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Warnings: Some Language.
Holiday: Lumpy Rug Day - May 3
Title: Under the Rug
"There's been a...complication."
"I don't like complications."
"Nor do I. It will be taken care of; it will just take a little more...persuasion."
"Some people are not happy with our little arrangement. The Pentagon doesn't want you out in public, creating a major embarrassment, and the State Department is afraid Hanoi will cause headaches on the international front."
"I would have thought you had taken care of those problems a long time ago, General. Before making promises."
"Unfortunately, due to the last election, there's been a slight shift in the balance of power. People are either flexing their new found muscle, or getting paranoid, depending on which side of the aisle one is sitting in. It will happen; it will just take a little longer, while I smooth ruffled feathers, give some assurances."
"Assurances that a vital part of the previous negotiations remain in place - extracting a promise from you and the others."
"A promise of discretion. Now, the Pentagon doesn't worry me; they're used to having egg on their face. I can deal with them. The State Department is another matter." Stockwell let out a deep breath. "The pardons will cover your past. Wipe the slate clean. However, should you decide to resume your previous...occupation, any actions taken outside the law would, of course, put you back in jeopardy as far as the civilian constabulary. If you should come into their custody, create publicity, and thus be brought to the attention of the Vietnamese government, the State Department has made it clear they will not intercede on your behalf."
"So if we go back to chasing bad guys, nobody can know it's us, and if we 'skirt convention', we better not get caught."
"Legends are one thing, Colonel. They can be tolerated. The real thing can be...dangerous."
Holiday: Respect for Chickens Day - May 4
Title: I'm Okay, We're Okay
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. - Jane Howard
"So, why, Murdock?"
He sighed. They had been having such a nice and happy conversation, catching up on each other's lives since they'd last seen each other, nearly four years ago. He knew eventually she would bring the conversation to this point; it didn't mean he liked it.
"I guess we all realized Hannibal was right." He shrugged, nonchalant. "We gave it a shot, all of us, and it just wasn't what we wanted."
Amy gave him that look that clearly said she didn't believe him.
"Really. Hannibal went back to Hollywood, but he got tired of playing monsters. Different suits, same dialogue. He felt stifled, y'know? Stands to reason. No matter how much fun he had with it, it wasn't the Jazz."
"And BA? All these years he's wanted to go back to Chicago, live near his mother?"
"Well, he lasted longer than I expected, really. Went into business with his cousin, little auto repair shop. But," Murdock chuckled, "he wasn't that great with customer relations. And all the paperwork. Lotta paperwork in running a business."
"Face? He, of all of you..."
"Yeah, he did all right. But he got bored, basically. Running 'legitimate scams', as he called them, just wasn't his cup of tea. He's like Hannibal in that. Not enough excitement. He'd get one thing off the ground, get bored, move on to something else. Ended up with a lot of rich ex-partners."
"So why you, Murdock? I thought you were settled down with that lady from the restaurant?"
"Well, not really settled down with. She was nice..." Murdock held back the sigh this time. Erica had been a lot more than nice. They had plans to start up their own little business. Plans for a lot of things. But you stick with your unit. Even when..."Yeah, she was real nice, but...well, after all that time stuck in the VA, I wasn't as ready to settle down as I thought. So, back to the important stuff - like that ring on your finger..."
Hours later, after Amy had dropped Murdock off at his new apartment and headed off to meet her fiancé, Murdock was standing at the sink, staring at the dirty dishes. He wondered if Amy had really been gone that long, that she didn't know he was...well, not lying, exactly. But not telling her the whole truth. It bothered him that he hadn't, but some things he just wasn't prepared to talk about. Not even to Amy, who was the one person who would have understood, if anyone could.
Like Hannibal and his acting career. It was true, that he'd gotten tired of playing monsters. Murdock hadn't said that he'd been offered other roles, real acting jobs. He'd actually accepted the first two or three. But something always happened; he tripped and sprained his wrist a week into shooting the first one. Four days into the second one he'd developed some kind of rash from the makeup. The third one...the third one he'd gotten ill before they even started shooting.
