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“Divided We Fall”

"Divided We Fall"

 

By Rosanne Emily Esbrook-Iho

 

ateam13

 

 

 

Rated:  PG

Summary:  Somebody is out to get our guys. Concerned about The A-Team's future, its members find themselves crashing headlong into its past.

[Author's note: This "A-Team" fanfic was first written, in script format, back in January of 1984. I hope you all have as much fun reading this, as I had writing it. ;)]

Warnings:  None.

Disclaimer: The A-Team characters don't belong to me. They have been borrowed strictly for fun and not for fortune.

 

Chapter One

 

Bright sunlight filtered through a flimsy curtain in the window of a small, ground floor apartment in east LA. It danced about the tiny abode and cast its warming rays upon the cheek of a silver-gray-haired gentleman, lying, motionless, on a sofa bed in the living room. The man's heavily blanketed body jerked, as someone began banging loudly—and incessantly—upon his door. His blue eyes snapped open, and then shut, in painful protest to the sudden onslaught of the sun's brilliant glare. The disturbed gentleman let out an irritated groan and rubbed a hand over his grimacing, unshaven face. "Knock off the knocking already!" he gruffly ordered.

 

But, it continued and he was forced to rise.

 

The disrupted sleeper just sat there on the edge of his sofa bed for a few moments, trying to shake the cobwebs from his hot, dizzy head and massage the painful throbbing from above his squinting left eye. He didn't succeed at doing either. So, he gave up and drew a deep, resigned breath into a big, sleepy yawn. The yawner's blue eyes snapped open and then shut again, as he doubled up in a fit of violent—and apparently painful—coughing. The man snatched a small medicine bottle from the lamp stand beside his sofa bed and quickly downed several long swallows of its red, syrupy contents.

 

The coughing gradually subsided.

 

The loud knocking did not, however.

 

So, the apartment's occupant pulled a blanket about his shivering shoulders, got stiffly—and unsteadily—to his bare feet and then went grumbling and stumbling over to confront the annoying 'knocker'. He leaned against a doorpost for support, cleared his throat and irritatededly inquired, "Who is it?"

 

"It's me!" a young woman's voice anxiously came back, "Amy! Hannibal, are you all right?"

 

Hannibal's still-squinting eyes widened in surprise. "Amy?" He slid the chain off, opened the deadbolt, twisted the lock and pulled the heavy portal open, to glare accusingly at the girl. "I thought we had this 'understanding' that we never ever meet at each other's—"

 

"—Don't worry. I made sure I wasn't followed," Amy assured her upset host and slipped quickly inside, before Hannibal had the chance to close the door on her. "Besides," she continued, as the portal was slammed shut, "I didn't want to have to come here. But, I couldn't reach you on the phone. And, I just had to reach you. You see, Murdock called me last night and made me promise to check up on you for him." The girl gave the gentleman's usually impeccably groomed—now haggard and drawn looking—self a quick, concerned once over. "And now, I'm kind a' glad he did…" she hesitated. Their eyes met. She didn't like the way his looked. "Sheesh, Hannibal, you look absolutely awful!"

 

"Nice try," Hannibal told her, with a sarcastic smile. "But, you're not going to 'flatter' your way out of this." His eyes narrowed and his frown returned. "You're a member of the team. You know the rules!"

 

'The rules.' Amy sighed aloud and groaned mentally. When it came to his precious rules, Hannibal never bent. No excuse was ever quite good enough to justify breaking the rules. And, deep down, the girl knew he was right. After all, strict adherence to these rules of his is what had kept him, and the rest of his team, from going to prison all these years. Still, her excuse came awfully close. 'The best defense is a good offense,' she reminded herself, and quickly assumed her best offensive stance. "Former member," she corrected. "And, rules are made to be broken. Promises aren't! At least, mine aren't. I don't make them, or take them, lightly. And, I don't use flattery, either. When I tell someone they look awful, I mean they look awful!"

 

Hannibal's throbbing head felt hotter and dizzier than ever. He was in no mood for a major confrontation, concerning the rules. He decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and just let the whole thing slide…for now. "Yeah? Well, I'd probably look a lot less awful, by now, if certain people would stop disturbing me, so I could get some rest."

 

The room started spinning on him.

 

Amy reached out to steady the swaying, blanketed figure standing before her.

 

But, he brushed her hands away.

 

'Better sit down before you fall down,' Hannibal told himself, as the room began rotating more rapidly.

 

He beat a hasty retreat in the direction of the nearest seat. "You see, Murdock called me last night, too," he continued, crankily, and plopped down on the edge of his sofa bed. The room kept right on spinning, however, and he had to close his eyes to keep from getting sick. "Every half—" he winced and lowered his voice, "—hour!"

 

A look of dawning understanding and then disapproval came over Amy and she stomped over to glare accusingly down at him. "You took your phone off the hook, didn't you!"

 

He cracked an eye open, saw her frowning down at him, this time, and quickly closed it again. "Isn't that what one does, when one doesn't wish to be disturbed?" he sarcastically inquired. Then, both eyes snapped back open, and he stared up at her in confusion. "Don't you have a plane to catch?"

 

Amy ignored him and started tracing the phone cord. She followed the slender black snake from its wall jack…across the carpeting…along the foot of the bed…and right up to a pile of sofa cushions in the center of the room. She dug the whining instrument out and returned it to the lamp stand. Next, she nestled the handset back into its cradle. The phone's immediate ringing startled her.

 

Hannibal groaned and fell back onto his bed, to bury his head beneath his pillow.

 

The phone continued to ring.

 

Amy continued to frown. "Aren't you going to answer it?"

 

"No!" came back Hannibal's muffled reply. "But, if you want to talk to 'Old Mother Murdock', be my guest." He raised the pillow a tad. "And, see if you can get him to promise to stop disturbing me, while you're at it…quietly," he added and allowed the pillow to drop.

 

The flustered female exhaled an exasperated gasp and quickly answered the call. "Hello?…Yeah…Yes, he's here. But I'm not sure he's all here…Well, right now, he's buried under a mountain of blankets, trying to suffocate himself with his pillow…"

 

Hannibal lifted the pillow and squinted skeptically up at the 'informer'.

 

Amy glared gloomily back at him. "Huh?…Uh, no. But he was a little while ago. And, he's got some kind of cough syrup by his bed…I'll say! Like death warmed over!"

 

Hannibal's already squinting eyes began narrowing even further, into annoyed slits.

 

The woman covered the mouthpiece with her hand. "He wants to know if you have a fever, chills and a bad headache…"

 

Hannibal propped himself up on his elbows. "What I have is a bad cold. And, if the two of you don't let me get some rest, I'm gonna have it forever!" The room began to rotate again. He dropped back down onto the bed and then lay there shivering and squinting and rubbing his throbbing temples.

 

Amy felt sweat trickling down her own temples and suddenly realized it had to be close to ninety degrees in the stuffy, solar-heated apartment. And yet, Hannibal's blanket bundled body seemed to be shaking. Her frown deepened. "Uh, affirmative on the fever, chills and headache," she promptly reported into the uncovered mouthpiece. The little lady lowered the phone. "He says to take a deep breath…"

 

"Tell him I said to take a flying leap!"

 

"Do you have any idea how worried he is about you? He hasn't slept in over two days!"

 

"I don't think either of you realize that—thanks to him—neither have I!"

 

There was an awkward silence.

 

"Look, Amy…" Hannibal began again, in a sudden change of tone and tactics, "I appreciate your concern—and his. But I honestly don't understand why the two of you are so worried. I'm not worried. However, if it will make the two of you feel any better, if I don't feel any better by tomorrow, I promise I'll see a doctor. Okay?" He turned his head to witness the woman's reaction to his proposal.

 

Amy hadn't covered the mouthpiece, this time. So, Murdock heard everything that was said. Hannibal's absent friend gave the girl an earful.

 

"No good, Hannibal!" Amy parroted. "You have to see a doctor today! So he can get you started on antibiotics right away!"

 

Hannibal raised his head and used the opportunity to shake it, in reply. But, the room kept right on revolving. "The only known cure for the common cold is to just let it run its course."

 

"You may have had just a common cold, at first," Amy continued to quote their missing team member. "But, that was before you spent the night lying in that cold, damp alley…and before you had that little wrestling match with those two Sumos in Clemsen's pool…and before—"

 

"—All right! All right!" Hannibal surrendered. "I'll see a doctor today…if I can get an appointment," he added, under his breath.

 

"You have an appointment," Amy informed him. "To see a Dr. Spengotti…at the Free Clinic…over on Yantze Street…at 3:50."

 

Hannibal stiffened and sat bolt upright, this time. "If he thinks I'm going into a VD clinic for my cold, he really is crazy!"

 

The little lady listened again and then stood there, looking highly amused. "Penicillin is penicillin. And, while those little spores may be cute as the dickens, they ain't all that bright. For a certainty, they would never be able to distinguish the subtle differences in the venereal and pneumonal strains of bacterium. Why, heck! Those poor dumb critters can't even pronounce big words like that—"

 

"—All right! All right!" Hannibal hoisted the white flag of surrender again. His already slumped shoulders slumped even more. "The Free Clinic on Yantze at 3:50."

 

Amy's smile turned into an outright grin. "Right!…I'll keep you posted…Right…Bye, Murdock." She replaced the phone and picked a pile of clothes up off the carpeted floor. "He says to shake a leg. It's gonna take yah twenty minutes to shower and shave, ten minutes to get dressed and another fifteen minutes to fight through traffic. And, if you ain't there on time, Dr. Spengotti's gonna give your appointment to someone else," she finished her final message relay and dropped the clothing in his lap.

 

"Yeah," Hannibal muttered glumly beneath his breath. "To someone with VD."

 

"What?" Amy inquired. "I didn't quite catch that…"

 

"I said, you must remind me to send the two of you a card," he sarcastically stated. "Next Mothers' Day!" he annoyedly added. Then he angled his gaze from the garments in his lap to the still-grinning girl. "Mommy? Will you please fetch me my blue sweater and my gray vest jacket?"

 

Amy's grin disappeared, and so did she…in the direction of the closet.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The brown, hazy California sky was cloudless. A late afternoon sun shone hot and bright on a busy, bustling street in West LA. Buildings cast long, cool shadows onto the pedestrians and the pavement they were pounding. With the air temperature hovering in the upper 80s, someone wearing both a sweater and a vest jacket was bound to stick out in the otherwise lightly clad crowd.

 

Amy helped the silver-gray haired guy in the powder blue turtleneck and gray vest jacket back into her parked car.

 

The shower and shave and fresh clothes and air had done wonders for Hannibal's appearance. But then, appearances could be deceiving.

 

"I thought you said they don't ask questions," Hannibal was saying. "Talk about embarrassing! Ahh!" he cried out, as his recently punctured posterior came into contact with the front passenger's seat. All he needed was another aggravation! "You know, the two of you can be a real pain in the—"

 

"Goo-ood!" Amy interrupted his sarcastic comment with one of her own. "You're feeling better already. I can tell." She closed the car door on him, halting any further complaining…for the moment.

 

Instead of a complaint, a warm smile greeted the girl as she slid into the bucket seat beside Hannibal.

 

"In case I forget later…Thanks for taking the time to come and check up on me. I know how busy you've been since you got back to the States. And, I also know that you have a plane to catch."

 

Amy matched his warm smile with one of her own. "You're welcome. And, don't worry about my plane. I can always catch a later flight."

 

There was a lull in the conversation, as she started the car up and pulled out into the street.

 

Hannibal pulled a cigar from the front pocket of his vest jacket and then settled down into his bucket seat. "There's no reason for you to have to miss your plane. If you're that pressed for time, I can take a cab."

 

The girl gave her passenger a quick glance and saw him struggling with the cellophane wrapper on his cigar. "Are you kidding? We can't have you passing out on a complete stranger. And, besides—"

 

"—I know," he interrupted. "You promised Murdock, right?"

 

His pretty chauffeur just kept right on driving, and smiling.

 

Hannibal finally got the wrapper off of his cigar and sat there, rolling it between his thumb and index finger. He wasn't in the mood for a smoke. And, he wasn't fooled by Amy's smile, either. "So…What did the voodoo VD doctor have to say?"

 

The man's sudden question confused the heck out of Amy. At least, she pretended it did. She gave the guy another quick glance, which said as much. "That's supposed to be my question, isn't it? I mean, you're the one who saw the doctor."

 

"That's right," the patient shrewdly replied. "I did see the doctor…and you…talking…the whole time his nurse was using my backside for a dart board. And, you were looking very worried…even more worried than you were when we first got there—and that was worried enough for the both of us."

 

The woman's shoulders sagged in defeat. She never could hide anything from Hannibal. And, his being sick hadn't changed that frustrating fact…darn! She traded her phony façade for sarcasm again. "Worried? Me? Well-ll-ll, maybe I was, just a little, at first. But, after he explained things to me, and told me how deathly ill you are and how he feels you should be hospitalized immediately—all my worries just went right out the window!"

 

Hannibal sank even deeper into his bucket seat. "Whatever happened to patient/doctor confidentiality?"

 

Amy was annoyed that that seemed to be the only comment her bitter sarcasm had provoked. "Did you hear me, Hannibal? We're not talking worry here anymore! We're talking full-scale anxiety attack!"

 

"That is precisely why I asked him not to tell you anything. I just knew you were going to overreact."

 

"Oh really?" Amy brought her car to a complete stop in the middle of the block and then sat there, fuming at her impossible passenger. "Well, he only told me those things because, when he told them to you, he got no reaction at all!"

 

"That's not true!" Hannibal countered, remaining incredibly calm. "I had a very strong reaction. I told him I wanted a second opinion." His glazed eyes got just a glint of amusement in them. "And, then, you should've seen his reaction."

 

The girl exhaled another exasperated gasp. "Hannibal! This is serious! If you don't check yourself into a hospital right away…" she hesitated and sat there flexing and unflexing her long, slender fingers on the steering wheel, "you could…die."

 

"What does he know? He's just a kid! If I had a grandson, he'd be older than him!" Hannibal completed his sentence and then sat there, staring down at his still unlit cigar. The familiar object seemed, suddenly, to be going in and out of focus.

 

Amy jerked, startled by the loud blaring of a car horn. She switched her foot from the brake back to the accelerator. "It isn't just what that doctor said," she softly confessed. "It's something Murdock said…and the way he sounded when he said it. Nobody knows you better than Murdock—"

 

Hannibal struggled to blink his blurring vision back into focus. Amy's voice kept getting softer and softer until it finally got so muffled he could no longer make out what she was saying. His muscles began to relax, involuntarily. Wave after wave of drowsiness came crashing over his already completely exhausted body. The kid doctor may have been off on his diagnosis, but he appeared to be right on about the side effects from his medication.

 

He felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Amy's distant voice calling his name. Amy.  There was something he wanted to ask her. But, now, he couldn't seem to recall what his question was…except that…it had something to do with Murdock.

 

Good old Murdock! Amy was right. No one in the world knew him better than 'Howlin' Mad' Murdock. Yes, sir! The two of them went back a ways…a long, long ways. All the way back to the 'clothesline' at the 'Hanoi Hilton'.

 

Hannibal's drugged mind wandered back…to a warm, rainy afternoon a dozen some odd years ago. He felt the cigar slip from his fingers. His steadily drooping eyelids finally closed, completely.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

The 'Hanoi Hilton' was a large POW camp located on the outskirts of the North Vietnamese capital.

 

In the very heart of the camp, was a small outdoor compound. The little yard was bordered, on all four sides, by low, drab, windowless buildings, which interconnected.

 

Two twelve foot posts stood in the center of the clearing. A long, horizontal pole was secured to the tops of these posts.

 

A solitary prisoner hung from the pole, attached to the timber by the metal bracelets, which were secured to his wrists. The man's badly faded and worn, sopping wet camouflage uniform bore no nametags or other insignia.

 

It was mid-afternoon and a warm, steady drizzle was falling.

 

Thoroughly drenched, and barely recognizable beneath a rugged growth of beard and ragged locks of silver-gray hair, were the emaciated remains of one United States Army Special Forces commando, Lieutenant Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith. The fettered and forlorn figure's eyes were closed. His face was impassive. He appeared to be either dead…or sleeping.

 

There was a loud 'bang'.

 

As the door to one of the barracks went flying open, so did the prisoner's eyes. He blinked them into focus and squinted out into the rain. Hannibal watched as four North Vietnamese soldier-guards dragged another American POW out of the 'lounge', through the ankle-deep mud of the 'polo grounds' and up to his hang-out.

 

Two of the guards stooped to pull a rickety, waterlogged wooden ladder up out of the ooze.

 

Their prisoner, a young army Captain, wearing a slight growth of beard and a bulky flight jacket, pulled his shackled wrists free and tried to make a run for it. A quick, well-placed kick tripped him up, however, and he went flying—face first—into the muck.

 

His guards cracked up.

 

Hannibal winced.

 

The Captain pulled his puss up out of the mud and spit—twice. "Go ahead and laugh, yah sleazy slime balls! Cuz you wouldn't be laughing without those guns! I could beat all four of you Bozos—with both hands tied behind my back!"

 

The Colonel's squinting eyes widened and his brows shot up.

 

The North Vietnamese soldiers remained unimpressed and their rifles remained trained on the mouthy American's chest.

 

The Captain was jerked roughly to his feet and then prodded over to the ladder, which had been propped up against the pole that Hannibal was hanging from.

 

One of the guards pulled a key out. He freed the prisoner's right wrist and then motioned for the captive to start climbing.

 

The Captain started laughing, instead. "If you think I'm gonna just climb up there and let you string me up like some trophy elk—" he spat again and wiped his muddied face with the sleeves of his flight jacket, "—then you guys got 'brown rice' for brains!"

 

The Colonel's brows arched even higher.

 

The 'key' guard gave the American prisoner an impatient, menacing glare and motioned, again, for him to start climbing.

 

"Eat a rock!" the Captain smartly replied and continued to just stand there, glaring defiantly back at his captors.

 

Hannibal winced again and then closed his eyes, to block out the unsavory sight of the cocky kid's now inevitable beating. He couldn't block out the sounds of it, however, and he jerked each time a boot or rifle butt made contact with the younger man's bones.

 

There were a few involuntary gasps and groans, closely followed by the sound of wood creaking and chains jingling.

 

The Colonel cautiously re-opened his peepers.

 

The Captain had been carried up the ladder.

 

The rain had washed the remaining mud from the young man's face and Hannibal noted that his blatant look of defiance had been replaced by one of profound pain.

 

The chain dangling from their prisoner's left wrist was draped over the pole and the shackle was reattached to his right wrist. The guards climbed quickly down and the ladder was jerked out from under the hurting young man's mud-covered boots.

 

The ladder landed with a loud 'splat'.

 

A muffled cry escaped from the young prisoner, as his manacled wrists were forced to bear the full weight of his badly bruised body. The kid stifled a few more gasps and groans and then turned in the direction of his disappearing tormentors. "Yous ain't so tough!" he taunted, a tone of defiance creeping back into his still somewhat shaky voice. "Yah big pack a' pukes!"

 

Their only acknowledgment was the loud banging of the heavy wooden door, as it slammed shut behind them.

 

The two American POWs were left hanging there, in the steady rain, which continued to pour down upon the open and unprotected yard.

 

Hannibal blinked the water droplets from his lashes and blew them from his cracked and blistered lips. "Speaking of 'brown rice' for brains…"

 

The kid's hanging head snapped back around, to face him.

 

The Colonel cleared his throat and continued. "Short of getting yourself shot, what were you hoping to accomplish down there?"

 

It was obvious by the look on his face that the cocky kid didn't know quite what to make of his companion, or his question.

 

"What's the matter, son?" Hannibal wondered, as the Captain refused to supply him with an answer. "No habla inglais?"

 

His fellow prisoner remained silent, and seemed greatly distracted by the intense discomfort of the sharp metal bands that were digging into his wrists.

 

"Oh…I get it," the Colonel teased. "You only talk to 'sleazy slime balls' and 'pukes'. Right?"

 

The Captain continued to ignore him, but appeared to be having a harder time of it.

 

"I was once called a 'disgusting dredge of sewer sludge'," Hannibal readily volunteered. "Doesn't that count for anything?"

 

Silence.

 

"Sorry. But, that's the absolute worst I can do for you."

 

More silence.

 

"Oh, well…" Hannibal's eyes and voice filled with a genuine sadness. "I was hoping to enjoy a good, stimulating conversation—with someone other than myself—for a change. But, I guess if it is not to be…then it is not to be."

 

The younger man couldn't take the pitiful, pouting look on the face of his soft-spoken companion any longer. He gasped, in both misery and surrender. "What would be so awful about getting shot?" he angrily demanded, through teeth gritted in pain. "I could take getting shot! I ain't gonna be able to take this!"

 

His fellow prisoner looked positively delighted. "That's very commendable of you, Captain. After all, it is the duty of every prisoner to try to escape. There are other avenues you might want to try first, though. I mean, before you choose that route. Getting yourself shot isn't called the last resort for nothing, you know."

 

"The batteries go dead in your hearing aid, old man?" the Captain quickly snapped back. "I sai-aid, I ain't gonna be able to take this! And, I ain't gonna be able to take this!" The young man gasped again, as the excruciating pain in his wrists, arms and shoulders became totally unbearable.

 

The old man's squinting eyes sparkled with amusement. "You're being just a tad bit hasty in your judgment. Aren't you, 'sonny'? You haven't been here long enough to realize it, yet. But, hanging out on the 'clothesline' is, perhaps, the most pleasant pastime in this whole stinking place. And," Hannibal grasped the chain binding his wrists with both hands and started pulling his feet up, "if you'll join me, topside," he lifted his legs and locked them around the pole that supported the both of them, "I'll prove it to you."

 

Once again, the cocky kid was silent, as, once again, he wasn't quite sure what to make of his bedraggled companion or his broad, confident, upside-down grin. Never the less, he took the old man up on his invitation and joined him...topside.

