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This page last viewed: 2017-08-21 and has been viewed 664 times
Authors: Quentillian & Nora
Vietnam June 1969
The hissed command registered about the same moment as the screaming whistle of the mortar. Face hugged the nearest treeline and hit the ground. BA did the same in front of him, M16 held ready. Always. Face ducked his head against the debris pelting down around him, taking it on his back, on the top of his helmet, something trickling past the neck of his BDU.
He hit the dirt as the earth rumbled beneath him again and struggled to keep his helmet on as another grenade went off. More debris rained down like a monsoon, heavy as a thick blanket dropped over him, too thick and fast to see through. Beside him, Hannibal fired off a short burst through the trees. Squinting and wiping mud from his eyes, Face got his elbows under him and shuffled into a better position to return fire.
"North twelve degrees, forty minutes, twelve seconds! East one hundred eighty degrees, three minutes zero seconds! Sandy's coming behind him." BA was yelling, briefly audible over the explosion that went off almost fifty yards too far to the left.
"Landing zone hot!"
Even over the constant exchange of fire, Face heard the dry click of Cruiser's rifle and the staff sergeant growling. "Fuck, Colonel. What happened to this exit strategy of yours?"
"Keep your shorts on, Cruiser." Hannibal exchanged nods with BA as the corporal slammed the radio phone down before looking back at Cruiser. Even covered in mud and dirt clods in the pouring down rain, Hannibal had the audacity to smile all bright eyed and suicide cocky. "Have a little faith."
"Faith?" Cruiser shouted back, hand wrapped around a grenade. "I'm a goddamned devotee!" He hurled the grenade up, over the wall of dirt and mud into the field where those bastard gooks were, not even bothering to see if he managed to take any of them out.
"How about you guys have faith." Face snarked, taking a second to aim at the spot where he'd seen a hint of a flash. Sniper. And one clip left; not the time to be sloppy. Now was the time to breath. To force the chaos raining down around him out until he couldn't hear it, couldn't see it, couldn't smell it. And just breath. Timing the shot in the lull between breaths, Face pulled the trigger. Allowing himself a second to gloat when the bullet hit home and limp body fell from the trees like a busted pinata. It was Face's turn to smile at Hannibal. "I'd rather have a chopper"
Right on cue BA slid to his knees next to Hannibal. "He three minutes out and he's comin' in looking for smoke!"
Three minutes. For a moment Face remembered when three minutes seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. When he'd been feeling up Martha Stecken in the coat closet, the hours he'd spent on the sand dunes overlooking the Pacific. Even the unending sermons on uncomfortable pews made three minutes seem like a tick of the second hand.
Now, in the middle of a noname rice paddy, in nowhere fucking Vietnam with the VC army trying to shoot their heads off, just minutes away from being overrun by Charlie, you could live and die several lifetimes in a whole hundred and eighty of those simple second hand ticks. And it left him with nothing but a far off sense of calm seeping into his core.
"That's a great fucking plan!" Cruiser snapped. "Everyone and their goddamned mother is looking for smoke out here."
"That's why I have a plan."
BA, and Cruiser groaned in unison. Was it wrong that he was more worried about the sudden shit eating grin that split Hannibal's face then he was about the VC?
Hannibal checked his ammo belt, only two clips. "Hey kid, remember the latrine scam you pulled on Lieutenant O'Rourke in Bravo company?"
"With the bubbles and the stink bomb?" Of course he did. The divide, divert, and attack was a classic. But the hell of a lot of good that did them way out here in the paddy's up to their nipples in gooks.
"Good." Hannibal didn't elaborate like Face would have wanted. No. His grin just extended from cocky to extreme as he tossed one of the clips to Face. "Dig in and hold them back for sixty seconds. Then sit tight 'til Murdock gets here." The smile was gone and stone cold command was in its place. "I've gotta go pop some smoke."
"Ah-" Face started to protest, to push himself up off the dirt and demand clarification. But before he had time to argue Hannibal was gone and Charlie was raining down his wrath with another mortar round.
"Great." Face slammed the fresh clip into his rifle, index finger sliding home next to the trigger, right where it belonged. Already beginning an internal count to sixty. Then Murdock. Then they were home free.
Sweat and rain running down his neck and back, BA didn't move. Hannibal said dig in and wait. So that's what they were doing. Kneeling in mud that went up to his thighs, bugs that thought he was a lunch buffet, snakes, bombs, and to top it all off, he was waiting for a flying metal death trap; even the damn weather was trying to kill them.
Better than Chicago. One step in the wrong place there and you end up dead. Least here he wasn't alone. Even if he didn't know where Hannibal was or have a clue what the colonel was off doing or what his plan was, it didn't matter. Simple fact was he didn't need to know. He knew the end game. The rest didn't matter. Hannibal would come up with something. They would do it.
He wasn't expecting the sudden cutting explosion of an M16 from the other end of the LZ. Hannibal. No question about it. And it made sense in a crazy kind of backwards way. Charlie was gonna go running for him, swarm the position. Before his thoughts finished and with barely a pause in the shooting, red smoke billowed up from where Hannibal had to be.
Every gook in the area would have that spot in their sites. Hannibal and his one man army was a sitting duck. His jive plan better be real good.
"BA!" Face's yell had BA ducking and twisting towards him. BA didn't get a chance to ask what. Face was looking at him with one of those rare, real looks.
"Tell Murdock to land on the south end of the LZ." BA stared at Face. South end? That's where they was at. Cliffs on one side, a steep drop on the other, and the rest surrounded by grass, trees, and VC. Ain't no sane pilot gonna make that landing. And it was dead opposite of where Hannibal popped smoke. Didn't make no sense.
Maybe it was the look, or the way he was almost begging, more likely it was the fact Face had earned that trust, either way BA nodded and made the call.
Murdock's voice crackled and snapped over the line. "Roger that."
BA shook his head, dropping the radio back in the pack. Murdock didn't ask any questions. It didn't matter if he had told the fool to land in a lava pit. What the team asked, Murdock did. No questions. Now, all BA had to do was trust that he could get them out of here without killing them all in a fiery crash. Truth was, Murdock was the only fool pilot BA did trust to get them out alive.
Good thing too, 'cause once he got out of Vietnam, BA Baracus was never flying again.
Like Murdock could read BA's thoughts, the steady thump thump of a Huey sounded over the battlefield snap, crackle, pop, and kabooms. It was the sweetest music any grunt could ever hear. Like a hawk dropping in for the kill, Murdock's chopper swept in over the tree line. Wouldn't have much time. Less than a minute. If they were lucky, and this mission they'd been anything but. Charlie knew they'd been tricked.
"Move out!" Face yelled above the din, not waiting for Murdock to bring the wobbly chopper to the ground. Huey still buffering in the wind, they were moving, in an order more basic to the unit than their heartbeat; Ray and Cruiser on point, BA and Face brought up the rear at a six second count. BA was running towards chopper in a low hunch, Face behind him, rifle at the ready, surveying the treeline for any threats. It was just a second before BA stopped to turn, taking over rear guard so Face could leap from him that BA saw it. That thing those flying beasts always did that he hated so much. As Ray and Cruiser jumped onto the skids - it bounced and swayed under their weight for one terrifying second before Murdock steadied it out.
