Summary: An answer to the relationship challenge. Enough said.
Disclaimer: No, I have not bought all the rights to our heroes since
last I posted. <sigh> They still aren’t mine. Hannibal followed
me home after this story, but I swear he came willingly. I’ll
return him in good condition in plenty of time for the movie. Okay?
I’m a crack shot. No boast there, just the truth. You want me to hit a dime taped to a sheet of paper from a hundred yards away at a drop angle of forty degrees? No problem. With the right ammo, I could probably make change.
But you make that dime a pale, deep blue eye and have me look at that through my scope… Totally different thing. *I can’t shoot this man.* I rolled over onto my back and rested the rifle across my chest. *Damn it all to hell.* The sky, eerily the same color as that eye, stared back at me. *Come on, make yourself do this. If you want to see anyone you’ve ever cared about alive again, do this. Don’t think. Just think of it as a match and make the shot.* I rolled back onto my stomach and painstakingly resumed my position. He was almost making it too easy, just standing there without a care in the world.
The blue eye once again came into focus in my scope. I tried not to notice its sparkle, the obvious intelligence behind it. *Breathe, release, aim…*
I pulled it. I swear I didn’t do it consciously. That shot should, by rights, have hit him squarely in the left eye. It barely grazed his temple. *Shit.*
He was diving for cover, but I wasn’t watching. I was halfway down the fire escape before he ever hit the door. You didn’t shoot at the leader of the A-Team, fail to kill him, and hang around to watch the shit hit the fan. *I’m as good as dead, and thanks to me, so is my family. What the hell am I going to do?*
***** What else could I do? The next morning I walked into Li’s Chinese Laundry, gazed evenly into too-familiar eyes, and announced that I wanted to hire the A-Team.
I had called the night before and left a message at a number that was generally only avilable to people who had already gone to great lengths to track down the A-Team. Still, part of me doubted Smith would show up to meet me. He *had* been shot the previous afternoon, after all, even if I had only managed to give him a minor wound.
But the moment I stepped into the laundry, there he was. I have to admit that it’s one of his better disguises–the character bears almost no resemblance to Hannibal. Mostly I think it’s those hideous teeth…but I digress.
I let him ramble briefly about the vagaries of the laundry business and the trials of life in general and the wisdom of the Master before I cut him off mid-proverb to say, “I called last night and left a message.”
“Ah,” he said sagely, “then your problem not with laundry.”
“No,” I agreed.
“The Master say, `It is a wise man who know when to ask for help.’ What kind of trouble you in, Missy?”
“I’m being blackmailed.” Truth, as far as it went.
“I don’t know.” Also true.
“You don’t know?” He peered at me from beneath those bushy fake eyebrows, managing to make me feel even more idiotic than I already did.
“I got knocked on the head outside my apartment in Alabama and woke up in a cheap hotel room in East L.A. with a file folder of instructions and threats lying on my chest. I never saw anybody.” Further truth.
“What you supposed to do?”
*Decision time. I could probably get him to believe I’m just supposed to help trap them. Sounds better than the truth.* Those were pretty much my thoughts on the matter, so I was shocked to hear my own voice saying, “Kill the A-Team.”
I’m not sure what kind of reaction I expected. Violence, possibly. Having a gun shoved in my face, almost certainly. For damn sure not what actually happened.
He straightened out of his stooped posture, popped out the horrid teeth, stripped off the wig–I noted that he had quite a nice long bullet track down the side of his head–and said in his normal voice, “The Master also says the truth will set you free. Congratulations, Miss Metadi, you’ve just hired the A-Team.”
I lost my breath and simply stood there and gaped at him. *How the hell…*
“The article about you in American Marksman was quite good,” he went on calmly. “First woman to shoot a perfect match in a regional final and all that. The picture was didn’t quite do you justice, but then, you were wearing an eye patch. What was that, last September’s issue?”
“Uhm…I…yes, it was.” *Way to think things through, Dani. Of course he recognizes you, you idiot! He reads shooting magazines.*
He reached up and touched his temple lightly. “Why’d you miss?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose.” *Jesus, dig a deeper hole for yourself, why don’t you?*
He laughed. He actually laughed. I’d just admitted to coming within a hair’s breadth of shooting him dead on the front steps of his own apartment building, and the man was laughing. “I doubt that.”
