cor-dil'-le-ra , n.
a chain of mountains, usually the principal mountain system or mountain axis of a large landmass.
-from the Random House dictionary
So this is Wyoming, Face thought. They would've been past Denver by now, but Murdock had insisted on taking a detour to see Cheyenne Mountain. Nobody was too eager to get back to LA after home cooking and a tidal wave of mother love, so hell, sure, why not Wyoming.
"That's the HQ for WW Three," Murdock told them. "The Big Bang. The Nuclear Nighty-Night. The--"
"Shuddup, fool," BA snapped. His hands stayed steady on the wheel despite the bumps and potholes in the road. Obviously the voters in this district had not backed the right party.
"I don't know what you expect to see there, Murdock," Hannibal told him. "I doubt it's open to the public."
"And if it is, it's crawling with military types," Face sighed.
Murdock shifted petulantly, and folded his arms. "You don' have to go," he mumbled.
Hannibal shook his head. "You want to see Cheyenne Mountain, you're gonna see it, if we have to put on uniforms and--"
He turned in his seat, and Face saw the evil grin.
"No," Face barked, knowing it was useless.
He looked up. A regular tile ceiling with vitamin-sucking fluorescent lights, just like you might find in any other government institution.
Only this ceiling had a mountain on top of it.
"Did you know the Russkies built a bomb just to take out Cheyenne?" Murdock breathed, his voice echoing against the dull gray walls. "Twenty megatons if it's an ounce. Comes in and opens this baby up like a giant can opener. Then they can slam in another one in and cook anybody whut's left."
"Murdock," Face warned.
"Whaddaya think of that, huh?" Murdock murmured, his hand reaching out to touch a wall with something like reverence. "A whole mountain. Snow, trees, dirt, rocks, everything. Blasted away in a heartbeat. No place to hide."
Face sucked in a breath.
"No place to run."
Behind them, BA made an impatient noise. "Let's keep moving," he growled.
Murdock stayed still. His eyes fixed on Face.
"Might be nice, though, to know where you're gonna end up," he whispered. "The biggest fucking tombstone on the planet, just for you."
A shitty basement in one of the shittier neighbourhoods of Chicago.
As good a place as any, Face thought, as the seconds ticked away.
It wasn't that he didn't have faith in BA's bomb disposal expertise, but this one was just going to be dumb luck, and they all knew it. Considering it was about the thousandth time they'd staked their lives on the flip of a coin, he had to wonder if this time the odds would catch up to them.
He moved toward the door to the boiler room, and his hand shot out of its own accord, connecting with Murdock, shoving him back. BA glanced up at them, and he stopped. Didn't want to look like some kind of coward.
The truth was, he hadn't been thinking of himself.
He wanted Murdock gone, out of there.
But if BA didn't cut the right wire, none of them would get out alive. And that was only fair. All for one, one for all, right, guys? He didn't mind that.
At least, he didn't used to mind it.
Murdock's warmth fired along his left side, and he wasn't even shocked to find he was leaning into it. Something brushed against his fingers. Tentative.
He grabbed ahold of Murdock's hand and held on tight. His thumb pressed into Murdock's wrist, feeling the rhythmic rush of blood.
One more. One more. One more. As though Murdock's body pulsed in time with their final seconds together.
BA made the decision, and a second later he breathed.
Face's hand opened. He eased away from the warmth.
The appropriate bitchy comment from him, the appropriate one-syllable compliment from Hannibal, and they were back to normal.
As normal as this got.
A cowboy bar in Laramie. Go figure.
Face felt at home here, oddly enough. The Tammy Wynette warbling from the softly glowing jukebox was soothing, a siren call to the rocks.
If he could just let himself go. Swim a little, paddle against the undertow of thirty-eight years, give or take a rain-soaked week in Saigon.
But he couldn't. He knew what Murdock wanted from him. He wasn't stupid, or even selectively blind. Snipers saw everything, up close and personal.
Right before somebody's head got blown off.
"You shouldn' be drinkin' so much."
Face whipped his head around to discover the object of BA's concern. They were all drinking, except for BA. He didn't indulge in that particular avenue of escape, even though he wanted to remember the look on his mother's face even less than the rest of them.
"It ain' nothin', baby," Murdock said.
"What about your pills?" BA persisted.
"Didn't take 'em," Murdock countered. "Haven't been since we left for Chi-town." He grinned suddenly, and Face felt a throbbing pain deep in his gut, where it didn't show.
"I wanted to meet Mamma. I wanted the whole thing, y'know? Without the middle man. One hundred and ten percent."
BA stared at him.
"Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, little brother."
Face finished his drink and stood on shaking legs to feed the jukebox.
Motel Six, Seven, Two Hundred Forty-Three. Who cared?
It was Hannibal who offered him the out.
"You want to bunk with BA or Murdock?" he asked.
Face looked at his hands, then at the van, then at the blinking motel sign, then at Hannibal. He didn't take it.
"I'd better keep an eye on Murdock," he said.
Hannibal pursed his lips, but didn't comment. "Six a.m.," he nodded.
Murdock followed close behind Face, bumping into him occasionally.
The room smelled of stale cigarettes and leather. Face wondered if Gary Cooper had spent the night here, with his chaps and his saddle.
"Which one do you want?" Face said.
Murdock collapsed on the nearest bed.
"That one, huh?"
When he emerged from the bathroom, he squinted into the darkness. After a couple of seconds, he picked up the steady, even hiss of Murdock's breathing.
God, but it was quiet out here. This place was far from the main highway, and the white noise that creeped into his pores in LA had never touched this corner of Wyoming.
"Y'never told me."
Face jumped. The voice sounded as though it were coming from a spot beside his left ear.
"Told you what?" he demanded, wincing at the loudness of his own voice. No need for that here. They didn't have to shout to hear one another.
There was a soft rustling of sheets.
"What you thought of the mountain. You wanna know where you gonna end up, Faceman?"
"What do you mean? Where I'm going to die?" He attempted a snort. "No one knows that, Murdock."
"Naw, that ain' what I mean," Murdock murmured. The light from the neon sign knifed across his bed through the gap in the curtains, appearing, then disappearing, in an endless rhythm.
"Then what?" Suddenly Face was sitting beside him, unsure how he'd gotten there.
"'M too drunk to pout."
Face shook his head. "You're not that drunk. BA needed someone to fuss over, and you like to exaggerate."
Murdock sat up. The light caught his eyes for an instant, and Face saw everything Murdock was trying to hide.
No place to hide.
"I'm sorry," Face breathed.
Warm fingers ghosted across his cheek, and he shivered.
"Don't be sorry," Murdock whispered. "Just stay still for a minute."
Face was going to say, Only a minute? But by then, Murdock's lips were on his.
He'd forgotten how soft they were. In the dark, he could forget, pretend, whatever. Just like they had sixteen years ago.
But when he let the darkness envelop him this time, he could still see Murdock.
His hand was halfway to the back of Murdock's neck when Murdock released him.
"G'night, Face." No recriminations, no hurt in the tone.
"It's OK. Really." He leaned back, and now Face caught the flash of a smile. "I know how heavy that mountain can be. Nobody knows better'n me."
He lay back down and turned over.
Face sat beside him for the rest of that minute, listening to his own heart beating.
One more. One more. One more.
He stood, slowly, and stretched himself out on the other bed, fully clothed. Hannibal would needle him in the morning about wrinkling his chinos, but he didn't give a damn.
Staring up at the stuccoed ceiling, he wondered how long he had before the roof fell in.