Rated PG, possibly a little language
Summary: Where did Shaggy go, and is there enough food?
Dissertation: Yea, and let it be known that on this seventh day of July in the Year of the Fool, Two Thousand One, the Author (hitherto known as "the author") has no more funds than does a common fruit fly and is thereforeto much too broke to be sued over copyright infringement. The author wishes to thank Top Cow Productions and Hanna-Barbera for the loan of any and all characters except those the author makes up herself, which will verily be few and far between. A-men.
"She's a brick .. owwwws ... dancin' roun' the bathroom, scrapin' up all th'grout ... she's a brick ... owwwws ... wit ta mildewies, she got all da clout-"
"Shut up, foo!"
Murdock only increased the decibel level of his singing as Face wandered into the middle of a minor war being waged between the stairwell and the bathroom. He yawned twice, quite widely, as he pushed some of the thick blond hair off his forehead, standing in the open doorway and waiting for Murdock to quit flossing his teeth and boogying in front of the mirror. *Honestly, they're white enough,* Face mulled in annoyance, really having to take a piss.
Stretching his large mouth open to accommodate his hands seemed to make no difference to the team's crooner. "'E's a ick ... owwwws-"
"I SAID SHUT UP!"
Face turned just in time to hear the thumping footsteps of Baracus coming Žround the landing on the staircase; in his hand he clutched the partly-full box of cereal from which he'd presumably been pouring. Face cut himself off mid-yawn and jerked down, a motion bred from years of practice. "Incoming!" he hollered, looking back toward the singer.
Without missing a beat, Murdock paused his hip-wiggling long enough to step aside as the cereal box came flying past him and smashed into the mirror with enough force to pop the top open. Wheaties dropped into the sink, and Murdock emitted a drawn-out whine. "Didja hafta kill the Wheaties, Scooter? That was our breakfast too, y'know!"
"Don' call me Scooter, crazy man."
Murdock caught Face's eye and rolled his eyes upward, forming his lips soundlessly to mock "Don' call me Scooter." He got as far as "call" when B.A. charged into the doorway and caught him. The pilot arrested himself mid-word and looked around a bit, then adopted his customary wide grin. B.A. looked mad enough to spit nails, Face thought; indeed, a bad moment for all concerned. What could be done?
Murdock took the initiative and did the only thing he could. He held his arms out in supplication. "Gimme a hug, big guy."
B.A. curled his lip and growled. "I ain' givin' you no hug!"
"Aww, you know you wanna."
The black man made a sound faintly like a snort and turned away, shaking his head. Face could swear he saw a clamped-down laugh on the man's features, but wasn't about to push the issue by pointing it out.
As he walked away, Murdock came to the door and hung onto the facing like a monkey. "Not even a lil' kiss?"
B.A. only turned long enough to jab a finger toward the sink. "YOU replacin' those Wheaties," he informed the half-dressed pilot.
As he disappeared down the steps, he looked down at Face and adjusted the ever-present ball cap as he grinned. ""He still loves me," he proclaimed, turning and heading back to his perfect teeth.
Face only sighed and drew his legs up against his chest. Dammit, now it'd be longer before he got to pee.
"Jinkies, Daph! Why do you take so long in the mornings?"
"I have to look my best," protested the redhead from inside the locked bathroom.
"Oh, and none of the rest of us do?" Velma fired back, rolling her eyes. "You wear the same dress every day; how are you going to look any different today than you did yesterday?"
The door popped open and Velma's cheery-eyed roommate stood there in her fluffy lavender robe. "It's a new hairstyle; I've curled it over instead of under. See?" She bobbed her head from side to side. "How does it look?"
*Exactly the same as it has for the past 2,353 mornings,* Velma thought. *Just like mine. And Fred's. And even Shaggy's. Of course, he doesn't even comb his, so he probably gets the most variation of any of
us.* "Great, Daphne; now, can I have the bathroom?"
"Sure, Velma." The redhead agreeably stepped aside, trailing hairspray and perfume in her wake. The brunette coughed a bit, waving away the fumes, but hurried inside and locked the door anyway, in the event Daphne found a stray lock of hair out of place and tried to make a mad dash for the bathroom once again.
Across the adjoining door ...
A light slurp across his cheek was enough to make Fred open one wary eye and look up. "Scoob, I sure hope that's you, Žcause if it's Shaggy, I'm gonna really start worrying."
"Rit's me," the Great Dane gruffed, thumping his tail on Fred's shin.
"Great. Now ... um, uh, would you mind getting off me? My right side's starting to go numb."
"RACK. Rooby Rack."
"Oh, right." The blond yawned. "A Roob- er, Scooby Snack." He lifted his head and looked over toward the other mussed-up bed. "Where's Shaggy?"
"Ri don' know. Rent to get rood?"
Fred should've known; the perpetually thin, rangy hippie was always hungry. He burped slightly, recalling his two slices from the extra-large pizza pie they'd ordered at two in the morning "just because;" Shaggy and Scooby had made short work of the rest ů literally. It had disappeared, Hoover-style, faster than Fred had begun to work on his second slice. "Can I get up, Scooby?" he asked again, patiently.
"Mmm ... rokay." The large dog stood, allowing Fred to roll out of bed and stand. Automatically, his hands went to his hair, smoothing it from sleep; he hated to confront the bathroom mirror looking so unkempt before his morning shower.
