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Title: Smoke And Mirrors (#6 in series)

Smoke And Mirrors (#6 in series)

Author:  Lonely Walker


Rating: R
Summary: A story series beginning directly after "Beast from the Belly of a Boeing." More trouble with old enemies, and Face is on the run, trying to track down an old ally.

Archive: OK
Warnings: Some violence and slash, but nothing graphic.
Credits: "Smoke And Mirrors" written by Barry, Robin and Maurice
Gibb, from the Bee Gees' "Still Waters" album, 1997.

 

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.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

PART 1


When I was a boy
All the books I read
I followed like a blind man
To heed the words my father said
Those golden summers faded into night,
Words become a dream
The echoes of my childhood
And where the path is winding.

Richard Bancroft. No matter how many times I see it written down on one of Murdock's many and often incomprehensible work rotas, I still have to look twice to remember that Richard Bancroft is *me*. It's strange to be the last person I know that still thinks of myself as the old Faceman. Even Murdock's remembered to call me 'Richie' these past few months. It's strange - but I like it. It tells me that I'm not the man who spent almost half his life on the run from the military police.

 

I'm not the devious conman who squeezed money and goods from more people than I can remember. I'm not that man anymore. Too many things have happened to me since Templeton Peck was last in action for the A-Team. I think that, to put it plainly, we've all grown up. For fifteen years, we had lives that could be compared to little boys playing cops and robbers. No one ever died, no one ever got hurt and the good guys all lived happily ever after.

 

Three years ago, the game ended. The little boys broke their friendship and moved away. I haven't spoken to BA or Frankie in what seems like forever. I don't know if I want to. Now that we're no longer on the run from the entire world, there's nothing to talk about. Nothing to bind us together. I should take solace in the fact that I still have Murdock. Unfortunately, he's my boss rather than a friend now. He works so hard to prove that he's not just a crazy Vietnam veteran who can't contribute to society. Murdock's been trying desperately to heal the scars imposed on him by the Viet Cong and, later, Hunt Stockwell. I hope he succeeds.

 

Murdock is, as you know, a married man these days. Not that you *would* know it. Amy, as luck would have it, got another job as a warzone correspondant for a news service less than a month after the wedding. Due to this, Murdock's usually in a state somewhere in between nervousness and hysteria. I'm not worried. Amy dodged the bullets for a couple of  years with the A-Team. All the armies of the world couldn't touch her. 

 

My life is, as always, a little more complicated. I've become the shadow man. I live in a small apartment in Los Angeles and come here to work every day. I talk with the guys, play a little football at lunch hour and generally try to be normal Richard Bancroft.

 

It isn't working.

 

"Good morning, Mr. Bancroft." A guy in jeans, sweater and sunglasses sits down beside me on the small hill of raised ground that lines up with one edge of the airfield. I know instantly that something's up, whether it be a national emergency or some stranger selling me double glazing. None of the workers - not even Murdock - ever comes to talk to me when I'm up here. It's my place to be alone - a physical reality of the barrier I set around myself all the time. Maybe they don't understand, but they know to stay out of my way.

 

"Who're you?" I look straight at him.


He's looking at his watch. "You have thirty seconds to get off this property and start heading into town."


"What?" It's been a year since anyone gave me an ultimatum. I'm not reacting quickly enough.


One arm points to another man behind a piece of fencing off to my right. The guy is still looking at his watch. "You've got twenty seconds before he shoots your boss."

 

I do a double take at the rifle the second guy is hoisting to eye-level and then get up and half-run, half-slide down the other side of the gravelly hill. As I tear off in the direction of the road, I hear first the guy's laughter and then a single shot. I'm still looking back over my shoulder, trying to figure out what's going on and whether anyone got hit or not when I hear the sirens.

 

Have you ever been in a situation where you suddenly step out of the entire scene and look at the whole thing? This happened to me now when I realised that I was out here. A lone man running away from an airfield where there had just been a shooting. This reflection hits me so hard I can do nothing for the next twenty seconds but stop dead and aim a few choice swear words at the thin grass below my feet. In those twenty seconds, two burley police officers jump out of their car and on top of me. I'm  still cursing at my stupidity when I find myself on the ground with a foot in my back and someone slapping handcuffs on me.

 

I'm thrown into the back of the car and it immediately speeds off, leaving me a few seconds to figure out what's going on. I'm being arrested for a crime which I haven't committed and that these cops shouldn't know a thing about. Why do two police officers come out of nowhere, arrest a guy and then speed off without having heard any shots or interviewed any witnesses? For all they know, Murdock is lying there, bleeding to death is some godforsaken airfield.

 

Murdock. The man I thought I loved for I don't know how long.  When I realised that I had been wrong about what I thought about him, I think my world was taken away. I had no hope of ever having someone who could truly love me to share my life with. And now, maybe he's dead. This sudden jolt of anger makes me get back to reality. I'm in a police car and I need to get out. Well, that was never a problem for Faceman Peck, so I guess Richard Bancroft will have to take a back seat for a while. It's almost a surprise when I find the sliver of metal in my shirt cuff, but I'm still able to wriggle it out and start jabbing it into the crevices of the handcuffs.

 

 By the time we get to the police station, the cuffs are off my hands. The cops, or whoever they are, don't seem to care too much about what I'm doing in the back, which increases my faith that they're just goons in uniform, working for some big cheese Murdock and I maybe insulted in the past. As one of them pulls me out of the car, I sock him with my right fist and sprint off down the street, not waiting to say hello to his friend.

 

I've managed to stay fit, even without regularly pummeling bad guys, and there's only one of them chasing me. My hand is feeling like it's broken and as I race past the shops, I pray that the guy I hit isn't feeling much better. I hit a crowd, break through it and immediately dodge into a side alley. Even then, I don't stop, but charge down it and climb up a pile of boxes to get to the roof of the small shop. Once up there, I squeeze in close to the raised wall at the side of the roof and listen for any noise. 

