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Encounters

Encounters

By:Tiffany May Harrsch

Rating: PG-13

Status: Complete (fiiinally!)

Set: Sometime pre season 1

Spoilers: Nope

Category: Mystery flavored with humor and a dash of the other-worldly.

Summary: UFOs want to hire the A-Team? Or use them? The Team stops at a small town for a rest and get caught up in the mysterious visitations.

Notes: Thanks to my beta's: Sherry, the spellcheck-proof word checker; Alison, the character advisor; and Murdock's CrazyLady, the one person cheering team.

Feedback: Always, anykind. (I'll even take the flames just so I can say I ever got them. ;-P)

{whine} I don't own the A-Team. {stop whine} I'm not all sure who does own them, Stephen J. Cannell and the powers that be.I'm only borrowing the characters and universe for fun. No money made and no disrespect intended.

_______________________

Amanda: I felt like when you and your friends first showed up... I

thought we were experiencing some kind of close encounter... I keep

wondering if you're going to climb back up into your saucer and fly

away.

Face: (with mock pretentiousness) I promise that won't happen till

our work here is done.

- Water, Water Everywhere

_______________________

 

 

Part 1

Day One - The Middle of Nowhere

 

"When Hannibal said let's get out of town, I don't think he meant

to go to the middle of nowhere, BA," Murdock groused. He took off

his baseball cap to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand,

then used the cap to fan himself.

 

No one was in a particularly good mood. It had been a long, hot,

boring drive through the Nevada desert. They had finished a less

than adventuresome mission in another nowhere town that morning and

were now heading back to California... They hoped.

 

"Man said he wanted to leave by a different route than how we came

in. This was the only other road, so I took it!" BA hollered

defensively.

 

Trouble was, they couldn't find the road on any maps, so they had

no idea if they were even headed toward a main highway or a dead

end. They had seen no sign of life since they left civilization way

too early that morning. Not even a rest stop where they could

answer nature in private.

 

"Can you two keep it down?" Hannibal asked from his accustomed spot

in the passenger seat. "I'm trying to sleep."

 

"It's too hot to sleep," Murdock argued.

 

The sun had beat at them mercilessly. Miles of white salt flats

reflected it back at them from below. The intermittent stretches of

desert brown did little to alleviate the effect. It wasn't even

good enough to keep the occasional scrub brush or cactus looking

healthy. The air conditioner, set as high as it would go, couldn't

sweep the heat away, nor the smell of four sweating bodies. The new

twilight was only now starting to ease the pressure of heat.

 

Murdock put his cap on, sat back and crossed his arms. "Even Billy

can't get comfortable," he muttered.

 

"Doncha start, fool," BA warned.

 

"Aw, you know Hannibal," Face said, jumping in before they could

start another argument. "He could sleep through a blizzard or on

the face of the sun, if he had a mind to."

 

"And I suggest you guys do the same," Hannibal said. "We could be

out here a while."

 

Murdock snorted and recrossed his arms the other way around. Face

squirmed in his chair and tried to find a slightly less irritating

position.

 

Diversion hadn't come easily during the drive. There was an

on-again, off-again radio station that specialized in political

talk. It started a four-way argument at about noon when they

stopped to stretch and switch drivers. They tried the station that

played music, it was sung in a language none of them recognized.

That only got Murdock in trouble when he used the van as a musical

instrument to accompany the singing. There was the static of

stations that came tantalizingly near to reception to torture them.

Murdock did his bit by swearing he could hear what was going on with

two of them. They tried talking sporadically. Sometimes knowing

each other so well put a damper on their best efforts at

conversation. It had been late in the afternoon when Murdock's

antics finally got on everybody's nerves, even his own. Which left

the hum of a straining air conditioner and the rumble of the motor

to lull them to sleep.

 

"BA!"

 

Most of them.

 

"What?" BA blinked at the windshield, surprised to find the dirt

and gravel road coming to an end. No, not coming to an end, coming

to an edge. "Whoa!" He jerked the steering wheel to one side to

keep the van on the road.

 

"If you're going to sleep, let me drive," Murdock said, trying

unsuccessfully to keep his voice down.

 

"No fool's gonna drive my van!"

 

"BA, maybe we should trade places," Hannibal offered.

 

BA shook his head. Though his heart had slowed back down, the

close call put enough adrenaline in his system to keep him up for a

while. "I'm awake now."

 

"We all are, now," Face muttered. "How long do you figure before

we find someplace to stock up. We didn't bring enough food for a

two way trip, and we didn't get a chance to get supplies before we

left."

 

"I don't know," BA admitted grumpily. "But we better find

someplace soon or we're gonna be stuck out here. We're runnin'

outta gas."

 

"Wonderful," Murdock grumbled and slouched further in his chair.

 

"I think I know just the place." Hannibal's voice was far too

chipper.

 

"You do?" Face asked warily.

 

"Yep. Marge's Diner."

 

"You mean you know where we are?" Face demanded angrily.

 

"Not a clue," Hannibal said cheerily, lighting a cigar.

 

A moment of silence was broken by Face sighing. He knew there was

an easy answer, but he had to know anyway. "How do you know there's

a Marge's Diner around?"

 

Face could positively hear Hannibal grin around the cigar. "Easy

kid. I just read the sign. 'Marge's Diner Next Exit'. Had a cute

little flying saucer next to it."

 

This perked Murdock up. "Flying saucer? As in UFOs?"

 

"Looked like it."

 

"Did you see the town's name, Colonel?"

 

"Sorry, I didn't catch it," Hannibal said just as the headlights

lit up the reflectors of the welcome sign.

 

 

Welcome to Merlott

Home of the Benevolent UFOs

Look Up!

 

 

Part 2

Marge's Diner

 

Marge's Diner was just off an exit better paved than the road they

had been following all day. It was a combination diner, gas and

diesel station, truck stop and gift shop. The large parking lot and

gas station was well paved. Even though only half the lamps were

on, it was surprisingly well lit. Stargazing in the immediate

vicinity would be a difficult venture.

 

The restaurant itself was a single story building that could easily

have been a warehouse with a wall of windows. Although half the

building was darkened, the windows were lit with gaudy shapes of

flying saucers, stars and half moons. Half the shapes blinked, and

not all in the same rhythm. Marge's Diner would have fit in well in

Reno, and seemed terribly out of place out in the middle of nowhere.

 

BA pulled up to the gas station. Face had the sliding door open

before the van quite rolled to a stop. They were all becoming

claustrophobic.

 

Marge's Diner played host to a full-service station. A middle-aged

attendant was at the pumps before BA could follow the rush to exit

the van.

 

"Fill 'er up?" The man's clean coverall's claimed he was named

Terry.

 

"Yeah."

 

Terry started toward the gas cap. "Windows and oil?"

 

"Sure." Ordinarily, BA would do all of the servicing on the van

himself. But he was tired, he was hungry, and he wanted to be

sitting on anything other than a car seat.

 

"You can go on in with your friends. When I'm finished, I'll park

it and bring in the keys and bill for ya."

 

BA narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the man.

 

"I know, I know," Terry said before BA could speak. "It's a little

different, but it's the way we do things around here. We're a long

ways from everywhere, and town council likes everyone to be treated

like royal guests. Gets people to come back. Don't need to worry.

You can see everything I'm doing from anywhere you sit."

 

BA glanced back at the wall of windows and his already seated

companions, then back at the smiling attendant. It was a measure of

how exhausted he was that he gave in to the peculiar ministrations.

 

"If I see anythin' funny...." BA left off warningly.

 

Terry held one hand up, the other being occupied by the pump, and

grinned. "Hey, no funny business here."

 

"Crazy town," BA muttered to himself as he headed toward the diner.

He noticed Hannibal chose a booth near the door. Face sat with his

head in his hands. Murdock had his back to the window and was

gesturing wildly. BA couldn't help the grin. "The fool'll fit

right in."

 

BA wiped the smile from his face before entering. Wouldn't do to

let Murdock see he was amused. He pushed the door open and nearly

jumped out of his skin at the low noise. Instead of the bells that

commonly graced shop doors all over the country, this one had a

siren. It sounded like someone had tried to turn a police siren

into an eerie Halloweenish noisemaker. At least it was soft in

keeping with normal bells.

 

"Gotcha BA!" Murdock laughed.

 

BA glared up at the usual spot but couldn't find the source of the

noise. Stymied, he instead turned his glare toward a living target.

Unfortunately it didn't faze Murdock a bit.

 

"Shut up, fool," he growled as he took the open space next to

Hannibal. He was pleased to find a glass of milk marking his spot.

 

"You think you jumped?" Murdock went on as if BA hadn't said a

word. "You should've seen the Colonel. I swear he looked around

like he thought Lynch was going to pop out of every corner."

 

"You never know. Could have been a broken siren," Hannibal said.

 

"'Course it takes more than that to wake up sleeping beauty here."

Murdock patted Face's slumped shoulder. "Like maybe that pretty

lady over there," Murdock added in a stage whisper.

 

"Hmm?" Face responded. He opened his eyes long enough to give the

restaurant a quick look around. It set the other three into a fit

of laughter. Face threw them a dirty look before returning his head

to his hands.

 

The diner seemed fairly busy for such an out of the way place. At

the far end of the counter three aging men in leather biker garb sat

hunched in on themselves, talking in low tones. On one of the two

sets of booths sticking out from the far wall sat the pretty lady

Murdock had mentioned plus a man she was obviously attached to.

They were alternating kissing and murmuring to each other.

Stretched on the booth on the other side of the table was a little

girl, oblivious to the world at large.

 

An older waitress stood behind the counter, wiping it down near the

biker men more times than was strictly necessary. She smiled then

laughed outright at one of the jokes they told. Behind her could be

heard various kitchen noises, including the clinking of glasses and

the banging of pots and pans. It sounded like someone was not very

happy being there and was determined to let all know about it. No

one paid the noise any mind.

 

Hannibal, Murdock and BA looked up at the siren noise of Terry

entering the diner, while Face was too asleep to notice. The

waitress glanced his way then proceeded to ignore him. The woman in

the far booth watched him turn to the Team and sighed.

 

"Here's your keys and receipt," Terry said, setting both on the

table in front of BA. "You can pay it with your dinner bill."

 

"It's breakfast," Murdock corrected, giving Terry one of his half

smiles.

 

"Sure," the attendant said with a shrug. He addressed BA again.

"Van's right there." He nodded out the window toward the side

parking lot. There were no spots directly in front of the

restaurant as BA would have preferred. But he could see the van

without any trouble. It was on this side of a semi.

 

"If ya need anything else, just holler."

 

"How about a motel?" Hannibal spoke up before Terry could turn

away.

 

"About three miles that way, on your right." He pointed down the

darkened road. "Don't turn down any of the roads on the left until

you hit Main Street. They'll just lead you to fences telling you

you're too close to military property and not to go any further.

Place has been abandoned for years, but if I catch you trespassing,

I'll still have to report you to the sheriff."

 

For some reason, this warning earned a tired chuckle from those

listening in. Hannibal wondered if he missed the punch-line for

some old joke.

 

"It'd be easier on you folks if you left town from the other side,"

he went on as if by rote. "Most people get lost trying to find the

highway from this end. Just follow Main Street down. The exit's

about half a mile from Marge's Diner."

 

"We're in Marge's Diner."

 

"One on either side of town on the outskirts." Terry shrugged at

the bemused faces and turned away.

 

"Crazy place," BA muttered.

 

"I don't know," Murdock said, "I kinda like it."

 

"'Xactly."

 

Murdock stuck his tongue out in response to the barb. BA growled

back. Murdock slouched against the window and pouted. Hannibal

tried very hard not to chuckle at their antics; it would only make

BA madder. He settled for a grin and people watching to keep

himself occupied.

 

Terry stopped at the booth with the couple and held out a set of

keys. "Here you go, Hank. All filled up. Everything's in fine

condition. Sure you want to do this?"

 

Hank smiled sadly up at the attendant. "No choice. Gotta earn a

living somehow."

 

Terry leaned against the table. "Yes, but..." He inclined his

head toward the sleeping girl.

 

Hank smiled at the lady sitting with him, and gestured with one

hand at the diner. "She won't be alone. And she won't be until

we're out of here."

 

Terry frowned. "You find anyplace yet?" he asked the lady.

 

She looked at her fingers. "Not yet. But I have until Hank

finishes this run."

 

"Don't matter," Hank said, his voice rising a bit. "If a town like

this isn't safe for a kid, no place is."

 

Hank stood hastily, bumping a knee in the process. He turned to

the lady, rubbing his knee absently. "Sorry," he said, getting his

voice under control. "It's just...." He couldn't finish whatever

he was about to say.

 

He sighed. "I gotta go now. Love ya." He leaned over to give her

one more kiss. He shooed Terry aside so he could get in to gently

ruffle the hair of the little girl. "See you, kiddo." He kissed

her forehead.

 

Hank straightened and waved at the waitress behind the counter.

"Later, Sylvie."

 

"See ya, Hank."

 

"Later, Hank," one of the biker men said. He was echoed by one of

his companions. The third gave him a thumbs up.

 

The annoying sirens played as Hank pulled open the door.

 

"Hey, Hank, wait up!" came a shout from the kitchen.

 

Hank stopped and leaned against the open door.

 

A fellow with a mustache and goatee, garbed in dingy white, hustled

out from the kitchen. He carried a stack of three to-go containers

and an insulated cup around the counter. As tall as Murdock, but

not quite so thin, he was hardly the stereotypical grease chef.

