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Tercet--The Splintering
by Martha Litle and XXXXgizzieXXXX


It's one-fucking-thirty in the morning. It's not like I'm having
an easy time trying to get to sleep, but now some idiot is leaning
on my doorbell and apparently won't go away.

Christ.

I look through the peephole and recognize that face and that voice
that keeps mumbling my name over and over again. What the hell? I
can't seem to get this door open fast enough.

Jesus H Christ. It's Langly. And he's drunk.

Again.

He nearly falls into my arms as I open my door. There is only a
faint hint of alcohol about him, but then again, his drink of
choice recently has been gin. He is always so happy to see me when
he is in this state. He wraps his arms around me and gives me a
bear hug. Even in this condition he is still so strong. And so
heavy. It takes every bit of my strength to get him inside my
apartment, and I am dragging him somewhat over to the sofa.

As I deposit him on the couch, he is still mumbling my name and his
apologies for the late hour and wants to know where the nearest
party is. I hate the holiday season, if only to know what it does
to Langly.

I tell him to just stay where his is and that I'll be right back.
As I am in the bathroom dampening some facecloths to help him settle
down, I hear the cabinet doors in the kitchen being opened and
slammed shut. Sigh. He's looking for more liquor. And he'll find
it, too. You'd think that I would learn to keep it locked up after
those other times that he's raided my place.

"Stop it." I take a bottle out of his hand, none too gently. "Now
go over there and sit down." I point to the kitchen table and
give him a shove towards it.

Langly limps over to the nearest chair and nearly topples it by
falling into it. "Come on, I need a drink. Jus' one, and then
I'll go home."

I open the coffee canister and look for the filters. I know that
coffee is not going to help that much, but I've got to get
something warm into his stomach fast. "You've had more than enough
already. You shouldn't have even had any." I try not to sound
like I'm pissed off at him, but I am, and he should know it. I
really should just slap his face and scream at him, but I know that
it is not going to do any good. I did that the last time he
showed up here like this.

I still don't understand why he does this - why he does this to
himself. He had always been an odd one. Well, odd for this group
anyway. Even before, back in Baltimore, he seemed to have
this sharp edge to his personality. He'd go for days being
semi-rational and somewhat goofy and then turn around and be snarly
and bitterly sarcastic. I never saw it coming.

"I need a drink, and you should have one, too. Come on,
Doo-hickey."

I turn to face that shit-ass grin of his. He knew that last
comment would get my attention. "You don't need another drink.
What you *do* need is some sleep."

I take the facecloths over to the table and begin to wipe his face.
He struggles and turns his face first to the left and then right,
like a four-year-old who does not want his face cleaned. I can
only hope that the coolness will help to bring him somewhat back to
reality. Langly finally surrenders and closes his eyes and allows
me to pat his forehead and cheeks with the cloth. He is so much
like a child at times. Why didn't I see this sooner?

There was no hint pointing toward his drinking problem at first.
He had always avoided parties and gatherings, preferring his gaming
sessions where presumably no drinking took place. When I think of
all the times that I drank in front of him, openly and in great
quantities, and he never joined me even when I offered. I still
don't know if his willpower was greater than his need or if he
just didn't want any of us to know about his problem. Whatever it
was, he kept it well hidden for those first couple of years.

I pour that first cup of coffee and drown it in sugar and milk
because that's how he likes it. He takes a tentative first sip,
making a face at its bitterness even with all that milk, but he
continues to drink it. Good, he's gotten to that stage where he
understands what he has done and is accepting my help. I've
memorized this routine of his by now. He's shown up here a number
of times like this over the past few years. When he gets here, I
know that this is his signal to stop drinking for the night even
though he keeps asking for more. This is why he comes to my place.
He knows that I will take care of him until he sobers up.

Langly struggles to slip off his sneakers and shakily stands up in
an attempt to pull his t-shirt up over his head. But it gets hung
up on his glasses, and he tugs really hard, and the t-shirt finally
makes it over his head, and his glasses go flying across the
kitchen floor. He's complaining about the heat in my apartment
even though my thermostat is set on sixty-five degrees, and I am
standing here in sweats and I'm still freezing. I know what is
coming next. I start to lead him towards the bathroom, but about
halfway there, he breaks free and makes a mad dash for the toilet.
I guess that I should be grateful that he knows where it is by now.

He is still retching when I enter the bathroom There's not a whole
lot that I can do for him at the moment, except sit on the edge of
the bathtub and hold back his hair away from his face and rub his
lower back. After another moment, he stops coughing and rests his
head on the toilet seat, waiting for the room to stop spinning.

The next step in this ritual is for me to run some water in the
bathtub and let Langly stick his head and neck under the faucet.
Sometimes he gets sick again, but mostly he just lets the warm
water run over him for a few minutes. He's usually aware enough to
turn the water off for himself, while I grab a towel. Then I'll
sit back down on the edge of the tub and Langly will lean back
against the tub in front of me while I dry his hair. The first
couple of times that I tried to do this for him, he pulled away and
wouldn't allow any sort of contact. Maybe it was too personal for
him. Maybe he thought that I was trying . . . to take advantage of
him in his inebriated state. Whatever - he can believe what he
wants. He now accepts my help without hesitation or question. And
I am only too glad to be able to do something for him. I am just
sick about the reason why he is here in the first place.

I finish squeezing the dampness out of his hair and lay the towel
on the floor. Langly rests his cheek against my knee and renews
his apologetic chant. For showing up again and for drinking again.
If he would only remember this in the morning.

