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Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell.
Summary: A team member's reflection on the guys' various needs and how their commander addresses them.
We all have bad days. We get those days when everything seems to go wrong, break, fall through, run out of time -- where, you name it, if it can go sour it does.
Face is havin' one 'a those days. For a few days now. He
was already kinda down to start with and there's no tellin' what set that
off. He gets that way sometimes. I think so many years of bad
just gets too heavy on anybody after a while, even him. Maybe especially him.
I guess all four of us have more than our share of the bad stuff, memory-wise.
But I've got more of an outlet for it than the others. Even got my own
bona fide therapist, who listens and actually does
manage to help me sort it all out. When I don't have access to him, well you don't think all my mind games and character roles serve no purpose, do ya? A person can work out an awful lot of stress that way Ů after all, it takes a heck of a lot of energy to create an alter ego or invisible friend or make-believe situation÷
All of us have our peculiarities -- mine just happen to be a bit more peculiar than most, that's all. I deal with things in my way, the other guys do it in theirs. I've seen how BA takes out his frustrations, for instance. I never wanta be on the receiving end of it, either. I try to remind myself of that whenever I'm pushin' my luck and gettin' on his nerves a little too much. It doesn't always hold me back, but you gotta give a guy credit for trying, right?
Hannibal even has his own predictable ways of dealing with stress, blowing
off steam, whatever you wanta call it. If you asked him about it,
the Colonel would probably just look at you coolly and take
a puff off his cigar (one sure-fire sign of agitation, by the way), and say he has no idea what you're talking about. The more stressed he gets, the cooler his tone. He also has the preoccupation of
looking out for his men. It's kinda hard to get wrapped up in your own problems when you've taken it as your duty to solve everybody else's, first and foremost. But then, when his team is running
smoothly and everybody's happy, so is Hannibal so it all comes full circle.
But then there's Face, and the guy just doesn't let off steam -- he
holds it in. Puts a mask on it and everything's just fine.
We know better, me 'n the other guys, but Face is funny about certain
things. He won't let his guard down around anyone, not if he can help it. The four of us have been together nearly eighteen years now. You'd think he would've learned to relax more than he has. I
figure there must've been plenty of bad experiences in his growing-up years. The dreams that plagued him back when we first met in 'Nam gave me a glimpse into some of it. It's not pretty, and I guess if anything I'm amazed he can smile so much.
Most people don't see beyond the dazzling smile, and since he's almost
always smiling÷. Well you get the picture. He wants that--
wants people to take him at 'face' value (if you'll pardon the pun),
and not dig any deeper. He learned real early on I think that a gorgeous smile distracts people, makes 'em forget what they were gonna ask. It also covers up a lot. It's as if he feels safer with
a wall between him an' and world. His face is like a shield that he uses to protect himself, I've been convinced of that for years now. Don't get me wrong: there's nothin' wrong with smiling. I tend to be
a happy-go-lucky type 'a guy, but when I'm smilin' or laughin' it's 'cause I feel like it. Sometimes I really wonder what's going on behind that smile, what Face is really thinking or feeling.
I had a therapist once -- okay, I've had a few of them -- who advised
that if you weren't feeling very happy or optimistic as a general rule,
to go through the motions (meaning smile and talk positive
anyway) and lo and behold, you would actually begin to feel that way. I didn't see him long enough to find out if it really works, but I guess it makes sense in a self-fulfilling prophecy kinda way÷
So do I think our Faceman is happy and content most of the time? He certainly smiles more than anybody I've ever known. I think he's a gifted con artist, that's for sure. But even the best of con men develop a chink in their armor once in a while. Sometimes, the wider Facey smiles the more uneasy it makes me. Usually means he's operatin' on a wing 'n a prayer in the tight spots we manage to get ourselves into.
