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Gateway to the West
Ratings/Warnings: PG - slight use of adult language, some
Summary: Maxine Monroe seeks out the help of the A-Team in L.A., and when they agree to the job, they go back to her home of St. Louis, MO. She needed to get the help of the A-Team because a ring of drug lords has entered St. Louis and is pressuring local businesses to buy and distribute their drugs. Maxine's father is a Vietnam vet with one arm who owns and operates a gym and is trying to stand up to these drug lords. Her brother, Mike, was put in a coma by these goons as a warning. Now, with the A-Team's help, they hope to put an end to the drug lords' antics. By the end, Maxine tries to join the A-Team. The story contains nine chapters.
Disclaimer: All characters created within my stories are of my own creation, with the exception of the A-Team characters.
Copyright: August 2002
This story will be the first of many, I hope, so this particular story is like one entire episode of the show.
Gateway to the West 1
This trip was turning out to be a bust all the way around. Her father had told her to go to this little Chinese laundry on a seedy side of L.A. to talk to Mr. Li. She had found him easier than she expected, but he was about as responsive as a three-day dead frog. She explained her situation to the kindly Chinese gentleman and was met with the vague response of a possible contact within three days. No word had come from the old man and when she called to try to contact him, he was never there. Then, she received a bouquet of yellow roses with a card telling her a meeting place and time to meet with the anonymous sender. She didn't want to go, but she knew she could handle herself if need be and the chance to meet with the A-Team could mean saving her father and his business.
On the way to the location down by the docks that night, however, the pick-up truck she'd rented decided to die. Here she was as the sun started to set on an even worse side of town, stranded. She cursed as she lifted the smoking hood of the rusted pick-up. She reached up to tie the top part of her long, curly strawberry blonde hair back and slipped her dark blue baseball cap on backwards. She stretched to lean down into the engine and began tinkering around to locate the problem.
Templeton Peck checked the time as he sped through downtown L.A., rushing toward the waterfront for the rendezvous. His white Corvette hugged the corner on the turn and he checked his rearview mirror as he passed a broken down pick-up truck. He pulled the car over and quickly threw it in reverse when he saw the lean tan legs sticking out of some tight jean shorts, practically screaming for his attention. Peck checked his appearance in the mirror and smiled as he emerged from his 'Vette, then sauntered toward this damsel in distress. She was struggling to even reach over the grill, standing on the toes of her black combat boots.
"May I be of some assistance, Miss?" Peck asked as sincerely as he could, assuring himself some distance so as not to frighten the young woman.
"Nah, . . . I already found what's wrong and can't fix it right now. Freakin' piece of crap truck with blown head gaskets -- warped beyond repair," she cursed as she stood tall and kicked the front fender. She turned around to face the helpful stranger, and felt something amiss in his smile. He was too well dressed and driving too much of a fancy ride to be on this side of town.
Before he could blink an eye, Peck was staring down the barrel of a handgun. Peck looked from the gun, which had been pulled from a holster inside her right boot, to this would-be killer's eyes. She had the most electric blue eyes he'd ever seen. Her blonde curls hung in disarray from under her backwards baseball hat. Her arms flexed straight and true, she knew how to handle her gun. Her chest heaved slightly under her dark blue tank top and blue jean shortalls from the forward-roll she'd performed while removing and cocking her gun. Her black boots were steady on the ground and ready to pounce if need be.
"Whatever you want from me, buddy, you ain't gettin' it." She spat through gritted teeth.
"My dear, I just wanted to help you out, . . . at least allow me to drive you to somewhere to get help." Peck offered, taking a small step back.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," she challenged.
"Well, at least let me give you a phone to call someone for help." He offered as he reached into his inside jacket pocket.
She trained her gun on his hand, then relaxed as he pulled out a cell phone. She took the cell phone with a light "thank you" and continued to steady her gun on the stranger. She had been given a number to call her contact in case of an emergency. An older man she'd talked to earlier picked up the line.
The man told her to be on the lookout for a white corvette driven by a young, handsome gentleman. As the voice described the man, she looked incredulously at the man standing before her. The description met perfectly. When she heard the nickname the contact was to respond to, she said it out loud "Face?" Then, she blushed sheepishly as her captive smiled broadly and nodded that he went by that name.
"Sorry, . . . a girl can't be too safe, you know." She said as she released the handgun and replaced it in the holster. She handed the phone back to Face and reached into the dead truck for her army green duffle bag. She squirmed uncomfortably and smiled nervously as Face got off the phone.
"Where to, Face?" she asked innocently.
"Back to home base so you can tell us your story again, Ms. Maxine Monroe." Face retorted with a sarcastic smile as he led her back to his 'Vette.
"Please, call me Max." she insisted as she jumped into the passenger seat and tossed her bag in the backseat. "Nice car."
"Yeah, she is a little beauty, isn't she?" Face boasted.
"Yeah, wish I could drive my baby around right now . . . she wouldn't have died on me like that piece of junk did." She thought out loud.
"What do you drive?" He inquired as they started to peal out of the city limits.
"A jet black '80 Chevy Camero Z28 -- purrs like a kitten, can roar like a lion, and speed like cheetah." Max reminisced fondly as the wind whipped through the lose strands of her hair.
After another twenty minutes of driving, they pulled into a seemingly empty warehouse in the desert. Max scanned the area quickly before jumping out of the car, to see if she was surrounded, . . . but she wasn't. Face led the way to an iron door and held it open, bowing to let the lady enter first. Max scoffed at his gentlemanly actions, but took full enjoyment of them nonetheless.
Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interior, and she looked around to see what looked like a regular garage, . . . oil drums, grease stained floors, chains, grit, . . . she inhaled and smiled. She then saw a white haired man emerge from an office, lighting a cigar that was already clamped in his mouth. He straightened his tan jacket and tightened up his black leather gloves as he stepped forward. Face introduced Max to Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, and vice versa.