 

Somehow, the two of them managed to get right side up again. The pair sat there astride the slippery timber, to which their shackled wrists remained chained, hanging on for dear life, and struggling to catch their breath.

 

The Captain carefully straightened up and exhaled an audible sigh of relief. He made sure he got his balance before releasing his grip on the beam, to rub his raw, aching wrists.

 

Hannibal, who had just used up what little strength remained in him, grimaced and gritted his teeth as every muscle and tendon in the entire upper half of his body began screaming in painful protest to their recent abuse. The extreme agony gradually subsided to a dull aching. Still, he continued to hunker there, trying to work some of the stiffness out of his severely stretched and super-strained shoulder joints.

 

The captured pilot studied his doubled-up companion carefully, and, for the first time, noticed just how deplorable the old guy's condition really was. "How long have you been hanging here?" he wondered, curious as to the amount of time it took to get a person's condition to deteriorate to that of his fellow prisoner's current state.

 

"Too long," Hannibal muttered. Then, he forced himself to straighten up. "Welcome to the 'Hanoi Hilton', Captain...?"

 

"Murdock," the young man rather reluctantly replied and equally as reluctantly reached out to shake the hand his companion had proffered. He couldn't help but notice the ghastly scars, which encircled the old man's wrists. He was surprised to find the old guy's handshake to be every bit as confident as his grin. Why, there was even a discernible glint of confidence in his companion's cool, squinting, steely-blue eyes. "82nd Airborne Division, Flyin' Tigers Chopper Squadron outta Da Nang," he added and attempted to pull his hand back. But, it remained locked in the old man's vice-like grip.

 

Hannibal continued to eye the kid up with an unnerving stare. "Colonel Smith," he calmly announced and felt the hand in his go completely limp. "5th Special Forces Group—Pleiku."

 

Captain Murdock got a kind a' queasy look on his face and swallowed hard. "Colonel Smith?"

 

Hannibal gave him a confident nod and finally released his grip.

 

Chains jingled as the Captain's whole arm dropped numbly to his side. "Sir, I'm—I apologize for being so disrespectful earlier, sir. But I didn't—"

 

"—At ease, Captain!" the Colonel ordered, good-naturedly. "I understand that you were under duress."

 

The young pilot relaxed—slightly. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

 

Hannibal winced. "Go easy on that 'sir' stuff, will you. There's no room for all that 'rank hath its privileges' rigmarole around here. This is solitary confinement. You sort of have to get used to not having anybody else to talk to…or pull rank on. You got that, Captain?"

 

The kid relaxed a bit more and sat there, giving this crazy Colonel a strange stare. "Yes," he answered carefully.

 

"Yes what?" his senior officer shrewdly inquired.

 

"Yes. I got that," Captain Murdock replied, equally shrewdly.

 

The crazy Colonel appeared pleased. "Splendid! And, now that that's out of the way…Allow me to give you the fifty-cent tour. This is the 'clothesline'," he explained, tapping the soggy timber beneath them. "Actually, it's more of a cross between a jungle gym, a shower and a Laundromat because it provides an opportunity for daily calisthenics…and solves the problem of personal hygiene…while cleaning and softening your clothes."

 

The kid ignored the Colonel's rather imaginative description of their 'torture rack' and glanced nervously around. "What happens if they catch us sittin' up here?"

 

"As long as no one oils the hinges on those doors, over there, we'll never have to find that out. That's the 'main lobby'," Hannibal continued, motioning to the next point of interest on his fifty-cent tour. "So called because all new 'guests' have to check in there when they first arrive. It's sort of a primitive prisoner processing center…as I'm sure you have already discovered."

 

The Captain continued to ignore his tour guide. "How long have you been hanging here, Colonel?" he suddenly repeated, sounding more curious than ever.

 

"Long enough," Hannibal replied, sounding more than a bit exasperated. "Look, Captain, I don't know how long they're going to let us hang out here together. You see I'm supposed to be in total solitary confinement, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before someone realizes they've screwed up, and we're forced to part company. And, what I have to tell you is very important. So, please, pay close attention. There's going to be a test later on…if we have time for one, that is," he added under his breath and pointed to yet another building. "That's the 'manager's office'—the Commanding Officer's quarters. General Sunh Chin Chou, if you haven't already had the displeasure. That building over there houses the 'executive suites', where officers and generally uncooperative prisoners—like yourself—are kept in solitary.

 

That building, that they just dragged you out of, is the hotel's 'lounge'. I, uh, believe you've already seen—firsthand—what goes on in there…" The Colonel glanced in the tourist's direction and saw the Captain clutching his bruised ribcage. "I thought so," he muttered to himself and then continued. "There are five separate cell blocks in this camp—labeled A through E. And, each block is in a complex—like this one. The layout of the five complexes resembles the number five dot design on a dice.

 

The 'executive suites' over there are A-block. A-block's complex is in the center of the camp. The main gate is situated 200 yards from the front door of the 'manager's office' over there.

 

There are two guards at the main gate at all times. There are three guards assigned to each of these buildings—two inside and one outside. Except for the 'manager's office' which has only one outside guard. And, there is one guard assigned to this compound.

Now, when it rains, all the outside guards move inside, with the inside guards. When it's not raining, the outside guards stay outside until after dark. Then, they move inside with the inside guards. And, the same holds true for the guards in the other complexes.

 

That means that, on some dark and rainy night—like tonight—a person could knock one of the ends of this pole off the top of one of these posts, and then slide his chains off. Once he was free of the pole, he could take that ladder down there, and set it up against the roof of the 'manager's office'. Then he could climb up there and wait for the General's girlfriend to arrive in her car from the city—which she does every night, rain or shine.

 

He could then slip quietly down, overpower the girl's chauffeur and steal his clothes and her car. Then he could quietly start the thing up and drive the 200 yards to the main gate, where he could give the guards some excuse about the General's lady friend having to leave early.

 

Once he was outside the gates, he could hang a left and drive to where a railroad track crosses the road—about two miles from the camp. Then, he could let half of the air out of the car's tires and hang another left, driving the vehicle up onto the rails. He could then proceed down the track, until he came to a large North Vietnamese airfield.

 

Once he got to the airfield, he could swap the car for a set of wings, a chopper, preferably. Once he got the chopper airborne, he could follow the rails in the same direction he's been traveling on them, until he comes to where the tracks cross a small river. He could take a right at the river and follow it into Laos. Then, he could just keep heading south, until he reaches Cambodia…or his fuel runs out…whichever comes first.

 

Once he was safely down in Cambodia, he could just head out on foot until he found a friendly place to cross the border back into 'Nam…the further south, the better. Any questions?"

 

The Captain, who'd been sitting there, wearing the most incredulous look on his face looked even more incredulous—and like he wasn't sure where to begin. At long last, he found his voice. "You ain't serious?" he hopefully inquired.

 

Colonel Smith seemed somewhat disappointed by the question. "Believe me, Captain. I've been over every detail of this plan with the finest toothed comb imaginable, and there is absolutely no reason why a person couldn't pull it off. Any more questions?"

 

The kid remained incredulous, but felt obligated to come up with a question, and so he did. "Yeah. Why land in Cambodia?"

 

Again, the Colonel seemed disappointed. "How far into South Vietnamese air space do you think you'd get flying a Soviet-built chopper? The Master say: Better to land in Cambodia…than in flames," he finished, with an oriental accent.

 

The Captain considered all that had been said over for a while. Then he sat there, looking slightly puzzled. "So, if it's such a perfect plan…then, why are you still here?"

 

Hannibal was disappointed for a third time. But, it wasn't because the Captain's question wasn't a good one. On the contrary, it was too good. The Colonel's cool, confident demeanor crumbled and his tired, squinting eyes became filled with a look of utter defeat and unbearable sadness. He stared—trance-like—off into the distance and didn't so much as flutter an eyelash at the raindrops, which gently pelted his face and ran down his cheeks, like tears.

 

Captain Murdock was beginning to regret ever asking his last question. He gave the quiet Colonel a deeply concerned look and reached out to place a steadying hand on his scarred and shackled wrist. "Hey?" he nervously inquired, "You okay?"

 

Hannibal reluctantly snapped back to reality. "I'm…fine," he assured his fellow prisoner. But he didn't sound too convincing and the Captain didn't look too convinced. So, he continued, "I, uh, made one fatal error. I failed to take into consideration what effect 'prison food'…or the lack, there of, was going to have on my health." He stared down at the muddy ground twelve feet below them. "And, by the time my brain finished perfecting my plan, my body was too…weak…to pull it off." He glanced up and forced a sad smile. "This is what happens to you when you don't eat your vegetables," he added lightly and motioned to his rather frail and fragile frame. "A classic case of too much 'brain'…and not enough 'brawn'."

 

The Captain gave his starved companion a sad, sympathetic look. Then he glanced down and saw that he was still holding on to the Colonel's wrist. The look on his face was replaced by one of embarrassment and chains jingled, as he quickly snatched his hand back. "So," he said, sounding distrustful again, "Why tell me all a' this? You expectin' me to help you escape, or somethin'?"

 

The Colonel was forced to smile. "You've got it backwards, kid. I'm helping you to escape. You can leave tonight, if this rain holds up," he added and squinted up into the solid gray cloud cover overhead.

 

Murdock was feeling kind a' queasy and numb again and he eventually formed the reason for it into words. "What makes you think I can pull it off?"

 

"I don't think you can pull it off," Hannibal informed him, sounding incredibly calm and confident. "I know you can pull it off."

 

The Captain remained unconvinced. "But, how can you know that? I mean, we only just met a few minutes ago."

 

"I knew it the first moment we met. You see, Captain, a man's eyes are the mirrors of his soul. And, when I looked into your mirrors, I saw that you have what it takes to pull it off."

 

"What do I have?"

 

"What it takes."

 

"Yes. But, what—exactly—does it take?"

 

"Exactly what you have."

 

"That's crazy!"

 

"Well, actually, you don't have to be crazy to pull it off. But, I can see where that might definitely be an asset all right," the Colonel confessed with another big, broad, confident grin.

 

The Captain could find nothing to grin about. "You may know that I can pull it off. But, I ain't so sure."

 

"What do you mean? You're a chopper pilot, aren't you?"

 

Murdock managed a glum nod.

 

"Well, if you can operate a chopper, you can operate a car. Of course, it may take more than mere words to overpower the chauffeur. Sticks and stones may break his bones. But, 'names' will never hurt him. Especially when he doesn't understand a word of English."

 

"Well, I don't understand a word of Vietnamese."

 

"No problem. I'll give you a phrase and you can memorize it."

 

"What happens if they catch me?"

 

"Just stick to the plan and you'll never have to find that out."

 

"But, what if something goes wrong with your plan?"

 

Hannibal's eyes got that glint of confidence back in them and then began to narrow into no-nonsense slits. "Trust me. It won't."

 

"Humor me. Pretend something might…"

 

The Colonel appeared thoughtfully amused. "In that case, they'd probably shoot you. Now, as I recall, that was a prospect you didn't seem to find too dreadfully awful…"

 

The Colonel's teasing paid off this time and his serious and somber companion was finally forced to smile…just the slightest of smiles.

 

Hannibal seemed pleased. "Now…about that test I promised you…"

 

The Captain opened his mouth to object.

 

"Please?" the Colonel quickly continued, "Humor an 'old man'. Pretend you're really into this escape business."

 

The kid tossed his head back and gasped in surrender.

 

"First, the guards. How many are there and what are their placements?"

 

The slamming of a car door jolted Hannibal's thoughts.

 

And, as his medicated mind wandered back to the present, the images from his past dissolved.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Hannibal's heavy eyelids gradually lifted. A blurry, beige-colored screen, with an unidentifiable object in its upper left-hand corner, appeared. The screen moved into and out of focus for a while, and, eventually, the object's identity became clear. It was a dome light. The beige-colored screen was an upholstered car ceiling. He was in a car…Amy's car. The back of his bucket seat had been lowered and his legs extended so that he was lying almost horizontally. A low moan escaped his lips as he slowly turned in the driver's direction.

 

Amy was sitting, statue-like, with her fingers frozen on the key in her ignition. Her gaze was also fixed…upon the body lying in the bucket seat beside her. She saw the guy gazing back at her and exhaled a pitiful moan of her own. "I'm so-o sorry, Hannibal. I've disturbed you again, haven't I."

 

Hannibal ignored her question. It was more of a statement of fact, anyway. He pulled an arm out from under the colorful afghan, which covered him up to his chest, and swiped a hand across his face. "Where…are we?" he inquired softly.

 

"The Charter Oak Mall," Amy relievedly informed him. The guy didn't seem to be so upset with her for waking him, this time. "I stopped to get your prescriptions filled and pick up some vitamins—and a few ingredients for my Grandmother's chicken soup recipe."

 

Her passenger appeared highly skeptical.

 

The girl shrugged. "It always seems to work for me, when I'm sick. Anyways, you have to eat something to keep your strength up."

 

"I don't need a 'recipe' for chicken soup. All I need is a can opener. Besides, you don't have time to play 'Julia Childs'. You have a plane to catch. Remember?"

 

"Not anymore. I canceled my reservation. I have certain priorities in my life and sick friends come before—"

 

Hannibal noticed that someone seemed to be playing with the volume knob on Amy's voice, again. His limbs were also beginning to feel like lead weights, again. And, his chest—there had to be four, big, invisible guys sitting on his chest.

 

"How are you feeling, now?"

 

The Colonel completely ignored Amy's barely audible question. It wasn't that he didn't want to answer her. It was just that he couldn't seem to get his mouth to open, so that the words could come out. The dome light started spinning, like a top.

 

"Those hypos must have been pretty potent. Because, you went out like a—"

 

Hannibal's eyes closed and his right arm went limp. Then, his head rolled to one side and he was perfectly still, once more.

 

"—light," the girl finished, rather glumly. The pretty miss stared down at her passed out passenger, wearing a deep—and foreboding—frown. It was going to take a whole lot more than the miraculous, medicinal, healing properties of her grandmother's chicken soup to pull the Colonel through this 'bad cold' of his.

 

Perhaps she should take him to a hospital…one away from the city…someplace where there'd be less of a chance of him being recognized.

 

Amy didn't want to have to make that choice, or have to gamble with Hannibal's life.

 

If she stuck him in a hospital, he could end up in prison.

 

If she didn't, he could end up…dead.

 

The woman had to come up with something! She couldn't just drive him around in her car all night, while he lay there slowly dying!

 

"Oh-h-h, Hannibal…what am I going to do with you?"

 

Alas, the man with all the answers failed to answer her.

 

All of a sudden, the girl got an idea, which seemed to brighten her gloomy mood—considerably. "I think it's time we called on The A-Team!"

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Hannibal found himself back at the 'Hanoi Hilton'.

 

The two soggy, sorry-looking pole straddlers were still chained to the 'clothesline' in the middle of the compound in the very heart of the camp. They'd been sitting there, soaking up the rain, for over five hours.

 

It was still precipitating upon them. However, their steady shower had lightened up to just a fine mist. The sun had already set and the air temperature was falling—fast. The gloom of dusk was also rapidly descending upon them.

 

"—coo…eye…sun," Murdock was saying, being extra careful to annunciate each unfamiliar syllable.

 

The Colonel winced, as though the Captain's words were painful to his ears. They were!

 

"It's not coo-eye-sun," he corrected. "It's kwhy-soon. Kwaisunh."

 

The Captain gasped in complete exasperation and rubbed his sopping wet head with both of his cuffed hands. "I'm tellin' yah, Colonel, yah can't teach someone to speak fluent Vietnamese in 5 hours! Or, days or weeks or months, either!"

 

Hannibal was rubbing his head, too. He was massaging his throbbing forehead, just above his squinting left eye. "It's just one, simple sentence," he calmly reminded his perturbed pupil. "It is also your passport outta here. You learn it, and you won't have to take getting shot. You won't have to take hanging here. You won't have to take any of this," he concluded, rather wistfully. "You'd have it down pat by now, if you could just deep six that western draw-awl of yours." He saw that his student remained upset with him and sensed that the young pilot was teetering on the brink of mutiny. "Okay. We'll call it quits…for now. The way the weather's going, it'll probably be clear and dry by the time she gets here tonight, anyway," he sadly summarized, sounding both drained and defeated.

 

Captain Murdock seemed tremendously relieved. He looked—and felt—like a great weight had just been lifted from him.

 

One had.

 

Colonel Smith felt the way he sounded, drained and defeated. The five-and-a-half hours of grueling schooling had sapped his already rapidly waning strength completely dry.  "After tonight, the plan will be the same. Except that you'll have to get out of your cell in A-block and back to this compound. And, I don't foresee any problems there. I'm sure I can convince Lin Duk to arrange that for you."

 

Murdock felt that great weight settling back down on his shoulders and frowned. "Who's Lynduck?"

 

"A friend," the Colonel softly replied and quickly changed the subject. "Where about, in Wyoming, are you from?"

 

His companion's frowning face filled with amazement. "How'd you know I was from Wyoming?"

 

"Oh-h-h, I dunno. Maybe by yore draw-awl, I reckon," his teacher teased, duplicating precisely the young pilot's speech pattern and accent.

 

The Captain looked even more amazed and not the least bit insulted. The Colonel didn't seem to be making fun of him, anyways. It was more like he was just showing off yet another one of his seemingly many talents. "Colonel Smith, my admiration for you just keeps growin' an' growin'," he confessed with a grin.

 

Hannibal received the kid's compliment with a grateful nod and then returned his grin. "So, where are you from?"

 

"Cody."

 

"Cody. Isn't that the town that was named after Buffalo Bill?"

 

The Captain's face filled with amazement again. "William Frederick Cody," he concurred with a tone of admiration in his voice—for both the Colonel and Buffalo Bill. "His museum, monument and ranch are just south of town."

 

"It must have been nice growing up in a place where you have the Spirit Mountain Caverns…the Shoshone Canyons…Yellowstone Park…and the Rocky Mountains—practically in your backyard."

 

His companion's jaw dropped. "How do you know so much about everything? Honestly, if I didn't know you were a Colonel in the USASF, I'd swear you were a college professor—or somethin' like that."

 

Hannibal's own jaw dropped, this time. His mouth immediately formed another grin and he started to laugh…a quiet, easy laughter that caused him to double up over their pole perch. He rested his head on his folded arms and just kept right on laughing.

 

The Colonel's mirthful mood was highly contagious and Murdock found himself getting caught up in it. The man was obviously enjoying some private little joke--immensely. "What?" the kid from Cody wondered with a grin. "Was is somethin' I said?"

 

The Captain's inquiry only served to renew Hannibal's chortling. "Uh-hum-m-m," he muttered amusedly. Then he squelched a few final snickers and slowly straightened up. He had finally regained enough of his composure to be able to speak. "Ahh…" he declared with a grin, "The Reader's Digest is right. Laughter really is the best medicine. I haven't felt this good in—" he stopped suddenly and his grin vanished.

 

"What was so funny?" Murdock wondered, in an attempt to recapture the merry mood.

 

It worked.

 

The Colonel's grin returned. "Up until eight months ago, I was teaching Political Science at MIT"

 

A look of complete confusion—closely followed by one of incredulity—came over the Captain's face. "Yah mean, you really are—were—a college professor?"

 

The ex-professor nodded.

 

"At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?"

 

Hannibal managed another nod. "But, let's keep that our little secret. Okay?"

 

And, it was Murdock's turn to nod…numbly.

 

The Colonel continued to grin.

 

The Captain continued to be amazed. "No offense, Colonel. But, weren't you a little old to be drafted?"

 

The old man grinned delightedly. "No offense taken. I'm used to it. They thought I was a little old to be enlisting, too. I guess I must just be a late bloomer."

 

The Captain about fell off of their pole perch—stunned by the late bloomer's latest statement. He could not believe his ears. "You enlisted?"

 

Another grin. Another nod.

 

Murdock could not believe his eyes, either. "You quit your job at MIT to join the Green Berets?"

 

Hannibal was about to nod but then reconsidered. "Well, actually, I didn't quit. I was dismissed."

 

"Why did they dismiss you?"

 

"For actively participating in an unpopular political rally."

 

The questioner was beyond stunned. "You mean, you were fired for protesting against the war?"

 

"I didn't protest against anything. I merely stated a few, cold, hard political realities. You see, facts have a tendency to speak for themselves and these facts just happened to speak against the war."

 

"Colonel," Murdock quietly began, when he'd finally got his voice back, "if your facts were so against this war…" the kid hesitated, finding it difficult to form his mind-boggling question into words.

 

Hannibal anticipated where the conversation was going and headed him off at the pass. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," he exclaimed, including the unmistakable tone of finality in his rather wanting explanation.

 

Captain Murdock was tremendously disappointed. He would have liked to pursue the matter further. But, seeing how weary the old man now appeared to be, the kid obligingly stuck his unfinished and unsatisfactorily answered question on a back burner.

 

The Colonel shivered and then looked around. He was right—on both counts. It was no longer precipitating on them, in any form, and it was clearing. He could see a full moon rising up over the 'lounge'. He shivered again and leaned forward to fold his arms up tightly against his chest. The air temperature was still dropping like a rock and it was becoming chillier out by the second. He glanced up to see if the Captain was as cold as he was.

 

He was.

 

The kid from Cody was sitting there, clutching his crossed arms and feeling, not only chilled to the bone, but miserable, tired and famished, too…especially famished. "Man! I'm so hungry, I could eat Road Runner."

 

The Colonel shot him a confused, amused look.

 

"Road Runner's my horse," the cryptic Captain explained, and the two of them exchanged grins again. Murdock's amused look faded fast and he sat there, listening to the distinct 'screaking' sound of a rusty door hinge. "Get down!" he shouted in a whisper. Chains jingled as he started to slide off the pole.

