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This page last viewed: 2017-04-25 and has been viewed 6721 times
Warnings: A couple of words and some unintentional drug use.
Copyright: Actually we really are infringing on someone else's copyright, but we mean it in the best possible way.
"Jus' get away from me," was all Hannibal heard as he looked across the barn. Face was standing very close to BA, which was never a good sign. He was too far away to hear what was being said, but Hannibal could tell it wasn't good.
BA turned to confront Face and flexed his hands, dropping a large crescent wrench to the ground with an ominous thud. Not paying any notice to the noise, Face leaned in and said something very softly. Hannibal knew Face's temper was always at its worst when he became soft spoken, and getting to his feet, the Colonel strode towards the two other men.
BA flushed red and very deliberately lifted one hand, putting it against Face's chest, then shoved the smaller man. Face had to take two steps backward to keep his balance.
As Hannibal moved closer he began to overhear the conversation.
"…don't spend all my time fussin' over my looks!"
"Me?! I'm not the one with 50 pounds of gold around my neck and a Mohawk like…"
"It ain't Mohawk, it's Mandinka"
"Fine," Face snapped. "The point is I'm not a walking jewelry counter that shouts, 'Look at me!'"
"Like you're so low key."
"Jeez!" Face shot back. "I'm so low key, I'm practically invisible."
"Just stop yappin', that's all I'm sayin'." BA shook his head and snarled. "Stop yappin' and get away from me." BA bizarrely stepped forward into the gap made when he'd shoved Face backward, even as he'd told Face to move away.
Hannibal attempted to get between them, but they were both firmly rooted to the spot. He looked over and saw Face's jaw clench and the muscles in his neck cord with tension. The dam was about to burst.
Face had always had an uphill battle to control his temper. Most people knew him to be levelheaded and calm. To all outward appearances, nothing much bothered him, but it was a façade. He spent a lot of time keeping his emotions hidden and swallowing down the rude words he wanted to say. There were always warnings signs though, something his friends had learned to recognize and steer clear of unless they wanted to get a load of verbal abuse heaped on them. BA, however, was also angry and wasn't seeing the signs.
Hannibal gripped Face's arm and jerked him back from the confrontation. "What's going on here?" he asked with exaggerated calm.
"Get the little rodent away from me," BA said with unusual nastiness.
"Rodent?" Face snapped.
"Yeah, like a sneaky little…" Whatever else BA was going to say was cut short.
"BA!" Hannibal took command of the situation. "Face, go outside."
"Me?!" Face was now ready to argue with anyone about anything.
"Face, do it." Hannibal shoved Face back a few more paces and turned his back on him, physically putting himself between the two combatants.
"What did I do?" Face spit out.
Face turned on his heel and stomped to the door, pulling it shut behind him with a slam.
"Alright, BA, care to explain?" Hannibal watched BA carefully. He could already guess a lot about the situation.
"I swear, Hannibal, he just does stuff to piss me off," BA finally said, then looked around and sat on an oil drum. Hannibal didn't say anything, just waited for BA to continue. "I just don't think I can do it anymore, Hannibal."
Hannibal sighed and took a seat across from BA on an upended milk crate. Now that they were back in "The World," as BA called it, and had taken up the gun-for-hire business, Hannibal had had to accept some new realities.
Since they'd left the military, they'd come to recognize some very startling differences in their lives. There was no support system, no tradition or policy to fall back on anymore. They'd had to be more creative about everything as they tried to survive in a totally new reality. It was just the three of them, four when Murdock was around, and they were all very different and independent people. Some of those very qualities that made them each such integral members of the team were the very qualities that could set Hannibal's teeth on edge.
In the last few months, his lieutenant had developed quite a rebellious streak. As punishment, he'd been sentenced to slave labor working under BA. It had occasionally worked before for short periods of time. Face would realize that his colonel was displeased and quickly fall back into line. But recently, he had not only failed to capitulate, he'd taken to frequent disappearing acts as well. He'd go missing, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days on end, and refuse to discuss where he'd been and what he'd been up to. It was at these times, more than any other, when Hannibal realized nothing was as easy as it first appeared. Hannibal sighed, "Best laid plans…"
BA continued to rant, but Hannibal was only half listening. BA was having his difficulties, too. The big man liked structure, and the recent lack of it, as well as the new business venture, was making BA's already-short temper almost non-existent.
"I tell him to do something, like take apart a carburetor or a transmission, and it's not just apart, it's completely dismantled. And then he says he won't put it back together."
"Okay, he says he can't, but I know he can, he just took it apart."
Hannibal sighed again. "BA, we've had this conversation before, he's just not as mechanically inclined as you are."
"The guy can pick a lock in his sleep. I've seen him field strip a weapon and put it back together in the pouring rain. In the dark!" BA fumed. "He just does it to tick me off."
Hannibal shook his head and sighed again. "I know it seems that way, but not even Face can be that inept on purpose, BA."
BA got to his feet and crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "I just don't know," he muttered.
Hannibal got up and placed a hand on BA's shoulder. "Cut him some slack, BA, okay?"
BA nodded his head. "Just try to keep him away from me for awhile, okay?"
"Okay, BA. I'll do what I can."