They walked to the office Hannibal had just emerged from and started to sit down at an office desk. Before Max could start recounting her story one last time for these men, a large black man wearing a ton of gold chains and a mohawk entered the room with an extra chair (a cushy one with wheels that he sat down for the lady, momentarily breaking his fierce demeanor to smile at her, then returning to his previous enforcer mode).
"As I told Mr. Li and you, Hannibal, my father is in need of your help. Dad, . . . er, . . . Sergeant Henry Monroe, is a Vietnam vet who came back to this country minus one arm but with a medal of courage for risking his life for his comrades. He had always prided himself on his self-reliance, so he invested even more time improving himself physically and emotionally, and building our family. He ended up being at the Freedom Gym so much, and helping out a number of guys, some who had some serious problems, that when he asked about being part owner of the gym, they practically jumped at the chance to include him. He took my brother, Mike, on as an assistant and everything was going fine, . . . until the drug lords entered the picture. The ring is called the Ice Dragons and they are trying to bully all the gyms around St. Louis to buy and distribute their drugs, especially some illegal steroids from deep in eastern Asia.
Well, the other owners crumbled, . . . dad's co-owners sold their share of the gym to Dad and Mike . . ." she took a deep breath as tears began to well in her eyes . . . "Mike is in the hospital after he tried to go up against these guys on his own -- they put him in a coma. Dad can't do much anymore and is losing hope. I have only had a couple of confrontations against some of the guys physically in our gym -- when they tried to get too friendly." Hannibal raised an eyebrow questioningly as Face smiled knowingly.
"I know, you probably think a 5'5" blonde can't do that much to some huge guys, . . . but I've been trained. I have a Bachelor of Science in Communications and a minor in Human Behavior. Dad helped train me in boxing, kickboxing, and some martial arts. I am accomplished in gymnastics. I learned fencing for fun when I was abroad at Oxford University. I am a sharpshooter with a bow and arrow -- probably due to hunting trips with my dad and brother. I can work with guns and knives -- due to my initial police training. Should I go on?" She asked as she thought of other things that she could rattle off in this verbal resume for these fugitives. "I can handle my own, but I can only do so much and I certainly don't claim to be able to do it alone." She pleaded.
"Max, . . . give us a few minutes to discuss this assignment and we'll be right with you." Hannibal said as B.A. ushered her out of the office once again. She gazed at her reflection in the opposite office window and licked her finger to wipe away the smudged grease on her cheek from trying to fumble with her truck earlier. She still held her duffle bag over her shoulder and when she finished, smoothed some stray pieces of hair behind her ears and pulled her backwards hat down tighter. She spun around expectantly, . . . hopeful, as the three men emerged from the office.
"Max, I think you've just hired the A-Team." Hannibal grinned as he puffed on his cigar.
"Lieutenant, you know what you need to do, right?" Hannibal asked Face.
Face sighed in response, knowing he had to come up with yet another plan to get Murdock out of the VA hospital. At least when he went to spring him this time, it'd be the night shift on duty, which tended to be easier to scam. He looked over at Max, who looked back at him slightly confused.
"I have to go retrieve our pilot." He said dejectedly.
"I ain't flyin' no where, Hannibal. You ain't gettin' me on no plane this time." B.A. began to grumble at Hannibal.
"Sergeant, you're red sneakers won't leave the ground this time . . . trust me." Hannibal replied with a grin and another puff from his cigar.
"I trust you 'bout as far as I can throw you, Hannibal. I ain't flyin'." B.A. reiterated.
"Max, would you mind helping me go get Murdock?" Face asked as he ushered Max toward the door.
"If I can help, I'd be happy to. Where exactly is this Murdock at?" Max asked innocently as she and Face hopped into the white Corvette.
"Um, he's in a hospital." He replied nonchalantly.
"Is he sick?" she asked concerned.
"In the head." B.A. piped in as he and Hannibal walked up next to the car.
"Face, get Murdock out as fast and easy as possible and meet us back here. We'll have the van loaded and ready to roll when you get back." Hannibal instructed as Face started to peel out of the warehouse parking lot.
"Here, put this on." Face ordered, handing a dark blue skirt and doctor's lab coat to Max and removing her hat when they stopped temporarily near the VA hospital. Face put on a lab coat as well and a set of glasses.
"Okay, how's this work . . . what's the plan?" She asked as she straightened her hair into a tight bun at the nape of her neck.
"We're going to go in and pretend we've been sent in from the Walter Reed Health Care System Psychiatric Ward to transfer Murdock temporarily for some tests. The orders have come down to perform a specific study on former vets currently in psychiatric care from a special operations group that is high up in the government, and Murdock is one of the soldiers on the list. I have some fake documentation made up that helps to get him out, but never let them look at it too closely." He instructed as they pulled up to a parking place.
Max breathed a sigh of relief after they got past the first group of security. She realized that this kind of job was right up Face's alley, . . . he was a great talker, the perfect conman. The next group of security was near the elevators, and they weren't as easily influenced by Face. That's when Max stepped in.
"Excuse me, officer. We have direct orders for this special assignment and if you refuse to cooperate with those orders, you will be answering to a higher power than you can even fathom and you'll be lucky if you can even keep your job. You don't want to jeopardize your career over such a thing, do you?" Max asked in a strict tone, her blue eyes growing darker and seemingly shooting electricity. The sight was quite unsettling and authoritative, even making Face feel a little intimidated. After several moments of this stare down, the officer in charge of this security group stepped down and hit the elevator button for the two of them.
The elevator opened once again at the fourth floor. Here, Face went into full-onslaught as he ambushed the head night nurse with his charm. The nurse pointed down the hall toward Murdock's room. Outside that room was an armed guard. Face cursed under his breath. He whispered to Max that they'd tightened security due to their repeated breakouts of Murdock. Max smiled when she saw the guard lose his stoic stance and look her over as they walked toward him. She knew how to get to this one.