He's tired. And I am thankful. Some of the other times, he's been
so miserable afterwards. He'll start to cry, and I'll slip to the
floor behind him and cradle him while he continues with his
incoherent revelations. If he would only be this open with us when
he is sober. He is always off on his own, never acknowledging that
he needs anyone, much less any help with this problem. If he
weren't so damn brilliant, I'd have told him to get lost years ago.
But I didn't have the heart to do it. In a way, he reminds me of
what I could have become.

I pull him up from the floor, and we make our way back to the
living room. He stretches out on the couch that has become his
second home, and I pull the extra blankets out of the closet and
tuck him in. He finally stops mumbling, and his breathing is slow
and labored. I sit beside the couch on the floor for a few more
minutes, just to be sure that he doesn't wake right back up
wondering where he is, and then I head back to my bedroom to try to
get some sleep. But it does not come easily. We have to do
something about Langly.

*******************************

Jesus. My mouth tastes like gym socks. And will someone PLEASE turn
that klieg off?? I squint and turn over to avoid the skull-piercing
sun light streaming through the curtainless window, only to roll over
and right off the couch, thudding to the floor in a messed up tangle
of blankets and my own long limbs. I fight my way out of the wollen
mess, wondering where the hell my glasses are. And for that
matter...where the hell am *I* ??

The whir, whistle, chime and BONG BONG BONG of sixteen antique clocks
split my pounding head another few degrees, but without a doubt
identifies my location as chateau Frohike. These fucking clocks of
his...how's a guy supposed to sleep? Frohike and clocks...who'd'a
thunk it?? What the hell am I doing HERE anyway....?

Oh. Oh, yeah. The Christmas light tour and picking Becca's Christmas
tree--that goddamn Byers, I swear he interviewed the damn things 'till
he got the PERFECT one. Becca and Frohike bringing us hot chocolate
from that strange little diner, Frohike with this lost puppy look on
his face. I wonder what the deal is there? Becca and Byers
practically shoving us out the door after we hauled that sucker up four
flights of steps, so they could no doubt "deck their halls". Frohike
went home, and I.....

Ooops. Oh, yeah. The Limerick Tavern, the Christmas in Killarney
floor show, and the cool, crisp bite of Beefeaters on the rocks.....

Shit. I was doing pretty good there, for a while, too. It's not the
drinking that's my problem...it's the not STOPPING. I must have came
here on automatic pilot...I've done it before. The Limerick is only
one block from Byers', but my inane paranoia still unconsciously shies
me away from The Narc when my ass is in trouble. Frohike is like my
own little leather-bound guardian angel.

I stagger to my feet and find my way to the bathroom. Even with the
window open, there is the unmistakeable underlying stench of puke in
here, there are towels on the floor, and I wonder just how big an ass I
made of myself last night. I remeber, once, almost drowning beside
this very bathtub, kneeling with my head under the running faucet, as
Frohike left the room, mistakenly thinking I had enough sense to
extricate myself. That experience alone had kept me sober...for a
while...

I lean close, nose almost to the mirror, and study my face. I can't
see very well, and it's probably just as well; I'm scaring myself as it
is. I look older than my thirty two years. My face is lined, my eyes
sunken and bloodshot. I think for the hundredth time about cutting my
hair...Michael Bolton did. But Michael Bolton had that Nicolette
chick, too....

Where ARE my glasses??

I think about taking a shower, but don't want to wake Frohike, who I
saw is sprawled, still clothed, across the single bed in the closet
sized bedroom. Something about that single bed makes my guts twist....

I swipe a string of Crest across my index finger and try to scrub the
sock taste from my mouth. God, my head is splitting. The only thing
in the medicine cabinet is Preparation H...kind of appropriate,
actually.... I slam the mirrored door hard, suddenly pissed at Frohike
for not having Ibuprofin, and myself for needing it so desperately.

The clocks give another quarter hour dirge, ringing mightily through my
head. I go to the kitchen, stare blankely at the Espresso machine. I
don't have a clue how to operate this thing. He's gotta have some
instant somewhere....

Five cabinets, and I hit pay dirt. An impressive selection of
gentleman's booze, including an almost full bottle of Beefeater's. A
little hair of the dog, courtesy of my main man, Frohike. Alllll
right. I'm a little taken aback at how my hand shakes as I twist off
the cap, but as I swig right from the bottle, the cloying burn spikes
into my skull, and I feel instantly better. Another long draught, and
even my vision is clearing.....

"Don't forget to top it off with water, so I don't know you drank it."

I startle and just about choke on the mouthful of gin. It's Frohike,
stubble faced and bleary eyed and looking mean as cat shit. "I was
just...."

"I KNOW what you were doing." He yanks the bottle from my hand and
throws it in the sink, where it shatters with a nerve-jangling crash,
glass flying up and over the side. Frohike takes two steps and bends
to retrieve the broken shards, I try to slink past him, but he's up
in a flash and grabs me by the arm, spinning me around to face him.

I yank away defensively, my fist automatically balling and coming up
between us. He grabs my fist in one hand and yanks, and I'm suddenly
on my knees, one arm twisted up behind me. He glares down at me, and
I have enough sense to stop struggling, before I end up with a size 9
up my nose.

"Are you done?" he rasps. I nod meekly, and the hand around my fist
slides to my wrist, releasing the pressure on my burning shoulders, and
he pulls me to my feet, shoves me into a kitchen chair. He turns away
from me, leans against the counter and breathes in long, controlled
breaths.

"Where'd you learn THAT move?" I feel like my arm is gonna fall out of
the socket.

"Viet Nam."

"I'm...I'm sorry, Fro....."

He laughs suddenly, which scares me as much as his rage. He turns and
looks at me, shaking his head. "You're SORRY...sorry for WHAT, Langly??
That you're drinking at seven am on a Saturday morning...or that I
caught you....what??"

