Rated: PG-13 (Mild Language)
Archive: why not?
Comments: Yes, please.
Disclaimer: I don't own the A-Team, Stephen J. Cannell does. All other characters are mine.
Summary: Face, Decker and an incidental bystander.
All thanks to beta reader Tiffany (I knew a little earthquake would never keep you off balance!)
* * * * * * * * * *
The car door slammed shut and Face walked toward the latest apartment he was calling 'home.' He was already considering the hassle of finding a new place. Not that the apartment was less than his usual standard, but some of the neighbors were unusually friendly and making him uncomfortable with the level of their attentions. Like the cute brunette who had given him a ride home from the garage. It was really the pits having the Corvette in for a routine oil change.
"Mr. Richards! You're home early...."
"Oh, hello... Emily, isn't it?"
Face looked at the slightly pudgy pre-teen girl. He had the unwelcome feeling Emily was working on a massive case of puppy love. He wanted to shake her and tell her to stay a child as long as she could. Not that it would make any difference.
"Your car - you didn't crash it, I hope?"
"Just the usual maintenance. Aren't you supposed to be in school?" Face frowned in an effort to discourage her as the girl kept pace with him up the sidewalk.
"It's June." At his blank look, she wrinkled her nose at him. "Summer vacation? No school for three months. My aunt is already grumbling about us being underfoot."
"I see." Face wondered how to politely tell her to go away. Now if he were BA, all it would take would be a scowl. On second thought, the big man wouldn't know how to scowl at a child like Emily if his life depended on it. The big, black ex-sergeant was a notorious sucker. Maybe Hannibal would have a suggestion?
"There was a man looking for you earlier - " Emily said casually, pushing her hair behind one ear impatiently as she looked sideways up at him. "He didn't seem to know your name - kept calling you Mr. Reilly. My aunt told him to try over on Center...."
Face stopped in mid-step, almost falling over the girl. Two items hit him with equal intensity: Center was the street catering to adult bookstores and strip joints; and Reilly was the cover name he used on the last caper. It had to be Decker and the MPs. Damn! "I must thank your aunt," Face grumbled under his breath.
"Shirley was being a witch. She's mad 'cause you never made a play for her."
Face hesitated, struck by the calm assessment in the brutally honest statement. "She's engaged to Tony...why would she expect me to make a play for her?"
Emily cocked her head to one side. "Well, let's see... because she's female and you're male? Because you're a hunk and she thinks she's hot? Oh, yeah. Because you're both breathing."
Face smiled sadly at the girl, wanting to hug her. He didn't; afraid she'd misconstrue his actions for something more serious than he intended. "You're too young to be such a bitter cynic, Emily," he informed her.
Emily studied him in the silence for a long moment, then casually touched his elbow. "How old were you when you discovered the world didn't give a damn?"
Eight years old, the thought flashed across his mind as he tried not to remember. "I was an orphan, Emily. You still have family," he responded shortly.
"There's family, and then there's family..." the young girl pushed another strand of hair out of her eyes. "That man is back," she said with a nod at the street behind them.
Face glanced across the street, knowing even as he turned what he would see. As expected, olive drab vehicles and four MPs spread out to cut off any escape. Foremost was Decker, eyes shining at the idea of having the drop on Face.
"Shit. Go inside, Emily."
Face gripped the girl by her arm and shook her in anger. "Inside, damn it!" he barked, shoving her toward the apartment complex before them, making calculations and praying for a miracle.
As he shoved Emily into the apartment foyer, Face slammed the door closed and locked between them and the hesitant MPs. "Stay out of the way, Emily. If you get hurt I'll paddle your backside for ignoring my orders once you're well! Inside, lock the door and don't do anything stupid!" he commanded, opening her aunt's apartment and hustling the girl inside. He ducked down the short hallway and took the back stairs into the basement.
From the basement he could hear the pounding on the foyer door and then the crack of wood giving way. Face kept to the shadows in the basement, knowing that Decker had men all around the building by now. He could hear the pounding of feet back and forth above him. Damn! Innocents all around him and he couldn't - just couldn't use the gun holstered in the small of his back. Loud voices above drifted downward as an unintelligible rumble.
A light flashed through the dirty windows on the far side of the basement and Face ground his teeth in frustration. They were closing in on him - too close. Crabbing along the wall, Face came to an unlocked door and opened it to see a smaller room. He could hear voices approaching the steps. Face ducked into the smaller room and closed the door. Checking it out by the feeble overhead light, he found himself trapped in the furnace room. More voices, closer now and he could recognize the lighter voice. He snapped the light off again. Damn it - Emily!
