General Hunt Stockwell sat inside his parked car down one of London’s less pleasant back alleyways. It was night and the rain was pouring down outside so visibility was poor. He was waiting to meet one of his agents, a young woman he had recently recruited to replace another female agent who had double crossed him. She had proved herself loyal to him by neatly disposing of her predecessor. He felt she was ready for more responsibility and more interesting operations. That was what he was here to discuss.
Finally he saw a figure approaching, wearing a trench coat and a hat pulled down over her eyes. He smiled to himself. Some of his agents did have a penchant for the dramatic. The car door opened and she slipped in to the passenger seat, smoothly pulling a gun from inside her coat as she did so and shutting the door behind her.
There was a moments silence as he took stock of this surprising turn of events. She was breathing heavily and her muscles were tensed. She seemed deadly serious… desperate even. Before he could speak she removed her hat and the face he saw behind the gun was not the face he had been expecting to see.
“You!” he said, almost managing to sound cross.
“Don’t tell me you thought that was me who made the papers?” she mocked sarcastically, “Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to handle that psycho bitch you sent after me?”
“Well lets just say now I know better. Perhaps we could make a deal…”
“No more deals Stockwell. You could have done what you liked to me… I was past caring… but I can’t risk any harm to the baby.” Then without hesitation she pulled the trigger.
Moments later the woman ran from the alley and flagged down a taxi and collapsed in to the back seat.
“Heathrow” she said to the driver, breathless.
3 Months earlier… Day 1
The red dress caught his eye first, as it fluttered in the warm evening breeze, but it was it’s occupant which held his gaze. She was of average height, nicely proportioned, maybe late twenties, with shoulder length chocolate brown hair that was barely tamed by a red head scarf which framed the most beautiful face he had ever seen.
She looked lost, crest fallen. Was she waiting for somebody? She sighed and occupied an uncomfortable moment tracing some unknown shape in the dusty earth with her foot, folded and unfolded her arms, took a deep breath, and then she was looking right at him.
He’d been staring and she’d sensed it. He was still staring. She flashed him the most amazing smile and instinctively he reciprocated with one his own. Did she blush? Their eyes were locked. He felt like he was being pulled toward her.
Before he could even think about moving their connection was broken by a small child on his dad’s shoulders carrying a balloon… and then she was gone.
“Murdock! I’m not paying you to stand about admiring the view”
He was back in reality. He didn’t want to lose this job, at least not yet. Carnival people didn’t ask too many questions and it was easier that way.
He took the money from the hand in front of him and proceeded to briefly explain the rules and prizes to the young couple waiting to play. As they started to fire he glanced about hoping to catch a glimpse of red, but there was none, and the garish colours and bright lights of the fairground world around him seemed dull and grey without her.
It was passed one in the morning when Murdock finished work and was heading back to his car. He saw the last thing he expected to see. The only thing he wanted to see. What could she still be hanging around for at this time?
She was stood alone at the bus stop. She had her back to him. The wind had died down but the temperature had dropped. She was rubbing her bare arms to keep warm. As she began to pace back and forth, she turned to face him walking towards her. Her arms dropped to her side. He could see she was waiting for a bus, but why did it feel like she was waiting for him? Why did it feel like he had been waiting for her?
Before he knew it they were standing side by side and he was talking to her. He didn’t know where the words came from, they just came.
“Yeah, I guess”
“You don’t sound so sure”
“Let’s just say this hasn’t been one of the greatest nights of my life”
“Stood up, huh?”
A look of dismay briefly flashed across the young woman’s face and Murdock winced at his lack of sensitivity.
“Look, I’m sorry, it’s none of my business. Er, I saw you before, I mean earlier, I saw you earlier”
“Yeah, I know, I remember”
“The name’s Murdock, H.M. Murdock”
He offered her his handshake but she didn’t move to accept it so he withdrew.
“What am I thinking? Some strange guy approaches you late at night while you are waiting for a bus, no one else around… um, look, I didn’t mean to frighten you, I just… I don’t know, er, look, I’m sorry”.
As he turned to go it felt like his heart was being ripped out. He couldn’t leave it like that. He couldn’t just walk away. He spun round on his back foot and took a deep breath for courage.
“Can I… Can I just give you my phone number?”
“No” She said sternly, but then a playful smile danced across her face “But you can give me a lift. I think I’ve missed the last bus”.
Had any doubts or suspicions crossed his mind? Had anything felt wrong? He couldn’t remember, but if they had he wouldn’t have heard them. The only thing he could hear was the sound of his blood pumping. The only thing he could feel was his heart beating. As he turned the key in the ignition and glanced up to smile at his pretty passenger the only thing he could see was the gun she was pointing at him.
The smile was gone, the light that had seemed to shine out from inside her was extinguished. Her eyes were cold and dead and filled with hatred. He felt thoroughly defeated. How could he be so stupid? How many times had Hannibal told them ‘beware the beautiful stranger’. Sure, Face had fallen for this trick more than once, but Face was approached by pretty women wanting to go off with him all the time so it was far less easy for him to know when it was a trick. This was such an obvious set up, how could he be so foolish?
“You know this place?” She handed him a flyer for a low budget motel.
“Sure, I’ve passed it before”
There was nothing more to say. Her spell was broken, but there was nothing more he could do right now. He was her prisoner. He just had to play it cool. The streets were quiet. It would take about 15 minutes to reach the motel. As he pulled away it began to rain, lightly at first but soon heavy.
He looked at her again only once during their short journey. She hadn’t taken her eyes off him even for a second. He felt like the world was closing in around him. He kept his eyes fixed on the road. The city lights reflected in the puddles forming on the streets seemed to be alive. He started to feel sick. What was that? Fear? He’d been in worse scrapes than this and survived. He could get away from this woman, he just had to wait for an opportunity to present itself. So why did he feel like he didn’t want to get away from her?
What the hell did she want with him anyway? Something told him now wasn’t the best time to ask. She looked deadly serious. Deadly. She didn’t have to threaten him not to speak, she was terrifying enough for him not to want to, and that was unheard of. The crazy routine could catch the most experienced professionals off guard if you timed it right, and it had become second nature to him over the years, but now his mouth was dry and his mind was blank. He was her captive in more ways than one. ‘So it ends here’ he thought as he pulled in to the motel car park.
They walked through the pouring rain to the room, her gun pressed hard in to his back out of sight. As they stepped out of the wet in to the darkness he heard the door close behind them and then felt a small scratch of pain in the back of his neck. He felt his legs give way and the blackness took him.
He wasn’t sure if he’d expected to wake up, but when he did and she was the first thing he saw he felt strangely glad to be alive. She was dressed in jeans and a close fitting black sweater and sat perched on the edge of a small table. Her hair tied up loosely fell about her face in wisps that seemed illuminated by the sun shining through the thin curtains at the window behind her. The image was perhaps slightly spoilt though by the fact that she was in the process of attaching a silencer to her gun.
He felt stiff and his neck ached, but he soon surmised this was probably due to being tied very securely to a chair, probably for several hours now. He looked about dozily through squinted eyes, but he couldn’t see a clock.
He tried to speak only to find that his mouth was covered with tape. He got her attention with the muffled noises coming out of his nose.
There was a moments agony as she ripped the tape from his face, simultaneously pulling up a chair in front of him and pressing the barrel of her gun to his stomach. It was time to find out what was going on. With perhaps more concern in his voice than he would have liked Murdock gasped out the questions that had to be answered.
“Okay, so what do you want? Who do you work for?”
“I work for me and I want to kill the man who killed my brother”
“And you think that was me?” he said affronted.
“So you’ve never killed anybody ever” her tone was mocking, sarcastic.
“You didn’t ask me that, yes I’ve killed people. I’m a soldier, I was in Vietnam”
“So how do you know that one of those people you killed wasn’t my brother”
“Well, you don’t look Vietnamese”
“You’re a real smart arse for someone whose got a gun stuck in their belly”
As if to add emphasis to her last point she pressed the barrel in to his flesh even harder. It was starting to hurt. What if he had killed her brother? He had killed people and he had done things that had led to the deaths of people… all kinds of people. Sure, they were all bad people, but they must have still had those who loved them… wives, parents, sisters. It was the kind of thing you avoided thinking about in his line of work. The A-Team had their own moral code. They didn’t enjoy killing, they tried to avoid killing, but they had killed. They did what they felt had to be done. Revenge was an occupational hazard.
“Who was your brother?”
“He was a colleague of yours for a time. Air America.”
“Did he have a name?”
“Matt? Matt Moore?”
“So you’re not denying you knew him?”
“No. He was a friend, a good friend. See… see the back of my jacket? He painted that for me.”