He hadn't accepted any other roles after that.
BA wasn't good with customers, and he did hate the paperwork. But the big problem seemed to come after work. He spent a lot of time with his mother, but she had her own life. Years spent alone, she'd developed friends and activities to keep her occupied. BA didn't want her to drop everything just to sit at home with him. Left a lot of time on his hands. So he started going places around the neighborhood. Found out there were a lot of new people there. People that didn't know about him - or his attitude.
BA spent a lot of time talking to the cops.
Then there was Face. Murdock shook his head. That had been an out and out lie to Amy. Face wouldn't know legitimate if it bit him in the ass. Not that he hadn't tried. He'd really, really tried. But Face was used to cutting corners, doing what was expedient, ignoring the rules. Hell, he'd been doing things that way all his life. Going legit meant following the rules, filing the papers, knowing the regulations. Rich ex-partners? Well, if selling himself out of debt could be called that, sure. Then he just quit. Everything. When Murdock caught up with him, he was selling insurance during the day, sitting home watching TV every night.
That was it.
Murdock ran hot water into the sink, poured lots of detergent in with it. Picked up the first dirty plate.
They hadn't kept in touch. Clean break. Fresh start. Except Murdock. Maybe it was all those years at the VA, but he knew...so he kept track of each of them. Wrote each week. If they didn't respond, he'd call. And he'd keep calling until he either caught them at home or they called him. And after a few months, he knew what he had to do. So he'd gone to Chicago first, and then out to LA. Hadn't taken long to find Hannibal; Face had been another matter. But once he had the three of them together, it hadn't taken a lot of persuasion.
How do you convince three proud and wounded men that their failures in the normal world weren't their fault? That after almost twenty years living on the outside of society, twenty years as a team, they just weren't meant to lead normal lives.
They'd all taken hits. Bad hits. The people they thought they were - well, they just didn't exist in the normal world. They couldn't. Murdock knew that. He'd tried to tell them. But Stockwell...well, Stockwell had made it sound like a challenge.
So yeah, he'd had to persuade them. Remind them of what Hannibal had said. Remind them of who they were, what they could do, what they were really good at - together.
And that what they'd felt, out there on their own, was okay.
Because when you're on your own, it is okay to be scared
Holiday: Free Comic Book Day - May 5
Title: Read Between the Pages
"Hey, look! It's "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds" - 1956, man! Lookit lookit lookit!"
"Yeah, Murdock, I see it, I see it. I also see the price. Not gonna happen, Murdock. No way."
"Aw, Faceman, you could work your magic with this guy, I know you could."
Face sighed. "Murdock, how many times have I said it? You can't con a conman. And these comic book dealers are sharp. Unless we've got something to trade, he's not coming down enough to make it worth the effort."
"Well, I got comics, back in my room. Maybe some of those?"
"I'd like to help you out here, I really would. But those comics you've got - well, they're uh, well read."
Murdock slumped. "Yeah, I guess they aren't in the greatest shape."
"Don't worry about it. There's enough dust on that jacket, it's not going anywhere soon. Give it a little time, the price might come down to within reason. Well, c'mon, Hannibal's waiting for us. Some guy up in Van Nuys..."
Murdock only half listened. Hannibal would go over everything again anyway. He really wanted that comic. Stupid, of course. It was way too much money and he knew it. And it wasn't that it was such a great comic. Not really.
But he remembered it. After all these years, he remembered it. One of the kids at school had sneaked in a comic book, when school had just started. The very first edition of "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds". Murdock had been fascinated, and borrowed the comic. Grandpa had glanced at it, and frowned. Grandma didn't want it in the house. But Murdock had practically memorized it. It was his introduction to modern world fantasy.