 

"A little something for the road," he said sheepishly, offering the

containers to Hank. "In honor of your last run and all."

 

Hank gave him a melancholy smile. "Thanks, Jess. I appreciate

it."

 

Jess ducked his head, embarrassed. He hurried back toward the

counter and the kitchen. The clashing and banging never let up once

during the exchange.

 

Terry waited till Hank left to call to the biker men. "Hey, Joe

Bob, Billy Joe."

 

'Joe Bob?' Murdock mouthed, doing a terrific job at channeling

Face. Hannibal shrugged.

 

Two of them turned around. "Catch!" Terry warned before tossing

two sets of keys toward the men. One snatched the keys out of the

air without problem. The other fumbled but managed to catch his

before they hit the floor.

 

"All souped up and ready to go whenever you are, my friends."

 

"Thanks, Terry."

 

"Not a problem. Just watch the skies when you zoom outta here."

 

"In this town," said the spokesman of the biker group, "always."

The silent one nodded vigorously.

 

Jess popped his head out of the kitchen door. "Lucy. Orders up."

 

The lady at the booth sighed wearily. "I'm coming, Jess."

 

Lucy stood, revealing the same uniform the waitress behind the

counter wore. She approached their table, expertly balancing three

full plates on her left arm.

 

"Who had the steak and eggs?" she asked, slightly waving the plate

she held in her right hand.

 

"I do," Hannibal said.

 

"Blueberry pancakes?"

 

"That's me," Murdock said cheerfully.

 

"The double-decker with extra everything?"

 

BA eyed the hamburger with delight. That ought to fill him up just

fine. He glanced at the others to make sure it was what they had

ordered for him before claiming it.

 

"Then the Ruben must be yours," she said to the oblivious Face.

His elbows were in the way of the plate.

 

"Hey, man, wake up." Faintly embarrassed for him, BA kicked Face

under the table.

 

"Yeah, Face," Murdock chimed in. "Elbows off the table." He

proceeded to pull the nearest elbow.

 

Face caught himself before his head, deprived of one of its props,

could hit the table. He sat back and straightened up slightly.

 

"Huh?" he asked blearily, still not quite with them.

 

"Dinner's here," Murdock said, elbowing Face in the side until he

was up.

 

Lucy tried valiantly to stifle her grin as she put the plate down

in the newly opened up space. "Is there anything else I can get you

gentlemen?" She couldn't quite swallow the giggle.

 

"More juice for me, please," Murdock said. "And another milk for

the big guy there. In the tallest glass you have." He glanced at

BA, already digging into the hamburger. "Better make that two."

 

"Sure. And extra napkins, I'd wager." The hamburger was dripping

big time.

 

BA nodded, a bit sheepish at having his mouth full. "Thanks,"

Murdock said for him.

 

Murdock, equally famished, prepared to dig into his pancakes.

"Ooh, would ya look at this?"

 

"What?" asked a still bleary eyed Face.

 

Murdock turned the plate so he could see. "They're shaped like

flying saucers. Look, even the whipped cream outlines the curves."

 

Delighted at the new way to play with his food, Murdock cut the

pancakes along the seams, then into more manageable pieces. He

sandwiched some whipped cream between two pieces before spearing it.

 

"I wonder how they did that," he said before putting the bite full

in his mouth.

 

"Huge cookie cutters?" Face offered. He decided not to mention the

saucer shape pressed into the toasted bread of his sandwich. He

could just see Murdock getting the idea to save the slice for a

souvenir or something.

 

He was dismayed, but not surprised, to find Murdock 'flying' the

next forkful of pancake and whipped cream toward his mouth, complete

with a decent imitation of the diner's door siren.

 

"Murdock," Face groaned.

 

"What?" Murdock asked innocently. If Murdock was aware of the

looks he garnered from the waitress behind the counter and one of

biker guys, he didn't show any sign of it.

 

Lucy returned with their drinks and extra napkins and a raised

brow. Face shook his head slightly, hoping she wouldn't ask.

Thankfully, she didn't.

 

"Lucy," Jess called over the racket from the kitchen. "Order's

up."

 

Shaking her head, Lucy retrieved the orders. She set them both

down at her booth and joined Terry in his dinner.

 

Face glanced back at the pretty waitress. She was trying not to

look their way. He turned and looked at Murdock.

 

Murdock looked from BA to Face and back. "What?" he asked again.

 

"Shut up and eat your supper, fool," BA commanded. He pointed a

mayonnaise smeared finger at him warningly. "And no more sound

effects."

 

Unfazed, Murdock went on with his late night breakfast.

Thankfully, without the sound effects. But not in silence.

 

"Don't look now, but it looks like you've got a fan club."

 

Face disobeyed orders and looked anyway. "Who?"

 

"Not you this time, Facey. The Colonel." Murdock waggled his

brows at Hannibal. Hannibal raised his brows back.

 

Face noticed the who - the waitress behind the counter. Though

still chatting with the biker guys, she kept looking their direction

and winking. If Face hadn't seen the same moves before, he would

have thought the lady had a twitch.

 

Face hid a smile behind his sandwich. Murdock apparently

misunderstood the gesture.

 

"Ah, don't feel bad, Faceguy. She's not your type anyway. A

little too matronly, if you know what I mean."

 

Meaning 'old', Face mentally translated. She was easily Hannibal's

age, maybe a bit older. She was well rounded in a not unpleasant

sort of way. All her teeth were there when she smiled. But somehow

he doubted she was Hannibal's type.

 

Unintentionally, Face pictured Hannibal with her. The image was so

incongruous with what he knew of Hannibal that he had to laugh. He

almost choked on his food in the process.

 

"You okay?" Murdock patted his back.

 

"Fine, fine," Face managed between coughs.

 

"Leave him alone, fool," BA grumbled, placing the blame for the

situation on his usual suspect. "Let the man eat in peace."

 

"It's okay, BA," Face assured him.

 

"It's not okay," BA said, clearly annoyed. "We can't even go out

ta eat without this fool drawin' attention."

 

"Keep it down, BA," Hannibal said. "Now it's you who's drawing

attention."

 

BA glanced at the 'matronly' waitress, then at Lucy in her booth.

Both were looking his way. He narrowed his eyes at Murdock and

grumbled into his hamburger.

 

"You think we can stop by one of the gift shops before we leave,

tomorrow?" Murdock pushed his plate, nearly scraped clean, away

from him.

 

"Why?"

 

Face looked at his half-finished Ruben, at Hannibal still working

on his steak. Even BA hadn't finished yet. He had to wonder how

Murdock could demolish his meal so quickly and still have time to

talk.

 

"I want to look at the flying saucer stuff. Maybe pick up an 'I've

been abducted' T-shirt or something."

 

"You don't honestly believe in all that stuff, do you?" Face

chuckled.

 

BA caught up with Murdock in the food demolition race. He glowered

at Face and Murdock both over his last glass of milk.

 

"Sure I do. I've seen one, you know," Murdock added, sounding

unusually serious.

 

"Seen one what?"

 

"UFO."

 

"When?" Face asked, genuinely curious.

 

"Once," he hedged, "when I was flying."

 

"With the Thunderbirds?"

 

Murdock shook his head, his eyes directed at his empty plate.

"When we were in 'Nam," he said quietly.

 

Hannibal looked up, and BA flinched slightly. They didn't talk

about the war much, Murdock least of all. There were too many bad

memories, too many things they would prefer to forget. It didn't

help that being on the wrong side of the law, as it were, was a

constant reminder of one of those things. Aside from using their

ranks in conversation, and that mostly between Murdock and Hannibal,

they had an unspoken agreement not to remind each other of the more

unpleasant times of their lives.

 

"No such thing as flyin' saucers." Face was sure BA's assertion

was more to break the suddenly dampened mood than because of any

disbelief.

 

"Sure there are, BA They just don't go as far as a Frisbees,"

Murdock explained, agreeing to play along. "And they usually break

when they land."

 

"Remind me to only get you plastic dishes," Face teased.

 

"Naw, all they do is clatter. Now porcelain's light, it'd make

more for a good long flight. And a nice satisfying shatter when it

lands."

 

Lucy returned to pick up plates and offer dessert.

 

"We'll pass, thank you. Right now beds are more appetizing,"

Hannibal said, eyeing Murdock's wide yawn and BA's eye rubbing.

 

"There are rooms a few miles down the main road. If you see the

other Marge's, you've gone too far," Lucy added with a grin. It was

apparently a local joke.

 

"Thank you."

 

"Good night, then." She placed the bill on the table.

 

"Night." Hannibal glanced over the bill before handing it to BA.

"We'll wait for you in the van."

 

BA mumbled something but didn't protest.

 

"Don't let the UFOs get ya," Terry called as they reached the door.

One of the dishes Lucy carried slipped to the floor. "Sorry, Lucy,"

Terry said, sounding stricken.

 

The Team looked at each other, wondering what that was all about.

 

Face flinched at the annoying siren they were forced to activate as

they left. Murdock immediately imitated it, only not quite as high

pitched.

 

"Pretty good, Captain," Hannibal commended.

 

"Thank you, Colonel."

 

"We're going to have to visit one of the stores tomorrow, Murdock,"

Hannibal said around his cigar. "Might as well be one of the

souvenir shops. We're going to need a map to find our way out of

here."

 

 

Part 3

A Strange Encounter

 

"I don't like being this close to a military base."

 

"It's not even active, BA," Hannibal said.

 

"Don't matter man," BA grumbled. "Still makes me nervous."

 

Hannibal flashed one of his smiles at BA's admission. Truth be

told, the proximity to an "enemy's" location, even an empty one,

made Hannibal wary as well.

 

"It's not the base that's making you nervous, BA," Murdock said

with a loud yawn. "It's wondering if we're gonna make it to the

motel before we all fall asleep."

 

"Going to make it that far Murdock?" Hannibal asked, smiling.

 

"Sure, Colonel. But as soon as my head hits that lovely bed...."

 

"Didn't catch a cat nap, I take it."

 

"I can't sleep when it's that hot," Murdock whined.

 

"If I didn't know better, Captain, I'd say the VA was making you

soft on us," Hannibal teased.

 

"Might be," Murdock admitted grumpily, slouching back in his chair.

"Least it's cooling down now," he mumbled, forever trying to see the

bright side of things.

 

"True." The air conditioner wasn't up as high as it had been for

most of the day.

 

"Even Billy's able to take a dog nap," Murdock added.

 

"Murdock," Face groaned, dreading hearing him and BA start up again

so late.

 

Amazingly, BA didn't say anything.

 

"Might be able to sleep by the time we get to the motel," Murdock

went on, seeming to ignore Face, though he didn't push mentioning

his invisible dog. "When * are * we getting to the motel, anyway?"

 

"Still have about two miles to go, if their directions are good,"

Hannibal said.

 

Murdock sighed. There was silence in the van for all of two

seconds.

 

"This is perfect," Murdock commented, sounding decidedly more

chipper.

 

A pause filled the air before Face decided to hazard the obvious

question. "What's perfect?"

 

"This! It's UFO territory. Perfect grounds for them to buzz some

poor, unsuspecting, solitary travelers."

 

"There ain't no UFOs," BA protested.

 

"Think about it BA," Murdock continued undaunted. "It's a nice

dark night. No clouds in the sky. No one around for miles in any

direction. The only vehicle on a lonely road. All alone in the

night, no one can hear you scream," Murdock said, mixing phrases

that would one day be part of pop culture.

 

The other three were quiet, unwittingly falling into Murdock's

spell.

 

Murdock went on, his voice low as if telling a camp fire story.

"Then the travelers see a flash. Surely it's just a falling star.

But then the car stalls. That's when they like to pop up and say

'BOO!'" This last was shouted, actually causing his companions,

much to their chagrin, to jump.

 

"Shut up, fool," BA said, only half annoyed.

 

"Nice, Murdock," Hannibal admitted with a grin.

 

Face just chuckled and shook his head.

 

Murdock sat back, looking mighty pleased with himself.

 

There was a short, companionable silence.

 

Murdock interrupted it with another whine. "Are we there, yet?"

 

"I have to agree this is a long three miles," Hannibal said.

 

"Man we past three miles two miles back."

 

"You get us lost again, big guy?" Murdock teased tiredly

 

"I ain't lost!"

 

"Well, we'll know we've gone too far if we see another Marge's

Diner." Hannibal shook his head. "Kooky town."

 

"I'll say," Face agreed.

 

"What was that?" Hannibal asked, sitting a bit straighter.

 

BA risked a quick glance over. "What?"

 

Hannibal squinted out the window. "I thought I saw something

streak by."

 

"Maybe Murdock's UFOs," Face said.

 

"I'm serious guys." Hannibal's tone made the others more attentive

to their surroundings.

 

Then the motor cut out.

 

"Aw, man!" BA slapped the steering wheel. He waited for the van

to roll to a stop before trying the ignition again. Nothing. Not

even the sound of a strangled turnover.

 

"It's happening," Murdock said quietly, awestruck and apprehensive

at the same time.

 

"What is?" Face asked nervously.

 

Any reply Murdock might have made was cut off by a buzzing drone,

followed quickly by a blinding flash of light.

 

The van's motor spontaneously cut in, rumbling loudly in the desert

silence.

 

"What was that!" BA shouted, rubbing his eyes with one hand and

gripping the steering wheel with the other.

