by Le Comte Ory
Summary: In 1988, after the Team has escaped from Stockwell, Amy returns to L.A., having lost her job overseas. Upon discovering that she was never friends with Tawnia, the Team heads to Kempp University
to pay a call on Tawnia and her professor husband, where they find (as so often) that there's a problem that only they can help with
Author's note: I already posted this part of the fanfic under a different email address (that no longer works). I just completed part 2, and am first of all re-posting part 1 with some slight revisions (primarily changing the University from a real one to a fictional one). Parts 3 and 4 still need to be completed.
* * *
some difficulty, B.A. Baracus pried himself out of the smallish doors of the
rented sedan. Hannibal, Face and Murdock had no trouble getting out their
respective doors, but this car had clearly not been designed for a man of
B.A.'s size. Finally he was out, feeling like he'd just been squeezed through a
"Man, I don't see why you wouldn't let me drive us here in my van," said B.A. as they walked toward gate 5 at L.A. airport.
"We might be parked here a while," said Face, "and this is not the sort of place where your van should be parked for any length of time, unless you're anxious to come back and find a ticket on the windshield that says 'Hello, fugitives, look right behind you'."
"Hellooooo, fugitives," Murdock sang, uncertain of pitch but enthusiastic as ever, "Well hellooo, fugitives, it's so nice to see you back where yooooou belong..."
"He's been singin' that song all day," growled B.A. "Someone at the V.A. oughta stop this fool from watchin' musicals."
"Ah, B.A.," said Murdock, "you may still be going strong, but you are definitely *not* glowing or crowing. What a shame."
"Aw, let Murdock alone," Face said as B.A. was about to growl again. "He's just excited about seeing Amy again. We all are. Right, Hannibal?"
Hannibal said nothing; he merely chewed on his cigar a little.
"Are you okay, Hannibal?" said Face. "You've been kind of quiet today. Not that I mind the quiet so much."
Hannibal merely puffed in response.
"Why shouldn't I be excited?" said Murdock. "Sure, the chiquita wasn't with us for all that long, but somehow it didn't seem the same to me after she was gone. Tawnia was nice enough, but she wasn't Amy. Did you say something, Hannibal?"
"I thought I heard you say something when I mentioned Tawnia."
"No, no. Just...puffing loudly."
"Oh. Well," Murdock continued, "when I heard that Amy's paper was cutting loose its foreign-affairs department, I was...well..." he slid into his English accent: "I would not, of course, say that I was euphoric to hear of a friend's unemployment, but I could not resist putting a call through to her office to find out what her plans were. The call proved to be a most excellent investment. *Most* excellent."
B.A. said: "Man, you didn't make no investment. You made a long-distance call on your doctor's phone when he wasn't in his office. That poor sucka's gonna have a phone bill the size of Mount Rushmore."
"And he'll pay it too. He must. It's part of his hypocritic oath."
"So what did Amy tell you, exactly?" asked Face.
"Said she was glad to hear from me again. Said she pretty much knew we were still alive. Said she had a feeling those reports of our death were highly exaggerated; she knew us well enough to know that if we died, we'd die trying to escape, not at the hands of an executioner. Said she was coming back to L.A. now that her foreign-correspondent job was through. And *I* said we'd pick her up at the airport and if she tried to tell me no I'd hold my breath until I suffered brain damage and lost my mind. Well, I soon realized that wasn't much of a threat, 'cause I've already lost my mind, but she agreed to meet us here anyway."
By now they had reached the gate, and were sitting down and waiting for Amy's arrival.
B.A. said: "Hope you ain't gettin' too excited, fool. Stop expectin' her to come back and work for us again."
"Who said I was expecting that?" said Murdock. "And what if I was expecting that? Why couldn't she?"
"Because it's been four years," said Face. "Because things have changed. Remember, she has a career to think about. She'll have to find a new job once she's back here; she won't have time to rummage around the library finding old clippings for us."
"We could do like we did before and give her a cut of the money on the jobs she does for us," said Murdock.
Face smiled ruefully. "Out of what we usually get for a mission, do you think she could live on that?"
"I s'pose not. Oh well, maybe she'll get a job as a TV weatherwoman and we could go tornado-chasing together. Whoosh! Zoom!"
Hannibal spoke, still with the same serious expression he'd worn all day. "I suppose you told her everything about what we'd been doing lately?"
"Why shouldn't I tell her? I had time. The doc was paying, remember?"
"All about Fullbright, and Stockwell, and the phony pardons he promised us, and how we escaped from him and went back on the run?"
"What are you telling *us* for? We already know all that. Yeah, I told her that. Why shouldn't I? It's Amy. Which reminds me of another song: 'Once in love with Amy...Tear up your list, it's Amy..."
"That's just it," said Hannibal, "it's Amy. The woman who told Tawnia Baker everything about the A-Team, right down to the last detail. I still remember, even if you don't."
"Is that what's been bugging you?" said Face. "Come on, Hannibal. It's not like she ratted on us to the military. She told one friend, a friend who, you'll recall, became our friend too...sort of."
"Who she told is not the point. She wasn't supposed to tell anyone, for our safety, and for hers."
"Ever heard the expression 'Forgive and Forget,' Colonel?" said Murdock.
"In the army, Captain, forgiveness is weakness and forgetfulness is fatal. I trusted her and she betrayed that trust. Which is why I'm not looking forward to this reunion as much as you three softer-hearted guys. And that's the end of my little moment of openness, so if you'll excuse me I'll go back to my cigar."
There wasn't much to say after that. Finally Murdock broke the silence with: "What was it Kipling said? A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke."
"Who's Kipling, fool?" said B.A.
"A fellow at the V.A., nice guy, thinks he was raised by bears."
* * *
When Amy arrived, about twenty minutes later, she was greeted with a grin from B.A., a hug and a wry remark from Face ("I knew you couldn't resist the urge to come back and try and convert me into a sensitive '80s male," he said), and an impromptu "welcome dance" from Murdock ("I learned it from the Michael Kidd choreography in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS," he said, "'cept it was panned-and-scanned on TV so there were only three and a half brides for three and a half brothers"). Hannibal shook hands with her and said "Hi, kid," but was silent after that.
Amy's things had already been moved to L.A., so with no baggage to fetch, the group decided to go to the airport's restaurant for lunch. It was all they could do to break Hannibal's silence to get him to order something. Amy was a little mystified at his unwillingness to speak, but then, she had never understood all of his moods four years before, either.
"You guys still look the same," she said.
"You don't," said Murdock.
"Better or worse?"
"Better. Your hair, particularly. Glad you let it grow back. Never could stand that short style you had going at the time you left. You see," he went on with a French accent, "I am ze expert on ze hair. I know all its moods."
"B.A.," said Amy, "aren't you going to tell Murdock to 'shut up, fool?'"
"I can't be sayin' it twenty-four hours a day," he replied.
"And speaking of moods...is something wrong, Hannibal? You haven't said much since I got here."
"Nothing's wrong," Face said quickly. "He just...he's just tired out from the last mission."
"We haven't had a mission all week," said Hannibal.
"And besides," Amy finished, "Hannibal's always twice as bright and chipper right after a mission; it's the rest of us who felt tired. Now, what is it, Hannibal? Look, I think you owe it to me to be honest if there's a problem. We worked together, we trusted each other..."
