Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!
This page last viewed: 2017-08-20 and has been viewed 1720 times

Avenger

Avenger
by Lonely Walker

The truth is rarely pure and never simple
                                        - Oscar Wilde

DAY 1

Two days ago, I either saved the lives of three men I barely knew or let them be killed for a crime I know they didn't commit. For the last forty-eight hours I've been sitting in the A-Team's van, that Murdock had stashed somewhere that the Military Police couldn't find it, waiting for the telephone call that will tell us what the conclusion to this chapter of the A-Team's history is. But as they say, a watched pot never boils.
        Murdock steps up into the van through the open door and sits down, not saying a word. He's been unseasonally quiet ever since we heard the shots of the firing squad when we were heading away from the prison in a boat. I can't really blame him. Johnny Smith, Templeton Peck and BA Baracus didn't murder their commanding officer in Vietnam - the intelligence agent Murdock and I captured confirmed that, and then lied in court - but they probably should have. Morrison had been a traitor to his country - working for the Viet Cong. However, the A-Team knew nothing of it and were condemned to death for the murder of a man they had thought, like everyone else, had died in a bombing raid while they were robbing the Bank of Hanoi. Justice for all, I guess - but only if you're a traitor.
        I'm scribbling all this - the background to why I'm sitting here in the first place - into an old diary I've had for years, but never written in, when the mobile phone finally rings. I automatically go to pick it up, but Murdock pushes my arm out of the way and picks up the receiver.
        "Hello?" He says. I don't notice it at the time, but I realise that I must have been holding my breath, not daring to move, as if one stray cough would change the A-Team's fate. I watch Murdock like a hawk for any sign of what the answer is.
        The pilot frowns. "What's going on, Stockwell? We've been waiting for days and..."
        A pause while Stockwell on the other end speaks. Murdock lifts a finger into the air. "Look, just tell me that they're-!" I hear the crackle of Stockwell hanging up. Murdock sighs, an effort to restrain his anger. He switches the phone off and turns to me. "He wants us to meet him at the docks." The pilot shrugs. "He wouldn't say anything else."
        I grin, not entirely happy myself, but trying to cheer him up. "The guys are fine, Murdock! Stockwell probably doesn't want to say too much in case the Feds are listening in or something."
        Murdock shakes his head, but whether it's a negative or just to indicate that he's confused, I don't know. He climbs into the driver's seat and starts up the engine. "BA would kill me if he knew I was driving his van." He mutters, a half-smile on his face. I say nothing and get into the passenger side seat, resuming my story where I left off.

The directions Stockwell gave Murdock must have been pretty shaky, because we spend about five minutes driving around the docks until we find the warehouse with the tell-tale black limosine outside it. The building doesn't have a door, but we can't see what's happening inside due to the crates piled up inside it. Murdock jumps out of the van and hurries toward where Stockwell and a couple of black-suited guys I assume are his bodyguards are standing. I'm a little behind Murdock, and what catches his eye isn't what catches mine. I'm still staring at Stockwell's female assistant when I hear Murdock say something.
        I don't know what it is when I hear it - the words catch in his throat. But when I turn around to see what he's seen, I know exactly what it was: "Oh my god, they're dead."
        I hurry the few steps forward and grab him by the shoulders. "Relax, Murdock. It's just the drugs, right?" I turn to Stockwell. "Right?"
        Stockwell's face, normally impassive, only looks slightly disappointed today. He gives a brief shake of his head and starts to commiserate with us in the same tone cops use when they say 'I'm sorry for your loss'. I don't believe him for one second and Murdock's about to sock Stockwell or me or anyone within reach when one of Stockwell's bodyguards stabs him in the arm with a needle. Murdock looks up at me, as if asking me to do something, and collapses in a heap on the ground.
        "You killed them!" I finally get a sentence out. "You killed all of them!" I don't feel like fighting anyone. My brain just feels worn out by a succession of really bad days and wants to go home.
        A hint of a smile appears on the General's face. "And I am the one left holding the smoking gun. Not so, Mr. Santana. It merely appears that your rescue operation failed and the A-Team were, after all, executed for their crimes."
        "They didn't do anything wrong!" I protest.
        That irritating smug smile is back. "I'm only speaking for the military court, Mr. Santana. And as for Captain Murdock - he'll be fine in a few hours once he's had a good relaxing sleep."
        The two bodyguards pick Murdock up and drag him to the limosine. Stockwell nods at me. "You too."
        "What am I gonna do?" I ask. "You wanted the A-Team and they're dead!"
        "Just some paperwork to clear up." Stockwell gestures to the limo again. "Mr. Santana."
        I glare at him and as I do I get my first clear picture of the three pale dead bodies in the black sacks lying against the crates. The A-Team no more. Wiping a threatening tear away, I walk slowly towards the limosine and away from any chance of a normal life.

DAY 2
 
Yesterday probably wins the contest for being the worst of my life. Murdock woke up about an hour into our Stockwell-booked flight to Langley. He was so angry it scared all of us, I think. I thought he might kill me - you know, for not substituting the bullets right or giving the guys the wrong drugs or something. As it turned out, he didn't even seem to notice I was there. He decked one of the suits before another couple of them (Stockwell seems to have an endless supply) grabbed him and sedated him again. For the rest of the flight, they made sure he was doped up and tied to his chair, like the A-Team used to do with BA, because he was scared of flying.
        I didn't see Stockwell after we were put onto the plane. I suppose he doesn't want to talk to either of us until he works out what exactly he's going to do with two fifths of an A-Team. I'm hoping that the fact neither of us is dead is a positive sign. It would have been far easier for him to have 'caught' us with the dead bodies and shot us in 'self-defence'. He's a smart guy is General Stockwell and I'm willing to bet that he has some ulterior motive for keeping us alive. I'd just like to know what his *motive* is.
        I'm writing this under the covers of the bed Stockwell's men gave me in a large house in the country. It's uncomfortable and too small, but at least it's a bed and not a coffin. I stash the notebook in the waistband of my boxers when I hear the door open and make like a log.
        "Santana!!" A level-toned male voice accompanies the sharp job at my ribs. "Wake up!"
        "Yeah, yeah." I roll out from under the covers to the floor. "I'm awake already. What's the deal?"
        "Get dressed." The suit tells me. "General Stockwell would like to meet with you in ten minutes." He disappears as silently as he entered, leaving me alone with yesterday's clothes and a neatly folded pile of my clothes that someone has evidently taken from my LA apartment during the night. At least I now have something to wear without looking like a street bum, but it now looks like the General is intending me to stay with him for quite some time.
        I dress quickly and make sure that all my worldly possessions, excluding clothes, are in my pockets - in case I have to make a run for it. This doesn't amount to much - my wallet, a watch and some knick knacks - but right now it's all I've got. The time is correct - I changed it last night - and tells me it's five minutes to ten. The moment I stick my head out of the door two suits join me and escort me outside to where the good General is standing, surveying his garden.
        "Ah, Mr. Santana." He smiles as benevolently as he can. "I trust your sleep was as good as can be expected?"
        I decide to take the pissed off route. "Like hell it was. Where's Murdock?"
        Stockwell's smile vanishes. "Captain Murdock is, I assume, still asleep. But I don't want to talk to him, Frankie. He is, as you know, hardly in a position to negotiate with me."
        Uh oh. Use of first name. Red alert! Red alert! "I'll bet he isn't! You murdered his best friends!"
        Stockwell sighs. "I assure you that I had nothing to do with that. The A-Team's bodies were not touched in any way when we received them from the morgue. They were killed by the US Military. However, we must put that all behind us now. Regrettfully I had hoped to use the five of you in my special organisation, but yourself and Captain Murdock can still be put to good use."
        "What?" I exclaim. "You don't have anything on us! We haven't done anything wrong!"
        Stockwell's smile perks up again and I don't like it. "On the contrary, Mr. Santana. You are currently wanted for murder along with Murdock."
        "Murder?" I ask in disbelief.
        "Yes, that priest you assaulted... Died of internal bleeding after you fractured his skull." Stockwell relates the facts calmly.
        I stare at him. "You bastard..." I whisper.
        "I really don't see what I have to do with it." Stockwell grins. "Now, to business. The set arrangement is thus: you and Murdock will work for me in any way I see fit in exchange for a Presidential pardon or some equivalent gift which will clear this murder charge. If you refuse to carry out any mission, you will be allowed to go, but information about you will be passed onto the FBI and the police force and, of course, no pardon will be forthcoming."
        "What kind of work?" I ask, trying to divert myself from the thing I really want to do - kill him.
        Stockwell shrugs. "I really can't say. It depends on what comes up. But let me say that it will be work that the US government could not ordinarily condone."
        "You mean it's illegal?"
        "Only if you fail." Stockwell smiles. "Do we have a deal?"
        "How long?" I try to picture myself as an international terrorist. A Puerto Rican James Bond.
        Stockwell sighs. "I would imagine approximately a year's worth of missions. However, it depends greatly on the importance and difficulty of what you're assigned to do. and the chances are that you will not survive any one of them."
        "Oh great." I sum up the problem. Be Stockwell's private kamikaze soldier or face a murder charge. If it was anyone other than Stockwell I was up against, I'd probably put my trust in the courts, but this man has friends in high places whose names I don't even know. "All right." I nod. "It's a deal. But I can't speak for Murdock."
        Stockwell looks exactly like a cat that's got the cream. "No, Mr. Santana. I'm not expecting you to. But your first mission for me will be to convince Murdock to join up." He turns and walks away towards the far end of the garden. I turn and smack my fist into the door I've just come out of. It hurts, but it feels good. I'm left wishing that it had been Stockwell's face as I wander back inside and try to find Murdock.
        One of the suits (they refer to themselves either as Abels or Ables - I've never discovered which, but the former seems to match Stockwell's brand of irony) shows me to Murdock's room, which appears to be identical to mine. I venture inside and the Abel shuts the door behind me. Murdock is sitting, legs crossed, on the bed, wearing what looks to be yesterday's clothes.
        "Hi Murdock." I grin, trying again to bring him out of the self-enforced depression that has been looming over him for the last few days. I admit, it's got to be hard for the guy, him having his best friends die all on the same day, but if it were me, I'd just be happy that *I* was alive. And I am. "Didn't get much sleep last night, huh?"
        "What do you want?" Murdock says sharply, without looking up.
        I figure either his socks have suddenly become very interesting or he isn't happy about my being here. So I forgo the Santana charm this once anmd cut to the chase. "Stockwell sent me." Murdock looks up, but it isn't exactly an indication that he's feeling better. "He wants us to work for him - like the A-Team were going to. I've already agreed."
        Murdock abruptly stands up. "You *agreed*? You actually *agreed* to work for that murdering bastard?"
        I step back, hands up in protest. "Hey, Murdock, it isn't how it looks, man!" and with saying that, I realise *exactly* how it looks. I was the guy Murdock trusted the lives of his friends with - to exchange the metal bullets for wooden ones and give the A-Team the fake blood and drugs. Even if I know that I made the exchange and it must have been the army who found out what I'd done, Murdock has only my word for it. and I've just signed up to work for a highly unethical man who arrested the A-Team in the first place.
        I take a breath and explain. "Stockwell killed the priest we knocked out. We're both wanted for his murder."
        Murdock halts where he is. "Oh." He says quietly. "So that's how it is."
        "Yeah." I look around nervously. "Look, Murdock - we can't do anything else, right? We have to do what he says. And after a year we're free. Okay, so we might be dead in a week, but I prefer to take my chances. Okay?"
        Murdock nods. "Okay, Frankie. You can tell Stockwell I'll have my answer in the morning. A lot of things have happened lately and I... I need some time to straighten my head out."
        I smile. "Alright, Murdock. Uh, you'll be okay?"
        Murdock smiles back, but it's a faint impression of his usual infectious grin. "I'll be fine, Frankie."
        "Good. Okay. Well, see you tomorrow, then." I back out and almost fall over the Abel who's standing out there.
        For the rest of the day I hear nothing from either Murdock or Stockwell, but I do tease a basketball out from my ever-present Abel friend (who obviously *is* my keeper) and spend an extraordinary amount of time shooting hoops. One way to avoid daytime television, I suppose.