 

"That," Murdock said in a subdued tone, "was a UFO, big guy."

 

"Did anyone make it out?" Hannibal asked the van at large.

 

"Are you kidding?" Face blinked hard and looked in the general

direction of the front of the van. "All I'm seeing are spots."

 

"Told you they like to buzz strangers," Murdock muttered to no one

in particular.

 

"Everyone all right?" Hannibal asked, surveying them with watering

eyes.

 

"Soon as my eyes stop burnin', man."

 

"Same as BA," Face put in, wiping at his.

 

Murdock grunted noncommittally. He still had his eyes closed, not

trying to fight the spots. "Can we get out of here now?"

 

 

Part 4

Day Two - Missing

 

The motel was another warehouse looking building situated on its

own. The Team found it on the right side of the road as Terry said

it would be, but much further than the attendant had indicated.

 

"'The Happy Hostel'?" Face asked, reading the blue glowing sign.

It had a green neon flying saucer shape hovering over a pink bed.

 

"I have to go with BA on this one, Hannibal," Face said. One

heartfelt demand from BA was all that interrupted the silence which

befell them for the remainder trip to the motel. "The plan better

be to get out while the getting's good."

 

"After we've had some rest." Hannibal had no idea what the flash

of light was or what had caused it. He just knew he didn't want a

repeat performance. He decided it would be wiser to stay off the

road until morning. At least then they could see what was going on.

 

He left them standing in the parking lot to procure them some

rooms. Except for a single motorcycle, the place was deserted.

Even the blinking flying saucer shapes looked lonely.

 

"This is crazy," Face muttered, letting some of his irritation

show. He wanted to be in the safe confines of some LA penthouse

right now. They only just got there, and the town of Merlott was

already grating on his nerves.

 

"Yeah." BA leaned against the van unhappily. He wanted to be

somewhere else as well. He didn't really care where. Just

preferably without the constant reminders of things not understood.

"The town's sign shoulda said 'Home to the Loony Bin'."

 

"Hey," Murdock said indignantly. "I live there, remember? Believe

me, the loony bin's never been as tacky as this." He was beginning

to have second thoughts on liking the neon lit homage to UFOs. The

incident with the light left him unaccountably shaken.

 

Hannibal returned with a set of keys. "We have adjoining rooms.

Here you go Face, Murdock. We'll see you in the morning."

 

Hannibal tossed one of the keys toward them. Even dead tired,

Murdock caught it easily and handed it to Face. The tag on the key

ring - saucer shaped, of course - said they had Room 12.

 

"Come on, Murdock," Face said with a sigh. "There's a bed calling

your name."

 

"And such a sweet siren song, too." Murdock tagged along to the

appropriate door.

 

Hannibal and BA stopped at Room 11. 12 was just past them on the

corner.

 

Face wasn't at all surprised to find himself sharing a room with

Murdock. He was slightly more tolerant of prolonged exposure to the

pilot than the others. Besides, if Murdock and BA ever roomed

together, nobody would get any sleep.

 

Murdock was the last one in. He headed straight for the lone chair

without even bothering to close the door. Face gave him an

exasperated look but decided not to make an issue of it. All of

Murdock's energy seemed to have drained as he stumbled to a halt.

He carefully draped his leather jacket over the back of the chair.

He hadn't worn it all day; Face doubted it would be needed tomorrow

either. Murdock kicked off his shoes, flinging them under the chair

so they hit the wall with a dull thud. He lost his balance a couple

of times in the process and came precariously close to tripping.

Finally, Murdock staggered over and belly flopped onto the bed with

a contented sigh.

 

Face watched all this with a bemused expression. It was a good

thing Murdock hadn't tried to change. He was out before the bed

stopped bouncing. And he'd forgotten to take off his hat.

 

"That can't be comfortable," Face muttered. The baseball cap was

askew and looked like it was pressing into Murdock's temple. Face

carefully pulled it off and set on top of his jacket.

 

With a wide yawn, Face prepared himself for bed. He opened the

window for some cool air, set the clock - which was annoyingly far

from the bed - and joined Murdock in sweet oblivion. He remained

there until the alarm clock rudely intruded.

 

"I'm up, I'm up," he muttered at the offending object before he

managed to stagger over and hit it off. He stretched and tried to

remember why they still followed the army habit of dawn rising.

 

Murdock was up already. His jacket and hat were missing. Face

assumed he had gone to join Hannibal, the other early bird, for a

morning jog before it became too hot. Or maybe to go bug BA awake,

Face thought with a rueful grin. If that was the case, he sure

didn't want to be next door right now.

 

After he showered and dressed, Face finally felt ready to join the

others. Maybe they had gotten breakfast already, he thought with

some anticipation. He knocked on the door and waited for the

familiar ruffle of curtains moving.

 

Hannibal opened the door to reveal a tiny rectangle of a room

nearly identical to the one he and Murdock shared. It was crammed

with two single beds separated by a night stand with nothing

standing on it. Against the wall opposite the beds was a short,

long dresser. A lamp, a clock, and a brochure with the check out

times rested on it. A thick, short chair sat wedged in the corner

between the dresser and the short expanse of wall next to the

bathroom door. And, like his own room, it was not occupied by the

fourth member of the A-Team.

 

"Where's Murdock?" Face asked, taking a seat on the edge of one of

the beds. BA sat in the only chair, currently in the process of

lacing up his shoes.

 

"He roomed with you, Face," Hannibal reminded him.

 

"I know, but his bed's empty. I thought he came over here."

 

"Maybe he went to get breakfast." Hannibal grinned at this very

desirable possibility.

 

"Man, he better not have taken my van." BA opened the door to a

blast of already too warm air. He turned back to them with a

puzzled expression on his face. "It's still there."

 

Hannibal slowly stood up, his grin fading with this news.

 

"You don't think he tried *walking* to the diner?" Face wouldn't

put the notion past Murdock. He shuddered to think how hot that

long walk would be.

 

BA shook his head. "The fool's not that crazy."

 

"No," Hannibal agreed. "But he might have gone to stretch his

legs. I'll go talk to the office clerk and see if she's seen him

around."

 

He returned a few minutes later, not looking very happy.

 

"I take it she hasn't seen him," Face guessed.

 

"No. The owner of that motorcycle was checking out. He heard us

coming in, nothing after that."

 

"I wonder where he went?"

 

"Did he leave a note?" Hannibal asked.

 

"I didn't see any." Then again, Face hadn't thought to look. "But

I'll go double check."

 

"Good idea. BA, take a drive down the road a little ways in either

direction. It's still possible he just went for a walk."

 

"If I find him, it's possible I'll wring the sucka's neck," BA

grumbled as he left.

 

Hannibal didn't reply to the threat. BA would be pissed if Murdock

went and worried them simply because he unthinkingly didn't tell

them where he was going. But Hannibal knew BA wouldn't actually

harm the pilot regardless of how mad he was.

 

Face returned with a glum expression. "Nothing, Hannibal."

 

Hannibal didn't like this. First the odd light show last night,

now this. Granted Murdock could be on the flaky side, but he knew

better than to just go off on his own without a word. They had

survived so long largely by keeping in touch. They each needed to

be aware of where the others were in order to watch each other's

backs, to sound the alarm when trouble came their way, and to

expedite leaving in a hurry without leaving anyone behind.

 

"Face, try the local doctor's office," Hannibal said, unable to

completely hide his worry. "I'm going to have another look around."

 

Hannibal had no luck finding clues to their pilot's whereabouts.

The van pulled up as he was returning to the room. BA reported a

similar lack of luck.

 

"Would you believe the guy was still in bed?" Face complained when

they walked in. "Took me three tries to get him to answer the

alternate number from the office's answering machine."

 

"Anything?"

 

"No. Says the last patient he's seen was a sick cat, and that was

two days ago," Face said with a soft snort. "Since he was so hard

to wake up, he even checked his pager while I was on the phone.

Nothing."

 

Hannibal chose to take it as good news. Murdock, wherever he was,

hadn't been injured, at least not enough for a doctor.

 

Hannibal chewed on an unlit cigar.

 

"I know that look, Hannibal." Face's tone said, 'give'.

 

"I get the feeling I missed something," Hannibal admitted

begrudgingly. "Let's retrace our steps since we got into this town.

I might figure out what."

 

Hannibal sighed inwardly as he led Face and BA to the van. It

wasn't much, but it was something to do until a better plan came

together.

 

 

Part 5

Getting Hired

 

The morning sun was succeeding in its effort to bleach the color

out of the road and sky. It managed to make even the colorful neon

shapes decorating the windows of Marge's Diner seem monochrome.

Inside was pleasantly less bright and quite a bit more colorful.

The gift shop was now open, revealing shelves full of a strange mix

of UFO and southwestern memorabilia. Murdock, Hannibal thought,

would love it.

 

A lanky teenager with a missing tooth replaced Sylvie behind the

counter. "Help you folks?" he asked upon seeing the three of them

enter.

 

"We're looking for a friend of ours," Hannibal said, approaching

the counter. "Tall guy wearing a leather jacket and blue baseball

cap."

 

"In this weather?"

 

"Yeah. Seen him lately?"

 

"No, sorry," the kid answered. "Maybe the UFOs got him," he added

with a grin and a wink.

 

"That's not nice," a young voice declared from the kid's side of

the counter.

 

Hannibal leaned over it to see a girl sitting on the floor stacking

plastic tumblers as if they were building blocks. It was the same

one who had been asleep on the booth the night before. She frowned

up at the kid, looking about ready to cry.

 

"Hey now, Sally," the kid tried to reassure here, "it's okay. UFOs

don't really exist."

 

"Yes they do." The solemn pronouncement was accompanied by a

sniff. She climbed to her feet, as if height might put more power

behind her words.

 

The kid rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably and tried again.

"Naw, they're like, um, like the Wicked Witch of the West," he said,

sounding pleased to strike on the idea. "You know, from the Wizard

of Oz. Make-believe. Made up to scare you just for fun."

 

"They're not made up!" she insisted angrily, kicking at the tumbler

tower. She only hit one cup, but the one acted like a domino. The

whole structure collapsed with a clatter, sending cups rolling all

over the floor. Sally rushed around the counter, nearly stumbling

over one of the wayward cups, and flung herself onto what Hannibal

had come to think of as her booth.

 

The kid watched the upset girl leave with a hangdog expression.

"I'm sorry," he muttered.

 

Hannibal wasn't sure if the apology was directed at him for the

spectacle or the girl for hurting her feelings.

 

BA started for the counter, a scowl plastered to his face. He took

children's feelings very seriously. Hannibal shook his head once, a

silent warning to BA not to interfere.

 

With a faint blush, the kid turned his full attention back to

Hannibal. As he didn't look scared at all, just a bit upset about

Sally, Hannibal had to conclude the teen never even noticed BA's

reaction.

 

"Bad joke," the kid tried to explain with a sheepish half smile.

"Can I get you anything to eat while you wait for your friend?"

 

Hannibal glanced back at Face and BA. BA had seated himself across

the table from Sally and didn't acknowledge the question. Face

nodded vigorously.

 

"The fastest breakfast you have to go." It wouldn't do to starve

while they were searching for Murdock. "Three of them."

 

The kid nodded. He stuck his head through the door to the kitchen

and shouted a code over the persistent back room racket. "It should

be about ten, fifteen minutes," he informed Hannibal before excusing

himself to go corral the cups.

 

Face joined Hannibal at the counter, taking a seat on the stool

closest to the end. He smiled at Lucy, just coming out of the

kitchen.

 

"You're here late," he said conversationally.

 

"My hours," Lucy replied with a distracted smile. She relaxed

slightly when she caught sight of Sally, coloring and chatting with

BA "I just got off."

 

"Then maybe you've seen our friend around since last night," Face

asked without quite asking. "The one with the baseball hat."

 

"Who 'flew' his breakfast. I remember him," Lucy said with an

amused smile.

 

"Have you seen him lately? We seemed to have misplaced him," Face

said, trying to sound nonchalant.

 

Lucy's grin faded. "He's gone?"

 

Face shrugged and put on his best 'it's nothing' expression.

"Probably went to do some exploring without telling us."

 

"At night?" Lucy asked softly, her gaze now fixed on Sally.

 

Hannibal and Face exchanged a look. "I don't know," Face admitted,

confused at Lucy's reaction.

 

There was a haunted look in her eyes as she watched Sally choose

another color from a crayon box. She blinked and shook her head

slightly as if to clear it.

 

"I'm sorry," she said with soft sincerity. She wouldn't look them

in the eye. "I'm sure he'll turn up soon. They always do."

 

"They?" Hannibal narrowed his eyes and watched her more closely.

"People have gone missing around here before?"

 

"Yeah," Lucy breathed, her eyes trailing back to Sally. "That's

why we're leaving." This last sounded more as if she were talking

to herself.

 

"Excuse me for asking," Face cut in sharply, drawing Lucy's gaze

back to them, "but do they come back... okay?"

 

She paused, considering if she should say anything. Lucy let out a

heavy breath. "Mostly."

 

"Mostly?"

 

"Look, all I know is that the last few months people have

disappeared and shown back up, most of them okay except for two,"

she said quickly and in one breath.

 

"Two?" Face parroted again. "What happened to those two?"

 

"I don't know." Her fingers played the buttons on the cuffs of her

sleeves. "Just that when they came back they weren't alive

anymore."

 

The haunted look returned to her eyes. Sally glanced their way,

squirmed uneasily, and returned to her drawing.

