Please Send This Author Comments!
This page last viewed: 2017-07-22 and has been viewed 1552 times
Warnings: Death of a major character; a modicum of angst. Other than that, there is no more violence or cursing than in the average episode of the series, and possibly a good deal less. (Plus a few tiny in-jokes from other shows.)
Note: I wrote this story with the intention of setting it squarely in the present. Keeping in mind that George Peppard died in 1994, but that actor and character are separate entities, I had to create a reason for the team to go forward without Hannibal.
The first sentence of the story was the first to pop into my head, and the prologue was completed before I had a clear idea of how the story would progress.
I love it when a plot comes together!
Disclaimer: The canon characters are, of course, the product of Stephen J. Cannell's fertile imagination. I can only hope I've done justice to his creation.
* * * * * * * * * *
Templeton Peck crouched on the pavement, watching the tail-lights disappear into the night. Another hit-and-run. Only this time, it had struck too close to home.
The labored breathing of the man who lay crumpled next to him pulled his attention back. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he realized that his best friend in the world, Colonel John Smith, was dying.
'Face…' Smith gasped. 'I guess I got a little too close for someone's comfort.' He smiled in spite of the pain. 'That means I'm on the right track.'
'Let me call an ambulance…'
'There's no time, Lieutenant! I know I'm dying!' he snapped, before Peck could bluff a denial. 'You don't survive 'Nam without learning that much!' He slipped a black-gloved hand inside his jacket, pulled out a thick manila envelope, and pressed it into Peck's hands. 'Here's the information I told you about. And the key to a safe-deposit box. Amy has the other key, just in case. It holds much of the proof we need.' He broke off, coughing. 'Get the others together. Find the rest of the evidence. Clear our names!'
Peck nodded. Smith smiled, on the Jazz to the last. 'It nearly came together, kid. You're going to have to make it work now.'
'Yes, sir!' Peck whispered roughly.
'Good man!' Smith's voice was almost gone. A fit of coughing racked his body, and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. The light in the ice-blue eyes faded, then vanished forever.
Peck continued to kneel there, clutching the hand of the dead man, his head bowed. Grief shattered the care-free façade he'd always shown the world.
Dimly, he became aware of sirens approaching. It wouldn't do to be found here. He stood, looking down at the body of the man who had saved his life more times than he cared to count. Straightening, he saluted smartly.
He looked around. The sirens were getting nearer.
'Forgive me, Hannibal,' he whispered. Then he disappeared into the darkness, running for all he was worth.
'It was no accident.'
Three soldiers-of-fortune stood in the small, neglected cemetery. The earth in the grave was beginning to settle. It was a 'potter's field', a resting-place for unclaimed bodies, and the little bouquet of flowers – Amy's doing, thought Face – made it seem even more bleak.
It had been nearly a month, but they couldn't have come sooner, not together. Even though technically pardoned, there were still some people who wanted them out of the way.
'It was no accident,' Face repeated. The others looked at him quizzically. 'I was there, remember? The car came straight at us.' He couldn't get the sound of the squealing tires out of his mind. 'Hannibal never had a chance.
'And,' he continued, 'it was an Army vehicle.'
B.A. Baracus scowled. 'The sucker who's behind this,' he grunted, 'is gonna pay! You got my word on that!' Next to him, Henry M. Murdock nodded.
'Let's get out of here,' said Face. 'We've got a lot of planning to do.'
Colonel Roderick Decker looked at the newspaper. The news was old, it having taking the wire services some time to pick up the story, but it made good reading all the same.
A face stared up at him from the front page: roguish, taunting, teeth clamped around a long cigar.
'So,' he sneered, 'the great 'Hannibal' Smith is dead.'
'Yes,' his commanding officer replied. 'And without him, the A-Team will just fall apart. You shouldn't have much trouble bringing them in.'
'Don't be so sure,' Decker mused. 'These men weren't in Special Forces for nothing. Even with Smith gone, it won't be as easy as you think.' He'd always had a grudging respect for his adversary.
'Just as long as you do it.'
'Don't worry, sir; I will,' Decker assured his superior. 'I just wish I'd gotten to Smith first.'
Bosco Albert Baracus looked at the man who sat across from him. Thirty-five years of life on the run showed in his face: the features were harder, and there was a deep sadness in the eyes that came only from watching a friend die violently. Still, time had been kinder to Face than it had to many people he knew. Come to that, he and 'that fool' Murdock hadn't fared so badly, either.
'Tell us again, man.'
Face closed his eyes, and sighed before opening them again.
'You know Hannibal was never happy with that whole pardon business.' The others nodded. 'Well, he called me a few weeks ago. He never told us, but he'd been working on gathering information about the Hanoi job whenever he could, and he was beginning to have suspicions about one person in particular. I guess he didn't want to get our hopes up until he was sure he had enough to go on.
'With help from Amy and Tawnia, he was able to hack into computer records dating all the way back to 1972. Somehow, maybe through an ultra-sophisticated security system he didn't expect, someone was tipped off to what he was doing. Hannibal was right: whoever it was felt he was getting too close for comfort, and decided to do something about it.
'It's my guess the driver staked out Hannibal's place many times, waiting for the perfect opportunity. We must have just passed him when he came out of nowhere. I barely had time to turn; Hannibal didn't even have that much,' he said bitterly, his voice breaking.
'Hey, man; there was nothing you could do,' B.A. said gruffly. 'We all went through this many times in 'Nam, but there was no one meant as much to us as Hannibal. Let's face it,' he grumbled. 'We're none of us as sharp as we used to be, but Hannibal had at least fifteen years on us.'
'Yeah,' added Murdock, without his accustomed frivolity. 'Unlike us, he was career Army.'
Face struggled to recover his self-control.
'Whoever it was had to be very clever to track him down without any of us getting wind of it,' Face reminded them. 'He must be feeling pretty confident that he's going to get away with this. What's one more murder in his grand scheme? Hannibal had been a wanted criminal, after all.'
'Yeah,' said B.A. 'And so were we.'
Face nodded. 'Which means that the same someone will also be after us.'
'Fair enough,' said Murdock glibly. 'Saves us the trouble of going after him.'
'Just as well,' said B.A. 'I ain't got no use for cowards. Killin' a man when his back's turned like that. I pity the fool…'
Face smiled grimly. 'You may get the chance, B.A. I got the license number. We can trace it back to its home base.'
'So, what else have we got, Face-man?' asked Murdock.
Peck spread out some papers out on the table. 'This was all in the envelope Hannibal passed me before he died.' He slid some to one side. 'These papers contain lists: suspects, bank accounts, purchase records, suspicious deaths, anything Hannibal thought we might be able to use. These others,' he touched the second batch of papers, 'are notes for the plan he was working on before he was killed.'
Face held up folded piece of paper from the first pile. 'Hannibal narrowed the list of suspects down to a half-dozen people. They all served in 'Nam, were all in the Hanoi area when we were, are all still on active service, and are all currently located in Washington, D.C. Our job is to find out which one of them hung us out to dry.'
'D.C.? We've got to get all the way to D.C.?' B.A. blustered threateningly.
'And we don't have the luxury of time,' Face said, looking sideways at the massive black sergeant. 'How do you want to do this, B.A.? We can sedate you willingly, or slip something into your food. It's your call.' He waited for the explosion.
'Well, Hannibal always said I had to face up to my fears,' B.A. said thoughtfully, taking the others by surprise. 'Maybe it's about time I did. But only if this fool is doin' the flyin',' he added, jabbing a finger at Murdock.
'Aw, gee, Big Guy,' Murdock simpered, 'I didn't know you cared.' Then he ducked out of the way as Baracus lunged at him.
'Our immediate problem, gentlemen,' Face said, raising his voice to regain their attention, 'is the safe-deposit box.' He flipped through the papers, finding the key. He looked at the attached signature card, and groaned.
'What's the matter, Facey?' Murdock asked.
Wordlessly, Peck handed him the card.
'Roderick Decker?' Murdock asked, stunned. 'He put the box in the name of Roderick Decker?' It wasn't the first time he'd known the Colonel to pull a stunt like that.
'Hannibal musta been on the Jazz when he done that,' B.A. grunted. 'I never knew a man for bein' on the Jazz like him.'
'Yes, well,' said Face resignedly, 'we'll just have to find a way to get at that information. Once we've done that, there's one more tiny problem.' His voice dripped with sarcasm. 'Getting hold of a plane…'
'Just leave that one to me, muchachos,' Murdock said.
Peck sighed and looked at the papers on the table, then at his colleagues. They were a man down, and that was a liability.
'We can't do this alone, guys. We need a fourth player,' he said.
B.A. and Murdock nodded.
'Who?' Murdock asked.
'There's only one real choice. Amy.'
'Yeah,' B.A. growled. 'She'd kick our butts if we left her out o' this one.' The others chuckled briefly. Face, for one, wouldn't put it past her. She'd learned a lot when she'd worked with them in the 80's.
Silence fell again, and Murdock was looking unusually thoughtful as he started messing with a piece of paper. 'What do you want to bet that Decker's gonna take advantage of this?' he said.
'Yeah,' said B.A. 'That would be just like him.'
'That means we'll have to be even more careful than usual,' Face added.
'Of course,' Murdock said, flying a paper airplane around, 'we could use that to our advantage…'
'What you talking 'bout, fool?' B.A. snapped.
'Well, can you think of a better way to get onto a major Army base?'
B.A. sighed. 'I always said the man was crazy.'
Peck's face lit up. 'But in this case,' he said, 'crazy like a fox…'
B.A. Baracus looked across the table at the only woman in his life.
'Marlene,' he said gruffly. 'You've trusted me for so long, with so little to go on.'
'It's not hard, B.A.,' Marlene replied. 'I know you're a good man. I've seen how you work with the neighborhood kids, coaching them and counseling them. There are a lot of kids who have made good because of you, when they could so easily have gone the other way.'