 

I'm there, practically comatose, for maybe twenty minutes until I'm attacked by a large cat. I'm obviously stealing its den. I fervently apologise, get up, dust myself down and drop back down to the ground. I'm probably as safe here as I would be anywhere else, so I sit down on a box and ponder my situation. I can't go back to the airfield, since it's likely that the real police will be there by now and will, no doubt, be really interested in the one guy who ran away seconds before the gun went off. Unless, of course, Murdock's fine and I'm making everything up in my  head.

 

I shrug, take out my mobile phone and dial up the number of the airfield.


One of the engineers - Sammy- answers, out of breath. "Yeah?"


"Hi Sam. It's Richie." I say quickly.


"Richie! Man, we've been looking all over for you. The cops-"


"What cops?" I decide to play ignorant.


"Man, the cops that are here! Murdock got shot! Everything's chaos! Man, you gotta get back here!"


"Murdock? Is he all right?" I ignore everything else. Please, God,Murdock has to be okay.


"Well, sure. They're taking him to hospital and everything, but it's nothing much. Could have been real bad, though. Bullet went right across his face, too! Didn't even see who did it!"


I hang up, putting the phone back in my pocket. Maybe I am overreacting, but something strange is going on here. Even goons don't miss at that range if they've been hired to kill someone. So, I'm thinking that maybe they didn't want to kill Murdock - just give them an excuse for capturing me. Well, it's nice to be liked, but this is ridiculous. My phone rings and I stare at it for a second before deciding to answer it. "Mr. Bancroft!" The cheery voice of my friend with the watch from not so long ago comes at me. "We've been wondering where you got to!"


"I don't like being taken for rides." I reply, guardedly.


He laughs. "I guess not. Still, it doesn't matter. I can still tell you what I was going to at the police station."


"Wait a minute - who are you?" I butt in.


That irritating laugh repeats. "Don't be silly, Richie. We don't give names in this business. You should know that. Now, you're going to do a little job for us, or the bullet might get a little closer to its target."


I grit my teeth. "What do you want me to do?"


No laugh this time, just two crystal clear words. "Find
Jackson."


The guy hangs up without a sound and I'm left listening to the familiar void of silence. I was right - something weird's going on.

 

PART 2


May God bless you,
Keep you safe from all harm
I stand by you always
Time and motion
Hands touch, lips find a way to heaven on high.

Although I have my mobile phone, I opt for a phone box to call the one contact I have who might be able to tell me what I want to know.  It's possible that the enemy have bugged my phone and I sure don't want them to know exactly what I know when I know it. They're already threatening to kill Murdock and, if I know bad guys, they don't want to know where Jonathan Jackson is in order to invite him round for tea. Murdock mentioned to me once that he thought
Jackson had gone to Scotland with his girlfriend, Marty Decker. It's the only lead I have, so, after racking my brains, I remember the telephone number for the one person in  Scotland I know - Fyn McAteer.

 

Fyn's a good kid we met while investigating her school for Stockwell. She no longer works for him directly, but is still a significant dot on the international espionage map. She answers the phone with a cheery. "Hello?"


"
Fyn? It's me. Um, Face." I stutter out.


"Faceman! You in the neighbourhood?" She asks.


"No, actually. I'm in LA."


"Ah." She says mock-seriously. "Business."


"Business." I agree. "Look,
Fyn, do you have any idea where Jonathan Jackson is?"


There's a pause her end and then, slowly: "Why do you want to know?"


"Please,
Fyn, it's important." I plead.


"Then, no, I don't know where he is."
Fyn replies coldly. She can be an icicle if she wants to be.

 

"God, Fyn, they're going to kill Murdock!" I almost scream at her and quickly run my fingers through my hair. I'm cracking up, I'm sure of it.


"Murdock?" A different voice replies. "Face, this is Marty. We never met, but my father told me a lot about you."


Now that's reassuring. "Marty. I remember Murdock said something about you." I get my wits back about me. "Is
Jackson there?"


"I'm afraid not." She tells me. "Jonathan's been gone for over six months. Said some people were after him and he couldn't tell me more."


"But he must have said something!" I say in frustration.


"Jonathan's been on the wrong side of someone all his life, Face. He doesn't give information readily." Marty explains. "But I think that he's probably in
Europe. The US is too dangerous for him."


"
Europe, great." I mutter.


"Sorry, Face." Marty says in apology and then
Fyn's back on the line.  "Face, Marty's gone now. Things have been pretty weird these last six months. I don't know what's been going on with the world." Fyn says.


"I've been pretty much out of it for a year,
Fyn." I explain.


"You haven't missed much, since nobody really knows what's going on, but there's somebody new in a controlling role in the Industry."


She means the spying game. "My guess is that
Jackson pissed this guy off  pretty badly. Maybe he's the same guy who's after Murdock?"


I shake my head miserably. "I don't know anything,
Fyn. But I have to track down Jackson, or Murdock's dead."


"I understand. Which is why I have a name for you. Marty wouldn't give it to anyone, she's so scared that
Jackson's going to die, but I heard them discuss him a few times. The name is Peter Bach." She pronounced the first name in the German fashion 'Pay-ter'. "I hope that helps."

 

"Thanks, Fyn." I hang up and wonder how on earth I find one person in the whole of Germany. I decide almost immediately to disregard that question until I have to face it. In ten minutes I'm booked on the next flight to Berlin.

 

PART 3


Watch the children play,
the child becomes a man
And all the tangled webs we weave
You swear it as you live and breathe
We stay together, death until you part
Winner takes the prize
The future's at your fingertips,
Right before your eyes.