"Why didn't you just go with Shaggy?"
The dog's tail thumped the bed as he plopped his back end down among the covers. "Runted to reep, Reddie."
"How long's he been gone, anyway?" It wasn't like Shaggy to be this ... this ambitious, Fred considered.
Scooby cocked his head to the side after looking at the alarm clock, thinking. "Rince rive or ro."
"Five a.m.?" Fred shook his head. "Now I know something's wrong; that's when he usually gets to sleep." He frowned; then, thinking of the implications, brightened. "Looks like we've got a mystery on our hands," he delightedly told the Great Dane. "I'll go get the rest of the gang!"
"Ro, rother," the dog sighed, shaking his large, furry head. "Rere we go agrain."
"So, he didn't tell you where he was going?" Velma asked as she, Daphne and Fred gathered around Scooby.
Again, the dog shook his head. That made the fourth time he'd answered that question in the past hour, and he was beginning to wonder how humans had ended up in charge of the planet, as well as of the doling out of his snacks ů which, he now remembered, he still hadn't gotten. "Rack?"
"It sure does sound funny," Daphne mused as Scooby thumped his tail hopefully beside them, loudly, on the floor.
"It *sounds* like a mystery," Fred proclaimed for the sixth time since rousing the girls from their adjoining room.
Velma sighed, as she always did when dealing with species of lesser intelligence, such as Freddie. *Maybe she'll understand* thought the Great Dane, who kept wagging hopefully and caught her eye. He leaned forward slightly as she opened her mouth to speak ...
"Well, gang, we'd better see if we can find him. He's been gone for about three hours now, and in the worst-case scenario, that gives anyone who might've kidnapped him time to get far away from here."
"Does Scooby know where he went?" Daphne asked, before turning to he dog. "Scoob, do you know where Shaggy went?"
Okay, she wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but she WAS the most likely to give him food for information. "Rack."
"RACK. Rooby Rack."
The redhead sighed. "Scooby, this is no time to eat!" she chastised. "Don't you want to know where Shaggy is? Don't you care about your friend, that something could've happened to him?"
With a small whine, Scooby lay down on the ground and folded his large paws over his nose, shaking his head.
"C'mon, Scoob! No time to nap; we gotta get out there and look for Shaggy!"
The dog heard footsteps receding in the distance and raised his head with a sigh. "Rumming, Red."
"So, Captain, what've you and Face got planned for today?"
Murdock slowly looked up from his bowl of Rice Krispies and regarded Hannibal with a deadpan expression. He elegantly lifted one eyebrow and replied in a very even voice, "I am not the captain; he is not here right now. Is there some way I can assist you?"
Hannibal glanced at Murdock around the edge of the paper he was reading, then looked to his lieutenant. "Who is he today?"
Face sighed. "It's that time of month again, can't you tell?" When Hannibal continued to look quizzically at him, Face rolled his eyes. "It's Science Officer Spock. You know he goes off on ŽStar Trek' every few weeks, Hannibal."
"Oh yeah. Didn't recognize this one. I kind of liked Captain Kirk, myself."
"That was two months ago."
"Who was he last month?"
"Now I remember ů he kept narrowing his eyes at me and putting his hands on his hips and hissing, ŽSmittttttth' at me." He nodded at Murdock to acknowledge his performance. "Nice, Capt- er, um, Commander."
"He's a regular one-man bridge crew," Face remarked, taking another small bite of his poached eggs. "Just be glad he left his pointy ears back at the V.A."
"The needs of the one are not as mportant as the needs of the many," Murdock observed off of part of Face's comment.
"Th'one's gonna be wearin' his breakfast, he don' stuff it," warned B.A.
"Violence is illogical."
"Yeah, an' you just ill." B.A. turned to Hannibal. "When we takin' this foo back to the crazy house, man? We finished th'last mission two days Žgo. He's gettin' on my last nerve."
"Now, Sergeant, Murdock's been doing the tap-dance along that particular one for the last several years," soothed Hannibal, closing the paper. "Besides, he deserves a bit of a rest, too. We all worked hard on this last one. Thought we could use a breather."
Face glanced up and B.A. gave their leader a funny look, in unison. Even "Spock" furrowed his smoothly-aligned eyebrows at Hannibal. The lieutenant spoke for all of them. "Um ... not that I'm complaining, or anything, but what've you done with our colonel?"
"Romulan abduction and cosmetic-surgery replacement, perhaps?" suggested their resident Vulcan helpfully.
"Oh, come on, I'm not the slave-driving taskmaster you all make me out to be," protested Hannibal. "Besides, I haven't said yet what we'll be doing on our relaxing weekend-"
"I knew it." B.A. tossed down his napkin. "I knew it, man. Too good t'be true."
"Nothing taxing, guys; we're heading up to Pismo Beach, as a matter of fact."
"But why, Hannibal?" Face prodded.
"It sounds very logical, Lieutenant Peck," Murdock intoned. "Beaches are generally regarded by humans as relaxing atmospheres."
"Thanks, Spock." Hannibal grinned. "It's relaxing. Isn't that enough?"
"I don't buy it. Something else is going on, here," Face insisted. "B.A., maybe you could lean on him..."
The large black man leaned closer, indeed, and gave Hannibal his best scowl. Hannibal met his gaze and they stared at each other like that awhile, locked in silent combat. Finally, B.A. caved. "Aw, c'mon, Hannibal, tell us. We ain' stupid."
