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Title: Ripping Times (#2 in series)

 

Ripping Times (#2 in series)

Author:  Lonely Walker


Rating: PG
Summary:  A story series beginning directly after "Beast from the Belly of a Boeing."  In this story, a jump to the Stockwell years, a reunion of sorts, and a troublesome mission.
Archive: OK
Warnings: Some violence.  (Slash in stories 5, 6, and 7 of the series.)
Notes:  Lonely
Walker's stories should be read in order:  

  1. Freefall
  2. Ripping Times 
  3. Two Years On
  4. Time of Our Lives
  5. In the End
  6. Smoke and Mirrors 
  7. Ourobouros.

 

Some of the same characters appear in Avenger, but that story does not fit the timeline of this series.

 

 

Ripping Times

 

"Johnny gonna fry. Gonna fry, Johnny. Bye bye!" The gleeful lyrics echoed around the stone corridors as they had done for the last few days. The prisoner referred to sat alone and contemplated the opposite wall. Another lifetime, he would have told the singer to keep his mouth closed and concentrate on coming up with a plan to get out of their present situation. For more than three years, however, they had all been behind bars - each and every one of his original team, the men he had met so many years ago. The kid's mind had broken an indefinite number of days ago. Not surprising really - he had never been that stable to begin with. Of the others, he knew very little of how they were feeling. Scared, but hopeful that their beloved leader would get them out of this.

 

No hopes for him. Yesterday a lawyer hired by his former employers (in a round-about way) had told him that the prosecutor had come up with some interesting evidence against him. Turns out that Johnny-boy had a few more skeletons in his cupboard than anyone thought. And so he was to die. He wasn't scared of the fact - he would be in a cell and alive for long enough beforehand. What frightened him was the idea that he could be beaten by a lawyer, a legal system and some electricity. He was more than that, surely? To them - to everyone outside of the few men who lived in the cells adjacent to his - he was nothing. He was determined to prove them wrong.

 

He heard the guard long before he saw him - years of walking the prison corridors had made the warden's step slow as he inspected the cells he passed. Chains rattled as he unlocked the door. "Coming out?"

 

The prisoner squinted into the light. "Do I want to?"

 

"Sure you want to." The guard smiled as another of the many guards stepped up at his elbow. The second guard stepped into the cell and hauled the prisoner off his bunk. "You don't want to miss Death Row, do ya?"

 

The prisoner looked soundlessly at him, in silent disbelief that anyone could take death so lightly. For several minutes he was pushed along passages and eventually the prodding stopped when he reached a locked door. The first guard took up one of the keys on his belt to unlock it. The prisoner was too busy watching him to see the other guard begin to move. The first blow hit him square in the side of the head, knocking him into the wall he stood by. He could make no response before the guard's foot impacted against his groin. The prisoner grit his teeth together to prevent letting loose a howl of pain. Somehow, he was still standing, shoulder grazed against the wall. He looked defiantly at both guards.

 

"Better than a gay bastard like you deserves." Guard One spat at his feet.

 

The prisoner was still staring at him in disbelief when Guard Two threw him past the unlocked door into a dark room. He managed to hit his head off something hard and metallic as he fell wildly forwards. The taste of blood formed in his mouth as the door crashed closed.

 

***

 

"May I remind you, Hannibal, that we're not in Vietnam anymore!"

 

John Smith, aka 'Hannibal', turned and smiled at the well-dressed young man who was about to become Olympic Whining Champion. "I had noticed, Lieutenant."

 

"Good. Well, therefore I'm also not our official scrounger." Templeton Peck replied.

 

"Hmmm?" Hannibal said, distracted.

 

"So I am not going to get Murdock a new freakin' baseball!" Face concluded triumphantly seconds before the *old* baseball hit off his shoulder and back into the hands of Frankie Santana. "Frankie! Do you mind!!!"

 

Frankie grinned. "Hi Face." He deftly turned on his heel and quickly shot at the basket. The ball, however, ended up resting in Murdock's hands. Frankie groaned. "Murdock, I haven't got anything past you all morning. How'd you keep it up, man?"

 

"Uhh..." Murdock thought. "Exercise, a good diet and...being better than you."

 

Frankie rolled his eyes skywards. "Hey, where's BA?"

 

"Tuning our van's engine, I think." Hannibal replied. "But, it could have been the television. I wasn't really listening."

 

"Don't get complacent, Colonel. Complacency breeds errors and errors cause your death." Hunt Stockwell, man of many an unnerving smile, stood and looked through his tinted glasses at four fifths of the A-Team.

 

"Well, isn't that a cheery thought for the day?" Frankie said to the world in general.

 

"You should write Christmas cards." Face pointed out.

 

Stockwell smiled with his usual air of superiority. "Fortunately, Mr. Peck, I have an occupation which helps our fair land significantly more than anyone involved with Christmas card production."

 

"I don't know about that." Murdock started up. "I happen to think that those who write messages in Christmas cards are in fact extremely talented people. How difficult must it be to work with such a limited scope? How difficult to be original? Whereas you, General, have a veritable diversity of tasks. Also-"

 

Frankie clamped a hand across the pilot's mouth.

 

"Sorry about that. He's been attending a debating society." Face grinned.

 

"Yes. Very nice." Stockwell looked around the four men. "However I did not come here to argue to pros and cons of Christmas card manufacture. Captain Murdock, Mr. Santana, come with me, please."

 

"Huh?" Frankie stared blankly. Murdock made noises. "Where we going?"

 

"That is, of yet, none of your concern." Stockwell stated.

 

"It's my concern!" Hannibal stepped forward. "We're the A-Team, General. You get us all or not at all and you are not splitting up my men!"

 

Stockwell sighed in exasperation. "I really do not see the point of these constant arguments, Colonel. I have made my stand perfectly clear - you work for me or you are delivered to the nearest police officer and executed as according to your previous conviction."

 

Hannibal nodded. "That's true, but I have a right to know what you're doing with my men!"

"And we have a right to know what we're doing!" Frankie added.

 

Stockwell shook his head, turned to leave. "I'll expect the two of you at the front gate in one hour." He disappeared into the house.

 

The four remaining men stood and stared in confusion. "So much for baseball." Murdock said, bouncing the ball off the ground.

 

***

 

It was dawn before he could bring himself to ignore the pain and open his eyes. How many hours had passed since the guard had come for him? He had no exact idea, as the dark room held no timepiece. Probably a little less than ten hours. Ten hours and no one had come to drag him away to his cell again, or transport him to Death Row. He had thought he knew how prisons operated; with this one he had no idea.

 

With an effort, he got himself to his feet, intricately examining himself as he did so. His clothes were in a heap next to where he had been lying unconscious. He picked them up with a foot - they were good for nothing but rags now, dirty and ripped. As for himself, he ached all over, but was at least still breathing. His arm, which had been twisted behind his back, might be broken, but checking was not high on his list of priorities. As for the rest of him, at least his legs still worked.

 

And so to escape. He wondered for a few long minutes where the guards were. It was possible that he was supposed to still be in here - his *visitors* had notified them that they would be here all night. Otherwise, they thought he was dead or had simply forgotten about him. In any case, it was likely that they would be coming for him soon. He had to get away, and quickly. The idea of breaking down a door and running naked through the prison was not immediately appealing, but it was at the moment all that he had.

 

He was still staring into nothingness when the door opened.

 

***

 

"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety nine bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-eight bottles of beer." Murdock sang loudly as a simple means of protest as he sat with Frankie Santana in the back of what from the outside looked like a simple truck delivering soft drinks. The unfortunate thing was that it also looked like a simple truck delivering soft drinks from the *inside*.

 

"Where d'you think we're going, Murdock?" Frankie said, wrestling free a cola can from a pack.

 

Murdock lifted his nose to the wind. "South, I think."

 

"Long way to go to find an airport!" Frankie groaned.

 

"Airport? Why an airport?" Murdock asked.

 

Frankie shrugged. "If they didn't need a pilot, why would they need you? Why not take Face or BA?"

 

"I don't know..." Murdock stretched his arms. "I just don't have a clue."

 

"Well I'm glad that my security on information is holding up." Stockwell's voice came from behind Frankie, making him jump forward to land in a heap with Murdock's foot in his stomach.

 

"Whoa! Don't *do* that!" Frankie disentangled himself and the two of them watched the carefully concealed monitor screen carefully.

 

Stockwell, standing in front of his beloved computer screens, smiled in some amusement. "I expect you would like to know what you're doing in the back of a soft drinks truck."

 

Frankie and Murdock looked around and nodded as one. "Yup."

 

"Very well. In a few minutes you will be dropped off by the side of the road. To the West there is a high-security prison surrounded by a large area of scrub ground. Somewhere in this area is an escaped prisoner you will refer to only as 'Louis'."

 

"And we're to capture him and take him back to the prison, right?" Frankie smiled as he caught on to the general idea.

 

Stockwell shook his head. "No, your mission, Mr. Santana, is to find Louis and bring him back to the road. There will be another truck waiting for you."

 

Murdock and Frankie stared at each other. "But, he's like a dangerous prisoner, isn't he?" Frankie started. "We don't want him loose..."

 

"You don't. I do." Stockwell regarded them sharply. "Louis is to be regarded as a friend. Give him whatever assistance is necessary, but get him back here!" The monitor winked off.

 

A few seconds later, the truck ground to a halt. Murdock prised himself up from the floor. "Come on, Frankie. Let's go get our man."

 

***

 

Click...click...click. Thoughts of recapturing the A-Team and warfare in general were dismissed from Roderick Decker's world as he sat happily playing 'Minesweeper' on his home computer. In the area of the A-Team, he was no longer really concerned. Although he had been taken off their case two years ago, his duty had finished in his eyes when he had testified against them at their highly-publicised trial. His efforts had gone into that more than most - detailed reports he had given on their escapes had allowed them to finally be captured by some unknown General. And then, with his help, they had been convicted of murder. No more did he have to pursue them on a lone quest. Now the world knew they were criminals and every serving police or army officer was bound by duty to find and arrest them. He and his family could sleep safely at nights with this thought.

 

The telephone rang, making him inadvertently hit a 'bomb' and losing him the game. He swore quietly and picked up the receiver. "Decker!" He listened attentively to what the officer on the other end of the line was telling him. "Who? Oh my god..."

 

***

 

"You know, I really hope you aren't an axe murderer or something." Frankie Santana babbled as he helped 'Louis' into the back of the new truck, which was apparently selling oranges. "Because axe murderers really freak me out. Did you see that movie last week where that guy..." Frankie dodged into the clear space behind the ordinary crates and proceeded to act out the entire last scene of the latest horror movie.

 

Murdock smiled apologetically at Louis. "Sorry, he always gets like this when he's missing his baseball game."

 

"I know the feeling." Louis answered, ducking behind the crates as Murdock closed up the back of the truck. "I hope you have some clothes for me. I really don't want to be arrested for being naked in the middle of some orange crates. People would talk."

 

Murdock passed him the underwear, jeans and sweater that had been lying in the back. "I'd watch that arm." He pointed out. "You'll need to see a doctor."

 

"Yeah, right." Louis pulled on the jeans with some effort. "I've had worse. Much worse."

 

"You wanna tell us the story, pal? What's going on here?" Frankie asked, impatient.

 

Louis shrugged. "I don't know 'the story' anymore than you do. I've been in that prison for three, four years. Why Stockwell wants to bust me out now is...I don't know." He shook his head and sank back against a pile of crates to find Murdock watching him intently.

 

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Murdock asked, staring at the former prisoner.

 

Louis stared back with his piercing blue eyes. "No. I never forget a face. How long have you two been working for the General?"

 

"Year and a bit." Frankie muttered. "When we're gonna get our pardons, I don't know!"

 

"Pardons?" Louis looked at him quizzically. "What did you do?"

 

"That doesn't matter." Murdock replied, throwing mental knives at Frankie. "What about you?"

 

"A long time." Louis answered and turned away to stare at one of the crates. Murdock continued to stare at him in puzzlement. Frankie shrugged and went to work on opening one of the boxes.

 

***

 

"This is a really bad idea." Abel Two threw his arms up in the air in frustration. "Why d'you want *him* out now, of all times!"

