[The A-Team is still the red-hot property of Stephen J Cannell (RIP)]
The Pink Cadillac
[Timeline: Aug 1983. The team are in an American Diner, somewhere in the Los Angeles Underground.]
"Well, that was a piece of cake!" concluded Hannibal, his ice-blue eyes twinkling with their usual mischievous glint.
"Er, what piece of the cake are you referring to exactly, Colonel?" questioned Face. "The piece where we nearly got caught by the Guatemalan Army?"
"Or the piece where we nearly got blown away by a bunch of rednecks!" added Murdock.
"Or the piece where that crazy fool Murdock crashed the plane - again!" snarled BA, glaring at the pilot with some distain.
"I already told you, I didn't crash the plane!" retorted Murdock indignantly. "I just relocated the aircraft because of a total loss of thrust and lift functions!"
"I'm sick of you guys knocking me out all the time!" reproached BA. "Why is it when someone starts to sing "You are my sunshine" I always end up in the air with this sucker!"
"Well why is it you always have to fall on the horn and alert the enemy to our position?" chided Face and immediately wished he hadn't, as BA reached across the table and grabbed him roughly by his very expensive silk shirt.
"Hannibal!" whined the Lieutenant, screwing his face up anxiously, as BA shook his giant fist threateningly at him.
"Ok, BA, let him go," intervened Hannibal. "Let's not mess up our meal ticket, we've still got to find somewhere to lay up for the night!"
BA reluctantly let Face go, still mumbling irritably to himself. Face smoothed down his clothes and ran his hand carefully through his honey-blonde hair as he tried to regain his composure.
"Ok, so we hit a few bumps in the road," continued Hannibal, puffing thoughtfully on his cigar. "I mean, you really should have blown up that bridge, Lieutenant and I still can't believe you clipped the plane off the repair rental line, Captain. Not one of your better ideas!"
Face and Murdock both hung their heads in shame, looking rather like two naughty schoolboys being reprimanded by their teacher. BA tittered quietly in the background.
"On the other hand," said Hannibal, that idea to build an ultralight was a stroke of genius, Murdock. "
The pilot immediately broke into one of his lopsided grins.
"Well I couldn't have built it without the Big Guy's help," he replied modestly.
"That's right, man!" growled BA.
Murdock then looked at Face. He knew his buddy would be feeling bad about lousing up the bridge job. Being a perfectionist in everything he did meant he would come down hard on himself if he thought he had let the team down.
"And of course, if it hadn't been for Face risking life and limb to get the motor, it wouldn't have flown at all," he add dramatically.
"Well, Face always did work best under pressure," chuckled Hannibal. "Just like in 'Nam!"
"Talking of which," said Murdock. "You never did answer my question, Oh Facial One. How did you manage to secure a '53 pink Cadillac whilst in the jungles of Vietnam?"
"Sorry, Murdock," said Face. "It's still a trade secret."
"Surely you can tell your best buddies?" pestered Murdock.
Hannibal also looked at Face, his eyebrows raised in an enquiring manner. The conman was like a modern day Father Christmas. Whatever he couldn't pull out of that magic sack of his probably wasn't worthwhile having. But without a doubt, the master scammer had definitely excelled himself the day he drove into camp in that '53 pink convertible Cadillac.
Even BA was looking at him with interest. Usually he didn't join in with the senseless jibber jabber between the madcap pilot and the smooth-taking lieutenant, but now his curiosity was getting the better of him.
Face sighed in resignation. Murdock had that look in his eyes that said he wasn't going to let this drop until he had squeezed every last detail out of him.
"Well it really wasn't that difficult," said Face, finally relenting. "You see there was this girl I was sorta seeing called Jenny …"
"Might have guessed there'd be a skirt behind it!" sneered BA.
"Do you want to hear this or not," rebuffed Face, in mild frustration.
"Yes, yes!" enthused Murdock, frowning ominously at BA. "Go on Faceman."
