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The Art of the Deal
Summary: You can't always get what you want -- at least when you want it. Unless you use a little ingenuity. The Team nearly meets its match in the form of four-year-old.
There was an ocean of juvenile humanity swirling around Hannibal Smith as he stood, icily staring down a child who wasn't even as high as his waist. The child had impossibly large eyes, and a determined expression on his serious face.
"Come on, kid," he growled around the cigar clenched in his teeth. "Hand it over."
The child solemnly shook his head.
"That's an order."
Smith was at a loss. He'd been trying to coerce the little boy for the last ten minutes with no results. This was the tone of voice that had brought everyone from the lowliest enlisted man to the highest general around to Smith's way of thinking. However, it appeared completely ineffective on a four-year-old.
"BA, just what were you thinking when you gave him that key?" Hannibal's annoyance was evident. The key to the bus station locker was their only chance to get the evidence that their client's crooked partner had stashed there before he'd left town. He would be back for the packet in two hours, and the station was not crowded enough to make it safe for Face to pick the lock without being noticed. Hannibal was holding this as a last resort if they couldn't get the preschooler to give up the key.
"I didn't give it to him Hannibal," BA explained for the third time. "Those guys were on my tail, so when I came in here, I gave it to Charlie's brother Tommy. I had to lead those guys away from here and I didn't want to take a chance of their finding it on me. His brother was supposed to hold onto it and give it to me when I came back, but he had to leave to go to basketball practice. I lost took care of the gusy following me, but when I doubled back here, I found out Tommy gave the key to Charlie to hold on to, and Tommy forgot to tell him to give it to me." BA sighed and shook his head. "Now Charlie's waiting to give it back to Tommy. He always does what his brother tells him."
Hannibal regarded the child again and grunted. "Well, he'd make a good soldier, anyway." His mind began working on yet another fallback plan. They were going to have to get the key and get out of BA's childcare center soon. Otherwise, their client would be out of luck.
"Here," Face said, picking his way carefully through knee-high tables strewn with coloring books, crayons and paints. "Let me give it a try."
"Hi there, Charlie," he said, smoothing his tie, patting down his suit coat. "I can call you Charlie, right?"
The child didn't respond, simply nodded slowly, seriously.
"Look, Charlie. My friends, and I -- well, we need that key you got from your brother. It's no good to you. You can't open anything with it. But we need it to unlock something. Something very important. So, please, can we have the key?"
"Nope. Tommy said not to give it to anybody." His voice was small but sure.
Face paused. Never give up on the first no, he reminded himself. "Say, that's a nice tee-shirt you have on there, Charlie. The Angels, right? That's my team, too." Face gave this child his friendliest smile. "They could have a good year, if they get anything going in the bullpen, ya think? Say, you know, Charlie," he continued smoothly, "if you would give me that key, I'd be willing to give you --" he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a handful of change, poking at it with his finger as he added the coins up. "I'll give you...one dollar and eighty-seven cents."
BA and Hannibal looked at him in mild disbelief. Charlie wrinkled his nose slightly, pulling back.
"Okay, okay. Three dollars."
"BA," Face said quietly, pulling the bigger man aside. "He's just a little kid. Why can't we *take* the key?"
"Hey, sucker. Nobody bullies a little kid while BA Baracus is around. If he don't wanna give us that key, he don't have to give us that key."
"Um, 'scuse me, muchachos." Murdock had been sitting at one of the small tables, doodling on a piece of paper as he watched the proceedings. "Would you mind if I...?" He motioned towards the little boy, smiling.
"Why not. You act his age half the time, fool."
Looking a little hurt, Murdock pushed past the three men.
"Hi Charlie," he said, squatting down in front of the boy. "You got that key, huh?"
The boy nodded, clutching the front of his shirt, under which the key hung from a chain around his neck.
"Don't wanna give it up, huh?"
"I can understand that," Murdock said seriously. "You're doin' what your brother said, and I can respect that." He nodded for a moment, then grinned and leaned forward conspiratorially.
"But you look like a man who's willing to deal."
