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PG - slight use of adult language, some violence.
Summary: Maxine Monroe is adjusting to being with the Team now as they await their next assignment. A girl from Face's past presents her situation as their next assignment, prompting the Team to go to Chimney Rock, NC. There is moonshine, "unexplained" deaths, and threats facing Face's past girlfriend. The Team comes in to try to clear things up, and then clean them up. This story contains ten chapters total.
Disclaimer: All characters created within my stories are of my own creation, with the exception of the A-Team characters.
Copyright: August 2002
Where Smoke Rises
When we last left the A-Team, they had just decided to take their latest client, Ms. Maxine Monroe, with them when they finished their job. Hannibal still wanted to double-check her past, for the safety of his Team and piece of mind for himself . . .
"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." Later, when he was alone for a moment, Hannibal made a phone call. "Amy, got a homework assignment for you. Tell me what you can find on a Ms. Maxine Monroe. Thanks kid." Hannibal felt like there was more to this girl than she'd let on, and he wasn't gonna' take any chances for his Team's sake.
Max zipped her Camero around the black van again on the highway, Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" blasting from the speakers. Once alongside the van, she and her passenger, Murdock, waved vigorously at the mohawked van driver, then they zipped in front of the van in a fit of laughter. B.A. shook his head and couldn't help but smile. "I think she might be as crazy as he is." He chuckled.
This had been the fifth time from St. Louis back to Los Angeles that she'd played leapfrog with him.
"That could be a good thing, B.A. Craziness can transfer into fearlessness, and she's going to need that if she's riding with us." Hannibal said thoughtfully.
"But, Hannibal, sometimes craziness like that can be more of a liability than an asset in the long-run. I think she has some abilities and skills that we can capitalize on, but what do we really know about her past?" Face voiced his concern.
"That's a good point, Lieutenant. I have Amy doing a personal homework assignment to trace the past of our new companion, just to be on the safe side." Hannibal explained.
About an hour from Los Angeles, the A-Team's phone rang. Amy reported what she'd found out, so far:
"Well, her name is Maxine Monroe, daughter of Sgt. Henry and Norah Monroe. She has one sibling, an older brother named Mike. Her mother died from cancer apparently when Maxine was only twelve years old. When her father did a tour in Vietnam, her uncle took care of her and her brother. He died, was cremated, and his ashes were spread by the Arch monument in St. Louis, over the Mississippi River, a few years after her father returned from Vietnam. Maxine is thirty years old, stands 5'5", has strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes. She drives a black Camero Z28. Her hometown is St. Louis, MO, where her father runs the Freedom Gym. She has a degree in Communications, with a minor in Human Behavior from St. Louis University. She interned at the St. Louis paper The Riverfront Times on the police beat. She became so involved in the beat, that she took preliminary police training and served as an officer for a short period. While there, she went beyond their training, by getting authorized permission to participate in the Covert Operations Program Specialists courses in Clarkrange, TN. It wasn't long before Ms. Monroe seems to have wanted to learn more, so she applied for and got a scholarship to attend the prestigious Oxford University in England, delving deeper into Psychological Studies, but before she completed her masters, she dropped out. She seems to have gotten the itch to explore and went around to several countries. She even wrote a series of articles that were syndicated worldwide under the pen name Maxine Morrison, not too bad of a writer. That's all I could access on short notice, Hannibal. I'll see if I can find anything else."
Hannibal thanked her and placed the phone back down. He stared out the window, deep in thought, as Face and B.A. waited to hear the results of Amy's search. Hannibal finally told them what she'd said.
"I still feel like there's more to her than this. I can't ignore my gut instincts. They've never been wrong before." Hannibal thought aloud.
"How harmful could she be?" B.A. questioned.
"She COULD be as deadly as a black widow, I'm sure. But, I don't think she aims to hurt the Team, Hannibal." Face interjected.
"Maybe not, but someone from her past could come looking for her and be a threat to us, as well. You just can't be sure about something like that." Hannibal said.
"Well, that could be true of anyone, Hannibal." B.A. retorted. "Besides, we can handle ourselves pretty well."
They spent the remainder of the trip in thoughtful silence.
It had been about two months since the mission in St. Louis, MO. Max was still adjusting to being away from home again. She was currently living in Los Angeles in a small apartment with Hannibal. He had taken her under his wing, of sorts, until she got on her feet. Slowly, they were becoming like family, telling each other about past adventures. He found that her adventures and pen name Maxine Morrison all matched what Amy had found out in the meantime. But something still was nagging at him, even as he relaxed more around her.
He had even gotten her the job of his personal assistant on any movies he was working on. Unfortunately, he hadn't been working since they returned from St. Louis and Max took it upon herself to at least get a part-time job down at the local Hamburger Heaven, working morning shift. B.A. had returned to his garage work and volunteering at the local YMCA. Face had moved on to yet another scam, currently residing in the huge penthouse apartment of a starlet he was "house-sitting" for. Murdock had returned to the VA.
Maxine thought about her father and brother once again as she prepared dinner for the evening, barbeque chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and peas. She had Bon Jovi blasting on the speakers as she danced and cooked. She didn't notice Hannibal when he came in the front door. She was singing and bopping to the music, until it suddenly stopped. She had just closed the oven door and turned around to see Hannibal leaning on the kitchen doorframe, glaring at her.
"Sorry 'bout the music, boss." Max giggled.
"Yeah, . . . we don't need complaints from the neighbors, kid? Took me forever to find this little place for so cheap, and I've gotten quite used to it." Hannibal spat. He'd obviously had a bad day.