Fate is not something I believe in a lot. Being brought up a Catholic makes me award most of the fortuitous coincidences that come my way to His Almighty. However, the fact that I am currently sitting in the lobby of the seediest hotel I've ever seen clutching a leaflet outlining the attractions at a nearby brothel has got to be given to the F-man.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not the kind of guy who goes in for the entertainments on offer at a place like the one advertised - but the name of the proprietor, one Peter Bach, made me do a peculiar victory dance involving punching the air and praising the Lord. I don't think this hotel is ever going to invite me back. I don't mind.

 

Fortunately, I find a young German boy willing to give me directions in English to where I want to go. He isn't even disgusted at my choice of location - Bach's seems to be quite the place to be. At least in this part of town. The guy on the door is a few good inches over Murdock's height, with BA's physique. I smile nicely at him and ask to see Peter Bach. The language barrier is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. The bouncer merely assumes that I am a customer and shepherds me inside towards the scantily-clad young ladies inside. Business tonight seems to be slow and they are about to fall on me like a pack of wolves when a hand pulls me out of their midst. The hand belongs to another man, who the bouncer had spoken to.

 

"Good evening. I am Peter Bach." He smiles at me and speaks perfect English with a slight English accent. I wonder briefly why someone who was educated abroad would own a brothel. But the chances are that Pete here is part of Fyn's international espionage scene and this is merely a cover.

 

"Hi. I'm looking for Jonathan Jackson." I expect to be dismissed.  Pete just looks bored. "Sure. You haven't come to kill him, have you?"


"Me? No. No, no, no."
I shake my head.


"He'll be so disappointed." Pete smiles. "He's been waiting for weeks for someone to come and try to kill him. I just want him out - he's taking up room and he isn't even giving the girls any business."

 

I spend a few more minutes agreeing what a terrible man Jackson is and finally get the room number out of him. Jackson is on the top floor of the building, which meand two flights of stairs to go up. The door, when I find it, is closed, but unlocked. I go in, half expecting to find some naked girls, but find only a tidy and quite nice room. Jackson is in the bed, apparently asleep. I don't blame him. Due to jet lag, I'm asleep on my feet and besides, it's pretty early in the morning anyway. I wander in and am about to gently touch his shoulder to wake him up when he turns over and points a gun at my face. "Don't move an inch, pal!" He warns.

 

I put up my hands, but only to shoulder level, and take a step back. "Cool it, Jackson. It's me...Face."


The pilot's gaze of blue steel stays exactly where it is. "I wouldn't put it past them to send a friend to kill me."


"Then you're all right then. I'm not your friend." I reply. "I don't know you and, from what I've seen, I don't like you much. But it so happens that I need your help."


Jackson groans and collapses onto his back. The gun is no longer pointing at any part of my body. "I'm sorry, pal. I've been second- guessing everyone for weeks. How'd you find me?"

 

"Fyn McAteer." I reply.


Jackson sits up and looks straight at me. "Marty? Is she...?"


"I guess she's fine, if a little worried about you." I say. "You should call her."


He gets up, shivering slightly in the cold nighttime air, and begins to pull on the dirty jeans that are draped over the end of the bed.


"I can't. She understands."


"
Jackson!" I exclaim, momentarily forgetting my own plight. "She's your fiancée, not some operative you can just brush aside."

 

He turns to face me. "I know. She's a good person in a bad world. That's why I can't call her. Besides, she's not my fiancée."

 

I frown. "What happened? Did her father..."

 

Jackson holds up a finger and directs his gaze to the floor.  We both listen intently for a few seconds and I think I hear screams from the ground floor and then someone running up steps. Before I can comprehend what's happening, Jackson grabs my shoulder. "Take off your jacket and tie - quickly." He says, fast, and hurries to shut the door. When he gets back to my side I have the required items of clothing off.

 

He takes a breath, looks around. "Right - in the cupboard."


"That's the first place they'll look!" I protest.


"Yeah. That's why we're going in there." He pushes me forward and I open the door. The cupboard is big, but with the various items of clothing stashed in it, there's barely enough room for both of us. I'm wondering when the door is going to be thrown open by whoever it is Jackson thinks is chasing us when he suddenly touches his mouth to mine.

 

"What?" I say, startled.


"Do it." He whispers, prising my mouth open with his lips.


Surprising myself, I do, trying to still my racing heart with the idea that this is only acting. Still kissing me,
Jackson presses his naked chest against mine and, in doing so, crushes me against the darkest corner of the cupboard. Probably a good idea in the circumstances, except that if anyone looks in here, they're still going to see us. When Jackson's right hand touches the front of my trousers, I'm ready to tear away and tell him that he's gone too far. It is at this moment, of course, that the door to the cupboard opens. I close my eyes and concentrate on playing the part.

 

I'm alone with Jackson and I just want to kiss him. I risk a glance and see a tall man in what I take to be a German police uniform turning away and yelling at someone else that, presumably, we aren't who he's looking for. He disgustedly closes the door on us.

 

Jack maintains the charade until we hear the door of his room slam closed and then he breaks away, sits down heavily in the darkness. I can hear his breathing loud in the silence. I try not to hold my breath, but panicking is a hard thing not to do in these circumstances. I crouch down next to the pilot. "What was all that about?"

 

Jack runs a hand through his brown hair and tries to get a word out. I remember that his men once told me that he was the original adrenaline junkie. I wonder if there perhaps is something in that, since Jack as he is now looks, even in the darkness, positively ill. "Should have told you - second floor here is for the homosexuals. I figured you knew... Well, at least that cop fell for it. Called us some very unpleasant things, by the way."

 

"I'll take your word for it." I mutter. "Are you okay?"


"Yeah, yeah." Jack picks himself up from the floor and pushes the cupboard door open. We stumble out to find the room exactly how we left it. Jack picks up a sweater from the floor and puts it on, but I see that he's still shivering. He turns back to see me watching him. "Thanks for playing along, Face."


"My pleasure." I say without thinking. As I watch him pick up his trainers and socks from the floor, I think about this latest experience.