DAY 3

Wow! Remind me, diary, never to have another day like this one! Abel 29, my guard here at Stockwell's Langley residence, woke me up at seven o'clock and took me to see Stockwell in his office before I had even got dressed. Note to self: conducting business in boxers is a way bad idea. I was busy protesting about made-up paragraphs of human rights treaties when Stockwell hit me with the news - Murdock had disappeared.
        "Say what?" I say.
        Stockwell, despite the news that he's just lost yet another A-Team member, is looking remarkably calm. "I had my men examine the security tapes from the cameras around the house. Murdock left a little before two o'clock this morning."
        "And you didn't catch him?"
        Stockwell sighs. "Mr. Santana, it may astonish you to know that there are more serious things I and my men have to attend to than one crazy helicopter pilot. I had assumed, of course, that Captain Muurdock would have the sense to stay here. However, as he is obviously stupider than I imagined, I have alerted all local police services and the FBI as to his last known whereabouts. I'm confident that he'll be caught within twenty-four hours."
        "Sure." I nod, disliking the General more with every second I have to spend in his company. "But only if the guys out to catch him are a sight more capable than the entire Military Police, the Mafia and most of the criminal organisations in this country!"
        A thin smile appears on Stockwell's face. "You forget that there is now only *one* member of the infamous A-Team out there. And as such, he will be much easier to capture."
        I return the smile until he wavers and picks up a file that's lying on his desk. "Our arrangement, thankfully for you, is still in place." Stockwell says. "And since there is now only one of you, you are much easier to place. I'm sending you to another one of our teams based in Langley. You will work with them for as long as I tell you to work with them, which may by one week or the entire duration of your stay with us. Either way, I suggest you get on with them. Abel 29 will escort you to their base of operations."
        And with that, I was again moving house.

The invisible baggage packers must have been at it again, because a smal holdall containing all my current possessions was waiting for me in the limosine Abel 29 had to drive me around in. It's not easy to get dressed in the back of a limosine, but I managed it. And so I turned up at my new home fully dressed, but otherwise looking like I'd just undergone electric shock treatment. 29 waited until I'd gone inside the front door and then disappeared. Stockwell's prison may not have bars on it, but that's because the outside is scarier than the inside.
        29 hadn't been able to tell me anything about the new team I was joining. All I had was the file on myself, which I had read some of on the way over. Told me a few things I didn't know - like the details of the murder I'm charged with, but I'm almost certain that it isn't the same as whatever copy Stockwell has. A man like him can probably pull the information on what I had to eat for breakfast on my fifth birthday and he isn't the kind that would let just anyone read what he has on me. I'm surprised he hasn't mentioned my father, considering that's the lever he used with me last time to get me to move. Or any other members of my family, for that matter. But I guess that would be too direct an involvement for him. Too messy.
        I stand around inside the door wondering what to do. Okay, so I'm supposed to be here, but I don't know what wackos are lurking around corners. Some people get mighty uptight if you walk into their bathroom without warning. Fortunately I don't have to make like a cardboard cut-out for long. A tall, blond guy in a denim shirt and jeans rounds the nearest corner and almost runs into me. "Hey!" He says loudly. "I was just coming to look for you!" He pauses. "Unless you're a burglar. In which case I'll shoot ya."
        In evidence of this, he wiggles a .45 at my head. Where that came from, I have no idea. "Uh, I'm Frankie Santana..." I find his spare hand and shake it. "This is the right place, right?"
        The guy gives me the thumbs up and the gun disappears. "Yup. This is the totally unofficial residence of the United People's Front. Otherwise known as the Backward Psychos From Hell - but that's only on Sundays. I would introduce you to the team, but Baker just discovered how to play baseball." He grins. "So the guys decided to give him some practice. I'll tell ya who you can meet, though. Follow me..." He turns on his heel and speeds off to god-knows-where in the house, which by the way is about as big as the chateau I just came from. I shoulder my bag and hurry after him.
        The guy, when I catch up with him, is standing outside a door, waiting for me. He gives me a glance and knocks. A voice yells something from inside, so my escort shrugs and goes inside. I follow, still bracing myself for the resident Psycho-With-Gun. There's one man in the room, sitting on a desk littered with blueprints of something I can't make out. I'm guessing he's the leader of this band of Stockwell-hired terrorists, because from what my guy said, he seems to be the only one doing any work.
        Blondie gives the leader a grin and thumbs over his shoulder at me. "Got the new guy for ya. I don't know if he plays baseball yet, but I think we should give him a comb."
        The leader stares at me. You know how some guys look at girls, as if they're undressing them? This guy was peeling off layers of skin and I could pretty much feel it. Anyway, I took the opportunity to size him up as well. Blue eyes. Very blue eyes. In fact, I'm about reaching the word 'sociopath' in my mental thesaurus when he finally speaks. "Puerto-Rican." He says, as if it had only just occurred to him.
        "Yeah. Been one all my life, wouldn't you know?" I say, mostly because of sheer nerves. You might not have noticed from previous entries, but I'm really not liking this situation. The A-Team dead, Murdock missing. Me stuck with a group of possible psychos to do some kamikaze missions for a wacko General who basically owns me until he says otherwise. Not my idea of a good start to the week, at any rate. "Name's Frankie Santana. How about you?"
        "I'm not Puerto-Rican." Blue blinks and gets up from the desk. Turns his back and folds up the blueprint.
        Blondie rolls his eyes in exasperation and holds out his hand to me. Again. "I'm Thomas. The XO here at this little outfit and, it looks, self-enforced morale officer. You should get some sunshine, Jack - do you some good."
        Jack - the guy at the desk - doesn't answer or even turn around. Thomas sighs. "Yeah, well, if no one else is going to do the briefing..."
        "Shut up, Tommy." Jack glares at him. "Go play morale officer out there for Baker. Sounds like he's getting slaughtered."
        Thomas cocks an ear to the wind. "Yeah, does, don't it?" He gives me another friendly grin and backs out of the room, shutting the door.
        Jack turns his attention to me, and this time it's a shade friendlier. "Do you have a file from Stockwell?"
        "Uh, sure." I dig it out of my bag and hand it to him. He takes it and dropsit on his desk without looking at it.
        "He told me you used to be with the A-Team." Jack states.
        "Well, I was more an associate of theirs." I say. "I knew Hannibal Smith and they happened to be able to use me on a couple of missions."
        Jack nods and gives me a grin. "I'm glad you're not a liar, Santana. Because I've met the A-Team. Or two of them, anyway. That was, however, three years ago and we weren't on the same sides. How things change."
        "Oh. You're *that* United People's Front?" I sit down on one of the chairs by the wall. "I read about that Beller Air thing... Shouldn't you be in prison?"
        Jack shrugs. "I landed in Mexico and the cops weren't too keen on catching up to me there. It seems I have quite a reputation with the FBI... Anyway, the details are irrelevant. Stockwell, as you know, can do pretty much anything when he wants to. Now, as to yourself... There isn't a natural opening for you on this team, but since only a couple of us are specialists at anything, you can't go far wrong. I'd just advise you to knuckle under and not act too smart-ass around here. We've been working as a team for a long time and we don't need you messing things up."
        "I'm not here to mess things up." I protest. "I'm here so that I can get a pardon and get out of here in a year."
        "Well for the rest of us this a career, and don't forget it." Jack opens the door. "Come on, I think we should take Tommy's advice. I can't stand any more maps..."

The rest of the team amounts to Price, an older guy who Tommy tells me is the designated doctor in the unit - not because he's any good, but because he's had some first aid training - Baker, a kid whose job seems to be to be made fun of at every opportunity; Ross, a quiet black guy and Rourke, a Southerner with an attitude I don't much like. But I suppose five out of six isn't bad. We all end up in the back yard, which is bigger than any back yard I've ever seen in my life, playing some hacked down version of baseball.
        Baker's stripped to the waist and sweating like a pig in the sahara. Ross and Rourke are taking turns pitching the ball to him and I'm speedily elected as a guy to go after stray balls. None of them seem too concerned that they now have a new guy on their team - but maybe they've been waiting for a good backstop for years. Jack sets up base in the shade next to the house, gaze fixed on us all. In my opinion, he's taking the role of a detached commanding officer a little far. Price, however, goes over to talk to him and Thomas breaks out the soft drinks.
        After more than an hour of rolling around in the sunshine, Baker just about collapses, so we drag him into the shade. "I think I'll take up swimming..." The kid says before falling asleep instantly.
        There's a kind of synchronised shrug around the rest of us and then Rourke bounces the baseball off the wall next to Jack. "Jackson!" He yells, and it's a chorus taken up by the rest of the team - even Baker wakes up for the occasion.
        Jackson takes up Rourke's challenge and picks up the bat from the ground. "Okay, who's first?" He asks us all.
        "Wouldn't be right if I wasn't." Rourke says, juggling the ball from hand to hand. "Come on, Jack, take it like a man."
        "Always do." Jack replies, deadpan.
        Rourke makes a big show of winding up the fastest shot in history and then lets out a deceptively slow ball. Jackson hits it right back at him and Rourke ends up on the ground beside the ball, after trying to dodge. We can't help but laugh.
        The rest of the day passes in pretty much the same way. Thomas, when he has the chance, introduces me to each of the team members when they're taking time out from the baseball practice, which strangely evolves into dodgeball. However, for much of the time he and Jackson are talking quietly in the shade and looking at some of Jackson's paperwork. I guess that this team is less of a democracy than the A-Team was, but not having to make decisions isn't making me any more secure. Having people whispering in corners the whole time just makes me downright nervous.
        Actually, I'm probably wrong about that - because when Jackson finally comes out with the topic he and Thomas have been discussing all day, I'm sure it doesn't do wonders for my stress levels.
        "As of now we are in a situation." Jackson announces, just as Price and Ross are about to start up a poker game in the lounge of the huge house. "Stockwell telephoned this morning with a mission, as well as letting me know that you'd be along, Santana. As it turns out, you'll be of some use to us here."
        "It's nice to be needed." I grin, deciding that I'd better pay some serious attention. It wouldn't be nice to make a bad impression on my very first outing as an international terrorist. Or die trying.
        "You'll all be pleased to know that we're heading for another airport." Jackson says and a collective groan starts up. "But we're not going off the ground. We're going to assassinate a West German general."
        "Uh, excuse me, but aren't they on our side?" Baker asks.
        "Yeah." Thomas replies. "But our boy here has been taking part in some *interesting* talks with his counterparts from East Germany and the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, he's far too high-up in the service for Stockwell to simply unmask him as a traitor. It'll look better - and achieve the same result - if some East German terrorists murder him."
        "Us being the East German terrorists?" Price looks dubious.
        "Now, let's see... I think I left my German dictionary in LA." I look around for the fictional book.
        "Don't worry about that. Most of you will have no active part in the hit." Jackson explains. "The most difficult part of a magician's act is not the trick, but the act of distraction. Ross, Santana - you're our bad guys. The airport police naturally won't trust you-"
        "Because we're not white?" I ask indignantly.
        "Yes." Jackson runs his fingers through his hair. "Nothing against you, Santana, but the cops are less tolerant than I am. Baker, Tommy - dig out some uniforms. You're our good guys. Rourke, Price and myself will actually be doing the job. Basically, I don't need our bad guys to do much except look shifty. If you get arrested, all the better. Make a fuss. I know some good lawyers... Good guys, you keep a lookout. Tommy - stay in touch through a payphone. You know what to do otherwise. Once I've killed him, I want you and Baker to stick around. You'd be expected to. Rourke will hopefully have disabled the security cameras, so if the Feds get hold of the tapes they won't spot you. Everyone else run for it, basically. I'll figure out the rendezvous point tomorrow."
        There's silence once Jackson stops talking as we all try to figure out what we're doing and the chances of us being caught.
        "Okay." Jackson looks at us all with a smile. "Go get your clothes. Price - I want to talk with you."
        The team has a huge wardrobe of uniforms, costumes and casual clothes. I'm betting that since all of them are wanted by the Feds (and probably a few other organisations around the world) disguise is a big part of their operation. Baker and Thomas have the easy route with their green army uniforms and smart shoes. They disappear, leaving Ross and myself trying to decide how much like homies we're supposed to look. In the end, I wear largely my own clothes.
        I'm not sure what this says about me.