Hannibal went outside as BA went back to work rebuilding the tractor engine. Face was slouching against the side of the barn in a stance of casual indifference. He twirled a long stalk of grass between his teeth.
"Hey, Colonel." Face failed to meet the Colonel's eye, knowing that with everything else going on, his little tiff with BA had not been appreciated. "So what now?" he asked blithely.
"Just stay out of his way for awhile," Hannibal said firmly.
Face frowned momentarily and then carefully schooled his features into a blank mask. "Fine with me. What's the next part of the plan?"
"Oh," Hannibal replied, aware that Face was avoiding the subject of the spat with BA, "You're going to get the last of that stuff I asked for, BA's going to finish the work on the tractor by himself..." Hannibal leaned closer and snaked a cigar out of Face's inside jacket pocket. "…and I am going to smoke this cigar and go over my plans, so we can finish this little caper." Hannibal gave a grin and leaned his forearm on Face's shoulder. "We should have everything wrapped up and be ready to leave before dark."
"Good," Face replied earnestly. "I'm more than a little tired of this…" he looked around the bare dusty field and waved a hand toward the landscape, "charming community."
Hannibal grinned. It had been a tough couple of days. They had been hired to get the dirt on a local bully who was attempting to make the farmers give up a large portion of their farm profits to him. Face had let himself into the house, opened the safe and gotten the proof. Now, they were just getting ready to round up the bully and his men.
In a few hours the state police would be called in, and the men and the proof would all be turned over to them. Case closed, problem solved and nice fat fee in their pockets.
"By the way, how am I supposed to stay away from him and ride the tractor at the same time? Maybe you can figure that one out while you're thinking." Face did an admirable job of keeping the suppressed anger out of his voice.
"Face, your attitude isn't helping."
Face waved a hand dismissively. "Hey, it's okay. Don't worry so much, Hannibal. So what if BA and I both have an attitude? We're a team, right?"
It was just that slick, flippant attitude that worried Hannibal so much.
Face did a good job of avoiding BA until the tractor was rebuilt. But as usual with one of Hannibal's plans, it worked, just not quite the way he'd planned. It was supposed to end with Rogers surrendering in the face of overwhelming evidence, but instead, one of the brainless henchmen decided to throw a punch and pandemonium ensued. Eight men were involved in the brawl -- five thugs of various sizes against the three of them. It didn't take long for the five men to find themselves bound and waiting for the cops, but it was long enough for disaster to strike.
At the start of the fight, Face had come out swinging, taking out the last few days' worth of frustration on anyone who came within arms' reach. At some point during the course of the fight, Face had knocked down two men in a flying tackle and come up back-to-back with a third. BA was on the far side of the man, and just as the sergeant let fly with a vicious left hook, the man in the green shirt ducked. Face turned and the powerful left hook connected…with Face's cheek.
Face dropped like a rock to the pavement. BA was momentarily stunned, then swung again, clobbering the green-shirted man, and dragged him over to where Hannibal was binding up the other four men.
"Where's Face?" Hannibal asked, as he tied the last knot.
"Uh, well, he's, ah, over there," BA said, with an abashed look on his face.
Hannibal glanced over and saw Face sprawled flat on his back. He glared back at the bound men. "Which one of you did that?" Hannibal jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"Well, actually, it was me," BA said timidly. "It was an accident, I swear."
Hannibal sighed at BA, not needing this complication. "Go get the van."
BA nodded and jogged to where they'd hidden the van in the brush not far from the road.
Hannibal frowned has he headed over to where Face still lay, unmoving, in the dirt. He bent over the prone form, checked Face's pupils and waited for BA to pull along side. Hannibal pulled out the box with all the information they had accumulated over the last three days and put it at the feet of the bully. Attached to the top, in Face's neat hand was a note that read, "Please arrest me. I'm an extortionist." Hannibal took a moment to scowl darkly at the bound men before hauling Face over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and dropping him onto the floor of the van, between the seats. In the distance, the sound of sirens filled the air.
"The cops are early," BA muttered under his breath.
"Always around when you don't want 'em," Hannibal replied, as he pulled the door of the van shut.
BA stomped on the gas and sped away.
Face was flat on his back on the floor, his head to the back, and lolled to the side. Hannibal straddled Face's waist and took the injured man's head in his hands. The cheek was cut and bleeding from where BA's newest acquisition, a square-cut diamond ring, had opened a wound, just below the eye. Hannibal grimaced at the wound as he leaned to his right and fumbled in an overhead cupboard for the first aid kit.
"How bad is it?" BA asked, never taking his eyes off the road.
"It's not pretty, but it could have been worse. You sure pack a wallop." Hannibal pulled out a pad and pressed it to Face's cheek to stop the bleeding.
"Oh, man, Face is gonna be so mad at me."
"He's not going to be happy," Hannibal agreed. They drove on in silence for a while as Hannibal took off the gauze and cleaned the wound. He applied ointment to be sure of no infection, then applied a bandage.
Face moaned and stirred as Hannibal checked his eyes. "Hey, kid, how ya' doing?" He got only another groan for an answer. "Face? Can you hear me?"
Face nodded, but his eyes were unfocused. Hannibal got up and maneuvered him into his seat, and then took the one next to him.
"What happened?" Face asked groggily.
"You got clocked," Hannibal said.