It's the first time I've ever kissed a man. It's weird. I've fantasised for years about kissing Murdock, in those times when my 'Templeton Peck' exterior fell away and I realised how empty my life was. Those times used never to last for long. It seems to be permanent now. I rub my lips thoughtfully. "So, what made you decide to live in a brothel?"

 

"I know Peter from old times." Jackson replies, attempting to unknot a shoelace. "Besides, I seem to fit in."


"
Jackson, are you gay?" The question escapes from my lips without passing through any rational parts of my brain. I stand there, jaw gaping that I actually asked him.

 

He takes it better than I expect. I expect him to throw me out the window. He just sits there, calmly tying a double knot in his trainer. "Let me ask you: are you gay, Face?"

 

"I...uh..." I stand there and stutter.


Jackson gets up, smiles thinly. "All right. Have you ever loved a man?"


"Yes..." The word enters the air as a barely audible whisper.


Jackson nods sharply, turns away. "Then I too have loved a man. And that is all you need to know."


He knew! I watch him search for his jacket in the cupboard, frozen like an ice statue. How could he know about Murdock? Come on, Face, you're imagining things!


Jackson jerks me out of my shocked thoughts by appearing fully clothed from the cupboard. "Come on, we have to go."


"Go where?" I ask, too out of the picture to say anything but questions.


"Out the window."
Jackson replies as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

 

I nod. "Window. Right." Dear God, what am I doing?

 

PART 4


No more sorrows
(smoke and mirrors)
No more nights with no end
(I really learned a lot, smoke and mirrors)
I see my tomorrows.


Jackson has obviously done a fair bit of reconnaissance over the six months he's spent here in Berlin. Traveling around on the rooftops of a city like Spiderman has never been one of my passions, since I don't particularly like the idea of falling to my death through one of the deceptively wide gaps between buildings. However, Jack seems to know where he's going and there does seem to be some sort of pathway up here - old ladders placed against the raised roofs of buildings and crates bridging small gaps. It's laid out so that you might think that you were just being lucky. I would probably think so to, if Jackson didn't dart across these 'bridges' with so much faith.

 

From the look of them, I always think that they would collapse if I breathed on them. Someone has done a good cover-up job up here. I'm too busy watching where my feet are being placed while tiptoeing over a plank between two buildings to notice that Jackson's stopped. Once I get back down onto relatively solid concrete, I'm ready to move on, but he wanders over to the side of the roof, dusts down the ridge at the side of the chimney there and sits down. "I met Tommy when I  was nineteen years old." He says, half to himself.

 

I watch him, frowning. Jackson hasn't said a word since we left his hideout at the brothel and something has obviously been preying on his mind. When this idea first comes to me, I react with terror for my own safety - what if he had led me the wrong way! But that's stupid thinking. I look for somewhere to perch - settle on a crate slightly sticky from some black substance - and wait for Jack to do whatever he wants to do. It appears that he wants to talk. Blue eyes glance up at me and decide that they'd prefer watching the distant sunrise. "We have something in common, Face." He smiles faintly. "I was an orphan too. My parents died when I was seven - killed by one of those gangs you and the A-Team used to hunt down."

 

I wish he hadn't said that. For some reason that isn't logical, it makes me feel guilty. Guilty that for however many bad guys Hannibal, Murdock, BA and I caught, there were always more left to do damage to innocent people. "I'm sorry." I whisper.

 

Jackson sighs, looks down. "I was sent to an orphanage, but I ran away first chance I got. I wanted to get revenge on those men, but I never found them. What I did find was a friend - Billy Meyers. He was a retired pilot who ran a repair shop for planes - crop sprayers and such. He employed a lot of kids who wouldn't have had anywhere else to go. He probably saved my life by giving me a place to stay and not asking questions. I worked for him for about fifteen years. And then I met Tommy. His parents were divorced, so he came out to the town to stay with his Dad over the summer. It's a small town I come from, so everyone runs into everyone else soon enough. When I ran into Tommy, well, I don't believe in love at first sight, Face, but I guess that about explains it."

 

Jackson blinks, lifts his head up to watch the sunrise. I look at my hands. Jackson's story isn't my own, but it's close enough. I met Murdock when he rescued me once in Vietnam, before the A-Team really existed. Ever after, I became slightly obsessed about the pilot who had saved my life - looking for his name on duty rosters and wondering if  I would get to talk to him again about what he had said to me that day, about being who you want to be. The first time he said it, it was because it didn't matter who you were, since we would all die anyway. A year ago, he told me that it *did* matter. I'd like to believe him. Murdock. God, what have I been thinking! I haven't even told Jackson the reason for me being here yet!

 

I jerk my head up to see Jackson watching me. "I struck a nerve, didn't I?" He says in all seriousness.


"Jack, I need your help. Someone's threatening to kill Murdock." I tell him.


"Murdock?" Jack looks surprised. "What for? He isn't a danger to anyone anymore. He's out of the industry."


I shake my head. "I don't know. I don't think it's to do with Murdock. I think it's to do with getting me to co-operate. They said that I had to find you or they would kill him."


"They? Who's 'they'?"
Jackson asks just as my mobile phone goes off.


I react as if I'd just been shot. The noise is so violent in the still air up here and I realise that Jack and I have been talking in whispers. I take it out of my pocket and motion for Jack to be quiet.


"Hello?"


"Mornin', Bancroft." The voice says in a taunting tone. "I'm guessing you found our boy quite easily then. You almost had the cops fooled by that little act in the cupboard. Or maybe it wasn't an  act?" He dissolves into giggles.


I roll my eyes. "What do you want?"


"You two lover boys can meet me at the airport in forty minutes. We have business to discuss." He hangs up.


I put the phone away. Jack's looking at me in anticipation. "We have to get to the airport." I say quickly.


"The airport? Great." Jack stands up. "Have you got a gun?"