 

"Look, I'm sure your friend will be fine." Lucy tried to sound

reassuring even though she looked as if she were about to cry.

"Sally's fine. So your friend will be too."

 

"Sally?"

 

All three looked at the girl.

 

Face stood up. "Uh, can we ask her...?"

 

"No!"

 

Lucy's strident tone caused Sally to look up. She watched them

apprehensively for a moment before BA talked her back into drawing.

 

"No," Lucy said again, keep her voice down this time. "She's

afraid to even go in her room anymore. She won't sleep unless

there's someone there with her, and I won't let anyone scare her

more!" She rushed through her words without taking a breath.

 

Both men stepped back to give her some space. Face put his hands

up in a 'you win' gesture. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean

to upset you. It's just..."

 

"No," Lucy cut in with a shake of her head. "It's my fault. I

know you guys are worried about your friend. But..." She stopped,

closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths.

 

With a last gulped breath, Lucy opened her eyes again, appearing

more in control of herself. "Look, I'm sorry about your friend,"

Lucy said, starting around the counter. "But I can't help you.

We've got to go now. I've got packing to do and... I'm sorry."

 

Lucy quickly gathered up Sally and her crayons and rushed out

without saying anything more.

 

_ _ _ _

 

 

BA had taken a seat at the table the girl had fled to, intending to

cheer her up.

 

"I won't cry," Sally said without looking up.

 

"It's all right to cry," BA said gently. "Everybody does."

 

"Even you?" She looked at him with wide searching eyes.

 

"When I'm hurtin' enough, yes."

 

She looked at her crayon box and carefully chose a color. "When

you're scared?"

 

"Sometimes."

 

Sally, intent on her new drawing, fell silent.

 

BA watched the teenager who'd almost made her cry carry a load of

cups into the kitchen. He nearly ran into the waitress who had

served them the previous night. BA rolled his eyes at the wide grin

Face gave her. Face was definitely feeling more like himself after

getting some sleep. He even managed to sound as if asking after

Murdock was no big deal to any of them.

 

"Is your friend really gone?"

 

The soft question brought BA's attention back to Sally. The girl

was studiously not looking at him.

 

"Yes," he answered. He tried not to lie to kids. They had a sixth

sense about them and knew when you were being untruthful in the same

sort of way animals always knew when you were scared. It was a pity

that sense so often disappeared after puberty.

 

"Was it at night, while he was in bed?"

 

"I don't know," BA admitted, puzzled at the girl's questions.

 

She stopped her drawing but kept her eyes on the paper. "The green

men took him." This most definitely was not a question.

 

"The green men?"

 

She nodded, still not looking at him.

 

"Who are the green men?"

 

"They're bad people." She chose another color and started again on

her drawing. "They like to scare people."

 

"Did they scare you?"

 

Sally took a deep breath, then nodded.

 

"Did these bad people hurt you?" BA asked through clenched jaws,

trying not to let his anger show. He didn't want to be the one

scaring her.

 

"No," Sally whispered. "Just scared me."

 

She put her crayon away and closed the box. Still not looking at

him, she turned the paper around and pushed it toward him.

 

"What's this?"

 

"For you." Sally risked a quick glance up. She shyly returned his

smile before looking away.

 

The drawing was of a group of stick people between a sun and a

lopsided house of the same proportions. Three of the figures were

drawn in lime green, with too big hands and no faces in the circles

depicting their heads. Two of them were laying down next to the

sun. The third had it's hands up in a surrender position. Closer

to the house stood three stick people with smiling faces. The one

closest to the green figures was drawn in black, the other two in

pink.

 

"These are the green men?" BA asked.

 

Sally nodded. "And you - making them go away?" She looked up with

that insecure question, her eyes asking 'can you?'

 

"I'll try," he promised before Sally's mother came to take her

home.

 

BA watched them leave, barely noticing Hannibal and Face taking the

newly vacated booth opposite of him. He wished he could get his

hands on these 'green men'.

 

"That kid's scared of little green men," BA growled, finally with

people he was allowed vent to.

 

"Green men?" Hannibal asked.

 

He pushed Sally's drawing over. Hannibal looked at it and lifted a

brow.

 

"She wants us to make them 'go away'," BA said, explaining the

drawing.

 

"And let me guess. You said 'yes'."

 

"I couldn't say no, Faceman."

 

Face sat back and grinned. "You mean that little girl just hired

the A-Team with a drawing?" He chuckled, unable to resist teasing

the big guy with the equally big heart.

 

The kid from behind the counter arrived before BA had a chance to

reply. "Sorry they're late," he said, setting three to-go

containers on the table. "Is there anything else I can get you?

Drinks, gas, directions, souvenirs?"

 

"A map of the place would be useful," Hannibal said.

 

"And a couple of soda's," Face added. BA gave him a look. "Make

that two sodas and a milk," he hastily amended.

 

"No problem. Be right back."

 

True to his word, the kid return promptly with two cups, a carton

of milk, three straws and a handful of paper place mats.

 

"We're not eating here, kid," Hannibal reminded him.

 

The helpful teen chuckled. "I know. We get asked about maps so

often they finally decided to print them on the backs."

 

Hannibal hadn't taken any notice of the place mats when they came

in for dinner. He gave one a quick look before turning it over. It

had the ubiquitous flying saucer hovering over a plain square

building that claimed to be Marge's Diner. A highway ran next to

it, with the 'Welcome to Marlott' sign on the side.

 

"Cute," Hannibal muttered.

 

On the backside, one road curved over the length of the lower third

of the mat. Little squares with colored numbers lined the road on

either side. There were a few gaps here and there, the most notable

separating two boxes with the same number on opposite edges of the

mat. On the top was a table of categories - food, momentos, special

attractions, etc. - with correspondingly colored numbers listed

below. It looked more like a map of a mall than of a town.

 

"Is Merlott really this two dimensional?"

 

The kid frowned, silently mouthing the words 'two dimensional'.

"Oh." He brightened with understanding. "No, those are just the

shops and stuff for the tourists. The back roads and the private

residences aren't listed there. Small towns do like their privacy,

believe it or not." He shrugged. "All the interesting stuff is on

Main Street anyway."

 

"Thanks kid," Hannibal offered, fearing the maps would be little

help in their quest to find Murdock.

 

 

Part 6

The Search

 

They used the place mat map as a starting reference, despite

Hannibal's misgivings of its usefulness. Someone had numbered the

establishments in order of traveler appreciation. Both diners were

numbered 1. Hannibal mentally marked off the one on the far left of

the map. Number 2 was the Happy Hostel. Hannibal held back on the

mental check. He still harbored some vague hope that they were

overreacting. A quick stop at the motel, however, confirmed that

Murdock was, in fact, missing.

 

BA parked the van at a little shop specializing in coffee and ice

cream. It was a fairly central location where they could start to

case Main Street, working their way out. Face started at the shop.

BA took a pet supply store up the street a few buildings. Hannibal

chose the mechanic's.

 

Graham's Garage was number 3 on the map. Number 4 belonged to its

next-door neighbor, the sheriff's office. This was the building

Hannibal was most interested in. He doubted Murdock had had an

early morning run in with the authorities. Considering their

history, however, it was a possibility he wanted to eliminate as

soon as possible. If Murdock had ended up in jail, Hannibal could

stop worrying and start on the simple matter of breaking him out.

 

Their last job had not required disguises, leaving an unprepared

Hannibal with one of two options: walk right in and announce his

presence, or try to sneak a peek without looking suspicious. Since

the garage was right there and open, he thought he'd use it as an

excuse to get closer to the sheriff's.

 

"Can you *please* try to be more careful? I'm still trying to

clean the mess from the last time."

 

Hannibal could hear the one-sided argument from across the street.

 

"Lewis never complained before."

 

Hannibal approached Terry and a thick man with an uneven beard.

They stood near a royal blue pickup blocking the sheriff's side of

the driveway.

 

"My brother," Terry started bitterly, "never complained because it

wasn't his truck to complain about!"

 

The bearded man took a startled step back.

 

Terry took a deep breath in an effort to calm himself down. "I

realize you need to haul your carvings from the workshop to the

sales shop. And that's fine, Brandon. I have no problem with that.

Just put a tarp or something under them, okay? Or better yet, wait

till they're dry before packing them. Anything, I don't care, just

no more of that!"

 

Hannibal followed Terry's gesturing and winced in sympathy. It

looked as if someone had gotten sick in psychedelic colors all over

the bed of the pickup. The mix of colors stood out horribly against

dark blue.

 

"Neon green is a great color," Terry went on, quietly picking out

the predominant shade in the bright splash, "for a neon sign. Not

for a pickup."

 

Brandon stepped back again, bumping into said pickup.

 

Terry sighed wearily, suddenly feeling bad. "Here, take the

thing," he said lowly, offering the keys. "I'll be by later to tow

yours in again. Maybe we'll actually get it fixed."

 

Brandon snatched the keys as if they might bite him and hurried

into the truck. He gunned the engine a few times before taking off,

much to Terry's annoyance.

 

"Please don't tell me you need a mechanic, too," he begged

Hannibal, wearily eyeing the distinctive van parked down the street.

 

"No," Hannibal said. He was about to add, "We already have one,"

when Terry cut in on the 'we'.

 

"Good!" Terry vented, throwing up his hands. He stomped over to

one of the parked cars and jerked the hood open. "Because even I

can't work miracles without the proper supplies!"

 

Terry stopped, hung his head for a moment, and sighed. "I'm

sorry," he said with a groan. "I didn't sleep much last night." He

turned to face Hannibal. "And I'm already having a bad day." As if

to prove his words, the prop gave way, and hood slammed shut behind

him.

 

Terry winced. He tackled the hood again, this time jabbing the

prop in tight.

 

"I'm not having a terrific day, myself," Hannibal said to Terry's

back. He moved to one side to get a better look at the windows

across the driveway. The sun reflecting from them made it difficult

to see inside.

 

Terry apologized again. "So, if you're not here for a mechanic,"

he started, peering into the engine, "then what can I do for you?"

 

"I'm looking for a friend, one of the people I came in with."

 

"Which?"

 

Hannibal moved to the other side of Terry. "Name's Murdock. Tall

fellow with the baseball hat." This angle was slightly better. He

could read the stenciling on the windows now. He couldn't see any

further than the writing, though. It appeared the office was

darkened.

 

"He has a leather jacket with a big cat on the back," Hannibal

continued, turning away from the sheriff's building. "Seen him?"

 

"Not since dinner last night, no." Terry gave him a sideways look.

"He's not in there, though."

 

Hannibal didn't react to getting caught, he was too good an actor

for that. Instead, he put on a faintly puzzled expression as if to

say 'why would you say that?'

 

Terry turned his attention back to inspecting the engine. "Haven't

even unlocked it yet," he said. "When did you see him last?" Terry

raised his voice as he leaned over to jiggle tubing in the back.

 

"Last night when we made it to the motel." Hannibal was pleased to

find somebody who seemed interested. "He took the neighboring

room."

 

"Sure he didn't go sight seeing on his own?"

 

"Positive."

 

"Thought so," Terry muttered to himself. He straightened and

turned to meet Hannibal eyes. "I'll keep an eye for him, see if

anyone has seen him."

 

"Thanks."

 

"Where will you be? In case I learn something."

 

"Around," Hannibal said vaguely. He didn't expect Terry would have

a hard time locating them if he really wanted it to. If he knew his

small towns, before long everyone will know where they are.

 

- - - -

 

"Were you out by the Happy Hostel last night?" the clerk asked BA

as soon she noticed him.

 

"Yeah."

 

"Did you happen to see a dog running around that ways?" The short

woman, wearing a pair of tiny bifocals, peered up hopefully. "Tall,

mangy mutt? I still haven't figured out his mix."

 

"No, no dogs."

 

"Oh," she sighed. "I wonder where the ugly thing's gone to?" the

woman muttered. "I hope it didn't go and do anything stupid."

 

BA knew exactly how she felt. Maybe Murdock and the dog were

keeping each other out of trouble. He shook his head at the

thought. That was something Murdock would say.

 

"You see a crazy fool in here today?" He didn't see any actual

animals about, but there were enough toys to keep any pet - and

Murdock - happy indefinitely.

 

"We're all crazy here." The clerk chuckled softly. "Which fool do

you have in mind?"

 

BA decided he liked her.

 

"Sorry," she said after he described Murdock to her. "Wish I could

be more helpful."

 

"Not your fault."

 

"Are you trying here for any special reason? Does he have a dog?"

She sounded as if dogs were the only possible reason a person would

come into a pet store.

 

BA snorted. "An invisible one."

 

"Ah." She nodded sagely. "Those are the hardest to shop for."

 

BA agreed with the clerk: they were all crazy here.

 

- - - - -

 

Face wondered if he was losing his touch. There were only two

customers in the little shop. The elderly couple sat at a tiny

table, enjoying coffee and sherbet, and carrying on a conversation

that was louder on her side than his. It took four tries before he

could finally get their attention, and then it was to get yelled at.

 

"You'll have to speak up dear," the lady said in a voice

permanently pitched for the hearing impaired. "My husband doesn't

hear very well."

 

Face took a breath and tried again. "I said, I was hoping you

might have seen my friend around."

 

"Seen a lot of people in my day, sonny." The aging gentleman

squinted up at him.

 

"Be nice," the woman scolded him. She turned an attentive smile to

Face. "What's your friend look like?"

