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More About Face
Pairing: Face/Murdock… eventually….maybe!
Summary: Done my ideas on how the A Team came into being in ‘About Face’. Now here is my take on why it fell apart! The time is now…….
Warnings/Content: Contains male/male SLASH plus torture and drug abuse. Also some full-bodied soldier type language. ….Oh and maybe even a major character death…. Who can tell?
Disclaimer: I do not own the A-Team characters and am making no profit from this story, which is a work of fan fiction only.
Thanks: Becky and Benedict …………………
MORE ABOUT FACE
Amy Allen paused on the threshold before entering the restaurant. Her eyes swept over the tables swiftly. It was lunchtime, a busy time for this chic place and it was filled with sweet young things and nameless grey suits. Her eyes swept over them all from the peroxide blondes to the bald shiny palates; none of them belonged to the one she sought. She followed the maitre’d as indicated through the heaving throng and out into the bright and airy conservatory.
She hesitated again as her eyes fell on the features she was looking for, still striking and yet somehow different from the image in her memory. He was dressed in an impeccable powder blue suit, his hair shorter than she remembered and darker, save for the significant streaks of grey at his temples. She moved toward him and he looked up as if sensing her presence. Again she was struck by the difference in the man, so subtle, so difficult to define, to put a name to but still obvious to her; it had been a long time it was true and she had feared such a change would be evident.
Ever the gentleman, he stood to greet her and smiled but his eyes remained distant and cold.
“Face, it’s good to see you,” she purred, as she kissed the air beside his cheek as was required in a place like this.
“How’s the family?” he asked as they sat back down, his voice clipped, revealing nothing.
“They’re fine, I have photos!” she replied diving into her bag. “Chloe will be graduating next summer.”
He whistled through his teeth and shook his head slightly. “All ready?” he asked, bemused as he glanced at the photos and then returned them to her uncomfortably quickly. “I thought she would be seven, eight at the most.”
Amy smiled. “Time is passing by, Face!”
She ordered a soda then and he took a re-fill to the whiskey he had drunk as he waited. She eyed him minutely, trying to decipher what the difference was.
“So,” he began. “What can I do for you, Amy?”
“It’s more what I can do for you, Face.” She had played this moment over in her head, but the practise had made it no easier. “Hannibal asked me to talk to you.”
“Hannibal?” There was a visible reaction, almost a retraction away from her, back into the safety of his seat.
She pressed on ignoring it. “He’s worried about you.”
“Worried about me?” The tone was controlled so tightly any hint of emotion had been wrung from it but Amy sensed it was there hidden deeply below. Face looked away. “You must have got him in one of his more lucid moments then!” Now there was a definite bitterness biting hard and she noticed his fists squeeze tightly but impotently on the table before her.
Amy lifted her own hands to lay across his, feeling the flinch the contact brought him but choosing to disregard it. “How are you really, Face?”
He gulped then, moving his hands away from hers, he placed them beneath the table and out of sight. He refused to look at her. “Good,” he responded softly and with no conviction.
She shook her head. “The same old Face; still hiding behind your masks. Would it really hurt so much to let your defences down?”
His eyes came back to hers then, blue and bottomless and then she realised that was the difference; eyes once so welcoming and warm were now dull and bleak like a winter’s day. And his voice, when it came, bore the same forlorn note. “You know I can’t do that – they are all I have left,” he said.
She shivered. “I don’t believe that. Look at you, you are still a very attractive man. I like your hair, the grey looks very distinguished. You can still turn heads, I know it!”
He snorted then. “The only heads I turn are the wrinkled and blue rinsed variety!” One hand came back into sight as it took up his glass and raised it to his mouth. He took a long gulp of the fiery liquid before continuing, “Conmen should never grow old, Amy.”
“You’re not old, Face!”
He shook his head, looking down wistfully as he swirled the brown blended liquid in his glass. “It feels that way. Sometimes I glance in a shop window and I think, who is that old guy, is he following me or what? And then I realise it’s me but hell I still feel like I did when I was eighteen.” He shook his head, his features looked lost more than angry. “I’m losing it.”
“I don’t believe that, not for a minute.”
The waiter brought their food at that point and Amy started to eat. After some minutes she noticed that Face was not eating but simply chasing his food around the plate. “You gonna eat that?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Not hungry.” And took another gulp of whiskey.
“Thirsty though?” Amy pushed.
“You could say that,” he signalled to the waiter for a re-fill.
Amy watched him for a few seconds as she cast about for something more to say. “You’re not losing it, Face. Scams go wrong sometimes. Murdock told me about the last one.”
He looked up at that. “Murdock told you?” She nodded. “He worried about me too?” His voice was prickly.
She nodded again. He shook his head. “I never knew you all cared so deeply or talked about me behind my back so readily,” he muttered indignantly. “Did he also tell you I copped a plea and got a suspended sentence? And that the lady in question’s grandson, grandson get that, is going to rip my head off next time he sees me?”
“So it was a bad judgement, Face. It’s not the first. We all do it; it’s part of being human. You can’t control it all. I don’t understand why you’re beating yourself up about it; you made a bad call, you accept the punishment. Time was you would just put it behind you and move on.”
He snorted. “Time was I had everything in front of me, now I pushed so much behind me the space is all filled up and it’s spilling out to haunt me.”
“You’re a good man, Templeton Peck,” Amy said. “Why have you always found it so hard to believe?”
“It’s no good, Amy,” His smile was tight and uncompromising as he skilfully slid behind his barriers. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do but there is no need, really.”
She looked into those blue eyes and the memory of the warmth of the man they had once belonged to forced her to carry on. “Think of all the people you have helped, Face. You have done good things!”
He sighed. “The past doesn’t matter especially since I only did those things for the Team, for Hannibal. Deep down I have always known what I am. It just hurts that now the world knows it too. I never thought about growing old, of being alone, maybe if I’d realised then how scared it would make me, I would have chosen differently. But I can’t go back now. All I can do is live with it.”
Amy placed her knife and fork on her plate gently. “You’re tired, Face. You need a break. Hell, it’s been a tough couple of months for you, what with Hannibal, losing your job and the court case. Come and stay with me for a while, there’s nothing spoiling here.”
Peck looked down at his hands, clutched them into fists. “I’m not leaving Hannibal,” he said grimly. “I owe him that much at least.”
“But it’s wearing you out, Face,” Amy kept her voice as patient as she could. “Just a couple of days won’t make a difference – he’ll understand.”
“No, he won’t!” Peck’s voice was suddenly so loud the other clients in the restaurant threw him curious glances. The moment’s lapse was just as quickly controlled and he let out a long breath before looking up at Amy’s sympathetic glance. “You don’t understand.”
“OK,” Amy kept the shock at the ferocity of his reaction from her voice. “At least take tomorrow off. I’ll go and see Hannibal and you can take a break.” He nodded slowly as she continued. “What about the others?”
“They’ve done all they can.” He shrugged. “BA’s got his family and he’s had to go back to Chicago – his mother is not doing well and Murdock has had to work all the hours in the day to get his business off the ground.” His eyes flickered with warmth briefly as he said. “No pun intended.”
Amy smiled. “You got him the plane, didn’t you?”
Face nodded. “To begin with, yeah. But he’s doing so well, he’s gone legit and bought himself a brand new one.” He shook his head. “Funny that mad HM has coped better with everything than the rest of us. Still, he only ever needed to fly to be really happy.”
“And you Face,” Amy asked. “What would make you really happy?”
His eyes were drawn to the next table where a family of four had just sat down. Their appearance was somewhat incongruous in this restaurant as if they had taken a wrong turn on the way to McDonalds but they seemed unconcerned. The father, a few years younger than Peck, was scowling at the menu while the mother fussed about with napkins for the kids. One of them was lost in a PSP game, biting his lip as he put his whole soul into his art, the other argued about his need for the lace serviette currently being stuffed into his shirt neck by the mother.
Peck sighed and looked back to Amy. “Doesn’t matter,” he said softly. “I had it once but it will never be again.”