 

"Relax!" the Colonel calmly advised and chains jingled again, as he quickly latched onto the back of his skittish companion's bulky flight jacket. "It's only 'room service'."

 

The Captain relaxed…a bit…and allowed himself to be pulled back up into his pole-sitting position. He saw the silhouette of a man emerge from the 'main lobby' building.

 

The shadowy figure came 'splatting' up through the mud, stopped directly beneath them and then just stood there—silently—in the moonlight.

 

The guy looked very Vietnamese and the Captain finally posed, what he considered to be, a good question. "You sure he's on our side?"

 

"Lin Duk Koo is on everyone's side," the Colonel calmly replied. "Now, shhhhh!"

 

"Poor naked wretches," their visitor began, with a strong Vietnamese accent—and just a smidgen of melodrama. "Where so e'er you are that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm. How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you from seasons such as these?"

 

Chains jingled as Hannibal began to applaud. "Bravo, Lin Duk! Excellent!" he added with a grin. "You've obviously been doing your homework."

 

Lin Duk's moonlit face looked positively radiant. He bowed gratefully and then beamed a big smile up at his critic. "Colonel Smith is good teacher. Lin Duk practice all afternoon on other prisoners. They think Colonel's selection is most appropriate."

 

"Yes," Hannibal had to agree. "It was a rather fitting choice, wasn't it."

 

Lin Duk placed a basket down and started picking their ladder up out of the mud.

 

"What was all that about?" Captain Murdock curiously inquired.

 

"King Lear," the Colonel calmly replied. "Act III, Scene IV."

 

The kid looked thoughtful and then disappointed, as it seemed to be the only explanation he was going to get. He resigned himself to watching Lin Duk wrestle with the heavy, slippery, waterlogged ladder.

 

At long last, Lin maneuvered the awkward object into place, setting it down on the pole between the two Americans.

 

The man then picked his basket back up and began climbing. "Lin Duk convince new guards to bring Captain to Colonel. Lin think Captain maybe make good company for Colonel. Colonel's spirits very low. Colonel need good company. 'It was a rather fitting choice, wasn't it,'" he tacked on, parroting the Colonel's comment perfectly.

 

He stopped on the wrung that put him at about their eye level and looked up to find both the 'good company' and the Colonel glaring angrily back at him. It was impossible to tell which of the two POWs was the most upset with him. He slouched down and took a guess. "Colonel is not pleased with my selection?"

 

Lin Duk's pitiful inquiry caused a great deal of the grumpiness to disappear from their glares. Still, both men's looks remained stern.

 

"I'm very pleased—overjoyed—with your selection. The Captain is very good company, indeed. But, what is going to happen to Lin Duk when General Chou finds out who's responsible for getting the new guards to disobey his orders?"

 

Lin Duk relaxed. "Not to worry. Lin convince General whole thing is big mistake. New guards not here when General give orders."

 

Hannibal's stern look remained affixed to his still frowning face and he gave Lin Duk a rather lengthy chewing out in his native tongue.

 

Lin Duk ignored the scolding and went about his business.

 

Which, as far as the Captain could tell, was seeing to it that the prisoners were fed and watered. Murdock was still debating whether or not he was ever gonna forgive Lin Duk for getting him chained to this torture rack. But then, the man handed him some food and flashed him a winning smile…and the famished American found himself letting bygones be bygones. "Thank you," he said sincerely and ravenously ripped off a big chunk of the freshly baked bread he'd been eyeballing for the past few minutes. "This stuff is pretty dang tasty!" he determined, between mouthfuls.

 

"Thank you," Lin Duk copied and passed the Captain a pitcher of cool, fresh water with which to wash the tasty stuff down.

 

Murdock took a long, refreshing drink and then offered the jug to the Colonel.

 

Hannibal took a few swallows of the water but shook his head when offered food. "Thanks. But, I don't feel like eating right now."

 

And, it was Lin's turn to look stern. "But, Colonel must be hungry! Colonel say same thing last night, also."

 

"I didn't say I wasn't hungry," Hannibal reminded him. "I said I don't feel like eating just now. There's a difference."

 

Lin Duk looked confused and more than a little worried. But, he spared the POW a lecture of his own. The Colonel would just ignore him, anyways. Colonel Smith could be a very stubborn man. "Then…Colonel must be sick," he glumly reasoned and began reaching for the prisoner's forehead.

 

Chains jingled again, as the Colonel latched onto Lin's raised forearm. "I may be coming down with something. A cold, most likely."

 

Lin Duk gasped, as the prisoner's frigid fingers wrapped around his warm wrist. "Colonel's touch is cold as death!"

 

Captain Murdock's jaw dropped—right in mid-chew.

 

Chains jingled once more, as the Colonel quickly snatched his hand back. "My, we are in a dramatic mood tonight, are-en't we."

 

"Lin Duk bring Colonel blank—"

 

"—No!" Hannibal interrupted and accompanied his stern order with another angry glare. The Colonel continued to speak for some time—in Lin Duk's own lingo, again.

 

The Captain studied Lin Duk's moonlit face carefully. By watching Lin's reactions to the Colonel's words, he hoped to get some clue as to what was being said.

 

At first, Lin appeared worried…then, amused…then, even more worried…then shocked…and, finally, sad…very, very sad.

 

The Colonel finished his latest lecture.

 

Lin tried desperately to maintain his crumbling composure, but a tear betrayed him. He quickly brushed it away. "There is…more…food, Captain," he shakily announced and extended the Colonel's untouched portion to him.

 

Murdock gave the Colonel a worried glance, and the man who was on everyone's side a sympathetic smile. "The Colonel's cold must be contagious. Cuz, I don't feel like eatin' anymore, either. But, thank you. That was very good. I really appreciate you bringin' it out here for us."

 

Lin Duk bowed his head, gratefully. Then, he took his basket of goodies and started to leave. "Better to forget English lesson for tomorrow night," he determined in a quiet, quivering voice.

 

The completely exhausted Colonel was now on the verge of collapsing. He had to place a hand on his foreign friend's slumped shoulder, for support. "Not a chance, Lin! And, since you seem to have such a 'flair' for Shakespeare, let's try something from The Tempest, this time. Perhaps one of Prospero's dialogues. Ye-es. Act IV, Scene I, should do nicely," he muttered to himself and continued to use Lin's shoulder for support.

 

Hannibal's tired eyes got a peculiar glint to them. He lifted his head, squared his own sagging shoulders up and then proceeded to display a real 'flair' for Shakespeare, himself. "You do look, my friend, in a mov'd sort…as if you were dismay'd. Be cheerful, sir! Our revels now are ended. These, our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits…and are melted into air…into thin air. And, like the baseless fabric of this vision…the cloud-capp'd towers…the gorgeous palaces…the solemn temples…the great globe itself! Yeah, all which it inherit shall dissolve. And, like this insubstantial pageant faded…leave not a shred of cloud behind."

 

Hannibal halted his dramatic presentation and sat there, looking like he'd lost his place, or something. "We are such stuff…as dreams are made on. And our little life…is…rounded…with…sleep." He stopped speaking again and started swaying. It appeared that he was about to pass out on his audience.

 

Lin and Murdock exchanged anxious glances.

 

The Captain scooted a little closer. Then, he reached across the ladder and latched onto the Colonel's arms. Far from being frigid, the young pilot found the actor's body to be burning up!

 

The Captain's grip had a steadying effect on the Colonel. He stopped swaying and turned to his fellow prisoner. "Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled. Be not disturb'd with my infirmity—" his mouth stopped moving again and a strange look came over him. "We…are such stuff as…asdreamsare…made…on," he repeated, falling forward.

 

Murdock caught him and kept him from falling further.

 

Somewhere in the distance, a car door slammed. The General's girlfriend had just arrived from the city.

 

But, Hannibal had no strength…and it wasn't raining anymore.

 

A second car door slammed and the moonlit compound faded into oblivion.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

Hannibal's eyes snapped open and he fought to keep them that way. He blinked his deep blue orbs up at a vaguely familiar dashboard and silently wondered why he seemed to keep waking up in a car. The Colonel allowed his aching head to roll to the left.

 

Miss Amy Allen was seated right there beside him.

 

Only, the image appeared to be somewhat…shaky. He gave his groggy head a few shakes, in an attempt to refocus his fuzzy vision. The little lady's image remained shaky however and it occurred to him that the reason Amy's image seemed so shaky was because she was shaking—shaking uncontrollably! Something had to be terribly wrong!

 

Hannibal got a sudden rush of adrenaline and tried to rise. Alas, becoming upright wasn't easy—with four, big, invisible guys sitting on your chest. The A-Team's fearless leader groaned and dropped back onto his bucket seat.

 

Upon hearing Hannibal's groan, Amy winced and, reluctantly, turned her gaze in his direction. It seemed the sudden—and unbelievably loud—sound of her slamming door had just jolted him back to consciousness…again. "Sorry to keep disturbing you," she sincerely said, and tried her best to sound nonchalant. "But, if I don't slam it, the 'door ajar' buzzer won't stop buzz—"

 

"—Forget me-e!" Hannibal anxiously interrupted. "What—or who—has been disturbing you?"

 

Amy's calm demeanor crumbled. She sat there flexing and unflexing her fingers on the steering wheel…again. "I…I got this brainy idea to call the team together," she quietly replied. "But, Face wasn't home. And, all I could reach at B.A.'s was his answering machine. So, I called the VA, to give Murdock an update and ask if he knew where they were," she faltered, as her voice suddenly became as shaky as the rest of her. "Murdock's phone was out of order. So, I called the desk and asked to speak with the Ward Supervisor. She was very…upset. She said that they had just had a bad fire on her floor. In fact, the firemen were still there…mopping up." Amy tried, unsuccessfully, to steady her trembling voice. "It seems someone threw a Molotov cocktail into…Mr. Murdock's room…"

 

Hannibal's heart skipped more than a few beats and he got another sudden rush of adrenaline. "WHA-AT?" he incredulously demanded. Those four, big, invisible dudes went flying, as he snapped bolt upright in his bucket seat. The A-Team's Commander just sat there, staring at Amy, looking stunned beyond belief, and asked with his eyes what he found too dreadful to even form into words.

 

"They didn't find a body. Murdock wasn't in his room. He had stuffed some clothes under the blankets on his bed, to make it look like he was sleeping."

 

Hannibal's deeply concerned eyes closed and he managed to exhale his held breath into one very long sigh of relief—before becoming doubled up in a fit of violent, excruciatingly painful coughing.

 

Miss Allen snatched a small, white, paper sack from the top of her dash, pulled a medicine bottle out, opened it and then tapped her coughing passenger on his jerking left shoulder. "Here! Take some of this!"

 

He did, quickly downing several sips of the bottle's murky green contents, between coughs. "Ughhh!" he proclaimed with a grimace and kept right on coughing. He slipped a handkerchief from a pocket in his vest jacket and coughed into it for quite some time.

 

For an eternity—as far as Amy was concerned. "You gonna be okay?"

 

Hannibal was coughing too hard to speak. So, he simply nodded and kept right on coughing.

 

But, Amy didn't like the way he looked. His eyes were shut tightly. His forehead was beaded with sweat and his pained face was ghostly pale. She didn't like the way he sounded, either. Or, the way he couldn't seem to catch his breath between coughs. "You sure?" she anxiously inquired and sat there, feeling totally useless…well, not totally. "Maybe you should try some more of this?" she prescribed and held the open bottle of 'Ughhh!' out to him again.

 

Hannibal, who never worried because it was counter-productive, was beginning to worry…but just a little. Those four, big, invisible guys now seemed to be sitting on his back. One of them had stuck a dagger between his shoulder blades and was twirling it around.

 

He forced his eyes back open. Amy's body was still trembling—worse, now, than it was before. The girl obviously found his little coughing spell most disturbing. That fact disturbed him. But, it was her news about what someone had tried to do to Murdock that disturbed him most of all. He got a tremendous surge of adrenaline, this time, and then sat there, hunched over—holding his labored breath. It worked. As his breathing stopped, so did the coughing.

 

He wasn't the only one whose breathing had stopped.

 

Amy may have been disturbed, by the Colonel's coughing. But, she was extremely alarmed by his sudden not coughing—or breathing. The girl exhaled a horrified gasp, "HANNIBAL!"

 

Her doubled-up passenger gave her a thumbs up sign and continued to hold his breath. He held it just as long as he could. Which, for the guy who played 'The Aquamaniac', turned out to be an incredibly long time. Eventually, he chanced a quick, shallow breath, through his nostrils…no coughing. He chanced another...and then another…still no coughing. So, he slowly straightened up. "Must've been…the change in position," he calmly reasoned, between gasps.

 

Amy watched, in awe, as an amazing transformation suddenly came over the Colonel. She'd seen it before—this sudden change in his appearance. But, it had never been quite this dramatic.

 

One minute, he was gravely ill and coughing himself to death.

 

The next, he was his cool, calm, confident, in-control self again.

 

Hannibal's eyes got that peculiar glint in them that they always got when he was, as B.A. liked to refer to it, 'on the jazz'. "Did they search the whole hospital?"

 

Amy was startled by his sudden inquiry. "Yes. He's not there. And, that's why I'm so worried. Murdock promised me he'd stay by his phone."

 

"Well then, that's one promise we can all be grateful he didn't keep," Hannibal solemnly stated and flicked the back of his seat up. "Let's go, kid!"

 

Amy stuck the cap back on the bottle, the bottle back in the sack, and the sack back on her dash. The little lady obligingly started her car up but then hesitated to pull it out onto the street. "Go where?"

 

"The Hotel Regina. And, step on it!" Hannibal ordered, bundling up his afghan and tossing it into the back.

 

The visiting reporter was relieved to find the man with all the answers back in charge. "Why are we going there? B.A.'s not home. Remember?"

 

"Yes. But, maybe, Murdock called B.A. and had him spring him from the hospital. Maybe the message is on B.A.'s answering machine. And, just maybe, it'll give us some clue as to where they are." Hannibal finished his explanation and started stashing his dropped cigar and his handy hankie back into his vest pocket.

 

Amy suddenly felt terribly worried again. She could have sworn that she caught a glimpse of something red on his crumpled up white kerchief. 'Probably just the red thread of a monogram,' she reassured herself.

 

Miss Allen put the thought of the crimson mark out of her mind and then drove off—rather rapidly—in the requested direction.

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

H.M. Murdock was seated on a park bench, just six blocks down from the VA Hospital in West LA.

 

The Molotov cocktail's intended target absently tossed—er, lobbed another kernel of popcorn at the flock of greedy pigeons that had gathered on the ground near his sneakered feet.

 

He wasn't paying particular attention to either the popcorn or the pigeons.

 

He hadn't even heard the wailing sirens of the three fire trucks that had gone speeding by a few minutes earlier.

 

The young man was too preoccupied with his thoughts…which all seemed to center on Colonel Smith and how sick he may, or may not, be.

 

He'd know by now, if it weren't for B.A.. He sure wished the Sergeant hadn't a' contacted him and told him to meet him there. Because, now, he was sure to have missed Amy's phone call.

 

He tried to tell B.A. that he could catch a cab and meet him somewhere after he talked to Amy. But, the Sergeant insisted that he 'wait in the park with the rest a' the squirrels' and he'd be along to pick him up, when he could. And, B.A. was bigger than he was.

 

What did the Sergeant wanna see him for, anyways?

 

All the big guy would say was that he was 'jes' followin' Hannibal's orders, fool!'

 

But, why would the Colonel order B.A. to pick him up?

 

It just didn't make any sense!

 

Murdock's tired brain balked at all the unanswered questions he kept running through it…his poor, tired brain. He hadn't given it, or the rest of his body, a break from worrying since he first saw the Colonel at Amy's 'Welcome Home/So Long Again' party, at the Golden Pagoda Tuesday night.

 

Gosh! Had it really been that long? No wonder he felt like a zombie. Today was Thursday! It was almost Thursday night!

 

Oh well…It wasn't the first time Murdock had lost sleep worrying over the Colonel being sick. His reeling mind reeled back in time. The park…the pigeons…and the popcorn disappeared.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

A tiny moonlit compound replaced the sunny little park, and an uncomfortable, wooden crossbeam took the place of the bench.

 

Murdock's long legs were straddling the 'clothesline' at the 'Hanoi Hilton'. The Captain's arms were hugging a collapsed Colonel Smith.

 

Lin Duk Koo was perched on a ladder, beside them, staring down at his foreign friend's limp and lifeless body, looking terribly grief-stricken. "Colonel Smith is…dead," he regrettably announced.

 

Murdock's heart missed a few beats. But, then, the kid felt the Colonel's chest expanding and contracting and relievedly announced, "He's just passed out, Lynduck."

 

Lin's gloomy expression lightened a little. But, he was in need of some further assurance. "Colonel Smith not dead yet?"

 

The Captain shook his head and then posed a certain question—for the third time. "How long has Colonel Smith been here?"

 

"Colonel come same time as Lin Duk."

 

Murdock sighed and quickly rephrased his inquiry. "Okay. Then, how long have you been here?"

 

"General Chou bring Lin Duk with him when General come to take over whole POW camp," he paused to perform some silent calculations. "Two days more makes seven weeks."

 

The young man was amazed. "And, how long has he been chained to this pole?"

 

Lin Duk did some more quick and quiet calculating. "Hmmm, yesterday—no, day before is five weeks."

 

The Captain gasped in horror and then incredulously exclaimed, "WHA-AT?" He stared down at the old guy with the ghastly-scarred wrists until his disbelief gave way to anger.   "But…WHY-Y?"

 

"General Chou want Colonel to die," Lin Duk sadly replied. "But, not to die too quickly."

 

Murdock glanced back up. "Why? What did the Colonel ever do to the General?"

 

"When General first arrive he wish to interrogate all new prisoners. Colonel Smith most new prisoner in camp.

 

General demand information from Colonel. But, Colonel Smith most stubborn man—most uncooperative.

 

General decide to make example of Colonel to teach other prisoners to be most cooperative. General has Colonel beaten—almost to death. Then General force Colonel to mop his own blood up from floor of 'lounge'.

 

Then, General say, 'Now, are you going to give me what I want? Or do we have to start all over again?'

 

And, Colonel Smith say, 'Well, I doubt if it's what you want. But, it's all you're going to get.' And he throw bucket of dirty water from scrubbing floor in General's face. Lin Duk never see General Chou so angry before…"

 

Captain Murdock overcame his initial shock and glanced down at the unconscious man in his arms. "Talk about 'brown rice' for brains…" he muttered to himself. Then he turned back to Lin Duk and fearfully inquired, "What happened after that?"

 

"As Lin say General is most furious. General order Colonel Smith to apologize for humiliating him in front of his men.

 

Colonel say General shouldn't care if he lose face because he has many others to replace the one he lose.

 

General Chou even most angrier. General give order for Colonel to be locked in little metal box until he is ready to apologize.

 

Colonel Smith stay in little metal box four days in hot sun—no food—no water.

 

General expect Colonel to die.

 

But Colonel Smith still breathing.

 

Then clouds come. It rains six days. Rains very hard. Roof leak very bad.

 

So, Colonel get water. When sun not shine Colonel not sweat. So he stay alive still.

 

General Chou visit Colonel. General say he still waiting for prisoner to apologize.

 

Colonel Smith say then it is a good thing General not holding his breath. Then again maybe not such a good thing.

 

That is when General give up on prisoner and apology. General give order for Colonel to be hung here so General can have pleasure of watching prisoner die nice—slow—painful death.

 

General order water only—no food.

 

But, Lin Duk help Colonel. Soon Colonel Smith have strength to climb pole." The guy who was on everyone's side finished his rather lengthy little revelation concerning the ex-professor's exploits over the past seven weeks and stared down at the star of his narration, wearing the same look he'd worn earlier.

 

Captain Murdock recalled the look and the circumstances surrounding it. "Lynduck, what did Colonel Smith say before he passed out?"

 

Lin sniffled and blinked his blurring vision clear. "Colonel Smith remind Lin Duk of General Chou's temper. Colonel not wish Lin to get in big trouble with General. Colonel tell Lin to not bring blanket. Colonel say he can make food disappear. But he cannot eat blanket. Colonel say perhaps Captain Murdock can be persuaded to teach Lin Duk authentic American cowboy song. In return Lin can teach Captain how to say 'The General's girlfriend has a headache tonight.'"

 

The young pilot managed a sad smile. "Was that all?"

 

"No. Colonel also ask Lin to help Captain get back to this compound next rainy night."

 

Captain Murdock stared thoughtfully down at the collapsed Colonel. All the expressions had been accounted for but one…the last one. "What did he say that made you so sad?"

 

Lin was somewhat surprised by the question. Then, the missing expression reappeared on his moonlit face. "Colonel say that he is…dying. Colonel ask Lin to please not bring him food and water anymore."

 

The Captain found this particular revelation positively appalling. "WHA-AT?"

 

"General Chou prefer Colonel to die. But not to die too quickly," the man who was on everyone's side sadly explained. "Colonel say he prefer to die more quickly," Lin's voice cracked. He paused to brush another tear away. "Lin Duk prefer Colonel not to die at all."

 

"Captain prefer Colonel not to die at all, too!" the young American immediately assured him. Then, he stared thoughtfully back down at the motionless man in his arms.

 

Murdock was now able to draw certain definite conclusions concerning the unconscious Colonel: The old guy definitely was crazy. He definitely was also very courageous. He definitely was deserving of his still growing admiration. And, most importantly at the moment, he definitely did not deserve to die, hanging there on that stupid pole in that stinking place.

 

Colonel Smith had his own unique style. There was an entertaining method to his madness. And, one other quality that the Captain found most appealing: There was a seeming indomitableness to this crazy Colonel's spirit. Colonel Smith had what it took to make it out of there. So then, why shouldn't he?

 

Murdock quickly came to one, final conclusion and turned back to the man on the ladder. "Look, Lynduck, no matter what Colonel Smith says, keep bringing him his food and water. And, when you see him tomorrow night, give him this message: Tell him, 'Hang on brains. Brawn is on the way.' You got that?"