 

The couple hadn't noticed Face standing right there in front of

them, he doubted they would have seen Murdock. He tried anyway.

"Well, he's taller than me. He wears a leather jacket with a cat on

the back."

 

"In this weather?" the lady interrupted before he could go on.

"Why?"

 

"Well, he might not actually be wearing it."

 

"But you just said he was," the man grumbled.

 

"He'd definitely have it with him," Face compromised, trying to be

polite and keep his temper at the same time. "He would have his

baseball cap on. He might have been out this morning. Or very late

last night."

 

"Night," the old man snorted. "Kids for ya!"

 

"Oh, don't be a party pooper, dear," the woman chided. "It's all

part of the show. First they'll tell you about alien abductions,

then someone'll come and tell you all about the little green men and

whatever it is they want. It's how they make their living around

here. And it's supposed to be fun." She explained all this to her

husband in what she obviously thought of as conspiratorial privacy.

"Play along."

 

She turned to Face and flashed him a condescending smile. "Do go

on, dear," she encouraged. "Were there a bunch of flashing lights

and eerie noises when they took him?"

 

Face gave her a sickly smile. It was hopeless trying to talk to

these two, they didn't even believe Murdock was really missing. He

tried to politely disengage from the conversation, she kept trying

to pull him back with ridiculous questions.

 

"I think I saw your friend."

 

Startled, Face turned to the voice. It belonged to the only

employee.

 

"You did?" He was glad to finally be getting somewhere. "Where?"

 

The man made a 'come here' gesture with his head. Face hastily

excused himself, leaving the old couple talking about what they

might possibly see next.

 

"You know where Murdock is?"

 

The man gave him an apologetic smile. "Sorry, no. You just looked

like you were need of rescuing."

 

"Oh." Face was too disappointed to be angry.

 

"Coffee?"

 

"No, thanks."

 

"Sure? It's on the house." And for the house. The man poured

himself a cup. "That story'll keep them here for a while, the way

the lady's going on about it."

 

"It's not a story."

 

The man nodded understandingly. "Friend left you behind, huh?"

 

"Murdock didn't leave." Face snapped defensively.

 

"They do that around here," the man went on undeterred. "Some

folks tend to get a little too into things. I'll bet he'll get

bored in a couple of hours and show up again."

 

"I hope so," Face sighed. He changed his mind and accepted the

coffee. If the search kept on like this, it was going to be a very

long day.

 

 

Part 7

Reappearance

 

Searching the town proved to be an exercise in futility. Twice

they got lost on the 'back roads' that made up the town proper. A

large mangy cat chewed them out when they stopped to ask for

directions. It's equally irate owner brandished a shot gun when

they didn't leave his property quick enough. Other than the one

incident, the townspeople proved friendly enough. However, they

were singularly unhelpful in locating Murdock. Some joked that UFOs

had paid him a visit. A few were amazingly serious about the idea.

No one was particularly inclined to enlighten them about the rash of

disappearances Lucy had spoken about. But everyone agreed "he'll

turn up soon".

 

They slowly drove from one end of town to the other, finally ending

up at the other Marge's Diner. They waited in the duplicate while a

friendly waiter called the first location to see if Murdock had

shown up since the Team left that morning. When that venue turned

up empty, Hannibal decided it was time to return to the motel.

 

Hannibal left a grumpy BA in the van. "Someone has to be in ear

shot in case Murdock tries to call," he reasoned. "We'll try the

doctor's again then come keep you company."

 

Face hustled into his corner room, not bothering to close the door.

Unless he had problems getting in touch with the local doctor again,

he wouldn't be there long. The room had been cleaned since they

left. The beds were made, the carpet had vacuum lines; and the

bathroom, which Face habitually kept closed, was ajar. Near the

door was a sign that someone had been there after the cleaning

person. Peeking out were the tips of a pair of familiar sneakers.

 

"Murdock?" Face cautiously pushed the bathroom door open, careful

not to disturb the shoes. He was relieved to find Murdock still in

them.

 

"Hannibal! BA!" Face shouted at the front door.

 

Face carefully picked his way around Murdock. He was on his side,

half curled to fit his long form into the not so long bathroom.

Face knelt by his head and held his breath as he checked for a

pulse. He let it out with a muttered prayer of thanks upon finding

a nice strong beat.

 

"Hannibal, it's Murdock," Face called unnecessarily when Hannibal

and BA rushed into the room.

 

"BA, help me move him," Hannibal ordered. Face pushed Murdock up

to a sitting position. Hannibal and BA each took an arm and

half-carried, half-dragged Murdock to the nearest bed, leaving Face

to follow the awkwardly moving trio.

 

Murdock sighed heavily and murmured something.

 

"What did he say?"

 

"Don't know."

 

They finally maneuvered him onto the bed. Murdock mumbled

something, louder but still garbled, when his head hit the mattress.

 

"Murdock?" Hannibal asked, just to see how close to the world of

the conscious Murdock really was. Hannibal lifted one of his

eyelids. He was pleased when fought the gesture. He wasn't so

happy to find Murdock's brown eyes were glassy and the pupils

dilated.

 

"Murdock? Can you hear me?"

 

Murdock's brows creased together. He blinked hard a couple of

times and squinted at Hannibal. Hannibal doubted Murdock quite saw

him.

 

"Colonel?" Murdock managed to get the word out clearly enough to

be understood. The slurred question was laced with confusion.

 

"Captain."

 

Murdock blinked some more, making an obvious effort to clear his

mind and focus more on his surroundings.

 

"Hey Faceman, you're awake!" Murdock grinned with pleasure at

seeing his friend.

 

Face frowned at the nonsequitur. His expression wavered from

'is-he-okay' to 'huh?' and back again.

 

Murdock didn't notice the changes in Face's expression, his gaze

having fallen on BA by this time. His grin turned into the loony

half smile he liked to put on when pushing BA's buttons.

 

"BA, you been takin' care of Billy for me?"

 

Murdock reached out to pat BA's shoulder. He succeeded only in

waving air in the vicinity of BA's arm.

 

BA stepped back, nonplused. "The fool's drunk, man," he said,

stating the only explanation he could think of for behavior that was

odd even by Murdock's standards.

 

"I am *not* drunk," Murdock said indignantly. His speech was

becoming a little clearer. As he struggled to sit up, he added, "I

haven't had anything to drink since, uh, since... Oh. Breakfast!"

Murdock stabbed the air above his head with a finger as if to point

out the memory - or the flickering light bulb. Unfortunately, the

movement ruined what little progress he'd made in getting up and his

head bounced back on the mattress.

 

"And that was orange juice," Murdock said as an afterthought, with

a silly grin for BA

 

Murdock made an attempt at rubbing his eyes. He frowned when he

managed instead to massage his eyebrows. Not trusting his aim to

try again, he pulled his fingers down to the appropriate spot.

 

"What are you guys doing here?" he mumbled behind his hand.

 

"Looking for you," Face said. His tone was one of a man who

couldn't decide whether to be concerned or amused.

 

The answer was enough for Murdock, who acknowledged it with a

simple, "Oh."

 

He tried once again to push himself up. Hannibal and Face assisted

him to a sitting position. Feet hanging off the foot of the bed,

Murdock looked blankly at his Team.

 

"Where have you been, Murdock?" Hannibal tried. He wasn't certain

he'd get any straight answers in Murdock's current condition.

 

Murdock pondered the question for a long moment.

 

"Captain?" Hannibal prompted when it appeared the pilot had drifted

away from them.

 

"Hmm?"

 

"Where've you been?"

 

A wide grin spread across Murdock's face.

 

"Flying!"

 

To emphasize the point he spread his arms out in an imitation of a

plane's wings. He lost his precarious balance in the process, and

flopped back on the bed.

 

The sound of chains rattling alerted Hannibal to company. A kid in

a red T-shirt sat on his bike watching the spectacle.

 

"BA" Hannibal nodded toward the still open door.

 

BA grunted and moved to give the Team some privacy.

 

The dreamy expression still plastered to his face, Murdock sighed

heavily. "I hate being grounded," he bemoaned.

 

"Murdock?" Face started, taking over the questioning.

 

"Yeah, Faceman?"

 

"Who were you flying for?"

 

"Them," Murdock said simply.

 

Face was almost afraid to ask. "Who are 'them'?"

 

Face and Hannibal helped Murdock up again. Face kept a hand on his

shoulder this time to help keep the pilot steady.

 

"Them. The UFOs."

 

"UFOs?" Face echoed skeptically.

 

"Yeah." Murdock somehow managed to frown and smile at the same

time. "They want to hire us."

 

"Who does?"

 

"The UFOs, silly."

 

"UFOs want to hire the A-Team?" Face repeated just to be sure he

had heard correctly.

 

Murdock grinned at him. "Yep."

 

"Why would UFOs want to hire us?"

 

"Oh, people missing, people getting scared, people turning up

dead," Murdock explained. He waved a hand to encompass the town,

narrowly missing BA with the swing. Face had to use both hands to

keep a swaying Murdock upright. "All that's gotta be bad for

business. They have an image to maintain, you know," he added

conspiratorially to a fellow image maintainer.

 

"Murdock."

 

Murdock turned his head in Hannibal's direction, eyebrows raised.

 

"Who told you people were turning up dead?"

 

"They did."

 

"The UFOs?" Face checked.

 

"Yes."

 

"Murdock." Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder. "What did you

tell these... 'UFOs' about the Team?"

 

The seriousness of the question penetrated through Murdock's haze.

His looked at his lap, frowning deeply. Finally, he shook his head.

 

"I don't know, Colonel." He sounded both annoyed at himself and

worried. "I just know they need our help."

 

"I don't get it," Face said, getting back into his usual role of

playing along. "Why would a UFO want our help? What could we

possibly do that they can't?"

 

"Same thing we always do, Faceman. Catch the bad guys."

 

"But the UFOs *are* the bad guys."

 

"No, they're not. Kidnapping and killing isn't their style."

 

"But Murdock, they kidnapped you," Face reminded him gently.

 

"No they didn't," Murdock said with a yawn.

 

"Crazy fool," BA finally spoke up. "You were gone for most the

day."

 

"A day?" This was apparently news to Murdock.

 

"Yes, Murdock, a day," Face reiterated softly. "Were you chatting

with your UFOs the entire time?"

 

A frown flitted past, chased by another smile. "No. I told you,

Face, I was flying."

 

The furrow in his brow came back. He looked as if he were trying

to recall something not quite pleasant.

 

"What?"

 

"It sounded wrong," Murdock muttered, still looking confused.

 

"What sounded wrong?"

 

"But it sure could move," Murdock said to no one in particular.

 

"Murdock?"

 

The dreamy look returned. "Hmm?" Murdock answered half-heartedly,

eyes now definitely focused elsewhere.

 

"Let him get some rest, Face," Hannibal said. He pulled the

blankets down from the bed. "We might get something that makes more

sense after he's had some sleep."

 

"Man, Murdock ain't never made sense."

 

"Murdock makes sense in his own way, BA," Hannibal defended. "Now,

give me hand. Face, go get our dinner before it gets totally cold."

 

"Yeah, sure," Face muttered as he left for the van. "Always the

go-fer."

 

Hannibal pushed the unresisting pilot backwards. His eyes were

closed by the time his head hit the bed.

 

"Do you think they'll let me fly again, Colonel?" Murdock murmured.

 

Hannibal glanced at BA, who rolled his eyes and shook his head. He

and Hannibal pulled Murdock up a bit so his legs were on the bed as

well.

 

"Sure you will, Murdock," Hannibal answered softly as he put the

pillow under Murdock's head.

 

Murdock smiled at the reassurance.

 

"Just not with me, sucka," BA added in a mutter.

 

"'Course not, BA," Murdock mumbled, a small, amused smile gracing

his nearly asleep features. "'Course not."

 

His breathing evened out, save for the soft snores already

beginning.

 

BA shook his head. "Crazy fool and your flying," BA muttered to

himself. Anybody who didn't know him would have thought he was

angry at Murdock for this particular passion. But the gentleness

with which he removed Murdock's shoes and pulled the blankets over

the pilot belied BA's tone.

 

"Is he okay?" Face set their packages down on the dresser and

closed the door on any potential audiences.

 

"Just sleeping," Hannibal assured him. He dragged the chair over

the free bed, which was now serving double duty as seats and table.

 

"So what do you think, Hannibal?" Face passed a styrofoam carton

and a set of plastic utensils to each of his companions.

 

"No such thing as flying saucers," BA growled, but kept his voice

lowered so he wouldn't disturb Murdock. "Somebody been messin' with

the fool's head."

 

He glanced at Murdock, a scowl creasing his face. He wanted to get

his hands on that somebody. The poor fool's head had been messed

with enough. Trying to get a handle on his anger, he took a deep

drink from his cup. He pulled the carton away from his lips, a

disgusted looked on his face.

 

"Milk's warm," he complained.

 

"Sorry, BA," Hannibal said. "I didn't think to ask for an

insulated cup."

 

"Here's some water," Face offered. "It has ice in it."

 

"Thanks," BA muttered unhappily. He took a long pull from the

straw to bring the level down before taking off the lid. He sighed

as he transferred some of the ice from the water to the milk.

Watered down milk didn't taste as good, but it certainly beat

out-of-the-fridge-too-long warm.

 

"I think BA's right," Hannibal said around a forkful of food "But

I think they were trying to mess with all of our heads."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I think they took Murdock for the same reason they've been taking

other people in the town - to scare them, and us, off."