Murdock took a few breaths to compose himself. He felt overwhelmed, but at least here was a glimmer of hope. He hadn’t killed her brother. There were memories here, memories he didn’t want to re-live, but he had no choice. At least he knew who she was now.
“You must be H… Helen? He… he showed me your picture. You were in college, right? He talked about you all the time. He missed you like crazy.”
She didn’t speak. She was struggling to maintain her fierce demeanour but he could see that her grey eyes were moistening.
“I’m sorry for your loss” he said softly.
“Yeah, right!” She spat out bitterly. “I’ve recently been informed by a mutual acquaintance of ours that it was you that killed him. However, this mutual acquaintance is an arrogant, manipulative little shit so you get the benefit of the doubt until I’m able to verify he’s telling the truth, and he has been known to… sometimes”
“Let me guess, Stockwell, I recognise the description… and you call this the benefit of the doubt?”
“If I was certain you were guilty you’d be dead already”
“Look, we were somewhere we shouldn’t really have been and we were shot down. He was hurt badly and he didn’t make it out. He died of his injuries. We had to leave the… we had to leave him behind. I was there when he died, but I didn’t kill him. I don’t know what Stockwell’s told you… or why, but it can’t be true. He debriefed me after that mission himself. He knows what really happened.”
She stood up and looked away thoughtfully. There was honesty in the mans face. She had always been a good judge of character. Was her gut feeling all the evidence she needed? The moment her brother had died she had felt it. A part of her had died with him, the better part she thought. Her only comfort had been that he had died an honourable death. The thought that he might have been shot in the back by drug dealing scum… by a man he had trusted as a friend. The waves of rage and nausea washed over her like breakers crashing on rocks.
She knew the General was more than capable of lying about something like this, but what would be his motive?
“I guess the General doesn’t like you very much, huh?” She questioned, almost offhand.
“He’s never made any secret of that… and the feeling’s mutual. I didn’t realise he wanted me dead though.”
With that thought a moment of panic suddenly gripped him. If the General wanted him dead what about the rest of the team? Had something happened to them? Were they in danger?
“I’ve gotta get out of here. My friends… I’ve got to warn them. My friends could be in danger.”
Helen needed time to think. With a graceful movement she applied a fresh piece of tape to his still talking mouth, and ignoring the panic and pleading in his eyes she stepped outside in to the bright morning sun, closing the door behind her.
She paced up and down outside for a while. She was beginning to think she had acted somewhat rashly, but Stockwell no doubt had expected her to act more rashly. She could have just killed him. After all, she had believed the story she’d been told. It had seemed plausible and at the time there seemed no reason for it to be a lie.
When she actually saw H. M. Murdock in person though she instinctively trusted him and liked him, and that terrified her. She felt so confused. She had to focus.
If Stockwell had wanted this man dead, but for some reason didn’t want to get involved, it would make sense that he would try and manipulate someone like her in to doing it for him, but what if his plan backfired? What if she didn’t go through with it and found out he had been lying? What would he do then about her and this man?
Almost as if in answer to her internal questioning she caught a glimmer of light out of the corner of her eye coming from the roof of a building across the street. She didn’t turn to look, she just calmly turned and stepped back inside the room. She had come to a decision.
The chair was tipped over on the floor and Murdock was trying to struggle free, but not having much luck. She pulled out a pocket knife, which caused him to flinch, but as soon as she began cutting him free he began to cooperate. He stood up and pulled the tape from his mouth himself the moment he had a hand free.
“I’ve got to get to a phone and call my friends”
“No, there’s no time.”
In a swift movement he grabbed both her wrists
“Why, you gonna kill me now little girl?” he growled threateningly.
She went loose and for a moment allowed him to feel like he had the better of her. There was no fear in her eyes, no remorse, no defiance… they just burnt in to him like she was searching his soul. His anger and frustration melted away but he couldn’t let go.
Then in a flash her muscles were tensed again and she head butted him, causing him to let go and stagger back, tripping over the chair that was still lying on the floor.
“Fuck!” He was sat on the floor, his legs resting on the overturned chair, rubbing his forehead. “Shit, you are one crazy, violent, bitch”.
“We don’t have time for this” She snapped as she gathered up her things, “We both need to get out of town”.
In between hisses and groans he slowly rose to his feet. “Why? What the hell is going on?”
“Let’s say for now I believe you and have decided not to kill you…”
“I like the sound of that…”
“…but someone else obviously still does, and probably wants to take me out as well now.”
“…but not so much that.”
“I suggest you forget about your friends for the moment and concentrate on keeping yourself alive for the next few hours at least. Now you can come with me or you can go your own way, but I’m taking the car.”
“My car? In that case I think I’ll come with. Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, we’ll just drive very fast until it’s safe to stop and then we’ll find some place”.
“Look, I know a place. It’s not much, just a cabin out in the country that I sort of inherited a few years back. We could go there.”
She had the advantage over him in that she was expecting the hail of bullets the second they emerged from the room together. She pushed him to the ground and started firing back as they inched their way over to the car. Murdock opened the driver’s side door, slid in to the seat keeping his head down, and started the engine. A few more parting shots and she was in the seat next to him re-loading.
With a squeal of tyres they pulled out of the car park and on to the road. Murdock floored it but it wasn’t long before he was glancing in the rear view mirror at a vehicle in pursuit. Bullets shattered the back window and as they went round a bend Helen used the precious seconds it bought them to clamber over in to the back seat so she could start firing out the back.
“How we doin’?” shouted Murdock encouragingly over the din.
“I’m almost out, I think we need to loose these guys on foot.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Trust me okay, I’ve got an idea, just take the next left.”
Before he could argue any further Murdock was distracted by a sound he knew all too well.
“Shit, they’ve got a chopper!”
They had abandoned the car behind some bins out back of a large department store and had made their way hastily to the shop floor via the stock room. Now they were running through the aisles bent double so as to not risk being seen across the shop floor. The chopper had seen where they went, so it wouldn’t take Stockwell’s agents long to get there.
Helen had already grabbed a long dress that looked about 3 sizes too big for her, two pairs of sunglasses, a Stetson and a suede jacket with tassels, and was heading for some changing rooms.
“Hang on a sec” Murdock shouted in a whisper as he took a quick diversion over to a door marked ‘staff entry only’. Moments later he emerged with a couple of blonde ladies wigs and grabbing Helen by the hand renewed their dash to the ladies changing rooms. There were a few raised eyebrows as they slipped in to one of the curtained cubicles together.
Three minutes later they were looking at themselves in the mirror laughing. Helen’s laughter sounded like music to Murdock. He took her hand and gave it a squeeze, he just couldn’t help himself. Yes, she did seem to want to kill him, but damn it he liked her. He put his arm around her waist and they began to walk casually to the store exit.
Two men in dark suits and dark glasses were making their way frantically through the crowds by the checkouts when one of them bumped in to a blonde pregnant lady, resulting in an a minor altercation with her tall long blond haired wannabe cowboy boyfriend. They didn’t have time for this, they had the whole store to search, so they both apologised profusely and moved away as quickly as they could. Outside the chopper was watching the store exit from up above. Stockwell was in the passenger seat with a pair of binoculars, but if he noticed the couple walking passed the shop window that had two bald mannequins in it, it never occurred to him that it could be them.
It was evening when they pulled up at the cabin in a stolen car. It had been a long drive and they had talked all the way. They emerged carrying two brown paper bags of groceries that they had purchased with what was left of their pooled cash supply after paying for fuel and stopping off at a drive thru Burger Heaven.
They were still in disguise, except Helen was now carrying her rucksack over one shoulder and no longer using it to fake a pregnancy.
Exhausted, they let themselves in.
The cabin was surrounded by woodland, the only approach a winding dirt track. It was a quiet location. No one else seemed to be around. Inside there was a simple kitchen along the left wall with a table and four chairs in the middle. To the right there was a beat up looking couch and armchair in front of a fireplace. To the right of the fireplace was a bookcase, to the left a small table with a record player and a box of records underneath it. The second room along the back of the cabin was the only bedroom with a small ensuite bathroom within it. It was dusty and neglected, but Helen could think of worse places to be.
They put the groceries down on the kitchen table and Murdock slumped down on to a chair with his head in his hands. Helen walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault” came the muffled reply, “If it hadn’t been you it would have been someone else… and for the record, I’m glad it was you.”
Helen began looking around, dusting off the chairs, looking in cupboards, then suddenly remembering, she took off her wig and pulled the dress off over her head, her own clothes still on underneath.
While Murdock removed his hat, wig, and the suede jacket, Helen opened her rucksack and handed his own jacket back to him. He slid back in to it like it was a comfy pair of slippers, and Helen couldn’t help smiling. The fixed thrown on Murdock’s face wasn’t eased though. She could see he was really worried.