B.A. looked away for a moment, embarrassed. When he looked back, it was to be dazzled by her indulgent smile.
'But twenty years, Marlene! I've disappeared without warnin', been gone for weeks at a time, and yet you've never doubted me.' For someone whose trust had been betrayed by those in authority, this was almost incomprehensible.
'What's to doubt? I don't need to know your background to know what kind of man you are. I see it every day in our children.'
B.A. got up and walked away from the table. A flicker of doubt entered Marlene's mind, but she banished it immediately.
'It's different now, baby,' he told her. 'Things have changed, and it's only right you should know.'
Marlene frowned slightly. She'd never known B.A. to be quite so serious.
B.A. took a deep breath.
'You remember I told you I was in 'Nam.' Marlene nodded. 'Well, that was the truth. I was good, so good that I was assigned to a group of top commandos known as an A-Team. We were the best o' the best.' She nodded again. Somehow, that didn't surprise her.
'In '72, we received orders from our C.O. to rob the Bank of Hanoi. Turned out we'd been set up, and before we knew it, there was MP's swarmin' all over us, and a whole lot of money disappeared in the confusion. Our C.O. was dead by the time we was brought up on charges, and his HQ torched in the shelling. We know the orders was forged, but without copies, there was no way we could prove we didn't do it on our own.' He turned away, pounding one fist into the palm of the other hand in frustration.
Marlene got up and went to him. 'It's okay, baby,' she murmured. 'I understand.'
B.A. looked at her. 'No, you don't,' he growled. 'Not really. We took it personal, Hannibal most of all. We vowed to find the guys who really took the money, if we could, and bring them to justice.
'Fort Bragg couldn't hold us for long,' he said proudly. 'We broke out the night before the court-martial, right under Lynch's nose, and went underground, making our way back here. We couldn't take reg'lar jobs, o' course; Army would've found us too easy. So, we decided to help those who had no other recourse, like when the police couldn't – or wouldn't – get involved. We screened them carefully, to make sure we weren't being set up.' He paused, shaking his head at the memories. 'Hannibal was a master of disguise, often workin' right under the noses of the military police.'
Marlene's eyes widened, things she'd read in the newspapers falling into place now. She had so many questions, but she said nothing.
'Now Hannibal's dead, murdered on the orders of the sucker who framed us. But we've got some leads now, and I pity the fool when we catch up with him.'
Marlene put her arms around him, and kissed his cheek.
'I do understand, baby,' she told him. 'You do what you need to do. Just come back safe.'
B.A. gently stroked her hair.
'If this works, we can finally get married. Once we clear our names, I can give our kids a name to be proud of.'
'We're proud of you, no matter what, B.A.,' Marlene assured him. 'But I know this means a lot to you and the others. I hope I get to meet them some day.'
'If this works out, you will,' he promised. He pulled her close. 'Baby, you're amazing.'
Kissing her, he picked up his tool-box, and left her house.
The remaining members of the A-Team were in B.A.'s apartment this time, talking quietly. A soft but urgent knock sounded at the door, and Face waved the men to silence.
'B.A.,' he murmured.
Nodding, the burly sergeant went to the door, looked out the peep-hole, then quickly opened the door.
Amy Allen slipped in, then joined the others in the living room.
'Were you followed?'
'I don't think so,' she replied, taking off sunglasses, scarf, and wig. 'I left my car parked at the hotel, and walked from there.'
Face nodded. 'Good.'
Amy sat down, and helped herself to coffee. She took a long sip, then looked around at her colleagues.
'Tawnia's a real whiz at hacking into computer systems,' she said at last. 'Her assignment at that Intermode place taught her a lot, and she's picked up plenty since then.
'DMV was a snap; the car's registered to the local Army base. According to Army records, it was signed out by one Lieutenant Alvin Carpenter, who apparently had an accident while driving it.'
The significance of this was not lost on her listeners.
'The police report,' she continued, 'states that he lost control of the vehicle on a back road and slammed into a tree. Repair shop records indicate damage consistent with that claim was sustained by the car.'
'Sucker prob'ly did it hisself,' growled B.A., 'to hide the evidence from hitting Hannibal.' The others nodded.
'Who's this Lieutenant Carpenter?' Murdock asked. 'I've never heard of him before.'
'He's not local,' Amy confirmed. 'He was sent here from Washington for a couple weeks. We couldn't find out why.'
'Well, we know why,' Face said grimly. 'It doesn't matter what the official reason was. And it gives us another link to someone on Hannibal's list of suspects.' He nodded with satisfaction.
'Okay, next order of business: we need to get to the lock-box at the bank. They'll be watching everywhere for us, and Amy's too well known for her connections with us.'
'Diversion?' asked B.A.
'Too risky. Besides, it would alert the target to our intentions.'
'I suppose going in after hours wouldn't be ideal, either?' asked Murdock facetiously.
'No,' said Face sarcastically. 'it wouldn't.'
'Do what Hannibal would've done,' Amy piped up. 'Walk right in there, bold as brass. They'll never know it's you.'
'Yeah,' said Face. 'But he'd be in some sort of disguise.'
'And so will you be.' Amy smirked as she said it.
'You do realize,' Murdock said, 'that we don't have access to the kind of stuff Hannibal used?'
'Yes, you do. I've got it.'
The three men looked at each other in amazement.
'Uh…how,' Face gulped. 'How did you manage that?'
'I just walked into that flop-house he called home, pretending to be a grieving niece,' Amy told them. 'Actually, it wasn't too far from the truth. Anyway, I packed up everything into cartons – and I do mean everything – including his theatrical gear. It's all in a storage unit not too far from here.'
'Damn, li'l mama,' B.A. muttered appreciatively. 'You definitely been hangin' around us too long!'
'That's all well and good, Amy,' said Peck. 'However, we don't know how to use the stuff.'
'I do,' she said brightly. 'Hannibal had introduced me to some of his friends at the studio, and I've been taking lessons.'
Murdock whistled. 'I think we've been a bad influence on you, chiquita.'
'I don't know, Amy,' Face muttered some hours later. 'I may not be able to pull this off.'
'Sure you will, Face,' Amy said, putting the final touches to his disguise. 'Think of it as just another con. That's basically what it is, after all.'
'Yeah, but I usually depend on my boyish good looks,' he said jokingly as he stood. They both knew those days were past.
'Templeton Arthur Peck, I have faith in you,' Amy told him firmly as she handed him a cane.
Face smiled, and gave her a peck on the cheek. 'Thanksh, Misshy,' he said, the sides of his tongue lightly touching his lower teeth. 'I'll do my besht.'
Straightening the jacket of his shabby suit, he deliberately hunched his shoulders, as Hannibal had taught him, leaning heavily on his cane as an old man shuffled out the door.
Face was filled with trepidation as he approached the door of the bank. Ignoring the security guard as he looked around, he finally approached a teller, who pointed him in the direction of one of the bank's officers. That personage graciously led the elderly Roderick Decker to the vault, where he carefully emptied the safe-deposit box and signed for the contents. A shaking of hands later, Mr. Decker slowly left the bank, and made his way back across town.
'Oh, God!' Face groaned, collapsing on the sofa and stripping off the putty nose. 'I never want to go through that again! I don't know how Hannibal did that sort of thing all those years.'
'He was addicted to the Jazz, man,' B.A. reminded him. 'You know that as well as I do!'
Peck forced his mind back to the present.
'All right. We have Hannibal's original notes, but his plan won't work without him, so we'll have to adapt it to the people we have. The more we plan now, the more we'll be able to wing it once we're in Washington.
'Since we'll be flying, we're going to need transportation once we get there. Amy?
Amy shook her head. 'There's only so much I can do on my expense account. Renting two cars is not going to be possible. It wouldn't be wise to have your names showing up on a rental slip, either.'
Murdock looked at Face. 'I'm good, but there's no way I can scam anything large enough to take the van.'
Too bad,' said B.A. 'Using the van would give us a psychological edge.'
A smile played around Amy's lips. She'd known the Team to pull off the impossible before.
'I'll put Tawnia on it. If she can find something in the D.C. area, we can re-create the van there. It only has to be a shell.'
The others nodded. It was a long-shot, but it was better than nothing.
Amy took a deep breath, and shuddered. There was so much riding on this, and no room for error. They'd done all they could do at this end. The hardest part awaited them on the East Coast.
B.A. looked at her intently. 'You sure you want go through with this?'
Amy laid a hand on his shoulder. 'You helped me when I had nowhere else to turn,' she said. 'I'd do anything for you guys.'
Face placed four manila envelopes on the table.
'These contain most of the evidence we need to clear ourselves. There's one envelope for each of us. That'll give us four chances to make sure the information gets to its destination.
'Amy?' The woman nodded. 'You'll travel separately, leaving a few days before we do. Make it look like you're on an assignment.'
'I can do that.'
Face handed her one of the manila envelopes. 'These are Hannibal's original documents. We'll each have copies.'
He looked around at the little group before speaking again. 'Hopefully, we'll all get through, but we have to be prepared.'
Amy had never seen Peck look so serious, but she knew what was at stake.
'Amy, we will, in effect, be acting as decoys. If we're captured or killed, the information we carry could be destroyed before it reaches the right people. If that happens, it'll be up to you to get through.'
'Count on it,' she said grimly.
Amy pitched the story idea to her editor. After much hemming and hawing, he finally approved it, and okayed her travel expenses.
Two days later, a cab pulled up at the airport terminal. Amy Amanda Allen, pulling a wheeled suitcase and with her carry-on bag slung over her shoulder, made her way to the airline counter to check in.
Clutching her boarding pass, she made herself as comfortable as possible in the passenger lounge, waiting impatiently for the most important flight of her life.
Face threw a few last-minute items into his duffel bag, then looked around the apartment. He didn't know when, or even if, he'd see it again.
This was it; there was no turning back now. Win or lose, there would be no more running.
He stowed the bag in the trunk of the vintage Corvette, then climbed in and started the engine. Easing away from the curb, he smoothly merged into traffic and headed downtown to pick up B.A.