They sat in silence for a while and then Face shifted uncomfortably on his seat. “Listen Amy,” he began with a little of the old whine in his voice. “You weren’t wrong when you said I‘ve had a tough couple of months. Thing is I …” he hesitated.
“Templeton Peck,” Amy breathed. “You are not trying to run a scam on me, are you?”
“Me? Would I? Hell no – there’s no scam,” His head dropped forwards. “There’s no money either. See I got a big fine and I lost my job and…”
“What about your army pension?”
“Goes on the rent of my apartment, that and the car…”
“You’re paying rent? And you bought a car!”
He nodded sheepishly. “I don’t do that scamming stuff, not any more. I can’t, can’t risk it. I’m out here all on my own, with nobody to watch my back and I know that I can’t cut it, not in jail. Murdock’s not the only one that’s gone legitimate although for very different reasons.”
Amy stared at him, really not knowing whether she believed this new ‘honest’ Templeton Peck or not. He seemed sincere enough but….
“Anyway,” he continued. “This is an expensive place and I…”
Amy raised her hands in surrender. “It’s OK, Face,” she said. “I invited you remember and it’s not as if you’ve eaten anything anyway.”
“But I should, I mean a lady….”
“Don’t show me your Neanderthal streak Face! This is a new century and men don’t have to pay for everything. And you know I was never a lady! I’ll get the check – my treat.”
“I ran up a tab at the bar, while I waited,” he confessed shamefacedly. “But I could….”
“What you should have done is eaten some of this delicious food, Face. If you’re this strapped for cash you need it! But don’t worry I said I’ll pay and I will.”
The following day Face waited in the parking lot of the care home for Amy Allen to show. He had agreed with her as they left the restaurant the night before that he would take the day off and have a break from visiting the home but he had slipped into his usual schedule when he woke up without thinking and had found himself at the home regardless of his promise.
So he waited, hating the times when he had nothing to do but wait, wait and think because that was when the memories came back bringing with them the bite of bitterness and guilt.
He remembered how it had been. How it had felt to be at the top of his game, to be needed, valued, trusted and the loss of such a position was a physical pain to him. How he longed to feel such intensity, such heat again.
When Hannibal had been in control things had been so easy and Face would have given anything, everything for his Colonel but it had all fallen apart so quickly when Hannibal began to lose his grip. Looking back the signs had been there, as their luck changed – suddenly plans did not work out and the required adjustments were too hard to make. Hannibal seemed to lose focus at critical times, forget what was going on, became confused and panicked. With their leader strangely fallible the rest of the Team began to lose trust in themselves and each other. Face guessed that’s what growing old was all about – things no longer came easily, the slick Team was suddenly disjointed and imperfect.
They tried, Lord they tried, but something magical had been lost and remained elusively out of their grasp. There were still good times too it was true, like the day they finally received their pardons and the ensuing media frenzy. Face had loved being the celebratory he had always dreamed of. He did Oprah and Letterman; he gave everyone the piece of him that they demanded. There was talk of a book, a TV series and even a movie. Face had believed it, allowing himself to be engulfed by the wonder of it all, becoming the bright eyed naïve boy he had hidden so deeply following the horrors of Nam. He had wanted it so badly, had glimpsed tantalising touches of it through his life that to have himself thrust into it so deeply made him lose all sense of self preservation. It made it so much more difficult for him to recover his balance when the bubble finally burst.
He did not know when it happened, could not pinpoint exactly the moment but slowly it dawned on him that nothing he was being promised was being delivered, book deals fell through, people did not return his calls, the press no longer stalked him, he couldn’t get a table in exclusive restaurants… and the final straw was when he heard the rumour the suits had decided his character would be played by a girl in the upcoming film. How could Faceman be a girl! Everything had gone cold and stale. Nobody wanted him anymore.
Seeing his pain and knowing its source, Murdock had offered to write the real story with his friend but by then it was too late, fantasy had been shattered by cold reality. Deep down inside of Peck the cynical conman had laughed bitterly and pushing to the surface with the words ‘I told you so’ had forced the kid away forever.
It was not so for the other Team members for they had not embraced the media adulation like Peck. Hannibal particularly, had become increasingly withdrawn; he did not seem to want his pardon and never formally accepted it. It was as if the wily old Colonel saw the truth – legitimacy changed things irrevocably. And with the realisation Hannibal appeared to lose even more of his focus. No one said he had given up, no one would voice such disloyalty but with the benefit of hindsight, Face could see that was exactly what he had done. And Peck did not blame his mentor one little bit; in fact he quite envied the old soldier his release for worse was to come.
It was the summer of 1987 and taking their A Team earnings plus the pay off from the Government they received on their pardons, Peck invested heavily in the soaring stock market. The bitterness that gnawed at him following the loss of his fame enflamed him and made him bold; he played the margins with not only his but also the rest of the Team’s money, loving the power and ignoring the risks until Monday 19 October dawned and Peck was brutally reminded of his fallibility once more. On Black Monday the Dow Jones plummeted 508 points, losing 22.6% of its total value and along with many others Peck lost everything.
The rest of the Team did not blame him outright. They mumbled platitudes about still having their army pensions, about being comfortable anyway and needing to find work but Peck sensed the hostility, saw the coldness in their eyes when they looked on him whether it was truly there or not and vilified himself with his failure. Hannibal was not well enough to pull them back together at that time and so they finally fell apart. No more missions, no togetherness and no future; they went their separate ways, still keeping in touch but acquaintances more than friends. And to add to Peck’s guilt was the reality that his greed and selfishness had accomplished what so many villains and slimeballs had failed to achieve – he had destroyed the A Team!
It was only right that since it was all his fault, Peck should be the one who took on the onerous task of looking after the increasingly infirmed Colonel. The years of responsibility and stress had finally taken their toll and Smith was suddenly an old man. His body seemed frail and weak but his mind was of more concern, his forgetfulness changed to confusion and he was diagnosed as being in the throes of dementia. Peck remembered the feeling of complete hopelessness when the doctor had told him. How could it be? Not the great Hannibal Smith; surely it was a big horrible mistake.
But it was not and the Colonel’s behaviour became increasingly difficult and bizarre as he slipped into the chasm of senility. Face did all he could, while trying to hold down a full time job selling real estate out in the suburbs, getting slowly more scared and desperate as everything he held dear slid away. BA and Murdock helped out too but they had made other lives for themselves – BA at the Day Centre and Murdock with his business.
Money was tight and Peck’s pride would not allow him to ask for help and so he struggled on. Once he had found Hannibal wandering on the freeway in the middle of the night, barking orders to imaginary men. The temptation of a scam just to help out with the medical bills and to allow Face the chance to give up his job so he could care for the Colonel full time was too much for him to resist. He had met a rich old widow through work who seemed to take a shine to him, invited him around to her mansion, and doted over him. It all spiralled out of control after that; what he meant to be a quick liaison for cash turned into something more dangerous when she changed her will and told her family she was going to marry him. They were suitably outraged and the resulting court case had left Peck emotionally, financially and physically shattered, not to mention with a suspended sentence hanging over him for three years. The authorities removed Hannibal from his ‘undesirable care’ to the nursing home.
It had been a stupid risk that he should not have entertained but it was something Peck would have pulled off with ease in his youth. The fact that it had lost control and ended so catastrophically only served to worsen his depression and plunge his confidence to an even lower ebb. He had promised himself he would never attempt anything like it again but with that promise came the horrifying realisation that if he could not do that, there was nothing that he could do! Old insecurities long since pressed away to the dark recesses of his mind began to reassert themselves and develop unchecked.
So now he spent his days watching over Hannibal, acquiescing completely to the old soldier’s demands and trying not to remember what had once been but time like this, when he thought on it, gave the bitterness chance to emerge.
Gratefully he got out of his car as Amy pulled into the lot. As she moved towards him she cast a curious glance past him to his car – a conservative little hatchback from Japan or was it Korea? He could never find the heart to care; Corvette it certainly was not. Her eyes moved back to him, taking note of his denim shirt and jeans, just a little too faded and certainly not designer labelled. She said nothing but smiled warmly.