 

"Not gonna work, man," BA grumbled.

 

"Not with us, no," Hannibal agreed. "But it sure is working with

the other folks around here."

 

"The question is: why?"

 

"Yeah, all they got here are cheesy souvenirs." BA's voice was

muffled slightly by a mouthful of fries.

 

"And the military base," Hannibal pointed out.

 

"If someone wanted something from the base, why not just sneak in

there and take it?"

 

"We don't know * if * the base has anything to do with it,"

Hannibal stated. "I do know that a town like this can't exist on

its own. It probably came into being when that base was still

active. Now it's a tourist attraction. Use the feature attraction

to scare away the tourists and it doesn't even have the luxury of a

well-used highway to keep it from becoming a ghost town."

 

"And you think someone wants to make it a ghost town," Face

concluded. "Which still leaves us with the 'why'. What's here?"

 

"A whole bunch of nothin'," BA summed up.

 

Hannibal agreed. "Something doesn't add up. I don't like it."

 

"Well, that makes all of us," Face said exasperatedly.

 

Hannibal didn't say anything for along moment. The way he pondered

and toyed with his food made Face uncomfortable.

 

"What are you thinking?"

 

"I'm worried about what Murdock might have told them about us,"

Hannibal admitted reluctantly.

 

"I'm not sure I like what you're saying, Hannibal," Face said, his

tone almost a warning.

 

"Yeah, Hannibal," BA added defensively. "Murdock wouldn't say

nothin' to anyone about us."

 

"Under normal circumstances, no." Hannibal jabbed his fork into

the remains of his food and put the container aside. "But there's

no telling what kind of drugs they gave him."

 

"Drugs?" Face looked ill. He, too, put his food aside.

 

"You don't really think he was drunk, do you?" Hannibal asked

skeptically.

 

Face watched Murdock sleeping. They had all seen him drunk before,

though it had been awhile. Murdock didn't act like that when he was

plastered. "You don't think they gave him anything dangerous, do

you? Maybe we should take him to the doctor."

 

"No, we don't know who's involved in this. And it sounds like

everyone who's been abducted have returned without ill effects."

 

"Except two," BA softly reminded them.

 

All eyes turned to Murdock, blissfully unaware of the silent

tension of his comrades.

 

"We have to do something." Face broke the quiet with soft

determination.

 

"We will."

 

"You have a plan." It wasn't a question. They had all seen that

look in the Colonel's eyes often enough.

 

Hannibal grinned. "First thing in the morning, we're going to get

to know this town better."

 

 

Part 8

Day Three - Questions, Not Many Answers

 

"Murdock." Hannibal tried to shake Murdock awake for the third

time. "Come on, Murdock, time to wake up."

 

Murdock turned and pulled the pillow over his head. "I just got to

bed, Hannibal," he complained. The pillow did nothing to muffle his

whine. He sounded like a little kid who didn't want to get up for

school.

 

"You've been asleep all night." Worried about the pilot's

condition, Hannibal had traded rooms with Face so he could watch

over Murdock. Aside from a light snore, Murdock hadn't so much as

stirred during the night. "Get up."

 

"I'm getting," Murdock mumbled. He slowly pushed the blankets away

and reluctantly sat up.

 

Whatever it was he had been given, Murdock seemed to have slept it

off. His speech was back to its norm, Hannibal was pleased to note.

He sat up, then stood, without the slightest hint of a sway. His

eyes were clear and focusing without a problem.

 

Murdock frowned down at his clothes. "Why'm I wearing these?" he

asked himself in a puzzled tone. He made a disgusted noise at

himself and headed toward the bathroom.

 

"How're you feeling?" Face asked after Murdock showered and

changed.

 

"Good." Murdock stretched, hands nearly reaching the ceiling.

"Starving though. Are we going back to the diner for breakfast?"

 

"Soon as we get to the van," Hannibal said by way of answer.

 

Murdock's arms flapped down hard. He tried to rush everyone out

by holding open the door. "I want more of those little pancake

saucers." He patted his growling stomach. "Maybe even have the

strawberry ones, too."

 

Hannibal and Face smiled, glad to see Murdock's old self back. BA

was equally happy, and showed it with a roll of his eyes.

 

"Do you remember what happened to you yesterday?" Hannibal asked

once they had all settled in the van.

 

"Yesterday?" Murdock looked up as if the answers might be written

on the van's ceiling. "I wasn't with you yesterday," he blurted, a

bewildered expression on his face. "Why wasn't I with you

yesterday."

 

"We were hoping you could tell us," Face said, concerned at the

pilot's reaction.

 

"You were pretty out of it when we found you. What do you

remember?" Hannibal pulled his trademark cigar out of his pocket.

 

"Flopping into bed. Then you waking me up."

 

"That's all?"

 

Murdock nodded. "Yeah, that's... Wait!" Murdock's face lit up at

a sudden recollection. "I flew!"

 

"Flew what?" Hannibal asked, glad to finally get somewhere.

 

"I don't know." Murdock's sense of triumph faded. "I just

remember the feeling of flying. Everything else is kind of...

vague."

 

A shadow of fear darkened his eyes. "What happened to me? Why

don't I remember?"

 

"I don't know," Hannibal answered honestly. "But we're going to

find out."

 

"Got that right," BA put in definitively.

 

_ _ _ _

 

 

"I see you found your friend," Sylvie greeted them when they

entered the diner. She directed a wide smile to Hannibal. "Take a

seat. I'll be right with you."

 

A small blonde head peeked over the counter. "They're back!" Sally

squealed before disappearing again.

 

"You put those cups away before you go disappearing," Sylvie

admonished. "I heard what you did to Devon. I'm not cleaning them

up after you," she warned.

 

"Okay," Sally said with a sigh.

 

The diner was busier today. The three aging biker men were back,

crammed around a booth table with two female companions dressed in

similar leather garb. The elderly couple Face had spoken with

walked out of the adjoining gift shop with three bags of recent

purchases. They sat at the counter and proceeded to loudly discuss

which grandchild would get what item. A trucker gave the door a

puzzled look after being assaulted by the Halloween style door

siren.

 

Presumably finished putting away her 'toys', Sally came racing out

from behind the counter. She narrowly missed colliding with the

trucker before skidding to a halt before the Team.

 

"You came back!" she said happily, giving BA an especially bright

smile.

 

"Well, this place does have the best company in town," Face said.

 

Murdock leaned over and teasingly whispered, "I think she's a

little too young to know what charm means, Faceman."

 

"No she isn't," Face replied, watching Hannibal stand up so Sally

could sit next to BA.

 

Sylvie returned with cups of coffee and milk. She saw the small

girl sitting next to BA and frowned. "Sally, quit pestering the

customers."

 

"She's all right." Hannibal defended. He took the adjoining

booth. "I'll eat over here."

 

"You sure?" Sylvie double checked.

 

"No problem," Face assured her. "BA loves the company. He's just

a big kid at heart."

 

BA gave him a look. Face hastily took his cup and joined Hannibal

at the next table.

 

"Is Lucy around?"

 

Sylvie nodded toward the kitchen. "Back helping Jess clean up."

 

Sylvie glanced around after taking their orders. All the customers

seemed to be happy. So she stuck around to do what she had scolded

Sally for. "Heard I missed you yesterday," she said to Hannibal.

"Makes me wish I worked over."

 

Face tried not to laugh at her not-so-subtle interest. There was

an equally amused glint in Hannibal's eyes.

 

"Like today?"

 

"Naw, this is my usual shift. I was only filling in because Lucy

was late. Working graves makes for a boring night life."

 

Face choked on his coffee. It nearly came flying out his nose in

his attempt to keep from laughing.

 

"Okay, kid?" Hannibal asked at his coughing fit.

 

"Yeah, all right," he said, recovering with some difficulty. He

blinked back the tears the fit produced.

 

Sylvie gave Face a slightly disgusted look at the interruption.

 

"Not that the night life is boring around here," she tried again.

 

"Haven't noticed," Hannibal said, not rising to the bait.

 

"Two nights and you haven't seen the show?" Sylvie sounded aghast.

 

"What show?" Hannibal suspected he knew what she was talking

about. He hoped she would confirm it and volunteer some information

if he acted otherwise.

 

"The lights, of course," she answered. Hannibal shook his head,

feigning ignorance. "Too bad. Everyone should see the lights

before they leave," she said, her tone holding pity for them.

 

"Maybe tonight."

 

"Tonight?" she echoed, nonplused. Terry entered, she gave him an

uneasy glance.

 

"Yeah," Face put in cheerfully. "This place is different. We

thought we'd stay a while 'n' see the sights." Face pointed

skyward.

 

"See the show," Hannibal added.

 

"Get to know the people," Face said suggestively.

 

Sylvie lost her smile. She jumped when Jess shouted that an order

was ready.

 

Lucy came out of the kitchen as Sylvie picked up the orders. Lucy

sighed and shook her head when Sylvie didn't so much as say hello to

Terry, who patiently waited for service at the counter.

 

"I've got him, Sylvie," Lucy called. Sylvie only nodded.

 

A moment later, she came over and ruffled her daughter's hair.

"Sally, are you pestering these poor men?"

 

"No. We're drawing," Sally said, as if that explained everything.

She and Murdock were currently in a contest to see who could color

in the place mats the fastest.

 

"You found your friend," she commented to Hannibal.

 

"Yes," Hannibal agreed. "He 'turned up' like everyone said he

would."

 

"I'm glad." She smiled gratefully at Murdock's humoring the little

girl.

 

Hannibal smiled. "We are too."

 

Sally looked at her mother, then regarded Murdock with wide,

serious eyes. "The green men got you?" She spoke so quietly he

could barely hear her.

 

"Green men?" Murdock paled slightly.

 

The others had told him about their day, and what they had learned

as they searched for him. They told him the little girl was among

those who had been abducted and returned. They failed, however, to

mention her 'green men'.

 

"I don't know." He had in his mind a vague image of a person with

a bulbous head. For some reason it made him nervous. "I don't

remember much."

 

Sally nodded solemnly. "Were you scared?"

 

He glanced at BA, hoping to find inspiration to help banish the

growing sense of unease.

 

"A little, I guess," he told Sally with a faint shrug.

 

"Me too," she whispered. "Did they take you into the sky with

them?"

 

"I remember flying, yes." The usual sense of freedom he felt when

speaking of his passion didn't carry into his voice. He was too

wary of what other feelings Sally's questions might evoke.

 

"That was kind of scary, too," she said. "But also kinda fun."

 

"Flying's always fun," Murdock pronounced so solemnly that he made

Sally laugh.

 

Lucy watched all this with an expression of wonder. "Sally hasn't

said so much about it since we found her," she said with an air of

disbelief.

 

"If you don't mind me asking," Face started, but didn't get a

chance to finish.

 

"Lucy," Terry called from his seat at the counter. "Devon's going

to start to worry if you don't get going soon."

 

Lucy sighed at the friendly reminder. "Terry's right, Sally." She

suddenly looked very tired. "Your mommy needs some sleep before she

starts packing again." After a little bit of whining and stalling

on Sally's part, Lucy managed to collect their things and hustle her

daughter out.

 

Terry watched them leave, then got up to join the Team.

 

"I'm glad you're back," he greeted Murdock. "I was getting worried

your friends might take the town apart looking for you."

 

Murdock flashed a quick smile. His color wasn't quite back to

normal yet.

 

Terry didn't wait for any further response. Uninvited, he took a

seat next to Face. "So you plan on sticking around for a while?" he

asked Hannibal, bringing up the last bit he had heard between them

and Sylvie. He set his coffee cup down with slow care.

 

"Until we find out what happened to Murdock," Hannibal answered

truthfully.

 

Terry broke eye contact to gaze at his drink. "I wish you luck,"

he said sincerely.

 

"Do you work here or at the garage?" Face started light

conversation as most of the biker people started past them. The

Team wondered at Terry's visit, but sensed he wasn't going to start

talking with so many eavesdroppers.

 

"I work everywhere," Terry answered with a self-conscious shrug.

 

The windows vibrated with the combined revving of four motorcycles.

The elderly couple's conversation seemed even louder, now, with

fewer people in the diner. The one biker who remained went to sit

at the counter and keep Sylvie company.

 

Terry took a long, fortifying drink from his coffee. The cup shook

slightly when it reached his lips. After a pause and a deep breath,

he asked softly, "What are your intentions?"

 

Hannibal sat back, his eyes narrowing slightly. "I told you, I

intend to find out what happened to Murdock."

 

Terry didn't ask why Murdock didn't just tell them.

 

"How are going to do that?" Terry held Hannibal's gaze.

 

"Any way we have to." Hannibal countered an implied threat with an

implied threat. A quiet warning bell went off in his head. He

wasn't used to seeing people who made threats let their nervousness

show so much. But Terry did not break his gaze.

 

"But we're going to start with questions," Hannibal added

reasonably.

 

"Such as?" It sounded almost like a demand.

 

"What's going on around here?"

 

"Don't know." Terry answered promptly.

 

"Okay." Hannibal took this as tacit permission to continue. "How

long have these disappearances been going on?"

 

"Two months last week." Terry looked at his empty cup. "If

they've all been reported," he added.

 

Hannibal and Face exchanged glances.

 

"They all talked to you?" Face asked.

 

"Yes."

 

Sylvie arrived with their breakfast. She set everything down

without a word, not even a smile in Hannibal's direction.