As they stepped up, she dropped her clipboard slightly behind her as she smiled absently at the guard. She turned around and bent down to pick up the board, trying to keep her legs as straight as possible. This allowed the guard a good view of her legs. When she turned back around and stood up, she apologized for being so clumsy. The guard laughed lightly and told her he tended to be clumsy as well. She began explaining why they were there and asked if her boss could go on in and prepare Mr. Murdock for transport, slightly dipping her head and pouting her bottom lip in childlike question. The officer approved and let Face in without a second glance, keeping his gaze locked on Max. She smiled brightly when Face was inside and her eyes gleamed at this stupid guard standing in front of her. She fumbled with the clipboard and flirted wildly with the guard. She even had him sign the fake papers to approve Murdock's release and giggled when she noticed he'd written his phone number as well.
Face emerged with Murdock, who was singing "Tiny Bubbles" through foamy lips after eating a bar of soap, handcuffed to a wheelchair. The guard followed the group to the elevator, even holding the door for Max. She mouthed the words "thank you" and blew him a little kiss. When the doors shut, she laughed out loud at the ease of the operation. They weren't out all the way yet, but she could feel the anxious tension releasing as they neared the first floor. While they rode down, Murdock told Face about the latest escapades of Billy, only glancing at Max.
"Who's Billy?" she asked.
"Who are you, Chiquita?" Murdock retorted.
"I asked you first." She smiled back.
"This is Captain H.M. Murdock and Billy is his imaginary dog." Face answered. "Murdock, this is Maxine Monroe, our latest client."
Murdock laughed to himself.
"What's so funny, flyboy?"
"Maxine Monroe . . . M'n'M." He laughed maniacally again, a huge grin spreading across his face, some bubbles expanding from the corner of his mouth.
"Call me Max," she retorted as the doors opened.
Max immediately switched back to her authoritative role and the three of them walked right out of the lobby. When they reached the car, Face unlocked the handcuffs and the three squeezed into Face's car.
Murdock tried to squeeze close to the door, to allow Max room to sit comfortably.
As they started to leave the parking lot, Max reached into the backseat and grabbed her jean shortalls, pulled them on under the skirt, then removed the skirt. She pulled off the doctor's jacket and threw it in the back as well. She then let her hair loose and shook out all the curls. She leaned back with her face up to the opened top, letting the wind caress her face and tangle her curls, feeling the pilot's leather jacket sleeve under her neck. She smiled and commented on how easy that had been.
"Night shift is always easier." Face said as they took a corner a little fast.
"If I hadn't been along, you might not have gotten past the male officers as well." She thought out loud.
"You surprised me being able to play your different roles so well, . . . you sure you haven't done this kind of stuff before?" he asked with a charming smile.
"Nah, just years of playing pretend as a kid . . . then acting in plays in college." She replied as she repositioned herself to give Murdock more room.
The rest of the trip, Face explained the situation to Murdock, with Max adding details along the way.
"So, we're gonna' have to fly out tonight, right?" Murdock asked excitedly, looking up at the sky in awe.
"Yeah, . . . I guess so. We'll swing by one of the back runways at LAX and borrow a plane, then we'll go get B.A. and Hannibal." Face thought aloud.
Within half an hour they were back at the warehouse and B.A. and Hannibal were ready to roll, as Hannibal had said before.
"What took you foo's so long?" B.A. asked as he
"We had to secure the plane, big guy." Murdock blurted out with a grin as he hopped out of the 'Vette.
"I ain't flyin' no where, fool." B.A. growled as he grabbed Murdock by the collar.
"What, a big guy like you afraid of flyin'? I don't believe it." Max said, distracting B.A.
"I ain't 'fraid of nothin', little mama, . . . I just don't like bein' off the ground." He said as he tossed Murdock aside.
"Sounds like you're scared to me." She said nonchalantly, dismissing B.A.'s masculine pride.
B.A. started toward Max with anger in his eyes, but stopped when she shot him her dark electric blue glare. At that moment, Hannibal injected B.A. with something and within a minute, he was on the floor unconscious. Murdock laughed and looked at Max, "He might look gruff, but he has a heck of a smile."
Max chuckled as the team struggled to lift B.A. and place him in the back of the van. Face brought his 'Vette into the deserted warehouse and hid it for safekeeping. Murdock jumped into the driver's seat, Hannibal in the passenger seat, Max by the window behind Murdock, and face in the seat next to the door. Max made sure her duffle bag was in the back before she relaxed on the way to the airport.
It wasn't long before the team was on the plane, a cargo unit so they could load up the van as well to take with them. When they were able to move around the cabin, Max began rummaging through her duffle bag to get a map of St. Louis to show Hannibal. She found it and went over to where Hannibal was deep in thought staring out of the window.
"Hannibal, I don't mean to bother you, but I need to show you some things." Max said as she unfolded the map.
"Go ahead, kid." He responded.
"Here's where we'll land at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Then, here near downtown is dad's gym. Here on the waterfront are some of the casinos that the drug lords hang around and/or run." Max pointed out.
"Let me look over this for a while. Thanks, kid." Hannibal said before he slipped deep into thought once again, this time staring at the map before him.
Max walked back over to her seat. She curled up in the seat as a chill took hold of her. She felt a blanket being wrapped around her. She looked up to Face's charming smile as he sat down beside her. She smiled back, then curled up once more and slipped into sleep.
It seemed like she'd only been asleep for a couple of minutes when she was shaken gently awake.
"Max, we're about to land." Face said as Max stretched and yawned, trying desperately to wake up.
The landing was a little bouncy, but fine, yet a little odd as she heard Murdock howling at the top of his lungs during the whole final approach. Then again, he was a little odd, wasn't he? Upon landing, the team made its way back to the van in the cargo hold, and prepared themselves as they tried to wake B.A. up.
"Ugh (grasping head) . . . what the . . . a plane!?! Get me off this plane, foo', 'fore I really send you flyin'." B.A. growled as he grasped the Murdock's fighter jacket and shoved him out of the back of the van.
"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 exits out of this airplane, so please let me direct you to one immediately. And thank you for choosing Howlin' Mad Airlines -- we hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of us at Howlin' Mad Airlines." Murdock drawled and punctuated his diatribe with a huge grin and a low bow directed toward the rear exit hatch that was now opening slowly. B.A. merely growled in response as he stepped out of the van.
