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Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.
Warning: Graphic sex (m/f). Some violence.
Comments: Abuse welcomed. [Special thanks to Merry, Fingers, Partly and a host of others for their comments]
Summary: Anything that
can go wrong will go wrong when, while trying to get the goods on a crooked
contractor, Face, Murdock, BA and Hannibal separately reveal personality flaws
that jeopardize the mission. A sort-of response to the VA mailing list flaw
challenge, which was to write a fic in which your favorite character's personality
flaw caused him to mess up a mission. Instead of focusing on a single
member of the team's personality flaw, I thought I'd try to have each member's
flaw mess up a mission in turn. It starts rather PWP-ish, but the fic does have a plot.
From his perch in the corner of the darkened bar, Face glanced across the room. Dino's Place, as it was known, was nothing special, just an old corner bar that had seen better days. It had probably been a hot spot in the late 1930s or 1940s, when this part of Los Angeles still had a middle-class population and people rode the Red Cars around Los Angeles. Since those days were long gone, a testament to the suburbia that Los Angeles had become, Dino's Place - or whatever it had once been known as - was a relic of a past.
Still, even in its current condition, the place had its charms. The mahogany wood bar, with its marble counters, created a splendid center island in the middle of the room. Dwayne and Mike, the two bartenders Face had come to know over the past two days, kept the wood well-oiled and the marble spit-shined. The barkeepers stood in the middle of the rectangular bar, wine glasses hanging from wood slots that ringed the counters, multiple taps within easy reach and the best hard alcohol lining shelves that hung a few feet down from the low ceiling. The latter feature allowed customers to see their myriad of options without preventing them from viewing the people on the other side of the bar. At the moment, two drunks were finishing off the contents of a couple of shot glasses. The booths, all but Face's currently empty, lined the four walls, leaving only holes for the main entrance, the back hallway and an old-fashioned juke box. The juke box, which Face's prior visits had revealed to be filled only with 45s by old crooners like Old Blue Eyes, Bing Crosby and Johnny Mercer, sat silent at the moment.
"Haskins and his gang just pulled into the parking lot."
Face listened to Hannibal's words over the earpiece, but it was too quiet in the bar for Face to say anything in response. He sat silent, heartened to know that Hannibal and BA were just outside in the van, recording everything that Face captured on the directional microphone hidden in his breast pocket. The colonel and sergeant also were keeping an eye out for Lynch who had somehow got wind of the A-Team's operations in this part of the city and was actively searching for them.
"They're coming in," Hannibal said, adding a crisp order that echoed in Face's ear. "Look sharp, Lieutenant."
Face shook his head at the order. How long had he been doing this? Way too long. Frankly, Face had been the team's inside man for so long, he could do a job like this in his sleep. One of these days, Hannibal would realize it.
Besides, Face always looked sharp. Just ask the barmaid who kept gazing hungrily in his direction. Or better yet, the leggy brunette drinking a gin-and-tonic at the bar. She was magnificent. Legs that never seemed to end, narrow hips, slim waist and tits to die for. Her short, black dress left little to the imagination.
On any other day, Face would have sidled up next to her, thrown out a few lines, flashed a few smiles and, most likely, they would have been out the door within a few minutes.
What a shame she had to walk in here while he was on a mission. Maybe, just this once, Face would get lucky. Maybe Jack Haskins, crooked construction company magnate and regular patron of Dino's Place, would quickly make his latest pay-off to the City Planning Commission. Then Face might get a chance to make the acquaintance of that fine specimen of the female of the species before he left.
"They're coming in the back way, Face."
At this latest information, Face shifted his body, which had been directed toward the front door, so that he could face the dark hallway that led in from the back alley. His movement caused the red vinyl to groan loudly. At the same time, Face tried to lift his arm, which had been resting on the back of the booth. That was a struggle, as his arm apparently had gotten stuck to the old, cracked vinyl. Face grimaced as he thought about how he had planned on wearing a sweater today, but Hannibal had ordered that Face wear a short-sleeve polo shirt with a breast pocket for the microphone. With a burst of effort, Face yanked his arm, managing to peel it free from the vinyl with a loud ripping sound.
"What was that, Lieutenant?"
Ignoring Hannibal's question, Face glanced back around the room. Realizing that most of the eyes had turned his way, Face just gave a casual and apologetic shrug. He noticed that one of the pairs of eyes looking at him belonged to the brunette. Catching her gaze - and noticing her apparent interest in what she saw - Face responded with a meaningful look.
He knew it was a mistake to mix business and pleasure, but Hannibal could hardly expect Face to pass up an opportunity like this. Nobody ever accused the colonel of being restrained around the opposite sex, and this woman was truly glorious. What man wouldn't give up an arm or leg to get this creature into bed? With that thought guiding him, Face let his gaze linger on the woman a bit longer. She responded with a smoldering look of her own. Her dark brown eyes remaining locked on his, she slowly played her tongue across her lips. The look in her eyes, telling him exactly how she really wanted to use that tongue, was enough to make the room temperature increase twenty degrees.
"Lieutenant, is Haskins inside?"
The metaphorical cold shower doused the flame.
Reluctantly, Face broke eye contact with the brunette and glanced in the direction of the back hallway. At that moment, Jack Haskins and his trusty sidekicks, all of whom looked like former offensive linemen for the Rams, entered the main room of the bar. They glanced about, taking in the occupants of the room from the intersection of the back hallway and the room for a moment. Apparently everything met with their approval, because, as Face anticipated, Haskins took a seat at his regular booth in the back and the guards took their positions next to it. Only two booths away from Face's position, there would be no problem capturing Haskins' conversation with the hidden microphone.
Face smiled. All the team needed was this recording and then they could turn over the tape to Amy who would report on it. The crooked politician soon to meet with Haskins would be destroyed and Haskins' pay-offs would be exposed. No more shoddy construction supplies used to raise buildings that did not meet code requirements.
'Yep,' Face thought. 'This job really was going to be a piece of cake.'
Face hesitated for a moment as he saw one of the guards walk over to the jukebox and pop in a couple of quarters. Five seconds later, the strains of music and Johnny Mercer telling the world to "accentuate the positive" came over the speakers set around the room. Face listened for a moment and then concluded that it was not loud enough to impede BA's directional microphone, even though it was nice background music to prevent people at the other tables from overhearing any conversation at the back table.
The grin fully restored, Face reached into his breast pocket and found the microphone. He positioned it so it aimed directly at Haskins' table. With BA's special modifications, it was more than strong enough to pick up every sound. All Face had to do was sit back and wait.
"I like a man with a nice smile."
The smoky voice could only come from one person in the bar. And it wasn't Jack Haskins. Face looked up from his seat to find the brunette standing directly in front of the booth. She held the gin and tonic in her hands, a long, fire-red fingernail from the index finger of her right hand circled the rim of the glass. Momentarily, Face found himself fixated by the movement. Then his eyes moved up, taking in the woman's breasts, the hair that brown wavy hair that barely grazed her shoulder, her light-complexion that served as a perfect complement to her bright red lips and the dark, deep-set eyes that still smoldered.
Oh Christ, he thought. She was even better looking up close than at a distance.
"Lieutenant." The warning was obvious in Hannibal's words. He had obviously heard the woman speak.
Flustered for an instant hearing the colonel's voice inside his head, Face tried to remember what he had been doing before the vision in the short, black dress appeared at the table.
"Get rid of the girl, Lieutenant."
Hannibal's voice brought everything back. The mission. Haskins. Two booths over. The microphone.
Face searched his mind for a good excuse that would allow him to blow her off for the moment, but would leave the door open for a future meeting. This was not an opportunity to be missed.
"You know," he said as an excuse finally came to him. "I'm waiting for someone to show up. He'll only be here for a moment, but afterward why don't we have a drink and you can tell me all about what else you like in a man." Face made sure the last words came out slow and seductive.