"Oh, don't say the "T"-word," said Face under his breath.
"The problem," said Hannibal slowly, "is Tawnia Baker."
"Tawnia Baker. Tawnia..." Amy looked like she was racking her brain to remember. "Oh, Tawnia, that other reporter at the *Courier.* Do you know her?"
"We got to know her after you left. But not before she'd gotten to know us, thanks to you."
"Aw, Hannibal," Face groaned, "please don't bring that up again."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," said Amy. "What do you mean, 'thanks to me?'"
Hannibal replied: "Your friend Tawnia showed up after you'd gone, armed with every bit of knowledge you'd ever acquired about the A-Team."
Face continued, as Amy stared open-mouthed, "We used her in your capacity for a while, writing stories on us, and then she quit reporting to get married, and we haven't seen her since. I read the other day that her husband just took up a post as professor of archeology at Kempp University. So, you see," he finished lamely, "all's well that ends...well...I mean...why are you staring like that, Amy?"
"My friend Tawnia? What the hell are you talking about? She wasn't my friend. We barely even knew each other. Sure, we worked at the same paper, but that made us rivals, not friends. It's dog-eat-dog...or cat-eat-cat...when you're two young female reporters trying to get ahead at the paper. I don't know why she would have said she was my friend, let alone how she could have known about you."
"Come on, Amy," said Face, "you can admit you told her, it's okay."
"We've all forgot it," said B.A.
"*Nearly* all," said Murdock with a look at the Colonel.
Face said: "She didn't tell anyone else, so what does it matter if you told --"
"No one," Amy said vehemently. "I told no one. Not even my parents. Hell, do you think I would have been stupid enough to tell anyone, when there was already so much suspicion as to where I was getting all those A-Team stories? I still remember the time that reporter -- the one who was working for the military -- was following me around. I led him to the wrong air landing field, then I led him to the VA when I knew Murdock wasn't there, and finally I went to the bus station so I could warn you to get out of town. That threw him off, but I knew there and then that I shouldn't trust anyone, least of all other reporters."
"Anyone who didn't know your real plan would have thought you were a complete idiot that day," remarked Face.
"Exactly. Lynch thought I was either a complete idiot or else that I really wasn't working with the Team. That's why he left me alone for a while after that."
"All this reminiscing is very interesting," said Hannibal, "but it doesn't change the fact that Tawnia Baker said she was your friend, and that she knew much of what we'd told you..."
"Hannibal, I'm telling you, Tawnia was not my friend and I did not tell her anything. If you want proof, put on one of your disguises, go down to the *Courier* office and ask if Amy and Tawnia said five pleasant words to each other in the years they worked there. The sooner you realize I'm telling the truth, the sooner we can try to figure out who *did* tell her."
Hannibal stared at her intently. Accustomed to making quick yet accurate judgments, he had little hesitation in deciding that she wasn't lying to him. "So what this means," he said grimly, "is that someone outside of us five told Miss Baker everything about us. And, as a nice little bonus, we let someone insinuate herself onto the Team under false pretences." He shook his head. "I would say our security isn't what it should be."
"Maybe the Colonel owes Amy an apology," Murdock blurted out. "Don't you think so, Colonel? 'Course, I'm a fine one to talk; I still haven't apologized to that nice murderer Mr. Cutter for jilting him. Oh, the memories! Oh, the regrets! O'tempora o'mores!" He put his head down in the soup and started sobbing.
B.A. grabbed Murdock and pulled his head up. "Can't you go two minutes without actin' crazy, Murdock?"
"Why no, I can't, doctor's orders, an overdose of sanity could wipe me out forever."
"Look, Hannibal," said Amy. "Let's start with Tawnia; you got to know her better than I did. Why would she scam her way onto the Team?"
"Same reason you did," said Face. Amy flushed a little at this implied reference to her old, half-serious blackmail threat.
Face went on: "She wanted to get some big stories, maybe make a name for herself that way. With you gone, she saw her chance to take over reporting on the A-Team."
"That's the logical explanation," said Hannibal. "I don't like logical explanations. They're too...logical."
Murdock said, in his best Nimoy voice: "I assume you are saying, Dr. McCoy, that you suspect some darker, hidden motive?"
"Can't be," said B.A. "If she was up to somethin' else she'd have done somethin'. Sold us out, maybe. But she didn't."
"No, she didn't," said Hannibal. "But that doesn't mean she wasn't intending to."
"Isn't that a little far-fetched?" said Amy. "Of course, I know far-fetched is the way you like it, but still..."
"Besides," said Face, "there were things she knew that the military didn't. The fact that Murdock was a full member of the Team, for example. Now, as to who could have told her, remember that we've helped a lot of people in a lot of different places. They all wind up knowing who we are, and some of them ask questions about us, and sometimes we answer."
B.A. continued: "We always ask 'em not to tell no one, but stands to reason some of 'em can't keep their mouths shut. That's one of the risks we take. Now I don't see no point in gettin' worried about it."
"B.A.'s right," said Face. "If this information leak hasn't hurt us up to now, I don't see how it can be much of a problem."
Hannibal snuffed out his cigar, only to realize that that was his last one. This made his mood even more grim as he said:
"And who's to say it hasn't hurt us? We were caught, we were tried, we spent time in Stockwell's special-operations equivalent of the salt mines. Suppose whoever told Tawnia was somehow responsible for that?"
"You're doin' an awful lot of supposin', Hannibal," said B.A. He quickly turned to Murdock: "And don't say nothin' 'bout 'Moses supposes,' fool, or I'll dunk your head right back in the soup and keep it there!"
Hannibal stood up. "Well, there's only one way to stop supposing, and that's to pay a visit to Miss Baker -- or I should say Mrs. Leftcourt -- and ask for a little truth, for a change."
"What, now?" said Face. "Kempp's on the outskirts of Boston, and there's a flight to Boston leaving in an hour. If you can scam us four seats --"
"--Five seats," Amy interjected firmly. Hannibal smiled for the first time that day.
"Kid, am I going to have to get into another argument with you about why you shouldn't come along?"
"There's only an hour. You don't have time to argue. So I guess I'll have to come. Q.E.D. That's college-girl talk for 'let's get going.'"
"It's deja vu all over again," said Murdock. "And what about the rental car we've got parked out there?"
Face said: "I rented it in the name of 'Arthur Bunbury.' Let Mr. Hertz come after him."
"Hey!" said B.A. "You ain't gettin' me on no plane, even without Murdock at the -- Hey, are you listenin'? And don't try slippin' me nothin', Hannibal, 'cause I went through your kit and took out all your 'airsickness pills' before we came here. I figured that's the only way to be safe when I go to the airport with you."
"Very clever, B.A.," said Hannibal. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Amy drop something into B.A.'s milk.
"Guess we'll have to drive. Of course, it's a long drive, and I'm impatient to find out what's going on..."
"Yeah, well, better you bein' impatient than me havin' to fly." He grinned as he drained his glass of milk. "Man, it's good finally knowin' it's safe to drink somethin' at the airport. I finally --" He slumped down on the table.
"Aw, B.A.," said Murdock, "your head ain't in your soup. It's more fun with your head in the soup."