"I...I'm not DRINKING, exactly....", I say defensively.

"Oh. Well, what EXACTLY were you doing last night that you turned up
here and ended up with your head in my toilet by two in the morning??"

"I wasn't THAT drunk."'

"Oh, I see, you just came by to wash your hair..." he turns away picks
a shard of glasss from the sink, runs the sharp edge slowly across the
tender underside of his wrist. "Jesus, Langly...."

"Don't lecture ME, Frohike, you certainly have enough booze here."

" *I'M* not the one with the twelve step pamphlets in my desk drawer,
kid," he says quietly.

Cheap shot. "I'm not REALLY drinking , Frohike. Not really." My
paranoia is twisting my gut, raising my voice. I'm sweating . "I'm
ok. I just stayed too long at The Limerick. They had their Christmas
party last night. You should have come."

"So what happened here, did you forget the Orange Juice for the
Mimosas this morning?"

He's pissing me off now. My eyes flash, and he sees this, he leans on
the table, puts a hand on my shoulder.

"What....what is it, Langly?? You were doing so good. Let me help
you."

No. I don't need anybody's HELP. "I'm alright, Fro...."

"Is it this time of year....is it Christmas?" His voice is gentle, and
I want to run. " Watching Byers and Becca yesterday...that was hard
for me, too, ya know. This is a hard time of year, when you're alone."

"What, alone?" I say bitterly "YOU'RE not alone, Frohike, don't you
have that wonderful video collection you share with your BUDDY,
Mulder?? And what about Dee, the mystery lady from the past?? How
many times are you gonna stare at that scrap of paper with that phone
number...what are you trying to do, channel her?" He looks like I
punched him in the gut, but I can't stop, I'm on a roll now. "Then
there's always your wonderful fantasy life, starring Dana Scully.
She's fair game again, you know, now that she's well"

Frohike pales and leans back against the counter, stunned. That was
pretty cruel. Still, some self-defensive arena in me is cheering, I've
turned this debacle around so it's no longer about me. I'm nothing but
thorough in my assholeishness. I stand up and lean over him, my height
an unfair psychological advantage. "Why don't you straighten out your
own life,and stay the fuck out of mine?"

He stares up at me, his eyes bleak. Something in my chest tightens and
breaks, and I have to get out of here fast. I turn away from him, head
for the door...I don't even know if I was wearing a jacket.

"Langly." I pause, my hand on the door knob. "Here.....HERE!!!"

I turn and look...he's holding my glasses by one earpiece. I take one
step, reach-- he holds on to them for an extended second, 'till I
meet his eyes. There's pain and confusion and I hesitate a
second....no. "I don't need you to save me, Frohike. I don't need
anybody." I push my glasses on my face as he turns away from me, his
hands shoved deep into his pockets. He needs a shave.

I slam his door behind me, bypass the elevator, and break into a run
as soon as I hit the top of the steps. It's only eight stories.

I need a drink.

**************************

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*****

Tercet II--Temporizing
by XXXXgizzieXXXX and Martha Little


**Saturday, 10 am**

Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my!

Having been raised in the liquor controlled state of Pennsylvania, it
is still a kick for me to stroll into a grocery store and pluck a
bottle of booze from a shelf. Such a variety...such a VAST selection.
I snag a bottle of California Red--here's to you, Frohike, I sneer to
myself. I might have said it out loud, I don't know. At any rate, the
stock clerk is staring at me, although he may just be gawking at my
hair --people do that. He takes a step toward me, looks around, takes
one more step....

"Hey, dude," he hisses, motions for me to step closer. Now *I*
look around, paranoid...what are we looking for? "Hey." He leans close,
my buddy, low voiced. "You better fly right, dude, if you look like
you're already trashed, they won't sell you alcohol."

I'm insulted and grateful, take a few deep breaths and palm-scrub my
face as I head for the check-out lanes. Christ, it's crowded in here.
It's still two weeks 'till Christmas, surely people aren't food
shopping already.

I needn't worried about the sobriety police, the woman-child cashier
doesn't even acknowledge me, merely swipes the bottle across the
scanner and holds out her hand for cash. I wonder if she can talk? I
giggle at the thought, she fixes me with a curious little stare, and I
duck my head, count change out from the pocket of my Levi's. I wave
away her offer of a plastic bag and shove the bottle into my back pack.
As soon as I'm out of sight of the front door, I duck behind a parked
car, pull the 20 oz Tazmanian Devil travel mug from my back pack, and
fill it with wine. I take several healthy swigs right from the
bottle before I cap it and return it to the depths of my pack. The
smooth heat warms my gut and stills the tremor of my hands.

But it's official now--I'm freezing my ass off. I must find a coat.
There's a Walmart at the opposite end of this sprawling strip-mall. It
looks like it's sixteen miles away, but the bite of the freezing rain
that has started to fall quickens my steps, and I take several soothing
sips of the rich red wine as I hasten into the overheated interior of
this suburban delight.

I'm not much for shopping in the best of times, and the tension-charged
air of the pre-Christmas crowd prickles the hair on the back of my
neck. I will never understand why people torture themselves with
Christmas shopping, when most appear to hate it so. I have it pretty
easy, where that is concerned, no one to buy for, no one to buy for me,
no beating my brains out over WHAT to buy, no returning lame shit
afterward. I hate Christmas. And I want out of here. I find the
Men's Department, am somewhat overwhelmed by the dizzying array of
coats, but manage to find a lined denim jacket, a twin to the one I'm
now fairly sure is thrown over the back of a kitchen chair in Frohike's
apartment. I blew out of there fairly fast this morning. A long
draught of wine squelches the bitter after taste of that
conversation.