"Here's a glass of tea. Sit down here and tell me all 'bout it." Max persuaded as she sat him at the dining table and began massaging his shoulders as he sipped the tea. The tension was evident at her fingertips as she waited with bated breath for Hannibal to speak.
He began by telling her that he hadn't landed the job as the swamp man for the next "It Came From the Deep" B-movie series. He seemed pretty bummed about it.
"C'mon, Hannibal. What's really the matter?" she asked, sensing he was trying to avoid what was really bothering him.
I think we might have a job coming up soon. Amy called Face about some package
she got for him from some girl in North Carolina. We have to meet up with Amy
to open it, in case it's a bomb or something. I think I know who it's from
already." Hannibal relented.
"Who?" Max asked, as she started patting his hair like she did her father's and stared out the window thoughtfully.
"There was a nurse, Ms. Dayani Vazquez, back at Ft. Bragg. When we were being held for trial, she snuck around to help us out for a while, with food mostly. She even helped during the escape by slipping us something to pick the locks and some bottles of chloroform to temporarily knockout anyone who happened in our path without resorting to violence. Fortunately, the military didn't find her guilty because we made sure to knock her out so it looked like we jumped her, among the others. If we hadn't have knocked her out, she would've tried to run with us, probably." He hypothesized.
"Why do you say that?" Max asked.
"Well, she and Face had a little past between them . . . . went all the way back to them having basic training together. Then, in 'Nam, she was there for a tour and they got pretty close. They met up again at Bragg. She never believed we pulled that job in Hanoi. She figured we'd been framed. She was one of the few women in Face's life that seemed to really matter to him and their relationship had blossomed and grown over time." Hannibal spoke softly, then sipped some more tea.
Max suddenly smelled the air and ran to the kitchen just in time to save the potatoes from boiling over. Throughout dinner itself, they didn't speak much. Both seemed enveloped in the haze of their own thoughts and memories. After dinner, Hannibal volunteered to wash dishes. Meanwhile, Max called her family, as she had every night at 7:00pm since she had left with the A-Team.
Hannibal heard Max laugh and talk in the other room, and smiled to himself. He remembered the promise he had made Sgt. Monroe before they had left, that he would take care of Max like she was his own daughter. He was growing accustomed to their routines now and almost dreaded when an actual assignment would come up, because it would interrupt their growing relationship.
Later that evening, Face called and soon Hannibal and Max were on their way in the little black Camero to rendezvous at a warehouse near the docks. Face was already there. Amy was a little late, but on her way.
While Hannibal and Face caught up on business, Max strolled up and down the dock, sighing in relief when Amy finally drove up. Amy carried a package far in front of her as she walked toward the warehouse. Max ran ahead and opened the door for her.
"Hey, Amy. Did you get anything good from the leads I gave you in St. Louis?" Max asked as the door closed behind them.
"Oh, yeah. Got a good story out of it, but my editor ran it deeper in the paper than I would've liked. Isn't that always the way, though." Amy responded as she placed the package on the floor in front of Face and Hannibal.
The girls quieted and stood back as Hannibal examined, then opened the package at last. There was no bomb, just a letter and a couple of red feathers. "Uh, oh, . . . red robin code 1, huh, Hannibal?" Face asked anxiously.
"Looks like it, Lieutenant. Guess we need to rally the troops and head to the Tarheel State." Hannibal exhaled a long puff from his cigar.
"What is this all about?" Amy asked as she read over Face's shoulder.
"Dayani, . . . a nurse I knew once, . . . she was a close friend . . . she helped us out a few times. Looks like she is in some trouble now. Look, Hannibal, I don't know if she'll be able to pay us our asking price, . . . but I'll pay if she can't." Face stated without a flinch.
"Wow, she must be something for Face to be free with his own cash," Amy whispered under her breath to Max.
Face decided to use a different tactic to spring Murdock this time, . . . using Dr. Richter directly. Face called Richter's cell phone and explained the situation to him. Dr. Richter agreed to the plan, adding that it would be good for Murdock to get out again. Apparently, Murdock had been getting anxious the past few days, cooped up in his room at the VA, pacing around like a caged lion.
Around lunchtime the next day, Dr. Richter passed off the papers approving a field trip for Murdock, with Dr. Richter as the supervisor throughout the trip. Dr. Richter and Murdock left the VA and headed to Murdock's favorite restaurant, Hamburger Heaven. They walked up to the counter to order.
"Welcome to Hamburger Heaven. What can I get you today?" Max recited as she turned around to face the register.
"A Captain BellyBuster Burger Action Pack Meal, please, darlin'." Murdock said warmly and leaned on the counter, watching Max's reaction as it dawned on her.
She looked up when he said his order and blushed, grinning as her eyes met his. She then looked to Dr. Richter, "And for you, sir?"
"Just a Coke will be fine, ma'am." He replied.
After taking the order and serving them, Max went to the back to clock out. Face would be there soon to pick them up. She changed out of her uniform and then joined Murdock and Dr. Richter at a booth.
"Why'd you change, M'n'M? I kinda liked that uniform." He grinned slyly.
"Well, I wanted to be comfortable for our little trip." Max replied.
"Where are we going for our field trip?" he asked excitedly.
"We're going to the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. Look, here comes Face." She said as she stood and went to the door to meet with Face.