Their leader sighed. "Maggie's niece called earlier this morning; you remember Velma, right, guys?" They nodded. "Seems one of her friends wandered away from their hotel at about five this morning and didn't come back. And he isn't exactly the type to be up running the courses at dawn." With that, Hannibal gave Face a meaningful glance. "They've searched, but no sign, and this kind of work is a bit out of their league. So, since we're so close by, she got our number from Maggie and gave me a call while you were all fighting and wasting Wheaties up in the bathroom."
Murdock was nodding sagely. "Velma is a wise young female. It will be agreeable meeting up with her again."
Face was staring Hannibal down. "And how much is this little escapade gonna cost us, hmm? We can't afford to do any more charity work for awhile."
"Don't worry, Lieutenant, they'll pay us. She and her friends have a stash saved up."
"Where's kids that age gonna get that kinda dough, Hannibal?" demanded B.A.
"Let's just say they're into some ... unusual, work of their own."
"Hannibal, man, if I hafta listen to him chantin' one more time, or spoutin' off that Vulcan crap, I'm gonna pound Žim," B.A. threatened, not taking his eyes off the highway. "Better shut Žim up."
"Murdock," Hannibal warned. When the mantra-like hum didn't stop, he sighed. "Murdock!" Finally, he gave up. "Commander!"
The pilot stopped and gave his leader a level, unflinching look. "Yes?" he asked evenly.
"Could we stop, um, ah ... channeling your Vulcan ancestors for just a bit and give it a rest? McCoy here doesn't have the evenest of tempers, and I must admit your Captain is getting a bit irritated, too."
Murdock gave a small, philosophical shrug. "Very well. But do not blame me if you do not obtain your desired results because you made me halt in my consultation with the ancients."
"We'll take our chances." Hannibal pointed at a road sign up ahead. "Turn off here, B.A. We're only a few miles away, now; the beach is west."
"Hannibal, it's California an' we're goin' north. I think ah know where th'beach can be found." B.A. shook his head but kept driving, missing the older man's grin as he reached back behind him.
Face automatically reached into his jacket for one and withdrew it, sniffing it before handing it over. "Havana, Colonel. Got a good one this time." He also slipped a thin, silver Zippo into his leader's hand, receiving it back about thirty seconds later as the familiar plumes of smoke began filling the van.
"It's the Sav-A-Lot Inn, Sergeant," Hannibal told his driver. "Near the beach, on the left side of the road." B.A. nodded. "The kids went ahead and made reservations on a couple of extra rooms for us this morning." He heard Face's sigh. "I know it's not the Bonaventure, Lieutenant, but this isn't L.A., either."
"I couldn't've guessed."
"A simple bed and basin will provide us adequate facilities for the night," Murdock observed.
"Thanks." Hannibal directed his next comment to Face. "See? If a starship commander can make do with the Sav-A-Lot, surely you can, too."
"Yeah, well ... it'd be a lot easier to take if Spock here didn't feed an invisible dog and commune with his socks on a regular basis."
"William is not invisible," protested Murdock in that same even tone. "He simply exists in another temporal plane where we cannot see him."
"Don' you even mention th'word Žplane,' crazy man," B.A. warned. "I got a bad Žnough feelin' Žbout this job as it is."
"Y'know, Murdock, I don't understand this rotating characters," Face pressed. "As a pilot, I would've thought you'd stick to Chekov or Sulu. Maybe even Scotty."
Murdock arched an eyebrow at Face. "I am a science officer. I am not a navigational officer, an operations manager, nor am I an engineer by any means."
"Ah." Face could tell he and the other two men were likely remembering several months previous, when Murdock did indeed take on the Scottish character's accent and mannerisms for a short time. It was more likely, however, that they were recalling how he'd nearly gotten himself killed when B.A. wandered outside from their hotel one morning and found "Scotty" had freed major internal components from under the van's hood and scattered them in an approximate quarter-mile radius around the vehicle in an effort to improve engine efficiency, muttering something about "canna give Žer any more, cap'n!" to himself as he worked.
"Up ahead," B.A. gruffed, spotting the hotel ad making the turn, as he glanced up in the rearview mirror at Murdock. "Jus' remember, sucka, I don't wanna catch you tryin' ta mindmeld with mah van or anythin' again."
"A vehicle is an inanimate object and as such, has no life force with which to meld," Murdock answered with a put-out sigh.
"You'd find a way, foo."
"Let's go through this checklist again," Velma told those gathered around her.
"We've gone over it a dozen times already!" protested Daphne. "Can't we just stop for awhile? My head hurts."
"She's right, Daph; we need to try to think of every possible place he could've gone," Fred piped up.
The redhead sighed, and absently tossed another snack toward Scooby, who caught it mid-air and chomped it down, though not quite as enthusiastically as he had the first thirty or so. Daphne had finally listened to his pleas once they returned to the hotel, and, in an effort to make up for not having listened to him earlier, was now tossing a snack out at the rate of one every couple of minutes. Scooby had to admit his tummy was getting full, and had been for the last ten or so, but he was reluctant to stop, since recent history had taught him he'd better take food when he could get it from this bunch.
Velma read. "Captain Bellybusters."
She went down a list of at least twelve more fast-food places, then started on convenience stores and gas stations, ending with a couple of drugstores that also sold food. "What about grocery stores?" Velma asked.