DAY 4

Well, it's the big day today. My first mission for Stockwell Terrorism Ltd and my first ever assassination. Not that I'm doing anything more than being scenery, but it's still scary. What if I mess up and give everyone else away? What if I get arrested? What if I get killed? On the other hand, the A-Team have been in worse situations.
        And they're dead.

Tommy woke us all up at the crack of dawn. Well, about seven o'clock, but in my opinion it's the same thing. I'm surprised Jackson actually let us eat breakfast before sending Thomas once again to yell at us all to get ready and outside the house before eight thirty. Me being me, I of course was the last one out there. If there had been anyone to see us, we must have been quite a sight - two privates from the US Army, a couple of kids from the street and Rourke in his boiler suit. Only Jackson and Price were in 'normal' gear - jeans and sweaters. I have to admire Jackson, though, for seeing that with our stereotypical 'good guys' and 'bad guys' around, the cops won't be noticing a couple of 'neutral guys'.
        I hope.
        We have two cars and Thomas and Baker take one. Jackson, Rourke and Price squeeze into the back of our old banger as we intend to drop them off before we get to the airport. All three have bags of some kind. What the FBI wouldn't give to see inside them. Although I'm sure that Jackson's briefcase carries a shotgun, I have no idea what the others might be taking along if it's not weapons. The rest of us have no weapons on us, in case we're checked out by cops. In some ways, it makes me feel better.
        By nine, we're on the highway and going - I think - towards the airport. Ross turns on the radio and we're forced to listen to Culture Club songs for the rest of the way. Victims we know so well...
        "Nervous, Jackson?" Rourke elbows his commander in the ribs.
        "What?" Jack stops staring out of the window. "No. I was thinking... Some weird things..."
        "Yeah, well, you know you can take medication for that?" Rourke grins mischievously. "How long, Ross?"
        "Fifteen minutes." Ross answers. "If I can find a parking space. Where do you want me to drop you lot off?"
        "Before you park the car." Jackson answers, but he sounds a million miles away.

Ross and I wander into the airport, me with earphones in from a walkman and him yelling questions about some bands I've never heard of at me. We walk around for a bit, playing the part, and spot our soldier boys in a café. Jackson's said that we should watch the tarmac outside the main viewing window. He's also said that the hit should be done within forty-five minutes. It goes on forever.
        I see Thomas go over to a pay-phone and dial up the number of Jackson's mobile. He talks, but I don't know if it's relevant information or pretence. The next thing worth noting are the gunshots. They're so loud I think that the whole airport must hear them, but only the people nearest me react. By the next gunshot the sound of the crowd's panic isn't loud enough that I can't hear it. I see a tall man in an overcoat collapse in a red haze out of the window and stare as if frozen as Thomas and Baker tun out of the emergency exit to go and help.
        Ross brings me out of it by grabbing me and we run for it to the nearest exit. Some cops try to grab us, but we pull free. Then there are more shots and Ross stumbles, but doesn't fall. We get away rom the cops somehow - by running and hiding. Eventually, we make it to the rendezvous point - a shed full of spare parts out beyond the runways where someone has left us a car. We're the last ones there and by that time none of them seem to be overly concerned about us. Price is on the ground and as white as a sheet. Tommy thinks that Price has a punctured lung courtesy of the security guards who found our hit squad. At any rate, he's bleeding all over the grass and we have to get him to a hospital as soon as possible. Rourke is fine - the guards never found him where he was hiding, but Jackson is sitting on his own with a hand pressed to a cut down his cheek. Ross is limping a little, but insists he's all right.
        Abruptly, Jackson stands up. "OK people. We have to get out of here. Everyone in the car. Tommy, you drive."
        "Won't they have set up barricades?" I ask, pretty intelligently for the situation, I think.
        "If they were police, they would have." Jackson admits. "But they weren't."
        I'm about to ask just what they were, but Jackson looks genuinely unwell, so I don't press the issue. The 'car' is one of Stockwell's limosines. How it's been out here without anyone noticing is a mystery, but I'm sure Stockwell can put some money into the right hands. Tommy takes off his army jacket and starts the engine while Baker and I lift Price into the car. There's silence all the way back to our villa, where Stockwell's waiting. His men speed Price and Ross - who discovered on the way back that he had in fact been shot in the left leg, albeit in a 'nice way' he put it. I won't ask.
        "Well, Captain?" Stockwell asks in his unique snarmy way.
        "Since when did airports employ mercenaries as security guards?" Jackson demands.
        "Since General Teppich considered it necessary to prevent himself being killed." Stockwell replies. "And he was wrong. How unfortunate for him."
        "And you didn't think to tell us?" Jackson asks, but in these surroundings it's practically a rhetorical question.
        Stockwell shrugs and gets up to leave. "It would just have complicated a simple matter. I'll expect a report in the morning." And with that, he leaves the remaining members of our team standing there. It's only half past ten and the day is over.

DAY 5

From the silence in the house when I wake up, I expect the time on my brand new digital clock to read something like 5.00. It is, in fact, almost nine. So either the rest of the house burnt down while I was asleep or everyone else was a lot more tired than I was. Everyone now meaning myself, Jackson, Thomas, Rourke and Baker. Stockwell hasn't promised not to give us anymore missions while our team lacks two people, but he was fairly quiet about everything yesterday. Jackson locked himself in his office, Thomas went out running and Rourke cornered the television. I was left trying to play solitaire baseball.
        From the look of the kitchen, no one *is* up. I grab an apple from the bowl and set off around the house, wondering if I should act as alarm clock and wake up everyone. And whether they'll kill me if I do. One of several telephones in the house rings just as I pass it, making me think that maybe Stockwell knows more about what goes on in this house than we think.
        "Hello?" I ask around munched up apple.
        "This is General Stockwell's office." A feminine voice states. "He wishes to speak to Captain Jackson."
        "Uh, right." I look around, but there's still no movement in the house that I can see. "Okay, I'll get him to phone you back in a couple of minutes." There's no answer to that and I put down the phone and hurry towards the door to Jackson's room. I realise that by opening the door I'm probably inviting him to shoot my head off. He doesn't strike me as the 'ask questions first' kind of guy. So I knock and get no answer. Great. Terrific. Well, I guess he's asleep, then. And therefore not about to kill me. I open the door.
        There are some things in life you don't expect. Not because it's something you know about, but have forgotten. Or your attention has wavered a bit. But because something's totally blindsided you and knocked you sideways and you're left standing there gasping for breath and wondering what hit you.
        In my case the answer was quite simple: I had just seen Jackson and Thomas in bed together.
        Yeouch.
        Life should put up warning signs for that kind of thing. Maybe it did and I was looking the other way.
        Unfortunately I don't have time to recover my senses and run a mile before Thomas blinks and stares sleepily at me. "Santana." He yawns. "Hi. Was that the phone?"
        "Uhhhhh." I say.
        Thomas, now slightly more awake, frowned and then seemed to reach a conclusion. "Ah." He said to the world in general before elbowing Jackson in the ribs. "You didn't tell him about us, did ya?"
        "What?" Jackson sits up and stares at me. Great, I'm now the object of attention for the entire room. Man, can't I have one day - just *one day* go by without something happening that makes me look like a psychotic murderer, a complete doofus or both?
        Thomas shrugs and begins to get dressed, leaving the rest of the conversation to me and Jackson.
        "Uh, the telephone." I point outside the door, remembering why I was there in the first place. "Stockwell. I said you'd phone back."
        Jackson is at this point looking more alert than I've ever been in my entire life. And he's just woken up. "Okay." he nods. I'm backing out when he speaks again: "Santana - my office in ten minutes. And you can leave Rourke and Baker to sleep in."
        "Right." I squeak before disappearing up the hall and back to the solace of a cup of coffee in the kitchen.

Jackson's looking serious, even though he's in casual khakis and a white shirt. "Sit down." He points to the chair in front of his desk.
        I shut the door behind me and take a seat.
        "Okay, firstly I want to apologise." Jackson says, avoiding my eyes. "For not telling you that Tommy and I are... involved. I suppose it must be strange for you... Anyway, now that you know, I'm giving you the option to move out of this team. I realise that some people don't like taking orders from queers."
        Now he does look at me, as if daring me to argue his point. "It doesn't bother me." I say firmly. "I mean, it was a bit of a shock. I didn't think that, well, you got a lot of gay international terrorists."
        Jackson shrugs. "I've never met any. So, if you're sure..."
        "Well, there is one problem." I reply, keeping my expression totally deadpan. "I'm madly in love with you."
        Jackson laughs and gets up. "You're cute, Santana, but that's all." He opens the door. "Come on, I need some breakfast."

As it turns out, Rourke and Baker had somehow dragged themselves out of bed as a result of the amount of noise I seem to be determined to make this morning and were sleepily making more coffee in the kitchen when Jackson and I arrived.
        "Mornin' Jackson." Rourke said. "News on the boys?"
        "No." Jackson shook his head and picked up a mug from the rack. "Stockwell's coming over in fifteen minutes. New orders, apparently."
        "But we can't do a mission!" Baker interrupts. "Not without Price and Ross!"
        Jackson stares him down. "Look, pal, we may not like it - but it is possible for a mere five of us to complete a mission. The A-Team did it with four most of the time."
        "Yeah, Jack, and the A-Team are dead." Rourke replies. "What do you think *that* says about them."
        Jackson doesn't answer and wanders into the living room, where Tommy is flicking through the news stations. "Anything?"
        Tommy shrugs. "There's been a bit of a tornado down south. They're all covering that. If they're not covering the football match. There's human nature for ya."
        After ten minutes of watching the reporters going on and on about how awful the tornado had been, Jackson gets up and goes outside to get a newspaper from one of the Abels who lurk outside trying not to be seen by us. He comes back in with a newspaper - and Stockwell.
        "Ah, so we're all up." He smiles at us. "Good to see, gentlemen."
        Jackson shuts the door and leans against it. Stockwell turns to look at him. "The latest news about Price and Ross is only good. But you knew that yesterday. What I've come to discuss are your new orders."
        "Discuss?" Tommy picks up on the word. "Aren't you going to give us a nice document folder and tell us we're booked on the next flight to Murmansk?"
        "As a matter of fact, no." Stockwell says. "The fact is that I am leaving your next mission up to you. Although the team is not up to carrying out another of my missions, I cannot have the five of you sitting around here watching television for a month. Therefore, I will entertain any ideas you may have. Please think about it." A moment passes. "Captain - your report was quite satisfactory. I'll be waiting outside for your decision." With that, Stockwell exits the room. That guy moves as if he's on a conveyor belt. Some kind of weird.
        Jackson looks at a loss. "Okay." He says. "Any ideas?"
        "Yeah." Rourke replies. "I'm been suspecting the local football team here of spying. I think we should follow them around for a month and get as many autographs as we can to compare their writing to that of known traitors."
        "Anyone else?" Jackson says in order to keep from laughing.
        Baker shrugs and Tommy sits there with a puzzled expression on his face. I decide to go for it. "I have an idea." I say. "I think we should find out who killed the A-Team. And why."
        The reactions in the room are significantly different. Baker erupts into laughter. Rourke rolls his eyes at me and sinks back into his chair. Tommy, again, doesn't seem to have an opinion on the matter. Jackson just looks as if he's considering it. "Weren't the A-Team executed?" He asks, but not as if he's mocking me.
        "Yeah." I say. "Or at least they were supposed to be. Murdock and I went over to the prison and I swapped the bullets for wooden ones that would burn up before they reached the A-Team. We gave them fake blood and drugs that would make it look as if they were dead. They shouldn't have been killed by that."
        "Maybe they found the wooden bullets?" Tommy suggests.
        "Maybe." I nod. "But they don't look any different. Unless someone told them to check, they wouldn't have been found. Even Stockwell didn't know what I had done, so he couldn't have told them like he told them about Murdock being disguised as a priest."
        "So the A-Team had to have been killed sometime between their 'execution' and when?" Tommy asks.
        "When Stockwell had them. A couple of days later." I reply.
        "Can you prove any of this?" Jackson inquires.
        "No." I have to be blunt.
        "What would it take?"
        I shrug. "The medical report from the morgue, maybe?"
        "Where?"
        "Los Angeles."
        "Okay." Jackson finishes up. "I'll go tell Stockwell."
        He's opening the door before I get a word out. "What, just like that? You're going to help me?"
        Tommy grins. "He just doesn't like baseball."
        Jackson disappears for a few minutes and apparently there's no big argument from Stockwell as he's back with orders about our new 'mission'. I suppose that Stockwell is as interested to know as I am who killed the A-Team, although probably for different reasons. The General definitely isn't a people person. "Okay, I don't suppose you're interested in coming along Rourke?"
        Rourke scowls. "Not a chance in hell am I giving up a holiday for the newbie."
        "Baker?"
        The kid shrugs. "Whatever you say, Jack."
        "Then you're staying here. Tommy - I need you along anyway. Stockwell says we can take one of his planes, so we're going as soon as we can." He glances at Rourke and Baker. "You two are going to visit our boys in hospital every day. And that doesn't mean that only Baker goes, Rourke!"
        "Yeah, yeah, whatever." Rourke picks up the remote control for the TV and his switching it on marks the end of the discussion. I hurry off to my room to bundle my gear back into my new bag and am at the front door before Tommy and Jack arrive. They're also only carrying hand luggage and there's no sign of Jackson's shotgun this time around. I don't suppose we'll need it.