 

Hunt Stockwell, calm as ever, sat behind his desk and sighed. "Why is it such a problem for you? You won't have to deal with him."

 

Abel Two glared at him. "This ain't personal, General. It's a matter of principle. I think every one of us was pleased when he went behind bars. The guy's crazy!"

 

Stockwell's expression became deadly serious and he leaned forward in his chair. "If we had left him in there one more day, we would have had to leave him to die in the chair. I was not prepared to let one of my men die in that way."

 

"Fine." Abel Two replied. "Just keep the guy away from us sane folks, okay?" He stomped off, shaking his head.

 

Stockwell gave the slammed door a crack of a smile before turning back to his computer screen.

 

***

 

"Where's that fool, Murdock?" BA charged into the main room of the A-Team's base of operations and looked around wildly.

 

Face peered over his newspaper. "Don't ask us. We apparently don't 'need-to-know'."

 

"*I* need to know!" BA growled. "That fool took my spanner set this morning to fix his basketball net."

 

"Let me guess - now you need it back." Face said. "Well, why don't you look outside - I don't think even Murdock would take your spanners on a mission."

 

"What?" BA stared out at the rain. "Man, it's pouring!" He raced off to save his beloved tools from the rain.

 

Hannibal put down his magazine, a wry smile on his face as he watched BA race around the garden trying to find his spanners. However, soon another piece of action was taking his attention. Beyond BA, at the street that went past their villa, a truck which was apparently carrying oranges was pulling up.

 

***

 

"Hey, looks like we're back!" Frankie hurriedly stuffed the remainder of his orange back in the crate and stood up.

 

Murdock blinked, shook his head and brought himself back to full consciousness. The penetrating stink of oranges had probably caused them all to start hallucinating. He shook Louis by his good arm. "Hey, muchacho, got to move now."

 

"Huh?" Louis opened his eyes and Frankie pulled him up onto his feet.

 

Outside, the driver opened up the back of the truck. Murdock led the way out between the crates and found two 'Abels' and Stockwell waiting for them. "Good evening, Captain." Stockwell smiled.

 

Murdock was about to collapse in shock when he realised that the comment was directed not to him, but to the man who had previously been a prisoner. Louis jumped down from the lip of the truck to shake hands with the General, blue eyes blazing. "Nice to see you." He gave a quick, false smile.

 

Stockwell, however, seemed to be genuinely pleased to see him. "We have to get you to see a doctor." He gestured to Louis' limp arm. "Abel Twenty, escort Captain Murdock and Mr. Santana back to the house, please."

 

Murdock and Frankie were quickly ushered away by one of the guards - a tall man of Asian extraction who didn't say much, if anything. As they looked back, they saw Louis and Stockwell getting into Stockwell's limousine. "This is too weird." Frankie said, summing up their thoughts perfectly.

 

Murdock nodded. "I don't even know if I *want* to know what's going on."

 

***

 

"Report, Captain." Hannibal demanded as soon as Face and BA had dismantled every bug in the entire room. The electronic parts lay in a heap on the coffee table.

 

Murdock shrugged. "Not much to report, Colonel. Stockwell sent us to find an escaped prisoner and bring him back here. We found him naked and looking pretty beaten up near the road."

 

"What happened?" Face asked.

 

"Don't know. He's got a broken arm, maybe. Nothing else very serious. Typical prison fight, I guess." Murdock speculated.

 

"Any idea who he is? Have you seen him before?" Hannibal inquired.

 

Frankie shook his head. "Never seen him before in my life. I'd remember a guy like that."

"Murdock?"

 

"I don't know. I might have seen him somewhere. I don't think I've ever met him, though. Like Frankie says, I'd remember."

 

"Why? What's so special about this guy?" Face wondered.

 

"The eyes! The eyes!" Murdock shrieked in mimic of a bad horror movie. "Oh, I dunno, Face. He's just..."

 

"Can you give me a description?"

 

"I'm not good with people, Hannibal." Murdock protested. "Uhh...blue eyes, brown hair. About your height, Face.  And Stockwell called him 'Captain'."

 

"He's been in the army?" Hannibal quizzed his pilot.

 

"I don't think so, Colonel." Murdock shrugged. "But it's difficult to tell. He doesn't talk much."

 

***

 

"What do you think you're doing!!!" Louis gesticulated wildly with his free arm. "Sending *those* guys to get me! What if they knew who I was?"

 

Stockwell tried to placate him. "Santana wouldn't recognise an elephant if it fell on his head. Besides, you yourself said in your report that you never saw Murdock."

 

"That doesn't mean he never saw me!!!" Louis argued. "You're getting lazy in your old age, General."

 

Stockwell gritted his teeth. Much as he liked the young man, Louis could try the calmest temperament. "As it happens, that mistake is irrelevant. I have found it necessary to put you to work with the A-Team."

 

"What?" Louis groaned in disbelief. "You *have* cracked. Whatever happened to security? Compartmentalisation? Where did they go to?"

 

Stockwell's temper broke and Louis was on the receiving end of a cracking blow to his jaw. Once he could sit up straight again, a defiant grin appeared on his face, but he was quiet. "I agree that this is quite out of the ordinary." Stockwell admitted. "However, I need you and you need your men. To get your men, we need people. The A-Team are the only people we have available."

 

"I don't suppose we can get them out the same way as me?" Louis was already shaking his head. "No, I suppose that arrangement only works once."

 

"I'm sorry for what we allowed them to do to you, Jack." Stockwell laid a hand on Louis' shoulder. "It was the only way."

 

Louis nodded. "I know. I know. So, you going to introduce me to your new friends?"

 

***

 

Decker arrived at the prison still in civilian clothes to find a couple of worried looking Privates waiting for him. "Well?" He glared at them as he disentangled himself from his car.

 

"Uh, Colonel Decker, sir, sorry to inform you that we have been told that, uh..." Private No.1 babbled.

 

"The FBI have taken control of this investigation." Private #2 said.

 

"Thank you, Private." Decker was thankful at least to get some sense out of one of them and then realised what he had been told. "What? The Feds? What do they want with this case?"

 

"Apparently the man was a federal prisoner, Colonel." Private #2 explained. "He's been convicted of more crimes than Charles Manson."

 

"Yes, and that's exactly why the army should be tracking him down and not some suits!" Decker fumed quietly.

 

"Uh, sir, we do technically have nothing to do with this." The Private ventured.

 

"Like hell we have nothing to do with this!" Decker answered. "Get in the car - you're driving!"

 

***

 

BA stomped back into the room and deposited a pile of cold wet spanners in Murdock's lap.

 

"What?" Murdock looked around the room in search of a clue.

 

"You left my tools outside, Fool. Now you gonna clean them!" BA stood there, arms crossed, looking very much like a brick wall.

 

Murdock stared at the objects which were slowly numbing his legs. "Awww, BA, this is already a bad day. I miss baseball, I spend a whole day with some oranges and Frankie and Stockwell makes me stay here!"

 

"Why's that bad?" Face asked from underneath a newspaper.

 

"I had a date tonight!" Murdock said indignantly. "Well, sorta a date. A meeting with a young lady, anyway."

 

"Where, the laundry?" Face quipped.

 

"I don't see why I should even tell you." Murdock sulked.

 

"Stop teasing him, Face." Hannibal yawned from his position on the couch. "Murdock's worked very hard at living in the real world for the last year."

 

"The real world?" Murdock looked around, a puzzled expression on his face. "Where's that?"

 

Face groaned and tapped him on the head with his rolled-up newspaper.

 

"Ah, here we all are." Stockwell opened up the door leading to the outside world and sauntered in, followed at heel by a recently escaped prisoner. "Hannibal Smith, Templeton Peck, HM Murdock, BA Baracus, Frankie Santana...I'd like you to meet your new associate."

 

Jonathan Jackson stepped forward, blue eyes filled with ice. "Well, finally. I've always wanted to meet the A-Team."

 

"Holy-!" Face started. "I thought you were in...oh, right..." He muttered, letting recent events log themselves into his memory.

 

"It's a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Jackson." Hannibal said, looking like he had just uttered a spell to raise the devil.

 

Murdock raised a finger. "This guy's Jackson? The guy who tried to kill us all?"

 

Frankie looked around wildly as the other four A-Teamers descended into random discussion and whispers. "Uh, guys, am I missing something here? Who is this guy?"

 

Jackson sighed and ventured to explain. "Jackson. I, uh, *ran into* your friends a few years ago."

 

"You hijacked a 747 and threatened to kill all the passengers, if I remember correctly!" Face blurted out.

 

"Cool." Frankie grinned.

 

BA stepped forward so that he was almost touching Jackson. He had finally caught up with the conversation. "You that pilot who left us in that plane for Murdock to try and get us killed?"

 

Jackson stared at him with all the charm of an ice cube. "As I recall, I didn't have much of a choice about that."

 

"And then you tried to kill Murdock!" Face remembered. "What do you want here, revenge?"

 

Jackson ran a hand through his hair, an expression of annoyance creeping onto his face as he turned back to Stockwell. "You haven't told them anything?"

 

"It's your call, Jack." Stockwell replied, smiling.

 

"Then make sure it *is* my call." Jackson turned back to face Hannibal. "As I'm sure you don't know, the Beller Air incident was a setup. We were fairly sure that the directors would hire you, especially as we had been planting information about you for weeks beforehand."

 

"I don't believe it!" Face surveyed the faces of the rest of the team. "That couldn't have been a setup!"

 

"Why else do you think I followed Colonel Smith's warped logic, Tonto?" Jackson grinned. "As I remember, he had absolutely no good reason to make me exchange hostages, but I did it. Just to get the four of you onboard."

 

"Hang on a minute!" Murdock waved an arm in between Hannibal and Jackson. "You didn't know BA and me *were* onboard."

 

Jackson shrugged. "We figured you'd do what you did. If both of you weren't onboard, then the test would still have worked. It would have been better, in fact. We needed a confined space for you to be examined. My team generally do airplanes. So, everything worked out okay."

 

"Apart from you getting blown out of the airplane." Hannibal said.

 

"Hmmm, yes. That was not exactly according to plan, but at least I had a parachute." Jackson mused.

 

"One thing, Jackson. Who's 'we'?" Murdock asked.

 

"'We' are the General's organisation. My team are part of that organisation. We used to operate for a group called the United People's Front. When that organisation was destroyed, it provided a good cover." Jackson explained.

 

"So when'd you change sides?" Face inquired.

 

"Change sides?" Jackson grinned. "Oh, I haven't changed sides."

 

***

 

"This is absolutely impossible!" Decker stood a few feet away from both his car and a bored Private and declared his frustration to the world. "No one - not even Jackson - escapes from a high-security prison without a trace. Not to mention leaving his clothes behind."

 

"Yeah, it is pretty weird, sir." The Private - whose name, Decker had discovered, was Wood - yawned. "Shouldn't we maybe leave it to the FBI? They have got a lot more people than us and I'm supposed to be back at base."

 

Decker sighed, bent down, picked up a stone and threw it at the nearest tree. It didn't have much effect, but it did make him feel better. "All right, Private. We'll resume in the morning. If he's gone, he's gone. But wherever he's gone, I'll find him."

 

***

 

"So, you bunking with me, then?" Frankie picked the subject that everyone else was least interested in or worried about and proceded to stare at everyone else until someone gave him an answer.

 

Jackson shrugged, but managed to make it look as if he had much rather spend the night naked in an igloo than be anywhere near the special effects man. Stockwell waited for someone else to say something, but nodded when no one did.

 

"Hey, cool!" Frankie beamed. "I've always wanted a room-mate."

 

Jackson concentrated very hard on ignoring him.

 

"So what now?" Face broke the sudden silence.

 

"Yeah, do we get a fun, wacky and ultimately depressing briefing?" Murdock asked, looking at Stockwell. To his surprise, it was Jackson who glanced at his watch.

 

"Too late for any of us to do anything. It can wait until tomorrow."

 

"Cool!" Frankie bounced up and down. "Hey, Murdock, Face, you gonna watch Dirty Harry with me?"

 

Murdock readily agreed and hurried to switch on the television. Frankie caught Face's eye. "Well do ya, punk?"

 

"Huh?" Face said. "Oh, right. Sure. Kathy's doing a night-shift tonight anyway." He sat down while everyone else in the room did a quick facial-expression conversation around the subject of 'Who's Kathy?'.

