“Murdock, do you really expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with the A-Team?” Dr. Richter said with exasperation. His eyes took in the fresh ankle cast, and the bruises and cuts that were just starting to heal on the pilot’s face.
“I don’t know what you mean, Doc,” Murdock said with a grin. “I told you, I was – -“
“- – visiting your cousin Paulo in Texas, and you fell off a horse and broke your ankle. I know the official story, Murdock. I also know you don’t have a cousin Paulo in Texas or anywhere else. You do, however, have three ex-Special Forces friends who like to bust you out of here using all manner of fabrications.”
Murdock looked at the doctor with feigned surprise.
“Don’t give me that look, Murdock. I’ve known you for some time now, and you can’t tell me you’re not in touch with the A-Team. The nurses all know your good-looking blonde friend, for heaven’s sake. What do you call him? Elbows? The Nose?” Richter flipped through the file sitting in front of him.
“Ah-ha! So you do know who I’m talking about,” Richter said triumphantly, leaning forward and pointing at Murdock accusingly.
“Of course I know who you’re talkin’ about, Doc. I read the papers. Those guys are wanted by the military.”
“And you’re their pilot.”
“I was their pilot. In ‘Nam. You know I don’t have a license anymore. Can’t fly anything in this place ‘cept paper airplanes.” Murdock’s deep voice was touched with genuine sadness.
“Okay, Captain, you win. Next time you visit your, um, cousins, tell them to take better care of you. That’s all I ask. You’re my patient and your well-being is my responsibility. If your ~cousins~ can’t remember that, then we’re going to have to pay a little more attention to your comings-and-goings. Understood?”
Murdock eased himself up onto his crutches and gave a hearty salute.
“Aye-aye, Doc,” he said, and headed for the door.
“Murdock, you know you can trust me, don’t you? I wouldn’t betray your friends. I just want to help you and I can’t do that if you don’t tell me the truth.”
Murdock looked back over his shoulder, his gaze clear and steady.
“Truth’s a dangerous thing, Doc. But I hear ya. Yessir, truth’s a strange puppy. Come on, Billy, let’s see if the nurses have some treats for you.”
Richter watched his patient retreat down the hallway, encouraging his invisible dog Billy to keep up. Richter closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. There was no one quite like H.M. Murdock.
One week earlier
Murdock gripped the controls of the Lockheed Electra in both hands and listened to the wheezing left engine. Hannibal sat in the co-pilot’s seat and watched Murdock’s eyes flitting over the dials in front of him. The left radial engine chuffed loudly and let off a small burst of bluish exhaust.
“I don’t know, Colonel. I didn’t think we took a hit back there, but she’s having trouble makin’ up her mind whether she wants to fly or not.” Murdock patted the dashboard gently. “Come on, sweetheart. Hold together for Murdock!”
Hannibal pulled out the navigation map that had been tossed carelessly on the dash in front of him and opened it up. Face leaned over Murdock’s shoulder, resting a hand lightly against Murdock’s back. His lips were tight, and he could feel every vibration through the metal under his feet. Face could see the dense jungle canopy flash beneath them as he looked out the window. He had a bad feeling about this.
“Could be contaminated fuel,” Murdock continued, thinking out loud. “Sometimes crooked suppliers water down the gas to make a few bucks. It’s not real noticeable on short hops, but it screws up the engines somethin’ awful in the long haul. What’s the map say, Hannibal?”
“I’ve got an area stretching from Texas down into Mexico,” Hannibal said, as the right engine started to cough and the airplane dropped suddenly.
“Sorry,” Murdock said, pulling the aircraft back to its cruising altitude. “Downdraft. Nasty little buggers. Lose a few hundred feet here and there but nothing to worry about. Face, you can let go now.”
Sheepishly, Face released his grip on Murdock’s right shoulder. Murdock looked over at the map Hannibal was holding.
“Flip it over, Colonel. See how far into Mexico it goes ’cause we’re not even out of Guatemala.”
Hannibal flipped the map over. “More Texas.”
“That’s not gonna help.” The left engine made a sound like a backfire. The three of them stared helplessly out the window as the left prop slowed and the engine lost power. Murdock gave full throttle to the right engine. They could feel the nose pull to the left as the wing began to drag without the engine to maintain thrust. Murdock adjusted a lever, feathering the dead engine to minimize the drag from the windmilling propeller and the wing. The right engine rumbled erratically as Murdock compensated.
“Yeah, Murdock, what do you need?” Face said quickly.
“Check on the big guy. Make sure he’s strapped in tight, then do the same for yourself. Away from the windows. That second engine’s gonna go any time. I can’t guarantee a cushy landing.”
