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Leaving the Woods
Rated: G (but very mild "language issues")
Comments: Yes, please
Summary: Pre- and post-mission Team with Murdock and the Team.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
Murdock would have welcomed a break in the routine. The psychiatric wing of the VA hospital got boring after a while. He knew what he was going to be doing hour to hour, day to day. Meat loaf on Mondays, movies on Thursday. Stifling, predictable, mind numbing -- for those whose minds weren't numb already.
On this particular day, Murdock had finally quit prowling his room. He sat on the bed, surrounded by the books and magazines on various aspects of psychology he'd accumulated over his years at the VA, killing the hours until lunch searching for a new psychosis to throw at Richter. Nothing seemed to catch his fancy. He was in the middle of his examination of various mental imbalances when the phone rang.
"Hello Captain. How're ya feeling?"
Murdock brightened up immediately; he could almost hear his commander's grin. On the jazz already...
"Fit as a fiddle and ready to rock, Colonel," he replied. It seemed like it had been ages since he'd been outside the VA, and he was beginning to think they'd forgotten about him.
"Get ready to fly, Murdock. Face is on his way to pick you up."
"How long we gonna be gone?"
"Should be one week, but figure on two."
"Righty-o," the pilot responded cheerfully. "Adios, boss." He hung up the phone and pulled a small flight bag out from under his dresser. His week was looking up.
He loudly sang Rolling Stones songs as he ran through a mental checklist of what to pack: pants, tee shirts, skivvies, toiletries, all pressed carefully into the bag to make the smallest possible bundle. Got to travel light when you travel fast, he told himself.
Toning his musical offerings down to a hum, he pulled out his stash of pills. He stockpiled his medications, just in case he needed them for a prolonged "vacation." On the days he was feeling pretty well, he'd palm one or more of his three daily doses and put them into a baggy hidden under the bed. Making a quick mental calculation, he figured he had almost ten days' worth. It had been a while between jobs, and he was feeling pretty fresh. So even if this mission ran a little long there shouldn't be a problem. He could pare down to one dose a day instead of two if needed. Never went on full meds when he was out of the VA, anyway, he reminded himself. Didn't feel like he had to when he was with the guys.
Zipping the bag shut, he put on his baseball cap, placed his leather jacket in his lap and sat on the edge of the bed expectantly, awaiting Face and whatever scam the conman would use today to unchain him from this monotony.
* * *
Twelve days later, Murdock eased a small passenger plane onto the landing strip of an airfield outside LA.
"Thank God that job's over," Face said from the co-pilot's seat, as the plane taxied to a halt. The two men exhaled deeply, sitting in companionable silence for some minutes while Hannibal retrieved BA's van from a hangar at the edge of the tiny airport.
"What I want to know," the pilot finally said, rubbing his eyes, "is why blackmailers don't ever set up somewhere nice. Napa Valley -- that would be nice. All green and cool...." He leaned back in the his seat and closed his eyes, letting the images soothe his weary mind.
"Come on guys," Hannibal said, popping his head into the small cabin. "When's the last time a criminal ring based itself out of a quaint little bed and breakfast?"
"Then how about a hotel with a shower that works next time?" the younger man whined.
The Colonel looked as cheerful now as he had when the whole fiasco started nearly two weeks before. His plans rarely achieved their objective in the expected way, and this mission had been no exception. But eventually everything had come out right, and they had gotten paid as well. "You're getting soft, Face," the Colonel grinned. "Speaking of which, who's gonna help me get BA off the plane?"
Murdock busied himself with a clipboard. "Uh, I gotta take care of disposing of the plane, right? Looks like it's you, Facey." He favored the younger man with a wide-eyed, innocent grin as he turned back to the instrument panel.
As Hannibal turned his back, Murdock held up his clipboard to show Face the contents, and the blond's face screwed into an unhappy grimace. Not a post-flight checklist, as supposed; instead, there was a childlike drawing of a dog, one paw waving in the air, labeled "Billy." Scrawled beneath the picture: "Have fun, sucker!" Murdock gave Face another grin, wider and more devilish this time. He'd do just about anything to avoid being around when the big guy came to after being tricked into flying.
Face scowled good-naturedly over his shoulder and stuck his tongue out at the Texan. "Unbelievable," the lieutenant muttered as he turned back to his commander. He lifted BA's shoulders and the two men carefully maneuvered the sleeping sergeant out of the plane. "Hannibal, how come I always get the heavy part?"
* * *
Alone in the cockpit, Murdock closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his forehead on the yoke of the plane. He was so tired. It had been a long flight from Chihuahua, and there had been plenty to do and precious little sleep during the previous week and a half. The pilot was looking forward to a hot shower and a good meal -- even to rolling into his crappy little bed at the VA. He felt like he could sleep for two days straight. "Let 'em wake me up to take my meds," he thought. Or not. As long as he got to sleep....
"Shake a leg, Captain," the Colonel called from outside. "He's starting to wake up."
The announcement that the big sergeant was beginning to stir provided the burst of adrenaline Murdock needed to get his weary body to move. Making sure everything was shut down he started to exit the craft, passing Face, who was re-entering to wipe it down. "Did you get the cockpit?" his friend asked, quickly rubbing a cleaner-soaked cloth over the door handles and chair arms to remove any traces of the Team's fingerprints.
"You might want to go over it again -- I was in a hurry," Murdock replied over his shoulder, grabbing a glove and an instant camera from where they sat ready on one of the seats as he left the craft.