You know it's strange: BA scowls more than any human being I've ever known; yet I'd say he's one of the most content. By that I mean he's comfortable with himself, with life. Face, on the other hand, covers up a lifetime of disappointment with that patented grin. You just can't always trust what your eyes first tell you -- you've gotta look deeper. Most people probably don't see more in him than a pretty face, always smiling, shallow and scheming -- and always resilient.
It's hard to be resilient though when everything goes wrong. Like
I said before, everybody has those low times. No immunity from Murphy's
Law, not in this lifetime. This one girl he was seeing
occasionally turned out not to be as available as she made out; her biker boyfriend and a couple of his friends caught Face in the parking garage and pounded him in the gut a few times. The boyfriend
then planned on rearranging his face, saving the best for last but a security guard happened onto them in time to give Face the distraction he needed. With his looks intact, he was able to carry
out his role in our next case, but he walked stooped over like an old man for a coupla days. Contrary to how they make it look on television, you don't take bruising fists to the gut and then
straighten up and walk away.
He would've liked to try, I'm sure. We all got together the next
morning to head for the mountains and the next case. Hannibal picked
up right away on the fact that it took Face twice as long to get in
and out of his car and the van. He'd turned around in the front seat before BA even started the van and fastened sharp blue eyes on his Lieutenant. "Spill it, Face. What's wrong?"
"Ah, Hannibal -- I had a run-in with a couple of fists last night."
Hannibal only raised his eyebrows, then nodded once. "Let's see the damage."
"Aw, c'mon Hannibal÷"
I'd stayed out of it in spite of a quick pleading glance from Face, just waited in the seat next to him, because I knew we weren't going anywhere until the Colonel found out what he needed to know. I'd wondered what was up, too, when I noticed how Face had climbed up into the van, but Hannibal beat me to it.
With a sigh and a mumble about tyrants who antagonize the lowly worker bees, Face gave in because he knew he had no choice. He now had all three of us waiting to find out what was going on. For one thing, you don't launch yourself into a dangerous mission if one of your Team is injured and you don't know how bad. For another, we were instantly worried; he'd tried to cover up that anything was wrong and that was typically when he was hurt bad.
I bit my lip to keep from saying anything when he lifted his shirt.
A couple of fists, he'd called it? It looked like some musclebound
goon had taken a lead pipe to his lower chest and abdomen. The
bruises were a deep purple, indicating they were new.
Hannibal climbed to the back of the van then. Face pasted on a look of bored indulgence, but I knew how uncomfortable the attention was making him. The Colonel knelt between our seats and put his hands on Face's bare chest, working his way down over his ribs. He didn't have to press hard at all on the bruising to get a sharp hiss of pain out of Face.
"Where else, Face?"
Face shook his head. "Nowhere else."
"Look at me and tell me that." Now that's a tone you don't want to mess around with. Not even Face plays light with that.
He looked steadily at Hannibal and repeated his answer.
The Colonel stayed put another minute, studying his second-in- command. I knew a lecture was coming; just didn't know if he'd give it now with an audience, or make Face wait for it. Neither was an attractive option, but personally I like to get the unpleasantness over with so it's not hanging over my head.
Hannibal settled for both; he was definitely not happy: "You and I will talk about this some more later on, but you need to know how serious this is. You know we're setting off right now on a case, and if your movement is restricted you can become a liability real quick."
"I know." Face's voice was small. I had a sudden image of
him as a boy answering the nuns for his sins. I guess I just wished
Hannibal would leave him be, but I wasn't about to make things worse by
The Colonel surprised me then by abandoning his dress-down. "What happened?"
"I--" I could see the wheels turning in his golden head, practically. And reaching the conclusion that no good could come of withholding any answers right now. "Well, you know I've dated Candy a couple of times this month, Candy with no boyfriend?"
"How big is he?" Hannibal asked.
"Big enough. Biker. Two biker friends." Face offered a weak smile. "It could've been worse. My face was their next target but they got distracted long enough for me to change their minds."
Hannibal shook his head. "Kid, you're gonna learn one of these days..."