“I thought you were having a day off,” she said finally as he stood uncertainly before her.
He shrugged disarmingly. “Couldn’t think of anything else to do,” he muttered. “Besides Hannibal wanted more cigars.” He showed her the box of expensive Havanas he carried.
“I’m surprised they let him have them in here,” Amy responded.
His smile was wide with just a hint of the confidence that had once oozed from it. “They don’t but it’s about the only scam I can pull off now. Shall we go in?”
“Not the best lieutenant I had, no sir,” Hannibal drawled. “That was Smudge Marks. He was class and I miss him.” Amy glanced over to Face who shrugged as if he had heard the criticism many times and simply accepted it. The gesture was lost on the Colonel who continued. “Need to whip this one into shape. He tries but…” he leaned closer towards Amy and spoke in a grating stage whisper, “I don’t think he’s got the capacity! Now Smudge Marks he was more than capable, downright talented in fact!”
Amy felt herself flush and tried to think of a change of subject that would deflect the Colonel from this unjustified attack that Peck seemed unwilling to defend himself against. “It’s a warm day, maybe we should go outside for some air,” she settled on finally.
Smith growled. “Not you, lieutenant. The nice lady has come to see me and we don’t want you sniffing round her. Besides you got plenty of work to do here, and rest assured I will be checking. Latrines need digging… get to it!”
They left Peck standing somewhat awkwardly in the lounge area and went out into the warm sunshine. Amy had difficulty pushing the wheelchair out through the door but Hannibal offered no help or advise. By the time they had meandered their way along the stoned path to sit beside the ornamental pond Amy was sweating profusely and feeling shattered.
“You’re pretty hard on him,” she said as she bent to apply the chair’s brake.
“He needs it!” Hannibal replied. “Gotta push him or he’ll slack. He’s a slacker you see.” He shook his head morosely. “Conman too; tried to scam a poor old lady out of her savings. Shouldn’t have had him in the army; should be in prison!”
“Hannibal you’re not in the army now and you shouldn’t go around repeating gossip. Face is here because he wants to be, he wants to look after you. He’s not your lieutenant any more.”
Blue eyes that had been almost dead suddenly sparked towards her. “He is and he always will be,” his voice had lost its aggression and seemed infinitely sad. “I promised him that. Kid needed looking after, he could never manage on his own.” Hannibal gulped and Amy stared at him, hoping that the new spark would linger but when his eyes came back to hers they were dulled once more.
His gnarled hands began to fiddle impotently at the cigar box that Face had given him and had lain forgotten on the old soldier’s knee. Amy leaned forward and opened it for him and gave him a cigar. If he was annoyed at his inability to accomplish such a mundane task, he gave no sign. “Got a light, miss?” he asked instead.
“No, I don’t smoke,” Amy replied.
“Pity. Looks like that goddamn lieutenant has let me down again!” He swivelled stiffly in his chair to glance back over his shoulder the way they had come. “Where the hell is he? Peck? Peck!”
“Shush,” Amy chided. “You’re disturbing the duck!”
“Ought to shoot the bastard!” Hannibal muttered.
Unsure whether he was talking about Face or the bird that was quacking tunelessly as it paddled on the pond before them, Amy decided not to enquire further. She was alarmed at the Colonel’s mental deterioration and the way it manifested itself in his attitude to Face. She now realised the cause of the sadness that hovered over the younger man like a dark rain cloud; to be forced to watch his beloved Colonel falter and to be able to give no aid; no wonder Peck was hurting. Amy felt a rush of frustration for she could see no way she could help the situation.
As if sensing her disquiet, Hannibal’s eyes were warm again as they sought hers. “I’m looking after him,” he mumbled. “I got it all sorted. No need to worry!”
“But I do, Hannibal. He’s not coping, he’s not…..”
“Peck!” Smith’s voice cut across her. “Peck!”
She saw Face exit the door they had come out of previously and jog towards them. “Light!” Hannibal demanded as he stopped before them. Peck nodded and complied. Smith took a long, deep draw, leaned back and closed his eyes. “Nice,” he breathed out along with a cloud of smoke.
“Is he like this all the time?” Amy whispered, stepping away a little and pulling Peck with her.
He sighed. “He has his moments,” he replied dully.
“But you shouldn’t have to put up with it, Face!”
“Why not? He doesn’t mean anything by it, he gets confused that’s all. Besides its no worse than I suffered in boot camp – I can take it.”
“You’re not in the army anymore, Face!”
He shook his head. “But Hannibal thinks he is and if it makes him happy, what does it matter?”
“It matters because it doesn’t make you happy!”
“Still here, Peck?” Hannibal’s eyes were open and icy once more. “Nothing to do eh? I’ll soon sort that out.”
Face sighed, his eyes meeting Amy’s questioning ones. “Everything that was good in my life came because of Hannibal,” he hissed. “He was the only one who trusted me, the only one that gave me a chance and stood by me when I fucked up. I’m not giving up on him, not now.”
“You have to help, Murdock!” Amy pleaded.
The pilot snorted, then pushed past her to continue his examination of the plane in front of them. “I’ve done all I can, Amy.”
“But you should see how he is, how he treats Face. It’s not right.”
“Face is a big boy, he knows how to look after himself. He knows he could walk away.”
“But he won’t will he? You know how he feels about Hannibal.”
Murdock sighed. “I know. And I know this is something Faceman has to do.”
Amy fixed him with a suspicious stare. “This has nothing to do with losing your money has it? Some sort of punishment?” She did not know the details of what had happened in ’87 but she sure as hell had sensed the fallout from it.
Murdock shook his head violently. “Money was never important!” he snapped.
“Then help please,” Amy was aware her voice had a pathetic pleading ring but she was getting desperate. “Cos it’s killing him.”
The lanky pilot turned back to her then. “No,” he said firmly. “In fact it’s giving him something to live for. You know what really frightens me? What chills me to the core? What happens when Hannibal is gone? How the hell is Face gonna cope with that?”
“That’s why we need to help him now!”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried? BA too? Face is one stubborn sucker. And he’s running scared. Hannibal’s condition has forced him to look over the parapets of the walls he’s been hiding behind for years. And you know what he’s seen? Nothing! Just a whole lot of nothing.” He shook his head sadly. “You run away from commitment too often and it gives up on you.”
“But there must be something we can do.”
“I’m all out of ideas, Amy,” he sighed despondently again. They were silent for a while. Amy smothered her smile as the pilot finally continued “I’m free tomorrow afternoon. How about I pop down to talk to Hannibal. See if I can get him to lay off Facey a little?”
“That would be good – I have to get back home tonight. And you’ll talk to Face?”
“Won’t do any good.”
“Please try, HM.”
Murdock raised his hands in surrender. “OK, muchacho. But don’t forget Face feels more indebted to Hannibal than the rest of us and while we don’t bear him any ill will over the money fiasco, he sure as hell won’t forgive himself.” He whistled through his teeth. “Oh Faceyman is one complex guy,” he said wistfully. “Guess that’s why we love him so!”
Clutching the bottle of whiskey tightly to his chest Face stumbled forwards and allowed himself to tumble onto the softness of his bed; as he did so he finally allowed the pain that had been threatening to overwhelm him to take control completely. He groaned.
Drawing a deep breath he tried to concentrate on the bottle before him but he knew there was no way he had the strength to get it open. Groaning again he ran his free hand over his body carefully to examine the damage that had been done – aching ribs, bruised stomach, black eye, split lip …. the familiar results following a beating! Since he made it back to his apartment he had managed to gulp down a painkiller and now he lay completely still wanting it to take effect.
But his mind buzzed madly – it had been a strange day! After leaving Amy at the care home, he had made his way to the local drug store, bought the bottle of whiskey, fully intending to go home and drink himself into oblivion as he had done in the past when the pain was too intense to endure. But things had not quite turned out that way.
