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Warnings: Angst, violence, language, rape, sex, death. There will be some deaths, but I don't want to spoil too much. I'm happy to give more detailed warnings about whether they involve main characters, but I will do that via off-list e-mail. E-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more details.
Comments: Special thanks to Meridocbrandybuck, Fingers, Val, TAT Writers and the members of the A-Team StoryBoard for the invaluable help.
Summary: It should have been Face's happiest day -- the wedding he never thought he would ever have. But when a ruthless villain with a score to settle storms the party, everybody's lives will hang in the balance. Will Face be able to save his new family? Can Hannibal form a plan to save the team? Can BA settle an old score? Will Murdock discover his lost confidence?
Author's Note: This story begins with a long prologue set during the Vietnam War, but the rest of the story is set in the early 1990s. This story also involves characters from the episode 'Hot Styles.'
SKELETONS: PROLOGUE A
"Heya, soldier." The woman in the halter top and denim mini skirt pulled her top lower to reveal more cleavage, and wiggled her ass in a vain attempt to capture his attention.
No more of that, Face thought, as he kicked an empty tequila bottle and kept walking. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets. The sharp corners of the object in his right hand bit into his clenched fist.
A hand came down on his shoulder and he spun, faster than anyone would think possible given his appearance.
"Hey, baby," a dark-skinned Hawaiian girl whispered from behind garish orange lips. She felt his thin arms through his jacket, then smiled. "A bit on the scrawny side, but I'll give you a discount. Fifteen bucks and I'll give you the ride of your life."
"Get away from me." His blue eyes flickered dangerously. "Don't touch me."
The woman backed away quickly, hands raised, as he continued to walk down the dirty alley. Once he was far enough away, he heard her voice, "Fuckin' psycho. You wouldn't even know what to do with a woman."
He looked back. The prostitute stood in the center of the alley, surrounded by garbage and empty bottles, with her hands on her hips.
Face's eyes went wide. She knew. How? How did they know? He stepped back, stumbled, and nearly fell. They all knew. They all laughed.
He turned and spun and tried to find his way out. He needed to escape. He needed to be alone.
No . . . He was alone. And, as he heard the woman cackle behind him, he knew that was how it would always be.
"Scooter, ya'd better come inside, honey, or you'll get sunburned."
The large soldier in the deck chair cringed, thankful that the rest of the team was not around to hear his Mama call him "Scooter." Some things just would not sit right, and that was one of them.
Still, he let a sly smile play on his lips as he soaked in some more of the late morning Hawaiian sunshine, it was nice to have Mama here. She had spent the last day fussing over him, telling him he was all skin and bones and making him eat non-stop from sunrise to bedtime. She had to go back to Chicago that night, but even just two days with her was a luxury he had never expected.
"Scooter, you get your behind inside right now and come eat some o' this chicken soup I gotcha."
From the tone in Mama's voice, BA knew he couldn't ignore her any longer. If he did not get up soon, she would soon be coming at him with a switch or a cold glass of water -- and not for him to drink.
"Comin', Mama," he called out and slowly pulled himself upright. Like almost everything else he had done in the past four weeks, it required an unfamiliar effort. As he reached a seated position, he paused, head swimming, and waited for the vertigo to pass. Finally, once the lush green bushes and sun-soaked cement finally settled into fixed positions, BA muttered, "Ol' Chao sure done a number on me."
On all of them really. BA frankly had to admit that he probably was the luckiest of them all. Sure he had lost weight and had taken his share of beatings in the camps, but the others had suffered more. And that was only the physical side.
BA knew it was the other side that was a lot worse.
The fool pilot had just snapped in that place. Murdock had always been nuts, but it seemed like a pretend nuts before. But now, it didn't seem so pretend. The pilot's mouth -- which had always been yappin' about some fool notion or 'nother -- now seemed stuck in overdrive. It had probably started when he began apologizing over and over in the cage for crashin' the chopper. A week later, he was alternating between talkin' to animals that weren't there and acting out his favorite scenes from "Gone With the Wind."
And there was nothin' BA could do about it.
Hannibal neither. They had done what they could to help Murdock all the way through. First they attempted to protect him when the guards came to drag him to another beating. Then they tried to help him deal with the crazy images that kept runnin' through his mind.
