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CURTAIN CALL, ENCORE
Summary: A missing scene fic based on the episode "Curtain Call." Exactly what transpired between the time of the Team's escape from Decker, and his visit to Murdock at the VA?
Disclaimer: I don't own any rights to the Team, nor do I do this for money, which is good, 'cause there isn't any. I do it for the jazz, man; for the jazz.
The pain was intense. He didn't think anything could hurt this much and leave a person alive. And yet if breathing, no matter how painfully, was evidence of life then he was alive. Though the alternative seemed almost attractive at this point. But there he was, breathing in, breathing out, and hurting like he hadn't known he could.
He searched his body with his
hands. Where was the injury? There had to be one. His chest felt blown open.
But there was no blood, no physical evidence of anything out of place. His
flight suit was in one piece, unstained, unmarred. Pristine, in fact. When was
the last time it had looked like that?
He lifted his head and looked around. The pain in his chest blossomed, moving up, tightening his throat. He recognized this place.
Maybe that was why he hurt.
His fought to control breaths that had begun coming out in choking sobs. From pain or the fear?
Doesn't matter. He closed his eyes tightly, clenched his fists. Force it back in. Never show the pain. Don't be weak. You're an officer. You're stronger than that. Stronger than them. Never show the fear.
His eyes and throat burned with the effort; his head ached from clenching his teeth. The perfect counterpoint to the pain in his chest.
He sank down and leaned against bamboo bars, forcing himself to regulate his breathing to a more normal, though still painful, pace.
Where were the guys?
Voices, like white noise, floated in and out of his awareness. He couldn't make out what was being said, or who was speaking. He wasn't sure he should take comfort in it, but it was something, and he felt less alone.
He huddled against the cold. Night must be coming.
"Hannibal, he's getting worse." Face put a blanket he'd found in the back of the van over Murdock. "If we don't get him to a hospital...." He let the sentence hang, unfinished. He didn't want to think about that. Not now. Not yet.
They'd finally made their escape after a day of playing cat and mouse with Decker. But with each change of location, with each passing hour, Murdock had lost more blood and become progressively weaker. Something nasty from that barnyard must've gotten into the wound, judging from how quickly infection had set in.
Murdock may not have thought
twice about dying for the Colonel, but the fact was, he hadn't. And Face was
going to damn well make sure he didn't.
"Help me get these off."
Face looked up in confusion, and saw Hannibal holding up his handcuffed wrists.
Face hurriedly fished a small
case with his picks from his pocket. He'd unlocked BA's cuffs, of course, when
they'd gotten far enough away from Decker to stop so he could turn the wheel
over to him. But in his rush to check on Murdock, and their general hurry to
get back on the road, Face had totally forgotten that the Colonel was still
Hannibal held his hands out as still as he could in the speeding van while Face opened the cuffs.
"He'll be okay, kid." Hannibal said, trying to sound reassuring. "We're not far from that hospital we saw on the map. I figure he needs blood and heavy-duty antibiotics. Probably some fluids, too." As soon as his hands were freed, Hannibal pulled out a cigar and stuck it, unlit, between his teeth. "He's tough. He'll be fine."
Face studied the Colonel, who was sat sideways in one of the back passenger seats Murdock's seat and rubbed his wrists. Face wasn't convinced Hannibal was as confident as he tried to appear. He badly wanted to be that sure, but....
We waited too long. The thought ran in a loop through Face's mind.
He wanted to blame Hannibal, but he couldn't. Murdock wouldn't. It wasn't Hannibal's fault Decker had shown up. Not his fault they'd been cut off from the only hospital for miles. That they hadn't been able to get the bleeding under control quickly enough. Hadn't had the supplies they'd needed to deal effectively with a gunshot wound. In their efforts to make more room for supplies in the van, the first aid kit had been taken out to stow more camping gear. Murdock's suggestion, actually.
Face had obtained medical supplies from the ranger's station as quickly as he could, but you can't hurry a walk right through the middle of the enemy camp. Sneaking in past Decker and Crane right by them, for God's sake; they'd been, what, two feet away? that had been a rush. Or it would have been a rush, if they hadn't needed those supplies to save Murdock's life.
Murdock would have loved it.
He will love it, Face corrected himself. No past tense. He will love it.
Face leaned over the stretcher to brace it as the van took a sharp turn off the highway. "Hang in there, Murdock," he said quietly, as he was leaned over. "Don't leave us yet...."
Murdock looked around again. Had he slept through the night? Hard to see the fog was rolling in. That was a morning thing. Everything had that kind of haze around it, like Doris Day soft focus. Made ol' Doris look better in the reruns, but it sure as hell couldn't do
anything to make this hellhole look more presentable.
The voices were still there. If he concentrated really hard, he could almost make them out. He could, at least, if the low, lulling sound didn't make him so damned sleepy. He let his eyes slip shut, and felt that he'd be perfectly content never to open them again. His chest
still hurt, and he was so damned tired.
'Course, Face wouldn't like that. Neither would Hannibal. Or BA. Definitely didn't want to piss off the big guy.
He forced his eyes open, and shivered as the fog closed in around him again, making it almost impossible to see. It was getting so cold.
"How much further, BA?"
Glancing into the rearview mirror, BA saw Hannibal take his hand from Murdock's forehead, then turn forward towards the driver's seat. He was unsettled by the look in the Colonel's eyes.
"Drive faster, BA."
The words were quiet, but BA heard them. He turned his attention back to the road and pressed harder on the accelerator, driving with grim focus.
He'd seen the fool all kinds of ways over the years, but this scared him. Murdock was kinetic energy a perpetual motion machine. Even when they were on a long drive, he was doing something. Yapping about what went on at the VA that week. Playing that stupid license plate game with Face. Pestering him with his crazy delusions and different personalities. Egging Hannibal on to go into some long, boring explanation of military history that would have Face and him bored to tears. But Murdock ate it up. Even remembered most of it weeks, even months, later.
Murdock hadn't always been so fidgety, physically and mentally. During the war he'd actually been a pretty laid back guy, in his own way. At least, in the beginning. Before the camp. But, BA figured, just like they were fugitives from the law Murdock was a fugitive from his memories. Always on the move, running from them the only way that worked for him.
BA shuddered imperceptibly. For one terrifying second, back in the cave, Murdock was so still he'd thought the fool had stopped breathing. Thought he'd died right there in his arms. It was a scenario BA'd never anticipated, and he didn't like the way he'd felt during that fleeting moment.
With a set jaw, BA focused his full concentration on the road. He'd memorized the map by now, knew he was taking the quickest possible route. He would get them to that hospital as fast as his van could take them. And when they got there, if there were any MP's, or police, or if the medial personnel even gave them so much as a cross-eyed look before taking care of Murdock well, as the fool had said once, they'd better fasten their seatbelts. They hadn't seen the hard side of BA Baracus.
Hannibal threw his cigar to the floor of the van. He'd chewed the end to bits it was no good to smoke now.
He checked Murdock's fever again, under the guise of brushing back hair from his forehead; no need to get Face more worried than he was, though he probably knew the score.
Face had seen dying men before.
Hannibal took out a fresh cigar, bit off the tip and spit it across the van, and lit up. He pointedly ignored the mildly surprised, mostly annoyed look Face shot at him, concentrating instead on the man who was down.
Hang on, Murdock, We didn't make it back from `Nam, didn't nurse you through a decade of psychiatric care, see you come so far, only to lose you now. It's not acceptable, and it just won't happen.
So, you have your orders, Captain. Hang on.
He looked at Tawnia, who sat far as she could get from the stretcher. She'd held up as well as could be expected so far. And she'd have to hold up for just a little while longer.
Her part of the job wasn't quite over yet.
Tawnia sat quietly in the back of the van. She told herself it was so that Face and Hannibal would have room to work on Murdock if they needed to. She was a reporter, not a nurse.
Just what the hell had she
been thinking? There had to be an easier way to get a story.
Amy had given her a way to contact the A-Team before she left for Jakarta. In case of emergency, she'd said. Tawnia thought maybe she'd meant in case Amy had an emergency, but, well...just in case, she had filed it away. She'd never meant to use it herself. She wasn't interested in tagging along with a bunch of Robin Hood types. Not her. She was after the big story. Front page. But waiting was not her strong suit, and soon, contacting the Team began to sound like a pretty good idea.
