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Summary: If you want to hire the A-Team, you'd better be prepared to get the runaround. If you give up too easily, then you never really needed their help in the first place. Follow a couple of wannabe clients around LA as they try to track down the A-Team.
Notes: I'm not normally one for "Author's notes" but this story needs one as it’s a bit different. First off, be very clear: this is a one-shot, not the first chapter of a long story. In the show the new client sometimes mentions how they've had several meetings and been sent to all kinds of places as they look for the A-Team. Usually we only see that final "you found the A-Team meeting", but I was intrigued by the idea of taking a look at what leads up to that final meeting and just what a client has to go through to get that far. That means that this story naturally centres around the clients, and the A-Team themselves don't appear that much... or do they?
Disclaimer: I don't own the A-Team, I don't make any money from this.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"The guy in the bar told us this is where they'd make contact."
James peered into the dark alleyway and moved cautiously down it. His brother Nathan followed, looking behind them.
"I know that's what he told us," Nathan said. "I'm just wondering if 'go to this pitch black alley and you'll meet the A-Team' is code for 'you bumpkins go wait in the dark and I'll be along later with some friends to beat the crap out of you and steal all your money'."
"Who are you calling a bumpkin?"
James tripped on something and Nathan grabbed his arm to stop him falling. A horrible smell of rotting vegetables wafted up at the brothers. Noises came from the stinking depths of the alley.
"Is someone there?" James called. No answer came. Nathan still clung to his arm and was probably one scary noise away from holding his hand. James wasn't sure he'd mind. "Probably just a cat."
"Or rats, or raccoons, or a rabid dog, or a coyote, or a mountain lion." Nathan ran out of possible wildlife that might be infesting the alleyway, at least some of it unlikely in the middle of LA.
"As long as it's not snakes, I can live with it."
"It could be snakes. The sharp-tailed snake, or the California king snake, or the gopher snake, though that's not active at night much."
"Shut up about snakes. How do you know so much about snakes anyway?"
Nathan shrugged. "I read stuff."
He read anything and everything, James knew. His little brother, the bookworm. They were deep in the dark alley now. No lights came from the buildings on either side, and only the full moon allowed them to see anything at all.
"So what now?" Nathan asked. James shrugged this time.
They waited. After about ten minutes Nathan handed James half of a rather soft candy bar, and they stood in nervous silence eating the chocolate.
James and Nathan Kerry waited for the A-Team.
They waited all night. Nobody came. No A-Team came to make contact. Nobody from the bar came to beat them up and steal their money. James began to question if they were going about this in the right way, but they didn't know what else to do.
They'd hung around bars where war vets gathered, usually the youngest men in there by far, James barely thirty and Nathan three years younger. But they'd thought they were making progress last night. A man they'd asked about the A-Team said he might be able to contact them, but of course the team were fugitives, so they had to be cautious. Go to this particular alleyway, at 2am...
Now they sat in a nearby diner, the smell of that alley still clinging to their clothes and gloomily gave their breakfast orders to a waiter who, in James's opinion, was smiling far too much for this time of the morning.
"Well, that was a bust," Nathan said. He sighed. "I guess we try again tonight. Maybe see if we can find that guy again."
"I guess," James said. "But we've been here a week now, and I don't like being away from the farm so long. It's not fair on the help. If Henderson comes looking for trouble again, we should be there."
"You could go home," Nathan suggested. "I'll stay and see if I can find the A-Team."
James snorted. "Yeah, that'll work. You're a country bumpkin and a science nerd. You'll do great messing with the LA underworld."
"And you're a country bumpkin turned real estate agent."
He broke off as the waiter brought back their orders and topped up their coffee.
"So what now?" Nathan asked as they ate their breakfasts.
"Maybe we should contact that reporter who writes all the stories about them -Amy Allen - see if she can put us in touch."
"Yeah, because I'm sure the Army has never tried that."
James sighed. "Yeah, the Army. I still wonder if we should be messing with this at all. They're fugitives from the military. War criminals."
"Does that matter?" Nathan said.
"It would have mattered to Mom and Dad. Especially Dad."