Without saying a word he opened the door and went outside, leaving her alone to become acquainted with her new surroundings.
He sat outside on the steps alone until after it got dark, then Helen came and sat beside him, handing him a glass of whisky from a bottle she had found in one of the kitchen cupboards.
They both drank and sat in silence for a while. Murdock spoke first.
“So, what exactly did Stockwell say had happened between your brother and I?”
“Does it matter? I think it’s obvious he was just hoping I’d kill you for it and not ask any questions first”
“But you’re not like that?
“You don’t know what I’m like, what I am capable of, the things I’ve done… do”
“Shall I confess everything?”
“Why not? I don’t think we’re going anywhere tonight.”
“You might not like what you hear. I’m not the person you think I am. I’m not the girl in the photo my brother showed you. She died when he did.”
Murdock fixed her with an appraising stare and drew on his photographic memory to recall the picture his friend had once proudly shown him of his sister. She was right, she was not the same girl as the girl in that photo, she was even more beautiful… strangely dark and powerful, and yet she seemed so vulnerable and so delicate. She was a flame and he was a moth, but it was totally unconscious and instinctive… she was not manipulative… she was a force of nature.
Matt had been very close to his sister. They had lost their parents in a car accident when he was 13 and she was a bit younger… maybe about 7. Their father had been a Russian scientist who defected to the U.S., taking his wife and children with him 5 years prior to that. They had no other family in The States and so they were taken in by one of their father’s colleagues and his wife, a couple who had not been able to have children of their own.
The family was wealthy and their upbringing was a privileged one, full of opportunities of which both children had been more than able to take full advantage. Their adoptive father had his own plane and had taught them both to fly, and from that point on that was all Matt wanted to do with this life, he loved it so much. Helen on the other hand was multi-talented. Matt had been so proud of her, Murdock smiled to recall how he had bragged about the girl that could speak seven languages fluently, dance ballet, play the piano and the cello, and was studying history and politics at university. They all used to tease him by making up ever more elaborate lists of his sisters talents.
Murdock just couldn’t reconcile all this with the woman sat before him now. He recognised the look in her eyes… he saw it himself every time he looked in a mirror. What could have happened to her?
“Please… I’d like to know more about the person who’s prisoner I am”
“You’re not my prisoner any more”
“Yes I am”
His voice was warm and passionate and his remark flustered her. The innuendo was plain enough, but she didn’t feel in any way prepared to respond. She had never told anyone her story before, and she didn’t think she really wanted to now, but as if guided by forces beyond her control she heard herself start to talk.
“I was 18 when Matt died, in my first year at college. Our adoptive mother had died of cancer a couple of years previously, and our father had never really got over it. He had become a drunk and he was suffering from depression. Losing Matt was the last straw I guess… he killed himself that Christmas.”
“I’m so sorry” Murdock said quietly.
“Yeah well, I went off the rails a bit. I dropped out of college… I’d been bored there anyway, and I started to hang out on the edge of society, getting in to all sorts of trouble. It was like I was dead inside. I was on auto-pilot. It hurt to stop and think so I didn’t… I just acted out all this rage I had inside me. Then one day I met this army recruiter, you know?”
“Oh yeah, I know”, said Murdock, recalling his own encounter.
“Anyway, that’s how I came to be a Sergeant in the US Army, stationed at Long Binh.”
“Long Binh? You were in Vietnam?”
“That’s right. That’s where I met Stockwell. He introduced himself to me, said he had worked with my brother and that they had been good friends… that when he found out I was in Vietnam he knew he just had to come and meet me.”
Murdock knew this was bull, but resisted the temptation to interject. He guessed from the tone in Helen’s voice that she had long since realised as much for herself.
“We went for a drink and he persuaded me to help him with what he called a ‘project’ of his. You see, he was obsessed with this group of high ranking officers that he was convinced were NVA agents… selling information to the North Vietnamese. Stockwell may be rather Machiavellian, but at the root of it he is a patriot. He hated them. He spent months gathering intelligence, but he never got anything on them he could make stick. That was until January 1971. It was the day after my 20th birthday. I got a message that Stockwell wanted to see me urgently. He had intelligence that this Colonel up north had become involved in a plot with the North Vietnamese to capture a high profile commando team and embarrass the U.S. politically. He had issued them with orders to rob the bank of Hanoi of all things. Hey, are you okay..?”
Murdock had gone white and had the most desperate look in his eyes, “You… your talking about Co… Colonel Morrison… Colonel Sam Morrison… aren’t you?”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“I think I need to hear you finish your story before I tell you mine.”
“I’m not so sure I should. Did you know him?”
“He was my commanding officer.”
“I should never have started telling you this.”
She made to get up and leave but Murdock grabbed her arm firmly “No!” he exclaimed, “No… you have to stay and finish your story. This is really important. I’ll explain why after, I promise, but you have to tell me what happened.”
Slowly and nervously she sat back down. She sighed and picked up her story where she had left off.
“Stockwell didn’t want to try and stop the robbery for some reason, maybe he couldn’t, I don’t know, but he wanted me to get a copy of the orders signed by the Colonel as evidence. I had met Morrison a couple of months earlier and he had been keen to get me transferred under his command, and not just for my language skills if you know what I mean. Stockwell figured if he sent me up north with some fake documents I could use my charms to distract Morrison and get hold of the orders. He said if I succeeded I could start to work for him… for the C.I.A. and It was better money, more interesting and challenging work… I’ll be honest, I liked that idea. I was a bit nervous when he gave me a gun to take with me… I mean we, that is women, were never armed usually, and I had never fired a gun outside of basic training.”
She was getting to the difficult bit of the story. She took a deep breath and a sip of whisky.
“So, I arrived around 8 that evening and went straight to Morrison’s office to report in, but when I got there he was actually already debriefing the pilot that had flown the commando team to Hanoi. I waited out of sight until he left and then went in.”
She was starting to find the expression on Murdock’s face rather disconcerting. He had the look of a man who’d just found religion. It was neither joy or grief, and yet it was both. What was his involvement with all this? Why did it matter to him so much? He looked so eager for her to continue, she figured the only way she would ever find out was to finish her story first, and so she continued.
“He was pleased to see me and he bought my story. I agreed to go for a drink with him that evening, maybe too easy I guess. I was expecting to have to be there for days to find an opportunity to get in his office alone, but that night, there were the orders just lying there right on his desk, and he left me alone for a moment while he went to the bathroom. I just couldn’t resist… I figured I could just pick up those orders and walk right out of there before he got back, the second I had them in my hands though he was back in the doorway. He saw what I was holding and flew in to a rage. Before I knew what was happening he had me bent back over his desk with his hands around my throat. There was a struggle, somehow I got hold of my gun, and I… I… I shot him in the head. I was so scared… I have never been so scared, I just wasn’t thinking straight. My face was spattered with blood and he was on the floor twitching, so I shot him again, and ran from the building. Just as I was leaving the enemy began shelling. I barely escaped with my life.”
Murdock couldn’t contain himself and had to interrupt, “What about your mission? Did you get the original orders for the Hanoi bank robbery off Morrison? Did you give them to Stockwell?” There was more than just curiosity in his voice.
“Sure, yeah… somehow I had the presence of mind to pick them up again. It turns out Stockwell just wanted them destroyed anyway after all that. The trap for the commando team had failed and they walked out of the Jungle a few days later with a big bag of money. Stockwell, the C.I.A., knew the truth, but the Government wasn’t interested in the truth. I think they asked not to be told. They didn’t want stories of traitors and plots hitting the headlines… it would have been devastating. The situation was embarrassing enough as it was. They had to be seen to be taking action, so I figure they decided to let those poor guys who got sent in to that trap take the fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty much everyone who ever knew the truth ended up dead. Stockwell was always very particular about tidying up loose ends… to the point of being somewhat over zealous if you ask me. He covered up Morrison’s shooting and blamed his death on the shelling to protect me. That’s when I started working as a covert operative for him… I was only a few more months in Vietnam, I came back to the U.S. for a while for training, then I spent the next few years in Europe and the Soviet Union.”
“Did you… did you destroy them?” Murdock was on the edge of his seat.
“The orders, the orders?
“What is with you? Can you calm down? As it happens, no, I didn’t destroy them.”
Murdock almost collapsed with his sigh of relief and steadied himself with another sip of whisky.