But he and Hannibal had not been able to stop Murdock's ravings. They had been completely helpless.
And then Murdock snapped. Then the guards had stopped coming.
He jerked his head up to see his Mama's concerned face.
"You didn't answer, honey. Everythin' okay?"
'Nothin' you ever wanna hear, Mama,' he thought. 'You just think they beat us 'n' starved us, but they did a lot worse. Not ta me so much, but to Murdock and to the Faceman . . .'
Stop it. He wasn't supposed to think about what they did to Face. Hannibal's orders. They weren't supposed to talk about it or even to think about it.
"I'm okay, Mama," BA lied. "Just thinkin' 'bout what I'm gonna do when the war's over."
Mama smiled. "Ya got some plans, Scooter?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna come home an' buy Bill Johnson's ol' garage. Get me some tools an' I'll be up an' runnin' in no time."
"That's my boy," Mama said, bringing a soft hand to his cheek. "You can do whatever you put your mind to."
BA felt his cheeks heat up. Embarrassed, he looked down at the hot cement. "I'm sorry, Mama. I'm sorry ya had to worry so much when we went missin'."
"You're here now, baby," Mama said softly. "That's all that matters. And when the war's over, you'll be comin' back home."
"I'm lucky I've got ya, Mama," BA replied. He was lucky. He had no idea why the army had decided to bring Leticia Baracus to Hawaii, but BA was grateful.
It had been an incredible surprise, actually. They'd been at breakfast the day before. Murdock was off in fantasy land, singing some kiddie songs from some stupid Broadway show and planning to go and spend the day watching the planes take off. Face was nowhere in sight, off with some girl, Hannibal proudly reported. Actually, Hannibal was reporting the details of how Face had bedded down with a Pan Am stewardess from Sweden. That was pure Face -- chasing anything in a skirt and catching plenty since their escape from Chao. Despite his disgust over Hannibal's crude descriptions, BA had said nothing and tried to drown out the colonel's voice.
BA had focused on his food. The last thing he wanted to hear about was Face's bedroom exploits. BA tuned out the conversation until he suddenly realized that the table had fallen silent. Hannibal had frozen in mid-sentence, his mouth open.
"That's my brother," Hannibal said, his voice an astonished whisper.
BA whirled around to face the door and saw a white-haired man standing at the entrance of the hotel restaurant. No question about it. The man could have been Hannibal's twin.
Murdock's father arrived soon after. Like the pilot, he was all lanky arms and legs. The only thing missing was the goofy grin.
A few hours later, it was BA's turn when Mama Baracus arrived in all her glory. She fussed over BA, showering him with attention and concern over how much weight he had lost during his imprisonment.
"I'd have brought you some o' my cookin', Scooter, but I barely gotta chance ta pack when the men from the army arrived at my door and tole me ya had sent them to pick me up and take me ta the airplane. I'll cook some as soon as I can go shoppin'. Musta cost ya a bunch ta arrange that."
BA said nothing, but figured it has something to do with army PR. Probably didn't want word of Chao's camp being spread too much. No mind. BA didn't care about that. He was just glad Mama was here. It was about time something had gone in their favor. BA spent the entire day showing Mama around Honolulu. He never even really got a chance to introduce her to the rest of the team, since they were busy with their own family. Everyone seemed to take off in their own directions. Rather than bunk in the team's base accommodations, BA even stayed with Mama at the small house the base C.O. had arranged for her.
BA was lucky. He had his Mama.
A soft hand touched his shoulder. "Come on in for some soup, baby."
Singing a medley from "Oliver!" Murdock danced and pirouetted around his father as they crossed the base toward the small house Face had scammed for the team.
"Oliver! Oliver! . . . Never before has a boy wanted more! . . ."
"HM," Murdock's dad said. "People are looking.
"Let 'em look," Murdock laughed and twirled in a circle in the morning sun.
"We're just going to get a change of clothes, right HM? Then we're off to see Diamond Head, right?"