Face and Hannibal exchanged a glance. They’d known Murdock long enough to know that this was the real deal.
“See you on the flip-side,” Face said, gently squeezing the pilot’s shoulder. Murdock nodded in return, eyes darting between the side windows and the dials in front of him.
“She’s startin’ to shimmy worse than a belly dancer with a stutter,” Murdock said as Face slipped out of the cockpit. Hannibal could feel the unevenness of the plane as Murdock reduced the throttle and let the plane descend to a lower altitude.
“Can you set her down?” Hannibal asked.
“I think so, but she’s not a chopper. Can’t land her on a dime. Need at least a half-dollar,” Murdock said, furrowing his brow and glancing out the window. “Once that other engine gives, we’ll only have a few miles of glide. We’ve got to find somewhere to set this down. A field. A valley. Even a decent-sized clearing. I just don’t want to take her into the trees if I can help it. Harder to control the damage.”
Hannibal nodded and grabbed the pair of binoculars that Murdock handed him and started scanning ahead for possible landing zones. The right engine sputtered a few times and lost power, propeller wheeling in the wind.
“That’s it, Colonel. That’s all she’s got. Show time.”
Murdock feathered the right prop, then gripped the controls to slow the plane’s descent. He concentrated on keeping the wings level, and scanned the horizon for a landing spot among the green.
“Where am I?” B.A. Baracus looked around. He took in the cylindrical shape of the metal roof, the uncomfortable seat, the seatbelt strapped tightly around his waist.
“Hannibal!” B.A. yelled. “I’m on a plane! You guys put me on a plane!”
“Come on, B.A., get a grip,” Face said from somewhere behind B.A.’s shoulder. “It’s not like it’s the first time.”
“I’m on a plane!”
“Yes, B.A., and we just lost both engines from the sound of it. I’ll be happy to hit you in the head with a two by four so you’re unconscious when we crash into the Guatemalan jungle!” Face was in no mood for a debate with the big black man about the safety of air travel. Most of the time Face loved flying with Murdock; he just hated the inevitable crashes that went along with it. Not that this particular one was Murdock’s fault. He’d had no way of knowing that the plane they’d grabbed had a fuel problem. They hadn’t exactly had time to check the tanks as they were running from irate Guatemalan drug dealers. Trust drug dealers to get swindled on their fuel supply.
Face could see B.A.’s mohawk shifting from side to side as he sought to get a look at the con man who was strapped into the seat behind.
“You dead, Faceman.”
“Not yet, B.A..”
“You and Hannibal and Murdock. You put me on a plane.”
“I have to tell you that death threats don’t have that much effect on me at this point,” Face said grimly. He could feel the plane starting to descend.
Hannibal emerged from the cockpit and strapped himself into the aisle seat across from the sergeant. He had clearly heard the interchange as he made his way to the back of the plane.
“Stow that attitude, Sergeant,” Hannibal said, voice tight with concern. “Murdock’s doing his best up there.”
“Colonel?” Face’s voice was full of questions. If Murdock had sent Hannibal to the back to strap in, then things definitely didn’t look good for a crash-free landing.
“He wanted me out of the cockpit. If we go in nose first – -” Hannibal didn’t finish his sentence. He’d argued with Murdock, but the captain wasn’t taking any back talk. This was his area and he was in command. Hannibal sighed. Murdock had always been the best pilot they’d ever known. In or out of ‘Nam. They all trusted him to do whatever needed to be done. Whatever happened, it was in Murdock’s hands now.
Hannibal could hear B.A.’s breath coming fast and anxious in the Lockheed’s cabin. The plane was almost silent, aside from their breathing and the restless shuffling of feet. The familiar rumble of the radial engines had been replaced by the sound of wind whistling over the wings. They could hear the rising and falling of Murdock’s voice coming from the cockpit, although it wasn’t clear whether he was talking to himself or the plane. Hannibal adjusted his seatbelt. Silently wished for a cigar, a belt of scotch.
Hannibal noticed that B.A.’s eyes were closed. His lips were pale against his dark skin. Hannibal knew that the sergeant was praying, suspected that his lieutenant was too, although he could have been negotiating a deal with either God or the devil. One never could tell with Face.
From the intercom, there was a crackle of static.
“Hang on, guys,” Murdock said, trying to keep his voice cheerful, but the undertone of tension was obvious. “She’s decided to give up flying and try a career in ground control.”
Without a word, Hannibal, Face, and B.A. bent over in crash positions, arms crossed and braced against the seats in front of them, heads tucked just above their knees.