Every Saturday, Grandpa would go into town, get supplies for the farm, pick up Grandma's grocery list, shoot the breeze with the other farmers at the market, and then come home, just in time for supper. And every time he brought Murdock a special present, a surprise. The kind of surprise depended on how Murdock had behaved during the week, how well he'd done his chores. It was getting close to Thanksgiving, and Grandma was particularly busy, finishing up the canning, and Murdock had worked his ass off, fetching this and that, washing jars, labeling in his careful print. And, on occasion, feeling a bit put out that no one expressed their gratitude, even though he knew they all were working extra hard. Nevertheless, he hoped his efforts would be remembered when Grandpa made this trip into town.
When Grandpa got back home, Murdock was eagerly waiting. The old man smiled at his wife, and handed Murdock a large flat package. Tearing it open, Murdock gulped, and gave a brave smile.
"It's a great shirt, Grandpa."
"Well, your grandmother wanted you to have something new to wear to church this holiday. And you've earned it - and then some. Why don't you take it upstairs and try it on for her?"
Dutifully, Murdock had traipsed up to his room and dropped the package on the bed. He took off his old shirt and pulled the new one out of its wrapping. And stopped dead.
Under the shirt lay a comic book. Not just any comic book.
The second edition of "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds". He turned at the chuckle behind him. Grandpa stood in the doorway, eyes twinkling, a big grin on his face.
"Just keep it in your room, son. Grandma might not understand these things."
Murdock sighed, sitting in the back of the van. That, and all other future comics, had remained a secret between him and his grandfather. Seeing that comic in the store...
He still missed that old man.
Several weeks later, Face was dropping Murdock off at the VA. They hadn't had many jobs since the Van Nuys trek, and Face hadn't been around much. And today he had to leave quickly, since Decker's men had been hanging around more than usual. He pulled the Vette up behind the VA and reached into the back seat.
"Here, take this before you go."
Just from the size of the bag, Murdock knew it was another comic. He looked inside, curious as to what Face had picked out for him this time.
And stopped dead.
He looked up at Face, who was grinning from ear to ear.
"But, I thought...how did...where..."
"Well, it took a while. I had to find something to barter with, after all. And what I was able to pick up wasn't quite enough for this one, so I had to trade up. And then trade up again. Sorry about the delay."
"Sorry? Face, I..."
Face laughed, and gunned the engine. "Save it for later. I gotta get out of here before you're talking to me through bars." Murdock hopped out of the Vette, the comic clutched carefully in his hands. "Oh, and Murdock - don't mention all this rigmarole to the guys, okay? They might not understand these things."
Holiday: National Nurses Day - May 6
Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. - Zoe Warren, “Serenity”
"Captain, you might as well turn in for the night. Your friend isn't going anywhere."
"I know. But I don't have to fly tomorrow, and I'd kinda like to stick around, in case he wakes up, or..."
"He won't be waking up, believe me. We pumped him full of sedatives. He's going to be fine, you know. In fact, he'll be spending the next couple of weeks sunning himself at China Beach, so I don't think you need to feel too badly for him." The nurse sat down on the wooden bench next to him, pulled a pack of cigarettes and offered him one before lighting her own. "It's not a serious injury, as long he rests up and does the exercises."
Murdock sighed and took a long drag on the cigarette. He hated the things, but everyone either smoked or drank after being here long enough. Had to do something...
"Oh, he said to tell you 'thanks', by the way."
"Thanks? For putting him in the hospital? For..." Murdock threw the butt to the ground, staring at her.
"For not leaving him. He thought you'd have to, but you didn't."
"But I was going to!" Murdock bolted off the bench, nearly toppling both the bench and the nurse. "That's the whole problem! I was going to leave him!" He flopped back down beside her, pressing his hands to his forehead. "I was going to leave my best buddy out there..."
The nurse, Carter, stared at him in turn. "That's not what everyone else said. Everyone on that chopper said you waited until the very last second. Longer than you probably should have. And that if he hadn't slipped, there would've been no problem."
"No. No, he was too far away. We were getting shot up, bad. I did wait, but I was lifting off when it happened. It was BA grabbing him, pulling him up, that pulled his shoulder all to hell. BA's the one who wouldn't leave him."
"BA? That's the sergeant, right?"