She motioned for Murdock and Dr. Richter to follow her. Once outside, she thanked Dr. Richter for his help again and promised to try to get Murdock back as soon as possible. Dr. Richter waved it off as he walked back to his car, starting to call in on his cell phone that Murdock had escaped from him at the zoo. Meanwhile, Max and Murdock leapt into the 'Vette, speeding off to meet up with Hannibal at B.A.'s garage.
they got there, B.A. was already knocked out.
"Wow, how'd you do that all by yourself, boss?" Max asked looking at the huge man sprawled on the floor.
"Just spiked his milk . . . the easiest way to a man's heart is through his stomach and the easiest way to take down B.A. is through his milk. We have plane reservations for 3:00pm, so we have to go now if we're gonna' make it." Hannibal grunted as he and Murdock picked up B.A. and loaded him into the back of the van. Face
and Max followed in the 'Vette, parking it at the airport near the van. Once parked, the team pulled out a stretcher from the van and tied B.A. to it. Face got out his clipboard with hospital documents on it. They all walked with purpose and once at the gate, got approval to take B.A. on board.
"This man is in need of expert examination by a Dr. Renfield from Duke Hospital, who is currently lecturing at UNC-Asheville. You're not going to deny this man a chance at walking again, are you?" Face guilted the guard into approving the ride.
Once inside, they all took their seats after securing B.A. tightly to his seat. Max relaxed with her tape player and headphones, listening to Van Halen, while Murdock watched the in-flight movie, and Hannibal and Face talked. At the Asheville airport, a van was waiting for them. Max thought Face had arranged for the van to be at the airport waiting, but he looked as shocked as anyone. The driver stepped out and walked right up to Face and kissed him.
"Wow, now that's customer service with a smile." Murdock scoffed as he and Hannibal loaded B.A. into the van.
"Well, hello to you, too," Face sighed as he pulled away from the kiss. He seemed overwhelmed at the moment.
"I'm sorry, Temp, but I couldn't help myself when I saw you. It's been too long." She said as she raked her hands through her long black hair.
Face introduced/reintroduced the team to Dayani Vazquez, and vice versa. Dayani drove with Face riding in the front passenger seat, Hannibal and Murdock in the middle seats, and Max in the back with B.A. Murdock peered over the seat as he watched Max get out some smelling salts to rouse B.A. He woke with a start, grabbing Max by the throat in confused desperation, then released immediately upon seeing her blue eyes staring at him in shock, mouth open but no sound, hands clasping at his hands around her throat.
"Sorry, Max, . . . where are we? What happened?" he said as he sat up straight, then growled as he saw Murdock's eyes shining back at him.
"You passed out in your shop, mudsucka. I told you to get better ventilation in there. But you never listen to me, . . . just think I'm always talkin' gibberish." Murdock quipped, turning back around to stare out the window.
"My shop has enough ventilation, . . . you fools drugged me to get me on a plane to wherever we are now." He grumbled.
"We're in North Carolina, B.A. We have a mission ahead of us. Now hold your anger in check, Sergeant." Hannibal declared as the van began winding on the narrow roads over the mountain.
After about an hour and a half, the van pulled to a stop in the driveway of a doublewide trailer on the mountainside. Once inside, Dayani explained to them that over the past seven months or so, a group of strangers had set up shop out of Lake Lure, NC, home of Chimney Rock. These men had taken to selling alcohol, making special trips to sell loads to the Cherokee people. It was after this that she began to receive patients at the local hospital that had been poisoned. She had lost five older Cherokee men within that time and had been temporarily suspended for suspicion of assisted suicides.
"Temp, you know me. I could never do something like that. I know it's the rotgut moonshine those strangers are selling that is doing all this. But I can't prove it." Dayani began sobbing at the end of her tale.
"What about your family, Dayani, where are they?" Temp asked, noting she was living there alone at the moment.
"My mother and father passed away some time ago. However, I do live here with my brother, Johnny. He went up to find where these men had their steal. He found something at the waterfall there, at least that's what he said over the cell phone. Then, he got caught. Now they're holding him hostage. They told me that if I don't give them so much money and the names of a group of Cherokees living in this one particular area, that I won't ever see my brother again."
She broke down in tears at this point. Face put his arms around her and just held her, rocking back and forth slightly.
Hannibal thought hard as he puffed on his cigar. "There has to be something about that land to tie into all of this."
"That's what I thought, as well, but I can't figure out what it is about that land." Dayani continued between sobs, now clinging to Face's dampened shirt.
"Looks like we'll have to go on a little hunting trip of our own to find out, then." Hannibal concluded. "We should all set up for the night and be ready to roll at daybreak."
"Ugh, . . . I hate early mornings, Hannibal." Max groaned as she started toward the love seat to lie down.
"Face, you stay with Dayani in her room, . . . for her protection, of course." Hannibal noted, with a smile. "The rest of us will set up here in the living room."
B.A. propped up in the rocking chair and was out like a light. Hannibal laid out on the full couch. Max curled up on the love seat, clutching a blanket to her. Murdock laid out on the carpet by the fireplace. Soon, snoring was the only sound permeating the usually quiet house.
The next morning . . .
"Oh, honey, . . . you look so cute in your little uniform. What are you, a park ranger now?" Max laughed as she awoke the next morning and looked up to see Face dressed in what really did look like a park ranger outfit.
"No, I'm a national park land surveyor -- the land right outside the Cherokee area we're looking at is part of the national park, so I should be able to get more information about the land that way." Face explained with a wry smile.
"If you say so, Faceman. You just look like you belong on a kiddie show to me." Max replied with a yawn and entire-body stretch.