Face winced at the hard edge in Hannibal's voice. Admittedly, it was not the best excuse to give someone the brush off, but Face had to think fast. Besides, Hannibal could not see this magnificent creature or the sultry gaze that sent Face's pulse skyrocketing. The colonel, of all people, should understand that this required a careful response.
"How about I tell you now?" she purred. "If your friend shows up, I'll go back over to the bar."
"No . . . You can't . . ." Face struggled vainly to get the words out, but she had already dropped her glass on the table and slid along the red vinyl of the booth. Out the corner of his eye, Face saw the politician take a seat in Haskins' booth. Face had been so distracted, he had never even noticed the front door open and the politician enter.
"I . . . uh . . . really have to be . . . uh . . . alone when my friend shows up. He's- uh-" Face was about to say that his friend would not understand, but at that instant, her hand slipped under the table and began massaging his inner thigh.
"I think it'll be okay," she said seductively, as she pressed her head against his shoulder. She continued to stroke the denim of his jeans.
"Uh . . . Oh . . . Yeah . . . Okay . . ." Oh, man, she could stay as long as she wanted.
"Lieutenant, are you listening to me?" Hannibal had raised his voice.
"Uh . . . Sure . . . I'm listening, Hannibal," Face stammered, forgetting that the woman would hear him respond to Hannibal's question.
She laughed softly, blowing air into Face's ear, "I'm sure you're listening . . . and feeling . . ." Her hand slid further around his thigh and lightly squeezed his erection. Face thought he was going to pass out from the touch. "I bet that feels good."
That felt better than good, Face thought, as he gasped at what her hands were doing under the table.
Then she asked, "Who's Hannibal?"
Hannibal? Hannibal who? His mind drew a blank. As her hands continued to fondle him, he mentally added a 'who cares?' Face lifted the woman's head and kissed her full on the lips. Then, letting go of her head, mission and colonel forgotten, he allowed one his hands to snake out to the woman. One hand wrapped around her shoulders as the other began to make its way along her bare leg. At that moment, he was prepared to take her right then and there.
"God, you're gorgeous," he breathed. As his hand slipped under her skirt, he whispered, "I want you."
"No, honey . . . Let's save that for later." She slid her leg back and out of reach, so she was now leaning even further against Face's chest. He didn't protest, though, because her hand under the table had moved up. Deftly, she undid his belt buckle and, one-by-one, unbuttoned the fly of his jeans.
She whispered something, but Face didn't hear what it was. All he could hear was the pounding of the blood in his ears. It grew louder, pounding harder, when she reached inside his shorts and freed him from the confining fabric. Her long fingernails toyed with the tip of his erection.
"God," he panted, his breath ragged. "Don't stop."
"I wasn't planning to." To prove it, she lowered her hand so it clasped the bottom of his shaft. Slowly, she began to pump her hand along its length.
There was another sound in his ear, harsh and angry, trying to tell Face something, but he tuned it out. Nothing was more important than this. He was dimly aware of the other patrons and staff in the bar, but none of them seemed to be taking notice of what was taking place in the back corner booth. The music - Frank Sinatra had replaced Johnny Mercer - masked the sound of his moaning.
"You like that?" the woman asked as she changed the stroking motion so that her hand not only ran the length of Face's cock, but on the downward motion, cupped his balls and fondled a particularly sensitive spot. With a steady rhythm, her hand continued to move up and down, faster and faster.
Face could only groan his assent. Words eluded him. The friction and heat of her hand rubbing against him sent shockwaves through his body. His breath came forth in uneven bursts, short gasps followed by longer moans. Sweat slipped down his neck and back, but Face did not care. All that mattered was her hand and his throbbing erection, each touch sending more waves of fire through him.
The hand continued its work, gripping harder and sliding faster.
His head fell back onto the back of the booth and his arms braced against the red vinyl. Nearly there. Just a few more strokes. He felt the tightening in his groin and let loose with a low moan.
"Yes, baby, yes," she whispered. "That's right. Almost there."
"God . . . please . . . don't- don't stop . . . oh God . . ."
Every muscle in his body constricted. Even his eyes shut tight. Her hand continued its movements; the nails touched him, forcing him to suppress the screams he wanted to let fly. God, he was close. Each half-choked gasp seemed to catch in his throat. She moved faster and faster, until it finally sent him over the edge.
Face's vision, despite being blocked by his closed eyelids, flashed with a brilliant whiteness. His clenched muscles, strained from the tension released with a sudden fury. He came hard; the pounding waves wracked his body with harsh spasms. Over and over, he exploded, almost as if it would never end.
And then it was over.
"I hope you like running obstacle courses, Lieutenant."
Face's eyes flew open as the ominous threat broke through the other sounds - pounding blood and gasping breaths - reverberating in his ears. He jerked his head around, suddenly remembering where he was and why he was there. The bartenders were busily cleaning the marble counters, the barmaid was nowhere to be seen and the two drunks at the counter were still drinking themselves into oblivion. Even Haskins, the politician and Haskins' guards seemed unaware of what had just happened two booths over.
"It's been a pleasure."
Face did a double-take at the sound of the woman's voice. No longer sultry and seductive, it now sounded straightforward and businesslike. He spun his head back in her direction to see her finish wiping her hand off with a cocktail napkin. She looked at him with disinterest and then began to slide out of the booth.
She smirked at him and leaned back across the table. "Mr. Haskins thanks you for your attention. I do hope you enjoyed yourself. I sure did, especially the nice little payment I'm going to get for being a distraction." She gave a broad smile at the other occupied booth.
Face followed her gaze in time to see Haskins smile back and blow the woman a kiss. He shook his head and smirked at Face. Then he turned his attention back to the politician, who Face realized, had stood up from the table. The conversation obviously over, the politician reached out and shook Haskins's hand. Then the politician headed out the front door.
"You know," Hannibal's voice came back over the earphone. "Maybe I'll just let BA have a run at you. He's not happy that he now has a recording of heavy breathing, lots of "oh gods" and "don't stops" instead of a crooked politician taking a bribe."
Face's jaw dropped as he everything registered.
The woman laughed loudly as she saw Face's stunned expression. She gave him a mock kiss and spun toward the door. The hem of her little black dress swirled about her long legs as she turned and strode out of the bar. She did not look back.
Face blinked. Once. Twice. He could not move a muscle. There was some noise buzzing in his ear, but it was probably Hannibal chewing Face out some more or making even more ominous threats. Face ignored the sound until it finally became too loud to ignore.
"FACE?!? DID YOU HEAR ME?!?" Hannibal roared over the microphone.
"What?" Face barely managed to mutter.
"GET OUT OF THERE," Hannibal yelled.
Still in shock, Face did not move. He did stammer out a question. "Wh-Why?"
"Damn it, Lieutenant. I said Lynch just pulled up out front. Get out the back and we'll grab you."
Those words managed to break through the shock and confusion. Face hastily pulled up his shorts and pants, ignoring the sticky, wetness that covered his abdomen and would be obvious through his pants. Not even bothering to buckle his belt, he leaped out of the booth just as the front door crashed open. MPs, M-16s and 9 millimeters at the ready, surged into the bar.
Face heard the bartenders and Haskins' goons yelling at the intrusion. Using the chaos to his advantage, Face raced to the back corridor.
"There he is," yelled Lynch. "Get Peck before he escapes."
But it was too late. Even as the gunfire echoed through the bar, Face reached the back door and shoved it open. Simultaneously, the black van tore into the alley, sending plastic and aluminum garbage cans flying. Over the din, Face heard the familiar sound of the back door sliding open as it bore down on his location. When it arrived, he leaped inside, rolled onto the carpeted floor and gave one backward glance just in time to see Lynch and his MPs crash through the back door. But by that time, the van was already beyond his reach.