I wasn't sure exactly what Hannibal thought Face should learn -- not to date so much, or so indiscriminately÷.
"I guess you'll be able to pull off the con," Hannibal finally decided, referring to the setup we'd already arranged. "Murdock'll help you fix a heat pack to use on the drive up. Use it, Lieutenant."
I set about doing just that, while BA got the van started and onto the
highway. We keep emergency supplies for just about any situation.
We usually need them after a mission, not before, but I
thought better of teasing Face about it and instead helped him arrange his shirt over the pack.
To add insult to injury, things started sour on that mission and stayed
that way. It was circumstances, more than anything. Face wound
up running four different scams that on a good day would've taken only
one. It was pure blind luck we got out with our tails intact.
It wasn't his fault, but I knew he took on the blame because of his condition
going into the case. All in all, it was a real
downer couple of days for him.
Then Face lost his apartment because the owners came back into town a month early. It was a good scam, but you can't predict some things and Mrs. Harrison contracting some tropical fever definitely fits into that category. If there's a good side to it, it's that Face found out the evening before. It could've been an embarrassing surprise if he'd had a girl staying over and the Harrisons arrived to let themselves in that next morning. Still, it was a setback to pride and resources. He had to feel like he was being pounded again by that biker's fist, figuratively speaking of course.
You get the picture. One thing after another went wrong for him, and maybe it just made matters worse when BA or me would say "Just forget about it, Face; don't let it get you down." Easy to say when you're not caught up in a string of bad luck. Maybe because he'd already been feelin' a little out of sorts, back just before the parking garage ambush happened, he just seemed to sink down further. I can usually tell by the choice of music he listens to, when he opts for the melancholy instrumental pieces. That and the fact he's quiet and withdrawn when me 'n BA start our marathon arguments, instead of either playin' along or tryin' to break us up. I know I said he uses his smile to hide behind, but it's when he's not smiling that worries me most. That's when one of us usually tries to cheer him up.
Right now that would be all three of us. I'm sitting in the back
of the van, for once being quiet as thoughts run through my head.
BA and Hannibal are just as quiet, up in the front seats. I wish
step on it but I know he's doin' the best he can in traffic. It won't do Face or us any good if we get in an accident -- and one of those is enough for a good long time, thank you very much. Besides,
it's not like Face is in 'real' trouble÷ I'm just anxious to get to him, and start trying to pull him out of wherever it is he goes inside himself, when things get to be too much for him.
Anyway, I'm passing the time now thinking about how it was one thing
piled up on another for him, all in the space of a few of days. Then
he wrecked his car -- yep, his prized vette, just creamed the entire front
end into a twisted hunk of metal and fiberglass. It wasn't his fault,
but if the police had beat us there he'd 'a been in jail so fast, fault
wouldn't have mattered. It just so happened he was on
his way to meet the rest of us as we took on a new client. (They were lined up one after another, seemed like -- funny how we'll have long dry spells, then more work than we can handle, almost.)
Hannibal had sprung me outta the VA, for a change, while Face did some background checks before we actually took on the case. When the call came from Face that he'd just destroyed his car, just a few blocks from where we were waiting for him, well, of course we left the client high 'n dry and got to that intersection in under a flat minute.
I can only speak for myself, but I'd bet Hannibal 'n BA felt the same
as I did -- sick to my stomach when I saw the entire front end of the vette
buried under the truck that ran its red light. All that kept
me from losing it was knowing he'd made that phone call so he HAD to be alive and breathing, right?
The three of us tore off at a run. Face was still in the car,
too stunned to even think about getting out. You could still smell
the metal where it'd been compressed only minutes before. The jackass
driving the truck hadn't even budged from it, was on the radio with his company and worried about getting to his delivery on time. In retrospect, I suppose that bought us the few minutes we needed to get away -- the guy was so preoccupied with his schedule, he didn't call the cops. Of course he didn't call an ambulance either. Turned out it wasn't needed, but he couldn't 'a known that.