“When it came to it I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy the only evidence of the truth about what happened. It just didn’t seem right. I put them somewhere safe and forgot all about them for a while. Then the day came when I wanted to leave Stockwell’s employment. He’s not a nice man you know, and I didn’t like the stuff he wanted me to do. I had enough blood on my hands, and I just wanted to have another go at having a normal life. He wouldn’t let me quit though so I threatened him with those orders… told him if he ever came after me or anything ever happened to me they would be made public. It turns out though it’s not so easy being normal. For just over a year now I’ve been travelling all over doing odd jobs, helping people out, pitching in with good causes, using my skills such as they are. I’m no angel, and I’m no devil either… but make no mistake, I am a professional. That is what I am and how I became it. Now, are you going to tell me what you’ve been getting so excited about?”
“Christ, I hardly know where to begin. This is all so much to take in. Do you believe in coincidence?”
“Neither do I. How did you come to be back in touch with Stockwell?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a social call. He said he wanted to make a deal. He had some information he wanted to exchange for those orders”
“Oh God, his story about me killing your brother… please tell me you didn’t give them him in exchange for that…?”
“Well, he thinks I did.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No, I’m not stupid, they were just copies… very good copies, but copies.”
“This is all starting to make sense.”
“To you maybe… do you feel ready yet to tell me what’s going on?”
“I was the pilot who flew that mission to the bank in Hanoi.”
Helen’s jaw dropped.
“My friends, the A-Team, are the guys who did the robbery and got the blame”
Helen shifted uncomfortably and looked out in to the dark woods surrounding them. She really didn’t know what to make of these revelations. There were answers here, but she sensed they wouldn’t be on the surface. What kind of sick game was Stockwell playing? She was engrossed in the frantic thoughts running around her mind and it took her a moment to realise that Murdock had started talking again.
“I felt so powerless, no one in authority would believe me about having seen the orders signed by Colonel Morrison. The guys were taken straight in to custody, and they had me in for questioning over and over again. I was grounded. I was going out of my mind. One afternoon I was in this bar and there was an explosion… a bomb. I was hurt badly… a real mess, but by some miracle I survived. I was in hospital for months, wondering if I would be well enough to testify at the trial, but as it drew closer it became clear I was never going to get the chance. I had post traumatic stress disorder and I needed treatment and psychiatric care. Flashbacks, headaches, depression, trouble sleeping, memory problems, nightmares … on paper I hardly looked like a reliable witness, especially not with my reputation for being ‘crazy’ and my friendship with the accused. The prosecution had no less than three experts testify that I was nuts and nothing I had to say could be believed. After that the defence said it would do more harm than good calling me to the stand. I really let them down. I can’t put in to words the guilt I carry with me over that.”
Helen took his hand, “I know it’s not much consolation, but I doubt things would have been any different if you could have testified. They were always going to get the outcome they wanted. They were never going to let you get on the witness stand… your illness probably saved your life. In all likelihood that explosion was intended to kill you.”
Murdock continued, “I spent years living in the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in L.A,… toward the end I was there voluntarily, but when the guys came out East to work for Stockwell I wanted to stay working with them so I left and followed them out here.”
“Murdock, you’ve lost me again, what are you and your friends doing working for Stockwell?”
“They were convicted of the robbery and sentenced to 30 years, but they escaped. They’ve spent the last ten years on the run, making a living as soldiers of fortune, and I’ve been working with them… they would have to bust me out of the V.A. each time of course, but we are a team… the A-Team. We’re famous… sort of.” There was a hint of pride in his voice.
“Then about a year ago this Spanish plane was hijacked and Stockwell showed up out of nowhere telling us that Captain Curtis, the only other person apart from me who had seen the orders, had not died in the shelling of our HQ as was previously thought, but was in fact a passenger on that plane, and that he wanted us, the A-Team that is, to go to Spain, rescue this guy and bring him back to him… and let’s just say he didn’t exactly give us a choice, let alone much of an explanation, but this guy could have cleared the team of wrong doing and got them a pardon, you know?”
Helen nodded. She was still holding his hand. He seemed cool on the surface, but she sensed he was having a real hard time keeping it together to tell her all this.
“We succeeded in our mission, but it turned out that the reason Stockwell wanted Curtis was because he was an arms dealer. One minute Curtis was all ‘I’ll help clear you but please don’t turn me over to Stockwell he’ll kill me’, and the next he’s telling Stockwell that he never saw any orders but he can testify the team murdered Colonel Morrison. Cool as anything Stockwell cancels our deal and turns the team over to the military for Court Marshall, Curtis gets to testify against them but then meets with an ‘accident’. The team were sentenced to death. Then Stockwell mysteriously decides they are innocent after all and helps me rescue them, but we have to go to work for him doing a finite number of particularly dangerous and tricky missions in return, at the end of which he has promised to get the team their pardon. It’s never made much sense.”
“So how many more missions do you have to do?”
“He’s never said, but he’s been hinting that we are almost there. A couple of months back, this young guy who was working with us, Frankie, was killed during a mission. It hit us all hard, I mean, we haven’t lost anybody for years, not since the war. Stockwell said enough had been sacrificed and that he was already working on securing the pardon but that if we wanted to continue to have his protection until then we’d have to keep working for him. He’s said he’d like us to continue working for him in a more official capacity once the pardon comes through, but collectively we are still undecided on that.”
“Collectively? What about individually? Do you want to work for Stockwell?”
“Nah… no way, but we’re a team, and I’ll go with what the group decides.”
“How democratic. At least we know why Stockwell wants you dead now… if you were just a liability that would be bad enough, but your ‘no’ vote could lose him this A-Team, and it’s clear he has decided he wants them. He’s been playing games with you all along. He can’t get them that pardon, and he doesn’t want to.”
Murdock knew he should feel crushed, but instead he felt like a weight was lifted from him. After all these years, here were the answers at last. He felt healed. He felt hopeful.
“But you can.”
“You can get the team their pardon. You can prove they are innocent.”
“Now wait a minute, if I produce those orders I will have to explain how I got them. I would be sentencing myself to death. Right now, all I have to do is let Stockwell know I’ve still got the originals and I’m a free woman again. Do you see what you are asking?”
“Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow I’ll get a message to the team to get away from Stockwell and meet us here. My friend Hannibal will come up with a plan… he’s good at that”.
They had tossed a coin and Murdock got the bed. He had tried to be the gentlemen and had insisted on taking the couch but Helen insisted just as strongly that she not get any special treatment because she was a woman. When Helen woke early the following morning with a stiff back she decided that, purely in the interests of equality and fairness, she would get the bed that night if they were still there.
Helen quietly opened the bedroom door. She would have to walk through to get to the bathroom. Murdock was still asleep and snoring lightly. The bed sheets were on the floor in a crumpled heap, no doubt kicked off during the night, and Helen couldn’t help herself looking at him lying there wearing nothing but his underwear. He was an attractive man… confident with it but not vain. He began to stir and she slipped in to the bathroom without making a sound.
Murdock awoke to the sound of the shower running. He felt refreshed. He had been glad to get the bed… after all he had spent the night before drugged and tied to a chair. The revelations of the previous evening still hadn’t entirely sunk in… the world he woke to seemed surreal and uncertain. He was filled with renewed energy and determination though. He got out of bed, pulled on his pants and shuffled to the kitchen, stretching.
Helen didn’t bother getting dressed. The smell of eggs and bacon cooking was just too irresistible. Murdock wasn’t sure if she was being deliberately provocative or if she was just unselfconscious, wondering around in just a towel, her dark wet hair clinging to her smooth bare shoulders, droplets of moisture glittering on her sun kissed skin. He wasn’t sure where to look so he just concentrated on breakfast slightly more than was necessary. It didn’t go unnoticed.
Helen began tucking in to the plate of breakfast he put in front of her, but after a while she looked up, finished chewing, and spoke, “It’s okay, you can look, I don’t care.”
Murdock shook his head slightly and smiled to himself but still didn’t look up, “Perhaps you should”
Getting serious now, she put down her cutlery and laid her hands flat on the table in front of her either side of her plate, “I’m sorry, I’m just not used to… the thing is… look, if it’s bothering you I can get dressed and come back and finish my breakfast after”.
Murdock could tell he had hit a raw nerve. “It’s okay… I mean it… it’s okay, you’re fine as you are”. He still didn’t look up but he reached over and briefly placed his hand on top of hers reassuringly before casually returning to his breakfast.
Helen was touched by the gesture but It only served to make her feel worse about herself. She couldn’t eat anymore anyway, she felt uncomfortable now. She stood up and grabbed her rucksack from over on the floor by the couch and closing the bedroom door behind her she got dressed.
When she emerged he was waiting for her. Before she knew what was happening he was holding her in his arms. Cradling the back of her head with one hand and rubbing the centre of her back with the other. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had hugged her like this. She stiffened and moved to get away but he just tightened his hold on her. This hug wasn’t going to end until it had made everything okay.