Face reached out and closed the door. Once that task was completed, he fell back on the floor and allowed himself a few minutes to collect himself and regain control of his breathing. When he finally could brave it, Face sat up and looked into a stone-faced, withering glare of Hannibal Smith.
Although Face could not see BA's face, the sergeant head was lowered over the steering wheel and he was shaking it from side to side. Face recognized the head shake. It was BA's patented 'you're-gonna-be-a-dead-man-when-Hannibal-gets-done-with you' look.
Face swallowed hard and forced a trembling smile to his lips, even though he knew it would do no good. The axe was going to fall no matter what he said or did. So he might as well tell the truth.
"Umm . . . I guess you want a report . . . Long black hair, short black
dress . . ."
'Man, what did I do to get stuck with this job?'
Murdock groaned inwardly as he swatted at one of the dozens of flies that swirled around his head. This was not what he had expected when Hannibal called that morning, and angrily ordered Murdock to escape from the VA. The colonel might be on the warpath, but it was hardly Murdock's fault.
No. The fault lay with Murdock's companion at the moment.
What the hell had Face done the day before? It was supposed to be an easy job. So easy, they didn't even need to break Murdock out. So why was Murdock now sitting in a swampy ditch that ran alongside an uneven asphalt road in the middle of nowhere waiting to hijack one of Jack Haskins' construction company's trucks?
And why had Hannibal selected an ambush point that smelled like a cesspool? It also didn't help that it was 113 in the shade today, and Hannibal had chosen to take out the truck scheduled to arrive at Haskins' construction site just after noon.
Whatever Face had done, he had royally screwed the pooch. Hannibal picked harsh punishments sometimes, but this was brutal.
"What did you do, Face?" Murdock groaned.
Face instantly grew defensive. "Just drop it, Murdock. Isn't it bad enough that I'm stuck out here in this heat and stench as punishment?"
"Not really," Murdock muttered. "I'm stuck here with you."
"Oh?" Face shot back. "Did it ever occur to you that being stuck with you might be part of my punishment?"
"Face, lay off Murdock," a voice harshly barked inside Murdock's head. "He's not the one who decided to let Haskins' secretary give him a blow job in public last night."
Murdock's eyes darted about for a moment while he tried to figure out how Hannibal had turned telepathic. Then he remembered that both he and Face were wearing earphones.
"It was not a blow job," Face said curtly. His eyes stared down at the ground and his lips curved into a pout. The look reminded Murdock of his next-door neighbor, Warren, who pouted whenever he got caught disobeying a rule.
"Of course. How could I make that mistake. I forgot that she was talking to you the whole time." Hannibal's voice reverberated again in Murdock's head. In a high-pitch squeal, the colonel mimicked a woman's voice, "'That's right.' 'Almost there.' How does that sound, Lieutenant? About right?"
Face's his cheeks flamed in response, but he said nothing. Instead he sat back in the ditch, continued to pout and swatted at a few of the flies.
"Aww, Facey, what a lovely color of crimson you just turned," Murdock kidded. He figured if he went along with the ribbing, maybe he might get excused from any more of Face's punishment detail. This, after all, probably was only part one.
Hannibal's laugh in the earpiece told Murdock he had scored a few points. Face's cold glare, however, told Murdock to stop while he was ahead.
"Aww, that's just great, Facey," Murdock grumbled. "I'm stuck with you because you got caught with your pants down - literally."
Murdock folded his arms in front of his chest and pressed his back against the side of the ditch. He could glare as well as Face when necessary.
"Hey, guys, look sharp," Hannibal commanded. "BA just reported that the truck just turned off the highway. It should be at your location in five minutes. BA says there's an extra guard or two on board, so I don't want any mistakes. Got it? Just in and out. Stop the truck and blow up the gas tank so those construction supplies don't get through."
Murdock rolled his eyes. How many times had he and Face done jobs like this? Sheesh, you'd think from the way Hannibal was talking that they were raw recruits. This really was a piece of cake.
"BA and I are on our way to Haskins' compound. We'll meet you there when the truck is out of the way." After a moment of silence, Hannibal added, "Is that all understood, Lieutenant?"
"Yeah," Face muttered.
"Okey dokey," Murdock answered, but his flat tone belied any enthusiasm his words might convey.
He glanced around the ditch, taking another look at the sparse brush that gave them cover from the road. If not for the heat and the smell, this was a pretty good ambush spot. It probably was the only decent one on the entire road that led up from the highway, five miles away.
To Murdock's right, Face picked up the plunger for the explosives and checked it again. The lieutenant muttered angrily under his breath, but even as close as Murdock was, he could not hear what Face was mumbling. Murdock said nothing, though. Face's eyes looked like they could shoot daggers. Better not to antagonize him further.
Sheesh, it was boring out here. Just him and Face, lots of flies and . . .
Wait . . .
Yep, there he was. Just on the other side of the ditch. Oh, that was a good doggie.
"Come here, Billy-boy," Murdock called. The little brown-and-white ball of fur wagged its tail, and jumped over the stagnant water at the bottom of the ditch.
"Murdock," Face cautioned.
"Aw c'mon, Faceguy. It's just Billy." Reaching out, Murdock stroked the dog's floppy ears. "Besides, I've got to have someone to keep me company out here. You sure aren't exactly a ray of sunshine today." Murdock reached into his pocket and pulled out a handy-dandy dog biscuit and tossed it to the pooch. Billy devoured it hungrily. His tail thumped against the bottom of the ditch, splashing water about. "See, Billy's happy."
Face grimaced and rolled his eyes. "You know, at times like this, I want to write my senator and demand a refund of the tax money we pay the VA."
"Oh, let me see if I get this right," Murdock said. "Because you can't keep your pants zipped, it's time to cast aspersions on the professionalism of the good doctors and nurses who've done so much for me over the last ten years?"
"Murdock, I'm getting tired of this Billy-obsession," Face said. His voice rose in a rather-un-Facemanlike snarl.
"No you don't," Murdock warned. "I'm not taking the blame here. You got us into this, muchacho, so if I'm going to be stuck here and Billy wants to keep me company, you're not going to stop us." Murdock finished his words with a harrumph, then added, "Right Billy?"
There was no answering bark or wag of the tail. Billy was gone.
"Hey!" Murdock exclaimed. "Billy? Where'd you go." To Face, Murdock growled, "See what you did. You got Billy upset and he ran away."
"Murdock, would you dial it down." Face's frustration was obvious. "The truck's gonna be here any second."
"No! You made Billy run away. I need to find him." Murdock stood up from the ditch and looked around. No dog in the dirt patch on the other side of the ditch. No dog running around the trees off in the distance to Murdock's right. No dog chasing cows in the paddock far to Murdock's left. Murdock turned and looked through the brush toward the road.
"Billy," he yelled in exasperation.
The little brown-and-white bundle was sitting on his haunches in the middle of the road. His pink tongue was hanging out and his tail was flying from side to side.
"Get out of the road, boy," Murdock commanded.
The dog did not move.
"Come on, Billy. It's no time to play games."
"Murdock, get down. The truck-"
Face's words caused Murdock to look to his left - in the direction of the highway. A flatbed was speeding down the road. The driver seemed oblivious to the little dog in the middle of his path.
Murdock never hesitated. He scrambled out of the ditch, through the brush and charged into the road. Noises behind his back told him that Face was racing after. The truck veered closer, bearing down Billy. Murdock had no time to think.
He dove for the dog, tackling the mass of fur.
Tires and breaks squealed.
Something struck Murdock from behind. Arms - obviously Face's - grabbed Murdock, forcing him and Billy into a ball as they rolled forward.