"There's only a couple, and Scooby and I checked them out," Daphne sighed. "He's not there. He's not anywhere!"
"Well, okay; he has to be *somewhere*," Velma pointed out. "He didn't cease to exist."
"I don't know about that," Fred pointed out. "There *is* food left in the city."
Before Velma could think up a good retort, there came a knock at the door. "That must be the team," Velma said, springing up and heading for the door, pausing along the way only to step over Scooby, on his back and obviously exhausted from eating. She pulled the door open, and Hannibal stepped through, followed by B.A., Face, and Murdock. The pilot's eyes glanced around quickly, as they always did in any new place, then settled on the Great Dane lolling on the carpet. His eyes grew wide, a wide grin replaced his stoic features, and he dropped to his knees next to the canine.
"Billy!?" he cried, reaching out to scratch at the dog's over-full tummy.
Scooby saw him coming. "Roh no," he whimpered.
The brown-haired man yawned and walked slowly backward as he stuck his thumb out yet again. This time, it was a Oldsmobile station wagon that zoomed by on the dusty mountain road. So far this early morning, Shaggy had counted two of those, three pickup trucks, sixteen semis, and a few imports. Not a place with a lot of traffic.
Of course, eight inches of snow might have something to do with that.
Shaggy shivered. "Brrr, man! Shoulda taken some of those little cans o' Vienna Sausage when I had the chance," he spoke to himself. "Scooby woulda liked those." At the thought of his best buddy, the man almost started sniffling again. He was not a male afraid to show his emotions, though, to be fair, his emotions usually involved the single-minded appreciation of food or comic books.
As the next semi approached, he was heartened to see the snow flying from its rear wheels die down; sure enough, it was coming to a stop. When he jogged up to the passenger's side, it was pushed open and a middle-aged roly-poly black man motioned him inside. "You'll catch your death out there," he informed Shaggy as the young man easily hauled himself up into the cab.
"Chilly," Shaggy agreed, brushing some snow off his green shirt. "Like, thanks, man. Can give ya some cash when I get back home, for gas."
"Don't worry about it, unless you're too far off the beaten path. Where's home?"
"Pismo Beach, right now." Suddenly he remembered. "Zoiks! I gotta call the cops!"
"What's the matter, son?" the man pressed.
And so Shaggy began relating his short, strange tale -- but not until he'd looked around the cab a bit. "Hey, man, you got any food in this rig?"
The driver thumbed toward his sleeping quarters. "Have some soup and crackers in a cooler back there." He glanced at the rail-thin kid, figuring he couldn't eat much. "Help yourself."
By the time he'd been dropped off at a gas station near the beach several hours later, Shaggy had managed to consume the remaining soup, box of crackers, roll of summer sausage, box of honeybuns, flask of lemonade, and an entire thermos of coffee. He'd also finally convinced the somewhat-cross driver of the veracity of his story -- most noticeably, the part about his kidnappers actually setting him free because he was costing too much to feed -- and the man had radioed police with Shaggy's directions to the abandoned resort.
Shaggy waved at the departing truck, feeling with his other hand for a quarter for the phone. Not finding any change, he looked around and figured he couldn't be too far from the motel, so he simply shrugged and started walking. At least the weather here was better than the snowy, unforgiving gusts of Colorado.
"Man," Shaggy hurried after getting directions from a local, patting his stomach and muttering to himself, "I sure hope they haven't left. It's almost dinnertime!"
Hannibal clamped his teeth more tightly around the soggy cigar as he watched Velma waved smoke out of her face, pointedly coughing. He was in no mood to be chivalrous, not after spending the last two hours listening to this girl calmly outline all the flaws in what had begun as another brilliantly-spun save-of-the-day from the mind of Colonel John Smith.
"That's *not* the dangerous part of it, kid," he protested after her latest enumeration. "That's only a problem if Murdock can't distract the bad guys with the chopper."
"Colonel," Velma sighed, "where is Murdock going to get a helicopter?"
Hannibal shrugged. "Always manages to find one. ŽSides, that's Face's department." He nodded toward his second-in-command, who, at the moment, was having a slight disagreement with Fred about the merits of Sassoon versus Aussie styling products. "And let's not forget the times Murdock's scared up his own wings."
The young woman cast a dubious look at the pilot, who was on the floor near one of the beds, trying like a Dutch uncle to coax Scooby out from under it. "Yes, I see how well he's doing retrieving a half-sick dog."
For his part, the Great Dane hunkered low against the floor and whimpered, the effects of overeating two days ago just now wearing off. He would've recovered sooner had the pilot not insisted on plying him with little treats like cuts of bologna and mustard on Wonder Bread, and chocolate Drumsticks. After awhile, even Scooby had come to the conclusion that his only chance for rehabilitation would be to escape Murdock and his temptations.
"Aw, c'mon out, Billy," the pilot wheedled. "Give you some caramel popcorn ..." Scooby settled his paws over his nose, wondering if this was Shaggy's probable future in ten years. *Ri really rould help rim rind a rirlfriend now,* the dog mused. *Rif he ever rums rack.*
Outside, Daphne glanced off to the side long enough to see a familiar figure in the distance of the parking lot. "Shaggy?" she called. "Hey, Shaggy!" She turned back to B.A., newly excited and nearly bouncing on her toes. "He's back!"