"Right-o, Pop," Murdock replied. "Just a change of clothes." Dad was uncomfortable here. He probably wanted to ask a lot of questions, but was afraid to get the answers. So they had not talked at all. Just seen the sights. That had least avoided some awkward silences.
In truth, they really had little in common. Dad was the consummate company man. Go to work, push papers around, come home and watch television. That pretty much summed up Dad's life. He had no sense of adventure; no sense of fun. Still, it was nice that he had come to visit.
Too bad Murdock hadn't had a chance to get his Dad to really meet the rest of the team. Murdock really wanted to introduce his Dad to Face, if only so they could thank the lieutenant for arranging this little family reunion. Well, there was always the chance Face would be at the house.
BA sure wouldn't be there. He'd be over at the other house with his Mama. Scamming that place for a civilian and a non-com was a miracle. Hell, getting Mrs. Baracus a plane ticket to Hawaii courtesy of the U.S. Army was a work of genius.
BA hadn't even figured it out. The big mudsucka thought it was Uncle Sam being nice. And Face probably didn't want BA to know. Murdock knew if he tried to get the lieutenant to explain why, Face wouldn't talk.
No. Face, wouldn't talk about that . . . or about anything, really. Face's life seemed to spin around Scandinavian stewardesses these days. Not the worst thing in the world, although Murdock preferred Broadway show tunes to forking over his pay for drinks and hotel rooms for girls who'd be jetting off to Stockholm in a few days time.
"Oliver! Oliver! Won't ask for more when he knows what's in store."
Murdock whirled through the door of the tiny house, followed by his Dad. All quiet on the Western front. That silence meant Hannibal was off with his father and BA was with his mama. It also meant Face was still with his Swedish meatball of the week. That meant the house was Murdock's.
"Mine . . . All mine," he cackled, heading to the bedroom he shared with Face.
"HM?" his Dad asked. He was watching nervously.
"Just gonna grab what I need from the bedroom, Pop." Murdock tap-danced down the hallway. Twirling again, Murdock danced his way through the bedroom door and flopped down on his bed. He barely noticed the chain fly into the air off his pillow and probably would not have seen it if it hadn't popped back and hit him in the face.
"Strange," Murdock muttered. "What's this doing here?"
He lifted the chain with one hand and let his eyes slowly focus on the dangling metal.
Shit . . . Shit . . . Shit . . .
The chain in hand, Murdock flew out the door of the room, past his startled father, out the door of the house and across the base.
BA was just polishing off his third bowl of Mama's chicken soup when he heard a pounding on the door. Only one man would pound on BA's door like that. Heck, even Hannibal had more sense.
"I'll get it, Mama," BA growled as he hauled himself out of his chair and stomped to the door. Pulling it open, he glared at Murdock, "Whatya doin' here, fool? I'm wit' my Mama."
The pilot shifted from side to side, unable to make eye contact. BA knew immediately that something was wrong.
"What's goin' on, Murdock? Why ain't ya wit' ya Dad."
"It's Face . . ."
"What about, Face?"
"He's missing, BA. No one's seen him in two days. Not since Hannibal."
BA groaned. "C'mon, Murdock. He probably went off with that stewardess."
"No, BA. He's in some sort of trouble. I know it," Murdock insisted. The pilot was bouncing on the balls of his feet, clearly agitated. "He left his dog tags on my pillow in our room. If I hadn't gone back there to change, I never would have seen them."
"Murdock, tha' don' mean nothin'"
"Are you blind, BA? Who do you think arranged this little family reunion? You think this was army good will?"
BA paused. It couldn't be.
"Damn it, BA. Something's wrong."
"What's goin' on?" Mama's low voice sounded from the kitchen.
BA turned just as she stepped into the front hallway carrying a dishtowel. He momentarily wondered how many favors Face had cashed in to arrange for her visit before answering. "My L-T, Mama. He's gone missin'."
"Well, ya'd better get on out o' here and find him."
BA hesitated. Not wanting Murdock to hear, BA crossed the hallway and whispered, "You barely got here, Mama, and you're leavin' tonight. This is our last day 'fore I gotta go back. I wanna spend it wit' you."
"This lieutenant of yours. He the rich boy ya tole me 'bout in those letters ya sent me?"