Swallowing the fear before it could bubble up and take more of a stronghold than the entire VC army that was going to be knocking on their doorstep with parting gifts of shrapnel and bullet holes, BA let his training take over. Face leap frogged, and then it was nothing but BA running and the gunner keeping a watchful eye on that haunted treeline and he was in. Safe and sound, heart pounding in his ears louder than the thumping of the rotors, with the rest of them in a flying coffin.
Murdock was already gaining altitude, trying to get the chopper out of danger. The ground was clear and it was time to go. But they were a man light. Face was scrambling over to a crewman, grabbing at the spare headset.
The big 50 cal was roaring, trying to keep the VC from getting the rockets and mortars aimed at the chopper. Combined with the engine and rotor noise there was no way to hear what was going on. Cruiser and Ray sent him hard questioning frowns, but he had no answers. Instead he was relegated to watching a quick, franticly animated conversation that he couldn't hear, with them. It wasn't until Face tossed the head set aside and scrambled to the storage box where the McGuire rigs were that he knew what was going on.
BA had the most time and experience in the rigs. That was part of the reason why he hated flying. Spend some time as a sitting duck dangling from a wire, while snipers take aim and pilots smacked you into trees and it didn't take you too long to learn to hate the things.
But if someone needed to go in a rig to get Hannibal, BA was the logical choice. Dropping his hand on Face's shoulder, he got the younger man's attention. For a second it was just the two of them looking at each other. Face's eyes burning with a cold, hard, edge that was shocking to see, if you didn't know him. It was a look that let you know where Face's true loyalties lie.
Finally, Face nodded and handed him a rig. BA was hooking it on, stance wide to keep his balance as Murdock threw the chopper around in sharp zigs and zags, keeping them from being shot out of the sky. They were coming back around to the tree line to the East of where Hannibal had popped smoke. If he had gone this way, there was only one place he could be. The trees.
Between the rain and the wind alone there was no way anyone would survive a trip on the rig into the chopper, not to mention when under this much heavy fire.
Just as he was adjusting the last strap, Face put a hand on his chest, giving him the 'in a minute sign'. Murdock was struggling to hold position as Face dropped an empty rig over the side, into the trees. Someone had it and was strapping in, just as all hell broke loose on either side of them.
Flames and a fireball of heat and light shook the ground and came rushing up towards the chopper. The entire world within a few miles shaking under the rapport.
The Sandy's - air support on a bombing run. Hannibal had to have called it in, Murdock must have known it was close. And the chaos it left was going to be their only chance to get Hannibal in.
It would have worked too. But Hannibal caught something - a bullet, shrapnel - something that had him twisting in on the wire and flipping back, twisting, and ending up upside down with the harness half dangling off.
BA was never quite sure how he got there, but seconds later, he was dangling outside the chopper, dropping as fast as he could, ignoring that sickening feeling of freefalling.
He could see Hannibal. Letting his weight shift like a child pumping their legs on a playground swing, BA created torsion. Enough to have him swinging with the chopper close to Hannibal. One, two, no - three tries and he finally managed to snag Hannibal's shirt. Using it to pull the colonel upright. Please, God, don't let their lines tangle. With every ounce of strength he had, BA managed - painstakingly slow - to get his hands on the final piece of Hannibal's rig. Over the roar of the chopper blades twenty feet above, the wind, the adrenaline, the shots whizzing past his ears, over it all, he heard that small, glorious click of Hannibal's rig snapping securely on the line.
They were swinging and dragging over top of the jungle, faster, but smoother than a few seconds ago and gaining altitude. Murdock was hauling them away from the heat of the fight. Reaching up, BA tugged Hannibal's line, signalling the crew inside the safety of the chopper to pull him up. Suddenly Hannibal's muddy and bloodied hand snagged BA's wrist.
No you don't, man. There was no way BA was going up before Hannibal this time around. But instead of an arguing look, BA was met with hard blue eyes that he could all but feel even if he couldn't define it. It was gratitude and reassurance, something close to pride, but so much more. Something that BA couldn't quantify but he also couldn't argue.
Way too slow they began to move upwards. Hannibal first. It took an eternity for Face's and Ray's hands to pull him into the chopper. BA kept his eyes on the spot where Hannibal had disappeared. Not at the ground far below him or the landscape rushing past so fast that it blurred, or at just what falling from this height, at this rate of speed would do to him.
He was just a few feet from the wide door of the chopper, home sweet home that was so much better than dangling in the air on glorified yarn, when the line stopped. Gears grinding and the line not moving. It was stuck, he was stuck. Shit.
Before that fear of falling, being shot and dangling at twelve thousand feet, or plummeting to his death far beneath him could grow from seedling thoughts in the back of his mind to full blown irrational terror that paralyzed him, Face appeared over the edge. Thank God. Thank you, sweet Jesus. Face had his shirt wrapped around his hand, grabbing at the line and pulling.
But nothing happened. The gears didn't start moving, the line didn't get pulled up. Nothing. Nothing. And that fear was growing, from seedling to sapling, to full grown redwood.
Then Ray and Cruiser were there, hauling and dragging, their entire bodies straining and pulling themselves and him back into the chopper, and not stopping until that wonderful, dirty, hard metal deck of the chopper was under him.
Rolling onto his back, BA's eyes were wide, staring at the ceiling of the chopper, not even trying to catch his breath. His hands were shaking with adrenaline. So much so that he couldn't even help with Ray and Face grabbed him under the arms and moved him to the wall of the chopper. Getting him out of the way so Cruiser could work. Face made quick work of unclipping the harness and getting that piece of devil's work far, far away from BA.
Cruiser was checking Hannibal over. Ray pulled Cruiser's med kit over to him, opening it up as Cruiser was ripping Hannibal's fatigues open. Surveying the damage. There was no talking. There never was. Cruiser knew his role, knew exactly what he had to do and the focus it took to make it happen in these settings. Moving on autopilot from his kit to Hannibal and back again and again.
BA pulled himself up as Hannibal yelled something in Cruiser's ear. Something that had Cruiser frowning and looking like he wanted to hit something as he retorted a very clear "fuck off" back at Hannibal who was grinning like a bastard.
Closing his eyes and breathing through his nose, BA let everything wash over him. Almost dying, killing, bullets, blood, dropping, falling, flying. It was all over, all done.
"Hey, Cruiser." Ray said, breaking the silence that had fallen under the steady thump of the rotors. "What did he say?"
"What the fuck do you think he said?"
For a moment, a fraction of a second that seemed to hang in time beyond its length, they all looked at each other. Then they answered in a unison normally reserved for barber shop quartets.
"He loves it when a plan comes together."
There was no better high than that of a plan coming together-unless it was a plan no one had given a snowball's chance in hell. Or 'Nam, as the case may be. And now, he didn't just get to write another success in the books-a success they shouldn't have had, that was supposed to have been impossible, that proved yet again that his team was the best in 'Nam-he got to rub it in Mifflin's face.
"I've sent in three other crews, Smith," Mifflin had said when he given Hannibal the orders, standing stiff and grave and puffed up like a self-important parrot. "Yours will be the last." And when you fail, he hadn't added, in so many words, I can be rid of it, once and for all.
Hannibal cackled, imagining the look on Mifflin's face when they made it back to base. It was enough to distract him from the sharp pangs in his leg from Cruiser's tender mercies.
Then the pitch of the rotor blades changed as Murdock slowed, dropped them low to dance them over the ground to a beautiful, flawlessly executed landing on the base LZ, and it was time to get back to work.