As she ran off to greet her friend and pull him inside to show the rest of the gang, B.A. took advantage of the precious time to reassemble his carburetor. He'd been outside for two hours and the whole time, the redhead had chattered on brightly, nonstop, trying to engage him in conversation, or at least listening. The sergeant was convinced she'd talk to a tree stump if it would stay put long enough. Of course, it wouldn't have been polite to tell her to shut up, like he did the fool; Mama had taught him to show respect to women and would've probably shown up out of nowhere to whap him about the ears had he said anything.
Besides, she *was* kind of cute, he supposed. Better-looking than the fool, anyhow. B.A. wiped his hands of the grease after he finished, slamming the van's hood and heading inside to find out what the heck was going on.
"So, kid, you want to run that by us again?" Hannibal leaned against the door frame as he considered Shaggy, who certainly lived up to his name. *I'm gonna have to consult a thesaurus before long,* he thought. *Too many damn people around here to call ŽKid.' I feel like Moses.*
"*I* want to hear how they let you go, again," Daphne insisted. "That sounds freaky."
"It's like I told ya before," Shaggy explained between bites of a hastily cobbled-together Dagwood. "I can't figure it, either. Said I's eatin' Žem outta house and home."
"Seems logical," Murdock observed stiffly, back in Vulcan persona now that Scooby had transferred his loyalties back to his buddy. Since his reappearance, Shaggy had already consumed two ham sandwiches and a bag of chips, and an hour hadn't even passed.
"Yeah, but the weirdo part is there's a whole room full o' food -- like beenie-weenies, cookies, macaroni, canned ham, fruit cocktail -- you name it. Like a big hotel, Žcept when I left it was deserted."
"Can you remember where this place is?" Face spoke up.
"Can you take us to it?" Fred put in. Face glanced over at him with annoyance, straightening his tie reflexively.
"Guess so." Shaggy munched. "Though I think they're leavin' after they turned me out."
Hannibal pointed his cigar toward Shaggy, seated on the bed. "You said you think it was an inside job? You're sure?"
"Like, man, I went in there to get a coupla hot dogs off the roaster and this guy in a mask comes in. Anyway, he makes the clerk clean out the drawer and get the security tape from the camera, then puts a gun to his head, makes Žim follow him out. He sees me on the way to the door and made me go Žlong, too. But they get outside and down the road a few miles, an' the two of Žem start laughing and jokin' like they're Scoob an' me, here." Shaggy paused long enough to offer yet another bite of sandwich to the dog, who shook his head emphatically and whimpered. "Wonder what's wrong with Scoob?"
Ignoring his query, Hannibal sallied forth. "Hmm. Makes sense, if they turned him loose," he told the group at large. "He was more of a liability with them than gone, and there's no reason to add murder to armed robbery, kidnapping, and aiding and abetting. I bet that's why the cops didn't know anything when we went to the station couple of days ago, either; no tape, no evidence. Besides, like Shaggy said, they probably cleared out after he left. But," he added, "would they have taken all their loot if they thought the cops would show up or track them down nearby?"
"It'd make more sense to hide it somewhere," Velma put in.
"And I bet I can guess where those rabbits' hidey-hole is, too." The colonel placed his cigar delicately back between his teeth. "If the cops showed up and the place was deserted, they'd set out looking for the bad guys. Might not even bother to search the place. Probably about as inspired as Fulbright lookin' for us."
"What's the plan, Hannibal?" Face asked.
"Simple." The older man grinned. "We go wabbit-hunting!"
"Time's wasting," Velma agreed, rubbing her hands. "Let's get going!"
"Rrrrrgh," B.A. grumbled. "Man's on th' Jazz. An' takin' a lil' girl down with Žim, too."
A little later, Face interrupted his commanding officer, who was outlining some particulars of the plan to his own team in the next room. "Uh, Colonel ... about these kids going along ..." he began.
"What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Aren't they a little young?" The conman spread his hands in supplication for sympathy. "I mean, come on, I know we were kids in Vietnam, but we were trained and it was a war. These kids don't have any training whatsoever!"
Hannibal looked to the other two men. "Comments?"
B.A. shook his head ponderously. "Don' like it, man; dang'rous for Žem. Hafta Žgree with Faceman."
"See, now, I disagree with that statement," Murdock put in, shaking his head slightly and sounding like his old self. "They've been doing this kind of thing on their own for a few years, and have a proven track record. They're usually successful at their objective and nobody's ever gotten seriously hurt in the process. And we could use the extra eyes scopin' that place out, as big as Shaggy says it is."
"The Captain makes a good argument, guys," Hannibal pointed out.
"*You're* the last one I would expect to champion this idea, Hannibal," Face interrupted. "Remember the fit you almost had when Amy wanted to go on that first mission with us?"
"Face, if we don't take them along, we won't have Shaggy to give us the necessary information; they've already threatened as much. Besides," he added, sighing, "Maggie'll have our heads if we tell them no. I'd like to stay on her good side, if possible."
"Know a good thing when ya got it, huh Hannibal?" B.A. grinned.
"Sure do, Sergeant; health care is expensive, and hard to get. Do you want to be the one to haggle with HMOs?" Hannibal shook his head. "Sorry, Lieutenant, B.A.; the kids are going. We'll just have to keep an extra-careful eye on them."