"What was that you put in his drink, Amy?" said Hannibal. "Oh, I kept one of your airsickness pills as a souvenir. Now I'm glad I did. Come on, let's go confront Mrs. Tawnia -- who did you say she's married to?"
"Professor Brian Leftcourt, now of Kempp University."
"Good ol' Kempp," said Murdock. "Home of higher learning. Seat of powerful knowledge. Source of all the best writers for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!" He began to sing an obscure Rodgers and Hart song: "Love never went to college, ignorant boy, that, but think of the joy that he starts..."
* * *
Professor Leftcourt's home, on the outskirts of Kempp University, was exactly as you'd expect an archeologist's home to look: Tasteful but heavily decorated with rocks and other curios; very clean but with a faint visual illusion of mustiness. Brian Leftcourt was sitting in the living-room, earnestly conversing with his wife.
"What did the police say?" said Tawnia Leftcourt.
"They said they checked into it and found no evidence. The Dean has also sent people to sit in on Penning's classes, but every time he does, Penning finds out and keeps his usual admonitions out of his lectures. The man's good. Not good in the sense of admirable or virtuous," he added quickly, "but good in the sense of -- "
"I know the sense you mean," she said. "Wait, just to make sure, you meant 'good in the sense of good at what he does,' right?"
"Of course, of course."
"I just can't believe it. This man is getting away with inciting his students to murder, and no one can do anything about it. Aren't you shocked, Tawnia?"
"Not really. I was with the A-Team long enough to know that there are a lot of cases like that."
"Oh, yes, the A-Team. You never told me very much about your time with them. Do you think you could get them in for this job? Not that I particularly want to go outside the law, but..."
"Brian, don't you read the papers?"
"Well, if you did, you'd have read that they were executed last year. And even if they were still alive, I wouldn't know where to find them any more. It would be a pretty implausible coincidence if they just suddenly turned up on our doorstep."
At that point the doorbell rang.
"Could you get that, Tawnia, honey? It's probably the courier with that Ming Vase I'm expecting."
"Ming this, ming that..." Tawnia muttered as she went to get the door.
"Honestly, sometimes I think Brian, sweetheart though he is, should learn that a vase is just a vase."
She opened the door and stood staring at what she saw, first in shock, then in joy. "Guys! You're alive! You're here! Oh, I'm so glad to..." her face fell as she noticed Amy in their midst. "Oh...uh...hi, Amy. Long time, no see. I guess you all want to come in and ask me something."
"I guess we do," said Hannibal.
* * *
"You played us for fools, lady," said B.A. after they were seated in the living room. "We don't like that."
"What's this all about, Tawnia?" said Brian, who was still recovering from the daze of seeing his wife's dead old friends alive, well, and grim, along with a woman he'd never met before who looked somewhat similar to his wife, albeit of a slighter build.
Tawnia sighed. "I got to work with the Team by telling them I was Amy's friend. Now they know that was a lie."
"Tawnia!" Brian said, shocked to the core. "Lying? I'd never have expected that from you -- for god's sake, you were a journalist!"
"Look, Tawnia," said Face, "we're not accusing you of betrayal or anything. But the Colonel here was just anxious to find out where you got your information about us, if not from Amy. We have to make sure that the facts about us, and our movements, are not common knowledge."
"You want the truth?" said Tawnia.
whole truth, etcetera, in excelsis," said Murdock.
"What if I told you that Colonel Decker told me almost everything I knew?" she said.
"We already considered that, believe it or not," said Amy, "and we concluded that you would have tried to turn them in if you'd been working for the military. Besides, you knew things Decker didn't know."
"Decker knew more than you thought. You don't really think he was stupid enough not to realize that Murdock was part of the Team, do you? But even though he knew it, his superiors wouldn't believe him, and neither would any of the people who worked for him. That's one of the things that drove him nuts. That's where he thought I would come in. I was supposed to get in with you and gather positive proof that Murdock was one of you, so he could nab you all together and make it stick. He also --" she looked embarrassed -- "he also thought I'd be a hindrance to you and maybe make it easier for you to be caught. He didn't think much of me. That's what made it easy for me to double-cross him."
"You mean," said Hannibal, "you stopped co-operating with him?"
"I barely even started. I never reported back to him, I never helped him. That's probably one of the reasons he started acting even angrier. I just wanted all the information he'd gathered on you, so I could use it to get in with you guys. Then I could use that to build up my journalism career. That meant more to me than the money Decker was offering me...though that was before I married Brian and decided that I preferred campus life to the newsroom." There was a long pause. "Well, what do you think?"
Face said: "I think it's implausible, ridiculous, and weird. And for those reasons, Hannibal probably believes it, don't you, Colonel?"
Hannibal grinned and lit a cigar. "Implausible honesty, my dear Face, is the best policy."
Brian coughed. "Would you *please* not smoke in here, sir?"
"Well, if I smoked outside, I couldn't ask your wife the roughly fifty other questions I've got about her association with Decker."
Tawnia sighed again. "Brian, you might want to go outside and wait for your vase."
* * *
An hour later, Brian stumbled back into the living-room to find it full of foul-smelling smoke. But, on the bright side, the five visitors were now acting friendly towards his wife, and when he asked, he was assured by Hannibal that things were more or less all right now.
"I'm not too big on forgiving, or forgetting," said Hannibal. "But at least my mind's at ease. The only thing I have to worry about is that Decker was a little smarter than I gave him credit for...but only a little."
"So I guess you'll be going back to L.A. now?" said Tawnia.
"By train this time," B.A. said. "Train. And don't nobody try to fool me, 'cause I know the difference between an airport and a train station."
"Really?" said Murdock. "Could you explain it to me?"
Brian said: "Er...Tawnia? Aren't you going to ask your friends...former colleagues...about our problem? After all, they're rather good at this sort of thing."
Tawnia shook her head. "I don't think this is the time to ask them for favors. Not after they found out how much I lied to them."
"It doesn't have to be a favor," said Brian. "I received a $25,000 research grant the other day. Well, I get all sorts of grants; I don't need this one...I can combine a couple of others and give this money to your friends, if they'll help."
"Brian, I don't think --"
"No, no," said Hannibal, looking interested. "It's been a slow period for us recently, and if the job's any good--"
"'Good' in what sense?" said Brian.
"Good in the sense of fun," said Hannibal. "Entertaining."
"Opportunities for the jazz, he means," said Amy.
"Ah, well, I don't think you would find this to be much fun. You see, there's a professor in another department... a Professor Penning. He's encouraging his students to commit murder. And I know, though I can't prove it to the police's satisfaction, that at least two murders have occurred because of his teachings."
"What teachings?" said Face.
Tawnia said: "Penning's big into his own interpretation of Friederich Niet...Nie...how do you pronounce it, Brian?"
"Nietzsche," said Brian. "Not that Nietzsche advocated murder, but some murders have been committed under the influence of his theories, just for enjoyment or to demonstrate that the murderer thinks of himself as a Superman. The most famous case was Leopold and Loeb; you've probably heard of those two University students in the '20s. But they decided on their own to murder someone. Penning is teaching his own 'Superman' theories to his students in one of his classes, a philosophy small group of about 19 students. Then he tells them that if they want to test his theories, they'll go out and kill people."
"How do you know all this?" Amy inquired.
"One of his students, who was also in my archeology class, came to see me about it. At that time, Penning had 20 students in that group. Now there are only 19. Can you guess what happened to that twentieth student who came to see me?"