BA had to wrench the door open on the vette; he unfastened the safety belt and he and Hannibal pulled Face out from behind the steering wheel -- which had been pushed by the impact so far that there was only an inch or so clearance between it and Face's chest. They sat him on the curb and BA ran his big hands over Face's body, looking for damage while Hannibal knelt and took Face's head in his hands. It was a weird sort of déjà vu from the day we left on the last case. Hannibal kept asking Face if he was all right, trying to get him to talk as he checked one eye then the other. Seemed like it took a while before the poor guy could form a coherent sentence, so I guess the phone call was instinct, thank God. When he did say something, it was to look up into Hannibal's eyes and say "I wrecked my car," like he couldn't quite grasp it'd happened. I swear, he was right on the verge of tears, closer than I'd seen him since the early days in 'Nam.
"It's okay, kid," Hannibal told him, still holding his head. "It'll be fine. Where do you hurt?"
Face didn't answer him; in fact he looked down at himself like it only
just occurred to him he might be injured. Hannibal ran his hands
down over Face's hair, looking like he was petting him. I knew
he was worried Face had hit his head, and I wondered if the Colonel had seen signs of a problem in those blue-green eyes.
I guessed not, 'cause Hannibal lowered his hands to Face's shoulders and smiled, "Kid, you're gonna make it. Think you can walk? We had best leave here before the police get wind of this."
Face nodded, and Hannibal said "Good" and squeezed his shoulders. "BA, check the car for the records Face collected this morning."
"Right." BA patted Face on the thigh before getting up.
Big lotta help I was this whole time -- I could only squat there with
my hands over my mouth, like I could hold in all of the scare he'd given
me, or something. But when he started to get up, he reached
out towards me like it was automatic. It broke me out of the trance I was in and I pretty much launched myself at him. Hannibal and I each took a side and helped him up. I wrapped my arms around him and could feel he was still trembling. We walked to the van that way, got him settled inside before Hannibal turned back and he 'n BA discussed what to do about Face's car. To tell the truth, I didn't follow any of it. That car was the least of my concerns; I didn't want to think about how two more inches could've killed him.
Well that was probably the most traumatic thing to happen to him in
a while -- to any of us, since we all lost at least five years of growth
when we came around the corner and saw the shape of Face's
car. But like I started out sayin', it's a whole laundry list of things that got him down. This last was sorta the icing on the cake.
BA took care of Face's car -- somehow he got it towed to the garage
where he does work on the van. He's getting it fixed good as new,
but Face doesn't know that yet. I know what BA wants to do; he wants
to show Face the vette once it's picture perfect again, the way Face keeps
it -- showroom quality. BA keeps sayin' it's 'cause he don't wanta
hear Face complain about how the thing's being fixed, but I know better.
He wants to make things right again, probably thinking
back on the same moment I keep remembering -- Face sitting there on the curb and that vulnerable, helpless look on his face. His mask dropped, and it took 'im a while to find it again. Once he did,
though, he pretty much withdrew into himself even more than he had before the crash.
I know it seems like a leap to go from thinking about Face and his problems
recently to Hannibal and his role as our commander. It's not really.
Hannibal knows when one of us needs something -- and I'm not talkin' about
the general needs everybody walking the earth has, either. I mean
the needs that you can only recognize when you know another person so well,
you realize what's missing before he even does. There are times the
Colonel knows I need to be back at the VA. I need a chance to talk
to my shrink or just be back where I'm secure, comfortable in my sometimes
overactive imagination. And somehow, he never makes it seem like
he's dumping me off. He makes
sure I know I'm the only reason he's making sure I get there when I need to. That's the kind of needs I'm talking about. Intangible needs, knowing what will make the other person whole.