BA felt the heat rise in his face as he remembered his first impressions of the young, well-dressed lieutenant from California -- impressions that changed forever during a night trapped in the jungle between Da Nang and Firebase Nancy. In a quiet, apologetic voice, he said, "I was wrong 'bout a lot o' things 'bout him."
Motioning to Murdock, Mama said, "And this man here thinks your lieutenant's in trouble?"
BA nodded again.
"If I raised ya ta be a man, Scooter, you'll go and find your friend. I can tell ya think the boy's in trouble too."
BA nodded a final time. Then he grabbed his duffel, said goodbye to Mama, knowing he might not see her before she had to leave, and followed Murdock out the door.
They met a highly agitated Hannibal outside the hotel and quickly devised a search plan. They acted on two assumptions. The first was that Face was still on the island and, most likely, in Honolulu. The second was that Face was still alive. None of them actually said what they feared; they just exchanged little looks that expressed their desperate concerns.
Murdock was told to head for the airport, then the jails and hospitals. Hannibal took the hotels, the idea being that he might be able to charm some nice desk clerk to reveal if Face had checked in with his stewardess. Because of his size, BA took most of the bars and strip clubs. He made a special point as he went from place to place to check behind the clubs just in case Face had shot off his mouth and had been dumped in some alley.
BA almost hoped that was the case.
BA searched all morning and afternoon without luck. From time to time, he would find someone who had seen someone who looked like Face the day before or the day before that, but none of the leads panned out.
At 3:30 pm, BA found himself at the last of a dirty row of bars and strip joints. In his mind, he thought he might be able to finish checking them in 15 minutes and then get back to the house just in time to see Mama off before she headed to the airport.
"Oooohhhhh, there's a big one," cried a prostitute in a bikini top and a skirt that barely covered anything. "Hey, soldier, how'd you wanna a hot time? I like 'em big an' black."
BA ignored the hooker and headed for the first doorway. Inside was a standard bar, three drunk sailors, a couple of drunk locals and no baby-faced, Special Forces first lieutenant.
Stepping back into the street, he ignored more hookers, stepped over a few bums lying on the sidewalk and investigated yet another bar and two strip joints. No Face.
BA glanced at his watch. 3:45. Only two more doorways to try.
"Hey, you there. Can't go in without a cover."
The sergeant turned to see a large bouncer with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Aww, c'mon man, I'm just lookin' fer a friend."
The bouncer laughed. "Yeah, they all say that. Then they go in an' never come out. Five bucks."
BA pulled out his wallet and glanced inside. Dang, he only had five dollars and he still needed to get back to the base. He tried another tactic. "Hey, man . . . I'm lookin' for a friend. Scrawny, white boy. Blond hair, military cut. Would ya tell me if there's someone like that inside?"
The bouncer studied BA for a second, then poked his head in the door. Pulling it back outside, he said, "There might be. Five bucks."
"You're a prince," BA growled as he pulled a five out of his wallet and paid for the privilege of entering.
Dang it. As soon as he stepped past the bouncer, he discovered there was a short hallway between the door and the main bar. The entrance to the main bar was blocked by a beaded curtain. There was no way the bouncer could have seen inside from the door. BA had probably just wasted the last of his cash and blown any chance of seeing Mama before she flew home.
As BA angrily stalked down the little hall, he told himself that Faceman better hope he wasn't inside. Better for him if Murdock or Hannibal found him.
Through a beaded curtain, BA stepped into a dim, smoke-filled room. A half-naked girl stood on a beer-soaked stage, twirling in circles around a metal pole, while drunken soldiers and sailors cheered and tossed money at her. As BA allowed his eyes to become better adjusted to the light, one of the sailors climbed onto the stage and began to rub up against the dancing girl. He was quickly removed by two mountainous men, even bigger than the bouncer at the door.
Thank God Mama wasn't here. She'd have a coronary if she ever saw her Scooter in a place like this.
BA looked around the room, eyes first settling on the men closest to the dancing girl. Most were military, but none had the slight build of the Faceman, especially not after the camps. BA squinted, trying to see the tables on the other side of the stage, but none of them seemed occupied. A couple of the wooden booths -- or at least what seemed to pass for wood in this place -- were occupied, but BA couldn't get a good view of their occupants. He stepped across the room, just as a loud whooping and hollering sounded for the dancing girl. BA looked at the stage and saw her grabbing her clothes and running toward the back.