One of the Abels gives us a ride to the airport, where Jackson picks out a nice big plane - don't ask me what it is, that's Murdock's area of expertise - and chucks his gear in it. There's then a protracted bout of conversation between him and the tower, none of which I understand. He might as well have been talking in Swedish. Tommy take the other pair of headphones and sits down in the co-pilot's chair. The amount of switch-flicking makes me nervous.
        "How'd you know which ones to press?" I ask Tommy in a break in the conversation.
        Tommy shrugs. "Doesn't matter. Just avoid any big red buttons and you'll be fine."
        That reassures me a lot. I return to the back of the plane and strap myself into one of the few chairs. It looks like Stockwell must do some trade in cargo as well, since there's space enough for a couple of cars behind the seats. After take-off, I find a cache of comic books lying around on a couple of seats - no accounting for taste. I opt for Spiderman and am at the bit where Doctor Octopus is trying to marry Aunt May when Tommy wanders in. "Hi Frankie." He picks up one of the comics. "How you doin'?"
        "Well, my eardrums haven't burst and I haven't tried to jump out of the plane. Which I take as being a good sign." I say. "Shouldn't you be helping fly this thing?"
        Tommy shrugs. "Jack's a better pilot than me anyway. And he wants to talk to you."
        "Huh." I frown and unbuckle myself. In the cockpit I take the seat that Tommy's just vacated. "You wanted to see me?"
        Jackson picks up a newspaper and hands it to me without his eyes leaving the console in front of him. "What do you think?"
        It takes me five minutes of reading and folding, but I eventually understand what he's getting at. "There's nothing on the assassination."
        "Now why do you think that is?" Jackson asks.
        I shrug. "Um, the FBI or CIA or someone hushed it up?"
        Jackson shakes his head. "Keep the thousand or so people who heard those shots quiet? I don't think so. Page ten - at the bottom."
        There are about three lines there. "Accident at airport left one man dead. No name to be released until next of kin have been informed. You think that's us?"
        "What else? So what do you think now?"
        "Uhhhh... I don't know. We shot the wrong guy?" I hazard.
        "Or there was never a right guy." Jackson smiles at something I can't see. "I have a feeling that you have more enemies - and more friends - than you might think, Santana."
        I scratch my head and sink back in the chair. It's at times like this that I wish life would put up one of those helpful signs I was telling you about. And a few wonders wouldn't go amiss either.
        But Jackson says nothing more about it and by morning we were in LA.

DAY 6

I can't say I'm a big fan of the City of Angels, even though I've lived there most of my life. But then, when you have a career which takes you to some of the most picturesque places in the world, it's easy to discriminate against somewhere you see all the time. Still, sitting around in the park with Jackson, sipping Coke and doing nothing much except try not to get sunburnt was a nice change from standing around airports trying not to get killed.
        "How well did you know them?" Jackson asks, just as I'm about to fall asleep in the sunshine.
        "Huh?" I sit bolt upright again and fend off a marauding wasp.
        "The A-Team." Jackson elaborates. "I'd have thought you'd have been a bit more upset - three friends of yours being killed."
        I shrug. "Well, I really only knew Johnny Smith. We worked together. The other guys I had really just met."
        "But you tried to save their lives?"
        "Well, sure! I don't want anyone to die for something they didn't do, especially if I can do something about it! Besides, it was the least I could do for Murdock." It's weird, the way that in the past few days I've virtually forgotten that Murdock ever existed. He's not dead and he's not here, so he just didn't seem to be worth thinking about. "Now that's... Jackson, why haven't we been arrested?"
        "Huh? Oh..." The terrorist squints into the sun to look at the park entrance a hundred yards away from us. "Well, no one's looking for us. The FBI have files on all three of us, but they have no one actively working on our cases. Stockwell sees to that somehow - it's as if they've just forgotten about us for a while. But that can change. The only way we're going to get caught is if some gung-ho civilian remembers our faces and calls the cops."
        "And you don't think the cops might recognise us?" I ask, suddenly turning paranoid and looking for police officers behind every bush.
        Jackson shrugs. "They have plenty of donuts to eat."
        "I hope you're joking."
        Jackson only grins in reply as Tommy finally makes it back, carrying a plastic bag and a soft drink of his own. "Budge up." He squeezes in between us on the bench.
        "Took you long enough." I take the drink from him as he put his bag down.
        "Yeah, well there were some complications." Tommy replies.
        "Did you get the report?" Jackson presses.
        Tommy shrugs. "There was no report to get. Someone ordered the A-Team to be buried before a post-mortem took place."
        "So they're six feet under?"
        "Uh uh." Tommy's smile gets bigger. "The next day some grave robbing went on. Now no one knows where their bodies are."
        Jackson lets out a breath. "Okay, so who's been meddling?"
        "My opinion?" Tommy asks. "Our mutual friends at the CIA have been having a little cover-up."
        "A cover-up?" I ask. "What would they cover-up about the A-Team's deaths? This doesn't make sense."
        Jackson throws his Coke can into the bin a few feet away. "Jigsaws rarely make sense until the final pieces are fitted, Santana."
        "So what does this mean? We go back to Langley?" I say, incredulous.
        "Maybe." Jackson gets up. "But I think we should find out a bit more about the A-Team before we do. You don't know much about them, do you?"
        "Not much, I guess." I say.
        "So who else knew the A-Team?" Jackson asks.

"I'd just like to put it on the record that I think this is the worst idea you've ever had." I say, running my fingers through what's left of my newly cut hair.
        "You've only been in my team for a few days." Jackson protests.
        "Yeah. But it'd easily match any other bad decisions you've ever made." I answer.
        The haircut is not the worst aspect of Jackson's Cunning Plan. I can't really complain about that at all because he has joined me in the realm of the freshly shorn. The worst aspect is that he intends us three wanted criminals to go into the offices of one of LA's most prominent newspapers and pretend to be Feds. I speak here of a man who thinks the Constitution is something to do with dieting.
        "Afternoon." Jackson says to the pretty girl at reception. "I'm Agent Dixon from the FBI." He flashes his badge, which Tommy obtained from some shady corner of LA society while we were at the barber's. "We'd like to speak to a Miss. Amy Allen, please."
        "Certainly." The girl smiles. "You'll find her on the second floor."
        "Thank you." All three of us smile at her and disappear up the stairs.
        There's a surprising lack of activity on the second floor, where there are only a series of neat offices. We locate the one with 'Amy Allen, Foreign Affairs' written on its nameplate and Jackson knocks. A good-looking blonde in her thirties answers and Jackson pulls out his badge again. "Hi. I'm Agent Dixon, FBI." He points at Tommy. "Agent Carter." And at me. "Detective Sanchez of the LAPD, who's helping us in our investigations. We'd like to talk to you about the recent murder of a priest here in the city."
        "A priest?" Amy looks as if Jackson's just told her that he's a sheep-worshipping nudist. "I don't know if I can help you."
        "But you do know Captain Murdock?" Tommy asks.
        "Murdock?" Amy exclaims. "Well, I guess you'd better come in."
        "Thank you." Jackson smiles and we troop in through the door. "I take it that you didn't hear that Captain Murdock and another man have been charged with the murder of a Catholic priest which occurred last week?"
        "No, I..." Amy brushes the hair out of her eyes. "I was more concerned with the A-Team's execution. I've just recently been posted back here, you see, and... Oh my god!" She sits down abruptly as everything Jackson's just said hits her. "But Murdock would never hurt anyone! Well, unless it was in self-defence."
        "Don't you think perhaps that Captain Murdock cracked under the pressure invoked by his friends being executed?" Tommy suggests.
        Amy doesn't answer. "But Murdock... Murdock's not crazy!"
        "He's not crazy?" Tommy is at this point doing a good impersonation of Mr. Spock. "But Captain Murdock has been in a mental institution for the last fifteen years of his life."
        Amy sighs. "Why does everyone think that everyone in a mental asylum is some raging psychopath? Murdock was in Vietnam - he won't talk about it much but I think some fairly bad things happened to him there. They haunt him a lot, but he was getting better, with the help of the A-Team."
        "Uh huh. But Murdock had recently returned to Vietnam - correct?" Tommy asks.
        "What?" Amy shakes her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
        Tommy smiles. "The A-Team and General Fulbright travelled to Vietnam a few months ago. General Fulbright was killed. The A-Team reported his death through some semi-official channels. If it's true that Murdock worked with the A-Team, then he had also gone back to Vietnam and was probably forced over the edge again, wouldn't you agree?"
        "No!" Amy almost yells at him. "Murdock isn't like that! I'm sure that you've got the wrong man! Maybe that other guy did it! I don't know!"
        "Okay." Tommy nods to Jackson. "We'll be in touch, Miss Allen."
        I'm nearest the door, so I open it and Tommy and I go out. Jackson stays in the room and closes the door. Tommy bangs his head against the wall. "I said this was a bad idea!" I say loudly, but not loud enough for anyone in the office to hear.
        "Jesus - Jack's never seduced a woman in his life!" Tommy objects.
        "He seduce you?" I joke.
        "Nah - he hit me over the head with a plank. I've been so brain-damaged by that that no one else'll have me." Tommy sighs. "Come on, what's taking him so long?"
        On cue, Jackson comes out of the office and closes the door behind him. It's five minutes until we're out of the building and he breaks the news to us. "She bought it."
        "She probably just thinks you're a good story, Jack." Tommy replies.
        "Jealous, are you?" Jackson asks, kissing him.
        I didn't do too well in maths, but I'm fairly certain that the length of the kiss was directionally proportional to how embarrassed I got. "Uh, guys? Are we going? Guys? Come on guys! Guys!"
        That's one couple who I guess nothing can come between. Literally.

