Hannibal quickly pulled his head back as the bullet slammed into the tree trunk beside him. Events were definitely not going according to plan.
It was late afternoon, and the shadows were lengthening. Just half an hour ago, the Team had left their clients' residence deep in the woods to return to the van. They had almost reached their vehicle when the shooting started. At first, the A-Team shot back with enthusiasm. They soon slowed down their return fire once it became obvious that their adversaries weren't going away. Without a ready access to extra ammunition, the Team had to make every shot count.
Now, the quickly fading light of November in Ontario was making it increasingly difficult for Hannibal to see potential targets.
"This," he thought, "might be a good time to sneak around the back and get to the van."
Hannibal looked around for the rest of the Team. To his left, Murdock was crouching down to reload his gun with the last of his ammunition. BA was out of sight beyond Murdock, no doubt cursing the bad luck that placed the bad guys between the Team and BA's beloved van.
As he turned his head to his right, Hannibal could see Face staring with horror out at the small clearing between the opponents. Then, Face bolted out of the cover of the trees and into the clearing. As Hannibal's eyes followed Face with utter astonishment, he realized exactly what Face had seen.
Somehow, a small child of about three years old had materialized in the clearing. With frizzy light-brown hair and skin the colour of tea with milk, the child blended in with the golden colours of the tall, dead grasses filling the clearing. Only the child's shadow picked out the child's presence.
Swearing, Hannibal started firing his weapon to discourage the other side from shooting. Murdock, following his commander's lead, also began firing. Meanwhile, their opponents had started to spray bullets at the clearly visible target racing across their line of vision. In the midst of all this, Face stumbled.
Shouting and shooting, BA stepped forward attempting to draw fire away from Face. With a dive reminiscent of his football days, Face reached the child, and they both disappeared into the cover of the grass. Duty done, BA stepped back towards the trees. Abruptly, he collapsed.
"BA's down!" Murdock shouted as he scrambled toward his fallen friend. Hannibal saw Murdock's dark blue winter parka move towards where he'd seen BA fall. The camouflage colouring of the Sergeant's coat made him surprisingly hard to see in the dying light.
Just then, Hannibal heard two engines start up. Fearing that the vehicles might mean more trouble coming his way, he continued to fire at where he thought his foes were hiding. At the sound of two vehicles driving away, he stopped shooting with a sense of relief. Then almost immediately, he reconsidered what the absence of two vehicles might mean.
"Damn," he thought, "I'll bet they took the van."
Pushing that thought aside for the moment, he made his way over to BA and Murdock.
"How is he, Captain?"
"I'm OK, Hannibal." BA said, wincing as he held his hand to the side of his head and sat up.
"It looks like a bullet ricocheted off a tree or something and grazed him. Good thing, ya got such a hard head, big guy!" added Murdock. BA merely growled in response.
Hannibal knelt down and looked at the gash on BA's head.
"It doesn't look too bad to me, Sergeant. When we get somewhere with better light, I'll take another look at it. Now, where's Face? We'll have to do something about that kid. Who would let such a little kid wander around the woods alone?" Without turning around, he raised his voice, "Face, bring the kid over here!"
No response. Murdock looked at Hannibal. Hannibal, still preoccupied with BA's wound, shouted, "Face, get over here!"
This time, the lack of response from his Lieutenant made Hannibal look up quickly and meet Murdock's concerned gaze with one of his own.
"I'm on my way, Colonel!" replied Murdock as he leapt to his feet and headed toward the clearing. He stepped out into the open area hesitantly, uncertain whether the bad guys had left any of their number behind. A cool breeze made the trees sigh and creak and the tall grasses rustle. Murdock waited until he was sure there were no other sounds the other side. Then, Murdock waded through the grass looking for Face.
"Faceyman, where are you?" he sang. The only answer Murdock could hear was a quiet whimper.
"Hey, can you tell me where you are?"
The whimper turned into quiet sobs. Following the sounds, Murdock found the crumpled body of Face lying on top of the small, crying child. Talking softly about nothing very much in a reassuring voice, Murdock gently rolled Face off the child. Blood stained the light blue of his heavy winter coat and the left leg of his jeans.
"Murdock, take the kid. I'll look after Face." Hannibal's voice caused Murdock to jump slightly. He hadn't realized that Hannibal had followed him. Getting to his feet, Murdock picked up the still weeping child, and moved out of Hannibal's way. He went to stand beside BA who had also arrived at the scene.