B.A. could barely contain his fury. "Hannibal, this man be teachin' kids to kill each other! We gotta bust him up!"
"It might not be so easy to...er, as you term it, 'bust him up,'" said Brian. "Penning picks the most able-bodied students he can find for his special philosophy group -- the ones who qualify as 'Supermen' in his estimation. Then he encourages them to train and get in shape for their murders, not to mention teaching them how to plan everything so you won't get caught. Now, these students are fiercely loyal to him. So you'd be going up not just against him, but against a rather strong group that considerably outnumbers you. I think you should know that before you decide to accept the job."
"We've already decided," said B.A. "Ain't we, guys?"
No one would have dared to argue with B.A. at that point, even if they'd wanted to, which they didn't.
Hannibal was already liking the idea: "I never played a college professor before. I could pattern myself after John Houseman. Murdock, can you help me practice my English accent?"
"Right ho, old chap."
"Thanks, guys," said Tawnia. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate you helping us after what I did to you...or almost did to you."
"Well, there is the matter of the money," said Face.
said Brian. "Let's see, I'm not a math professor so I may be off on this, but
$25,000 divided four ways is--"
"Five ways," said Hannibal.
him a quizzical look. "On a nostalgia kick, are you, Hannibal?"
"We're going to need you for this, if the plan shapes up the way I think it will. A visiting British professor needs a proper British wife. How are you on snooty accents?"
"Well, I've seen MY FAIR LADY five times; I think I can handle it."
Face said: "Come on, Hannibal, let's get back to the hotel, and you can tell us your plan on the way. Then we can tell you how it's crazy. You know the drill."
As they were going, Amy stopped and said: "Aren't you going to say it, Hannibal? Remember I haven't heard it in years."
"Oh, right. Thanks for reminding me, kid...Congratulations, folks," said Hannibal, turning toward Brian and Tawnia, "you just hired the A-Team."
"I already knew that," Brian pointed out. Tawnia sighed a third sigh. Brian was a sweetheart, but sometimes he could get on her nerves.
looking in on Professor Julius Penning's small group session that day would
have thought that Brian's counting was poor even for a non-math professor.
Instead of only nineteen students, there were at least forty, possibly more.
But though the small room was rather crowded -- particularly since most of the
students were unusually big, high and wide, not to mention all male --
Professor Penning seemed pleased with the turnout. "I am pleased," he
said, "that some of you have brought other students who are similarly
devoted to the practical applications of Nietzschean theory, and physically
well-equipped to assist with the experiment we are planning in this group. I
hope my lecture today has been instructive and interesting to you newcomers,
and I --"
"It sure hasn't instructed or interested *me*," one burly newcomer piped up. "Sounded like a lot of hooey to me. That's a word my grandpa likes to use. 'Hooey.' Maybe worse than hooey. I mean, aren't you pretty much talking about murder? That's wrong."
Professor Penning's face assumed the patronizing expression of the experienced academic confronting the impetuous, ignorant youth. "Donald, I should think that, even as a freshman, you would have learned by now that concepts of right and wrong are merely social constructs. If we lived in a different society -- say, merely hypothetically, a society based on my own theories -- what I propose would hardly be wrong, and standing by while social undesirables flourish would hardly be right."
Most of the students -- including the newcomers -- burst into applause.
Donald was not impressed. "You may have everyone else impressed, but don't look for me at your next lecture. I think you're nuts. And maybe *I* was nuts, to come here. I mean, I'm an English major, so it's not like I'm getting extra credit for dropping in on this class. Am I?" he added hopefully.
"Then I'm out of here." And he was.
After Donald had left, one of Professor Penning's regular students raised his hand. "Professor, should we... uh... like with that other guy?"
"Not *exactly* like the other one. Repetition runs the risk of detection. And to be detected is to capitulate to prevailing social morality."
"We wouldn't want that," the student agreed.
"We will now formulate a new plan to teach Donald -- in a creative way, of course -- what we mean by not letting undesirables flourish. I think we are agreed that Donald seems to fit the mold of an undesirable? Good. Now, I have been informed that the Dean has no plans to visit tomorrow's session, so anyone who is not officially enrolled is perfectly free to come, and bring others as well. Preferably science students this time. My theories require physical strength, but they also require scientific and technological skill. And so far, we only have one scientifically-minded recruit...er, I mean, adherent." He indicated a tall but physically unimposing young man near the back of the room.
"I think I'll have a couple of others lined up by next time," said the science student. "I've been talking to some people and they're very impressed with your theories. But they might sign on faster if you'd let me tell them about the big experiment..."
"No, Lawrence, not yet. Remember what I said about the risk of detection. It is contrary to the Penning theory."
"What about Nietzschean theory?" inquired one student.
"Contrary to that, too, I am certain," Penning replied quickly.
* * *
In Amy's hotel room, she and Murdock were rehearsing her accent. As the Team's semi-official expert on foreign accents, Murdock had taken it upon himself to rehearse not just Hannibal but everyone else.
"Again," said Murdock.
"The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain," said Amy in the best English accent she could come up with.
"Again!" said Murdock.
"We've done this forty times," said Amy in her own accent.
"And if we don't do it forty more times, you'll never fool the Prince of Transylvania."
"Look, Murdock, before we get back to the rehearsal, tell me some more about the jobs you've done since I left. I just can't believe some of the stories you guys told me on the way here. The Boy George thing, for example. Now, you'll never convince me B.A.'s a Boy George fan."
"Well, he's not, exactly. It turned out that Hannibal had been giving him the wrong kind of drugs to get him on planes, and he was having some side effects. You'd think you were a Boy George fan too if you'd been taking what he'd been taking."
"What about Lynch, with his fake A-Team? Did you ever see Lynch again after that?"
"Not yet, but now that Decker's retired -- for now -- we tend to get kind of a rotation. You might see Lynch again pretty soon."
"What do you mean, 'you?'"
"It's an English word, the opposite of 'me.' And you call yourself college-educated! But now it's my turn to interrogate you, missy." He looked around the room. "Darn, no torture-rack. Hotel rooms never have what you need to be comfortable. Oh, well, we'll do the interrogation without it. Now, what the heck have you been doing since you left L.A.?"
"Nothing. Or, to put it another way, a foreign correspondent's job. That's pretty much the same as nothing."
"I can't believe that. I've heard foreign correspondents get shot at. More than ordinary reporters, I mean."
"Oh, I had to dodge a bullet or two, but a reporter is always really on the sidelines. You *report* on events. You don't *participate* in them. And even when you get shot at, it's not the same because you know they're not really trying to kill you, specifically. It frankly got a little dull. I wouldn't say I ever learned to accept death, like you guys--"
"Accept wha'?" said Murdock, puzzled.
"Didn't you all have some kind of credo like that? Face, Hannibal and B.A. told me on the first job we did together that you all had to accept death because it gave you an edge."
"Oh." Murdock scratched his head. "That makes sense. Wish they'd told *me* that. My method's to be so nuts I can't figure out whether I'm alive or dead or somewhere in between. But I wouldn't recommend that to everybody. Go on?"
"I guess my point is that standing by and reporting on bad things that are happening...well, that can't compare with helping to *stop* bad things from happening. Now that I'm back, I have to find some sort of work that'll make me feel a bit more useful than reporting does."
