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Q

Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure

Author:  Nicole Wilson (bibliophile855@yahoo.com)

Rated:  R

 

 

Q. E. D.

AN A-TEAM ADVENTURE

(Part 8)

 

 

"Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill."

 

-Robert Louis Stevenson, "Underwoods," 'Requiem.'

 

 

 

Chapter 58

 

Goldman made a quick physical examination as both doctor and patient swayed with the van's motion. Shaking down the thermometer, he frowned.

 

"One hundred and four, Gentlemen--- Miss Devlin. With lungs that sound worse than my father's old Edsel." He glared at Hannibal. "We've got to get Murdock to a hospital, Colonel, right now. Thirty minutes tops, or our intrepid nurse and her assistant might have to repeat this morning's little performance. And there won't be damn thing I can do to help him this time."

 

Rosemary and Face exchanged a look.

 

"All right already, Doc!" Hannibal's impatience echoed what they all were feeling, the same mixture of anger and helplessness. "Got the message, loud and clear." He turned in his seat. "See if you can lose them, B.A. Then get on 405, the holiday traffic should be light. With a little luck, we can make Westwood in fifteen minutes."

 

"Westwood?" Face was dismayed. "Christ, you can't take him there, Hannibal! That's just where Lynch figures we'd go. They'll be laying for us." He reached for the phone. "I know a private clinic on Wilshire, near Cedars-Sinai. It's pricey, but good. We went there the last time B.A. broke his arm, remember? Just let me--- "

 

"Thanks but no thanks." Hannibal blocked Face's outstretched hand. "Got another idea. Lynch might guess we'd take the freeway. After all, it's the quickest route north. On the way to most places he thinks we got stuff stashed, maybe half a dozen hospitals. That's his problem tactically, too many objectives." His grin was sudden, and all too manic. "The idiot'll be ripping his hair out in clumps, trying to guess where we're headed. He'll probably split up the men--- spread 'em out thin. Stakeouts everywhere from that warehouse they rumbled in Tarzana last month to all those beach houses you 'borrowed' from Malibu to Laguna. That's a hell of a lot of territory." The grin grew wider. "But I don't figure he figures we got the balls to try for Murdock's home base. It's the old double reverse twist, works every time. Yeah, I'll bet the V.A.'s free and clear--- skeleton crew tops. We'll head there."

 

"Bet with what?" Face said, angrily. "Murdock's life? On some half-assed plan that's only got a rat's--- "

 

B.A. cast his vote with a single disgusted grunt.

 

"Lieutenant, please!"

 

Both Face and Hannibal turned.

 

"You two can hang Captain Bligh from the yardarm later," Julius told them, harshly urgent.

 

Their driver made a peculiar noise--- half chuckle, half growl.

 

"Obviously this team harbors issues dating from long before Miss Devlin and I made your acquaintance."

 

"Boy!" Rosemary slipped out of her chair. "You can say that again." She moved over to the bed, kneeling at Murdock's side; began searching through his pockets for something.

 

Face gave her a puzzled glare.

 

"But right now," said Goldman. "I think you'll agree Captain Murdock takes highest priority." 

 

The others all nodded.

 

"Besides, your fearless leader is quite correct."

 

To Hannibal's credit, at least he tried not to look smug.

 

"Though not for the right reason." Julius sounded both reproving and distinctly professorial.

 

'Here it comes,' thought Face, with an inner sigh.

 

"When I warned you against a more garden-variety hospital, I meant it. A private clinic might be cushy, but they probably send all their lab work to Cedars. Am I right, Lieutenant?"

 

"Yeah, Doc. But--- "

 

"But nothing, young man! If you want a rat's chance in H-E-double toothpicks for Murdock, we've got to head for the V.A. I'd say ten, maybe fifteen researchers in the world could figure out what's in that poor man's bloodstream and more importantly, how to treat it." He tapped his scrawny chest. "I, Gentlemen, happen to be one of them. But I need access to a fully equipped lab, and the undisturbed time to use it. As far as I know, there's only one person in Los Angeles who can get that for me--- in the next thirty minutes, at any rate."

 

"Dr. Richter," the nurse said, shifting Murdock gently to one side.

 

He never stirred.

 

"Yes, my dear." Julius bobbed his head. "Got it in one."

 

Rosemary gave him an absent-minded smile. "Ah--- " It broadened in triumph as she took something from Murdock's shirt pocket. "You're a betting man, Colonel Smith." Then she turned, looking into another pair of blue eyes, less confident and a good deal more frightened.

 

Her face changed.

 

Reaching for Face, she pressed an object into his hand. "And more importantly--- so is H.M." Rosemary looked at Hannibal. "Go for it!" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Vaya con Dios."

 

Face opened his fingers. The afternoon sun, now pouring through the windshield, caught a bright glint of metal. Speechless, he held out Murdock's battered silver dollar to the colonel.

 

"Nah, kid." He cleared his throat, tried again. "You keep it. The luck belongs to you. Murdock belongs to--- " Hannibal sent a quick, unhappy glance toward the woman. "Well, just--- well, you keep it."

 

"A Vegas silver dollar?" Goldman asked, curious.

 

"Yeah," B.A. said, but nothing more.

 

'So?' Julius told himself. 'Since when did everything always have to be explained?' Somehow they had gotten beyond all that, him and his team. He watched Rosemary bow her head, though whether in prayer or capitulation he wasn't sure. No matter, his remedy was the same for both.

 

The little man reached forward; gave her arm a gentle pat.

 

"I'm sorry, honey." Regret was plain on Templeton Peck's face. "Sorry for everything." And he meant it, even as his fingers closed tightly around the coin in his palm.

 

Rosemary glanced up. "Not your fault." Then she glanced away, avoiding his eyes.

 

Unconvincing--- unconvinced.

 

The drone of sirens abruptly swelled in volume as their own personal cadre of LAPD swelled in ranks. 

 

"C'mon, B.A." Hannibal moved his seat front and forward. "Do like the lady said. Go for it!"

 

"Luck be a lady," Goldman muttered. He sat back in the wobbly camp chair, one hand gripping the side of Murdock's bed, the other a handle on the cabinet beside him. 

 

With a nod, B.A. began evasive maneuvers. He swerved off the Parkway to Lincoln Blvd. and then onto Sepulveda. The sirens grew louder, now right on their tail. He wove through lanes of traffic at breakneck speed.

 

Hannibal grinned.

 

There was a screech of brakes, chorus of angry honking as B.A. missed a nearby tractor-trailer by mere inches.

 

Rosemary bowed her head again.

 

This time there was little doubt, at least in Goldman's mind, what she was doing. For he was doing the same damn thing--- pray!

 

The reason why Hannibal wanted his sergeant drug-free now became patently clear. Having already witnessed the plan, the con, the airplane flight, Dr. Goldman now had the opportunity to observe one of B.A.'s very best things. He and his beloved van moved almost as one, exiting Sepulveda on Eighty-third, swinging a sharp left turn up Flight Ave. to Airport Blvd. Then another left onto Seventy-fourth St. and back on Sepulveda, gathering speed as they went.

 

Their pursuers simply couldn't keep up. A khaki-green Buick jumped the curb, going airborne for a few seconds. It made an ungraceful landing on a fire hydrant, the resulting geyser of water only adding to the confusion. Two police cruisers slammed into one another, Lynch and his minions braking just in time. The U.S. Army rolled to a halt before a crumpled-up twin tin can of taxpayer property, airport traffic already lining up behind them.

 

The road was now hopelessly blocked.

 

Upon taking a glance in the rear-view mirror, B.A. allowed himself a brief smile.

 

The reaction of his passengers was somewhat more boisterous.  

 

"Cowabunga, Sergeant!" shouted Rosemary. Her Texas drawl heightened by the excitement, the sheer relief of still being in one piece: "Yee-hah!" 

 

Face laughed. 

 

"Yeah, nice one, B.A.," Hannibal said, rooting through his pockets. On the off chance, there might be a fresh--- nah, nothing. He sighed.

 

His smile broadening into a grin, B.A. swung back onto Sepulveda; then took a hard right on Howard Hughes Parkway, heading toward the ramp for Rt. 405.

 

This last hairpin turn proved one too many for Murdock.

 

"Help!" Goldman's chair had toppled over. He was on both knees, struggling mightily to keep his unconscious patient from rolling onto the floor.

 

Face and Rosemary leapt to the call, their pain barely acknowledged as the two collided in a mad scramble toward Murdock's bed.

 

Rosemary frowned. "Just go!" she said, pushing him forward. 

 

With a nod, Face made a grab for Murdock's shoulders, even as Goldman threw himself bodily over Murdock's legs. 

 

"My thanks." Julius drew a ragged breath. "Charles Atlas, I'm not."

 

"Who?" Rosemary at first rubbed her shoulder; then gave her arm an experimental flex. 

 

"The Arnold Schwarzenegger of his time," Goldman said, as they angled Murdock carefully back in place. "Well, my time, at any rate." He gave her the professional once over. "Are you all right, my dear?"

 

Face turned.

 

"S'or right," she said. It was not quite a smile. 

 

"Baba-looey." The others heard a half song, half whisper. "Baba-loo." Ricky Ricardo morphing into Snagglepuss as Murdock stirred under the Faceman's hand. "Exit stage right."

 

He turned back again. "Murdock?"

 

"Face." Murdock's voice was a low rumble of warning. "We gotta get you out of here. Hannibal--- " He moved restlessly on the bed. "Ya gotta come up with somethin'. Gotta get him outta here, before it's too late. Gotta exit stage--- " Murdock trailed off, and was still.

 

The colonel shot a glance behind him. "Everything O.K. back there, Lieutenant?"

 

'Was everything--- what!?' A wave of anger rose up in Face, irrational and he knew it. All this wasn't Hannibal's fault. But it was there, nonetheless. 'Christ, what a stupid--- ' He took a deep breath. Then ignoring the question altogether, called out: "B.A., warn us next time, O.K.?"

 

"Sorry!" came the shout back. "Last turn for now, Face. It's a straight run from here on in."

 

Pitching his voice much lower, B.A. said, "That's what I'm worried about, Hannibal. We're sitting ducks up on the freeway. That police helicopter's gonna spot us in a New York minute. What you wanna to do next?"

 

"Keep going, Sergeant. Pedal to the metal." Hannibal grinned. "Breaker, breaker 1-9!"

 

B.A. just shook his head, more in affection than anything else. 'Man, the colonel just loved this shit.'

 

Dr. Goldman wiggled the earpieces of his stethoscope into place, a quick check of the heart and lungs. Fishing a blanket out of the cabinet behind him, he laid it over his patient. 

 

Murdock rolled over. "Hot," he mumbled, trying to kick it off.

 

"Yes, I know," Julius told him gently, even as Murdock began to shake with chill. He pulled the blanket closer.

 

"Now it's cold. Snowin', Facey." Murdock gave him a three thousand mile stare. "Snowin' in the jungle." The Cowardly Lion's Brooklyn lisp: "Peculiar weather we're havin' around here, ain't it?"

 

"Yeah." Face climbed up on the bed. "Just take it easy," he said, folding Murdock into his arms. "I'll keep you warm."

 

"Poppies," said a muffled voice. "That'll make 'em sleep." Murdock's eyes slid closed. 

 

"Doc?" It was a stark appeal to the man who had somehow become their talisman, their savior.

 

Save him!

 

"We need Alexander," Goldman said, relinquishing the honor.

 

He didn't deserve it. 

 

"C'mon, Doc." Face glanced down at the battered leather bag. "There must be something--- "

 

"No, Lieutenant! I can't just take a shot in the dark." Julius raked his hair into further disarray. "I won't lie to you. This will be a close run thing, right down to the wire. But it's doable with enough preparation." He looked over at Hannibal. "We need Alexander, Colonel. We have to let him know we're coming in."

 

Rosemary pulled her eyes away from the two men on the bed. "I've got his number memorized. All those nightmares H.M. was having last fall."

 

Goldman smiled. "Fortuitous, young lady. Though not surprising--- adoration all the ranks.  For what angels yield, may we be--- "

 

"It's 555-9013." Rosemary's interruption was curt, almost angry.  

 

Face stared at her over Murdock's shoulder.

 

Ignoring him, she knelt down between B.A. and the colonel.

 

Hannibal dialed; passed over the phone.

 

They waited.

 

Rosemary shot him an irritated look. "It's the machine," she said.

 

"Don't leave a message!" 

 

The look turned on Face. "Yeah," she muttered. "No shit, Sherlock."

 

Hannibal frowned. 

 

"C'mon." Rosemary wound the cord tightly around her hand. "Pick up--- pick up." Finally, she shrugged; clicked off the phone. "Not home. He's probably at work, covering for the holiday. Dr. Richter calls himself a secular humanist." A tight smile; "Though last week I heard he was giving Druidism a trial run. Some ugly little statue over by the picnic tables, stuck in the crook of a tree. H.M. swore up and down he had no idea how it got there. But I think--- " Her smile faded. "Let's try the switchboard, Colonel. It's 555-1300."

 

Hannibal reached over, disentangling the receiver. "Take it easy, kid," he said, very low.

 

Rosemary's hands dropped into her lap. Trying to look anywhere but into those sharp blue eyes, she glanced out the windshield; then stiffened, literally deer-in-the-headlights.

 

"Shit!" she said, echoing B.A. 

 

 

 

Chapter 59

 

 

A black-and-white, going more than eighty miles an hour, suddenly pulled in ahead of them. Seconds later two other cop cars appeared, one on either side.

 

Hannibal had to give these guys credit. The classic pincher movement worked every time. "Behind us?"

 

"Clear," said B.A. Though in his rear-view mirror, a fourth patrol car was rapidly moving into place. "It's now or never."

 

"Do it!"  

 

B.A. rapidly decelerated, backing out of the trap. It was a tricky maneuver made even more complicated by the whirr of helicopter blades erupting overhead. Pavlov's dog to the sound, Murdock struggled into semi-consciousness.

 

"Hannibal!" he shouted, right in Face's ear.

 

The startled lieutenant lost his grip on Murdock as their van swerved; as B.A. veered into the slow lane, almost hitting a convoy of trucks. 

 

"Hannibal!" They all heard the indignant blast of a horn as B.A. cut in front of the lead semi. He headed for the exit. "Ain't gonna make it to Westwood like this. Gotta get off the freeway!"

 

"Gotta get this baby off the ground!" Murdock began trying to climb off the bed. "Get the fuck outta here! They're comin' through the trees. See 'em?" 

 

"Doc!" Face called out.

 

Both men dove for the pilot, resuming their positions of minutes before. 

 

"They're comin' for us, Colonel." He wrestled in their grasp. "We gotta go." Then Murdock froze. "Face?" he said, sending a glassy, bewildered glance at his friend. "Why you firing at me, tryin' to kill--- Nah, it's that guy who looks like you. Makin' like he's you." Murdock squeezed his eyes shut. "Because there's somethin' he wants to know. Something Lockhart wants--- I can't tell him. Not supposed ta tell him," an agonized whisper. "But I gotta ---- gotta save ya, darlin'. Gotta save--- Face." 

 

Rosemary watched them, tears standing in her eyes.

 

"It's all right." Face wrapped both arms around Murdock's shoulders. "You told Gunter, remember? Gave him back those names." He looked over at Hannibal for confirmation.

 

The colonel wasn't about to let him down. "Face is on the money, Captain. Gunter's got the whole thing on tape. You can stand down now. Your job is done. It's over."

 

"Over." The laugh was rusty, disbelieving.

 

Julius Goldman winced.

 

Murdock felt a cool hand on his forehead. "Yeah, buddy. It's all over now. B.A.'s headed for the hospital; get there any minute. Just hold on, O.K.?"

 

"But I thought you said we were there already!" It was a plaintive voice, this persona Murdock's refuge when things got to be too much. "Why you always lying to me, Faceman?" He pressed his burning cheek into the other man's neck. "Love you, Facey. Don't lie to me no more." He sighed. "Always lying. C'mon, really. When we gonna be there?"

 

Tears coursed down Rosemary's face unchecked.

 

"Soon, Murdock." Face's head was bowed. "Real soon."

 

"Yeah, soon," B.A. echoed grimly. He shot down the off-ramp. "Everybody, hold on!"

 

This time, they were taking no chances. Face pushed Murdock flat on the bed, while Goldman sat on the floor next to them.

 

"Gonna lie down now," Murdock said, confused. "Take a little nap."

 

"A fine idea." Julius patted his leg. "Good night, sweet prince. Sleep tight. Flights of angels and all that."

 

"Act Five, Scene--- " Then, a pause. "Man, I'm tired. So fuckin'--- "

 

He rolled over, and was still.

 

Rosemary gripped the nearest armrest, steadying herself as they exited Route 405 at top speed. Unfortunately, it was two exits too soon. No way to get Murdock home, not without threading carefully through streets surrounding the hospital complex. No way the sergeant had that kind of time; getting back on the freeway seemed their best shot.

 

B.A. took it.

 

Patrol cars streaming after them, the GMC headed toward street-level. Then, inexplicably, he slowed. With a grunt, B.A. yanked the wheel left, making an impossible U-turn; jumped the median strip separating them from vehicles going the opposite direction. They teetered for a moment on the cement barrier, listing to one side.

 

Rosemary felt a hand grab her shoulder, hold her firmly against the passenger side chair.

 

Then the van abruptly righted, a screech of metal from the undercarriage to mark their passing. The other drivers studied B.A. warily, not a single horn objecting as he merged back into traffic.

 

On the far side of the median, several low-riding cruisers pulled to a halt. A motley crew of frustrated police officers and MPs were already swinging open their doors. Now free of pursuit, B.A. diligently put pedal to the metal. Once again, began weaving in and out of a line of cars.