The grinding gears and skidding rubber roared in Murdock's ears.
Face's arms suddenly released Murdock who flipped over. From behind him, he heard a scream of pain. Metal crashed and the pavement shuddered beneath him.
Then it was quiet.
Murdock rolled over, still cradling Billy in his arms. He glanced behind him to see that the flatbed had come to a stop about 20 feet away and on the far side of the road. It rested on its side. The former contents of the truck bed - barrels, tools, sheet metal and other construction equipment - now lay strewn about the ground.
"Not exactly what we planned, Facey, but effective don't you think?
There was no response.
"Face?" Murdock felt cold wash over him. He looked to his side of the road.
Face lay crumpled on the asphalt.
Murdock clambered to his feet and raced over to his friend. To the pilot's immense relief, Face rolled over on his back. Then Murdock realized that Face's legs had not moved with the rest of his body. They remained at odd angles with his torso, obviously broken.
"Aw . . . damn . . ." Face mumbled as Murdock came within earshot.
"Hold still now, Face." Murdock shifted into serious mode as he slid to a knee alongside his injured friend. "Just hang in there."
Face's dazed eyes stared out of a face coated with sweat, scratches and a dark black grime from the asphalt. As Murdock tried to assess the injuries, Face lifted a hand and grabbed Murdock's t-shirt right at the shoulder.
"Ne-Next time . . ."
Murdock winced at what his friend was about to say. 'Next time.' Next time, Face would probably strangle Murdock. And who would blame Face? This was all Murdock's fault.
"Next ti-time, Mur-Murdock . . . k-keep Billy on hi-his l-leash. We-" Face never finished the thought, but gave a weak laugh. Face's fingers then released the shirt and he promptly passed out.
"GODDAMN IT!!! WHAT'S HAPPENING?!?"
The voice - Hannibal's - roared in Murdock's ear. "Murdock, what the hell is going on there?"
A light bulb popped on in Murdock's head. Hannibal was still listening from the van.
Murdock began to reply, but he stopped when he heard clicking sounds erupt from behind him. He turned around and came face-to-face with three mens, all holding guns. All the guns pointed at him and Face.
"Uh . . . I think we have a little problem . . ."
BA peered around the side of the pool house and quickly scanned the courtyard between him and the main house in Haskins' compound. It had been thirty minutes since he had jumped the fence and fifteen since the thugs in a pick-up truck had pulled up with Face and Murdock in the back.
What the hell had gone wrong out there? It was an easy job. Take out a truck. The team had done stuff like that hundreds of times. How could Face and Murdock mess things up so badly?
Well Face had messed up at the bar the day before, hadn't he? True, BA thought, but that made him fairly convinced that it was the fool who had messed up this time. Face would have been extra cautious about things after suffering Hannibal's wrath. So what had happened?
BA decided he just didn't want to know. Whatever it was had been enough to turn Hannibal purple and made BA think the colonel might burst a blood vessel. Hannibal was so mad he wouldn't even tell BA what had happened. Murdock had really messed things up big time. Judging from the way the guards had carried Face into the house, BA figured the lieutenant had taken the worst of it. BA just wished he knew how bad it was.
"You in position, BA?"
"Yeah, Hannibal. I'm just at the edge of the pool house. Pool's to the right. Courtyard's dead ahead. Any word from inside?"
BA hoped that Hannibal could still hear the sounds of Face's and Murdock's microphones. Apparently that was the case, because BA heard Hannibal announce just how many circuits on the obstacle course they could expect for screwing up the mission.
"What do they say, Hannibal?" BA asked.
Hannibal sighed. "Murdock keeps saying Billy's sorry . . ."
Dang fool, BA thought. At least that confirmed BA's suspicions about what happened. Murdock couldn't let his craziness put jobs at risk. Stuff like that was gonna get the fool killed.
"And Face is awake. He says his legs are broken, but nothing compound. Otherwise he says it's just some scrapes and bruises."
That sounded like Face. Just a couple broken legs. No problem.
"Ya sure, Hannibal?" BA asked dubiously.
"Yes, BA." There was a short laugh over the earphone. "Yeah, I'm sure. . . He's going to be okay, BA. He just made a joke about not being able to run the obstacle course. Like he thinks that's going to get him out of punishment detail."
That, BA thought, really sounded like Face.
BA listened as Hannibal give Face and Murdock some instructions about preparing for the rescue. Unfortunately, BA could not hear anything from inside the house. That was something he was going to have to fix in the radios. Right now, the man in the van could hear every man in the field, but those in the field couldn't hear one another.
"You got that, BA?" Hannibal asked. "Face said he's not going to be able to help out in there. But he's going to try to get Murdock focused."
"Yeah, I got it. I can carry Face out if Murdock is mobile," BA said. "Just tell me when you're ready to move in."
BA thought about the plan. It made sense. He would infiltrate the house from the back, while Hannibal charged the van through the front gates. With Hannibal's distraction, BA should be able to find Murdock and Face and get them out of the house. It did not look like Haskins had that many guards hanging around the compound. Surveillance had only shown six or seven. Even short-handed, BA and Hannibal could take out guys like these easily.
Yep, this should be a piece of cake. Just in and out. No real problem.
"Give me exactly ten minutes and I'll be good to go," Hannibal answered. "I want to make this fast. Get Face and Murdock out of there before Haskins decides to call Lynch."
BA shook his head at the thought. After yesterday's debacle, Haskins knew about the A-Team and Colonel Lynch, its pursuer. They would have to move fast. BA reached down and checked his watch. Ten minutes. Time to hunker down and prepare to move.
Something red flashed in the corner of his eye. Reminding himself that he couldn't let himself get distracted, BA quickly glanced to his right - to a copse of trees between the courtyard and the fence that ringed the compound. There was something red there. Something moving.
It was a dark-haired boy, wearing a fire-engine red t-shirt. By BA's guess, the kid was probably eight or nine. The boy glanced surreptitiously about, but apparently did not see BA hiding behind the edge of the pool house. Instead, the boy stared intently at the house and swimming pool.
BA saw the red t-shirt go flying. The boy slid his sneakers off and ran headlong for the pool. With his running start, he leaped over the edge, pulled his legs into a cannonball and landed in the water with an explosive splash.
"Dang it," Ba muttered.
"Some neighbor's kid just climbed the fence ta go swimming, Hannibal. Could get caught in the crossfire."
BA watched as the kid climbed out of the pool and glanced about. He obviously had done this before and knew about the guards who patrolled the compound.
"I've gotta get him outta here," BA rumbled into the microphone.
"Wait," Hannibal cautioned. "What does the kid look like?"
What did that matter? They were about to assault the compound.
"Sheesh, Hannibal. It's a kid. Eight or nine. Dark hair."
BA glanced back at his watch. Only six minutes before the assault. If he moved fast, he could get the kid to the back fence and return to his position before Hannibal moved. BA quickly told Hannibal the new plan.
"Wait," Hannibal warned again. "It could be a trap."
"No. No time," BA growled. "It's just a kid. I'm goin'."
BA took off at a dead run toward where the boy stood. Grab the kid and get him to the fence. Piece of cake.
"No, BA! That's-"
BA ignored Hannibal. This was a kid, after all.
"Don't worry, kid. You gotta get outta here, but I'll take care of ya," BA called out as the boy spun in the direction of the yell, his eyes widening. BA's voice conveyed the assurance that most kids took in his words. Most kids trusted him implicitly. Most kids knew BA was just a big kid himself.
This boy obviously was not most kids.
He took one look at the sight of the 250-pound, ex-green beret with his army fatigue pants, cut off khaki t-shirt and dark-black, Mohican hair charging at him. Without hesitating, the boy screamed, "DAD!!!"
BA froze, uncertain of what to do. Before he could move, he heard voices and the sound of guns being readied as the guards raced to the sound of the screams.