A flash of silver caught the eye of the young man navigating his canoe down the river. He stared in amazement as a plane, silent as a cloud, shimmered in the distance and was lost among the trees. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The sky was clear. He plunged his pole back into the water and pushed off against the muddy ground.
Sometimes, it was better not to see such things in this country. Planes meant drugs. Drugs meant guns. No, it was better to see nothing at all.
Face could hear ringing in his ears. For a moment he thought it was the bells of heaven calling him home. He opened his eyes and realized he was still bent over his knees. He shook his head to clear the ringing, and gave a glance to the side. Hannibal was starting to move as well, shaking off the glass and debris that had showered over them when the plane hit the ground.
“I’m okay,” Face said sitting up. He could feel something sticky on his lip. He lifted a hand to his mouth. “Bloody nose, but not broken. Split lip. Dammit. That’s going to interfere with my social life.”
Hannibal grinned slightly. If Face was complaining about his social life, he wasn’t hurt badly.
“B.A.?” Hannibal repeated, shaking out his limbs and undoing his seatbelt.
“I hate flyin’,” B.A. said sullenly, sitting up slowly and taking stock. A large chunk of glass had pierced his shoulder, blood running down his arm, but that appeared to be his only real injury.
The three men slipped out of their seatbelts and into the aisle. They couldn’t help but grin at each other, knowing they’d cheated death one more time. They all had cuts and bruises, but the worst of it seemed to be Face’s bloody nose and B.A.’s sliced shoulder. Nothing that a bit of antiseptic and some bandages couldn’t fix. As crashes went, they’d had worse.
“Murdock?” Face called. The plane was still except for the movement of the three men.
Hannibal had grabbed the first aid kit from the back of the plane, and was swabbing down the cut on B.A.’s arm. He and Face exchanged worried glances.
“Go see if he’s okay,” Hannibal said, as B.A. hissed at the stinging sensation.
“If he’s not okay, I’ll kill him,” B.A. muttered. Hannibal hid his grin and concentrated on treating B.A.’s massive shoulder.
Face picked his way up the centre aisle, which was littered with leaves and glass. He pulled open the door to the cockpit and let out a gasp. The right side of the cockpit where Hannibal had been sitting was completely crushed, metal folded in on itself.
“Murdock!” Face yelled. “Murdock, are you okay?”
“I’ve never been okay, Face, but thanks for asking,” a voice came from somewhere ahead of him. Face couldn’t see a space that was wide enough for him to push his way into the cockpit. He thought he could tell where Murdock’s seat was, but there was no way for him to reach it. The roof and sides seemed to have crumpled inwards.
“Are you hurt?” Face tried again, pushing at the metal that had essentially sealed off the cockpit area. It groaned, but didn’t move.
“It’s hard to tell,” Murdock said softly. “I’m kind of stuck.”
Face turned as Hannibal and B.A. came up behind him and caught sight of the wreckage that was the cockpit.
“B.A., get that side exit door open and let’s see how it looks from outside. Hang in there, Captain. We’ll get you out of there.”
“Sure thing, Colonel. I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Murdock said.
“Fool’s not talkin’ right. He’s hurtin’,” B.A. said quietly as he headed to the back and pushed against the exit door. The door opened partly and would go no further.
“Door’s jammed against somethin’,” B.A. said still pushing. “Face, see if you can fit through there.” Face slipped past B.A. and out through the narrow opening. He lightly dropped the few feet to the ground. The sound of branches being pushed aside could be heard.
“Try it now, B.A.,” Face said, and this time when B.A. pushed, the door swung open completely. Hannibal slipped through the opening, followed by B.A..
Out on the ground, the three surveyed the scene in silence. Murdock had managed to set the plane in a small field ringed by dense jungle. The back end of the plane had dug into the field, tearing up plants as it rolled to a stop. The fuselage looked to be undamaged behind the cockpit, but the cockpit was a different story. The front of the plane had hit hard in a small grove of close-packed trees, landing gear collapsing as it made contact with the dense undergrowth. The right side of the cockpit was completely buckled where Murdock had shifted to avoid a full-on hit to the cockpit; the left side, although in better condition, was also dented. The windshield appeared to have shattered on impact, and a tree had sheered off and crumpled the roof of the cockpit.
“Dear God,” Face said softly. “I’ve seen car wrecks that looked better.”
B.A. was already disappearing into the grove of trees, and climbing his way up the nose of the plane.
“Faceman, get your butt up here and give me a hand.”
Face didn’t waste a moment scrambling up on top of the engine cowling. It was bent, and put him within easy reach of the side of the cockpit.
“Murdock, can you hear us?” Face yelled.