When he got to B.A.'s place, he swung into the parking lot behind the apartment building. Since they'd decided the van was too noticeable, he transferred his bag to the old clunker in which B.A. had installed a surprisingly powerful engine. That done, he called B.A.'s number on his cell phone, letting it ring three times before hanging up.
Moments later, B.A. came out the laundry-room door and wordlessly took the wheel. They were on their way.
Murdock was waiting for them at the corner near his apartment. B.A. pulled over just long enough for him to get in before pulling into traffic again.
'Well?' asked Face.
Murdock tapped the newspaper he was holding.
'I think I've got a lead,' he replied. 'There's a big executive…what's his name?' He snapped his fingers several times in frustration. 'Musgrave! That's it: Benjamin Musgrave. He owns Foresight Energy?' The lieutenant nodded. 'Anyway, he's headed for a big energy conference in New York today; taking off from one of the private airports around here.'
'Sounds promising,' said Face. 'Let's do it.'
He sat back, trying to relax while Murdock gave B.A. direction to the airport in question.
The little car leaped eagerly in response to B.A.'s pressure on the gas pedal.
They parked the car in an out-of-the-way section of the parking lot. As they walked towards the terminal, Murdock nodded towards the elegant Cessna Citation over which mechanics were swarming. They could see that they were getting to the bottom of their assorted checklists.
Face nodded to Murdock, then led B.A. towards the baggage-handling area. Murdock sauntered casually through the terminal to the pilots' locker room.
There was only one other person there. Judging by the uniform jacket hanging in the open locker, this was Musgrave's pilot. The man looked up as Murdock approached.
'Hey!' he began angrily. Murdock's right cross put him out. Holding the sagging pilot against him, Murdock pulled out the uniform coat and cap, then stuffed the pilot in, twirling the combination lock to make sure the door couldn't be opened again any time soon.
Face and B.A. disabled the baggage-handlers, stashing the unconscious men out of sight. As the mechanics returned to the terminal, they rode the baggage train out to the plane.
The head mechanic reported to Benjamin Musgrave.
'Your plane's fueled and ready to go, sir.'
'Fine,' Musgrave replied. 'Please tell my pilot that I want to leave in half an hour.' The mechanic nodded and head for the locker room.
'Hey, Matt!' he called as he pushed open the door.
Murdock froze in the act of putting on the pilot's jacket.
'Uh…yeah?' Murdock deepened his voice a bit.
'Musgrave wants to leave in half an hour, so you'd better get that beautiful bird of his warmed up.'
'Um…okay,' Murdock grunted, busying himself doing up the jacket's buttons and reaching for the cap.
The mechanic looked at him sideways, puzzled by his friend's refusal to turn around.
'Hey…you okay, buddy?'
Murdock cleared his throat. 'Yeah. Just got a cold, that's all.'
The mechanic nodded. 'Well, feel better, guy. But you'd better get going. You know how his nibs gets when things don't happen when he wants them to happen.'
Murdock nodded as the other man left the room. He stuffed his trademark jacket and cap into the pilot's overnight bag, and headed out the door.
Out on the tarmac, Murdock saw the others stowing their gear on board the plane. As he approached, he saw them look around, then climb aboard themselves. Murdock followed them moments later.
B.A. pulled the hatch door closed as Murdock made his way to the cockpit. Quickly familiarizing himself with the controls, he ran down the pre-flight checklist, and started her up. They didn't have much time.
Easing the throttle forward, Murdock taxied to the end of the runway, turned, and set the plane on course for take-off. As they gathered speed down the runway, he pulled gently on the yoke, and the plane rose effortlessly in the sky.
Benjamin Musgrave was still enjoying a pre-boarding cocktail when he heard thunder outside the building. Turning, he and his staff stared in disbelief as his plane gracefully left terra firma, and them, behind.
Behind them, muffled thumping was coming from the locker room.
Strong fingers closed tightly on the armrests, slowly crushing them. Face could see the panic building in B.A.'s eyes. Silently, he placed a cup of milk on the tray-table. Dark brown eyes met deep blue-grey ones for a moment, mutual trust and respect passing between them before B.A. reached for the cup. Drinking the milk, B.A. felt the tension leave his body as he became drowsy. It wasn't long before he was snoring softly.
Sighing, Peck made his way to the cockpit.
'So,' grinned Murdock, 'how's the ugly mudsucker doing?'
'Not as well as I'd hoped,' Face told him, 'but better than I expected.'
'I knew he couldn't do it on his own,' the Texan opined, 'but let's be grateful for small mercies. What did you give him?'
'Just a mild sedative to relax him. Not enough to put him out.'
'Well, at least he tried,' Murdock said, settling down for a long flight. Face winced as he started singing…
Amy looked at the lists in her hand. It was going to take some co-ordinating to combine the two in the most efficient manner, jockeying the list of computer specialists with visits to the owners of old GMC vans on the list that Tawnia had sent to her. It meant that she'd be running all over Washington, but she was the only one available to do it.
She put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and went to rent a car. It was going to be a long day.
Scanning the ground below him, Murdock searched for the tiny airport he needed. He knew basically where it was, but in the gathering dark, it was hard to pinpoint it. Finally, he found the pattern of lights he was looking for, not too far from a well-traveled main road.
He circled the airport of couple times, slowly losing altitude, then settled into an approach vector.
The radio crackled into life.
'Unknown aircraft…please identify yourself…' Murdock ignored it. 'Unknown aircraft…this is air traffic control…please identify yourself…'
'Better get ready, guys!' he called over his shoulder. Two voices acknowledged his recommendation.
Over the radio, he heard the tower personnel ordering emergency response for what appeared to be the impending crash of an unresponsive plane.
Murdock dropped his airspeed to bare minimum, adjusting the angle of the nose and flaps so that he could set the craft down as gently as possible. Once he had touched down, he cut the speed even more. He heard the clunk as B.A. opened the stairway-hatch.
B.A. hesitated, then looked at Face.
'It's now or never, Sergeant,' the lieutenant told him.
Nodding curtly, he tossed the bags out of the plane, following them moments later. Face wasn't far behind.
Murdock made sure the others were clear before making his final preparations.
First, he cut the engines completely; there would still be plenty of momentum to accomplish what he needed to do. Second, he quickly wiped down everything he'd touched in the cockpit, making sure there were no fingerprints; he knew Peck had already done the same in the passenger compartment. Lastly, he turned the yoke so that the plane would taxi in circles, and lashed it into place. After a final look at his preparations, he left the cabin.
'We're locked in an elliptical orbit, Captain,' he muttered in a Scots burr as he made his way aft, 'and at Warp 12, we're goin' nowhere fast!'
Reaching the passenger hatch, he waited until it was facing the fence, then jumped. He rolled clear of the rear wheel, then scrambled to his feet and ran for the shadows.
Emergency vehicles, sirens blaring, raced towards the plane as it slowed, giving it a wide berth while it was still moving.
There was a scuffling sound to his left; he pulled his pistol, prepared for an attack.
'It's all right, man,' growled a soft voice. It was B.A., followed by Face; Murdock uncocked the pistol and returned it to its holster.
Three pairs of eyes watched as emergency personnel prepared to board the ever-slowing plane.
'Go!' Face whispered.
With attention riveted on the mysterious plane, they pitched their bags over the chain-link fence, then scaled it themselves. The noise of the engines masked the metallic rattle of the fencing as they went over the top and dropped lightly on the other side.
Murdock checked for any signs of interest from the people on the tarmac, but there were none. B.A. and Face scanned the field around the airport. There were no signs of life.
Silently, they picked up their gear, and set off in search of transportation into the city. Behind them, the airport personnel were dealing with an aeronautical Marie Celeste.
Amy was sitting on the edge of the bed, massaging her feet, when there was a knock on the door. She peered out the peep-hole, and saw someone in a florist's jacket standing outside. Cautiously, she opened the door.
'Yes? Can I help you?' she asked.
The young man who looked up was someone she had never seen before. He smiled ingenuously, then checked his little clipboard.
'Ms. Amy Allen?' he inquired.
'I have a delivery for you. Would you please sign for it?' He handed her the clipboard, and she scribbled her initials on the receipt. When she passed it back, he handed her a beautiful floral arrangement.
'Please wait a moment.' Amy took the arrangement inside, then returned with a generous tip.
'Thank you so much, miss!' the young man said. He touched two fingers to his temple in a mock salute, then turned on his heel, whistling as he made his way back to the elevators.
Once he was gone, Amy closed the door and engaged the security bar before taking a closer look at the arrangement.
It really was beautiful, and smelled wonderful, but that was beside the point. She found the note-card fastened in its little trident. Taking it out of its envelope, she read the inscription:
Please meet me for dinner…4931 South Potomac…I love you…
Opening her suitcases, she got out more practical clothing. She had an appointment in a less desirable section of town.
Amy scanned the building numbers until she found 1934 North River Street. Making sure there was no one around, she eased her way down the grimy little alley and knocked on the metal side door, holding her breath. She heard several deadbolts slide back, then felt the door open just enough to for her slip in.
As her eyes became accustomed to the dim light, B.A. slid the bolts home again.
She handed Face a business card. It read:
James T. Lorenzo
Computer Security Specialist
with an address and phone number.
'The word is he's the best around,' she told him.
'James T. Lorenzo. Could that be Jimmy Lorenzo?'
'You mean that scrawny kid who was in that prison camp with us in 'Nam?' B.A. snorted disbelievingly.
'Well, we'll find out soon enough,' said Face. 'Have you got anything else for us?'
Amy turned to B.A. and handed him a set of car keys and another business card.
'It's not the best in the world, but it's the closest we could get to the original van. Tawnia found it on the Internet. It's at a junkyard; the address is on the card.'
'It was the best we could do on such short notice.' B.A. hmmphed in annoyance. 'Hey, look on the bright side. The place has a paint bay, and the van's already black. It shouldn't take too long to add the detailing.'