As he dropped his gun and raised his hands in surrender, BA heard what he
thought was the sound of a hand slapping a forehead. Then he heard Hannibal's
voice, dripping with sarcasm. "Just brilliant, BA. I was trying to tell
you. That's Haskins' kid."
Slamming a hand down on the steering wheel, Hannibal tried to convince himself that this just some bad joke. Face, Murdock and BA had tried to pull a fast one on their colonel. Just for a prank, right?
Through BA's microphone, Hannibal could hear Jack Haskins telling his son that he did the right thing in calling for daddy.
This was no prank.
How had this happened? All three of his men taken out because of basic screw-ups. Not to mention Face letting everything go down in flames yesterday at the bar. This seemed like "The A-Team Amateur Hour." Raw recruits right out of basic training could do the job better than Hannibal's men seemed to be doing it.
"Un-frigging-believable," he muttered.
With a well-practiced shrug, Hannibal hatched a new plan. Time for the colonel to salvage the situation and get his troops out of trouble. Not exactly an original, but a tried-and-true plan at the very least.
"BA, demand to know where Face and Murdock are?" Hannibal instructed his sergeant. The more Hannibal knew before he entered the compound, the better.
"Where my friends, sucka?" BA growled on the other end of the transmission.
There was a snort and some type of response, but Hannibal could not hear it over BA's grunt. It sounded like one of the thugs had struck the sergeant just as Haskins answered.
"BA, I didn't get that. Repeat it."
"He said they're inside," BA blurted out before he realized his mistake.
Hannibal groaned. Amateur Hour.
BA's earpiece and microphone shattered a moment later.
With a sigh, Hannibal gave his two junior officers the news. "Face, Murdock, you'll probably be seeing BA in a few minutes. Haskins will probably take your mics too."
"You have a plan, Hannibal?" Face asked. He sounded surprisingly strong, considering he had to be in a lot of pain.
Good question. The plan he had just thought about - learn where the captives were, sneak inside and free them - wasn't going to work since Hannibal was not going to learn where anybody was from Haskins. Face had been unconscious when they had been taken inside, so he could not detail their location in the house. And Murdock wasn't being of particular use at the moment either.
"Billy's sorry, Face," Murdock said for what must have been the hundredth time.
"Yeah, Murdock. I got that," Face replied. "So the plan, Hannibal."
Sometimes it really sucked to be in command. "Uh . . ." Hannibal's mind raced. "Yeah. Got it. Simple, elegant, never fails."
Face groaned on the other end of the microphone. "You're not-"
"Right in through the front door," Hannibal answered the rebuke before Face even got it out.
"Noooo, Hannibal. Haskins will capture you as soon as you walk into the house."
Face had a point there, Hannibal noted. On the other end of the microphone, Hannibal heard a door creak open. Time was getting short. "Don't worry, Face. That's part of the plan. The bad guys always put us in rooms with all the supplies we need to escape. Once inside, we can use Haskins' supplies to make a device." Hannibal's thoughts were running through the likely construction equipment that filled Jack Haskins' storerooms. Plenty of options there. Hannibal always was partial to flame-throwing devices or a gerry-rigged piece of equipment that fired carpenter nails like an M60.
Face sputtered in reply. "But-"
"No buts," Hannibal cut off his second-in-command. "We'll be fine, Face. Get ready and wait. I'll be inside in a matter of minutes."
"Hannibal," Face pleaded into the microphone, but it went dead before he could say another word.
Hannibal sat silently inside the van for a few minutes, running over the plan. Why was he even debating it? Time after time, the bad guys made the same mistake. They always put the team in a storeroom, warehouse, supply shed or cargo hold. Run-of-the-mill bad guys thought alike, and Jack Haskins was the textbook example of a run-of-the-mill bad guy.
Yep, that's the way things always went. Hannibal was relieved. At least one part of the mission was going to be a piece of cake.
He reached down and turned the key in the ignition. Might as well get it over with.
Hannibal drove the van down the road to the entrance of Haskins' compound. Two guards with submachine guns cautiously approached the van while the colonel lowed the window and craned his head outside.
"I think your boss is holding my men inside as prisoners," Hannibal announced. "I'd like to see them."
Ten minutes later, his arms held tightly, Hannibal found himself walking down a long corridor at the back of Haskins house. Haskins, himself, led the way, while the two goons from the driveway shoved Hannibal from behind. They reached a door that faced the end of the corridor.
Haskins turned and smiled as he opened the door. "Guess the gang's all here now. You're Colonel Lynch is going to be real happy with me. I even understand there's a little reward out for you. That should go a good way toward a couple more building permits."
Hannibal laughed in response. Bravado always annoyed the bad guys into making mistakes and it reminded Hannibal of one of his favorite quotes. "Don't be overconfident, Haskins. Or don't you know? Overconfidence is a real killer." The colonel paused for effect. "I think General Custer said that."
The two thugs shoved Hannibal past Haskins, into the room and onto the highly polished wood floors. Landing heavily on his knees, the colonel looked up to see BA hovering protectively over him. The big sergeant reached down to help Hannibal to his feet.
"Aww, Hannibal," BA groaned.
Hannibal grinned at the sergeant. "All going according to plan. We just need to build ourselves some tools for escaping.
Ignoring BA's rolling eyes, Hannibal looked to his right where Murdock sat. His back pressed against the wall and arms wrapped around bent knees, Murdock looked silently at the colonel. Beside the pilot, flat on the floor, was Face. The lieutenant had his head turned in Hannibal's direction and glared at his commanding officer.
"Overconfidence, Hannibal," Face muttered, his blue eyes fixed on the colonel's. Then he shook his head and let his eyes direct Hannibal's gaze around the room.
Hannibal allowed his eyes to follow Face's direction. The first thing Hannibal noticed were the sheer, white walls. On all sides, they stood twenty feet high. The only entrance or exit was the door in the back corner. The wall opposite the door had a red line that ran across its length about five feet from the floor.
Hannibal looked down at the floor for confirmation. More red lines graced the wood floor, dividing it into front and back halves. The lines further divided the back half into right and left, and there were two small squares at the front of each of the back rectangles.
That tiny part of the brain that liked to remind him he was still capable of remembering remember utterly useless trivia chose that moment to point out that the technical name for those little squares was "service zone."
Hannibal groaned as Murdock spoke up for the first time.
"Anyone fancy a game of racquetball?"
The team had to give Colonel Lynch credit. When the soldier mobilized, he could move mountains in a matter of minutes. It took only a half-hour before he and a group of MPs arrived at Haskins' compound. From the racquetball court, the team could hear the sirens blaring.
"This is just great," Face groaned from where he lay, stretched out on the floor. "You know what that is, Hannibal? Those are MP's. You know, 20 years in Leavenworth. Prison uniforms. The 300-pound gorilla in the next cell trying to make you his girlfriend."
"Calm down, Lieutenant," Hannibal said. "They haven't locked us away yet. Besides, as long as the gorilla isn't wearing a short black dress, you should be fine."
Face choked slightly, but bit back on whatever he intended to say. From outside the door, the team could hear the thunderous echo of dozens of footfalls in the corridor. The door slammed open and there, in full preening glory, stood Colonel John Lynch, the old bulldog himself.
Lynch smiled widely under his brown, military-regulation-size moustache. "Smith . . . After all these years."
Hannibal smiled. "Hi, Lynch. Hey, you got something on your upper lip."
Lynch hastily raised a hand to his face and felt along his moustache. He didn't feel anything.
"Falls for it every time," Hannibal grinned. "So, Lynch, I always wanted to ask you something. Do you use a ruler and measure the length of that thing every morning?"