"Don' like it," B.A. reiterated with resignation. "An' I ain't flyin'!"
"Now B.A.," Hannibal patiently explained, "why in the world would we fly just over to Colorado, when a drive this time of year is so much more fun? Just think of all those mountain roads with precarious drop-offs and hairpin turns."
B.A.'s eyes gleamed in anticipation of the challenges ahead.
"Do we have to take the older one with us?"
"Velma!" Fred frowned. "He's their leader. Surely you can't mean you don't want along the head of the A-Team?"
"He's going to get us killed, Freddie; did you hear some of those cockeyed plans he came up with?"
"Rounds rangerous," Scooby agreed.
"Gang, I'm sure if push comes to shove we'll be just fine," Fred assured them. "Besides, your Aunt Maggie recommended them, right?"
"I think Aunt Maggie's off her nut," Velma sighed. "What she sees in Hannibal, I have no idea. He's chauvinistic, arrogant, bossy, and doesn't like to listen to anyone's ideas but his own."
"Don't worry, they wouldn't let us get hurt," Daphne assured her. "I don't think *anyone* could beat up Bosco even if they *tried*."
"Yeah, and say, like that Murdock guy could just stuff the bad guys fulla food they get too close," Shaggy ribbed Scooby. "Scare Žem off with a corndog on a stick, or somethin'."
"I think we're being outvoted, Scooby," Velma sighed. "Okay, gang; what kind of supplies are we going to need? Food?"
"Like, nah, I think there's plenty up at the lodge," Shaggy said. "There was a whole pantry of the stuff, like I said. And big freezers, too."
Velma eyed him skeptically. "You're *sure* all the essentials are there?"
"Sure. Steaks, chicken, macaroni, pork-n-beans, chips -- what more could ya possibly want?"
"And that's our first satisfied customer, ladies and gentlemen," Murdock intoned from the slightly-dusty stainless-steel kitchen, in the voice of a department-store clerk on tranqs.
B.A. barreled out of the pantry. "Powdered milk, Hannibal!" he boomed. "Like th' Army!"
"Settle down, Sergeant," Hannibal ordered. "We have plenty of water."
"I ain' drinkin' no powdered milk! Did Žat for two years!"
"Just calm down, mudsucka," Murdock soothed, motioning to their resident conman. "I'm sure Facey here can fix that problemo right up, huh, Face?"
Their blond lieutenant blinked, then nodded agreeably. "Sure, Murdock, I can do that. Just as soon as the first available cow wanders up the mountain from Nebraska, I'll be right on it." B.A.'s resultant growl told him he'd better produce moo-juice even earlier.
"Jinkies, look at this place!" Daphne wandered in, wide-eyed at all the cabinets. "It's huge!"
"Well, it is a summer resort," Fred pointed out from behind her. "Have to feed a lot of people."
Hannibal spoke up. "We need to get our stuff in here and then start looking for the cash. I bet they didn't drive all this way with the take from only one store, or one job; sounds professional. They wouldn't waste their time and distance on such a small payoff. They'd just spend it on drugs or something flashy."
"Hey, Colonel, can we like do all this after lunch?" Shaggy piped up.
"Yeah, wid no milk," B.A. grumbled.
"Milk?" Daphne beamed. "We have some milk in the Mystery Machine. Refrigerated and everything!"
And for the first time, the big mohawked man actually smiled at something the redhead was saying. "You have milk?" She nodded, and took his arm to pull him along out to their van.
Hannibal turned to Face and observed wryly, "I think it's love."
Murdock sniffled. "Little Scooter's growin' up so fast."
Lunch was a largely quiet affair, spent with the two teams sitting somewhat apart, sizing each other up. Every once in awhile, one would ask someone from the other for a condiment or spice, but not much more was said.
Well, with the exception of two. Daphne, having discovered the most direct route to B.A.'s attention, was now chattering away. With a large, cold bottle of milk in front of him, the large sergeant nodded every so often or made an inarticulate noise around a bite of food when she asked a question or directed a faintly querying comment his way. Hannibal watched Fred glance over at them every so often and frown, as if wishing he could find a way to make his redheaded friend so enthusiastic over him.
But Hannibal had other problems. He could tell Velma wouldn't be easily impressed by any plan he came up with, and that might lead to cooperation problems. He wished he was back in the Army, where a drill sergeant or commander didn't have to earn respect or trust -- if he wanted acquiescence, all he had to do was make the grunts run a few miles or scale a few high walls. He nearly snickered at the mental image of this girl in her knee socks and big glasses trying to keep up with the pace.
Face, of course, was checking out the ladies. Velma's bookish looks weren't her weakest selling point; for him, it was her suspicious edge when looking in Hannibal's direction. He glanced as his commander, chewing on a large ham sandwich, then back to the young woman, defiantly putting another piece of lettuce on hers. Face figured they were engaging in the sober equivalent of a drinking contest, each seeing if they could top the other in pure food consumption. Their last two sandwiches had each gotten progressively larger, and Face had the sinking feeling he should've added Pepto-Bismol to the extra store of cigars his commander had wanted for this mission.
And as for the redhead ... nah. Considering his profession, Face had a surprisingly wide streak of self-preservation and avoided danger whenever possible. Even *thinking* of muscling in on B.A.'s interests usually made him feel slightly queasy. That was Murdock's job, anyway.