"You're too good a reporter to quit, chiquita. Where would the world have been if Lois Lane had quit the Daily Planet? Clark Kent would've had to handle every story, and he'd never've had time to turn into Superman and save the world. Think about that. The comics don't lie -- don't ask me how I know that, but I can tell you from experience that they don't lie."
"So you're saying I should stick to reporting while Superman saves the world?"
"Or maybe *help* Superman save the world. Say, speaking of Superman, do you think everyone on Krypton wore those crazy tights with English letters on them?"
"Murdock, why do you want me back on the Team?"
"Is that what I've been saying all this time?"
"Yeah, I guess it is pretty much what I've been saying, and why not? You'd have people trying to kill you again -- always a major source of job satisfaction. You'd be helping us stop bad things from happening. I'd have you around to step in and save me when B.A. mysteriously loses his temper with me for acting perfectly normal, dontcha know. And I bet the other guys would love to have you back, to keep us from gettin' on each other's nerves."
"Maybe," she said dubiously. "But much as I enjoyed being a part of the A-Team...well, Murdock, you'll have to admit I was sort of a hanger-on. Like Zeppo Marx, or Pam on GREATEST AMERICAN HERO."
"I like Zeppo," Murdock remonstrated.
"You know, when I was with the Team, Hannibal had to introduce me to people as 'a part of the A-Team' or they'd never have believed it. And I'm not so sure he believed it himself."
"I think Hannibal believes everything he says," Murdock assured her. "Someone has to."
"But I don't think he, or anyone, had any reason to believe that I was a real member, or ever would be. Oh, I'm not blaming him. Hannibal's first responsibility is to make sure that the mission succeeds, not to worry about whether the junior Team member is satisfied. But when it became clear that I was never going to get anything much more than the publicity angle, I decided I had to leave and look for a way to do something fulfilling on my own, for myself. I haven't found it yet. But I have to keep looking. I'm in a bit of an odd position, you know, thanks to my year with the Team. It's...well, it's like Eliza Doolittle says, 'Now you've made a lady of me I'm not fit for anything else.' You guys introduced me to the Jazz, and even though I couldn't quite fit in with the Team, I can't quite fit in outside it. Not yet, anyway."
Murdock decided to have one more try. "Why even try fitting in outside it? Look, we're all friends, and friends should be together, and I'm going to stop now before I cause myself to throw up. I gotta stop watchin' those June Allyson movies. They're mental poison."
"Aside from everything," she said, "when you say the other guys would love to have me back, I think you're speaking more for yourself. I'm not sure if Hannibal would be wild about the idea."
"Hannibal practically gave you an open invitation today, including you in the plan."
Amy shook her head and smiled. "Hannibal works with what he's got, you know that. He included me because I happened to be there. If I hadn't been there, he'd have just made you put on a dress and a wig and pose as his wife."
"Yeah, wouldn't that be somethin'..." said Murdock dreamily. "Anyway, I just want you to know that if you change your mind about coming back, you've got my vote."
"I thought you said they don't let crazy people vote."
"Hey, you're right. But I'll vote under an assumed name. Now, back to the rehearsal. Again!"
"The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain."
"I think she's got it," said Murdock. "By George, she's got it."
* * *
Brian Leftcourt hung up the phone and, feeling better than he had for days, turned to face his wife, who was sitting in an armchair absently leafing through ARCHAEOLOGY TODAY magazine.
"I just got off the phone with Hannibal," said Brian. "I gave him the information he needed about Penning and his class. I must say I'd forgotten, since the last time I met him, what a sense of confidence he inspires."
"Uh-huh," said Tawnia.
"You feel as though his plan will work, even if it doesn't make sense. I must say his plan doesn't make any sense to me, but somehow it doesn't seem to matter."
"It was nice to meet that Miss Allen, too. It must have been quite a coup for her, back in your reporter days, getting to write all the stories on the A-Team. Of course, I don't know much about journalism, but it sounds like quite a competitive business. You must be glad you're out of it."
"Uh...huh," said Tawnia, a little tensely.
"Tawnia, dear, why are you reading that magazine upside down?"
She turned it sideways. "I only read it for the pictures, Brian sweetheart. The pictures don't look as interesting right side up."
* * *
It was the morning after they had accepted Brian's case, and Hannibal was briefing the Team -- plus Amy -- on the last details of the plan. The five of them were standing outside the main campus entrance, all clad in the greyish, old-fashioned, vaguely moth-eaten clothing that no academic can do without -- even B.A., who looked distinctly uncomfortable in his stiff shirt and tie.
"...Brian tells me that a lot of Penning's followers are also in Professor Franklyn's English class at 11:00," said Hannibal. "It's a course that just about everyone has to take to round out their first year. So Brian says, anyway, and he knows more about college than I do. B.A., after Face introduces us to the Dean, you go to that class and keep an eye on the bigger students. Size them up, tell us if you think we'd have any trouble with them if it comes down to a physical fight. Not that it should, if we do this right."
Murdock, adjusting his polka-dot cravat -- his only touch of originality in his professorial outfit -- said: "What did you say I'm supposed to be doin'? Panty raid?"
"You're just going to stick to the common area adjoining the dormitory, Murdock. It's open to non-students, but mostly students hang out there. Listen in all you can, strike up conversations, and find out anything you can about Penning, and what the students do and don't know about him. Face will stick with the Dean to keep him out of our way, and we'll all meet Murdock in the common area at four. Tea time," he added in his carefully-practiced, yet awful, English accent.
"And what do I do after you guys go off to inspect the campus?" said Face.
"Stick with the Dean," replied Hannibal. "Brian thinks the Dean doesn't know anything about what Penning's doing, but I'm not convinced. He might be turning a blind eye to it. If you find out that he knows, you put the pressure on him to do something about it."
"That's it? That's my first assignment in over a week? Stick with some old PHd-pusher all day? Hannibal, come on. This is the sort of nothing job you usually gave --" he caught Amy's eye, and stopped short.
"Well?" prompted Amy, icily but not angrily. "The sort of nothing job he usually gave to whom?"
"--Gave to...people who were just as happy to do their part as I am. And when I say nothing job, I mean it... metaphorically. We're on a University campus, I have to learn to speak in double-talk."
"You? You could teach an advanced course in double-talk," said Amy.
Face said glumly: "But Hannibal, before we go in, I'd just love to hear why you think the Dean is going to believe that I represent an organization you just made up, let alone that I'm authorized to let you visiting professors roam around the school."
Hannibal grinned. "A Dean is basically a campus bureaucrat, and I know the bureaucratic mind. If you show him your fake credentials, and make up an official-sounding name for your organization, he won't dare admit he's never heard of you or the organization. Instead he'll go along with you, to cover up his own ignorance."
"Is it just me," said Amy, "or have Hannibal's plans gotten more convoluted since I left?"
"It's just you," replied Face. "Actually he's improved over the years. Remind me to tell you about his plan back in Saigon that involved all of us trying to jump off a tree and onto a motorized tricycle."
"Hey, Hannibal," said B.A., "can't I go into that class without this crazy suit? It itches. I hate itchin'."
"A good professor needs a suit. An academic with a mohawk might just squeak by in this day and age, but an academic in overalls and gold chains tends to arouse suspicion."