Before Lynch could reply, Face called out. "I don't think that's what he needs to be measuring, Hannibal. Hey, Lynch, did you get that brochure I sent you? You know, if you've decided surgery isn't your cup of tea, I've heard there are these special pills you can take. There's this girl at a little shop in Hollywood who can get you a lifetime supply." Face paused. "Or have you decided that bigger isn't necessarily better."
BA and Murdock nearly bust a gut trying to stifle their laughter. Lynch, obviously, did not find the conversation amusing.
"Have your fun now, Peck," the red-faced officer said with a glare. "I'm sure your neighbors at Leavenworth will just love your brand of humor."
"Hey! How'd he know about the gorillas?" Murdock asked.
"And you . . . Captain Murdock . . . how nice to finally find proof that you are working with the A-Team. It's no more VA for you. This time, I'll make sure you go to a real prison, where you rightfully belong."
Hannibal had to laugh at that. "Oh come on, Lynch. You don't really think you're gonna get us this time. Don't you learn that it's not just catching us that counts. You've gotta hold on to us, too."
"Oh I will, Smith. I will." Turning back to the door, Lynch barked a couple of quick orders. MPs streamed into the room and quickly cuffed the four men behind their backs. They even pulled Face up to a seated position so they pull his hands behind him and then dropped him back down on his cuffed hands. Then a pair of medics entered and, while the rest of the team watched, splinted Face's legs. The medics were none-to-gentle in the process.
"Hey, sucka, don' you be hurtin' him like that," BA growled. "Ya hurt him and I hurt you." As his anger grew, he strained against his bonds.
Lynch chuckled and crossed the room so he stood immediately in front of BA. It was something he would not have dared to do if BA's hands had not been cuffed behind his back. "Go ahead, Baracus. Lose your head. Don't think at all. As I understand it from Mr. Haskins, that's what got you into this mess, isn't it?"
BA growled wordlessly. But he said nothing and appeared to relax.
On the ground, the medics completed their task and lifted Face onto a stretcher. As they lifted him and carried him toward the corridor, Face chuckled and looked back at the other team members. "And they say you can't find good service these days."
The MPs behind the rest of the team shoved them to the hallway and down the corridor. They marched past a smirking Jack Haskins and a couple of his thugs. Haskins made a special point to wave at Hannibal as he passed.
"Be seein' ya," the crook said. "Oh, say, in about fifteen to twenty years."
Hannibal did not get a chance to respond, because the MPs pushed him from behind. Before he could react, he found himself loaded into the back of a military transport truck. BA and Murdock were ordered to sit on the bench on the opposite side of the truck. As they sat, the two medics slid the stretcher, Face still on it, across the floor so that he now rested at the feet of the team. Two MPs climbed in behind the stretcher and pulled up the tail gate. They then pulled the canopy closed so that the team could not see out the back and over the tail gate.
The first MP in, the team noted, was a female second lieutenant. She immediately looked down at Face. In response to the piteous look he gave her, she gave him a soft smile.
"Are you hurting?" she asked.
Face smiled back. "Not my legs really . . . But it's kind of hard to lie here with my arms behind me. And when the truck starts rolling, that's gonna be torture. Any chance we could put them in front?"
She looked at the male MP. He shrugged, pointed his regulation 9 millimeter at the team to tell them not to try anything funny, and said to the woman, "Don't see what harm that would do."
The woman smiled again at Face and pulled out her key. Reaching behind him, she unlatched one hand and pulled it around the front of his body. Then she cuffed the hands in front of Face's belt buckle.
At that moment, Lynch chose to stick his head inside the tarp. "Sergeant Rogers," he said, prompting the male MP to spin around in response. "You go up front. I'll take your place. I want to be here when our good friend, Colonel Smith, gets his first look at the nice temporary accommodations we've arranged."
The MP climbed out of the truck and Lynch replaced him. As the engine roared to life and the truck pulled out of the compound, the pompous colonel, his smirk never diminishing, studied his prisoners.
"It's taken me ten years to track you down, Smith, but I've done it now. You know the army was going to put me out to pasture next month if I didn't capture you? They were going to make me retire. But I've shown them. When I retire, it's going to be on my own terms.
"Gee . . . they were gonna do that?" Murdock said. "And without us even getting you a gold watch?"
Hannibal chimed in. "Hey Face, how come you didn't tell me Lynch was retiring?"
From the floor, Face said apologetically, "Guess that announcement missed my social calendar. But at least we've got a chance to rectify that . . . That is, unless you'd prefer those pills I was telling you about, Lynch."
Face grunted in pain as Lynch's foot jerked forward and struck the lieutenant's foot, jarring his right leg.
"Whoops," Lynch said in mock apology. "Guess I slipped."
Face did not react. Instead, he looked up with pain-filled eyes and elicited the sympathy of the female MP. She knelt down by his side to ensure he was okay.
Simultaneously, Murdock nearly leaped out of his seat on the bench. His feet stayed where they were, but he twisted to his side and his torso began to jerk from side to side as if something was jerking him from the cuffed hands behind his back. As if shocked by what was happening, Murdock yelled loudly, "Whoa, Billy! Hold back!!!"
Lynch jumped up from his seat. "What's goin' on?"
Murdock looked up, his eyes wide. "Billy didn't like that. He's goin' mad. Whoa, boy. Oh man, Colonel, you'd better get back. I don't think I can control him. He's gonna break his leash."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"His invisible dog, fool," BA growled. "That crazy fool's always goin' on about him."
"There's no dog here," Lynch barked, stating the obvious.
Murdock stood up incensed. His body continued to bob back and forth like a crazy fisherman trying to haul in a prized marlin. One way as the fish on the other end tugged the line, then the opposite way as he tried to reel it in. "Well if there's no dog, then what's causing me to do this? Don't you see? It's Billy's leash. It's wrapped around these dang cuffs."
"Oh, come on," Lynch hissed. Then he decided to play along. "Okay. Okay. If I unlock the cuffs and loosen the leash, will you sit still."
"But he'll bite you. He's very protective of the Faceman. Has been ever since Da Nang."
"Billy's an old dog," Face joked to the female MP.
"But vicious," Hannibal added.
"That's right," Face concurred. "But vicious."
Ignored the interplay between the two men, Lynch issued an order to the female MP. "Lieutenant, ready your sidearm. If any of these men move while I'm dealing with Captain Murdock, shoot them."
The female lieutenant quickly complied. Still kneeling next to Face, she aimed the gun at Hannibal and BA, who were the farthest from the door and seated opposite one another.
"Come here, Captain," Lynch said, rolling his eyes. He pulled out a set of keys and unlocked Murdock's right hand. "So is the leash loose now?"
Murdock shook his head and nearly fell forward from Billy's pull. "No, it's twisted around my wrist now. Billy . . . stop it. We'll have you free in a minute."
Lynch sighed in exasperation. He pulled at Murdock's wrist. "Now? How's-"
He never finished the question, because Murdock and Face moved simultaneously. Face, having freed his hands from the cuffs with the lock pick hidden inside his belt buckle, bolted upright and wrenched the gun out of the lieutenant's hand. At the same time, Murdock swung around and grabbed Lynch in a headlock. A second later, Murdock relieved Lynch of the keys and passed them to Hannibal. The white-haired colonel deftly removed his cuffs and then unlocked BA's.
Looking over his men, Hannibal observed, "Okay, so that wasn't exactly amateur hour, but don't think this excuses you from punishment detail." Hannibal then pulled Lynch's sidearm from his holster and gave it to BA. Hannibal took the other gun from Murdock, who was carefully placing handcuffs on Lynch's and the MP's wrists. The pilot then directed the two army officers to the seats previously occupied by their former prisoners.
"Stay with Face, Captain," Hannibal commanded. "BA and I are going to take care of the driver."