 

"Christ, that was beautiful!" Hannibal gave B.A. a manic grin. "Just beautiful!"

 

B.A. let out a dubious Eeyore sigh, his poor baby wounded in the line of duty. "Yeah, if the axel holds out, we should be there in a few minutes."

 

Rosemary tugged on Hannibal's arm.

 

He let her go.

 

"Beautiful?" She took a moment to dry her face, brush off her uniform. "Colonel Smith, I swear, that was the craziest --- " Her glance at B.A. mixed reproof and admiration. "And you! Why, you're every bit as bad as he is!"

 

The big man growled.

 

A cough from Goldman sounded suspiciously like laughter. "Et tu, B.A.?"

 

"Thanks," came a quiet voice from behind them, as Face took a limp Murdock back into his arms.

 

"No problem." B.A. roughly cleared his throat. "Hospital comin' up next."

 

Goldman levered himself into his chair. "Not to worry, young man. We'll make it. After all, timing is everything."

 

"Yeah, Doc." The muffled voice was low, bitter. "Too bad mine sucks."

 

Over the top of his coke-bottle lenses, the professor met Rosemary's troubled stare. "Well, won't give you an argument on that one, Face. It could be better. But personally, I don't believe that he who hesitates is always lost. Things have a way of working out." Goldman smiled. "You'll see."

 

Hannibal gave Rosemary a nudge with the phone. "Here you go." 

 

"What?" She turned.

 

"V.A. receptionist on the line."

 

Face raised his head.

 

"Oh, thanks." Then into the receiver: "Hello? This is--- " Excited chatter broke out on the line. "Yeah, it's me." Rosemary tried to interrupt. "I'm fine, just fine." She touched the bruise on her cheek absently.

 

Though he looked much worse himself, it was Face who winced in pain.

 

"Captain Murdock?" Rosemary sighed. "No, he's not doing too good right now." More questions followed. "Listen, Tina--- I need Dr. Richter. Can you page him for me? STAT? Yeah--- thanks, honey. I'll hold." 

 

She put her hand over the receiver. "He's around somewhere, just be a minute."

 

The colonel nodded.

 

B.A. glanced through the windshield. "They're back," he said. It was an observation immediately punctuated by the steady beat of rotors overhead.

 

"Any bogies on the ground?"

 

"Nope, not yet. Guess Lynch figures the chopper's enough. We ain't going nowhere, Hannibal. Not without them stickin' right on our tail." He frowned. "Weird thing though, traffic's still moving. Maybe they don't want to block the exits, gridlock 405." A tense shrug; "Or maybe it's a trap. In any case, we gonna have company real soon, that's for sure."

 

"Yeah, they'll probably let us off the freeway." Hannibal grinned at his teammate. "Don't think Lynch wants to risk another maneuver like that U-turn. Probably has the hospital surrounded, now that he's sure where we're going, waiting for us to come to him. He knows we've got to get Murdock in there somehow."

 

B.A. took his eyes off the road long enough to give him a tiny smile. "His mistake."  

 

Colonel Smith had lived and worked with B.A. since sixty-seven; knew this complicated man almost as well as he knew himself. Down to that little streak of Jazz he always suspected lurked---

 

Hannibal's grin widened. "What you got--- " 

 

"Dr. Richter?" Rosemary's face lit up. "Yes, yes, it's me! I'm O.K., doing O.K." She paused. "No--- no, H.M.'s in bad shape this time, really bad." Her voice began to shake. "I think he's dying."

 

Goldman fought a brief skirmish with the camp chair. "I'm getting way too old for this," he muttered.

 

One arm still around Murdock, Face reached out the other. 

 

"Thanks." The doctor used it to struggle to his feet. "Everything copasetic?" 

 

He got a silent nod in reply.

 

Julius balanced himself on Face's shoulder; squeezing it gently before he made his way to the front of the van. Kneeling down next to the others, he commandeered the phone.

 

"Hello, Alexander! Julius Goldman, here." A pause; "Yes, I know. Murdock's had a very rough time of it, I'm afraid. Complications of electric shock and an unconfirmed plethora of drugs." Another pause; "No," he said, slowly. "Not the usual medication. I helped wean the captain off all that preparatory to--- " He managed to look guilty. "Yes, I agree. It was extraordinarily high handed of me, but with good reason. Look, I'll explain later. Right now we need your help. Yes, lab space. I have several possible antidotes with me, results of my unpublished work." Then had no trouble looking pleased; "Word of mouth? Why, thank you, that's extremely flattering. I trust you'll have everything in readiness? Our ETA is--- "

 

"Ten, Doc," said B.A. "Give or take."

 

"Ten minutes." Julius rocked back on his heels. "Now, Alexander, as to our next little problem--- how do we get in?" He laughed. "Ah, yes, of course--- the turkey wrangler. Rosemary told us all about it." Then glanced over at the nurse; took in her pale, exhausted face. "Good," he continued, much more subdued. "Well, I'll see you then, God willing. Thanks."

 

"Here." He passed the phone back to its owner. "My esteemed colleague wishes to speak to you."

 

Hannibal didn't seem too surprised. "Hello--- Richter?"

 

"C'mon." It was Rosemary's second nudge in as many minutes. "It's time to buckle up. Nearly took a header myself last fall, forgetting to do just that. Some rumble between Murdock and a gang of vicious Holsteins, as I recall."

 

She got up; dropped heavily into Murdock's usual chair.

 

"By coincidence--- or maybe it was karma." Goldman didn't call himself a transplanted Californian for nothing. "We almost ran into their Mexican cousins, literally, on our way to rescue the two of you. Not sure what's up with these guys and members of the bovine persuasion. It's getting more and more like the plot of a really bad sci-fi film: Attack of the Killer Cows."

 

Ignoring all this nonsense, Rosemary leaned over, tangling both hands in her already tangled hair.

 

"Are you quite all right, my dear?" He gave Face an uncertain look.

 

"I'm fine." Her reply was soft, desperate. "Just give me a minute, Doc. I'll be O.K."

 

Silently, Face gestured between himself and Goldman. The older man nodded. Laying the unconscious Murdock gingerly on his pillow, Face slipped off the bed. The two squeezed past one another, each returning to their respective seats. Then each of them leaned forward, taking a friend's hand in his own.

 

"So, how you feeling, Mighty Mouse?" Julius unclipped a small flashlight from his inside pocket. Lifting one paper-thin eyelid, he checked for reaction. Then more urgently, wrapped his fingers around Murdock's wrist. "C'mon now," he whispered, feeling for a pulse. "I promised them you'd make it. Don't make a liar out of me. Hold on!"

 

"Hey," Face said.

 

Rosemary looked up, slowly focusing on him. She frowned, something wasn't right. Gone was the beautiful face she saw smiling out of that picture on Murdock's bureau each morning. Murdock's Face, who as the years went by, she had grown first to envy--- then to hate. His shining good looks were dulled by a layer of dirt and bruises, that almost too beautiful face. As her hatred now had seemed cloudy, indistinct, leaving only---

 

"Christ, Face," she said, tiredly. "You look like crap."

 

He grinned, happy to see the deadness fade from her eyes. Leaving only---

 

Rosemary squeezed his hand.

 

'May God forgive me,' Face thought. For using the easiest weapon in his conman's arsenal against her, this thing he had with women.

 

Only to have it turn on himself.

 

"You don't look much better," he said aloud, trying to keep it light.

 

"Gee, thanks! Always the gentleman."

 

He shrugged. "De nada."

 

But Rosemary could keep it up no longer. "Face," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "Both of us--- the three of us. What are we gonna do now?"

 

"What we always do." He leaned forward, taking her into his arms. "Take care of Murdock, the best way we can."

 

"But it won't be the same." A sniff; "Everything's changed."

 

"Yeah." She felt him nod. "All changed."

 

'And all fucked up,' Face thought. 'SNAFU.'

 

All his fault, as usual. For in trying to protect first one, and then the other, he had failed Murdock and Rosemary both. Violated the prime directive, as Murdock would say. Not that his best friend, ex-lover, ever really wanted his protection; just ended up needing it time and time again, as Face needed his.

 

He traced small comforting circles on Rosemary's back.

 

Yeah, all fucked up. Just like the Hanoi job, those months after Bragg searching for the one patient among thousands. Until Face remembered Alexander Richter, that doc who saw the team after Chao, remembered those kind brown eyes. The one shrink who seemed to understand Murdock--- understand him too. Always hoping one day, when all this fugitive shit was over, that maybe he could talk the man into taking on a second patient. But, no---

 

Face let out an exhausted sigh. 'After all, every con has its price.'

 

Rosemary shifted in his arms.

 

"Don't worry," they said together.

 

She moved her head off his shoulder.

 

They both smiled.

 

"It'll all work out somehow. You'll see." Face looked behind him. "Right, Doc?"

 

Julius ignored this question in favor of one of his own. "That was ten minutes I think you said, Sergeant?"

 

Hannibal glanced up. "ER, side entrance--- got it." He gave Goldman a sharp look. "O.K., I'll hold."

 

"Yeah, in ten," B.A. said.

 

"No more than that." His voice was tense. "No more."

 

Rosemary took a deep breath as Face's arms tightened around her; as he unknowingly crossed the fine line between comfort and pain.

 

Lifeline.

 

"Almost there." This grim new version of the doctor was frightening the hell out of B.A. "Any minute now."

 

"Good," he said, removing the syringe of epinephrine from his bag.

 

B.A. exited at Westwood. Apart from an occasional buzz from the police chopper, the streets were deserted. "Sure is quiet out there." He paused. "Too quiet."

 

There was a snort from the colonel beside him. "Got you doing it now, B.A."

 

"Yeah." He turned down an alleyway, plunging the interior of the van into semi-darkness. "I got a bad feeling about this."

 

"Hello?" Someone new was on the line. "Sure, Officer Scottsdale." Hannibal grinned at B.A. "I remember." Placing one hand over the receiver, he whispered, "Gobble, gobble, gobble."

 

B.A. just shook his head. The Jazz was humming through Hannibal like a live wire.

 

Something he accepted, like always. Like cavemen must have welcomed the discovery of fire, with equal parts reassurance and alarm. It was a feeling B.A. knew only Face would understand. Because the Fool picks up on Hannibal every time--- makin' it worse. Yeah, and he had to admit, sometimes making it better.

 

The colonel and Murdock were two of a kind; Hannibal saw it almost from the beginning. Probably why he pushed so hard to get Murdock transferred to their unit. Just about the last thing they needed back then.

 

But two years later, after all those missions--- after Chao--- B.A. couldn't really picture the team without him.

 

Just one of many reasons Face pushed so hard to find their missing pilot, after they broke out of the stockade. Put them all at risk finding for Hannibal, as usual, what he needed to make the plan work.

 

Not to mention what Face needed--- for the team, and for himself. 

 

"Mark," Rosemary said, in a way that made the Faceman's eyebrows rise.

 

She pulled out of his arms.

 

"So I guess you're feeling better?" 

 

A nod; "We lucked out, Face. Most of the security staff likes H.M., but Mark--- " She laughed. "Sometimes I think he wants to be Captain Murdock when he grows up. He'll help us get inside, even if he has to risk his own career to do it."

 

"Yeah?" Face was ready to be impressed.

 

"So, Mark, what's the situation?" Hannibal was saying. "Yeah, surrounded? What do you suggest?" A pause; "Sounds good. Hold on, let me talk to my men." He muffled the receiver against his chest. "It's that kid. The one you introduced me to in the parking garage, remember?"

 

"The Wild Turkey Tamer," Face said, thinking he could use a shot about now.

 

"Yeah, kinda young to be in charge of security if you ask me. But it's Christmas Day--- skeleton staff, I guess. Scottsdale tells me the place is just crawling with MPs, trying to look inconspicuous." Hannibal just looked pleased. "So, guess we'll be meeting up with the James gang at Tombstone after all, guys."

 

"Clantons." Goldman was still monitoring his patient's heart. 

 

"What?"

 

"Tombstone," he said, with a frown that had nothing to do with historical inaccuracy. "Earps vs. the Clantons: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." He looped the stethoscope around his neck.

 

Hannibal shrugged. "Yeah--- whatever. Anyway, looks like I underestimated Lynch. Damned if he didn't outflank me with the old triple reverse twist. Either that, or he's so dumb it never occurred to him we'd head anywhere other than the VA."

 

"Triple reverse what?" Rosemary said, confused.

 

There was a long sigh from his exec.

 

"Yup, looks like the plan failed." Hannibal didn't look too crestfallen; in fact, seemed positively cheerful. "So we gotta think of something else. We need a diversion, something big."

 

Big.

 

They all sat for a moment, waiting for inspiration to strike.

 

 

 

Chapter 60

 

 

There was another sigh: this time deeper, more resigned. "O.K., I might have something for you, Colonel," said Face. "Don't know how big it is, but--- "

 

"Yeah?" Hannibal said, looking interested.

 

The professor just looked worried. "Well, whatever it is, make it quick. We don't have much time."

 

"I know, Doc! I'm thinking."

 

"Well, think faster, young man. Tempus fugit."

 

The two glared at one another.

 

B.A. turned onto yet another alley. "Wanna use the 'vette, Faceman?" he asked, in a quiet voice. 

 

"Yeah." Face was surprised. "Might work. I left it parked in that garage next to the V.A."

 

The sergeant glanced over his shoulder. "Good idea." He gave Face a rare, open smile; the stamp of approval from someone who rarely approved of either conman or the con.  "It should work."

 

Face smiled back.

 

"Gonna work," the colonel said, handing him the phone.

 

"Hello? Yeah, Mark--- nice to hear your voice too." Face touched his cheek, a rainbow of purple and gold. "Fine, just fine."

 

Rosemary frowned. This particular con struck a little too close to home.

 

"Look, we have to get Captain Murdock inside as soon as possible. I understand you need a diversion?" He listened. "Yeah, I've got an idea. You got anybody in there who can drive--- I mean, really drive?" His face brightened. "Semi-professional? Formula one, funny cars--- what?" Then just as suddenly fell. "Nah, you're kidding. O.K., what's his name? Yeah, got it. Have this Raoul change into civvies. Go to Frank's next door and pick up my 'vette. You know the one, white exterior with a red--- yeah, that's it. He should make a slow pass through the gate. Then once he's got those MP's hooked, take 'em for a ride. But carefully! Just a few miles, O.K.? When Lynch catches up, the story is he's a garage attendant; driving around the block to keep the battery charged up or something. I'll scam--- I mean--- get her out of impound later." A small wrinkle formed between his eyes. "Fourth place? Yeah, where?" It grew more pronounced. "No, didn't really need to know that. No, not funny! Just tell him to go get the car. Yeah, goodbye."

 

"Know what?" Hannibal couldn't stand it. "So what kinda cars does he drive?"

 

"Demolition derby." Face rubbed his forehead. "Scottsdale says Raoul took fourth prize last year--- in something called The Pile-Up at Pimlico."

 

To their credit, none of his teammates even cracked a smile.

 

"Man, oh, man!" B.A.'s sympathy was heartfelt.

 

This time the sigh was just tired. "That do it, Doc?"

 

"An elegant sufficiency. Though from you, I expected no less."

 

Once again, that startled look.

 

"For greater love hath no man--- " Goldman's myopic eyes were suspiciously bright. "That's two grand sacrifices in less than twenty-four hours, my dear Lieutenant Peck. I'd say you are on a roll."

 

Rosemary just nodded.

 

The reason her eyes were shining, turning hazel to gold, Face didn't want to contemplate; couldn't really think about right now. He stared out the windshield, his view of concrete walls, garbage cans suddenly quite fascinating. "Guess--- " He cleared his throat. "Guess I better give the parking garage a call."

 

"Good idea, kid," the colonel said, quietly.  

 

"Hello, can I speak to Frank?" There was a pause. "Home with the family? Well, this is Templeton Peck. I left a white Corvette convertible a few days ago. Just wanted to let you know someone's on his way over to pick up the keys. Name's Raoul." Followed by a sudden frown; "What? No, I can't give you written authorization. Frank knows me. If you could just call--- No, I don't want to disturb his holiday---  No!" A much sharper tone; "I can't come get it. Why the hell would I send him over if I could pick it up myself?"

 

Face put a hand over the mouthpiece. "This guy's an idiot." 

 

Hannibal grinned around his cigar.

 

"Now, look," he said, all exaggerated patience. "You've got to release that car. It's an emergency. A matter of life or death."

 

Goldman winced. 'It was strange that Face thought Murdock better at imitating voices,' he thought.

 

For here was another one, right on the money. First Lockhart, and now the unfortunate appearance of a particular CIA agent they all knew and hated. Taking an attitude that didn't seem to work for Face either.

 

The man on the other end wasn't budging.

 

"Whaddya mean they all say that? How many life-or-death--- " Face's temper finally snapped. "No, I'm not a car thief! White Corvette--- red stripe, license plate 1HJG851, VIN number 3K1TW25F4Y--- what?" He took a breath. "Well--- finally!" There was another pause. "Hey, no need to get insulting! Just give Raoul the keys and I'll settle up later. Yeah, O.K.--- goodbye."

 

Hannibal reclaimed the phone.

 

"Jeez! I don't see what's so peculiar." Face glared at the colonel as if this were somehow his fault. "He called me a control freak. Just 'cause I got my VIN memorized. Asshole probably has trouble coming up with his own phone number--- birthday--- fuckin' single digit I.Q.!"

 

"You're asking me?" Hannibal said, trying hard not to laugh. "I don't own a car, kid, you know that."

 

Face turned, appealing to the van's other passengers.

 

Goldman shrugged. "Sorry, don't even know how to drive. No problems mastering the principles of quantum physics. But the stick shift, now that's an utter mystery." 