 

"Hang on brains. Brawn is on the way?" Lin uncertainly parroted.

 

The prisoner nodded.

 

"And Colonel Smith will know what this means?"

 

The young pilot gave him another nod.

 

"That is good. Because Lin Duk does not."

 

Captain Murdock managed just the slightest of smiles.

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

B.A. Baracus pulled his black and gray GMC van up to the park bench where Murdock sat, tossing invisible popcorn to a flock of invisible pigeons…and sporting a slight smile on his fool face.

 

The Sergeant shook his head and grunted, disgustedly. "C'mon, Murdock!" he ordered, gruffly. "Let's go, man!"

 

Murdock jerked, as he was startled back to reality.

 

"An' don' bring that bag a' yer invisible popcorn with you in my van!" the big guy with the gruff voice added, as an afterthought.

 

H.M shot the van's driver a look of confusion and then glanced down to find he'd just reached into an empty bag. He must've ran out of popcorn while he was daydreaming…and the pigeons must have left…and B.A. must have thought—. What B.A. must have thought caused the slight smile he'd been wearing to fleetingly reappear.

 

Murdock tossed a final handful of invisible popcorn into his mouth. Then he got stiffly to his feet, crumpled the empty paper sack up and shot it into the trash basket beside his bench. "Two points," he muttered to himself, and stepped quickly up to the passenger's side of the van.

 

He gave the van's driver an annoyed glare and then vented his outrage at B.A.'s outrageous interruption of his plan to receive the phone call. "Okay, Bosco…what's put a bee in yore bonnet?"

 

The fool's snide remark enraged B.A.. "I ain't got no bonnet, sucker! An' you ain't gonna have no head…unless you shut yer mouth an' get in this van!"

 

The Captain thought the Big Guy's threat—er, promise over for a few moments, and then, obediently, scrambled up into the vehicle. He shut the door, but not his smart mouth. "So, Sergeant Baracus," he snottily began, "what gives?"

 

B.A. appeared to be even more peeved. But then he gave the impudent upstart a wary scrutiny and nervously inquired, "You been poppin' them funny little pills, again?"

 

His question caused Murdock to become enraged. "You mean, you made me miss Amy's phone call, and made me sit on that stupid bench out there—all afternoon—just so you could ask me if I've eaten any Tic-Tacs, of late?"

 

B.A.'s face filled with concern. "If it ain' pills, then what has gotten into you, fool?"

 

Murdock stared blankly ahead, looking like he felt—like a zombie. "After prolonged periods without proper sleep, I have a tendency to throw caution to the wind."

 

Baracus considered the Captain's reply and then delivered one of his own. "Yeah? Well, you bes' be careful what you say. Or, I'm gonna be throwin' you to the wind!" The big guy shifted his van back into gear and began driving off.

 

Murdock shifted his mouth back into gear. "Where have you been, anyways? I was waitin' there a lo-ong, lo-ong time."

 

"I was workin' out, man," B.A. casually replied and flexed the enormous biceps muscle on his bare right arm. "If you don' use it, you lose it."

 

The Captain's anger came boiling back to the surface. He could not believe his ears! He had to miss Amy's phone call for that? Murdock reopened his smart mouth and caution sailed right out his side window. "Oh…so that's what happened to yore brain."

 

"You better watch it, sucker!" Baracus warned, latching onto the sleeve of the Captain's leather jacket and pulling him to within striking range. "Hannibal ain' here to protect you!"

 

But Murdock didn't need to be reminded of that. He was aware that Hannibal wasn't there. In fact, Hannibal's absence was all that he really seemed to be aware of. "That's yore solution for everything, isn't it, B.A.," he sadly determined. "Just hit it…and it'll go away."

 

The Sergeant released the sad little man's flight jacket. "What's gotten into you, Murdock?" he re-demanded, his gruff voice now hushed and filled with concern. He gave the little guy in the seat beside him a worried glance. "Yer actin' strange—even for you."

 

The Captain exhaled an exasperated gasp. "I told you on the phone. Hannibal's sick, B.A…real sick!"

 

Baracus shot the 'little mother hen' who was so worried about her 'chick' a sympathetic glance, this time. "Hannibal didn' soun' so sick, ta me. He jes' soun' like his regular ol' self, ta me."

 

Murdock was both confused and astounded. "You talked to the Colonel?"

 

"Hannibal talked ta me. He lef' me a message on my answerin' machine."

 

"When?"

 

"This afternoon."

 

"What time did he call?"

 

"My answerin' machine don' tell time, fool."

 

"Well, what was the message?"

 

"If I tell yah that, it'll spoil the surprise."

 

"But, I don't wanna be surprised, B.A.. I hate surprises!"

 

The big guy's eyes began to narrow into menacing slits again. "Believe me, sucker! Yer gonna love this one! You'll see…"

 

Murdock gasped in exasperation again. "Can you at least tell me if he was coughing?"

 

"I tol' you he didn' soun' sick! An' I wouldn' a' tol' yah that if he was coughin', fool! Why are you so set on Hannibal bein' sick anyway?"

 

"You were at Amy's party. You saw how he was coughing. He coughed all night!"

 

"You be coughin', too—if those 300 pound goons held you underwater that long," B.A. reminded him. "On secon' thought, you wouldn' be coughin'. Cuz, you be dead."

 

Murdock disregarded Baracus' morbid remarks and sat there, looking more sad and worried than ever. "You remember what those Saigon doctors said? They said that the real critical time for someone with pneumonia is when they suddenly stop coughing."

 

"Hannibal ain' got no pneumonia, man! I tol' yah, he soun' like his ol' self."

 

"Well, he's got a fever, chills and a bad headache! And, that was his 'clothesline' cough. I'm sure of it!"

 

"Yer givin' me a bad headache, fool! Now, I don' wanna hear no more talk about disease in my van!"

 

This time, H.M. respected the no-nonsense tone in the Big Guy's gruff voice and remained silent.

 

It was the Colonel's 'clothesline' cough the Captain had heard, all right. Murdock would recognize that particular cough anywhere. He aimed his zombie-like gaze out his open side window and thought back to the first time he ever heard that ominous sound…

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

It was now daybreak at the 'Hanoi Hilton'.

 

A heavy mist hugged the cold, damp ground of the compound. But, twelve feet up, the air was cool, crisp and clear.

 

Captain Murdock was still sitting there, straddling the pole his wrists were chained to.

 

So was Colonel Smith.

 

The difference was that the Captain was wide-awake. He'd remained awake all night.

 

The Colonel was still passed out cold in the Captain's arms. He'd remained unconscious all night. Hannibal's head rested on his fellow prisoner's right shoulder.

 

Murdock's chin rested on the Colonel's right shoulder. He sat there, enjoying the peaceful silence and watching the little vapor clouds that were rising up from the feverish Colonel's steaming back. At long last, he felt the motionless man in his arms begin to stir.

 

The Colonel let out a feeble groan and slowly turned his head to find himself face to face, and practically nose to nose, with the Captain. His sleepy eyes widened, and it became apparent, by the look on his face, that he had never woken up in another man's arms before.

 

Murdock saw the look and was forced to smile. "Mornin', Colonel."

 

His fellow prisoner remained speechless. Hannibal stifled another involuntary groan and slowly straightened up, to get a few of the kinks out of his very stiff back. He grimaced and leaned forward again, to massage the back of his even stiffer neck. By the time he was upright again, he had found his missing voice. "You sat there like that…all night?"

 

The perplexed, incredulous tone of the old guy's inquiry caused the Captain's smile to return. "Believe me, Colonel, I didn't mind a bit. It got awfully cold out here last night. And, well, with the way you were burnin' up an' all, it was sort a' like huggin' a nice, cozy campfire."

 

His fellow prisoner looked deeply skeptical.

 

Murdock stretched his stiff arms as far as his chains would allow and then re-adjusted his seat on their pole. "Oo-ooh," he winced. "Straddle sores are worse than saddle sores."

 

The Colonel found the young man's light observation to be both truthful and amusing. He squinted across the compound, at the warm rays of golden sunlight that were beginning to filter up over the roof of the 'manager's office'. "Well, Captain Murdock, I wish I could return the favor. But, the guard will be coming out here any minute now. So, we'd better get down."

 

"Don't worry about me, Colonel," the Captain quickly quipped. "I slept last week."

 

Hannibal shivered and stared at his cheery companion, looking both amused and amazed. "You always like this in the morning?"

 

"Nope. I usually wake up on the wrong side a' the beam. You can go first, Colonel. I'll help you down…"

 

Hannibal's smile faded fast, as he realized he was being treated the same way a Boy Scout would treat a little old lady that he was helping across the street.

 

"How yah feelin' this morning, Colonel?" Murdock anxiously inquired, and began assisting the still feverish fellow down from their perch.

 

"O-Old," Hannibal glumly replied. "Very, very o-old." He saw the Captain's anxious expression and quickly added, "But, well-rested, too. Thanks to you." He noticed the concerned young man seemed genuinely relieved to hear that.

 

Murdock reluctantly released his grip on the o-old guy's scarred wrists.

 

The Colonel grimaced and gasped and gritted his teeth to keep from crying out. But, an involuntary groan escaped from his tightly clamped jaw as his manacled wrists were forced, once more, to bear the full weight of his body.

 

Murdock gave the poor old man another deeply concerned look and then, reluctantly, slid down from their pole perch himself. "A-Ahh!" the Captain cried out, as the sharp metal bracelets cut into his wrists. "Man!" he gasped. "I forgot how awful…this really is!" He gasped again and glanced in the Colonel's direction. He saw that the old guy was in too much agony to be able to speak at the moment and decided he would try to distract him from his misery. "Yah know," he gasped, "I was kind a' worried there for awhile, Colonel."

 

It worked.

 

The Colonel's attention was drawn away from his great discomfort to the young man dangling before him.

 

The Captain quickly continued, speaking between gasped breaths. "I was afraid you were gonna wake up this morning…the same way you passed out last night…quoting Shakespeare."

 

The Colonel's tightly pursed lips formed a slight smile and he dramatically replied, "My kingdom…for an aspirin!"

 

Murdock was both amused and confused. "I thought that was…My kingdom…for a Road Runner," he teased and was rewarded with another slight smile. "Richard III…Right?"

 

His companion looked duly impressed. "You've been holding out on me, Captain…I told you you have what it takes…to make it out of here."

 

The Captain was about to ask what 'quoting Shakespeare' had to do with 'escaping from a North Vietnamese POW camp', when the Colonel started to cough.

 

Hannibal coughed for quite some time. "You know," he gasped, upon regaining his breath and his composure, "I just realized something. We just spent the entire night in each others arms, and I don't even know your first name."

 

Murdock was even more reluctant to give the old guy his first name, than he was his last. "Howard."

 

The Colonel's smile reappeared. "That's my middle name. Howard what?"

 

"Howard M.," the Captain shrewdly replied.

 

The old guy grinned outright. "C'mon…What does the M. stand for?"

 

Howard M. closed his eyes and reluctantly replied, "Monroe."

 

The Colonel chuckled delightedly. Then he coughed and quickly apologized. "I'm sorry, Captain. But, you just don't strike me as the 'Howard Monroe' type."

 

The Captain's eyes snapped open, and he stared across at the Colonel in utter astonishment. "That's exactly what Superman said! He used to call me Howlin' Mad, instead."

 

Hannibal looked more than little amazed himself. "You and Superman fly together, do you?"

 

The younger man's face filled with sorrow. He hung there, for quite a long quiet while, staring trance-like…off into the distance.

 

Colonel Smith was beginning to wish he'd never made his last remark. "I'm…sorry, Captain. I didn't mean to stir up any bad memories."

 

Murdock's dazed eyes began to dampen. He blinked to clear his blurring vision. But, it was blurring faster than he could blink and tears started to trickle down the sides of his sadder than sad face. "They're not bad memories, Colonel," he softly assured his concerned companion. "They're good memories. Superman is—" he swallowed hard,  "—was my door gunner…Sergeant Kenton. We were best friends. I called him Superman because his first name was Clark…and because he was always braggin' about how he was…faster than a speeding bullet," his voice cracked. The Captain closed his watering eyes tightly, but the tears continued to stream steadily down his cheeks. He sniffled and tried to swipe them away with the sleeves of his flight jacket. The combination of grief, torture and fatigue proved to be too much for him, however. He was rapidly losing the struggle to regain his composure.

 

"Go with the flow and let it out, kid," the Colonel gently urged. "There's no shame in grieving."

 

Grieving? In the six days since his capture, Murdock hadn't even allowed himself to think about Clark, let alone grieve over him. Now, he was tired of holding it all in. He couldn't hold back anymore. His feelings were currently stronger than he was. So, he took the Colonel's advice and went with the flow.

 

"We were flying a rescue mission…close to the DMZ," the Captain began, his quivering voice just barely above a whisper. "We flew right into an ambush. I tried to get us away. But, Charlie had strafed us with machine gun fire pretty good. Clark was…killed. Our 'copter was put outta commission. I had to crash land in a little clearing.

 

Before the rotors could even come to a stop, the VC had us surrounded. They took me, and the two medics we were carrying, captive. They wouldn't let me see Clark. But, the medics told me he was…dead," his voice faltered again.

 

He grimaced and choked back his tears. "What are we doin' here, Colonel?" he suddenly demanded and shot the wise, old, ex-professor a desperately pleading look. "Why do great guys like Clark have to die? Death should have some meaning to it. But, this is all so…senseless!" He let his head fall back and then hung there, sobbing softly.

 

The Captain continued to cry, for quite some time…openly, and now, unashamedly.

 

The young man's grief gradually gave way to anger. "There are no winners in this god-forsaken place! Everyone's a loser! Clark lost his life! I lost my best friend! Carrie lost her husband! Little Benny lost his father! And, for WHAT? Nixon's gonna pull us all outta here and Victor Charlie's gonna take the damn country over—JUST LIKE WE WERE NEVER EVEN HERE! So, why did he have to die? Why did so many people have to die?"

 

The Captain's quiet questions went unanswered.

 

Murdock cried 'til he couldn't cry anymore.

 

The Captain was so completely exhausted from crying he didn't even have the energy to be mad anymore. So, he just hung there, staring blurrily up at the wooden beam above their heads…the one to which their wrists remained chained. 'Who hangs people on clotheslines?' he silently asked himself. 'This is insane!' But then, so was just about everything in country…and, perhaps, just about everyone. His own mind felt like it was about to 'snap'…'snap' like a very dry…very brittle…very fragile twig. He shuddered, visibly, and moved on to a far less frightening, but every bit as painful, subject. "I've seen a lot of weird things over here," he quietly remarked, his voice sounding as drained as he felt. "But nothin' compares to this!" he gasped, at the agonizing pain which radiated down from his wrists, through his arms and into his severely stretched and strained shoulders.

 

The Colonel, who had been silently observing the Captain the entire time, finally spoke up. "What do you mean, weird? Don't you hang people out on clotheslines back in Cody?"

 

The Captain smiled at the absolute absurdity of the Colonel's crazy notion. "Nope. The only thing we hang on clotheslines, back in Cody, is clothes."

 

"I see. So then, what do you call the contraptions you hang the people on? Peoplelines?"

 

Murdock was forced to grin, this time. "We don't hang people on anything," he proudly declared. But then, a mental image of people hanging suspended in mid-air, flashed through his weary brain and he quickly added, "We don't hang people, period!"

 

"Not even Road Runner thieves?"

 

The Captain's grin broadened. "Not even them."

 

"I suppose next, you'll be telling me that you don't have guys going around cracking people's ribs with their rifle butts, either."

 

The Captain continued to be most amused. "We lead a very sheltered life in Cody. Things are pretty normal. Some of the people are kind a' crazy, though."

 

"It's just the opposite over here, Captain. Things are pretty crazy here in Nam. Some of the people are kind 'a normal, though. Death still bothers them. They still expect things to make some kind of sense."

 

Murdock slowly lowered his gaze.

 

The two men's eyes met.

 

The Colonel saw the look he'd been expecting to see. "You can relax, Captain. You're not cracking up…yet. When the death and destruction doesn't bother you anymore…and all this seems perfectly reasonable to you…then you can start to worry."

 

Murdock gave the old man a look of absolute awe. Why, it was almost as if the Colonel was some kind of psychic.

 

"Everyone's always telling me that I'm crazy," the clairvoyant Colonel calmly continued. "But, if and when I ever really do go crazy, I won't need someone to tell me I am. I'll be the first to know. They may have crushed the carton. But, they haven't cracked the eggs.

 

And, I don't really mind being called a crazy lunatic. In the midst of all this lunacy, being called a lunatic is actually quite a compliment, when you come to think of it. I mean, when a bunch of real lunatics call you a real lunatic, then you can bet that you must be perfectly normal.

 

You see, everything is relative, Captain Murdock. And, it all hinges on that infinitely tough question: What is normal?

 

What makes that question so tough is that the answer changes with any given situation.

 

For example: You shoot people in Wyoming, and society labels you a crazed sniper. You're a regular public menace.

 

You shoot people in Vietnam, and society labels you a good soldier. You're a regular public hero.

 

So, you see, it's not the behavior, itself, but where it's performed, that tends to make society judge whether it's normal or abnormal.

 

Society also likes to define any behavior that sticks out in a crowd as being abnormal. And, society is always pressuring abnormal people to behave normally.

 

But, is what is normal by society's standards always right?

 

Think of it. If you don't shoot people in Wyoming, then society says you're normal. If you don't shoot people in Vietnam, society says you're abnormal. Because people shoot people in Nam.

 

Are you really abnormal? Maybe you just don't shoot people, period. What if you personally feel that it is abnormal to shoot people anywhere—at any time? Whose standards are you going to live by? Society's? Or, your own? Whose conscience do you listen to? Someone else's? Or, your own?

 

Well, just remember 'The Emperor's New Clothes', kid. And, to thine own self be true! Because society doesn't seem to value life too highly, these days. While you, on the other hand, might have such a high regard for the sanctity of life, that you would rather lose your own, than take another's.

 

By not shooting people, you would be behaving normally for you…and for back in the States…but abnormally for Nam.

 

Trouble is, you're stuck here in Nam where abnormally normal people are pressuring you to behave normally abnormal.

 

Can you appreciate the insanity of that, Captain?

 

Back in the States, crazies are pressured to behave normally, and over here, normal guys are pressured to behave like a bunch of crazies.

 

I mean, what is reality? Suddenly, normal is crazy and crazy is normal

 

No wonder the poor kids are so confused when they get here. No wonder so many of them finally turn to drugs. It's amazing that more of them don't. How can you even begin to cope with reality…when you're not even sure anymore what it is? How do you deal with something you don't understand? Since they can't cope, they try to escape. Just shut up, shoot up and shoot at.

 

Don't get me wrong. I don't approve of the use of drugs. I can just understand why some people might choose to go that route, over here.

 

Personally, I don't need any outside help to get high," the Colonel licked his dry, cracked lips and gazed dazedly across at the Captain. "You know, I believe I may be delirious."

 

Captain Murdock gazed amazedly back at him. Then he took advantage of the lull in the old guy's delirious rantings and fired off a quick question. "You get high?"

 

Hannibal nodded. "All the time!"

 

"On what?"

 

"On life itself, my boy…On life itself. You see, when I was just a kid—like you—I went for the gusto they're always telling you to go for, in those beer commercials. And, I got hooked on it…real bad. 'Supporting my habit' just may be the death of me, yet." The Colonel stopped to stare sadly down at the ground beneath his swaying boots. "It is definitely going to be the death of me…"

 

"Gusto? What's gusto?" Murdock quickly inquired, anxious to change the subject.

 

"Gusto is living life to the fullest extent possible, without actually getting yourself killed in the process."

 

The Captain looked deeply skeptical. "How does that make you high?"

 

"It doesn't. That just gets the old juices flowing. I figure it's the juices that make me high."

 

"Juices?"

 

"Yeah. Juices. You know, blood, adrenaline, endorphins…all that jazz." Hannibal saw that his companion seemed more skeptical than ever, and quickly tacked on, "Don't knock it, 'til you've tried it…kid."

 

The kid gave up on the 'juices and all that jazz' and moved on to another topic of interest. "You got a conscience, Colonel?"

 

"Everybody has a conscience, Captain. They come as standard equipment when we're born. Some people just choose to ignore theirs, is all."

 

"Do you ignore yours?"

 

"Heavens no! My conscience is my guide. In fact, I never leave home without consulting it."

 

"What does your conscience say about shooting people?"

 

"John Hannibal Smith's conscience says: That shooting people is wrong…very, very wrong. Shooting at them is also wrong. But, it's not as bad as killing them. Killing people is a definite no-no. So, don't even shoot at anyone, unless they shoot at you first, and then try to be a straight shooter. So that you don't actually kill anybody you may be shooting back at."

 

The delirious Colonel and his talking conscience magnanimously mystified Captain Murdock. "Have you ever shot anyone?"

 

"Unfortunately, yes. When shot at first, I do have this survival tendency to shoot back. And, I have been known, on occasion, to put some people who were trying to kill me out of commission for awhile."

 

"Are you a straight shooter, Colonel?"

 

"You mean, have I ever actually killed anybody?"

 

The Captain nodded.

 

"No. At least, not to my knowledge. And, what my conscience and I don't know…well, it's a gray area. But, fortunately, I've learned to live with it. And, that is the key to it all, Captain. After this is all over, you have to be able to live with yourself. That's why you've got to deep-six what others say is normal or abnormal and be true to yourself. After all, how are you ever going to go back and live with other people, if you can't even live with your—" Hannibal's narrative was interrupted by another bout of painful coughing. "—self," he finished with a gasp, when the coughing fit finally subsided. The Colonel squinted off across the compound.

 

There was a North Vietnamese guard leaning against the door to the 'lounge'.

 

"When did he get here?" Hannibal dazedly demanded.