Even BA has those kinds of needs. It was two months ago when he
became just a little gruffer than usual, growled in a different tone maybe,
who knows what made Hannibal first pick up on it but the
Colonel knew. He then calmly announced to me 'n Face that the Team was taking a two week break from the string of cases we'd been working -- and that our first order of business was getting the Sergeant home to Chicago for a visit. The eerie thing is, BA's mama went in for emergency surgery that very next week, an' he was there to be with her. (She's fine now, by the way, but it was touch 'n go for a few hours there.) I won't try to explain that kind of bond, the connection between mother and son that communicates without words, and over distances like that. What I am trying to explain is the fact that Hannibal recognized it, somehow realized the connection and knew what his Sergeant needed.
We're traveling down I-5 now -- on a Friday late afternoon, mind you, us and about a zillion other people -- because of that knack the Colonel has for knowing what his men need. He's a friend in the truest sense of the word, and at the same time he's just as much the responsible commander he was back in 'Nam -- always putting his men first.
With Face, it's keeping tabs on his mood swings and that's no easy task.
We know him pretty well, but then keep in mind he's constantly striving
to camouflage his true feelings. That makes it a guessing game, and
I just don't think there're too many commanders out there who'd be willing
to play that game indefinitely. But that's what I mean when I say
Hannibal's no ordinary commander. He could just say, "Face'll work
through it" -- and he would; Face always has. But the Colonel has
never settled for that and I know he never will. Instead, he'll opt for
going after Face and making sure we keep close when he's down. Giving
him the security he desperately needs but won't ask for, for fear it would
be denied. That's more of his childhood years bleeding into adulthood,
and sometimes I can read in Hannibal's eyes how he feels about that, the
anger he harbors towards
whoever caused Face to feel that way. I recognize it because it's reflected in my eyes too, and you can even catch it in BA's.
Hannibal actively takes care of his own. Maybe that's why I was
still hanging around even though there was no case in our immediate future.
I could feel it in the air, the sense of waiting. I think
BA felt it too, 'cause he kept piddling around with bits 'n pieces of things in his toolbox. He was working on lining up the tools he'd need for a repair job, well upgrades really, to the van, when
Hannibal came out into the garage. I had my walkman on and was up on the workbench, swingin' my legs and hummin' along with the music. Hannibal had that expression that says he's figured something out and made a decision. He said, "BA, let's put off the repairs and take a long weekend."
BA was puzzled at first. He looked up from his toolbox and his
brow crinkled in that way he has, whenever he just can't get at the Colonel's
meaning. I didn't get it either; thought maybe he had a
new job prospect lined up.
BA shrugged. I knew the repairs could wait; he'd said himself
they were upgrades that might come in handy, some day. His tone of
voice didn't rule out the change of plan, but it was wary as he
asked, "Where, Hannibal?"
The Colonel didn't answer just yet, rolled his cigar in his teeth a few seconds before he calmly said, "The ocean, Bingham Beach, up near the National Park."
The ocean -- that's one of Facey's favorite places in the whole world.
He once said it helps him to sort things out to have the ocean as a backdrop.
That it's soothing just to be around. I think
it's the constant noise, the roar of the waves and the fact that nothing is static. It kinda matches his entire life. All of ours, now. When BA's brow smoothed out I knew he was thinking the same as
me. "Yeah man, you're right."
It'd taken one quick phone call for me to get Face on the line.
He hadn't sounded too thrilled to be suddenly heading out to do anything,
but it wasn't his usual protest, like when he had other
plans he'd now have to break. Still, I asked: "You got a date or somethin' tonight, Faceman?"
He'd sighed "No, Murdock -- everybody I know already has plans."
Hannibal took the phone at that point and issued terse orders in a cheerful voice. "You've got twenty minutes, Lieutenant. Pack light, three days."
I heard Face give a "Yes, sir," and Hannibal ended the call, a gleam of determination in his eyes.
We all have needs. If we're real lucky, we have somebody who recognizes that fact and makes sure those needs are met.
(c) Meryn Marks Oct 2000
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