BA shook his head and coughed as the thick smoke choked him. Why would anyone come to a place like this? Still pondering that thought, another round of cheers went up as the music from some English rock band began to blare through tinny speakers and a new girl took the stage.
He hated the noise and the smoke and the stench of stale beer and sweat in this place. It was too much like those cheap Saigon bars he was always pulling Face and Murdock out of before they got their heads kicked in by the Marines.
In the last booth sat a slight figure. He faced away from the stage, showing no apparent interest in the stripper or the rest of the show. As BA stepped closer, he saw the slumped shoulders, lowered head and dangling blond hair of his lieutenant. BA also saw one empty bottle lying sideways on the table and another clutched in the man's right hand.
The lieutenant whirled around in surprise.
"What are you doing here, BA?" Face spoke in a deliberate, clipped manner that BA realized was intended to mask any sign of drunkenness. But even in the dim light, BA could see Face's cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wide and glassy, plain signs that he had finished the empty bottle and drained most of the second one.
"Face. . . . C'mon, man, you're drunk," BA said. Face was in bad shape. He needed to talk; he needed to get it out. BA cursed himself for not knowing where Hannibal was or how to get him on a phone. The colonel was better at talking than BA ever would be. Face might listen to Hannibal.
But Hannibal might decide to sweep everything under the rug again. That's not what Face needed.
BA looked at the smaller man who was glaring up over the top of a bottle. "Faceman . . . We gotta talk."
"What are you doing here, BA?" Face demanded again, this time a little more forcefully. "You're supposed to be with your mama, seeing her off."
"We been looking for ya all day, Faceman. Me 'n' Hannibal 'n' the fool. Thought ya might be in trouble and need some help."
Face laughed wildly, the first truly clear sign of his drunken condition. "Trouble? You thought I was in trouble? No trouble." He raised the bottle and waved it around in the air. "Why would I be in trouble, BA?"
Now BA was annoyed. He'd spend most of the day searching for Face. He'd lost time with his Mama, and Face was acting like nothing had happened.
"Ya left yore dog tags at the house. Fool went crazy. Why'd ya do that if you're okay?"
Face took a swig from the bottle. "It's none of your business, BA. Go away. Go spend your time with your mama."
Those last words hit home. Damn idiot L-T had gone on a bender, sent everyone into a frenzy and now he just wanted BA to walk away. Besides, Mama was already gone. No. They needed to get this out on the table. Even if he came across like an unfeeling bastard, BA was going to have his say and Face was going to hear it. "An' leave ya here, drinkin' yourself unner a table? I don't think so, L-T. I know what's goin' on. Ya wanna go on feelin' sorry for yaself, L-T. Lemme tell ya somethin'. Lots of guys had it bad in the camps."
Face blinked several times in quick succession and his jaw trembled. "You don't know what you're talking about, BA. You don't know."
"Cut the crap, Face. We all know what happened." BA was sick of tiptoeing. Hannibal might want to keep everything quiet, but nobody would get better if they just pretended everything was fine. It wasn't fine. Though he saw that the color had disappeared from the lieutenant's face and his eyes had gone wide, BA continued, "How the hell ya think we don't know? Who ya think cleaned the blood off your ass?"
"BA." Face's voice sounded a warning.
BA knew this was all coming out wrong. He sounded angry, like he was blaming Face for not putting it behind him, but BA couldn't say what he really meant. He just didn't know how to say it. "No, L-T! I'm not shuttin' up 'bout this. Hannibal may not wanna talk about it, but it happened. But so what? You alive when a lot o' guys in that camp ain't. 'Sides--" BA stopped short of finishing.
"Besides what, BA?" Face hissed.
"Ya got too much ta live for to let this get ya, Faceman." BA did not say what he really thought. The team needed Face to live. If they lost him now, their failure would be even worse.
"Oh that's rich, BA. I've got too much to live for. Tell me what the hell I've got to live for, BA? Let me hear your goddamn wisdom."