 

"Well, most folks do," Terry amended after she left. His cup was

still empty. "It comes with the job," he answered vaguely.

 

"What else have most folks told you?" Hannibal asked.

 

"It happens only when it's dark. Nobody remembers clearly what

happened to them after they return, those who remember anything at

all." He looked pointedly at Murdock. "The abductions happen once

a week, and your friend was right on schedule."

 

"How do you know all this?" Face asked.

 

Terry played with his cup. His hands were no longer shaking. "I

know a lot of things," he said unhelpfully.

 

He looked at Sylvie and held up his cup. She did a round of

refills reluctantly.

 

"What else?" Terry prompted when they were alone again.

 

Hannibal had food in his mouth, so Face spoke for him. "Who else

did this happen to?"

 

"No," Terry said firmly. He wasn't going to give them that much,

he shook his head to emphasize the point. "They don't remember. I

won't help you disturb them more."

 

Hannibal accepted this ultimatum without comment. He tried a

different angle. "What about the missing people who died?"

 

Terry looked at him with a creased brow. "They weren't missing."

 

"Then why would Lucy think they were?"

 

"Lucy?" Terry puzzled this one out. "Oh. I can see how she came

to that conclusion." He chuckled. "Some folks around here really

do believe they've been kidnapped by aliens. No surprise there, I

guess. They were two of a handful that talked about it all the

time, even before this rash of disappearances started."

 

"I take it you don't believe it." Hannibal didn't believe it,

either.

 

"Aliens?" Terry snorted. "Here? Not too likely. If aliens wanted

to visit America they'd go to New York or LA, not here."

 

"What if they didn't want anybody to know they were here?" Murdock

finally spoke up.

 

"If you didn't want to be found," Terry said, "where better to hide

than New York or LA?"

 

Hannibal gave Face an amused look. Where better, indeed?

 

Back to the matter at hand. "Tell us about these two."

 

"It's not related," Terry protested.

 

"Humor us," Face said.

 

Terry regarded his cup for a long moment.

 

At the counter, Sylvie and the biker were talking in low tones.

Every once in a while, Sylvie would throw them dirty looks.

 

Terry sighed. "Okay. There's Lewis, my brother. I wouldn't count

much of anything he might have said. He wasn't the most dependable

witness. His favorite pastime was to drink, and he was good at it.

He drank himself to death. I honestly don't know how much of his

abduction stories were a joke and how much was hallucination."

 

"What did he say about them?" Face asked.

 

Terry shook his head. "He claimed to fly for them. At the risk of

speaking ill of the dead, Lewis loved the skies but he couldn't fly

if he fell from a cloud. He took lessons for I don't know how long.

No one would allow him to fly solo."

 

"And the other one who died?" Hannibal prompted.

 

"Mr. Aberdeen, at least, had a good background." Terry shook his

head. "But he was the craziest person I ever met."

 

BA and Face automatically looked at Murdock. Murdock blinked back.

A phrase from one of his favorite cartoon characters popped into his

head, "He don't know me beawy well, do he?"

 

Terry watched their reactions with a confused look.

 

Hannibal had to look away from Murdock's very innocent expression.

He pulled his grin down to a more managable smile. "We have

experience with crazy," he explained.

 

"I don't doubt that," Terry said ruefully.

 

"Tell us about this Aberdeen person."

 

"Right. Well, he was retired military. He was stationed here just

before they shut the base down and never left. He thought he was

making it up to the UFOs somehow by letting them use his yard."

Terry's explanation earned confused looks.

 

"For what?" Face asked.

 

"His yard? I have no clue. He'd talk your ear off if you gave him

half the chance. But * that * he kept to himself." Terry played

with his cup as he answered the other meaning of Face's question.

"As for making it up? Well, he was stationed overseas once for

wartime efforts, he never said which war. Some mission he only

referred to as 'that time' didn't go as planned. A lot of people

were killed. He thought he'd killed a lot of innocent aliens."

 

"Oh," Face said.

 

They all fell silent. The Team knew the hard times of war a little

too well. And what happened to those unable to cope. They knew

pity and sadness for this fallen comrade they never met. And shared

a moment of thanksgiving they had been spared. Mostly.

 

Hannibal broke the uncomfortable pause. "Where can we find

Aberdeen's place?"

 

"Why?" Terry asked warily.

 

"Call it a hunch," Face replied, smiling.

 

"And you want to do some poking around to confirm it," Terry said

softly. He shook his head in wonder. "You really are determined to

get down to it, aren't you?"

 

"Look mister," Hannibal said, his eyes growing cold. "I don't like

it when one of my people disappears at night." He wished he had a

cigar out so he could emphasize his point by poking it at Terry. He

settled for a finger instead. "And I don't like being played with.

Someone in this town is doing just that."

 

"Yeah, man," BA put his two cents in. "Someone's gonna pay!"

 

Terry looked at each man in turn, gauging the seriousness of the

Team. Decision made, he turned over a place mat, not paying heed to

the coffee ring he smeared on the table in the process. He pointed

to one of the few squares on the map that wasn't on Main Street.

"Mr. Aberdeen lived here."

 

Hannibal found the number in the box corresponded with one under

the sight seeing heading. "Flat Tree?" he asked, reading off the

description.

 

"That was why he bought the property. He thought it was one of the

UFOs that flattened it," Terry said with a shrug.

 

"What about Lewis?"

 

"My brother stayed with me when he moved here." Terry examined his

cup again. "There's nothing to see but the garage."

 

"Thank you." Hannibal stood up, indicating he was ready to leave.

 

Terry followed him out.

 

Hannibal gratefully reached for a cigar. "You obviously don't like

us here," He said to Terry as they waited for Face to take care of

the bill. "So why are you helping us?" He wanted to get this one

thing cleared up.

 

"I don't want any trouble," Terry said with a small half smile and

a shrug. He countered with his own question. "The sheriff has had

two months worth of investigating without being able to put this

thing to rest. What make you think you'll figure it out?" He

looked at them skeptically.

 

"We have something your sheriff doesn't," Hannibal said, putting

the freshly lit cigar in his mouth.

 

"What's that?"

 

Hannibal smiled.

 

BA, with a shake of his head, answered for him. "It's called the

jazz."

 

 

Part 9

Clues

 

Face passed Terry on his way out to the van. He was glad to shut

the sliding door on the heat. Even the short walk from the diner to

the van made his shirt sit wrong on him.

 

Beside him, Murdock sat with his head resting on the back of the

seat, his eyes closed.

 

"Are you okay, Murdock?" Face asked.

 

"Yeah. Just a little tired, Faceman." He turned his head towards

Face, but didn't open his eyes. "Guess I didn't sleep well last

night."

 

Actually, Murdock couldn't remember sleeping at all. It felt to

him as if he had been shook awake immediately after closing his eyes

the night before.

 

"Sure?" Face pressed on, sensing something else was bugging the

pilot. "You were awfully quiet in the diner." This had Face a

little worried. Murdock didn't do quiet for long.

 

"Don't complain," BA teased.

 

"Somethin' Sally said reminded me of something," Murdock admitted.

 

"About yesterday?" Hannibal asked.

 

"No, I don't think so." Murdock didn't sound very sure of himself.

"Doesn't make any sense. Probably a dream or something." He tried

to explain it away.

 

"What?" Face asked, curiously. He secretly enjoyed Murdock's wild

imagination.

 

Murdock opened his eyes. A bit of amusement showed through, echoed

by a lopsided smile. "Flying trash bags and glow in the dark

people," he said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "The people were

kinda green," Murdock explained the normal weird dream image.

 

"Flying trash bags, huh?" Hannibal sometimes wished he had such

interesting dreams. "I'll have to remember that one."

 

"Why? Plannin' on traveling Trash Can Air?" Murdock joked.

"Wouldn't recommend it. I hear they're cramped and their service

really stinks." He got the intended groans from the pun.

 

"What was that?" Hannibal asked a few minutes later.

 

"What?" Face had an uncomfortable feeling of dj vu. They were on

the same stretch of road, though not quite as close to the motel as

before, where they had had the encounter with the flash of light.

 

"Not again," Murdock moaned, slouching a bit in his chair.

 

"I heard something." Right on cue, they heard a low thud from

somewhere up front.

 

"What is it?" Face asked, not really sure he wanted to know.

 

"Don't know." Both Hannibal and BA looked around for anything

unusual, BA while also trying to keep an eye on the road.

 

Another thud, a little louder.

 

"Maybe it's the engine," Hannibal suggested after failing to find

anything out of place.

 

BA tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "Nothin' wrong with

my engine," he protested, not about to let the affront to his

precious van slide.

 

As if to purposely contradict him, the thud sounded again. It was

definitely coming from somewhere before him. BA grunted when it

happened yet again only a few moments later. Wisely, no one said a

word about his engine.

 

Not one to put things off when it came to his van, BA pulled off to

the side of the road to check on it. Hannibal followed him out,

Face and Murdock opted to stay where it was cooler.

 

BA put the hood up, muttering unhappily as he surveyed the engine.

It didn't take long to spot the problem. A small black box dangled

in a crevice between hoses, loosely attached to the engine by a

piece of exposed wire. From the looks of it, it would have taken

only a couple more hours of driving and vibrations, and the wire

would have worked its way off.

 

"Somebody been messin' with my van!" BA said, outraged. He

carefully disengaged the wire, letting the little box drop.

 

"What is it?" Hannibal picked it up while BA double-checked the

engine for other surprises. He turned it over in his hands. It was

nothing more than plastic and wire.

 

"I don't care. Somebody been messin' with my van!" Satisfied

there was no further tampering, BA closed the hood with more force

than was needed.

 

They went back inside, BA muttering the phrase for yet a third

time, as if he couldn't believe it.

 

"Who would mess with your van, big guy?"

 

BA growled, Murdock quickly sat back.

 

"What happened, Hannibal?" Hannibal tossed the little box to Face

in answer to his question. "What is it?" Face turned the box

around, unknowingly echoing Hannibal's earlier question and motion.

 

Hannibal shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, kid."

 

"That attendant!" BA said suddenly, hitting the steering wheel. He

hadn't started up the van yet.

 

"What?" Hannibal eyed the steering wheel. Surprisingly, it seemed

to be holding up under the recent beatings.

 

"That man, Terry. I left the van with him when we first got in,"

BA admitted reluctantly. Anger quickly overcame any embarrassment

at not having watched the van well enough. "Sucka's gonna pay," he

declared.

 

"Cool it, BA," Hannibal said.

 

"Cool it?" BA couldn't believe his ears. "But the man..."

 

"I know, I know," Hannibal interrupted. "But he's behind us right

now, and I don't want to make a scene at the diner. We'll talk to

him," Hannibal assured BA before he could start up again. "Later.

Right now we've got a job to do."

 

Face smiled at the glint in Hannibal's eyes. "So, what's the plan,

Hannibal?" And hopefully the job would give BA time to get his

temper under control.

 

"A split up," Hannibal said. "Murdock came back acting drugged,

maybe the others did too. The local doctor probably took a look at

them. I want to know what he had to say about it, what he thinks

they were given. Face, we're going to leave you and Murdock to

cover that angle," Hannibal explained. "See if you can persuade him

to give us some names. I want to talk to the others this has

happened to."

 

"What do you expect me to do, Hannibal?" Face frowned at him. "I

can't exactly go in there in some disguise or another. This isn't

like LA. They'd notice another person," Face whined.

 

"You'll think of something," Hannibal dismissed. His smile seemed

to grow.

 

"Gee, thanks." It was nice to have his confidence, but there were

times when Face thought the only reason Hannibal had such faith in

his abilities was because Hannibal couldn't think of anything

himself.

 

 

Part 10

Snooping Around

 

Doctor Wentworth's office was number 7 on the map, following the

grocery store and the pet shop respectively. Like every other

building on Main Street, it looked like a converted warehouse.

 

"What's the plan, Faceman?" Murdock asked for the second time since

Hannibal and BA had dropped them off. They were standing in the

shade a little ways down the street from the office.

 

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking." Face dreamt up and discarded several

scenarios already. This just was not going to be an easy scam day.

 

"Well think a little faster," Murdock said, impatiently waiting on

Face to come up with a scheme. "I'm gonna die of heat out here!"

 

"The heat," Face muttered absently. His face lit up. "I got it!"

 

"What?" Murdock asked warily. Murdock had the feeling he was going

to get the hard part of this job.

 

"We're going to borrow a page from Hannibal's book." Face smiled

at him.

 

"Oh no," Murdock groaned. Hannibal operated from a very thin book.

There weren't many pages to choose from. "Not the front door

method. You couldn't think of something more original?"

 

"Why mess with perfection?" Face started walking up the street.

"Come on, Murdock. You've been out in the sun too long. You're not

looking too good."

 

"Why do I always have to be the distraction?" Murdock asked Face's

retreating back. He might be good at them, but he wasn't in a

distraction kind of mood.

 

The office, they were disappointed to find, wasn't kept very cool.

The waiting room was empty. No one responded to the bell on the

door - which, thankfully, was just a bell.

 

"Maybe he's not here," Murdock suggested hopefully.

 

"Hello?" Face was suspicious of any such hope. No one being there

would make their job a little too easy. "Anyone home?"

 

"Uh, hi. Just a minute," a voice called. To one side of a plain

metal desk was a propped open door leading to a short hallway. They

could see a man wearing jeans and crumpled T-shirt approaching them

from the other side. His hair was askew and his eyes drooped a

little, as if he'd just been asleep.

