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A Handful of Choices

A Handful of Choices

by Jenny
Disclaimer: The A-Team doesn’t belong to me, but to Stephen J. Cannel. I am making no profit from this venture.

Authors notes: This will be the first in a series of shorts to follow up on “The Right Choice”. Each will be numbered, but all under the generic title of “A Handful of Choices”. (Simply because I have no other inspirational titles to pick from! <BG>)

No real warnings except major sap and minor emotional upheaval.

Thanks for reading and please archive with a comment card.

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SLAP-BOUNCE…. SLAP-BOUNCE…. SLAP-BOUNCE…. SLAP-BOUNCE….

“Awe, man, cheap shot!”

“No, no, no… Frankie, that was a classic maneuver, right Face?”

Face sat on the sofa, staring at Murdock and Frankie as they zinged table tennis balls back and forth over the green felt playing field. Their antics had amused him, for a while. Now he was just plain restless. The team had been at Langley for four months. Face had hated every minute of it.

He missed California, the sun, the sand, and the sea. He missed miles of highway bordered on one side by steep granite cliffs and on the other by endless sparkling, blue ocean. There was one stretch of blacktop that had the most amazing view at sunset. It was almost halfway between L.A. and Hawkinsville… and Meagan… and Natalie.

Groaning his frustration, he scrubbed his hands over his face, lurched up from the couch and stalked away to his room. No matter what he did, or what he thought about, he always seemed to end up right back where he couldn’t allow himself to go…. Caught up in memories of what wasn’t meant to be.

Stepping through the door of his room, he immediately walked to the nightstand and pulled open the top drawer. Removing exactly three handkerchiefs, two magazines, and his 357 Magnum, revealed a small, square leather case. Briefly, he allowed his fingers to run over the textured surface. He hadn’t looked at it in three weeks and four days. Curling his fingers around it, he started to slowly lift it from the drawer.

“So, you gonna tell me what’s eating at you, or do I have to guess?”

‘Hannibal’ Face clutched the leather tighter for just a moment. ‘I should have known.’

“Face… Kid?”

Drawing in a deep breath, he replaced the leather bound case and softly closed the drawer. “Nothing, Hannibal. I’m okay.”

Simultaneously, the other man intoned the last word. “Okay… Yeah, I know. I’ve been hearing that all day. BA noticed it. Murdock and Frankie noticed it. Stockwell’s gonna notice, too.” He paused and pulled a cigar from his pocket, not bothering to light it; he just slid the end into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Out with it, Lieutenant.”

Deciding to try his patented ‘Faceman whine’ to get the colonel off his back, he began, “Hannibal, I just don’t like it here. It’s cold and damp….. and I miss home.”

Not realizing that the whine had disappeared after the first words were out, the younger man had revealed much more than he knew. Unknowingly, his gaze dropped back to the closed drawer.

Following the gaze and recognizing the sincerity in his words, Hannibal decided to have this out once and for all. Pushing the door shut, he quickly located and disabled the listening devices and surveillance camera in the room.

“Hannibal? What are you doing? You’re going to have us crawling with Abels…”

Standing face to face with his second, Hannibal demanded, “What’s in the drawer?”

“What?”

“Face, I’ve seen you with it before. What is it?” All manner of thoughts were running through Hannibal’s head. Face made no pretense of the fact that he thought they should leave, strike out on their own again. The kid was more miserable everyday and it showed, to those who knew him. Whatever was in that leather case, a fake passport or ID would fit, might just be part of a plan for Face to leave them, leave the team. And God help him, he would throw away the slim chance of pardons before he let the team fall apart. “Face, I’m not going to ask you again…”

Face stared at him. Hannibal was quite serious. His jaw was set and his eyes glinted, but without any of the playful Jazz that normally lingered there.

“I’m sorry, Hannibal. I’ve tried. I just can’t leave it behind.” He opened the drawer and retrieved the leather case. Handing it over, he then put his back to room and stared out the window.