 

"About fifteen minutes, or so, ago."

 

"I must be delirious," the old guy glumly repeated and gave his hot, dizzy head a few cautious shakes. Something suddenly occurred to him and he turned back to his tortured companion. "You want me to call him over and tell him about their big mistake?"

 

Murdock's pain-racked body screamed 'Hell, yes!' His brain rationalized that the discomfort, though still intense, was—thanks to the crazy Colonel's distracting delirium—somewhat more bearable. "Nah. Let's see how long it takes them to discover me, on their own," he boldly suggested.

 

Hannibal was forced to grin.

 

"You know, Colonel," the Captain continued, "I must be delirious, too. Cuz, you sure seem to make a lot a' sense. Then again, I thought you said your middle name was Howard."

 

"It is."

 

"So, why did I just hear you call yourself John Hannibal Smith?"

 

"Because John Howard is on my birth certificate, and John Hannibal is on all my military records. And, I'm in the Army now," he summed up rather melodiously.

 

"Why'd you hafta change it for the military?"

 

"Because all the world's a stage, Captain. And, everyone on it is an actor. Right now, I'm playing a dual role. Back in the States, I play Dr. John Howard Smith, Ph.D. Over here, I'm John Hannibal Smith, Lt. Colonel, USASF. If one is going to operate under an assumed commission, one had better take on an assumed identity, as well. That way, they can't check up on you, you see."

 

But, Murdock didn't see, at all.

 

"It's a long…sa-ad…story," the actor assured him.

 

"So-o? I ain't goin' anywhere…yet."

 

Perhaps, if he hadn't been quite so delirious, or quite so certain of his impending death, Hannibal may not have continued to answer the young Captain's questions. But, the conversation was proving to be a real distraction, for the both of them, and they were proving to be very good company for each other, indeed! So, the Colonel took his own advice and went with the flow. "Okay, kid. Where do you want me to start?"

 

Captain Murdock's face lit up, like a child whose father was about to tell him his favorite bedtime story. "Start at the very beginning. For instance, where abouts are you from?"

 

"John Hannibal hails from all over. But John Howard is from Holbrook, Massachusetts…originally."

 

"Where's that at?"

 

"Holbrook is a little town in Norfolk County, Mass., about a dozen or so miles south-east of Boston."

 

"What about your family? Did you have any brothers or sisters?"

 

"No. Little Johnny was an only child. In fact, I was sort of an orphan. My mother was a nurse who worked nights at Boston General. My father was a foreman who worked days at the cement block factory in the center of town. Between working and sleeping, I guess they didn't have much time for a kid…or each other, for that matter. They split when I was ten.

 

My mother re-married, right away…one of the doctors she worked with at the hospital. She got stuck with little Johnny. And, I got stuck in this huge Colonial Townhouse in North Boston, complete with an upstairs and a downstairs maid…a combination butler/gardener…and three wicked stepbrothers."

 

"What was your stepfather like?"

 

"I never got to know my stepfather. Step-daddy doctor always stayed at the hospital until way past my bedtime. I think the longest I ever saw him was when he and my mother came down to the police station to pick me up, after I'd been caught trying to run away from home."

 

"Why'd you run away?"

 

"Nobody would believe me. But, I swear it's true. My three stepbrothers, who were much bigger than me, by the way, really were trying to do me in. And, I don't know why, either. Unless they felt I was competing with them for their father's attention, or something. About the only way any of them could ever have gotten the good doctor's attention would've been to break something, or contract something and become one of his patients.

 

Anyway, after I ran away for the fifth time, my mother took me to see a child psychologist. What a trip that was! The child psychologist said that Johnny was having trouble adjusting and recommended that I be placed in a more controlled environment.

 

And so, at the age of eleven, I was shipped off to one of those military type academies that cater to bad little boys from North Boston. I hated it there. But at least I didn't have to fear for my life.

 

I earned the Academy Award for best actor, seven years in a row. I had to convince everyone that I was happy there, so they wouldn't send me home during breaks, or they would have really been breaks.

 

My summers were all spent at Camp Scarlet Oak, in the wilds of Maine.

 

I was an Eagle Scout when I was thirteen. Being an Eagle Scout was sort of like becoming one of King Arthur's Knights of The Round Table. I was chivalrous to a fault, back then. Even now, I'm a real sucker for a skirt with a sob story.

 

After I graduated from the academy, I was supposed to attend Boston College. But, I got caught up in a bad draft and, what should have been my freshman year in college, turned out to be a living nightmare in South Korea.

 

The first lesson I learned in Korea was that, if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, then you must not be an officer. But, every time one of those General Custers yelled 'Cha-arge!' I made sure it wasn't going to be my last stand.

 

I must've acted like I knew what I was doing, because they kept handing me field promotions. By the time my tour of duty was up, I was Captain Jack Smith.

 

When Jack got back to the States, he attended Boston College, as previously planned. Jack was a fun guy.

 

In the fall of '54, he met Miss Jacqueline Saunders, and she became his college sweetheart. They were married a year later.

 

Jack and Jackie were a fun couple. The two of them had everything in common. Besides love and adoration, they both shared similar backgrounds. They both went for the gusto. They both enjoyed performing Elizabethan Drama with a local amateur theater group. They both took teaching positions after they finished their undergraduate studies at Boston College. And, they both continued to work toward their doctoral degrees in their respective fields. His was to be in the Social Sciences and hers was to be in the Applied Sciences. He was going to be a Political Science professor and she was going to be a professor of Biochemistry.

 

They each got their respective degrees and respected positions on the faculty at MIT. And, they both taught there…up until their deaths…last year," the Colonel's soft-spoken words trailed off and he hung there, gazing sadly off into the distance again. "A drunk broad-sided Jackie's car, in an intersection, less than a mile from their home," he quietly continued, after what seemed like an eternity. "Jack rushed to the Emergency Room at Boston General…and the two of them died there…in each other's arms."

 

There followed another seemingly endless silence.

 

"Before she died, she told Jack to remember Robert Louis Stevenson. He had given her a plaque with a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, just a week before the accident.

They were driving to work one morning, when Jackie spotted this dress in a storefront window. She wanted to stop and buy it. But it was already 9:55 and Jack had a 10:00 class. So, they didn't stop.  By the time she got back to the store, the dress had already been sold. For days, she reminded Jack that it was his fault that she'd missed out on the dress.

 

The plaque he gave her said: 'It is an ill business turning to the world a smiling face, when we carry in our breast a broken heart.' He figured she'd take the hint and shut up about the dress.

 

Reminding him of the quote, was her way of telling him she wanted him to go on without her. But Jack died that day. And, all that remained was an empty shell of a man by the name of John Howard Smith…Ph.D."

 

Another long silence ensued.

 

"I remembered one time, when the two of them were mountain climbing in the Spanish Alps. Jackie had stopped on this ledge, where the wind seemed to be blowing in all directions at once. She told Jack that, when she died, she wanted to be cremated so her ashes could be scattered from that ledge and then those four strong winds could blow her to the far corners of the earth.

 

Jack reminded her that, since Columbus' discovery, the earth no longer had corners.  She told him that it didn't matter. She wanted to be blown there, anyway.

 

So, Dr. John H. Smith took a leave of absence, right in the middle of the term, to go mountain climbing in the Spanish Alps. I scattered Jackie's ashes into those four strong winds and then watched as she was blown to the far corners of the earth. All that had been Jack was swept away with her.

 

His empty shell went back to teaching Political Science at MIT. I'd probably still be there, if it weren't for Miss Melissa Placid."

 

Murdock's gravely solemn look gave way to one of curiosity, again. "Who's Melissa Placid?" he quietly inquired.

 

The Captain's question went unanswered.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

A car horn, or rather, a van horn snapped the Captain back to reality.

 

Murdock slowly turned his zombie-like gaze away from his open window, to glare at the van's driver, as he laid on his annoyingly loud horn one last time. "Must you do that?" he aristocratically inquired.

 

Baracus gave his passenger a quick, worried glance and was relieved to see that he'd finally gotten the little guy's attention. "Don' scare me like that, man! I was beginnin' to think you was dead. I don' like when you get all quiet like that. It's creepy! Make me feel like I'm drivin' a hearse. An' this ain' no hearse! So, look alive, sucker!"

 

But, Murdock looked like and replied like exactly how he felt like—one of the living dead. "I can't help it. I can't get my mind off a' the Colonel…"

 

The Sergeant shot the big kid, in the seat beside him, a sympathetic glance. B.A. liked kids—even big, crazy ones. "Open the glove compartment!"

 

Murdock hesitated.

 

"Go on! Open it!"

 

Murdock remained motionless and eyed the Sergeant suspiciously. "But, you sai—"

 

"—I know what I said! I said, 'Open it!', sucker!"

 

The Captain quickly opened the compartment, to which he'd formerly been forbidden entry, and stared disbelievingly down at his missing periscope. "Perry Scope!" he excitedly exclaimed, and his zombie-like expression was momentarily replaced by one of joy.

 

B.A. was forced to smile. "Go on, fool! Take your toy, there, an' go play 'Captain Nemo an' the Nautilus', or 'Voyages To The Bottom a' the Sea', or somethin'. Maybe it'll take what's lef' a' yer min' off a' Hannibal," he added, hopefully.

 

Murdock shot the Big Guy another suspicious glance and cautiously reached into the previously off limits compartment. The Captain snatched up his toy and then sat there, fondling it affectionately. "Oh, Perry! Perry! They told me you were dead," he declared and gave 'they' an annoyed glare.

 

The Sergeant shrugged. "So I exaggerated a little. He—it weren' dead, after all. He—it was jes' hidin' out in my glove compartment all these months. Now, go on! Git back there an' play with it! It'll do yah a world a good."

 

But, the big kid remained glued to his seat.

 

B.A. aimed a bewildered glance at his insubordinate, inanimate associate. "Yah haven' forgot how ta play, have yah?"

 

"No," Murdock calmly replied and peered back at the Big Guy through Perry. "And, I haven't forgot what you said you'd do to me, if I ever tried to turn your van into a submarine again, either."

 

"I was jes' teasin', man. You know I would never really drop a depth charge down yer hatch. Besides, these are extenuatin' circumstances. So, I'm makin' a special allowance, on accoun' a' how worried you are about Hannibal. Now, this is the Nautilus, sucker! An' you are Captain Nemo!" B.A. snatched the periscope back from Murdock and waved it menacingly in his face. "An' this is yer First Officer, Perry Scope! An' if you don' take him—it an' start distractin' yerself—THIS INSTANT—I'm gonna distract yah with it! An' then, I'm gonna show yah a new hidin' place for it!"

 

"Di-ive! Di-ive" the Captain alarmedly exclaimed and quickly snatched his toy back.

 

Then he and his First Officer instantly took refuge in the back of the van—er, submarine.

 

The gallant submarine commander dove to the black carpeted floor beneath the vehicle's back window. "As long as we're here, we may as well take a look around. C'mon!" he urged, cranking his telescoping instrument into position. "Up, Perry Scope!" Murdock gave the blue, '82 Cutlass Supreme, trailing behind them, a gander.

 

But, the big kid's heart just wasn't into it.

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

In a modest, three-room apartment on the ground floor of the Hotel Regina, two people stood in stunned silence.

 

B.A. was right. Hannibal sure did 'soun' like his ol' self' on the recorded message on his answering machine. And, that was because it was Hannibal's old self!

 

The Colonel could not believe his ears. So, he quickly rewound the tape, and had another listen.

 

" 'ey, B.A.," his recorded voice came across once more, with a heavy Spanish accent, "Dees eez Mario from dee Barrio. Sometheens come up, monn. I got seex 'undred for dee job an' Meester Carpenter eez green wheeth envy. But I don' theenk dees Gringo eez crazy. So, we don' 'ave to worry about getteen fired. So long, monn…'click'."

 

Another long bout of silence followed, as the pair remained dumbstruck.

 

The Colonel stared dazedly down at the answering device. Either he had made a phone call he didn't remember making…or someone's had B.A.'s phone tapped for the past three months…or he was hallucinating. He saw the puzzled look on his companion's pretty face and offered the girl his most reasonable explanation. "I must be delirious."

 

"No," Amy assured him. "I heard it, too. Hannibal, what does this mean?"

 

But the man with all the answers was more baffled than ever. The message's very existence defied logic. "I'm still working on the broader implications," he solemnly replied and hit the recorder's rewind button for a third time. "The content itself means: Mario wants B.A. to meet him someplace at six o'clock tonight. The Team's on a case. He doesn't have to bring Murdock with him. And, he doesn't have to expect trouble—" he stopped speaking as the tape finished rewinding and pressed the play button, to give the mind-boggling message another hearing. "I haven't been Mario from dee Barrio in at least three mo—" he stopped again and then stood there, listening to a sound in the message's background. "Seagulls! I remember, now. I made this call from a pay phone at Marina Del Rey. I was trying to sell Miss Tamara Alton a kite. But, she ended up purchasing The A-Team, instead."

 

The message finished replaying.

 

Hannibal hit the stop button. Then he slid his wallet out and flipped his credit card portfolio open, to study the multi-colored coded message cards inside its plastic casings. "Green Mr. Carpenter is the alley behind the Occidental Import Company on Ocean Avenue." He stiffened, as something suddenly occurred to him. "If whoever's been eavesdropping knows that, then B.A. can expect big trouble! I haven't figured it all out, yet. But, this definitely smacks of a set up!" He needed to formulate a plan. Alas, he just couldn't seem to concentrate. The fever was obviously affecting his thought processing.

 

What a time to be sick!

 

He finished stashing the cards back into his wallet and his wallet back into his pocket, and started striding towards B.A.'s closet. "Call 345-4466, ask for extension 007 and find out if I have any messages." He gave his watch a quick glance and then pulled the portal open. "If B.A. did swing over to pick up Murdock, we may still get there in time."

 

The Colonel stepped into the closet's dark, cramped quarters and pulled a light on. "Better call Face and warn him, too. If you can't reach him, call Tawnia and tell her to keep trying." He slid a false wall panel out of his way and then stooped down, to pick up two very heavy, black plastic cases. He flicked both cases open first, and gave their contents a quick check. "Then, call KXLA Radio and tell Karen to start running the Perkins ad at five minute intervals, until the account runs out." Hannibal grabbed a few more cases, containing cartridge belts and clips.

 

Just as he was about to exit The A-Team's private armory, a rather frazzled-looking Amy appeared in the doorway.

 

"You didn't have any messages. Face still isn't home. Tawnia said she'd keep trying to reach him. And, Karen said she'd start running the ad—right away," the brunette breathlessly reported.

 

The Colonel flashed his 'calling machine' an appreciative smile. "Great! Now, let's hope they have their radios on." He passed the pretty miss a couple of his cases. "Let's go, kiddo!" he breathlessly invited.

 

The two heavily armed rescuers began lugging their heavy burdens towards the exit.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Amy's fingers froze, once again, on the key in her car's ignition. The girl aimed a deeply concerned gaze at the gray-haired guy in the seat beside her.

 

Lugging all those heavy cases around had definitely had a deleterious affect on Hannibal's already unhealthy health. Jazz, or no jazz, the Colonel now seemed totally unable to catch his breath.

 

"C'mon!…Let's go!" the guy laboring to breathe gasped. "Every second...counts!"

 

"I think it's time for you to take some more of this stuff," Amy suggested and passed her panting passenger the paper sack containing his prescribed medications.

 

Hannibal tossed the bag back up onto the dash. "I'm not swallowing…anymore…of Dr. Sandman's…sleeping potions!" he breathlessly declared. "Now…either get going…or let me drive!"

 

Amy quickly started her car up. It wouldn't do for somebody who couldn't even breathe, to try his hand at driving. "Which way?"

 

"Straight ahead," the Colonel directed, "'til you hit Wiltshire Boulevard...Then, hang a right…Hang another right…when you reach Crimson…and it'll take you…right onto Ocean."

 

Hannibal knew his way around LA better than a veteran cab driver.

 

So, the girl obediently pulled out into the street, and then headed straight down it.

 

"C'mon, Amy!…Step on it!…I told you…every second…counts!"

 

Amy pressed her foot down even harder on the accelerator. Her car responded with a sudden surge and a loud 'squea-eal' of its rear tires. The visiting foreign correspondent was glad that the heavy black plastic cases were locked out of sight, because they were bound to be pulled over for speeding.

 

Once the vehicle was up to speed, the Colonel concentrated on regulating the rate of his rapid, shallow respirations. He tried breathing through his nostrils. When that failed, he attempted to hold his breath again. Unfortunately, he no longer seemed to have any breath to hold. It eventually dawned on him that he was probably hyperventilating.

 

When Amy first saw Hannibal reaching for his prescriptions, she figured he must have changed his mind about taking them.

 

But then he dumped the medicine out and pressed the open end of the empty paper sack up snuggly over his nose and mouth.

 

And, the little lady figured he must have lost his mind. "What are you doing?" she nervously inquired.

 

Hannibal cracked the sack's seal, so he could reply. "The amount of CO2…in your bloodstream…has a direct bearing…on your respiration rate," he explained. Then he gasped, and quickly resealed the gap.

 

"Of course!" Miss Allen sarcastically stated. "Everyone knows tha-at."

 

Hannibal lowered the sack, to reveal the slight, sad smile that had been hiding behind it. "I'm sorry…I was so short with you earlier…But, you've got to understand…The Team's in the middle…of a major crisis here…We can't afford to waste time…and I can't afford to go 'beddie-bye'." The Colonel finished his apology, promptly replaced the paper bag and then continued to breathe into it.

 

Amy could find nothing to smile about. "Yeah? Well, I'd probably be a lot more 'understanding', right now, if we were headed for an Intensive Care Unit, and not the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral!"

 

The little lady's comment caused the Colonel's slight smile to reappear. Hannibal had only known two other women, in the whole world, who could match Amy Amanda Allen's ability for biting satire and bitter sarcasm.

 

He didn't allow himself to think of the first one.

 

But, the memory of the other, he allowed to linger awhile longer in his feverish mind. 'Miss Melissa Placid…'

 

Their first meeting had been anything but 'placid'.

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Dr. John Howard Smith stood alone in his bedroom. The handsome, thirty-six-year-old college professor was unpacking.

 

He'd just returned from an unscheduled trip to Europe, where he'd taken part in a one-man mountain-climbing expedition up Monte Viso Pass, in the Spanish Alps.

 

His impeccably groomed and dressed body was still suffering from the tremendous physical strain of his recent ordeal. The dark circles under his expressive blue eyes reflected the tremendous emotional strain he'd been under lately, as well.

 

He finished unpacking and slid the closet door open, to put his luggage away. He stood there, staring at the empty rack where his wife's wardrobe used to hang. He felt even emptier than that space looked…and it looked unbearably empty.

 

'It would probably be a good idea, to sell this big, empty house,' he thought and made a mental note to call a realtor and begin apartment hunting.

 

The front doorbell chimed.

 

Dr. Smith headed off to answer it. Along the way, he made another mental note to be sure to call Caroline and thank her for taking care of Jackie's things for him, while he was away.

 

The professor reached the entryway and pulled the heavy portal open.

 

A tall, very attractive, dark-haired young lady with a slender figure and piercing, jet-black eyes appeared.

 

He recognized the eyes and smiled. "Miss Placid, isn't it?" he inquired of his uninvited guest.

 

The girl seemed surprised to be recognized and even more surprised to have finally found the errant professor home. "Did you take any elephants with you?"

 

Dr. Smith gave the young woman a strange stare. "I beg your pardon?"

 

"Elephants," the little lady calmly repeated. "When Hannibal crossed the Alps into Spain, he took along some elephants. And, around Campus, you're sort a' considered to be a modern-day Hannibal. So, I was just wondering if you had taken any elephants with you, when you crossed the Alps?"

 

"You must be kidding," the modern-day Hannibal lightly replied. "This time of year, I couldn't even get a guide to go along with me. Besides, since the elephants have gone union, they won't work for frozen peanuts, anymore."

 

The professor's light-hearted remarks caused the girl's lovely smile to broaden into a grin.

 

Dr. Smith returned her grin, but then suddenly turned all business-like again. "Now, what can I do for you, Miss Placid? It is Miss Placid, isn't it?"

 

The young lady nodded. "Melissa Placid, Dr. Smith. I was in your first period 111C Lecture Hall last term: Imperialism—Past and Present."

 

"Yes. I know. I recognized your eyes. You were one of the few students who kept them open for me," he lightly explained and flashed the pretty miss another slight smile.

 

His smile put Miss Placid at ease and gave her the courage to continue. "Well, I was wondering if I could speak to you about something terribly import—"

 

Dr. Smith immediately signaled for her to stop.

 

She immediately did.

 

The homeowner turned to a wooden stand, just inside the door, picked up an Academic Handbook put out by the Registrar's Office, flipped it open to a page bearing a bookmark, and began to read aloud from it. "Responsibilities of the Instructional Staff section A, paragraph 5: All instructional staff members, whose responsibilities involve students, shall schedule a reasonable number of office hours for student conferences. Office hours shall be scheduled at times convenient to both students and instructors, with the additional option of prearranged appointments for students, when there is a schedule conflict. The number of office hours is to be determined at the appropriate administrative level and office hours should be a matter of common knowledge."

 

Dr. Smith stopped reading and flashed the frowning female another slight smile. "Actually, I know it by heart. But, I like to read it right from the rulebook. That way, my students can see that I'm not just making it all up."

 

He set the rulebook down and picked a small business card up from a stack setting on the same stand. "My office hours are common knowledge, Miss Placid. But, just to refresh your memory," he held the card up in front of her pretty, pouting face and pointed to the information printed below his name and position with the university. "You can find me in the College of Social Sciences complex, Political Science Dept., PLS720—303 South Bradley Hall, between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m., on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And, you can phone me at 355-6590 for a prearranged appointment."