Half the evening I spent in our hotel room, watching cartoons with Tommy. Jackson was out having dinner with Amy Allen, having fun and some pretence of a real life. Going out on dates is something those normal people do. People who haven't been turned into international terrorists by default. Has it only been six days?
        When the door opened at nine o'clock, it took us a good thirty seconds to get on our feet and look like we were standing at something like attention. Amy turned around to look at Jack in puzzlement. "What is this?"
        Tommy grabbed her and pinned her arms to her sides as Jackson went through her bag. "I'm afraid, Amy, that we're not Feds and we're definitely not from the LAPD. What we are, though, is wanting your help."
        Amy's obviously played this game before - she hasn't tried to scream. "Who are you?"
        Tommy releases her and gives a bow. "Cameron Thomas, international terrorist and his boyfriend - so keep your hands off, lady!"
        Amy stares at Jackson as if seeing something she hadn't before. "You're Jackson."
        Jackson grins. "I like being so notorious. But I'd prefer to be a film star."
        "You're after the A-Team again!" Amy deduces wrongly.
        "No, actually this time they're the good guys." I decide to introduce myself. "Frankie Santana. I'm the other guy accused of the priest's murder. We're trying to find out who killed the A-Team."
        "Huh?" Amy's eyes widen. "Maybe you should start at the beginning."
        So we did.

DAY 7

The last day of the first week of my new career as Stockwell's personal slave began, unsurprisingly, by me waking up. I'm not quite sure why I did, since the time on my watch read five o'clock and I'm usually happy to sleep in past eight, but the *interesting* noises coming from the bedroom in which Jackson and Tommy had spent the night and the fact that I was on the floor might have had something to do with it. It wasn't as if I'd fallen out of bed, because I had been on the floor to start off with. After the lengthy conversation we'd all had last night - most of which I couldn't make sense of, because Jackson was talking Swedish again - we had decided that Amy should stay with us in the hotel in order to stop her from writing a story on us. I might trust her not to, but Jackson's a professional raving paranoid. Anyway, there being only one bed, Amy graciously gave it to our two loverboys and she took the couch. I didn't particularly care which way the toss went, because either way I was sleeping on the floor.
        It had taken me at least an hour to get to sleep last night, so I wasn't prepared to try again. It was probably better to get up and then collapse somewhere more comfortable during the day. As I sat up trying to flatten down my unfamiliar short hair, I noticed that Amy was looking at me. "Good morning." She said quietly.
        "Uh, hi." I'm not the greatest conversationalist when I've just got up. Ladies don't generally go for that 'just got out of bed look'. "Couldn't sleep?"
        "No." She shakes her head and sits up on the couch, still covered in the blanket.
        "I can understand it." I try to reassure her. "And you knew them a lot better than I did."
        "What? Oh... I'm sorry. I was thinking about Murdock." As she says the name, her expression changes. It's as if she's crying without sheding tears.
        "He's not dead, Amy." I rest my hand on her knee. "We'll find him." A thought I had yesterday comes back to me suddenly and I hesitate before telling Amy about it. "Amy, you haven't seen any reports about Murdock in the news, have you?"
        "No." She shook her head. "I told you that. I didn't know anything about that priest."
        "Uh huh." I fall silent again.
        "Why? What are you thinking?" Amy inquires, going into reporter mode.
        "Well..." I begin slowly. "Stockwell said he reported Murdock's position to the FBI. They should have caught him by now."
        "But Murdock's not an ordinary man, Frankie." Amy explains patiently. "He fought in Vietnam. He can look after himself."
        "I know. But we're talking about the people who cornered, captured and executed the A-Team here. They should have him by now." I ponder. "So either they do have him and we've missed it completely in the news, they have him and aren't admitting it. Or they don't have him."
        "You're getting at something, Frankie." Amy says. "What is it?"
        I can't respond immediately because Jackson comes out of the bedroom fuly dressed, casts a look at us and disappears out of the door. Once it's closed, I tell her. "Jackson told me yesterday that our files at the FBI and CIA have been 'passed over', almost by accident, because we're working for Stockwell. I think that that situation still exists for Murdock. I don't think Stockwell is letting the Feds have their information."
        "Morning to you all!" Tommy walks into the room, yawning and wearing only boxers.
        "Where's Jackson gone?" Amy asks.
        Tommy shrugs. "He said he had some errands to run. Go figure. What's the topic of conversation here? Starsky and Hutch? Scooby Doo? Who killed the A-Team?"
        "Tommy, how loyal is Jackson to Stockwell?" I ask abruptly, surprising myself.
        Tommy smiles. "He'd kill him in a second."
        "So why doesn't he?" Amy asks.
        "I don't know exactly." Tommy says. "He won't talk about it. If you need me, I'll be in the bathroom." He wanders off.
        I raise my hands in exasperation. "Why does everyone have to be so secretive? I can't figure out all of this!"
        "You're doing fine, Frankie." Amy says. "Now, turn your back while I get dressed."
        Says volumes, doesn't it?

Jackson arrives back in half an hour when we're sitting around fully dressed watching the morning news. He kicks the door shur because his hands are full. "Your messages." He throws a brown envelope to Amy. "The paper." He throws it to Tommy. "And breakfast." He tosses to me.
        Breakfast is apparently a bagel and a banana each. Next time I become an outlaw, I want to do it with a group of sous-chefs. "Okay." I announce once everyone has stuffed themselves. "We need to get this straightened out."
        "What straightened out?" Tommy asks.
        I sigh. "Who killed them A-Team! What clues we have so far!"
        "So what do we know?" Jackson asks, by way of furthering the conversation.
        "That the A-Team were not killed by the US Army. That they died sometime between their 'execution' and two days later when we found them on the docks. That someone - possibly from the CIA - blocked a post-mortem. That the bodies have now disappeared. And that Stockwell doesn't want Murdock to be caught." I say.
        "Murdock?" Tommy inquires. "But I thought Murdock was out of the equation!"
        "Nothing's out of the equation." I reply. "And Jackson - would you please like to explain what you've been hinting at ever since we killed that guy at the airport?"
        I can tell Jackson doesn't like coming out with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but he does it anyway. "I think Stockwell wanted us to carry out this mission." He states. "I think he engineered the assassination just to disable Price and Ross and so that he could offer us an opportunity to do whatever we wanted. Which would be to find out the killer of the A-Team, since he knew it was preying on your mind, Santana."
        "That would explain why he accepted it so readily." I nod. "But it seems like a lot of trouble for little gain."
        "We don't know what he's trying to gain, though." Tommy tells me. "it could be anything."
        I scratch my head. "Is any of this making sense?"
        "No, but we do have a lead." Amy says. "If the CIA wanted to stop a post-mortem, there must have been something to do with the bodies that they didn't want found. In that case, the A-Team must have been killed while they were at the prison."
        "Uh uh." Jackson shakes his head. "Your reasoning's flawed. Stockwell could have blocked the post mortem to avoid the pathologist finding out that they had taken a de-tour to the docks. Still, you are right - the A-Team must have been killed either on the island or on the boat back."
        "And there were only a few people allowed there." I remember. "So how do we find out who?"
        "I know one person who went there." Amy smiles slowly. "Our old friend Colonel Roderick Decker."

"I'd just like to say that this is a bad idea." I say. "A really bad idea. This guy's a serving officer, Jack! He could kill us all and not be prosecuted for it!"
        "I have to agree." Tommy mutters.
        Jackson just grins. "Let's wait and see, shall we?"
        "You know, the A-Team had an expression for this." Amy says from where she's driving. "'On The Jazz'."
        Jackson just laughs and then we're there. The house of Colonel Decker, the man who pursued the A-Team for several years unsuccessfully. The man who's supposed to help us find their killer. I can't begin to tell you how much I hate this idea.
        Amy knocks the door and a housekeeper answers. She gives her the agreed story about Amy wanting to interview the Colonel about the A-Team's 'reign of terror' over the people of the USA. He's apparently at a meeting in his office with a Captain Crane, but we're allowed to wait. It's twenty minutes before he comes in to see us and Amy starts her spiel. But his gaze is locked on me. "Franklin Santana." He whispers.
        "Oh shit." I reply as Tommy wrestles him to the ground. Jack grabs Amy and they run out of the house. I drag Tommy away from where he's beating the living daylights out of the officer and we speed away without anyone else coming after us.
        "We have to hide." Jackson says. "He'll call the Feds or the MPs at least."
        "He must have recognised me from the court." I muse. "Weird, though."
        "So what do we do now?" Amy asks.
        Jackson just shakes his head and the action speaks for all of us. When things want to go against you, they really make an effort.

DAY 8

You might be forgiven for thinking that a day without people shooting at me or trying to lock me up for ten years would have been a good thing, after more than a week of the above. However, I generally know what to expect from bullets. People should come with instruction manuals.
        Using some of Jackson's underworld contacts in Los Angeles we got out of California and back to Virginia with relative ease. Although there was no evidence of anyone trying to stop us from leaving, Jack insisted that we be very, very careful. Decker must have learned subtlety over his years of service in the forces.
        We had to leave Amy behind, although I promised that I would try to keep in touch. I couldn't give her the number here, because I couldn't ask Jackson what it was for fear of being forbidden to call her at all and, well, I suppose also because I still don't trust that she might tell the Feds where I am. Or they might find it. The paranoia around here seems to be catching.
        The team were back in normal operating mode today, with Tommy going around all of the doors and waking us up at seven a.m. However, it wasn't a mission briefing so I stayed in my room and wrote up the events of yesterday. By the time I ventured out into the rest of the house, the others were up and about outside. Rourke was standing near the door and tripped me up as I went out. I stumbled and Baker's palm in my back sent me to the ground.
        "See you led our boys on a pointless little mission, Santana." Rourke says as I get back to my feet. "What you think? The A-Team be resurrected if you avenge them? Stupid thinking, little boy."
        "Yeah." Baker chips in. "Real stupid."
        I feel like I'm being bullied in Primary school by some bigger kids. Fortunately I don't burst into tears and I simply turn my back on them and make my way out to the table in the centre of the garden where Tommy is reading the newspaper. "Morning, Tommy." I say, wondering if everyone's against me today.
        "Word of advice, Frank - keep your head low today." Tommy replies without looking at me, then folds up his newspaper and disappears into the house.
        At this point, I'm getting the feeling that I murdered someone last night and didn't know anything about it. What is with everyone? I wrap up breakfast quickly and go to find a telephone. Amy had scribbled down her number for me on a scrap piece of paper, so I dial her up. "Hi, Amy?"
        "Frankie?" She says. "It's the middle of the night!"
        I check my watch. "Oh, sorry. Look, has anything happened?"
        "You mean Decker? Not a thing." She replies.
        Odd. "Nothing in the newspaper? On the television?" I ask.
        "Frankie - nothing's happened. And I should know. Now, can I get back to sleep. Please?"
        "Okay. I'll call you if anything's up." I put the telephone back down. "Huh."
        I leave the room, more confused that ever and run into Jackson. "Whoa!"
        He grabs my arm tightly and shoves me up against a wall. "You should be more careful Santana!"
        "Yeah? Maybe I should." I say. "But I haven't done anything wrong!"
        "Nothing wrong?" Jackson fixes his stare on me. "No, perhaps not. But I'd thank you to think twice before leading us all on a wild goose hunt. Now get out of my way!" He releases his grip on me and pushes me away from the doorway.
        "What about the A-Team?" I ask in defiance. "We were close!"
        "The A-Team are dead." Jackson says bluntly. "You're not. Yet." He disappears into his office and slams the door in my face.
 
I spend most of the rest of the day in my room, except for when Baker gleefully dumped a shopping list in my lap and I was dispatched into town to buy the week's food and drink. It was a good indication of how low my position in the team now is - I'm in the position I should probably have been in the first place, below Baker in the rankings. I can only think that Stockwell has given Jackson a dressing-down early this morning, but I don't think that even that would disturb him so much. Unless he's fallen out with Tommy as well, but it all seems pretty unlikely.
        I honestly don't know.
        I crept out of my room in the evening to find them all having fun in the living room, with liberal amounts of alcohol being delivered and Culture Club on the record player. Tommy was teaching Jack how to play his guitar, a laugh-riot which dissolved into a snogging session on the couch.
        It amazes me that a group of men the world know as cold-blooded killers can indulge in the same fun as the rest of the world. No pinning butterflies to boards for them. And they all looked so... happy.
        I sneaked off to telephone Amy again from Jack's office, but there wass still nothing on the news about Decker, Murdock, the A-Team or me. I went off early to bed, staring at the 'clues' I had pinned up on the wall and hearing the laughter of ghosts in the distance.