I have a moment of panic, standing in the line of a gabazillion people,
when I realize I only have $16 in my pocket. I dig through my back
pack, check all the secret compartments, and am relieved to find a
credit card. I'm more relieved to find it hasn't expired. The
holiday-worn cashier shows a spark of interest when he compares my
signature to the embossed name on the plastic strip.

"Yes, that's my REAL name," I say, before he can question it.

"Cool. Your parents must be real comedians."

"They probably would be, if they weren't real DEAD," I snap, and grab
the jacket from his hand. "I'll just take this to go."

"Thank you for shopping Walmart...RINGO," he sneers.

Smart ass kid.

I stop in the vestibule of the store to rip the tags from the jacket
and adjust the sleeve bands. Ringo. Christ, I haven't even HEARD
anyone say "Ringo" for years. No one has called me Ringo since my
parents were killed in the crash of a private plane when I was
seventeen. Becca calls me "Ree", which is --well, just so BECCA. So
*cute*. Fuck.

I take another swallow of wine and wonder if there's a REAL liquor
store near by. I could go for a nice big hug from Jim Beam. In
honor of Becca, and that emotional morning several weeks ago. Fucking
Mulder.

Some big guy plows into me, knocks my back pack out of my hand, yells
"Watch it, freak!"

I hate Christmas.


**Saturday, 5 pm**

I'm old enough to remember when phone booths were REALLY phone
"booths" --a big, glass and steel closet, with a folding door, a little
seat...a BOOTH. What the hell do you call these stand-up-and-talk
things, anyway, phone STANDS?? There's probably some PC name like
"telephone station". Whatever.

I'm standing at, in, by this pay phone, outside the Toot 'n' Scoot,
looking across the street at Byers' brownstone building. I can see
their silhouettes through the sheer curtain of his second story living
room window. They are apparently decorating still another Christmas
tree. It's an epidemic. I wonder if there will be one in the office
on Monday.

I'm drinking Jim Beam from my travel mug, but I've lost my back pack,
and therefore the rest of the bottle, somewhere along the way. I don't
know where. I don't really know where I've been all day. I hope I had
fun.

"Hello?"

Huh?? Oh....I DID dial Byers' number.

"HELLO?"

"Ummmm......Becca?"

"Who is this?"

"It's.....umm, Becca, does....umm...." I want to go home.

"Ree?"

"Does...I los' my keys. I need Byers' set."

"Jeff!" I hear her mumble...I think she calls me a punk.....

"Langly...Langly!!"

I want to cry. "Byers... I need....."

"Langly, where are you?"

Ah, THAT'S a good question.

"Byers, I need your keys."

"Where are you, Langly? Are you okay?"

"I'd be fine, if you'd just bring me YOUR FUCKING KEYS!!"

"Langly, listen...just tell me where you are, I'll come get you."

"Forget it......."

"Langly, don't hang up!" Oh...panic..I like that....

" 'S'okay, Byers." I'm overtaken with a sudden fit of giggles, that
ends with a horrendous choking hiccup. "Forget it. I don't know
where my car is, anyway."

I see him, suddenly, part the curtain and look outside the window. I
have a maddening urge to jump up and down and wave my hands.

"Langly, listen to me." His voice is low, soothing. "Are you at the
office? Did you go home at all yesterday?"

HA!! He's in Narc mode, and Doo-hickey apparently didn't rat on me.
This could be fun....

"Byers," I whine pathetically. "I think I got robbed." Actually, that
possibility is pretty good. In addition to my missing back pack, my
pockets are empty.

"Where ARE you, Langly?"

"I'm...I don't know." I'm looking right at him.

"Where were you last night."

"In my car."

"Where's your car?"

"I don't know." Who's on first? I drain the travel mug...I'm gonna
have to mooch some booze from him soon...."Byers?"

"I'm here, bud"

"Do you have anything to drink?"

I hear his exasperated sigh, and although I can barely see him from
here, I know he's palming his chin and rubbing his beard with his long
fingers. You're still there, Byers.....

"Langly, are you in a bar? Are you close to here?"

"I'm close." HAA!!!

"Look, you sit tight, ok?? Don't leave. I'll find you."

Isn't that sweet?? "Okay," I say, meek.

Sucker.

I hang up and start the countdown. He must have flew down the steps,
because I'm only to 15 when he comes bursting out the front door of the
brownstone,his trench coat flapping behind him like the Caped Crusader.
I'm gonna have to ask Becca if he wears that trench coat in the sack.
What a tight ass. He stumbles and almost pitches head first down the
steps, catches himself, and stops, looking up and down the street. I
can see the adrenalin induced heaving of his chest--this is probably
the most excitement he's had since Mulder faked his own death and
scared the shit out of all of us. He makes a decision, and turns right
toward The Limerick.

I turn left and head for Palmer's.

**Sunday, 12:30 am**

I don't know who throws the first punch....darts is a stupid thing to
fight over, anyway. It gets loud, wild and ugly real fast, I get
pulled in and, pacifist that I am, end up flat on my ass in two
swings. The bar light is arcing amazingly over my head, the room is
spinning, the floor tilts when I try to stand. The guy who's been
buying me drinks all night pulls me to my feet, and hauls my ass out of
there, just as the police cruisers pull up.

We don't quite make it.

Ya' know how, on all those cop shows, they show the arresting officer
gently guiding some poor bastard into the back seat of a cruiser, a
protective hand on the top of his head?? My guy must not watch
television. I smack my forehead into the roof molding of the cruiser,
then get the blunt end of the wacking stick shoved into my gut for
holding back.

Amidst the static of the radio, I confusedly hear we are being arrested
for D&D.