I guess he had a point. I hit what I aim at. “I just…I never shot anybody, and I couldn’t do it.” *Why do I feel like a fool admitting that to him?*
“Good. You’d be the Secret Service’s worst nightmare.” He sounded utterly serious, but his eyes were still laughing.
That was probably true, too, though. Just to look at me, I’m the last person anyone would suspect of being an assassin. “Thanks, I think.” What else was I supposed to say?
He raised his voice. “Come on out, guys!”
Peck stepped out from behind a huge pressing machine and returned the .357 he was holding to his shoulder holster. Baracas rose up from the floor on the other side of the counter, an M-16 in his hands. I realized belatedly why Smith hadn’t felt compelled to pull a gun on me. I also realized it was a good thing I’d told him the truth.
“The Sniper” 3/?
I told them everything I knew, which suddenly didn’t seem like much. A week earlier I’d been walking out of my apartment in Birmingham on my way to the rifle range to practice, when somebody hit me over the head.
I woke up in a cheap hotel room in LA. In addition to myself it contained (in the order I noticed things) hideously tacky wallpaper, a pile of file folders–one of which was balanced on my chest, a large briefcase, my own rifle case, a stack of folded clothing, and a wad of money. I’m not sure what it says about me as a person that the first thing I did was check to see whether my rifle was still in its case. It was.
After that I opened the folder that had been on my chest, and I knew I was in big trouble. It was full of pictures of my family and friends. Every one had a current address on the back. There was also a letter. Typed and unsigned, it gave very explicit directions and equally explicit threats. If I ever wanted to see anyone I cared about alive again, I had to kill four people I’d never met.
That was what the other folders were–dossiers on my targets. The big briefcase I’d noticed had a collapsible sniper rifle in it. (I guess they figured I wasn’t a big enough idiot to shoot anyone with my own.) Additionally, there was a map of LA with locations marked.
BA interrupted my narrative at that point to ask why I hadn’t gone to the cops. “If somebody sent you a picture of your mother and threatened to kill her if you didn’t do what they said, would you call the police?” I didn’t wait for him to answer.
Basically, I didn’t see that I had a choice. I was vaguely aware from news reports that the A-Team were fugitives from the military police, but that was about all I knew. I didn’t want to shoot anybody, but better four criminals than my family, I figured.
So I sat down to go over the files, figuring out step-by-step how to murder four men. Whoever had done the legwork was very thorough indeed. Smith really was starring in an exceptionally bad horror movie. Baracas really was working in a garage, where he spent almost every night working on his van alone. Murdock really was a patient in the VA psychiatric ward. And Peck, bizarre as it sounded, really did have one of the richest men in LA convinced that he was his long- lost nephew George. It should have been a shooting gallery.
Trouble was, whoever had done the files had given me too much information. I had their service records, news clippings about their exploits… I knew they weren’t the bad guys here. I certainly knew they didn’t deserve to die.
That’s why I couldn’t shoot Hannibal. It would have been wrong, and I knew it. So against my better judgement here I was.
“That’s it,” I finished.
Hannibal nodded. “Good enough. Face, you and BA go get Murdock. If one person is out gunning for us, there could be more, and he’s a sitting duck at the VA.”
The two of them glanced uneasily from him to me. “Hannibal–” Peck began.
“What do you think she’s going to do, Face, throw something at me?” He chuckled. “Go on.”
At the time it struck me as funny that they didn’t want to leave him there with me. He was right–without my rifle I was absolutely zero threat to him. I hadn’t figured out yet that they stayed alive only by being that concerned about each other.
While the other two were gone Hannibal walked me back through my story, asking for further details several times. He went through three cigars, and I was just considering the advisability of asking whether he’d care if I opened a window when the van pulled up outside. Baracas and Peck got out, followed by…
I blinked. *The stress is getting to you, kid.* I looked again. Yep, there really was a man in a floor-length black robe trotting along at Peck’s heels. He was brandishing what looked like (but surely couldn’t be?) a plunger handle. The navy blue ball cap on his head only made the overall picture all the more incongruous. I snorted.
“That’s Murdock,” Hannibal said unnecessarily. “You’ll get used to him.”
“Used to him?” I repeated. “I think I like him already.” I turned to face Hannibal and caught him grinning. It was the first time I’d ever seen that grin outside of surveillance photos.
“In that case, you might be all right after all. Let’s go.”
Automatically, I followed him.