She had taken advantage of
being undercover at a big securities firm to hook into a government computer
and track Amy's friends down. Of course,
at the time she thought she'd found a little piece about corporate corruption
-- a little book cooking -- not hired killers. When it had all gone south on
her, the A-Team had saved her life and
foiled an assassination, but the State Department had killed the story because of
the possible international repercussions.
So what else could she do? She was ambitious, and made not apologies about it. She latched onto the Team like a pit bull. After all, Amy had done it, and it had done wonders for her career. And from what she'd heard, they attracted trouble like that corral this morning attracted flies. Something had to happen at some point that would be her big break. Then she'd be out of the Courier, and on to bigger things - the New York Times, or maybe even to a magazine where she could take her time to craft really good articles. But in the meantime she'd have to "hump it," as Hannibal would say. Pay her dues.
This was not what she'd had in mind as her dues.
She looked toward the front of the van. The late afternoon sun coming through the van's sunroof shot strands of gold in Face's hair. He was bent over the stretcher, talking to Murdock. He'd been talking to him most of the way to the hospital. Not that Murdock
could hear him. She didn't think so, anyway.
What was he saying?
The drive was taking forever. Fifty miles, Hannibal had said, to that hospital on the map. Not highway miles, either. How much longer would it be? She raised her arm to check her watch. Looking down, she froze.
Blood. There was blood all over the sleeve of her blouse, and she'd never even noticed it.
Not a huge amount. But it was splattered, very evidently, from the cuff, up the inside of the arm, and almost to the elbow. Drying now from red to a dark, brownish color.
When had that happened?
Her eyes burned momentarily, and she looked up. Face was still bent over Murdock, pressing a water-soaked cloth to his friend's lips, talking to him soothingly. Hannibal checked his pulse and spoke quietly to BA, who looked frequently into the rearview mirror.
She'd never seen BA's eyes
look like that. She'd never seen any of them look the way they had this
The determination was still there. The guts. After all, the get away from Decker had been, perhaps, Hannibal's finest moment since she'd known him. But afterwards there was an undercurrent in all three men's attitudes she'd had trouble putting her finger on. Until now, because she recognized it in herself.
Scared. They were scared.
Not of Decker. Not of prison.
Scared they were going to lose their friend.
Tawnia blinked, refusing to let any tears fall. Okay, so she was scared. Big deal. So she wasn't a soldier. But she wasn't just some stupid girl, either. She could be tough. Tough as they needed her to be.
She rubbed absently at the cuff of her blouse as she looked at Murdock. He didn't look that good. To tell the truth, he looked bad.
She stared further ahead, out the windshield.
How much longer was this going to take?
BA looked quickly at the map spread
out on the passenger seat next to him, then back at the road ahead. It would be
dark soon, but they didn't have much further to go. "Almost there,
Hannibal," he called back. "We're gettin' back on the main road in a
minute, then it's about ten miles to the hospital."
"Are you sure we should be going to this hospital, Hannibal?" Tawnia's hesitant voice came from the back of the van. "Decker has to know about it ."
BA frowned to himself. He hated to admit it, but Tawnia was right.
"There's not another one for at least seventy miles," he heard the Colonel respond. "Murdock won't make it that far."
Decker was going to have to regroup, but he would be all over that hospital eventually. BA growled in frustration. "You better have a plan, Hannibal."
Hannibal looked around at his men. BA was holding up okay. Right now he had something to do, a purpose, and that kept him calm and focused. Later on it would all settle in, and Hannibal knew he'd have to continue find purposes for his sergeant.
Face was looking after Murdock, holding the stretcher as still as possible, grimacing at each bump they went over, and there were lots of them on this back road. The kid looked worried. And he had a right to be.
Face kept looking at Hannibal for reassurance, and he wasn't sure at the moment he could give it. Murdock looked bad. Really bad. For once - one of the few times in his life - Hannibal wasn't sure he'd pull this one out of the fire.
BA was right. They needed a plan.
He pulled in a puff of cigar smoke and cleared his mind of his surroundings. Stopped thinking about Murdock, Face, BA, the van bumping all over the damned backwoods road, about the worst case scenario. He let it all go, and focused on the objective.
They needed to get Murdock into the hospital. They couldn't just drop him and take off. The staff would call the police to report the gunshot wound, and Decker would sniff it out in no time. Even Decker could put two and two together. Murdock's status would be compromised, and he could wind up reclassified, maybe even in permanent lockdown in the VA. That wasn't acceptable.
Hannibal squinted, watching the smoke from his cigar float peacefully by. He had to come up with a way to get Murdock into the hospital with a minimum of fuss, and for at least one of them to stick around, even for a short time, to keep an eye on things till they could move him. Keep the doctors from contacting the police or MPs.
Hannibal glanced towards the back of the van, and saw Tawnia sitting there, trying to be inconspicuous, rubbing at her sleeve. An idea began to flicker, and he looked at her for a long moment.
"Hey, Baker. You got any other clothes with you?" he finally asked. "Something fancier? You need to change."
Tawnia looked over at him, confused. "What?"
"A skirt or something some heels if you got `em. And fix your makeup, kid."
Hannibal grinned at Tawnia's perplexed expression and turned to his lieutenant. "Face, I know you have other clothes with you."
Face looked up from changing the dressing on Murdock's chest. The concern in his eyes wasn't erased, but a bit of the stress eased from his expression. Hannibal knew Face would forgive him for the cigar now.
"What do you have in mind?"
"I'll tell you in a minute." Hannibal allowed himself a small smile, and checked to be sure that Tawnia was moving. He saw her rooting slowly through a small overnight case. He sighed - that girl didn't seem to have any sense of urgency. "Get a move on, Baker," he barked, to startle her into action. "We don't have much time."
Hannibal moved from the floor of the van to the front passenger seat. "BA, we need a car. Late model, with a good sized back seat."
BA nodded, his brow furrowed. Hannibal noted his confusion, but knew BA would follow orders. He clenched his cigar between his teeth as he pulled a pair of gloves from the pocket of his jacket. His small smile blossomed into a grin as he began to truly feel the jazz. It was good to be off of autopilot.
"Keep your eyes open, Sergeant. I'm going to need you to drop me off...."
Face slipped his hand
carefully into Murdock's back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Every part of
his friend's body was hot to the touch even the wallet felt like it had been
sitting on top of a stove. That wasn't good. He frowned as he opened the lock
box BA had fetched from the gun locker.
Stop thinking so negatively. We're almost there. Focus.
He flipped Murdock's wallet open, and with practiced ease, removed and replaced ID's as if he were dealing cards. He slipped some extra cash into the billfold section and placed Murdock's personal effects in his own shirt pocket. He'd return them to his friend later, when he got out of the hospital.
That's better, he thought as he replaced the wallet in Murdock's pocket. Think positive.
"Tawnia?" He looked over at the girl, who was brushing her hair and looking anywhere but at Murdock. No response.
"Yes, Face. Sorry." She put down her hairbrush and finished hooking the belt on her skirt. All cleaned up, like Hannibal had instructed.
"I think so."
Now was not the time to be unsure. He looked at her, knowing that there was severity in his eyes that would be good for her to see. "Tawnia, this is serious. If you can't handle it ‑‑ "
"I can do it," she shot back, barely controlling the trembling in her voice.
There was a defensive tone to her response that didn't fill him with confidence, but if she could hold up her end, even just a little, Face would see the rest of it through. Suppressing a sigh, he slipped on his blazer and ran a comb through his hair.
BA knelt behind the bushes at the side of the road, watching for Hannibal. It had been almost ten minutes since he'd dropped the Colonel off, and he was beginning to worry that this was taking too long.
Damn fool Murdock. Damn, damn fool. What'd he have to go and do that for? Why'd he have to jump in front of Hannibal? He could've pushed him aside, or knocked him over, or something like that.
He'd been acting at playing football all morning, though. Insisted on a huddle and a team prayer before Clayton and his gang had shown up. And Hannibal and Face had played along. Always encouraging the fool. They said they did it to humor him, but BA thought sometimes it was because it amused them to join the game. Hannibal had told Murdock the cold morning air was putting him in the mood for football season anyway, and Face checked into the possibility of placing a bet. Got Murdock to give him the spread and everything.