"No kidding," Face muttered, as he put his hand up to feel his cheek. His fingers stopped just short of actually touching it and he scowled and frowned. The cheek was starting to swell and close the eye. His mind slowly focused on the fight. "BA hit me. You hit me!"
"I'm real sorry, man. I didn't mean to," BA groaned from the front, at the same time Hannibal said, "I'm sure he didn't mean to."
"You hit me!" Face was indignant. "You did it on purpose!"
"Now, Face, you know that's not true," Hannibal said.
"No, man, I didn't mean to, really, but the other guy ducked and you was right there," BA squirmed around in the seat to look at the passengers in the back.
Face leaned forward and reached for the door handle, not seeming to care that they were traveling down the highway at 85 miles per hour. "Let me out."
"Don't be crazy, Lieutenant." Hannibal shoved him back into his seat. "We're running from the cops, and it was an accident."
"Right! He's been yelling at me for three days, saying he was going to pound me into the dust, and you think that when the perfect opportunity presented itself, he didn't take it?"
BA had turned his attention back to the road. "I'm really sorry, man."
"It was an accident, Face," Hannibal said sharply. "Let it go."
Face snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. He was not happy and his sullen silence made that perfectly clear.
Hannibal sighed and focused his attention to the road ahead. "How we doing, BA?"
BA flicked his eyes to the mirrors before answering. "Ain't nobody following us."
"Good." Hannibal scrambled over the front console and into his regular seat. "Slow down, and let's head back and collect our fee. Nice and easy."
BA nodded forlornly and glanced in the rearview mirror. Face had not dropped his arms from his chest and was staring with a flat glare at nothing.
It was going to be a long drive back home.
Several days later…
It was an unusually cool night for September. The sky was overcast and a jet stream out of Alaska was bringing in a storm front. Standing beside his black Trans Am, Face pulled the zipper up on his black leather jacket. He stared off into the distance as if trying to make some important decision.
"Gotta light?" Hannibal asked, as he walked out of their LA warehouse and stood beside the younger man.
Face reached into his pocket and produced a gold lighter. Instead of lighting Hannibal's cigar as he usually would, he handed over the lighter.
Hannibal narrowed his eyes and looked at his lieutenant. "I'm kind of concerned about how you and BA are getting along, or maybe I should say, not getting along. Want to talk about it?"
A hand drifting towards the fading bruise on his face betrayed his thoughts, but as Face turned his gaze to the Colonel, he simply said, "No, nothing to talk about." Before Hannibal could get a word in, Face turned on a smile and continued talking. "Except maybe what you want for dinner. I'm starved. Are we going out, or do you want take-out? Either way, I'm game. Want me to go get it, or what?"
Hannibal pondered the end of his cigar. Face only fast-talked during a scam, and Hannibal wondered just who was being conned here. "Let's all go out. There's a new Thai place just opened up."
"Sounds good. Do you want to get, BA, or should I?" Face ran a hand through his hair and tugged on his shirt collar. Hannibal knew the light tone was forced and the movements were strained.
"No, I'll get him. I want you to stay away from him for a while unless I'm around to referee. I don't want you two going one on one," he said, chuckling slightly.
Face didn't find the situation the least bit funny. "You know, you're always telling me to stay away from BA. Do you ever tell him to stay away from me? One day, he'll push too far, Hannibal. I won't be responsible then."
Hannibal realized the conversation was turning serious and tried to deflect some of the anger in Face's words. "In his own weird little way, it's BA's way of caring about you."
"They have a saying about this, Hannibal. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Lynch treats me with less contempt than BA does. Tell him to quit, or we're done."
Hannibal nodded. "I know he riles you up, and I told him to knock it off, but let's not make idle threats, okay?"
He started to turn way and almost missed the comment Face muttered under his breath, "I'm not kidding."
Hannibal spun around on his heel, and stabbed his cigar at Face to emphasize his point. "Look, I know we're all having problems, okay? I understand, but I don't like this kind of talk. We're a team, and we stick by each other, so knock off the talk about leaving. I'll handle BA."
Face nodded, but his jaw was still tight. "I wish you would, Hannibal."
Dinner was less than a success. An oppressive silence hung like humidity around the table. By the time the appetizers hit the table, Hannibal had given up any attempt at light banter. By the time the check arrived, he insisted on a team meeting back at the warehouse. They needed to clear the air. There was only one flaw in his plan. He'd gone into the back room to make coffee and by the time he returned, they were at it again.
"…go and shack up with some pretty girl you find at the five and dime," BA snarled.
"Right, I'll just pick up the first girl I see and go home with her," Face said in disgust.
"Ain't like it would be the first time," BA shot back.
Face gaped, realizing for the first time that BA was serious.
"BA, I think that's enough," Hannibal said, during the lull in the shouting. He wasn't quite sure how the conversation had gotten to this point. A few minutes ago, they hadn't even been speaking to each other. He heaved a sigh and pondered how to proceed.
A look of confusion crossed Face's features. "Don't be such a dinosaur, BA. I go out a lot, but you don't honestly think I sleep with every girl I meet, do you?"
The look on BA's face said it all.
Hannibal held his tongue, wanting to say something, anything, to stop this stupid argument, but he had to admit, the thought had crossed his mind.