"I knew I'd seen him somewhere before -- he looks like Ranger Randy on The Little Big Show." Murdock piped in as he plopped down on the couch, starting to hum the kiddie show's theme.
"Ready to go, Temp?" Dayani asked as she jingled her keys to signal her impatience.
A few minutes after they had gone, Hannibal called for everyone to get ready in the next few minutes to leave.
"Wait, Dayani took the van, . . . so what do we have to drive?" Max asked, confused.
"Face went and got us a jeep this morning to get around on our own." B.A. answered.
Max ran to the restroom and changed into a black T-shirt and a pair of cut-off jean shorts then tied her boots on a little tighter. She washed her face and brushed her teeth, and was ready within five minutes. She bounded out the door, yelling back to the Team, "Ready!"
She stopped outside to look at the shiny black jeep, eyes growing wide with the thought of the wind whipping through her hair. "Cool!"
"We're heading to the rock, B.A. I just have a feeling we'll find somebody there who can answer some questions." Hannibal ordered as B.A. backed out of the driveway.
"That must be the rock we're looking for up ahead." B.A. noted.
Everyone repositioned to stare out of the left side of the jeep, looking skyward to a huge rock formation that did indeed look like a chimneystack, including the illusion of smoke rising due to the fog and mist of the mountain morning. They parked and walked the boardwalk next to the tourist shops.
As Murdock decided to ride a $0.25 storefront horse ride to the odd stares of the few early morning strangers, Hannibal put a quarter in one of the large binocular machines and cased out the mountainside. There was the huge rock formation, from there he turned to the right, noting a path all the way over to a waterfall. "Looks like it's about an hour walk to the waterfall from the Chimney Rock itself," Hannibal noted aloud when the Team gathered around him again.
"We're going for a nature walk, huh, boss?" Max asked with a smile as she tied her hair back with the hairband she had just bought, a red feather dangling from the band.
"Once we can get by the temporary shutdown of the Rock," he said as he had overheard some tourists' complaints a few moments ago.
Murdock started clicking pictures with the camera he'd just bought, trying to maintain the illusion of a tourist -- this was his field trip after all. Max thought he just bought it to annoy B.A. some more. It was working on his last nerve all the way up to the mountainside, where they had to enter a long cave to reach the elevators to take them up to Chimney Rock.
"Fool, if you snap another picture of me, I'll snap your neck." B.A. growled.
"C'mon, B.A. You wouldn't begrudge me a picture of my best friend in the whole wide world would you?" Murdock mocked.
"I ain't your best friend," B.A. mumbled.
"Ow, . . . B.A., that one really hurt." Murdock whimpered, pretending to wipe away a tear.
As the elevator door opened, Murdock cocked his hand up to his mouth as if he were holding a cigar, squatted into a duck-like walk, and did his impression of Groucho Marx. "You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. Now, walk this way, please."
Max chuckled, then squatted into the duck walk as well, and looked back at the team "throwing a gookie" like Harpo Marx, then saying "honk, honk" as she squeezed the pantomime horn in front of her and took off after Murdock into the elevator. B.A. couldn't help but smile. Hannibal chuckled lightly as they stepped into the
elevator. About half way up the mountain, the elevator trembled, then came a halt, knocking the balance of the passengers off.
The emergency lights came on. Hannibal made sure everyone was okay. Everyone seemed fine and Hannibal began formulating his plan. He had Murdock boost him up with his cupped hands. Hannibal shimmied up to the top of the elevator and surveyed the area. He noted the ladder that they could climb all the way to the top. He went ahead to check it out and to pry open the top doors.
When Murdock had pushed Hannibal through the top latch, he gazed across the elevator and noted the change in Max. Her eyes darted around, like they were looking for an escape. He was sure she was panicking a little. He walked over next to her and without saying a word he took her hand gently in his. He didn't look at her when her eyes shot to his face, just glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes and smiled warmly. "Breathe deep," he whispered. She did and felt a little more in control, but still squeezed his hand a little harder in return.
Hannibal signaled down for the rest to follow up finally.
B.A. boosted Murdock and then Max and her duffle bag. Murdock struggled to help lug B.A. up to the top of the elevator slowly. Max had already started climbing by the time they got B.A. up.
puttin' on some weight, B.A.?" Murdock asked, exhaustedly.
"Shut up, Murdock. Can't help it if you haven't been workin' out enough." B.A. retorted.
At the top of the ladder, the team entered into the restaurant, carved into the mountainside. The sun glinted off the windows. Max grimaced like a vampire seeing sunlight and slapped her sunglasses on. She tightened her black boots and pulled a burgundy flannel shirt over her shirt, then straightened the strap of the duffle bag on her back. The morning air stung like a whip as they left the restaurant and stepped out on the rock.
With a great sigh, the team started its trek across the mountainside, heading toward the waterfall. About an hour and half after climbing over, under, and between rock formations, stepping over small trickles of water, holding solid against the rock when the winds whipped up, they finally reached the mists and torrents of the curtain-like waterfall. Just like Hannibal thought, the waterfall left room for a passage behind it. He smiled as they walked behind the waterfall to explore the shelf there.
Once behind the waterfall, Hannibal's smile was met with a sawed-off shotgun barrel. Before anything could happen, he knocked the gun aside and grabbed the assailant into full nelson. Once B.A. got into the cave, he took the assailant from Hannibal. The team crowded around the prisoner.