 

"My car's parked over at Frank's," Rosemary said, trying to be helpful. "Can't recall the VIN off-hand." Then she brightened. "Easy license plate though: TEXAS ROSE."

 

"More like yellow rose." His anger was fading.

 

"Yeah, a bright yellow Chevy Nova." She smiled. "How'd ya guess?"

 

"Well, I don't think memorizin' your VIN is weird." This from a man who actually read the Chilton Auto Repair Manual cover to cover, just for fun; "I gotta bunch of numbers up in my head: specifications, replacement parts, all kinds of stuff." B.A. turned another corner. This next alleyway was even smaller, even more claustrophobic.

 

Face leaned forward. "Thanks," he said. Then with a swift glance upward: "Seem a little quiet out there to you?" 

 

"Man, don't start all that again," grumbled B.A. 

 

"No, listen! The chopper's gone."

 

His teammates exchanged a look. Things were definitely starting to get hinky, a bad sign.

 

"Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly," Goldman said, slipping the earpieces of his stethoscope back into place.  

 

Rosemary watched him take Murdock's pulse yet again.

 

It was a strange sight, their normally hyperactive friend lying there so quietly. With skin now as pale as the sheets tucked around him, his lips beginning to take on a bluish tinge--- hypoxia, a very bad sign. 

 

"Let me have that remote from the glove compartment," B.A. said. 

 

"Why?" Not that it stopped Hannibal from handing it over. It seemed like plans were everywhere these days. This kept up and he'd be out of a job.

 

B.A. looked almost embarrassed. "Got bored last month on stakeout. So I decided to hang around after Face took the afternoon shift. Rig up a little something I thought might come in handy. Just took me a few days." He pulled up to the rear of an abandoned warehouse; then depressed a button, causing the garage door to slide upward easily.

 

Goldman looked up from his patient. "Open sesame," he said.

 

Rosemary gave him a faint smile.

 

B.A. rolled the van forward, foot barely on the accelerator. He crossed to the far end of an empty storage space, the metal wall unfolding down behind them. Another garage door had been installed at the front of the warehouse, this one containing a single window, its one-way glass showing a perfect view of the hospital's main entrance.

 

Scottsdale was right. The place was just crawling with MPs.

 

"I scammed the warehouse using that fake driver's license Face gave me last summer," he said. "Marcos the Magnificent: Body-Builder to the Stars. The landlord thinks I'm opening some kinda gym."

 

Hannibal laughed. "Nice one, B.A."

 

"Hey, that's not a fake." The conman looked almost insulted. "Though he's not so magnificent anymore, poor guy. Looked to be about ninety-eight pounds soaking wet. I bought it off him the day Murdock and I went fishing. Out on Santa Monica--- " He trailed off.

 

"Face," the colonel began. "It's gonna--- "

 

He was interrupted by a loud screech of tires.

 

It looked like Templeton Peck's grand sacrifice had finally begun.

 

"Boy, oh, boy!" Face could barely watch, could barely tear his eyes away. "What part of the word careful didn't he understand?"

 

It looked like Raoul was on a roll. He peeled out, also peeling a layer off two brand-new Michelins. Two neat tire tracks marked the road.

 

Rosemary looked at Face. "Go, Speed Racer, go!" she said, softly.

 

Their diversion shot past the startled MPs doing at least sixty. No time for them to see who was at the wheel, but that 'vette was bait enough. Everyone scrambled for their cars, only a single unit remaining behind, parked by the front entrance.

 

B.A. was surprised. "Hey, it worked!" 

 

"Eureka!" shouted Goldman. "By Archimedes and his rubber ducky, now I'd say we're getting somewhere!"

 

Face just looked overwhelmed.

 

"And here comes young Scottsdale up to bat." Hannibal chomped down on his cigar. "Let's see how he does."

 

The colonel was right. For it seemed a new plan, something originating with hospital staff, had just gotten underway. A quartet of security officers galloped down the steps. They surrounded the remaining Army vehicle, neatly cutting off a view of the street. One of them began an animated conversation with the men inside.

 

"Now!" Hannibal said.

 

With a nod, B.A. depressed a second button. The garage door nearest them rose smoothly. He swung the GMC out onto the street, cruising right by their partners in crime. One of the largest guards glanced up. He was towheaded, with smiling dark blue eyes.

 

'Sergeant Ericsson!' Rosemary thought, struck by the resemblance. 'May he rest in peace.'

 

The doppleganger waved them on.

 

B.A. rounded the corner, making for the emergency room entrance.

 

A familiar figure waited under the canopy, his lab coat flapping in the cool breeze. Mutt to his Jeff, a younger man stood impatiently beside him. He was leaning forward slightly, on the balls of his feet, ready for action. 

 

Almost before the GMC stopped rolling, Mark hotfooted it around back. Julius rose first, at last parting company with that albatross of a camp chair. Together, they pushed the rear hatchway open.

 

The automatic doors slid wide, disgorging a pair of orderlies with an empty gurney. Goldman took a quick step backward, as one of them leapt inside. He gently put an arm around Murdock's shoulders, the other supporting his legs. Together, they eased him out of the van. 

 

"Wait!" Face said.

 

But the white coats ignored him.

 

Buckling up an unconscious Murdock, they began wheeling him toward a concrete ramp at the entrance. It was all happening too fast. Face yanked open the side door, gathered himself to follow.

 

"No, you wait!" A hand pushed him back into his seat. "Can't go in there, kid."

 

"Hannibal, let me try--- "

 

"Think, Lieutenant! You can't just go charging in the front door."

 

B.A. let out an amused, not to mention ironic, snort.

 

"Could be a regular tea party in there for all we know."

 

Julius nodded. "With Colonel Lynch as Mother." 

 

"We need a plan."

 

Emotion and logic warred for a moment. "Yeah," Face sighed. "You're right, Hannibal--- a plan."

 

"Where you want him, Doc?" one of orderlies called out.

 

Whether moved by Pavlov or Hippocrates, it was Goldman who opened his mouth to answer.

 

"Dr. Subramaniyam, trauma two," interjected a calm voice.

 

"Right." The gurney disappeared inside, the doors sliding closed.

 

Rosemary brushed past the lieutenant. "Dr. Richter!" she said, practically throwing herself at him. Pressing her face against his white coat, she burst into tears.

 

"There, there," he said, managing to recover enough aplomb to hug her gently. 

 

"Sorry. I know it's unprofessional--- " Both her tears and words were muffled by soft cotton. "But I'm just so glad to see you! So glad to be home."

 

"Yes, everyone's home now." He looked around. "And largely in one piece."

 

Face swung around, bringing the more lurid side of his Phantom-of-the-Opera to light.

 

Alexander frowned. "Obviously, I spoke too soon." He tilted up Rosemary's chin. "A matched set, I see." His calm was now overlaid with something else, all the more dangerous by contrast. "What happened?" he asked her protectors. "Who did this?"

 

"Hans Gunter." Goldman's shrug was anything but casual. "Colonel Smith--- me. Take your pick, Alexander."

 

"What!?" His frown deepened.

 

"It's a long story, as they say. And regretfully, no time to do it justice."

 

"I'm O.K." The nurse gave her boss a watery smile. "Really."

 

"Hmmm," said Richter, unconvinced.

 

Dr. Goldman picked up his all-important bag and headed for the door. "Worry not," he said, squeezing the Faceman's shoulder as he passed. "With the good Lord's help, we'll bring Murdock back too, in one piece." They all heard the tenor version of a familiar growl. "Prime directive--- right, B.A.? Don't leave nobody behind."

 

Two faces turned toward him, light and dark; each mirroring the same uncertain hope. 

 

"Thanks, Doc," Hannibal said.

 

"De nada." He leapt onto the sidewalk. "I'll report back ASAP, whatever your twenty." Julius glanced at Mark. "This assuming, of course, our favorite turkey tamer has a plan."

 

"Yeah, I do--- " Then the new nickname sunk in. "Aw, Rosemary." Officer Scottsdale pinked up under his smattering of freckles. "You didn't!"

 

She grinned. 

 

"Your fame has spread far and wide, young man." Goldman gave Richter's arm a friendly nudge. "So--- what say we get this show on the road? Trauma two, it is. Just point me in the direction of your lab, O fearless leader!"

 

The frown turned bemused. "Twenty years, and you haven't aged a day, Julius. Still the same crazy son of a--- "

 

"Sea cook?" His old college roommate guessed.

 

Richter laughed. "Come along, we've got work to do." He glanced over his shoulder. "Everything is well in hand, Gentlemen. Just follow Mr. Scottsdale here. I'll find you as soon as I have any news."

 

The two doctors turned away.

 

"Coming, my dear?" Goldman called out.

 

"Yes--- coming!" She leaned through the side hatch. "You can trust Mark, Colonel--- I do."

 

His pink deepened. "C'mon, Rosemary. We have to get moving," the guard said. 

 

"You take care of yourself, Speed Racer. Hear?" Rosemary touched her lips to Face's cheek. "See you soon."

 

She followed them swiftly up the ramp.

 

'First Captain Murdock, and now--- ' thought Mark, dismayed. 'Damn! This line gets much longer, gonna need to start taking numbers.'

 

"Soon," Face whispered. 

 

Almost as if she heard him, Rosemary stood in the doorway a moment. Then, with another hail and farewell, she disappeared inside. 

 

 

 

Chapter 61

 

 

The three men watched in frustration. Never had the burden of their fugitive status seemed quite so heavy to them all.

 

"O.K." Hannibal leaned forward. "Let's hit the road." He cuffed the lieutenant's head gently, more like a caress. "Right, kid?"

 

This time, there was nothing theatrical about it. Only exhaustion, bone-deep, could produce such a sigh. "Yeah, Colonel--- right."

 

Scottsdale jumped in, yanking the door closed behind him.

 

B.A. glanced over his shoulder. "So, where to?"

 

"End of the driveway, next turn. We're making for the electrical plant around back."

 

"Gotcha." B.A. circled the building, veering onto a side road. A number of huge transformers loomed into view. They were surrounded by a fence topped by barbed wire. On the front gate, a sign was posted, succinct and to the point: "DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE!"

 

Mark got out. Taking a crowded key ring from his belt, he pondered them for several long minutes. They were obviously not his keys.

 

Face was unimpressed. "Yale. Piece of crap--- crack it in thirty seconds."

 

"Give the kid a chance," Hannibal said.

 

So the three waited.

 

At last, they heard a cry of "Eureka!"

 

It seemed Scottsdale had conquered the padlock. Leaving no doubt when he opened the gate, and with a bow ushered them inside. 

 

B.A. drove through the gap slowly. "Ain't the gettin' in I'm worried about."

 

"Spider to the fly?" Hannibal's battered Corona angled upward.

 

The lieutenant rubbed a hand over his face. "Lynch." 

 

"Well--- Tarantula: Son of Black Widow, he's not."

 

"Now that was scary," B.A. said.  "More than a hundred feet tall, mouth eight feet wide. Could have taken out Aquamanic in one gulp."

 

"No threat to us denizens of the deep," Hannibal told him loftily.

 

They heard the metallic shiver of chain link being pushed back in place.

 

Mark reappeared in the windshield; gave them a more tentative motion to follow.

 

The air vibrated with power.

 

"Sure hope he knows what he's doing," B.A. said, as they passed within inches of one of the giant transformers. "Don't want my mama to get back no Krispy Kritter."

 

Hannibal grinned. "Nah, more like The Bride of Frankenstein."

 

This got him a snort. Who you callin' a bride?"

 

"Aw, c'mon," Face said, tiredly.

 

The two subsided. 

 

Mark stopped in front of a storage shed leaning against the far wall. The corrugated door protested when it was pulled open, revealing an interior empty of everything but a thick layer of dust.

 

B.A. nudged the van inside. As he switched off the engine, the heavy thrum of generators immediately became louder, more apparent.

 

They all climbed out.

 

Face gave their new accommodations a resigned look. "You want us to wait here?" Hell, the team had bivouacked in worse.

 

Much worse.

 

"Nope." Mark grinned proudly. "I scoped out another place, something a bit more comfortable. Well--- maybe comfortable isn't exactly the right word. But safe from the MPs at any rate." He bounced out the door; back in again. "C'mon, follow me!" Then disappeared once more.

 

The others exchanged an amused glance.

 

"Wants to be Captain Murdock when he grows up," B.A. said.

 

"Could do worse." Hannibal put a hand on his lieutenant's shoulder. "Much worse."

 

"Yeah," Face said, very low.

 

"C'mon." The colonel gave him a gentle nudge forward. "Let's get going."

 

Mark was already some yards away, in front of a metal door. His head was down; face half covered by a thatch of sandy blond hair. They watched him send a few experimental puffs upward. Then he let the key ring drop for moment, swinging from his belt. Long enough to impatiently sweep his hair back and jam the uniform cap back on; take another look at the keys. "Man, why doesn't Raoul label these things!?" 

 

"Need some help?" Face searched for his lock picks.

 

"Nah, I al---most--- " Mark gave the key a half-turn. "Got--- it---" A slight jiggle and the door gave way. "There ya go!" Then his face fell. "Jeez, forgot to close up the shed. Go on in. Meet you over by the elevators, O.K.?"

 

Hannibal nodded. "O.K., kid." 

 

The team stood in the doorway for a moment, adjusting to the dimness inside. A long corridor stretched out in front of them, illuminated by a single light at one end.

 

"Must be the elevators," Smith said, leading the way. 

 

His men followed, their footsteps echoing off the concrete walls on either side. The air was close; smelled strange, formaldehyde masking the presence of something else--- strange, yet familiar. 

 

'Quick lime,' thought Face, suddenly. 'From whence we come to judge the quick--- '

 

"It's the morgue!" The others both heard a thread of panic in B.A.'s voice. "He's gonna leave us next to the dead bodies."

 

"Take it easy." Hannibal was wondering the same thing himself.

 

Unlike the sergeant's fear of flying, this phobia was more readily explained. For like most non-coms of color in Chao's camp, Bosco Baracus pulled a grossly inequitable amount of time on burial detail. The weeks wore into months, throwing corpses into a pit as if they were garbage. These were once men he had served with, men he had known. B.A. often providing their only ceremony, reverse baptism with a shovel full of lime.

 

It wore on him--- big time.

 

Soon, more than one report of night terror carried to the officers' quarters. Had the colonel scrabbling for some way to get B.A. reassigned. A problem solved when Murdock obliged with nightmares of his own, finally convincing Chao that the broken CIA agent needed a keeper. Someone to keep him from committing suicide, at least until the general could pry out everything kept in that confused labyrinth of a mind; report it all back to his superiors, both in Hanoi and Saigon. Yes, Baracus would do--- when Peck was no longer an option.

 

By then Chao had devised other little games to play with him.

 

"I felt--- something. They're still alive!" Spooked, B. A. flattened himself against the wall. "Get away!" he shouted, fists raised. 

 

"It's only me." The Faceman spoke very softly. "Gonna ask Mark to find us someplace else. Maybe go back to the van, O.K.?"

 

"Nah, Face." B.A. felt a hand touch his shoulder; fingers gently massage his corded neck. "It'll be O.K.--- I'm O.K."

 

Behind him, Peck frowned. 'Christ, first that wild ride in the Hercules--- and now this!' One of the bravest men he knew, afraid of only two things. Face to face with both of them in the space of an hour.

 

Like what happened to Murdock--- so unfair, so fucking unfair.

 

Then came a memory so sharp, it was almost audible. His own voice, much younger: "But Father, Luke started it! He called me a pretty boy, called me a fag."

 

There was the touch of a callused hand on his head.

 

"Life isn't fair," the priest told him. "And it's that young ruffian who's in the infirmary, not you. Two months detention--- the same verses as last April, one hundred each in your copy book. Start with 'God is Love' and work upwards."

 

He saw himself as teenager wearing a faint smile.

 

"Only spare my delicate sensibilities." Father Maghill had struggled to hide a smile of his own. "Leave out 'Song of Solomon' this time."

 

Face remembered the rough stone floor of the sacristy, even rougher condition of the priest's shoes. The Father needed new shoes. Now, if only he could scam---

 

"But you did fight the good fight, my son. It was a very good fight, fair and square." Maghill's face darkened. "Well, on your side, at any rate. Looks like all those boxing lessons over the Y paid off, just as I thought they would."

 

At this Face had glanced up, hoping for reprieve. Only to meet the priest's dark brown eyes, sharp enough to flay a fledging conman open with a single look. Brave enough to see into the face of God--- or into the heart of a boy, almost a man. See his deepest secrets, even before Face knew them himself. They were fearless, those eyes, but very kind--- the eyes of his first, best friend.

 

"Never be afraid of what you are, Alvin. Of who you are--- and know that you are loved."

 

Face remembered turning away then, as he did now, his eyes filling with tears.

 

Then Maghill's brisk voice: "And now, young man. Fetch me the soap, and be quick about it! The only word beginning in 'f' and ending 'k' I want to hear out of you is--- "

 

"Fire truck," he said, aloud. Then at B.A.'s confused look, Face leaned closer. "Don't be afraid, I am with you."

 

Even until the end---

 

A large hand reached back; squeezed his tightly.

 

Face winced.

 

"Yeah--- I know," said B.A. "I know." He pushed away from the wall.

 

"Pathology," Mark explained, coming up behind them.

 

Face started to speak.

 

"No." The guard shook his head. "Not here, the floor below." A ping sounded nearby.

 

They rode downward, the elevator opening on an even darker corridor. Scottsdale led them toward a heavy metal door, its yellow and black sign proclaiming: "NUCLEAR MEDICAL WASTE: protective suits only beyond this point!"

 

Hannibal raised a curious brow. "You want us to glow in the dark?"