"Yeah, well, Mom and Dad aren't here," Nathan said. "If they were, we wouldn't be here looking for the..." His voice dropped lower, "the A-Team, would we? And it's not like they massacred a village or something. They robbed a bank. And they said they did that under orders."
"Well they would say that."
Nathan just shrugged and went on eating. James had read all he could find about the whole A-Team case, and still couldn't decide if the men were guilty or not of the crime the Army accused them of. But they seemed to be good guys, if the stories Amy Allen wrote about them were anything to go by. Even if they'd done something wrong in the past, now they helped people out. James had decided he could live with that.
Their father might have disapproved. A man of rigid moral character, who'd left the military with a spotless record of honourable service. But like Nathan said, with so much pain still in his voice, Dad and Mom weren't here.
They finished their breakfast agreeing to head back to their motel to get some rest and consider the next move. Nathan went to the bathroom, while James took out his wallet to pay the check.
He frowned at the check. The breakfasts were itemised, the total bill at the bottom, and something else. James stared. An address. For a moment he looked around the diner, wild eyed, then hurried to the counter to speak to the manager.
"Excuse me, but where's the guy who waited on us? Tall, blond guy."
The manager scowled. "That's what I'd like to know. You call the agency for someone to cover an eight-hour shift and he slips off after two."
"That's what I said, didn't I? You ready to settle that?"
James slapped cash on the counter, and hurried into the bathroom, to find Nathan trying to wash some egg yolk out of his Daffy Duck t-shirt.
"Stop messing around and come on." James held up the check with the address on it. He grinned. "The A-Team made contact."
"Are you sure this is the right place?"
James checked again, looking at the address on the diner bill and the number above the door in front of them.
"Yes, it's the right one."
"But, it's a beauty parlour."
"Well, it's the only lead we have." James pushed open the door. A bell jangled above his head.
"And what do we do?" Nathan asked quietly, as they approached the reception desk. "Ask for the A-Team?"
"Of course not. We just... well, I guess we wait here to be contacted."
"Wait? This isn't a public library. They won't let us sit here and read the magazines, you know."
"I know." A young woman in a pink smock that matched her lipstick came to the desk. James smiled his best salesman smile at her. "Hi. My brother here needs a haircut."
"I do not!" Nathan protested, despite much evidence to the contrary.
"Well," James said, "Maybe instead, you could have something waxed."
Nathan paled. "Ah, yes, I could use a trim."
"I can't believe you got a manicure."
"What, you never heard of men having manicures before," James asked.
"Well, some men, yeah." Nathan smirked.
"The same type of men who get facials, huh?"
They'd been there nearly two hours now. Both had fresh haircuts, had drunk several cups of coffee, and taken various other services offered here, to extend their stay. So far, no sign of the A-Team and the all-female staff and customers were starting to give them very strange looks.
When a man came in the back door, pushing a small laundry cart, James felt like an explorer in strange and alien lands meeting one of his own countrymen at last. He resisted the urge to accost the man and talk about football and cars in an effort to reassert the masculinity threatened by his fresh manicure.
"Morning, ladies," the gnarled old laundryman said. "Got your towels for you."
"What happened to Charlie?" One of the hairdressers asked, as she signed his clipboard.
"Day off," the towel man said. He collected another cart, of dirty towels and headed for the back door again. On the way, he noticed the brothers for the first time. He chuckled.
"You fellas look as if you could use the services of a laundry too."
James winced. After the night in the alley, they were a little rumpled. They should have gone back to the motel to change before coming over here, but they'd been too excited.
"Here," the man said, digging a card out of his pocket. "Case you need it. Ask for Mr Lee."
James took the card, with a nod, though he didn't think they'd have the time to go messing around with laundries. He put it in his pocket.
"Don't be late," the laundryman called as the back door closed behind him.
"Late for what?" Nathan said, frowning at the cryptic instruction.
"I don't know." Then James thought of the waiter. He thought of the address written on the check. The message that had brought them here.
Slowly, almost afraid to look, afraid to be wrong, he took the card back out of his pocket. It was a perfectly ordinary business card, advertising Mr Lee's laundry, with an address, a phone number, and opening times. But when James turned it over, he saw the handwritten note on the back.