Wonderful. The one time I actually need a gun and I haven't got one. I also have no idea of how to get one in
Germany. Fortunately, Jack grins at my discomfort. "Come on, Face. Let's go get some surprises for our friend who's so anxious to see us."


"Bancroft." I say suddenly.


"AJ? No, he died years ago."
Jackson replies. "Good idea, though."


"What?" I freeze and replay what he's just said.


Jackson turns back. "I mean it might have been AJ, but he's dead. Does seem like his kind of double-crossing game, though. What made you think of him?"


"I didn't." I say slowly. "I was telling you my name. I'm AJ Bancroft's son."


Jack doesn't react for several seconds, eyes searching my face.


Suddenly, he smiles and nods. "Then welcome to the industry, Mr.  Bancroft. We've got a plane to catch."

 

PART 5


And nothing from nothing
And ashes to ashes they say
All the more that you reach out
The more that it runs away
(Smoke and mirrors)

Twice in one day my makeshift lockpick has come in useful. As a result of me having had the presence of mind to insert it in this particular shirt what must be over a year ago, I'm not in a police cell and am, in fact, in the car Jack and I have just commandeered. We're on  course to be late for our meeting with whoever it is that's been 'employing' me of late and I'm silently having a panic attack. It's very possible that if we don't turn up on time, my friend on the other end of the mobile line will tell *his* friend to kill Murdock. I can't let that happen and I won't.

 

The other problem over that is the fact that we are now carrying, between us, three guns. Jack has the third taped to his leg. He says that it's come in useful before now. I'm just hoping that we're going to come up tops in whatever plan he's formulating, because if we don't, I don't know what could happen to our friends - Murdock, Amy, BA, Frankie, Marty and Fyn. I can't be sure that the enemy has access to all or any of them, but it's certainly possible.

 

"I hope you have a plan and you're not just pretending you have one." I mutter nervously.
Jack flashes me a smile. It's daylight now, if a little murky, and other cars have taken to the roads. Immediately inside the airport, Jack stops the car off to the side of the road and yells at me to get out.

 

Surprised, I do, and then have to sprint after him as he's running away across the tarmac. "What's going on?"


"This is industry business. Has to be. Which means that our man'll be using the place we always carry out industry business in when we'rehere. Come on."


We get to the outside of a small section of the airport, surrounded by walls, but with no roof. I guess that it contains a manhole or some access point to the drains. Jack motions to me to go and open the door. I edge forward and prise open the thin wood, uttering a silent prayer to whoever might hear it that I don't get shot. "Hi." I say politely to the two men inside - a gunman I've never seen before, probably a local, and the guy from Murdock's airfield.

 

"Mr. Bancroft!" The guy says, brightening up. "How nice to see you again? Where's Jackson?"


"Nice to see you again, TK." Jack says from his new position on top of the wall to my right. "Who let you out of jail?"

 

My gaze goes straight back to mobile-phone-man. "Rourke?"


"You're taking a big risk doing this,
Jackson." Rourke grins manically. "For all you know, Murdock's dead."


Jackson nodded. "Maybe. But we don't have any proof of that and I never walk into any situation where I have to play coward the whole time. Bancroft - get their weapons and his phone."

 

I move forward and get these required items. The two bad guys don't resist much, although they certainly aren't pleased. Rourke. So that's why he always sounded slightly crazy - Jackson made us leave him in jail when we broke the others out because the kid had cracked up. Evidently someone thought he could be of some use. Unfortunately, the fact that our contact is Rourke means that there has to be someone higher up. None of Jack's crew, apart from Tommy, were ever smart enough to concoct their own operation and none of them have the resources. I'm just about to start wondering if Tommy maybe wasn't dead at all when Jack jumps down to our height.

 

"You should never have left me in that prison, Jackson."  Rourke grins.


"You're right. I should have put you down like the animal you are."


Jack lashes out with a fist and catches Rourke's jaw with the side of his hand. The younger man falls backward and cracks his head on the wall behind him. Jack turns his attention to the gunman. "Geht aus." He says quietly. An order. The German nods as silent thanks for sparing his life and hotfoots it out of the door.

 

"What now?" I ask, fingering the gun at my side.

 

"I suggest that we get to California before whoever is behind this takes any action against Murdock." Jack replies. "And we're taking him with us, if only to put him back in prison."

 

"I guess this means that I have to scam you up a plane, huh?" I ask.


Jack grins, slaps me on the back. "You're getting the hang of this."


"Yeah, right." I wander off in search of a pretty young mechanic who might let me on a plane.

 

PART 6

 

No more goodbyes
(That's all I ever got, smoke and mirrors)
No lies, you find your way there
(She show me what she's got, smoke and mirrors)
Heaven on high.

"You knew my father, then?" I ask Jack as we sit in the Boeing I have cleverly commandeered, waiting for some clearance. 'Clever' is the word for it - apparently this plane was damaged on the flight over from LA and had to be left here for weeks while they got a repair crew over.


However, now that it's fixed, the pilot and his crew have disappeared. All this was overheard by Jack (my personal translator) and me seconds before asking some of the ground crew at the airport where we could find a plane.

 

It didn't take too much trouble to convince them that Jack and I were staff from Beller Air, especially since they're bored stiff of looking at the damned plane. Actually, 'lucky' is the word for it - no one but no one has asked for any credentials. I suppose that when Jack actually manages to take off without turning us into a fireball will be credentials  enough.

 

Either way - Berlin gets rid of their surplus plane.  Jack mutters something in pilot-talk to the control tower, rolls his eyes and turns back to me. "I met him a few times when I started working for Stockwell. Back then, of course, the General was new in the industry - no real power and no connections. Which meant that he had to do a lot of following AJ Bancroft around. Letting him do it was a big mistake on AJ's part, of course, but even then he was pretty ill and let his goons deal with a lot of business."