 

He passed her the card and flashed her one, final smile. "I'm really looking forward to our conference, Miss Placid. Good day," he concluded and began closing the door on her.

 

But, the young lady was determined. "Please, Dr. Smith? This is terribly important! It can't wait for an appointment!"

 

The professor poked his head around the door, to give the girl a look of deep skepticism. "I'm afraid it will have to, Miss Placid. I do not entertain students in my home. Especially not very young, very attractive, female students. It's ba-ad for my reputation," he explained and continued to close the door on her.

 

She held it open, with her hand. "Well, I don't have to come in. You could come out. We could go for a walk. I promise I won't keep you long…"

 

Dr. Smith studied the long, delicate fingers, which this unbelievably determined student had draped around the edge of his front door, and managed another smile. He admired determined individuals. And, getting out of the big, empty house for awhile, just might do him some good.

 

The fingers withdrew and Miss Placid reappeared, as the professor slowly pulled the heavy portal back open. He saw that she seemed overjoyed by his acceptance of her proposal.

 

Dr. Smith joined the pretty miss on his front porch and the two of them started strolling towards the sidewalk, which ran in front of his home.

 

"I've been trying to reach you, to make an appointment—all week," Melissa explained, as they walked along. "I'm really sorry…about your wife," she added, softly.

 

Dr. Smith quickly changed the subject. "Well, Miss Placid, what's so important that it couldn't wait?"

 

"You know that lecture that you gave us last term, where you deliberately led us to believe you were discussing the political scene in Southeast Asia, and then suddenly announced that you were actually discussing the series of events which led up to the American Revolution?"

 

"Yes." The professor's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Sneaky, wasn't it."

 

"Yes, it was…very sneaky. But, more importantly, it was effective…very effective. I mean, it really got us thinking! And, that's why I'm here, today. I've come to ask a favor. You see, I'm convinced that if other people could hear your lecture, they'd wake up from their apathy and start thinking, too!" Miss Placid paused, to drum up the remainder of her courage. "Dr. Smith, I'm here to ask you to please give your lecture at our anti-war rally, to be held on the front steps of the Student Union building, tomorrow afternoon, starting at two o'clock." The girl suddenly realized that her guest lecturer was no longer walking beside her.

 

The professor had ground to halt quite a ways back. He just stood there on the sidewalk, staring at her in disbelief.

 

There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

 

Finally, Dr. Smith regained enough of his composure to be able to speak. "I'm afraid that wouldn't be possible, Miss Placid."

 

But the very determined young lady remained undaunted. "Anything's possible, Professor. Plea-ease? Say you'll help us out?" she begged.

 

Dr. Smith saw the pitiful, pleading, desperate look on the pretty girl's face and sighed in frustration. "The University discourages the members of its faculty from 'actively participating in unpopular political rallies'."

 

"Another quote from the rulebook?" Melissa sarcastically inquired.

 

"An interdepartmental memo," he corrected, "designed to discourage the making of unpopular political waves."

 

The girl gasped in exasperation. "Dr. Smith, I'm not asking you to join the Weathermen! All I'm asking is for you to come and share a little of your time and knowledge with us…"

 

"My classes are always open to visitors. Why don't you and your friends drop in on me? I'd be more than happy to repeat my lecture on American Imperialism for you."

 

"There isn't a lecture hall on this campus that could hold the crowd we're expecting tomorrow."

 

"Well, then I'll give you my notes and you can give the lecture, yourself."

 

"We don't need your notes. I took extensive 'notes'. We need you, Dr. Smith! People will pay attention to what you have to say because they figure a guy who holds a bachelor's degree in Social Science and a doctoral degree in Political Science must know what he's talking about. I'm just a graduate student. They'd never listen to me. Please? Don't just stand around, marking time, like everyone else. Come and march with us! It's like the songwriter says: 'How many deaths will it take 'til we know that too many people have died?' Perhaps none of the young men at the rally tomorrow will ever have to make THE choice. Perhaps none of them will ever be drafted. But if any of them ever are, and they do have to make a decision…Please? Help them to make an educated one. Too many brave young men have already died."

 

"Believe me, Miss Placid. I'd like to help. But, you don't know what you're asking. My position with the University is at stake."

 

It was the girl's turn to stare at him in disbelief. "People's lives are at stake here and all you're worried about is your stupid job?"

 

But then, she couldn't know that his 'stupid job'…was all that Dr. Smith had left in the world.

 

Melissa fought back the tears that were threatening in her blurring, dark eyes. "I don't claim to know as much as you do, Professor. But, I know one thing. If my brother, Brian, could have heard your lecture, I'm sure he would have chosen differently…instead of throwing his life away over there…fighting for a cause he couldn't even understand, let alone, believe in!" her shaking voice cracked and the tears she'd been battling back began to fall.

 

Dr. Smith stepped up to the sobbing girl and gave her a deeply sympathetic look. The professor placed his hands on her shaking shoulders, in an attempt to offer her some small comfort.

 

Melissa rushed into his open arms, buried her face in his chest and had a good, hard cry.

 

At long last, the torrent of tears terminated. Miss Placid sniffled and drew back from their compromising embrace.

 

The professor pulled a clean tissue from the pocket of his cardigan and offered it to her.

 

Miss Placid accepted it and began dabbing at her puffy, damp, darker-than-ever eyes. "I'm sorry," she coldly proclaimed, between sniffles, "I thought that you would do more than just 'talk' politics. But, I was wrong about you. You don't practice outside the classroom what you preach inside the classroom. You're a hypocrite…just like all the rest. And, as long as you are safe and secure, it doesn't matter what happens to the young men who are being drafted and sent over there. The dying will just go on…and on…and on," she swallowed hard and then held her quivering chin up. "I'm sorry to have taken up so much of your precious time, Professor Smith. Good day!" she snidely tacked on and began walking off.

 

"Wait up, Miss Placid!" Dr. Smith called after her.

 

Melissa obligingly halted, but refused to face him.

 

"I can't promise you anything. But, if I can come up with some kind of an insurance policy to protect my position, I'll be there tomorrow…with bells on!" the Ph.D. assured the persuasive young lady.

 

Miss Placid spun back around. The deliriously happy girl then ran up to the professor and threw herself into his arms again. "Oh, thank you, thank you, Dr. Smith!"

 

"Don't thank me, yet, Miss Placid. I haven't done anything…yet," he pulled back from her rather compromising embrace and glanced around. "Do you have a car?"

 

"I walked. Why?"

 

"We can take mine," Dr. Smith announced and started striding off in the direction of his driveway.

 

"We can? Where are we going?"

 

"I'm taking you to dinner, Miss Placid. I like to eat while I'm thinking. I do my best thinking while I'm eating. And, I hate to eat alone."

 

Melissa remained silent. She didn't know what to say.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Dr. Smith sat in a wooden booth in the darkest corner of a cozy little candlelit restaurant, just a couple of blocks from the university's campus.

 

Miss Placid was seated directly across from him.

 

Melissa hated to eat alone, too. And, as poor a company as a  thinking Dr. Smith was, she may as well have been eating alone. Her 'date' hadn't said a single word through their entire meal.

 

"Would you care for some more wine?" the professor suddenly pondered.

 

The girl jerked, startled by the sound of his voice. "Yes, thank you," she replied and held her long-stemmed glass out to him.

 

He refilled both their glasses and then set the empty bottle down in the center of the table. "I think I've got it," he continued, sounding somewhat devious.

 

"Got what?" Melissa nervously inquired.

 

"A way for me to give my lecture without getting canned. I'll get the Dean of the College of Social Sciences to okay a request for a field trip, and then I'll hold my 'Classic Political Thought' class on the front steps of the Student Union building." Dr. Smith sat there, staring into his wineglass and wearing a smile of deep satisfaction on his candlelit face. "And, if a large number of university students just happen to listen in, they will hear me giving my students a lecture on American Imperialism." He glanced up at the girl and his smile broadened into smug grin. "Sneaky, huh."

 

Melissa stared wonderingly across at the remarkably handsome, incredibly sneaky professor for a few moments and then smiled herself. "I'm glad that I was wrong about being wrong about you."

 

Dr. Smith lowered his eyes and gazed sadly into his glass again. "You weren't entirely wrong about being wrong about me," he quietly confessed. "I'm not a marcher. I've never been naïve enough to think that I could change the world. I've had to be content with changing the minds of my students, instead. I guess I'm more of a drum major. I abhor ignorance. That's why I love my work. Doctor is Latin for teacher, you know. I try to teach my students to march…to be marchers. And, yet, I don't march myself.

Sometimes, we teachers forget that our students learn more from the examples we set for them, than from the lectures we give to them." He glanced back up. "So…tomorrow afternoon, I hope to set one fine example. And, by this time tomorrow, I shall be a reformed hypocrite." The gentleman grinned again and raised his glass. "And, hopefully, a still employed professor," he tacked on, beneath his breath.

 

But Miss Placid caught the comment and failed to join him in his toast. The girl could find nothing to toast, or smile, about. She wished, now, that she'd never come to him, or said all those cruel things to him. Dr. Smith's job was most definitely not 'stupid', and, what was at stake, was his whole life!

 

He had taught her to march. And, if she got him fired, who would teach others to be marchers? "I've been thinking, Dr. Smith and…well…maybe you shouldn't risk losing your job, after all. I mean, drum majors are important, too. They direct the marchers."

 

The professor set his drained glass down and gazed at the girl in confusion. "Are you saying that you no longer want me to give my lecture at your anti-war rally tomorrow?"

 

"I want you to give your lecture. I just don't want you to lose your job."

 

"I don't want me to lose my job, either. That's why I just spent the past forty-five minutes devising an ingenious little plan that will, hopefully, keep me from marching into the unemployment line." Dr. Smith summoned their waiter over and slid his wallet out, to settle up their dinner tab. "Sorry we can't stay for dessert, Miss Placid. But, I'd better get you home. We've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow and, right now, I'm suffering from a terminal case of jet lag." He replaced his billfold and began getting wearily to his feet.

 

Melissa slid gracefully out of their booth.

 

Dr. Smith took her arm and started escorting her toward the door.

 

Miss Placid's frown deepened. "You're still planning on coming then?"

 

"I gave you my word, didn't I?"

 

"Yes. But, I won't hold you to it anymore." She pulled the professor to a stop, just as they reached the exit, and then turned to face him. "I can't stand the thought of me being responsible for you losing your position with the University. You were right, Dr. Smith. I didn't understand what was at stake. But, I do now. And it wasn't fair for me to ask you to gamble when the stakes were so high."

 

"You were right, too, Miss Placid. The stakes are high—all the way around. I believe your actions today were totally justified. I believe that my presence at your rally tomorrow is equally justified. Though, I do not share your delusions of grandeur. One man can not change the whole system, and I am just one man."

 

Melissa's determined attitude returned and she flashed the gallant fellow a beautiful, confident smile. "So was Hannibal. And, just look at what he accomplished!"

 

The pretty crusader's confident comments caused the modern-day Hannibal to return her smile.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Melissa Placid paced anxiously up and down the hall outside the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs office.

 

After what seemed like hours, the door finally swung open and Dr. Smith joined her there, in the hallway.

 

The pretty miss halted in mid-pace. "Well?"

 

The professor stood silently for a few moments, looking terribly serious and solemn. But then, a broad, confident grin began to creep across his face. He gave his head a quick shake and then triumphantly exclaimed, "I love it, when a plan comes together!"

 

Melissa stared disbelievingly back him. "You mean, they didn't give you your walking papers?"

 

"Na-ah. All they could give me, were dirty looks." Dr. Smith took the pretty crusader's arm and began escorting her off down the hall. "How did the rest of the rally go? I was summoned away shortly after I completed my lecture."

 

It was Miss Placid's turn to look and sound triumphant. "It went great! Thanks to you! We estimate that close to two thousand 'guest' students sat in on your 5th period class. We got over twelve hundred signatures on our student petition!"

 

She shot the star of their rally a quick sideways glance and saw that he seemed genuinely happy for her. "How did it really go in there? I can't believe all they gave you were dirty looks. They must have had something to 'say' about all of this."

 

They reached the elevator.

 

He hit the down button. "They said they'd let me off with a warning, this time—a week's suspension. They said that, if I ever pulled anything like this again, I would be 'dismissed immediately'.

 

And, when I reminded them that the contents of Course No. 170 were approved by both the University's Curriculum Committee and the Academic Council, they said that didn't matter, in the least. If I ever give my lecture on American Imperialism again, I'll be 'dismissed'."

 

The elevator doors slid open and the pair stepped inside.

 

The professor pressed G. "I asked them if that meant giving it in or out of the classroom," he continued, as they started to descend. "They said, both. I reminded them that there is nothing in the rulebook that says I can't give my lecture. They said, that didn't matter, in the least. I still couldn't give it. I asked, why not? They said, because they said so. When I told them that wasn't a good enough reason, they suspended me for another week, as a 'disciplinary measure'."

 

The elevator stopped and its doors slid open.

 

"They can't do that!" Miss Placid angrily declared, as the pair stepped out onto the ground floor of the Registrar's building. "Can they?"

 

"I haven't broken any of their rules…yet. And, if that really doesn't matter, in the least, then I have not yet begun to march!" Dr. Smith icily stated and started marching off down the hall, heading for the exit.

 

Melissa remained quiet and close to his side.

 

"I can tolerate ignorant people, because I know there's always a chance they can be educated out of their ignorance," the irate teacher went on. "But, I can't stand supposedly educated people who make up 'rules' and then choose to ignore them."

 

"Meaning what?"

 

"Meaning, that I have decided to keep marching. In fact, I'm going to march over to the Faculty Review Board right now and demand a hearing to have my suspensions revoked. That ought to start making things 'matter' to them." The professor stopped in mid stride and turned to the pretty miss at his side. "It was great rallying with you, Miss Placid. Keep in touch. Oh, and…give my regards to your brother Brian," he concluded, rather shrewdly.

 

The pretty little lady looked stunned…then a bit queasy…and then terribly guilty. "How'd you find out?" she sheepishly inquired.

 

"An old Army buddy of mine punches computer cards in the basement of the Pentagon. I had him run a little check on Specialist 5th Class, Brian Placid, for me. Turns out he's Company Clerk for the 47th Transport Division, 64th Quartermasters Battalion stationed at Long Binh Post, and he hasn't 'cashed it in', because he's still cashing in his pay checks."

 

Brian's big sister stood there, cowering. "Well, I didn't actually come right out and say that Brian was dead," she finally mumbled in her defense.

 

"True. But, you did deliberately mislead me into thinking that he was."

 

The girl looked guilty as charged and hung her pretty head in shame. "When did you find out?"

 

"I suspected it immediately. But, I couldn't be sure. That's why I had Zach run the check for me. He phoned, last night, with the results."

 

Melissa looked up at him in complete confusion. "If you felt I was misleading you all along, and found this all out last night…Why did you still agree to help us? You could've lost your job."

 

"Because I'm a real sucker for a skirt with a sob story, Miss Placid. I can't help myself. It's one of the few flaws in my otherwise flawless character. Besides, while your tactics may have been tacky, I certainly couldn't fault you for your determination. You are a very worthy crusader for a very worthy cause. And, you obviously have learned from my example, as well as from my lectures," he reasoned, with a wry smile. "Your methods were both sneaky a-and effective."

 

"Very effective," Melissa quickly corrected, and flashed the prof' back a grin.

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

One move and three months of marching later, Dr. Smith stood alone in the bedroom of his apartment.

 

The handsome, thirty-six-year-old college professor was packing a suitcase.

 

He'd just returned from his last meeting—of many clandestine meetings—with Colonel Zachary Morrison, the computer card puncher from the basement of the Pentagon.

 

Jack had served with Zach in Korea. The two of them had jousted a few windmills, together.

 

When Jack told Zach that he wanted to joust a few more windmills in Vietnam, the Colonel had 'arranged' things, so that his friend could do just that.

 

"I won't forget this, Zach," the ex-professor had promised, as the two old comrades in arms parted.

 

"I just hope you won't regret this, Jack," Morrison had solemnly replied.

 

Smith figured he probably would.

 

But, it was too late to turn back now. His impeccably groomed self was already wearing the spit and polished shoes, freshly pressed slacks and silver cluster insignia'd shirt of a United States Army Special Forces Lt. Colonel's uniform. His matching green beret, coat and tie were laid out on the bed beside his open suitcase.

 

Suddenly, his door buzzer sounded.

 

He paused in his packing, to press the stop button on the portable cassette tape player on his dresser. The polished voice spewing Vietnamese phrases halted in mid-spew. "It's open!" he called out the bedroom doorway and returned to his packing. He only had twenty minutes to get to the airport, or he'd miss his all expenses paid trip to Southeast Asia.

 

"Dr. Smith?" Melissa Placid's voice rang through his living room.

 

"In here, Melissa!" he called back over his shoulder and kept right on packing.

 

Moments later, Miss Placid appeared in the bedroom doorway. She saw the professor was packing and her cheery demeanor crumbled. "Moving to another apartment? Or, leaving town entirely?" she nervously inquired.

 

 

"My lecture got such rave reviews here, I thought I'd take it on the road," he lightly replied and turned toward his dresser mirror, to put on his tie.

 

Melissa's dark eyes clouded with anxiety. "You are going to be back in time to march on Washington with us next weekend," she stated, hopefully. "We've already got the buses chartered and places to stay, while we're in D.C.. We want you to present our petitions to Congress."

 

Smith finished adjusting his tie and started reaching for his jacket. "I'm sorry, Melissa. But, I'm afraid you'll have to march without me, this time." He pulled his uniform coat on and then snatched up his green beret. "I have a previous commitment," he added and proudly placed the hat on his silver-haired head.

 

The girl stared at the Special Forces commando, who was now in full uniform, looking stunned out of her gourd. "What? Is this some kind of a joke or something?"

 

"…or something," the Ph.D. admitted, under his breath. Then he pulled his shoulders back and stood there, at attention. "Lt. Colonel, John 'Hannibal' Smith," he proudly introduced. "United States Army Special Combat Division, 5th Special Forces Group, stationed at Pleiku, South Vietnam, reporting for duty, Miss Placid."

 

Several long seconds of stunned silence followed the Lt. Colonel's 'introduction'.

 

Finally, Melissa found her voice. "You telling me that this is legit?" She stepped up to her old prof', to give his attire a closer scrutinization. "This is really on the level?" she re-inquired and circled him a few times, eyeing his uniformed self up, from top to bottom.

 

'My first inspection," he thought. Then, his face scrunched up a bit and his brow furrowed. "I couldn't tell you that, because John 'Hannibal' Smith is only a figment on a few dozen forms, who got his commission out of some computer's altered memory banks."

 

The girl was stunned out of her gourd once again. "B-But, why-y?"

 

"I feel that I can accomplish more by marching on Saigon, than on Washington. It's like Thoreau said: 'If I do not keep step with my companions, it is because I hear a different drummer. Let a man step to the music he hears, however measured or however far away.' Your drums are leading you to Washington and my drums are leading me to Nam. The important thing is that we're both still marching. Who knows? Maybe together…with all our combined marching…maybe we can end the madness a little sooner…before too many more brave young men have to die."

 

Another long, solemn silence ensued, as Melissa remained at a loss for words.

 

"Hey...Relax...I'm going there to wage peace, not war," the ex-professor assured his former student.

 

But, Miss Placid still didn't know what to say.

 

Smith stiffened and glanced at his watch. "I'd better get going. It wouldn't do for me to be AWOL, my first day on the job." He started reaching for his suitcase, but then suddenly remembered something. "Oh, I'll be visiting Brian's Unit, in Nam. Is there anything you'd like me to pass along to him for you?"

 

The girl's dark eyes moistened. She threw herself up into his arms and gave him a big hug and kiss.

 

The Lt. Colonel looked pleasantly surprised. "I'll just tell him you send him your love," he reasoned, safely.

 

Miss Placid pulled back. "No. That was for you," she quietly confessed.

 

'Must be the uniform,' Smith silently reasoned.

 

"This is for Brian," the pretty miss pointed out, just prior to kissing and hugging him again.

 

The ex-professor was even more pleasantly surprised. But then he quickly sobered. "Uhhh, Melissa…It would be best if we could keep all this our little secret. If word ever gets out that I'm really just a teacher…well, it'll ruin my imagined image." He had no idea what the penalty was for impersonating an officer, and he'd like to stay ignorant on that particular subject, hopefully, forever!

 

Melissa flashed him a sad smile. "Saying you're 'just a teacher' is like saying Hannibal was 'just a general'. Her countenance suddenly turned even sadder. "I just realized something. We'll be marching for you, too, now, Dr. Smith."

 

"Uh, Hannibal, remember?"

 

"Hannibal," she softly repeated. "Please be careful?" she pleaded and gave him a final embrace. "They have a tendency to ignore the rules over there, too."

 

'Hannibal' stared down at the lovely young lady, who had thrown herself into his arms for the third time in as many minutes. "Must be the uniform," he repeated, this time aloud. "I've heard it has this affect on women," he confessed with a sad smile of his own making.

 

His comments caused the girl's smile to broaden. "I'm glad you called," she admitted and pulled back again. "I would've never forgiven you, if we hadn't had this chance to say goodbye."

 

"Actually," Smith nervously began, "we don't have to say goodbye just yet. I sold my car this morning. Do you think you could give me a lift to the airport?"

 

Suddenly, Melissa knew the real reason she had been summoned. "Sneaky."

 

'Hannibal' snatched his suitcase from the bed and his tape recorder from the dresser and began heading for the doorway. "But, effective…" he slyly added.

 

The two marchers then swapped their sad smiles for a pair of slightly devious grins.

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

Hannibal was still smiling behind the cover of his white paper sack.

 

'Miss Melissa Placid…' Their first meeting may have been a might stormy. But, their last encounter had been pleasant enough…very pleasant, indeed! Melissa Placid was a very special young lady…a lot like Miss Amy Allen.