Hannibal pushed up. He'd intended to get his feet under him, grab his gun and his pack, and jump down. But he'd barely put pressure on the leg the sapper's bullet had ripped through before Cruiser had forced his way under one arm and Face had grabbed the other.
"Upsy-daisy, Colonel," Face sing-songed.
He gritted his teeth and grunted. The wound itself wasn't bad. And considering it'd taken him with his rig half-off, dozens of feet in the air, with more of its breathren on the hunt-well, it could've been a hell of a lot worse. Should have been, even. But that didn't stop the bending and the change in elevation from jabbing pain sharply through the limb in protest.
Nothing like a little one-on-one time with your own mortality to put things in perspective.
So he let Face hand him down to Cruiser, let Cruiser stash him out of the way, and watched his team stow their gear while Murdock ran through his post-flight-to the accompaniment of something that sounded like an Italian opera. The flurry of activity was beautiful, like-a symphony of destruction wound through to its triumphant and jubilant denouement. Within moments, the bird was in ship-shape, and smokes had jumped to idle hands.
BA, looking like he'd seen a ghost and unsteady on his feet, was the last man out of the chopper. Cruiser threw an arm around the big man's shoulders. "You get any paler, they're gonna promote you."
"You'd look good with some gold bars, BA," Face chimed in with a cocky grin-and a safe distance away. "You can rubber-stamp some paperwork for me."
"Man," BA said, "when I get back to the World, I ain't ever flying again." The scowl he threw Murdock's chopper was hot enough to melt it down to scrap right then and there.
Hannibal chuckled. If he kept that up, Murdock was liable to take personal offense. But for now, the pilot just bounded out of the chopper with enough energy to make Hannibal feel old and dropped an arm over the big man's shoulders, displacing Cruiser.
"Aw, come on, now, BA. I got our whole stateside business set up! BA and HM Airlines." Murdock's smile was lit as bright as the billboard he spread across the horizon line would no doubt be. "You fly or you die! It's brilliant!"
"Can you walk?" Cruiser demanded, suddenly, momentarily eclipsing Murdock's great business plan. He had Hannibal's gear, as well as his own.
"I can walk."
Cruiser ignored him, and pulled Hannibal's arm around his shoulders, anyway. Probably figured it'd protect him from Murdock's enthusiasm.
The other's scrambled for their gear when Hannibal and Cruiser started moving, following slow and steady.
". . . legs for that sort of thing, you know?" Murdock was saying. Something about BA wearing the stewardess hat and skirt.
"Now, Murdock," Face chided with his best just listen to me, don't think about it smile. "BA may not want to wear the skirt. He's a forward thinker and all, but I think you have a better chance offering up a pant suit. Maybe something with a bow tie and mutton sleeves."
Cruiser snorted. It should have been too quiet for Murdock to hear, but the pilot immediately said: "Hey, Cruiser! You've got the medical know-how. You can be the flight nurse. Bet you'll make a killing in tips."
"Betcha he just makes a few killings," Ray spoke up, low and dry. A better audience would've laughed.
"If they need more than those mini bottles of booze to make it through the flight, they can fuck off."
"And that," Face assured, "is the new face of customer service." He stumbled a little when Murdock jumped on his back like an over-excited Labrador retriever.
"A-Team Airlines! Now with free death threats!"
Hannibal ignored the small scuffle of Face trying to get Murdock off him in favor of fishing his cigar stub from his breast pocket. Wound up like this, they'd run with anything, good idea or not. Getting them to wind down, often as not, required judicial timing.
He set the stub between his teeth. "You know, kid," he mused, grabbing Murdock's attention more with the pause while he lit his cigar than with the words. "You may wanna work on your corporate motto. Maybe something a little less grim. And get better-looking help. Cruiser's fine for sewing up grunts, but not a lot of people want to see him in nylons."
Murdock looked thoughtful, but BA scoffed. "Ain't nobody wants to see Cruiser in nylons."
"I know he's not on my list," Face chimed in, ignoring-or perhaps not noticing-the betrayed look Murdock gave him. They all knew what was on Face's list: women, fortune, and fame.
He had grand plans, Face did. Business plans and investments, retirement by the time he was thirty-the high life, with all the creature comforts money could buy, and a different girl on his arm every day of the week.
The kicker, the thing that always struck Hannibal at odd moments, was that the kid could do it. He had the brains, the drive, the vision. He could maybe use a little polishing, a little more direction, but that was what college was for.
Ray, when he got back in the World, was going to marry his girl, start a family. BA would go back home, take care of his mama. Hannibal had always figured, when he got tired of this life, that he'd head out west and try his hand at acting. But out of all of them, Face was the only one who wanted to change the world.
"You know, guys-"
"Ass kiss alert." Ray nodded his head towards the scurrying little figure closing in from their left, and every eye followed the motion-some more subtly than others.
"What you do this time, Face!"
"Come on, now, BA, that's unfair. Nothing but hearsay and speculation-"
"You get us confined to quarters again and I'll hearsay my foot up your-"
Murdock interrupted BA's graphic threat with an impressively authentic-sounding alarm klaxon. "Bogie at eight o'clock, Colonel!" Spreading his arms out like a plane, Murdock finally released BA and circled the group-complete with jet engine sound-effects. "Requesting permission to engage the enemy, sir!"
"Denied, Lieutenant." Hannibal drew cigar smoke deep into his lungs while Murdock slumped, hands jammed into his pockets like a child denied the last cookie. Dwyer, the flunky chosen by Mifflin to bear glad tidings strode the final distance with the tense determination usually reserved for unpleasant tasks. He smiled at him. "Corporal?"
He saluted. "The Commander requests you, your team, and the pilot report to his office, ASAP, sir."
Of course he did. "I couldn't think of a place I'd like to be expected more," Hannibal observed, and knew by the expressions on his team's face that they could think of plenty. It was Face, naturally, who offered a suggestion: "How 'bout getting a root canal?"
Dwyer's expression flickered.
Hannibal grinned around his cigar and returned the salute. When Dwyer was retreating back the way he'd come, Hannibal gave Face a reassuring pat on the back. "Come on, kid. Don't sweat it. He probably wants my autograph."
He didn't want Hannibal's autograph. He wanted an arm and a leg and a piece of their souls Plus fifty thousand words he could strike down, strike out, or strike through. Stamp them with a bright red F and toss them to the wolves. The ones wearing Grandma's clothing.
And Murdock just wanted to move.
Debriefings, though, were a kind of necessary evil. Like doing your tax returns or getting a prostate exam. Someone up the chain of command had ordained it A Thing That Must Be Done ™, and everyone else just had to figure out a way to get through it.
So Murdock did just that. Setting his ears to listen and his brain to storage mode (a trick he'd learned when he was just a kid who didn't want to be where he was), Murdock let his brain record all the details-his very own stenographer-and thought about something else. Like what he was going to do first, once they were released from this little, banal corner of Hell.
Drink? Cruiser'd have no objections to that. Dance? Probably wouldn't be a lot of waltzes, but he'd bet money on a couple of lovely tangos. Gamble? There were so many vices to choose from-most available right on base, thanks to Face and his "club." And no one had ever said he had to choose just one.
Maybe he could make a giant super-vice.
"Lieutenant Colonel Smith! Do you have any idea of the damage you've managed with just this one stunt alone?"