"What," Nathan said, seeing his smile. "What did I miss now?"
"We've got an appointment. Come on, let's get out of here. We're pretty enough."
At three-fifteen on the dot, James and Nathan walked into Mr Lee's laundry. A Chinese man sat behind the counter, reading the sports section of the LA Courier Express.
"Mr Lee?" James asked.
"I'm Mr Lee, yes. You have something to wash?" He frowned at the empty-handed brothers.
"No. We, um, were told to come here. A man gave us your card and --"
"We're looking for the A-Team," Nathan said. James scowled at him. "What? Look, we can't keep screwing around; we don't have the time."
"Time," Mr Lee said. "A man must always make time."
"You see, he agrees with me. Sir, we're trying to find the A-Team. Can you help us?"
"The A-Team? You think I know these men? These criminals? You are police officers, yes? Or G-men?"
"No!" James protested. "No, we're not police officers, or FBI, or Army. We just need some help and we want to hire the A-Team." Nathan was right. No time to screw around any more. Maybe this was another dead end, or maybe not. "My name is James Kerry, and this is my brother Nathan. We own a dairy farm in Montana. We inherited it about a year ago after our parents died in a car accident."
Nathan snorted, but James ignored that, didn't want to get into the argument about that now. If Henderson was responsible for the accident... Well, perhaps the A-Team could help them figure that out too.
"The business is a farm and dairy combined and we employ nearly thirty people. But a neighbouring cattle rancher wants to buy the property, and he's not taking no for an answer. We think he's intimidating our workers, sabotaging equipment. We think he even hijacked one of our trucks, destroyed the load, and threatened the driver."
"I think you should go to the police," Mr Lee said.
"We have, but they say there's not enough evidence."
"Plus they don't like us," Nathan said.
"Nate, stop being paranoid."
"They don't. We grew up there, Mr Lee, but both of us went off to college and have been working elsewhere. Some of the local people think we're not proper locals any more."
"Ah," Mr Lee said. "They think you went off and got education and now you know better than they do."
"That's right," Nathan said, nodding.
"Nathan, you do think you know better than they do," James pointed out.
"Well, that's as may be, but we could have just sold out. We could have laid off the workers and let Henderson have the place, but we didn't, did we? We came home to keep the business going, keep those people in jobs, because that's what Mom and Dad would have wanted!" His voice rose and he flushed.
"You said you only came home because it's darker in Montana than in San Francisco." James said, with a gently teasing tone.
Nathan shook his head, calming. He shrugged. "I say a lot of things."
"Darker in Montana?" Mr Lee said. "You like darkness, Mr Kerry?"
"My brother likes to look at the stars," James said.
Mr Lee smiled, showing rather bad teeth. "You come to right place to see stars. Go to Hollywood, see many stars there."
Nathan laughed. "I'm sure. But he means I'm an astronomer."
"Ah!" Mr Lee nodded. "Chinese people very famous astrologers."
"Mr Lee," James said, jumping in quick, before Nathan reacted to the word 'astrologers'. "We know it's expensive to hire the A-Team. But we have money, the life insurance from our parents' accident. We were going to use it to upgrade the equipment in the dairy. But well, that's not much use if we lose the business. So we're prepared to use it to hire the A-Team."
"Can you help us?" Nathan asked.
Mr Lee looked serious. "All I can do is tell you a place to go." He tore a piece off his newspaper, took a stubby pencil from behind his ear, licked the point and started writing on the paper. "Go there tonight, at ten o'clock."
"The A-Team will contact us there?" James asked.
"Perhaps. I cannot tell the future." Mr Lee smiled at Nathan. "Perhaps it is in stars."
"What time is it now?" Nathan asked.
"You have a watch."
"You have a better watch."
James sighed. "It's ten thirty." He nodded at Nathan's wrist. "I'm sure Mickey agrees with me."
"They're not coming are they? Not with that cop sitting there. And he's looking at us funny by the way."
The cop in question sat in a police cruiser, watching the night time crowds on the boardwalk.
"Let's walk up and down a bit," James suggested. "Instead of loitering with intent."