As he crossed the street he had noted an ATM and decided on a whim to check his balance. He had always been guarded with his money and even though he crucified himself over bankrupting the A Team he still had a good head for figures and kept a close note of what he should have. He was shocked to see that his estimate of what was in his account was way out – amazingly there was some five grand more than the couple of dollars he knew should be there.
Five thousand dollars! There was obviously some mistake – somewhere along the line an incorrect figure had been punched into an indifferent computer. He thought about going to the bank and enquiring but the pull of the liquor he had left in his car was stronger. So he figured that the bank could discover its own mistake without him troubling to tip them off. He would leave it for now, maybe check back at the end of the week to ensure it was rectified.
He turned back toward his car and that was when the attackers struck. A hand came over his shoulder from behind and Peck was aware of movement to his side. It had been a long time since he had been in this position but Face’s body had been so used to such a reception that he did not need to think, he simply reacted. He banged his elbow into the man behind him’s gut and turned to the guy at his side.
He was a huge fat man who looked like he had just finished working off his excess weight at the gym; the sun glistened off the rancid sweat beading down his bald head. Face looked up into piggy, squint eyes and knew he would find no mercy here. He punched out hard and the fight was joined.
Peck was quicker and more skilled than the muscle before him and he gave as good as he got. His attackers appeared to be unaware of his past, and were expecting an easy target. When it became obvious he was not, their courage crumbled like the donuts they had savaged at breakfast and they turned and fled leaving the essence of sweat lingering sickly on the air.
Face found himself kneeling, bleeding in the gutter as adrenaline thrummed around his body causing a strange and surprising thrill to invigorate him briefly. Then he tried to stand up and the pain roared through him. He spat out blood, wiping his face on his sleeve and forcing his legs to take his weight.
“You OK, pal?”
Peck nodded, flushing at the attention and pushed through the little crowd that seemed to have developed around him once the imminent threat of danger had rolled off. Painfully he forced his back straight, pushing away the pain and made his way awkwardly to his car.
He had driven home carefully as his vision was blurred and his head throbbed. Then it had taken him an excruciatingly long time to make it up the stairs and into his apartment. After fumbling in the kitchen for a pill, there was little wonder he collapsed on to the bed. And now he found he could not move at all.
His head was thumping worse and his alarm bells were ringing; he was missing something important, he needed to think but it hurt too much. Those muggers were not normal, were they connected with the five grand? Would they be back? Did they know where he lived?
The black fog was gradually overtaking his mind, seeping into his consciousness. His hand feebly let go of the whiskey bottle and it rolled off the bed to drop with a dull clunk on to the floor. Face groaned. If he just shut his eyes for a moment ……
“Face!” Murdock shouted as he banged on the door, less gently than he had done the previous time. He had a key to his friend’s apartment but it had been a long time since he had visited and he felt strangely uncomfortable about letting himself in unannounced.
However when it became obvious that the door was not going to open without his further intervention, he took his keys out of his pocket and sorted through them until he found the one he wanted.
He was slightly worried about Face. He had spent most of the day at Hannibal’s care home as he had promised Amy waiting for Peck to show. Although Hannibal had complained about his lieutenant’s unreliability, when Murdock checked with the nursing staff he was told that it was most unusual for Mr Peck not to turn up, in fact they could not remember a day when he had not been there.
Murdock had decided to drop by Face’s place to check that he was OK. He had noted Face’s car parked a little haphazardly outside and made his way upstairs. Now with no answer Murdock wondered if Face had listened to Amy after all and had decided to take the day off – Christ knew he deserved it!
He let himself in quietly, still feeling uneasy. “Face,” he called. Then he hesitated as his eyes darted around the basic accommodation. Truth was he had stopped coming around because he hated it here. He hated the squalid homeliness and normalcy of the place especially when he remembered that the man capable of scamming palaces in his past had resorted to living like this and was paying for the privilege! Murdock could not square the concept, his Faceman, the man he had loved for years was so much better than this. Just the thought depressed Murdock no end.
The living area was empty and the kitchen also. The pilot moved forwards, his mind absently noting how neat and tidy everything was. As he moved he caught sight of a pair of shoes resting on the bed.
“Face!” he called. There was a groan and the shoes moved a little. “Face!” Murdock was across the tiny living room and into the bedroom. He swore under his breath when he saw the state of the man the shoes belonged to. “What the hell happened?”
Face groaned and tried to sit up but pain flashed through him. Murdock knelt beside the bed. “Face!” he pressed anxiously.
“Murdock?” Face sighed weakly.
“Stay still,” Murdock ordered as he shifted into medical technician role, running his hands carefully over Peck’s battered body to take account of his injuries. “What happened?”
Face snorted. “Mugged,” he managed to get out before his body spasmed as Murdock touched his ribs. “Awwwh!”
“Mugged?” Murdock repeated suspiciously. “You?”
Face tried to sit up again, this time he ignored the pain and forced himself forward. “Easy,” Murdock helped him. “Let me get you sorted.”
“No you’re not. Now just sit still while I get the med kit.” He hesitated at the door. “You got one?”
“Under the sink,” Face replied through gritted teeth. He rubbed his hand over his face, noting the swelling around his left eye, he realised why he was having difficulty keeping the world in focus. His head was thumping and he felt suddenly nauseous.
“How long have you been out?” Murdock asked as he set about cleaning Face’s wounds.
“I don’t know, I’ve been out remember!” Peck snapped, followed by another “Aaahhh!” as he flinched again.
“Sorry,” Murdock muttered. They were silent for a while as the pilot finished his work. “I think you’ll live but you have to be the worst patient ever, Face!”
“So what did they get?” Murdock asked as he packed away the medical kit.
“Who? The muggers, of course!”
“Oh, nothing. I fought them off.”
“Nothing. You fought them off?”
Peck snorted. “Is there a parrot in here?”
Murdock batted his eyelids. “My hero!”
Face snorted again. “Is there something that you want?” he asked impatiently.
“Did you hit your thick head hard in the fight?”
“’Cos you sure sound like its mighty sore!”
Face looked as if he was about to argue but then his features crumpled. “I’m sorry,” he relaxed a little. “I just ….” he stopped.
Murdock stared at him worriedly. “Yes?” he prompted.
But Peck had remembered his visit to the ATM the day before. His eyes narrowed. “Murdock,” he began, unaware that he had failed to finish his last sentence. “You haven’t given me anything lately have you?”
“Given you something?” Murdock repeated nonplussed. “Like what?”
“Well, your business is going good, yes?” Murdock nodded. “So you hadn’t thought to give me anything in recompense me for helping you?”
“Like what?” Murdock repeated.
“Well anything…?” Peck held the other man’s glare expectantly
Murdock let out a long concerned sigh. “Face, what are you talking about?”
Peck was getting exasperated. He did not want to mention the money and he had hoped that he would not need to. From the bewildered expression on the pilot’s face he had no idea what Face was talking about and he was getting increasingly worried about his friend. Peck considered telling him what was going on but something stopped him. Maybe he had got it all wrong, was he overreacting? Suddenly he knew he had to check.
“Murdock, will you do me a favour?” he asked. Murdock nodded. “I’m not seeing too good. Will you give me a ride?”
“Yeah. I need to go to an ATM.”
“Face, I got cash. How much do you need?”
“I don’t want your money, HM. I need to go to an ATM.”
Murdock’s eyes narrowed. “Face do you want to tell me what is going on? You’re acting mighty strange.” He remembered Amy’s assessment that Peck was close to the edge and felt instantly guilty. Had he really allowed his friend to get into this state and not seen it coming?
Painfully Peck pulled himself off the bed. “I need to clean up,” he said. “And to change. Wait for me.”
Murdock nodded bemused and worried by this strange behaviour. He did not understand but he promised himself he was going to get to the bottom of this and if Faceman had to get to an ATM, even when he should be sleeping off his concussion, so be it!
Half an hour later, Murdock was not so sure. He glanced at Face beside him in the car. He was holding himself together only by the force of his will and Murdock could sense the effort it was taking his friend.