"Well, what did you say I'm a professor of?"
"You are a professor of..."
* * *
"...Restoration literature," said B.A.
"Ah," said Dean Ashley. "Can you tell me more about your approach to your discipline?"
"If the kids be actin' bad, they gotta be punished. That's what my momma called discipline, and that's what I call discipline too," replied B.A. firmly.
"Ah," the Dean said again, less enthusiastically this time. He quickly turned toward Face. "Now, Mr. Greyhusky --"
"Greyhosky," Face corrected. "Alan J. Greyhosky of the National Association of Academic Collegiate Participation. Abbreviated NAACP."
"Well, Mr. Greyhosky, while your credentials are impressive, I, uh --" He paused. "You seem to be, uh... judging from these papers you've given me... a person of some power and standing in the academic world, and I..." He shuddered, as though dreading the thought of being exposed as ignorant of the academic world. How could he have overlooked the existence of such a powerful organization? "What I mean to say is, I'm so glad you've brought these distinguished professors here to examine our school and perhaps, help improve us academically."
"The word 'perhaps' doesn't enter into it, my dear fellow," said Hannibal in the thickest English accent ever heard.
"You are quite right, Adolphus, my dear," said Amy in an accent almost as thick. "Already I can spot a dozen ways in which this school needs to be improved. I'll bet you haven't spotted them, of course. You never spot anything."
"Honoria, you are constantly talking. Must you talk? Is it necessary? The world is an extraordinary place, filled with the most varied and mellifluous of natural noises. Must you drown out the wonders of creation with your incessant prattling?"
"I cannot abide your conversation, Adolphus. It reeks of ill-breeding, not to mention the after-effects of synthetic champagne. If your manners do not improve, I shall be forced to expose your latest act of academic plagiarism."
"And I yours, my dear." Turning to Dean Ashley, Hannibal said: "Have I introduced my wife, Honoria?"
"No," replied the Dean. He sounded like he hoped it would stay that way. "Now, er -- the thing is, while I of course respect Mr. Greyhosky's organization, and I have definitely, absolutely heard of it -- well, I'm not sure I'm authorized to let you look around the school. I should probably check with the Board."
Face laughed an appropriately dry and condescending laugh. "The Board approved this weeks ago."
"No one ever told me anything about it," said the Dean.
"Is that so?" said Face with interest. "I thought they would keep you up to date on things...I mean to say, in my experience, a Dean is only kept in the dark about such important visits if he's about to be fired. But I'm sure that doesn't apply here."
Dean Ashley gulped. "No, of course, it doesn't apply here."
Face went on: "But of course, if you want to send us home and contradict the order of the Board, I understand perfectly; it's your duty to be careful. I'm sure the Board will believe you when you say you didn't know about their order; they won't think, say, that you were openly defying their orders and setting yourself up for some kind of Hearing."
"Don't scare the poor fellow, Mr. Greyhosky," said Amy. "I admire his integrity in risking his job for a principle."
"Wait, wait," said Dean Ashley. "I'm not as principled as all that."
* * *
As she walked with Hannibal toward Professor Penning's class, Amy got her first really good look at Hannibal's latest disguise. "I like the get-up, Hannibal," she said. "The droopy mustache, the goatee, the little round glasses...all very professorial."
"Don't forget the suit," said Hannibal. "Do you realize how much work it takes to get this many wrinkles into a suit? Now, have you got your tape recorder?"
She took it out, showed it to Hannibal, and quickly concealed it again. "You don't think he's really going to say anything in front of us, do you?"
"Not in class, no. But it's a two-stage plan. First we get him a little nervous in front of his class. Then, when we get over to his house, he talks in front of us, you get it on tape, and before you know it Penning's in jail and you've got another front page story."
Amy shook her head. "I'll just submit it directly to the police. I'm through with reporting."
He looked surprised, but shrugged it off: "Well, they do say print journalism is on its way out."
"Hannibal --" she stopped walking for a moment, and Hannibal stopped as well -- "you know I haven't done this kind of thing in four years. Are you really sure I can handle this?"
"I'm never sure about anything. Every time I start a plan, I'm not even sure we're going to survive. That's the fun of it."
Hannibal wasn't much for being encouraging, Amy reflected.
"Any other questions?" said Hannibal.
"Just one. This job you've gotten me into seems like a pretty easy one. Just go in, get the evidence against someone, and get out, with no one to go up against but a bunch of college kids. Now, I don't know whether things have changed since I left, but as I recall, the jobs that seem easy usually turn out to be surprisingly dangerous."
"Things haven't changed," Hannibal said as they started walking again. "Good that you remember that. Only an idiot would think there's such a thing as an easy job."
* * *
"It's an easy job," said Tawnia. "They go in, they get the evidence, they get out. They don't need help on a job like this. So why did they bring her along?"
Brian looked up from his favorite sarcophagus fragment and, after pondering this question for a moment, said: "Perhaps so she could write this up as a news story. Hannibal mentioned that she was temporarily unemployed. And she isn't planning on getting out of the business, is she?"
"Of course she is. Who would willingly give up being a reporter? Except me, of course," she added hastily.
"Well, I suppose it might help her get a new job if she were to get a story on Penning's..." he searched his vocabulary for a simple word -- "depradations."
Tawnia began to grind her heel rather deeper into the Oriental carpeting than Brian would have liked. "Don't be silly, Brian," she said at length. "Why would they be 'helping' her? They didn't care about her, and she didn't care about them. You don't know the story, you see, but she was only on the Team because she blackmailed them. It's not like me. After I cut myself loose from Decker and really gave my all to helping the Team, I was -- well, let's just say they loved having me around. They didn't show it, of course, but that's just the stoic way they've got. Amy? Humph. She didn't mean anything to them. I was the best helper they ever had. Right, Brian?"
Brian had two options: Agree with his wife, or say what he was thinking. Unfortunately, he chose a combination of both: "Oh, of course; I remember how well you got on with them back in 1984 when -- You know, Tawnia, something odd just occurred to me: If they were afraid of her blackmailing them, why did they contact Miss Allen and reveal that they were still alive, rather than contacting you? Isn't that puzzling? Er, Tawnia, do you *have* to grind holes in the carpet?"
"Yes, dear, I'm afraid I do."
"Oh. Well, go ahead then..." he returned to the safe scrutiny of his sarcophagus fragment.
* * *
With time to spare before he had to show up at Professor Franklyn's class, B.A. had accompanied Murdock to the common area. The two split up almost immediately -- B.A. insisted on this. Murdock then spent a pleasant if unproductive half-hour chatting with students. None of them seemed to know anything about Penning or the deaths of those two students. But they knew a great deal about literature, history, and the theory that all nutritional needs could be met by a steady diet of pizza and beer.
When Murdock came upon B.A. again, his colleague was seated at a small table, glowering at a tall, heavy young man seated opposite him.
"Hiya, B.A. What'd you find out? All I learned is that pepperoni can increase your life expectancy. Fascinating, but I don't think it's what we were lookin' for."
B.A. said: "Hey, Murdock, this kid here says he knows somethin' about Penning, but he won't tell me what."
