[Disclaimer: BA Baracus and Templeton Peck do not belong to me. Some of the plot is based on real-life extracts, which I have adapted for the purposes of this story. This is a further expansion on "Mind over muscle", which I wrote some months back.]
Chapter 1: Cloudburst
[Timeline: Central Highlands, South Vietnam – 1969]
The dark, threatening scowl, hadn't left BA's face since departing the Nha Trang base camp, two days ago. It was his first assignment since joining Hannibal Smith's A-Team and he had been paired up with the extremely flaky, Lieutenant Templeton Peck.
BA was well aware of the conman's reputation, even though he had only known him for a few weeks. He was the team's Supplies Officer and Hannibal's golden boy. No doubt he had wormed his way into the Colonel's good books by buttering him up with an array of upper-class wit and etiquette, that was completely alien to his black, working-class upbringing.
He was the epitome of everything BA hated about the white man culture. Peck was what he would describe as a "preppy" - nothing more than a privately-educated, university pretty boy. He seemed to spend most of his time having a love affair with himself in the mirror and was always correctly suited and booted for every occasion. His "Let's get high/have sex with a mama-san, pretending it's your girl and hope you don't get the Clap," attitude didn't sit well with the God-fearing Sergeant.
BA had spent most of his first couple of weeks being put through his paces by the Colonel, so he hadn't seen the team in full action, first-hand yet. But he had already made up his mind that Peck would be about as much use as a chocolate teapot. No doubt the only hard day's work he had ever done in his life, was playing a few rounds of golf at the Beverly Bay Country Club.
His scowl deepened further as he watched Peck fraternising with the local Montagnard tribesmen. They had been sent to one of the plateaus of the Central Highlands to help build a new fortified camp. Hannibal had figured, with BA's construction skills and Peck's ability to scrounge the much needed materials, they would be of some help to the project.
But as far as BA could see, he was the only one who had got his hands dirty so far! He threw down his tools in a fit of temper and grabbed his rifle and canteen. As he made his way down to the river he was stopped in his tracks by the Lieutenant.
"Where are you off to, Baracus?" he asked, in his smarmy, honeycombed voice.
"Need some water," snarled back BA, raising up his canteen as if by way of clarification.
Peck ran his hand nervously through his immaculately combed blonde hair. It was never a good idea to go wandering too far into the jungle without one of the tribesman. The VC - or another Yard - were far less likely to shoot at you if they saw you were in their company.
"Better take a Yard with you," he replied cautiously. "We don't want Charlie using you as target practice."
"I don't need no protection!" grumbled back BA as he pushed by the lieutenant and made the short trek down to the river.
Peck sighed in resignation as he watched the burly sergeant marching off. He guessed there were enough Yards around to supply adequate cover. Hannibal had told him to keep an eye on BA and make sure he didn't get into too much trouble. As Peck had managed to get himself into quite a few scrapes since he had joined the team, he found this a rather odd request. And he certainly didn't want to be babysitting some over-grown, punch-happy meatloaf!
Still, he didn't question the Colonel's orders. It had taken Peck himself a couple of months to settle down when he first arrived in the Country. But after weeks of humping through leech infested jungles and sliding down monsoon-drenched mountainsides, he had earned his place on the team. His own outlandish behaviour had caused quite a few arched eyebrows to be raised in disapproval. So he guessed he sympathised with the Big Guy somewhat, who like him, always seem to be in trouble!
"Let that silver tongue of yours work it's magic," were the exact words Hannibal had used, obviously hoping that the smooth-talking conman could somehow soften BA's aggressive manner.
Face instinctively took a defensive posture as he watched BA disappear down to the river edge. The mysterious, shallow river flowed gracefully through the towering, heavily forested mountains. Standing on the plateau, with his head almost touching the clouds, he took a moment to reflect how magical and peaceful the jungle could be. It was very easy to forget about the war as you were lulled into the majestic splendour of such a beautiful place. Even the birdsong that echoed around the green, triple-canopy forest added to the enchantment.
Birdsong! The word triggered off alarm bells in Peck's head as he suddenly noticed how quiet it had become. That was when the silence transformed the tranquillity of the jungle into a menacing and dangerous death-trap. Throwing his rucksack on to his back and clutching his rifle to his chest, he furtively made his way down to the river, following in the Sergeant's footsteps.
In the meantime, BA had reached the water's edge. With his rifle flung over his shoulder, he was bending down, carefully filling up his canteen. He wanted to make sure that no leeches were coming along for the ride. He stood up and took a swig of water before placing it back in his pouch.
It was then that the hair on the back of his neck began to stiffen. He suddenly felt like he was being watched. He tasted the aluminium bite of adrenalin at the back of his throat at the same time as an array of bullets rained all around him from the embankment on the other side of the river. He didn't even have time to reach for his rifle as he was hit instantly in the leg, just above the knee and went down with a ground-breaking thud.
A burst of machine-gun fire whistled over his head, this time from behind him. His survival instinct kicked in as he remained perfectly still on the ground, his nose touching the sandbank beneath him.
Another sonic crack of unfriendly bullets from the embankment sent a shower of water from the edge of the river all over him. He felt the rush of blood and panic pounding in his temples as fear gripped his body.
It was then that he heard a voice yelling at him from the slope above. Realising that the fire assault had ceased, he gingerly looked up to find Peck grinning down at him. For a moment, confusion and uncertainty overwhelmed him.
"What da hell ya playin' at Peck!" he screamed at him. "Ya damn well nearly turned me into a water sprinkler!"
Peck burst out laughing at the expression on BA's face, as he calmly lit up a cigarette. After inhaling a deep breath of smoke into his lungs, he pointed across the river to where the remains of a small hut lay in a pile of burning rubble.
As BA followed the Lieutenant's outstretched arm, he immediately understood what he had been firing at. Peck had in fact been covering him the whole time he had been cowering on the ground. He had used his M-16 on the only visible target that he suspected had been hiding the sniper, both of which had now been sufficiently disposed of.
BA cursed under his breath as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. Peck nimbly made his way down the slope towards him. He knew they weren't out of danger yet, as the VC would now have been alerted to their position. The bamboo telegraph would make sure of that. But something else was also bothering him. They had become separated from the rest of the team, who had scattered back into the forest during the Sniper's random shooting spree.
His cigarette now down almost to a stubble between his fingers, Peck threw it into the river. He knelt down next to BA, pulling a bandage out of his rucksack. Snatching a knife from his belt, he deftly used it to rip away the material on the Sergeant's trouser leg. He then skilfully wrapped the bandage round his wound and pulled him quickly to his feet.
"Move it, Baracus!" he hissed in a tense but controlled voice. "Otherwise you might as well say goodbye to your mama right here and now!"
BA gritted his teeth and with Peck's help he started to hobble back to the slope. It was then that they heard the spine-chilling shrill of VC voices floating on the charged air from the direction of the camp.
Peck made a quick evaluation of the situation. There was no way he was gonna get this 220 pound turkey up the slope without drawing attention to themselves. In any case, it would be suicidal to think about going back to the camp now. Still holding on to the stricken sergeant, he did an-about-turn and dragged BA towards the river. They could follow its course for a while and then hopefully find some cover on the lower ground.
BA didn't argue with Peck's change of tactics. Thanks to his recklessness he had put his team in a very risky situation. He was more than aware that Peck had probably used up most of his ammunition on taking out the Sniper, which left only his rifle and a couple of rounds for protection.
As silent fear escalated further in his mind, he realised they were now about to become the hunted.
[AN: Thanks for reading. Hope to update soon. Reviews from any Big Mean Ugly Mudsuckers, or Face-loving Fans would make my day!]