Murdock's attentions were on the Great Dane gladly snarfing down food near his human buddy. The two were eerily similar in their culinary approach, and Murdock wondered if Shaggy ever ingested dog hair along with his meal of the moment. That was the good thing about having an invisible pet -- no stray follicles to detract from the enjoyment of good vittles. Still, it was eminently logical that the kids' team should dine this way; more efficient and less wasteful. Whatever anyone left behind, Shaggy and Scooby would trail along and demolish it to the last crumb.
Spock would've been proud of Murdock's reasoning.
Face waited as Hannibal chowed down his current sandwich, and spoke up to interrupt as the colonel reached for a couple more pieces of bread to match his younger counterpart. "Uh, Hannibal, I think you should tell us your plan for searching the place," he hastily improvised. "Such as in what rooms, nooks and crannies ... et cetera?"
Daphne saw her friend reaching for the makings of a third sandwich and invoked a more basic approach. "Velma, if you eat all that, you are going to destroy your figure. Plus you'll get indigestion. " Turning back to B.A., she smiled and picked up the glass bottle. "More milk, Bosco?" she trilled, seeing the level going down on his cup for the fourth time.
B.A. nodded and swallowed the last bite of his fourth sandwich. "Please," he intoned politely.
Hannibal, Face, and Murdock all looked up simultaneously, the colonel's jaw going almost slack enough to let the newly-lighted cigar fall out. B.A. thanked Daphne and looked to his teammates. Scowling, he muttered at Murdock, "Whatchoo lookin' at, crazyman?"
"I do not know," Murdock replied in Vulcanese. "A most unusual life-form, Captain," he directed at Hannibal. "Has manners, yet adorns itself like a mudsucker overflowing with negative feelings tow-"
"You be Ždorned wid dis milk, I had more of it," the sergeant threatened, waving his cup around.
"I was mistaken; it *is* a mudsucker, Jim."
Bosco made a noise.
"Now, guys," Face stepped in verbally. "I believe the colonel has a plan?"
Hannibal removed his cigar and regarded it for a moment. Then, a slightly feral grin came over his features and he looked at Velma. "Miss," he addressed her, "why don't you relate *your* plan first?"
"Me?" Velma blinked; she'd been too busy thinking of more condiments to add to her third Dagwood-ish creation to worry about a plan of action.
"Of course." Hannibal settled back, determined to enjoy her discomfort.
But Velma was no slouch, either. "All right." The short woman stood and pointed to each person in turn. "Freddie, you take the north wing upstairs; Shaggy, you and Scooby head out back and see what you can find in the gardens. Maybe they buried some of it; sniff it out, Scoob." The Great Dane wagged happily.
"Daphne, why don't you and I check the downstairs, here? B.A., you check the outbuilding; if there's any rough characters out there, hiding, by chance, you can easily defend yourself." She paused. "Let's see ... that leaves the barn and south and east wings upstairs. Face, could you and Murdock take the wings?" She smiled nicely at Hannibal. "I think you would be best suited to check the stables, Colonel, since I believe you would have a sympatico of sorts with the horses."
Hannibal chomped his cigar, annoyed though also mildly amused. Kid knew how to deliver a proper insult; he hadn't known a girl that good with words since Amy Allen.
Fred, feeling a slight panic at losing his role as ostensible leader of the Mystery Machine pack, rubbed his hands and stood up. "Okay, gang, let's go!" he encouraged. "Let's find some loot!"
Face leaned very close to Murdock and murmured, "I bet that's just what Frank said to Jesse right before a heist."
Murdock shook his head, the picture of serenity. "It is illogical to assume, Facial person, that the James brothers would have made any sort of Žpep talk' statements to one another before a train robbery, since they both desired the same end result."
The conman sighed. "Sure wish I'd paid more attention to that Vulcan neck-nerve-pinch thing."
"I dunno Žbout you, Facey," the pilot muttered in his own, regular drawl, "but I don't like this place, not one bit, nosiree."
"What's the matter, Murdock? Lose Billy a couple of turns back?"
Murdock shook his head, uncharacteristically rubbing his palms against the back of his pants nervously as he looked down the corridor he was supposed to take. "It's big an' spooky and has Žredrum' written all over it." He contemplated a dark turn down the hallway. "I Žspect Jack Nicholson to come leapin' outta there any minute."
"This is what you get for picking out your own movies at the Pac-Mart." Face poked him in the arm with a chastising finger. "I keep telling you to pick something nice and soothing, like ŽThe Music Man' or ŽCheaper by the Dozen,' or a Doris Day, but what do you check out?" He paused. "What *did* you rent last weekend, Murdock?"
The pilot answered absently, keeping his eye on that dark alcove. " 'Carrie' ... ŽTexas Chainsaw Massacre.' "
"Well, I wanted t' be loyal to m' state."
Face winced. "And I thought ŽAlone in the Dark' was bad enough." When his friend glanced back at him, puzzled, he added, "You *do* remember; you followed Dr. Richter around for a week after, convinced one of the guys on your floor was out to get him?" He sighed. "Just go room by room and look. Turn on all the lights if it makes you feel better."
"Lights don't make it go away, Face," Murdock pointed out, a bit agitated, gesturing with his hands wildly. "Jus' makes the mirror easier t' read."
"If you don't get started right now, *I'm* going to come apart on you. Standing around here contemplating doesn't make me feel any better than you about this joint, but at least we get done, we can leave. Got it?"