Murdock's jaw clenched. That wasn't one of the questions he had to pay attention to-it had been directed at Hannibal. But it meant the nice, quiet, show-and-tell portion or the debrief was over. Now Mifflin would set about telling them all the ways they'd fucked up their successful mission.
Because Mifflin didn't care about the results. He didn't care if the supply depot was blown up, or the VC caravan waylaid, or the POWs snatched from the jaws of death. Not if the orders had been to deliver Feel Goods to the locals so the US could say they were helping and everyone loved their presence in good ole Vietnam.
"I have three other base commanders riding my ass over the guns they're missing and a chopper that wasn't available for a drop."
"We had all the proper forms, sir." Only Hannibal could be the picture perfect, board-straight, at-attention soldier and still seem to be in charge. It probably had something to do with the fact that Mifflin was seething, nearly spitting and red enough in the face to worry about a stroke while Hannibal was just as cool as ever.
Mifflin's fists slammed down on his desk. "I don't give a shit how many forms you had! You goddamned well better know it." His nostrils flared as he came around the desk, slow and deliberate and pissed-the-hell-off. "If I have one more piece of equipment," Mifflin said, low and tight, pausing in front of Face, "with a paperwork problem that miraculously lands in your happy laps, I will damned well make sure you don't have access to anything that can be forged again."
He pulled up to his full height inches in front of Hannibal. "You want to play, Commander? You figure out how to do it without running amuck. You can't do that, you can say goodbye to that patch on your arm. And I. Would not. Test me on that."
Murdock half-expected a staring contest, simply 'cause of the way Mifflin was standing: squint-eyed, his weight canted forward, body tense. But Hannibal just belted out "Yes, sir!" like he gave two shakes of a rattler's tail what Mifflin thought. And that was just funny. Man, West Point really must be a hell of a proving ground for pretending to respect fatheads.
It did the trick, though. Mifflin backed off, visibly calming himself back to his usual, very reasonable nature. Too bad they never saw much of it. The team just seemed to have a knack for pushing him straight to his limit.
"Good." Hands going resolutely behind his back, Mifflin pulled his body to his full puffed up height and looked down his nose at them to decree: "You all are down for the next five days. No passes. No exceptions." Because God forbid the victor pass up an opportunity to gloat. "Dismissed."
Murdock snapped off a salute and turned on his heel fast enough to catch Face and BA and Ray and Cruiser still in the act of reluctantly saluting . It was not the act Face and Cruiser-and even maybe BA, would have preferred. Nope, that act would be number one on the list of sins to conglomerate tonight. His expression safely hidden from Mifflin, Murdock grinned wide and sloppy at BA, and got a reflexive growl in return.
Mifflin voice stopped them all.
"Lieutenant, Lieutenant Colonel. Stay."
Face stopped, glancing from Hannibal to Murdock and opening his mouth to protest. using Hannibal's full rank was never a good sign.
"Dismissed, Sergeant." Hannibal's tone was anything but harsh, but there was an underlying warning there that Face needed to not press this currently. And this time, Face shut his mouth, shooting Mifflin a scowl before leaving the room and closing the door behind him Leaving the three of them alone.
Getting asked to stay after class only lead to trouble. Murdock knew this for a fact. Thanks to his second grade teacher, Mrs. Beikert. Who knew a few little Garter Snakes could cause so much trouble? Not like they had guns or anything. Still, he'd had to stay after and write, "Snakes are not friends, they are vermin." five hundred times. Then she'd paddled him like he was a dang kayak.
"Lieutenant Murdock." It was his turn to tune out the man. "Your flight chief had some interesting things to say about you today. Seems your radio malfunctions on a regular basis. Often preceded by a direct order from Covey." He paused for a moment. "Care to explain?"
"Reliable communications is a challenging issue. Very complex, sir." Neither confirm nor deny. Just dance.
"Well I can tell you one thing for certain. You run into this "challenging issue" again, you wont have to worry about Covey because you wont have your wings anymore."
Keep you mouth shut, don't say anything to the arrogant, puffed up... "No one can guarantee anything will function." Murdock shoved the voice of reason out of the picture, and kicked it in the gut for good measure. "I can guarantee I'm AC. It's my chopper. My wings. My call." Murdock had shed a shitload of blood, sweat, and tears for wings. It was his helicopter, his crew and his job to get everyone in and out alive, and that's exactly what they'd done. No way was this little prick going to take that away.
White hot anger boiled up, lapping at the edges of his brain. Images of blood and sky and kids - friends, bleeding out. Everything they had given, everything Murdock had done, all for not. They were his wings and no one was ever going to take them.
It was the discrete nudge from Hannibal that shocked him just enough to remember where he was and what he was saying.
"With all due respect. Sir." Baseline, military instinct had him hastily adding that. He might have to say it, but he sure as hell didn't have to mean it.
"Lieutenant, you can kick and scream about it all you want. By the time you sort it out with your flight chief and get the Marines to reinstate you, you won't be my problem any longer."
"Sir, yes sir." Let it alone Murdock. It doesn't matter,think about your wings. Once again, Murdock blew off reason and sanity with too much ease. "I'm not your problem, I'm your very best. Sir." Mifflin was just the kind of pompous jackass who liked to threaten and intimidate. If he thought for a second it worked, he would latch on. Well fuck that. And fuck him
Fact check; they were short as hell on chopper pilots. Murdock was needed. No matter how much crying Mifflin did there was no reason to take his wings. Mifflin got all sorts of praise and pats on the back for the jobs and completed missions Murdock pulled off.
That was part of the real reason Mifflin was pissed. The more time Murdock was spending with Hannibal, running his missions, the less time he was spending racking up numbers for Mifflin's ego.
"Commander." Hannibal started before things got too far out of control and Murdock walked out of the office a PFC again. "Lieutenant Murdock and his crew made a decision that saved the mission and the rest of my team's lives." His voice dropped a notch. "Now, the moment he sabotages a mission or puts another crew in danger, then we can reassess his field decisions. Until that happens, you know as well as I do, he's the best damn pilot out here."
Mifflin didn't do anything except puff up more. "That may be the case, but my position on this matter doesn't change. You get your crew in line." It was the end of the discussion.
"I ain't his crew." There was no way Mifflin was pissed about Murdock flying. He was pissed about losing control and having to deal with messy paperwork. He didn't give a damn about the men who had risked their lives, or about the soldiers lost and saved. It was all about numbers to this little shit head. "Sir."
Mifflin took a step towards Murdock. "Correct, Lieutenant. And I have already spoken with your chief." He let the insinuation go unspoken, instead barking out a solid, "Dismissed." He was close enough to spray Murdock with fine droplets of spit.
Luckily Murdock didn't have to figure out how to tell Mifflin to fuck off and still maintain subordination. Instead, Hannibal saved him with a hard military "Yes Sir!" and a textbook pretty salute that had his hand dropping onto Murdock's shoulder. "Let's go, Lieutenant."
Mifflin might not have earned the time of day from Murdock, but Hannibal had. And right now Hannibal was giving him an unspoken order to shut his cakehole, play nice and get out, now.
"Yes sir." There was minimal effort in both of those, just enough to play by the rules.
Life in Vietnam went by with the blink of an eye. You pick the wrong moment to blink and that was it. Finality in its purest form. The full pendulum slide meant life to its fullest. No regrets and no blinks wasted. Radio blasting, and thanks to BA, it was actually blasting Jimi Hendrix's Watchtower, Face couldn't help but smile. Mifflin could go fuck himself, and Face had a stack of very authentic paperwork that could allow for just that.