BA bristled and leaned over the table, trying to swipe the bottle out of Face's hand. The lieutenant moved too fast, though, and BA wound up landing with both palms on the table. Looking to his right, he glared into Face's drunken blue eyes.
"Ya got it a lot better than most of us. Ya can go home an' scam good doctors. Murdock probably'll spend years gettin' help at the VA. If'n I need anythin' I'll have to sit around in a free clinic with doctors tha' cain't get jobs anywhere else. You kin scam yore way to whatever ya want. I've seen it. The Red Sea parts for guys like you, Faceman."
Face shook his head in disbelief. "Haven't you learned a thing in all this time, BA? It's still all black and white to you. I'm white, you're black. That means everything's easy for me. That's what you think? Right?"
BA had never seen Face so angry, but the LT was missing the point. That wasn't what BA meant; that wasn't what he was trying to say. The sergeant hesitated, which gave Face time to continue.
"I must also deserve everything I got from Chao, right? It's all sort of karmic vengeance to you, isn't it? Other guys died and all that happened to me was that I took it in the ass a couple of times. So what do I have to complain about?"
"Face--" BA felt like he had been gut-punched. He had tried. They had all tried. They couldn't stop it from happening.
"No, BA. You don't have a fucking clue. You think you're BA-fucking-Baracus, who knows all and judges everyone. Oh, that's rich. The 'ghetto Solomon.' So I guess that's what the great Mama Baracus must have taught you?"
Anger overwhelming him, BA reached out and caught Face's collar. "Ya watch what ya say 'bout my Mama." BA shook Face hard, causing him to drop the bottle, spilling cheap whiskey all over the table. Out the corner of his eye, BA also saw something else fall -- something small, that hit and skidded onto the table with a clatter.
Ignoring the bottle, Face drunkenly groped for the item, but his hands moved too clumsily. BA grabbed it first and winced as something had and sharp dig into his skin. Pulling it into the light, BA opened his palm and saw the flash of a diamond.
"Wha--?? I don' understand, Faceman. Wha's goin' on?"
Face blinked hard and looked up. Suddenly, he looked like a scared teenager, even younger than the 20 years he was supposed to be. "I'm tired of this, BA . . . Tired of . . . You've all got someone who'll come halfway cross the world for you. Go back to that house I scammed for you and find your mama."
BA shook his head. He thought he could tell what Face was not saying. "What about you, Face? Don't tell me ya don't got anyone cause that ain't true. Ya got the team."
Face's lips curled slightly as a hint of amusement touched his face. "Like you? A second ago, you were about to bash my teeth in . . . Now you're my best friend? Don't try to con me, BA. I'm the liar in this outfit."
"No, Face. Look." BA struggled to try to find the words. Dang it. How could he explain? It was so hard to look at Face knowing that they had failed to protect him in the camps. "Ya shoulda seen Murdock this mornin'. He was freakin' out, not knowin' where ya was. Hannibal, he had to go to all these hotels terrified he'd find ya in some bathroom with ya wrists slit or somethin'. Don't be tellin' me ya don't have anybody."
"I'm tired, BA. I . . . I don't want to go on like this." All amusement was long gone from Face's expression. His eyes dropped down and studied the table top.
"Oh no, you don't," BA growled. He raised a hand and lifted Face's chin so his eyes, glassy as they were, met the sergeant's. "You don' get out like that. We went through hell together and no one wants ta lose ya now. That wha's this all about? Ya got our folks here so you could run off get yourself drunk an' then wander off to the beach and plug yourself with that sidearm I know ya got wit' ya?"
"It's none of your business, BA. It's my life." Face's hand clutched the neck of the spilled bottle.
BA dropped his hand from Face's chin and brought it down on Face's wrist, so he could not move it. "No ya don't. No dang way, L-T. We won't let ya. I won't let ya."
Mentally, BA added, 'We won't let ya. We mighta failed to save you from Chao, but we will save you from yourself.'
For a moment, BA watched as the conflict played out on the other man's face. The white, trembling hand on the bottle clenched tight, loosened, clenched again and then finally opened completely.
"You have a way of ruining the moment, BA."