DAY 9

I'm fairly certain that today I got up before I woke up. There was a reason for this - Tommy had dragged me out of bed at four in the morning with only a whispered message in my ear: "Stay cool." With that he shoved a pile of clothes into my arms and left me to get dressed. From the shouting going on between Jackson and Rourke outside my door I understood that we were being sent out to Washington to some kind of meeting with Stockwell. And that no one in our little camp here was too happy about it - but I guess that could be put down to the hangovers they probably all had. Once I had my jacket on, I put my diary into one of the pockets. Over the past week it's become the record of my new mission - to bring the A-Team's killer to justice. I don't want to lose it now, even if my mission seems to be at a dead end.
        The second I step out of my room Jackson snaps at me to go and load some cases into the van outside. I lift as much as I can and slowly walk out with the feeling that I'm about to go through the floor. Rourke and Baker are already outside - Baker in the driver's seat, Rourke arranging come other baggage in the back of the van. At first sight of the van I do a double-take. Although the paint-job has been changed to a dull grey and it now has some valid registration, it was undeniably the old A-Team van. Go figure.
        Rourke takes the cases I pass up to him silently and I hurry back into the house to get the last case, but Jackson has it, so I end up running back out again as he locks up the house. I pile into the back with Tommy and Jackson, who seems again to be a million miles away. I notice that Tommy puts his arm around him and whispers something, but Jackson doesn't respond. The silence keeps up for the rest of the journey.

Our destination turns out to be an office building in the capital, which bears no markings that might indicate what company resided there. Jackson gets out immediately and confers with Stockwell, who had arrived in a familiar limosine behind us. After that, Jackson returns to give out orders. "Okay, we're here to protect the General. I honestly don't care about any of the men he's meeting. If someone makes a move you shoot them. Those are my orders and I'm sticking by them." He reports. "Baker, Santana - you stay with the van. Keep a good look-out. Any cops look too interested drive off. The fact is we're all wanted criminals, so we really don't want to be arrested. I think that the meeting will take the whole morning, but if any of you fall asleep I'll kill you personally. Tommy, Rourke - you're inside with me. Come on." And with that the three of them disappear into the building and I'm left alone with a friendly van and a hostile kid.
        "Any idea what this meeting's about?" I ask.
        Baker shrugs. "Who cares? In case you hadn't noticed you're lower in the order than I am, scumweed, which means you aren't fit to tie your own shoelaces. The Captain deals with the politics."
        "Never gonna get anywhere if you don't know anything." I reply.
        Baker looks at me in disgust. "Yeah, well you've got that covered. Hey, look - must be big business."
        I twist around to see the latest arrival - another limosine carrying an old man in a wheelchair. "Who's that?"
        "Big money." Baker says. "AJ Bancroft. Rourke says he's one of the men who control America."
        "No shit?" I say, making mental notes. "So you do know some things?"
        "I'm not stupid." Baker says, still watching events outside the van's windows. "And Bancroft's a guy you would know if you watched the news, dumbass!"
        "Yeah, right." I point at an 'ordinary' car pulling up near us. "Who's that?"
        "I don't know everything!" Baker squints at the occupant, a blond middle-aged man in a business suit. "Never seen him before in my life."

It is almost noon before our boys return to the van, with Stockwell walking along talking to our mysterious stranger behind them. Rourke gets into the front of the van and immediately starts joking with Baker about the meeting. My attention, however, is on Jackson and Thomas who are apparently carrying on a heated discussion that they began inside the building.
        "Jack, he has every right to do it." Tommy says. "And Stockwell knows that."
        "Every right?" Jackson says, sounding furious. "All the rights he's taken from us you mean!"
        "Jack, it'll be okay!" Tommy reaches out for his arm.
        "Like hell it'll be okay!" Jack pushes Tommy backwards and he hits off the back of the van. For a second Jackson looks as if he wants to apologise immediately, but he instead hurries off to disappear behind the building.
        "Ow!" Tommy exclaims, pulling himself up into a sitting position.
        "Are you okay?" I dust him down. "What happened?"
        "You'll find out." Tommy runs his fingers through his hair. "Man, I'd better go find Jack..."
        "He looked like he needed time to cool off." I reply.
        "Jackson never cools off." Tommy says. "I'm going to find him. Don't leave without us!" He jumps up and runs off after his boyfriend.
        Stockwell and the other businessmen don't so much as cast a look in my direction - he's obviously already given Jackson our orders for the remainder of the day. His bodyguards escort him into his limosine and they speed away. Gradually allof the other cars leave. "Man, where are those guys?" Baker asks.
        "I know where they went. I'll go check on them." I say by way of explanation and hurry away before Rourke can tell me not to. It's an opportunity maybe to find out what is going on with this team and why Jackson dropped the mission. I find them in the yard behind the office building, sitting on the paving stones talking in low voices. I'm there for maybe half a minute before Tommy realises I'm there.
        "Frankie, hi!" He says. "Are we late?"
        "Everyone's left." I reply.
        "Oh." Tommy looks back at Jack. "Shall we go?"
        Jackson takes a deep breath and stands up. He walks right past me without acknowledging my existence. Tommy shrugs in a 'Don't ask me' kind of way and follows him back to the van. So much for information.

To my surprise, we don't go back to Virginia. We instead go to a warehouse in the city which already has a few cars parked outside it, including Stockwell's limosine. We file in and stand there in a line as Stockwell introduces the blond man from the meeting to us. "Gentlemen, this is Ivan Trigorin. You'll be working for him until you receive other orders."
        From the reaction Jackson gives, he had heard this before, but he isn't too pleased about it. Trigorin shakes his hand. "Captain Jackson, Pleasure to meet you, sir."
        "Likewise." Jackson says, but it's more a polite response than the truth.
        "Good team you have here?" Trigorin seems to want to keep talking, although Jackson obviously doesn't.
        "Best in the business."
        "Uh huh." Trigorin moves on down the line. From his accent he's a Russian, which I take as being kind of odd, since most Americans aren't on friendly terms with most Russians. Maybe that's the chip Jack's got on his shoulder - having to work for the enemy. But I wasn't aware that international terrorists had many patriotic ties. I'm the last in the line to meet Trigorin.
        "And Mr. Santana." Trigorin smiles. "I hear that you were a member of the A-Team."
        "Not really, sir. Only a couple of weeks before they were killed." I tell him.
        "Isn't the word 'executed'?" Trigorin inquires.
        "Maybe. That's what I'm trying to find out." I reply.
        "How... intriguing." He steps back. "All of you are under my command because I asked for you. In our little Industry, I have secured an important business deal. We must steal a highly classified Russian jet by tomorrow night. I have every faith in you - I have to, since you are - I believe - the best team in the world free to take on this task."
        "Yeah, right." Rourke giggles.
        "To this end, you must fly to Moscow immediately." Trigorin resumes. "The gear you require has been brought with you. I suggest you use it. I am not your commanding officer, so all decisions regarding this mission while in Russia will be made by Captain Jackson. However, if you fail, you will find that I am not a patient man. Dismissed." He turns his back on us.
        Tommy orders us back outside with a word and we leave to go to the airport. Apart from the joking between Baker and Rourke in the front there's total silence. I'm still in some kind of Coventry with everyone else and Jack looks about ready to punch anyone who talks to him. I sit quietly and wonder if Amy's thinking about me.

DAY 10

I have been on quite a few boring aeroplane trips in my life - mostly travelling to exotic climes for movie shoots - but the flight to Moscow probably tops the bill. Rourke and Baker played poker for long periods, betting with money and various knick-knacks. Tommy and Jackson spent the first half of the flight scribbling down notes on maps and arguing rationally about the mission, but it was like there was a pane of glass in between them. And so I sat between these two groups and doodle in my diary. By now I should have some kind of theory as to how and why the A-Team were killed, but I don't have much of a clue about anything.
        If the army killed them, they must have been tipped off about me changing the bullets by someone. I don't believe that Stockwell could have known anything about it and I don't think that anyone else knew that I wasn't the priest I was pretending to be.
        If Stockwell killed them, I can't see a motive anywhere. Why would he tell us to rescue them and then murder them himself? Unfortuately for me, he does have to be involved in it somewhere because he wants me to find out who killed them - at least Jackson thinks so - and I think that he is also watching Murdock, wherever he might be. He's probably hoping that one of us at least finds out who destroyed his 'merchandise'.
        Out of everyone else, I can't see any suspects. Jackson and his team have no vendetta against the A-Team as far as I can see, excepting a humiliating defeat years ago. Amy was their best friend. And everyone else would have thought that the US army would have killed them.
        So whoever killed them had to know that the US army wouldn't kill them. Had to know that I had made the changeover.
        But I don't see the point!!! If they knew that why didn't they just alert the army to my being there - even by an anonymous phone call? What's the point of substituting one kind of death for another? And don't even ask me how the disappearance of their bodies fits in.
        Unless...
        I can't finish writing down the thought before Jackson tells us to listen. He has a plan. Practically his first words tell me that I'm not needed and will be heading back to LA on the plane. Okay, so it's true that a Puerto Rican in Russia might be easily spotted, but I can't help feeling that he is picking on me yet again. I still haven't figured out what could be up with Jackson. He's acting as if someone's told him his parents have been killed. Maybe they have, but if so I'd appreciate it if he told me, so I could stop thinking that he's just acting like a jerk!
        I miss most of what he says after that, but it's the usual assignments - Rourke to take out the perimeter security. Tommy and Baker to cover Jackson until he can get to the plane and fly it back to the United States. I wonder about the Russian RADAR and whether they won't just shoot it down. But I guess if the plane is good enough to steal it's probably good enough not to get shot down.
        When we land, I help them out with their gear onto the snowy airstrip and head back into the plane to strap myself in again for take-off. Tommy comes back in for a case I had forgotten to take out and leans close to me. "Do some investigating when you get back." He whispers. "No one'll be around. They'll all be thinking about us." When he sees how puzzled I look, he grins. "The solution to your problem might be the solution to mine. But be careful." He gives me the thumbs-up sign and heads out.
        Within a few minutes the plane takes off into the blizzard. If I was thinking about it, I'd probably be scared for my life, but I'm busy thinking about what I'll have to do when I get back.
        And how useless this day has been.