"I told you Mr. Richards pushed me inside and closed the door. I don't know where he went."
"Where does that door lead?"
Face took a tiny breath. Decker, only feet away. Only a turn of the doorknob away. And with Emily there, Face was as good as handcuffed. He put the gun back, wondering when had he drawn it?
"Furnace and storage stuff. Perfect hiding place. Of course he's in there. It doesn't even lock - I'll show you - " Emily offered, her hand on the knob.
Decker growled under his breath and shoved the girl back from the door. She was beginning to get on his nerves after less than five minutes exposure. "I said, stay back," he reminded her.
"You pushed me!" The high-pitched voice was indignant.
Decker turned his head and was blind-sided. A slapping blow against his cheek and shoulder and then the voices of his men trying to contain a wild cat distracted him from the door. Decker spun all the way around to stare in open-mouthed amazement at the blonde hussy striking Captain Crane with her bag. The hussy was also attempting to kick at the other enlisted man who held a wriggling Emily. Crane was re-holstering his weapon as he tried to speak: "What the -?"
Emily had tears sliding down her cheeks. "I was just trying to help and he shoved me - put his hands right on my boobs and shoved me, Aunt Shirley."
"Filthy son of a - " the blonde 'Aunt Shirley' swung her purse again, knocking Crane to the cement floor. "Perverts! She's just a child!"
Decker automatically removed his uniform cap and tucked it under one arm. "Ma'am, there's been a misunderstanding - " he began, trying to put his best smile on while figuring out what to do. The struggle continued unabated, the others ignoring him as the woman continued to shout at the backwards-scrabbling Captain Crane. The MP had a light hold on the sniffling, red-faced young Emily.
Decker couldn't get a word in over the noise and finally resorted to a full parade ground bellow: "Quiet! Knock it off!"
* * * * * * *
Inside the little room, Face took a finger to his ear with a wondering shake of his head. Damn but the Colonel had a mean roar! It just about deafened him through the wood door.
"You - you're in charge, right? Well let me tell you - buster - I'll see you keelhauled and court-martialed! How dare you and your uniformed armed thugs molest my niece? This isn't some second - third - world nation where you can get away with that sort of thing! Of all the - ."
Face had to bite on his jacket sleeve to keep from snickering. Here he was, trapped, and the urge to laugh at the mental image of Colonel Decker being told off by Shirley was almost overwhelming. He tried to find a spot in the walls where he could see what was going on. Finally he settled for looking past Decker's stiff back through the crack between door and frame next to the hinges.
* * * * * *
Decker glared at the brazen blonde with disapproval. From her too-tight dress and spiked shoes to the heavy make-up and bleached hair, she was everything he despised in women. "The name, ma'am, is Colonel Roderick Decker of the US Army Military Police. And in the Army felons are not keel-hauled, that is strictly the Navy's prerogative," he said in his iciest tones.
"Well, Colonel Roderick Decker of the US Army, what does the Army do to child molesters? Kiss them? Or give them medals! How dare you and your - "
The basement was getting crowded with curious onlookers. Decker was almost grateful to see the uniformed policeman push his way through the group at the head of the stairs. For something that started out as a strictly Army matter, this whole thing had the overtones of a farce. And Roderick Decker was not amused.
"Bill, clear them out of here - " the first cop ordered someone in the back.
"Right, Nick. Come on, show's over, folks..." an answering voice sounded. The crowd reluctantly moved back up the stairs and out of sight.
Nick, Officer N. White by his name pin, leaned against the stair banister and slowly pulled out his notebook. "Okay, someone want to tell me what happened?"
"He grabbed Emily by the breasts - " Shirley exploded, wanting to be the first to speak.
Decker glared at the woman, running a hand through his hair as he tried to avoid another incident. "I was trying to keep her from being injured. I assure you, I was unaware of putting my hands - ."
"Oooh!" Shirley was almost beside herself with righteous indignation. "You just put your hands any place you damn well please? I am going to sue your pants off, buster. You heard him, Nicky! He felt up my niece and he doesn't even have the - oooh! I want you to arrest him! Arrest him!"
"Now Shirley - " Nick tried to appease the excited woman. "Let me hear from the girl. Emily?"
