late.
Murdock is fighting to hold the chopper steady, overloaded as it is with passengers, and Hannibal is leaning out, searching amidst the hail of bullets and the smoke. “Face! Face!”
And then they spot him, standing on the hood of a jeep, arms outstretched towards them, calling for them. Murdock banks the chopper down low, ready to swoop in and pick him up -
The blood comes first, his skull, opening. Then the crack of the gun. Face falls back, and as Hannibal lets go of the chopper and prepares to jump he sees a dog crouching on the hood where Face was standing just a moment before, a mongrel dog, huge and black.
Chapter 3: Bel-Air
The mortuary is cold enough that Hannibal can see his breath when he exhales. There is only one body laid out, covered by a sheet.
He's glad he ordered Murdock to stay away. Murdock had wanted to be the one to ID Face, had put up an argument about how the MPs would be waiting for them, how he was the only one who could walk in there unrecognised. Rawness and desperation betraying every word.
Hannibal peels back the sheet. It's him.
“We tried to clean him up,” the assistant says. “Poor guy. He was real unlucky...”
Everything is turning very bright.
”...he had to pick the one day they drained the pool.”
Hannibal starts back suddenly. There is a huge black dog lying on the mortuary slab.
”Hey, you okay there buddy?” the assistant says.
The dog bares its teeth.
Chapter 4: Vietnam
Hannibal is dragging Fulbright towards the chopper and he ducks instinctively as a wave of bullets cuts over their heads like a scythe. Fulbright jerks in his arms.
“Colonel, Face is down,” Murdock shouts above the noise.
“Get us out of here,” he shouts back.
He shrugs off Fulbright, leaves him to Tia and BA, and lurches to one side as the chopper lifts off. He staggers into the cockpit.
Face is slumped over and Hannibal gets his arms around him and pulls him backwards onto the floor.
“BA, I need a first aid kit. And check on Murdock, I think he's injured.” Hannibal's motions have a contained frantic quality about them as he rips open Face's shirt and sees the bullet holes, the blood pulsating.
Beside him, Tia is weeping as she bends over Fulbright. “He's dying.”
“So's this man,” Hannibal says grimly. He raises his voice. “Murdock, how long ‘til we cross the border?”
“I don't know, Colonel, maybe an hour, maybe less."
Face comes to suddenly.
“Yeah kid. Lie still.”
Face is terrified. “I don't want to die in Vietnam.”
“You won't.” But the blood keeps coming, despite his best efforts to staunch the flow.
”Ain’t no first aid kit, Hannibal,” BA says, and as their eyes meet Hannibal knows they’re thinking the same thing. It won't make a difference. Nothing will.
Face chokes then and Hannibal hauls him up into a sitting position, holds him against his chest.
“I don't want to die in Vietnam,” Face says again through a mouthful of blood.
“We're not in Vietnam,” Hannibal tells him. “We’re in a chopper. And you know who's flying it?”
“M-Murdock?” Face says, spasms shaking his body now.
“That's right. And BA's here too,” he feels Face start to die in his arms, “we’re all here, we’re all together. We've got you,” and BA is kneeling on one side of them, and on the other side, slavering, is a huge black dog.
Chapter 5: Washington
He bleeds out on the corner of 16th and U, on the floor of the van, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Hannibal rocks back on his heels and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, there is a black dog on Face's chest.
“Murdock,” he says, and the sound is coming from very far away, “what does Billy look like?”
“Billy?” Murdock says, his voice full of tears.
“Yeah, Billy. What’s he look like?”
Frankie and BA are shouting but it’s as if a soundproof blanket is cushioning them, and it is only him and Murdock and the dog.
“Why, he's cute, Colonel. A real softy. You’d like him.”
The dog is snarling.
“I can see him,” he says faintly, pointing, and it snaps at his hand.
“Oh Hannibal,” Murdock says, “that's not Billy.”
Chapter 6: The beginning (the one time he didn’t)
In the camp, at their lowest ebb, when there’s been no food and water for days and all they can do is lie there, conserving their energy, looking up at the stars, Murdock tells Face, “There's a dog.”
“Round here?” A ghost of the smile in the dark. “Can we eat it?”
“It's not that kind of a dog. It's waiting for you, in your future. It doesn’t want you to live.”
“It doesn’t want me to live?” Face is trying to understand, but he is so weak.
“Yeah, see, it's stalking you. But you'll be okay 'cause I sent Billy to protect you.”
“And Billy is - ”
“The other dog.”
Face considers this for a moment, and then he smiles. “Billy sounds like a good dog.”
“He is. He's the best. So now we got him around, you won't die.”
“What, ever?” Face says dreamily.
“Cause of Billy.”
“Yep, ‘cause of Billy.”
“Murdock, did anyone ever tell you you're crazy?” And then he’s asleep.
Hannibal has been listening in, sitting up against the bars. “That true, Murdock? Did you really see a dog?”
Before Murdock can reply, BA interrupts him. “Shouldn't encourage the fool,” he says from his corner. “Just gonna mess with his head even more.”
“For your information, BA," Murdock says, his mouth so dry that every word is sore, "I do know the difference between wish fulfilment and reality.”
“Wish fulfilment,” BA muttered. “I wish you'd go to sleep and stop your jabbering, that’s what I wish.”
Murdock tunes him out. “It's true, Hannibal.”
Hannibal takes a long drag of his unlit cigar, and when no response is forthcoming Murdock lies back down on the hard ground, trying to ignore the sound the black dog is making as it prowls around outside. He shifts closer to Face, knowing that Billy is doing the same.
”I guess only time will tell,” he hears Hannibal say. Or at least, he thinks he does.