Maybe the crazy man thought
he was intercepting a pass or blocking a tackle, or some other fool delusional
thing when he'd jumped between Hannibal and Clayton's gun.
Except he'd yelled "watch out" when he'd done it. Who yelled "watch out" in a football game? Murdock had known exactly what he was doing.
BA fumed. Sitting and waiting was not his strong point. He needed to be moving around, doing something.
Just as he thought he'd reached a breaking point he saw a white, four-door sedan pull up on the side of the road. It moved slowly, as if the driver was looking for something. BA all but leapt from the small stand of bushes he'd been crouched behind, and waived both arms to flag Hannibal down.
The Colonel put the car in park, but left the engine running. There was no time to hotwire it again. He ran towards BA and followed him to where the van was parked, out of sight.
Hannibal gave Face and Tawnia a cursory look as they got out of the van. They were a believable looking couple: young guy on the make and his too-cute girlfriend. If Tawnia let Face do most of the talking, this would work.
"Give me a hand." Hannibal climbed into the van and angled one side of the stretcher out the open back doors. As he did so, Murdock's eyes opened slightly.
"Colonel." His voice was barely a rasp, his eyes bright with fever. "Go. You gotta Go." His eyes slid shut slowly. "Too late guys." His voice trailed off. "Too late...."
Hannibal looked up. Face and BA were standing at the end of the stretcher. He could tell by the renewed determination in their eyes they'd heard what Murdock had said.
"Come on, Captain," Hannibal said as casually as he could. "It's never too late."
They carried the stretcher quickly out to where the sedan was parked. Even if a car did go by, in the twilight, maybe the driver wouldn't notice three desperate men and a woman placing a bleeding man in the back seat of a stolen car. After all, they'd been pretty lucky so far. Hannibal hoped it would hold.
BA headed back to the van with the stretcher, to check the surrounding area and, if necessary, clean up any evidence they'd been there. Tawnia was already in the front passenger seat of the car, but Face stood at the open driver's door, looking at Hannibal. A moment's hesitation, like he was waiting for something. His eyes seemed to burn with a fierce light.
Hannibal nodded briefly. "Go, Lieutenant."
Face returned the nod before
getting into the car and driving down the road into the gathering night.
Hannibal watched the tail lights disappear before heading back to the van to change his clothes. There was nothing else he could do for the moment. It was up to Face.
Time to find out what you're
really made of, Baker. Tawnia took a deep, shaky breath, and let it out slowly.
She glanced towards the back seat where Murdock had been lain, his head cushioned by a picnic blanket from the van. He was still again, and so pale. His arm had fallen to the side and hung limply beside him, fingers brushing against the car floor. If she hadn't looked closely for his shallow breathing, she'd have thought they were too late.
She closed her eyes for a moment and turned around again. He could still die, she thought as she stared out the windshield at the road ahead.
She looked at Face as he drove, his face hard with determination, and she desperately wished for some of his confidence to rub off on her. All she had to do was follow his lead, just like earlier at the rangers' station. It would be easy. He'd said so. And she'd promised him she could handle it.
Tawnia took another shaky breath.
She didn't know how the guys did it. It was scary to hold a life in your hands.
Motion. He felt motion, but not much else.
He never had found the guys. He'd looked all around him, but the fog was thicker than ever. The pain in his chest had lessened, but it felt like there was a weight pressing on him, making it impossible to pull a full breath.
His mind was wandering, fading in and out of awareness, when he heard something familiar, comforting, and oh, so near. Hannibal's voice. It sounded like he wanting him to help with something.
Relief energized him. No problemo, boss. I'm on the way....
Murdock tried to stand up, but the pain came back full force, knocking him to his knees. Damn. He looked down and saw his formerly spotless flight suit awash with blood. His blood. It soaked his flack jacket and puddled on the ground.
Suddenly bits of what had happened early that morning came back to him. Clayton, pulling a gun, aiming at Hannibal. He could still hear the shot, swore he could smell the gunpowder. Oh God, no....
But he'd heard the Colonel, so Hannibal must be okay. And that had been the point, right? Land or air, keep the guys safe, no matter what the cost. Now he knew he'd been able to do that today.
Murdock took a shallow breath, finally realizing what was happening. He felt like his life energy was pumping out in a steady, heartbeat rhythm. He knew the guys'd stick by him till there was no more reason to, but if Decker was coming and it was a losing battle anyway, they really needed to cut the dead weight and move out.
Okay, maybe some unfortunate phrasing there.
He had to tell the guys to go. That it was okay with him, that he wouldn't feel deserted. They'd go if he told him, right? Dying man's last wish and all that?
He pulled together all his strength, and focused. Gotta clear out, guys, you've gotta go. It's too late for me. Hell, even I know that. But if Decker's coming, you can still get away. And I don't mind. I love you guys, and thanks for sticking with me, but it's too late. Go. Go. Go.
"What's he saying, Face?"
Face clenched his teeth for a moment, holding on to his composure. He needed to concentrate now, lose the emotion. Get ready for the performance of his life. Of Murdock's life.
"Go. He wants us to go."
Tawnia said nothing. She probably didn't understand. During the war, even now, for them. What it meant -- the sacrifice of telling someone to go.
Well, we're going, buddy. We're going to the hospital, and we're going to check you in. And then you, my friend, are going to get better.
Or BA's just gonna kill you.
Face drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. The drive to the hospital took about five minutes, and the less time Tawnia had to fret about this, the better. She'd play the confused and upset girlfriend much better if she were still actually confused and upset, rather than trying too hard at appearances. He pulled into the parking lot, following the signs to the Emergency Room, and let out a deep breath.
"Ready?" he asked. He caught Tawnia's tight nod with his peripheral vision, then gave the car a little more gas. No time for niceties. They would hit the ground running, move everyone fast. Less time to think that way. He pulled the car to a tire squealing stop right outside the emergency room doors and shot Tawnia a serious look. "Let's go."
But despite the seriousness of the situation, he couldn't keep himself from smiling, ever so slightly, to himself. God, he loved a good con.
Tawnia closed her eyes for a moment as the car stopped. God, I hope I don't screw this up.... She took a deep breath got out of the car, and opening the backseat door for Face so he could get Murdock out of the car.
Here we go. Okay.
God, please don't let me screw this up....
Hannibal checked his watch, then straightened his tie. Nine more minutes before he and BA left for the hospital, fourteen or so till they arrived. He lit a cigar and stood in the gloom of early evening, watching the tip glow red then dim in the dark. BA leaned against the front of the van, staring into the night. An unusual attitude for him, Hannibal noted. Normally when he was upset, BA preferred to be chugging away at building something, or working on the van. Anything to occupy his mind and hands. But now he was completely still, almost blending into the night, without even so much as a jingle from the pounds of gold around his neck.
Maybe he was past the need to move now. Maybe he was at the point when he needed to make sense of it, make peace with himself over the situation. Maybe pray a little. Hannibal envied BA's ability to be both military and spiritual like that. If that's what you're doing, keep on praying BA. We're gonna need any help we can get.
He stood silently a few feet in front of the van, and took another puff from his cigar as he looked at his watch. Seven minutes till they headed out. He stared into the night, listening to crickets and the fading songs of birds heading home for the night. All day he had wanted to think over what had happened, wanted to analyze the situation beyond the immediate. He couldn't though, too much to do. Now that he actually had the time, was he avoiding thinking about it? Maybe. Who wanted to think about someone throwing himself in front of a bullet to save your life? Flattering as it is, the thoughtfulness of the act fades away when a man lies dying before your very eyes and you can't do anything about it.
Can't? Or wouldn't? Shouldn't he have been thinking about Murdock instead running away from Decker? What if he had made a mistake that ended up killing one of his men?
One of his "men." Right, he grimaced. Murdock wasn't just one of his men. He and Face and BA were his good friends. Like family. And his miscalculations had let them down.
Hannibal shook himself. There would be time for this later. Guilt, recriminations. But first, Murdock. Then the Team, if they could salvage this thing without Decker detecting them.
He looked at his watch again. Two minutes. He was mildly surprised as he looked up to see BA studying him. "Time to head out, don't you think?" BA nodded and got into the van without a word.
