The patient in the padded cell at the end of the corridor was a scarecrow of a man; tall and gaunt, his clothes seemed to dwarf him and somehow made him look like a child playing at being an adult. His wild brown hair, thinning on top from the strain his mental illness was putting on his body, stuck out in all directions. His hollow, dazed eyes sat above dark smudges and blinked sluggishly, as if even with his eyes open he was asleep. Hollow cheeks framed a mouth that never seemed to move.
His days were spent staring hollowly, vacantly, his eyes never really connecting with the world outside his head. Sometimes his expression would change minutely; his eyes would suddenly light up as if he was seeing an old friend, his lips would twitch into a shy smile, or his eyelids would slip shut as he hummed quietly to himself.
He barely moved throughout the day; still as a statue, he would stare sightlessly through his barred window at the hospital grounds outside. Sometimes his eyes would follow the birds, round and round and up and down until they flew out of sight. His expression would grow wistful then, but never for long. The vacant stare would always return.
His door was opened only when it was time for his meals and medication. Any visitors had trickled away years ago now, leaving him to quietly dream away his life uninterrupted.
His first ever outside visitor had also been the one who had brought him to this institution in the first place – a man by the name of Colonel Lynch. He'd found the patient – Captain Murdock, he always called him – on Skid Row, half-starved, one foot in a wine-soaked grave. Mr. Murdock (as the staff called him) had been wanted for questioning about the robbery of the Bank of Hanoi and the death of Colonel Morrison, but Colonel Lynch hadn't been able to get a single sensible word out of the man and had brought him to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation. When it had become apparent that he really hadn't been faking and was unfit to stand trial for his suspected actions, he had been committed on a long-term basis. Over the next 15 years, Lynch had visited periodically, hoping for a change and to finally solve the mystery of what had happened.
But the secret remained buried in the man's shattered mind.
He had had a few more visitors, but never any close friends or family. No, he had none of that left. The only other people who wanted to see him semi-regularly were interested in solving the mystery: the reporters Amy Allen and Tawnia Baker had stuck it out for a while before they finally admitted defeat; and Colonel Decker, who sometimes came instead of Colonel Lynch, seemed particularly hell-bent on solving the case before he, too, was forced to accept reality. Only one man who had perhaps once been a close friend had come to visit – a veteran called Ray Brenner, who had heard by word of mouth of Murdock's whereabouts and had come to see if he could be reached. He had left disappointed.
Sometimes, on his more lucid days, the patient would murmur things as if acting out a scene inside his head that only he could see. He would talk to an invisible dog called Billy, narrate how he was scammed out of the VA… or he would make noises as if he were firing a gun. On those days, Dr Richter would spend more time with him trying to break through, to urge him to face reality, to come back and live. He would sit next to him on the bed, tell him that he was safe, he was being looked after. That he wasn't in Vietnam anymore.
On one of those days, Murdock had actually turned to look the man in the eye for a good couple of seconds, his eyes clear and completely lucid, before he had let himself be drawn back inside his own head with a sigh of contentment.
The most signs of life he ever showed was at night, when his conscious defences, such as they were, were down. He would writhe in his bed, tangle himself up in the sheets, his pyjamas clinging to his sweaty body, and shout out three names – always the same three names – his voice slowly becoming louder and louder until it became nothing but a desperate, animalistic howl.
He was the only patient in the entire building who actually howled.
Then, abruptly, he would wake and, after a brief moment of disorientation, gradually sink back into his comatose state, sink back into a more pleasant version of his nightmares.
Back into a world where his closest friends – his family – hadn't died robbing the Bank of Hanoi and he hadn't had to find and fly their dead bodies back to base. A world where he hadn't reported to Colonel Morrison and learned that it had been a set-up from the beginning. A world where he wasn't suspected of the colonel's murder, where his friends had escaped and he still saw them, helped them save people, helped them fix the lives of others even though they couldn't fix their own.
A world where he wasn't the last of the A-Team.