 

"Nah, I pasted this sucker on about an hour ago. What we really got here is a boiler room for the West Wing. But I don't think Lynch'll have the guts to check it out." Mark gave them an impish grin. "Do you?"

 

The colonel laughed. "Good thinking."

 

'Yeah, that's all we need--- a scammer on the Jazz.' Face was trying hard to like Scottsdale. He really was. But even after all these years, came the small voice: 'Maybe this is what they need, what Hannibal needs. Someone younger, quicker--- ' 

 

'Gotta like this kid,' Hannibal thought.

 

So much like the best of two men he loved. Or at least what Face and Murdock were, years ago. Young, brash, ready for anything. Hannibal still remembered Murdock's soft voice saying: "I know no fear, Colonel."

 

The colonel smiled.

 

It was hubris Murdock then decided to prove, volunteering for a suicide run into the Delta. His new best friend rode shotgun; though as it turned out he and Face were more than friends, even then.

 

Oh, they were wonderful then! Face riding the cusp of post-adolescent immortality; and Murdock, almost destroyed by those assholes who dumped him in Vietnam, somehow renewed; rejuvenated by a growing friendship for their team--- by the first real love of his fucked-up young life.

 

Top of the world, Ma!

 

That is until Chao---

 

Hannibal's smile faded.   

 

"Hide in plain sight," his sergeant was saying. "That's a good plan, kid."

 

Face sent the man a quick, resentful look. Et tu, B.A.

 

Which left only Hannibal to catch the wistful quality in B.A.'s voice; hear what wasn't said, the shared longing for what was and would never be again.

 

Top of the world.

 

The two exchanged a glance; then just as quickly, looked away.

 

"Can't take all the credit." Mark unlocked the door. "Eh, Voila!" he said, sporting an accent not quite on a par with his Murdockian idol, but not bad. "All zee comforts of home. I got some old furniture moved down from storage."

 

The room was very large, most of the floor space taken up by boilers, water tanks and pipes. With relief, the team spotted a couple of armchairs and highly anemic-looking couch pushed into one corner. The lone window had been propped open for ventilation. Hazy afternoon sunlight filtered down through the cement well and onto the floor below.

 

"The little boy's room is on your left." Scottsdale pointed to a half-open door. "You guys hungry?"

 

"Yeah!" B.A. said. The last few days on junk food had taken their toll. "Anything ya got--- and don't forget the milk."

 

"Hmmm, lemme see what I can sneak out of the cafeteria. Those hairnet ladies are tough, and still pissed off about that jello cube thing last month. But they're all real busy serving up Christmas dinner about now, so I should be able to latch onto something."

 

"Thanks," said the colonel. "Even that meat loaf is starting to sound good."

 

Mark laughed. "You really are hungry." He turned to go.

 

"Scottsdale!"

 

Pavlov's dog to the sound, he paused.

 

"Does Richter know where we are?" The question sounded rough, almost harsh. "How to find us?" Face was hanging in there, holding on--- but it was a tenuous thread.

 

His teammates gave him a worried look.

 

Mark was puzzled. Like most of the staff, he didn't know Face well, catching only glimpses of him over the years; mostly when he was breaking the captain out for another job. Something was going on here--- but what?

 

No time to think about it now. 

 

"Take it easy, Lieutenant," he said. "Doc Richter picked this garden spot out himself. He'll find a way to get down here, soon as there's any news." Mark took a step out into the hall. "I gotta go. Don't want to miss Lynch's triumphant return from his wild goose--- I mean, turkey chase." A chuckle; "Never realized fuckin' around with that guy's head would be so much fun. No wonder Murdock--- "

 

Face sighed.

 

Hannibal broke in. "Yeah--- thanks, Mark. We'll be waiting on ya."

 

"Right, Colonel. Listen for shave-and-a-haircut, no-bits. That'll be me." He started to pull the door closed.

 

"Hey!"

 

"Sir?"

 

"Think you can dig up a cigar around here someplace?"

 

"Sure!" A very familiar gleam lit up Scottsdale's blue eyes. "Know jus' ze place. It'll be a pleasure." The metal door clanged shut behind him.

 

There was an uneasy finality to the sound.

 

B.A. tried the knob. It didn't budge. "We're trapped, Hannibal," he said. "I don't like it."

 

"Yeah." It was a definite tactical disadvantage. "Face?"

 

But his exec was already way ahead of him, kneeling down on the floor. He lay the kit open, flexing his fingers for a moment before choosing one of the picks.

 

B.A. knew what was coming. "Nah, don't--- "

 

Too late, a crack of knuckles sounded in the quiet room.

 

He winced. "Man, I hate it when you do that!"

 

Face glanced over his shoulder, the flicker of a smile. "Sorry," he said, inserting a metal rod into the lock. He leaned forward, listening, focusing---

 

B.A. frowned. "Don't sound sorry."

 

"Shhh!" said Face.

 

Hannibal grinned. "A master at work."

 

"Yeah, if I can get the two of you to shut up long enough--- there! " He sat back. "And in under a minute, a new personal best."

 

"Not bad." Hannibal propped the door ajar. "Ya still got it, kid. Not bad at all."

 

He was startled by the full force of his lieutenant's smile.

 

"Thanks, Colonel," Face said, quiet but heartfelt. "Thanks."

 

'What brought that on?' Hannibal wondered. Christ, he hated when that happened. When he wasn't sure what he'd done wrong, what he'd done right. Sometimes as bad as trying to figure out a woman.

 

"De nada," he said aloud.

 

B.A. fished out a Swiss Army knife he got from Face last Christmas. Originally he thought twenty blades overkill. But the Faceman sure did like givin' presents. Made the man real happy; and if Face was happy, then he--- well anyway, the thing sometimes came in handy, like now.

 

Selecting one of the screwdriver attachments, he rapidly dismantled the lock. Then after adjusting the tumblers, pushed the realigned assembly back into place. B.A. tried the knob, noting with satisfaction that the door now easily opened from the inside. Good enough to let it slide closed. "There. Now, that's more like home."

 

"Home, sweet---" Hannibal dropped into the armchair closest to the window. Leaning his head back, he sighed. "Home on the range."

 

Templeton Peck threw himself onto the couch. "Where the deer and the antelope--- " His hoarse warble was interrupted by a bout of coughing. "Christ, when's the last time they dusted this thing!" He waved a hand in front of his face.

 

B.A. plopped down on the other chair, stretching both legs out in front of him. "No sunshine," he warned. "No cows." His eyes closed.

 

"Come a ki-yi-yippee yippee--- " Then Face smiled. "Remember when Murdock taught Lin--- "

 

The sergeant's bloodshot eyes reopened. "I'm too damn tired to pound ya, Faceman."

 

"Yeah, never did get it right," Hannibal said drowsily. "Come a kiy-yi-yip, yip. Somethin' like that."

 

"Shut." B.A. enunciated each word. "Up."

 

The colonel gave him a faint grin. "Moo," he said, his own eyes drifting closed.

 

 

 

Chapter 62

 

 

All things considered, B.A. wasn't real surprised he ended up dreaming about cows--- those damned Texas ones with the long pointy horns. That he somehow found himself standing in the middle of a prairie, tall grass whispering over the low mooing of the cattle. The cows were all bunched up, nudging one another for a spot at the man-made watering hole behind him. B.A. could hear sharp tapping as a rusted pump forced more water up from underground.

 

Tap, tap--- tap, thunk.

 

He frowned.  

 

Other than that, it was kinda peaceful. The cows were drinking away. Not bein' scary, for a change. Just kinda ignoring him. So, there he was. Just standing there--- all alone. Wishing he'd thunk up a horse at least, to keep him company.

 

When suddenly, in the way of dreams, two horsemen appeared on the horizon.

 

They rode toward him--- comin' on fast. B.A. got a little spooked right then. He reached for the Browning, still tucked in his belt.

 

Then realized he knew these men.

 

They were both tall in the saddle: one slender, almost lanky--- the other with broad shoulders like himself, a barrel chest. The large man was mounted on an even larger bay, the other on a white stallion. Murdock pulled ahead of his companion, pulled back on the reins. The stallion reared up, a magnificent sight.

 

"Whoa, Nellie!" he said, with a grin.

 

The bay gave his stable-mate a nervous look; danced away a few steps, easily controlled by the man on board.

 

B.A. snorted. "Any fool can see that horse ain't no Nellie--- Fool." Then he glanced up at the other man and into the face of a boyhood idol. "Mr. Wayne? What you doin' here?"

 

"Tap, tap!" went the pump.

 

He gave it a quelling look.

 

The most famous cowman on the planet narrowed his eyes. "Better take some advice, Pilgrim--- and put that thing up."

 

B.A. gave the 9mm a startled glance. He stuck it back in his belt. "I'm sorry, sir--- force of habit."

 

"A good habit," said Wayne. "Never know what sorta varmit you're gonna run up against. Why I trail along with the best gun I can find." He cocked his head toward the younger man. "You friends with Range Rider here?"

 

"Range what?" He glared at Murdock. "You been watchin' that stupid--- "

 

The cowboy's dark eyes were pleading.

 

B.A. sighed. "Yeah--- sure," he said. "I know the Rider. We're on the same team."

 

Murdock smiled.

 

"Team." Wayne reached for his gun. "Like in gang?" 

 

"No--- no, sir!" Range Rider said, hastily. "He means like in A-Team, the good guys. In fact, you play one of us--- a commander in The Green Berets."

 

B.A. let out a derisive snort. "But Hannibal thought that movie--- "

 

"Ix-nay on the olonel-cay!" said Murdock, under his breath.

 

"Green what? Don't know what you're talkin' about, Pilgrim. All I know is I gotta find Liberty Valence before that other pilgrim, tall drinka water---  "

 

"And I'm gonna help ya, Duke." Murdock's animal took a skittish step sideways, nudging into the bay. "Sure as shootin'."

 

The other horse showed his teeth.

 

"Tap, thunk!" went the pump. Things were definitely starting to go downhill.

 

One of the cows let out a startled moo. The others stopped drinking. They moved away from the cistern, the whites of their gentle eyes showing.

 

"Think we better get movin'," Wayne said.

 

The two men turned their mounts.

 

"Wait," B.A. called out. "Hey, Murdock--- just wait!"

 

Range Rider glanced over his shoulder. "What can I do you for, O Baracan One, my man."

 

"Didn't answer my question. Why's he--- " B.A. pointed at the retreating figure on the bay. "Why are you--- " All at once, the man only afraid of two things decided to add another to his list. "You ain't--- " He could quite make himself say it. "Ain't--- "

 

"Dead." Murdock gave him a lazy smile. "Nah, B.A.--- I ain't dead. They're workin' on me upstairs. Shooting me fulla all kinds a drugs. Dontcha worry, big guy. I'm gonna pull through."

 

"Promise?" Though he knew it was stupid thing to ask. Who could promise they weren't going to die? Stupid! Everybody dies. "Because Face--- "

 

The smile changed. "Yeah, I know, B.A.--- I know. Never gonna leave him, or you neither. Not if I can help it." He turned back in the saddle, shading his eyes. The other horseman was now a mere speck in the distance. "But gotta be moseyin' on right now, O.K.?"

 

"That Liberty Valence thing ain't none of your business."

 

"Yeah." Murdock's smile became a grin. "But it's John Wayne--- "

 

B.A. understood. "Got to callin' you pilgrim too?"

 

"Yeah, stranger in a strange land." He laughed. "And you know they don't come much stranger than me."

 

B.A. added his improbable giggle. "You can say that again."

 

The pump let out a clanging tap--- thunk! Then gave up the ghost.

 

"Think ya better fix that thing," Murdock said, digging his heel into Nellie's side.

 

That was all it took. The stallion took off at a dead run.

 

"Yippee ki-yo-ki-yea!" he shouted, clinging onto the pommel with both hands. "Catch ya on the flip side, compadre."

 

"Take care of yourself, Fool," B.A. shouted back.

 

One of the cows mooed loudly. He gave it the fishy eye.

 

"Ya hear!"

 

Alone again once more, the big man rolled up his sleeves.

 

 

Tap, tap. Tap, tap!

 

B.A. stirred uneasily in his chair. "Thought that pump kicked the bucket."

 

Tap, thunk!

 

"C'mon, Hannibal," he muttered. "I ain't no steamfitter--- ain't no union man. Can't fix everything. Can't fix things that won't stay fixed."

 

But the tapping continued, steady--- inexorable, resounding in his tired brain. Like the Ghost of Christmas Past, not yet given up the ghost.

 

"Knock it off! What you playin' at now, Fool? Tryin' to get some--- " His elbow slipped off the armrest, jerking him back into the real world. "Sleep." B.A. opened his eyes, giving the boiler room a dazed look.

 

The metallic tapping was now in chorus with a softer version. Shave and a haircut--- pause--- shave and a haircut.

 

"No bits," B.A. said. With a grunt, he levered himself out of the chair.

 

 From out in the hallway came a muffled thump, a sharp unladylike curse.

 

"Fire truck," muttered Face, rolling over.

 

B.A. stumbled to the door. "Who izzit!?"

 

"Me."

 

"Me, who?" he said, still sleep stupid.

 

"Rosemary." Another thump; "C'mon, Sergeant. Let me in!"

 

He opened up the door.

 

She staggered through, arms fully loaded.

 

B.A. frowned. "We was expectin' the kid."

 

"He couldn't make it. Here, take this." The box was filled to overflowing with sandwiches and little cartons of milk.

 

B.A.'s eyes lit up. "Now that's more like it!" Setting it next to chair, he picked up one of the milks, downing the contents in two gulps. "Thanks," he said, before snagging another.

 

Hannibal stirred. "Everything O.K., Miss Devlin? Where's Scottsdale?"

 

"Waylaid by Colonel Lynch," she said, running a hand through her damp curls. Dressed in fresh jeans and a t-shirt, it was obvious Rosemary had made a pit stop in the nurse's locker room upstairs.

 

Still half-asleep, Hannibal rifled through his pockets. "That doesn't sound good," he said.

 

"Yeah, Mark's in trouble now, outnumbered and outgunned. Lynch came trailing back with poor Raoul in handcuffs. 'Accessory to the crime,' he said." Rosemary looked outraged. "What crime? Driving a fancy sports car that might, or might not, belong to--- " She glanced over at Face.

 

The man in question was stretched out, dressed from head to toe in dusty black, arms crossed protectively over his chest. He appeared to be asleep.

 

Her eyes widened. "So what's up with Dracula over there?"

 

"It is not wise to disturb creatures of the night my dear," Face said, his own eyes still closed.

 

"Tap, TAP!" went the pipes behind them.

 

"Man!" B.A. said, through a mouth full of sandwich.

 

Smiling, Rosemary continued her report. "So Officer Scottsdale was forced to call the head of our legal department and interrupt his holiday. Apparently the grandkids were just opening their presents, sort of ruined the Kodak moment." She wandered over to the couch. "In the space of ten minutes, Lynch managed to piss off a very influential attorney, as well as the entire V.A. staff. What an idiot! No career whatsoever as a diplomat."

 

Hannibal snorted. "Yeah, tell me about it," he said.

 

"Not that they weren't already pretty pissed off, about what happened to me and Captain Murdock. Never realized I had quite so many friends. H.M., sure but--- " She shook her head. "Anyway, Lynch is convinced you guys are in the building somewhere. He ordered a room-by-room search. That's what Mark's doing now."

 

The colonel looked alarmed. "Maybe we better--- "

 

"No, stay where you are. Don't worry, everything's under control." Rosemary hunkered down next to Face. "Hey, brought you some lunch, hot shot." A glance at the window showed dusk already setting in. "Well, more like dinner. Some nice ham---" She grinned at Hannibal. "We just wanted to make the Aquamaniac feel right at home. Or maybe a little peanut butter and jelly?" She redirected the smile at B.A. "Before the amazing human vacuum cleaner over there--- " 

 

"Hey!" B.A. objected, swallowing his fourth sandwich.

 

"I'll have you know the 'Times' critic thought my performance--- "

 

Stretching both arms overhead, Face coughed deeply, having disturbed both himself and a layer of dust. "Those two resemble that remark." His eyes opened. "The New York Times, or L.A.?"

 

"Oh, all right," Hannibal said, disgruntled. "Sacramento Bee, but I tore their hearts out."

 

Rosemary put her hand on Face's forehead. "Don't like the sound of that cough. You feeling O.K.?"

 

In answer, Face reached up. He brought her hand downward, placing a kiss in the middle of her palm.

 

The colonel frowned.

 

She let out a sigh. "Don't change the subject, Faceman. C'mon, wakey, wakey."

 

"O.K., I'm up." He swung his legs to the floor.

 

Empty cartons were scattered everywhere.

 

"You know, for a guy who doesn't like cows--- " With a glance at Rosemary, Face moved over, touching the seat beside him.

 

"I like milk." B.A.'s frown made a matching set. "Don't need to like where it comes from."

 

She plopped down on the couch. "Jeez!" Dust motes billowed up around her. "Mark told me they put the dregs of the dregs down here, but this is ridiculous."

 

"World War II?" Face guessed.

 

"Maybe even older. My grandma used to have one of these in her parlor." Rosemary stroked a cushion fondly. "Horsehair--- itched almost as much as my Sunday-go-to-meeting petticoat."

 

Hannibal figured he'd heard enough about the decor. "So what do you mean outnumbered and outgunned?"

 

She shrugged. "Just that there's no need to worry about those MPs, Colonel. Not with the really scary sign you got on the door. In fact, Lynch might not even get a chance to see it, not with Officer-in-Charge Scottsdale as his guide. I think Mark would have messed with him anyway, just on general principles. Trying to act like--- "

 

"Captain America?" Face said, with a smile.