BA gripped the steering wheel hard as he pulled the van out onto the main road. He'd taken advantage of the first quiet time he'd had all day to think the situation over after Face and Tawnia left.
He'd decided he didn't blame Hannibal for carelessly turning his back on a still-armed opponent. He'd even forgiven Murdock for putting himself in harm's way, because BA knew he'd rather die himself than see the people he loved harmed. He shook his head. Leave it to that fool to try to protect everyone. It wasn't like BA wouldn't do the same thing for any of the guys, if the tables were turned. Things hadn't changed that way, at least, since the war. They would still put themselves on the line for each other. Were still willing to die for each other, if it came to that.
Once they got Murdock in with the doctors, he would be in God's hands. BA didn't always trust Hannibal's plans, and he sometimes had trouble understanding God's. But between the two of them, it had to come out all right.
Face noted with satisfaction the way the admissions nurse jumped as the outside door slammed against the wall of the otherwise empty emergency room. Tawnia ran in ahead of him and held the door, making a ruckus just like he'd told her, as he half-carried, half-dragged Murdock into the receiving area. "You have to help us!" Tawnia cried out pathetically as the nurse rushed over. "He was on the road." She gestured towards Murdock. "I think he's dying!" Good girl. Just the right amount of hysteria.
The nurse made a quick visual
assessment of the injured man and, with an urgent tone in her voice, called an
orderly to bring a gurney. Well, Face thought with some relief, at least she
understood the gravity of the medical situation. That was a start.
The wheels were turning. Just had to kick them into high gear, keep everyone off balance till Hannibal got here.
As Face gave Murdock over to
the hospital personnel, he repressed an urge to smooth his friend's hair,
whisper a few words of encouragement as Murdock was lifted onto the gurney and
wheeled quickly down the hall to the exam room. Face tore his eyes away to look
at the nurse and check on Tawnia. You haven't lost your focus yet, Peck. Don't
"What's his name?" the nurse asked Face, bustling back to her desk and picking up a clipboard.
"I I don't know." Face looked at the nurse, using his most confused expression. "We were just driving along...." He turned to Tawnia. You're on, honey.
"He, he came staggering out of the woods," she said, her voice trembling. "He had all this blood. There was blood everywhere...he fell in front of the car." Tears began to form in her eyes. "If Donnie hadn't seen him...." Damn, Face thought admiringly. Tears and everything. She was doing better than he'd hoped.
"Where did this happen?"
"About two miles back, I think," Face said, putting a comforting arm around Tawnia, playing the concerned boyfriend. "I really don't remember. It was like he came out of nowhere. It was just so shocking...."
"Well, I need to call the police so you can make a statement."
"Wait!" Face said, putting his hand on the nurse's arm. "Please," he said softly, sincerely. "Can I talk to you for a minute? Privately?" The nurse stared dumbly at him for a moment, then nodded. Tawnia was still crying, and Face guided her towards one of the plastic chairs next to the window. He handed her his handkerchief and she dabbed her eyes and drew a deep, shuddering breath. He gave her shoulder a squeeze, and felt it shake as she sobbed silently. He crouched down in front of her and looked her in the eyes.
"Are you okay, honey?" he asked solicitously.
"Oh, Donnie, what if Chet finds out we were out together? I'm scared!"
Face's eyes flicked to the clock on the wall. Three minutes till Hannibal showed up. He stood, and walked over towards the nurse.
"Please," he said quietly,
turning his most beseeching expression on the nurse. "Is there any way we
can stay out of this? Her and me...." He paused for the merest moment,
just long enough for cautious interest to show in the nurse's eyes. "Her
boyfriend - well, ex-boyfriend - he's a cop, and a real rough guy. He's given
her a bad time about breaking up, and he if he found out we were
together...well, I'm scared to think what he'd do." He turned a wistful
expression towards Tawnia, who looked up, red faced, from behind the handkerchief
and let out a little wailing sob.
"Geez, I just love her so much," he said. "But I can't be with her twenty-four hours a day. This fella's a real psycho, and if a police report gets filed with our names in it...." He let the sentence hang, let the nurse fill in the blanks. The nurse looked at Tawnia, then Face, and then the phone. He saw the hesitation forming. "Please. Can't you wait till we leave to call the police? We didn't see anything, I promise. Just that guy staggering into the middle of the road." He gave her his most beseeching look.
The nurse sighed, and glanced over at Tawnia. Despite feeling that they were home free, Face amped up his pitiful expression. He waited. Never leave it half done; always be sure of the payoff.
"Okay," the nurse said with a sigh. She looked down at her clipboard and began to write. "John Doe brought in by unknown individuals. Didn't stick around to give details." She looked at Face ruefully, as if she knew she would get in trouble for the fabrication. Then she looked over at Tawnia. She was still crying, but not like before. Face was impressed. He would never have suspected she could pull off the damsel in distress so well.
Face grasped the nurse's hand with both of his, and gave her his most thankful smile. "Bless you," he said. The nurse smiled a little. Face could tell by her expression she was feeling sort of good about herself, about what she was doing for them. Always leave 'em with that warm happy feeling. They'll never regret what they did and never look back.
Face glanced at his watch. Hannibal would be here any second. Time to make themselves scarce.
"Thanks," he said again, then turned to Tawnia and held out his hand. She took it and smiled weakly at the nurse as they hurried out.
An older, slightly paunchy man in an inexpensive business suit, glasses, and a mustache strode past them into the emergency room. Face could hear his firm, commanding voice as the doors slowly closed behind them. "Nurse! I'm lookin' for this man. Have you seen him?"
Face hazarded a quick look back and saw the nurse examining a snapshot.
It was then that Tawnia started to sob in earnest.
It's imperative that I find
this man right away," Hannibal said, pointing at the snapshot of Murdock.
"Have you seen him?"
The nurse hesitated, looking at the picture he had handed her, then suspiciously at Hannibal. He gave an exaggerated sigh as he pulled an ID-case from his inside suit jacket pocket and flipped it open. "Special Agent Oliver Queen. FBI."
"Oh my goodness," the nurse said. Her eyes grew large and she put her hand slowly to her mouth. She seemed frozen for a moment, staring again at the ID, then at Hannibal to compare the picture to the man before her. "Wait right here," she said finally, and scurried back towards the exam rooms.
The Colonel moved to a position where he could see down the hall. The admissions nurse motioned to another nurse from one of the treatment rooms and showed her the picture in her hand. He couldn't make out their hushed conversation, but he watched as the second nurse disappeared back into the treatment room with the photo, then came out again a few minutes later. There was more quiet conversation, which ended with both nurses staring down the hall at him. The Colonel met their looks with stony authority.
The admissions nurse returned to the waiting area looking uncomfortable. "Agent Queen," she began, her voice cracking a bit. "Do you have a a business card, or something? The doctor told my supervisor to have me call your office and confirm who you are before saying anything else to you."
"So, he's here?" Hannibal asked sternly, gesturing towards the photo.
The nurse looked flustered. "He's I the doctor told me to -- "
"It's okay," Hannibal said. "I understand." He pulled out his wallet and handed her a business card. "I only wish more citizens were as cautious as you," he said, as the shaken woman picked up the receiver and began to dial.
BA jumped when the phone in the van buzzed. He had hoped Face would be back before anyone called, but if his estimation of the timetable was right -- and it always was -- Face and Tawnia were easily still five minutes away, and he couldn't let the phone go unanswered. He fumbled for the copy of Hannibal's FBI business card as he picked up the receiver.
"Special Agent Ray
Palmer," he said, enunciating carefully.
"Agent Palmer?" The woman sounded nervous. "I'm calling from County General Hospital. I'm checking on someone who says he works with you. An agent named Oliver Queen."
BA gripped the counterfeit
FBI business card firmly, concentrating on the brief notes he'd made on the
back. Hannibal had coached him on what to say if he had to take the call, and BA
had been running the story over in his mind since he'd dropped the Colonel
off. It had to sound natural. If the
hospital scam didn't work, then he might as well just drive the three of them
to Fort Bragg right now.
"Yes," BA responded. "Agent Queen is one of our men. Is there something wrong?" BA waited for her response, holding his breath. Man, he hated doing the con.
"No sir," she replied. "He's right here. Everything's fine. He's asking about one of our patients, though, and the doctor wanted me to -- "
"Jason Garrick? We've been looking for him. Agent Queen was assigned to check the local hospitals."