"I never knew it was illegal to play Dungeons and Dragons", I think,
right before I pass out.


******************************************

Sunday AM

There is this dream I used to have where someone is calling my name
and I'm searching through every room in this huge mansion and no
matter how close I think that I am getting to the source, it always
seems to move away and start somewhere else. I think that I am
having this dream now. I can hear something in the distance, and
it won't stop, but I can't seem to find it.

It's not a dream.

There's a phone ringing somewhere in my apartment.

I reach out for the one by the bed, knocking my glasses and
assorted paperwork to the floor. This had better be good. "Yeah?"

"Hey, bud. What's up?"

Jesus Christ, it's Langly. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
I pick up the clock that I have not managed to knock over and
squint to read it. "It's four in the morning."

"Yeah, I know." There is a slight hesitation in his voice, and he
seems to have lost some of that hey-bud tone. "Listen, can you
come get me?"

Something about this doesn't sound good. "And you are where?"

Langly hesitates for a moment, and this is really not starting to
sound good. "I appear to be a guest of the City of Arlington's
finest."

"You mean that you've been arrested." Why am I not surprised?

"You've said the magic word. Come on, help me and come bail me
out."

Fuck. "Bail you out? What have you done?"

Langly starts giggling. "I'm not real clear on that."

I'll bet.

I don't know if it's because I'm physically tired or just tired of
playing his game. There seem to be moments when a decision is made
and a line is drawn and nothing ever goes back to exactly the same
way that it was, like leaving home or falling in love for the first
time. I always told myself that I would put a stop to this
nonsense someday, but I have never been able to refuse him.

Until now.

"Sorry, Langly; you're on your own."

And before I can hear his protests, I hang up the phone.

* * * * * *

Monday
Lone Gunmen Office
8:45am

Byers keeps wandering through the offices like he has lost
something. He does not appear to be looking for anything in
particular, but he has got this worried look on his face. "Where's
Langly?" he wonders out loud.

I know exactly where he is, but I'm not really sure if I should
answer that question.

Byers continues. "He usually comes in on the weekends, but I don't
think that he's been here." He stops in front of my desk. "You
don't think that something's happened to him, do you?"

I decide to tell him the truth. "Yes, I do."

Byers nearly drops his cup of coffee at that response. By the time
that I have finished telling him about the phone call the other
morning, he has managed to spill some of it on some reports on my
desk and onto the floor.

"You did WHAT?" he asks incredulously.

I still do not see the cause for alarm. "He's a big boy. He can
take care of himself."

Byers begins to fish around in his pockets for his keys. "Where is
he? I'll go and get him myself."

I try to mop up the mess that Byers has left on my desk. "No."

"I can't believe that you left him in jail for the entire weekend.
If you didn't want to deal with it, then why didn't you call me?"
Byers is beginning to sound worried. "And what do you mean, no?"

"I've had him checked on. He'll be released by ten o'clock."

Byers is again standing over my desk. "And what happens after
that?"

Good question. What happens now? Is he so pissed that he packs up
and leaves? And just where would he go? And would it even solve
anything?

I stand up and pick up my keys from the desk and walk towards the
door.

Byers calls out from behind me, still at my desk. "So what are you
going to do?"

The answer had been so simple. Dragging in the components of the
equation had not been. But it might work now. "Something that I
should have done a long time ago." I pause and look back towards
him. "You want to come? It may not be pretty."

***********************************************************************

Tercet III--Recompense
by Martha Little and XXXXgizzieXXXX


Monday
10:23am

I knew it - he's pissed at me. Come on, Byers, just grab him by
the arm and get him in this car. That's why I sent you in there in
the first place. Langly wouldn't follow me out if I went in to
post his bail. And Lord knows, they probably wouldn't have
released him into my custody anyway. A guy in a suit makes a
better impression.

He crawls into the back seat, and Byers gets in up front. So I
have to ask, "Any problems?"

"Why the fuck should you care?" comes the response from the back.

"Let's just say that I do, and leave it at that." I throw this
thing into 'Drive', and I am on my way. I'm not exactly sure that
I am doing the right thing - not just for Langly's sake but for my
own. The hauntings of the past should be faced in the light of
day, with a good support group. I am just not sure if it's Langly
or I who need the support at this moment.

I have driven for nearly fifteen minutes before Byers realizes that
I am not going back to the office. "Where are we going?" he asks.

I search for a smarthy answer and can only come up with,
"Pottersville."

Byers apparently doesn't get it. "Where?" he asks again.

You'll see.

I know that I am really hitting the bad sections of DC when Byers
begins locking the car doors. I really have to laugh at this.
Life is not one of those things that can be kept out with a little
lock, not when it is surrounded by so much glass that can be
shattered with just a few hard knocks. And some of us have been
broken into so many times that we have resorted to the unbreakable
variety, unaware that while nothing may be able to break in, the
same goes for anything trying to free itself.

I find a familiar corner and park the car on the street. I get
out, and I am expecting the guys to follow me, but I guess that I
have not made myself understood. I go back and tap the window on
the passenger side and motion for them to come out. Halfway down
the block, I turn to see them getting out of the car and following
me. I wait for a moment for them to catch up, and then I duck into
an alleyway between the two apartment buildings.

By the time Byers and Langly catch up to me, I am already in a deep
philosophical discussion with Manny while we try to warm our hands
and bodies next to the trashcan fire. I introduce them to Manny
(short for Maniac) whom I acknowledge as a buddy from some
numberless platoon in a surely god-forsaken land in some forgotten
conflict that began before Byers and Langly were born. It all of a
sudden hits me as to just how much difference there is between our
generations. And what would be their defining moment of history?
Reagan? I shake that horror off and return to my friend.