Max laughed loudly, which garnered a deadly glance from the big guy, and she promptly bit her lip. B.A. grumbled under his breath at Hannibal as everyone got in the van and B.A. backed it up out of the plane. Max directed him where to go in the airport parking lot so she could get her car. When she told B.A. to stop, he came to a sudden halt that jerked everyone forward. She threw open the door with a gleeful "That's my baby!"
Max leapt into her Camero and revved the engine. She ran back to the van to grab her duffle bag and Face. "Now you get to see how my baby runs." Along the way to her dad's gym, she pointed out some points of interest to Face, especially along the riverfront, where the boat casinos and restaurants were.
They pulled up to the gym and started toward the door. Max noticed out of the corner of her eye one of the drug lord's goon's cars parked near the door and nudged Face for him to notice as well. Once inside, she reached over to whisper who the car had belonged to. Face in turn whispered to the other guys as Max walked forward to the front desk.
"We need some blasted service in this crappy gym." She bellowed toward the clerk's turned back.
"You need to learn some respect, missy." The gentleman said as he turned around.
Max couldn't help but laugh when she saw the shock on her father's face. She came around the counter and hugged him hard. "Dad, I found them. They're gonna' help us." She whispered to her father.
"Colonel Smith, I want to thank you for any help you might give us." Sergeant Monroe said as he shook Smith's hand.
"If we can help, we will." He reassured the one-armed vet.
"But how can we pay you, . . . we have nothing but this gym and we're running in debt as it is?" Monroe said.
The team looked to Max, who had her head bowed now, not wanting to see their eyes. "It's okay, Dad, don't worry about that. They'll get their share. I think right now it'd be nice to set them up for a couple of hours sleep before we start showing them around." She changed the subject quickly and led the guys toward the back of the gym. The very back of the gym had been converted into a small home. This gym was really all they had.
They all sat down in the den as Max went to get glasses of tea for everyone. While she was busy, her father explained to the team that he couldn't do much to fight these new drug lords in the area. His son was now in a coma when he tried to take them on alone. Max had busted one or two of them up in the gym there, but was smart enough to know when to back off and ask for help. He didn't know how they'd get paid, but if Max said they would, they would. Max reentered the room with the tea for everyone, along with a tray of crackers and cheese. She sat down on the arm of the chair her father was sitting in and petted his peppered hair absent-mindedly.
"Two of you guys can have my room and the other two can have Dad's, for the time being." Max insisted.
"No, you didn't get much sleep, you go ahead to your room and sleep some more. We can sleep in here, since your Dad's gonna' be running the gym till tonight anyway." Hannibal ordered.
Max started to argue, but Face and Murdock escorted her toward the room she had pointed out as hers. They got her in the room before she could say any more. Face laid her down while talking to her about what they might do later that night while Murdock got the blanket from the foot of her bed and draped it over her, and said, "Sweet dreams, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." Face and Murdock then left the room quickly and shut the door behind them. The rest of them propped up and tried to sleep on the couches and Sgt. Monroe's room until dusk.
That evening, Hannibal told Murdock to go check on Max and wake her. As Murdock neared the door, he heard whimpering, like sobbing. He entered the room slowly and closed the door behind him. Max laid in her bed, stomach down, the blanket wrapped like a cocoon around her legs. Her tank top had worked its way up some during her obviously fitful sleep. She whimpered and sobbed in her dreaming state. As Murdock got closer, he noticed the slash marks on her back. It looked as thought she'd been whipped. He reached down as he sat on the edge of the bed to touch them. Max twisted out of the way at his touch, sucking in her breath slightly. She started pleading in her sleep . . . "please, . . . no more, . . . just stop, . . . please, . . . don't do this . . ." She flipped over on her back again as she struggled against an unseen assailant. Murdock grabbed her wrists gently to protect her against herself. Finally, she calmed down, but still whimpered quietly. Murdock brushed some of her curls aside and looked down at her slightly pained face. He gently tried to wake her, so as not to scare her awake.
She half opened her groggy blue eyes and looked up at the pilot.
"Murdock?" she sighed as she closed her eyes once more.
"Yeah, Max, . . . it's time to get up. We gotta' get goin' to catch the bad guys." Murdock prodded with a grin.
"No, no, . . . just a little more sleep, . . . not enough . . ." she mumbled with a yawn.
"Not enough of a good sleep . . . what were you dreaming about, M'n'M?" Murdock asked.
"Nothing." She retorted sharply and turned over on her stomach once more.
"Then, why were you whimpering and sobbing, . . . and how did you get these?" Murdock asked as he touched her back once again.
She stiffened in response and turned around slowly, her eyes moist with tears.
When Murdock started to get up, she grabbed his arm and pulled him a little closer. "Please, Murdock, . . . don't tell anyone. Dad doesn't know and doesn't need to know." She pleaded quietly.
"Tell me what happened, M'n'M." Murdock urged.
"Promise me." She pleaded.
"Just tell me, . . . I won't tell your dad, I promise." He relented.
She sat up slowly and stretched. Then, looked down at the blanket around her legs. "After Mike got hurt so bad, I couldn't take it anymore. I went to the head drug lord. I didn't get to leave of my own freewill at first, though. I tried to buy them off with the money my mother left me in a secret account. She died when I was twelve from cancer. I had about $50,000 there, but only said I had $10,000 . . . that's all I had with me to give the drug lords because I figured it'd be enough. The head drug lord, Asai, took the money and agreed I would be bothered no more. Then, when I turned to leave, his goons cut off the exit. I heard something behind me and then felt the first sting of the leather. He whipped me over and over again. He thought he had me then, but when any of them tried to touch me or worse, I fought back tooth 'n' nail. They finally gave up and just tossed me on the dock to be left for dead. Luckily, a kind man came by and took pity on me, helped me back to his waterfront restaurant paddleboat. He helped me recover over the week. I called my dad and lied about going out-of-town with a friend for the week. Now, this friend that helped me has been threatened as well."