"A man was just brought in a little while ago who looks a lot like the picture Agent Queen showed me, but we don't know his name yet. He's been shot, and I'm afraid he's in very serious condition."
BA squeezed his eyes shut. Please, Lord, he thought briefly, let us have gotten him there in time.
"Ma'am," he said, "this is very important. No one can know that Garrick is at your hospital. If you need anything, talk to Agent Queen. Keep him informed on Garrick's progress."
"My supervisor wants to know if we should call the police...."
"No!" BA was afraid for a moment he'd said it a little too quickly, a little too loudly. The nurse didn't seem to notice, though, and he forced himself back into his regulated voice pattern. "It's important that no one know about this. Even the police. It could be dangerous. Agent Queen will fill you in if you have any questions."
"Okay," the nurse said a little hesitantly.
"Thank you for calling, ma'am." He hurriedly hung up the phone and sank back in the driver's seat, sweating, eyes closed, heart pounding.
BA jumped again. Face stood next to the driver's door, smiling at him through the open window, Tawnia at his side. "You've done me proud, BA. We should let you run the con more often."
Face's grin only added to BA's annoyance. "Don't you sneak up on me," he growled angrily as they got into the van.
He turned around to his passengers. Face looked smooth, like usual. That is, if you didn't know him as well as BA did. He could see the preoccupation on his face, the concern tightening his eyes ever so slightly.
Tawnia looked worse. She was huddled in the seat, snuffling into
Face's good linen handkerchief. Her eyes were red and puffy, nearly devoid of
makeup. She looked weird.
"How's Murdock?" BA asked, his tone softening.
"The same." Face sighed, sitting back. "He's with the doctor now, though, so hopefully...." He paused for a moment, staring out the window into the night.
"The car's all wiped down," he continued. "It's well hidden, so no one should find it for a week or so." They couldn't afford to have anyone put the car together with the couple who'd dropped Murdock off at the hospital. At least until they were long gone.
BA turned the key in the ignition. "There's a motel about five miles down the road. Hannibal said to get a couple of rooms. Get some rest."
Hannibal used his FBI badge
to muscle his way into the exam room, on the condition that he stay quietly in
the corner. He held a sterile mask in front of his nose and mouth, glad that he
was the one here instead of Face, even though it was probably killing the kid
to wait for an update.
IV fluids and antibiotics had been set up right away, and blood shortly after that. Needles and lines and tubes seemed to be everywhere. The floor around the gurney was littered with soiled gauze, instrument wrappers, and Murdock's bloody clothes, which they'd cut off of him. Beeping machines provided a counterpoint to the doctor's and nurses' voices as they hurried about.
Hannibal closed his eyes wearily for a moment. No. They'd all seen enough blood to last a lifetime. Face and BA definitely didn't need to see this.
The emergency room personnel had been working on Murdock for over half an hour. The doctor had cleaned both the entry wound and where the bullet had been removed through the back of the shoulder, and bandaged both wounds. So the bleeding had stopped, and Murdock seemed to have a little more color now, anyway. It was hard to see past the oxygen mask, and the personnel moving around him, but it looked like his chest rose and fell a little more easily. He looked more like he was sleeping, less like...like he was barely hanging on.
Finally satisfied that his patient was stable for the moment, the doctor took off the bloodied sterile gloves. After writing instructions on a clipboard and talking to one of the nurses, he motioned for Hannibal to come with him. They walked through the empty emergency room lobby, the sounds the machines fading away behind them as they passed outside to a small bench near the walkway. The doctor sat down and rubbed his eyes wearily.
Hannibal leaned against the building's wall, fiddling with his prop glasses. He looked at the doctor and waited for him to speak first.
"Special Agent Queen, huh?" the doctor began, as he gave Hannibal an appraising look. "We don't get FBI around here. Nurse Goldman told me that you said we weren't to call the police about this man. We always report gunshot wounds, even if it's a flesh wound from a hunting accident. It's the law. What's so special here?" The doctor took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and tapped one out, giving the Colonel a challenging look.
Hannibal fixed the doctor's eyes with an icy stare. "Here's the deal, Doc." He hung him head a moment and counted to four. He'd always found that four was an effective length for a pause. "That fella in there, Garrick. He's under government protection -- witness protection program. He turned evidence in a big Mob case back East." Hannibal watched the doctor's eyes widen with curiosity.
"Yesterday, he disappeared. The brass went nuts. He's not done testifying -- there's a lot of information we can get out of him still that will put a lot of bad players in jail. Naturally, none of those guys want him testifying. So when he went missing, finding Garrick became priority one.
"We knew he was in this area, so I started checking the hospitals first. It's just lucky I wasn't here half an hour sooner. I'd've missed him, and then well, who knows, with the people who are after him." Hannibal paused again and let the last sentence sink in, unexplained and ominous.
He glanced over at the doctor's expression. The other man tried to appear casual as he lit his cigarette. Yeah, the doc was intrigued. And concerned.
"We don't know who took Garrick, or if they're still out there." Hannibal let his gaze travel into the night, as if the culprit might show up at any moment. "We've been concerned lately that someone may be after him -- we had some inside information that his new identity may have leaked out. Maybe from the inside. We thought we were keeping a good eye on him." Hannibal sighed. "And now...." He paused again.
"Are we in any danger?" the doctor asked hesitantly.
"I don't think so." A six count, this time, as he looked out into the night. "Probably not. They may think he's dead. Or " Four count. "If - when - they make another move on him, my guess is that it wouldn't be while he's in a hospital. Too many witnesses. But we can't take any chances."
Hannibal smiled slightly at
the now obviously nervous doctor. "So what's the prognosis, Doc? How soon can we move him?"
"Well, he's stable for the moment, but not out of the woods yet. As soon as we can get another unit of blood in him, we'll move him into intensive care." The doctor inhaled deeply from his cigarette, then blew the smoke out as he collected his thoughts.
"Your guy must have had some help somewhere along the line. The wound was cleaned out - roughly, but cleaned - so the infection, bad as it is, should clear up without any complication. I'm fairly sure there isn't any nerve damage, and though there may be some muscle weakness for a while in the chest and shoulder area, he should recover okay." The doctor inhaled the cigarette smoke, some of the tension leaving his face as he did.
"I haven't closed the wounds, since I don't have any idea how long ago he was shot. They don't look too fresh, and suturing them closed now might cause greater problems with swelling. They can be closed in four days or so. Do you need to move him before then?"
Hannibal didn't say anything, just continued leaning against the wall and stared at the doctor.
"Well, I guess you can have your own doctor stitch him up later," the doctor said, shifting uncomfortably under the Colonel's scrutiny. "But Mr. Garrick's fever will have to be down before he leaves here."
"Do you have the
bullet?" Hannibal asked. After all, that's what the feds would want,
"No." The doctor took another long drag on his cigarette. "It'd been removed."
"Damn." Hannibal shook his head ruefully.
"My main concern is blood. I'll be more comfortable when we've gotten at least another unit of his own type in him. He's stable for now, but we had a very limited supply of AB negative on hand. We've been using O, but we're running out, and I'd prefer to do an exact match if possible." The doctor dropped his cigarette onto the walkway and ground it out with his heel. "I'm going to call the blood bank and see how fast I can get a line on a few units of AB negative."
Hannibal put a restraining hand on the doctor's arm. "These guys who're after Garrick are sharp, Doc. They'll be watching the blood banks; AB negative's not your every day cocktail. If they suspect Garrick's alive, they'll be back to finish the job before we can get him to safety.
something like this. I have an agent with the same blood type. He's undercover
right now, but I think he can be here within the hour. Can you can do a direct
The doctor thought for a moment, then nodded hesitantly. "The sooner, the better, though," the doctor said. "Mr. Garrick has lost a lot of blood."
"I'll make the call and get my man here," Hannibal said. "But Doc, remember you need to be careful. If anyone calls asking about Garrick, or a man who came in with a gunshot wound, tell them you don't have any patients like that. Then let me know. If anyone comes here looking for him, let me know. I'll be down the hall."
Hannibal put his hand on his hip, careful to let the doctor see the gun in the holster clipped to his belt. "They could be disguised as anyone," he warned, narrowing his eyes ever so slightly. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Cops, plumbers, even the military. This guy is important to the government's case, and the Mob won't stop at anything to silence him." Another pause for effect. "Or anyone who gets in their way."