I talk with Manny and reminisce over what few good times we have
had. Byers and Langly hang back, unsure as to how to join the
conversation and not knowing that their contribution was never
really expected. They are here just to observe the two of us, two
of the lucky ones to make it out and back to the States in one
piece, relatively speaking. A bottle is presented and passed to
me, and I take a good swig, just to show that I am still one of the
group. We talk for a few more minutes, and then I make my
apologies to take our leave. I reach out for Manny's hand, to
shake it good-bye, and pass along a few dollars along with my phone
number. The money I know will surely go to buy more booze. The
phone number may be lost or thrown away, but I have made the
gesture, and Manny accepts it without question or insult. He knows
that I will be at the other end of that line if he ever finds the
need for it.

The others silently follow me back to the car and do not make any
comment until we are several blocks away. "What was THAT all
about?" Langly asks.

"There but for the grace of god, go I," I mutter under my breath
and turn to Byers to see if he understands just where all this is
leading. Byers is staring at me with those intense blue eyes,
somewhat darker at the moment as I hear that brain of his starting
to sort through all the data that is collecting. And I am grateful
that he keeps his observations to himself, so that our companion
behind us can reach his own conclusions at some future point.

The next stop is only a few more miles away. As I pull into the
parking area of Walter Reed Hospital, I can see Langly in my
rearview mirror getting a bit nervous. "Don't worry, Langly;
we're here as visitors, not to check anyone in."

I make my way through a maze of elevators and security and
staircases to the wing that houses some more old friends. Again,
Byers and Langly hand back, but now Byers is a bit more interested
in what is going on around him. Langly meanwhile still does not
get it. I notice a few empty beds down aways and make a comment
on it. They've lost a few more this month, I'm told, but the
never-ending role call of near-casualities from the battlefields
and back alleys will fill them up again in no time.

As we wind again back through towards the front doors, Langly -
either through exhaustion or sheer boredom - begins to loudly
complain about this all being quite a lovely field trip but can he
just get the fuck back home so that he can take a shower and get
some sleep. I promise him that there is only one more stop to
make, and then I will dump him at his front door with extreme
pleasure.

This last stop is one that I have not made in a while. It is not
like when I visit The Wall, where everyone in front of me is simply
a name - cold and silent. Some I knew, many others I didn't, but
they were just like me at one time. This involves a breathing human
being. I can not say 'living' human being, because I'm not sure
what is happening can be called 'living'. I have always made this
last trek alone, but now I need for someone else to see what was
done in the name of compassion and how horribly it turned out.

"Umm, Frohike," Byers begins as I pull through the main gates, "why
are we at St. Elizabeth's?"

Langly bolts up in the back seat. "St. Elizabeth's HOSPITAL?"

"Langly," I begin, "calm down. I keep telling you, we're only
making a visit."

A familiar face greets me at the floor desk. The orderly, Mason,
has been here for years and has kept me informed of the progress or
lack thereof of my main interest in this place. "He's had a bad
month, sir. They've moved him to another area."

I ponder at those choice of words. "Can I just see him? I don't
need to talk to him. Just want to check in on him."

Mason glances down the hall at the nursing desk. "If you wait a
few minutes, I'll escort you myself."

After about ten minutes, we are taken towards a security area where
inmates are individually housed and monitored. I can see him
through the glass, but he can not see beyond the observation
mirrors. I can feel the other two behind me and their initial gasp
of surprise as to how some individuals have been restrained to keep
from hurting others and, more importantly, themselves. Mason gives
me a running account of the last few weeks in a low voice, but I
know that the others can hear every word.

Mason leaves us to go back to his desk and warns me that I have
only a few more minutes before I will have to leave also. I
advance towards the glass and lean my forehead against it and
mouth the name of the inmate in front of me.

"What's he to you?" Langly asks, as he approaches the glass. This
time he is not so crude about his curiosity.

"I didn't stay the fuck out of his life." And I can still hear him
saying those words to me - the exact same words that Langly
screamed at me the other morning in my kitchen. And so begins my
explanation of our morning field trip.

"His name is Dillon. We all called him 'Marshall'. He was a
really great guy; took care of the new recruits in the platoon
when no one else would give us the time of day. He got shot up
real bad once, almost lost a leg, and got sent back home. I didn't
see him again for nearly two years. By then, I was living on the
streets." I look over at Langly to find him staring strangely at
me, like he doesn't believe a word that I am saying.

"Yep, just imagine, there were street people even way back then.
That's where I learned to drink. And I got some of the best
survival training this side of the international dateline.
Marshall found me. Tried for months to convince me to go to a VA
center. It wouldn't have done any good. There was nothing that
they could do for any of us. But he tried. Problem was, he needed
the help more than any of us."

I turn my back to the glass and continue. "I came to see him one
day. Not one of his *better* days. He was going on about
something and of course I just let him go on because I didn't think
that he was serious when he said that he was going to kill
himself."

"What did he do?" Byers asked.

"Tried to eat one of his weapons." I turn back to Marshall. "I
don't know what I thought I could do. I grabbed the pistol.
There was a struggle. And it went off. It just grazed his head
but did enough trauma to his skull to put him in a coma for a week.
When he woke up . . . well, here he is. His grasp on reality
wasn't the greatest after coming back from Nam, but now . . .
That's when I stopped drinking. I didn't want to become another
statistic. I left Manny and the streets and went back home for a
while. I used to think that I was lucky to make it back alive.
Now I know that the lucky ones are on The Wall."

"But you still drink," Langly added.