Helen however was not ready to surrender to her softer side when she was around him. Trusting didn’t come easy to her and he was still a stranger, even if he didn’t feel like one. She briefly allowed herself to relax and rest her head on his bare chest. The warmth and the scent of his skin gave her goose bumps. Looking up in to his dark brown eyes she said “It’s okay”, and with that he released her and left to get ready himself.
“I don’t like it Hannibal”
BA expressed his concern the only way he knew how… with menaces. Face sighed with exasperation. He was hoping they had put this discussion to rest, and now here BA was starting it all up again. “BA, you heard what Stockwell said. Murdock left town for a few days with a woman he met.”
Hannibal had been getting increasingly concerned himself, but still wasn’t quite sure where to begin. There was no use pretending things were okay any more though. “Come on Face, you aren’t buying that. Murdock knows the rules, he would never be out of touch for more than 24 hours and it’s been almost 48. Besides, he never mentioned that he was seeing anyone.”
Face wasn’t convinced. Murdock didn’t find relationships easy. If he had met someone who was making him happy he didn’t want Hannibal and BA to blow it for him by being over protective. “Look Hannibal, Stockwell said he needs us here on standby all day today and I don’t think now would be a good time to start disobeying orders and letting him down…”.
Hannibal was well aware of the delicacy of the situation.
Murdock had said he would come over for lunch the previous day, but he didn’t, and he wasn’t at home when they called. Face had taken his date to the carnival that evening expecting to see Murdock at work, but his boss said he had never showed up. Then out of the blue this morning Stockwell, unprompted, tells them he has a message from Murdock… that he had spoken to him and he said he was going out of town for a few days with a woman he had met at work.
Stockwell was one of those people who managed to always look like he was lying even when he was telling the truth, so it was exceptionally difficult to tell when the man was being dishonest. You didn’t have to get to know him very well though to appreciate how deceitful and manipulative he was capable of being when it suited him. Hannibal was sure he had detected an edge in his voice… a strange combination of smugness and resentment. He didn’t know what it meant, but he was certain Stockwell wasn’t being entirely straight with them.
If Stockwell was lying there must be a reason. Murdock could be in danger, but he may also have been sent on some secret covert mission. Murdock would do anything for the team, and Stockwell was not above using threats and coercion to get his own way. What they had here was a paralyzing lack of information. If Murdock was in trouble though he would try to get a message to them, and the team planned for those sorts of situations.
“Okay guys, there isn’t much else we can do right now so lets just keep tuned in to talk radio and listen out for a message from our boy.”
Murdock pulled up next to a call box at a gas station just before lunch and Helen waited in the car while he got out and made the call to the lunch time help show. He wouldn’t tell her what he was going to say… said they had a code and that his friends would be listening by now. She wished she could see his mouth so she could lip read, but he was turned sideways on to her. He was getting very animated. Just watching the expression he was putting in to it made her laugh to herself.
After about five minutes he was back in the driver’s seat flashing her that smile of his before pulling away.
“Did everything go okay?”
“Oh sure. We’ve had to do this a few times before in order to hook up and it’s always worked.”
“Do you really think they’ll be able to get away from Stockwell without any problems?”
“Oh, they might have problems, but they will get away. Hannibal will come up with a plan. He always does.”
Murdock spoke with more hope than certainty Helen felt. He was talking through gritted teeth. He must really care for his friends to worry about them so much. She decided to change the subject.
“So, my brother really paint the tiger on your jacket?”
“Yeah, he was real artistic, painted anything that stood still long enough. He did a few like this for people, but I am the only one of that group still alive. This jacket and I have been through everything together. I’ve even had to patch up a few bullet holes. It’s stood the test of time though, I could never imagine wearing anything else. No doubt I’ll die wearing it.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, the war isn’t exactly happy memories for you is it… but you wear that jacket with all it’s associations. Don’t you think maybe it’s time you let go of the past and put it all behind you… let go of some of the reminders?”
Murdock laughed, “You sound just like your brother. He always said I was too sentimental. When you know me better you’ll understand.”
“Do you think I’ll have the chance?”
“… to get to know you better?”
There was a pause, and then with the most deliberate casualness and without taking his eyes off the road Murdock answered the question.
“I already feel like I’ve known you my whole life.”
Helen turned away from him to look out the passenger side window and the next few minutes passed in silence. After a while that felt like an eternity she gave her response to his.
“You do remember I tried to kill you yesterday?”
“You did not… you thought about killing me, maybe even planned to, but you did not try to.”
“But I’m not a very nice person.”
“That might be what you think about yourself, but I happen to like you.”
“You like me?”
“Yeah, I like you… sure you’re sorta scary, but that happens to be one of the things I find irresistibly attractive about you.” He grinned.
“Scary, huh? So what are the other things? Let me guess… I’m beautiful, intelligent… independent?”
“Are you all those things too? I hadn’t noticed.”
“I hope these aren’t your best lines because I will be disappointed.”
“Really? How Disappointed?”
With that he drew to stop. They were back at the cabin. He turned to face her and repeated his last question. His voice was confident and serious but his eyes begged for something… reassurance… maybe, encouragement.
Helen just gave him a modestly seductive smile and got out of the car. He watched her walk to the cabin and go inside before he moved to get out of the car himself.
She had given him everything and yet she had given him nothing, and he found her more attractive than ever.
There wasn’t much to do now except sit and wait. Helen was getting anxious and the situation was getting complicated. Common sense told her to run… to just take the car and go. Her heart and her conscience told her to stay. It was in her power to clear the names of innocent men who were being punished for her… mistakes, but would they be as forgiving as Murdock seemed to be about it?
She decided to unpack and re-pack her bag. It was a ritual that helped her calm her nerves. As she began emptying the contents out on to the floor in front of the fireplace Murdock began to glance out from behind the book he was sat reading in the armchair. Then something caught his eye and before she could stop him he was on the floor opposite her flicking through her collection of passports… A U.S. passport in the name of Amber O’Brian, a British one for a Penelope Brown, for Germany she was Dagmar Schneider, for France Claudette Dubois, in Spain Soledad Ortega, in Greece Dionne Rousakis and last but not least a very battered and tatty looking Soviet passport in the name of Ludmilla Chekhov. He made a point of sniggering at all of her passport photos, though he was really thinking how photogenic she was.
“So you travel a lot then?” he asked, handing them back to her.
“I like to have options.”
“Which one is the real you?”
“There is no real me… not anymore.”
“Okay then, well who’d you used to be?”
“I was born Yelena Victorovna Rodchenko, when I was adopted I became Helen Moore, for a while, but these days I generally go by the name Helen Rodchenko. She never existed… it’s the closest I can come to being the real me without people being able to find out who I am or where I came from.”
“You know, you don’t have to keep playing by the rules of that shadow world if you don’t want to.”
“Don’t tempt me with reality Murdock because I might not be able to resist.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Not if I didn’t get dead as a consequence of it, no. Anyway, what’s your name?”
”What do you mean? You know my name.” he said nervously.
“I know your surname. What’s your first name? What does your H.M. stand for?”
“Don’t give me that!”
“Look, it’s just an embarrassing name okay, and I haven’t used it in years, not since I was a kid. Nobody knows it, not even my closest friends, so you might as well give up asking…”
“How bad can it be? I mean, what are we talking about here…Heinz? Helmut? Heraldo? Homer..? oh, Horatio, is it Horatio?”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“You are wasting your time”
“I could torture you for it” she smiled.
“You could try.”
Helen couldn’t resist the dare and in a flash she had him pinned against the sofa, tickling his ribs and trying to get his armpits, while he wriggled and squirmed and shouted and laughed, before finally opting to go on the offensive and try tickling her back, which to his almost boyish delight resulted in excessive squealing and giggling. It wasn’t until he found himself in the rather compromising position of lying on top of her that the atmosphere suddenly changed. He could feel her body beneath him, her legs, her hips, her breasts… Why did she have to gaze up in to his eyes like that? As if caught in some kind of tractor beam, pulling him in, he felt his face descend toward hers, but before their lips could meet she turned her face away and began to wriggle out from underneath him. He let her go and allowed himself to collapse on to the floor where she had been, letting out a quiet, defeated groan as he did so.
The rest of the day passed slowly, with them mostly avoiding each other, but after dinner Murdock started flicking through the box of records, inspecting the covers one by one, dusting them off, and sorting them in to two piles, one of which was presumably ones he intended to play.