The doctor nodded his understanding. Hannibal put his hand on the man's shoulder, and nodded back gravely.
It was getting warmer. At
least, he wasn't shivering anymore.
Was he dead? Murdock gave that some consideration. The thought didn't panic him at all. In fact, he felt only mildly curious about it. If he was dead, is this how he'd feel? Warm, sort of comfortable, but at the same time weighed down? And still so tired. He thought about opening his eyes, taking a look around, but felt too weary to do it. Maybe they'd sedated him. Do they sedate you in the afterlife? Just to get you past the shock of dying without creating a scene? That sure would be an interesting turn.
Maybe he wasn't dead. He'd always imagined a sort of physical freedom in death. Shuffling off this mortal coil, and all that. It'd almost be like flying, he'd figured.
This wasn't anything like flying.
He heard voices, but not anyone he knew. A man, a couple of women. And some kind of beeping. He decided to try to open his eyes, and concentrated as hard as he could. He managed to open them a tiny slit, but quickly closed them again when the light of a huge lamp straight overhead nearly blinded him.
Hmmmm. Only a couple of places he could think of offhand with that sort of intensely bright lighting.
Interrogation? His mind stilled for a moment as unwelcome memories zipped by like a bad filmstrip. No, he decided, it couldn't be that. No one was asking him anything.
There were lights like that at the dentist's office. He was due for a cleaning, but it sure would be a strange time for the guys to take him to the dentist.
That left hospitals.
Now all the separate sounds
came together and made sense. Maybe it was gonna be all right after all he
thought, as he drifted back into unconsciousness.
BA jumped slightly when the phone in the motel room rang. He told himself angrily to stop letting things startle him. It was deepening an already bad mood.
"BA?" Hannibal's voice came quietly through the receiver.
Face came out of the
bathroom, wearing a fresh shirt and drying his hands.
"How's he doin?" BA asked, his eyes locked on Face's.
Hannibal's voice sounded louder, obviously playing Special Agent Queen for the benefit of the hospital staff. "We've got a situation here. Garrick has been shot. It was serious, but he's stable now. He needs additional blood, and that means I need you here ASAP."
BA let go of a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and nodded to Face. The other man leaned against the bathroom doorframe for a moment, eyes closed.
It's gonna be okay, BA thought with relief. They'd made it in time, and it's gonna be okay.
"Yes," Hannibal continued in the same loud voice. "I'm aware that you're undercover, but I need you here within the hour. And that's an order. The doctor's going to do a direct transfusion."
"Got it, Hannibal. I'll be there in 20."
BA stood and began removing
his necklaces. Wouldn't do to have too much gold on when he went to the
hospital. "Undercover" or not, he knew the jewelry made him
memorable, and they'd worked too hard till now to avoid recognition.
"So." Face straightened up and returned the towel to the bathroom. "He's okay?"
BA nodded. "Stable. But he's gonna make it. You know Murdock. He'll be okay just to spend the rest of his life makin' me crazy."
"It does give him purpose." Face smiled. He paused for a moment, looking like he had more to say. BA stopped what he was doing and met his eyes. Gave the man the opportunity to say whatever it was -- get it off his chest.
"I wasn't sure we'd make it this time," Face finally said, quietly. "I thought maybe we'd finally pushed it too far. That Murdock would die."
BA closed the small distance between them, and put a comforting hand on Face's shoulder. "But he didn't, man. We made it, and he's gonna be okay."
Face smiled. A real, relaxed smile, the first one BA could remember since that morning's set up at Clayton's ranch.
"Now all we have to do
is deal with Decker," Face said.
"I ain't worried about Decker." BA grinned, as he removed his rings. "You'll handle that."
Face narrowed his eyes at BA accusingly. "You know, sometimes you sound just like Hannibal." But BA could tell by Face's expression that he was moving on from Murdock's condition to a whole new set of concerns.
Having removed all his
jewelry, BA considered an idea that had come to him. He rooted through the
overnight bag he'd brought into the room, looking for his toiletries kit. Damn,
just clothes. The rest of his stuff must still be in the van. Face's would all
be in the room, though. If the world was coming to an end, Face'd still have
all his grooming gear within reach so he could go out lookin' good.
"Faceman, gimme your razor."
Face was drawn from deep thought, and frowned at his friend. "Do you really think this is the time to touch up your head?"
BA frowned back and growled.
Face put his hands up defensively and headed for the bathroom. "All I have is electric, and it was expensive. So be careful with it, okay?"
Hannibal rubbed his eyes and
fought off fatigue as he looked at the clock in the exam room. Nearly 10:00 PM.
BA would be here any time now.
He wandered around the emergency room, walking to keep the weariness at bay. He stopped at the exam table. Murdock was looking better. Some of his color was back, anyway; the result of the two units of blood they'd put into him already. He was breathing more easily, too. He reached over and adjusted the blanket that covered Murdock, and felt his forehead. It still felt warm, but he was sweating. That was good. That meant the fever was breaking.
Hannibal sighed. Careless. Turning his back on Clayton had been a careless, rookie mistake. The kind of thing he lectured the others about continually. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your focus at all times. Never turn your back. Never. It was because of him that Murdock was here, that they were all in danger of capture. He would talk with the guys about it when they got out of here.
And he'd thank Murdock for nearly sacrificing himself. Between the two of them, that would be enough. There were some things that Murdock seemed to need to talk to death, but the important things -- the really important things -- went almost unsaid. Specifically mentioned once, but for the most part simply understood. A smile, a wink, a slap on the back. Then back to business as usual.
Hannibal pulled himself from these thoughts. He knew they were lucky that Decker hadn't shown up at the hospital yet, but he was confident that the hospital staff would run interference if he did. The Colonel had honed the staff's wariness to such a razor's edge that one of the nurses' clipboards had flown into the air when the phone had rung about fifteen minutes ago. They would buy the Team enough time, if necessary, to get out that back way Hannibal had scouted out. But if Decker showed up too soon, Murdock might not be in any condition to travel. He needed to refine the fallback plan.
Hannibal was deep in thought when one of the nurses opened the door and poked her head in.
"Agent Queen? There's a, uh, gentleman, here to see you."
Pulling himself back into character, he made a point of checking his gun as he strode into the hallway. "Where is he?" he asked, as if suspicious that anyone knew he was there.
"Out in reception," the nurse replied in a hushed voice, gesturing towards the new arrival.
Hannibal had to fight to maintain his composure.
Murdock was going to love this.
Even cold, the hamburger
tasted good. It occurred to Face as he took another huge bite that he hadn't
eaten all day. He decided that Hannibal would probably catch something to eat
at the hospital, and wouldn't mind if Face ate his sandwich as well.
He grinned for a moment, imagining Murdock's reaction if he could see him now. Wolfing down one -- no, two -- of the normally loathed fast food burgers, and drinking ice-diluted, nearly flat soda. He'd probably finish off those french fries BA left, too. Hardly Caesar salad at the Ritz, but any port in a storm.
Face ran through a mental list as he ate the last cold fry and gathered the trash. With Tawnia tucked safely away in her room, and Hannibal and BA at the hospital with Murdock, all was quiet in the motel room. Face pulled out a pen and a small notebook, and smiled to himself. It was time to start working the phone.
Tawnia flipped her suitcase open and pulled out a nightgown. The bag with her blow dryer and makeup was in the van, which was, according to Face, on its way to the hospital so BA could donate blood.
Blood. Hospitals. She shivered for a moment.
Tawnia sighed and looked ruefully at a bit of satiny material sticking out of the top of the trashcan. So much for her favorite blouse. If he found out, Hannibal would give her hell for throwing it away at the hotel, but let him be angry. The thought of carrying the bloodstained garment all the way back to LA to throw it away there, so it couldn't be found by Decker or connected to the shooting, made her stomach tighten all over again.
She changed out of her clothes, and then plopped wearily down on the edge of the bed. She turned out the light, lay down and pulled the covers up. Even the thin, musty-smelling motel pillow felt good - just what she needed right now. She sighed as her eyes closed. Face had said he'd give her a wakeup call at 6:00 AM; earlier, if anything happened at the hospital.