Face started to say something, stopped, and started again. "Will you excuse me? I need some air." And on that note, he strode across the floor and out the door, banging it for emphasis.
They watched him leave in silence.
Hannibal was already berating himself for not saying something that would have diffused the situation. "I don't know what started this, but you shouldn't have said that BA."
"Yeah, well, nice or not, it ain't like we weren't both thinking it. The boy's a tom-cat and you know it."
"I don't know any such thing, and furthermore, I don't care if he is or not, as long as it doesn't interfere with what we do. Sometimes I wonder what gets into you. I think you like to fight with him. It's like you like to see him wound up." Hannibal prepped a cigar and searched his pockets for his lighter.
"Does him some good to lose his temper sometimes," BA said with a smirk. "He gets like nothing bothers him."
"Cripes, BA, you're all the time complaining about his attitude and yet, you just wind him up for the fun of it. You, of all people, ought to know better. Lay off him. If you want to fight somebody, fight with Murdock. He likes to fight with you."
Hannibal couldn't find a light and decided to follow after Face. He stepped out into the evening air and looked around. As he suspected, the Trans Am was gone. He sighed, and after staring at his unlit cigar for a long moment, he put it back in his pocket. Trying to swallow down his anxiety, Hannibal looked up and down the street. There was no sign of the black car. He just hoped Face wouldn't do something foolish.
He thought about going back inside, but he didn't want to confront BA again. In truth, he had a lot of things he had to confront in himself. He was their leader and he'd let them down. He'd spent the last year in so many new roles. He was now not only their commander, but a father figure, a friend, a confessor and a brother. Sometimes he didn't know which hat he was supposed to be wearing at which time. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the cigar he'd just put away, and found Face's lighter. The gold metal gleamed dully in the light from the street lamp across the street.
So much had changed in such a short a period of time. Truthfully they were all lost and unsure of how to handle life on the run. The newness and excitement of being on the run, and "guns for hire" was wearing off.
Hannibal looked up at the stars and counted them to calm himself. This was no different than any other challenge. He needed a plan. He wasn't about to stand around and let friendships forged in Vietnam fall to pieces now that they were back home.
He was their leader and he was damn well going to start acting like it. And if he needed to kick some butt to get them back on the right track, so be it. Tomorrow, they were going to hash this out once and for all.
Murdock dashed across the room and grabbed the phone on the second ring. "Joe's Pool Hall."
"Hey, buddy, how ya' doing?"
"Face!" A grin split Murdock's boyish features. "I'm great. It's Jell-O day, so how could I be anything else? You called just in time. The staff is having 'A day of self-realization.' That means finger painting to you and me, but we get to go to the Museum of Modern Art."
Face laughed. "I wouldn't mind a bit of that. Look, I'm going to be out of town for a few days."
"Where you going?"
"Wait," Face muttered. In the busy airport, four marines passed by a short distance from Face's place at the bank of phones.
Murdock tapped his foot, but waited reasonably patiently.
"Sorry." For all his calm outward appearance, Face's palms were sweaty as he gripped the phone. "Still nothing like a Marine to get the adrenaline flowing."
"Where are you?" Murdock asked, already knowing the answer as he could hear the departure announcements in the background.
"I'm at the airport. Remember Danny Curtis?"
Murdock spun on one heel and wrapped himself in the phone cord, before he spun back the other way and unwound himself. "Yeah. He was part of the unit." Murdock turned his attention out the window where a Hercules C130 was crossing his line of sight. He thought these were magnificent planes and he loved to watch the great lumbering beasts that defied gravity with their every movement.
"He called and I'm meeting him." Face's voice suddenly dropped to a lower register. "It's a regular military convention around here," he muttered. "Don't these guys fly on transport planes anymore?"
"Too many budget cutbacks." Murdock could just picture Face in the crowded airport doing everything he could to keep his face turned away from the traveling military personnel and still trying to look casual about it. Then a second Hercules following the first distracted his attention again. His mind began to wonder where and why they would need those big transport planes. He realized that Face was still talking and brought his musings under control.
"…with Hannibal. Sorry about calling so early, but I needed to hear a friendly voice, and I figured you'd be up," Face said.
"Well, you know me, Face. Woody comes on at six."
"Hey, I gotta go, they're announcing my plane."
"Have fun." Murdock twirled again and the cord wrapped so tightly, it almost jerked the phone out of his hand. He frowned down at the buzzing receiver. He thought maybe he'd missed something, but knew that in a day or two, Face would call him again and he could sort it out then.
Old habits die hard, and Hannibal awoke at his usual time and waited in bed for the daily check-in calls. He stared at the ceiling and ran his new plan over and over in his mind, looking for any flaws and loopholes that Face would try to manipulate. He'd slept badly, worrying about Face and wondering where the younger man had slept last night. Face had just given up a condo by the pier, and Hannibal had hoped that Face might come back and spend the night here.
At seven am on the dot, the phone rang. Hannibal picked it up and answered with his usual, "Yes?"
"It's me," BA, prompt as usual, said with his familiar gruffness.
"What are your plans for today?" Hannibal sat up and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
"Nothing much. I'm gonna work at the homeless shelter, unless you tell me different."
"Go ahead. I'll want a meet later today. Two-ish."
"Any word from Face?"