“You OK?” he asked.
“Fine,” Peck snapped back too quickly. His face where it was not bruised and cut was deathly pale. “Stop here,” he said.
“Face, I’ll…” Murdock tried again.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Face ignored him and stepped stiffly out of the car. He made his way to the ATM, Murdock watching him closely; knowing from the tautness of his body that Face was hurting bad, wanting to go across and help him but knowing that that was the worst thing he could do in the circumstances as Face would simply close himself off.
Face inserted his card and clicked in the number. Pressing the button to request a balance enquiry, he felt sure that he would see the mistake had been rectified or even that he had imagined it in the first place! His body was aching and he wanted nothing more than to succumb to the darkness that hovered at the edges of his consciousness. He steadied himself by reaching out a hand to grasp the wall as the machine clicked busily in front of him.
Numbers flashed up on to the screen. Ignoring the flash of nausea that rushed up from his gut, he forced his eyes to concentrate on the figures, to squeeze them down from the jumping, moving shadows into clear, distinct digits. He let out a long breath as he finally deciphered the information. His legs felt weak and he only remained standing by leaning forward and resting his head next to his hands on the wall.
He had been mistaken; there was not an unaccounted for five grand in his account, not now anyway….
…………Now there was an extra ten thousand dollars!
“So you gonna tell me what is going on, Face? Or do I have to beat it out of you?” Murdock was pacing in Peck’s front room, it was difficult to achieve the effect he had hoped for because two of his lanky strides took him to the opposite wall and he had to turn and start again.
Peck was sitting on the minute sofa, a glass of whiskey in his hand, looking small and infinitely vulnerable but he was determined he was not going to say anything, not until he had a chance to think things through. Instead he knew he would have to gripe or the pilot would suspect even more.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, HM!” He tried for a whine but his voice came out as nearer to just plain weary.
Murdock spun around to face him. “Don’t give me that!” he snapped. “Something really spooked you at that ATM. You were pale before you got there, once you did you were a ghost!”
“I just got my figures mixed up,” Peck tried for a hesitant light giggle but failed. “Got less in there than I figured.”
“Bullshit!” Murdock was getting irritated. “I’ve known you too long, Templeton! You got the best head for figures I know – you don’t make mistakes on your own money!”
“No, I only make them when the whole Team’s is at risk!”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. No body blames you for that, Face and I am sick of telling you. Let it go – we all have.” As he spoke Murdock moved to the window and glanced out at the road below. Something grabbed his attention and he stared avidly for a few minutes.
Peck took the time to take another gulp of whiskey. He was tired and in pain and did not think he had the stamina to survive an interrogation from Murdock.
Finally the pilot turned back from the window. “I don’t believe you, Face,” he said bluntly. “And I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s going on. You can start by explaining to me why there’s a black Lincoln parked down the road staking you out!”
“A what?” Peck exclaimed, standing up and then sitting back with a howl as pain echoed through him. He stood up more slowly and made his way to the window. Sure enough the car was there. “It could be watching anyone in this block,” he murmured. But he knew that this changed things. There was danger here and he did not have the strength to face it alone.
“Just because you’ve paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t really following you!” Murdock recited.
Despite his consternation Face snorted. “The old ones are the best, eh HM?”
Murdock nodded solemnly “They have the longevity of true wit!” he confirmed. “So spill, Face. What is going on?”
Peck eased himself down on to the couch carefully after refilling his glass and passing Murdoch his own. “I don’t know,” he confessed. “But weird things are happening.”
He proceeded to tell the pilot exactly what had been going on. He felt stupid as there really was no proof of any of his suspicions but if he couldn’t tell Murdock, then there was no one he could tell. The pilot sat and listened keenly, nodding his head at appropriate times.
Peck finished with a lame; “So it doesn’t make sense and I’m probably imaging it all any way!”
“Your bruises aren’t imagined, Face and neither is that car in the street. You got one of the best self preservation instincts I know. If you’re alarms are ringing, I for one, am definitely taking note.”
“But what do I do?” Face asked.
Murdock smiled. “That’s easy,” he responded.
“Oh yeah, Faceyman. We do what Hannibal would do – we find out!”
“But how? I don’t know who to ask!”
“You know a couple of years ago, when you and Hannibal did that computing night school course – ‘Hacking for Criminals’ and I laughed at you?”
“It wasn’t called that, Murdock, but I remember,” Face replied.
“They teach you about getting into systems and stuff?” Peck nodded, his eyes widening as the pilot continued. “Well, you told me then it would come in useful and I shouldn’t have laughed. You were right.”
Peck shook his head. “Are you suggesting that I hack into the bank’s computer to find out what’s going on? Do you realise what would happen to me if they find out? And don’t forget I’m on probation from the last scam I tried.”
“Only a worry if you get caught, Faceman, and you won’t this time.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“’Cos this time it won’t just be you. This time I’ll be there and BA to cover your back. It’ll almost be like old times!”
Peck gulped. “I don’t know, I ….”
“Faceyman, don’t stop to think. Don’t let indecision rule. Your instincts were the best thing you had; you got to follow them again. Feel your fear but do it anyway. Remember the jazz!”
How could he forget it? Face had been mourning its absence from his life for so long. He remembered the strange invigoration and accomplishment he had felt when he had beaten off yesterday’s muggers. He knew he wanted it again, wanted to feel it frequently like he used to. He had given himself to the jazz long ago, trusted his Colonel and been repaid a thousand fold. But this time it was different, his Colonel could not help him. Was he and the rest of the Team able to do it on their own? Were they capable are re-capturing what was lost? Why the hell not? And wouldn’t that be the best way for him to honour Hannibal Smith?
“You’re right, Murdock,” he said finally. “We can do this!” His eyes flashed and for the first time in years, Murdock was minded of his arrogant, much yearned for young lieutenant from Vietnam so long before. Deep down in the pilot’s soul something long forgotten roused and sent a hot flame of desire rushing through him.
“Eh, no,” Peck responded. “Never married actually.”
“No way! Gay then?”
“No, well, yes…. No, eh I….”
Mo’s laugh was infectious. “It’s OK, Richard, you don’t have to spill the beans – I like a little mystery in my life! And I can’t see that someone like you could make it to our age without being caught. Man, us woman have failed badly if that’s the case!”
Face felt himself blush. “I don’t know what you mean, Mo!”
“Don’t play coy with me! You are the best piece of eye candy us mature ladies have seen employed by this Bank in years. Do you know since you started to work here the sickness rate for women over a certain age has dropped to nothing! They are coming in off their death beds just to look at your loveliness but unfortunately because they are mooning so, their productivity rate has not increased accordingly!”
Face smiled. He liked Mo, liked her a lot. She was not the type he would have been attracted to in the past; sure her face was pretty enough but she was small and wide. She had introduced herself by saying ‘In these days of equality I should be the eighth and token woman in Snow White’s dwarves – Dumpy should be my name!’ But if her ass was big, her heart was twice the size and her ability to empathise was infinitely huge. Her down-to-earth sense of humour could be relied upon to bring a smile to Peck’s lips even when he was the butt of her jokes. It was all done with a joy of life and fond acceptance of its inconsistencies and unfairness that Face was beginning to realise that somewhere along the line he had forgotten such an important lesson. He had become starchy and solemn – no wonder no one wanted to be with him! Be it ever so gently Mo was drawing him back into the warmth of the real world while he had recently only sulked in its austere funless outer edges.
He had been working at the Bank’s head office for a week, having taken a few days beforehand to thoroughly update the life and records of one Richard Bancroft, IT Expert. Mo had taken him under her wing the first day and their daily lunches spent giggling at work mates and the world in general had become a pleasure to him. Today was the first time the conversation had crossed into the personal, however. Mo had told him about her late husband and how much she missed him but in a light hearted sort of way that had entertained rather than made Face morose. He had only started to feel uncomfortable when she switched her focus to his life.
“I’m sure their work is much more interesting than me,” he replied. “I hope so at least.”