"Yes, I do. And maybe I am an alcoholic. But I function in the
real world ninety-nine percent of the time, I don't live in an
alley, I don't black out, and I always wake up in my own bed in the
mornings." I emphasize that last part for Langly's sake. "You
want to know why I don't drag you off to some de-tox center or kick
you out of my place when you show up drunk? Marshall's the reason.
If you want to do that to yourself, kill yourself with booze or
whatever else is handy, then be my guest. I'll be damned if I'll
try to stop you. But I'm not going to put up with it anymore,
Langly. If you have no intention of helping yourself, then you are
no longer welcome to sleep it off at my place. I'm not going to
find myself visiting you, twenty years down the road, like I do
now for Marshall."

I take a deep sigh and mentally say good-bye to Marshall and head
for the front door.

*****************************************************

If this was a movie of the week, this would be the part where Langly
would throw himself tearfully into Frohike's arms and promise never to
drink again.

This is not a movie of the week.

Langly couldn't look more blank if he was anaesthetized. We follow
Frohike to the car in silence, Langly climbs into the back and folds
himself into the corner of the seat behind Frohike. Frohike throws
the car into gear and peels out of the parking lot. His knuckles are
white on the steering wheel. We travel several silent miles--Frohike
glances twice at the rear view mirror, regarding Langly, slumped and
brooding, in the back seat. I fiddle with the radio, whistle
tunelessly, pick at a loose thread on a button of my trench coat 'till
it comes off in my hand.

"Well, THAT was certainly a nice little afternoon out. I kinda think
that tomorrow, I'd rather see "The Titanic", it has a happier ending."

Bitterly snide. Frohike snaps. He yanks the steering wheel to the
right, almost throwing me into his lap, parking the car with a savage
jerk. He whips around, his muscled right arm pulling over the back of
the seat, and for a horrifying second, I think he's gonna hurtle into
the back seat and knock Langly right out of the car. Apparently,
Langly thinks the same thing, his hand comes up defensively "Ok, ok,
sorry....."

"Get out."

Langly's eyes get huge. "But we're....."

"Just get out, Langly, or I swear to Christ, I'll drag your skinny ass
right out of this car and dump you in the Potomac."

"Frohike..."

"Shut up, Byers."

I shut up. Langly's terrified eyes plead. "I didn't think....

"You NEVER think, Langly, that's the problem." Frohike turns back to
face forward, his fists flexing in the air. He REALLY wants to hit
something. "For an intelligent guy, you sure are stupid. Now get
out."

Langly gets out, barely has the door closed when Frohike peels away
from the curb.

"Frohike, he doesn't have any money, no ID..."

"Shut up, Byers."

His fingers tap agitatedly on the wheel, his head bobbing, then
shaking, with some internal conflict. We only go a couple blocks when
he makes a tight right into an alleyway, and stops the car. He scrubs
a hand over the stubble on his cheek, heaves a heavy sigh, and turns
and looks at me. His eyes are washed out weary.

"Go get him."

"What?"

Frohike gets out of the car, leans down to talk to me through the open
door. "I'm a street person, remember. I'll get back to DC. The
condition he's in, he WILL end up in the Potomac."

"Frohike...you didn't really expect him to fall all over you like this
was "It's A Wonderful Life", did you?"

He smiles softly "Oh, so you DID get that "Pottersville" reference."

"I'm the anal one, remember?"

"Yeah." His face gets serious and he sighs again. "I didn't expect him
to call AA on the car phone, no...but I really didn't expect
this....coldness. Jesus, Byers, that's my LIFE he sneered at." He
shakes his head wearily; I study the dark circles under his eyes and
suddenly wonder when the last time was *he* had a full nights sleep.

"Frohike.....?"

"I'm ok." He read my mind. "I'm tired and I'm pissed...and I'm really
worried about him, Byers. But I ...." He gropes for words, studies
the flourescent green dumpster the car is nudging--when he looks back
at me, his kind eyes are glassy with emotion. "I can't do this
anymore...I can't. I don't have any pieces left. And I really DO
think he's gonna destroy himself, if he doesn't wise up."

I don't know what to say. I think of the helpless, terrified look on
Langly's face, regard the lost countenance of this gentle man...and I
thank whatever Powers That Be for the woman who, even as we speak, is
probably bedazzling some poor sap with her intelligent wit and motor
mouth. How different my life is than a year ago... I wonder where
all of us will be this time next year...IF we ALL will be....

"Go." Frohike pats me on the shoulder as I slide into the driver's
seat. "But don't you become the enabler, Byers. Back away." He smiles,
a real smile this time. "But get him home and into bed, first. Christ,
he IS a mess." He slams the door and straightens, then leans back down
and motions me to crank the window down. "There's a key for his
apartment on that second ring. The blue one." At my raised eyebrow,
he points "The gold one is for YOUR apartment."

He's laughing when I pull out of the alley.

I circle back, and find Langly almost immediatly. He's walking with
his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jacket, shuffling with
fatigue. I toot the horn, and when he looks up, I stop in traffic and
motion him over. He approaches cautiously, looks in, then opens the
door and slides in as the cars behind me start impatiently honking.

"All right, all right...." His glasses steam up in the warm interior
of the car, he pulls them off and wipes them on the front of his
t-shirt. I see, for the first time, the impressive shiner that the
heavy black frames of his glasses covered on his left cheekbone.

"oh...that's pretty."

"Thank you...that guy had a hell of a right hook."

"Then you DO know where you got it?"

"Very funny, Byers."

"I thought..."

"I didn't black out the entire weekend!" he snaps.

"Sorry."

He looks uncomfortable, fiddles with his glasses and winces when he
pushes them back on. "Ummmm......where's Doo-hickey?"