Not wanting to spend another night sleeping in her clothes Helen asked to borrow one of the spare shirts Murdock appeared to have in the closet, to which he agreed. Sure enough, while she was in the bedroom getting changed (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction started to come blasting through the walls. By the time she was brushing her teeth it was Jumpin’ Jack Flash. She lay in bed for a bit listening to the best of the Rolling Stones before giving up on the idea of getting to sleep and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Murdock was slumped in the arm chair with his eyes closed, propping up his head with a thumb to his temple. When he heard the door he opened his eyes to see Helen walk gracefully passed wearing nothing but a plaid shirt, and he sighed with a sweet mixture of longing and contentment.
The next song that began to play was Wild Horses. Helen was stood behind the sofa now sipping her glass of water and swaying gently to the melancholy tune, gazing off in to the distance. Murdock knew in that moment for the first time for certain that he was meant to be with her. She made him feel whole… complete in a way he couldn’t ever recall feeling before. He had always thought the love of his life would be the woman he would spend the rest of his life with… someone domesticated, sweet and pretty who would have his babies and cook his meals. Helen wasn’t that… she was dangerous, beautiful, funny, and wild. She would consume him and destroy him and every moment of it would be ecstasy. They had no future together… right now he thought they would be lucky to have futures apart… but they had this moment and Murdock couldn’t let it pass. He rose from his seat, took her glass from her and placed it down on the kitchen table. Taking her by the hand he pulled her in close and they began to slow dance to the music.
Wild Horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them some day
The music stopped. They kept dancing. Helen looked up in to his eyes, “Murdock there isn’t any music.”
“Yes there is.”
“No, I think you’ll find there isn’t.”
“Can’t you hear it?”
“Murdock, what music? It reached the end of the record.”
“Listen”, He leaned in close, brushing her cheek with his nose and whispered, “I know you can hear it too.”
Helen trembled at the sensation of his warm breath on her skin. It was all too heady. Her resistance was finally overcome. “I hear it.” She whispered, closing her eyes and tilting back her head slightly. Murdock felt his body instinctively accept the invitation of hers and began softly kissing her neck. She could be as hard as nails, but in his arms she was as soft and sweet and melting as ice cream on a hot day. He couldn’t get enough of her. He pulled her in even closer, raising his head back up to hers and looking deeply in to her eyes he parted his lips to move in for a kiss, but at the last moment she gently pulled her head back and aside. “I don’t kiss people who’s name I don’t know”, she said, almost triumphantly.
Unable to bear it, Murdock slowly leaned around and whispered in her ear, as if there were someone else there to hear, and then he braced himself for the expected ridicule, but it didn’t come.
“That’s not so bad” she smiled, “and you made such a fuss… Hec” He silenced her with a kiss, his lips sliding over hers with a passionate intensity, his fingers curling through her soft wavy hair as he cradled the side of head. There would be no more interruptions. Helen wanted this as much as he did. For once she wanted to be a real flesh and blood and woman and not just a shadow. She wanted to indulge her emotions. She couldn’t lose control, but she could give it up. She let out a small moan as his tongue entered her mouth. She let her hands that had been caressing his broad shoulders slide down his back to his buttocks and gave them a gentle squeeze.
Murdock was falling, down, down, down in to a place he rarely reached. This was a reckless love, but he was beyond the reach of thought or sense. As he rubbed his hand in a circular motion on her back the borrowed shirt she was wearing gradually rode up until his fingers felt the bare flesh of the small of her back, and giving in to temptation slid shamelessly lower. She gasped to feel his erection now pressing against her abdomen. Unable to resist she drew a hand around his waist and allowed her open palm to glide down in front. Murdock groaned with pleasure.
Scooping her up in his arms and kicking open the bedroom door he carried her to the bed and dropped her on to the mattress where she landed with a bounce. She smiled at him playfully and seductively while he hurriedly pulled his t-shirt over his head and unfastened his pants, dropping them to the floor with his shorts, before jumping on to the bed next to her.
They briefly rubbed noses before kissing recommenced, so tender and affectionate that Helen wished it could last forever, but it wasn’t long before Murdock was unbuttoning and removing her shirt, after which his mouth was occupied elsewhere. Time lost all meaning as he explored every inch of her with his fingers, mouth and tongue. She writhed with every exquisite sensation of his touch, delighted by the unexpected foreplay.
Pushing him over on to his back she massaged first one nipple and then the other with her tongue, before kissing her way down his abdomen and taking him in her mouth, hot and wet. Murdock’s eyes rolled back in to his head as he fought for control… he didn’t want this to end yet, not like this. This felt incredible but she was going to have to stop. He gently lifted her head with his hands and admired her breasts as she crawled back up the bed toward him, straddling him as she did so. Her head was low against his chest, her hair brushing against him. He took her hips in his hands as she pulled back up and mounted him, immediately beginning to rock back and forth. He laid a hand flat on her abdomen and helped her maintain her rhythm. She tossed her head back and let out indescribable sounds of pleasure and satisfaction.
She leaned forward low over him and he placed one hand on her back and one her buttocks and rolled over on top of her. She giggled with delight as he kissed her and began thrusting in to her gently but energetically, her pelvis rising up to meet him. The room began to fall away as she felt herself reach the edge and hover there as Murdock caught up, his breathing heavy and his face set with determination. The balance tipped and she was gone, trembling beneath him in the blissful agony of release. Moments later he was there too, suddenly still, his facial muscles relaxed and letting out a roar of attainment.
He lay there on top of her for a minute while he got his breath back before rolling off her and taking her in his arms. She slid her arms back around him and they just lay there holding each other, there faces so close together they were breathing in each other’s breath, gazing adoringly in to each other’s eyes. Nothing needed to be said, and they stayed that way until they fell asleep.
Murdock sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes, vaguely aware of someone calling his name and telling him to wake up. It was a mans a voice… a familiar voice.
As the room around him came in to focus he saw Helen sat up in bed holding the covers up to her chest with one hand and pointing her gun at the door with the other. In the doorway stood Hannibal, Face and BA.
“Hi Guys! I see you’ve met Helen.”
Reassured by his recognition Helen lowered the gun.
“Murdock, we got your message. This better be important.” Said Hannibal now making his way further in to the room, picking up Murdock’s pants off the floor and handing them to him.
“Oh it is… the most important thing ever.”
Face flashed Helen an amused and knowing smile, but she just glared back at him. “Well I hope we’re not interrupting anything”, he said with wicked grin.
Murdock was sat on the edge of the bed pulling on his pants already.
“Helen’s… well, she… she was sort of sent to kill me by Stockwell.”
“Stockwell?” said Hannibal with concern.
“Kill you?” said BA with disbelief.
“Well then, I wish Stockwell would send someone to kill me that way.” Face quipped.
Helen flopped backward on to the bed and pulled the covers over her face.
“I think we need to have a talk Captain.” said Hannibal and he turned and left the room, Face and BA following after.
Murdock finished dressing and moved around and sat down on the bed next to Helen. Overcoming her resistance he carefully pulled back the covers she was still hiding under. She had such pretty eyes. “It’ll be okay”, he said warmly and kissed her on the forehead, and with that he left the room.
Helen looked out the bedroom window at the four men stood outside in intense discussion. They had been out there for over an hour and she had heard raised voices a few times. They must hate her.
She wanted to trust Murdock, but if she was wrong… if she didn’t act soon she would be their prisoner. She was outnumbered now. Surely they wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice her to save themselves?
Quietly she went out the front door. A black van was parked out front and it’s side door was open. Cautiously, Helen walked over and peered inside. There was a rifle just lying there on one of the seats. She carefully picked it up and made her way back to the cabin. She stuffed her belongings back in to her rucksack, tucked her gun in to the waistband of her jeans and made her way back outside with every intention of taking the car that she and Murdock had ‘borrowed’ and getting out of there as fast as possible. To her surprise she had to fight back tears. She really did like him.
Just as she got outside Hannibal, Face and BA were coming back around to the front of the cabin. Without hesitation she took aim.
“I hope you don’t mind if I borrow this rifle.”
“Well, as a matter of fact we do.” said Hannibal coolly, lighting a cigar.
“How about I trade you for it?”
“What you got to trade?”
“Your lives for the gun.”
“I don’t like that trade.” he grinned, totally blasé.
With that Helen felt the barrel of a gun against the back of her head. She didn’t have to look to know it was Murdock.
“Don’t make me shoot you on our first date. That wouldn’t be the classy thing to do.” he said sweetly.
Helen lowered the weapon and he reached around and took it off her. “… and the rest” he said.
She pulled her gun from her jeans with her finger tips and tossed it away. Face walked over, picked it up and pointed it back at her.
Hannibal took a puff of his cigar. “Miss Rodchenko, lets go inside. I think we need to talk.”
“It’s Major actually”
“Well, Major, you’ll forgive us if we don’t salute.”
Helen turned around and began to walk back in to the cabin passed Murdock. He took her hand and she stopped and turned to look him in the eye.