 

"Hannibal? Jackson?" Frankie looked between them and the television as the film was just starting.

 

Jackson waved him away. "Sorry, that guy freaks me out."

 

"Jackson? Can I speak to you outside, please?" Hannibal said, giving the impression that it was not a good idea to say no.

 

Jackson smiled and followed Hannibal out into the cold, half-lit garden. Stockwell followed a few seconds later, but made straight for the front of the house and his limosine. Hannibal stayed by the door watching Jackson look up at the sky. "Could never see this in jail." He turned back to the Colonel. "What did you want to say?"

 

"I want to draw the line." Hannibal stated. "You might think we're all in the same boat, kid, but the fact is that you are a criminal. You deserve to be in prison. My people are innocent and you are not to think that we'll use your methods of diplomacy."

 

Jackson stared at him, unfazed. "What makes you think I'm a criminal?"

 

"I saw the papers, Jack. You've just been convicted of the murders of several Mexican immigrants - including women and children." Hannibal recited the facts.

 

Jackson shrugged. "You've just been convicted of murdering your commanding officer and robbing the bank of Hanoi. Don't tell your brother he's a bad boy, Smith. You have nothing on me." Jackson looked around the black garden one more time before heading for the door. Hannibal put a hand across the way.

 

"Don't mess with my people." He warned.

 

Jackson smiled to the doorway. "Good night, Colonel."

 

Hannibal let him pass and looked with worried eyes up to the stars.

 

***

 

Murdock woke up at the 5:30 he had pre-programmed into his brain and promptly fell off the couch. He got up onto his knees, rubbing his head and blearily looking at a fully-clothed Jackson who was gingerly examining his injured arm. "Getting the worm?" He inquired.

 

Jackson looked at him in puzzlement for a few seconds. "Oh, right. I guess so."

 

Murdock got up off the floor and stretched his tired limbs. "You planning on going somewhere?" He examined Jackson's clothing with his eyes. Black and thick. Wherever he was going, he didn't want to be seen *or* hurt. That probably meant somewhere Murdock would rather not be at 5:32 in the morning.

 

"You'll find out." Jackson replied shortly.

 

Murdock groaned inwardly. Getting small talk out of Jackson was like getting trigonometry answers from Frankie. The currently lone A-Team member half-heartedly assembled his clothes from where they had been dumped the previous night and hoped into his khakis. "Hannibal tells me you tried to kill me after I was blinded. Was that in the plan?"

 

Jackson turned his blue gaze on the other pilot. "Maybe it was. Maybe I was just feeling slightly pissed off that I'd just spent the whole day on a pointless mission and then ended up getting ever so slightly hypothermic floating around in the Atlantic. Maybe I just didn't really care very much."

 

Murdock shrugged. "Okay. Fine. But I don't know you, all right? I got no grudge against any man I don't know. If you've got a problem about anything we did - you take it up with 'Uncle Stockwell' because we were just doing our jobs. If you had just kept your head, you wouldn't have ended up taking the quick way down and we wouldn't have had to fly in blind!"

 

Surprisingly, Jackson laughed at this. "All right. I'm sorry."

 

"For what?" Murdock liked to have specifics.

 

"Well, hello all you fun fun people!" Frankie Santana said, swinging open the door and looking on in amazement as both men eyed him carefully from their new positions on the floor. "Uh, I think you can get up now."

 

"Frankie!" Murdock exclaimed to the carpet. "I thought you were an MP or something! Don't do that!"

 

"Go get the others." Jackson said calmly, once he had got back to a vertical position. "We have to talk."

 

***

 

Wood was still muttering about this not being *his* idea of an early start - more his idea of a late night - when the lone jeep Decker had comandeered was halted by two dark cars pulling up in front of it. Four FBI men jumped out, guns in hands. "Identify yourselves!" The leader yelled, as if this was the first exciting thing he had got to do on this mission. It probably was.

Decker calmly got out and presented his ID. "Colonel Decker, Military Police."

 

"Decker?" The Fed scratched his nose. "You here because of the A-Team?"

 

"A-Team?" Decker started, puzzled. "No, I'm assisting in the search for the escaped prisoner - Jackson."

 

"Well, if you ain't looking for the A-Team, then I suggest you get your military butt out of here." The Fed said. "Jackson's our affair and if you want to help out, you can give me a good reason why."

 

Decker sighed. "Look here, son. It looks to me that you could do with all the help you can get."

 

"Does it?" The Fed glared. "Well then, I suggest you look harder. Good day, Colonel."

 

Decker turned on his heel and walked the few steps back to his vehicle, remembered something. "Why did you think I was after the A-Team?"

 

"We know you all right, Colonel. And according to rumour, the A-Team were involved with a hijack Jackson carried out." The Fed replied. "Guess I was wrong."

 

"Guess you were." Decker smiled and sat down. "Okay, Private, now we've got a legitimate reason for being here. Head for the prison."

 

***

 

"You want us to do WHAT????" Templeton Peck's ears rebelled against his brain's usual logic processes as he heard Jackson's plan.

 

"Uh, he said we're gonna break into the prison." Frankie said, helpfully.

 

"You want us to do WHAT????" Face repeated, in hoping that he was dreaming and by shouting loudly enough he would wake himself up.

 

Jackson looked at him with a level gaze. "I need my men, Lieutenant. You have to help me to get them out."

 

"What do you need your men for?" Hannibal asked.

 

Jackson didn't even look at him. "No concern of yours."

 

Hannibal prised himself off the wall and moved to a position in front of Jackson. "You're wrong, kid. It is my concern. This is my team you're talking about. My *Team* do you understand? And I'm not going to let you use them for wrongful ends!"

 

Jackson smiled thinly. "Yes, which is why I'm using you in this mission. What I use *my* team for, Colonel, is really none of your concern."

 

Murdock laid a hand on Hannibal's shoulder, motioning for him to calm down, as Jackson began to relate the details. "I have five men in this prison, all in Cell Block D. Their names are Thomas, Rourke, Baker, Price and Ross. Rourke we're leaving in there."

 

"Do we get to ask why?" Face asked.

 

Jackson looked up from his blueprints. "He's crazy."

 

"Oh, okay." Face muttered.

 

"Thomas is a slight problem." Jackson ventured. "As you might remember, he was blinded in the fire fight on the Beller Air flight. He never regained his sight, but we're getting him out anyway."

 

"We're rescuing a blind man?" Hannibal repeated. "What for? He can't be of any use to you."

 

This time, Jackson met Hannibal's hostile stare. "He's my friend and I promised him I'd get him out. I don't lie to my men, Colonel. I'm getting him out." When no one else had any objections, he completed his briefing. "Murdock, Peck, you're going to rustle us up a helicopter. That'll be our escape route. The rest of us are going in a more conventional way."

 

"A more conventional way?" Frankie inquired.

 

"Yeah." Hannibal grinned. "How's your cooking?"

 

"Okay, Murdock." Face surveyed the territory. "How'd you know about this place?"

 

Murdock took a running leap at the wire fence. "Applied for a job here once. The guy wouldn't believe my qualifications."

 

"And just what were those qualifications?" Face asked suspiciously as he joined the pilot halfway up the fence.

 

"Oh, the usual." Murdock said. "Why is it no one ever believes I was once a fully-fledged Thunderbird?"

 

"Well, it could be the psychiatric report from Dr. Richter." Face hazarded, dropping to the hard concrete ground.

 

"That could be it." Murdock joined him and immediately looked around in the darkness. "Where's the sun when you need it?"

 

Face headed off in one direction. "I think maybe over...argh!!"

 

"Face?" Murdock took a few steps towards where he thought Face might be and stood still to listen. Dead silence. Until suddenly there was an outbreak of barking.

 

"MURDOCK!!!!!!!" Face yelled, obviously aiming for the people at the top of the Eiffel Tower. "Get it off me!"

 

Murdock hurried towards him and found Face on the ground with a large huskie dog perched on top of him. "Urr, Face, it's only a dog."

 

"It isn't a dog! It's a nasty, evil, killing-machine!!!" Face protested.

 

Murdock looked at the dog. The dog looked at Murdock. "Uh, hi there." Murdock ventured. "You wouldn't mind if Murdock and Faceman borrow one of your choppers, would you?"

 

Face looked between the dog on his stomach and Murdock, a few feet away. "Murdock, it's a dog. They don't own helicopters."

 

"Maybe not, but they can sure rent them out." Murdock stepped forward and scratched the dog's neck. "Hey, pal. You wanna get off Face, now? He's getting a bit scared."

 

"I am not scared!" Face said loudly, but quickly scampered up to his feet when the dog bounded off to investigate Murdock's knees.

 

"Okay, I think we got a deal here." Murdock grinned.

 

***

 

"Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to question why. Theirs but to do or die. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred." Jackson whispered under the fierce wind as the rest of the team crouched on the raised ground a mile away from the prison and watched the dark shapes of patrol cars scour the area. "You'd have thought they'd have given up by now."

 

"They're the Feds. They never give up." Hannibal replied. "Besides, they won't have expected that you had a getaway truck waiting for you."

 

Jackson simply nodded and continued to watch the movements below.

 

"How did you get out, anyway?" Frankie asked, bored with the whole thing.

 

Jackson whipped around to look at him. "Doesn't matter."

 

"Does matter." Hannibal said. "We need to know everything we can about this place if we're going in."

 

Jackson rubbed his eyes. "Some of the warders are very friendly with a club of guys in the town. Once in a while, the guys from the town decide they'd like a wild night out and they come to the prison for some *entertainment*. Depends on who the warders can find a reason for getting out of their cell in the middle of the night."

 

"What do you mean, *entertainment*?" Frankie asked, not following.

 

"He means sex, Frank." Hannibal filled him in. "How did they get away with it?"

 

"Cause prisoners don't have an A-Team to call if they get gang-raped by some businessmen. Who's going to believe a mass-murderer over an executive?" Jackson replied. "Anyway, Stockwell found out about it, pulled some strings. He managed to get me out through some holes in the network. Usually, when the guys have finished with you, you're just left there for the night. Stockwell sent one of his men for me then."

 

"You mean they did this to you before?" Hannibal said, genuinely shocked.

 

Jackson shook his head. "Not to me, but I heard about it from other guys. Stockwell filled me in yesterday. It's a horrible business."

 

At that moment, BA and the van rolled up and the big man got out. "Okay, Hannibal. It's gonna be difficult to get in there."

 

"Strange." Jackson smiled, the first rays of the sun catching his blue eyes. "Prisons aren't supposed to be hard to get into."

 

***

 

"Hey!" Frankie hollered in his most obnoxious voice. "Anyone awake in there?"

 

"What?" A familiar voice asked, as its owner stepped up to the window of the fruit 'n' veg van the Team had acquired from Stockwell.

 

Frankie didn't even look twice at Decker. "Hey, my man. I got some food here for the kitchens. Nice threads, by the way."

 

"I'm going to have to check your van." Decker replied, motioning to Wood, who was still half asleep.

 

"Why? I only got vegetables in there!" Frankie protested as the young Private scrambled into the back and dug around in crates for a while.

 

"Nothing here, sir." Wood reported, closing up the van again.

 

"Right. Sorry to have kept you, sir." Decker grimaced in an imitation of a smile and opened up the gate.

 

Frankie drove through with a smile on his face.

 

***

 

"Well, sorry, Face, but sometimes the best way to break security is by not going to the kitchen." Hannibal muttered, knocking on the small gate at the back of the prison wall. A lone guard answered.

 

"Yeah, whaddya want?"

 

"Uh, well..." Hannibal put on his weediest voice. "My friends and I were told by my other friend Fields that we could come by some entertainment here." He indicated the shadowy shapes of Jackson and BA. Fields was, Jackson had informed him, the name of the head warder, who apparently ran the ring.

 

"Get lost pal." The guard said. "It's too early in the morning for that sort of thing."

 

"Oh, we won't take long." Hannibal darted past the young man into the wide space beyond.

"Hey, whatcha doin'?" The guard levelled his gun at Hannibal just as Jackson embedded his fist in the kid's stomach. The guard made a 'Urgh' sound and toppled to the ground when BA hit him over the head.