 

The A-Team's Commander snapped back to reality and glanced at his watch. It was now seven minutes to six.

 

"Which way do I turn onto Ocean?" Miss Allen inquired of her passenger/navigator.

 

Hannibal lowered the sack so he could speak. "Left. The Occidental Import Company is ten blocks down, on the right. Turn right at the corner of Ocean and Pearson," he added and went to replace his breathing bag. But, his respirations had returned to near normal, all things considered. So, he tossed the bag back up onto the dashboard, instead.

 

His head seemed to be somewhat clearer, as well. It was amazing what a little oxygen could do. Something suddenly occurred to the now clear thinker, which caused him to grimace and then groan aloud, in mental anguish.

 

"What's the matter?" the girl wondered, and gave the groaner a quick, anxious glance.

 

"I must be delirious!"

 

"Why?"

 

"I had you place those calls from B.A.'s apartment."

 

"So?"

 

"So-o, his phone is probably still tapped. The whole place was probably bugged!"

 

"So?"

 

"So, if they didn't know where Mario and B.A. were going to meet before, they do no-ow! They also have the number of my answering service and know about the Perkins ad." He spotted a phone booth. "Pull over, Amy!" he ordered, and she did.

 

He got quickly out of the car, hurried around to the driver's side and pulled the girl's door open. "I want you to call 345-4466 again and tell extension no. 007 to abort. Then call Karen and make sure she's still running the ad!"

 

Amy reluctantly allowed herself to be ushered out of her car. "Where will you be?"

 

"I've got to get to that alley!" he anxiously explained and slid quickly in behind the wheel. "You can catch a cab, when you finish calling," he proposed and passed her purse out his open window.

 

Miss Allen winced, as Hannibal floored the accelerator and went squealing back out into the street. The girl then closed her gaping mouth and began heading, obediently, for the phone booth.

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

It was now midmorning and a blazing sun bore down on the compound.

 

Captain Murdock and Colonel Smith were still hanging out on the 'clothesline' in their own private little quadrangle of the war, and still distracting each other with stimulating conversation.

 

The good Captain gazed across at his companion, looking completely confused. "So, if the Faculty Review Board cleared you of all charges…and if you never broke any of their rules…then, why were you 'dismissed'?"

 

"Remember when I told you that facts speak for themselves?"

 

The pilot nodded.

 

"Well, turns out that money talks, too…and a whole lot louder. Several of the University's wealthier alumni were against having the facts surrounding the Vietnam War made public.

 

By some strange coincidence, these guys just happened to be on the Boards of Directors of corporations holding huge Defense contracts. These very wealthy people made it perfectly clear that they were not going to continue to contribute to a University that would allow some 'commie' Political Science professor to undermine a person's urge to fight and die for their country…and the coffers of the greedy corporations contained therein," the Colonel satirically tacked on. "I could have stayed and fought it. But, it would have been a tremendous waste of time and energy. So, I decided to come here and fight this, instead."

 

The Captain remained confused. "What do you mean, Colonel?"

 

"This," Hannibal repeated and motioned with his head to their surroundings, "and every other aspect of this stinking, immoral war. I mean, I figured, what better place to try to stop all the killing and destruction, than the place where all the killing and destruction is going on.

 

So, while Melissa and the others are back home, trying to cut it off at its source…I'm over here, doing what little I can, to try to contain it on this end." A smile of deep satisfaction appeared on his feverish, unshaven face. "And my Special Forces Group and I were containing it quite nicely," his smile faded fast, "until my gun jammed.

 

To think, I owe this all to a defective weapon…probably built in one of those wealthy alumni's defense plants. The ultimate irony…they get me 'dismissed' over here, too.  The price they charge the government for those guns, you'd think they could at least guarantee them not to fail in the middle of a fire fight."

 

"What fire fight was that, Colonel?"

 

The Captain's delirious companion licked his dry, cracked lips and continued, "This time, Custer sent his troops into the middle of a free fire zone, where three platoons of VC were dug in with their mortars.

 

Then, some Nim' under him called in an air strike.

 

By the time the brass had sorted out the good guys from the bad guys, and friendly fire from unfriendly fire, Charlie had the troops cut off and was keeping them pinned down with heavy mortar fire.

 

Custer's problem was that now he couldn't call in anymore artillery or air strikes without blowing away his own men.

 

That's when they rang our bell.

 

You see, our little Special Forces Group had many talents. But, getting guys out of sticky situations, and saving Custer's butt, was sort of our 'specialty'.

 

Only, this time, it would've taken a transporter to get them outta there. Custer had really outdone himself, this time.

 

But, we agreed to give it our best shot, anyway.

 

The plan was for Meade and Williams to set up a heavy smoke screen. While, Yates and I drew Charlie's fire on the left flank.

 

This diversionary tactic would give the guys a chance to break through and make it to the cover of the woods.

 

Once the troops were out of the line of fire, another air strike would be called in, to provide us all with some cover while we withdrew to safer soil."

 

"So, what went wrong with that plan?"

 

"Nothing. It went off without a single hitch—until my gun jammed. That cut our firepower in half. And, Yates and I had diverted a whole lot more of Charlie's attention than we had originally intended to.

 

But, we still could have held them off long enough for the airstrike to come in and back us up, if that stupid gun hadn't jammed…"

 

"What happened after that?"

 

"We split up and split out.

 

I had a whole Viet Cong platoon panting down the back of my neck and only a few rounds left in my service revolver…when I heard the planes fly over.

 

Some of Charlie's bullets were coming uncomfortably close by then and I realized that I could either play dead or be dead. So, I decided to play dead.

 

The next thing I knew, I was waking up six feet underground, bound and blindfolded, with a really ba-ad headache.

 

I ended up taking the 'subway' to Hanoi. No trains. All travel is done by foot, in Charlie's subways. I averaged 3 mpk. Three miles per kick."

 

"I got 8 mpk," the Captain proudly announced. "We newer models get better mileage," he teased with a grin.

 

The Colonel grinned and then started coughing again. This time, he coughed so hard, he nearly blacked out. And, it took him an incredibly long time to regain his composure.

 

Captain Murdock hung there, helplessly, wearing a deep, foreboding frown.

 

The Colonel's condition was rapidly deteriorating. And it was already dangerously deteriorated before the loss of appetite, high fever, chills, bad headache and coughing spells came along.

 

"Who is 'Custer'?" the kid inquired, anxious to take his delirious companion's mind off his 'troubles'.

 

Hannibal swallowed hard. His mouth was almost too dry to speak…almost. "After the Civil War, the U.S. Army could once again turn its full attention to 'Indian Fighting'. By which means, they hoped to annihilate whole tribes of 'savage' 'red-skinned' people…and thus clear the way for 'decent' 'white-skinned' people to take over the 'red-skinned' peoples' lands.

 

The so-called 'Indian Uprisings' were merely attempts by these 'red-skinned' people to keep their lands from being stolen and their families from being murdered.

 

I mean, is it any wonder that these 'savages' should try to resist?

 

The U.S. Army declares open season on them, and what is their terrible crime? Why, they are in the way. Can you appreciate the inhumanity of that, Captain?"

 

"I didn't mean that Custer, Colon—"

 

"—General George Armstrong Custer was one of, if not THE most notorious 'Indian Fighters' of all time.

 

Now, the Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow and other Plains Indians had resigned themselves to having their ancestral lands stolen out from under them and they had made another treaty with the treaty-breaking white man.

 

Insatiable greed eventually led the 'decent' white folk to break this treaty, as well.

 

Gold prospectors and miners flocked into Indian Territory to take it over.

 

It was Custer's job to protect railway surveyors and gold miners from any Sioux that might get in their way.

 

After three years of intermittent annihilation of the Sioux, the Army devised a plan to wipe them all out, in one fell swoop.

 

General Terry, Alfred Terry, and all his 'Indian Fighters', were going to attack their unwitting prey from three different sides and snuff them right out, once and for all.

 

General Terry ordered General Custer to scout ahead.

 

And, while doing so, Custer happened upon a whole passel of Sioux, peacefully encamped on the east bank of the Little Big Horn River.

 

Greatly underestimating the amount of 'red-skinned' people that were contained in this very large passel, and being overly anxious to begin the snuffing out of them, Custer ordered his regiment to attack.

 

The Sioux defended themselves.

 

Custer and 264 of his fellow 'Indian Fighters', being hopelessly outnumbered, made their infamous 'Last Stand'.

 

Of course now, the history books say they were massacred.

 

Interesting, isn't it.

 

When the treaty-breaking, trespassing 'white' man did the snuffing out, it was called 'Manifest Destiny' and 'the advancement of civilization'.

 

And, when the 'red' man did it, it was called a massacre, by a bunch of 'butchering, heathen savages'.

 

It's like I said before, Captain. Everything is relative.

 

The Vietnamese are the Sioux, here. They're in the way.

 

The Americans are Custer and his troops, trying to drive the Sioux off their native lands, or snuffing them out.

 

And, so, the Sioux are trying to defend themselves and their land.

 

History keeps repeating itself, Captain.

 

The reaction of the American Colonies to British Imperialism was the American Revolution—the Revolutionary War.

 

The reaction of the American Indians to American Imperialism was the 'Indian Uprisings'—the 'Indian Wars'.

 

The Vietnamese peoples' reaction to, first French, then Japanese, then French again and now American Imperialism, is the Vietnamese Revolution—the Vietnam War.

 

These subject peoples are just sick and tired of being coerced and exploited by Imperialist countries.

 

You can only push people so far before they start pushing back.

 

Imperialism is a national policy by a super-state, which uses high sounding ideals as a cover up for the super-states real motives behind their dealings with subject peoples.

 

Example: The super-state tells the subject peoples that it means to establish justice and peace under a rule of equality and rational law. While, in reality, the super-state is actually practicing coercion and exploitation of the subject peoples.

 

Coercion means to restrain or govern by force.

 

First, the French governed Vietnam by force, then, the Japanese. Then, the French tried to take it over again and finally, the Americans came in and picked up where the French left off.

 

The American Imperialists set up and backed up a string of 'puppet' governments, beginning with a ruthless dictator by the name of Ngo Dinh Diem—right up to the present, General Thieu.

 

The billions of dollars of American aide to South Vietnam only succeeded in corrupting 98 percent of the puppet government's officials.

 

You asked, awhile back: What are we doing here?

 

Well, Captain, we owe it all to JFK. We're all here and 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, close to 400,000 innocent civilians, 900,000 North Vietnamese and 45,000 patriotic young Americans are all dead, because John Fitzgerald Kennedy believed in the 'Domino Theory' of the Truman-Eisenhower Administration.

 

Kennedy believed that, if you didn't fight communism in Southeast Asia, you'd have to fight it in California.

 

Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamera, saw where Kennedy was leading the nation and warned that 'we would almost certainly become increasingly mired down in an inconclusive struggle'. He said the U.S. should make a clear and total commitment to South Vietnam and achieve an immediate military victory, or stay the hell out.

 

Kennedy ignored him.

 

It didn't matter that the Vietnamese people had never had a democracy, like the U.S. has—or that they didn't even want a democracy, like ours. Kennedy was going to shove the American Dream down their throats, anyway.

 

He sent in 16,000 token troops and ordered the CIA to carry out various clandestine sabotage operations, in Laos, and North and South Vietnam, directed against Ho Chi Minh's legitimate government, the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam."

 

The ex-professor paused in his narrative and his tired, squinting eyes became filled with an unbearable sadness. "There seldom is a 'right' side in a war, Captain. One side is usually just less 'wrong' than the other.

 

The American Imperialists' presence in this country is morally, ethically, socially, politically, and every other conceivable way-edly, the most wrong of all. And, some day…the history books will print the truth about what the decent white folk…did to the Sioux…" The Colonel suddenly remembered something. "Custer is the guy who yells 'Cha-arge!'" he explained, finally answering the Captain's question.

 

Hannibal saw his gloomy mood being reflected in his companion's mirrors and decided to discuss a less solemn subject. "So, how long have you been interested in flying, Captain Murdock?"

 

The young pilot's face instantly lit up. "Since I was fourteen-months-old, according to my Dad. That's when he took me on my very first plane ride.

 

He and my Uncle Wesley are partners in the biggest 'dude' ranch in Park County. They keep a small charter plane and a helicopter on the place, to cart the clientele back and forth from the bigger airports.

 

My Dad learned to fly when he was only seventeen.

 

He let me solo the plane when I was twelve. But he wouldn't let me take the copter up, alone, 'til I was sixteen.

 

I spent all my free time flying. The rest a' my time was spent working around the ranch, trying to earn the money, to pay for all the fuel I was burning up," he added with a grin.

 

The Colonel managed a slight smile. "Are you and your father the only ones in your family who fly?"

 

"My Mother died when I was five. My Dad said that she needed to take an airsick bag along, just to climb a stepladder. And, my Uncle Wes' only leaves the ground to climb up onto his horse. But, I'll bet my Grandfather would've loved to fly! He was in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. You ever heard of Alexis Marcovich?"

 

Hannibal's brows arched. "Alexis Marcovich?"

 

"Yeah. He was an internationally famous trick rider."

 

"No. I can't say as I have. The last of the great Cossack Cowboys, no doubt."

 

Murdock grinned again. "He used to say that I could ride like a Cossack and fly like a bird." The Captain gazed rather wistfully up into the clear-blue-sky overhead. "I wish I really could fly like a bird. They have such tremendous freedom!"

 

"Freedom is just a state of mind, Captain. Anytime you want to experience freedom, all you have to do is close your eyes and assume the proper frame of mind."

 

The pilot's starry-eyed gaze switched from the sky to the old guy. "You wanna run that one by me again?"

 

The Colonel was forced to smile. "Let's see if I can give you an example…Okay, when was the last time that you can remember really feeling in control of your life?"

 

There was a long pause, as the Captain was unable to provide him with an answer.

 

"Been that long, has it? Okay then, what do you miss the most back in the States?"

 

"That's easy. My Dad and my dog, Billy. Billy is my shadow, my closest comrade, my constant companion. He even flies with me! I named him Billy after Buffalo Bill. He's big as a buffalo, too. Three-quarters wolf and one-quarter German Shepherd. There's been many a time I wished Billy was here with me. Billy would kill anybody who'd so much as lay a hand on me."

 

"Ye-es…Well, Billy is here with you."

 

The kid gave his companion an 'are you for real?' stare.

 

"Close your eyes," the Colonel requested, "and I'll prove it to you."

 

The Captain hesitated. What was the delirious old guy going to do? Bite him?

 

"Go on. Close 'em," Hannibal urged.

 

Murdock reluctantly did.

 

"Good," the crazy Colonel continued. "First, I want you to clear your mind of everything…everything but Billy. Think only about your dog, Billy.

 

Now, picture him sitting down there on the ground below you. He's just waiting there, patiently…panting. Now, he's cocking his head and looking up at you with those eager, bright, trusting eyes of his. It's like he can't figure out why you can't come down and pet him. You speak his name…You speak his name…"

 

"Billy…"

 

"His ears perk up. He stops panting and starts thumping the ground with that big, bushy tail of his…"

 

The Captain's eyes snapped open and he stared down at the ground below him, looking amazed. "I saw him! I really saw him! He was right…there," he sadly confessed.

 

"Great! Now, when everything else seems totally out of your control, remember, you still have control over you mind. Billy is always with you, locked away up there, safe and sound in your mind. And, you can let him out anytime you want, simply by closing your eyes and assuming the proper frame of mind," the Colonel paused, looking curious. "Is he housebroken?"

 

Murdock smiled and quickly closed his eyes. His brow furrowed a bit and he began to draw upon his very vivid imagination, once more. His pursed lips suddenly parted, "Billy! Hey there, ol' buddy! I missed yah, pal! No, no, boy, don't chew on my boots."

 

The old guy gazed amusedly across at his companion. "Why do I suddenly get the feeling that I've just opened up some kind of 'Pandora's Box', here?" he asked himself. Then he turned his gaze toward the 'main lobby', to watch the changing of the guards.

 

The door to their compound slowly 'screaked' open, to reveal another armed North Vietnamese soldier. The new guard had come to replace the old guard, so that he could go grab a bite to eat.

 

Suddenly, the new guard, who was an old guard, spotted the two American prisoners hanging from the pole!

 

"Don't look now," Hannibal softly said. "But, I think they've just discovered their big mistake."

 

Captain Murdock's eyes snapped open and he insubordinately aimed them across the compound.

 

The new guard, who was an old guard, screamed something at the old guard, who was a new guard, and then went storming back into the building.

 

"Most definitely," the big mistake quietly concurred. Murdock's gaze immediately shifted to his companion.

 

Both men's eyes met and the two of them managed to produce a pair of sad smiles.

 

"When they take you down, don't try to move your arms at all," the Colonel advised. "Just let them drag you. The first and the last five minutes are the worst. After that, it sort of wears off."

 

The door to the 'lobby' flew open with a forceful kick and four armed soldiers spilled into the compound.

 

The two POWs' eyes met again.

 

"One last thing, kid. Watch out for a sleaze by the name of Thomas Angel. He's a blond, curly-haired young Naval Lieutenant, turned North Vietnamese snitch."

 

"I believe I met somebody who fits that description already. I didn't speak to him. I didn't like the looks of his 'mirrors'. Hang in there, Colonel," the Captain softly urged. "And, pray for rain."

 

The ladder was placed up against their pole and the big mistake was corrected.

 

Colonel Smith watched as the Captain was dragged off in the direction of the 'lounge'. It was a good thing Hannibal never worried, or he'd have been mighty worried right then.

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

B.A. pulled into the alley behind the Occidental Import Company.

 

The van lurched, bumping Murdock back into the present.

 

The big kid's heart was not the only part of him that wasn't into playing. He'd just let his mind wander again. It was a good thing the Big Guy hadn't caught him daydreaming.

 

The slowing vehicle gradually rumbled to a stop.

 

He and Perry took another look out the van's back windows. A dark, dirty, damp alley appeared. H.M. found himself becoming miffed again. "This is your surprise, B.A.?"

 

"No," the van's driver shouted back over his shoulder. "This is where we wait for the surprise."

 

"Wrong, B.A.!" the Captain crankily corrected. "This is where you wait for the surprise. Cuz, I ain't hangin' around no more dark alleys! Not after the 'surprise' the Colonel and I got, the last time. Adios, muchacho!" He began reaching for the back door's latch, to make a quick exit.

 

"Hold it, Murdock!" the mucho grande muchacho gruffly ordered, and the guy with the split personality ceased to split. "I wen' through a lot a' trouble to arrange this little surprise fer you. I didn' hafta bring yah on this case, yah know. I could a' jes' lef' yah settin'—"

 

"—What case?" Murdock anxiously interrupted.

 

"We'll fin' out…once Hannibal gits here," B.A. surprisingly announced and used his rear view mirror to aim a broad smile back at the fool on the floor of his van. He saw that Murdock seemed more stunned than surprised and his smile faded fast. "What now, fool?"

 

His companion was almost too stunned to speak. "There must be some mistake. I haven't got Amy's report yet. But, I'm sure Hannibal is too sick to handle a case right now. You sure that message was from the Colonel?"

 

"What kin' a' fool question is that, fool? Of course it was Hannibal! I know Hannibal's voice when I hear it! Ain' nobody else in the world kin do 'Mario from da Barrio' the way Hannibal kin. An' besides, he used the code. Ain' nobody but us four that knows that nonsense."

 

While B.A.'s arguments were all perfectly logical, the message, itself, remained totally illogical.

 

"Well, then are you sure you got the code right?"

 

"I know how to read, fool! An' I ain' color blind, neither! This is the right place an' the right time!"

 

But, Murdock remained terribly ill at ease. It was wrong. Everything was all wrong. He placed Perry up against the van's back window and took another, closer look around. He gazed down the dreary, shadow-filled alley and spotted the glint of something metallic protruding around a corner of one of the buildings—a gun barrel! It was a sniper! An ambush! And the barrel was aimed right at the back of the Big Guy's head! "Ambush, B.A.! Get down!"

 

Instead of getting down, the van's driver turned around, to shoot his companion a look of complete confusion.

 

"Sniper, B.A.!" H.M. shouted and started scrambling towards the front of the van.

 

If Hannibal hadn't said 'not expecting trouble', the Sergeant might have taken his crazy companions shouted warnings more seriously and responded a little quicker. But he hesitated again, out of sheer disbelief.

 

"GET DOWN!" Murdock screamed and hurled himself at the Big Guy's head, in an attempt to force him to duck.

 

Just then, a shot rang out.

 

The van's back window's glass shattered, and the bullet that was originally meant for the back of B.A.'s head, ended up striking the back of H.M.'s left shoulder, instead.

 

The force of the impact flung Murdock into the van's dash and his head hit the front windshield—hard. "Ouch!" he gasped with a grimace.

 

B.A., who had, indeed, been forced to duck, latched onto the flyin' fool, as he started slowly slumping to the floor.

 

"Now do you see," his collapsing companion grimaced and gasped again, "why I hate surprises?"

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

Meanwhile, in the alley, just outside the van, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was in full swing.

 

Sporadic bursts of automatic rifle fire were being met with a single, steady blast of submachine gun fire.

 

The A-Team's Commander had taken cover behind a sturdy, steel trash bin. He chanced a glance in the GMC's direction. 'Go, B.A.! Go-o!' he silently willed. But the vehicle remained stationary. Why wasn't the van moving? Had its driver been hit? There was only one way to find out.

 

The Colonel left his protective cover and began jogging over to the stalled vehicle, dodging bullets and firing his submachine gun off from the hip, along the way.

 

He banged twice on the GMC's roof. Then he slid its side door open and quickly backed aboard. "Get us out of this alley, Sergeant!" he shouted, between machine gun bursts.

 

The sharp order snapped the still-stunned B.A. back to his senses. "Murdock's been hit, Hannibal!"