 

Rosemary smiled back. "Captain Murdock. Though the day Mark starts wearing a leather bomber jacket to work, I quit!"

 

They all laughed.

 

"He'll make sure the colonel gets his tour of the building. A very lonnnng tour, maybe see the same sites more than once. Hey, those broom closets all look alike. Then Mark'll probably try to con Lynch into thinking the East Wing boiler room serves the whole building." She grinned at Face. "Kinda like somebody else I know. Maybe throw in a ghost story or two about the morgue, just to make it good. Mark knows a doozy about this headless intern--- "

 

B.A. sent a nervous glance toward the floor above.

 

"I know that one," Face said, hastily. "Murdock made it all up. Something he got off Creature Feature."

 

"Yeah, that's where we heard it. Weird voices--- "

 

The big man sighed.

 

"Spooky sound effects. H.M. managed to scare the hell out of everybody. Really, he oughta be in--- "

 

The pinch came out of nowhere.

 

"Ouch!" Rosemary glared at Face. "Pictures--- what the hell?"

 

He cocked his head sharply toward B.A.

 

"Oh," she said, finally taking the hint. "Sergeant, you don't think--- "

 

He shrugged.

 

Though Rosemary could hardly be surprised. After all, the parts of conman and fool were played by very different men than they appeared to be. And now, unexpected, endearing--- a glimpse of B.A.'s true face.

 

"It was Creature Feature stuff, all right," she told him. "H.M. could almost make us see the cheesy rubber suit and everything."

 

"Hey," the colonel objected solemnly. "I resemble that remark."

 

Face and Rosemary laughed, B.A. favoring them with a tiny smile.

 

"Well--- anyway, Mark'll try his best. Especially now he knows I'm down here too."

 

They all gave her a curious look.

 

Rosemary blushed. "O.K., O.K.! So Mark Scottsdale's had a thing for me since Day One. But he's just a kid. I'd never--- hey, I almost forgot," she said, deftly changing the subject. "Mark sent you a present, Colonel." She dug in her jacket, producing three very fine cigars. "For you, courtesy of the management."

 

"The management?" Hannibal gave her a delighted grin. "Well, God bless 'em, whoever they are." Pitching the ragged Corona over his shoulder, he stuck two of them in his pocket, lighting up a third. "I thought these were illegal."

 

"Yeah, you'd think a lawyer would know better. Mark lifted them from the humidor on his desk. Somehow I don't think he's going to report them missing, do you?"

 

"Nope. But first a ruined Christmas, and now these cigars--- the poor guy."

 

"For what he charges the V.A. in billable hours, don't worry about it. Anyway, the man doesn't even smoke. Just uses them to impress big wigs mostly--- and today, Colonel." She smiled. "That would be you."

 

Hannibal sent a cloud of smoke drifting toward the window. "Nice--- real nice. Thanks."

 

Face pulled the crate over, rummaging inside. "Here," he said, passing the older man a ham sandwich, two cartons of milk. "For you, Aquamaniac--- sir--- courtesy of the management."

 

Rosemary laughed. "And guaranteed absolutely meatloaf free. I double-checked. It's safe."

 

"Hey, I liked that meatloaf," B.A. said, giving his fifth sandwich a considered look.

 

"You like anything." Face grinned. "Like the time you ate that stewed rat Lin cooked up. The only one who actually fell for my con about finding a jungle chicken."

 

"Nah," B.A. said, with a snort. "I know there ain't no such thing as jungle chicken, Faceman. I just pretended to buy it. So I could talk Murdock into eating it too. He had ta eat something."

 

One of the boilers hissed loudly. The sergeant winced.

 

Rosemary gave him a somber look. "All these years, I never could get H.M. to talk about that camp."

 

"He don't remember most of it," B.A. said quietly. "I hope."

 

"I hope," Face echoed. Even though he knew it wasn't true, not for Murdock--- not for any of them. He combed a hand through his dusty hair. "So, any idea what's going on up there, Nightengale of mine?"

 

"Catch!" B.A. lobbed a milk in Face's direction. "Ham? Or pb and j?"

 

Face caught it. "Whatever," he said absently. "Hear anything about Murdock?"

 

She just shook her head. "Dr. Richter made me stay behind in triage with one of the residents. Last I heard H.M.'s stable but the tests aren't back yet. Goldman's waiting on the results." She put an arm around his shoulders. "Don't worry, Face. They'll figure it out."

 

He coughed. "Yeah, you're probably right." 

 

"Sure wish you'd let one of the docs take a look at that throat though. It must be bothering you."

 

The colonel glanced up from his sandwich. Face hiding an injury was not a new thing. In fact it was getting old--- real old. He would complain mightily about the least hangnail; but tough it to the point of exhaustion when it came to any real pain. It was a strange contradiction, and a dangerous one "O.K. Lieutenant. Report!"

 

Face shrugged. "It's nothing." He eased down the collar of his turtleneck, revealing a ring of deep, very nasty-looking bruises. "Looks worse than it is."

 

"That's nothing!?" Hannibal said, beginning to get really pissed off.

 

B.A. was already there. "Why didn't you say something, Faceman? That asshole Gunter, ohhh, yeah--- " he broke off, remembering the tape.

 

Face pushed the shirt back in place. "It's all right. I'll be just fine."

 

"I don't agree." Hannibal's voice was hard. "Let either Goldman or Richter take a look at those bruises yours, and that's an order."

 

Face locked eyes, not to mention horns, with the colonel. "Yes, sir!" he said.

 

Hannibal's attention moved over to Rosemary. "You two make a regular pair of bookends, and I'm sure Nurse Devlin got her face looked at upstairs." Curiosity finally got the better of him. "Picked up when she--- "

 

"Almost got the stuffing knocked out of her," Rosemary said. "For mouthing off to Herr Gunter." Her smile was proudly feral. "But H.M. got him back, almost broke his arm."

 

"The Fool?" B.A.'s world order had been rearranged; if Murdock had merely been playing beta to his alpha--- man, all these years. "I know he can get a little wild sometimes; what it sounded like on the tape, but I didn't think he'd really--- "

 

Face stared down at the floor. "It's all right--- gonna be all right."

 

'Jesus H.!' Rosemary thought. 'Any self-respecting conman, California boy, should be able to come up with a better mantra than that. What a crock of macho--- '

 

"No, it's not all right!" she burst out. "Far from all right. H.M. meant to do it--- he really meant to kill Face, O.K.?"

 

The force of three glares turned on her. It was intimidating, to say the least.

 

"But he wasn't himself!" Rosemary pressed up against the armrest, as far away from the others as she could get. "Gunter messed with his mind, with all our minds! He never would have hurt Face, never would have tried to hurt--- "

 

She literally clapped her hand over her mouth before she could say more.

 

"Ol' Hans convinced him I was Lockhart," Face said, his own anger already fading.

 

Rosemary wasn't the enemy here, merely another victim--- and not entirely at the hands of the enemy. Though damned if Face would let the others know about any attempted rape, acknowledged by the rapee or otherwise. It wasn't his story to tell, not his con.

 

"And you gotta admit my disguise was pretty good."

 

B.A. let out a disbelieving snort.

 

"Hey, Scenario Three! Palm trees, all that other shit. You saw Lockhart's face when he took off for the airport. It almost worked. Murdock was just giving me--- I mean him--- more of the same."

 

"The second time that disguise almost got you killed," Hannibal said, thinking of Pine Ridge. "Christ, what finally stopped him? What happened?"

 

"Rosemary happened. She tried to drag Murdock off of me, talking him down all the while. If she hadn't been there-- "

 

"Guess that's another one we owe you, Miss Devlin." Hannibal cleared his throat. "Rosemary."

 

'More like two,' Face thought. 'Not exactly what Father Maghill would call a full confession.'

 

She looked at them all for a moment. "De nada," she said, at last.

 

"No, not nothing." B.A. frowned. "I dunno. Maybe there was a reason you got kidnapped in the first place. Why you were there when Murdock--- God knows why anything happens the way it does."

 

Face met her eyes. "Maybe an angel."

 

What she saw there made Rosemary slide closer. "No, Faceman, not me," she said, thinking he met the description a good deal better than herself. "Not with this hair."

 

"An angel," he said, more firmly. "I was never more scared in my life when Murdock tried to--- when he--- " Face tripped over his words. "What if you hadn't been there--- what if I --- if he--- "

 

"Would have driven the crazyman even more crazy." B.A.'s voice was soft. "Pushed him over the edge for good and all."

 

Rosemary digested the truth of this. The truth Murdock had been trying to tell her back in their cell. That maybe it was possible. Maybe H.M. could make peace with what had happened to her--- what he tried to do. An impossibility for Face, she saw now. But kill the one person who meant more to him than anyone else. Anyone. Well, that was irrevocable. No givebacks, unlike herself and H.M. 

 

"But I was there." God, she was tired! "Everything turned out all right."

 

Hannibal took out the cigar out of his mouth. "We owe you big time, Rosemary. Anytime--- anyplace, just give us a call."

 

"A freebie, Colonel Smith?"

 

"Yeah."

 

She dredged up a smile.

 

Face toyed with the cellophane wrapper on his sandwich. 

 

"So, you gonna eat that or what?" Rosemary bumped his knee with her own.

 

"Nag, nag, nag," Face said, sounding just as tired. Then he took a bite.

 

"Tap--- thunk!" went the pipes.

 

B.A. sent a dark look behind him. "Almost wish we had gone to the morgue. Be a lot quieter."

 

Hannibal couldn't help himself. "Too quiet."

 

Only a mouth full of peanut butter stopped Face from uttering the inevitable.

 

"Nah, don't start that up again!"

 

The nurse grinned; then leaned forward, snagging another carton of milk.

 

"Thanks," said Face indistinctly, as he ripped it open.

 

Rosemary looked thoughtful. "You know, that con of yours scared him too," she said. "Why H.M. finally whistled up Billy, after holding it together so long. Of course the little guy was already hanging around somewhere." Her laugh was pained. "Hey, even I ended up seeing his invisible dog!"

 

"Ain't the only one, mama." B.A. flattened one of the empties, lobbing it upward.

 

"Score," said Hannibal, even before hearing a dull thud inside the can. 

 

Her eyes widened in surprise; though whether at his revelation or rim shot, B.A. could not be sure. She turned back to Face. "Just wish you'd given us some warning before going ahead with that--- that whatever-it-was with Gunter. Your grand sacrifice."

 

"Yeah!" B.A. agreed, with a frown.

 

Face sent a quick glance in Rosemary's direction. Long enough for her to see the raw guilt buried beneath the con.

 

'Ah, poor Face!' Her chest tightened. 'Mea maxima culpa.'

 

"You've just gotta tell him things. Stop trying to protect him all the time." Her look encompassed the others. "All of you. Just let H.M. decide things for himself once in a while."

 

"But I do," Face began. 

 

"No, please--- let me finish. Reading his files was a good example. Checking up on what he told Dr. Richter in therapy, all those years. Don't even have to tell you how wrong that was."

 

"Yeah, I know."

 

There was that face again, enough to--- no, she wouldn't cry. Not this time.

 

"Oh, H.M. forgave you of course." Rosemary cleared her throat. "Even though he was really angry. As angry as I've ever seen him--- at you--- the colonel, he felt betrayed. He just didn't understand."

 

Not the only one apparently. "Understand what?" Hannibal said.

 

"How much he'd frightened all of you, losing it so badly in Chao's camp. Then later, after Hanoi."

 

"They tortured him!" B.A. said, hotly. "Anyone would have--- "

 

"Face didn't." Her voice was very gentle. "Did you, Faceman? Took just as much, maybe more, and didn't crack. That's bothered him for years."

 

"So you think that makes me some kind of hero!?" Face tossed his half-eaten sandwich into the box. "To survive with all my marbles intact; lined up a neat little row?"

 

"Who says they got to be in rows?" Rosemary almost smiled. "Sometimes all you got to work with is just a few in your pocket. Couple of aggies maybe, a beautiful golden tiger's eye--- "

 

He gave her a helpless shrug. "I'm sorry---"

 

"But that's the whole problem, Face! H.M.'s sorry he went nuts; you're sorry you didn't. Hell, all four of you sorry that you survived Chao's camp at all, when so many others died."

 

B.A. nodded. He'd buried a lot of them.

 

A match scraped across the cement floor. "Survivor's guilt," said Hannibal, relighting his cigar. "But get your facts straight, kid, before you start practicing medicine without a license. The only thing I regret is not shooting that bastard Chao right between the eyes. I got my men out of that hellhole." He frowned. "Minus a few marbles--- but alive. That's something."

 

"Yes," she said forcefully. "It is!"

 

Expecting an argument, Hannibal looked surprised.

 

"And minus a few marbles isn't the end of the world." She smiled at the colonel. "Doesn't mean there aren't quite a few left, rattling around in the old brainpan. H.M.'s better, a lot better. But he'll always be--- "

 

"A little off?" volunteered B.A.

 

"Unusual." Her smile became a grin. "In a good way. But then, y'all know that better than me."

 

"Yeah." Face still looked worried.

 

"Hey, I know he scares you sometimes. All those weird characters he comes up with. Seeing stuff that isn't there--- like Billy."

 

"Dunno about that," B.A. said. "Maybe the little guy really--- "

 

"Yeah, maybe," she agreed. "More things in heaven and earth as the Doc would say. I don't think even H.M.'s sure what part's crazy anymore, what's an act. He sure does like to put on a good show. Play the fool. Entertain himself as much as all of us when he gets too antsy, bored. He's not well yet, but he's getting there. Certainly well enough to have earned back your trust--- especially you, Face. He loves you so much!"

 

Face nodded, not trusting himself to speak. 

 

Rosemary slipped an arm around his shoulders. "Trust him, Face, every bit as much as you love him. I know that's a lot to ask. But it's all he really wants." She gave her friend a watery smile. "All any of us wants in the long run."

 

"Yeah, you're right," he said, very low.

 

Hannibal shook his head. "Damn hard to figure out what was the right decision back then. What was right for the captain, right for the team. Face came back with reports Murdock was doped to the gills. I had to make sure Richter wasn't leaking those files to the MPs. It was the hospital I didn't trust, the Army--- never Murdock."

 

"I know," she said. "And I think H.M. does too--- now. It's just for a while there, he stopped trusting himself. One breakdown after another shook him to the core; made him doubt his worth as a pilot, as a man. He was really more frightened than angry, Colonel. That you'd finally cut him loose, take away the one crutch he had left--- his beloved team. Scared that somehow he'd let you down. Lost the main reason he was always so happy when Face came to break him out for a mission; why Dr. Richter always let him go."

 

"Why, kid?"

 

"Because you're not like the others." Rosemary smiled. "Maybe because you're a lot like him. You don't seem worried about whether or not he can keep up. Just expect him to fly the helicopter. Fire the weapon. Follow all your plans."

 

"Hey, believe me, I worry," Hannibal said. 

 

"But you still count on him to do good. Depend on him, just like any other member of the team. H.M. needs that badly. Better therapy than he could get from any shrink. Just as when it all gets to be too much, he just as badly needs to come home. To Dr. Richter--- and to me."

 

"Murdock does a real good job for a crazy man," B.A. said. "Except for the fact he drives me crazy that is. Bailed us all out more than once."

 

"Then tell him! It would mean a whole lot, coming from you. H.M. respects you every bit as much as Colonel Smith."

 

The big man was surprised, almost shocked. "Nah! He does not."

 

"Does to," she answered back. "Tell him."

 

"Does--- "

 

The rest of B.A.'s reply was lost in a crescendo of banging pipes. It was a tintinnabulation he simply couldn't bear, not another minute.

 

"O.K., that's it!" He got to his feet. "I don't fix that sucker, the whole West Wing ain't gonna have no heat. Maybe bring that idiot Lynch down here to find out why." Snagging a wrench from a toolbox near the door, he disappeared behind a peeling water tank. "I'll have it squared away in a few minutes," his voice echoed back. 

 

"Take your time," Hannibal said, sending another puff of smoke through the window.    

 

Face hardly noticed. He gave Rosemary a dazed look. "You're right, honey. I should have trusted him more. That was my fault--- "

 

She let out a gusty sigh. "Oh, give it a rest, Faceman!" 

 

Hannibal raised the cigar to his mouth, hiding a smile.

 

"What did H.M. have to say before Gunter dragged him off for the last time? Geez, practically his dying words!"

 

The colonel leaned forward. "What?"

 

She waved him off. "C'mon, Face. What did he say?"

 

"To go with flow," the blond man replied softly. "Something about getting a good vibe." A very faint smile crossed his face. "Or he was gonna come back and haunt me."

 

"Yeah--- and?" Rosemary prodded.

 

"Not to blame myself for everything that happened." His voice was now barely audible. "That it wasn't my fault." 

 

"What's that?" She cupped a hand around her ear.

 

Hannibal shot a quick glance from one to the other. "I can't hear you!" he said, drill sergeant cadence. "Speak up, soldier!"

 

"That it's not my fault, O.K.?" Face shouted irritably. "Are you two finished? Are we done here?"

 

"I'm done." The colonel grinned. "How 'bout you, Nurse Devlin?"

 

"Not quite," she replied evenly.

 

Face sighed.

 

The others could hear B.A. mutter something as he worked to loosen one of the joints. Then a clang as his borrowed wrench hit the floor, rapidly followed by a highly annoyed grunt.

 

Hannibal glanced up. "Hey, you all right?"

 

"Sor' right."

 

"Baba Looey," the colonel observed, leaning back in his chair.

 

Now it was Rosemary's turn to hide a smile. 'Why do they all feel the need to act like H.M.?' she wondered.