“I’m stuck, I’m not deaf,” Murdock said. Through the space where the side window used to be, Face could make out the captain’s form in the centre of the crumpled cockpit. Murdock turned to look at Face and gave a weak smile. Blood covered his right temple, but his eyes were clear. His hands were free and he gave a small wave.
“Hi, Face!” Murdock said cheerfully. “You guys all okay?”
“Yeah, no thanks to you,” B.A. said as he pulled himself up onto the nose of the plane, careful of the bandage Hannibal had wrapped around his bicep. B.A. leaned over the space where the windshield used to be, trying to get a look at what sort of shape Murdock was in.
“B.A., I resent that,” Murdock said looking up at the sergeant. “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. You know that.”
“So far, I don’t see you walkin’ away, fool. Can ya move your legs?” B.A. said.
“I can feel ’em, but the control panel’s kind of sittin’ in my lap. Can’t seem to budge.”
“Besides the plane?”
“OK, B.A., take it easy. I don’t know. Maybe. Legs hurt like hell.”
“Hang on. I’ll get you out. Faceman, stay with him. I’ll get Hannibal and we’ll find somethin’ to cut him out.” B.A. slipped out of sight. Face dug out a handkerchief and dabbed at the blood on Murdock’s face.
“We’re in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle,” Murdock said, “but you know what? I believe he’ll find something or build something.”
“I wouldn’t bet against him,” Face said. “But seriously, are you okay?”
“I’ve been better.”
“We’d all be dead if it weren’t for you, Murdock.”
Murdock shrugged. They were his unit. Keeping them alive was what he’d always done. It was his job. His specialty.
“Still, next time B.A. suggests a boat, perhaps we should consider it before we hit him in the head.”
“Just sit tight,” Face said. He ignored the glare that Murdock aimed in his direction. “I’m sure Hannibal’s already got a plan to get us out of here.”
“I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get out of here,” Hannibal said, as he and B.A. jogged across the field to the only building they could see. It appeared to be a large barn or a shed of some kind.
“Come on, Hannibal, keep up. You outta practice, man. Use ta hump 50 pounds through the jungle without breakin’ a sweat.”
“Hold up, B.A.,” Hannibal said, stopping and examining the field they were crossing.
“Murdock’s hurt. No time for playin’ with plants,” B.A. said, looking over his shoulder.
“Except these plants are Cannabis.”
B.A. stopped and hung his head.
“Marijuana? Ah, Hannibal, ain’t we had enough trouble with drug dealers already on this trip? Trust Murdock to land in a field of pot.”
“Curruba’s operation might reach this far north, but it could be someone else entirely. We might be expecting company considering we just tore up half their crop.” Hannibal scanned the horizon with the binoculars from the plane. “We’re pretty isolated out here; we need to see how Murdock’s doing and then secure this place. Just in case. River’s close by. That’ll be our way out.”
“If we’d just taken a boat in the first place,” B.A. muttered under his breath as they continued towards the building at double-time.
“And so the duck says, ‘That’s all you do? Bird imitations?'”
Face laughed, still leaning against the edge of the airplane.
“Bird imitations. That’s good, Murdock. Here come the guys. I’ll be right back.” Face hopped down from the engine and circled around to meet Hannibal and B.A..
“How’s Murdock?” Hannibal said, taking a sip from one of their canteens.
“He’s fine. Have you heard his latest duck joke?”
“Yeah, bird imitations. I love it,” Hannibal said reaching into Face’s pocket for a fresh cigar. He bit off the end and spit it into the dust. “We do have a slight problem, however.”
B.A. set down a toolbox, and started to unbolt one blade of the propeller.
“What kind of problem, Colonel?” Face watched as Hannibal lit up his cigar.
Hannibal handed a small plant to Face. Face looked at it carefully and sighed.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“Hannibal, can’t anything ever be simple?”
“Cheer up, Lieutenant,” Hannibal said, clapping Face on the shoulder. “No sign of the drug dealers yet, and the shed is full of great stuff we can use!”
B.A. was struggling to pull the prop from its moorings. The big man grunted with satisfied exertion as the blade pulled from the engine.
“If you two are done jawin’, you can gimme a hand,” B.A. said. “We gotta get Murdock outta there.”
Face stepped up onto the engine cowling and steadied himself to receive the weight. He took the half of the propeller that B.A. handed him.
“B.A., what am I doing with this?” Face asked, leaning the fifty-pound blade against the cockpit where Murdock looked on with interest.
B.A. slipped on a pair of safety glasses and stepped up beside Face. Hannibal handed up an oxy-acetylene torch and a flint.
“Murdock, don’t move,” B.A. said. “I’m gonna cut the side of the plane with the torch, then use the prop as a lever to push the controls off you. Okay?”