 

Colonel Smith squeezed off another steady stream of bullets and then repeated his command. "Get us out of this alley, Sergeant! Before we all get hit!"

 

B.A. gently eased H.M. the rest of the way to the floor. Then he straightened back up behind the wheel of his idling van and threw its standard transmission into gear. He showed his rod no mercy, as he pushed the pedal to the metal and popped the clutch.

 

Tires squealed and the rapidly revved up vehicle went fishtailing off down the alley...and out of range.

 

The Colonel fired off a final burst and even managed—somehow—to get the still-open side door slid shut, before collapsing onto the floor of the speeding van himself. He had survived the O.K. Corral…but, just barely. "Circle the block, B.A.," he breathlessly requested. "We have to pick up Amy."

 

And, what about Murdock?

 

Hannibal got a sudden surge of adrenaline and propped himself up to check out the Captain's condition.

 

Murdock had propped himself up to check on the Colonel's condition.

 

They lay there, silently staring at each other. Neither man liked the way the other looked. Both their faces were ghostly pale. Both their foreheads were beaded with sweat and both of them were gasping between rapid, shallow breaths.

 

"You okay, Captain/Colonel?" they both asked at once, and then exchanged just the slightest of smiles.

 

Hannibal heaved himself up onto his hands and knees and then went crawling up to their fallen comrade, to administer whatever first aid he could.

 

"It's just a flesh wound, Colonel," Murdock assured his deeply concerned Commander.

 

"Right," Hannibal sarcastically replied, "and I've got a bad cold." He un-strapped the first aid kit from the back of B.A.'s bucket seat and immediately went to work.

 

By the time Baracus had circled halfway around the block, Hannibal had H.M.'s flight jacket off and was successfully stemming the steady stream of blood that was oozing from his ghastly 'flesh wound'.

 

By the time B.A. had driven completely back around, Miss Allen had arrived and found her car.

 

"Amy's here, Hannibal," the Sergeant announced and pulled up along side the little lady's little white LeCar.

 

"Good. Tell her to follow us."

 

"Follow us where?" the van's driver wondered.

 

"To the nearest Emergency Room."

 

Murdock stiffened and then groaned. "No, Colonel! Plea-ease? Don't leave me all alone in a hospital full of strangers!"

 

"You've lived all alone in a hospital full of strangers for the past decade. Why the sudden paranoia?"

 

"I wanna stay with you, Colonel! I wanna stay with the team. This is a team. Remember? 'United we stand, divided we fall'. 'All for one and one for all'. Go A-Team! Go!"

 

"This isn't Nam. Remember? We can't just radio for an EVAC chopper and have them fly in a medic. We have to take you to the medics. It is just a flesh wound. But, it's a nasty one and it's gonna take more than a few stitches to close it up. And I'm not about to ask Amy if she's got a sewing kit in her purse. Get us to a hospital—ASAP, Sergeant!"

 

B.A. drove off at a rather rapid rate and Miss Allen obediently followed.

 

Murdock groaned again. This time, in mental anguish. "Paleeee-eeeeze, Colonel? Palee-eeze let me stay with you?" he pleaded, desperately, and gave his Commander the most pitiful, pathetic look he could possibly muster.

 

The Colonel considered the Captain's plea over carefully, if not clearly. It took a considerable amount of time to sort through his jumbled thoughts. But Hannibal's oxygen-deprived brain did finally manage to concoct a plan. "Okay, B.A., find a phone booth."

 

The Sergeant's eyes obediently began searching the sidewalks on both sides of the street they were racing down.

 

The Captain looked hopeful. "Does this mean I kin stay with you guys?"

 

"Wait 'til we call for the medics," the Colonel advised. "The paramedics, that is." He finished binding up their gunshot victim's wound. "I'll give you my decision after I hear what they have to say."

 

Murdock remained hopeful…and increasingly concerned about his Colonel's health. He noticed that the Aquamaniac was beginning to look a little blue around the gills. "When was the last time you cough—?"

 

"—Here's a phone booth, Hannibal!" the Sergeant suddenly interrupted and brought his gradually slowing van to a complete stop.

 

'Saved by Ma Bell,' the Colonel thought to himself and quickly slipped back out the vehicle's side door.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Colonel Smith stepped around the back of the van and went strolling up to Amy Allen's open car window. "I need you to make one more phone call for me," he announced.

 

Hannibal pulled the portal open and then ushered the little lady out of her vehicle and up onto the sidewalk. "Murdock's been hit."

 

"Yeah. I know. B.A. told me. How's he doing?"

 

"He needs a doctor. But, he doesn't want to go to the E.R.. I want you to dial 911 for me," The A-Team's Commander requested, as he escorted Amy up to the phone booth.

 

"Why do I have to make the call?" Amy annoyedly inquired.

 

"Because sometimes they dispatch police officers with the paramedics," Hannibal patiently explained. "And, if the cops were to get here before the firemen, things could get 'sticky'. Tell them you're pregnant and that you're feeling 'faint'," he suggested. Then he stuffed the caller into the booth and closed the door on her, before she could open her frowning mouth to protest.

 

The girl glared at him through the glass for a few moments, before reluctantly reaching for the receiver.

 

The reporter placed the call and then quickly exited the booth. "Hannibal, while we're on the subject of phone calls…When I called your answering service, to tell 007 to abort, I was told that you had received a message from some guy named Lynch."

 

"Ly-ynch? That doesn't figure, Amy. Lynch isn't bright enough to be the brains behind all of this."

 

"Be that as it may," Miss Allen went on, "they said that he said: 'I told yah I'd get yah Smith, if it was the last thing I ever did! I already took care of the rest of your team. So, start lookin' over your shoulder, Colonel, cuz you're next!'"

 

"If he takes care of me the way he took care of Murdock and B.A., I don't think I have too much to worry abou—" Hannibal stopped speaking, as a siren suddenly started up.

 

He and the girl turned in the sound's direction, to investigate its source.

 

The wailing was coming from a rescue squad that had just exited the Los Angeles County Fire Station situated about half way down the block.

 

Their looks of amazement quickly turned to ones of amusement.

 

"I don't think you have to worry too much about the cops getting here before the firemen, either," Amy lightly quipped.

 

Her companion was forced to grin. "Be gentle, Amy," the Colonel advised and began heading back over to their van. "Remember, you're dealing with America's Bravest."

 

The rescue squad pulled up and parked behind her car. Its occupants exited and began emptying its side compartments.

 

Amy panicked. "What if they don't want to help us?"

 

"Then we forget the whole thing. We're not kidnapping any firemen," Hannibal assured the slightly agitated girl, just prior to disappearing from sight.

 

Miss Allen exhaled a sigh of semi-relief and her anxious gaze returned to the rescue squad.

 

"Did you call the Fire Department, Miss?" one of her tall, gallant rescuers inquired, as he and his partner came trotting up, carting their heavy cases of medical equipment.

 

"I sure did," Amy unenthusiastically told the 'brave' blond-haired firefighter, standing before her.

 

"Well, what seems to be the problem, ma-am?" his dark-haired partner pondered, as no problem seemed apparent.

 

"My name is Amy Allen. I'm a foreign correspondent for the LA Courier-Express," she introduced and flashed the pair her press card. "Have either of you ever heard of The A-Team?"

 

The two firemen exchanged aggravated glances and began lowering their heavy burdens to the sidewalk.

 

"Look, Miss Allen, do you need us, or not?" the dark-haired paramedic suddenly demanded, venting some of the pair's increasing annoyance in the pretty reporter's direction.

 

Miss Allen noted the nametags that were pinned to the two men's chests. The blond guy was 'Roy DeSoto'; his dark-haired—impatient—partner was 'John Gage'. "The A-Team needs you. Three members of the team are in that van, right there, and one of them has been hurt pretty badly.

 

Their leader has asked me to ask you to please help their injured friend. All you have to do is take a look at him. You won't be held against your will and no harm will come to you," Amy quickly added, seeing the two men's looks of stunned disbelief being replaced by belief, and finally by fear and uncertainty.

 

The pair of rescuers found the woman's remarks somewhat reassuring. Still, they remained at a loss, as to what they should do.

 

"I've heard of these guys, Roy," Gage quietly confessed. "According to all the underground newspapers, The A-Team is the best thing to happen to LA, since Zorro!"

 

"I've heard of these guys, too, Johnny," DeSoto nervously replied. "They're wanted by the authorities."

 

"So was Zorro," Gage reminded his partner. Then he aimed his solemn gaze at the girl. "I'll take a look at him."

 

"We'll both take a look," his companion quickly corrected.

 

The paramedics picked their equipment cases back up and began heading over to the GMC van that was parked in front of the open phone booth.

 

The A-Team's Commander shoved the black and gray vehicle's back doors open. "Right this way, gentlemen," he invited and proceeded to assist the helpful pair aboard.

 

Once they'd gotten themselves—and all their cases of medical equipment—onboard, the paramedics' concerned gazes shifted from Hannibal to Murdock and then back to Hannibal again.

 

"You sure only one of you needs us?" John Gage asked the silver-gray haired, cyanotic member of the infamous A-Team.

 

"For now," the bluish-tinged fellow replied with a confident smirk.

 

The two turned their attention to the body, lying at their feet.

 

"What's under all those bandages?" Roy DeSoto anxiously asked.

 

"A bullet blazed the Suez Canal across the back of his left shoulder," the Colonel obligingly came back. "About ten minutes ago."

 

The paramedics dropped to their knees and began opening cases.

 

"Hi," Gage greeted the heavily bandaged team member lying facedown on the floor of the van. "I'm John. He's Roy. We're here to help you, okay?"

 

Murdock managed a slight nod and just kept right on repeating the same thing, over and over again.

 

The firemen finished taking and recording their gunshot victim's vital signs.

 

Their patient calmly continued his whispered mantra, "I must remember the Vulcan mind rules. Pain is a thing of the mind. The mind can be controlled. There is no pain…There is no pain…There is no pain…"

 

"Does that really work?" John pondered.

 

"Nah," their pained patient replied with a grimace and a gasp. "It just gives me somethin' to say, besides 'ou-ouch!'"

 

His paramedics exchanged amused glances.

 

"How is he?" Hannibal anxiously inquired.

 

Roy rose stiffly to his feet and then proceeded to give The A-Team's deathly-ill looking leader a report on their findings. "Well…He doesn't appear to have unwillingly donated too much of his blood. His vital signs are all stable. We could call it in and request an IV and something for the pain…"

 

The Colonel nodded his approval of the medical man's plan of action.

 

The hospital was contacted and permission was given to start an IV and administer pain meds.

 

DeSoto carefully adjusted the flow rate on their patient's successfully established IV.  Seeing the look of deep concern on The A-Team Commander's face, Roy reassuringly announced, "Miss Allen's ambulance should be here shortly. We can transport immediately."

 

Murdock found the fireman's remarks anything but reassuring! He gave the Colonel his pitiful, pouting, pleading look, once more.

 

"Will his life be in danger, if you do not 'transport immediately'?" Hannibal wondered, because he gave his word.

 

The paramedics were stunned by his inquiry.

 

"Not serious danger, no," DeSoto finally admitted. "His condition is stable…for the moment."

 

"Then, when you guys get back to your truck, you can cancel the ambulance. Once they leave, we leave, B.A.! Face's place! On the double!"

 

"Right!" the van's driver acknowledged.

 

Murdock looked tremendously relieved and absolutely delighted.

 

The two firefighter p.m.s looked positively flabbergasted.

 

"We can't abandon a patient once we've begun an IV," Gage adamantly stated, when he finally got his voice back.

 

Hannibal groaned inwardly. He didn't need the whole 'hostage' hysteria. But, he admired these men—and respected their medical ethics. "All right. One of you can tag along with us…for the moment."

 

"It would be better, if he were to tag along with us," Roy solemnly reminded the silver-gray haired guy.

 

"Better for you, maybe," the Colonel quickly concurred. "But, not for him."

 

Murdock gave his Commander a 'You got that right!' grin.

 

"Thank you both, gentlemen," Hannibal sincerely said. "The A-Team really appreciates your assistance. Now, which one of you is staying?"

 

The two firemen exchanged anxious glances. Neither of them wanted to leave the other behind.

 

Precious seconds passed.

 

"C'mon, guys," the Colonel encouraged. "We've got places to go and people to see."

 

Gage grabbed a pair of tongue depressors from one of their open cases and placed them behind his back. There was a loud 'snap', as he cracked one of the unseen items in half. When he reproduced the pair, their bottom halves were concealed in his right palm.

 

"Short stick stays," he somberly proposed.

 

DeSoto reluctantly withdrew one of the wooden objects. It was depressing, all right! His stick was still intact. That meant he was leaving and his partner was staying.

 

With that important issue finally taken care of, The A-Team's fearless leader began working his way up to the front of the van.

 

"Sit down, Hannibal," Amy suggested and quickly vacated her front passenger seat.

The Colonel took it. The last thing Hannibal felt like, right then, was a gentleman. "He's gonna be okay," he relievedly announced. "Now, all we have to do is find Face…hopefully, before Lynch does."

 

The Sergeant's solemn gaze shifted from the Captain to the Colonel. "Yah mean, Lynch is responsible fer all a' this?"

 

"I find it incredibly difficult to believe it myself," the Colonel confessed. "But, yes, Lynch has taken credit for it…so far."

 

B.A. clenched his jaws and then his fists. "If I ever git my han's on that dude, he gonna be livin' up ta his name! Man! I thought we was all through with that sucker, Hannibal!"

 

"We were. Unfortunately, it seems he wasn't all through with us."

 

Something suddenly occurred to the Sergeant. "What went wrong back there, Hannibal? You realize you led us right inta an ambush?"

 

"Hannibal didn't have anything to do with what happened back there, B.A.," Amy defensively informed him. "He didn't even know you guys were going to that alley until it was almost too late to stop you. And then, he almost killed himself trying to rescue you!"

 

The Big Guy looked thoughtful. "That true, Hannibal?"

 

"Well, I don't know about the 'almost killing myself' part. But the rest of it is true, yes."

 

B.A. looked completely confused and felt tremendously dejected. His gaze shifted back over his shoulder, to Murdock. "He was right. He was right all along. Murdock knew it wasn' you that lef' me that message. But, I wouldn' listen. An' I almos' got 'im kill't! An' it would a' been all my fault!" He turned back to the Colonel. "I didn' think nobody could do 'Mario from da Barrio' like you, Hannibal. This guy was good, man! He even knew the crazy code!"

 

"Nobody conn do Mario from dee Barrio like me, monn," Hannibal assured his dejected friend. "They used a recording of my voice to set you up…monn. A-and, you saved Murdock's life this afternoon! Someone threw a Molotov cocktail into his room. He'd be dead right now, if you hadn't gotten him out of the hospital."

 

The expression on the Sergeant's face went from sad…to shocked…to astounded. "Yah mean, you really did leave me that message?"

 

"Yeah. But, I left it three months ago. Someone else left it this afternoon."

 

"That don' make no sense, Hannibal!"

 

"I figure, they must have had your phone tapped back then. And, all they did today was play my message to your recorder—back to your recorder."

 

Baracus remained dubious. "If they had my phone tapped three months ago, then that means they know'd where I lived three months ago—an' that means that they could a' kill't me three months ago! So, that still don' make no sense, Hannibal!"

 

"Well, it makes more sense than me setting you guys up!" the guy on the receiving end of the Sergeant's angry, accusing glare defensively stated. "I could really use some air," he quietly confessed, and quickly slipped out his side door.

 

Amy assumed Hannibal's freshly vacated seat and then gave the guy with the angry, accusing glares an accusing glare of her own. "Why didn't you just hit him, B.A.?" she sarcastically inquired. "I'm sure he'd much rather you break his jaw…than his heart."

 

Baracus' anger quickly gave way to regret. "I didn' mean ta hurt 'is feelin's. I know Hannibal would never set us up. Hannibal would die, fers'!"

 

Miss Allen flashed him a slight, sad smile. "I think you're telling the wrong person, here. Don't you?"

 

B.A. returned the little lady's smile and then left…to go find the right person.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

B.A. found the right person, all right, but in the wrong place!

 

Hannibal was sprawled out face first on the sidewalk beside the van.

 

The message wasn't the only thing Murdock had been right about.

 

The Sergeant scooped their leader's limp body up, carried him around to the back of the van, and placed him gently down inside, right at the two paramedics' feet. "I wan' you guys ta take a look at Hannibal."

 

The two rescuers watched, in stunned silence, as the big, black, mean-looking member of The A-Team deposited another victim on the floor of the van.

 

The silver-gray haired guy was passed out cold and there was some minor bleeding from a small cut just above the corner of his right eye.

 

"No-ow!" the big guy gruffly tacked on and the two frozen firefighters sprang into action.

 

Murdock, who was half out of it—from lack of sleep and sufficient painkillers—slowly picked his groggy head up. "What happened to him, B.A.?" he quietly inquired.

 

"You was right, man! Hannibal is one sick dude. He blacked out on the sidewalk an' cracked his head open on the concrete."

 

Amy gasped.

 

H.M. groaned and his heavy head dropped back to the floor.

 

John completed his initial patient survey and turned to his partner, "Better get the oxygen and uncancel that ambulance!"

 

Roy, who'd just finished taking vital signs, nodded gravely and turned to leave. He couldn't. The big, black guy was still standing there in the van's back doorway, blocking his path to their rescue squad.

 

"You kin fetch the oxygen," Baracus allowed. "But you kin ferget the ambulance!"

 

DeSoto suddenly turned a little mean-looking himself. "Your friend here is one sick dude! And, if we don't get him to a hospital, he could be one dead dude!"

 

Miss Allen gasped again. There was that second opinion Hannibal had wanted!

 

Murdock groaned again. He knew it was the Colonel's clothesline cough!

 

B.A. stared solemnly down at the unconscious member of their team and made the decision Amy hadn't felt qualified to make earlier in the day. "Hannibal ain' goin' ta no hospital. Someone could reco'nize 'im. An' then, he be transferred to a prison hospital. An' Hannibal would rather be a dead dude…than a dude stuck in prison."

 

The two paramedics looked thoughtful. They could relate to that. While they didn't always agree with a patient's choice—to accept or deny treatment—they always respected the fact that it was the patient's decision to make.

 

John went back to listening to their victim's lungs.

 

"No ambulance," Roy promised, as he squeezed by the big guy, en route to their rescue squad.

 

Gage pulled his stethoscope from his ears and aimed a foreboding frown at Amy. "How long has he been sick like this?"

 

"Since yesterday morning," Murdock replied in slow motion. "But, he's been coughing ever since those gargantuan goons tried to drown him, in one a' those Olympic size pools, over at the now closed down Charles W. Clemsen's unhealthy recreational club."

 

John finished cleaning and bandaging their drowning victim's cut and then glanced down at their gunshot victim, looking stunned again. "You mean…you guys had a hand in shutting down that child prostitution racket?"

 

"We put that scum out a' business fer good!" B.A. proudly declared. "Clemsen ain' gonna be hurtin' no more kids! But, he gonna be hurtin' fer awhile!" he added with a shake of his big, powerful right fist.

 

Gage was even more amazed. "They never gave you guys any credit for it on the news. All that was mentioned was the police raid."

 

"It's a thankless job," Miss Allen sullenly admitted.

 

"Police didn' raid nothin', man! We lef' those scum bags strung up over a pool an' then called the police ta come an' cart 'em off to jail," Baracus corrected. "But, we don' care about the 'glory'. All's we care about is the kids!"

 

Roy returned with the oxygen just then and the two firemen turned their attention to regulating their cyanotic victim's rapid, shallow respirations.

 

John stared down at their pneumonia victim, looking thoughtful. "Look, if you guys are worried about him getting caught," he finally spoke up, "I might know of a place we could take him. A place where he could get the treatment that he needs, without being handed over to the authori—"

 

"—Johnny!" DeSoto suddenly interjected, and looked at his partner like he'd just lost his mind, or something. "First-aid'ing is one thing. Aiding and abetting is a—"

 

"—felony?" his fellow firefighter finished for him.

 

"Actually, I was going to say 'another thing all together'. But, felony certainly fits the—"

 

"—Where?" Miss Allen demanded, unable to bear the suspense any longer.

 

Gage got the asphyxiating guy's oxygen flowing—wide open. He gave the gauge on the regulator a final check and then turned to the girl. "I'll have to have your word that no harm will come to the person who runs the pla—"

 

"—Johnny?" his panicked partner interrupted, again. "You sure you know what you're doing?"

 

"I don't really know what I'm doing," 'Johnny' quietly confessed. "I just know that it's the right thing to do, " he earnestly added, and flashed his concerned friend a crooked, confident smile.

 

"You have our word," Amy assured him. "No harm will come to anyone. At least, not from us, anyway."

 

"We got money, if—" B.A. began.

 

"—Zorro's word is all I need," Gage announced and gave the big, black fellow his confident grin. "A bowling buddy of mine runs a Free Clinic. It's a pretty well equipped place. There are even underground newspapers in the waiting room. That's where I first read about you guys. Of course, because of the source, I didn't really believe what I was reading. But, Brian believes. And—now—so do I. Before he became a doctor, Brian was an Army medic. I'm sure he'd be willing to help you guys out, being as how you're fellow Veterans, an' all."

 

The Sergeant had heard enough. "What're we waitin' fer? Les' go!"

 

DeSoto gave his flipped out partner one, last, deeply concerned look. "I'll get you some spare cylinders," he glumly volunteered and turned to leave.

 

Murdock exhaled a shallow breath…of relief. They were going to a clinic where the Colonel could receive the treatment he so desperately needed. The Captain even allowed himself to relax…a bit. He had been struggling, for some time now, to keep his sleep-deprived, heavily medicated mind fully functional. But, a tsunami of weariness swept over him, and he finally lost the battle.

 

TBC

 


Divided We Fall by Rosanne Emily Esbrook-Iho
Divided We Fall 2 by Rosanne Emily Esbrook-Iho

 

 


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