"No, but you know him, he'll make me squirm for a bit, before he calls in. I don't think he's very happy with either one of us, at this moment." Hannibal swung his feet onto the floor and grabbed for his robe.
"When he calls, you tell him I'm sorry." BA really did feel remorseful. He'd gotten carried away in the argument with Face, and said some mean and spiteful things that he deeply regretted in the light of day.
"No, BA, I think you'll have to do that yourself, and you're going to need to do some serious apologizing on this one. You've been a real jackass to him all week." Hannibal felt bad about what had happened, but he wasn't pulling his punches either.
"I know. Just tell him I'm sorry so he'll listen to me when I see him. I don't want him to punch me in the face or nothin'." Apparently, Hannibal's short lecture the night before had been amazingly effective.
"I'm not sure you don't deserve it," Hannibal said sourly.
"Yeah, you're right." BA was abashed. "I didn't really mean it. I swear it won't happen again."
"I hope so, BA, I really do. I hope we all learned something from this." Hannibal could almost hear BA nodding his head over the phone line.
"Yeah, Colonel, I learned I don't like it when we fight. I just hope Face ain't feelin' as bad as I am."
Hannibal shoved his feet into his slippers. "Well, take it easy, BA. We'll get this sorted. Call me when you get to the shelter so I know the phone number where you are. I'll keep in touch."
"Yes, sir," BA said, with regret tingeing his voice.
Hannibal hung up the phone and went into the bathroom. He cleaned up and headed into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. A small white envelope was propped up against the coffee maker. It was addressed simply to "Hannibal" in Face's neat handwriting. Hannibal ripped open the envelope and dropped the contents out into his hand. Inside were a set of silver bars and the keys to the Trans Am.
"Son of a…" Hannibal stared at the bars, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He looked out a window and saw the black Trans Am parked at the far end of the lot, but no lieutenant. Damn! He picked up the phone and dialed a number, listening as it rang four times.
"BA, it's me."
"I don't know yet, but we appear to have a problem. I just found Face's car keys and his lieutenant's bars on my kitchen counter. No note. The car's parked outside."
"What? What's it mean? I'll be right over."
"No, just hold tight for now. Give him a chance to call and explain. If I don't hear something in the next hour or so, I'll call the VA and see if Murdock's heard anything."
"Okay, but you call me soon as you hear something."
"Will do, Sergeant."
"Come on, Lieutenant. Talk to me." Hannibal stared at the phone, willing it to ring, as he drank three cups of coffee. On the dot of eight, he called the VA, only to be told that Captain Murdock was out for the day, and no, the nurse on duty did not know how to get in touch with him.
Hannibal had a feeling it was going to be a long day, but kicked himself for not immediately following up on the one good clue to his second's whereabouts he had -- the car. Face's pride and joy was sitting under a palm tree, and Hannibal would never have believed the lieutenant would simply abandon it. He was walking out the apartment door, intent on checking out the car when BA pulled up in front of him and slammed on the brakes.
"Any word from Face yet?"
"Ah couldn't just stay home and do nothin', so I'm gonna drive over to the warehouse, see if there's any sign of Face there."
"Good idea, BA. I don't have any idea where he stayed last night. Think I'll ride along with you." Hannibal pulled open the passenger door to the van and pulled it shut behind him with more force than was necessary. He'd been prepared for a challenging day dealing with Face and BA, but this was not what he'd had in mind. Leave it to Face to throw a monkey wrench in a plan before it even got off the ground… He was surprised at himself. When had he started to blame Face for things like this? Was it any surprise that Face was as frustrated as he'd been lately? "We need to find Face."
There'd been no sign of Face at the warehouse and no phone calls. Not having any better plan, an increasingly frustrated Hannibal and BA spent most of the day at Hannibal's apartment waiting for the phone to ring.
Hannibal paced as BA sat on the couch and flipped through the tv channels in endless cycles. BA found himself stopping on the occasional news show to see if there were any announcements of a member of the A-Team being caught. He wasn't sure if that would have been a relief or not, but at least, they would have known definitely where Face was.
BA fixed dinner, such as it was, some canned stew and grilled sandwiches, a beer for Hannibal and milk for himself. Hannibal hadn't told him to stay, but they both knew he'd be there until Face was found. He'd felt bad this morning about how he'd treated Face, and as the day went on, he felt even worse. "You think he's okay, Colonel?"
"I hope so, BA. I hope no news is good news, because there's not much we can do but wait. Can't even get hold of Murdock."
"You think we should run over t' the VA and see if we find the fool, Colonel?"
"Nah, we'll wait until morning. He'd have called if he knew something was amiss. We'll give Face a little longer to get in touch." Hannibal sighed and leaned back in his chair. He downed half the beer in one gulp, then held the cold bottle against his forehead to try and quench the ache behind his eyes. "Maybe he'll call in the morning."
But there was no call the next morning, and Hannibal picked up the phone to make a call himself. "Connect me to Captain H.M. Murdock, please."
BA saw the irritation on Hannibal's face as he tersely hung up.
Grabbing his keys, Hannibal turned and said, "Let's go, BA."
BA got to his feet and followed the Colonel out the door. "What's up? Where we going?"