They strolled up the boardwalk a short distance. A small knot of people gathered ahead and when they got closer, James saw a man with a folding chair and a telescope on a tripod. A handwritten sign stood beside the chair.
'The wonders of the universe. 50c.'
A teenage boy was looking through the telescope. The man in charge, a professorial looking man in his fifties, with suspiciously jet-black hair, heavy glasses and a pipe, spoke to the boy.
"See that circular dark patch, near the edge, top right. That's the famous Sea of Tranquillity, where Apollo 11 landed."
James heard Nathan click his tongue. Oh, not now, he thought.
"Actually," Nathan said, "That's the Sea of Storms you're pointing him at. The Sea of Tranquillity is to the right of that and down a little." The kid at the telescope looked up at him and Nathan bent down, looked through it and adjusted the focus. "There, try it now. See, it's more irregular shaped, not as circular as the Sea of Storms."
The kid looked through the telescope again. "Cool."
"Ahem," the telescope's owner said. "And what do you know about it, young man?"
Nathan shrugged. "Picked up a few things here and there."
Like a Master's degree, James thought. As Nathan talked to the kid about the moon, and fielded questions from the small crowd, James's attention wandered. He'd heard it all before, Nathan had gazed into the vast sky over their family farm in Montana since he was a little boy. When he grew up, he'd followed the stars to Berkley and been there ever since, studying, teaching… until the accident.
He sighed. Don't think about that. Just think about the A-Team. They had to show up. They had to help. And astronomy lectures weren't going to help.
"Nate," he called. "Come on." Nathan looked around as if recollecting that he wasn't in a lecture theatre, and nodded to James. He smiled to the now very grumpy looking telescope owner and nodded at the instrument. "Nice glass."
"You can never just leave it can you?" James said as they walked off.
"He was talking to a kid."
"God forbid one kid got the Sea of Storms and the Sea of Tranquillity mixed up."
"It's the moon. It was my thesis. I can't let it pass."
They strolled on and then turned back to stroll the other way. Telescope man was packing up now. The small crowd had evaporated. The cop in the cruiser was still watching.
"What time is it?" Nathan asked.
James slipped out of the motel room in the morning, leaving Nathan sleeping. He'd seen a diner a few minutes away, and decided he'd bring back some food to eat in the room. Nobody had contacted them last night, even though they hung around the boardwalk until after midnight. Once again they had to reconsider their strategy.
A piece of paper fluttered gently, stuck under their car's windshield wiper. All the cars had the same thing. A flyer, James thought, taking it out. He was about to toss it away, when he thought better of doing that. He was learning. He turned it over and grinned.
A moment later, he burst back into the motel room, waking Nathan with a start.
"What are you doing still in bed? Come on! We're going to be late!"
"Late? Where are we going?"
Nathan came back out of the zoo's visitor centre. The message on the back of the flyer had told them the number of a building to go to and Nathan had gone to the visitor centre to pick up a map.
"James, you're kind of not going to like this."
"Why, what is it?" James asked, falling into step with his brother as they set off through the zoo.
"It's kind of, well, it actually is, the reptile house."
"Reptiles? As in snakes?"
"It'll be fine," Nathan grabbed his arm and hustled him along. "It's not like they're loose or anything." He smirked "I mean, not unless something went terribly, terribly wrong."
"Shut up." James started to sweat when they went into the reptile house and not only because the place was so hot, dark and stuffy.
Nathan wasn't fazed and had a good look at each exhibit. James just sat on a bench in the middle of the room, which he'd estimated was at the optimal distance from all of the glass fronted tanks, and had a clear run to the door.
Various other zoo patrons came in and out while the brothers waited. No mysterious men sidled up to them by the garter snakes and asked if they wanted to hire the A-Team.
At one point James got up the nerve to go and look at some lizards, which Nathan swore were cute and not it any way snaky. While he stood there, watching them climb on the glass on their little suckered feet, a passing man bumped into him, knocking James towards the next tank. That one held a black mamba and James swore and jumped back. The clumsy guy muttered an apology and went on his way. James glared after him and went back to his bench. Nathan joined him.
"You okay? You can wait outside if you like."