"If you see an axe, run," Murdock advised him as he started down his corridor a bit hesitantly. "Better yet, you see an axe, tell ME, and then run."
"Murdock, that's only in the movies. Psychopaths with kitchen knives are not waiting around every corner."
The pilot waited until Face was out of range, then muttered, "Don' have to be around *every* corner; one's enough."
Yet again, B.A. marveled at his ability to consistently draw the shortest straw when it came to these kinds of missions. It wasn't that he was afraid of the dark, or going out somewhere strange alone. Nor was he particularly worried he wouldn't be able to handle himself if some big mean guy jumped out from behind a door or a shadowed corner. In fact, there was really only one reason objected to being placed on shed duty.
Spiders, fleas, June bugs, ladybugs, crickets, flies, grasshoppers -- if it had more legs than B.A. and didn't bark, moo, meow, or whinney, he was less than enthusiastic about sharing space with it. He'd managed to suppress the childhood phobia while in Vietnam, realizing he had a job to do and a certain image to maintain in his barracks and for his team. Perhaps that was why flying had become such an anathema to him; the Hueys and their cousins looked for all the world like big mosquitoes or horseflies, and like bugs, unless they were on a rescue mission they never seemed to deliver anything good.
"An' I bet this damn shed's full of Žem," he muttered to himself as he approached the door. Wetting his lips and flexing his hands as he reached for the knob, he muttered, "Sorry, Mama," and grabbed the
handle, jerking it open.
A spider dropped down suddenly on a strand of silk, in the doorway.
Scooter would've run away with a shriek. B.A. just stood there, scowling deeper. "Damn bugs," he muttered again, not bothering to apologize this time. "Jus' keeps gettin' better."
"Velma, look at this!" Daphne cried, pointing inside the small broom closet she'd opened.
Velma stuck her head around the corner. "Jinkies," she commented. "A mouse! In the kitchen!" She began looking around for something to trap it with. "Gee, it's too bad we don't have Bosco in here to protect us," she added with a slightly sarcastic tone, her voice deliberately scaled toward a falsetto.
"What a cute little guy!" The redhead knelt and picked up the terror-stricken rodent by its tail. It swung in mid-air, its large black eyes unblinking. "Poor thing's scared to death."
"Daph, put that down." Velma backed away. "You have no idea where it's been or what kind of germs it could be carrying."
"Awww ... I'm not going to take it home or anything, Velma. I'm going to set him free." She walked over to the back veranda and pulled a door open, setting the little fellow on the deck, watching it pause, then run like hell. Across the deck it went, heading for the steps ... across the wooden slats, nimbly ... up over a scuffed brown shoe ...
Daphne stood ramrod straight, eyes wide as she looked up at a middle-aged man, a bit heavyset, standing there patiently holding a bag in either hand, not looking terribly amused. "Velma?" she called. "We have company ..."
The brunette came up beside her, regarding the stranger with a quick assessing measure. "Can we help you, sir?"
"Oh, I don't know," he answered, sounding put out and a bit tired and just a wee bit annoyed. "I only made reservations a few months ago. I was *assured* I would be left alone in the off-season, in peace and quiet."
"Well ... why don't you come on in?" Velma pushed Daphne aside, creating a space for the man to walk through. "Um, so you're supposed to be here alone?"
"Let me-" Velma shot Daphne, who was shrugging, a glance behind the man's back. "Let me check your reservation! What's your name, sir?"
He gave her a dry look. "John Smith."
"Neat coincidence; we already have one of those here!" Daphne spoke up.
"Daph!" Velma mouthed fiercely at the redhead, glad the man wasn't looking at them. To him, she replied, "Ah ... certainly, of course, I remember now. Do you know which room is yours?" He nodded. "Would you like some help carrying the rest of your bags up?"
"I'll get them later myself, thank you." He lifted the two he had, preempting her. "And I've already got these. If someone's going to drop my typewriter, I'd just as soon it be me. It's insured for me, and it probably wouldn't hit my foot if I did it." With that, he began to trudge off.
"So you're a writer, Mr. Smith?" Daphne chirped brightly.
"You ever been published?"
"You could say that."
"What're you writing?"
He gave her a tired look. "Miss," he began, "I don't wish to seem rude. But I have been driving for eleven hours so that I can finally be left alone, where nobody recognizes me and can pester me and interrupt me, and I am about to drop of exhaustion. Can we continue this inquisition at some later time, please?"
"Sure." She waved. "'Night!"
Velma shook her head at her clueless friend, as the writer-in-hiding trudged through the kitchen and toward the rest of the lodge. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing a *lot* of him," she remarked sarcastically.
"He seems a little crabby, but otherwise, he's all right," Daphne pronounced. Her eyes widened. "Oh, gosh, he doesn't know about the robbers! What're we supposed to do? We're supposed to stay here and search the place, around him?"
"Hmm." It was a pretty little problem. "I know; we'll ask Hannibal later." *He's got to be good at some sort of idea,* Velma thought. *Since his plans all suck canal water, but they're all still alive anyway.*
Daphne nodded as they resumed their search. "Velma?" she said a couple of minutes later, in a half-whisper. "I don't think that man's name is really John Smith. Think it's an alias?"
Velma gave the only answer she could with a straight face. "It must be the place," she shrugged. "Mystery abounds."