When she finished, she brushed her eyes to ensure no tears could be seen. She combed her fingers through her curls and threw her legs over the side of the bed to tie her boots back on again. Murdock sat looking at this woman before him. She was so strong and so stubborn, he smiled to himself with a little pride. Before they left her room, she grabbed a blue and gray flannel shirt and pulled it on as well, now self-conscious about the almost healed wounds on her back. She felt vulnerable in front of Murdock now.
She headed for the kitchen to grab a glass of water and ran into B.A. He started to growl, but then smiled at her. She then smelled the chili that was cooking on the stove. She started to help, but B.A. told her to go on and shooed her out of the kitchen. She went to the den and flipped on the TV to some Looney Tunes cartoons. She giggled to herself as Wyle E. Coyote got hurt over and over again. Murdock plopped down on the couch next to her. He began struggling with Billy and asked if it was okay if Billy got up on the couch. Max approved with a laugh. Murdock started petting the air.
"Show me how he likes to be petted." Max asked.
Murdock reached over for her hand and guided it where the dog's head would be. He helped her pet the dog a couple of times, before letting her pet the dog on her own. She chuckled and leaned back on the couch as the cartoons went to commercial. Murdock watched her hand stroke the dog's imaginary head with such care. Then, she started scratching where Billy's ears would be. He smiled and moved over carefully. He ended up putting his own head where the imaginary dog's had been. He gazed up at Max to read her reaction. She didn't open her eyes but a smile spread across her face as she continued to scratch where the dog's ears would have been.
Face and Hannibal walked in, stopping momentarily at this strange scene before them. Hannibal coughed on purpose and Murdock leapt up to a seated position away from Max. Max laughed at his reaction and smiled at the rest of the team. B.A. walked into the dining room with the pot of chili. Max got the dishes and glasses set on the table and then set the jug of tea on the table.
Hannibal explained that he wanted them all to go out for a night on the town to get to meet and greet their enemy. Max thought for a moment, then said they should go to the Dragon Lady Casino on the waterfront because that was Asai's place. There was also the Lucky Clover Restaurant, which was her friend's place and he was being harassed now mostly due to knowing her.
After dinner, Face took Max's car to find the guys the right clothes for the gig. Meanwhile, Max freshened up and got all dressed up. As she finished putting her earrings on and straightening her necklace, she heard a knock at the door. The guys were ready for her. She emerged from her room in a red silk straight-line spaghetti-strap floor-length gown. She wore diamond earrings, a diamond teardrop pendant necklace, and a diamond bracelet. She bent down to straighten the ankle strap on her black strappy heels, then stood tall clutching her black velvet purse with the diamond clasp. Her blue eyes looked up to see the team and her father staring at her. She nervously smiled and glided her hand aimlessly over the group of curls clutched at the back of her head.
"Does this look okay?" she asked nervously.
The team nodded yes and Hannibal smiled as he stepped forward and offered her his arm. All four men were dressed in nice evening suits and looked ready for the night on the town. Her father beamed as he looked at his daughter all dressed up. He knew she'd be safe with the A-Team.
Face started to get in to drive her Camero, but she stopped that before he could even think about it. She slid into the driver's seat and sighed contentedly as Face shut the door and went to get in on the passenger side. She would lead the way to the casino boat and point out any important people.
Along the way, she continued to check her rear view and noticed they were being followed. "We've got company . . . looks like the guys at the gym when we arrived . . . my regular stalkers." She told Face, who relayed the message to Hannibal via walky talky.
They arrived at the Dragon Lady Casino and Max sighed deeply as she hesitated before getting out of her car. They got on the boat and entered the casino. Max headed for the bar to get herself a Strawberry Daiquiri to loosen up. Hannibal smiled, cigar glowing. Face was away from the group, talking up a waitress -- for information and her number, no doubt. B.A. stood stoic as ever, posing as Hannibal's bodyguard. Murdock stayed close to Max, trying to read her reactions as she looked over the club. They were working one of the card tables when Max suddenly stiffened. She felt eyes watching her. Murdock noticed and watched where she looked, trying not to look suspicious when he glanced to where her eyes had stopped. A muscular china man with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing an expensive looking suit along with a diamond pinky ring had entered the club and his eyes were burning a hole into Max. Max clutched Hannibal's elbow and whispered "Asai" while glancing that direction.
Asai made his way with his couple of bodyguards to the table they were at. Asai smiled at Max and asked how her father was. He also asked how her brother was doing, that he sent his condolences when he heard of his "accident." Max clenched her fists and Murdock lightly brushed her silk covered back, to remind her of the situation. Max relaxed momentarily.
"Max, you haven't introduced us, yet." Hannibal scolded.
"Sorry, Mr. Asai, this is . . ." she began.
"Uncle Gianni." Hannibal interrupted.
"Well, Mr. Gianni, what brings you to St. Louis, . . . business or pleasure?" Asai asked uninterestedly.
"A little of both, if I'm lucky." Hannibal replied with a puff of his cigar.
"So, what business are you in?" Asai wondered allowed.
"The import/export business." Hannibal exhaled with a swirl of smoke.
"What items to you import/export?" Asai asked, suddenly interested.
"Whatever you could want. What business are you in, Mr. Asai?" Hannibal asked.
"Health products, mostly." He said with a yellow-toothed grin.
One of Asai's men whispered to him and Asai excused himself to some business. Hannibal motioned for Face to follow. Face went undetected up the boat's stairs. That is until he got upstairs near the room Asai went into. As he leaned down to try to listen at the door, a young Latina woman happened up on Face. Face stood quickly and talked about dropping a contact, trying to scam his way out of the situation, however, that's when Asai came back out of the room and the girl went to cling to him . . . it was his girl. Face smiled, knowing he was found out, and asked Asai snidely "Do you know where the bathroom on this boat is? I tend to get lost easy."
"Getting lost like this will get you killed . . . next time." Asai warned as his backhand struck Face's jaw. Face fell to the floor with a thud, then was escorted out by two bodyguards. The rest of the team saw Face being carried down the stairs and thrown out the door. Once outside, they picked up Face and they all walked to the van.