 

The radio crackles into action. "Beller flight 267, you are cleared for takeoff."


"Well yippitydoodah." Jack yawns. "Confirmed, tower."

 

It's at this point that Jack starts flicking switches. I think I'm definitely getting paranoid, because I suddenly realise that I don't know what any of these bright buttons do and that Jack is the only person onboard who can actually fly the plane. All of the above is, of course, pretty stupid to think about, since when the A-Team was still together, we flew around almost all the time with only Murdock as our pilot. I guess we never really did realise the risks we were taking by doing that - we should probably have got Murdock to properly teach Hannibal or myself how to fly a plane, just in case. Fortunately, the event where Murdock and a control tower who wanted to ditch us into the ocean had to guide us in blind with Hannibal at the controls never happened again. I resolve to make sure that Jack doesn't do anything potentially life-threatening on this trans-Atlantic voyage, like falling out the plane.

 

We're in the air before I bother thinking about Rourke, our unwilling passenger. He was unconscious when we put him onboard, giving the excuse to the dubious ground crew that he had been out partying last night and hadn't quite recovered. I did strap him in, so he should have been okay for the take-off. I decide to wait before checking on him. Besides, unless he wants to fly the plane himself, there isn't much point in him putting up a fight.

 

Once we've been up in the air for what Jack judges as a reasonable amount of time, he signs the airplane over to the autopilot (I only know this because a light appears saying 'Autopilot On') after punching in some coordinates. "I'm sorry about your father." Jack says, an afterthought from our last conversation.

 

"I never really knew him." I reply. "I only found out after he was dead. Murdock knew, though. He was able to tell me some things."


"Murdock knew?" Jack says in disbelief.

 

"Yeah, he found out by accident. AJ swore him to silence, but I could have killed him when I found out." This is, unfortunately, the truth. Perhaps if Murdock hadn't been my best friend, who I knew in my heart would never do anything to hurt me, I might have done something more than push him to the ground. That thought worries me sometimes, that I could be provoked into doing something like that.  "I think... I think it's maybe better that you didn't know him."

 

Jack says, checking over the red numbers on the dashboard with those on a map he locates in a compartment. "AJ wasn't an evil man, but he did some bad things because it was his business. It's easy to grow to hate a man like that."

 

I'm about to ask him what he means, but I decide not to and slip back through to the first section of passenger seats where Rourke is sitting with a seatbelt around his waist and his hands tied with duct tape.

 

Unfortunately, he's awake. "You're making a big mistake." He grins at  me.


"You bad guys should get some better lines, you know.  *Everyone* says that! You people really have to try harder!" I reply, thinking as I do that I'm sounding like Murdock in one of his crazier moments. "Bad guys, huh?" Rourke laughs. "Nah, can't be a bad guy. Bad guys lose and when this is finished, I ain't gonna be the loser."

 

"Oh, great. Now I'm stuck with a psychic." I say to the whole aeroplane. "Maybe you should buy a crystal ball and get a whole new career, Rourke."

 

"I don't need a crystal ball to see your death, Bancroft." He smiles. "And it's gonna be soon. Believe me."


"Right." I smile back, showing teeth. "I'll let you know when I start to actually get scared by any of that." And take the few steps back to the cockpit.


Jack's still looking at his map, but since he's looking at a section on
Australia, it obviously isn't anything essential to our flight to LA. "How is he?"

 

"Awake, unfortunately." I sit back down. "Where do you get these creeps to work for you?" I see Jack's expression change to one of annoyance. "I'm sorry, I..."


"Rourke always was a strange one." Jack nods. "I never had a clue about his background. But he could shoot straight and didn't ask too many questions, so he went on my crew at the UPF." He shrugs. "Just sock him one if he's annoying you."

 

"He doesn't annoy me." I say. "At least, not him in particular. This whole game annoys me. This whole 'industry'. I was only working for Stockwell for a year! I have nothing to do with this whole thing and I haven't done anything involved with it for two years! I just want out of it!"


"I know how you feel." Jack replies. "But it's never as easy as that." He sighs and leans back against his seat, closing his eyes.


I watch him sitting there. It's odd not to see those brilliant blue eyes that form the image that most frequently pops into my head when I think of him. I don't think of
Jackson as being handsome, at least, not my idea of handsome. But then, my idea of a handsome man has always been Murdock and I can't allow myself to think that way forever. Time seems to stop and I'm certain that rational thought does when I lean across and kiss him.


Blue eyes are suddenly staring at mine, but in surprise rather than anger. I draw back, swallow and stutter out a sentence. "I, uh, I...  I'll just go check on Rourke."
Jackson still hasn't said a word when I escape into the next compartment. Rourke is, unsurprisingly, still there, watching the pale sky outside. As I turn back in the direction of the cockpit, Jackson steps out in front of me. I'm about to start off on a long, rambling and possibly nonsensical apology, but I'm not given enough time.

 

I'm shocked - I think - when he kisses me, but any analysis of the situation (I realise I've been been psychoanalysing myself non-stop ever since I left the persona of Templeton Peck behind) is ended when I, without hesitation, return the kiss.

 

An image shoots into my head suddenly - me as a small boy reading Peter Pan for the first time. That book confused me more than anything, I think. I didn't understand why these children didn't want to grow up -I wanted out of the orphanage as quickly as possible, myself. Most of all, I didn't understand why Wendy didn't just tell Peter to go stuff himself. Why did she always wait for him? The only explanation the book gave was that she wanted to give him a thimble - a kiss - but I didn't understand *that* much, either and I felt that I was missing out on something big, something that everyone knew about and assumed I knew too. I think I just found out what the thimble meant to Wendy.

 

Jackson removes his lips from mine, but stays close, watching me carefully. I run my tongue over the backs of my teeth, half through being nervous, half wanting to savour the now familiar taste of him. He opens his mouth to speak, but I get there before him. "I guess you should get back to flying your plane." I say quickly.