Hannibal and BA pulled back the canopy and noted with relief that there were no army vehicles behind them. How typical of Lynch to not put the truck with the prisoners in the middle of the convoy.
"Ready, BA?" Hannibal asked. "We move up front and take out the MPs. You take out the driver and get control of the truck. I'll take out the passenger. We move on my command."
"Of course," BA said. "No problem."
"On my command, BA," Hannibal repeated.
BA rolled his eyes.
"On my command," Hannibal said for the third time. "Got it?"
"Yeah, Hannibal. You're soundin' like some broken record. I got it."
Quickly climbing on top of the tail gate, Hannibal and BA slid along the sides of the canopy until they reached the cab. In front of their truck, they could see a second truck, probably filled with more MPs. Thankfully, the canopy of that truck was pulled shut, so nobody in the back could see what was happening behind them. Across the top of the cab, Hannibal gave BA a wordless look and mouthed the count.
Three . . .
Two . . .
One . . .
Both men moved as one. Each reached down and pulled open the door. An instant later, the surprised driver and the passenger - poor Sergeant Rogers - were pulled out of the vehicle by their collars. They landed in heaps along the side of the road. Before the truck had gone another twenty feet, BA was in the driver's seat. He grabbed the wheel and pulled hard to the left, swinging the truck into a U-turn. The truck tilted onto two wheels, and nearly tipped, but BA managed to keep it under control. In the back, Lynch toppled forward onto Face. Murdock and the female MP wound up pressed hard against the canvas canopy until the truck landed again on all four tires.
Before any of the soldiers in the other truck even noticed what had happened, the commandeered truck was flying down the road in the opposite direction. The passengers in the rear of the truck righted themselves and reclaimed their seats. By the time the soldiers could react and even begin to give chase, the A-Team was gone.
Forty minutes later, the truck pulled to a stop in a nondescript warehouse district in Van Nuys. Leaving BA in the front, Hannibal climbed out and walked to the back. Murdock had pulled the canopy closed after the escape, so Hannibal pulled it open.
"Here's where you get out, Lynch."
Lynch's eyes narrowed. "You won't get away with this, Smith."
"Of course, I will. I always do. You always think you've got us and you never take the proper precautions. Some might say that's a character flaw, Lynch."
"I'll get you one day," Lynch hissed through gritted teeth.
Hannibal titled his head in Murdock's direction. "Persistent isn't he?" Turning to the arrogant colonel, Hannibal said, "Get out. There's a reserve station a mile from here. They'll help you out. Oh . . ." Hannibal looked at Murdock, who flipped the handcuff keys into the air. Catching them, Hannibal held the keys up for Lynch to see. "You and the lady are gonna need these, but I can't have you getting free too quickly. So . . ." Hannibal tossed the keys into some shrubs on the side of the street and gave Lynch and apologetic look. "Happy hunting."
Still glaring, Lynch climbed out of his seat and, with his hands behind him, struggled to climb down from the open tail gate. At Murdock's instruction, the female MP stood up as well.
"Wait," Face said from the floor. His voice sounded weak, probably a sign that the pain and exertion had finally gotten to him.
"What?" Hannibal demanded.
"I need to say something to her."
Hannibal rolled his eyes, as the woman knelt down beside Face's stretcher. He raised his head to speak and she leaned close so she could hear him. However, before he said a word, Face clasped her shoulders and pulled her down into a kiss. Both Hannibal and Murdock noticed that, after the MP recovered from her initial surprise, she made no attempt to pull away. She remained still until Face finally let go and fell back against the stretcher.
As the woman stepped back slowly and regretfully out of the truck, Face gave her a small wave.
"Aww, Face," Hannibal moaned, shaking his head in disbelief. "Isn't this how we got into this mess in the first place?"
Face shrugged and smiled sheepishly at his commander. "I just couldn't resist."
Seeing that the two soldiers were now outside the truck, Hannibal pushed up
the tail gate and walked back to the front of the truck. Climbing in, he
glanced at BA. "Let's go. Time to finish the job."
Two weeks later . . .
Hannibal stepped out of the small house currently serving as the team's base of operations. The morning air was brisk here in the mountains, and he was glad to have on his blue sweatsuit jacket to ward off the chill. In truth, it didn't really matter much. After one or two circuits on the obstacle course, the entire team would be stripped down to shorts and t-shirts.
Actually, things seemed pretty good at the moment. After escaping from Lynch, the team had changed tactics for shutting down Haskins' operation. Since they had seen the politician who met with Haskins at the bar, the team decided to focus on him. It took only a couple of visits from BA to scare the pants off the man, who promptly confessed all in an exclusive interview with Amy Allen, and then promptly arranged a plea bargain with the District Attorney. And from the reports Hannibal had learned, the odds were very high that Haskins would be spending the next fifteen to twenty years in jail.
Hannibal made a mental note to send Haskins a card. "Be seein' ya" seemed like an appropriate inscription.
Yep, things were looking up. Even Lynch seemed to have disappeared for the time being. Amy reported that the military brass were extremely unhappy with the reports of the A-Team's escape. In fact, it sounded like the army had completely discounted everything Lynch said, even about Murdock's involvement with the team. It actually sounded like Lynch's retirement might really be coming soon. Hmm . . . Maybe Hannibal would have Face start looking for a deal on a gold watch.
That, of course, left the team the time to engage in the current training exercise. And boy was Hannibal going to put them through their paces. Five circuits on the obstacle course for every man who had messed up his part of the mission. Five grueling, arduous trips leaping over the hurdles, stepping through tires, climbing the wall, swinging over the mud pit and racing over the balance beam. That was what Hannibal had promised his men. Well, except for Face, of course.
In fact, speak of the devil. At that very moment, Hannibal's lieutenant rolled his wheelchair around the corner of the house. It was a somewhat comical site with both of Face's legs, encased in plaster, sticking straight out in front of him. The tops of the casts ended mid-thigh, just below the top of Face's crisp, white shorts. Hannibal hoped Maggie was right. Just another week like that and then he would be able to manage on crutches. That would make the team a lot more mobile.
'Uh oh,' thought Hannibal. There was something about the broad grin and devilish gleam in Face's blue eyes that made the colonel start to sweat despite the cool mountain air.
"Ready, Colonel?" Face asked, the grin never fading. Now Hannibal was really nervous.
"You know, I should have come up with some different type of training exercise - one that you couldn't get out of," Hannibal grumbled.
"Hey, remember what we decided," Face protested. "Breaking my legs saving Murdock from the truck excused me from any further punishment."
Hannibal grimaced. Who had made that decision? Oh, yeah, he had in one of his more magnanimous moments. So Face was excused. Besides, he could hardly walk a balance beam with his legs in casts. Anyway, at least Hannibal could take out his frustrations about the disastrous mission on Murdock and BA.
Face turned the wheelchair around in a smooth motion and directed it back around the corner of the house to where BA had set up the obstacle course. Still nervous about whatever his second-in-command had cooked up in his devious mind, Hannibal followed. He saw the obstacle course in front of him and was relieved to find that everything was still in position. That had been one of Face's little tricks in Vietnam - shorten the distances between obstacles, cut the legs down on the hurdles, remove a couple of tires - to make the course easier. But this morning, everything was exactly the way Hannibal had left things the night before.
Relief turned to chagrin when Face turned the wheelchair to his left and rolled it up a slope overlooking the obstacle course. At the top of the slope, Hannibal saw a small, circular table. A large, round umbrella rose out of a hole in the center of the table and cast shade over the scene. A small vase with two, fresh-cut roses and a pitcher of lemonade or iced tea rested on the table.