Once to the van, Murdock checked Face's jaw. "Aw, he just got a little hit on the chin, he'll just have a sore bruise in the morning. What'd you do wrong, Face, hit on Asai's girl?" Murdock laughed.
"Actually, that's kind of true. I was listening at the door -- all I heard him say on the phone was 'Maybe you'll find a Good Luck Clover to bring you some luck' -- then this girl came by and I tried to talk my way out of being caught eavesdropping. She kept me busy and when Asai came out, she went to him . . . she was his girl! Then I ended up hit and thrown out. I just have all the luck, huh?" Face responded, rubbing his jaw.
"Good Luck Clover?!?" Max said frantically, . . . "oh my god, Josh!" She ran to her car and revved the engine.
"Stay with her, Murdock!" Hannibal ordered and before she pealed out, Murdock leapt into the passenger seat. Max burned rubber as she sped off to the other end of the waterfront, to Josh's restaurant on the paddleboat, The Lucky Clover Restaurant. Max screeched to a halt and ripped her door open. She gathered her gown in her hand as she tried to run onto the boat. "Josh! Josh! Josh!" she screamed as she busted into the restaurant. The people inside stared at her. "What are you staring at?!?" she yelled at the on-lookers.
Murdock caught her shoulders in his hands and leaned in close, "Now, honey, we don't need to cause a scene."
"I need to see Josh." She whispered.
She shot her glance to the side as a man came out of a side door.
She left Murdock and ran to the man, clasping him close. "Josh, we have to save you. You're in danger." She whispered frantically into his ear. He gathered her in his arms and told her they should go to a backroom to talk about it. He motioned for Murdock to come with them into the backroom.
While Max related to Josh what Face had told them, Murdock called the guys to tell them exactly where they were. Not long afterward, the rest of the team showed up. Hannibal insisted that Josh stay with them after the restaurant closed. In the wee hours of the morning, the last of the guests departed and Josh rode with Max, while the A-Team rode in their van. The team discussed the evening events thus far and Hannibal began thinking of a plan.
When they got back to the gym, Max cleaned up and changed into an oversized T-shirt to sleep in. Josh went to sleep in the same room with Max. Max and Josh talked for a while about the Team and what was happening. The next morning, Murdock went again to wake up Max, this time opening the door to see Josh and Max wrapped in one another's arms, asleep. He stared at them for a minute, before flipping on the light and telling them to "wakey, wakey" with a grin.
After breakfast, they went to see Mike, Max's brother, who had come out of the coma during the night. He was expected to recover, but it would just be a while. As they left the hospital, Hannibal asked if there was a way to get a good aerial view of where the drug lords were working right now.
"I ain't flyin this time, Hannibal." B.A. started.
"You won't have to, B.A. I know where you can get a good view and you don't have to fly at all." Max replied with a grin as she got in her car. They all ended up at the Gateway Arch. "Welcome to the Gateway of the West, boys."
They bought tickets and went up in the small elevators, Murdock commenting on how they felt like being in a washing machine. When they got to the top, Max directed them to the waterfront side, and it was true you could see everything. You could also feel everything as it was a windy day and B.A. didn't like the arch swaying. Murdock liked it, and took advantage of the view to see some of the commercial helicopters set up on little boats on the waterfront for air rides over the city. Hannibal noted this as well, and after lighting up a cigar and studying the layout for a while, he smiled broadly.
"Oh, you can just smell the wheels turnin' in his head now." Murdock said.
"Hannibal, whatever plan you're thinking up better be better than the last one." B.A. commented.
"All my plans are good, B.A., . . . they just don't always get carried out correctly. But they always work." Hannibal replied.
"Oh, god . . . he's on the jazz now." Face relented as he headed back toward the elevators that brought them up. "Don't smile at me like that. That isn't even a real smile. It's a bunch of teeth playing with my mind."
"Do you see the chattering teeth running after you, too?" Murdock asked Face before they got into the elevators. B.A. rolled his eyes.
The next morning, Face and Murdock went to wake Max, but she was gone. Josh was still asleep, this time on the couch that was also in her room. Face and Murdock looked got a little concerned as they searched the house area for her. Then, they heard what sounded like someone out in the gym (which wasn't open yet) messing around inside the boxing ring. They walked out to the gym area and stood in the shadows to watch Max during her workout.
She was stretching and just beginning to run the ropes when the guys came out to spy on her. She then began to do her tumbling runs in the boxing ring, which limited her area, requiring her to be even more precise in her landings and layouts. She did one tumbling run from one corner to another made up of a series of forward and backward somersaults, back handsprings, and a high corkscrew vault into a standing position. She then did a run of martial arts and kickboxing exercises to test her balance and quickness. She worked in some boxing jabs and such throughout this part of her workout as well, pummeling her imaginary opponent. She did a slow tumbling to stretch out her back muscles, stopping in the middle of the ring in the middle of a handstand to test her balance some more and stretch some more -- she spread her legs and ended up turning them around in their sockets slowly while in the handstand. Then, she did a handstand in the turnbuckle corner and did around fifty pushups while in that handstand position. Afterwards, she climbed the corner to the top turnbuckle and began doing some fancy flips and such back into the ring. Eventually, she completed her run-through and lay in the ring, sprawled out leisurely and trying to slow her breathing and heart rate. She straightened out her red leotard with black trim as she stood up and stretched to cool down. Face and Murdock looked at each other in shock at things they'd seen her do. She rolled out of the ring and sensing eyes on her, did her forward roll again, pulling and cocking her handgun once again from her boot. Murdock's mouth dropped at her quickness in the move. Face just smiled as he had seen this before.
"Shut your mouth, Captain, or you'll catch some flies that way," Max said as she released and replaced the gun. She got up and grabbed her water bottle, taking a huge chug from it.
"Well, you know they're good protein." Murdock replied without thinking.
"Impressed?" she asked, sarcastically.