'All right,' B.A. said, somewhat mollified. 'As long as the engine runs good.'
'Anything else?' asked Face.
'Yes. I've got an appointment with General Lawrence Colletti in two days at 10:00 AM. It was the earliest they could fit me in.'
Peck nodded. 'That'll work. We need to identify our target before we make any moves. I suggest we visit this Lorenzo guy tomorrow.'
The rest of the Team nodded their agreement. The prospect of a definite course of action was sobering.
Amy stifled a yawn.
'Sorry, guys,' she said apologetically. 'I've been all over this town today. I guess it's catching up with me.'
'No problem, li'l mama' B.A. smiled. 'You go get some sleep. We'll take things from here.
'Yeah, Amy,' Face added. 'You've done enough for one day. We'll contact you tomorrow.'
Murdock escorted her to the door. 'Take care of yourself, chiquita,' he said, squeezing her hand.
Squeezing his hand in return, she slipped out into the darkness.
Amy Allen opened the door of the unpretentious shop and walked in. She looked around at the new and second-hand computers on display, and the racks of specialty software.
A tall, slender figure stepped from the back room in response to a sensor's beep.
'Can I help you?'
'I'm looking for James Lorenzo,' Amy said.
'Well, you've found him,' the man said lightly. 'What can I do for you?'
'My name's Amy Allen, and I have a rather sensitive problem,' she replied. 'Is there anywhere we can talk privately?'
'Come on in back,' he said, holding back the curtains that screened off the back room. She noticed he walked with a slight limp, and saw the ends of a metal brace attached to a specially-made shoe.
Amy's eyes grew wide in amazement when she saw the ultra-new, top-of-the-line systems lining the walls, and the protective shield that could drop into place across the door at a moment's notice. She noted with interest the display case of military awards near the curtained door.
'That's some set-up you have here, Mr. Lorenzo.'
'Call me Jimmy,' he invited her. 'Yeah, well, the stuff outside is my official business. A cover, as it were. What you see back here, though, is my true livelihood. I create computer programs for the Government.'
'Very impressive, Jimmy!'
'I got interested in computers while I was in high school, you know,' he said, clearing off a chair for her as he spoke. 'I got so good with them that the guys started calling me “Jimmy the Geek”.' He sighed. 'Then, in the 70's, the Army shipped my butt to Viet Nam.'
'Not many computers out in the middle of the jungle, I imagine,' Amy said as she took a seat.
'No,' Jimmy agreed, 'but my logical mind did come in handy as a supply officer. Towards the end of the war, though, my patrol was ambushed. Most of the guys were fragged, and those of us who survived came to wish we hadn't. We wound up in a P.O.W. camp run by a sadistic goon name of Chao.'
Amy's ears pricked up at the name.
'You…ummmm…' she began tentatively. 'You wouldn't happen to have heard of an officer by the name of Smith, would you? Colonel John Smith?'
Jimmy's face lit up. 'Hannibal? Sure did! We were in the same P.O.W. camp! He and his men took one hell of a beating from Chao, but they never broke,' he said vehemently, his face clouded. He sighed again. 'I wish I knew where they were.'
Amy hesitated, then crossed to the door that led to the alley, pushing the panic bar.
'Guys!' she called softly. Quickly, the Team slipped inside.
Jimmy rushed over to them. 'Face!' he cried softly. 'B.A.! And Murdock, too!' He shook their hands warmly. Then a chill gripped his heart.
'Where's Hannibal?' There was an awkward silence.
'I'm afraid he's dead, Jimmy,' Face said at last. 'Murdered!' He spat the word out as if it were poison.
Lorenzo turned away, his face a mask of grief. When he finally faced them again, there was an air of steely determination about his slight frame.
'What can I do to help?'
Face gave Jimmy a brief run-down on Hannibal's suspicions and the information that had been collected to date.
'What we need to do, Jimmy, is narrow the field to the most likely person. For that, we need to get into the Army's personnel records, but none of us has the technical expertise,' Face explained. 'Tawnia's good, but even she can't match your abilities. Can you do an end-run around all the security programs?' he asked.
'Piece of cake, as Hannibal used to say.' Jimmy smiled. 'I wrote the security programs!'
'Okay. We already know that Colonel Morrison set us up because he was afraid we'd find out he was a traitor,' Face said grimly. 'He, in turn, was murdered by Captain Curtis because he'd found out Curtis was running guns, and that was blamed on us, as well. Friendly fire is the perfect cover for murder. The question is: who else was involved?
'I want to begin by casting a wide net, and draw it closed as we go. Let's start with everyone who was in the area at the time we were, and compare that with everyone in Morrison's chain of command.'
'No sooner said than done, Face-man!' Jimmy grinned. He pulled up the relevant files. There were thousands of names in each, but a cross-check reduced the number by at least two-thirds.
'Now add the names of everyone involved in the battle in which Morrison was killed.' Jimmy's skilled fingers flew over the keyboard, and the number of names fell still further.
'Now, Hannibal had a list of suspicious deaths: apparent suicides, brake failures, robberies-gone-wrong, that sort of thing. He felt these were low-ranking soldiers who may have been eliminated when they got cold feet.'
Jimmy isolated the names of the men's commanding officers. One by one, the names on Hannibal's list were ruled out, until there was a single name remaining.
'Hey, Face,' Jimmy breathed, and pointed at the computer screen.
Peck looked over his shoulder, and took in the name indicated.
'Him?' he whispered, ashen-faced.
Jimmy nodded. 'Him.'
The computer screen read:
Bradford, Major-General Harley
'Oh, man…oh, man…oh, man,' moaned Murdock. 'If there was ever a guy hated the Colonel more'n Morrison did, it was this dude. He never forgave Hannibal for getting command of our team instead of him.'
'Wait a minute,' B.A. said, his eyes narrowing. 'A lot more money went missing than we were accused of takin', didn't it?'
'Things are finally starting to make sense,' added Face. 'I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out he ordered Morrison's murder, too.'
'You may have a problem getting at this guy, fellas. He doesn't leave the base all that often. He's got bachelor officer's quarters, but he rarely uses them. Mostly when he's wining and dining his lady-friends,' Jimmy smirked.
'Then we're just gonna have to lure the sucker out,' growled B.A.
'Jimmy, can you print this out for us? We could use four copies, if you can spare them.'
'What's a ream of paper between friends?' Jimmy laughed, as the printer spit out one sheet after another. 'I'm just happy to do what I can.' He walked them to the alley door, snagging the print-outs on the way.
'Thanks for all your help, Jimmy,' Face told him.
'Hey, no problem, Lieutenant.' Jimmy's eyes took on a far-away – almost haunted – look. 'I owe Hannibal my life. I know his first duty was to his Team, but he cared about the rest of us, too. When you guys escaped, it gave us hope, and helped us survive. Even when General Chao took his fury out on us, we never caved in.'
B.A. laid a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. 'All debts are paid, man. Now it's up to us.'
They split up as they left, Amy leaving by the front door, the others through the alley. They had agreed to meet later that night to update their plans.
Face pressed the heels of his hands into his eyelids as Amy joined the rest of Team at the warehouse that night. He was finally over the shock of discovery, and he felt drained, yet exhilarated.
'All right,' he said, leaning on some old pallets, 'we finally know for sure. Now, what do we do about it?'
'Tawnia was able to give me some leads,' Amy said, rifling through her capacious handbag. 'He's got a lot of bank accounts. There isn't a whole lot of money in each one; just enough to reflect the pay of an officer going up through the ranks over the past thirty years or so. However, if you add them all together, there's a lot more money than there ought to be.
'In addition, he's got some very valuable investments and real estate.' She passed the list of properties over to Peck, who flipped through them, nodding.
'There are several ways we could play this, but most are too time-consuming,' he said, half to himself. 'We need to do this as quickly as possible. He's no slouch, and could catch on before we can pull off whatever we try to do.
'We also have to isolate him from the base,' he went on, comparing the properties to a large map of the area. 'Anything too close to town, and we could get tripped up.' He tapped the map thoughtfully. 'This beach house looks promising. No other houses for a good half-mile on either side, so no neighbors to be put in danger, plus it has a back road that's not visible from the main road.'
Peck sighed. He wasn't used to all this planning. That had always been Hannibal's department. He was beginning to appreciate what their Colonel had done for them all these years.
'Bradford's kept his secret for thirty-five years, guys' Amy said. 'No matter how sure he is, he knows in the back of his mind that there's always a chance that things can unravel unexpectedly. Playing on his fears, his weaknesses, will give us the advantage. So, what do we know about him?' She looked at the others for feedback.
'Well, as Jimmy pointed out, this guy considers himself a real lady's man; he was always chasing after every skirt he could find in 'Nam,' Face told her. 'He'll undoubtedly try to flirt with you. You're turning into a real fine con artist, Amy, and if you flirt back, we should be able to manipulate him.'
'You taught me everything I know, Face,' she smiled.
'I remember him as being very superstitious, too,' added Murdock.
'Yeah,' said B.A. 'Didn't like having the MASH and all so close to camp, neither. Didn't like havin' to be around no dead bodies.'
'Hey, Faceman…' Murdock said, an idea dawning. 'This sleaze-ball knows Hannibal's dead. Maybe we can use that.'
Face's eyes narrowed, and a hard glint came into them. B.A. knew that look of old.
'Aw, no, man!' He turned to Murdock, and sighed. 'We done lost him, fool! He on the Jazz now!'
It was nearly 2:00 AM before they were finished brainstorming and finalizing details, and Amy was able to return to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. She had an important meeting the next day.
5:30 AM. A figure makes its way into the hotel's underground parking garage, keeping to the shadows. It is searching. At last, it finds its target: a light blue Cadillac. Swiftly, it moves to kneel by the passenger-side door. A set of lock-picks appears in its hands, making quick work of the lock. Cautiously, it opens the door just enough to reach in and lay a small package on the seat.