DAY 11

I had the presence of mind (plus the added incentive of crushing boredom) to sleep on the flight back to Washington and as a result was awake and ready to do whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. I had half expected Trigorin to be waiting for me at the airport, since he had expressed quite an interest in me earlier, but I expect that he didn't know I would be aboard. There was however a sole limosine waiting for me and when I got in I found that someone *had* been taking an interest in me: AJ Bancroft.
        "Uh, hi." I say, covering total shock. If he's going to separate me from Jackson, Tommy and Stockwell I have no idea how to get the information I want.
        "Relax." He smiles at my obvious discomfort. "I'm taking you back to your new headquarters. However, I did want to talk to you first." He leans forward to talk to his driver. "Trigorin, please."
        The car starts up and exits the airfield by the nearest gate. "So, another business proposition?" I ask.
        "I'm not asking you to leave Stockwell's employment." Bancroft smiles. "Or even Trigorin's. I'm aware that you do have a Presidential pardon resting on your continued work for the good General."
        "How do you know that?" I ask. It's a stupid question, but any information is good information.
        "There are some that think I control the world, Frankie." Bancroft answers. "And you wonder how I know a little fact about you? The truth is that I do in a way control the world."
        "You do." I say flatly in order to keep him talking.
        "Yes. You may have heard of 'The Industry' or somesuch term. The Industry controls the world and I for a large part control the Industry."
        "And the Industry is a group of spies?" I ask.
        Bancroft sighs. "No. Governments employ spies to spy on other governments. The Industry is an international government. We care nought for any petty East-West arguments. The point is that we can all make profit out of on the face of it working against each other, but in reality work with each other. It's a whole new world, Frankie."
        "A world I don't like the sound of much." I reply honestly.
        "Maybe. But you're using it to get yourself a pardon. Doesn't that make you just as bad as me?" Bancroft smiles and lights up a cigarette.
        "The difference is that I haven't done anything wrong."
        "I know that. You know that. The Industry knows that. But in the world outside you're a psychotic killer. Like the A-Team. Like Jackson. Like Lee Oswald."
        "Oswald?" I exclaim. "Okay, so maybe I don't want to know. But there was a point here, I remember. What do you want from me?"
        Bancroft looks at me as if sizing me up and then takes out a silver case from the coat pocket and opens it up. Inside are two photographs - one of a young man in football gear and the other of a girl. I stare at it. "Yeah, so what?"
        "Do you recognise either of them?" Bancroft persists.
        Now, I know I've never seen the girl, but the guy... I've seen him somewhere before. Maybe he's a college star Bancroft wants me to- "Hang on, that's Face!" I say abruptly. "What have you got to do with Face?"
        Bancroft smiles again, but he doesn't seem happy. "Someone out there killed my son, Frankie, and believe me I'm not happy."
        "Your son? What?"
        "I'm therefore giving you any resource you need to find his killers. I want them dead. All of them. Anyone who knew about it. And you have to find them." His gaze is so insistent I half believe he's crazy.
        "Face is your son?" I say. "But..."
        "I can't explain." He says. "Here's your warehouse. Take this." He pushes a business card into the silver case and hands me it. "I want to hear from you soon."
        I get out of the limosine in a daze and stand there while the car speeds away into the city. Trigorin comes out of the lighted warehouse. "You're back." He says.
        "Yeah, they didn't need me." I explain. "Got any pizza? I'm starved..."

Amy sounds more awake than she was the last time I called, but that isn't entirely surprising. "No, there's been nothing on you. Looks like Decker didn't call the cops after all."
        Curiouser and curiouser. "Look, Amy, I need you to find out some things."
        "Sure. Anything's better than more civil wars in Africa." Amy replies. "What's up?"
        "Did Face change his name?" I start.
        "You mean to Templeton Peck? Yes... But I couldn't tell you what it originally was. He was an orphan, you see."
        "An orphan? So his parents are dead?" I say, scribbling down some notes.
        "Well, I guess so." Amy says. "What's going on?"
        "I'd like you to find out whatever you can on AJ Bancroft and possible connections between him and Face, if you can. And another guy called Ivan Trigorin." I say. "Call me when you have anything." I hang up before she can say anything else and look at the time. The rest of the team shouldn't be back for another ten hours or so, which means that I have plenty of time to carry out the next part of my plan. Time to break a fair few laws.

No one is interested in me as I leave the warehouse - I'm sure that if there is in fact anyone there except Trigorin and a couple of his goons they're asleep. I look around for some form of transport and find our van with the keys still in the ignition.
        "Well, hi van." I pat the steering wheel. "I know I'm not BA, but you'll have to get to know me now. We have a job to do." Okay, so I'm talking to a mindless heap of metal and rubber, but it makes me feel better. I pull out of the street without anyone yelling after me and try to make my way back to the office building. It's not easy, because I wasn't paying particular attention the first time and now I'm going in a different direction *and* it's still dark. However, fate has obviously looked at his records and realised that I'm about due some luck, because after a mere half hour of wandering around in circles I find the place.
        There are no lights on, but I didn't expect there would be. There are also no visible guards, but I didn't much expect there would be any of them either. If there are any security measures it's likely that they're so high-tech I wouldn't have a chance at getting around them without being caught. Which means that I'm just going to have to cross my fingers and hope. Oh, and use Trigorin's security card.
        I walk up to the front door like I'm meant to be there and run the card through the reader at the side of the door. There's a faint buzz and the door pops open. I go inside. So far, so good. I shut the door again and flick on the pen-sized torch I had picked up somewhere. Unfortunately I have no idea where to go from here and it's a big building. Time for a little trial and error.
        The room I'm looking for is on the first floor and I have to break a lock to get into it. It helpfully had the word 'RECORDS' across it, so that was a big help. I was, of course, guessing that this wasn't the base for the local hospital radio. There are many shelves piled with folders, but fortunately the one I'm looking for is nearest the door. The sticker across it reads 'A-Team' and I quickly leaf through it.
        There are files on Smith, Peck and Baracus with many pictures of both them and their van. At the bottom of each file is a red stamp reading 'TERMINATED'. There are three more folders, albeit thinner, inside the A-Team's folder. The first one is a profile of Amy Allen, the second on Murdock and the third on me. I'm not worried about Amy's. Murdock's reads 'UNDER OBSERVATION', but there is a smaller addendum to that - the word 'GONE'. Huh. My file is less interesting, as I'm simply listed as being operational. I'm one of them now.
        I flick back to Face's file and look for any references to AJ Bancroft - there are none, although there is quite a detailed summary of the orphanages he went to. I look at my watch again and find out that I've been there an hour. I had better leave, but before I go I search around for the file on Trigorin. "Holy Guatemalan chocolate chip cookies!" I say quite inexplicably and then shut the file. Within five minutes I'm out of the building and heading back to the warehouse. I doubt that anyone missed me.

I sit in the room above the warehouse floor and stare uncomprehendingly and the file in my hands. I had thought that I put it back, but I found it in the car when I was about to get out. Some things just will not leave you alone. I thought about telephoning Amy - telling her that everything was resolved. It's okay, I could say, I know who killed the A-Team. Trigorin did it. He wanted to use them against Stockwell, so he faked their deaths. Then they wouldn't do it so he killed them. I want to tell her that, but I can't. My brain and my body are no longer co-operating.
        Suddenly there's a hail of gunfire down below and then, even more abruptly, silence. Then footsteps coming to where I am. A masked man flings the door open and points a gun at me as Bancroft wheels himself into the room. "Where is he?" The old man demands.
        "Where's who?" I ask as he grabs the file from my hands.
        "The murdering bastard, Trigorin!" Bancroft says. "He killed my son! I had my suspicions, but Stockwell told me the truth! Now where is he?"
        I shrug. "I have no idea. And I don't really care."
        "Not care? They were your friends, weren't they?" Bancroft says quietly, although he's still raging inside.
        "Yeah." I get up. "And it all seems pathetically simple now I know who and why. I need some sleep." I head towards the door, but Bancroft's man grabs me.
        "I've no idea why you think it's over, Santana!" Bancroft says, and it's by no means quiet now. "You're working for me now, and this is my first order: kill Ivan Trigorin. Because if you don't I'm fairly certain that he'll kill you."
        The bodyguard pushes me away and I stagger back into a table. Bancroft smiles the smile of a tiger and is wheeled out again, carrying my proof of Trigorin's involvement.
        I stand at the window and watch the dawn come up. So everything's finished. All my wonderful investigations came down to one file in one office building that told me the truth. No great celebration, because I haven't succeeded in anything except find out the name of the A-Team's killer. No cheers and slapping each other on the back because I'm alone. the A-Team are dead. Murdock's missing. Jackson's right - none of this got me anywhere.
        I find a gun in the office so that I can carry out Bancroft's order if Trigorin does come back, but no one moves until Jackson saunters in at noon.
        "Jackson!" I yell at him. "You're back!"
        "Damn obvious." He replies. "What's going on?"
        I hurry down the steps. "Trigorin killed the A-Team. Bancroft wants me to kill Trigorin. Any ideas on a good course of action, fearless leader?" I'm sounding like a ten-year-old on speed, but it's pretty much how I feel.
        Jackson takes it fairly well, in that he doesn't say 'Huh?'. "Where is everyone?"
        I shrug. "I have no idea, but I guess that when Trigorin finds out that everyone knows what he did he won't be happy with us."
        Jackson takes a breath and grabs me. "Come on, let's get out of here."
        And so my running begins again. Let no one say that Frankie Santana lived a boring life.

DAY 12

After explaining the whole plot to Jackson, we spent the rest of the day lying in wait for Trigorin where Jack had hidden the stolen jet. Needless to say, it was a junkyard and after almost an entire day lying in scrap metal I was ready to lie, cheat, steal, murder or defect if necessary if it meant I could just go back to LA without having at least two underworld chiefs on my tail. Just to recap: Trigorin wants me dead for exposing him through asking the wrong questions. Stockwell probably wants me dead because he now has no further use for me. And Bancroft wants me dead because he's just plain crazy. What a day!
        My watch beeps out midnight and nothing stirs that I can see or hear, so I sit up and look at Jackson, who is leafing through my diary. "So what now? Are we going to stay here the whole night?"
        Jackson shrugs. "The Industry is like a game of soccer - it has rules you play by."
        "So what's the next move, Cap'n?" I ask, throwing off a sloppy salute.
        "We make sure that our enemies can't trouble us anymore." Jackson says simply. "Otherwise we're on the run for the rest of our lives, like the A-Team."
        "You mean we have to kill them?" I still don't like this idea, no matter that I've been running around with a gun now for almost two weeks.
        "No, we're going to tip them a fiver." Jackson sighs. "Bancroft wants you to kill Trigorin. Stockwell wants Trigorin dead. I'm just saying it might be a good idea to oblige them."
        "Uh huh." I nod. "And what do *you* think would be the right thing to do?"
        Jackson throws me back the diary and switches off my torch. "My opinion doesn't matter much, but time is running out. Tommy, Baker and Rourke will be arriving back soon. If Trigorin wants me, he'll take them."
        "I thought it was *me* he was after?"
        "We go way back." Jackson gets up. "Come on, it's got to the point where planning doesn't make much difference. We have to do it now."
        "Like, whoopee." I mutter and follow him back down the mountain of steel to the van. Inside, I pick up the mobile phone and dial up Amy's number. "Hey, Amy?"
        "Well, finally." She replies. "I thought you were dead or something."
        "Uh, no, but I do have at least two people trying to kill me." I respond.
        "Uh huh. Look, I found out that the CIA agent who prevented the post mortem was a guy called Trigorin." Amy says. "He did it a couple of days before, too."
        "So he was never at the morgue?" I ask. "That's weird."
        "No. They have no records of him ever being there in person." Amy reports. "Oh, and I couldn't find any connection between Bancroft and Face. Sorry."
        "No, it's okay. I guess it only matters that he *thinks* he's Face's dad." I say. "Okay Amy, basically by tomorrow we'll either be meeting you in LA or we'll be dead. If the latter, I suggest you lay low for a while, okay?"
        "Frankie!" She retorts, but I hang up before she can say anymore.
        "Blunt, aren't you?" Jackson says.
        I start up the van. "Where to?"
        "The airport." He replies and takes out his gun.