"Well, Jenny was a dancer with the USO. They would travel around in this pink Cadillac when they were entertaining the troops. The only thing was it had clocked up hundreds of miles and was on its last legs. Jenny said it was going to be sold for scrap when their current tour was over to make way for a newer, more modern car."
"Straightaway I thought it would be pretty cool if I could get that car for our guys. I knew that BA - with a little bit of work – could soon get it purring like the cat that got the cream. So I asked her if I could do some sort of deal to procure it. She said I'd have to talk with her Tour Roadie, which posed a bit of a problem because he didn't like me very much."
"Why?" asked Hannibal. You weren't messing around with his girl were you Face?"
"No!" exclaimed Face, putting on one of his mortally wounded expressions. "He was keen on Jenny but she wasn't interested in him. He was a real sleazeball called Briggs and I guess it kinda wound him up when he saw us together. But I wanted that car real bad, so I bit the bullet and approached him about making some sort of deal to get it. I knew he wouldn't give it to me for nothing."
"He said I could have the car if I did something for him in return. He wanted me to pick up a package next time I went to Nha Trang for army supplies and deliver it back to him."
"What sort of package?" asked Hannibal, frowning suspiciously at Face.
"I didn't ask," replied Face vaguely. "But judging by the wad of VND bills he gave me I don't think it was an assignment of lemon dip sherbet, Colonel!"
All three men stared at Face in complete astonishment. It didn't take a course in rocket science to figure out that Face was talking about drugs – probably heroin. This was back in 1970 and, unfortunately, there was a big problem with drug abuse amongst the American GIs.
They could buy it at relatively cheap prices from almost anywhere in the country. 14 year-old girls would sell heroin at roadside stands on the main highway. Street peddlers stuffed plastic vials of 95% pure heroin into soldiers' pockets as they strolled through downtown Saigon. Mama-sans would even carry a few vials to work to sell to the on-duty GIs.
So, there was no doubt, that however much money Briggs had paid for the drugs, he would very soon double his profits. In his line of work, touring around the country, he was in the perfect position to do a bit of dirty dealing and then move on.
"Anyway," continued Face. "My instructions were to leave the money in a designated place at the Supplies Depot to be picked up by his contact. "Actually, it was the perfect cover-up as probably no-one would have suspected that a Special Forces 1st Lieutenant Green Berry would be smuggling in drugs!"
He had a point. The others couldn't deny that Face had the nerve to carry the scam off. The suave and sophisticated young man had an air of complete innocence about him and had a way of making you believe everything he told you! And of course he was well known in Nha Trang amongst both the locals and the military as he always had some sort of hustle going down somewhere!
In fact, Face had actually been approached by many a suspicious character offering to "do a deal with him" if he would agree to be their "courier", but he always categorically refused to partake.
"So you were drug-running in the middle of the Vietnam War!" exclaimed Murdock.
"Well not exactly," said Face. "There was no way I was going to go back to Briggs with the stash on me, so I got rid of it pretty pronto. I buried it under a tree down some isolated dirt track for safe-keeping. I didn't trust Briggs and wanted to make sure I got the car before deciding what to do with the drugs."
The team couldn't quite take in what they were hearing. Face had always been a risk taker, but even this defied the realms of disbelief.
"Jeez, and you all think I'm crazy!" said Murdock, shaking his head incredulously.
"But what about Briggs?" asked BA. "Didn't he suspect anything?"
"Well he turned out to be a lot brighter than he looked," said Face. "On my way back he was waiting for me in his jeep with some of his heavies. I tried to get away from him but he ran me off the road. He was just a little bit hacked off when he realised I didn't have the package."
"What happened next?" said Hannibal, wondering how Face had managed to sweet-talk his way out of this one!
"I said that the package was in a safe place and I would give it to him once I got the car," replied Face. "Unfortunately he wasn't buying it and it was the usual scenario of lets teach the Pretty Boy a lesson! They laid into me pretty bad. Wanted to make sure I got the message not to double-cross them."