Finished, it re-locks the door, and presses it closed. Then, it vanishes.
At 9:00, Amy left the hotel for her appointment with General Colletti. Exiting the elevator, her heels clicked on the concrete floor as she made her way to her car. As she slid behind the wheel, she noticed the package on the seat beside her. She picked it up and gave it a brief examination, a knowing half-smile playing over her lips as she slipped it into her over-sized purse. Putting the car in gear, she backed out of the parking space. She had less than an hour until her appointment.
General Lawrence Colletti escorted Amy from his office, a warm smile lighting his face. It wasn't often that he had the opportunity to be interviewed by such a well-known reporter. Of course, the fact that she was one of the most attractive women he'd ever met hadn't hurt, either.
'I'd like to thank you, General, for all your co-operation,' Amy told him, smiling at him winningly.
'It's a pleasure, Ms. Allen,' Colletti replied, smiling in return. He guided her down a long hallway to another wing. 'Now, let me introduce you to my second-in-command. If there's anything you need, don't be afraid to ask. And if I can be of any further assistance, you know where to find me.'
With that, he opened a door marked 'Major-General Harley Bradford'.
Two men quickly pulled apart from each other as Colletti and Amy entered, and a file folder landed on the floor. The younger of the two men snapped off a salute.
'At ease, Lieutenant,' Colletti said, and the young man bent to retrieve the folder, which he clutched tightly.
'Gentlemen,' Colletti continued, 'I'd like you to meet Ms. Amy Allen. She's on assignment from her newspaper, and will be conducting interviews with personnel on this base.'
Bradford straightened his tie, then reached to shake Amy's hand, an appreciative smile on his face.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Allen.'
'Likewise, General,' Amy replied, even though she felt was being given the once-over.
'Well, then, I'll leave you to it,' said Colletti. 'Just give Harley here the list of the men you wish to interview, and he'll arrange it for you.'
'Thank you again, General Colletti. You've been most helpful.' Colletti nodded, and left her alone with the two men.
'Allow me to introduce my aide, Lieutenant Carpenter,' Bradford said.
Amy felt like she'd been punched in the stomach, but forced a smile onto her face as she reached out to shake hands with Hannibal's murderer.
'A pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant,' she said, doing her best to hide her revulsion.
'And you, Ms. Allen,' Carpenter returned.
'Lieutenant, you're dismissed for now. We'll continue this discussion after lunch,' he said, tapping the folder.
'Yes, sir.' Carpenter threw him a salute, and left the room, taking the folder with him.
'Now,' Bradford said, turning to Amy, 'how can I help you?'
'Well, it's like this. Opinion about the military tends to swing from one extreme to the other, from total support to frank condemnation,' Amy began. 'It was my idea to interview current enlistees whose fathers fought in Viet Nam to see what inspired them to enlist. I mean, after all, so many people looked down on veterans of that war that it's somewhat surprising that their sons and daughters would voluntarily enlist today.'
Bradford nodded. 'Sounds like an interesting premise. What do you need?'
'General Colletti was kind enough to compile a list of personnel on this base who fit the criteria.' Amy held up a list. 'I wonder if you could help me arrange interviews with these people. It's strictly voluntary, of course; I wouldn't want to force the issue with anyone who didn't feel comfortable speaking with me.'
'That's a wonderful idea, Ms. Allen,' Bradford said, nodding. 'Public sentiment is a fickle thing, and was at an all-time low just after Viet Nam.' He took Amy's list. 'Allow me to make a copy of this. The machine's just down the hall. I'll be right back.'
As soon as Bradford left, Amy scanned the room, pulling the little package from her purse as she did. She needed a hiding place near the general's desk, but not somewhere easily spotted.
Near the window were several tall file cabinets. Peeling the waxy paper off the adhesive on the back of the package, she reached behind the first file cabinet, pressing the little bundle onto the back of the second one just as she heard footsteps coming back to the office. She was gazing out the window by the time Bradford returned.
'There you are,' he said, handing back her original list. 'I'll contact these men, and let you know when and where you can conduct your interviews. Where can I contact you?' Amy gave him the name and room number of the hotel where she was staying, and he wrote it down. 'Fine! I'll be in touch with you as soon as I can.'
'Thank you, General. I really appreciate all your help. However, I'm on a deadline, so I wonder if it would be possible to start these interviews this afternoon.'
'I'll get right on it, and call you as soon as it's all arranged,' Bradford said silkily as they shook hands.
Amy turned to leave, and realized she had no clue where in the building she was now.
'Yes, Ms. Allen?'
'This is really rather embarrassing,' Amy admitted, 'but I seem to have gotten turned around since General Colletti brought me to meet you. Could you point me in the right direction?
'I'll do better than that, Ms. Allen,' he said. 'I'll guide you there myself.'
With that, Bradford led her down the stairs near his office and back to the main corridor, on the way to the main door. Amy noted as she went that they were coming out directly opposite the route she'd taken to Manning's office.
Amy spent that afternoon and evening conducting interviews. It may only have been a cover, but her professionalism would not allow her to be anything but the in-depth reporter she had always been. She returned to her hotel room that evening knowing that her editor would be very happy with the article she would be turning in to him.
The Team, meanwhile, headed for the junkyard. The owner pointed out the van Amy had purchased, then left them alone.
B.A. opened the hood and examined at the engine. It didn't look too bad, considering. However, he spotted a few potential problems, and assigned Murdock to scrounging whatever parts were needed.
It needed an oil change, and he set Face to draining the system. Removing the plug, Peck miscalculated his timing, and got a face-full of oil before he could get the basin in place. He spluttered as he scrambled out from under the van, disgusted with himself. He snatched the rag B.A. offered him, looking sourly at the man as a grin split his face, a high-pitched chuckle coming from his throat.
Murdock, by this time, was under the dashboard, installing the hands-free tracker system they had brought with them.
Face swept out the van and duct-taped the torn seats while the others washed off the grime of years before they pushed it backwards into the paint bay. B.A. placed the masking tape carefully, even lovingly. When he was done, all three donned masks and began spray-painting the gun-metal grey top and red stripe. After a session under the heat lamps, they removed the tapes.
Stepping back, B.A. nodded with approval.
'Time for the final test,' he said.
They climbed aboard, Face closing the side door, and settled into their accustomed positions. It felt strange having an empty seat; it seemed to reflect the empty space in their hearts.
Taking a deep breath, B.A. turned the key.
The van started at the first touch, its engine purring smoothly. B.A. smiled with satisfaction as the others sighed with relief.
A red-booted foot floored the gas pedal, and the van tore out of the junkyard for parts unknown.
The next day dawned cold and clear. After a sparse breakfast, Murdock left the warehouse. He needed to find a way onto the base, and the cover of a civilian contract worker seemed just the ticket.
Later that morning, having talked his way past the sentry, Murdock set up a ladder at one end of the building, and began washing the windows on the second floor. It took him the better part of the day, but he gradually worked his way across the building until he reached Bradford's office. Using the clean windows as a mirror, he kept checking the front gate. Finally, he saw a light blue Cadillac drive up to the gate, its driver present an ID card, and be waved through. He waited until the car was parked, and the driver entered the building.
Moments later, the trunk popped open.
Murdock kept washing the windows.
Slowly, he slipped a hand into his pocket, and pressed a button.
Behind the file cabinet, a miniature pump sent smoke into the room.
Harley Bradford sniffed, his brow furrowed. There was an odor in the room that hadn't been there a moment before. The pungent aroma tickled the edges of his memory.
Standing, he looked out into the hall in an attempt to locate the source of the smell, but there was no one there. Frowning, he crossed to the window, on the off-chance that it was coming from outside.
Looking past the workman on his ladder, he froze, staring out the window in shock. 'No, it can't be,' he breathed.
Below stood a familiar tow-headed figure in a cream cargo jacket and slacks, hands encased in black leather; it stared up at him, grinning around a lit cigar.
'No!' he yelled. 'You're dead!' And he raced from the room.
On the ladder, Murdock took a walkie-talkie out of his pail.
'He's on his way.'
'Right!' came the answer.
Bradford ran out the door of the administration building. He spotted the figure, which now had its back to him. He sprinted across the parade ground, reached it, and spun it to face him.
'Ms. Allen!' he said, completely bewildered. Looking more closely, he saw his mistake: her hair hidden by a white silk scarf, the thick pen in her hand, the stylish pants-suit.
He put a hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose.
'Please forgive me, Ms. Allen. I thought you were someone else.'
'That's all right, General. I understand.' She gave him her most dazzling smile as she stowed the pen in her bag, along with her pad. 'I think I'd better be going now. It's been a rather long day.'
'May I escort you to your car?'
'If you would be so kind.'
'So, did you get everything you need?' he asked as they walked.
'Almost,' Amy replied. 'I'd like to conduct a few more interviews, but it shouldn't take long.'
'Well, if you're going to be around for a couple more days,' he said as they reached her car, 'perhaps we could have dinner some evening.'
'I think that would be delightful.' She smiled once more, then got in and started the engine. 'Until then, General!'
'Until then,' he smiled. He slapped the trunk of the car as she pulled away, followed by the window-washer's truck.
Inside the trunk, Face pulled off the silver-white wig. 'I love it,' he chuckled. 'I love it!'
It wasn't until the next afternoon that Bradford had another chance to speak with Amy. He was walking past the room he'd assigned for her interviews as she was thanking a young private for his co-operation. The soldier saluted Bradford, who returned it casually, dismissing him.
'Well, how are things going?'
'I think I've about wrapped things up. That was my last interview. Now I just have to organize my notes, and I'll be ready to write the actual article.'
'I take it, then, that you are able to take me up on my offer of dinner this evening?'
'That seems like the perfect ending to a busy week.'
'What time shall I pick you up?
'Actually,' Amy hedged, 'I'd rather meet you there, if you don't mind.'