“So beautiful! So modest!” Mo laughed. “If you were on the market there is no way you would have got this far with your freedom – you must be gay!”
Peck rolled his eyes mischievously. “Classified information!” he teased.
Mo pouted. “Well, if you are going to hide behind this veneer of mystery you are gonna have to get used to me probing for a weakness, looking for clues! My gossip monitor is pointing near empty, I need to re-fill it! What do you do when they let you out of this place, if you are, unbelievable as it seems, without a significant other?”
Peck shrugged, fiddling with a paper cup. “Not much. I look after my … eh my… father. He’s not been well recently.”
“I knew it; in touch with your feminine side too! Richard, you have got to be the best thing exuding testosterone that ever walked through those doors!”
He smiled and stood up. “Well, Mo while you may be a fully paid up member of my fan club I know that the boss isn’t. I got to go, got reports to run.”
“And industrious too! Don’t you let Withers get you down – he is just jealous of you and with good cause!” Mo sighed, her eyes twinkling with humour as she watched him exit the staff dining area. “You, my sweet, are just too good to be true!” she muttered wistfully.
“Hey Mo!” A gaggle of ladies were sitting at a nearby table. They shouted across; “What info did you get from him this time?”
Peck had almost finished his interrogation of the computer system, having spent his first day finding his way around it, he had managed to complete all the work required of him as well as accessing the areas he needed. Security was tight but he had expected that; it was a Bank after all! Once he had worked his way around the permission levels he found it quite straight forward to get the data he needed. It was almost time to leave. He would miss the entertaining lunches with Mo but he knew that the longer he remained undercover, the greater his risk of being caught.
He had not been back to his apartment following their quick exit that night. Instead he had been sleeping on Murdock’s couch. Not that he had seen the pilot much; he seemed to be flying constantly and Peck had begun to suspect that he was avoiding him. However, Murdock had promised he would be back this night and they would go through all of the information together. The pilot had contacted BA and he was back in town to give any help he could.
As he sat at his desk, finishing off his reports, Peck found himself strangely excited by the thought of seeing Murdock later. When Mo had teased him about significant others, he had found a vision of his friend had popped inexplicably into his head. And now, as he thought about it, Face felt a soft shudder of expectation somewhere deep down inside.
It was a long time since he had felt in the slightest bit aroused at anything. He had not been on a date since the ill-fated tryst with the widow over six months previously. But even so he found himself dreaming about his friend – memories slipping through his mind warmly and with ease. Memories that went right back to that cold shower in Nam so many years before. He remembered the scent of him, the softness of his skin, the lilt of his voice and Peck found himself smirking idiotically.
He was pulled out of his reverie by the departmental supervisor, a supercilious fool who seemed to take his lack of height out in the bullying way he treated his staff. He insisted on giving him that name, even though Peck had asked on numerous occasions that he call him Richard. Just the sound of the voice shattered the lingering warmth of the memory.
“Mr Withers?” Face responded, turning his chair to watch the fat rat of a man approach; all bluster, no humanity.
“You got those reports?”
“Yes, I do.” Peck passed across a whole ream of papers. “I still think it would be better if we did it all electronically,” he ventured with a charming smile.
“If I wanted your suggestions, I’d have set up a box in the foyer!” Withers snapped, scanning through the pages. He didn’t like Peck and he made no secret of his contempt, always anxious to catch him out, but lacking the intelligence to do so. “What’s this?” He pulled a one page report from the pile and held it out suspiciously.
“What’s what?” Peck asked innocently.
“This!” Withers thrust the paper into his face.
For a moment Peck’s heart lurched. Was this the hard copy of his own account details he had run off earlier? Had he been that dumb? And if it was how in hell was he going to explain it away to this goddamn idiot? He squinted at the paper as it flapped in front of his eyes and a wave of relief washed over him when he realised what it was. “Oh that. I was just trying to improve the format…” he began.
Withers bent forwards. “You were just trying to….. did I ask you to?”
“Then don’t do it!” Withers’ face was red with fury. “Your time here is precious – I am paying for it! I don’t want you wasting it fooling about. In fact you’ve been here a week now Bancroft and I don’t think it’s working out. I’m going to have to let you go!”
“What?” Peck gasped.
“You heard me. It’s not working out, you’re fired!”
Peck stood up. “You are not serious!” he spat. “I’ve done everything you asked. I…..”
“I don’t care! This is my department!” Withers looked up into Peck’s calm features, his own ugly with anger. “You got five minutes to clear your desk!”
He did not see the blow coming but he surely felt it as Face’s fist hit him cleanly and hard on his jaw. The next moment he was on his ass leaning against the photocopier groggily. Everything in the office stopped as people gaped disbelieving what they had just seen.
“Oh my god!” Mo breathed.
Peck stood over his downed supervisor, he felt light headed as the adrenaline whooshed through him and he realised he was loving it. “You have got to be the worst excuse for a man I have ever met!” he spat finally. “Do you have any idea how you come across to the people you are supposed to manage? Do you have any idea what they think of you? You are a goddamn fool, Withers! I don’t know how these good people can stand being in the same room as you day after day. I know I sure as hell am glad I won’t have to any more. You can take your lousy job and stick it where the printer don’t print!”
He picked up a few papers and his briefcase, winked at Mo, and with great dignity strode out of the office to a wave of applause from the other workers.
Mo shook her head. “I knew it was too good to be true,” she muttered. “Guess those sickness figures are about to sky rocket!”
“You got fired!” Murdock howled. “What the hell for?”
“For having a brain, I think!” Peck responded. “All the things I was up to and the fool fired me for doing my job, for trying to improve his antiquated systems.” He shook his head, bemused. “The world is mad!”
“You OK, though?”
Peck smiled. “Murdock I haven’t felt this good in years! I tell you, you should have seen my right hook, BA you would have been proud of it. Man went down like a … like a…”
“Shit supervisor?” the pilot ventured.
Murdock laughed gleefully. “Faceman, I am so glad you are taking it this way. I thought you might…”
“Man was a fool!” BA snapped. “Deserved what you gave him, Face. Want me to go back and finish the job?”
“No BA. Thanks but I think Withers learnt his lesson. I reckon nobody ever stood up to him like that before,” Face replied.
“That’s because he never tried it on a member of the A Team before!” Murdock joined in happily.
They all laughed for a while but it tailed off. Face was first to break the ensuing silence. “I miss him,” his voice was soft with yearning as he glanced around the room as if searching for their missing member.
“I know, Faceyman,” Murdock agreed.
“He should be here,” Peck continued and BA nodded.
Murdock sighed. “In a way he is. He brought us together, made us what we are. Just us three being here means that a part of him is here too. A part that we’ll always have with us. Come on Face, tell us what you know so we can come up with a plan worthy of the master!”
“Yeah, tell us, Face,” BA coaxed, aware of the sudden melancholy that had descended and anxious to disperse it.
Face sighed. “It’s quite simple,” he began. “Every day for the last week and a bit, five grand has been automatically transferred into my bank account. I checked officially with the Bank and they are happy that it’s all legit.”
“Are you sure it’s not coming from some long, lost Aunt that you never knew you had, Face?” Murdock asked.
Face rolled his eyes. “Murdock, this is Templeton Peck, remember? The original man with no family; I have no long lost Aunts. Anyway I know exactly where the money is coming from.”
BA took a sip of his milk. “Where?”
“Well, I checked through all the transactions – it’s coming from an off-shore account and through a number of dummy accounts to launder it but the original source is right here in LA.”
“In LA!” Murdock whistled. “Who?”
Face took a long pull of his whiskey, enjoying the moment when everyone’s attention was on him. “From one James Stephens.”
“Who is he?” BA growled.
“Not James ‘the Skeleton’ Stephens?” Murdock asked. “So called because everybody who messes with him disappears only to turn up as a skeleton some time later.”
Face nodded. “The very same,” he confirmed.
BA growled louder and Murdock shook his head. “He is one man not to mess with!”