"Well, . . . I was expecting a welcome, but that was a bit much, wasn't it?" Hannibal said.
"I don't know why you're here or what you're looking for, but you are on this property illegally. The elevator was stopped by the guard you bypassed and should've given you a clue." The man spat.
"We just like to visit tourist traps when the tourists aren't there. We get to enjoy it more that way." Hannibal replied.
"You need to leave, now, . . . or you'll be sorry." The captive warned.
"I don't think you're in the position to be giving us threats." B.A. said with a strong shake of his captive.
"Enough of this chit chat, . . . we're on a schedule, buddy. So, just tell us where the moonshine is made and maybe we'll let you live." Hannibal threatened, removing the cigar from his lips and flicking it out beside the captive's face. The captive flinched and Hannibal smiled.
"Never, . . . I won't tell you a thing." The man replied, raising his chin defiantly.
B.A. walked toward the edge of the shelf and acted like he would drop the man off the ledge, into the waterfall, down to his death. The man squirmed and then screamed out for them to stop. B.A. pulled him back in and Hannibal interrogated him once again, to no avail. Max sat her duffle bag on the ground and cocked her head somewhat. She walked to the edge of the ledge and leaned down toward the waterfall.
"Scream again," she said softly.
The man wouldn't scream, so Murdock yahooed. The corner of Max's mouth rose slowly into a crooked smile. She rose slowly and walked toward the captive.
"Tell us where the steal is," She said calmly, her eyes piercing the captive. He squirmed uncomfortably, almost like he was trying to back up into B.A. She ran her hand up his chest, cocking her head sideways, looking at him out of lowered lids and with a sly smile. She reached up to his shoulder and found a pressure point, pushing it with ease and making the man cry out. "Tell us, . . . it's below us, isn't it?" she asked pointedly. He screamed, but would not answer yes or no.
"He's not gonna' talk," Murdock said in disbelief.
"He doesn't have to. That look he just shot me when I asked about below was all the answer I needed." Max smiled sadistically, then released her hold on the pressure point.
"How'd you know?" Murdock asked.
"The echo sounded funny -- I heard it repeat near the waterfall. There are probably some cracks in this shelf that leak into that cave below so whatever loud echoes up here, echoes below. Hey, I did some spelunking with my brother when we were younger. C'mon, look at Missouri, it's ravaged with all types of caverns." Max explained as she walked over to her duffle bag.
B.A. tied up the goon and placed him against the cave wall. Max rummaged through the duffle bag and retrieved some strong, sturdy ropes and grappling hooks with a smile.
B.A. found some intact rocks to wrap the ropes around, securing them with the grappling hooks. Murdock and Hannibal grabbed the ropes and started down the side of the mountainside. Murdock laughed and leaned back, letting the waterfall wash over him,... and then gargled on the way down.
As the guys climbed down the mountainside to find the other cave, B.A. helped hold the ropes. Max walked back out to the path they'd come across to watch for any backup coming that way. A few minutes later, she caught a glint of sunlight shining off something moving about a thirty-minute walk away. She backed up slowly, calling to B.A. When he didn't answer, she ran back into the cave, straight into the barrel of a shotgun.
The captive had kept a knife on him and gotten to it to cut through the ropes while B.A. was distracted. Now, he stood free, shotgun in hand again, trained on B.A. who was still securing the ropes. Momentarily defeated, Max let the goon shove her over toward the wall of the cave.
Within twenty minutes, the stranger Max had seen running their direction made his way onto the shelf. He had a shotgun as well, along with some handcuffs.
"Sorry, Bobby, I don't know how they got past me down there. Must've been during my bathroom break. I shut down the elevator, but they still got up here. I brought some cuffs to lock 'em up for safe keeping till Johnny decides what to do with them." The southern fried goon stammered apologetically.
"Johnny?" Max whispered, casting a confused glance at B.A.
"Shut up, Mikey. Get over there and cuff them, before the other two get back up here. I'll call Johnny and see what we should do." Bobby said as he pulled out a cell phone and made his call, training his gun on B.A. the whole time. Mikey cuffed the two and ordered them to sit down, back against the wall. B.A. and Max complied reluctantly.
Mikey then turned to train his gun toward the ledge, where the ropes went over. Bobby got off the phone and said Johnny had ordered them to "clean up the mess." Max sighed, then looked intently at the ropes, waiting for any sign of movement again so she could try to get in a moment of distraction.
Max saw the ropes moving slightly and knew the guys were on their way back up. She tried to think quickly. She nudged B.A. and mouthed the word "follow" silently. Bobby and Mikey had their guns trained on the ropes, waiting to blow the heads off whoever came back up. They were distracted at the sight of the moving ropes, so Max and B.A. slowly got up to a crouching position. When Max saw the edge of the Hannibal's fingers on the rope, she leapt forward and kicked Bobby's knee out. B.A. charged Mikey simultaneously and tried to knock him off balance. It was then the gun went off. Max held her breath as she saw both men crumple to the rock floor. By this time, Hannibal and Murdock had climbed up the rest of the way and had tackled Bobby completely. Max scrambled on her knees toward B.A., who rolled over slowly, groaning. That's when she saw the blood.
"No!" she yelled out. Hannibal ran over to check on B.A.