"I'm not sure what would have happened if Jenny hadn't turned up a couple of minutes later with reinforcements, coz I was sort of winging it by this point. She was worried that Briggs was up to something, so she went to the Center Manager and told him everything. Apparently Briggs was already under suspicion for dealing, which was why he wanted someone-else to do the run for him."
"So Jenny and her CM got a couple of the other men together and they followed Briggs. The Manager was furious when he realised what was going on. After all, this whole thing would have been very bad publicity for the clean-cut image of the USO."
"He asked me if I wanted to press charges against Briggs for blackmail and assault, but I said no. I'd already got rid of the drugs and didn't want to get involved in any investigation. I said all I wanted was the car and the CM seemed quite relieved about this and agreed."
"He still threatened to hand Briggs over to the CIA. But Briggs was such a wet weasel and started pleading with the Manager for another chance. The Manager gave him an ultimatum – take his chances with the CIA or resign from the USO. He chose to resign!"
"They took me back to the USO camp and their first aider cleaned me up. Luckily there was nothing broken, just a few cuts and bruises, aching ribs and I had one helluva headache!"
"Wait a minute!" interjected Hannibal. "I think I remember this! I was angry because you came back late in the evening, all beaten up, and missed a de-briefing meeting. When I asked you about it you said you had gotten into some trouble and ended up brawling in the local bar!"
"Well I could hardy tell you the truth Hannibal," replied Face. "I mean, I was always getting into trouble in the early days. If I had told you what I had been up to you would have flipped for sure!"
"But didn't I put you on extra duties and manoeuvres?" spluttered Hannibal, a guilty look spreading over his already dazed features.
"Yeah, for a whole week", chortled back Face. "But I didn't mind, because in another couple of days the USO were moving out and I could go pick up the car."
There was a moment's silence as the others digested this staggering information.
"Why did you do it, Face?" asked BA finally, his usual gruff manner softened by the Lieutenant's revelations.
"I just wanted to give something good back," Face answered bashfully. "I had one big chip on my shoulder when I first came to Nha Trang and I guess I just wanted to say thank-you to everyone for giving me a chance."
There was another reverent silence as the team thought back to the day Face had driven up in the car. For every solider serving in that war-torn, flea-infested jungle, it had brought a ray of sunshine into their otherwise tedious and futile existence.
Murdock, who loved anything bright, colourful, non-military and totally unconventional, treated it like it was one of his beloved Hueys.
BA, who had the honour of fine-tuning it back to its former glory, thought all his birthdays had come at once. Of course he claimed he was far too macho to actually be seen in it – unless he was the driver!
To the rest of the men it was purely a babe-magnet! They could cruise around town and impress the ladies. Or just simply use it for a special date or dignitary function.
Hannibal always welcomed anything good that boosted the morale of his men. He had often turned a blind eye to Face's high-risk tactics of hustles, seductions, con-deals - or in some cases, downright theft – to procure what he needed for the unit.
To a certain degree, they had all taken Face's talent for granted. It also made him realise that nearly all of his scams were for the benefit of other people – it was very rare he got anything out of it for himself. And when he did, you could bet your bottom dollar that at some point all the team would eventually benefit from it.
"Nice, kid!" he said, slapping the conman affectionately on the back.
"I always knew Face was the best!" said Murdock, throwing his arms around the lieutenant and pulling him into one of his man-hugs.
"Yeah, total respect, dude" agreed BA, giving Face one of his rare, but genuine heartfelt smiles.
"Well like I said," said Face, going red with a mixture of embarrassment and pride. "It really wasn't that difficult!"
[Bit nervous about posting this chapter. Not sure it really worked. Would be interested to see what you guys think, so please feel free to voice your opinions (albeit the good, the bad or the ugly!).]
[USO stood for United Services Organisation. It was an organisation that provided entertainment to the United States troops during the Vietnam War.
Mama-sans: Vietnamese barrack maids]