 

Must be what Doc. Goldman would call nature abhorring a vacuum, for God knows there was no more potent natural force than Captain H.M. Murdock. And somehow Face and the others were trying to fill that gap. Mold themselves into the missing piece of the puzzle, squared pegs into an eccentrically shaped hole. Like the four corners of a square, points on a compass, the wheels on their van.

 

Which lead inexorably to the next realization: 'Anyone else was just a fifth wheel, doesn't seem to fit.' Like Julius Goldman--- and herself: necessary for the moment, for the mission, but not really part of the whole.

 

Her smile slipped away. Practicing medicine without a license had its price. 

 

"No, not quite done," she said. "Didn't get to the reason I came down here in the first place." Rosemary glanced at Face. "Apart from checking up on you guys, of course. See if you were doin' all right--- " 

 

"Really?" His voice was soft.

 

Never con a conman.

 

"Oh, hell's bells!" Might as well cut to the chase; "I wanted to apologize, Lieutenant! Nine years late, but it'll have to do."

 

He just watched her patiently, saying nothing.

 

After another long moment, she spoke. "The very first time I ever heard your voice, you were running a scam. That time you called H.M. to the phone after tracking him down, pretending to be someone called Alvin Brenner."

 

He surprised her with a smile. "That's my real name. At least the one Father Magill hung on me when I was too young to do anything about it. You don't know what it was like growing up in the orphanage with a name like Alvin, like one of the Chipmunks. I had to punch out more than one kid over--- " His face darkened. "Well, that--- and other things."

 

"So you decided to name yourself after the rat in Charlotte's Web?" she said, amazed.

 

"Hey, it was better that than Wilbur." The smile became a grin. "A horse is a horse, of course--- "

 

Hannibal interrupted with a very equine snort. 

 

Rosemary frowned. "You know--- you're not making this any easier."

 

"Yeah, I know," said Face, unrepentant. 

 

Rosemary took a deep breath, tried again. "I was on duty that morning; handed H.M. the phone. The way the color just drained from his face; he damn near passed out on the hallway floor. Never seen anyone so shaken up by a simple phone call." She sighed. "I think, for me, it all started back then."

 

"What?" Despite the personal turn this conversation had taken, it never occurred to Colonel Smith not to ask. His team was his business.

 

Or for Rosemary not to answer: "It's me who should be apologizing, Colonel. Not your lieutenant. I'm the one at fault." 

 

"That's O.K." Face had already guessed what was coming. "You couldn't help yourself. Any more than I--- "

 

"No, it's not O.K.! I was so jealous of you, Face, even though I had no right. Hated a man I'd never even met. Hated the way Murdock would just disappear off my duty roster, Dr. Richter telling me to note it in the chart--- no explanation. Then just as suddenly, a few days--- maybe a week--- he'd be back. Sometimes all banged up, mentally and physically. Leaving us to pick up the pieces." Rosemary shrugged. "It took me six months before I finally put two and two together, the only patient on the ward with a private phone. How he'd run for each call, his voice change when he answered it! I always knew when it was you--- always. Just as I knew that soon he'd be gone, only to start the cycle all over again. God, I hated you for that."

 

"Oh, Rosemary--- " Hannibal began.

 

His kindness cut deep. She didn't deserve it. "I thought you were using him, Face! Conman, scavenger--- procurer--- getting something your commander wanted for the mission. Getting something you wanted too." A bitter laugh; "None so blind! What he wanted---Facey--- " Her tone was half-mocking, wholly bereft. "His Face."

 

The colonel crushed the stub of his Havana underfoot.

 

"How do you compete with something like that?" she asked them both. "With all of you: fly the helicopter, fire the gun--- "

 

"Follow the plan," Hannibal said. "You were the wild card from the beginning, kid. I'm sorry."

 

"I musta been as nuts as H.M." She scrubbed her forehead roughly. "How the hell do you compete with something like that?"

 

Face wasn't sure what to say. "Rosemary, you must have known we were lovers."

 

"Yeah, I'd have to be stupid not to figure it out. A lot of those nightmares had a recurring theme--- you. Bits and pieces from a hundred nights on graveyard before I finally figured it out. But what I didn't know." She let out a harsh, self-deprecating snort. "Big surprise! Is that you and H.M. still are."

 

Face shook his head. "No, you're wrong."

 

"Oh, not in the physical sense, at least not now. Not that it's any of my business. But it doesn't change what is, what I suspect always will be."

 

He shook his head more firmly. "But we're not--- "

 

"H.M. loves you, Face! Q.E.D. And what became so painfully obvious when I finally met you, saw the two of you together--- is that you love him too. Never stopped loving him." Rosemary gave him an anguished look. "Never will."

 

She heard the creak of springs as Hannibal leaned forward, took her hand. 

 

His eyes were soft, sky-blue. Not a trace of the Jazz. Here was the man who worried about each member of his team, even those who tagged along. How could she have thought Colonel Smith wholly consumed by the plan?

 

"Of course, by then." She blinked back her tears. "I loved him too. Fell in love with my own patient. How stupid and unprofessional was that? And there was nothing I could do to stop it. Just be there for Murdock when he came straggling home. Listen to all his stories of the beautiful, talented con artist he cared about more than me."

 

Hannibal looked past her at Face; cleared his throat.  

 

"Rosemary, if it makes you feel any better--- " Face said, Pavlov's dog to the sound.

 

'Yeah, make me feel better,' Rosemary thought, at once touched and resentful they were fool enough to try. 'New plan--- old con.' She pulled her hand back into her lap.

 

"I didn't have a real good time listening to him talk about you either."

 

Hannibal frowned. This wasn't quite what he had in mind.

 

But Rosemary wasn't the only one feeling resentful. Face angled toward her, literally giving Hannibal the cold shoulder--- or as much as he dared.

 

"I heard an awful lot about this mysterious Florence Nightengale of the West Wing." A faint smile; "About how kind you were. How smart, funny--- one of the few nurses who understood all his jokes; even got a kick out of them like--- " He glanced over at the colonel. "Heard the story more than once about how Murdock came out of that coma. Travel around in a van long enough, you run out of stories. How you were the first face he saw." Face shook his head. "It should have been me."

 

"H.M. never blamed you for that! He knew you were on the run."

 

Face continued as if she hadn't spoken. "Yeah, found out more about a certain garden spot on Texas-Arkansas border than I ever wanted to know--- and believe me, I already knew plenty about Texas." He sighed. "Lois Lane, Batgirl, Wonder Woman--- Nurse Rosemary Devlin. How could I compete with that?" 

 

"Oh, Face!" She felt like shaking him. "Why the hell didn't you even try? Do something about it--- anything! Why did you let it go on so long?"

 

"Not real sure. Guess I thought it was over." Then, very low; "Guess I thought wrong."

 

Rosemary nodded. "Don't have to tell you how wrong that was." 

 

"Well, maybe I was trying to make things right! Cut Murdock loose. Let him have some kind of life when he got out of the hospital. A wife, two-point-three kids, house in the suburbs--- what everyone wants." Face shrugged. "Supposed to want."

 

"So, since when are you and Murdock everyone?"

 

Hannibal laughed. 

 

"What the Church says we're supposed to want."

 

'Yeah,' thought the colonel. 'Now we're gettin' to it.'

 

"Guess I thought what we had in Vietnam was a mistake."

 

"Guess you thought wrong," she said gently. 

 

"Yeah, I fucked up." Face gave her a helpless look. "Big time. Just hope I can try again--- before it's too late. Just hope you don't still hate me. Not after all we've been through."

 

"Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful?" Rosemary almost smiled. "Back in high school, I fell for the best-looking guy in my junior class. Fell hard. He was beautiful too; tan, blond--- California boy in a ten-gallon hat. I had no idea why he was interested in me, so skinny I could squeeze through a picket fence. Found out later, of course. Right after the jerk popped my cherry. Guess that's all he wanted in the first place." She stared down at the floor. "Not me."

 

Face had thought it might be something like that. A very old story, for all that it was new to her. He slipped an arm around Rosemary's shoulders.

 

She leaned against him. "Since then I've never been able to trust any man too good-looking, especially one with a smooth line. Looks like you suffered the fallout, Lieutenant. Your own fault for just bein' too damn good-looking."

 

"Mea culpa," Face said. "More a curse than a blessing sometimes." Then he frowned; drew back as if reminded he had no right to touch her.

 

Unclean. 

 

Rosemary was surprised and more than a little hurt. She sat up straight, straight-laced, on the couch.

 

Hannibal made a sound deep in his throat, more in character with the man working on the pipes behind him. 'One day,' he thought grimly. 'Gunter's head on a platter, right next to that bastard Chao.'

 

Payback for the scars Rosemary couldn't see. Revenge best served cold.

 

"But that's why I need to apologize," she said, not looking at Face. "For having misjudged you so harshly all those years. I thought just terrible things. Things that weren't true as it turned out, not true at all. I didn't realize how much of this lady-killer thing was just an act. How much you truly loved H.M.--- that--- that you were beautiful inside too."

 

Templeton Peck stared at her, confused. For this statement, however patently true to others, rang false to him. Didn't fit the skewed Face he shaved in the mirror each morning.

 

She just didn't know him very well. Yeah, that was it; hadn't yet noticed the ugliness just under the surface, monster scales and claws. Just wait. Once she got to know him better. Then she'd see it. Wait until then.

 

No rubber Aquamaniac mask necessary when you had the real thing.

 

Hannibal took out his second precious cigar. "Like the man said, see ourselves as others see us. Have to start listening more to what everybody else says about ya, Face. Not so much to that little voice inside your head. That voice is bullshitting you, kid. Best con job you ever pulled was on yourself." He felt around in his pockets. "Where the hell did I put those matches?" Then grinned as he caught a metallic click, the faint hiss of flame.

 

The colonel leaned toward Face, Havana at an angle. "Thanks."

 

"De nada."

 

"Pretty boy," Rosemary said, with a gentle knowing smile. "Guess you're just stuck with it, Faceman--- inside and out."

 

The same words that kid Luke and the others used to taunt him, years ago. Dragging it out slowly, deliberately--- getting him all wound up. Not so much of insult when she said it.

 

Not so much fighting words.

 

"Makes me sound more like a parrot." He didn't quite return her smile. "Polly wanna--- "

 

The three looked up as a fierce tattoo of blows erupted behind them.

 

Clang, clang, clang!

 

It sure sounded like B.A. had found the trouble; seemed to be giving it a real good whack. As he released the pent-up frustration of weeks past, each stroke ringing out a telling blow.

 

There! Something he could fix. At last, something he could make better. Take that Gunter! Take that Carruthers! Take that you little slimeball who stole Face's face!

 

Hannibal turned in his chair.

 

In that seminal moment, the boiler decided to fight back; let out an equally loud and vicious-sounding hiss of steam.

 

The others heard a sharp cry.

 

Then silence. 

 

"B.A.," Face called out. "You O.K.?"

 

"Sergeant, report!" Hannibal said, struggling to his feet.

 

Abruptly, B.A. gave them their answer. His message was loud and clear; things were far from all right.

 

Miss Devlin's eyes grew larger with each of the raunchiest, most low down-and-dirty curse words Sergeant Baracus had ever learned during two hitches in Vietnam. She had thought she'd heard everything, her own tour of duty on the psych ward almost twice as long--- but obviously not. In fact, Rosemary questioned whether the last of those colorful phrases was even anatomically possible.

 

It was quite an education. 

 

After several long minutes, B.A. slowed--- then came to a halt. As both he and the boiler finally ran out of steam.

 

His words hung in the air like a smutty cloud.

 

 

 

Chapter 63

 

 

Rosemary bowed her head, industriously squinting at a crack in the floor.

 

The colonel, both an officer and a gentleman, frowned. Extenuating circumstances or not, this was behavior unbecoming. Nurse Devlin would get her apology, even if he had to make that an order. Just as soon as he checked on his sergeant's condition.

 

He took a few steps toward the jungle gym of pipes behind them.

 

A reprimand that was not needed as things turned out. For B.A. agreed entirely, beat the colonel to it. However, his apology wasn't directed toward the red-faced redhead on the couch; but to the real authority figure in his life, sandwiched somewhere between Hannibal Smith--- and God. To a woman who would have beat her Scooter's butt had she heard gutter-mouth talk like that from him as a boy. Still might have let him have it, if she ever found out about this latest transgression.

 

The big man wasn't taking any chances.

 

"Sorry, Mom!" he said, deeply contrite.

 

Hannibal smiled, couldn't keep himself from smiling. Even though he knew it wasn't right. "Everything O.K. back there, Sergeant?" he called out, proud of the fact his voice quivered only slightly.

 

"Yeah! Be out in--- " Another hiss, more human in origin, much more annoyed. "In a minute."

 

"O.K.," Hannibal said, returning to his chair.

 

He hunkered down, tilting his head upward. Watched the dusk gathering outside their basement window in wholly manufactured fascination; anything to keep from looking at Face.

 

"Sounds like he's still in one piece." The Faceman's observation came out strangely muffled.

 

"Yeah." Hannibal took the cigar out of his mouth, only to press his lips together tight. He changed position, this time beginning a new study of the peeling cement overhead.

 

"Think we should check on him?" Rosemary said, following his gaze. 'What in the world was the colonel staring at? That weird crack on the ceiling--- the one that had the habit of looking something like a rabbit?'

 

She sent a puzzled look from one man to the other.

 

Each refused to look back.

 

"Good idea," Face choked out. "I'll go." He shifted on the couch.

 

"No." Rosemary laid a hand on his arm, only to detect a quiver--- seismic warning of a second eruption to come.

 

She frowned.

 

"I'll go," she said, getting to her feet. 

 

"Rosemary's gonna check on him," Face told Hannibal unnecessarily.

 

"Yeah, I know." Smith's eyes shifted from the ceiling, lit on his exec.

 

It was a mistake.

 

They both grinned.

 

"We should be ashamed of ourselves," Hannibal said, even as the grin became a chuckle.

 

"Yeah," said Face, his blue eyes gleaming. "Ashamed."

 

"It's not funny," the colonel gasped out, his chuckle becoming a laugh.

 

"Nope," Face agreed, helplessly following the older man's example.

 

It was at that point the two began to laugh in earnest; seemed the more they tried to suppress it, the worse it got. Not that it wasn't interspersed with choked apologies to a man with the baddest attitude they knew. A man who, regardless of rank, was gonna beat the living H-E- double toothpicks out of both of them. Wave after wave of laughter swamped the pair, soon had them leaning on one another hyper-hysterical, hoisted on their own---

 

Good thing B.A. hadn't any idea what a petard was, because he could have easily rigged one up. He could build anything. Fix anything. And with the giddiness of sheer exhaustion as their only excuse, these two deserved such punishment.

 

But they couldn't stop.

 

Rosemary's frown lifted; turned into a bemused smile.

 

B.A. emerged from behind the pipes, an angry red burn already swelling on one forearm. He glared at the nurse as she met him halfway.

 

She gallantly struggled to wipe all vestige of humor from her face.

 

It wasn't working.

"Knock it off!" he shouted.

 

Rosemary winced. Yet bravely continued onward, securely cloaked in Hippocratic Oath and the knowledge that B.A. wouldn't hit a woman, much less a nurse.

 

He wouldn't now--- would he?

 

"I'm gonna pound you two hyenas into the ground, you don't shut up!"

 

She let out a barely held breath--- apparently not. 

 

But his two teammates didn't stop; were unable to stop.

 

"B.A.'s gonna pound us!" Face said, even as he broke into a renewed bout of laughter.

 

For some reason, Hannibal found this equally funny. He took a wheezing breath, laugh and cough at the same time.

 

Face staggered to his feet; then leaned over as he began to exact a variation of the threatened punishment on the colonel's back.

 

"Sorry, B.A.," Hannibal gasped out. "It's really not funny." Another gasp; "Really."

 

"Yeah." Face was starting to work back the way they had come--- down to a mere chuckle, then a grin. "Sorry."

 

Yet even that faded as all of them heard a key turn in the lock, the metal door click open.

 

"Shit!" said Hannibal, his mood swinging rapidly as the three men fumbled for their weapons. It was his own damn fault for letting his guard down. What the fuck was wrong with him?

 

Apparently, B.A. and Face were placing the same blame on themselves. Their faces were grim as each took a bead on the doorway. On the mismatched pair of physicians who slipped in, carefully pulling the door closed behind them.

 

"Gentlemen?" Julius Goldman looked around in surprise. "Is everything all right?"

 

Alexander raised an eyebrow. "There was a code," he said. "And in all the rush, I've forgotten it." He thought for a moment. "Shave and a haircut--- no bits?"

 

"How's Murdock?" Face said, putting up his gun.

 

Goldman frowned. "What's going on?" He glanced at one flushed face after the other; lighting finally on the sergeant's arm, "B.A.! Good Lord, what happened to you?"

 

"Ah'm fine."

 

"Well it certainly doesn't look like it from here. Lucky I still got my bag." He pointed at the couch. "Sit!"

 

Imperiously commanded by a person half his size, B.A. sat.

 

Equally imperious, Face repeated the question. "Doc, how is he!?"

 

"Don't know what I'm going to do with all of you," Goldman muttered. He knelt on the floor, studying B.A.'s wound.

 

"Doc--- "

 

"So what's the story, Goldman?" Hannibal said, his voice growing hard.

 

Julius winced. How easily Colonel Smith reverted to what they were before. How tenuous was any trust--- not he deserved it.

 

"Murdock's going to be just fine," Richter answered for him. "Physically, at least--- it's way too early to assess any psychological damage."

 

All three seemed to visibly relax. This was the sort of answer they were used to, a mental limbo their teammate had occupied for almost ten years.

 

But Rosemary knew better. "So it's back to square one?"