But right now? None of that mattered. What did matter was the fact that he had the world by its tail. Hell yeah he did and there was no stopping them! Murdock was going to be back any time and Face was ready. Freshly showered, he ran a comb through his hair, bending his knees just a bit to get the exact right height on the mirror square mounted on the post of his bunk. No doubt about it; Face looked good.
"You look in that mirror much more you're gonna wind up breaking it." Cruiser tossed his towel at Face's head, a lame attempt to mess up the hair he'd just perfected.
"Nah," Ray chimed in. "The last thing he needs is sixteen tiny mirrors to admire himself in."
"You laugh, but the results speak for themselves."
Any further argument was cut off by the door opening. Even over the beat of Hendrix's wailing guitar and Cruiser's laughing, the air changed the moment Murdock and Hannibal walked in. Face's eyes narrowed just slightly, for all intents and purposes Murdock looked fine. Half cocked smile, goofy hair that never followed a comb, he even had the right amount of giddyup in his step. But his jaw was too tense and his eyes were off.
Face glanced over to Hannibal for just a moment. The unlit cigar was more than enough confirmation that Mifflin hadn't given them a commendation for saving their asses.
"Results?" Murdock didn't miss a beat with the conversation he'd walked in on. "Awe hell, Face, don't go screwing up a nice little war like this by worrying about results." The crooked smile was infectious. But the eyes.
Two long loping strides was all Murdock needed to be next to the extra foot locker Face had acquired. The guy spent more time here than in his own flight crew's bunker, an extra foot locker to store all of his crap was the least Face could manage.
Murdock crouched down and opened up the storage box, sorting through the meager contents with one hand, pulling a smoke out with the other. All the while singing, "There must be some kinda way outta here, said the joker to the thief..."
"It's called Tequila."
"Or a bullet."
Face just smiled. Cruiser could have his booze and Ray his spiritual neverland. "All you gotta do is ask." Face flipped the comb into his own foot locker and waved his fingers like they were magic. "We can be on the next ride out. Ain't that right, Murdock?"
"You know it, sunshine. Freedom flight 663 ready and waiting to depart on your say so." Murdock was too distracted with ransacking to bother looking up.
"Hawaii any day of the week Murdock." Ray laughed.
Instead of running with all the things they could do in the surf and sand, Face's eyes cut to Murdock. They didn't call each other Sunshine. Not even as a joke. It was too close to all the horrible things that had happened. And yet Murdock hadn't even stalled for a moment at the mention of her. Swallowing, Face shoved the memories down and glanced over at his pillow to concentrate on that before the unwelcome past came back to the surface.
The thud of Murdock's foot locker dropping closed snapped Face out of it.
"Hey, any of you guys seen Edgar?"
Finding his smile again in the mirror, Face grabbed his shirt off the bunk post. "Who?" It took him a second to think that all the way through. "Wait - what's Edgar?"
"He's a Banded Kurki. Real cute fella." Murdock stood up, hands on hips. "I left him right here. Found him a few weeks ago. He's been real good about making snacks of the rats. I really need to find him. He needs to go meet Mifflin, just about the time he goes to the officer's latrine tonight."
Now there was an idea. Face choked out a chuckle. There wasn't a single piece of paperwork he could think of that would cover their involvement with that. No matter how official it looked. "And you're saying you lost your snake?"
"He's not my snake Face. I don't own him. It's not like you get a snake license when you find the poor guy all cold and hiding in your boot." He grinned at Face "You know what a Kurki is? And here I thought you were only looking at the nudie pictures in the National Geographics."
"You know, Face, he's into the tribal piercings."
"Murdock," Face ignored Cruiser. "Everyone knows what Kurkis are. But how about we forget Edgar, huh? I'm sure he just slithered off, out and about to the world and reunited with the rest of his family." Surely Murdock wouldn't deny anyone, not even something that should rightfully be a wallet, the family life.
"Family?" Murdock cocked his head, looking a little worried. "You think Edgar got a sweet little lady friend and some eggs to come home to?" Face could tell by the look alone that Murdock hadn't thought about the home life of a pair of boots in the making.
"I don't want him to miss out on life with the missus and kids. Just thought it was a good way to keep the rats away. You know a working arrangement. Well, except for the part where I was going put him in the commander's shitter. That was just gonna be, you know a learning lesson for Mifflin."
"I'm sure that if Edgar can convince… misses Edgar of all the perks of a this working arrangement you had in mind, then this hooch would be the only rat free corner of Vietnam." Also the most disgusting, skin crawling place in the world, but Face had very little expectations of realizing that fear.
"I can't put the poor guy in the latrine." Murdock shook his head. All too suddenly the sad look was gone and he was smiling at BA. "Hey BA you got some explosives I can borrow?"
"No!" BA barked. "And if I find out you housing snakes in this place I'm gonna twist your lips into a pretzel, fool."
"I don't house 'em BA, it's an exchange of services. A nice boot to sleep in, and in return, no rat poop in our toothpaste. It's win win."
Hannibal just chuckled at the whole thing, finally lighting up his cigar. "You guys blow off steam however you like. But keep it out of Mifflin's office and away from his attention." For some unknown reason by the end of that Hannibal was looking directly at Face.
Hand smoothing down the front of a shirt Face hadn't yet put on, he raised his brow at the accusation. "You know me, Colonel. I'm on the straight and narrow."
"Uh huh," Hannibal wasn't buying it. "So is Edgar."
"No problem, Hannibal, his latrine is way outside his office."
"Lieutenant. Sergeant." Hannibal didn't expand upon the warning. He'd said enough. Mifflin had already confined them to base, now they couldn't poke the wasp's nest either. That was okay, there were still plenty of things to do. Plenty. Face couldn't contain the smile. They were alive and well and there was a whole base full of opportunity. Murdock needed to blow off some steam and Face - well, Face knew just what to do.
"Hey, Face, do you think we could find a poisonous snake somewhere on base, in the middle of the night, while drunk, and not get ourselves killed?" Murdock shook his head a little, trying to clear the bottle of whiskey they'd downed. "Man if I had dollar for every time I had to ask that."
Turned out the second half of that bottle was very convincing indeed.
"Who's counting?" For a second Face looked like he was actually trying to figure it out. But that much concentration going to something other than his balance had him stumbling and grabbing the table. "I'm guessing no. Unless you know a snake charmer, and that happens to be the one profession I have zero contacts for."
"Got any for enraged wildebeest wranglers?"
"Only on the manufacturing side. And they're far less destructive when nicely processed."
"But I'm looking for the destructive."
"There's always C4." Cruiser leaned on the table, bottle in hand and smiling. "But you'd have to get past BA for that."
"See now Face, that's the kinda forward thinking I'm looking for." Murdock gave Face a salute with his mostly empty glass. "How pissed do you think Hannibal would be if we blew up the command shitter with the head shit in it?"
"And this would be the start of really bad ideas." Ray pushed himself up. "You boys have fun and stay clear of explosives and killing people. It's bound to get Hannibal right mad." With a grin and a wave over his shoulder, Ray was gone. Ray was a rock solid, always got your back kind of man. But the last thing he wanted from his time in Vietnam was a rap sheet or a court-marshall.