 

Hannibal surveyed the now half-lit territory. "BA, close the gate." He watched BA locking it and noticed that Jackson was breathing heavily. "Are you all right?"

 

Jackson closed his eyes for a second longer than a blink. "I'm fine. Now let's get my boys out of here."

 

Hannibal picked up the fallen guard's gun and hurried off towards the main building. There were guards on patrol, but only a few and they were easy enough to dodge, with Jackson's information. "There's an old ladder outside one of the windows." Jackson said. "If we can get up there, we can get inside the cell block where my men are." He pointed it out, a rusty thing which started six feet up.

 

"We won't get up that." BA gave his opinion.

 

"Then I'll get up it." Jackson said, glaring at both of them. "Give me a leg up."

 

"How's your arm?" Hannibal asked.

 

"All right." Jackson replied, but Hannibal noted that he still held it close to his chest. BA put up his hands and gave Jackson a foothold to grab hold of the ladder from. The pilot hung on easily enough and climbed up to the window, over which a grill was held. Jackson worked away at the old screws until it came away. He threw it to BA, who laid it carefully on the ground, and went in.

 

***

 

Frankie Santana half-heartedly unloaded a few crates until he found what he was looking for - his gun. He hadn't really expected Decker to search him, but it was always possible. The prison, half-lit in the dawn, was a daunting place to be. The walls seemed to go on forever. Frankie straightened up to get his bearings, looked around for guards and sped away into the building.

 

Inside were too many security devices for him to try to get through. He worked his way inconspicuously to as far inside and close to the correct block as possible and waited for an alarm to go off. It soon did.

 

***

 

"Come on!" Jackson yelled behind him to Hannibal and BA who were already out of sight. He decided that they were probably lost and smacked the release button for the gate which marked the entry to the corridor which held his friends. The suddenness of the piercing alarm and bright flashing lights nearly knocked him over out of surprise, but he slid past the half-open door and hurried down the corridor of jail cells.

 

"Jackson!" A startled Baker yelled. "What's going on?"

 

Jackson kept the pleased smile off his face and shot the lock on the boy's cell. He and his roommate, Ross, got clear of the cell as fast as they could and almost collided with Hannibal, who had caught up with Jackson. "Okay, guys, we're getting you out. Stay calm. Where're the others?" He grabbed Baker.

 

"Jack!" Price hollered from a few cells away. By this time, everyone in the block was awake and screaming at the free men to let them out. Hannibal resolutely ignored them as BA appeared, firing at guards behind him.

 

Jackson opened up Price's cell. Price went to fetch a gun from Hannibal and help BA. The pilot went in to get the other man - Thomas, who was sitting up on his bunk, looking dazed. "Tommy?" Jackson touched him gently. "Tommy, it's Jack. We've got to get out of here."

 

"Jackson?" Thomas searched for his friend. "I thought you were dead."

 

"We will be if we don't get out of here." Jackson searched his mind for options and then simply hoisted the other man over his shoulder. Baker was screaming at him when he got out.

 

"Jack, we gotta go!" The kid yelled, as bullets thudded into the bars of the cells.

Jackson nodded, but as he looked around, he saw the final member of his team. Poor, crazy T.K. Rourke, clutching the bars of his cell in silence, with a face filled with confusion and fear. Jackson stared at him. "Rourke, God, I'm sorry."

 

Rourke merely blinked and turned back to his cell. BA grabbed Jackson. "Come on, man. We gotta go."

 

Jackson stole one last look at the last member of his team before following the others out the other end of the corridor. "Where're the guards?" He wondered as they escaped from the last set who were stuck at the previous gate.

 

"Well, see, Frankie Santana does come in handy sometimes." Frankie smiled, from his position at the door of the guard's common room where he held five uniformed wardens at gunpoint.

 

"Good work, Frankie." Hannibal grinned. "Lock the door. We have to get going."

 

BA looked at Jackson, who was still staring back at the last corridor. "You want a hand with him?" He pointed out Thomas, who was still over Jackson's shoulder.

 

"I'm all right." Jackson said in reply as Frankie finished up and the whole team hurried outside, following the reverse route that Frankie had taken. Hannibal stopped and looked up at the sky.

 

"What're we waiting for?" Price asked.

 

"Our ride home." Jackson told him.

 

"FREEZE!!!!" Colonel Roderick Decker stood there, still half in shadows, pointing a gun at them. The young Private, Wood, stood next to him.

 

Everyone dutifully froze.

 

"So, I finally got you, Smith." Decker grinned. "Got you when it wasn't even you I was after. It was you." He shifted his gun to point at Jackson, who stared back with an expression that was something very close to fear. "But I won't complain."

 

"Decker, you can't honestly expect that we won't escape." Hannibal grinned. "You even killed us once and we got out of it."

 

"Then maybe I should just make sure right now." Decker said as something that sounded like thunder came across the sky.

 

"Uh...no. I don't think so." Hannibal smiled as Murdock's commandeered helicopter lowered itself behind the Colonel, Face pointing a gun at him.

 

Decker swung around in total amazement. "Peck!"

 

"Decker!" Face smiled. "We must stop meeting like this!"

 

"Get on! Move it!" Jackson yelled at his men. They rapidly obliged, being hauled up by Face into the cramped cargo compartment of the helicopter. Jackson followed, keeping a wary eye on Decker as he passed the limp Thomas up to Price and Baker.

 

"I'll always have more time to catch you, Jackson." Decker glared.

 

Jackson nodded and held an arm up for Price to drag him up by. Hannibal was the last onboard as the prison guards finally arrived. "Been a great party, guys. Have to do it again sometime." He grinned as Murdock let his chopper take him up and over the prison walls and away to freedom.

 

"Omanomanoman." Frankie gibbered. "I am *never* doing anything like that again."

Face grinned from his position with his back to the sliding door. "Never mind, Frankie. At least you got to meet our dear, delightful Colonel Decker. An experience everyone should have at least once in their lives."

 

Hannibal grinned at this, but was too busy watching Jackson's men to join in the joking. With their past record, it wasn't unlikely that they would simply hijack this helicopter and fly off to God knows where. At that present moment, it didn't look as if they were planning anything of the sort. Baker was chatting eagerly to Price about the escape while Price was looking after Thomas, who was silent and looking positively ill. Ross was sitting alone, gun across his knees, eyeing the A-Team members carefully. Jackson himself was sitting with his eyes closed next to Hannibal. Hannibal looked at him, concerned. He might not like the guy, but Jackson hadn't been looking or sounding great during their escape. He reached over and felt the younger man's forehead.

 

Jackson had grabbed his arm in a vice-like grip before even opening his eyes. "Don't you touch me ever again!"

 

Everyone else was immediately on alert, except for Baker, who was still relating his part in the amazing escape. Hannibal thought that he and Frankie would make a good match. "You're running a temperature, Jackson." He said sweetly to the pilot. "Feeling all right?"

 

Jackson stared at him. "Go to hell." He eventually replied, sitting back against the metal wall.

Murdock chose that moment to pipe up from the front. "Hey, uh, Colonel!"

 

"What?" Hannibal asked, still watching everyone else. The tension in the air was so thick that it couldn't be cut with a knife.

 

"Uh, where d'you want me to land this thing?" Murdock asked. "The yard where we found it? The house? Where?"

 

Much to Hannibal's surprise, Jackson spoke up quietly. "I think we should go to the house. Thomas needs a doctor."

 

Hannibal nodded. "All right. Murdock, take us back to the house. I'm sure Stockwell won't mind if we land a chopper on his lawn."

 

Murdock positively beamed at the thought.

 

***

 

Stockwell and a few Abels were, unexpectedly, waiting for them as Murdock landed neatly in the back garden of the villa. Stockwell immediately pulled open the door at the front to speak to Murdock. "Captain, get rid of this as soon as everyone's out. I don't care where you put it, just not anywhere conspicuous."

 

"Understood." Murdock gave him the thumbs-up.

 

The rest of the crew spilled out the back, Face opening up the door. Price and Baker, carrying Thomas, were the last ones out before Face slammed shut the door and yelled to Murdock to take off. Stockwell quickly told them to take Thomas to the house and followed the three men in. The rest were left standing on the grass, wondering what to do.

 

"Some morning, huh?" Ross grinned at Jackson.

 

Jackson shook his head, breathless, and hurried after the departing men.

 

"Talkative, isn't he?" Face said.

 

Ross grinned. "That's our Jackson. He gets so worked up about missions you can't get a word out of him. He's the original adrenalin junkie."

 

"I take it you're all good friends." Hannibal asked.

 

"Oh, sure." Ross smiled. "Well, we work well together. I don't know about friends, exactly. I think if it weren't for us being in the same line of work, we wouldn't look twice at each other. Except for Jackson and Thomas, maybe. They were best buddies even before we signed up for the United People's Front gig."

 

"Really." Hannibal said, feeling that he already knew enough about this outfit.

 

"Hey, Faceman, wanna share a pizza with me?" Frankie tapped him on the shoulder.

 

"Pizza?" Face looked at his watch. "It's barely eight o'clock!"

 

"Well, you gotta try everything once." Frankie grinned. "Race ya to the phone."

 

Hannibal found Jackson throwing up in the bathroom. "You don't look 'all right' now."

 

"Are you my doctor, now?" Jackson straightened up and wiped his mouth. "Why do you care so much? You're supposed to hate me, remember?"

 

"Yes, and I admit you're not my favourite person, Jackson. But it seems that we are at present on the same team and I just want to make sure that my team wins." Hannibal told him.

 

"Well, thanks for caring." Jackson said as he brushed past Hannibal on the way out. "But I think you should be more concerned about Thomas. He's never been quite all right since the Beller Air incident."

 

"He's with the doctor now." Hannibal reasoned. "I can't do anything for him. What worries me is that you're obviously sick and not admitting it."

 

Jackson stared daggers at him. "I'll get over it."

 

"He means a lot to you, doesn't he?" Hannibal changed the subject.

 

"What are you saying?"

 

"I'm saying that my team means a lot to me and I'm not going to let you jeopardise their lives by being stupid."

 

Jackson nodded slowly. "All right, but as of now, your team are out of the equation. Your services are no longer required. I have my team. You have yours. And that's all we need to know." He hurried away in the direction of the room Thomas had taken.

 

Hannibal stared at the ceiling in despair. "I just don't get this guy."

 

"Tommy?" Jackson sat down beside his bed. "How you feeling?"

 

Thomas smiled with blind eyes. "I'm fine, Jack and thank you for getting us out. We all thought you were dead."

 

"No one kills Jonathan Jackson off like that." Jackson took Thomas' hand. "Now, Tommy, I have to go away for a while. I promise I'll be back. Just don't tell the others anything, all right?"

 

"Aye, aye, Captain." Thomas grinned.

 

Jackson looked around the empty room, released his co-pilot's hand and slipped quietly away.

 

***

 

Murdock charged into the villa, looking surprisingly like part of a hedge, yelling "Shower!" at the top of his voice. He skidded into the main room to find an assortment of team members milling around, looking faintly puzzled. "Uh, what's up?"

 

"Jackson's disappeared into the proverbial thin air." Face appeared from behind him. "That's it, Hannibal, we've checked everywhere. No sign at all." He suddenly noticed that Murdock was back. "Uh, hi Murdock. Nice outfit."

 

"I think I'm the first person ever to outrun a tank." Murdock reported. "I ditched the helicopter, but they must have been tracking me. I don't think they could have picked up that I landed here though, I was only here a minute at most."

 

"Good work, Captain." Hannibal commended him. "But unfortunately we have other problems."

 

"Don't worry about it!" Ross piped up. "Jack takes off on his own a lot. What does it matter?"

 

"It matters, Mr. Ross, because you and your team have a highly classified mission to undertake within the next week." Stockwell appeared out of nowhere. "I have spoken to Thomas. He was reluctant to tell me anything, which means that Jackson's said something to him."

 

"Wow, that's real helpful." Frankie muttered.

 

Stockwell's eyes went around each one of the men in the room before settling on the muddy and leafy HM Murdock. "Captain, be ready to leave in twenty minutes." He slithered out of the room again.

 

Murdock stared at the departing General and then at everyone else. "Well don't look at me!" he said indignantly.