Bradford would have preferred to have Amy to himself on the ride to the restaurant, but he acquiesced graciously. Handing her a business card, he said:
'Here's the address. I'll make reservations for 8:00, and meet you at the front door.'
'Thank you,' Amy said, giving him her most winning smile. 'I'll be there…'
Harley Bradford helped Amy out of her Cadillac, then passed the keys to the parking attendant before escorting her through the lobby and into the restaurant. As they passed the staircase to the restaurant's upper level, Amy noticed a framed poster on an easel advertising the next night's performance by the Capitol Steps* at the Ronald Reagan Center. She was about to point it out to her escort when she thought better of it. The troupe's jibes about the military probably wouldn't set very well with the general right now.
Bradford spoke quietly with the maitre d', who led them to a table in a secluded area. The general held Amy's chair as she sat, then seated himself.
'This is one of my favorite places to dine, my dear,' he admitted. 'I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.'
'I'm sure I shall, General,' Amy replied.
'Surely we don't have to be so formal this evening?' he said. 'Please, call me Harley.'
Amy blushed prettily. 'All right…Harley.' He smiled at her indulgently. Flustered, she looked at the menu. 'Hmmmmm…,' she murmured indecisively, '…what would you recommend?'
'I'm rather partial to their grilled salmon steak, actually.'
'That sounds wonderful.'
'I'm glad you approve.'
Beckoning a waiter, Bradford proceeded to order for both of them, including the wines for the meal. Amy had to admit that he was quite knowledgeable on that score.
The evening proceeded pleasantly. The salmon was grilled to perfection, the salad crisp, and the wines complemented the meal beautifully. Bradford was entertained by Amy's stories of her adventures as an overseas correspondent for the L.A. Courier and other media.
'After a while, though,' she concluded as they enjoyed their coffee, 'I decided that I missed living in the States. I missed my old colleagues, and I needed to come home. So, I got myself transferred back.'
'That's quite a life you've led, Ms. Allen,' Bradford said.
She held up an admonitory finger. 'That's “Amy”, remember?' she said, with a twinkle in her eye.
'Amy…of course,' he said, returning her smile. 'Well, Amy, do you feel up to a little stroll?'
'Oh, I'd like to, Harley, but I really need to be up early. I have to fly back to California tomorrow.'
Bradford nodded understandingly, and raised a hand to summon the waiter. He appeared, placing the leather check-presenter near Bradford's place. Bradford signed the check, putting it on his account, and slid it aside for the waiter to retrieve.
As the waiter moved off, he slipped a hand into his pocket.
'Well,' Bradford said, 'perhaps you'll be able to grace our fair city again before too long…'
He broke off, puzzled. The aroma accosted him again, haunting him like a bad dream. He looked about wildly.
There! Walking through the lobby!
He chased the figure in the cream suit, pushing his way through the crowd.
Behind him, at the table, Amy snickered into her coffee cup.
By the time Bradford had maneuvered his way to the foot of the staircase, the figure had disappeared. Sighing, he returned to the table.
'Forgive me, my dear,' he apologized. 'I must be getting over-tired.'
'That's quite all right, Harley,' Amy said graciously. 'I understand. Being so highly placed in the military must be a nerve-racking business!'
'It is, indeed, even if I am only a desk-jockey these days,' Bradford said absently, glancing warily around as he guided Amy back to the restaurant entrance.
As her car was brought around, Bradford looked at her. 'Please,' he said, 'any time you're in Washington, just give me a call. It would be lovely to see you again.'
'I will, Harley,' Amy said. 'But now I really must say good-night.'
Bradford waved as she drove off.
Amy laughed quietly. His voice had been shaking uncontrollably.
Amy slipped into the warehouse one last time. It was the final briefing. Face looked at her.
'He's well and truly rattled,' she reported with a slight grin. 'All we have to do now is keep him off-balance.' The lieutenant nodded, and looked at Murdock.
'I've got the little goodies you asked for.' Pulling a small box out of his jacket pocket, he distributed small tracking devices to each of them. 'We don't know when we'll have the chance to do this, so grab any opportunity you can. Don't worry if someone else has already done it. One is enough, but more can't hurt.'
'And a flak jacket?'
Murdock shook his head. 'No could do, compadre,' he sighed. 'I couldn't get anywhere near the Armory.'
Face pursed his lips; it was going to be trickier than he'd hoped. He turned his gaze to B.A. 'How about the dry ice?'
'It's in the van, in a cooler. All we have to do is add water,' he grinned with malicious humor.
Silence settled over the room.
'Well, this is it,' Face sighed. 'It goes down tomorrow.'
Amy looked at her trembling hands, and took a deep breath.
'I'm scared, guys,' she admitted, 'but nothing's going to stop me.' Her eyes were steely.
She held out a hand, palm up.
One by one, Face, Murdock, and B.A. joined in the hand-clasp they had taught her in Oregon so many years before.
'For Hannibal,' B.A. muttered.
In her mind's eye, Amy could see a black-gloved hand join theirs.
The moment passed.
Gently, Amy touched each man's face. It could be the last time they'd see each other alive.
'Good luck, guys,' she whispered. Then she was gone.
The next morning, Amy drove onto the base for what she hoped was the last time, and pulled into one of the visitor parking spaces. From there, she made her way past the reserved slots and into the administration building, heading for Colletti's office.
'Ms. Allen!' he said, looking up as she knocked on the door. 'This is a pleasant surprise! I thought you were on your way back to California.'
'I am, General,' she replied. 'However, I couldn't leave without stopping to thank you for all your help. I think it's going to be a great article, and I couldn't have done it without you.'
'It was my very great pleasure, Ms. Allen. Please feel free to visit me any time you're in the area.'
Amy offered her hand, and Colletti took it. 'I'd be delighted, sir,' she said. 'Now, I really must be going, or I'll miss my flight.' With that, she took her leave.
As she approached the staircase, she heard footsteps coming down the hall on the floor below. The stride sounded familiar, so she paused on the landing. Moments later, she was rewarded with the sight of Colonel Decker's lean form turning down the hall to his left. She waited until the footsteps faded, then quietly made her way to the parking lot.
Outside, she scanned the spaces by the building until she found the one reserved for Colonel Roderick Decker. There was an Army sedan parked in the slot. As she passed behind it, she managed to drop her purse, spilling the contents all over the place. Reaching under the car to retrieve an errant lipstick, she pressed her tracking device on the inside of the bumper.
Once all her scattered belongings had been restored to her bag, she left to rendezvous with the rest of the Team.
Corporal Randolph was driving along the beach road, under orders from Colonel Decker. There had been rumors that members of the A-Team had been spotted in several locations, and drivers had been dispatched to confirm the sightings.
Coming around a sharp bend, he slammed on his brakes, slewing to a halt next to a black van that had run off the road. There was a body lying face-down on the ground beside the open driver's-side door.
Randolph scrambled from the jeep and knelt over the body, checking for a pulse. He was more than a little surprised when it rolled over and pointed a pistol at him.
'Peek-a-boo!' said Murdock.
The corporal heard the sound of an assault weapon being readied, and felt the cold barrel against the back of his skull. Slowly, he raised his hands, and felt his own service revolver being tugged from its holster.
Murdock waved his gun up and down, indicating that the soldier should stand, then clambered to his own feet.
'Sorry about this, muchacho,' he said brightly. A right cross, and all Randolph saw was stars.
Randolph woke to find himself face-down against the hood of the jeep. He could feel his hands being tied behind his back. Once they were secured, he was flipped around to face his three captors.
'What do you want?' he demanded as fiercely as he could. Unfortunately, the tremor in his voice gave him away.
Face sighed, looking the soldier up and down. He couldn't be more than 18, about the same age Peck himself had been when he'd enlisted for Viet Nam.
'Well, gentlemen, it looks like we've caught us a cute little Decker-bug.' He shook his head, and looked at the nervous young man. 'Now, Corporal,' he said, reaching into the jeep for the walkie-talkie, 'you're going to make a little call for us.'
The phone rang in Bradford's office, and he picked up the receiver.
'Bradford,' he said. He listened to the voice at the other end of the line, glancing up at the person leaning on his desk. 'It's for you, Rod,' he said, passing over the hand-set.
His visitor took the hand-set and raised it to his ear.
'Decker,' he said curtly.
'Sir!' came a young voice. 'This is Corporal Randolph. I'm on patrol along the beach road.'
Decker thought a moment. Randolph: young, inexperienced, but willing. He nodded. 'Go ahead, soldier.'
Randolph's gaze flicked nervously from one Team member to the other. He licked his lips, and continued.
'Sir! I've spotted some suspicious activity. I was investigating a recent campfire when a big black van pulled up. As soon as the driver saw me, it took off again.'
'Did it have red detailing?'
'What's your position?' Decker demanded. The corporal gave him the co-ordinates. 'Right, Corporal! We're on our way!' He put the hand-set back in its cradle and looked at Bradford. 'I've got them now…'
Peck nodded with satisfaction. He could almost smell the burning rubber as Decker and his men swarmed out of the base like angry hornets.
'Sergeant!' he called, tossing the walkie-talkie back into the jeep. B.A. spun the kid to face him, stuffed a wad of fabric in his mouth, and secured it with a strip of cloth. That done, he picked him up bodily and dumped him unceremoniously in the open back of the jeep, patting him on the cheek before walking away.
Out of sight of the young soldier, Murdock bent and attached his tracking device to the chassis.
'Let's move!' Face called. The Team trotted back to the van and drove off, leaving a very relieved soldier behind.
Decker stood beside the jeep, glowering at the hapless corporal who had been trussed up, gagged, and then bundled into the back of his own vehicle. He reached out and pulled him roughly into a sitting position, then yanked down the gag.
Randolph flushed crimson. 'Sir!' he replied, as authoritatively as he could under the circumstances. 'I was on my way to check out one of the potential sightings when I found a black van that had run off the road. When I went to check the injured man beside it, they…they got the drop on me.' He hung his head, embarrassed.