"He right." And BA had spoken. The final nail in the coffin of excellent, if not a bit exuberant plans. There would be no latrine fire tonight.
Cruiser just let out a deep breath that had his lips flapping in a deflated sort of way. "See, there ya go, always taking the fun outta things."
"Well, there's fun," Face quirked his brow, "and then there's fun."
"There's blowing your fool heads off too." The man was always way too logical for good wholesome fun. Logical and pissed.
"You make that sound like a bad thing, BA." Murdock had to shake his head at the big man. "Near as I can figure that's exactly what Mifflin wants. Or maybe he just wants us to get our asses shot off. Hard to tell sometimes."
"And then there's that. Very articulate, Cruiser." Face commended. "How about we get outta here? Find something that doesn't involve snakes, wildebeests, or explosives." He threw a smile at BA. "Sound about right?"
"Nope." Murdock wasn't going to be distracted that easy. "You're kinda forgetting the whole opportunity we have for, you know, educating Mifflin." It wasn't like Face to forget the important stuff. Maybe the second half of the bottle wasn't agreeing with his frontal lobe either.
"Right." Face just held his glass up like that was a complete toast. "So let's go."
Murdock tapped his glass against Face's. "Let's roll." Face would never let him down. Murdock almost felt ashamed for thinking, even for a second that Face had. The burning of cheap booze helped with that. Setting his empty glass on the table he was up, fighting gravity and winning, again.
It didn't take them long. Stumbling and weaving they made their way across the base. Cruiser had the gift of enough foresight to grab another bottle of booze from the barkeep before they had made it out the door. Earning him a growl from BA. But true to form, Cruiser had just jabbed him in the arm with is elbow and offered him a drink to "lighten the fuck up."
God bless whiskey.
By the time they made it halfway across the base, avoiding the MP's - successfully he might add - they were crooning Wild Thing and laughing.
Laughing. It was something that didn't happen nearly enough and when it did, invariably Face was around. In the hot, sweaty hell hole in Nowheresville South East Asia, Murdock had found something that made all the blood and death and nightmares worth it. A true, life long friend. More then that, someone who understood it all and got the things Murdock couldn't even get in his own head. He never needed to explain, Face just knew. It was like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle before you even knew it was missing. Man, how much had he drank? If he kept it up he was going to be writing sonnets. Ode to a conman named Face, a man who could disarm a foe and woo their wife with equal flair and grace...
They were almost in the middle of the foreign soil Americans were calling theirs when Murdock saw the cage. Corgi! When had they made it to the Sunbear? And why hadn't he thought of Corgi sooner. He loved that damn bear.
Rescued as a cub from the rubble of a village that had been destroyed by the VC, Corgi was one of the innocents they'd saved in their time here. And one of the few native things to Vietnam not trying to kill them. Yet there he was, on his hind paws all shades of pissed off as he roared and swatted at the damned SEALs there in front of his pen poking sticks through the wire and laughing like it was the funniest damn thing they'd seen.
That was going to stop.
Murdock nudged Cruiser's arm. "Well look at that, a whole group of knuckle draggers picking on something that can't fight back. That hardly seems fair."
The SEALs were so involved in their fun little game of cat and mouse that they hadn't noticed the team. Not even when BA growled his dismay at the situation.
"Easy big guy." Murdock shot a quick look over to Face. He didn't need to say anything, Face would know what he was thinking. Face could read too.
"BA, How about you go offer our little buddies there a drink?" It wouldn't take long. Face's grin let him know they were on the same page.
Cruiser cut off BA's growl at the suggestion with a wave of the bottle and an arm around the bigger man's shoulders. Taking a step in their direction.
"A drink, Cruiser." Face said, stepping in front of them for a moment. "Not a concussion."
"Oh ye of little faith." Cruiser brushed Face outta the way and a moment later, after a quick exchange of looks with Face that figured their odds of Cruiser not punching one of them at no greater than fifty percent, and Face and Murdock were off. Making their way to the back of the cage.
It was just like clock work. The SEAL's were moving away from the cage, Face had spotted the MP's before they got anywhere near enough to their location to cause problems, and was… handling… them. And Murdock. Well, Murdock was smiling like a third grader turned loose in a candy factory as he flipped the latch to the lock on Corgi's cage.
Swear to God the bear smiled at him. He was a bright boy and apparently more than happy to play his part in their little game. Not that it was a game, it was more like a life lesson. Never fuck with something that's happy to leave you alone.
Murdock leaned against the door of the cage and called out to the jar heads. "Hey guys. Wanna know why it's not funny to poke sticks at a caged animal?" There was one beautiful second of confusion turned to horrified understanding that he wished like hell he could have a photo of. Something to keep forever. "Because someone with opposible thumbs and a key might take offense to y'all being assholes." Murdock smiled, and with a flip of his wrist, the door was open and he was stepping behind it.
Corgi shifted, with a lumbering movement that hid just how fast the sucker could move, the Sunbear was up and moving through the opening, right for the men with sticks. In a move that the Keystone Cops would have envied, the men all tried to run in the same direction at once. Ended up careening off of each other and ricocheting around until they managed a semi stampede of terrified men running right towards the trees.
"Hey, guys! Try rubbing its belly! I hear that makes 'em all sleepy and tame as a kitten!"
"Murdock. I think that only works on alligators."
"Are you sure, Face?" Murdock dropped his hands from around his mouth like a makeshift megaphone. "What about other members of the reptilian family? Or does that go strictly by genius?"
There was a muffled, "Ow, fuck, move it." The leaves of the Rattan tree shook as a herd of morons tried to race to the top of it, all of them at the same time. It was something straight out of Warner Brothers.
Cruiser swayed a bit, finally able to get it together enough to talk. "You think we should tell them Sunbears can climb trees?"
"I'm not so sure they'd listen. They haven't been too receptive to suggestion lately."
"Besides, I'm sure a brilliant group of high level thinkers and scholars such as that bunch, have a complex, yet logically sound plan in mind. 'Cause climbing up a tree to getaway from old Corgi would be stupid."
"Holy shit! The fucker is climbing up the goddamn tree!" In a flurry of branches and leaves, one of the brain trust tried swinging Tarzan style away from the bear. It didn't work, all that happened was one unlucky sucker ended up swinging on a branch as a pissed off Sunbear took a few good swipes at him.
"Oh, they got Corgi a jackass pinata! You think when it cracks open, all the stupid comes cascading out?"
"Nah." Cruiser took another swig off the bottle.
Face nudged him in the ribs. "Twenty bucks only buys so much time from the MP's. Time to go." He was already jogging off. Murdock and the others followed suit. None of them knew how he did it, but Face had a sixth sense when it came to law enforcement types. "Do you think we should have told them that Sunbears are herbivores?"
Drinking, smoking, gambling, and exaggerating stories about their escapades with women were all activities that BA had on his list of "things I don't want to do with my down time". He'd seen enough of that jive growin' up. But they also happened to be what everyone else on his team was up for. So there he was, leaning against the bar of Face's "social club", nursing a mug of kool aid and breathing in stale cigarette smoke.
Off to his side Cruiser was drinking and laughing it up with some brunette about the time that him and Murdock had ended up inside the K9 kennels. The dog's handlers, less than amused, had offered to get those two stupid fools handlers of their own. They didn't appreciate the fact that Murdock and Cruiser had managed to get in the kennels and not get bit. And they really didn't appreciate the fact the dogs followed Murdock's command to "find booze" and headed right for the handlers foot locker and his stash of whiskey.