 

He looks at me in surprise, straightens up. "I guess so."


With a hint of a smile on his lips, he steps back through the curtain to the cockpit. I stand there as if in a trance, Rourke's laughter bubbling up behind me.

 

PART 7


May God bless you,
Keep you safe from all harm
I stand by you always.
Time and motion
(Smoke and mirrors)
Hands touch, lips find a way to
(That's all I ever got, smoke and mirrors)
Heaven on high.

"Come on, TK."
Jackson pushes him into the rental car we have, for at least once in our lives, actually paid some money for. "Don't tell me you're scared to meet your boss?"


Rourke scowls and is about to make a typically scathing retort when Jack 'accidentally' bangs Rourke's head against the roof of the car. He glares at both of us, but sits quietly without talking. He's probably thinking that if he doesn't say a word, he can't be lynched by whoever his boss is for telling us anything. The main problem with this argument is that we're currently the ones most capable of doing some serious damage to him. Keeping his gun on Rourke, Jack turns back to me. "Can you drive? I'd like to keep an eye on TK back here."

 

I nod. "Sure." And take the keys from him. It's getting dark in LA and it's maybe a forty-five minute drive out to the airfield. The road isn't too good out there, despite Murdock's frequent attempts to get something done about it. I start up the car and attempt to find a way out of the airport.

 

Jack and I debated on the plane where we should go and decided that the best place was probably the airfield. Murdock does tend to work a lot of 24-hour shifts and if the enemy wanted to make a hit on him, it would be a lot easier to do it out there than in his apartment in the city where there are hundreds of potential witnesses and a fair number of cops as well. If the enemy is from the industry, which it probably is, given its interest in both me and Jackson, it's not going to be overly stupid. I'm guessing that not all industry goons are as talentless as our current prisoner.

 

"I'm hoping and praying that you have a plan here, Jack." I say, directing my comment to the rear-view mirror.


"What's this obsession you have with plans?" He replies with  half a laugh. "From what I can tell, none of Smith's ever worked too well."

 

"Hey - it's only coincidence that whenever we meet you, nothing seems to work right." I frown. "Are you by any chance related to electromagnetic fields?"

 

"On my mother's side, perhaps." He answers.

 

There is little talking and certainly no more hilarity until we reach the wire fence that surrounds some of the airfield. It's not really meant to keep people out, since anyone can get in over the dirt hills I keep my vigil on, but does divide people into two handy reference groups of people who want to get in and people who *really* want to get in. I  stop the car, get out and test the gates. They're locked. It is, of course, possible that Murdock and the boys have called it a night, but it's a little early for a workaholic of Murdock's calibre to do that. After a quick discussion with Jack, we decide that we fall into the second category and head around to the side of the facility, dragging Rourke along with us.

Climbing up the hill from the outside is not easy, since the gravel easily slips away from your feet and there is precious little solid in the whole mound. However, the three of us get up it and down the other side without any broken bones, so we decide to call it a success. From here, we can see most of the airfield and the few buildings at the side of it.  Only one has the lights on - Murdock's office. I point it out to Jack and we head straight towards it. If it's just Murdock, we have nothing to worry about. If it's the enemy, they probably know we're coming anyway. I take out my gun before knocking on the door. There is some noise inside before it opens, casting yellow light onto my face. The shadowy figure of Murdock is standing there, dressed in overalls and with a red scar, presumably from the bullet, across his face.

 

"Face." He says, with no joy. "You'd better come in."

 

The fact that he calls me Face would mean that something was up, even if I didn't know it already. Richie Bancroft is just a regular guy, but the Faceman used to work in the industry and it's the Faceman whose presence has been requested here tonight. I warily enter the office and Jackson throws Rourke in after me before following himself.

 

The office is small, but big enough to tackle all the business Murdock has to deal with. It's also apparently big enough to hold a fairly large meeting, since the room now holds six people. Apart from Murdock, Amy Allen is standing by a wall, her hands taped together. And then, of course, there is the man I never wanted, but half expected to see - General Hunt Stockwell, smiling at me while pointing a gun at my head. "Drop your guns out the door and shut it, Jonathan, please."

 

Jackson seems to have taken in the situation as well as I have and carefully closes the door, after disposing of both of our guns, keeping both hands in view. "If your business is only with me, let these people go."

 

It's a noble gesture, but pointless. Jack perhaps doesn't know exactly what went on a year ago between Murdock, Stockwell and myself and I don't want to have to tell him. Suffice to say that we didn't part on the best of terms. "No, my business is with you all - except perhaps Ms. Allen here, who will remain to serve as a reminder that you should *always*  do what I tell you to." Stockwell grins at us. "Mr. Peck - or Mr. Bancroft, I really don't care what you call yourself - please cut Mr. Rourke here loose."

 

I pick up Murdock's penknife from the table and slice down the middle of the tape joining Rourke's hands. He immediately tries to punch me in the jaw, but I'm expecting it. He growls and looks at Stockwell for inspiration. Stockwell hands him a gun. "Now, some of you may remember that I once wanted Murdock and Peck here to go on one extra mission for  me. That wish still holds, gentlemen. In two days time, you will-"

 

"No, we won't." Murdock says firmly.

 

All of us in the room stare at him. "You will do whatever I say or your wife dies, Captain." Stockwell reiterates.

 

"No." Murdock tells him. "We told you a year ago that we would never work for you again. Nothing has changed. We're not pawns of your little industry and we're certainly not your servants! Chances are, we'd die pretty soon if you sent us on your stupid missions again, or you'd kill us yourself. It's better for one or all of us to die now than die later, taking countless others with us!"

 

In this moment, I agree with him. Not about the dying bit, necessarily, but I've been used a lot in my life, and especially by Stockwell and his industry. The industry took my father away from me and I don't want to die for its twisted cause.