'One of the oldest tricks in the book,' Decker murmured. 'Go on!'
'Once they had made me call you, sir, they dumped me in here. I heard them get back in the van and drive off. Judging by the sound, they headed into the scrub up the hill.' He gestured with his head as best he could.
'All right, son,' Decker sighed, clapping the young man on the shoulder. He really couldn't blame someone so green for not having done any better against battle-hardened veterans. He gestured to one of his men. 'Someone get him out of there!' he sighed as he stepped away.
'The A-Team wouldn't hang around here,' Decker muttered to himself. 'That would be too much to hope for. On the other hand, that's probably exactly what they'd figure I'd think.' He looked around, spotting the tire tracks leading off into the brush.
'All right, you men!' he shouted. 'On your feet! Spread out and search the area!' Decker slammed his fist into the hood of the jeep. Even with Smith gone, he still felt he was being played for a chump.
Four pairs of eyes scrutinized the entrance to the Army base.
'All right, ladies and gentlemen,' Face murmured, 'it's show-time. Hit it, B.A.!'
B.A. gunned the motor, and headed for the main gate.
The sentry on duty heard the roar of the oncoming van, and stepped out of the guard hut to wave it down. His eyes widened as it bore down on him, and he felt the wind of its passing as he leaped out of the way.
Tires screeching, B.A. circled the parade ground twice, making sure he was seen. It was a nerve-wracking game of 'catch-me-if-you-can'.
The commotion outside drew Bradford to the window. He didn't have to look twice. He knew that van from reports, but had never expected to see it. How could it be here?
He was on the phone in seconds. Immediately, soldiers scrambled for the chase.
The van shot back out the gate, the Army right behind.
B.A. looked in the rear-view mirror, and saw Bradford in the lead pursuit vehicle.
'Gotcha now, sucker!' he chortled.
B.A. Baracus knew how to pace his driving. The van screeched to a halt just in front of the beach house, the doors opening before it had come to a complete stop.
Face and Murdock scrambled from the back, while Amy slid over to take the wheel from B.A.
Face looked at her. 'You know what to do, right?' She nodded. 'Decker shouldn't be more than five miles away. Use the tracker in the van to find him. Lead him back here, then vanish.'
'You got it!'
They could hear the sirens approaching.
'Get out of here, chiquita!' Murdock yelled, pounding on the van's side.
Amy slammed the van into gear, and headed out the back way, towards the beach, as the guys made their way into the house.
Amy pulled off the beach road, just out of sight. Up ahead, she could see Decker directing his men in a search pattern.
A wicked smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. He wanted the A-Team? Well, he had to come and get 'em!
She slipped on a brown jacket and pulled a navy blue baseball cap low over her eyes, her auburn hair tucked up inside it. She'd never pass for Murdock up close, but from a distance, it should work.
Putting the van in gear, she waited until Decker's men were as spread out as possible.
Pedal to the metal, sweetheeeeeaaaart! Murdock's voice rang through her mind. She stamped on the accelerator.
The burn-out would've made B.A. proud.
The squeal of tortured tires made Decker wince. He stood dumb-founded as the grey, black, and red van of his nightmares crested the rise and came straight at him. With a yell, he tumbled out of the way.
Scrambling to his feet, he watched in fury as the van disappeared down the road.
A torrent of commands, richly laced with oaths, served to get his troops re-grouped and piling into their vehicles to speed after the phantom van.
Before they had gotten very far, they had to scatter as the van came hurtling back towards them.
Teeth clenched, Decker swung his men around and set off in pursuit.
General Bradford burst into the house just ahead of his men.
'Hello, Scuzz-ball!' The smooth voice, full of confidence, came from above them.
Bradford stared up at the figure on the balcony. It was wreathed in fog.
'You…you're dead!' he yelled, his voice tinged with hysteria.
'That's right, Scuzz-ball,' 'Hannibal' chuckled. 'And on your orders.'
Six shots were fired. The figure never so much as flinched.
'Do you really think you can kill me again?' The voice floated down eerily as the figure faded from sight.
The terrified man launched himself towards the stairs, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Crouched in the bedroom, Face stripped off the wig and gloves, his hands trembling violently. He winced at the sting in his upper arm, and the blood that wept from the thin graze. Without a flak vest, he'd had to rely on Bradford being too shaken to shoot straight, and he knew he'd gotten off lightly.
Bradford made it to the first landing, only to be confronted by B.A.
'This is for Hannibal, sucker!' A left to the stomach, followed by a right uppercut, sent him tumbling back down the stairs.
B.A. followed, plowing into the dozen or so soldiers crowding the area below. At the same time, Face vaulted the balcony railing, his AR-15 strafing the ceiling, and Murdock charged up from the basement.
Trained though they were, Bradford's men were no match for three outraged brothers-in-arms.
Amy floored it. The van fish-tailed wildly as she turned down the road to the beach house. She could see Decker's troops behind her. Were they far enough behind? she wondered.
The van went into a drift, slapping into some tall bushes as she slammed on the brakes. Leaving the engine running, she leaped out and fled. She was barely out of sight before the Army trucks swept in.
Carefully, she parted the scraggly bushes that were her only protection. She needn't have worried. Decker was so intent on revenge that neither he nor his troops spared so much as a glance in her direction.
The doors crashed open, and MP's poured into the room from all sides. Face and Murdock dropped their weapons and backed away, hands raised. B.A. took time to deck the guy he was holding before he joined them.
'Well, well, well,' Decker smirked as he swaggered in after his men.
'Three holes in the ground,' Murdock muttered under his breath.
'Looks like I finally captured the A-Team!'
'Wrong, as usual, Decker,' Face said, suddenly imbued with Hannibal's old bravado. 'You haven't captured us; we're giving ourselves up.' He pointed to the unconscious soldiers on the floor. 'Oh, and you can bring these slime-balls along, too.'
'Sir!' he answered, running to join Decker.
'Get these men out of here!' Crane nodded, and started assigning guards for the assorted groups of prisoners.
The Team was pushed together and, surrounded by an escort, herded outside.
Murdock looked up as they approached the door.
'Goons to the left of me,' he sang, looking straight at Decker, 'soldiers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you!'
It took every ounce of self-control Decker had not to back-hand Murdock right then and there.
Amy watched from cover as the Team was escorted from the house and forced to lean forward against the van, their legs kicked apart to put them off balance.
She gasped in horror as she recognized the officer doing the search.
Lieutenant Carpenter patted each man down carefully. He found only a couple of hand-guns, which he tossed to the guards covering the prisoners. Frisking Face, he heard the crackle of paper in an inner pocket.
Reaching inside Peck's jacket, he found the manila envelope. Wary now, he checked Murdock's bomber jacket and B.A.'s camo vest. Finding identical envelopes, he looked inside.
'Interesting,' he murmured. 'I think I'll just take charge of these.' He gestured to the guards. 'Put them in the truck!'
'Well, that does it,' Face sighed, as they were shoved towards the troop carrier. 'It's up to Amy, now.'
Amy ducked back out of sight as Decker and his men got into their vehicles and drove away. Peeking out from cover, she thought she saw Face watching for her as the troop transport receded in the distance. She waited a few more minutes before venturing from her hiding-place.
Once she was sure that there was no one left, she scrambled back up the slope to the drive-way, wondering how she was going to get back to the base. Looking around, she couldn't believe her luck.
In all the commotion, they'd forgotten the van. It sat there, quietly idling, the door still open, as if expecting her. Gratefully, she slid into the driver's seat, and put it in gear.
She kept well back from convoy. As they approached the base, she hung back even more, watching as they were waved through by the sentry. She gave them ten minutes to get inside before she hit the accelerator.
The sentry on duty heard the roar of the oncoming van, and stepped out of the guard hut to wave it down. His eyes widened as it bore down on him.
Oh, no! not again! he thought, dodging into the guard hut and grabbing the phone. I'm getting tired of this!
The van screeched to a halt in the middle of the parade ground. Amy clambered from the driver's seat, raising her hands as a dozen rifles snapped up to cover her, the safeties clicking off.
'I demand to see General Colletti!' she shouted, her voice ringing around the compound.
The sergeant-at-arms lowered his rifle. Approaching, he grabbed her by the arm and shoved her in the direction of the administration building, dismissing all but four guards, who followed them closely.
The escort marched Amy down the long corridors of the administration building. Coming to an intersection, they turned left.
'Hey!' she yelled. 'This isn't the way to Colletti's office!'
The sergeant-at-arms didn't reply, just kept going.
'I need to see General Colletti!' Amy insisted.
He ignored her.
Amy hated to do this, but there was no other way.
She twisted out of the sergeant's grasp, slamming her knee into his stomach. As he doubled up, she snagged the pistol from his holster and fired a couple of rounds into the floor before training the gun on the remaining guards.
'Hold it right there!' she commanded as she edged around them. The sergeant was looking daggers at her, but she didn't care.
It was a stand-off. Taking aim, she fired several shots just over their heads, forcing them to duck, then spun on her heels and took off in the opposite direction.
She remembered the way to Colletti's office from her earlier visits. Haring down the hallway, she skidded around the corner and sprinted up the stairs. She could hear the thunder of army boots behind her, getting closer.
When they caught up with her, the momentum carried them into the wall.
General Colletti looked up at the sound of several bodies slamming into the wall outside his door. Crossing the room, he tore it open. He was greeted by the sight of a figure in a brown jacket and blue ball-cap struggling in the hands of several guards, while a sergeant wrested a gun from its hand.
'Sergeant Morgan, what's the meaning of this?' Manning demanded.
Morgan snapped to attention and saluted.
'Sir! The prisoner was apprehended for unlawful entry onto the base. We were taking him to General Bradford when he got away and ran in this direction. We caught up with him here, sir!'
Colletti looked at the prisoner, and was startled to see a pair of blazing brown eyes glaring at him. He reached out and pulled off the ball cap.
'General, I need to speak with you!' Amy pleaded. 'It's urgent!'