Murdock gave a weak smile as B.A. lit up the torch. Murdock gave a thumbs-up and looked away.
“Be over in a minute, crazy man,” B.A. said touching the torch gently to the edge of the cockpit.
“Those sons of bitches shut down my ops in Perrada, took my money, and now they’re screwing with my set-up here. No damn way the A-Team is walkin’ out of this one,” Carlos Curruba shouted to his lieutenant as their jeep rumbled across gravel. Behind him, a small army of jeeps and trucks stirred up a cloud of dust.
“They’re going to regret the day they flew into Guatemala.”
“Easy, Murdock,” B.A. said from his position above Murdock. “Put your arms around Face’s back. He’s gonna pull, while I lever the controls outta the way.”
“Okay, big guy,” Murdock said. Face braced his right foot against the edge of the cockpit where B.A. had cut away the metal shell. Hannibal was perched on the engine cowling behind him, ready to keep Face balanced. Face bent at the knees and slipped his arms under Murdock’s. He felt the pilot’s arms tighten around his back.
“This is gonna hurt, Murdock,” Face said softly, his face right beside Murdock’s ear.
“I know. It’s okay,” Murdock returned. He gave Face a small squeeze.
“Ready, guys,” Murdock said loudly. “Steady as she goes.”
B.A. gritted his teeth and started to push down on the propeller that he’d wedged into the control panel. The creak of bending metal could be heard as B.A. twisted the blade, trying to lever the control panel up without putting any additional weight on Murdock’s legs. Sweat was starting to bead on B.A.’s forehead as the metal began to curve under pressure.
Face pulled tentatively on Murdock as the metal came away from his legs. He could hear his friend’s ragged breathing as Murdock clung to him, biting down the pain in his legs. Face gently eased back, feeling Hannibal behind him keeping him balanced on the awkward curve of the engine cowling. Face took another step back, pulling Murdock with him as gently as he could. It was a slow and arduous process.
“You okay, buddy?” Face said, still holding Murdock tight against him as he took another small step back. They were both sweating bullets. Face felt Murdock nod against his shoulder. Another step. Another. Then Murdock’s legs were free of the control panel.
“Can you put any weight on your legs, Captain?” Hannibal said, steadying Face as he continued to support Murdock’s full weight.
“Legs are numb, colonel. Sittin’ too long.”
“B.A., help us get him down,” Hannibal yelled.
“Already here, Colonel,” B.A. said from off to their left. “Ease him down, Faceman.” Face knelt awkwardly, Hannibal keeping him steady with an arm around the waist. Face eased Murdock down into B.A.’s arms. For the first time since Murdock was free of the cockpit, the lieutenant got a good look at Murdock’s face. It was pale as a sheet. B.A. held the pilot gently in his arms as if he were a child.
“Hey, big guy,” Murdock said weakly. “Thanks.” B.A. nodded and tried not to put any pressure on Murdock’s legs as he carried him into the shade.
Face and Hannibal scrambled down off the cowling and helped B.A. lay Murdock on a makeshift litter they’d constructed from poles and a piece of fabric they’d found in the barn. Murdock’s khaki pants were torn in several places and blood had seeped through in a pattern of rust-coloured splotches. Face pulled out the scissors from the first aid kit and started to cut the pant legs away.
“Ah, Face, that was my best pair,” Murdock complained, trying to sit up to get a look at how bad his legs looked.
“We’ll buy you a new pair, Murdock,” Face said, all business. He finished cutting the pant legs off at mid-thigh, leaving Murdock with a ragged-edged pair of shorts. He applied antiseptic to each of the spots that had been cut by metal or glass, slowly cleaning the blood away as he worked his way down. Hannibal concentrated on checking the lower legs for broken bones.
Murdock let out a sharp gasp as Hannibal touched his right ankle.
“Tickles, Colonel,” Murdock said, face even whiter than before.
“Ankle’s busted, Captain, but the legs are fine. Cut up somethin’ awful and I’m sure they’re hurtin’, but at least it’s just the one ankle that’s broken.”
Murdock took the canteen and the painkillers that B.A. offered him, and nodded slightly. It could’ve been a whole lot worse. Face continued his meticulous job of cleaning every wound. He reached for the sewing kit that was in the first aid bag.
“Is that really necessary, Faceman?” Murdock said softly, watching Face thread the needle.
“Sorry, Murdock. You’ve got a couple of pretty big cuts here. Can’t have ’em bustin’ open in the middle of things.”
“In the middle of what things?” Murdock asked suspiciously. He noticed that B.A. and Hannibal had started packing their equipment off to the shed he could see across the field.