Murdock, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, I hope you're okay.
As he stood in the lobby of the emergency room, BA adjusted the eyeglasses he'd found in Hannibal's disguise kit. He'd also taken one of Murdock's bigger flannel shirts, and after Face had cut the sleeves off, it fit okay over BA's T-shirt, as long as the shirttails hung loose. His work boots weren't that uncomfortable, even though he didn't have his pant legs tucked into them, as he usually did. Finally, a knit cap to cover his distinctive haircut completed the disguise.
He kept himself from rubbing his chin he'd done that all the way over in the van, but knew he should probably stop it now, even though he hadn't been clean-shaven in years. But as soon as the fool was out of the hospital, the beard was coming back, no matter what Face said about a shave making him look younger.
BA was rather pleased with his own ingenuity, and hoped he looked a little less memorable now.
He concentrated on the character Hannibal and Face had created for him. An undercover FBI agent, pulled away from his case to donate blood to a government-protected witness. They seemed to feel it would play to BA's natural brusqueness if he pretended to only be concerned with getting out of the hospital and back to work.
That was okay with BA. He wasn't overly fond of hospitals, anyway. But this one seemed okay. The staff here was timid, but nice enough, and the place looked clean like a hospital should. They were probably taking good care of Murdock here. Yeah, they'd been lucky to get him here.
At last. Hannibal was coming down the hall. BA scowled so the Colonel would know that he'd better wipe that smirk off his face pretty damn quick.
It wasn't like BA ran scams every day. He thought his disguise was pretty good, and he was not going to be teased about it, either. The first one who called him "professor," or some other derogatory glasses-related nickname, was going to get up close and personal with BA's fist.
Face felt good. The cheap
motel room chair creaked dangerously as he leaned back and stretched before
putting his things away for the day. Planning, he told himself. Foresight and
planning. It was the key to any con, especially when you find yourself caught
Preparing for bed, he placed neatly folded clothes in his duffel and moved a small, leather-covered black book over to the nightstand.
That notebook was his baby, his bible, his ace-in-the-hole. Every contact he'd ever made, every name he'd ever heard in passing which might be helpful somewhere down the road, was in there. Along with phone numbers and addresses. Sometimes full information, sometimes notes so cryptic it took even him a minute to remember what it meant, but it was all there. And thank God for that today.
The name of a person who worked in the U.S. General Accounting Office had come in handy earlier that evening. As "Carter Hall," a researcher for the Courier Journal, he'd called the man to ask questions about the Army's pursuit of the A-Team. He said he had heard the Army had blown a small fortune that day on pursuit of the A-Team in the cattle region, flying in troops and vehicles from Fort Benton, and had come up empty.
"Tell me, does the Army
normally sanction expenses like these? I
mean, when you keep coming up empty.
After all, from what I'm seeing from a confidential source, these guys
are blowing your budget in tires alone.
"Now, my notes are kind of incomplete. Do you have a dollar figure for the cost in manpower, as well as destroyed equipment? Just for today, of course. I mean, is that something you would have now, or should I call you in a few days? I can always file a Freedom of Information Act request, but we both know I'll get the information anyway, so why not just tell me?"
The man professed not to know
anything about the operation, which Face knew may or may not be true. However, he pursued this line of questioning
just long enough to make the man uncomfortable about media scrutiny.
Face, as Hall, said he'd be researching the issue out of town for a few days, but that the GAO could leave him a message at the paper if they wanted to go on the record with a comment for the article, and he'd get back to them.
As he hung up, Face congratulated himself for having the foresight to hack into the computer system at the Courier and add Carter Hall's name to the employee list. If the man did call him there, the switchboard would take a message.
He wondered, idly, whether he
should take it a step further and get Hall's name put into the bookkeeping
system so he could draw pay as well.
It'd be months before the newspaper caught the error.
After his call to the man from the GAO, he'd made a quick, "confidential" call to Decker's superior, leaving a message with the officer in charge that the press was looking into Decker's to-date unsuccessful pursuit of the A-Team, intimating the story would probably be fairly embarrassing for the Army as far as the balance of costs versus results.
Face chuckled. Nothing threatened bureaucrats like outsiders looking at the bottom line. Decker's superiors would want to do their own investigation. That would gum up old Rod's works easily for a couple of days, going to and from meetings with the higher-ups, which would give the Team plenty of time to clear out of town.
Finding somewhere to lay low for the next week or two hadn't been a problem. There was a lady doctor in Black Rock who seemed not only willing, but eager, to take them all on as temporary boarders while Murdock got his strength back. Face smiled a bit. No doubt Hannibal would enjoy the visit as well. Hannibal would put Maggie in touch with Murdock's doctor at the local hospital before they left, and make Maggie sound like some government spook doctor so she could get the lowdown she'd need on Murdock's medical condition.
But the Team couldn't stay in one place for too long, in case Decker caught whiff once he worked his way free from the red tape Face had wrapped around him. He had to plan ahead to their next move. There were a number of markers he could call in, but at the moment the most promising was Jackie Taylor, in Texas. The heiress had said they could call on her if they ever needed anything, and she would be just the woman to help them disappear for a couple of weeks, or longer, if needed. Hell, she'd enjoy it, and with her money, it would be easy to do. Somewhere secluded maybe in the mountains, it was nice there this time of year might do all four of them good. He'd call Jackie from Black Rock when he had a better idea of their schedule.
Face stretched out on the bed, waiting for Hannibal to check in with an update on Murdock. If things went according to plan, Decker would be a non-issue for the next day or three. Murdock's condition was improving by the hour.
Yep. Things had turned the corner, and the day was ending
much better than he'd expected.
Something on his face, covering his nose and mouth, gave Murdock a split second of panic reaction as he slowly came to consciousness. Feeling a little stronger, he tried to move whatever it was out of the way.
Gentle hands held his arms
down. "Relax, Mr. Garrick," a woman said soothingly. She took off the
oxygen mask and he felt a little better, a little less confined.
The panic passed, replaced by a vague feeling of curiosity. Something else was making movement difficult. Restraints? No, not that. A slight sting when he moved his arms, the pull of adhesive tape. IV lines -- he'd know that feeling anywhere. A blanket was tucked tightly around him, and he sensed railings on either side.
He gave opening his eyes another shot. The lights didn't seem as bright as before, he was a little more comfortable. He opened them a little wider. There was a man right up in his face. The doctor, more than likely.
"Mr. Garrick?" he said, just a bit too loudly. "I'm Doctor Godwin. You've been shot, you're at County General Hospital. Do you remember?"
What the hell, he figured. Help the poor guy out. Murdock managed to nod, ever so slightly.
"We've given you some blood and some medication for the pain. Right now, we just need you to rest."
Well, not a lot of options there. If Decker himself walked through the door right now, Murdock figured there wasn't a hell of a lot he would be able to do about it.
His eyesight was still a little bleary as he looked around the room. There was the doctor, and a few nurses, lots of beeping machines. And a man in a suit who was talking to one of the nurses. Murdock wanted to smile as he recognized the Colonel, but was too tired. It didn't matter what the man put on, Murdock could spot him anywhere. Maybe he was tuned into some sort of secret jazz vibe Hannibal broadcast.
The Colonel sounded like he was giving orders to the doctor and nurses, clearing them out of the room. He'd pulled something out of his pocket - a notebook? He was going to question someone. Oh, must be him. Must be doing a cop cover, something like that.
As he watched the people leave, another gurney came into his line of vision. A man was sitting on it. A mountain of a man. Murdock knew him anywhere, too. He grinned, and blinked wearily as he waited for his eyes to come into focus. Whatever they'd given him for pain sure was making basic functioning difficult.
He had a good idea why BA was there. Sure, he'd just claim he was returning a favor, but Murdock knew how much the he disliked hospitals. That he was here, in itself, deserved some kind of recognition. Immediate and personal recognition from Murdock himself.
"BA." The other man got off the gurney and moved closer, probably to hear him better. Murdock swallowed a couple of times to clear his throat, and tried to speak up.
"BA," he held out a hand to put on his friend's arm. "Thanks, for bein' here, man. I really mean it, you big, ugly -" Murdock blinked again, as his view of BA's face became clearer the closer he came. He'd meant to say 'mudsucker,' but the nickname died on his lips, and he blurted out the first word that came to mind.