"The VA. Murdock's in a therapy session and can't come to the phone right now, but he ought to be back in his room by the time we get there. One way or another, BA, we're gonna talk to Murdock."
They rode in silence to the hospital. They needed to find Face, and Hannibal had a hunch that the key to that was talking to Murdock. Not in any mood for scamming, Hannibal opted for practicality, picked up the car phone, and stabbed out the number to the VA. He waited on the line for a minute. "Captain H.M. Murdock, please." He waited for another long minute, drumming his fingers on the armrest.
"Murdock? It's me. We're out front, can you bust yourself out of there?"
"Sure, Colonel. What's up?" The voice on the
phone was upbeat.
Hannibal felt all the more tired in comparison. "I'll fill you in when you get here. Just make it quick, okay. We need you."
A minute later, a loud siren blared, startling birds from the trees. Hannibal jumped out of the van and pulled open the side door. Murdock rounded the corner running full tilt, two men in white coats in hot pursuit.
Murdock dove into the back and pulled the door shut, as BA stomped on the gas, rear wheels spinning, leaving a trail of burnt rubber. "Howdy doody, buckaroos!" he said, breathing hard. "Hey, where's Face? Is he okay?"
Hannibal frowned and dropped his head to his chest. "I take that to mean you haven't heard from him."
Murdock sat back in his seat. "I heard from him yesterday. He called me from the airport. Was I supposed the hear from him today?"
"The airport! He didn't say anything to us about going anywhere." Hannibal opened his fist. "Look what he left at my apartment."
"This is not good," Murdock muttered, as he looked at the silver bars. "Not good at all. What gives? He didn't say anything in particular to me. He sounded just like he always does."
"There's been a misunderstanding and Face seems to have…" Hannibal hesitated, unsure how to continue.
"Taken off - in more ways than one," Murdock finished for him. "So, what was this 'misunderstanding' about?" Murdock leaned back in his seat and pushed his ball cap way back on his head, exposing his whole face, and pulled his ankle up onto his knee, playing with the edge of his sock.
Hannibal pointedly stared out the passenger window and BA flexed his fingers on the steering wheel.
"Well…?" Murdock prompted again.
"It was mostly my fault," BA finally admitted. "I just kept saying stuff and pissing him off and finally he didn't take it no more."
"BA wasn't alone in this, I didn't stop it, and I think he blames me for that," Hannibal said with remorse, his eyes never leaving the side window.
Murdock felt the urge to pace. He tapped one sneakered foot against the floor. "I need to hear the whole story," he said softly, his foot beating a steady tattoo on the carpeted floor. The fingers of one hand tapped an uneven tune against his knee. His eyes flicked back and forth from the back of each of their heads to out the front window.
Finally breaking the silence, Hannibal turned to BA. "Let's drive through somewhere and get something to eat. This may take awhile."
They carried the fast food into the Colonel's apartment, and saw the light on the answering machine blinking. Hannibal hit the play button and they heard Face's voice
speaking. "Put the plan in motion."
"Hannibal, I don't understand."
"That makes two of us, BA."
"Actually that makes three of us." Murdock was feeling more confused than ever. "Are you sure he was mad? That doesn't sound like mad to me. Maybe you should tell me exactly what happened."
The Captain sat and listened intently as Hannibal and BA took turns explaining, and he thought about the conversations he'd had with Face over the last few days. Face had mentioned the punch in the face that BA had landed, but he had assumed Face was more upset over having a black eye than BA's behavior. He wondered if he'd misread what his friend had told him. Murdock suppressed his disappointment at BA's argumentative behavior, recognizing that BA was, in his own way, missing his familiar battles with the pilot. Murdock was also perplexed and feeling once again that he had missed something important when he and Face had talked on the phone yesterday. All in all, he was just as confused at the end of the conversation as he was at the beginning.
"A few things don't add up. I mean, if he was mad at you, would he have called?" Murdock stopped talking, then seemed to change gears and began again, not waiting for answers. "What's his message mean? Do you think he's in trouble? What do we do now?" He sat down heavily in an armchair and plucked at his sneaker lace.
"I'm not sure. There's something about this whole business I'm missing." Hannibal frowned as he rubbed his thumb over the silver bars in his hand.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Murdock leapt to his feet and circled the chair he'd been sitting in, and then paused behind it and leaned his weight onto his hands. He stood completely still as he replayed in his head the phone conversation with Face from the morning before. Something about that conversation – something significant -- had been bothering him all the while Hannibal and BA had been talking, and he suddenly remembered what it was. "Danny Curtis! Where's Danny Curtis these days?"
"Danny Curtis?" Hannibal wondered how Murdock had picked this of all names out of the air.
"From Nam?" BA glowered. "Ain't he in New York?" He turned his scowl to the Colonel. "Didn't Face say something about hearing from him not too long ago?"
Hannibal rubbed a hand across his face and then over the back of his neck. He'd told Face to stay away from old army buddies. There was no telling which of them were on their side or not. How long ago had that been? "Yeah, he mentioned Danny a few days back, but I told him it was too dangerous to meet guys from the unit."
"Well, if Face felt Danny was in trouble, and maybe if he was feeling picked on, and maybe if he wanted some space, would he head to New York to see him?"