 

"Are you the doctor?" Face didn't let the man do more than nod.

"Good. My friend here, he isn't feeling so good. Hasn't been since

last night." The doctor jumped slightly at the mention of the

previous night. Face wondered at it, but didn't let it faze him.

"I really think you need to take a look at him." He looked at

Murdock and prompted, "Don't you think he needs to take a look at

you?"

 

"Uhm." Murdock found himself even more uncomfortable. He had seen

enough doctors to have strict rules about them. One of was never

trust a doctor who looked more uncomfortable than his patients.

 

"See?" Face tried to speed things along. Confusion was usually a

good strategy. "Can you see him now? You can have your secretary

give me..."

 

"I don't have a secretary," Wentworth managed to get in sideways.

 

"Oh." Unruffled, and secretly pleased, Face put on a thoughtful

expression. "Well, then," he flashed his patented winning smile,

"you can give me the paperwork to fill out while you see my friend."

Face pushed an unhappy Murdock at an equally unhappy doctor.

 

Wentworth paused at the desk to pull out a clipboard and some

forms.

 

"Thank you," Face said brightly. He took them from the harried

doctor and pretended to read through the forms.

 

Wentworth led Murdock through the small hallway and into one of the

rooms. As soon as Wentworth closed the door, Face put the clipboard

down and started snooping around.

 

"What's your name?" Wentworth asked as he directed Murdock to the

standard issue examination bed.

 

"Howard Miller," Murdock mumbled.

 

The lie also seemed to startle Wentworth. He certainly acted as if

he expected something else. "Oh. Uhm, I'm Dr. Wentworth. Friend

said you weren't feeling well?"

 

"Tired," Murdock answered truthfully. "Probably the heat," he

added when the doctor didn't say anything.

 

Hoping to give Face more time, Murdock went into a spiel about how

sleeping when it was too hot out gave him the strangest dreams and

went on to describe some of his tamer, yet still bizarre, dreams.

He hoped Face was quick in doing his part, because Wentworth wasn't

even giving him the usual 'is that so' of someone humoring a crazy

man.

 

Murdock watched Wentworth's hands as he performed the usual

doctorly stuff. They were sweaty and shook slightly. They had been

steady when he greeted them in the waiting room. That was another

rule Wentworth hit. Never trust a doctor with sweating hands. You

never know what they might drop, or when. Shaking hands Murdock

could handle; he'd met some very good doctors who had permanently

trembling hands. 'Course, most of those were psychiatrists. Even

they didn't fumble things like Wentworth was doing. He nearly

dropped the tongue depressor, twice.

 

Murdock sat through this, talking constantly, but not giving any

information about his so called illness. Wentworth didn't ask any

leading questions in a very un-doctor-like way. It was as if

Wentworth wanted Murdock out of there as much as Murdock wanted to

*be* out of there.

 

After too quick of an 'examination', Wentworth prescribed rest and

staying out of the sun for a few days. That was all. He left

Murdock in the examination room, blinking and wondering if Face had

enough time to find anything.

 

Murdock sighed and slowly made his way toward the waiting room.

 

"Pssst!"

 

Murdock found Face peeking around a door opposite of the

examination room. Face waved him over. Murdock looked down the

hall. Dr. Wentworth had his back turned to him, and was in the

process of picking up a ringing phone.

 

Murdock hurried into the half-opened room, careful not to jar the

door. Face pulled him to concealment behind it. Murdock thought it

was a ridiculous place to hide. If he thought someone was in a room

that should be empty, behind the door would be the first place he

would look. Right after that would be under the desk. The desk, in

this case, he could clearly see under. And the filing cabinets were

arranged in such a way as to not provide any convenient hiding

places. Murdock sighed. They were stuck hiding behind the door.

 

"Did you find anything?" he whispered.

 

"No. You let him out too early," Face scolded.

 

"Sorry." Murdock raised his arms and let them fall in

exasperation.

 

Face accepted the apology without saying anything more about it.

"Well, now we just have to find a way out of here."

 

Face carefully stuck his head out for a peek. The doctor had put

down the phone and was looking around. He apparently just realized

his patient was gone. Wentworth found the clipboard where Face had

set it. He picked it up, looked at the still blank forms with a

frown.

 

"He's still out there," Face whispered to Murdock.

 

"There's gotta be a back door," Murdock reasoned.

 

"If there is, we can't get to it without going through him, first."

 

Murdock rolled his eyes. "Great," he groaned.

 

And to make matters worse, the tinkling of bells announced someone

coming into the office.

 

"Maybe another patient," Murdock hoped aloud.

 

"Terry!" Wentworth called, "I'm glad you're here."

 

"Or maybe not," Face said.

 

Wentworth now had his back to them. He gestured animatedly to the

man Face couldn't see. "Some men just came in. One of them wasn't

feeling good so naturally I looked at him. I turned around for a

minute, and they were gone!"

 

"What did they look like?"

 

For someone who had been half asleep when they arrived, Wentworth

did a remarkably good job describing them.

 

Murdock looked out, standing on his toes so he could see over

Face's head better.

 

"I'll talk to them," Terry said to the doctor.

 

Wentworth wasn't happy with that. "Talk to them? Talk to them!

But they left without paying! And they didn't even fill out the

proper paperwork." The doctor waved the clipboard around.

 

"I said I'll talk to them, Doctor." Terry insisted.

 

"But they could have left by now." Wentworth sounded strangely

hopeful. "You should go after them before they..."

 

"Why does he want a mechanic to go after us?" Murdock asked. Face

just shrugged.

 

Terry cut Wentworth off with a dismissing tone. "I know where to

find them."

 

He sounded very sure of himself. Too sure for Face's comfort.

Fearing they might have been seen by the still unseen Terry, Face

pulled Murdock back behind the door.

 

"I want to see my brother's files," Terry said in demanding tone.

 

"What?" Wentworth said confused at the sudden change in topic.

 

"Lewis! I forgot," Face groaned. He went to one of filing

cabinets, paused. "Do you remember his last name?" he asked

Murdock.

 

"Who's?"

 

"Lewis's," Face hissed, annoyed at not being able to raise his

voice when he wanted to.

 

"He's Terry's brother," Murdock provided unhelpfully.

 

"I know that!" Face rolled his eyes. "What's their last name?"

 

"Try Graham."

 

Face pulled open the appropriate drawer. "Why?" he asked even as

he ruffled through the files.

 

Murdock shrugged. "Graham's Garage."

 

Face didn't ask why Murdock would assume the name on the garage

belonged to it's employees. He was too annoyed at himself for not

thinking of such an obvious place to start. And there it was, Lewis

Graham. Face quickly pulled the file. He reached the drawer on top

and grabbed Aberdeen's.

 

He paused for a moment to listen at the door. Wentworth and Terry

were having a nice heated discussion. He didn't stay long enough to

hear what they were arguing over. It didn't sound like it was

ending, which was good enough for Face. He hoped they were making

enough noise at each other to not notice the sound of the copy

machine.

 

Face put the files away and returned to the door just in time to

hear the departing shots.

 

"....dead, they don't have privacy anymore!" Terry sounded very

flustered.

 

"Sorry." Wentworth didn't sound the least bit sorry.

 

Face risked a peek around the door. Wentworth had his back to

them. Terry was leaning against the desk with his arms crossed.

 

"Fine." Terry pushed himself away from the desk. "If you won't

give it to me willingly, I'll have to find another means," he

threatened.

 

"You do that!" Wentworth spat angrily.

 

Terry turned and stalked out of the office. Face and Murdock

ducked their heads back inside when Wentworth walked down the

hallway. He went into the examination room and picked up the phone.

Face and Murdock snuck past the door while Wentworth had his back

turned toward them.

 

"Yeah, it's me," they heard him say as they went by. "We have to

talk."

 

They didn't hear the rest of the conversation as they made it

unspotted to the waiting room, then unheard out the front door.

 

- - - - - - - -

 

Aberdeen owned a small house on a piece of land barren except for

the tree. The tree was not quite as 'flat' as the descriptor on the

map made it sound, but was close enough to horizontal to be

interesting. Had it been upright, it would have stood taller than

the house itself. As it was, it lay at an angle that put the

Leaning Tower of Pisa to shame.

 

The ground around the base of the tree was bowl-shaped, as if it

had caved in. It was deeper on the side facing the house, exposing

several thick cords of roots. Hannibal circled the tree, careful

not to get too close to the depression for fear that the cause might

still remain.

 

Despite its haphazard condition, the tree was the only non-potted

flourishing vegetation Hannibal had seen in days. Decidedly

deciduous in nature, the needles were crisp and green except on the

underside of the tree. The branches were thick with them on the top

and one side, while the backyard side was sparser and gap filled.

 

The backyard was little more than hard packed soil and dust. It

looked as if the area had been used often, though he couldn't tell

how long ago that was. There was half-smeared scuffs and partial

prints of more than one foot. But nothing to give away who had been

there or why.

 

Hannibal made one more circle of the tree then decided to try the

house. He was surprised to find the door locked. Suspicious people

live even in small towns like this, it would appear. He twisted the

knob once more. Then he heard the noise: a very familiar click.

 

Hannibal let go of the door-knob and slowly put his hands out by

his sides where they could be easily seen. He turned around with

just as much care. He found the business end of a shotgun pointed

at his mid-section. Holding it was the man Terry had been hollering

at yesterday morning at the garage.

 

"Brandon, right?" Hannibal asked when the quiet man with the

lopsided beard didn't say anything.

 

Brandon took a startled step backwards.

 

"I saw you talking to Terry yesterday, when you borrowing the

pickup," Hannibal reminded him. "He wasn't too happy about the

paint not being dry before you packed your stuff in it."

 

Brandon stepped back again. Hannibal hadn't made a move. After a

moment, the other man risked a nod. The barrel of the shotgun

lowered slightly.

 

Hannibal looked at Brandon, trying to measure him up. Brandon,

uncomfortable, shuffled back yet again. Hannibal sighed. It would

be tedious if he had to stand there and stare Brandon back all day.

 

"Name's Hannibal," Hannibal offered, deciding Brandon wasn't going

to instigate the familiar questioning or demands that usually came

with having a weapon pointed at him. "My friend over there is BA."

 

Brandon nearly dropped the shotgun. BA stood near the van, his own

weapon drawn and one of his meaner scowls pointed at Brandon. The

startled man recovered before the gun hit the ground. It shook

slightly as Brandon held it aimed at the ground he just saved it

from.

 

"Put it away, BA." Hannibal doubted Brandon had ever intended to

use the shotgun. It was obvious he was too nervous to even think

about doing so now.

 

"You're the ones with the missing man?" Brandon finally found his

voice.

 

Hannibal motioned for BA to stay where he was. It would be

difficult to carry on a conversation if he had to shout to be heard.

"We were." Hannibal didn't move to close the distance the other man

had put between them. "We found him."

 

Pause. "Then you aren't looking for him here." The soft statement

seemed to be as close to a demand for answers for their presence as

Brandon was going to make.

 

"No," Hannibal smiled. "We're looking for answers here."

 

Brandon was apparently a man who considered every word before he

spoke. Another pause was followed by a riddle. "Answers are

everywhere if you ask the right questions."

 

Hannibal frowned, then understood. Brandon was fishing for answers

by not asking the questions.

 

"We want to find out what happened to our friend," he explained.

"We were told Major Aberdeen's would be..."

 

"You called him 'Major'," Brandon burst in, surprising Hannibal.

 

"Ranks are generally well earned," Hannibal said.

 

Brandon surprised him further by stepping closer. He had a sad

smile on his face. "He would like you," he pronounced. "Most don't

honor him that way."

 

"I noticed everyone's on a first name basis around here except for

him." Hannibal hoped to keep Brandon at ease and get more out of

him.

 

Brandon nodded once. "He was always a Sir or Ma'am, Mr. or Mrs.

kind of person. The Major only called close friends by their first

names."

 

"He didn't have any here?"

 

"I considered him a friend," Brandon said slowly. He answered

questions by not answering them, too. "Most thought him crazy," he

added sadly.

 

"Because of the UFOs?" Hannibal tried to keep the skepticism out

of his voice without much success.

 

Brandon snorted. "*Our* UFOs mind their own business," he stated.

"They don't bother the neighbors. They don't make a sound." He

sounded like he was describing the perfect neighbor. "They move

faster. And they don't steal," he added bitterly.

 

"Someone's been stealing from you?"

 

Brandon nodded twice. "Glow in the dark paint is expensive," he

mourned.

 

Hannibal raised his brows. "Glow in the dark?" He was beginning

to feel a bit like Face when trying to figure out something Murdock

was saying.

 

Brandon nodded again.

 

"Hannibal," BA called. He'd finally lost his patience waiting for

Hannibal to get to something interesting. "We're wastin' our time

here."

 

"Hold on, BA." Hannibal turned to Brandon again. "Would this

paint happen to be green?"

 

Brandon's eyebrows went up, and the not quite so thick side of his

beard twitched.

 

Hannibal took the gesture to be a surprised yes. He gave BA a

what-did-I-tell-you look. "I don't suppose you know who took this

paint?"

 

Brandon frowned. Hannibal translated that as a no. "Someone who

likes a lot of light and noise," Brandon said. "And liked to pester

Major Aberdeen at night."

 

_______________

Next: More Answers, More Questions...

Next
Encounters by Tiffany May Harrsch

 

 


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