"Yeah. When we landed, and I found out Face was hurt, BA told me what happened. Face was running for the bird and I was lifting off, and BA got down on the skid and grabbed his arm and yanked him up. If the other fellas hadn't pulled the two of them up, they'd've both gone down. And I just kept going up."
Carter looked at the dejected man for a moment, then stood and took his hand. "Captain, I want you to come with me."
He started to protest but something about the look on her face, a combination of sympathy and anger, made him stand and allow her to lead him away. They moved down the muddy track, past two or three other large tents, before stopping before a still, dark Quonset. She took out a key, unlocked the door and pulled him gently but firmly inside. She closed the door before turning and switching on the lights.
Murdock looked around, stunned. Four rows of dark plastic forms. Body bags. Filled body bags.
"This row, Captain, is from one helicopter crash. The pilot waited too long. Had a rep, like you do, for not leaving anyone behind if he could possibly help it. The two on the end - those are the two he was waiting for. The rest were already on board."
She turned and looked fiercely at him. "You tell me, Captain. Cold and harsh as it may seem - were those two on the end worth all the rest of them?"
Murdock couldn't say anything. He just looked at the black bags, one after another after another. He hardly noticed when she once again took his hand and led him out of the morgue.
"You think about this, Captain. Your friend was close enough to your chopper for the sergeant to reach down and grab him. Yes, you were lifting off - but you waited long enough for him to have a chance. If you had waited any longer, that could be your people in there. Everyone else knows that, including the lieutenant. So quit playing the martyr, and accept that you did what you had to. Don't blame yourself when no one else does."
Carter allowed Murdock to go and sit by Face's cot, and moved into the office to fill out reports. She sat at the desk, staring into space, thinking about the pilot. Another pilot, another close call. Another holding a hand and giving comfort when there really was none. No way to get rid of feelings that no one so young should have.
The other nurse looked up at her from her own work, smiling softly.
"Setting up a date, Carter? I've heard about those pilots."
"No, no dates. Just...being a nurse." She smiled, tired, and started working on her reports.
Holiday: Visit Your Relatives Day - May 18
Title: It's All Relative
"It's been a long time, Murdock. Your letters seemed to indicate things were going fairly smoothly for you, all things considered."
"Well, yeah, they were. They are. But...well, something happened, and Hannibal thought I should talk to you. I won't take much of your time, I promise. I gotta go to work in a couple hours. I got a new job, a waiter at this really neat Italian restaurant. I..."
"Murdock, I'd love to hear about the new job, but I don't think that's what Colonel Smith had in mind."
"He called you already, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did. Told me about the last, uh, assignment you were on."
"So I got a little carried away..."
"But that isn't really the problem, is it, Murdock? This sort of thing has been going on for a long, long time. First with BA, now with Face."
"What do you mean?"
"How long have you known Colonel Smith, Murdock? When did you first meet him?"
"I've been with the Colonel since Nam - you know that!"
"In relation to the others?"
"BA joined him a little while after I started flying his teams. And Face came after that."
"So you've been with him longer than anyone, right?"
"Well, yeah. But what's that got to do with anything?"
"BA's an excellent mechanic, or so I've heard. Smith got to rely on him a lot, didn't he, to keep the equipment in good repair? Including the helicopters?"
"Even though you knew every inch of them, he called on BA to fix them, check them over. BA more or less took over for you in that regard, didn't he?"
"I don't get what you're after, Doc."
"Smith was used to talking to you about the patrols, where to go in, pickups...actually talked strategy with you."
"Yeah. I had to know what was going on, so I'd know when to be where. I really don't know what..."
"And then Face came along. Suddenly the colonel had an XO who thought like he did, who wasn't just a yes man, who knew the ground war. They came to rely on each other a great deal. Still do, correct?"
"How do you think Hannibal felt about you being in the VA, Murdock?"
"What? Doc, where are you comin from with all this?"
"It gave you a special place, didn't it? A special relationship with him. And every time BA got after you about your behavior, every time you were able to goad him, it got the colonel's attention, didn't it? So he'd have to stick up for you. Take your side."