"I'll be fine."
James reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his sweating brow. Something fluttered to the floor at his feet and Nathan at once picked it up.
"I'm not even surprised any more," James said. He knew he hadn't put that paper there. The man who'd bumped into him must have. He could race after him, he supposed. But why? This was a game. Right now, they had to play along. And right now, he couldn't be mad, because at least he could get out of this snake den.
"It's another address," Nathan said. "And a book? 'War As I knew It: the Battle Memoirs of George S Patton.' Does this mean we're supposed to buy this?"
"I guess so. And even if it's another dead end, that's your next birthday gift covered."
This latest address was a bookstore. Nearly. The window had a big sign in it.
'Used Books and Collector's Editions. Opening Soon!'
The door was open, however and inside they found a maze of cartons and tea chests.
"Are you the chaps with the shelves?" A cultured voice, English, James thought, called from above. The brothers looked up to see a man leaning over a rail two storeys up. James shaded his eyes. The noon sun poured through a skylight above the man, making him no more than a silhouette.
"No, sir," James called. "We were told to come here to find a book."
The man above laughed. "Well, I have lots of books, as you can see, but no shelves yet." He sneezed. "Pardon me. We're not open yet."
"It's just this one particular book. If you have it, we can be on our way. But it's important we find it."
"What's the book?"
"It's 'War As I Knew It', by General Patton."
"Oh, I'm quite sure I have that somewhere," The man upstairs called. "But all the boxes." He made a sweeping gesture at the floor below him. "Well nothing's in any order, nothing's been categorised."
James and Nathan looked around at the dozens of boxes surrounding them. There must be thousands of books. For a moment, James started to despair. This was crazy. It could take hours. But Nathan took out a pen and set his jaw.
"We'll have to mark off a box after we've searched it, or we'll end up going in circles." He clicked the pen top like a man cocking a gun. "Let's go to work."
Well of course Nathan had been more enthusiastic to get down to the task, James thought. He was in his element digging through boxes of books. Now and again he would pipe up with a happy cry.
"Ender's Game!" or "Dandelion Wine!" or "The Silmarillion!" But he didn't call out "War As I Knew It!"
After a good three hours Nathan had fallen suspiciously quiet, which James knew for sure meant he was reading again, not searching. But he didn't have the strength to go and wallop him for it. Exhausted and covered in dust, James was even starting to think fondly about his old job in real estate. He'd almost convinced himself that it hadn't been as mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly unrewarding as he remembered, when a voice came from above. Not the voice of God, but the same English voice he heard earlier.
"I say, try that box in the corner. I think there were some military history books in there."
James literally crawled over to the box in question and pulled open the top. More dusty, musty books, with faded covers. But he started to dig through them, names he'd learnt in history class flashing past his eyes - MacArthur, Montgomery, Lee, Rommel, Grant, Wellington and - at last - Patton.
"I've got it! I've..." He stopped and let out a huge sneeze. Nathan's head popped up from the forest of boxes.
"You found it?"
James waved the book in the air in triumph.
"You find what you're looking for, young man?" The proprietor called down from above and sneezed too. "Pardon me."
"I found it," James said. "Can I buy it now, please?"
The proprietor laughed. "I don't even have a cash register yet. Why don't you just leave five dollars on the counter there? That should cover it."
As James fished the five out, Nathan stood up, balancing a stack of books. He had his chin resting on the top one to keep them from toppling over.
"No," James said.
"No. We don't have the time. Put 'em back."
Nathan muttered, but then called up to the voice from on high. "Keep these aside for me. I'll be back."
James shook his head and walked out to the car with his new book, tired of the dust. Nathan arrived a moment later and James handed him what he'd just found tucked away between the pages of the book. Two pieces of brightly coloured glossy paper.
"It's a good thing we went to that beauty parlour after all, brother, because we're invited to a hot new nightclub."
This had to be the contact, James thought. They'd meet the A-Team somewhere in the nightclub. They walked up to the side door of the club, which their tickets specified was the VIP entrance, for special ticket holders only.