Murdock merely nodded his head vigorously as she walked past him and back into the house, the two guys following behind her. She went ahead to clean up while her Dad pulled out some pizza from the night before.
When Max emerged from the shower, everyone was already up and eating pizza for breakfast. Max entered the room with her hair in a high ponytail, a white T-shirt and a tan pair of men's shorts with cargo pockets. She grabbed a slice and started chowing down. B.A. and Murdock were already bickering and Face was on the phone with a broker checking on some stocks he'd invested in. Hannibal sat down across from Max and began to tell her what they were going to do that day -- the first phase of the plan.
Max made the phone call to Asai's office. She spoke in a thick New York accent to the receptionist.
"Yes, is this the office of Mr. Asai. Good, I am calling because my boss, Mr. Gianni, would like to set up a meeting with Mr. Asai for tonight, if possible. He met Mr. Asai socially the other night and it piqued his interest."
Silence commenced as the receptionist babbled on as she checked Mr. Asai's calendar.
"Yes, that's right. Mr. Gianni. G-I-A-N-N-I. He would like to discuss some import/export propositions with Mr. Asai. Yes, thank you very much. Tonight at 8:00pm at the casino would be fine for Mr. Gianni. Good bye." She concluded.
Hannibal smiled when the conversation concluded. Hannibal then went out to the van with B.A. to get to work on the electronics they'd need that night.
Hannibal acted the part of the gangster for the meeting with B.A. as his bodyguard and Face as his information man. They were ushered in to see Mr. Asai promptly at 8:00pm. He was not yet there, but the secretary let them into the office. They had but moments really to plant the small microphones/tracking devices that B.A. had constructed that afternoon. Face walked to the window, acting like he was looking outside as he planted one mic on the phone sitting there. B.A. planted one on the scarf that Hannibal had noticed Asai wore earlier that was now thrown over the coat rack. Hannibal planted one in the cigar box as he took one out. When he lit it up, Asai walked in with his crew.
"I see you have helped yourself to my cigars." Asai noted as Hannibal took a puff.
"Yeah, . . . not bad, but not as good as mine." He said as he spat the cigar out and patted Face to give him one of his own and light it.
Asai took some offense, but let it slide. They discussed some business, but Hannibal couldn't get Asai to mention completely what it was he was trafficking. They left not too long afterward. Once back to the van, Hannibal radioed Murdock and Max, who had rented a helicopter and were zooming through the air, tracking devices and microphone receivers in their possession. Max fumbled with the mic receivers to clear the signal -- it could be heard and was being taped, but at times it was not completely clear. If Asai said something, it needed to be clear. After about a half hour, Asai left the club and began moving -- the helicopter following the tracking device.
Murdock flew expertly, as they listened to the signal and what was being said, Max enjoyed this view of her city. They ended up following the goons to a warehouse on the far side of town. When they had located it, Murdock turned the helicopter around and decided to have a little fun while he was still in the air.
"You like amusement park rides?" he asked cryptically.
"Um, yeah . . . why, what are you going to do?" she asked nervously.
"Take you for a ride." He said as he began zipping the 'copter back and forth, zigzagging his way back toward the waterfront. Max held onto her seat and laughed gleefully at this new feeling of freedom while in the air. They rose higher and higher in the air until they flew right through the Gateway to the West, then he started plummeting the helicopter back down toward the waterfront. It looked like they were going to crash. Max clutched Murdock's closest arm, gripping the leather jacket under her fingers.
"Do you trust me, M'n'M?" he asked with a maniacal grin as they plummeted further.
She hesitated, so he turned the plane in a swirl as they dropped further.
"Murdock, please." She squealed in delight.
"Do you trust me?" he asked again.
"Yes, Murdock. I trust you." She blurted out as they neared the water. At the last moment, Murdock pulled the stick up and the helicopter began to climb again, just skimming the water surface. Murdock howled as he did this. Max laughed loudly.
When they finally landed again and handed over the keys to the helicopter, Murdock seemed a little sad. Max put her arm around him and rubbed his back. "S'alright Murdock, we'll fly again."
"Promise?" he asked.
"Cross my heart and hope to die." She replied while crossing her heart with her finger. As they walked back to meet the van, Max started singing Frank Sinatra's "Fly Away," which Murdock soon joined in singing.
That night, before they went to the casino again, they visited the warehouse, disposed of the easy security, and found the stash of drugs. It had all been hidden in bags of flour. Face took pictures of the warehouse address, the warehouse itself, and the merchandise. They were Polaroids that would be given to the police later. Then, they all went to the club again. Again, Asai found them at the card table and mentioned to Max that her payment would be needed by the end of the week.
"Sorry, Asai, I don't think Max is gonna' have your cash by the end of the week." Hannibal alleged.
"Well, if not, maybe some people won't be as lucky as last time." Asai retorted. "You know, accidents happen sometimes."
Listening to the radios that night, they found out that the Lucky Clover Restaurant would be hit up for its payment the next night. It was time for phase two to take effect.
The next night, the team set up shop in the Good Luck Restaurant. When the Ice Dragons made their way into the restaurant, they were taken to the best table in the house -- they had a reservation after all. While they ate, B.A. trashed their vehicle, . . . Murdock left a shaving cream A on the side as a calling card, tasting some, then belching up some bubbles.
"You crazy foo'." B.A. commented.
Inside, Hannibal carried out the rest of the plan by acting as a bumbling waiter . . . burning one dragon, wetting another one, drugging another one. This left Asai and his girl getting up to leave for fear of what could happen to them. The team entered and surrounded the table, removing the weapons that the Dragons had planned to use to shoot up the place. Hannibal removed his makeup to tell Asai that maybe he should just leave town because his antics wouldn't be tolerated any longer. Asai promised revenge.
"Why do they always do that?" Face asked.
"I guess it's just in the script." Hannibal laughed as they threw the Dragons out of the restaurant. "Now phase three is ready to put into play."
"What is phase three?" Murdock asked.
"Max knows." He grinned.