BA exhaled, releasing the breath he was holding and let go of Face. BA settled into the booth and felt the metal ring bite into his palm. "So ya wanna tell me 'bout tha' diamond?"
Face's cheeks tinted with a blush that was almost imperceptible in the darkness of the room. "It was a dumb idea, BA. I hit it off with Inga . . ."
BA remembered Hannibal's tale of the Swedish stewardess. "Oh no, ya didn't, did ya?"
Barely nodding, Face answered, "She thought it was a joke too. She laughed until she saw the ring. Then she walked out."
Poor kid, BA thought. Was Face that desperate to have somebody -- anybody -- in his life?
"She didn't laugh at me," the lieutenant said softly. "I thought we had something."
"What do you mean she didn't laugh at you?"
"Most of them laugh at me now," Face whispered.
"Who?" BA was completely confused.
"The women. They look at me and they see what Chao did. They know, BA. I don't know how, but they know. You think it's just torture, BA . . . but it's not . . . It's . . ." Face fell silent and swung his head toward the stage where the dancer continued her gyrations.
"They couldn't possibly know. It's all in your mind, Faceman. It doesn't show. You've got to deal with this--" BA said, but Face's eyes remained fixed on the half-naked woman.
"Inga didn't laugh . . . I thought . . ." He laughed softly as his shoulders slumped forward. "You've got it all wrong, BA. I'm a much bigger fool than Murdock."
"C'mon, Faceman," BA said. He slid the ring across the table and watched as Face, fumbling, closed his hand over it. BA then rose from the table. Once back fully on his feet, he placed a hand on Face's shoulder. "Hannibal and Murdock are worried 'bout ya. Let's get back to the house."
"BA? Do me a favor?"
"Don't tell them about this."
BA nodded. "'kay, Face. This is 'tween us. But I want a promise from ya in exchange. Ya ever feel like doin' this ta yaself again, ya come talk ta me first. You promise?"
It was Face's turn to nod. "Yeah."
"Let's get goin'," BA ordered. "I've gotta find a cab and it's gonna be your dime that it counts down."
Face rose from the booth and stepped forward unsteadily, the alcohol finally catching up with him. Laughing, he said, "I think we might be in trouble."
"Why? Cause you're drunk?"
"No." Face's head bobbed lazily from the left to the right. "I spent my last money on the booze."
"What'cha talkin' 'bout? We had months o' backpay."
"Plane tickets cost money, BA. So do rings."
BA laughed, wrapped an arm around Face's shoulders and began to steer him to the door. As the lieutenant stumbled over the dark, beer-spattered floor, BA said, "It was a nice thing ya did bringin' my mama here."
Face nodded weakly. "It wasn't a plan, BA. I just thought you should get to see your families. Family's important."
BA glanced down at the smaller man and smiled. Silently, he pledged, 'You'll have yore family one day, too, Faceman.'
They took a few more steps toward the door. Only BA's strength prevented Face from falling flat on the floor.
BA smiled as he straightened Face out. "We'll figure somethin' out 'bout the cab. We could always give the driver that ring o' yours."
Face looked down at his left hand for a moment and studied the ring. "I don't know, BA. You never know when I might need it."
"Faceman, ya don't need a ring to get married. One day, ya'll find the right girl and the ring won't mean a thing. 'Til then, it's probably a good thing ya don't have a ring sittin' around."
Blue eyes shining as they stepped through the beaded curtain and caught the first rays of natural light, Face looked up at BA. "Thanks, BA." He paused for a moment. Then he gave the ring a long look and dropped it into one of BA's large hands. With an abrupt, drunken laugh, Face said, "Do me a favor and give this to the driver. He'll probably have more of a use for it than I ever will." At that, Face's eyes rolled back, his head lolled to the side and he passed out.
Shaking his head, BA lifted Face over his shoulder for the walk back along the prostitute- and bum-filled street. As he carried his drunk friend, BA studied the tiny ring and repeated, "One day, Face, I know it. One day, it's gonna be right . . . and I promise I'm gonna be there to make sure ya get the peace and happiness ya deserve."