 

"With that camouflage it's pretty hard not to." Face grinned. "Shower! Now!"

 

***

 

Jonathan Jackson stood outside the up-market apartment block in Los Angeles and resentfully lit up a cigarette. "See what you've driven me to, Stockwell." He muttered, holding the thin stick to his lips. He had been in the city for more than 12 hours, scouting out the place and generally trying to figure out what he was going to do. There was little chance of any cops catching him here. They would be expecting him in Washington or New York, not LA. The A-Team and the rest of the boys could deal with Decker and the Feds if they needed to. Right now, he needed to be here.

 

"Hey!" A uniformed security guard from the apartment block came out of the door and glared at him. "You got business here?"

 

"Why?" Jackson asked.

 

The guard was evidently somewhat unnerved by the pilot's pale blue stare. "You've been standing here for over an hour. I get complaints, you know. People get frightened you're out to burgle them."

 

Jackson decided to laugh at this. "Believe me, I'm not a thief."

 

"So what you doing here?" The guard asked nervously.

 

"I'm actually going to see a friend of mine." Jackson smiled. "She lives in this building."

 

"Oh yeah?" The guard doubted this a lot. Jackson supposed that he was probably right to. The pilot's current appearance left much to be desired. "What's her name?"

 

Jackson blew out a breath. "Martina Decker." He stated.

 

The guard looked him up and down once more. "Okay, I'll take you up there. But if you're playing games, Mister, I'm calling the cops."

 

"Why, thank you." Jackson dropped his cigarette on the ground and stood on it before following the guard into the building. Martina lived on the third floor and the guard made him use the stairs as punishment for annoying him. Once they got there, the guard knocked politely on the door and gave Jackson a warning look. Jackson raised his hands as a peaceful gesture.

 

The door was opened by a young blonde woman in her twenties who looked as much out of place in the building as Jackson did. "Yes?" She asked.

 

"Umm, sorry to disturb you, Miss, but this gentleman claimed to know you." The gyard looked at Jackson with some distaste.

 

Martina stared at Jackson for two seconds before emitting a yelp of delight. "Jonathan!"

Jackson's face stretched into a smile. "Hi."

 

"So...you do know him, then." The guard said, evidently unhappy that he wouldn't get to throw Jackson out the nearest window.

 

Martina rolled her eyes at him. "Of course I know him! He's my fiancé!" She turned her attention to Jackson. "Are you coming in or not?"

 

"I guess I am." Jackson smiled and did so as Martina shut the door on the bemused guard.

"Jonathan..." She gazed at him. "You're in jail."

 

"Stockwell got me out." Jackson shrugged. "I had to come and see you."

 

"That's all very well, but you're still a wanted criminal." She pointed out.

 

"Yes, I'm a wanted criminal. Your father is at this very moment scouring Virginia to find me."

 

Jackson grinned. "And I was a wanted criminal before, remember?"

 

"But Jack...those stories about you being a murderer..." She faltered.

 

Jackson stepped towards her. "Marty, you know I do these things for the good of the country. Those people were part of a high-level drugs ring. Unfortunately, we weren't able to capture them alive."

 

"Women and children?" Martina asked, matching his stare.

 

Jackson shook his head, looked very hard at his shoes. "We didn't know about them, I swear."

 

He looked at her again. "Why the questions? Has your father been talking to you again?"

 

"Jack, I haven't spoken to him in months!" She answered. "But I think when someone I love is accused of multiple murders I have a right to know what happened!"

 

Jackson closed his eyes. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just...I've had a lot to think about these few days. Stockwell says that he can get us pardons soon. I might be a free man...for the first time in my life."

 

Martina's face brightened. "You mean it? No more secret government missions? No more of me thinking you're dead?"

 

"No more." Jackson smiled in return. "Now let me kiss you."

 

***

 

HM Murdock was not, on reflection, having the best week. It was, in fact, steadily getting worse. First his baseball had been seriously dented by virtue of coming into contact with Frankie's head. Then he had been grounded and as a result had missed his date. Then he had had to ditch his stolen helicopter in a field which had not yet recovered from the time of Noah's Ark and run like hell away from more than a few FBI cars. Then he had been sent on a mission to God knows where, involving a lengthy airplane flight and a taxi trip. He was presently standing outside an apartment feeling very confused indeed.

 

Why was he in Los Angeles? Why, to be more exact, was he in this swish apartment block staring at a blank door? Stockwell had been less than forthcoming with information. All he had was an address and a vague idea that Jackson might be around. Great, he thought, tapping on the door and waiting. Eventually, a beautiful young woman in jeans and T-shirt answered the door, a smile on her face. "Hi! What can I do for you?"

 

Murdock was, for a few seconds at least, totally speechless. "Urrr, I, ummm, was wondering if, perhaps, Jackson was here?" Terrific, Murdock. You know what they say about first impressions? Well, you certainly made one there.

 

Her face developed into a frown. "Jackson? I don't know... Who sent you?"

 

"Uhhh, my uncle?" Murdock remembered something about this from Stockwell's briefing.

 

"Cool!" She replied cheerfully. "Come in!"

 

Murdock ventured in, to find a tidy and spacious room. Whoever she was, she certainly didn't need any money. "Nice place you got here."

 

"Thanks!" She locked the door. "So who're you? You're not one of Jack's boys?"

 

"Um, no. HM Murdock, at your service." Murdock flashed her a charming smile.

 

"Murdock, Murdock, Murdock..." She looked at him, puzzled. "Someone's mentioned you. I'm Marty Decker, by the way."

 

Murdock almost bit his tongue off.

 

***

 

"Ha-nni-bal." Frankie poked his head around the door. "Murdock's left the bathroom covered with mud." He looked around the few men who were attempting to play pool. "Where's Hannibal?"

 

"I want an explanation." Hannibal slammed the door of Stockwell's office. "Now, if you wouldn't mind."

 

Stockwell focused on him behind orange-tinted glasses, rubbed the corner of his eye. "Of course, Colonel, if you would be so good to give me a topic?"

 

"Don't get smart!" Hannibal answered. "For the past few days you've been using my men for some very dubious activities. Splitting us up, cutting us off from information, making us rescue a group of convicted criminals from a high-security jail - this isn't what we signed up for!"

 

"So you'd prefer to be in a high-security prison yourself?" Stockwell said, in a tone of utter seriousness.

 

Hannibal forced himself to think clearly. In the situation he was in, he really had no leverage with Stockwell. If he didn't like the jobs, he could go to be executed. Still, working with Jackson and his band of murderers was not his idea of a moral good time. "You ask us to perform duties - we've done everything you've told us to do. However, your method of keeping vital information from us has never paid off! My men have repeatedly come very close to death as a result of bad information, Stockwell. This has to end, for all our sakes. Now would be a good time to start."

 

Stockwell smiled nastily at him. "Of course, Colonel, I heartily agree. However, whatever orders I issue to Jackson's men are really none of your business. Good day, Colonel." The General slid out past Hannibal, leaving him alone with four empty walls. Out of sheer frustration, he hit one of them.

 

***

 

"Coffee?" Murdock was jerked out of his thoughts by a word spoken by the daughter of the man he perhaps feared most in the world - if he feared anyone. Martina Decker, who happened to be the girlfriend of Jonathan Jackson, a convicted terrorist who had three years ago tried to kill the A-Team and ditch a 747 into the ocean, all apparently on the orders of General Hunt Stockwell, whom Murdock was now working for. Right now, answering the question of did he want some coffee was a lot easier - and safer - than trying to puzzle out what on earth was going on.

 

"Uh, thanks." Murdock nodded and stripped himself of his jacket while sitting down on the couch. Jackson himself was, Marty said, 'in bed'. Murdock wasn't about to question further. "So, you've known Jackson for a long time, then?"

 

"Uh huh." She called from the kitchen. "About five years, I think. We met at a football game. He was there to meet one of his weird contacts."

 

"And why were you there?" Murdock felt obliged to ask.

 

"To watch the game, of course." Marty appeared back in record time with two mugs of steaming black coffee. "His contact never showed and the game was pretty boring, so one thing led to another..."

 

"Right." Murdock grinned, wondering whether he should keep holding the cup of coffee and burn the skin off his hands or to actually drink some of it and become the first official case of spontaneous human combustion. "I guess your father doesn't know?"

 

"Oh, you know Dad?" Marty looked confused. "Then maybe it was him who mentioned you."

 

Uh oh, Murdock thought. "Well, actually, we have spoken on several occasions."

 

"Then that's it!" She grinned. "Were you in the army?"

 

"Um, yeah." Murdock inwardly sighed with relief. "I flew choppers in Nam."

 

She pointed a finger at him. "Another pilot. You know all Jack talked about for months were planes. He was pretty nervous back then. Still, I suppose if I ever need to know the seating capacity of a 747, I'll be all right."

 

Murdock laughed nervously. "Great. Um, so there isn't any chance of the good Colonel bursting in here?"

 

"Dad? In here? No." Marty replied. "He thinks he chased Jack away a long time ago. Why would he want to think his daughter was in love with a terrorist? I suppose he might call up here in a few days if he can't find any other options. No, I think we're all right. Anyhow, I'd have the two of you to protect me, right?"

 

"I wouldn't bet on that." Murdock thought.

 

"You chatting up my girl, Murdock?" Jackson stumbled into the main room, dressed in jeans and sweater, but with that definitive 'just-got-out-of-bed' look.

 

"I see you found your clothes, then." Marty replied.

 

Jackson blinked in the light. "Yeah. I didn't think you'd have kept them."

 

"Well, you know, I might have found another boyfriend who fitted them." She joked. "Do you have to go now?"

 

Jackson stared at Murdock, who made a compromise. "Uh, I guess as soon as possible. Stockwell was pretty insistent."

 

"What time is it?" Jackson looked at his watch. "Midnight? I slept that long?"

 

"No, we just changed your watch. And the position of the moon in the sky." Murdock said.

 

"Knowing you and your A-Team buddies, you probably did." Jackson yawned.

 

Murdock froze and was about ready to bolt for the door.

 

"You know the A-Team?" Marty asked.

 

"Ummmmmm..." Murdock tried to think up an excuse.

 

"He's their pilot." Jackson reported. "Or, as Price affectionately calls him - the beast from the belly of a Boeing. I'll go get my shoes." He walked dazedly back into the bedroom.

 

Marty stood there staring at Murdock. "So that's how you knew my father. Hmmm, what he wouldn't give to know about you."

 

"But you're not going to tell him, right?" Murdock pleaded.

 

She raised her eyebrows. "Murdock, what am I going to say? That you happened to turn up while an escaped prisoner was sleeping in my bed? I don't think so, as much fun as it would be..."

 

Jackson hopped out, tying up one shoe. "Okay, I'm ready." He righted himself and went to kiss Marty. "I'll be back, I promise."

 

"Don't promise anything." She smiled. "Just do it."

 

Jackson grinned back, pushed Murdock out of the door until they were both standing in an empty corridor. "What now?" Murdock asked.

 

"How'd you like to steal a plane?" Jackson replied.

 

***

 

"This is a baaaaad idea." Murdock said, looking idly around the deserted airfield. He was officially the lookout, but that was pretty pointless, given that trying to see anything this far away from the city was like staring into the backs of your eyes. Jackson, with the aid of a penlight, was applying a screwdriver to the locked door of the cargo plane he had *found* in what Murdock was sure wasn't an entirely legal procedure.

 

Jackson looked around at him as he prised open the door. "Afraid of the dark, Murdock?"

"No. Afraid of the police, the army, the Feds, the CIA, the KGB..."

 

"The KGB?"

 

Murdock shrugged. "Well, you never know."

 

"Ripping times." Jackson muttered under his breath. The door was giving him more trouble than he had expected.

 

"Huh?" Murdock asked, giving up totally the idea of looking out for any passers-by.

Jackson removed the screwdriver, fiddled with the lock. "Later, with inch-thick specs, evil was just my lark. Me and my cloak and fangs had ripping times in the dark." The door flew open to much grinning from the would-be-locksmith. "Philip Larkin. A Study of Reading Habits."

 

"Really." Murdock followed Jackson into the plane and worked on getting the door to stick closed again.

 

"Yeah. Read it in prison. Keats would have been better, but I guess they don't figure that terrorists like romantic poets." Jackson flicked a good few switches, including the one which turned on the lights.