Colletti hesitated for a moment, then nodded and led the way into his office.
Once he was half-seated on his desk, he nodded to the sergeant. The guards let go of Amy and stood back, ready to grab her again if necessary.
'Now, Ms. Allen, what's this all about?'
Amy took a deep breath.
'I'm sure you've heard of the A-Team,' she began. The general nodded. 'Then you know that they have always claimed that they were set up.' Again, Colletti nodded. 'For over three decades, my friend Colonel John Smith spent every moment he could spare gathering evidence to prove the Team's innocence. Just a month ago, Hannibal was murdered by Lieutenant Carpenter, aide to General Bradford.' She sniffed, and Colletti could see the bright tears that she refused to let fall.
'These are serious charges, Ms. Allen,' the general said calmly. 'Do you have any evidence to back this up?'
Amy nodded shakily. Reaching carefully into her jacket, so as not to alarm the guards, she pulled out the manila envelope and passed it to the general.
Colletti scanned the papers, Morgan looking over his shoulder, and what he read incensed him. That an officer pledged to the protection of his country could be so blinded by ambition, jealousy, and hatred as to betray a fellow-officer was unconscionable.
'Where are these men now?'
'They've just been arrested by Colonel Decker, along with Bradford and his men. Face…that is, Lieutenant Peck…and the others were carrying envelopes identical to the one I just gave you. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Carpenter was with Decker's men, and he confiscated them.'
Amy looked at Morgan. 'I'm sorry to have given you so much trouble, Sergeant,' she said hoarsely. 'It was vital that this get through. I've already lost one friend to this…this…' She couldn't bring herself to say it. 'I will not lose the rest!' she concluded fiercely.
The sergeant nodded; loyalty was something he understood completely.
Colletti looked up. 'To protect Bradford, Carpenter's going to have to get rid of the contents of those packets, and quickly,' he said.
Amy looked at Colletti anxiously.
'How do you destroy sensitive materials here?'
Carpenter was almost finished. Languidly, he fed the sheets into the shredder one by one, savoring the fact that the A-Team would never get away again.
He was about to open the last packet when General Colletti stepped through the doors, a Glock in his hand and MP's at his side. At a nod from the general, Sergeant Morgan tugged the final envelope from his grasp, and examined the contents.
'They match, sir!' he said, passing them over.
Colletti looked at the two sets of papers side by side.
'They certainly do, Sergeant.' He looked up, his eyes flashing with anger. 'Lieutenant, consider yourself under arrest.'
Carpenter looked crestfallen as he was hand-cuffed and led off to the stockade.
Over the next two weeks, Amy Allen was a permanent fixture in the courtroom. Thanks to her past reporting on their activities, no one questioned her presence at a court-martial involving the notorious A-Team.
She watched, minute by agonizing minute, listening to every scrap of testimony for both prosecution and defense. There was no doubt in her mind who was guilty; the problem was convincing the judges.
She was so proud of her friends. They gave their testimony calmly and assuredly. B.A. didn't let the cross-examination get to him, insulting though it was. Even Murdock reined in his usual mercurial temperament. And Face…well, Face was Face.
Finally, it was all over. The judges deliberated, and a verdict was handed down.
But the A-Team wasn't there to hear it.
B.A. stood by the cell window, looking down at the troops drilling on the parade ground two stories below. It had been several weeks since their apprehension and the trial. He wondered how Marlene was taking the news of the Team's capture; wondered if he'd ever see her again. He punched the wall in frustration.
'Take it easy, B.A.,' Face said dispiritedly. 'They've got us dead to rights this time.' Not knowing the outcome of the trial had gotten to both of them.
'They knew we were comin', man. They didn't leave nothin' I could use!' The first thing he'd done was tear the place apart, only to find wooden beds bolted to the floor, no lockers, and nothing that could be disassembled for parts. Even their food came on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils.
It had been three weeks since the trial ended. Since then, they'd seen no one except the corporal who slid their meals under the barred door and the armed guards who made sure they stood well back from it. They never spoke a word, and never gave the trio any opportunity to try anything.
Murdock sat on his bunk, leaning against the wall, singing unconcernedly under his breath. Being in a cell for weeks at a time was nothing new to him.
'Shut up, fool!' B.A. snarled.
Murdock looked at him. 'Hey, blood brother,' he said, grinning, 'maybe they'll let you bunk with me at the VA! It could be real cozy!'
B.A. just turned away. 'Crazy-man!' he muttered under his breath.
A door clanged on a lower level.
They looked up apprehensively at the sound of footsteps on the metal staircase. It was too early for dinner.
It wasn't the corporal. This time, it was a sergeant – Hartnell, according to the name-tape sewn to his fatigues.
'All right, you three,' he barked. 'On your feet!'
Four guards trained their rifles on the prisoners, who backed against the opposite wall. The sergeant unlocked the door, then walked in, displaying three pairs of handcuffs.
'Now, you can make it easy on yourselves, or we can drag you out of here,' he told them, deadpan. Faced with that kind of choice, they allowed themselves to be shackled.
Peck led the way with as much composure as he could muster. He knew the others were feeling no more confident than he was.
At the foot of the staircase, the corporal was waiting. At their approach, he stood back, holding the exit door open, his eyes averted.
Eight more armed guards surrounded them as they stepped outside to be escorted across the compound.
These guys aren't taking any chances! thought Face.
Soldiers of all ranks stared as they passed, but no one said a word. The formation entered the administration building and proceeded to the office of General Lawrence Colletti.
'Halt!' The unit stopped as one, and the sergeant stepped forward to open the door. Face peered in as it swung wide…and blanched.
'We're in for it now,' he muttered to the others. 'Decker's waiting for us.'
'Prisoners…forward!' With heavy hearts, they walked to their doom.
General Colletti looked up dispassionately as Peck, Murdock, and Baracus were escorted into his office. Jerking his head in their direction, he indicated that Hartnell should remove the handcuffs securing the three men who stood to attention before him.
'Gentlemen,' he said without preamble, 'thanks to your efforts, a serious miscarriage of justice has finally been corrected. With the conviction of General Bradford and his cohorts, the charges against you have been dropped, and your records changed to reflect honorable discharges from service. In addition, the newspapers have been informed that the A-Team have been completely exonerated.'
'Then what was…' Peck began, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
'Please forgive the melodrama,' Colletti said, rising and smiling slightly. 'We wanted to be sure you didn't escape before you knew you'd been cleared. We wanted to be sure you knew it was the truth this time.' With a glance, he dismissed the escort.
'With all due respect, sir,' Peck offered, rubbing his chafed wrists, 'this is a bit late in coming.'
'All too true, Lieutenant,' the general replied. 'The only defense I can offer is that we had as little to go on as you did, and General Bradford's connections enabled him to use the overzealousness of certain parties to his own advantage.' He glanced over towards Decker.
Colletti relaxed a little, leaning back against his desk. 'I've made a study of your activities over the past thirty-five years, gentlemen, and I must say that it makes fascinating reading. However, what impressed me most was that, whatever job you took, you never betrayed your principles, or the oath you swore when you enlisted.
'Because of this, I've managed to convince the powers-that-be to award you not only your back-pay, but also all the medals you earned in active service, plus the Distinguished Service Cross.' He gestured to the four small boxes on his desk. 'Colonel Decker!'
Decker stepped forward and saluted. 'Sir!' Chagrined, he picked up the first box and handed it to the general.
Colletti approached Lieutenant T.A. Peck, who stepped forward. They saluted each other, the general pinned the medal to his uniform jacket, they shook hands, saluted again, and Peck stepped back into line. The little ceremony was repeated for Captain H.M. Murdock and Sergeant B.A. Baracus.
General Colletti took the last box from Decker and turned to the newly-freed men. 'I only regret that this last award has to be a posthumous one. Did Colonel Smith have any family?'
'No, sir; no one really close.' Peck told him. 'However, if you'll allow me, I know someone who would appreciate having it.'
'Ms. Amy Allen,' the general nodded. 'I can't think of a better trustee.' He handed the box to Face. 'And now, gentlemen…' he saluted '…Dis-missed!'
The trio returned the salute crisply, executed a smart right turn, and filed out of the room.
Slowly, Colletti turned to Decker.
'Now,' he said grimly, a twinkle in his eye belying his gruff tone, 'as for you…'
Three former soldiers-of-fortune stood by a grave. Once again, the earth was freshly turned, but this time, the grave was in Arlington, and was marked by a white marble headstone. The uniforms they wore were as crisp as the day they had first donned them.
'It's too bad Hannibal didn't live to see this day,' B.A. growled. 'But at least the fools who messed with us have finally paid.'
Face nodded, then turned to look at Murdock. 'Did you get it'?
Murdock reached into a pocket, and withdrew an aluminum tube, which he passed to Face. 'Cuban. His favorite brand, too.'
Nodding, Peck unscrewed the cap and tilted it, sliding a tobacco-wrapped cylinder into his hand. B.A. looked at him quizzically.
'His cigars and his gloves,' Peck explained, pulling a pair of well-worn black leather gloves from his own pocket. 'They were so much a part of him. We can't let him go without them.
B.A. nodded, and bent to dig a hole in the loose soil. Peck laid the items inside, and Murdock scooped the earth over them, tamping it down neatly.
They stood to attention, saluted smartly, and did a sharp right-about-face.
As they walked towards the van, Face draped an arm over the shoulders of each of his colleagues. Theirs was a bond that could never be broken, even by death.
'Whatever happens,' he said, 'we're still the A-Team.'
'You got that right, sucker!' B.A. grinned as he said it, his face brightening.
Murdock looked up at the sky. With his uncanny knack for mimicry, he just had to do it. Pulling out a second cigar, he struck a well-remembered pose.
'I love it when a plan comes together!'
*The Capitol Steps do exist, and do perform at the Ronald Reagan Center, as well as touring the U.S. For more information, please visit their website at www.capsteps.com.