He means the airstrip utilised by folks like us for typical illegal activities - the one I've been at several times lately. We get there and there's no sign of anyone except our boys, who are looking pretty bored. I suppose the pilots are still in the plane, which is a long way off down the runway.
        "Hi guys, what's up? You forget to collect us?" Rourke asks.
        "Is Stockwell here?" Jackson asks. "Trigorin? Bancroft?"
        Tommy shakes his head. "We haven't seen anyone, Jack. You get back here okay with the plane?"
        "Fine. Look, we could be in for some trouble. Tommy, take the boys and go hijack that plane. Have it ready for take-off in ten minutes." Jackson orders.
        "Okay..." Tommy obviously thinks that his boyfriend's just gone nuts, but hurries off back the way he had come with Rourke and Baker.
        "What're we waiting for?" I ask Jackson nervously.
        "Me, I suppose." A torch shines down from above, blinding me. When I can see again, I see a dark outline standing on top of the guard hut at the gate. Trigorin.
        "What's the score, Trigorin?" Jackson asks. I figure he's talking about whether he's going to kill us or not. Funny question to ask at this point.
        Trigorin laughs humourlessly. "Ah, Jackson... What a waste of good DNA you are. I always expected a good American out of you - and what do I get, a half-assed homosexual Communist pilot. Remind me next time just to stick with a nice Russian girl."
        "This is getting you nowhere." Jackson points out. "And your time is running out."
        "Time? You think that Bancroft is trying to kill me? You think I would come here to face you *before* him. You overestimate your importance, my boy. He's already lying face down in a gutter somewhere, and you will soon be joining him. However, I must ask, Frankie - I covered my tracks very well. How did you find out about me?"
        "He didn't." Another familiar voice strikes into the conversation, coming from the direction of the plane. It's Stockwell, carrying a couple of guns. "He just caused enough trouble for you to forget about me. You're a traitor, Ivan, and now I have enough proof to justify killing you."
        "You can't kill him!" I exclaim. "No one should be killing anyone! Can't we just settle this like semi-rational human beings?"
        "No." Trigorin says shortly. "We can't. Because we ceased being human beings the moment we entered this game."
        There is utter silence for at least a minute and then Trigorin sighs. "Well." He says. "It has to end." And within two loud bangs from two guns, both Jackson and Trigorin are on the ground bleeding. With Jackson it looks serious, but Trigorin's only holding a bloody arm. Stockwell could have killed him, but didn't. I wait, not daring to move even to see if Jack's still alive, until Stockwell speaks.
        "Go, Santana. Take the boy and go." He doesn't look at me, is too busy watching Trigorin's hand and Trigorin's gun.
        I hesitate and then drop down to the ground to check Jack's injury. He seems to be wounded somewhere near the heart, but as he's still breathing, albeit unconscious, I'm assuming he won't die if I manhandle him some of the distance to the plane. If I had a first-aider around, they'd probably crucify me for what I'm doing, but I don't have much choice. I don't hear anything from Trigorin and Stockwell as I leave and Tommy arrives to help me with Jack. Once we're on the plane we head off to the nearest official airport - just to get away from there.

Tommy and I sit in the waiting room of the hospital and discuss what we have to do next. Rourke and Baker have disappeared, probably to find a hole to crawl into while this all blows over. I expect they'll turn up eventually. Tommy has explained to me that Stockwell's probably arranged it that Jackson, Rourke, Baker, Price, Ross and himself will remain with unopened FBI files. Unless either Bancroft or Trigorin survived, that team is probably home free. My case is, however, a different matter.
        "So what now? If anyone recognises you, the cops could be here." Tommy points out.
        "I hope not." I say. "I'm leaving anyway - I have one last piece of business to carry out in LA."
        "But you'll be back?" Tommy says.
        I grin. "I'll be back. Phone me if anything happens." I give him the number of the A-Team's van, which is now mine.
        On the road again...

DAY 13

Unlucky for some, just plain normal for me lately, I spent much of yesterday driving - and when I wasn't driving I was either on the phone to Amy or Tommy. Amy wanted me to drop everything and get to LA to tell her absolutely everything so that she could write a story on it and get all the credit. Well, I don't blame her - it isn't as if I desperately need a break in my job. Oh, I haven't got one. Right. Still, she probably deserves it and I can't see why I *shouldn't* let her have this diary once I've completed this final act in our little story of murder and espionage. As long as I get to edit it first.
        Tommy called to say that Jack was out of surgery and not likely to drop dead anytime soon, although he's still pretty much out of it. While wandering around the hospital he ran into Ross, who was hobbling about trying to get some coffee. He's about to be discharged, although Price has still a way to go on the road to recovery. I guess that three people injured out of 'the good guys' as I like to term our team isn't so bad.
        I passed the offices of Amy's newspaper without stopping: I would get there *after* I found the man I was looking for: the heretofore insignificant Captain Crane. See, you might think I'm crazy, but while I was panicking a couple of days back, I made a couple of phone calls. One thing didn't add up about the solution to the A-Team's murder - who drugged them? It had to be someone on the island - and Trigorin certainly wasn't there. This was eventually narrowed down to one suspect - Crane. Outside Los Angeles is a military fort, which I get into by quoting the name of the base commander and saying that I'm a reporter. While they might not trust my word for it, I have taken some steps to ensure that I get inside.
        The man in charge, General Bailey, stares at me. "Yes, Mr. Santana? What is it you would like to report about on this base?"
        I smile. "I'm not a reporter."
        "No." He snarls. "I didn't think you were."
        "I have evidence that a Captain currently serving at this base could be charged and convicted of attempted murder." I say, laying down the file on his desk.
        He picks it up, reads a few lines. "The A-Team?" He exclaims.
        "Yeah. I suggest you read it carefully, because the story will be running in tomorrow's paper." I tell him. "I'm just being courteous by giving you this information. If you check any of it, you'll find that it's totally true."
        "In your opinion, maybe, young man!" The General says. "I'd appreciate it if you would leave now!"
        "Okay." I grin. "I'll see you in the papers."
        It would have been nice, as I walked out, to catch a glimpse of Crane himself and give him one of my best smiles, but it wasn't to be. I guess I've had enough of that good luck I was talking about recently.

POSTSCRIPT

My name is Frankie Santana. Four weeks ago I walked out of an army camp and handed over my diary, which you have been reading, to Amy Allen at the offices of this newspaper. Shortly afterwards, I handed myself over to the LAPD, who had produced a warrant for my arrest when I began to work for General Stockwell. However, since General Stockwell's work in the case of the A-Team and Ivan Trigorin had been approved by the US government, there was no longer any planted evidence against me and I was again a free man. For the last month I have been editing my diary for Amy and am now currently looking for special effects work.
        Captain Joseph Crane's court martial began several days ago and is still being carried out.
        General Hunt Stockwell remains in service with the Pentagon.
        Jackson Trigorin is out of hospital and recovering well. He and Cameron Thomas have forbidden me to say anything else about them for fear of acute embarrassment.
        Mike Ross, Chris Price and Alex Baker have been released from their defence contracts with full pardons.
        T.K. Rourke, AJ Bancroft and Ivan Trigorin are missing, presumed dead by the CIA.
        The bodies of the A-Team have never been found.
 
EPILOGUE

"So what do you think?" Amy Allen asks me as I fold up the newspaper once more and put it down on the surface at my feet. We're out on the motorway and I'm fairly certain that Amy's trying to kill me. Next time, I'm driving.
        I shrug. "It's done. All of it. I'm half sad to see it all over."
        "Huh." Amy says. "I bet you have ten messages on your answering machine by now from chat shows wanting to talk to you."
        "Doesn't matter." I reply. "I've told the world everything I want them to know about this case. Right now I'm only interested in job offers."
        "You know, I'm surprised Stockwell didn't offer you a permanent job." Amy ponders. "After all, all you did benefited him."
        "Yeah, but I don't think we'd get on somehow." I say quickly. "Hey! Here's our turnoff!"
        I'd swear BA was at the wheel of his van again as we screech around the corner and off towards the inner city. "Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!" I yell as I almost go through the windscreen. "What is this, a lesson in 'why you should put your seatbelt on'?"
        "What are you talking about?" Amy asks. "Look, we're here."
        The van, now repainted into its old black and red, stops outside the house that Jack and Tommy appropriated some time back. It actually belongs to Amy's newspaper company, but as they hadn't used it for about ten years, we figured they wouldn't be too picky about us installing a couple of 'caretakers'. Tommy opens the door before either of us can knock and ushers us in with a wide smile.
        "Hiya Tommy." I dodge inside. "How're things?"
        He shrugs. "Well, on a scale of one to ten of really bad things - one being a civil war and ten being total nuclear devastation of the planet, I'd put spending the last four weeks listening to Jack's guitar playing in at number five." He grins at us. "Come on."
        He leads us into the living room, where Jackson's sitting on the couch, holding today's newspaper. "Hi Amy." He smiles as Amy kisses him on the cheek. "What's up?"
        "Frankie came to discuss the plan of action." Amy explains with a mocking smile on her face.
        I shrug. "Yeah. Everything's out now. Where do we go from here?"
        "Frankie, my dear, I don't give a damn." Tommy says, totally deadpan and then bursts out laughing as we look at him accusingly. "Sorry, I've been wanting to say that ever since I met you. Carry on!"
        "I see Stockwell's been talking to you." Jacson waves the newspaper at me. "You left out Trigorin."
        "What are you going to do about him?" I ask.
        Jackson runs his hand through his hair. "I think I'll go and see him once Stockwell's finished up with him. Okay, so mutual hatred isn't perhaps the best place to start a loving father-son relationship, but I do have some questions I'd like answered."
        "One thing, Jack." Something that's worried me ever since it happened: "Why did he shoot you instead of Stockwell?"
        Jackson fixes me in his gaze before answering. "Because he knew I would kill him." He replies.
        "And they all lived happily ever after..." Amy mutters. "Well, how're you doing, Jackson?"
        Jackson winces with imagined pain. "I am, for the first and probably only time in my life, obeying doctors orders. I figure I'll be hanging around here for a few weeks yet, though. I might hate it, but it's better than being dead."
        "No, actually, I'd prefer to be dead." Tommy jokes. "Nah... I think we're... ummm, what *are* we doing, Jack?"
        "I was thinking... Since the A-Team are dead and we're currently jobless... It would maybe be a good idea for us to take up the flag." Jackson announces. "Okay, tell me it's a bad idea now."
        "You really think people would trust us like they did the A-Team?" Amy asks. "Sorry, Jack, I don't think so. The A-Team had a history - we have nothing."
        "You and Frankie used to work with the A-Team. Tommy and I have been doing missions for Stockwell for a very long time. I think we're experienced enough." Jackson smiles. "But think about it, is all I'm saying. Besides, i don't think any of our careers right now are setting the world on fire."
        After some small talk, Amy and I are about to leave. Tommy starts in on his joke routine with Amy again as Jack calls me back. "I know you're leaving things out, Santana." He whispers. "So don't expect that they'll stay secret for long."
        I simply smile. "I never reveal my sources."
        "Alright. But I'll find out who told you about Crane." Jackson points out. "Not because it'll be of any value to me at all, but because I hate secrets - understood?"
        "Understood." I smile. "Look after yourself, Jack."

I drop Amy back off at her office and charge off in the van back to my apartment, which miraculously hadn't been rented out to anyone else in the time I'd been away. The guy at the desk at the bottom of the stairs doesn't pay any attention to me and I speed up the stairs only to be confronted by my own 'CIA' alarm system. I roll my eyes, close the door again and switch on the light. "Very funny, Murdock." I accuse the tall Texan who's leaning against my wardrobe. "I kinda thought you guys might show up."
        "Well, it only seemed safe to now." Hannibal Smith explains, chewing on his cigar. "Now that everyone thinks we're dead. Good job, Frankie."
        "You know, I didn't think you had it in you." Faceman Peck smiles showing white teeth. "But there's a liar, a cheat and a thief inside each and every one of us."
        "So *that's* who those other personalities are!" Murdock muses. "There was me just thinking I was schizophrenic."
        "Shuddup fool!" BA Baracus roars. Murdock runs away a few feet and cowers in a corner.
        "Stockwell knows you're alive." I tell them.
        "I don't think he'll be too much trouble." Hannibal smiles.
        "So how long to you intend to be dead?" I ask.
        "Forever, like most people." Face grins.
        "We've decided to establish new identities and get lost in the suburbia of America." Smith explains.
        "But... but... the A-Team!" I object. "You can't just split up forever!"
        Face shrugs. "Had to happen sometime. Some of us want lives that don't involve running away from the military police day after day, week after week."
        "But!" I say.
        Hannibal smiles and it's a smile I don't like. A smile that knows exactly what it's doing. "So, Frankie. Ever considered a career as a fugitive?"
        I wail and thump my head off the door. I think it's time to start a new diary.

END


Avenger by Lonely Walker

 

 


Send Comment Card

Please Send This Author Comments!