 

"No, I think they just gave them all to the lunatic asylum." Murdock said, sitting down in the co-pilot's chair and giving Jackson a manic grin.

 

"Don't you want to do the honours?" Jackson asked.

 

Murdock shrugged. "It isn't as if either of us actually has a licence. And you are a pilot."

 

"Sure, but you're a whole lot better than me at the flying business." Jackson pointed out. "I read your record. Not bad for an army flyboy."

 

"What's your record look like?" Murdock asked.

 

"Very long, but none of it official." Jackson answered.

 

"Interesting." Murdock made a mental note before shoving Jackson into the pilot's chair. "Now, quit arguing and take off before we're arrested. I have to get back to Langley so I can give Stockwell a piece of my mind. I might be a pilot, but that doesn't mean I like transcontinental flights twice in one day."

 

"Hmmm, yeah." Jackson started up the engines with some help from his trusty screwdriver.

Murdock thrust out a hand. "Friends?"

 

Jackson did nothing but stare at it for a few second, but then took it in one of his own. "Allies. We'll see about friends later."

 

***

 

"Come on, Hannibal. You can't sit around doin' nothin' just cause of that General." BA prodded him gently.

 

Hannibal grunted. Frankie and BA, bored stiff of being beaten at pool by the 'Jackson Five', were now resolutely trying to cheer him up. It was at least an engine short of working. "Where do you think Murdock's gone?" Frankie asked.

 

"I have no idea." Hannibal replied. "You'd have to ask Stockwell. He's the only one who knows anything around here - either him or his lapdog Jackson."

 

"What's wrong with you, man!" BA exclaimed. "I don't like Jackson either, but if we gotta work with him, we gotta work with him."

 

"Right." Frankie seconded.

 

"It's not that I'm worried about." Hannibal groaned. "It's the working *for* him I don't like."

 

"Hey, Jackson!" Frankie yelled, mainly as a warning to the other two men. BA stood up straight and Hannibal sat forward.

 

"Where's Murdock?" Hannibal asked directly. Jackson was looking better, more alive than he had been, and it wasn't just the change of clothes.

 

"I asked him to look in on Tommy." Jackson started, sounding almost nervous. "I wanted to talk to you, Colonel."

 

"Then talk." Hannibal answered curtly.

 

Jackson stepped towards him. "I've thought over my actions of the past few days. I want to say that I'm sorry. Really. Your team has done a lot for me and..."

 

"Hannibal!" Face burst in, accompanied by Murdock, both brandishing white envelopes. "What do these mean?"

 

Hannibal took the envelope from Face, read it: 'Templeton Peck, report to Captain Jackson for further orders'. He assumed that Murdock's was similar. He glared at Stockwell, who had stealthily entered the room behind the confused Teamers. "Well, what *do* these mean?" He demanded.

 

Stockwell smiled thinly. "It means that, as of today, the A-Team is officially disbanded."

 

Hannibal turned, saw Jackson's blazing eyes, and promptly punched the younger man in the jaw. Jackson fell with a thud to the carpet and wisely stayed down. "You bastard!" Hannibal shouted at him in pure anger. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

 

Murdock grabbed his arm. "Don't be stupid, Hannibal. How could he know anything? He's been with me the last day, remember?"

 

"Indeed, Captain." Stockwell said, smiling at them as if a God over his foolish creations. "This decision was only recently taken when it was realised that Jackson's team is sadly now two down on its original strength owing to the loss of Rourke and the fact that Thomas is incapacitated. As the team required a co-pilot and a liar, Captain Murdock and Lieutenant Peck have been relocated."

 

"A liar?" Face blustered. "I am not a liar! I am a very skilled professional!"

 

"Shut up, Face." Murdock said quietly, observing the scene. Stockwell and Hannibal staring lightning storms at each other, Jackson on the deck, Frankie and BA speechless.

 

Hannibal roughly pulled away from Murdock's grasp. "Well, as you all seem to be against me, I might as well leave!" He pushed Face out of the way and charged out of the door, leaving behind the wreckage of the A-Team.

 

"Hannibal, he a-cracking up, man." BA stared after his leader.

 

"Yeah." Murdock said, giving Jackson a hand up from the floor. "But you can't blame him."

 

"What we gonna do, Murdock?" Frankie asked, totally lost.

 

"I guess that's for General Stockwell to decide." Murdock looked at the besuited man in front of him.

 

Stockwell started chanting his bureaucratic reel again. "Mr Santana, Sergeant Baracus, Colonel Smith if he is still here and Mr. Thomas will remain in this building. The rest of you are moving to an indisclosed location in twenty minutes. Get whatever things you have and be ready to move out. Captain, I have arranged for your clothes to be picked up from your apartment." He nodded at the pilot.

 

"Hang on, what about Tommy?" Jackson asked, concerned.

 

"This is a high-security mission, Jackson." Stockwell replied. "If Thomas is not taking an active part, then he isn't joining us. Understood?"

 

The staring match between the two men might have gone on forever if Frankie hadn't piped up with what Murdock, Face and BA were thinking. "What if Johnny doesn't come back?"

 

***

 

"This is ludicrous!" Colonel Decker sat uncomfortably across from a black suit. "You can't call off the search for Jackson!"

 

"Whyever not, Colonel?" The suit, a man called Havers, was slowly eating into Decker's mental processes like acid. "I do believe that it was our operation and that we are perfectly entitled to call it off."

 

"The man is a danger to everyone alive!" Decker pointed out. "And that isn't including his gang or the A-Team."

 

Havers smiled. "Right. Jackson is a terrorist and not even a good one. At a basic level, all he is is a thief."

 

"He's a murderer!" Decker said, outraged. "And on top of that, he raped my daughter!"

 

The suit sighed. "He has been formally convicted of nothing higher than hijacking and as for your daughter, I would think that that is a personal matter, considering that she herself seemed quite enamoured with the man."

 

"You've talked to her?" Decker asked.

 

"Of course. It was quite possible that he would go to her for assistance, but there's been no sign of him anywhere. As a result, we feel it necessary to close this file for the time being. Jackson very probably has friends all over the world he can go to for help. For such a minor problem as he is, we don't feel it necessary to get the CIA involved. Besides, I'm sure you realise that in the next few days, we have a much bigger threat to deal with."

 

Decker sat forward. "And what would that be?"

 

***

 

"We can't find Hannibal anywhere." BA reported, hurrying up to the car which the members of Jackson's new team were piling into. "Everyone's going missing these days."

 

Murdock looked serious, too serious for the formerly crazy young man. "BA, Frankie, you two gotta hold the fort for us. Try to find Hannibal."

 

"Sure we will, Murdock!" Frankie grinned. "But it's no big deal - you guys come back, Hannibal calms down and we all have a party!"

 

If Murdock had ever felt like slapping Frankie across the face to wake him up to reality it was now. "Frankie! We may not be coming back. Now, look after yourselves, okay?"

 

"Okay, brother." BA grinned, putting a heavy hand on Frankie's shoulder.

 

Murdock nodded to them and followed Face inside the limosine where Jackson and his team were gathered, minus Thomas. "Okay, Jackson, you're the top man here, what's going on?"

 

Jackson looked up and straight at him. There was a vivid red mark on his left cheekbone and he looked less in control than Murdock had ever seen him. "I don't know." He finally admitted. "Whatever Stockwell's got in mind, I just don't know what it is."

 

Murdock looked at Face, who was masking a feeling of terror. As he settled back against the seat, the brutal humming of helicopters echoed in his ears.

 

***

 

When it began to rain, John 'Hannibal' Smith stared upwards to the heavens and hoped to god that he be struck by lightning now, so that he could forget about making any decisions ever again. The hopes of a coward, he knew. The hopes of a man who had never until this moment been Hannibal Smith. The rain came on harder and he ducked into an alleyway, crouched down against the wall and wondered what had changed in one year.

 

Ever since Frankie Santana had almost killed him on set, his entire world had been different. Frankie had joined the team, Murdock had been declared sane, they had relocated to Langley...but most of all, he had never been in control. Sure, Stockwell gave them the illusion of free will every so often - like their fortnight off when Face had been shot at the restaurant Murdock had been working in. Was it only paranoia that made him think that perhaps Stockwell had known about the whole thing and had let them go there to teach them, in his view, a well-deserved lesson? He knew it was. God, was he depressed. Where, exactly, were their lives going, anyway? In limbo until they got their pardon. *If* they got their pardon. They would probably die first.

 

And now Jackson came into the equation. The whole thing sounded like some bizarre story dreamt up by a bored teenager in an English classroom. The question was, who was the hero in this film? Jackson was sure getting a hellava lot of screen time.

 

Oh, to hell with Jackson! He stood up quickly and ventured once more out onto the main street. This wasn't about Jackson, the A-Team or even Stockwell. This was about him, Hannibal Smith. He had lost control of the situation when he was supposed to be the man with the plan, the guy on the jazz. And he had deserted his unit. Not in the jungles of Nam, not being pursued by Decker, but in a perfectly nice villa in Langley. He had walked out on all of them, on Face, BA, Murdock and even, god help him, Frankie, for no beter reason than he couldn't *take* it anymore. Couldn't take it anymore? He had 'taken' Viet Cong prison camps!

 

He threw a fist at the door of a small diner to open it and stomped inside, trailing muddy water on the plastic floor. None of the few equally wet patrons asked him anything, not even the waitress who was more interested in her cigarette than her newest customer. Hannibal took this as an invitation to light up his last remaining cigar. Having nothing much else to do, he listened to the radio for a few minutes.

 

Thirty seconds later, all that remained of his presence there was a smoking cigar.

 

***

 

"All right." Jonathan Jackson surveyed the motley crew in front of him. Price, Ross, Baker, Murdock and Face. All equally confused. All equally scared of what might come next. From Stockwell's attitude to the whole thing, keeping even Thomas out of it, it seemed that this was perhaps the most important mission any of them had ever been sent on. From Jackson's expression after being briefed in a lone session with Stockwell, it seemed that this might be the mission none of them came back from. "First off, I want to say that although we don't have Tommy and TK with us on this one, I don't want any of you missing them. Murdock and Face are as good and very probably better than they would ever have been. All those doubting can take a peek at their war records."

 

No one was doubting and no one was smiling.

 

Jackson took a breath. "General Stockwell got us out of prison because we are the best people for this job. That's why he chose us to test out the A-Team's capabilities with the Beller Air incident. That's why we did the Jersey job. That's why we're doing this. Now, guys, any ideas?" He leaned back against the wall and regarded them all with a smile.

 

"Ideas on what?" Face asked, confused.

 

"What the mission is, of course." Baker regarded him as if the older man was a certified idiot.

 

"Planes, I guess, Jack." Price said.

 

Jackson nodded, waited for any other ideas, and then continued. "Planes, indeed. One plane, to be precise. A Beller Air 747. Sound familiar?"

 

There was much groaning from Baker, Face and Price. "What we doing this for, Jack?" Ross moaned. "This ain't important."

 

"The plane itself isn't, no. But we're not asking for a ransom this time. This time, we're doing the A-Team role and sneaking onboard."

 

"But what *for*?" Baker asked, bored.

 

"Ah." Jackson grinned. "That is most definitely the sixty-four thousand dollar question."

 

***

 

"Why is there never anything good on daytime TV?" Frankie complained, flicking channels.

 

BA shifted restlessly in his chair. "I wonder where Hannibal is, man."

 

"Don't worry!" Frankie said. "He'll be back, right?"

 

At that very ironic moment, Hannibal burst through the doors leading out into the garden.

"Hey, Hannibal..." Frankie started, grinning.

 

Hannibal, dripping wet and exhausted from running all the way, brushed him away. He gulped down a breath of air and yelled out his news: "They're going to kill the President!"

 

"Sit down, man!" BA practically shoved his commanding officer into a chair. "What's going on?"

Hannibal stayed where he had been put and took a minute to get his breath back. Frankie and BA sat down and watched him curiously. "Within the next few days, the President is supposed to be meeting with other world leaders to discuss some 'delicate' issues."

 

"Delicate issues?" Frankie asked.

 

Hannibal shrugged. "It's impossible to know, since it's under the highest security. I read about this a few days ago, but I only realised just now that Stockwell's busting out of Jackson's team must have something to do with it."