Charlie looked unsure for a moment.
The boy now looked intrigued.
Murdock began going through each of his pockets, in turn. "I got some gum, mostly unchewed. But I wouldn't dream of offering a man like yourself something like gum for a truly cool key like you got there."
He continued rummaging. "Playing cards? There's at least 51, as best I can remember." He paused, looking the child in the eye.
"Didn't think so." He wagged his finger, grinning. "You're a shrewd man, Charlie. Let me keep looking."
The boy was now leaning forward slightly, examining each object that came out of Murdock's coat pockets.
"String - no, not string. I might need that anyway. Rubber ball? No? Okay. How about a yo-yo? It's a really good Duncan Butterfly, Charlie, got its string and everything. You can do a million tricks with a Duncan. No? Okay, fair enough. You're a tough trader, Charlie."
The little boy was beginning to smile at the pilot's running commentary.
Murdock moved on to his inside pockets. "Pens? Pencils? No good without paper, I know. I got this Ayn Rand paperback -- wait, I haven't finished reading that yet. Maybe another time."
He sat back on his heels, a small pile of treasures from his pockets in front of the two of them. "That's it, Charlie. That's all I got on the table for a trade. Anything catch your fancy?"
The little boy looked the pile over carefully, then raised his eyes to the pilot's cap.
"Oh, no. Not the hat, muchacho. It's too big for you, anyway." Murdock rubbed his mouth with his hand, concentrating for a moment, then brightened.
"I got one more thing...." He pulled some rolled up paper from his inside coat pocket. "How about this?" He waived it enticingly under the little boy's nose. "Spiderman," he breathed with a huge grin.
The look of resolve disappeared from the little boy's face when presented with the prospect of a comic book of his own.
"Murdock," Face whined.
"Shhhh!" Hannibal shushed the younger man.
"Murdock." Again, more insistently this time.
"Shut up, Face," BA growled. "He's gonna get the key."
Murdock held the comic out to the Charlie, and the boy took the book. He sighed, and took a ball chain with a small key attached to it from around his neck, and placed it in the pilot's outstretched palm.
"Thanks, Charlie," Murdock said, shaking the pre-schooler's hand. "You drive a very hard bargain. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."
Charlie ran off to one of the tables, eyes bright and happy, eager to go over every page of the comic with loving care. BA had to smile. Charlie looked about as happy as he'd ever seen him.
"Murdock!" Face stood, hands on his hips, over his friend. The pilot was now busily collecting his possessions from the floor. "Is that the comic book I gave you?"
"Yeah. And hey, thanks Faceman. It was a really great issue. Charlie's gonna love it."
"Murdock!" Face looked horrified. "That was a collector's item! I paid $40 dollars for that comic. And you've given it to a kid? He'll ruin it!"
"You paid that much?" Murdock grinned happily. "Gee, thanks Face. That was real nice of you. But I've read it, like, twelve times already."
Face glanced across the room, where Charlie was reading the comic. In his excitement, one of the corners of the cover tore. The little boy hadn't noticed, but it was glaringly evident to Face.
"Look," he pointed, then threw his arms up in exasperation. "It's torn already. He's ruined it! It's worthless now!"
"Aww, Face. If it makes you feel better, the collector value was gone the minute I rolled that baby up and shoved it into my pocket. It got all wrinkled."
Face looked at Murdock, horrified.
"Well, how else was I supposed to take it with me to read? We were going on a job."
The four men walked out of the childcare center to the van.
"You paid $40 for a comic book?" BA asked in disbelief.
"It's a good thing you did, Face," Hannibal grinned. "It was the only thing Charlie wanted more than that key. Good - but stupid."
"I do appreciate it, Face," Murdock said, putting his arm around his disappointed friend's shoulders. "I'm sorry I had to give it away."
The Team got into the van and pulled out, comfortable in knowing they would be in and out of the bus station well before the bad guys even arrived.
"If it makes you feel better, Face," Murdock said to Face, who had sagged into the seat across from him, staring into space, "you can hold the key...."
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