Murdock had pulled the keys off Bobby and ran over to unlock the handcuffs on Max and B.A. He then placed the cuffs on Bobby and the fallen Mikey, who had been knocked out in the scuffle. "Knife, . . . get Bobby's knife -- in the back of his pants." She yelled to Murdock as she searched frantically through her duffle bag. He returned with the knife and Hannibal tore through some of B.A.'s pant leg, to give them more of a view of the injury. Hannibal dug in with the knife and extracted the bullet easier than he thought. Max ran over with a towel, soaking it in the waterfall on the way. She washed out the wound, then rinsed the towel, rung it out as much as possible, then pushed it into the wound. Murdock took over pressuring the wound as Max tore off her flannel shirt and tied it around B.A.'s leg, Hannibal securing it tight enough to keep pressure on the wound.
"Tell your boss we know what secret he's been hiding, and now it's time to play truth or dare." Hannibal said coldly as he and Murdock tried to alleviate B.A.'s strain by helping him walk -- acting as crutches. Max, duffle bag thrown over her shoulder, led the way back to the elevator. They noticed a set of stairs leading down and took that way instead, trying to hurry back to the jeep.
They laid B.A. in the back as much as possible, Max crouching in the floorboard beside him. Hannibal jumped in the passenger's seat and Murdock took over as driver, flying around the curvy, treacherous mountain roads to get back to Dayani's home. Hannibal called Face and found they were already back at the trailer. He told Face that B.A. had been injured and to have Dayani get ready whatever she could at the house to help fix the leg wound.
Once back at the trailer, the Team carried B.A. into Dayani's bedroom, where she cleaned the wound again, used some peroxide to kill any germs, and bandaged the wound -- it wouldn't enough for stitches. She then gave B.A. some pills that helped alleviate pain and induce sleeping.
"What happened up there?" Dayani demanded to know as she entered the living room.
"We went sight-seeing, figured we'd run into a guard who could give us some information. We found the steal. But, another guard came running and ambushed us. Max and B.A. were tied up, Murdock and I were down in the cave. When we started back up, Max and B.A. charged the guards, B.A. was shot in the leg. We captured the guards and told them to tell their boss we know his little secret." Hannibal said.
"Did you find out who was in charge of the operation?" Dayani asked, hopeful to have a name to go on.
"Nah, we were trying to get B.A. to safety." Murdock drawled.
"What about my brother? Did you find anything out about my brother?" She asked frantically.
Max held her tongue, not wanting to frighten Dayani. She pulled Hannibal aside and told him they needed to talk later.
"What about you, find out what that land had to do with all of this?" Murdock asked Face and Dayani.
"Well, seems that land is now disputed. It has been part of the Cherokee for a few generations now, but now the government wants it back." Face reported.
"So, all the people that have died from the moonshine lived on that land?" Max asked.
"Yes, the five elderly Cherokee men lived on that land. There are a few more families based there and those moonshiners are holding my brother for ransom for the names of those people, I guess so they can track them down and get rid of them as well. Then, there won't be any people to dispute the land." Dayani thought aloud.
"Perhaps we should go check on B.A. again, Dayani." Face interjected, not wanting to agitate her any further at the moment.
When Face and Dayani slipped out of the room to see B.A., and shut the bedroom door, Max whispered to Hannibal and Murdock, "Johnny, . . . one of those goons made a call to a Johnny, who's running the whole thing, apparently. They were ordered to 'clean up the mess' -- namely us. I think it's her brother."
"You morons! How could you let them get away like that!?!" Johnny screamed as he thrashed out and smacked the two men again. They fell to the motel room carpet with a thud, begging for forgiveness.
"I found them handcuffed with their own handcuffs and their guns laid out beside them." A large, dark Cherokee with muscles like a Clydesdale reported to Johnny.
"Thank you for picking up this incompetent fools, Daniel. I just can't figure out where these strangers came from, how they found out about our little plans." Johnny thought aloud as he plopped down on the corner of the bed.
"They were looking for you, boss. The girl with them said your name." Mikey sputtered through his swollen lips.
"You were defeated by a girl as well!" Johnny glared angrily at Mikey. "So, whoever contacted them knows me."
"They way they operated, I wouldn't be surprised if they were military trained." Bobby stated matter-of-factly.
"Military, . . . ." Johnny whispered as he slipped deep into thought.
"You don't think Col. Meridian turned on us, . . . trying to shut us out of the equation, do you?" Daniel asked.
"No, he's not that stupid. He knows we can all make more money in the long run if we're involved. We make the shine, sell it to those stupid old Indians for triple price, and kill off the ones on that land that's being disputed. Then, we purchase the land under our corporation title. Then, Col. Meridian's special operations project moves in on the land, we get paid for soldiers there and for getting them supplies they need. They do whatever they want there -- use the Indians as guinea pigs for experiments, train foreign soldiers, and whatever else Col. Meridian decides. We get a corner of the land to operate a sweatshop with the local Indians they're testing on and make money off whatever we have them make. It's all ingenious, really." Johnny boasted aloud.
"Well, who could've squealed, then?" Mikey asked.
"I don't know, stupid." Johnny replied with a smack.
"What about your sister?" Daniel interjected.
"As far as she knows, you're holding ME hostage for the ransom of those names, and some spare cash. She wouldn't have sent some mercenaries after this operation." Johnny defended.
"True, but she might've hired some to RESCUE you." Daniel added.
Johnny thought about this for a moment, then jumped up from the bed with a start.
"One of the men . . . was he a pretty boy -- blond, well-dressed, slightly-built, but strong -- did you see a man like that?" Johnny asked Bobby, clutching him by the shirt.
"No, the girl had blonde hair and blue eyes, short; there was a black man with a mohawk; a man in a fighter pilot jacket; and an older gentleman, white hair." Bobby replied quickly.