Just another case of more energy than brains. It was a common disease in the young male population. He'd watched too many of his friends from childhood catch it. It usually ended up with jail or gettin' killed. Course he had run game too, but he was a pro about it. Smart enough to never get caught and his aunt kept him from playin' too deep with that crowd. Enough to make his name. Not enough to attract the hardcore lifers.
But bad as it was in the city streets, it was even worse in Vietnam. And Face and Murdock were the gold and silver medal holders in the idiot race. Somehow those two managed to be more trouble since they became friends then they had been as enemies. Face 'cause he was smart enough to run a scam, but too green to know his limits or when he needed help. And Murdock was just bound and determined to hide his troubles behind his crazy fool smile. All the while jamming a lifetime of living into every second.
BA took a sip of his drink and watched Face deal out a game of five card draw to the group of rock headed SEAL's. Face was smooth, but BA had watched better cheats. And cheating a group of SEAL's in a game you'd invited them to as a way to smooth over letting a bear chase them up a tree... it was plain stupid.
Stupid like BA hadn't seen in a long damn time.
Face was smart enough to scam everything he needed to operate a bar, on a military base in a war zone. Complete with a real live juke box, and not wind up in jail with a mountain of charges, or even hear word one about it. Yet he was still flat out stupid enough to cheat when playing a group of the meanest, roughest, bad asses on the planet, who were already planning your death.
Face had a special kind of stupid that knew no bounds.
And Murdock only compounded the problem. Laughing and singing and being just the right type of fool to have the SEALs looking at him like they wanted to rip off his head just to shut him up. For all his clown antics it was all part of their rouse. Face would read the reflections of the cards he dealt in his nice shiny zippo lighter while Murdock made sure everyone was watching him.
This was gonna end with a fight. But BA had known that before they'd left the team room for the night. He drained his mug, keeping it in his fist, at the ready for when the accusations started flying. He didn't have to wait long.
Right on cue Trace threw his hands down on the table, sending cards and money scattering everywhere. "You're a cheating piece of shit, Peck!"
Face just looked up at Trace as though he had no idea what the man was talking about. "Come on now, there's no need for name calling." All innocent smile, he continued the denial. "We kept the stakes small, but if you can't handle losing a few bucks..." He shrugged like it was no skin off his back.
A barely raised brow from Cruiser was all the commotion earned from the medic. It was enough to let BA know he had back up when things got out of hand. Even if it meant leaving the attentions of the brunette. If there was one thing Cruiser liked more than women and tequila, it was tequila and good old fashioned brawl.
Keeping his attention on the table, it was hard not to notice how grating Murdock's grin was even at this distance. "No need for hurt feelings and bent cards. How about we go double or nothing?"
Trace leaned in, spit flying as he offered his thoughts on the matter in a low growl. "How about I break your fingers!"
"That would make it harder to deal the cards. And really hard to fly."
There was something in the way Murdock looked. That odd stillness and too wide grin. That look always had the hair on the back of BA's neck standing up. And this time it had him moving away from the bar and towards the table.
"You got that?" Cruiser asked without pulling his head away from the woman's neck. BA didn't bother answering.
"So how about I go spend my winnings on an hour with your moth-" Murdock started
"- Hey now," Face cut him off before Murdock could finish the insult. "We're just letting off some steam here. A nice, fun game, right? Let's just have another drink or two, relax and play another hand. I'm sure you'll get your money back." There was that glint in his eyes that instantly told BA Face was full of crap. "How about we go for that double or nothing? Make things interesting? Whatever makes you guys more comfortable in the game. We can even switch things up if you want. You know, just in case you have any doubts about our abilities."
Great the kid was going to double down on the stupid factor and see if he could pull off a bigger scam. This time, Jarvis, a massive man even by SEAL standards, piped up. "How about a game you two scrawny little weasels can't cheat at? A real game."
Cheating wasn't right, but neither was gambling. If you was going to do things that were illegal then you needed to be aware. Take care of your own business. Better to learn that lesson by losing a few bucks, then to have some dude with a knife stick you in the ribs because you weren't paying attention.
Face's smile went tight as he narrowed his eyes at Jarvis. "You mean something you can understand the rules of a little better? Maybe Go Fish or Jacks?"
"Nah, Face, you're thinking too big. Tiddlywinks is right up his alley, says ages three and up on the box." Thank you Murdock for your timely contribution.
BA gave a soft growl, a warning the lunkhead would understand. If they decided to start throwing punches, it wasn't just going to be two fool kids who weighed less than BA's boots against five SEALs. It was them against a team.
"Yeah, but that's not color coded."
Trace didn't appreciate the witty banter anymore than BA did. One quick motion and Face's chair had been kicked out from under him and Trace was pulling him nose to nose. "You got a line of credit, wiseguy? Let's go find out." With that, he spun Face around, towards the door.
BA was already on him. No one was going to deck Face for telling the truth. It was too rare of an occurrence. And Trace was as dumb as a box of rocks. BA dropped a hand on Trace's shoulder, harder than it need to be. "Drop him or I drop you." He was looking at the SEAL, keeping the others in his peripheral, noting who was where and making sure it was Murdock at his back.
"I'd do as the man says." Face sounded way too calm for someone being dragged around by the collar, but BA could tell the man was a half second away from unleashing his own kind of hurt on Trace.
From behind him he heard Murdock. "He get's all grumpy when you wrinkle his sergeant."
In one fluid motion, Face freed himself without, miracle of miracles, throwing a punch. "Another game? You know, the more I think about that the more I like it. Maybe..." He took a step back, gaze straying to the ceiling as if he were lost in deep contemplation. "...a game of football?"
BA waited for Trace's reaction, feeling the man relax just a second before he let him go.
"Football?" Trace said, tossing a glance over to Jarvis and Jacobs with a toothy smile. "What do you say guys? Take out some collateral damage and show these twerps how it's done?"
It took everything BA had not to shake his head. Man, the stupid was neck deep. Face knew good and well that the SEALs new guy, Marcon, had been an all star quarterback in college. Till he got the Dean's underage daughter in a family way. Face said the girl had been sent away and Marcon had been flunked out and shipped off to Vietnam. In all his talking Face had explained a whole long complicated string of people who knew people and sources that lead back to just how he knew this, but BA didn't care. He didn't care then or now. He trusted Face's intel, which meant he offered up football knowing the SEALs would jump on the chance.
"Football?" Murdock sounded just as happy and unaware as always. "I've never played it, but it can't be that hard right?"
Jarvis just laughed. "Get the ball and run." Simple.
The part of BA that wasn't watching everything and everyone really hoped the man was kidding.
"And how about..." Face's smile was too bright. "We go for that double or nothing?" Judging by the grins on Trace and Jacob's faces, the bait had been taken.
"Triple it for all I care." Somehow, that sounded like a threat.
There wasn't going to be a fight. Yet. But there was going to be a hell of a lot of explaining from Face when they got back to their bunks. And at least half of it had better be true.
"Good, then it's settled!" Face started to turn away towards the bar but suddenly paused. His smile faltering, brow creasing before he glanced back up at Jacobs. "Do you guys have a ball?"
It was times like this that BA could really understand why people drank.
"You don't understand, BA, this is a simple game of skill. We just happen to have the upper-hand."