 

"No, more like a few steps back at most. He regained consciousness for a few minutes, after your personal physician here finally hit on the right drug. It was quite an amazing performance." Alexander smiled at him.

 

Julius didn't smile back. "Hold out your arm," he told his new patient. Then made an irritated gesture toward the 9mm, still in B.A.'s other hand. "And will you please put that thing away!"

 

Both B.A. and Hannibal holstered their weapons.

 

"Murdock knew who he was," Dr. Richter continued. "Told me some of what happened. Asked after all of you--- seemed rather worried." The dry tone of his voice revealed nothing. "Especially about Nurse Devlin and the lieutenant."

 

"So he's feelin' better?" B.A.'s question degenerated into another hiss, as Goldman touched his wound.

 

"He's resting comfortably." 

 

Rosemary snorted, aware of the true spectrum of discomfort included in that phrase. Still H.M. was out of danger--- that was something.

 

That was everything.

 

She glanced over at Face. The two former cellmates stared at one another for a long moment, their eyes warm.

 

"Lieutenant." Goldman cleared his throat, trying to get their attention. "A little water, if you would be so kind?"

 

With a nod, Face disappeared into the washroom.

 

"So, looks like second degree." He pulled bandages and salve from his bag. "How did you burn yourself anyway?"

 

"Busted a steam pipe, Doc." B.A. sent Hannibal a resentful look. "Got hurt tryin' to fix it--- which some people thought was funny."

 

Face returned, handing Julius a small pitcher of water.

 

"Some people," B.A. said again, focusing that look on the lieutenant.

 

Face shrugged, too tired to do anything more. "Sorry."

 

"They laughed?" This was not at all like the men Goldman knew, or thought he knew.

 

"Hey, that part wasn't funny," Hannibal swiftly explained. This was making him and Face look real bad. "But the part about your mama, B.A., now you gotta admit--- "

 

"You laughed at his mother?" Julius actually tsked. "Goodness, such behavior from grown men."

 

"Yeah!" B.A. agreed. It was an apology or nothing for him.  

 

Richter leaned up against the door, watching them all in quiet amusement.  "This is a very interesting group dynamic," he said, with a smile. "Any plans to join the A-Team, Julius? Interesting new career choice--- even for you." His smile was rapidly metamorphosing into a grin.

 

"No!" Hannibal and the Doc said together, at last in complete agreement. 

 

Then Goldman alone, his voice solemn, regretful--- final: "No, I'm not one of them."

 

This had the colonel looking way too satisfied to please an already displeased subordinate.

 

"So, that's all the thanks--- " B.A. frowned. "After all he did for Murdock, for all of us." If there was an obverse to brownie points, Hannibal was really racking them up. "Man, sometimes you really get on my last--- "

 

"Shah--- my large and angry friend!" Putting aside the water, Goldman began to rub salve onto B.A.'s arm. "He's absolutely right. Some debts can never be repaid."

 

Richter was frowning too. "I'd reconsider that decision, Colonel Smith, at least on an honorary basis. You owe him more than thanks. Dr. Goldman saved Murdock's life."

 

Hannibal shook his head. "You don't--- "

 

"Understand," Goldman interrupted quietly. "I took his life in the first place, Alexander. Or at least borrowed it; the very best part of a very innocent young man, something that wasn't mine to take."

 

"Why, Julius--- what have you done?"

 

Not that he really needed to ask. The man's swift, sure action in treating Murdock was suspect enough. Obviously he had tread this ground before.

 

But in all Richter's own scenarios, he never suspected this; never placed this scholarly, gentle face among the faceless men who had burdened Murdock so unmercifully.

 

"This yet another chapter in your grand opus, Goldman? From Black Ops to Greenpeace in how many easy lessons?"

 

Julius looked as pained as B.A., even though he understood.

 

How hard it must be for Richter, no matter how thorough his training in cognitive field, not to let just a little of his shock--- his disgust seep through.

 

It was just as hard to hear it.

 

"The grand finale coming up--- I hope. Almost finis." Goldman's smile was just this side of imperceptible. "A tad more unfinished business with the Captain, when he's feeling better."

 

"But I thought this man Gunter--- "

 

"Not entirely." He wrapped a strip of gauze around B.A.'s forearm. "Let's just say my former colleague got a little impatient with our patient; took a sledgehammer to Murdock--- instead of a scalpel."

 

Alexander took in a harsh breath. His own words coming back to him, as Murdock had also come back; and just as he feared, more wounded than before.

 

This was followed by another sound in that pin-drop room, by someone also using institutional architecture to keep himself upright. Face was leaning heavily against the far wall, his arms crossed over his chest, head tilted back--- marking a slow tattoo on the cement behind him.

 

Tap, tap, tap.

 

Both Rosemary and her boss glanced over at Face, then at each another.

 

Richter's frown deepened.

 

"Murdock's wound is raw at present." It was more of Goldman's reassuring patter. "But never fear, it'll heal eventually. Just needs a little mental debriding--- a little tidying up." Knotting two ends of the bandage together, he rocked back on his heels. "There," he said to B.A. "You're done. Would that all mistakes were so easy to fix."

 

"Thanks, Doc." B.A. pulled his shirtsleeve gingerly over the dressing.

 

"It could be more than a few weeks." Richter said. "If I allow you to proceed at all."

 

Goldman nodded; he expected as much. "The public face of my work, my methodology is well known. But the more private aspects, as it effects Murdock--- tomorrow?"

 

"My office--- around nine," said Richter. "And Julius, I'll want the full story."

 

"No." The shaggy head bowed. "I can't tell you everything, or I'd have to--- "

 

A snort let them all know what he thought of this spy mumbo-jumbo. "What--- kill me?"

 

"No!" Goldman looked up, his face so tired it was almost gray. "No," he whispered. "No--- not me--- they--- "

 

Richter was at once worried and disbelieving. "Well, nobody's going to do anything for the moment. Not while the captain's still in Medical ICU, still listed critical."

 

"But I thought you told us Murdock was doin' fine!" said B.A. 

 

There was a rasp of leather on cinderblock as Face pulled away from the wall. 

 

"Dr. Goldman's diagnosis was quite correct: double pneumonia with incipient renal failure. Murdock was probably incubating a lung infection when he was taken earlier this week. That, complicated by the shock his system received from that cattle prod, spending several hours in wet clothes--- now that the drugs are finally leaving his system, we should begin to see a definite improvement."

 

B.A. looked relieved.

 

"However I caution you, Murdock has a long way to go. Likely several weeks or more before we can move him back to the psychiatric ward.  Before I'm convinced his kidneys are out of danger. He's still a very sick man." Richter's eyes darkened. "This Hans Gunter has lot to answer for."

 

"Yes," Face said, in the voice of quite another man--- doppelganger, assassin, arrow in the dark. "He's mine."

 

Alexander looked startled.

 

What the hell was this, some sort of con? Or maybe a persona, like the ones used by Murdock to relieve stress. It seemed unlikely, the two illnesses different as the men themselves. But with one very big difference--- Templeton Peck remained unmonitored, untreated; creating a dangerous situation for himself, for his team. Something he hoped to rectify, if the lieutenant would agree.

 

It was a very big if.

 

Annoyed by the other man's stare, Face turned away; directed a stare of his own at Hannibal, quick tilt of his head toward the door.

 

The colonel nodded. "So, when can we see him?" he asked Richter.

 

"Bit of a sticky wicket." Goldman struggled to his feet, leaning on a large shoulder for support. "Thanks, B.A."

 

The big man smiled.

 

"Indeed," Richter said. "Lynch and his men are making the hallways rather crowded at present. Especially up in ICU. I'm sorry, Gentlemen, I just don't see how--- "

 

"But there must be some way I can--- " Face glanced from one physician to the other, then at his commanding officer. "Something!" he said, pitching it somewhere between rank appeal and an order. "Hannibal, please?" 

 

They all heard it, bitter end-of-the rope desperation.

 

Both B.A. and Rosemary turned on the couch.

 

"You heard the docs, Faceman," he said gently. "Don't need to see the Fool to know he's gonna be all right."

 

"I'm sure Colonel Smith will think of something." Rosemary held out her hand.

 

Face took it.

 

'Her confidence is touching,' thought Hannibal. Too bad he was going to let the kid down, let them all down. He was just so fuckin' tired. Too tired to think straight, much less come up with any kinda--- 

 

Just then half of 'shave and a haircut' sounded on the door behind them.

 

 

 

Chapter 64

 

 

"At least one of us got the signal right," Richter muttered as he opened up the door.

 

Officer Scottsdale made his grand entrance, pushing a sheet-covered gurney. With appropriate Speed Racer sound effect, he jerked it to a halt.

 

"Hi, guys!" This was accompanied by a cheeky grin. "Things are really poppin' up there; makes a nice change from last year. Christmas is usually deader than Santa run over by a reindeer."

 

Dr. Goldman pushed his glasses back up on his nose. "Et tu, Rudolph?" he said, deadpan.

 

"Yeah," grumbled B.A. "It's about time."

 

Mark took in the sergeant's glare, Dr. Richter's annoyed look. He panned over to the two people on either side of the couch, still holding hands.

 

His grin dropped in wattage, seemed likely to disappear altogether.

 

Hannibal eyed the gurney; relit his neglected cigar. "O.K., so what's the plan?"

 

"I might have something for ya, Colonel." Scottsdale paused for a moment, giving first the handclasp and then the Faceman a pointed look.

 

They let go, Rosemary leaning back on the dusty cushions.

 

Satisfied, Mark continued. "So, guess you'd kinda like to hear what happened to your 'vette, Lieutenant."

 

"Kinda."

 

The younger man's eyes narrowed, misinterpreting that arch, impatient tone. Not even close to guessing the reason.

 

All this supposed Lothario, Mark's new archrival, really wanted to hear was the plan to get upstairs. Get to Murdock. Not Rosemary, not even a beloved all-too-flashy car, meant as much.

 

"They finally caught up to Raoul on the corner of Wiltshire and Santa Monica. The 'vette's just fine. Not a scratch on her."

 

"Glad to hear it." If anything the tone got sharper.

 

Cut to the chase, kid!

 

"Yeah, told ya he was good. The Army's impounded your car though, not LAPD. Colonel Lynch didn't want to take it all the way back to base, so they stashed it temporarily in the garage of some apartment complex in Century City. I got the address right here." Mark pulled out a crumbled ball and handed it to the car's owner.

 

Executing a mood change worthy of his best friend, Face laughed.

 

"What?" Hannibal said.  

 

Face traded the paper for something else in his pocket. "Man, need to get this over to Vegas--- we're on a hot streak now." Murdock's lucky piece shot up in the air; tumbled downward, well-worn silver catching the fluorescent light, only to land neatly in the center of Face's palm. He palmed it, tucking it carefully back home.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Tell ya later." His laughter faded, leaving only a faint Sylvester to Tweety Bird smile.

 

Hannibal knew that smile. Something Face kept on the back burner just got yanked front and center, their luck finally turning. Maybe more than just luck, maybe Goldman was right.

 

Maybe B.A. thought so too. In the way he grinned at Hannibal, a relieved grin.

 

Work with someone long enough and sometimes you don't need words.

 

And sometimes you do.

 

"We shouldn't have laughed," Hannibal told the sergeant. "Not at your mama." Sacrosanct. "Face and me, we both know better."

 

"Yeah." B.A. felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. "We do."

 

"This thing with Murdock got us all strung out." He stared at the gurney. "I understand."

 

It made them focus on the sheeted white elephant in the room. 

 

"So, what you got for us, kid?" Hannibal asked again. 

 

Mark cleared his throat. "Oookay," he began. This was nervy even for him, presenting a fait accompli to the master. "Here's what I came up with. Hope it works. About an hour ago I helped--- " Two parenthetical fingers stroked the air. "Lynch search the hospital complex for you guys. Led him over to hell and gone. Damn near got lost myself!"

 

"Yeah, I told them all about it." Rosemary smiled. "Chalk up another one for the sorcerer's apprentice."

 

It was an old joke between them, Mark's hero worship of a certain pilot--- something that always got a blush from him before. A charming blush, even if she admitted it only to herself.

 

But not this time.

 

Mark frowned, not wanting to offend her and yet offended himself.  "Mind if I go on?"

 

"No--- I mean, yeah--- sure!" Rosemary said, confused.

 

He turned back to Hannibal. "Anyway, even after all that kafuffle the old bloodhound must still sniff you around somewhere. Lynch has put two GIs by the elevator, one on each stairwell. Not to mention the dozens of them staked out around the perimeter, every fifty yards or so--- pretty much a whole regiment getting under the nurses' feet up in ICU."

 

"Regiment?" 

 

Not Scottsdale much cared if offended this man or not. "Hey, regiment--- platoon--- whole fuckin' F Troop for all I know! You wanna hear this, or not?"

 

Face just raised an eyebrow.

 

"I'm sure we'd all like to know what happens next." Richter's hint sounded more like an order.

 

"Brevity being the soul of wit," intoned Goldman. This from the same skinny, bespectacled fourth grader who once handed in a twenty-page treatise, complete with footnotes and bibliography, on how he spent his summer vacation.

 

B.A. let out an even briefer snort.

 

'Geez!' thought Mark. 'It was amazing these old guys ever got jack-shit done, much less save the girl--- save the day.'

 

"Oakey-dokey," he said aloud. "So, right now we got M.P.s out at the front gate. They're taking a real good look at vehicles entering the compound; popping each trunk, checking I.D. on the driver and passengers. But not much more than quick peek inside anything headed out."

 

"Interesting." Hannibal took another puff on his cigar.

 

"Yeah, seems Lynch bought the con. Thinks that while he was out chasing your 'vette, the A-Team got away clean. That somehow at least one of you guys is gonna try breaking back in; try to check on Captain Murdock." He sent a complicated glance at yet another master: resentful, admiring. Resenting the fact he still admired Lieutenant Peck, even though it was obvious the slimeball was making a move on---

 

"So maybe we can rig up the van to look like an ambulance or something?" Their Eeyore sounded hopeful. "Maybe I can drive us outta here."

 

"Nah. I think that's pushing it, B.A.," Hannibal told him gently. "Even Lynch isn't that dumb. Don't worry, we'll get her back later. Right, Face?"

 

"Yeah." His reply was automatic, distracted by Scottsdale--- trying to read the other man's face. It was all too open, the kid a talented but inexperienced amateur.

 

Face puzzled over it for a moment.

 

Then, epiphany!

 

Man, he must be tired not to have spotted this before. Scottsdale and---

 

Face suddenly grinned. 'As Archimedes said to the rubber ducky--- it could work. A possible solution, salvation--- ' He glanced over at Rosemary. 'Now, if only she felt the same way. If only Murdock--- '

 

"Like the Trojan Horse," Mark was saying. "Well, really two of them. Hey, it's a classic." He paused for a moment; frowned at Peck.

 

Why was the dude staring at him like a long, lost friend? Man, was he weird!

 

"Say, what?" asked B.A., wary of that overused appellation. The Statue of Liberty play was a classic, not some half-baked plan.

 

Mark was returning Face's stare. "I'm thinking we can sneak you guys out in the luggage compartment of a bus chartered by the local VFW. It's a free ride home for families visiting patients for the holiday; leaves around 7:00 PM from the front gate."

 

Hannibal kindly refrained from pointing out that the original Trojan Horse plan had worked going in the opposite direction. "Fine idea, Scottsdale," was all he said.

 

The security guard beamed.

 

"Where's it headed?" asked Face. 

 

"The main terminal at Seventh and Alameda. One of my team will disembark." Mark puffed out his chest just a little. "Tap shave-and-a-haircut on the side of the bus as he goes by. Can you guys jimmy the hatch open from the inside?"

 

The conman snorted. "Does a bear-- "

 

"Ah, back in the woods!" Julius laughed. "What with my philosophical conundrum considering trees still unsolved, Yogi's pic-i-nic basket--- "

 

"Yeah, no problem," Hannibal said, before he could get rolling.

 

Mark shook his head. 'Not to mention that weird little doc who made some of the patients around here look positively normal.' 

 

"And my van?" This was foremost in B.A.'s mind.

 

"I'll sneak it out of the power plant somehow, when the heat's off. If that's O.K. with you?"

 

B.A. sighed. "Gonna hafta be." His arm was starting to hurt, big time, a throbbing pain.

 

"O.K." Face sounded almost cheerful. "Think I can work with that."

 

Things were definitely falling into place. Colonel Lynch had just settled their housing problem, whether he knew it or not. Now to arrange rental transport, food--- lots of food, especially milk. Figure out how to get spare clothing and weapons out of the warehouse near Universal. The Faceman's list was growing longer; check it once, check it twice. Especially one last item: talk Hannibal into a small commando raid on the beach house out in Laguna. Break in there somehow, even though every grunt squeezed into his mother's old Army boots had it staked out already.

 

Face had promised Murdock a telescope, that telescope, for Christmas.

 

And Murdock was going to get it.

 

"That accounts for one horse," Julius said, with a smile. "But tell me, young man, how does yon humble gurney begin to conquer Troy?"

 

Mark looked at Hannibal. 

 

The colonel gave him the same smile. "Go ahead, it's all yours."

 

"That's how we're gonna get you onto the bus. Luckily, there's a stop just past the emergency room entrance." He grinned. "Nobody'll even notice my 'orderlies' wheeling three of these suckers past the M.P.s. We even got a few volunteers to act as patients up top."

 

"Ah!" Thus enlightened, Dr. Richter flipped up the sheet, revealing a coffin-sized space below the mattress. "This is how we usually transport bodies from hospital room to the morgue," he explained. "A small subterfuge for the comfort of the living."

 

"No!" B.A. pressed back into the couch. "No, Hannibal. I don't think I can--- "

 

It was one straw too much.