"First, don't call me 'this kid.' My name's Donald. A perfectly easy name to remember. And second, I'll admit there's something fishy about Penning, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go telling everything I know to everyone who comes along. If I tell the police, they'll just use it as an excuse to institute a fascist reign of terror in this University. If I tell you, whoever you are, you'll just let it get to the police. The cure would be worse than the disease."
"Where'd you get all this crazy stuff, kid?" snorted B.A.
"It's not crazy. I've got this English prof, Professor Statler -- he's even more inspiring to us than Penning is to the philosophy students. And Professor Statler's taught us to distrust authority."
"Well, we distrust authority too," Murdock pointed out. "Little do you know how much we distrust it. And it distrusts us back, so everybody's happy."
"You guys seem like fairly old-fashioned professors. Your distrust of authority probably doesn't go beyond being disgruntled when you have to pay taxes, and hooey like that. But Statler knows that authority in our society is the source of all genuine evil. Take the Vietnam War."
B.A.'s fists started to clench. "What about the Vietnam War?"
"Professor Statler says the people who went off to fight in the Vietnam War did so because they obeyed authority. And look where that got us. Professor Statler says anyone who fought in Vietnam was just a stooge, a pawn of authority, a mindless robotic killing machine who kissed the feet of the government instead of going to Canada where he belonged. Now *that's* teaching."
"You're lucky you're a kid, fool," B.A. said, standing up, "or I'd teach you a few things right now! But I don't use no violence on no kid."
Murdock said: "Hey, I've been meanin' to ask you, B.A., when does a kid stop bein' a kid?"
"My momma says a boy becomes a man at the age of twenty-one. Anything below that is just a kid."
"Oh, come on!" scoffed Donald. "That rule is just another arbitrary rule made by authority figures from hundreds of years ago. I turned twenty-one last week, but I've been a 'man' since age..."
B.A. interrupted him. "How old did you say you are?"
"YOU'RE DEAD, FOOL!" B.A. bellowed. He grabbed Donald by the scruff of the neck and pulled him up out of his chair. Despite Donald's size, B.A. had no trouble at all dragging him away from the table. Murdock got up and followed them, interested to see where all this was going. "Now," said B.A., "Let me tell you somethin' about Vietnam --"
What was that noise? B.A. wondered. He hadn't hit anybody. He'd just --
"Hey, B.A.," said Murdock, "didn't there used to be a table there?"
The table and chairs had been completely destroyed. Or, rather, the three men assumed the table and chairs had been destroyed; nothing was actually visible apart from the large chunk of the ceiling that had fallen down and crushed the table.
As they surveyed the wreckage, Donald said: "Um...I don't know whether to thank you, or ask you to put me down."
"Looks like you could use a little protection from us traditionalist professors," said Murdock. "Unless you think that the ceiling fell down all by itself? I guess I've heard of that happening. Case of Chicken Little vs. the --"
Donald shook his head weakly.
"I gotta go to Franklyn's class," said B.A., "and you're gonna come with me. On the way there, you're gonna tell me everything you know."
As B.A. dragged him away, Donald said: "Look, I really don't know all that much; I mean, I'm an English major! We don't know anything!"
Murdock just stood and waited for the janitors to arrive and clean up the mess. Finally someone explained to him that the janitors had been on strike for a month, and the administration hadn't noticed yet.
* * *
Face's morning was shaping up less eventfully. The Dean had nothing to say about Penning; instead he spent an hour defending his school's academic accomplishments, during which Face could do nothing except nod, tug at his tie and say "mm" or "aha."
After the forty-fifth "aha," Face said: "Can I ask you a question, Dean Ashley?"
"If it's about whether all our buildings are up to code, I can assure you, Mr. Greyhosky, that they all are. Except possibly the drama building, but no one expects that to be without a few insects."
"Mm. But my question is about those two deaths that took place at your school recently."
"They had nothing to do with the drama building, I might point out. Er, what I mean to say is, accidents are unfortunate, and terrible, but compared to some other Universities, our mortality rate is miniscule. I understand that Columbia University has fatal shootings in the halls every other week."
"And what about Professor Julius Penning?"
"A man of high academic --"
"Right, right, right. But have you heard any rumors about his possible involvement in, oh, nothing specific ... just some lectures that might reflect badly on, oh, no one specific? Lectures that you've always managed to miss?"
Dean Ashley flushed so deeply that even his goatee looked red. "Mr. Greyhosky, there have been rumors about Professor Penning, but no evidence. And it's not my job to delve deeply into rumors or 'stake out' a valued professor's classes."
"So you just look the other way."
"As far as I know there's nothing to look away from. My job is to uphold academic standards. And Professor Penning is a brilliant academic. He's had work published in all the great scholarly journals. Plus one article that was excerpted in READER'S DIGEST. So --" Somewhat to his own relief, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Ah, this must be the student council president. We were scheduled to meet at about this time. I hope you don't mind if I get this over with now? Come in!" he said in the direction of the door.
Face was in agony. Another encounter with an academic type, and a gung-ho egghead student, at that! One more speech about scholarly footnotes and he'd go insane. How was he going to get out of this musty room?
"Er, Dean Ashley," he started to say, "I really think I have to be --"
He stopped, looking in thinly disguised admiration at the vision that had just entered the room. Even after his encounter with those girls who hired the Team to find their professor, he'd never been prepared for the existence of so well-constructed a student council president as this.
"Mr. Greyhosky," said the Dean, "this is Phyllis Tabors, our student council president."
Miss Tabors acknowledged the introduction with a curt nod of her lovely head, and sat down next to Face.
Dean Ashley said: "You were saying, Mr. Greyhosky, that you needed to be...?"
Face smiled, more in the direction of Phyllis than the Dean. She didn't acknowledge the smile. "I was saying," he said, "that I need to be here while you're meeting with Miss Tabors. You see, I was planning to ask if I could meet with the student council president, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind my talking to her after she's done with you. Would she?"
"Would you, Phyllis?" said the Dean.
Phyllis shrugged. Face decided to take this as an encouraging sign.
* * *
"I must say," said Professor Penning, surveying his two visitors, "that when I prepared my lecture for today, I did not expect to have anyone sitting in."
Hannibal, in a chair at the back of the room, smiled and said a British-accented: "You mean you prepare lectures differently when you have extra visitors? How odd."
"It seems he already has extra visitors, Adolphus," Amy said. "Aren't there supposed to be only twenty students in his class, rather than fifty?"
"For once I must agree with you, Honoria. And the overcrowding is making it rather hot in here. I cannot bear an excess of heat."
"With you, Adolphus, an excess of heat is never a danger."
Professor Penning frowned and said: "And while I have of course heard of Professor Adolphus Raeburn --"
"*The* Adolphus Raeburn?" one of the students said.
"The Adolphus Raeburn you've told us about?" said another.
"Europe's greatest authority on alternative Nietzschean theory?" said another student who liked saying things everyone already knew.
"The *world's* greatest," said Hannibal.
"A legend in his own mind," sniffed Amy.
Penning went on: "And while I am pleased to meet you for the first time, Professor Raeburn, I should note that the pleasure of the meeting is lessened by one circumstance --"
"And what is that?"
"I have met your wife, Honoria Raeburn. I met her last year at a philosophy convention. And unless she has worked miracles in the field of plastic surgery, this is *not* the Honoria Raeburn I met."