 

"Isn't it just a coincidence?" BA suggested.

 

Hannibal shook his head firmly once. "No. Why? Because it's rumoured that top of the agenda at the conference will be an international anti-terrorist treaty."

 

"Isn't that good?" Frankie said, puzzled.

 

"Good, yes, but not for Stockwell's methods of operating. With something like this in operation, his hands would be tied." Hannibal explained. "And people like Stockwell don't lose power easily."

 

"So Jackson's going to kill the President?" BA concluded.

 

"Seems that way."

 

"Well." The big man got up, a wide grin on his face. "What're we gonna do about it?"

 

***

 

"This is all very well, Jack." Price mused. "But we're never all squeezing inside the underbelly of that plane without being noticed. Airports do have a lot of personnel, you know. On that Beller job we were lucky - we only found one or two. And that's if we can even get onto the tarmac - there'll be guards everywhere."

 

Jackson nodded. "But it's supposed to be a secret - no one's supposed to know that this isn't really a commercial flight and that the passengers are Feds. We'll have to be careful, yeah, but they won't really be expecting anyone along. Least of all us."

 

"You sure about that?" Face drawled. "The A-Team rescuing you guys from a high-security prison days before the President flies out to a secret mission is a little more than a coincidence - even to someone like Decker."

 

"Decker knows nothing of any of this." Jackson affirmed. "He's little people, as far as we're concerned. Now, yes, we're not all getting in the way the A-Team did. Murdock, Baker - you two are going in the conventional way."

 

"Uh, how're we doin' that, boss?" Murdock said in an impression of one of the heavies he regularly pummelled.

 

"You, Captain, are an official Beller Air pilot, along in case anything goes spectacularly wrong, since you know the plane." Jackson recited the facts. "Baker, you're his engineer. I know they've probably got arrest warrants over the whole state for you, but no one'd ever believe you were a terrorist."

 

Baker muttered something to himself, to the effect that that was not a compliment.

 

Price looked exasperated. "But they're never going to let those guys onboard, Jack."

 

"At the expense of making it look like something weird's going on?" Jackson smiled. "They'll let them on. Okay, meeting ends. Everyone's confined to the house and grounds, by the way. If you go outside, you'll probably be shot and we wouldn't want that, would we?"

 

With much groaning, everyone got up and left in ones and twos. "I guess it's our usual policy of making it up as we go along then?" Ross quipped.

 

"Hey, that's our policy!" Murdock replied in earnest. "We patented it and everything!"

 

***

 

"There is one very big problem with this, Hannibal." Frankie said as he laid his map out on the table. "There are a lot of airports in the United States."

 

"Where's the meeting to take place?" BA asked.

 

Hannibal squinted at the newspaper he had dug out of the bin. "No one has any idea. That's why it's secret."

 

"So...anyone have any really good newspaper contacts?" Frankie asked, still staring at his bumper map of the USA, which was hanging off the end of the table and touching the floor.

BA and Hannibal looked at each other. "Amy."

 

***

 

"Hannibal!!" Amy Allen sat at her desk, which had held the record for untidiest piece of office furniture and looked like winning again this year. "How are you? I thought you might be dead!"

 

"Hmmm, yes, well, we were, of course." Hannibal tried to remember when he had last spoken to her.

 

"I know, Murdock told me." Amy replied. "So, what can I do for you?"

 

Hannibal was suddenly all business. "The President's conference. What information do you have that the newspaper doesn't?"

 

"Hannibal...I'm not supposed to have any information at all. Especially not give it to convicted criminals." She sat up, puzzled. "How'd you know I had any, anyway?"

 

"You're the hottest foreign reporter around, Amy. If there are things to know, you know them."

 

"Well, okay. I just hope the FBI haven't bugged my phone. Word is, the conference is taking place in Budapest." Amy said, looking through her notes. "I don't think I have anything else of interest... Hope that helps. Are the guys there?"

 

"Only BA and Frankie. Uh, he's my special effects man." Hannibal quickly explained. "I'll get Murdock to phone you soon with some details if we get anywhere."

 

"Cool." Amy grinned. "See you."

 

***

 

BA returned from his argument with the customer service woman at the travel agent's with the information that only one commercial airline ever went to Budapest on a regular basis - Beller Air. "Well, well." Hannibal grinned. "It's our old chums. I wonder if they remember us?"

 

"They sure remember Murdock!" BA chuckled.

 

"So, what now?" Frankie asked, battling with his map.

 

"I think I can help you with that." Thomas said, watching them closely from the doorway.

Frankie paused in his ongoing war with his bumper map of the USA to lift a finger to point at Thomas. "You're blind."

 

Thomas ventured a few steps into the room, dressed in what appeared to be the clothes Murdock usually left at the Villa for when Stockwell dragged him away from his beloved apartment. "Well, yeah, I am. But only technically."

 

Frankie looked between BA and Hannibal. "Hands up all those not following."

 

Hannibal waved him away with a hand. "You don't need to be totally black-blind to be classified blind, right?"

 

Thomas gave him a smile. "Exactly. I can see light and dark. Movement... Basically I'm a lot more able to see than *official* papers give me credit for. Which made sure that I was the perfect plant."

 

Hannibal stared at him. "Hands up all those not following."

 

***

 

Jackson sat on the lone bed in the room he had been allocated and tried to stare out the telephone. Years of prison walls had made him pretty good, but he could never out-stare his own conscience. To call Marty was stupid. Even if the Feds hadn't bugged her phone, what could he say? "Hi Marty, how are you? By the way, I'm going to die tomorrow." On the other hand, to not phone meant to give her the news when everyone else got it. He would be depicted as a criminal, never the hero he perhaps deserved to be. Not for himself, but for her. So that she could look her father in the eyes and know that she was right to hook up with Jonathan Jackson.

 

The door crashed open, revealing HM Murdock and a box full of stuff from his apartment. "Hi Jackson." Murdock said, rummaging through it.

 

Jackson determinedly ignored the telephone and sat up. "Hi."

 

"Well, whaddya know? These Abels do have a bit of culture in them." Murdock took out a thin book, brushed the dust off its cover and handed it to Jackson. "You said you wanted to read Keats."

 

Jackson took it, flicked through a few pages. "Did read some, before I met up with the good folks at Beller Air."

 

"You regret doing that?" Murdock slouched against a wall.

 

The terrorist shrugged. "For my men, yes. For Rourke, for Thomas. For the time we all spent in prison. But I guess it meant that the lives of your A-Team were saved as a result, and I got to meet you all, so no, I don't regret it."

 

Murdock nodded. "There was a naughty boy, a naughty boy was he, He would not stop at home, he would not quiet be."

 

Jackson grinned. "You or me?"

 

"All of us, I should imagine." Murdock laughed and spun back out of the door. "Happy reading, Mr. Jackson!"

 

The door slammed closed.

 

***

 

"Guns! Guns! Guns!" Hannibal muttered to himself, ducking under the pool table. "We need guns!"

 

BA grunted. "There's none here, Hannibal. Stockwell took everything. You know that."

 

Hannibal came out of the other side of the table, finger in the air. "Not quite everything! BA! Get your spade!"

 

BA clapped a hand to his face. "Oh, Hannibal! You can't be serious!"

 

"He's serious." Frankie said.

 

"Yup, sounds it." Thomas grinned.

 

"Oh, man..." BA hurried after his demented leader.

 

***

 

"Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!" Face said from his new position on the floor after being assaulted by a cardboard box wielded by one HM Murdock Esq. "Murdock! What are you doing!"

 

"Faceyman!!!" Murdock grinned enthsiastically before his expression turned to complete seriousness. "In here, come on!" With one movement, he picked Face up and threw him into a storage cupboard presently occupied by a vacuum cleaner.

 

"Oh, this is nice." Face looked around. "What do you want, Murdock? And this better not be you coming onto me!"

 

"No..." Murdock said. "But I understand the vacuum has quite a thing about you. No, we have to talk. How'd you feel about this...thing?"

 

Face swallowed, stared at the ceiling. "I don't exactly like it, Murdock, but what else can we do? We have to."

 

Murdock shook his head. "Stockwell's playing a game this time all right and I don't think he's betting with us."

 

Face nodded. "True, but whatever happens, happens, right? We're still the A-Team! We can do this!" His face darkened. "Do you think...Hannibal and BA and Frankie...will they be okay?"

 

"We can worry about them when we get out of this." Murdock smiled. "See you tomorrow, Face."

 

Face nodded. "Yeah." And left Murdock in the cupboard.

 

The pilot stared at the vacuum cleaner. "This sucks, doesn't it?"

 

***

 

Hannibal stood behind the pool table and handed out the weapons they had dug up from the garden. BA took what had been allocated to him with much muttering about mud in his barrel. "I guess you can't fire a gun." Hannibal directed this at Thomas.

 

"Huh? Well, I can fire one, just I'm about as likely to hit my own foot as a bad guy." He frowned. "I guess not a lot's changed, then. You know - six of us guys and not one of us was really any good at shooting. Rourke, maybe, on a good day."

 

Hannibal looked around his weapons. "Take this, anyway." He passed the younger man a knife. "We're going to need you along and if I have half an idea of what's going on, you'll need it."

 

The Colonel surveyed his three troops, sighed inwardly and pointed at the ceiling. "Tally ho." He said, halfheartedly.

 

"I wish that Fool were here." BA muttered.

 

***

 

"'Fool! Fool!' repeated he, while his eyes still

Repented not, nor moved: 'From every ill

Of life have I preserved thee to this day,

And shall I see thee made a serpent's prey?'

Then Lamia breathed death-breath; the sophist's eye,

Like a sharp spear, went through her utterly,

Keen, cruel, perceant, stinging: she, as well

As her weak hand could any meaning tell,

Motioned him to be silent; vainly so,

He looked and looked again a level - No!

'A Serpent!' echoed he; no sooner said,

Than with a frightful scream she vanishèd:

And Lycius' arms were empty of delight,

As were his limbs of life, from that same night.

On the high couch he lay! - his friends came round -

Supported him - no pulse, or breath they found,

And, in its marriage robe, the heavy body wound."

 

Jackson closed the book and switched off the light.

 

***

 

The airport lit up the skyline majestically with its flashing lights of many colours. BA parked the van in one of the many, half-deserted car parks and turned around to join the meeting. Beside him, Hannibal did the same. Thomas and Frankie were taking up the back, along with their weapons. "Okay, we're here." Hannibal whispered, despite the lack of anyone being near them.

 

"We don't exactly have a whole load of people, so we're splitting up. Frankie - go to the terminal building. Find somewhere you can get a good look at the front doors and the airplanes."

 

"Uh, Johnny, what if I can't?" Frankie asked, picking up a walkie-talkie.

 

"Then you'll run very quickly." Hannibal replied. "Check in if you see anyone acting suspiciously, and I'm not talking about drug smugglers."

 

"Okay." Frankie muttered.

 

"BA, Thomas, we're going to try to find our plane." Hannibal smiled like a demon in the half-darkness. "We only have two hours. Move out!!!"

 

***

 

Jackson was already dressed in the suit he hated with his gun reassuringly pressed against his ribs and standing in the hallway outside the door to Price's room when he let out a scream a hyena would have been proud of. "Wake up! You're late!!!"

 

The reaction was not exactly what he had expected. In ten seconds, each and every member of his team, including Face and Murdock, were neatly turned out and standing in front of him. He looked at Price questioningly. "You tried that one on us one too many times, Jacko." Price grinned. "Now, we going to die or what?"

 

"Aw, come on you guys." Ross yawned. "I got things to do today!"

 

Jackson smiled. "And you can't argue with that."

 

***

 

The aeroplane was standing alone out on the tarmac, a fair distance away, even, from the departure lounges. None of the passengers were due on it for at least another half hour. Even so, a great number of people were taking an interest in it, Hannibal noticed from the alcove he was squeezed in with BA. They had left Thomas guarding the stairway down from the terminal building and were currently waiting for something - anything - to happen.

 

"Man, how much longer?" BA grumbled. "We been here over an hour!"

 

Hannibal motioned for him to be silent. "And a lot has happened. Tommy says there are about twenty Feds up in the departure lounge. Frankie says that Ross is in the terminal building doing exactly the same thing as him. That means all the players are here. We just have to wait."