 

"Yes, you can!" This came not from his teammates, but from the woman sitting next to him.

 

B.A. felt the gentle stroke of Rosemary's hand on his undamaged arm.

 

"Remember how scared you were on the plane? But you made it through that just fine. No drugs, no two-by-four. It's just a few minutes under the gurney, few more inside the bus--- gonna be a piece of cake."

 

"No!" said Face and Hannibal together.

 

"O.K., now you've done it, honey." Face tangled a hand through Rosemary's curls. "Invoked an ancient and powerful curse. Now we'll miss our stop; end up back at the bus barn, wandering around the back lot of some auto parts factory in Tarzana." He tipped her head back in time to catch his grin.

 

"All right by me," B.A. said, giving Rosemary a shy smile. "Van needs a new catalytic converter anyway. Know where I can pick one up real cheap."

 

They all laughed.

 

All but Scottsdale, who watched Face lean over, kiss Rosemary once on the temple.

 

Then let her go.

 

Rosemary's eyes closed; reopened only to stare at Mark, rather than Face. The sadness in them was unmistakable.

 

As was her answering smile.

 

This only made Scottsdale more angry, or hopeful, or maybe both at once. 'So this is love,' he thought. That feeling under his breastbone was definitely more than the chilidog he had for lunch. 'Man, it hurt--- a throbbing pain.'

 

"All right," B.A. told Rosemary. "I'll do it--- if you come too."

 

She dragged her attention over to the sergeant. "Sure thing, I can be one of Mark's fake patients. The docs can wrap me up like Frankenstein so the M.P.s won't see my face."

 

Both men nodded.

 

"I even got a little Type O in my bag for dramatic effect," Julius added.

 

"What don't you got in there?" Hannibal poked the Mary Poppins satchel with his boot, venturing yet another apology of sorts.

 

One Goldman accepted with pleasure. "Los Alamos Troop Number 1013. Always be prepared."

 

"Flint 855 myself."

 

They grinned at each other. 

 

"Yeah, well before you two start trading bird calls--- " Face wasn't about to mention his own rise to Eagle Scout back at the orphanage. Not like he had anything more interesting to do at the time. 

 

"Ya need the Fool," B.A. put in. "Only one of us who ever sounded like a real bird."

 

"Hey, my California valley quail ain't too bad," said Hannibal, his grin growing wider.

 

The sergeant only grunted.  

 

"Yes--- Murdock." Dr. Richter pulled the bed sheet smooth. "Which brings to mind yet another plan. I don't know about three gurneys parading through ICU. But perhaps one could--- "

 

"Perhaps the lieutenant might--- " Goldman began.

 

"Yes!" Face moved over to Hannibal's side. He took the surprised man by the wrist, tilting Hannibal's watch face toward him. "It's just a little past five, Colonel. Bus doesn't leave until seven. There's plenty of time."

 

"Yeah." Hannibal's smile changed into something infinitely more gentle. "Sure, Face. Go ahead."

 

"I'll go with him," Rosemary offered.

 

This was followed almost immediately by Mark's shout of: "Me too!"

 

The others all stared at him.

 

He tried for a casual shrug. "Hey, you'll need someone to push the gurney."

 

"No." Rosemary frowned. "It might be better if I--- "

 

"Good idea, Mark," Face said. "We could use your help."

 

Both volunteers looked puzzled.

 

"Oookay," the guard said, not certain where he stood. 

 

"Well, that's all settled." Richter nodded toward Hannibal and B.A. "Now, perhaps the two of you can get some rest. Officer Scottsdale promises to return the lieutenant in say--- "

 

Mark snapped to attention. "1830 hours."

 

"Six-thirty it is," the psychiatrist said, trying not to smile. "And since Julius and I just are a bit too high profile to be seen accompanying three innocuous gurneys in transit, I suggest--- "

 

"A diversion?" Even tired as he was, Goldman was ready for anything. "Something to draw the M.P.s off--- perhaps a small explosion on the other side of the yard?" His bag clicked open. "I've got something, same chemical family as plastique in fact, in here somewhere." He rummaged.

 

"You have what!?" both Richter and B.A. said together.

 

"Good Lord! And I let you carry that around in a hospital full of compressed oxygen and who knows what other flammable--- "

 

"Yeah--- and what about my van!"

 

Hannibal studied the toe of his boot, amazed he still had a toe. "Little guy kinda grows on you, doesn't he?" he said to B.A.

 

The sergeant just shook his head.

 

"Oh, it's totally inert, I assure you," Dr. Goldman told them hastily. "In this case, common H2O acts as catalyst." He started moving toward the washroom.

 

"No!" Richter took a calming breath. "No, Julius, we do not need an explosion. Thank you--- but no. I'm sure we can count on Mark to come up with something a tad less incendiary."

 

"Just trying to helpful. It's really more my field of study than medicine as you know--- "

 

"Dinner, actually," he said. "Dinner was what I was going to suggest. There should be the remnants of a holiday meal in the cafeteria somewhere. Though I can't vouch for the--- "

 

"Meat loaf." Goldman let out a snort. "As if I'd attempt something that risky."

 

Richter laughed. "I see the word has spread. Yes, it's about the same consistency as a block of plastic explosive and with the same cathartic effects."

 

"I'd be delighted to accept your invitation, provided--- "

 

"We lock that bag of yours up in the bursar's safe?"

 

"As you wish." Julius shrugged, genuinely puzzled by all the fuss. "In fact, I was going to suggest we limit the topic of conversation to something light, our wild frat days at Stanford. Let tomorrow wait until tomorrow--- and tomorrow."

 

Then the little man paused.

 

His quasi-teammates waited, figuring either Lady MacBeth or Scarlett O'Hara was sure to follow.

 

"I'll fix this, Alexander." Despite his best efforts, Goldman's voice shook just a bit. "I'll put it right, as God is my witness."

 

Scarlett after all, and no one even cracked a smile.

 

With a sigh, he picked up his bag; hiked it up on one knee to redo the clasp.

 

The whole room winced.

 

"Well, I'll say goodbye." Julius extended his hand. "Colonel, it's been--- ah, interesting--- working with you once again."

 

"Don't begin to cover it, Doc." 

 

He acknowledged the gentle dig. "Yes, it's armchair adventures for me from now on, all cozy by the fire. The last few months have been a bit much."

 

"I'm with ya there." Hannibal smiled a very tired smile. "And you didn't do half bad--- for an amateur." 

 

They shook.

 

"If there's anything else I can do to help." Goldman gave him a tentative smile back. "An inside, outside man of sorts. Anything--- I mean it."

 

"Just put Murdock back the way he was," Hannibal said quietly. "More like that photo you showed us, that hotshot from way back when."

 

Face nodded.

 

Richter could guess what picture they were talking about. He had a copy of it himself, buried deep in Murdock's files. Well, not so very deep. Carruthers, and now this Gunter, probably had it too. Taken when he was an Air Force recruit: fierce, confident, proud--- and ripe for the taking. Both dangerous and in danger, that was Captain H.M. Murdock then--- and now. It was a strange dichotomy, one that probably kept him alive all these years, Murdock's yin and yang. Yes, it would be a very delicate job. Heal the wound but leave the man himself intact.

 

He gave Lieutenant Peck a sidelong look.

 

"I'll try my best," Julius told Hannibal.

 

"Good enough."

 

It would have to be.

 

Then Goldman bent over his patient. "Take it easy, my friend. Watch both your temper and your twenty."

 

B.A. offered a left hand in farewell. "One's always gonna be easier than the other, Doc. Watch out for your own self--- hear?"

 

Not quite good enough.

 

They all heard B.A. let out an embarrassed grunt as Julius, negotiating carefully around both bandages and all that gold, still managed to give the big man an even bigger hug.

 

"Aw, c'mon Doc." It was only a half-complaint. "Lemme go."

 

He relented, moving back far enough to give B.A. a grin. "And remember to keep that wound clean. Get some more antibiotic cream on it later today."

 

"No problem," Face said. "I'll take care of it."

 

"Yes." Julius gave him a stern look. "I'm very sure you will. But who takes care of you, Templeton Arthur Peck? Now that's the question."

 

Richter was suddenly all attention. He glanced from one man to the other.

 

"I thought that was: To be or not to be?" The conman's tone was light, his lips curved in a half-smile.

 

But it didn't work. Goldman knew the Faceman much too well by now; knew this for what it was.

 

He continued to stare at Face, waiting for an answer.

 

The silence stretched out more than minute.

 

Then it came, almost too low to be heard. "My team. We take care of each other, you know that."

 

"Yes," Julius agreed softly. "I do indeed know that." There was another silence: at first meditative, then decisive.

 

It was time for him to put a plan in action, a plan of his own.

 

"Alexander?"

 

Way ahead of him, Richter smiled a psychiatric cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. "Yes, Julius?"

 

His classmate looked a little irritated to have been read so quickly. "Of course, you realize that what I'm asking is a violation of professional ethics--- "

 

"But well within the Hippocratic Oath itself," said Richter, now certain they were talking about the same thing. Julius was way transparent for a career as master spy.

 

"Yes." Goldman nodded. "More good than harm." He turned toward the lieutenant.

 

"You are a man of honor, I take it. A man of your word?"

 

It was strange question to ask someone in his line of work. "Yes--- " Face answered, slowly. "There's honor among thieves, and conmen too. When I give my word, I keep it."

 

"I see." Goldman had expected no less. "Back in Mexico, I seem to remember getting a verbal promissory note for saving Murdock's life. 'Owed me a big one' was how I think you put it." He paused. "I collect on that debt now, young man."

 

Everyone but Mark took a collective breath.

 

Julius cocked his head toward the psychiatrist. "You will begin seeing Dr. Richter in private session. Continue seeing him at least once a week, as both your schedules allow, until he says you can stop. Is that clear?"

 

"As crystal." Face's voice sounded flat, almost expressionless.

 

"You want to treat them both--- at once?" Hannibal frowned at Richter. "Do you think that's a good idea?"

 

He shrugged. "Do we have a choice?"

 

True enough. There was literally no one else they could trust. But Hannibal wasn't going to order it. Not something so deeply personal. Something that was more between Face and Murdock than the team as a whole--- like what had happened between them back in Nam. It would have to be his decision.

 

"Face?"

 

The blond man shook his head. "No, I don't think--- "

 

"Then don't think!" Rosemary interrupted.

 

Both she and B.A. leaned forward on the couch, intent.

 

"Yeah. Do it, Faceman!" He absently rubbed the bicep above his bandaged arm. "For once don't weigh the pros and cons, just give it try. Go with the flow."

 

Face looked at them both, surprised--- then over at Hannibal.

 

"Think it's a good idea, kid. I worry about you sometimes, keepin' it all inside." He tapped a load of ashes into an empty milk carton. "Might be what's best for the team."

 

Enough said.

 

"So I trust you can make all the arrangements, Alexander?" Goldman was sure of a fait accompli, proud of his conman's con.  

 

Richter sensed victory too. His smile grew wider, more Cheshire cat than canary-killer now. "We could start next week," he told Face. "Perhaps find someplace outside the hospital, until things calm down."

 

Lieutenant Peck sighed. It was a Face-like sigh to be sure, long suffering in the face of such a united front. Unprecedented. When had they all agreed on anything else? Ever. All of them caring enough to force this on him, for his own good, whether he wanted it or not--- but did he want it? This one last try---

 

"Murdock's not going to like it," Face told Richter. "You're his shrink. He won't want to share--- "

 

"The Fool?" He heard a disbelieving snort. "With you?"

 

B.A. was right. Undeniably, Murdock was the most generous man Face knew. To a fault, in his professional opinion, since boyhood had taught him there only so much generosity to go around; that sharing put you at a disadvantage, made you look weak. It was one of the things he first noticed about Murdock, attracted him from the first, one of the things that made them fast friends.

 

Birth to earth, womb to tomb.

 

Murdock would share his Marlboros, jellybeans, clean socks--- his bed. Generous with Face the way he was with no other; stripping his soul clean. Offering a gift Face wasn't sure he wanted; wasn't, at the time, sure that he could stand. 

 

He was sure now.

 

Face let out another sigh, but not quite a sigh. It was more like that first deep, relieved breath--- after a long time underwater, just now breaking the surface.

 

Just when he thought never to breathe clean, sweet air again.

 

"All right, Doc," Face said, "You win." The conman well and truly caught in the snare of his own words, his own promises.

 

Tanglefoot.

 

Julius shook his head. "No, my young friend, you're the winner. Always were. You just need Alexander here to help you see it. For through a glass darkly--- " 

 

Rosemary's laugh was gentle. "But then face to face?"

 

The man in question gave her a pained look.

 

"Exactly!" Goldman's smile encompassed them both. "Perhaps finally reconcile the man in the mirror with the truer man inside."

 

'To see ourselves as others see us,' Hannibal thought, wondering how the spooky little guy saw him.

 

"Sounds like as good a treatment plan as any," said Richter. "Long journey beginning with but a single step and all that."

 

"Ever notice how quotes are kinda like potato chips?" Hannibal grinned at B.A. "Betcha can't eat just--- "

 

"Yeah." It was a definite growl.

 

The sergeant hurt, was gettin' real tired. Enough to wish that they'd all just shut up already. Get out of here so he could get himself some sack time before they shoved him under the mattress of that gurney, inside the luggage compartment of that bus. No bogus mosquito of an injection, no two-by-four this time. B.A. just needed a little time to get it all together.

 

"O.K.," Face told his new shrink. "I'll find a place to meet. Call you in couple of days. Will that do?"

 

Mark also figured he'd waited long enough. "So," he said, with all the pathos of a bored little kid. "Can we go? Like, now?" 

 

"Whaddya say, Alexander? Julius smiled. "Exit, stage right?"

 

Richter just shook his head. "Sure you're not interested in claiming Murdock as your third long-lost son? Because I'd buy it, the difference in height notwithstanding." 

 

Goldman's smile faded abruptly. "Rachel and I were never so blessed." He looked at B.A., then Face; making an imprint of each face as he once pressed unwelcome imprints on the minds of others. These were true images to be carried close to the heart, encrypted deep. "Not as some of us are blessed."

 

He and the colonel exchanged a look. On this one thing they could agree. What one had, the other wanted. Hannibal both cursed and blessed, A-Team yin and yang.

 

"Stage right," Face repeated softly. Taking hold of the gurney, he slipped underneath the sheet. His slender body fit easily inside, not a wrinkle betraying his presence.

 

"Faceman!"

 

He lifted up an end. "Yeah."

 

"If that Fool's awake. Tell him--- he listens to you--- tell him I said to take it easy. Don't be looking too hard for no purple wobblies." B.A. cleared his throat. "Talking to no invisible dogs. Jus' put his mind on getting better, getting back to us real soon."

 

"He listens to you too," Face said. "Always did."

 

"Nah." The sergeant made a fist with his good hand. The rings glittered dully in the fluorescent light. "Jus' listened to this."

 

On impulse, Rosemary leaned forward, touching a small palm to the middle of his chest. "Or this."

 

"Nah," he said, a dark blush infusing his darker skin. B.A. laid his own hand over hers, engulfing it in his palm. 

 

"A gentle-man," she said, dropping a pause between the two syllables. "Never disagrees with a lady."

 

"Never curses a bright blue streak in front of her neither," he said. "I'm sorry."

 

She shrugged. "You had cause. Don't have to be 250 pounds dripping wet." She grinned. "Dripping with gold, to understand what it's like to have a bad temper."

 

He grinned back. "No, I guess not."

 

Rosemary laid her free hand on his; gave it a squeeze. "I'd better get going. Take care of yourself, B.A." She glanced behind her. "Colonel. Vaya con dios."

 

Hannibal waved his cigar, drawing an uncertain ring in the air. 

 

"God bless," B.A. told her softly.

 

Rosemary got to her feet. "Oh, I think he already has." She glanced toward the door only to meet two pairs of blue eyes watching her steadily: one half shaded by a bed sheet, the other by the rakish tilt of a uniform cap. It was an embarrassment of riches.

 

She smiled at Face and Mark both.

 

For entirely different reasons, neither returned her smile.

 

Face dropped the cover back into place.

 

Mark turned his back, starting to unlock the door; then pulled back in surprise as the knob turned easily under his hand.

 

"Just a few minor adjustments, kid." Smith crushed out the stub of his Havana underfoot. "Face!" he called out. "Tell the captain we'll be catching him on the flip side." He grinned at B.A. "Take good care of Billy while we're gone."

 

"Doesn't he always?" came the muffled reply. "O.K., Colonel. Will do."

 

Officer Scottsdale pushed the door open wide, sending his white elephant out into the darkened corridor beyond. 

 

The nurse trailed after him, a quick butterfly tilt of her hand in farewell.

 

"Bye, Rosemary," said B.A.

 

"Onward and upward." Goldman was next in their parade. "Mazeltov, my very dear friends."

 

"Luck's got nothing to do with it, Doc." Hannibal's eyes were already at half-mast. "It's all in the plan."

 

"Man with the plan," Goldman agreed, pulling the door gently closed.

 

"Julius," came Richter's voice in full persuasive mode. "You really ought to consider publishing at least something about the magic bullets in that little black bag of yours, nom de plume for both you and Murdock of course. Might save a lot of lives--- "

 

Sergeant Baracus listened as the tumblers fell into place. Locked out but not locked in. No lock box of bamboo, bed-sheets, sheet metal of a bus luggage compartment.

 

Favoring his arm, he stretched out on the couch with a long sigh.

 

 

END PART EIGHT

 


Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 2 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 3 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 4 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 5 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 6 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 7 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 8 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 9 by Nicole Wilson
Q.E.D.: An A-Team Adventure 10 by Nicole Wilson

 

 


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