Emily moved out of the MP's grip. Her lip was caught between her teeth as she met the policeman's look. "Nick, uhm, Officer White," she began in a very soft voice, betraying her uncertainty.
* * * * * *
Face couldn't decide whether she was really frightened, or just faking it. She had it down pat - the 'little girl' look and hunched shoulders and big eyes. Trapped in the small room, Face watched her actions with critical attention. It had to be a con... he never intended to get a girl involved... Hannibal was going to have his head - after BA was finished with it.
"Emily, what happened?" Nick pitched his voice low and soothing.
"He felt her up and scared her half to death, that's what happened. I want you to arrest him!" Shirley cut across Emily's attempt to speak.
"I did not - " Decker began again, anger over-riding his attempts to be calm.
"Please - "
Nick stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew. Decker took a single step further from the door. Shirley drew back against the wall, her outraged expression changing to surprise as Nick-the-friend-and-neighbor became Nick-the-cop. Emily was next to her aunt. Crane nursed a black eye and scratches on his face and neck. Face stuffed his sleeve tightly against his mouth. The longer the attention was away from him, the better. Besides, the floorshow was a hoot!
"Shirley - Colonel - shut up and let the girl have her say. Well, Emily?"
"I was just trying to help. He broke into the apartment and demanded to know where Mr. Reilly was. I tried to explain there wasn't a Mr. Reilly in the building. He said he meant the blonde I was talking with earlier. Mr. Richards. So I told him which apartment was Mr. Richards, and then he started looking at the other doors and wanted to know where everything was. And I told him which was which - Miss Adam's and Mr. Morgan's - and the back door to the patio and the garage - and the basement. And in the basement I was telling him what doors were storage and the furnace room and laundry and he grabbed me and shoved me away like on the cop shows on TV - I mean police shows...."
Face was amazed at her breath control. All of that with only one breath, tears leaking down her cheeks and the most earnest expression he'd ever seen on a con artist. The mention of the furnace room was going to end it all, of course. And Hannibal would be doubly pissed because he hadn't found a way to escape yet.
"What laundry room?" Decker demanded hard on the heels of Emily's story.
Emily looked nervously at Decker and then at Nick. "O-over there...it goes up to the garage. I tried to tell you," she actually pointed a shaking finger at the laundry room.
Decker took a couple of steps in that direction and was stopped by the hard voice of the cop. "I'm not finished with you, Colonel. Stand down!"
Face sniggered at the red flush on Decker's face. So, the cop was ex-military and had enough experience to know what would stop him. Face leaned against the door and felt the wood move under his weight. A heartbeat later, someone shoved the door back into Face. When he blinked and got his own racing heart back out of his throat, Face realized the someone was Decker, leaning against and latching the door closed.
Face started to step back and then realized he had no place to go. Any movement would be clearly heard by the man on the other side. If ever there was a spot that demanded a miracle to escape, this was it. Face flipped through his memories, was there anyone beside St. Jude for him to call on? This was an impossible cause, surely.
"Okay - let me get this straight, Colonel. You broke into Shirley's apartment, accosted Emily, disrupted the neighborhood and you and your men parked your vehicles in an illegal manner. Got an explanation?" Nick stood straight and looked the Colonel up and down in a slow, infuriatingly superior manner.
"I was after a wanted felon - Templeton Peck - the man known to the girl as Mr. Richards..." Decker tried to keep the defensiveness out of his voice.
"Templeton - " Nick stopped and looked over his glasses and down his nose at Decker. "The A-Team? Colonel Decker, I'm sure even the A-Team has yet to stoop to hiding behind a twelve year old girl like Emily."
Hard on the heels of his chastisement, Nick added: "So far we have unlawful entry, assault, mob actions and assorted traffic violations. Care to go for the big one?"
"I did not - " Decker turned and pounded on the door behind him with a burst of pent-up rage. His fist made a crack in the panel. Face, surprised by the blow to the door he'd been leaning against, landed on his butt, stunned that he'd avoided making any noise in his graceless stumble.
"For the last time, I did not attempt to 'cop-a-feel' or otherwise molest the girl!" Decker stepped away again and slammed his uniformed hat back on in frustration, his eyes going from the officer to the woman and back.
Shirley sniffed disbelievingly. "Right. Lecher! And who's going to pay for my apartment door in splinters? Not to mention the front door. And the doors inside my apartment! They even busted into my closet! Nicky - "
"I'm not a - le - hell." Decker growled in his throat, fists rigid at his side as he tried to control himself. Everything was conspiring against him. "All I want is Peck!"