Behind him, Hannibal opened the bi-fold case and silently shook his head at what lay before him. “Face… I…”

Anger tinged Face’s explanation as he interrupted. “You know, no matter what I do or think, I always end up back here, staring at that and knowing that I can’t have it. The missions, the women, the parties, they don’t block it. It’s always there… burned in my mind and my soul…. Hannibal, I love them, and I walked away. I’ve let them believe that I’m dead.”

The anger left and a soft regret crept into Face’s voice. “We agreed, me and Meagan, that it wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t going to happen. That she should go on with her life, their lives. But damn it, part of me hopes that she hasn’t. That when this is over, if we ever get out, they’ll be there and they’ll let me back in.”

Staring at the bright color glossies of Meagan and Natalie, smiling at the camera and waving jauntily at the photographer, Hannibal heard his words and finally understood.

He berated himself, internally. What had he done to his team? They were all unhappy, but they’d followed him here, because he had said it was their best, last hope. What a fool he had been. Maybe they had been better off on the run in L.A. At least there, they had some peace. Some chance to have parts of a normal life. But now, under Stockwell, who knew?

“Face, I’m sorry… I didn’t know. I thought when we left Hawkinsville the last time, that you and she had it worked out.”

“We did. I could see Natalie as often as possible. But she wasn’t to know who I was.”

“Meagan didn’t change her mind on that?” Hannibal was puzzled. He would have sworn Meagan was ready to commit. To tell Natalie the truth.

“No, that was my stipulation. I didn’t want to put her through exactly what she would be going through now, if she knew.” Finally turning from the window and facing the colonel, he continued in a wistful tone. “I spoke with them on the phone two weeks before the trial. Natalie was taking dance classes and I was going for her first recital. She was so exited.”

“You never mention them. If I had known, we’d have found some way to let them know…” Hannibal returned the framed pictures to their owner. “To try to get you to see them.”

“No. They don’t belong here, in any way. If Stockwell had known, he might have used them someway.” He stared down at the captured images for long moments, his eyes caressing the faces, committing them to memory until he had the nerve to look at them again.

“You’re right, kid. He would have.” Catching Face’s eyes, finally, Hannibal asked, “So this is what has been eating at you?”

“Yeah, I guess. Some days aren’t so bad…” He slipped the frame into the drawer and covered it well again.

“But not today?”

“No, not today.” He straightened and shoved his hands into his back pockets. “She turned five today, Hannibal. My daughter is five years old today and I’ve spent exactly fifteen days in her company.”

Before he could respond, Hannibal heard the door fly open and three Abels appeared with guns drawn. “Gentlemen, General Stockwell would like to speak with you, please.”

The colonel watched as, like turning on a switch, his brash Lt replaced the remorseful man he’d just conversed with. Face sauntered past the guards, fixing each with a smirk before exiting the room. Hannibal had taught his men to always keep their tormentors off guard. He knew that they had all learned that lesson well. He also knew Face wouldn’t open up again anytime soon. Perhaps it was time to begin negotiations with Hunt Stockwell. His team had been here just about long enough.

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Thousand of miles away, Meagan watched as Natalie tore into the last present at her fifth birthday party. It had come by special delivery just minutes before and she had no idea who it was from. The brown wrapper had been addressed to Miss. Natalie Burkes, c/o Meagan Burkes.

As the paper fell away, the purchase order fluttered out. It was from a small, exclusive boutique on Rodeo Drive. The order date was some five months ago and had been signed in neat, precise handwriting, T. Peck. Underneath, the requested delivery date was today.

“Mommy, who is it from?” The curious child shook and poked at the brown shipping box.

Unsteadily, Meagan moved to help her daughter with the packing tape. The box opened easily enough to reveal a small, blue velvet jeweler’s case. Natalie’s small fingers pried the stiffly hinged lid open. Her mouth formed a perfect circle as she gasped, “Oh, Mommy, its beautiful!” On the white satin liner, a dainty, gold heart locket, an engraved ‘N’ over an enameled pink rose, hung from a slender but sturdy gold rope chain. “Who sent it, Mommy?”

Choking on the sobs that nearly overcame here, Meagan replied, “Someone who loved you very much, Natalie.”

The End




A Handful of Choices by Jenny
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