"Eventually, you knew were still solid with Hannibal. That he would always take your side against BA. But there was still the lieutenant. You couldn't quite get in between them, could you?"
"Doc, I think this conversation is..."
"No, Murdock. We need to look at this. It's what Hannibal wants."
"What to do about Face? He wasn't as easy to irritate as BA. Too easy going. And smart. He saw through so many things. But he never expected you to actually sabotage his scams. Because you were smart, too. Never did anything blatant. Little things. But big enough to cause...problems. Again, nothing major. That could've put the colonel in danger. But enough to make Face look bad."
"Doc, I would never..."
"It was working, though, wasn't it? Until I released you from the VA. Now your 'special place' with Hannibal was gone. You were just the pilot. Worse yet, the pilot living on the outside, while the rest of the team were all together. It was time to up the ante, wasn't it? Start making little remarks to Hannibal, to BA, maybe even the general. Start making Hannibal wonder about Face. And Face actually helped, didn't he? Making it clear how unhappy he was, trying to leave the team...and it all came together on this last job, didn't it?"
"Listen, I know I went overboard. I know that, okay?"
"Murdock, I'm not trying to make you feel guilty. I'm trying to get you to see what's been happening. What's been happening all along, but now it's getting out of hand. Murdock, have you ever heard of sibling rivalry?"
"Yeah, I've heard of it, Doc, but that's not us! We're not even a family!"
"Aren't you? Stop and think about that, Murdock. Think about what I've said. Will you do that, and then call me back? In a couple of days, after you've had time to think it through honestly."
"Okay." A heavy sigh. "Okay, I...I will. Honestly."
"Good. Because you need to work this out, before it's too late."
Holiday: International Jazz Day - May 26
It's the group sound that's important, even when you're playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That's jazz. ~ Oscar Peterson
He moved quickly and silently through the woods. A few more yards and he would have to slow down, move more cautiously. If he was seen, everything went down the tubes. He had to hurry, but it had to be done right. If the timing was off, the others wouldn't have the time they needed. He shook his head; Hannibal and his plans. One day he was going to get them all killed.
He was close to the edge of the woods now, the dicey part. He moved much more slowly from tree to tree, but his hands worked fast and precisely. He could practically do this blindfolded, but he double-checked everything, just the same, before moving on to the next position. He scanned the buildings as he moved, watching the guards, stopping instantly if one of them looked in his direction, moving again as soon as they turned away. He looked anxiously at the borrowed watch as he fastened down the last wire.
Just enough time...
He really, really, really wished Hannibal would think things through just a teeny, tiny, little bit longer before going ahead with them. Given the right circumstances, he could fast-talk his way through people almost as good as Face, but this was definitely not one of those times. There had been a nice little private airport just a few miles further, but no, he didn't have time to get there and pick up a pretty little birdie that would fit right into that little square behind the house. No, instead he had to sneak under the fence and make his way to the Army hangar and steal one that was too big to land.
Well, it had gone okay so far. By the time the few guys around the hangar had realized that that chopper shouldn't be taking off, he was too high for their shooting to matter. And this baby was fast enough he was long gone over the ocean, down close to white caps so they couldn't track him. He smiled as he glanced at the clock.
Smooth as silk...
He glanced at his watch, shaking his head. Hannibal never left enough time for contingencies. He'd been stuck in the trunk of the car a lot longer than they had figured. That goon by the door seemed to think he was glued to it. When he'd finally left, Face had barely had time to slip out of the trunk, run across the lawn and shimmy up the tree before another set had shown up. And that branch reaching over to the window wasn't nearly as sturdy as Hannibal had thought.
Sighing, Face concentrated on the job. The safe was taking some time, but he had a handle on it. He softly whispered a thank you to Richard Feynman. Of course, it would have been so much easier if he'd had time to search for the combination, but he'd had two choices - spend time looking for the combo on the off-chance this guy was that stupid, or spend his time actually getting the safe open. Considering where Hannibal was right now, he'd chosen the latter.