"You say he called from the airport yesterday morning? Well, I've got an idea how to get some information." Hannibal reached over and grabbed the phone, flipped through the phone book and dialed a number. His body stiffened and he casually ran his hand through his hair. He let out a sigh and plastered a grin across his face. "Hi, name's Doug Davenport, NYPD, badge number 71374, how ya' doing?" The accent was right out of "The Bowery Boys," and the mannerisms were strangely reminiscent of the missing Lieutenant. "I got a detective flying from LA on one of your flights to New York. It'd be a flight leaving LA yesterday morning about 7:00 am. He'd be flying first class, he was undercover, so I'm not positive about the name, but the initials were probably TP or PT. You got anything like that on your records?"
There was a long pause and Hannibal ran his free hand through his hair again while he waited. After what seemed like an eternity, but was really about five minutes, he hastily grabbed a pen and began writing. "Thanks, so much. You're a doll, doll." Hannibal dropped the phone into the cradle and turned with a grin. "United Airlines, flight 809 left LA at 7:40 yesterday morning, landed at JFK 3:45. One passenger on board in first class named…"A bigger grin pasted itself over his features … "Paul Temple." Hannibal smirked and flipped the lid open on the humidor, fishing out a Cohiba.
"You think it's him, Colonel?" BA asked.
Hannibal nodded his head, and he lit the cigar. "Depend on it. I taught the kid everything he knows," he said, feeling equal parts irritation and satisfaction at having a clue to Face's whereabouts.
"But how'd you get the information so fast?" BA got to his feet, twisting the new diamond ring on his left hand.
"A lucky shot. Remember that pretty young thing Face was dating a couple of weeks ago? Mary Sue. Turns out she works at the airport and has access to passenger lists. I found out about it because Face wanted to charge a dinner to team expenses. Said it was 'research'."
"I'll bet he did. That guy don't know when to quit."
"Don't knock it, BA. That 'research' came in handy just now," Hannibal said. "Maybe when we get this straightened out, I'll take Mary Sue to dinner myself."
Murdock bounded to his feet. "Does this mean we're headed to the Big Apple, too?"
BA grimaced as the pilot broke into an energetic version of "New York, New York," but Hannibal grinned at Murdock's antics in spite of himself. "We'll see, Captain, but I think a little more legwork is in order first."
After working the phone and getting a few wrong numbers, Hannibal had narrowed the search for Danny Curtis down to one likely phone number for an address on 81st Street in Manhattan. But to his frustration, the phone went unanswered every time he called. And to his extreme irritation, there was no check-in call that night from Face, and none the following morning. The inaction was killing all three of them. They had to do something. Even a wild goose chase would be better than all this waiting around.
They were going to New York.
Working in tandem, they had managed to scam a plane, and were now standing on the tarmac beside the small jet. Or rather, Murdock and Hannibal were standing there. BA was pacing.
"You coming, Sergeant?" Hannibal asked, as they tossed their bags into the plane.
"Yeah, I'm coming," BA said, but didn't move any closer.
Hannibal stowed the bags and came back to the hatch. BA was still at the bottom of the steps. "Sergeant?"
"I don't want to get on the plane," BA said in a breathless voice.
Hannibal was mildly surprised. "Why not?"
Standing at the Colonel's shoulder, Murdock studied BA. "Seems to be a little anxious, doesn't he?"
"I don't want to get on the plane," BA repeated.
"Looks a little phobic, too."
"Murdock, that's not helping." Hannibal walked down the stairs and over to where BA was standing. "Let's go, BA. Get on the plane."
"No, last time I got on a plane, I ended up halfway around the world with people tryin' to kill me. I ain't gettin' on a plane again." He began to back away.
"Actually, the last time you got on a plane, they brought you back to the states and tossed your butt in prison," Murdock said, matter of factly.
"Murdock, let me handle this." Hannibal glared at the pilot and hurried after BA.
"Load up, Sergeant," Hannibal ordered, and for a moment, it seemed as if BA would obey. But as he turned back, he saw the plane, and turning away again, he began to shake.
"BA, are you okay?"
"I don't know." BA made a point of keeping his back to the plane. "I know we need to get to New York, but, man, I don't think I can do this. I don't think I can get on a plane again."
"BA, you've flown hundreds of times. This is nothing new." Hannibal's tone was patient and calm.
"I know. I know." BA began to turn once again, but as the wings of the plane came into his line of sight, he turned away abruptly, sucking in his breath with a shudder.
"You can do this, BA. Just take a deep breath, turn around, and go up those stairs," Hannibal continued in a smooth, even tone.
BA took a deep, heavy breath.
"You can do this, BA," Hannibal said again.
"I can do this," BA said softly.
"You can do this," Hannibal repeated.
"I can do this." BA repeated the mantra. But as he turned toward the plane and the hatchway came into view, his eyes widened in panic. "I can't do this!" He whirled around -- and collided with Hannibal's fist.
Murdock scrambled down the ladder and over to where Hannibal was struggling to balance BA in his arms. "You know that by taking the choice away from him, it'll only make it harder for him the next time. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about."
"Murdock, just help me get him loaded on the plane." Hannibal bent over, and Murdock helped him get the big man's bulk arranged over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Hannibal grunted as he rose to his feet. "Jeez, it would have been a whole lot easier on my back if he had just walked on the plane."