“You, my friend,” Face said, gently sliding the needle into Murdock’s flesh and pulling the largest of his wounds shut with a stitch, “managed to set us down in the middle of a marijuana crop, which, the way our luck is going, probably belongs to Curruba and his cronies.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Nope,” Face said, gathering the wound together with quick even stitches and tying it off. “Hannibal and B.A. are preparing the barn for a siege. Sooner or later the bad guys are gonna come to see what a Lockheed is doing in the middle of their operation. And considering it was their plane that we borrowed, I’m guessin’ that they’ll know it’s us.”
“Can’t we just sneak off down the river?” Murdock said, wincing as Face taped a bandage around his thigh. “Geez, Face, not so much tape. You know how much hair that’s gonna take with it when it comes off?”
Face just offered up his usual charming smile and started on another cut.
“You know Hannibal. Can’t walk away from a fight. Only reason we lit out when we did was because Curruba’s whole operation was up in smoke.”
“Literally. Everybody within ten miles was gettin’ high off that little bonfire,” Murdock said with a grin.
“Local law was in his pocket, so not much more we could do there ‘cept shut him down. And the client was happy. She just wanted him to stop using her students to work the fields.”
“Trouble is,” Murdock said, looking across the field, “there’s always another field somewhere. Another dealer.”
Face stopped mid-stitch and looked at the pilot. “Hey, you’re not goin’ serious on me, are you, Murdock?”
Murdock’s eyes met Face’s. A brief shadow flitted across the pilot’s eyes like a passing cloud. In a second, it was as if it had never been there.
“No way, muchacho. B.A. would never cope. You almost done there, Face?” Murdock said, pointing to the stitching on his leg.
“Yeah, I’ll just wrap your ankle and then we’ll get ready to move out. Guys should be back any time.”
Murdock nodded and looked back toward the river. He braced himself as Face got ready to set the bones in his ankle. As a wave of pain struck him, he briefly wondered how he was going to explain this to the staff at the VA. No doubt Face would think of something.
The sun was sliding towards the west by the time they had moved all necessary supplies from the plane to the barn. An escape route down the river had been scouted and the plane’s life raft was inflated and camouflaged. B.A. had spent the better part of the afternoon refurbishing the truck that sat unused in the shed, and planting early warning signals on the road leading up to the farm. There appeared to be only one road in or out, and no easy air access. A ramshackle dock stretched into the river like a bony finger, but it was half-sunk in places.
“Obviously this is a fairly new set-up,” Hannibal theorized. “The plants are still young and they don’t have much in place in terms of security, defences, or transportation. That’s to our advantage.”
“You still think it’s Curruba’s?” B.A. asked, as they made the last trip across the field to collect Murdock.
“I’d bet my life on it,” Hannibal said, teeth clamped around a cigar. “Guy like that has a long reach, like an octopus. We cut off one arm today, but he’s still got tentacles stretchin’ all over this country. Maybe we’ll cut off another arm before we leave. It’s the least we can do.” Hannibal grinned.
“You on the jazz, man,” B.A. said shaking his head. Hannibal just laughed and clapped the sergeant on the shoulder.
B.A. and Face each took an end of the litter they’d placed Murdock on and prepared to move him across to the barn they were using as a base. B.A. looked down at Murdock from the back end of the litter and growled.
“I don’t like you puttin’ me on planes and then crashin’ ’em.”
“B.A., I didn’t crash,” Murdock started to explain, indignant.
“You crashed the plane.”
“It had a series of angry collisions with the ground.”
“You crashed the plane.”
“I merely landed in an atypical position.”
“The ground rushed up to meet us.”
Face shook his head and concentrated on negotiating a path through the field. This was one argument he was staying out of.
“I chose to place the aircraft in a position other than the destination originally intended.”
“You crashed, Murdock.”
“The engines went on strike.”
“You crashed the plane.”
Face looked hopefully down the road. It remained empty and silent. No drug dealers yet. Face sighed. He never thought he’d actually be wishing for a firefight to interrupt B.A. and Murdock.
“The terrain interfered with my intended flight path.”
“Shut up, fool! You crashed.”
“The trees reached up to cradle our descent.”
“Basic physics: what goes up, must come down.”
“You crashed the plane.”
“My plane was just dragging its tail a little more than usual.”
“YOU CRASHED THE PLANE!”
“All right, B.A.! All right! What do you want from me? I didn’t put the water in the fuel tanks, but yes, I crashed the plane! I crashed it. Are you happy now?”
“Yes.” B.A. smiled a small smile at the pilot as Murdock lay back down on the litter.
In his best Sigmund Freud voice, Murdock said: “Who knew it took so little to make him happy?”