“You know I was just kiddin’… I would never shoot you”, he said.
“Really?” she said sarcastically.
“Ah, come on, you must have thought I’d do it, or why’d you surrender?”
“I was bluffing too stupid.”
“You know, Murdock… I think I like this girl.” said Hannibal as he drew level with them on his way passed in to the cabin.
The sky was pink with the sunset and Helen watched the road roll away beneath them as she stared fixedly out the front window from where she was sat in the back of the van between Murdock and Face.
It had been a long day. There had been lots of questions, but to her surprise the A-Team didn’t seem to blame her for what had happened in Vietnam. She felt ambivalent though… on the one hand her instincts told her she could trust them and that they were good people, but on the other she didn’t feel comfortable dropping her guard that way and that made her nervous. Rule number one was trust no one. Rule number two would have to be don’t go falling in love with people you are sent to kill. She couldn’t possibly have fallen in love with Murdock though could she? The idea was ridiculous.
She turned to look at him only to find he was already looking at her and looked like he had been for some time. She felt his hand slip round her waist and she lent in close toward him resting her head on his chest. He pressed his lips to the top of her head and, perhaps satisfied now with the reassurance of this contact, he began to look straight ahead, lost in his thoughts. She just closed her eyes and listened to his heart beat. She felt like a child. She used to think she was tough but now she was realising she never had been… it had all been an act… an act so good she had even fooled herself. All the pain and the anger melted away and ceased to matter when she was with him. How would she ever let him go?
With that her thoughts turned to the mission ahead. The orders were in a safe deposit box at a branch of Credit Suisse in Zurich in the name of one of her many aliases… Claudette Dubois, a dancer from Paris. It was agreed they would take a commercial flight to Zurich via Paris and she would travel under that name. Hannibal had gleefully told them that his plan would involve crossing the Alps in to Italy, which had been met with groans and smiles and the shaking of heads from the rest of the team, but Helen couldn’t help but admire the man’s sense of humour and adventure. The guy had style. There would be no elephants though… they would be taking the train. Apparently the team had a friend living in Milan, a reporter called Amy Allen. She would fly back to the states with the orders and try to get someone in authority to listen.
It had to be the most stupid plan Helen had ever heard. There were a lot of unanswered questions. They were just hoping it would all work out. Face had said something about them ‘being on the jazz’ and she made a mental note to ask what he had meant by that at some point. She had a feeling she was going to both love it and hate it. She was becoming increasingly aware though of a feeling that had been growing inside her since this whole thing began… this was game over for her. She had no where left to run. Once the team got their pardon Stockwell would hunt her down and make an example of her. This was certain.
She felt a slight jolt and opened her eyes as the van pulled to a halt. BA leaned around his seat to look over in to the back, “We’re here” he said, “but I ain’t sure about this Hannibal… you know how I hate to fly”.
Murdock extracted his arm from around Helen’s waist and gave a big stretch, “There’s nothing to worry about big guy, there’s almost nothing that can go wrong with these babies”.
“Yeah… almost.” smirked Face.
Hannibal leaned round to address Face, “Lieutenant, do you think you could get us upgraded to first class, I think I’d like to do this one in style?”
“Hannibal, we don’t have any tickets to upgrade!” he said exasperated.
“Don’t worry Face, I’m sure you’ll think of something creative.”
Murdock stood on the balcony of their room in the Hotel Eden au Lac, watching boats glide silently through the calm water of Lake Zurich, bathed in the warm, reddish light of the setting sun. The bank was closed by the time they arrived in the city, so Face worked his special brand of magic once again and got them all the most sumptuous accommodations in town for the night. No one said, but something about all this felt like the last time, and they were all living like they had nothing to lose.
Hannibal came out to join him, lighting up a cigar. “How you doin’ Cap’n?”
“Er… I was just admiring the view here Colonel”
“Yeah, it sure is pretty ain’t it?”
There was a thoughtful pause and then Hannibal revealed the purpose of the conversation.
“So… will you go to her tonight?”
Murdock shifted uncomfortably but gave no answer.
“I only ask because I care Murdock. I know you’ve formed an attachment to this woman and that it means something to you, more than just… more than just the physical side of things. I mean, two people don’t chatter away to each other in French for five hours out of a seven hour flight unless they are really in to each other, right? I also saw you both slip off to the bathroom when you thought we were all asleep.”
Murdock was blushing now, but Hannibal continued with his speech.
“I just think you should be sure she feels the same way before you go giving your heart away. You can’t be sure of this woman’s intentions.”
“Maybe, but I think it’s too late for that.”
“Then I hope for your sake it all works out.”
“It doesn’t matter. She will have been worth it.”
Hannibal took a puff on his cigar and briefly rested his hand on Murdock’s shoulder before going back inside. It was getting dark now and the city was splintering in to a glowing myriad of colours.
Helen entered the hotel restaurant with the grace and confidence of Claudette Dubois. She always found something tremendously liberating about pretending to be someone else. During their brief stop off in Paris she had gone shopping. Everything she was wearing, from her underwear to her perfume was authentically French. It was the details that made the difference.
She saw the four men dressed for dinner sat waiting for her. They were laughing and joking with each other like they didn’t have a care in the world. She felt a warm fuzzy feeling inside. They were like brothers… a family, and being accepted by them, even in a small way, could make a person feel… well, more alive than she could remember having felt in a long time.
Murdock saw her first and after staring for a moment transfixed he stood up, as did the rest of the guys shortly after. Helen smiled. She could see from the look on his face that he approved of the black silk backless dress she was wearing. The waiter helped her to her seat and she sat down with them.
“You look… beautiful” Murdock said in French.
“Thanks, you look pretty good yourself” she replied, admiring his suit.
In order to keep up their cover both she and Murdock spoke in English with very convincing French accents for the rest of evening. Hannibal was doing his rich Texan routine, with Face as his P.A. and BA as his bodyguard. It was no burden for them all to play lets pretend. They were all well practiced at it and they had fun with it. They drank champagne and laughed and ate the most delicious food. It was a wonderful evening.
As they got up to leave the restaurant Helen shuddered and felt a chill down her spine. There was that feeling of doom again.
“Hey, are you alright?”, Murdock whispered, placing his hand on her back, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“What? Oh… yes, I’m fine, it’s just… look, just don’t leave me tonight okay?”
“Are you kidding? Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.” he winked.
Helen emerged from the bank carrying a large brown envelope. You could cut the atmosphere in the waiting taxi with a knife. As she got in she handed the envelope to Hannibal who wasted no time in opening it while she gave instructions to the driver to take them to Bahnhofplatz, Zurich’s main station.
If you had looked closely you would have been able to see Hannibal’s hands shaking as he held the document that had changed his life… all their lives, forever. The slightly yellowing ten year old piece of paper with Colonel Morrison’s signature right there on it seemed like an object of great power. He passed it around for everyone to see, but no one spoke until he put it away in his briefcase.
“Hey man, is that car following us?” said BA
“I don’t know BA.” Said Hannibal glancing round, “Helen, do you think you could tell the driver there is a big tip in it for him if he can lose them.”
The driver sped up a bit and took a few unexpected short cuts, but the car behind didn’t give chase. Nonetheless Hannibal had a bad feeling.
“When we get to the station guys I think we should head straight for the train, no hanging around, okay.”
Once the train had pulled out of the station everyone had relaxed a bit but Helen knew something must be wrong. This was too easy. Stockwell was here already, watching them and waiting for an opportunity. She couldn’t explain how she knew. she could just sense it.
The guys watched her as she silently reached up in to the luggage rack to get her bag before taking out her gun and a small but scary looking knife which she proceeded to conceal about her person.
“What’s wrong?” asked Hannibal
“Who? Stockwell? Did you see him?”
“Don’t ask me how I know, I just know, okay.”
She seemed so in earnest that despite the vagueness of her intuition the guys felt ready to trust it, but before they could make similar moves to arm themselves the door to their compartment slid open and sure enough there was General Hunt Stockwell stood before them.
“I thought I might find you Gentlemen here… and the Major of course, looking lovely as ever.”
He entered the compartment, closing the door behind him. At least two of his agents were clearly visible posted outside the door. There were probably more on the train. He seemed unnervingly confident despite the gun that Helen was pointing at him.
“What do you want Stockwell?” Hannibal asked as he lit up a cigar.
Stockwell flashed him an angry look, “Colonel, I offered you and your men an opportunity and you have betrayed my trust and broken our agreement.”
“Don’t waste your breath General. We know everything.”
“Nobody knows everything Smith. For example, you don’t know that I anticipated your somewhat predictable strategy and sent my men to directly to Milan to see your friend Miss Allen.”