I smile despite myself. "He sent me back to rescue your sorry ass."

"I don't NEED *rescued*, Byers, not by you or him, either."

"Well, no sweat there, ASSHOLE! " Now *I'M* pissed. "You pretty much
kicked him in the teeth back there. Jesus, do you have NO feelings left
at all? Do you not have ANY idea what he was trying to tell you?"

"I got the picture loud and clear, Byers, I'm not stupid. Christ, he
might as well have called for the Ghost of Christmas Past."

He turns away from me and stares out at the crappy cold city streets.
"I hate Christmas," he mumbles.

By the time we pull up in front of his apartment building, he's asleep.
He mumbles and cringes away when I attempt to shake him awake, so I
circle around and open his door, catching him before he slides out of
the car. I pull his long legs out, and get his feet flat on the
ground. "C'mon, Langly" I slap his face lightly, drag him to his feet
and shake him. "Wake up, man, I'm not carrying you."

"Is he drunk?"

I turn to find a young woman watching us from the sidewalk. She looks
cautiously concerned. "Are you a friend, or are you the police?"

Hmmm. "I'm a friend."

"Good, he needs a friend."' she shakes her head and mumbles as she
walks away "He'd be a nice guy, if he didn't drink so much."

Profound.

Langly is stirring under my hands. He's disoriented and looks worse
than he did when I picked him up. "C'mon, bud, you're home. I'm gonna
walk you up, I have a key to your apartment."

"Goodie." Langly shakes his head, confused. "Oh...shit..that's
right...I got robbed. Byers...I don't know where my car is, either."

I try to keep the judgemental tone out of my voice. "What do you
remember from the weekend, Langly?"

He's staring at the elevator buttons like he doesn't even remember
where he lives. I press the number six, and he looks relieved.
"Ummmm....I know I woke up at Frohike's Saturday morning."

"Where were you Friday night??"

"The Limerick...I think...my car's probably there."

"The Limerick Tavern by my place?"

"Yeah."

I frown. "I don't think so, Langly, I looked for you there Saturday
night. I would have seen your Mustang, I looked."

I open his apartment, and he trips over something right inside the
door. He fumbles on the wall, snaps on the harsh over-head light....
he's tripped over his back pack.

"Oh...shit." He looks stricken.

"Well, that's good." I pick the back pack up, throw it on his dinnette
table, yank the zipper open "You don't mind..." I pull out a few odd
books and papers. "Bingo...here's your wallet...and here's a credit
card, it doesn't look like you were robbed after all." I open the
second pocket, unintentionally frown as I pull out a half full bottle
of Jim Beam."I guess we don't have to wonder where the rest of this
went." I cross to the sink and pour it down the drain. "Langly, why
don't you go shower, I'll wait 'till you come out, make sure you don't
drown, then I'm going..." I break off and turn at the stifled, gaspy
sound behind me. He's swallowed a sob. His arms are wrapped tight
around his chest, and he's studying the intricate pattern of the hard
wood floor, fighting for control. I'm stunned "Langly--"

"I'm really a fuck up, Jeff." He has NEVER called me Jeff...never.
Not in eight years.

I place the empty bottle carefully in the sink, cross and reach out
"Langly..."

"No," he pulls back, extends a wary hand, "don't touch me.
Just...don't....."

He works his way around the clutterd living room--there's electronic
equipment everywhere--and stares out the window at the gloomy
early-winter late afternoon. "I don't remember going to Frohike's at
all, Jeff. I woke up there Saturday morning, and I felt like shit."
He barks a horrible little laughing sob. "So I took it out on him.
Christ, no wonder he didn't want to come get me. And I don't know
remember coming home on Saturday at all, but I must have, my stuff is
here. I don't know where my fucking car is ..." He sniffs, swipes,
embarrased, at the escaped tears wetting his cheek. "God only knows
what else I did."

"You called me," I say softly.

He looks at me, pained "Was I an asshole?"

He looks so pitiful. I smile and shake my head. "Not an asshole,
exactly...I just didn't know where you were. I never did find you."
My own throat is tight with emotion. "I was scared, Langly. You were
calling for me to help you, and I couldn't find you."

"Fuck. I DO remember that." He brings a hand up and runs it through
his hair, clutches the back of his neck. "I was playing with you,
Byers. I was at that pay phone right across the street from your
house. I watched you run out of the building...you almost fell down
the steps."

"I SAID I was scared, Langly. I was worried....WE were worried. It
was actually a relief when Frohike told me you were in jail."

"I'm sorry." He turns away and presses his flushed face against the
cool pane of the window. He's crying in earnest now, stone-faced,
silent tears of exhaustion and defeat. "I suck," he says wearily.

I walk up behind him, hesitate, my hand hovering just behind his
shoulder. I can't NOT offer this comfort. "You're all right," I
whisper, "you just have to learn to accept help." I lay my hand on
his shoulder, he stiffens, then slumps gratefully under my hand. I
rub his back gently as steadies his breathing, struggles for control.

Finally, he pushes his glasses up on top of his head, wipes a hand
over his eyes , sniffs mightily. "God, I'm beat. Byers??" He turns
to face me and I see that if he doesn't lay down soon, he's going to
fall over. "Byers, I really have to get some sleep. Could you....."
He walks toward his bedroom, turns and tries to focus on me, "could
you try to find my car? And ....." his eyes well up and he shakes his
head. " ..and would you get Frohike over here for me? Please? I...."
He takes a deep breath, and opens the first door. "I need help. I've
done this before, but ....I can't do it alone. I need you guys to help
me. Please. "

Not trusting myself to speak, I merely nod.

I think there may be a movie of the week here somewhere.......

****************************************
Finis