He squinted as he stepped into the daylight. Looking down the alley, BA realized there was no way he would get back to the base in time to see his Mama. She would understand, though. Some things took priority. A shuffling sound to his right caused him to look up over the unmoving form of the unconscious lieutenant. BA saw the large bouncer standing guard at the door, his arms still crossed.
BA glared at the man and said, "Tol' ya I was lookin' for a friend." His words came out as a challenge as he added, "An' I found him."
SKELETONS: PROLOGUE B
Los Angeles, 1993
The bland, bleached-blond anchorwoman with the plastic smile stared out from behind her desk. Behind her the large "D/E" logo for the "Daily Entertainment" television show flashed behind her. Her every facial feature screamed "I'm perky" as she began to read.
"Rumors abound that the long awaited wedding between supermodel Rina Matthews and former fugitive Templeton Peck will take place sometime this weekend at an undisclosed location in or near Los Angeles. Sources close to the couple revealed that the wedding will take place on a yacht for what they called 'sentimental' reasons. However, because of Templeton Peck's past involvement with the now-legendary A-Team, our source refused to divulge the location and insisted that security will be high . . . In other news, the accolades keep coming for Steven Spielberg's new film 'Schindler's List' . . ."
The television's sound cut off with a harsh click and the picture flickered for a moment before the screen went black. The gray-haired man who had been watching the screen tossed the remote control across his desk and looked over at his two dark-suited associates.
"Bring him in."
The two men, both square-jawed thugs with sloping shoulders and no necks stepped from the room and returned minutes later dragging a smaller man in a gray suit. With his short hair and wire rims, the small man looked like an accountant. The two goons forced the man into a chair and, each keeping a hand on his shoulder, took places behind him. The man in the chair trembled under their touch.
"Do you know who I am?" asked the leader.
"N--No . . . I. . . . I s-swear . . ." the man stammered.
"Good," the leader said. "Then you might even live past today." He paused to let the words sink in and to allow the man's trembling to increase. "I understand that your company is in charge of the Peck-Matthews wedding."
The smaller man's eyes went wide. "I . . . uh . . . I d-don't know any- . . . anything about th-that. I'm just . . . just a small business owner."
"Don't lie to me." The leader's eyes glinted dangerously in the dim light of the room. He reached down and lifted a manila folder from his desk. Opening the cover, he pulled out a couple of photographs and laid them on the desk for the smaller man to see. "Julian Davenport, owner of Celebrity Security. 'Keeping the stars secure in secrecy' if I have your tag line correct. Lives at 1464 Roosevelt Lane. Beloved husband of Rosemary and father of Lance and Stacey." He stopped for a beat. "That last description would make a nice epitaph, don't you think?"
The smaller man's eyes grew even larger than before. "How--"
"That's my business, Mr. Davenport." The leader glanced purposefully down at the photographs. "I must add that you have a very handsome family. Is that Lance at his club soccer league? And Stacey with her after-school French club . . . You must be very proud." Another beat. "It would be such a shame if something should happen to such promising young people."
"P-p-please, don't hurt them," the man begged. "Just . . . just tell me what you want. Please leave my family alone."
The leader sat back in his chair and smiled. "That's more of the attitude I was looking for, Mr. Davenport. I knew we could come to an understanding. Now why don't you start telling me about the security details for the wedding?"
Two hours later, the two goons pulled the shaking man from the office. As the leader sat back and digested the information he had learned, one of the goons returned.
"Whadya want me ta do wit' him?"
The leader smiled, his gray-green eyes glinting. "Take him into the desert and dump him, of course. We wouldn't want Mr. Davenport to suddenly have an attack of conscience and alert Peck. Have Davenport call his office and tell them he had to go out of town on a family emergency. Then pick up the wife and kids and give the Davenports a nice family burial."
"Yessir," said the goon.
Before the large thug could leave, the leader spoke again. "Are the other arrangements made?"
"Uhh . . Yeah . . . Everythin's in place."
"Good. That's what I like to hear, Joey."
"Yessir. Thanks, Mr. Turian. Me and Bobby'll go take care a the family now."
As his henchman left, Tony Turian opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a small silver case. Flipping it open, he glanced at the photographs inside. 'Take care of the family,' he thought. That was exactly what he was going to do.
<End of Book I>
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