Bobby, Mikey, and Daniel watched Johnny intently, watched as they saw him thinking quickly, trying to remember back to something, or someone.
"Nah, it couldn't be them." Johnny whispered to himself.
"Who?" Daniel asked, stepping forward to gain Johnny's attention.
"There was this group of convicted soldier who escaped from Ft. Bragg back when Dayani was stationed there, toward the end of her service. One of them, she was somewhat involved with -- the pretty boy. The descriptions you just gave remind me of the other men in the group she used to talk about. But it couldn't be them, it just couldn't." Johnny babbled.
"Why? What if it is them? What are we up against?" Daniel asked more sternly.
"They're an unorthodox group of special forces. I don't even know what they're capable of really, but from what I remember Dayani talking about back in the day, they were unpredictable." Johnny rambled on, a panic tone rising in his voice.
"Johnny, if they are who you think they are, and they are as capable as your sister said, what are we going to do to save this operation? We all have our lives wrapped up in this now, we need that money and this whole operation to go down to come out ahead. What do you suggest we do, . . . and you better think fast." Daniel said calmly as he shoved Johnny back down on the bed.
"Let me think, let me think, . . . I'll come up with something." Johnny stammered, suddenly unsure of himself.
"Dayani, you said these strangers sold the moonshine to the Cherokee, . . . do they sell it directly to them, or sell it to the local bars to sell only to the Cherokee? How does it work?" Hannibal asked as he and Dayani sat out on the steps that evening, soaking up the last of the sunlight.
"Well, those five men who I couldn't save went out to drink every night at the Smokey Coyote Bar on the West side of town." Dayani remembered.
"Well, maybe we should make a visit out that way. If I can make a guess," Hannibal paused to puff on his cigar, "those strangers are going to be running scared that they're gonna' be found out soon and they're going to try to speed their little operation along. I bet they'll try to hit up the bars again in the next day or so to get out the load of moonshine they had ready. If the ones who died frequented that one bar, I bet that's where the majority of people living on that land go for the evening entertainment."
The bar was a relaxed atmosphere, almost no one noticed when the Team walked in. Hannibal walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. The bar tender wasn't going to serve him, until he saw Dayani was with him. He didn't want to act suspicious at all, . . . he knew her brother was in on the moonshine deal, as he was. He watched as Dayani, the blonde man stranger in the leather jacket, the taller dark haired man in the blue baseball hat, and the short blonde girl in the black combat boots walked over to the pool table. The white haired man stayed on his stool, sipping his beer. The black ox-like man who walked in after them went to sit at a table in the far corner, watching the entire bar with his arms crossed.
The bar was not particularly busy that night, save for a few of the regular customers, who were already almost dead drunk propped up at their tables. Dayani and the blonde girl took on the two men at a game of pool, all smiles and laughter. A group of younger Cherokee, Spanish, and Caucasian people came into the bar a little later. Some stood around the pool table, watching the game in progress, laughing and joking with these new strangers before them.
Mikey and Bobby slipped into the bar, staying close to the wall all the way up to the bar. They motioned for the bar keeper to step in the back and slipped down a back hallway, toward the bathroom. They hadn't looked around when they'd slipped in, but Hannibal and B.A. had noticed them. Hannibal and B.A. rose silently and walked toward the bathroom, bypassing it to go toward the cracked door of a back room.
"That's not enough. Johnny is sending you an extra jug of shine and you want to pay less!?! Look, if you don't pay now, you won't get the reward later." Bobby said.
"I'm feeling weird about even being involved anymore. Can't I just back out?" the bartender asked in a shaky voice.
"No, once you're involved, you're involved 'till the end. We can't take the chance of you selling us out." Mikey spoke up.
"I won't, I swear." The bartender pleaded.
"Yeah, like you didn't sell out your own people? C'mon, you sold that rotgut to those blasted Indians that died. You are more involved than ever before. Just give us the cash now, we'll bring the shine back tomorrow night." Bobby warned and punctuated his threat with a smack.
Hannibal and B.A. ducked into the bathroom as Bobby and Mikey left the bar. Afterward, they ran into the backroom before the bartender could go back out front, shutting the door behind them.
"What the . . ." the bartender started.
"We'll ask the questions, barkeep. How long have you been buying the moonshine and selling it to these Cherokee?" Hannibal asked as B.A. pinned the bartender to the wall.
"I . . . I don't know what you're talking about." The bartender replied.
"We heard your conversation, fool. Just answer the question." B.A. barked.
"I, . . .I didn't want to, but Johnny and his boys threatened and taunted me until I had no choice. They considered letting me on the deal." The bartender rattled.
"What deal?" B.A. growled, gripping the bartender's throat harder.
"The government wants that land. They are disputing it right now, but the families there are fighting to keep it. So, they hired Johnny and some of his friends to help get rid of their opposition. They wrangled me into the deal, to sell the junk for them. There are only a couple of families there that have people who drink here, the rest don't have drinkers. So, Johnny and his boys are still trying to get to them, without getting it traced back to them. I don't know why the government wants it, but they do, and in the worst way." The bartender babbled, practically in tears now.
"Well, nice little plan, isn't it, B.A.?" Hannibal smiled. "It's too bad that we have to stop it, . . . and you're going to help us, barkeep."
"Anything, just please don't hurt me." The bartender pleaded.