A humourless smile shows on Stockwell's face. "You speak for your wife as well?" He points the gun at Amy's left eye. I can see that she's terrified, but none of us can help her.  "I hope so." Murdock replies. "But I don't believe that you can kill a defenceless woman like that."

 

"Fine." Stockwell's smile turns to a grimace and before any of us realise what he's doing, he shoots Murdock in the head. 

 

Everything after this point is a blur of noise and colour. Time is seriously mixed up, as is my brain. I see Murdock falling, a flash of red through a field of screams and the sound of Stockwell's gun going off. I know that I try to catch him, but I can't and then I'm on the floor, my eyes full of tears and my ears full of thunder. In a sudden moment of clarity, I grab Jackson's second gun from his ankle and shoot Stockwell twice in the head. Rourke's so startled that I'm sure he doesn't even realise he's been shot until he hits he floor. I jump up, angrily  screaming something I can't remember and swing the gun around to the side of my head. I feel hands grab the gun, but I still press the trigger and everything rushes into my mind - a nightmare mixture of black and red and the ever-present high-pitched wailing - until there is nothing left.

 

PART 8


No more sorrows
(I really learned a lot, smoke and mirrors)
No more nights with no end
(She show me what she's got, smoke and mirrors)
I rise or I fall.

I walk along the pavement clutching the morning edition of the newspaper Amy works for - my watch tells me it's just hit
midnight, but since I've been hanging around the newspaper office for the last three hours in order to see it, Amy let me have a copy before the news stands did. The story of Stockwell's death doesn't make the front page, since it isn't today's news - the incident happened over a week ago - but it is a big article.

 

Amy was able to do some real digging on Stockwell's past and his associations with the mysterious 'industry' through what Jack, Fyn McAteer and myself could tell her. To end the power the industry has over me and hundreds of other people, the first step is to expose it. If it officially doesn't exist, nothing can be done about its evil. Amy feels confident that there will be an investigation into the industry as a result of this article, but I'm not so certain. For the industry to be so powerful, it must have operatives in the government and secret services and I have no doubt that these operatives will do their utmost to shut  down any investigation. I live in hope of anything but the old standby of 'inconclusive results'.

 

Murdock did not die at the airfield, although I was certain he had. It seems that Stockwell's aim was less sure and Murdock's skull thicker than I gave them credit for. He's in hospital and has just regained consciousness, so he's likely to be there for some time yet. The doctors are hoping for a near-complete recovery and I'm going to pay him a visit in the morning, well, in a few hours.

 

Rourke is another visitor to the casualty ward. My bullet went straight through his shoulder, so he's alive and conscious and ready to be transported back to a mental hospital any day soon.


Fyn McAteer has decided to ditch the industry and go to university where I am sure that she will embark on the traditional career of anarchy supported by students all over the world.


Marty Decker is staying in Scotland due to the fact that she has met 'a nice guy' called Mark, who, I have discovered, is not an international terrorist and is definitely not on the run from the military police. Her father should be happy.

 

The news of the shooting of HM Murdock somehow reached both BA and Frankie, who turned up the day after I got out of hospital (Not that  I was in there long - a few stitches to the self-inflicted gunshot wound on my forehead and then I get thrown out of the door. I suppose I should be thankful that my suicide attempt didn't succeed, care of Jackson.) to find out if I was still alive and to dump their latest news on me. Major surprise: Frankie's married! Turns out that he met the perfect girl not long after I last saw him and they now have twin boys. The thought of an entirely new generation of Santanas is a horrifying thought, but BA, who has been looking out for the stuntman, assures me that his wife is very nice indeed. Which of course made me wonder if Frankie's blackmailing her into staying with him.

 

Frankie, who in turn has been spying on BA, tells me that BA has a 'special lady' who he won't say anything about. Sounds interesting. It seems that this romance thing that we were once all so immune to has taken hold with style. I'm afraid it's incurable. I hike up the stairs to my apartment and open the door. I find Jack in bed, looking tired and terminally bored, smoking a cigarette. I look at it in disgust and he dutifully stubs it out in the ashtray he found in one of my cupboards.

 

"Where have you been? I'd be worried if I didn't know you to be a paranoid psychotic." He rubs his eyes and looks at his watch.

 

"Getting this." I toss the paper at him in the half-darkness, broken by the street lights from outside.


"Oh, wonderful. I can catch up on all the soccer results I missed when I was in
Germany." Jack flicks through it. "I take it we didn't get a mention? Ah, right, 'The police are not pursuing any suspects'. Convenient."

 

I strip off my sweater and kick off my shoes. "You'd prefer me in jail?"

 

Jack fakes a look of indecision. "Well, I'm not entirely sure I'm happy being in the same room as you and a gun."


"People trying to kill my friends get on my nerves." I remove the rest of my clothes and slip into bed beside him. "I don't really want to talk about it anymore, Jack."

 

"Okay." He says softly. "I understand."

 

Well, I finally made it to the once distant land of happiness. No one can promise that the industry won't come after me and Jack for killing Stockwell, but I sincerely doubt that anyone really cares. Once Murdock gets out of hospital, maybe he, Frankie, BA and I can be friends again, although I think we'd better steer clear of any banks this time.

 

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself now - I still have my job working for Murdock, but now that I have Jack, I don't feel so much in limbo anymore. I know for certain that I am Richard Bancroft, son of a man who really existed and I have friends and people who care about me. Maybe the fingers tangled in my hair and the lips on mine are just an illusion that will disappear in the morning, but for now I'm here, I'm alive and I'm safe and that's all that I ever needed to be.

 

Slowly, I drift off to sleep in the arms of the man I love.

No more goodbyes
(She really make me hot, smoke and mirrors)
No lies, you find a way there
Heaven on high.

 

END for now.  See OUROBOUROS (#7 in series)

 


Smoke And Mirrors by Lonely Walker

 

 


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