“There’s one more thing, guys,” Face continued.
“Well, it took time but it wasn’t that difficult to follow the process; any hacker with any talent whatsoever could track it.”
“Which means?” BA asked.
Murdock gulped. “If it was easy for you to find him….”
“….. it’ll be just as easy for him to find me,” Face finished, as he fiddled with his tie nervously.
“You’re being set up!” Murdock said.
“So why not just give the money back?” BA asked.
Face sighed deeply. “I thought about it but it will take some nifty programming that I didn’t have time for. And anyway, honestly, I could do with the money.”
“It’s dirty!” BA scowled.
“Dirty or not it will pay some bills,” Face muttered.
“Don’t need to pay bills when you’re dead sucker!” BA scowled distastefully.
“Is this linked to the muggers?” Murdock asked anxious to get his friends back on track.
Face shrugged. “Could be, although they were on to me real quick and haven’t managed to track me down since. Anyway the point is even if I give the money back the damage is probably done – Stephens must be after me by now. You’re too close to me HM. They might not have caught on yet but sooner of later even the dumbest goon is going to come looking for me here. So I’ve taken precautions.”
“Precautions?” BA asked.
“I scammed us a new place,” Face responded.
“You scammed us a ….” Murdock leapt up and started to dance around the room. “Face scammed us a place, Face scammed us a place!” he sang at the top of his voice.
“Shut up, fool!” BA shouted. “Where Face?”
“Down in Malibu, on the beach.”
Murdock let out a howl of complete ecstasy. “Face scammed us a place by the ocean blue, down in glorious Malibu!” he sang and then hopping across the room, he took Face’s cheeks in his hands and he planted a sloppy kiss on the other man’s startled lips.
“Knock it off, Murdock!” Face protested but only half-heartedly and his hand moved up to touch where the pilot’s lips had been.
“Fool!” BA moved menacingly toward the chanting pilot. “Shut up or you gonna end up buried beneath six foot of sand under that ocean blue!”
Murdock pouted and looked hurt but calmed down a little. He still, however, kept throwing Face idolising glances which although Peck seemed to ignore them, made him feel warm inside.
“When do we move, Face?” BA asked.
“Now,” Peck responded forcing himself to concentrate. “It’s only a matter of time until they come calling, and I value my skin too much to want to meet up with the Skeleton!”
The brooding air was suddenly cut by the harsh ring of the phone. All three men tensed. Murdock moved to answer it. BA glanced anxiously towards Peck, noting the worry lines etched around the blue eyes and was the conman’s hand shaking slightly as he ran it through his grey hair? As he watched the edginess in his friend seemed to ease as it became evident from Murdock’s answers that he was talking to a nurse at Hannibal’s Care Home.
However the message that was being communicated was bringing further pressures and Murdock looked strangely subdued as he put down the phone.
“Well?” BA asked.
“Hannibal’s not doing so good,” Murdock said glumly.
Face was instantly tense once more. “What’s wrong?” he asked, leaning forwards, eyes wide.
Murdock shrugged. “He’s having difficulty breathing. He’s quite ill.”
“Nurse said he had a bit of a fever when I went to see him this afternoon,” BA disclosed.
Peck stood up. “I got to go see him.” Guilt was washing through him for over the last few days he had been so involved in things that he had neglected his Colonel. Truth was that he was feeling so much better having something of concern other than Hannibal and he had not been able to face the hostility that he knew Smith would batter him with. Remorse at his weakness forced him into action even though he knew the risk.
“Face,” Murdock said as he moved to lay a comforting hand on Peck’s shoulder. “You’ve got Stephens’ goons after you. Where is the first place they are gonna look?”
“I’ll be careful. How many times did I break you out of the VA under the noses of the military? I have to see him, only for a couple of minutes. I’ll meet you guys at the new place.”
Murdock and BA exchanged glances, each noting the desperate intensity that haunted Peck’s eyes. The big man shrugged his shoulders. “OK muchacho,” Murdock said finally. “But this is not your fault and be careful. It you don’t show by midnight I am coming to get you, all right?”
He leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on Peck’s lips. Face smiled, the power in it seemed to have been re-charged and Murdock felt its warmth. “Of course, HM. Don’t worry about me!”
“Hannibal,” Face whispered as he moved into the room. He was dressed as a nursing auxiliary and had waited until the patients had been put to bed and the lights dimmed before he made his move. Now he stood beside the bed and gently took hold of the grey-haired man’s hand.
Hannibal did not look well at all. His skin was deathly pale and he was hooked up to a number of monitors and machines. His familiar features were covered by a mask supplying him with oxygen. But as Face whispered his name blue eyes opened and focused on Peck, not with the withering glance of the critical Colonel that had been so often apparent in recent months but instead with the warmth of the long missed and beloved friend. The change caused Peck’s heart to flutter in his chest.
Smith indicated weakly for his mask to be removed and when Peck lifted it away the old soldier’s mouth was smiling. “Face,” he breathed.
“I’m here, Hannibal,” Peck said, squeezing his hand supportively. “How you doing?”
Smith sniffed and Face had to lean in to catch his frail voice. “Not good, kid. Lungs are shot – too many cigars, it’s not going to be long.”
Peck shook his head stubbornly. “No, what can I do for you? Just tell me… anything!”
Smith’s smile broadened and he winked. “I got a plan,” he wheezed. “You’re doing it, kid!” He began to cough pitifully.
Seeing the Colonel’s discomfort Peck reapplied the oxygen mask. He let out a long, desperate sigh. His heart breaking, it suddenly seemed very important for him to let Hannibal know just what he felt for him. “I wish…” he began but never finished the sentence for the doors to the room were banged open and three burly men entered, waving semi-automatic pistols brashly.
“Templeton Peck?” the first heavy spat. “We’ve been waiting for you to show up!”
Peck moved between the heavies and the defenceless man on the bed. “What the hell are you doing?” he cried. “You can’t come in like that, there’s an ill man in here!”
“Which is why you are going to accompany us to a more suitable place for a discussion, Peck.”
“I’m not leaving,” Peck retorted stubbornly.
“If the old guy in the bed was dead you’d have to come with us,” said the heavy moving threateningly towards the bed. “Do you want me to make it so?”
“You dare touch him and I’ll…” Hannibal suddenly grabbed hold of Peck’s hand again. His eyes were wide, pleading. Ignoring the impatient intake of breath from his attacker, Peck bent to remove the mask again.
Hannibal sighed. “Doesn’t matter,” he gasped. “I got the jazz, I give it to you, kid.” Peck felt a lump in his throat. He felt like he was losing the thing that he treasured above all else in this world. Smith held his stare uncompromisingly. “Go with ‘em, Face. Keep on doing it…”
Peck hesitated, his eyes stinging with tears as he clutched the Colonel’s hand. His vision blurring, his mind was seeing numerous images of the times he had shared with this man. Why did it feel like this was the end? Long trusted instincts were screaming at him that this was goodbye. He gulped in a shivering breath. If it was so, if the unthinkable was happening, he would not give these strangers that assailed him the satisfaction of seeing his pain, his weakness. He remembered a similar farewell in the smoky, damp air of a prison camp in Vietnam, he had held himself together then; he could do so now.
Behind him the goon growled impatiently but Peck ignored it. He bent and kissed Hannibal’s forehead. “Thank you,” he whispered simply and then replaced the mask covering over those cherished features.
Peck turned back to the men. “Oh how touching,” the heavy said snidely. “Come on, Peck, Mr Stephens wants to have a long, painful talk with you.”
Peck did not look back to the figure on the bed, if he did so he knew the sight would unman him. A barrel of one of the semis was thrust deep into his ribs and a voice hissed in his ear; “Just give me the chance to blow you away!”
As if in a dream Peck allowed himself to be manoeuvred through the Care Home and out to a car pulled up at the entrance. He felt numb and he hardly cared as they pushed him into the back seat. It was a relief when the foul smelling handkerchief was thrust into his face and the overwhelming blackness rushed through him. Peck embraced the escape into oblivion as a generous gift since it meant he could no longer feel the devastation of his loss.