The next day, the Ice Dragons made a house call to the gym, just like Hannibal said they would. The team looked to Max to see what to do. Max confronted the goons. One goon patted her on the shoulder, making some comment about her being a good little girl. Max smiled sweetly and acted like she liked his touch for a second, raising her hand to rest lightly on his . . . then she wrenched his fingers backwards and kicked him in the crotch. The team then attacked and threw the Dragons out once again.
That night, Max went out taking Murdock and Face with her. They ended up parking at Bob Kramer's Marionette Theater. Face groaned as Murdock leapt out with glee. Face stood lookout inside as Murdock and Max enjoyed the puppet show. They didn't notice when Face had been jumped from behind until they too were attacked from behind, mouths covered with chloroform-soaked rags. They were transported to the warehouse in the back of the Ice Dragons' jeeps.
Max woke with a groan, realizing she was bound to a chair, handcuffed behind her back. She looked around, seeing goons sitting around playing cards, behind her she glanced Murdock and Face strung up and hanging upside down. They looked liked those chunks of meat hanging in the freezer.
Asai entered the room and the Ice Dragons bowed deeply in respect. Max sneered. She could feel the transmitter still hooked to her bra, between her breasts. She hoped the Hannibal and B.A. could hear everything okay and were taping. Asai walked up to her, gliding his hand seductively down her left cheek. She pulled away. He sneered, then slapped her, nearly knocking her chair over.
"You think you or your Uncle Gianni can defeat me, . . . or your little friend with the restaurant. You have sealed your doom, you know that don't you." Asai babbled.
"Whatever, . . . we all are destined to die sometime, and I'd rather die trying to stop you." Max retorted, her eyes blazing angrily.
"For you to die, would be such a waste. But, if you don't pay one way, you'll pay another way." He insisted. "You can't stop the drugs I am starting to filter through this city. Gateway to the West is gonna' be hooked on my drugs from the Far East." Asai laughed as he jerked her hair back and tried to kiss her. She bit his tongue and spat in his face.
"Oh, you're so high and mighty, little princess. What about if I hurt your friends for your mistakes?" he asked as he whirled her chair around to face the Murdock and Face. She struggled as he walked toward them and unfurled his whip.
"No, don't do it, Asai." Max warned.
"Don't tell me what to do, Princess." He hissed as he hauled back and whipped Murdock first, his first scream not heard until the fourth strike. The other guards had walked outside for a smoke break while Asai worked, except for a couple that stayed to enjoy the torture. Hannibal, B.A., and Josh disposed of the guards who went outside, then circled around the warehouse to enter from the rear.
While this was going on, Max arched her back to try to reach her long curls with her trapped fingers. She grazed the edge of her hair and found a hairpin she'd been told by Hannibal to place there, in case.
She picked the lock of her handcuffs while Hannibal and B.A. entered the warehouse and jumped the few remaining goons. Asai turned around in disgust, anticipation of the battle ahead gleaming in his eyes. He walked toward the rest of the A-Team, not noticing Max had freed herself. She tripped him with a drop-toe-hold.
"You watch wrestling, too!" Murdock blurted out as he and Face hung there. Hannibal and B.A. took care of Asai while Max got Murdock and Face free. She checked on the injuries, . . . only Murdock had gotten any licks and they weren't that bad. He wasn't even bleeding very much.
"The cops are on their way and you are done, Asai." Hannibal said as he removed a tape that had caught his drug related conversations and the group of photographs from earlier. They left Asai and his crew tied up with the evidence all around them. Hannibal smiled and concluded, "I love it when a plan comes together."
Back at the gym, things returned to normal. Mr. Monroe was okay. Mike was able to go home to recuperate. Jeff was able to return to his restaurant full-time without fear.
"I want to thank you all for your help so much." Max said as she kicked at the gym floor.
"Um, now, what about our payment?" Face brought up.
"Well, I don't have it all. I have $40,000 to my name, but it's all yours now. As for the rest, I don't know. I mean, I don't even have a job now or anything." Max digressed.
As the rest of the team discussed what could be done at this point, Murdock walked off following Max over to the front window. "What are you going to do?" he asked innocently.
"I don't know. I got kicked out of the police work because I found out about my boss's corruption and tried to expose it. I would've been safe if I kept my mouth shut and kissed butt, . . . but that's not me. Obviously, I couldn't handle military for the same reason. I could always get into media somehow, since that's what my degree's in." She thought solemnly.
"We have a friend who writes for some papers, . . . maybe she could help you out." Murdock offered. After a while, Murdock asked her if she would be willing to leave St. Louis.
"Well, as long as I could come back from time to time to visit. I wouldn't mind doing something helping people." She hypothesized.
"And you wouldn't really miss leaving Josh?" he asked, eyes lowered, bracing himself for the answer.
"Josh will do fine without me if I leave. Besides, it's not like we're together. His boyfriend might get jealous." She laughed.
"You mean . . ." Murdock looked up hopefully.
"Let's just say I'm not his type, . . . actually, Face would be more his type." She laughed.
Murdock began laughing maniacally and jumping up and down.
"Why does that make you so happy?" she asked with hope in her eyes.
"Because, . . . . because, . . . . I kind of, . . . . like you." He almost whispered.
She stepped forward slowly and picked his chin up so he looked her in the eye. "I like you too, Murdock." She replied. She looked away quickly and scuffed at the floor again. "Um, how's that back?"
"I've had worse feelings after shock therapy. Besides, it got rid of the itchy blue feeling I was having the past few weeks, anyway." He admitted seriously.
Max started laughing and began walking back over to the team with Murdock following behind, hands in pockets.
"I have an idea of how to get the rest of the money." Max interrupted.
"Shoot, kid," Hannibal said as he watched her intently.
"I can work it off with you guys." She said triumphantly.
The team looked at Hannibal as he thought hard about it. He said he'd let her know later, after he had thought long and hard about it. Throughout the evening, each of the team members talked to Hannibal about it, supporting the idea of taking Max with them. After dinner, Hannibal puffed on his cigar once again and said off-handedly, "You better pack light, kid."
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