With that he removed a Polaroid from his top pocket and handed it to Hannibal. It was a picture of Amy, bound and gagged, lying on the floor of what was presumably her apartment. Hannibal didn’t flinch but his eyes showed he was defeated. The rest of the guys looked sick. They didn’t need to see the photo to guess what it showed.
Helen lowered her gun and spoke, “Me for her”.
“No deal” Stockwell said smugly, “I want the orders too, the genuine article this time, no clever forgeries”
Hannibal glanced in turn at the other members of the team and they all gave their consent with their eyes. He opened the briefcase and handed the envelope to Stockwell who opened it and inspected the document carefully before taking out his lighter and setting fire to the corner.
The A-Team watched in horror as their last hope went up in flames. Murdock in particular felt paralyzed by the situation. His mind was in total panic. Helen was leaving with Stockwell and he couldn’t think of anything he could do to prevent it.
As the last fragments of paper glowed orange, turned black and fell to the floor, Helen stood up to go. Murdock knew he had to let her, but she wasn’t going to walk out on him without saying goodbye. He stood up and threw his arms around her, squeezing her tight like his life depended on it.
“Major, this is our stop” Stockwell interrupted, as the train began to slow and pull in to the next station.
On impulse Murdock removed his jacket and moved to put it on her.
“No, Murdock, I couldn’t, this is special to you.” she protested.
“So are you” he said, not daring to make eye contact, “Besides, you were right… it’s time I let go. This jacket reminds me of the war, but it reminds you of your brother… and now me.”
She put on the jacket and kissed him gently on the lips before heading out the door passed Stockwell, who lingered a moment longer, smirking at his triumph.
“I trust this is the end of our relationship gentlemen. You do of course realise that you no longer have my protection and will be wanted men once again. If I were you I wouldn’t return to the States. I will of course arrange for the immediate release of Miss Allen as soon as I disembark”, and with that he left.
As the train pulled slowly out the station Murdock wandered out in to the corridor to look out the window and watch Helen leave the platform with Stockwell. She glanced back over her shoulder in his direction and seeing him there mouthed ‘I love you’ at him before one of Stockwell’s men roughly grabbed her arm and pushed her forward through the station doors out of sight.
Murdock didn’t go back in to the cabin for about half and hour, but when he did he immediately noticed that Helen had left her bag behind.
“Hey look” he said, pulling it down from the luggage rack.
“That’s odd” said Hannibal, “She didn’t strike me as the sort of person who forgot things.”
“She wasn’t” said Murdock as he opened it and began to look inside.
There were a few items of clothing and other odds and ends, but resting clearly on top was a plain brown envelope with ‘To the A-Team’ written on it. Murdock removed it and held it up for the others to see.
“Well I’ll be damned” said Hannibal with awe.
“Is that what I think it is?” said BA.
“She pulled the same trick on him a second time” said Face.
Murdock removed the contents of the envelope and handed them to Hannibal. These were the original orders for the Hanoi bank robbery. Once you had something to compare them to it was obvious that the others were fake. There was still some weight in the envelope so Murdock tipped it up and shook it out. A postcard from Zurich fell out on to his lap. He looked at it in silence for a moment before reading it out loud.
Sorry I couldn’t tell you the plan. The look on your faces was key to Stockwell believing he had the originals. I always knew it would have to be this way. People like me don’t get second chances. Good luck getting your pardon. I have a good feeling that everything will work out fine for you guys now. Love, H.
6 Months Later
It had taken 3 months for the team’s pardon to finally come through. Not surprisingly it was all kept as low key as possible. At first they hadn’t really known what to do with themselves, but a few weeks ago they had decided to go in to business legitimately doing, as close as possible, to what they had always done and were, even if they said so themselves, very good at.
Back home now in Los Angeles, they had established an office from which to do business. From the gold lettering on the door that proudly said ‘The A-TEAM Security Services’ to the photos on the wall of past satisfied customers, every bit was perfect.
General Fulbright’s daughter Tia, who had returned with them from a mission in Vietnam once, would be running the office for them, while they would hopefully be out on jobs most of the time.
They all had plenty to do when they weren’t out on jobs too. BA was back at the day care centre, Hannibal was acting again, and Face was re-building his relationship with Rina, the model he had fallen for years ago but had been unable to be with because he was on the run. He had looked her up again the moment their pardon had come through and now they were engaged already.
Everybody else’s lives seemed to be coming together, but Murdock felt like his was falling apart. Stockwell had got his revenge when he had found out he had been tricked about the orders. He sent Murdock a newspaper clipping about an unidentified woman matching Helen’s description whose body had been pulled out of the river Thames in London with a bullet in her head and her hands and teeth removed. After that Murdock had actually spent two weeks back in the VA hospital.
At Hannibal’s’ suggestion they had all flown to London to pay their last respects. After all, they owed her their freedom. They had stood on Tower Bridge and Murdock threw some flowers down on to the water for her.
He had since thrown himself in to regaining his pilots licence and if nothing else he showed enthusiasm for the teams new business, but this worried Hannibal. Murdock wasn’t just grieving about a woman he knew for a week several months ago, he didn’t care if he lived or died anymore, and this made Hannibal nervous taking him along on missions.
Today though was a special day and a happy day, the grand opening of their new venture. All their past clients had been invited and it turned out to be quite a crowd. Their reporter friends Amy and Tawnia were there too, as were some old army buddies and the few other friends and relatives they had between them all.
Murdock was stood in a corner trying not to look miserable, holding a glass of champagne he wasn’t drinking.
It was the red dress that caught his eye first. It looked slightly odd paired with the worn looking brown leather jacket, but it was it’s occupant which held his gaze. In fact, his jaw dropped and his glass slipped from his hand and shattered on the floor causing the room to fall silent as everyone looked in his direction.
“Helen!” he gasped, and the whole room now turned to look at the young woman he was addressing. She was about 6 months pregnant and glowing, but otherwise looking very uncertain and nervous.
“Oh my God! Helen!” he said again, before vaulting over a desk and striding toward her, hesitating only momentarily before warmly embracing her.
Suddenly becoming aware of the attention they were drawing he took her by the hand and led her in to one of the glass walled offices off to the side of the reception area they were in, closing the door behind him.
“I thought you were dead” he said fighting back tears of joy and relief, “Stockwell sent me a newspaper clipping…”
“Oh God, I didn’t realise he would do that… If I’d known… I’m so sorry. I sent him that. I had to take on the identity of the assassin he sent after me… that clipping was about her. I had to make him think he had succeeded. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, It’s okay, I’m just glad you’re alright and… and your pregnant.”
“I’m going to be a dad? I’m going to be a dad!” he said excitedly.
“Only if you want to be. I didn’t come here with any expectations, I just… I just wanted, that is, I just thought you should have the choice… and we’re not a package deal. If you don’t want me but you still want to be part of the baby’s life that’s okay. My feelings… my feelings haven’t changed.”
“Are you kidding? I died when I thought I’d lost you forever. I love you so much… I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
He leaned in and kissed her tenderly, but after a moment Helen stopped him.
“Are you really sure? I have to tell you… I have to tell you first… about Stockwell… I had to…” she rested her hand on her belly.
Murdock placed his hand on top of hers, “I would have done the same. I would have done it for you if I could.”
He kissed her again and then just stood looking in to her eyes. She looked back. Everything he needed to know was there.
“Wait here a minute” he said, and he dashed back out in to the reception area and persuaded BA to lend him a ring, before running back in and dropping down on one knee in front of her and taking her hand. He slid the oversized ring on to her finger and held it there to prevent it dropping off.
“Err… this is just temporary” he said smiling, and then taking a deep breath, “Would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?”
Helen felt dizzy with surprise. It had taken her weeks to pluck up the courage to come and see him. She was so sure he would have moved on already, and she didn’t even dare to think how he might react at seeing her pregnant. She certainly wasn’t expecting to be welcomed with open arms and proposed to. She hoped he wasn’t just saying it because he felt obligated. She looked in to his warm, loving, dark eyes and knew that wasn’t the case.
The crowd that had gathered in the doorway following Murdock’s return burst in to spontaneous applause and whooping.
Hannibal lit up a cigar and glanced around the room… at Face with Rina and Eric, and his sister Ellen, BA and his mother, Maggie Sullivan smiling at him, Lin Duk Choo, Kid Harman and Dana with their son Jack, Trish Brenner and Ray Jnr., Tia, Amy, Tawnia and Brian, and now Murdock happy with Helen. Everybody he cared about was here and for once they were all safe and everything was alright… at least for the moment.
“Hey, you know what everybody…” he spoke loudly to get everyone’s attention,
“I love it when a plan comes together”.