“He’s not coming is he?” Murdock’s voice showed the strain he was feeling as he bit his fingers nervously. He was staring anxiously at his cell phone on the table.
BA growled and glanced at the clock; it was five minutes before midnight. “You want to tell me what’s going on between you and Face?” he asked softly.
Murdock sniffed. “Big guy, he told you what was going on earlier,” he said evasively.
“Ain’t what I’m talking about sucker and you know it!” Murdock sighed and bit his lip stubbornly. “OK,” BA continued “Let me tell you what I seen so far and then you can fill in the blanks. You and Amy both told him that Faceman hasn’t been doing so good and I know about the court and his probation. I was expecting him to be different somehow, bowed, tired but that ain’t what I seen. Man; he is on the jazz. He looks like Hannibal used to with that sparkle in his eye.” He fixed the pilot with his blackest stare. “And you kissed him twice tonight.”
“Listen! Don’t tell me they was nothing. I know what you feel for him. You’ve cried on my shoulder over him often enough but I thought it was long dead. I ain’t blind sucker – I saw how you looked at him and how he looked at you.”
“Awwwh BA!” Murdock cooed. “And people think you’re only good at the fighting stuff. How wrong can they be?”
“I am good at the fighting stuff but I also known you two long enough to see what’s going on.”
“Nothing’s going on, honestly! But I reckon given the chance it might be.” Murdock’s face broke into a wide, bashful smile and he batted his eyelashes. “You know I got a promise from Templeton Peck!”
“It’s been almost thirty years, fool! Why now?”
Murdock sighed. “It’s all about timing, big guy. Just maybe the time is right now.”
BA shook his head. “Don’t make no sense.”
“Love don’t need to make sense, you know that BA. Faceyman and me have been ignoring what’s right in front of us for years and it’s done us no favours. When all this is over, I’m sorta, kinda hoping that we might finally, maybe get it together.”
BA snorted. “It’ll be about time!” He looked back up at the clock. “Come on, we told him if he wasn’t here by midnight we was going to find him. Let’s do it!”
Face came back to consciousness into a world that was still black; a blindfold was tight about his head. And from the stiff pain across his shoulders and arms his hands were tied behind his back. He was seated and as he tried unsuccessfully to move his legs he knew that his ankles were somehow secured to the chair he sat on. He had lost count of the times he had awoken to such an experience but each one had been a long time ago. His head was thumping and the drug they had given him had made his mouth dry and parched. He felt old, too old to be subjected to this sort of physical abuse and then the memory of events before his capture came to mind. He could not restrain the moan of desperation that escaped him.
“He’s awake, get Mr Stephens!” A voice from over to his left said.
Damn! Peck cursed himself – where was his self-control? In the past he would have been able to feign sleep for long minutes while all of his senses ached to find out as much information as they could about the enemy and his surroundings. If he wanted to survive this he had to pull himself together and find his once legendary control. That thought was followed by another one even more frightening – did he want to survive this?
Before he could dwell further on that hands took hold of his roughly. A plastic cup was pressed to his lips and he drank the cold water thankfully. When his throat felt slightly less raw he cleared it. “What’s going on?” he forced his voice to sound calm.
There was an evil chuckle from close by. “You’re in the shit!”
“I don’t know….” The blow to his stomach was not unexpected but it was painful. The rest of Peck’s words were lost as the breath gushed out of him.
“Shut it!” The voice counselled. “You’ll get plenty of chance to beg when Mr Stephens arrives.”
There was silence then. Peck used the time to investigate his bonds by minutely moving his hands and feet – they were tight and secure with no chance of slipping them. Face then concentrated of his other senses to glean as much information as he could; by using his hearing, he tried to pinpoint the number of men in the room and their location. He thought he must be in quite a large room, the echoes and the temperature made him think of concrete and he wondered if it were some sort of cell or storage facility.
He was trying to identify anything else revealing when he heard a quite obvious heavy door opening with a squeak and the echoes on the hard floor that announced more feet entering the room.
“Well, well, how nice,” a voice said. “All trussed up and ready for me, like a turkey at Thanksgiving. Really Peck, I thought you would be more of a challenge.”
Face cocked his head; there was something vaguely familiar about the voice; somewhere in the depths of his past, he was sure he had heard it before. Hr drew in a ragged breath. “There’s been an awful mistake,” he started. “If you could just untie me we could discuss this like reasonable men and ….” He stopped when the air was filled by mocking laughter.
“Is that the best you can do?” The newly arrived voice was scornful. “I am not a reasonable man, you have been siphoning off my money and now I will punish you, what is there to discuss?”
“Look, Mr Stephens,” Peck tried to look as ingenuous as he could bearing in mind his current position. “I know that it looks like I’ve been screwing you but honestly I haven’t.” He let out his light giggle. “I want to pay it back. I don’t know how it got there in the first place. I mean do I look like the sort of guy who would mess with powerful man like you? I mean really?”
There was a deep chuckle. “Oh how I love to hear you squirm, Peck. This really is too good to be true!”
There it was again; something annoyingly familiar about the voice. “Do I know you?” Peck asked suspiciously.
“Oh yes!” Stephen’s voice dripped supreme confidence. “All will be revealed, Peck, but first I want to tell you a little story.”
“A story?” Face repeated. “But I….” A second fist to his stomach stopped him once more.
“Some thing’s never change, you never did know when to keep your mouth shut! Now shut it and listen or I’ll have them gag you,” Stephens said. There was the sound of scraping and Face assumed another chair was being brought up. His hypothesis was confirmed when he heard if squeak as a heavy weight – Stephens?- settled down on it.
“I’m a desperate man, Peck,” he began obviously closer. “See, a couple of months ago my doctor told me I have cancer – the big C, started in my prostate but now I’m riddled with it, completely inoperable. I have six months at the most. When you get news like that it makes a man put his life into perspective. Makes you want to put things in their place, pay off any outstanding debts and leave everything in the garden rosy to pass on to your kids. You know?”
Peck gulped. “I …” he began.
Stephens continued regardless. “What the hell would you know? Never had the guts to commit yourself to anything have you? Too selfish for kids! But I wanted to make sure mine were looked out for and I started thinking about my life and started sorting things out.” He let out a long sigh. “Now it’s all concluded; everyone that ever owed me. I can die in peace…. Except, of course, for you.”
“Me? I still don’t…”
“But you will Peck, you will. I’ve been looking for you for a while. Imagine how happy I was when you came to me – the Lord moves in mysterious ways!”
Peck was struggling to understand what he was being told, his mind whirling. “You set me up?” he asked.
Stephens chuckled. “Gotta hand it to you Peck, you are a master at manipulating the situation to your own advantage but no, I didn’t set you up. I have no doubt that you were screwing me, not knowing who I was and eager to con me out of everything you could. It’s a happy co-incidence that you finally bit off more than you can chew just at the time I was searching you out. You see I am talking about you making recompense for a long time ago; the last time you cheated me and got away with it. That time your friends saved your arrogant butt, happily they’re not around to save you now.”
“Who are you?” Peck asked impatiently.
“Let me give you some clues – drugs, money, you, owe, me!” he spelled out.
Peck struggled ineffectually in his bonds. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” he hissed.
Stephens laughed. “Maybe it’s time I really had my fun. Take off his blindfold!” he ordered.
There was movement behind Peck as the blindfold was removed. Bright, burning light fired on to his retinas and he blinked violently trying to restore his vision. The features of the man in front of him slowly condensed into a recognisable face that instantly froze Peck’s bowels. The face was older, with heavier jowls and eyes deeper inset behind relentless wrinkles but the now grey hair was still severely short about the skull. Memories of the red dust and smoke of Vietnam and a hot, stuffy night which had promised pain but had actually delivered relief jumped into Peck’s mind. He knew then that this time the ending would be different.
Beady eyes blazed at him and Peck knew his voice was uncharacteristically revealing of his emotion as he breathed, “Stepford!”
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