Emily came hesitantly across to the police officer, looking hopeful and scared at the same time. "Officer White - I don't think he," she nodded at Decker, "meant to grab me where he grabbed me. Maybe if he said he was sorry and paid Aunt Shirley for the doors? After all, he is a soldier, like Dad." The last was an appeal to her aunt.
Face felt the grating under his hip and risked a quick look in the almost black room. His fingers ran around the edge, assuring him it was man-sized. The grate was too small to slide an arm through to check for depth. Face forced his own frustrations to the back of his mind. All it would take would be for Decker to remember he hadn't checked the room out, open the door, and Templeton Peck's goose would be cooked! Idly, he wondered if he could trade a fifteen-minute head start for a vow of silence on the day's occurrences, before dismissing it as an option.
"Seems fair to me. Shirley?" Nick asked with a professionally impassive look.
"I want a hundred dollars for each door!" Shirley snapped, greed lighting her face.
Nick looked at the red-faced Colonel. "Colonel?"
Decker glared at the woman before turning to face the young girl. Removing his hat and sticking it under his arm in the approved style, he bowed jerkily at Emily. "Miss, I apologize for grabbing you in an inappropriate spot...it was purely unintentional...and motivated by a sincere concern for your safety, nothing more," he said clearly and distinctly.
Emily studied him from under the wisps of hair falling over her eyes. "Thank you for your concern, Colonel," she responded in an attempt to sound grown-up.
"There now - " Nick began, smiling as Emily stepped back against him cautiously.
"The doors!" Shirley glared at Decker, her hand out, palm up, demandingly.
Decker scowled and glanced at Captain Crane, who resignedly pulled a wallet out of his back pocket with a nod. Decker gave the greedy woman a sour look, unlike the one he favored Emily with. "Captain Crane will see that you're paid. Perhaps you would show him exactly which doors were damaged?"
Shirley grunted and started up the stairs. "C'mon, Captain Lane - " she tossed over her shoulder impatiently. The silent Crane couldn't be bothered to correct her as he followed her with a reluctant expression.
Emily leaned against Nick with a tiny sigh. "That's all she really wanted anyway, wasn't it?" Emily closed her eyes on the steps, waiting.
Decker put his hat on again. "Officer White - take the girl out of here."
Nick stepped close to the rigidly controlled Decker. "Draw that weapon, Colonel, and you'll be facing charges til doomsday," he said in a cold tone.
Decker's hand remained next to his holster flap, as they stood eye to eye. "I'm asking you to take her out of here." The slight shift of Nick's gaze told him the other understood. "Peck could be armed," he added even more quietly.
"You mean you want to shoot him down with no witnesses."
Decker stepped around the stone-faced Nick. "Miss - Emily," he fumbled for the words, put off-stride by the mix of girl and adult staring back at him. "I don't want to shoot anyone. He's a wanted man. The man you know as Mr. Richards is an escaped thief. He probably has a gun and he doesn't want to go to military prison. That makes him desperate. I want you to go with Officer - with Nick, here - and stay out of the line of fire."
"He's not like that," Emily made the protest without taking her eyes off Colonel Decker.
Nick twisted to look at the girl still sitting on the stairs. "Emily ñ you can't know for certain what this person would do."
Emily stuck her bottom lip out and shook her head. "He doesn't hit on Shirley, he doesn't party until dawn. He's nice. He can't be a thief," she protested.
"Get her out of here." Decker turned away from the girl before she could cry. Damn! It wasn't like he enjoyed rubbing anyone's nose in the facts of life.
Nick put his hand under her elbow and urged the mutinous girl to her feet. "Don't be stubborn, girl," Nick meant to sound authoritative.
"I hope he's miles from here and you never-ever catch him!"
Decker watched the cop guide the girl up the steps. Time enough for her to be disillusioned later. He saw the apologetic look from Nick - professional cop to professional MP - before they disappeared upstairs. Pushing the flap back, he drew his weapon and slowly advanced toward the laundry room. It would be empty, of course.
* * * * * * *
Face had given up on the grating. Whether rusted, bolted or welded, nothing short of BA or a wrecker's winch was ever going to move it. And even though Decker was moving out of sight, it wouldn't be long until he was back. Wish I were an angel, he smiled at his whimsical thoughts. I'll need wings to get out of here. He looked heavenward, not expecting anything.