"You'll have to ask B.A. about that, he's our enforcer. That may depend on how well you help us out." Hannibal chuckled, then turned to leave. "We'll see you tomorrow, barkeep." Hannibal and B.A. stepped out of the hallway and called for the Team to leave.
"We've got planning to do." Hannibal said gleefully.
The next day, the Team entered the bar early, to set up for the evening festivities.
B.A., with help from the bartender and Murdock, reinforced the actual bar with steel plates they confiscated from a nearby junkyard. Face lined up a row of cheaper liquor bottles to be used later.
That evening, the whole gang of moonshiners showed up to make the delivery, to ensure that the bartender was still in on the plan. They stepped through the door and stopped when they heard Hannibal's voice.
"Making a special delivery, I see. Well, we're gonna' have to confiscate that. It's not legal, you know." He quipped.
"Well, neither are you or your comrades, Col. Smith." Johnny retorted, looking quickly around the bar to assess the situation.
"I see you've heard of us, . . . all good things, I hope." Hannibal said, leaning on the bar from behind it.
"Just the babblings of my sister, Dayani," Johnny replied, then caught his breath as he spied Dayani over by the pool table.
"Johnny? I don't believe it." She scoffed at the sight before her.
"Believe it, Sis. I'm doing all this so we can have it better in the long-run, don't you see that?" Johnny cackled maniacally as he pulled a gun out.
At this, Hannibal ducked lower and positioned his gun on Johnny. The other men hadn't moved yet, waiting to see what they should do. B.A. peered around the corner of the bar, lying on the floor. Dayani, Face, and Murdock were positioned on the far side of the pool table. Max was hidden in the backroom with the bartender, who had helped them set up during the day.
"You can give up now and walk outside, and there won't be any harm to you." Hannibal said through gritted teeth.
"You won't ruin this for me, . . . for us!" Johnny yelled as he started to shoot at Hannibal.
Face and Murdock tipped the pool table over to protect them. Hannibal shot back. B.A. started shooting and got Mikey's ankle.
Mikey leapt out the front window, crashing in the confusion and struggling to run for cover. Max ran into the bathroom and leaned out the window, shooting to hit Mikey in the upper thigh and his opposite shoulder, trying to impair his mobilization as much as possible. She then went back to the hallway, where she peered out the door down the hall to the criminals. They were easily in her range. More gunfire shot out from around the pool table as the criminals scrambled. They dove further into the barroom, trying to duck behind tables. As Bobby crawled toward the side door, B.A. lit one of the bottles of liquor and threw it, landing just short of the door and spreading a small fire to stop use of that exit.
Johnny took the opportunity to run, which got Hannibal to dive out the window after him, tackling him. He then punched him repeatedly until he went limp. Daniel, who had been in the van waiting for their return, had taken this opportunity to come in the back door. Max leaned out the door to see if there was anything else she could help with, then heard a gun cock. She dropped to her back and pointed her gun at the barkeeper, who pointed a gun at her. Then, she heard another click and glanced to the side to see Daniel's cocked gun aimed at her heart. She lay there breathless, thinking frantically of what to do. She was stuck.
The Team looked out the door and saw Mikey wounded, Johnny knocked out. They had halted Bobby, who gave up when they cornered him and they had put out the fire. Then, they turned to get Max, and stopped short.
Hannibal looked in and his heart sank.
"Max, put the gun down." He said.
"No, Colonel." She retorted.
"That's an order. Do it now." Hannibal said sternly.
She halted for a couple of moments, then relented, laying her gun down. Daniel stood still, still pointing his gun. The bartender uncocked his gun and stepped back. Before Max could blink, she saw two huge masses fly by in a blur and heard the gunshot pointed toward the ceiling, pieces falling back down on the struggling bodies. She saw B.A. wrestling the huge Daniel, trying to save her. She jumped to her feet quickly and told B.A. to get him on his stomach. When he had done that, she jumped on his back quickly and found a pressure point in the neck that temporarily stunned the man, so B.A. could hold him to be tied up.
"I couldn't believe it was Johnny all along." Dayani told Face later as they walked in the woods near her home.
"I guess he couldn't handle not having everything he ever wanted." Face replied, a sad longing look in his eyes as he glanced at her, even though he smiled.
"And I really don't understand what the government had to do with all of this." She added.
"They do a lot of things that people don't understand." Face sighed.
"C'mon, Face, we got to go. Amy called, Decker's on his way -- tipped off by a Col. Meridian." Hannibal yelled as they all loaded in the rental van to go to the airport, B.A. already fast asleep in the backseat.
Max flinched at Col. Meridian's name, then noticed Murdock staring at her strangely in the rear view mirror. She quickly tried to change the subject. "He looks so cute when he sleeps, doesn't he?" Max asked as she looked at B.A.
when he wakes up with a headache, he won't be so cute." Murdock laughed,
dismissing her previous action for the time being.
After a kiss and a promise to stay in touch over time, the team was in the rental van and on the way to the airport.
"Hannibal, I'm ready to go home." Max sighed.
"Back to St. Louis?" Hannibal asked.
"No, back to our home." She giggled.
Amy called a couple of weeks later to read her story to Hannibal. The moonshiners had been found guilty of illegal alcohol creation and the subsequent deaths due to that alcohol. The government denied any knowledge of these men and no longer disputed the land as the press was now investigating the case heavily. The moonshiners pleaded that they had been hired by the government directly to carry out these deeds, naming Col. Meridian as their commanding officer. Investigation did not find any Colonel on record by that name, so the pleas were considered hoaxes.
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