Ah. That last, lovely little click. He smiled, just a little smugly.
It was a gift. It truly was...
Hannibal smiled easily at Charlie Grayson, although it took all his acting skills to do so. They were seated in an overly opulent living room, expensive oils festooning the walls, floor space cluttered with mahogany curios filled with expensive glass and china trinkets. Hannibal felt uncomfortably like he was settling into a foxhole as he had sunk into the overstuffed couch. Everything about this guy was over the top - typical of a low-life thug who made it big in the crime world. You can take the cat out of the alley, but...
They'd been making nice for almost an hour now. Grayson was convinced Hannibal was some bigwig from the Old Country, too ignorant to question the names Hannibal was throwing around like rice at a wedding. Hannibal smiled, genuinely this time. His middle name had to be Blarney. It just had to be.
He glanced at his watch. Almost. He stood and moved toward the large windows that looked over the heavily wooded landscape, casually picking up a glass of wine.
"You have a, how you say, magnificent view, Signore Grayson. Magnifico!"
BA sat in the van, two blocks from Grayson's estate. He hated the waiting, not knowing if anything had gone wrong...he shook his head, looked at his watch. Almost. Almost. His finger moved to the remote.
Murdock glanced at his watch, but the time didn't matter now. He was waiting for the signal, that first plume of smoke. His neck was already stiff from craning to see as he made his wide circles. He flexed his fingers on the joystick.
He felt the rumble of the first blast almost before he heard it. Pretty damn close there, BA. He swung the door of the safe shut, and stuffed the last papers into the waterproof pouch. Just in case. A quick look out the door, a step to the room across the hall, slide open the window, wait for the second blast.
The plush room now had at least six people in it, heavily armed. Grayson was white with rage. The second blast had been closer still than the first, and several more delicate china pieces had toppled. Shouting orders, he rushed from the room, leaving one man to guard his guest. Hannibal smiled calmly, and swung a brass swan when his protector turned his back. He pushed the French doors open.
BA pulled into the alley behind the strip mall. He'd waited until the fourth blast had gone off, confident the rest would blow without a hitch. This was the worst part of the whole plan. Murdock's theft of the Army chopper meant the MPs would be all over the place, but Hannibal figured the last place they'd expect their errant bird to land was the parking lot of a shopping center.
BA shook his head and listened.
Murdock swung in close to the cliff. There was just enough beach at the bottom for him to land this baby - just enough. Hannibal was right - it was the only weak spot in the estate's defenses, but for damn good reason. Only an idiot would try to scale that cliff. Which was why the guys would be rappelling down it instead.
He gently eased the bird down on the sand, squeezing between cliff and surf.
Face waited a split second for the bad guy to turn the corner before taking the leap to the tree by the window. This branch wasn't even as sturdy as the one out front, and he heard it snap. Luckily, it merely twisted downward instead of breaking off, and he sailed with it to the ground. A little rougher landing than he'd wished for, but he was down. He raced through the trees, catching a glimpse of a second running figure.
He grinned as he headed for the cliff.
Hannibal was running for the edge of the estate. He chuckled. Literally the edge. He pulled at his shirt as he ran, reaching for the rope wound about his waist like a girdle. Good thing he had no ego. That rope definitely gave him a paunch - but then he was supposed to be an old man, right? Finally free, he breathed deeply as he wrapped the rope around the tree at the edge of the cliff. Looking back, he saw Face coming at a dead run.
Not a bad guy in sight.
Hannibal looked around. Face was going over the papers he'd purloined from the safe. BA was outside, cleaning up the van. Murdock was flitting around the room, describing his stealth in stealing the chopper, which they'd left sitting in the parking lot surrounded by open-mouthed civilians. Their preoccupation with the machine that had suddenly settled in their midst had easily allowed the team to scramble unnoticed into the van that came racing around the building, and they'd been long gone before anyone would have thought to call the Army. Hannibal nodded happily.
Now, that was the Jazz.
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