Murdock steadied BA as Hannibal staggered up the stairs with his massive load. Together, they managed to dump BA into a seat and buckle him in.
"Let's get this bird off the ground, Murdock."
Murdock went forward and settled behind the controls. This was his first time piloting since he'd been committed. His long fingers ran gently over the gauges and knobs. He sighed in contentment as he shifted in the high-backed seat, and slipped the headset on over his baseball cap. "Tower, this is Xray Tango 367, ready for take off."
"Xray Tango 367, you are cleared for take off on runway 4 east," the small tinny voice came through the headset.
"4 East, that's a roger." Murdock carefully steered the plane to the designated runway and awaited his release from the tower. Softly he began to sing, "New York, New York, it's a wonderful town, the Bronx are up and the Battery's down."
Hannibal smiled when he heard the voice of Frank Sinatra warbling through the plane. And as the front wheel left the ground, a familiar howl rent the air. For the first time in a long time, he felt they were on the right track.
About thirty minutes later, BA began to stir. He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck, slowly realizing where he was. "I'm on the plane. . . I'm on a plane!"
Hannibal, who'd been sitting up front with Murdock, swiveled in his seat and stated the obvious. "He's awake."
"And he doesn't sound happy, Colonel." Murdock looked through the narrow doorway into the cabin of the plane. BA was struggling to unbuckle the seat belt. His movements were frantic, and so far, unsuccessful.
Hannibal got to his feet and headed into the back. "BA, you need to calm down."
BA finally jerked the seat belt loose and surged to his feet. "I told you I didn't want to get on the plane!"
Hannibal raised his hands to show he wasn't a threat. "I know you did, but we need to get to New York, you know that." Silently, Hannibal realized he might as well have been talking to himself. BA was wild-eyed with fear. There was no reasoning with him. An instant later, he felt Murdock at his elbow.
"Here. This'll help." Murdock thrust a pill into Hannibal's hand.
BA whirled at the sound of Murdock's voice. "Who's flying the plane? We're all gonna die! There ain't nobody flying the plane!"
Murdock back-stepped to the cockpit. "Everything is going to be okay, BA, just calm down."
BA continued his wild chant of "we're all gonna die" as he took his frustration and rage out on a seat, gripping it with both hands and rocking it back and forth.
Hannibal saw a wet bar to his left. He quickly checked inside, trying to ignore the ranting going on behind him. Murdock had given him a capsule, which he split apart and dumped into a bottle of coke. The powder fizzled and foamed, and he vaguely wondered what the side effects might be.
BA was in the process of beating a seat back with his fist when Hannibal turned and shouted. "Sergeant! Stand down!"
BA hesitated and turned his feral gaze to his commander.
"It's understandable that you're…" Hannibal again realized that very little was sinking into BA's terrified mind and changed tactics. "Drink this," he ordered.
BA hesitated again, but Hannibal stepped into the eye of the storm and pressed the bottle into BA's hand. "That's an order, Sergeant."
BA scowled and sucked in a huge breath. He stared at the soda bottle in his hand as though he couldn't figure out how it got there. "Drink, Sergeant, or do I need to pour it down your throat?" BA gulped down two or three swallows. "Eck." He swallowed hard and looked at the bottle.
"Drink the rest, BA. We'll talk about this later, but right now, you need to calm down."
BA took another big gulp, but couldn't bring himself to finish the nasty-tasting liquid. The wild look was fading, replaced with a strange, glazed worry. "I don't want to be on the plane, Hannibal."
"I know, BA," Hannibal answered with regret, "but there are some things that just can't be helped."
BA nodded. His fingers felt tingly and it was hard to concentrate. His eyes were growing heavy, and he began to sway on his feet.
As BA's eyes rolled up in his head, Hannibal stepped forward and caught him before he hit the floor. He lowered BA into one of the seats and buckled him in again. He was worried about this unexpected phobia of BA's. Granted, BA had been saying since they broke out of Bragg that he didn't want to fly, but it hadn't ever been a problem before. Up to this point, any traveling they'd done, they'd done by car, eager to keep their pilfered stash of weapons nearby. But they needed to keep all their options open, and BA, unwilling or unable to fly, was a detriment to the unit.
Hannibal frowned. Of course, without Face, they weren't a unit either. He checked BA's eyes and made sure his breathing was good, then returned to the cockpit.
He and Murdock sat in silence for a while.
"What I gave him, it won't do any harm will it?" Hannibal finally expressed his greatest concern.
"No, it's just a tranquilizer, just put him to sleep for a while."
"So, what's the plan once we get to New York?" Murdock asked.
"We'll get a car at the airport, and from there, we track down Danny Curtis. We'll check that address we have, and I remember Face said something about a night club." Hannibal fished the silver bars out of his jacket pocket and rubbed his fingers over them.
"Face likes the night clubs. That's for sure."
Hannibal nodded absently.
"Everything's gonna work out fine, Colonel, you'll see," Murdock said gently.
"Sure, Murdock, sure. We'll find him," Hannibal said with a scowl, "and then I'm gonna rip off his arms and legs and beat him death with the pieces. And then I'm gonna take what's left over and pitch it off the Statue of Liberty."
Murdock smiled. "I'm just so glad you have a plan, Colonel."
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