 

BA nodded sullenly and then reacted to a distant figure. "Hey! Ain't that Murdock?"

 

Hannibal took a look. It was indeed Murdock accompanied by another man, heading towards the plane. "I wonder what he's doing..."

 

***

 

"Look, I have to go onboard!" Murdock argued with the Fed-in-disguise at the foot of the steps leading to the plane. "I'm a backup pilot! This is Bobby Gibson, my engineer. We work for Beller Air and the company wants us onboard!"

 

The Fed glared at him. "Where's your ID?"

 

Murdock instantly produced his, along with a pile of orange-rimmed Beller Air documents. Baker had to be prodded somewhat to get his out. The kid was presently still half asleep. The Fed looked over them, even reading the small print. "Well, I dunno... I don't know about you guys at all. We already got a pilot!"

 

Murdock sighed and prepared for a long battle.

 

***

 

Thomas stood at the top of the stairwell and whistled absently to himself. No one suspected anything - none of the Feds knew each other very well, he suspected from their conversation, so they wouldn't know if he was one of them or not. Suddenly a black shape blanked out his vision. "Tommy?" Jackson said.

 

"Jack!" Thomas replied, a fraction too loud. Some of the Feds looked at him, but soon turned away,

 

"You brought them?" Jackson asked urgently.

 

"Sure, they're here." Thomas said. "Everything okay?"

 

"So far, so good." Jackson smiled. "But nothing's really happened yet. I have to go, get onboard. Stay out of the way, okay?"

 

"Sure, Jack." Thomas gave him a thumbs-up as Jackson slipped away.

 

"Okay, so Murdock's on the plane." Hannibal reported. "I wish I knew exactly what they were doing!"

 

"Funny, that's exactly why I came along." Jackson tapped him on the arm. Hannibal and BA instantly levelled their guns at him. "Hey! I come in peace!"

 

"Jackson!" Hannibal exclaimed. "Are you trying to get us to kill you?"

 

"No, I already got too many people trying to do that." Jackson smiled, blue eyes ablaze.

 

"Thomas told us Stockwell's plan." Hannibal answered. "Pretty dirty business."

 

Jackson looked around the dark tarmac. "Yes. I'm glad you're here. We can't let the plane take off because if we do, we're easily outnumbered. We need you two and Santana in on the operation. I want it to go down as they're all going on the plane. Then we have a chance."

 

Hannibal nodded. "With all of us, I agree. Just remember that plans don't usually go down well on Beller Air flights."

 

The pilot laughed. "You're right. Well, be seeing you, Smith. I have a flight to catch."

 

The A-Teamers watched him go towards the plane, out of sight of the Fed. "Well." said Hannibal. "This is the first time I've ever tried to kill the President. I hope I make a good impression."

 

***

 

It was five minutes to seven when the first shot was fired - a bullet from Frankie Santana's gun from where he was perched on one of the many stairways leading to the plane. He hit no one, but that was expected. It was nothing more than a warning shot and a spark to set the dynamite off.

 

The Feds and their passenger either hit the deck or hurried into the 747. For those, Murdock and Baker were waiting. "Hey, pal!" Murdock yelled enthusiastically, knocking one of the Feds out with his gun and shoving him back into the cockpit. Baker had already dealt with the assigned pilot and co-pilot of the aircraft. That left another nineteen Feds to cope with.

 

Hannibal dodged out from behind the stairs leading to the plane and grabbed two of the Feds by their collars. They fell to the ground in front of him. The agents immediately next to them turned around and started firing, but to no avail as Hannibal had already disappeared back underneath the plane. "Oh hell!" One of them shouted. "It's happening! We gotta get in the plane!"

 

Most agreed with him and forced their way inside. Frankie fired off a few more shots, just to make a point. From that distance his chances of hitting anyone were remote, but they managed to unnerve the Feds. The last man inside the plane shot in his approximate direction, but acheived nothing. And then the door slammed shut. Frankie grinned and reloaded.

 

The Feds were in total disarray. From Murdock's glimpses through from the cockpit he could tell that they had thought of some attempt on the President's life coming, but had either not taken it seriously or had not been prepared. "What now?" Baker asked, tying up the third captured Fed.

 

Murdock smiled. "You have that little faith in your commanding officer?"

 

Jackson had never seen the stomach of a Boeing before and never particularly wanted to again. Price, Ross and Face were feeling much the same. He listened to the faint sound of shooting come to a close and tapped his gun against his watch. "Time to go."

 

Price levered up the hatch leading to the main part of the Boeing and waited for the other three to climb out before he did so. Jackson walked cautiously forward to the curtain separating the front from the back of the plane and stepped through.

 

He stood for almost a minute before anyone saw him. "What the hell?" One of the Feds, who seemed to be in charge, said.

 

Jackson gave him a grin. "In the case of emergency, I would like you to observe that all exits are currently manned by hostile intruders." He indicated Price, Ross, Face, Murdock and Baker with his gun. "In the interests of keeping this all bloodless, I'll ask you to put down your weapons."

 

"Who are you?" A man in a light grey suit stepped forward. If he wasn't the genuine article, he looked eerily like the President.

 

Jackson beamed. "Jonathan Jackson, at your service. I'm usually a terrorist, but it so happens that today I'm preventing an act of terrorism. Eight of your number are here solely to kill the President."

 

There was much whispering among the ranks. Jackson saw a good few faces go white with shock. Those are the ones we have to kill, he thought.

 

"I'm sorry to say, gentlemen, that this man is not the President at all, but an impersonator hired to lead you all in the wrong direction." Jackson reported. "My team are also not the genuine article - we're not the bad guys here. Your own people are."

 

"You bastards!!!" One of the Feds shot at Price, starting off a flurry of bullets in the air. Most of the true Federal Agents went to ground, taking their 'President' with them. Eight terrorists and six of Jackson's team were left to fight.

 

Price dropped to the floor, a bleeding graze from a bullet across his forehead. Ross and Jackson ducked back into the second section of the plane. Murdock and Baker did the same with the cockpit, using the plane's walls for cover. The eight shot furiously at them, but had no cover of their own except for seats. The team picked off three of them, while the Feds on the floor pulled down another two, howling from leg wounds. Jackson crashed to the floor, avoiding a stray bullet the hard way. Murdock pulled Baker back into the cockpit and squinted out to find any sign of the remaining three, all hidden behind seats.

 

Suddenly, the door swung open, revealing BA, Hannibal and Frankie with all guns blazing. Anyone standing up would have been instantly killed and the one terrorist who had stuck up his head or a shot at Ross was. Once the Teamers stopped shooting, the two terrorists left alive and conscious yelled out a nervous surrender and stood up. Ross and Face immediately grabbed them. Hannibal leaned down with a smile and offered the grey-suited man a hand up. "Sorry for the late take-off, Mr. President." He smiled.

 

The terrorist Face held started. "You mean he *is* really the President?"

 

Jackson, back on his feet, gave him a smack to the back of the head. "Course he is, sonny. There's nothing like a good lie."

 

"Good going, Jackson." Hannibal shook his fellow team-leader's hand. "You won."

 

Jackson nodded. "Yes. But they were pretty inept once we got them boxed in here."

 

"I meant Stockwell." Hannibal grinned. "He wanted you all dead after this little game."

 

"Only thanks to you." Jackson smiled. "Okay! Let's get out of here! I guess you Feds will want to do some investigating."

 

The agents were gradually beginning to sit up and work out what had just happened. Blood spattered most of the seats and most were all too glad to file out. Hannibal grabbed Murdock and Face as they went out into the morning. "Captain, Lieutenant, I owe you an apology."

 

"Colonel... Decker!!" Face realised who the green-uniformed man was at the bottom of the stairs.

 

"Peck." Decker quietly regarded him. "All of you, you're heroes for what you've done today. Mr. President, I'm sure you'll agree." His face darkened. "However, I still have to do this."

He lifted his gun and shot Jackson.

 

No one had time to pay attention to where exactly the first shot went as immediately afterwards Decker was thrown to the ground by one of the two absent team members - Thomas, who had been left in the terminal building. As all other parties looked on in confusion and horror, Decker's gun went off again, muffled between the two bodies. And then all was silent.

 

"Tommy!" Jackson, dripping blood from the wound in his forearm which he was determinedly ignoring, vaulted over the side of the stairs to avoid the crowd in front of him. By the time he got to the two men on the ground, Decker was dazedly sitting up, pushing the obstruction on top of him - Thomas' bleeding body - away. Jackson ignored the soldier and knelt down to take his lifeless friend in his arms.

 

Hannibal, once he had realised what had happened, ordered Murdock to take charge of the plane and for Face to stay with the Feds to hold the prisoners. The three remaining members of Jackson's team ignored all his attempts to tell _them_ what to do and hurried towards the three men on the tarmac. "You bastard!" Ross hauled Decker up to his feet. "You killed him!"

 

Decker could offer no reply to the angry stares of two confused young men. Baker restrained his comrade. "Hey! He's the bad guy, remember? The courts'll get him!"

 

Ross stared for an instant at his young friend. Baker at any other time would have been nervously urging him to kill the soldier. Now the kid was in control. "You know, you're right!"

 

He dropped his arm from Decker's throat. "But you - you will be punished for this."

 

Price placed a hand on Jackson's shoulder, looked at the distant sunrise as an alternative to Thomas' corpse. "He's dead, Jack. Let him be."

 

Jackson shuddered, but laid Thomas' body down carefully on the tarmac and stood up. He looked down at his dead friend for a few seconds and then turned to walk away from the aircraft. Price watched him go, the blood still dripping from his arm at intervals. The ex-terrorist shook his head. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

 

@@@

 

HM Murdock wandered the empty rooms of the A-Team's villa in search of an escape from the party going on outside. Normally, he would only be too eager to join in Face's volleyball contests or to teach BA how to crash model planes with style, but this party was different. Hollow. Strange he should think that, as it was to mark the greatest thing that had ever happened to the A-Team - a Presidential pardon. Well, he thought, it was pretty difficult not to get one after personally saving the guy's life. Still, he would have perhaps given it up to prevent the bloodshed he had seen those few days ago. Thomas dead, with no one to be punished for it. Jackson had pushed Stockwell to prevent Decker from being court martialed. Murdock supposed that Jack had made enough things go bad without punishing Decker. However much the Colonel did not deserve to get off, Thomas was always going to be dead as Murdock suspected that Decker's conscience would not go easy on him.

 

The members of Jackson's team had also received pardons, although with less publicity than the infamous A-Team. They were still at the villa, trying to plan out what they would now do with their freedom. Baker, for one, was finally entering the army for real, after consultations with Hannibal. The Colonel was certain that the young man would make something of himself there. Just as long as he didn't go robbing any banks. Price and Ross were uncertain what they wanted to do, but Murdock personally was sure that Beller Air would be offering them jobs shortly - if only to stay well clear of their aircraft!

 

Jackson himself had disappeared without a trace after they had buried Thomas. His arm injury had not been serious and Murdock was sure that he would turn up sooner or later - probably hijacking flights again. Murdock stuck his head, pointlessly, into the storage cupboard. "Haven't I seen you before?" He asked the silent vacuum cleaner before heading back to the main room. He flopped down on the sofa and absently stuck his hand down the side to look for lost change. What he found was a familiar book, opened at a page which displayed the last verse of Keats' poem 'A Song About Myself'. Murdock smiled and read it to the room: "There was a naughty boy, and a naughty boy was he, he ran away to Scotland the people there to see." Clever, Jackson, very clever. A sheet of paper fell out when he held the book upside down:

 

Murdock,

 

I guess you'll get this. A note to let you know I haven't been abducted by any evil terrorists or anything. If Decker's wondering where his daughter is, she's safe too, although I will deny any claims that she's with me. Say hi to Tommy for me. I suppose I can always get Stockwell to tell me where you all end up as you'll be gone when I get back. It's been a pleasure working with the A-Team and if you ever need a co-pilot, Captain, you know where to look...

JJ

 

Murdock smiled, replaced the book and went outside to join the party.

 

 

END for now.  See TWO YEARS ON (#3 in series)

 


Ripping Times by Lonely Walker

 

 


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