Hannibal came running out of the barn to meet them.
“Early warning signals just went off. Let’s get Murdock stashed in the loft with the weapons, and get ready for some fun!”
Face and B.A. grinned at each other. Only Hannibal could turn a plane crash into a fun afternoon of beating up on the bad guys. Even Murdock could feel the jazz start to sing in his veins as B.A. piggy-backed him up the ladder to the barn loft. B.A. got him settled with an M-16 and plenty of ammo.
“If for some reason they get past us, your .45’s loaded too,” B.A. said handing the pistol to the pilot. Murdock tucked it into the front of what was left of his khaki pants.
“Thanks, B.A.. I wish I didn’t feel so useless, though,” Murdock said looking out the window. He could see a line of jeeps stirring up dust on the road at the edge of the farm. “Just like ‘Nam. Eye in the sky, but not much I can do.”
“Ain’t true, fool. You got us all down alive. Here, and ‘Nam too. Put yourself in harm for the rest o’ us. Hannibal’d be dead if he’d stayed up front with you. You the only one he woulda listened to. We jus’ lucky you long and skinny like a string bean.”
“You better get goin’,” Murdock said softly. “Jeeps are comin’ up the road fast.”
“We ain’t a team without you, crazy man. We need you up here. Don’t you forget it.”
B.A. started back down the ladder from the loft. Murdock could hear the ladder being hauled down and hidden. If he needed to get down before the team came back for him, it was going to be the hard way. Below, he could hear the rumble of the hot-wired truck complete with its new shielding.
He turned and rested his machine gun in the window of the hayloft. Curruba’s jeeps were barrelling up the road. Murdock recognized the angry little man standing up in the foremost jeep, waving his hands and shouting in Spanish.
“Here we go,” Murdock whispered to himself. The next moment the air was alive with gunfire, smoke, and the sound of a jeep flying through the air.
Curruba shouted orders to his men. He knew the A-Team was only four men. He had at least 30 with him, yet somehow he didn’t feel like the odds were in his favour. Three of his jeeps had been hit just getting in to the farm yard, and now he could see the doors of the barn burst open and belch out what looked like an armour-plated version of his old farm truck. Curruba narrowed his eyes. He really hated the A-Team.
From his position in the loft, Murdock could see everything in the front yard. He concentrated on laying down covering fire as Face and Hannibal lobbed explosives at the incoming jeeps. B.A., in the armour-plated truck, was doing just fine on his own. Murdock whooped as he saw B.A. take out another two jeeps with the cow-catcher on the front.
Everywhere the yard was full of dust, smoke, and the shouts of angry men. Murdock’s Spanish was rusty, but he could follow most of what he heard. Luckily, a G.I. had taught him a selection of Spanish swear words once, so Murdock did his part by egging on Curruba’s men with well-chosen phrases tossed down from the hay loft between bullets. Phrases that most often involved mothers, sex, and an assortment of farm animals. He tried to draw their fire away from the guys, knowing that the reinforcing B.A. had done around the floor and window would protect him from most of the stray bullets. Once in a while he would hear Face or Hannibal, but the fight had moved off to the side where the field was, and Murdock couldn’t see what was going on. He thought he could smell the faint aroma of burning leaves.
Suddenly, Murdock caught a flurry of movement out of his left eye. A dark object was lobbed towards him. He managed to catch it as it came through the window. With a single motion, he threw it out again as far as he could. The grenade exploded in the front of the yard, scattering a cluster of Curruba’s men.
“Missed me!” Murdock shouted gleefully. “Best damn fielder ever to play in Texas Little League – -“
Murdock turned as he heard the distinct clunk of an object hitting the wooden floor behind him. He turned, taking in the small window on the other side of the loft, the pineapple-shaped grenade spinning recklessly less than thirty feet away.
The far edge of the hay loft disappeared in a burst of smoke and splintering wood, as Murdock tucked his head down behind the hay bales B.A. had stacked around him for support. The section of floor he was sitting on teetered dangerously towards the middle of the barn as the floor joists were blown out of position. Murdock made a grab for the edge of the window and hung on as the floor fell away and the building swayed. The back wall of the barn disappeared as a truck burst through it.
“Drop, fool,” B.A. shouted as he pulled underneath where Murdock was hanging. Face was reaching up from the back of the truck, ready to catch him. Hannibal was giving them cover fire from behind Face’s exposed back. Murdock didn’t even think about it. He let go.
“Now, B.A., how can you say that wasn’t a good plan?” Hannibal asked, leaning back against the side of the rubber life raft with a fresh cigar as B.A. navigated them down the river.