Murdock took the stairs two at a time to the tarmac and kept going for about twenty feet. Swinging around, he raised the camera, brought the airplane into frame and took a picture. Carefully pulling out the piece of film with his gloved hand, he trotted past the van and took a picture of the wooden sign which identified the tiny airport. He returned to the van, and as the photos finished developing, he addressed an envelope to the rental company Face had scammed the plane from. Murdock crammed the pictures into the envelope, sealed it and pasted more than enough stamps on it to get the package across town. "They ought to thank us," he thought, feeling satisfied as he smoothed the envelope out with his gloved hand. Not only had they brought the plane back -- never a given when the Team clipped a plane -- but there were only token bullet holes in it. They'd drop the packet in a mailbox when they got back to LA so the rental company could come get their plane.
Smith looked over the younger man's shoulder and smiled. "Nice, Murdock." The Texan grinned and picked the camera up again.
"Smile, Colonel," he said as he snapped a picture. He pulled the piece of film from the camera and stuffed it into an inside pocket of his jacket. Tossing the glove and camera in the back of the van, he sprinted back to the airplane. "Come on, Facey," he called. "I don't wanna be anywhere near this place when the big guy wakes up."
Face came down the stairs holding a small bag of trash. "You could be a little more careful about what you leave behind." Smiling, he handed his friend a neatly folded sheet of paper. Without opening it, Murdock recognized that it was his portrait of Billy.
"And Hannibal," the conman continued, "You really have to stop leaving cigar butts everywhere. Haven't you heard of DNA testing? We don't need Decker knowing where we've been."
Hannibal lit a fresh cigar, squinting at his lieutenant with a look of bemusement. "DNA testing? What's that, a spit test?"
"Oh yeah, Colonel," Murdock said as they climbed into the van. Face took the wheel; it would be bad enough if BA awoke before they got him away from the airport without compounding it by his seeing Murdock driving his precious van. "I've read all about it in magazines at the VA. You get a lot of time to read there," he smiled. "They can take a little bit of saliva and use it to pull up anyone's DNA. Everyone's is different, you see...."
The older man puffed his cigar reflectively. "I'll be damned." He took another draw and turned to face the conscious members of his Team with a satisfied grin. "Steak or ribs, guys?"
A low growl built in intensity to a furious thundering. "What the - we at an airport!" BA's eyes darted around in confusion, then settled on Murdock, realization dawning. "That crazy fool flew me in an airplane! Somebody's gonna die!"
Murdock, sitting closest to the danger zone, pulled his legs up onto the seat, leaning as far away from BA as possible. "They made me do it, big guy!" he cried, pulling his cap off and putting it in front of his face, as if to hide. The protest would have been more convincing without the chuckle which was evident despite his mock panic.
* * *
Although they enjoyed the first decent food they'd had in days, dinner was a subdued affair. All four men were exhausted, and after a hot meal it became more evident. Heading home, they dropped Face at a long term parking lot to pick up the 'Vette.
"I'll catch up with you guys later." He peered into the darkness of the back of the van. "You okay, Murdock?" he asked, touching his friend's shoulder.
The pilot had been slouched into the seat, his cap pulled over his eyes. "Huh?" He started, momentarily disoriented. "Sorry, I musta dozed off. S'long Face."
"I'll give you a call in a couple of days," he said, closing the van door.
"You know where to find me," Murdock grinned sleepily.
"Colonel, I'll stay in touch." The blond turned and walked away, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, whistling as he dug his car keys out of his pocket.
Minutes later the van pulled up in front of the VA; the windows, like the grounds, were dark for the most part. The Colonel stayed in the van while BA accompanied Murdock to a side door by an electrical juncture box. With practiced hands, the sergeant popped open the lid and pulled the wires connected to the door alarm. Slipping a thin metal card in the door crack, Murdock slid the locking mechanism out of the way. It was a scene that had been played out dozens of times by the two, which was fortunate. They were very close to doing it as Murdock always claimed they could: in their sleep.
"Night, big guy," Murdock mumbled. He turned in the semidarkness, grinning widely at his friend. "Thanks for the ride."
"Yeah," BA growled back. "Wish I could say the same." The sergeant gave a reluctant smile. "Take care of yourself, crazy man. Seeya soon." The pilot listened fondly to the sound of BA's sneakered footsteps and jingling gold chains recede into the darkness.
* * *
Murdock slipped up the darkened stairwell, and cracked the door to his floor. Waiting till the nurses' station was unattended, he moved quickly and quietly down the hall to his room.
He flipped the switch as
he entered the room, tossing his coat on an ugly, vinyl covered chair. First, the hum of old fluorescent tubes, then light. It
dimly illuminated institutional white walls, the window with safety wires criss-crossing within the glass. The bed was without a
headboard - safety issues, he'd heard - and covered with old sheets and a
blanket. Not on a par with what you'd get in the Hilton, but much better than
anywhere he'd slept lately. Lying down, staring at the smooth ceiling,
he listened to the evening lullaby of rubber against linoleum as the staff
carried little paper cups of serenity from room to room . . . .
Murdock forced himself to get up and undress, folded his clothing neatly and placed them into the dresser drawers. No closets, no hangers, no way to hide or hurt yourself - not in this room. He slipped the flight bag under the dresser and turned off the lights.
He slid under covers that he knew were soft not by design, but more from age. These old sheets wouldn't last much longer between that and the bleach, he thought idly. But he pulled them close to his face and inhaled - he loved that smell. Drawing the blanket closer he burrowed into the thinning pillow; the mattress formed to his contours like the sole of an old, often worn shoe. He exhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and permitted his muscles to relax. Muted voices and a slit of light drifted through the crack under the metal door as he drifted off into an undisturbed sleep.
The end (for now)
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