Saint Jude must have been having a light day. A miracle was just above his head. Face felt his mouth stretching into a grin of sorts as he looked at the trapdoor above the stepped back cabinets. A flash of memory and the image of Shirley yelling at one of the other munchkins, George? No, it had been Gerald. 'Gerald - stay away from that - you'll fall down into the furnace and break your neck!' At the time he'd thought it the woman's usual overblown exaggeration. Shirley was forever screaming threats at the children.
Time to get out of here. Decker would be sure to check this room out sooner or later. Face scrambled up the cabinet and swung out to cling precariously to one floor support as he worked at the bolt. Damn thing wasn't going to stop him. If Decker caught him this time, he'd never hear the end of it. He could hear steps approaching. No. Go away. Not now, not when I've almost got it! Those steps paused and someone started down the stairs.
* * * * * * *
"Taken care of the disgruntled lady, Captain?" Decker watched his scowling captain stop halfway down the steps. Crane looked decidedly the worse for wear. Between the scratches and the black eye, and the tired expression, the man looked plum wore out.
"Makes me glad I'm a bachelor. She's screaming at five kids right now, and the cop has already warned her to tone it down. He and Emily are sitting in the squad car, talking."
"Put in a chit for the money for the doors when we get back to base."
"Thank you, sir. She tried to add another two inside doors to the tab, but the girl 'reminded' her that the kids had done the damage months ago. Poor thing - living with a witch like - her aunt." Crane shook his head and swept the basement with a tired eye.
"The rest of the men?" Decker asked.
"Scattered about - outside. Should I call them back to sweep the area again?"
"No need, I'm sure. There's only one place we haven't looked, isn't there - Peck?" Decker's voice raised just enough to carry to the rafters. "Come on out."
The slight creak could have been the building settling, or it could have been a door opening. Decker gave his captain hand signals and stalked toward the furnace room door. Two guns were trained on the door as Decker worked the latch cautiously. Flinging the door open, they waited.
Nothing. No movement. Decker growled deep in his throat, the frustration threatening to strangle him. "Light switch," he grumbled.
Crane found the switch inside the door and flipped it up. The room was empty in the weak light of the naked bulb. Decker turned to walk away, his gun already sliding into the holster. Catching a hint of something moving out of the corner of his eye, he spun all the way back around to glare up at the gloom and a lighter boundary. A foot was disappearing up into the ceiling. Decker leaped upward - frustration adding an extra arm's length to his reach.
Captain Crane caught his superior as he fell back, a shoe clutched in his hand. The Colonel jerked free of the saving hold and threw the shoe to the floor in a fit of anger. "No! Damn it, I had him! I had him!" The words were punctuated by stomping.
* * * * * * *
Face limped into the apartment, ignoring BA's questioning look. Hannibal glanced up from the paper he was reading. He looked the unusually disheveled lieutenant up and down slowly, then returned to his paper without speaking. Face waited for him to turn two more pages, then removed his tie. Folding it and carefully putting it in his pocket, he removed the jacket and brushed the worst of the dirt off with the back of one hand. Carefully hanging the jacket on the knob of the closet door, he kicked his remaining shoe off to land under the coffee table between Hannibal's recliner and the sofa. "Moving again," he grunted, sinking onto the sofa and automatically lifting his legs to the cushion, one arm flopping over his face.
"Okay." Hannibal turned another page without looking up.
Deprived of the opportunity to complain or vent, Face decided to let him have the rest of it. "Saw Decker today."
A cold glass nudged his limp fingers and Face gratefully took a large swallow of iced tea. "Thanks, Murdock."
Murdock sat down next to his feet and began to massage one instep gently. "Don't tell me, Decker has the other shoe?"
Face grunted and took another sip of the cool liquid. "I got away," he pointed out.
The silence stretched on, punctuated by the slight rustling of the newspaper. Face waited for the questions. Still no one broke the expectant quiet. "Well?" he threw challengingly at the silence.
Hannibal slowly folded the paper and put it on the table between them. "Marco's is having a shoe sale. I can't have my guys going around without proper footwear."
Face looked at him in open-mouthed disbelief. Was that all he was going to say?
Murdock smiled and changed feet. "I gotta say, Face; I never figured you to like the Cinderella story. Decker never struck me as a Prince Charming."