BA's growl sounded more threatening than Murdock knew it actually was.
you one shot at makin' fun of my disguise, Murdock, just
one. And that was it."
Murdock managed a small grin and let his eyes close again. The Colonel was here to run the show. BA would protect them. That meant Faceman was somewhere scamming and conning -- well, whatever needed scamming and conning.
Things were gonna be okay.
Face turned the page of the book he was reading to begin a new chapter, and paused for a moment as he heard a restless sound. He looked across the room at Murdock, who was in a chair, feet up on an ottoman, book lying across his chest where it had dropped when he'd fallen asleep. He moved a bit, murmured, then settled again.
Face relaxed the slight frown he'd begun and shook off the momentary worry by looking around Maggie Sullivan's bright, modestly decorated living room. It was unseasonably warm and the windows were open, a breeze slightly billowing the curtains. Outside birds chirped, and somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. Yep, things were pretty peaceful.
As a matter of fact, the whole situation was looking up. Maggie had stitched Murdock's wounds up yesterday, and the fever had been gone for almost 24 hours. If this held, tomorrow they would pack up the car and the van and head to a cabin in the mountains which had been arranged for by Jackie Taylor. Well, she called it a cabin, but Face was familiar with the area. It was really more of a deluxe ski lodge, located smack in the middle of a hot spot for the rich and famous. Not at this time of year, though. Jackie had assured Hannibal that until ski season began the area was nearly deserted. At any rate, she said that the pantry and wine cellar held enough stocks that they could stay there a month or more without ever having to re-supply. A whole month in the lap of luxury wasn't a terrible thing, even considering the situation which got them there. Maybe he'd see if he could swing another trip by that ski lodge again this winter, though, when the powder was deep, and the part-time residents gorgeous and shallow.
And the cherry on the cake was Decker. Face had confirmed through certain sources that though Decker had somehow managed to dodge administrative leave and a full investigation of his pursuit of the A-Team, he would be riding a desk for the next few weeks with no field operations until an internal audit of the last year's operations had been performed. He'd also heard that Decker was so pissed, he had forbidden anyone to even mention the A-Team in his presence.
Even though this was a temporary reprieve, it was a pretty satisfying result for a couple of phone calls made on the fly. Face smiled to himself and let the book close, forgotten, on his lap. He wondered what would happen if he really put his mind to it....
BA wiped his hands with a rag and closed the hood of the van. Even though he was keeping watch, it was so peaceful, he'd used the time to finish a tune up of the engine. He'd already cleaned the van inside and out, paying particular attention to removing any lingering stains. He liked to start long car drives with a clean ride.
He leaned against the van and looked at Doc Sullivan's house. He'd never really looked at it before, not carefully. It was nice. Solid, respectable. Like the Doc.
Maggie was all right. She'd patched him up once before, and done a real good job. And the other day, when they'd shown up at her door in the middle of the night with nothing but a phone call ahead of time from Face, she'd taken them in without questions and had shooed him, Face, Hannibal and Tawnia off to bed like a mother hen. It was the first good sleep BA'd had since Murdock'd gotten shot. He barely remembered his head hitting the pillow before the sun was up again.
He'd followed the aroma of coffee downstairs to the kitchen, and there was the Doc, still in the same clothes as the night before, cooking a big breakfast. Bacon and eggs hadn't tasted that good in a real long time.
Hannibal leaned against the railing on the back porch, smoking a cigar. It was an agreed upon concession: he didn't smoke in the house, and Maggie didn't fuss at him for smoking at all.
His mind drifted with the cigar smoke, flowing back, as it had ever since the event, towards what had happened in that corral. The shooting had occurred in less than a minute, yet it was amazing the toll it had taken on all of them during the 24-hour span that followed.
They had all been bone weary by the time they had arrived in Black Rock. Hannibal had felt guilty relief when Maggie essentially threw them out of the room she'd set up for Murdock and insisted they go to bed. As a leader he had wanted to be there, but at that point he had felt that if he spent another minute on his feet he'd turn into a drooling idiot or a sleep-deprived zombie. That was no position for a commanding officer to be in.
Especially in front of an attractive woman.
Maggie said Murdock's recovery was proceeding well. Hannibal could see for himself that his color was better, and he had been up and around over the last day in a limited capacity. Face and BA looked better rested as well.
Tawnia, though, Hannibal reflected as he exhaled a thin stream of smoke, was another matter.
He was, on the one hand, satisfied with the way she had handled herself. Face said she'd done pretty well with her part of the scam, and she hadn't fallen apart during the day, which frankly was more than he'd expected. She'd finally begun to prove herself to him.
They decided to rented a car for Face to drive to LA, drop off Tawnia, and pick up the Corvette and some essentials for their trip. Unfortunately, Hannibal was less than pleased when Face returned. That was when he told Hannibal about the blood stained blouse he'd found in Tawnia's trashcan at the motel. Naturally, Face disposed of the incriminating garment properly before returning to Black Rock, but Tawnia's lack of attention to detail was worrisome.
Maybe it would be best, he decided, if they kept their association with Ms. Baker to the bare, necessary minimum for a while.
Hannibal brightened and stubbed out his cigar as Maggie came onto the porch, offering him a cup of after-lunch coffee. They sat down next to each other on the porch swing and looked across the field in her backyard, drinking coffee in companionable silence.
"Hey, fool." Murdock looked up from his preflight check to see BA standing next to the chopper. He was in his fatigues, helmet securely on his head, but something looked different. It took Murdock a moment to figure it out.
That was it. It was the reflection of the sun off of what appeared to be about fifty pounds of gold chains around BA's neck. Definitely not regulation.
"You're gonna blind me with all that hardware, big guy," Murdock said, slipping on a pair of Army-issue sunglasses.
BA looked down at his chest with a happy grin. "Nice, ain't it?"
"Like Fort Knox around your neck. It's a thing of beauty, brother."
"Yeah." BA's smile widened.
The sight of BA's simple delight made Murdock grin himself. Joy like that could make even this hot, crappy, dust hole of a fire base beautiful.
Funny, though, he couldn't remember seeing BA in jewelry before. And were those -- good God. Were those earrings? With feathers? He reached out a finger and brushed it against a wisp of turquoise and white hanging near the other man's shoulder. It appeared to be a feather, alright.
Murdock reached into the pocket of his flight suit for a cigarette, to properly mull over BA's new look, but his hand came out empty. His brow furrowed for a moment. Oh, yeah, he remembered. I don't smoke. Haven't for years. Not since the war.
He looked across the tarmac and saw Hannibal and Face making their way towards them, their bodies silhouetted against the setting sun. They swung their helmets almost casually, laughing and chatting as they walked along.
As they came nearer, Murdock saw that Face had a Hawaiian shirt on underneath his fatigue jacket. Hannibal was wearing a pair of regulation sun glasses, as well as a pair of black gloves. In this heat?
"You're looking ruggedly handsome today, Colonel," Murdock said with a lazy salute. "I believe it's the eyewear."
"Could be, Captain." He paused and lit a cigar. "Let's get this crate in the air, shall we? I'd hate to be late for happy hour."
"You got it." Murdock sprung lightly into the pilot's seat, and began his ritual of button pushing and switch flipping. As the soft whop-whop-whop of the rotors picked up volume and speed, he looked over at the man in the co-pilot's seat.
Dream and reality floated softly together for a moment. Quick, flashing memories. Pain. Fear. Danger. But through all that, most clearly, he remembered his friends, and his absolute, unshakable trust that they would do right by him no matter what. Knowing that they had.
Still sitting beside him in the co-pilot's seat, the gold necklaces and earrings gone, BA peered, clean shaven, from behind a pair of black, horn rimmed glasses.
"Those must be some meds Doc Sullivan has me on."
"Yeah," BA responded, "and you may as well enjoy them while you can. Now do what the Colonel said. Get this bucket in the air, man. I can't wait. Maybe you'll do some of those loops, too?"
"Well, BA, I usually reserve those types of acrobatics for planes. But, since you asked ."
And, since he was dreaming, what the hell? He'd give it a shot. Why not? Let it not be said, he thought as the chopper lifted off, moving with a sure, joyful swiftness into the evening air, that H.M. Murdock didn't know how to have fun.
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