“Murdock almost got blown up, and he’s still unconscious. Faceman took a round in the shoulder. You got a busted nose, and I lost my best chain tryin’ to outrun the fire you started in that field.”
“B.A., that’s a pretty negative way to look at things,” Hannibal said shaking his head. “Murdock’s exhausted and he’s catching up on some much needed rest. Face has a flesh wound that’s barely worse than a bee sting…”
“Hell of a bee sting,” Face interjected.
“…and I got a little reminder to duck when someone swings at me.”
“What about my chain?” B.A. said glowering at the colonel.
“You shouldn’t attach such importance to material possessions, Sergeant. The main thing is we’re together, we’re alive, and we beat the bad guys. Twice. In one day.” Hannibal laughed. “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Murdock used his crutches to swing himself down the hallway to his room at the VA. He liked Dr. Richter. Liked him a lot. Felt like the Doc really wanted to help him. Like he thought of Murdock as a person rather than some kind of bug to be examined under a microscope. Maybe he could be trusted with the truth.
Murdock swung open the door to his room, looked up with surprise to see Colonel Lynch standing looking out the window. Flipped through his mental Rolodex of personalities trying to decide which one to try out on the good colonel. Had it narrowed down to the schizophrenic cattle-roper who believed that aliens were communicating through his cows or the unicycle riding ex-circus clown who was afraid of shoes and big noses when Dr. Richter pushed through the door.
“Murdock, I was just informed of Colonel Lynch’s arrival. You don’t have to speak to him,” the doctor said stepping between his patient and the uniformed colonel.
“The hell he doesn’t, Doc,” Lynch said politely. “We have good reason to believe that this man is in contact with the A-Team.”
“A-Team?” Murdock said in a protracted drawl.
“Don’t play coy with me, Captain,” Lynch hollered. “A week ago, a small handful of men took down one of the largest drug dealers in Guatemala. Burned his marijuana crops and stopped him from terrorizing the villages where he’d been coercing local students to work in the fields. However, the men were forced to flee before they could turn Curruba over to the authorities.”
Murdock’s dark eyes glittered as he listened to Lynch’s story. Apparently military Intel had gotten better over the years.
“What does any of this have to do with my patient?” Dr. Richter said, still maintaining his position between Lynch and Murdock.
“Someone flew those men out of Curruba’s strip, but the plane went down in northern Guatemala where those same men turned a drug running operation into a war zone, leaving thirty bodies including Curruba for the local authorities to pick up.”
Murdock’s head involuntarily snapped up. He bit his tongue. Caught the lie in Lynch’s eyes.
“Are you saying that the A-Team killed those men?” Dr. Richter said in disbelief.
“I’m sorry, doctor. You misunderstood me. The men were alive and well when the authorities got there. But Captain Murdock already knows that, don’t you?” Lynch said pointedly. Murdock concentrated on keeping his face expressionless.
“The men identified photos of Smith, Peck, and Baracus as the ones that had shut them down. They also said there was a fourth man, their pilot, who was possibly injured in the crash.”
Lynch’s eyes strayed to Murdock’s cast.
“Mr. Murdock is part of our Animal Therapy program. He was working with the horses last week when one got spooked and kicked him, breaking his ankle. I can assure you, Colonel, he was nowhere near Guatemala,” Dr. Richter said meeting Lynch’s eyes.
Murdock kept still, a smile creeping onto his face.
“Is there anything else, Colonel?” Richter asked coldly. “If not, my patient needs his rest. I trust you won’t be here harassing him again. If you do have any further questions regarding this A-Team, kindly direct them to me. I won’t have his progress upset by your unfounded accusations.”
Lynch nodded curtly at the doctor, and glared at Murdock on the way out.
“I ~will~ catch them,” Lynch said. He turned and disappeared down the hallway.
Murdock hopped across the floor to the edge of his bed where he sat down and leaned his crutches against the wall. He lifted his cast up on to the bed.
“Thanks, Doc,” Murdock said gratefully.
“I just hope one day you’ll realize you can trust me, Murdock. Try to get some rest.”
“Do you want to sign my cast?” Murdock asked impulsively.
“Not right now. Lynch has made me late for an appointment as it is. Another time, all right?”
“Sure thing, Doc,” Murdock said and gave a little wave as the doctor left the room. He thought for a moment, and then decided that things had probably turned out for the best.
Murdock settled back on his bed and pulled up the pant leg of the new pair of khakis Face had bought him. There on the back of his clean white cast were three signatures, each with its own distinct flourish: Hannibal Smith, Templeton Peck, B.A. Baracus.
Maybe someday Richter would be ready to know everything. Maybe he would even understand.