"No, you scammin' like you always doin' and this time you drug everyone in with ya."
Hannibal looked up at the commotion just in time to see BA send Face backpedaling through the door, flashing that same brilliant smile that had given Hannibal a headache time and time again.
"It's not a scam, big guy. It's brilliant!" And wouldn't you know it, Murdock was right there in tow, yammering away, in his own special way about why this was so great.
He needed more coffee to even be in the same room as the commotion let alone figure out what was going on this time. Face had come a long ways since he'd pulled him out of that contraband filled jail cell. Far enough that Hannibal had kept him on the team despite a lengthy list of reasons not to. They'd even managed to come to an understanding about just what would and wouldn't fly when it came to the perpetual rule breaking. But the kid pushed. His mind and mouth worked faster than Darwinism should allow. Hannibal had no doubt that one day "survival of the fittest" would either put Face right at the top of the food chain, or in the ground. There would be no in between for that kid.
"Think about it," Murdock continued, "We got leave coming up and now we got a guaranteed money maker. I mean sure, I've never played football, but it can't be that hard to learn right?" The pilot threw himself on his borrowed cot and tucked his hands behind his head. "Have you thought about what you're going to do with all the extra money? I think I'm gonna get some kites."
Football? Suppressing a groan, Hannibal rubbed his temple. How in the hell had Face figured out how to rig that?
Face just raised an eyebrow at BA. Murdock got it, why couldn't BA get on board? "See, that's the spirit." Somehow his smile managed to get even brighter. "You wanted to get something nice for your Mom, now you can get something great."
"Man, like that makes it okay."
Hannibal fixed his gaze on Face. "Do I even want to know? Or will I regret asking?"
"Entirely above board, Colonel." Face assured all too confidently.
"Yeah Hannibal, this happened fair and square when we were gambling at the club -" One sharp look from Face and Murdock sat up, looking guiltily to the floor. "The club... that um... that doesn't exist."
The club that didn't exist and Hannibal had known about since Face had scammed the first two by four for it. It didn't take much for the grumblings about missing equipment, like a jukebox and an air conditioning unit and other lavish pieces, to start making the rounds. Hannibal had known almost instantly that Face was behind it. And it took next to no snooping to confirm that suspicion. But in the end, a social club that kept Face busy and out of all shades of other sorts of trouble... Hannibal hadn't put a stop to it on that merit alone.
And he would have been happy to continue to ignore it even now. However, ignoring the obvious when it was so flagrantly being flaunted in front of him would just give Face a false sense of security. And that was dangerous and stupid. Like offering up a challenge for Face to see what Hannibal would put a stop to. They'd been down that road before. Turning towards Murdock, he lowered his voice a notch. "Tell me more, about this club that doesn't exist."
Murdock's eyes bounced from Hannibal to the wall, to Face, and back to the floor. Anywhere but back to Hannibal. "Well, you see, I can't because, it's um-" Murdock was up, off the cot, hands flailing, distracting his audience from the poorly constructed lie.
"It's not really a club, Hannibal." Face cut in before Murdock could dig further.
"Yeah see, it would be crazy to have a club with a bar and ping pong tables all smack dab in the middle of a base in Vietnam. No way that could be real, right? So, since this is Vietnam, there can't be a club." Murdock jammed his hands into his pockets and nodded at his logic.
Face let out an uncomfortable chuckle. "Just enough space for a few people to commiserate together in." Face soothed. No surprise the kid was calm as could be, pleasant smile in place, even after Murdock's rambling had sold him down river. "But more importantly, no problems, beyond, you know, the occasional leak in the roof. But solid building material is hard to come by out here in the sticks."
"No problems?" Hannibal cut Face off before he could get going. Having Murdock on a run was enough. "So, how did gambling "fair and square" at this club," he emphasized the last word for good measure, "result in a money maker of a football game?" He waited, seeing how the hell Face was going to spin this one.
Simple. "They wanted to double or nothing their loss."
Hannibal's eyes narrowed on Face.
"Un-club, clubless, nada de cluba, no siree-bob, nothing, nada, less than nothing, a black hole in the club universe even. Yup a distinct lack of clubbage for sure."
"Can it, Murdock. I'm not buying it." Stunned and sullen, Murdock dropped back down to his cot and hung his head, staring at the floor. Hannibal sighed, ignoring Murdock for the moment and trying to get a grasp on just how much damage control was needed this time around. "And who exactly did you manage to challenge to a game of football because they wanted to double their money? And don't tell me this is because they caught you cheating at cards at your own damn club. That has all kinds of stupid written over it."
Face, God love him, or hate him as the case may be, rocked on his feet as his hands slid ever so casually into the pockets of his fatigues as Hannibal looked at him. "I wouldn't say caught, per se ... accused... slandered... maybe even defamed. But definitely not caught." The innocence was dripping. "Anyway, we were trying to resolve the misunderstanding without escalating the situation. Which is a feat in and of itself with these guys. I'd say we did a pretty damn good job all things considered. And the end result was that we agreed to work out our differences with a game of chance of a different sort. They just happened to choose football."
"And who exactly are you playing against?" Hell, Hannibal probably didn't want to know, but he'd heard too much already. And the last thing he needed right now was to be behind the eightball of a problem and wind up with Mifflin breathing down his neck again.
"Oh, just a few guys that were there. I didn't catch their names."
"Bullshit, Sergeant. You know I'll find out soon enough, right? So, I can't tell if you're trying to protect them, yourself, or you just really want to piss me off right now."
Face frowned, trying his best to recall that missing information and turned towards the pilot. "Murdock, you remember what that guy's name was? Hampton? Jones? No... J something..." He snapped his fingers as it came to him. "Jarvis."
"J. T. Jarvis."Murdock confirmed. "Big, tough, on his second tour. Once got thrown in the stockade for wrestling a jeep - and winning." Murdock didn't lift his head, but he did look over at Face. "Spider Murphy is his CO."
Hannibal couldn't help the dry, low chuckle that came out of him. "Spider's guys? That is who you're playing this game against?" What the hell were they thinking? That's right, Face and Murdock plus booze equaled no thinking.
That all too confident smile was back. "They chose the venue. Which, considering the relative circumstances that the discussion took place over, I only thought was fair."
Templeton Peck: Ambassador of goodwill.
But none of this explained why Face thought this was a sure-fire win. "And Murdock has never played?"
"Not even one inning."
"And, I expect, everything on the field will be played on the up and up?" It was an order more than anything.
"Hannibal," Face implored, "even I can't cheat at football." Which may or may not have been the point in the first place. "And I can get Reverend Taylor to hold the pot. Keep everyone honest."
"Fine." Fact was, Face had been cheating. The kid couldn't help himself, and somehow, by the grace of God he hadn't wound up beat to hell for it. That was a testament to his gift of gab in and of itself. "Get the good Reverend to hold the pot. This doesn't go beyond this football game." He didn't wait for Face to answer. It wasn't a request.
Face turned on his heel back towards the door BA had so nicely shoved him through a few minutes ago. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go find the reverend... and a ball."
Hannibal watched him leave. Waiting until he was sure Face was good and gone before he turned to BA and Murdock. "He know what he's doing?" Because Hannibal sure as hell had his doubts.
Murdock didn't even bother to raise his head, he just nodded, then he was up, moving past Hannibal, out the door after Face.
BA shrugged. "Do he ever?"
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