Seated in two chairs set around the table were BA and Murdock, looking like refugees from a country club in white slacks, white sweaters and sunglasses. As Face reached the top of the slope, Murdock reached down and pulled out a white sweater and a pair of sunglasses. Face rapidly pulled the sweater over his head and turned the chair around so he could face Hannibal. With a gleeful smirk, the lieutenant pulled the shades over his eyes and looked down at his red-faced commander.
"All ready, Colonel." Face picked up a glass and took a sip. With his free hand, he motioned to the start of the obstacle course.
Infuriated, Hannibal charged up the hill. Ignoring Face, the colonel barked at Murdock and BA, "What do you think you're doing?"
Murdock looked up casually from behind flourescent green, plastic sunglass frames adorned with yellow stars. The pilot took a sip of lemonade from a plastic glass with a paper umbrella resting inside, and said, "Well, as you said, this punishment detail is for everyone who messed up their part of the mission. And, Sir, Colonel-Sir, my part of the mission was to help Face disable the truck. We didn't do that exactly according to plan, but the truck did wind up on its side and the construction supplies never made it to the site. So I don't think I qualify for punishment detail."
"But you didn't do the mission as planned, Murdock," Hannibal growled.
"Arguably true, Colonel, but if that was the standard by which we judged our success, why all of our missions would be failures. Your plans never succeed as planned." As he finished, Murdock tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow behind the green frames, just daring Hannibal to try to refute this irrefutable logic.
Hannibal thought for a moment and then gave up. Shaking his head, he turned to BA. "And you, Sergeant? Are you going to claim that you didn't mess up your part of the mission? Which, as I recall, was to rescue Murdock and Face?"
"They're here, ain't they?"
Hannibal stopped and considered the response. "But I told you to go in on my command and get them. You didn't do that."
BA shook his head. "Nope. But it don't matter."
"What?" Hannibal asked bewildered.
BA placed his right hand on Hannibal's shoulder and rested it there. With a nod, he said, "I ain't gonna do no obstacle course if the fool and Faceman don't do it."
More irrefutable logic there.
Hannibal sighed and turned. At least what was good for the goose is good for the gander.
"Well, then, I guess none of us has to run," Hannibal said.
"Now wait a minute," the other three all protested simultaneously. They stopped, looked at one another and then deferred to Face.
"You said five circuits on the obstacle course for anyone who messed up their part of the plan."
"True," Hannibal conceded. Then he grinned. His subordinates weren't the only ones capable of logic. He reached into his pocket to pull out a cigar. "But if Murdock running into the road in front of a truck isn't messing up his part of the plan and BA breaking from position before my command isn't messing up his part of the plan, then how is what I did messing up my part of the plan? My plan was to rescue you guys after all."
"Actually, Colonel, that wasn't your plan," Face answered. "If you'll remember, you said - and I quote - 'The bad guys always put us in rooms with all the supplies we need to escape. Once inside, we can use Haskins' supplies to make a device.'"
Hannibal put the unlit cigar back in his pocket. Sometimes having a smartass with a really good memory as his second-in-command really sucked.
"I don't remember being put in a room with supplies," Face concluded.
"And we didn't use any of Haskins' supplies to escape," Murdock echoed, as he took a sip from under the umbrella. "You know, Colonel. I think that's what some people call the 'Flaw of Averages.' It goes something like this: 'Plans based on the assumption that average conditions will occur are usually wrong.' You assumed that Haskins would be just like all the other bad guys and factored that into your part of the plan."
"Yeah, sucka," BA rumbled, raising his hand to the side of the colonel's head. He gave Hannibal a slight shove in the direction of the start of the obstacle course. "So start running."
Hannibal was apoplectic, but decided this was one of those instances where retreat was the smartest tactic. No, not retreat. Leadership. He would show them that a true leader never shirked from his duties. A true leader led by example.
Hannibal stopped as Murdock raced down the slope. He held something in his hand.
"What is it, Murdock?" Hannibal growled.
Murdock smiled slyly. "I just want to give you a gift for good luck." He held up the small, paper umbrella from his drink. "Just to let you know we're thinking of you."
Hannibal rolled his eyes, but suffered patiently while Murdock took the umbrella and placed it in Hannibal's left jacket pocket. Then he stood there patiently as Murdock fussed for a moment, pulling the entire jacket taut and smoothing out the slick fabric. When Murdock tugged at the two pockets for the third time, trying to make the zipper lie straight, however, Hannibal finally lost his patience.
"That's enough, Captain!"
Murdock backed away slowly and sulked. "Gee, Colonel . . . Touchy, touchy. You know, you should try a little more fiber in your diet." The sulk turned into a small smile. "Enjoy your run." With that, Murdock turned and stalked back up the slope.
Grumbling, Hannibal walked the rest of the way to the start of the obstacle course. Leadership, he reminded himself. Lead by example. He'd show those ungrateful, undisciplined, poor-excuses-for-soldiers up on the hill what a real soldier could do.
He reached down, started the timer on watch and took off at full speed for the first obstacle. The wood-framed hurdles loomed in front of him. Arms on wood, pull yourself over, one hurdle down. Other side, over the second hurdle.
"Hah, piece of cake," he said to himself, as he landed on his feet and headed toward the tires.
"You know, Colonel, I really hate that expression."
Hannibal stumbled and nearly fell as Face's voice echoed inside his head.
"Hope you don't mind the running commentary," Murdock's voice added.
"Aaaarrrrggghhh," Hannibal groaned. When BA had given that little head shove, he must have slipped an earphone into Hannibal's ear. And Murdock's "gift" probably included a microphone.
"We thought ya deserved a little payback for all them lectures before," BA announced.
'I will not dignify this with an answer . . . I will not dignify this with an answer,' Hannibal told himself, as he glared up at the three men on the hill.
"Uh, Colonel . . ." Face sounded nervous.
Still focused on the men above him, Hannibal barked in exasperation, "What now, Face?" At that very moment, Hannibal reached the second obstacle. With his eyes on the slope, though, Hannibal failed to time the first tire correctly. His foot struck the outside of the rubber and he went flying.
"I was going to tell you to watch out for the tires."
"GRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!" Lying flat on his stomach in the middle of the pile of tires, Hannibal reached up and pulled out the earphone out of his ear. In disgust, he threw it aside. Then he fished in his pockets, found the microphone and tossed it. Looking up the slope, he saw the three seated men staring down with satisfied grins.
'I will not let them get to me,' Hannibal said. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself to his feet and began to maneuver through the tires some more. Finishing that obstacle, he ran to the wall, grabbed the rope and clambered over it.
'Hah, that'll show them,' Hannibal thought. Looking ahead, he saw the rope swing approaching. Just a quick swing over the mud puddle, a quick walk on the balance beam and the first circuit would be complete.
Up on the hill, BA turned to Face. "It's a shame he took out the earphone. Now we cain't tell 'im the ropes are loose."
Murdock shrugged. "You think Hannibal will figure out that things aren't always as he expects them to be?"
There was a loud yell from below them, followed by a resounding splat.
Looking down at his now-mud-covered commander, Face sighed deeply and then looked at his two companions. "Nope."
Murdock shook his head. "I guess we just will have to accept that each of us, even our esteemed leader, has personality flaws. Sometimes we can overcome them. And other times . . . well, we just have to press on."
Face grinned in response. "Very well said, Murdock." Then the lieutenant looked back at the still-sputtering Hannibal, who was climbing out of the mud and making his way to the balance beam. "And just remember . . . Hannibal still has four more circuits to see if he can figure it out." After a beat, Face added, "Did you remember to grease the beam, BA?"
"Of course, sucka," BA answered. He also had made sure the ground beneath the beam was well-watered so Hannibal wouldn't land too hard.
"Nice, BA," Face said. He raised his glass in a toast. BA and Murdock did the same. As one, they clinked their glasses together and drank. Each man then sat back in his chair and waited for the next round of angry yells to rise from the man below.
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