They'd done their best to get dressed up for the occasion, which had meant going shopping, especially for Nathan, who seemed to own no pants, only jeans. He didn't 'do' nightclubs, he explained. After all, his busiest time had always been at night. James told him to just act natural and not twitch too much if a girl asked him what his zodiac sign was.
First though, they had to get in. A huge bouncer stood at the doorway, a black man, with an arresting haircut and way too much gold jewellery. James gave him a nervous smile and their tickets.
The bouncer didn't smile back. He scowled down at the tickets and then the snorted and tore them up. The brothers gasped in unison.
"What are you doing?" Nathan cried as the pieces fluttered to the ground.
"They ain't no good. Fakes. You been had."
"But we have to get inside!" James protested. "We're supposed to meet someone. It's important."
The bouncer looked at them suspiciously. "You trying to con your way in with fake tickets?"
"Con? What? No!"
"Get outta here. And don't try and get in the front door either." He raised a walkie-talkie. "Side here. Got a coupla nerds trying to get in. White boys, both dark haired. Bad clothes. Don't let 'em in."
"You got it," a voice came back. The bouncer put away the walkie-talkie and looked smug.
"You boys might as well go home. You ain't getting in here tonight."
Nathan looked like he was about to say something he'd live to regret, possibly not for very long, so James grabbed his arm and pulled him away, scowling at him to keep his mouth shut, until they turned the corner, back to the front of the club. There was a big queue there for the front door, and the bouncers were already warned not to let the brothers in, so James kept right on going past there. He ducked into the alley that ran down the other side of the club. Nathan hurried after him.
"Where are we going?"
"We have to get inside," James said. "The A-Team is in there, and this could be our last chance to make contact. If we don't, they might think we gave up. And I haven't been run all over LA, to beauty parlours, and laundries and snake pits to give up now!"
"James, you are totally turning into Dad."
"I'll take that as a compliment. Right, see that window?" He pointed up at a small window, at least seven feet up the wall. "I'll give you a leg up."
Five minutes later, they were inside, in a grim corridor, all concrete and strip lighting. Pounding music came from somewhere deeper inside the building. They moved cautiously, James leading the way.
"Okay," he said. "Once we get into the public part of the club, just act cool."
"Cool?" Nathan sounded incredulous. "Brother, you said it yourself - I'm a science nerd. The nearest I get to cool is remembering not to wear my Spock ears on a date."
James glanced back at him. "You're never ever getting married are you?"
"Depends. If I one day I meet just the right girl, who owns just the right telescope."
James rolled his eyes. "Just try not to give anyone the Vulcan salute, think you can --"
He broke off as a door ahead of them opened, spilling noise into the corridor. And also spilling out the bouncer who had torn up their tickets.
"Forget the salute," Nathan said. "Why didn't I learn to do the Vulcan nerve pinch instead?"
"Hey!" The bouncer spotted them, and strode over. "You two again? You ain't supposed to be in here." He reached out and grabbed their collars in his huge hands. "Let's go."
They went. Protesting about it, for sure, but they had little choice but to go. The bouncer kicked open a door and hurled them out into the alley, to land on a heap of wet and mushy cardboard boxes.
The big bouncer followed them out - with a lot more dignity than their own exit - and what's more, a couple of other men had joined him.
"Well, I'm not the expert on nightclubs," Nathan said. "But something tells me that this isn't good." The two of them scrambled back towards the wall, and helped each other up as the men advanced on them.
"Wait just a second," Nathan said to the man on the right of the bouncer. "Don't I know you?" The man smiled a brilliant smile and James recognised their waiter, who'd vanished so suddenly from the diner.
"James, you had scrambled eggs, whole-wheat toast, and ham. Nathan, eggs over easy, bacon and hash browns. And you shared a short stack of pancakes. You both had a lot of coffee."
"Well of course they did, Lieutenant." The man on the other side of the bouncer spoke, as he lit a cigar, the match illuminating a pair of blue eyes. "After all, we left them waiting all night in that alleyway." He grinned. "You boys are persistent."
"You mean... we... we..." James could barely get the words out. Nathan was grinning to rival the Cheshire cat. "We did it?"
"Yes, Mr Kerry," the cigar smoking man said. "You found the A-Team."
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