After a pause, Amy laughed a silvery, condescending laugh. "I see where this is going, Adolphus. He thinks we're impostors. Clearly he hasn't recovered from his meeting with your last wife."
Penning looked confused. "His --"
Amy explained: "Adolphus, like many men of superficial attractiveness and inner loathsomeness, marries frequently. But he has a quirk. He only marries women named.."
"Honoria," Hannibal finished quickly. "I love the name. I despise the women, but I love the name."
"I am, by my last count, his fifth Honoria," said Amy, "and by far the most attractive."
"That's hardly saying much for you, my dear," said Hannibal.
"Bah! Adolphus, that line is lifted from Groucho Marx. Another example of plagiarism."
"Are you interested in film?" said Penning. He was by now far too confused to be certain of whether he thought these people were impostors or not. I teach a film course during the summer; THE POLITICS OF THE B-MOVIE HORROR FILM. Perhaps you've read my book on film?"
"No," said Hannibal, "but I've read your book on philosophy, with its absurd misreading of Nietzschean theory. What a waste of space, what a misuse of my own theories! And I say that as politely as possible."
This caused a buzz in the room. "Hey, Professor Penning," said one large youth, "didn't you tell us that Adolphus Raeburn agreed with your theories?"
"Didn't you tell us that if we met Adolphus Raeburn he'd tell us how right you were?"
Penning was looking ashen-faced and nervous.
Amy laughed again. "Don't feel too badly, Professor Penning. Adolphus' censure is certainly accurate, but you have the consolation of knowing that he expresses it very poorly."
"Silence, Honoria!" said Hannibal. "I have had enough of your abuse! And I can throw you right back in the academic gutter where I found you!"
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" said Amy. "And another ha!" She lit a cigarette. She didn't smoke, but she felt that Honoria Raeburn ought at least to *light* cigarettes.
Professor Penning, now in a state of total confusion, and with his students wondering whose theories were right, tried to start a lecture. He was hampered by the fact that he couldn't actually talk about his big project in front of the visitors. So he improvised: "How many of you have seen drive-in monster films from the 1960s? Well, the philosophy in those films is as follows..."
* * *
Meanwhile, Murdock was wandering around the hall of the English building (which was next door to the common area), sometimes trying to find out what the students knew about Penning, but more often just stopping to read and enjoy the writeups on the bulletin boards. ("Hmm. Apartment available. 50% insect-free. Sounds like a good deal.") While stopped at one of those bulletin boards, Murdock heard a sound. A strange sound. Almost like...sobbing?
This looked like a job for -- well, he wasn't sure who it was a job for, exactly, but he might as well check it out himself. Soon he discovered that the sobbing was coming from a nearby classroom. He opened the door a crack and saw that the room was empty except for two people. One was a tall, beautiful young woman, who was crying. The other was a not tall, not particularly beautiful young man, who was not crying.
Murdock's righteous indignation came to the fore, and he burst into the room, saying: "Hey, you, what's the idea of making that girl cry? Didn't your mother ever tell you what happened to Georgie Porgie? Sentenced to a lifetime of eatin' nothin' but pudding and pie, that's what happened to him. He died of malnutrition within a month. So leave that girl alone."
The girl, recovered from the initial shock of this wild-eyed entrance, said: "Oh, we're not -- he's not making me cry. I'm just crying."
"I don't want her to cry," said the boy. "But on the other hand she has good reason to cry. So I'm really not sure what I should be doing, except crying myself."
"Er...who *are* you, by the way?" inquired the girl.
Murdock explained that he was a visiting professor, Professor Murdock, to be exact, with nothing better to do than stop people from crying. "What seems to be the trouble?"
The young couple didn't know why exactly, but they felt they could trust Murdock. Either that or they were slightly scared of him and thought it was safest to distract him with their tale of woe. In any case, they started talking.
"Well," said the boy, "Renata here --"
"Well," said Renata, "Michael here -- can I tell it, Michael?"
"Oh, sure. You tell it better."
"Well, Professor Murdock, Michael and I want to get married."
"At your age?" said Murdock, surprised.
"We're both twenty," said Michael.
"I know someone who'd say you're just kids. But anyway, suivez, seguite, and so on."
"But we can't get married," said Renata, "because one of my professors won't let us. And I know that sounds weird, but you see, last year, before I met Michael, I got involved with -- well, with Professor Franklyn."
"Franklyn?" said Murdock. "I know that name..."
"I know it was wrong, but he was so charming, and funny, and intelligent, and I thought I was in love with him. But then I met Michael, and we fell in love, I mean really in love, the kind of love where you don't care whether the other person is particularly funny or intelligent."
"Or tall," added Michael, who had no illusions about himself.
"But when Professor Franklyn found out, he threatened to flunk me out of the course I'm taking with him this year. It's abuse of power, but what can I do? If I flunk a course, I'll never get a scholarship for next year, and if I don't get my scholarship, I can't finish my degree. And the administration never punishes a professor for things like this -- or haven't you heard about Professor Penning?"
"What do you know?" said Murdock.
"Oh, everybody knows," said Michael. "But when we report it, it gets filed away and forgotten. Just like Franklyn's threats would be filed away and forgotten. He's holding all the aces."
"So now I can't risk letting Franklyn find out that I'm still seeing Michael."
"It's a forbidden love," said Michael. "Like WEST SIDE STORY without the violence."
"I don't like stories without violence," said Murdock.
Renata went on: "And Franklyn told me that if I'm thinking of marrying Michael once the school year is out, I should look again and see who's been assigned to mark my research project next year. So basically we're going to be like this for two years. It's not going to be fun, meeting in secret all that time. Oh, but you won't tell anyone what we've told you, will you, Professor Murdock? Professor Murdock, are you listening?"
Murdock's mind, such as it was, was racing. He said aloud: "We've helped brother-sister couples. We've helped father-daughter couples. But you know, I don't think I've ever helped a couple of young lovers get together. And darn it, I always wanted to."
Michael and Renata stared at him. "I don't want to sound rude," said Michael, "but how could you help us?"
"Oh, I've had experience. Lots of experience. You see, I work for --" his voice dropped to a whisper -- "The Equalizer."
Renata said, gently, "Uh, sir, I hope you don't mind my asking this, but -- are you crazy?"
"Pretty much. And that's 'zactly what you need right now. So, where's this Franklyn jerk? Is he in his office right now?"
"He should be," said Michael. "His next class doesn't start for another fifteen minutes."
"His next class. Hm. If I delay him awhile, that means he won't make it to that class, and my, er, colleague was expecting to sit in on his lecture. So maybe we should wait. Or maybe --" He smiled. "Hey, if Franklyn didn't show up for his class, and there was a visiting English professor sitting in, what would happen?"
Renata said: "I guess someone would ask the visiting English professor to teach the class instead. But I don't see --"
"Perfect, perfect, I might even say perfect-o! Let's go find Franklyn. But let's hurry. I gotta meet some friends in the common area at four."
"Professor Murdock," said Renata, "I don't think you're going to be able to do anything in so short a time."
"Do you think I'll be able to do anything, period?"
"No," Renata and Michael both admitted.
"Then what does it matter how long it takes? Let's go, kids!"
Murdock led the somewhat dazed young couple out of the classroom and marched them down the hall. He tried to get them to join him in singing "Make Way For Tomorrow," but they were curiously reluctant.