Hannibal quickly checked Face's pulse. It was steady. Sighing with relief, Hannibal opened the Lieutenant's coat and shirt. One bullet had dug a long shallow trench on his left side starting just under his ribs and ending just above his pelvis, a long but shallow wound. A second bullet had gone in one side and out the other the side of his calf. Neither wound seemed to be life-threatening. They just seemed to be bleeding a lot.
"Nice move, Face." Hannibal murmured as Face's eyes opened.
"Hannibal, how's the kid?" Face said anxiously as he struggled to sit up.
"The kid's fine. You, on the other hand, are a little worse for wear." Hannibal looked up to see BA take the child from Murdock. "Murdock, go see if they've taken the van."
"My van! Nothin' had better happen to my van, Hannibal!" growled BA. Then, noticing the scared face and quivering lip of the child, he immediately softened his tone. "Hey, I'm not mad at you, little one."
"Face, let's take your coat and shirt off so I can see your side better" asked Hannibal.
"Hannibal, it's freezing out here," groaned Face while at the same time complying with the Colonel's request.
"Stop your whining, Lieutenant. I'll be fast." Frowning because the side wound was still bleeding steadily, Hannibal swiftly took out his pocketknife and ripped the shirt into three pieces. He rolled one of the pieces into a long pad and used the longest piece to tie it firmly in place. He took the last piece and wrapped it tightly around the injured calf.
Murdock returned with the sad news that the van had indeed been taken. BA silently fumed since he didn't want to alarm the child in his arms. His scowl boded ill for the thieves.
By this time, Face was starting to shake from reaction to the blood loss and the cold air. Hannibal wrapped him back in the light blue coat and added his own green one. Murdock offered Hannibal his coat since he still wore his leather flight jacket underneath. Hannibal accepted with a smile. His smile turned to a frown as he glanced worriedly at the darkening sky. Although it was a comparatively mild November, the temperature would likely drop below freezing once the sun had set.
Hannibal considered their options. Their clients lived only a kilometre to the north down a fairly clear track. However, since their opponents knew the A-Team's location and lack of transportation, the bad guys could already be there waiting for them. The nearest town was at least 10km away. As he looked at Face sitting on the ground huddled in coats and then at BA squinting from headache, Hannibal decided 10km might be too far to walk. They would take a chance with the clients.
"OK guys, I think..."
"Sacha! Saaaacha!" a voice floated out from the woods. The child immediately wriggled in BA's arms, and cried out, "Papa! Papa!"
"Sacha!" a man staggered out of the woods. The blood smear on the left side of his face contrasted sharply with the pale skin glowing like a beacon in the gathering gloom. The man paused briefly to brace himself against a tree at the edge of the clearing. BA put the child on the ground and watched as the small body dashed towards the stranger. The man knelt down and opened his arms to receive his child. Only then did he look up and acknowledge the tableau of four men in front of him. "I see you've found my son," he said, "Are you by any chance the A-Team?"
"And if we are?" replied Hannibal.
"Well, there's some guys in a dark, green jeep who may try to ambush you. I tried to find you earlier, but they found me first. The last thing I remember was seeing Sacha take off into the woods." The man stood up shakily, clutching Sacha to his chest, and walked towards the Team.
With a wry smile, Hannibal said, "Yeah, well, they found us too. Thanks all the same, Mr..."
"Alain. Marc Alain. You've already met my son Sacha." As he got closer, Marc saw Face wrapped in jackets and asked, " Is he hurt? Is it bad? I've got a first aid room in my cottage."
"Where's your cottage?" Hannibal queried.
Marc looked around briefly, and then said, "Um, about a kilometre in that direction."
Deciding that the unknown first aid station might be a safer haven than the client's home, Hannibal decided to trust this unexpected helper.
"Good. We'll go there, then. By the way, I'm Hannibal. This is Murdock and BA. That's Face." said Hannibal crisply as he pointed to each team member.
Hannibal continued, "Okay team, let's move. Murdock, give me a hand with Face." BA protested, "Hannibal, my head ain't that bad. I can carry him."
"Are you sure, Sergeant?" At BA's nod, Hannibal shrugged and turned his attention to steadying Marc who swayed slightly.
Face started struggling to his feet, insisting, "Hey, I'm not a bag of groceries! I don't need to be carried. Just give me a hand getting up, and I'll be fine."
BA looked at Face dubiously. He knew Face didn't like to show weakness in front of strangers, but the weakness clearly showed despite his confident words. BA figured Face would last about ten steps before keeling over. Briefly, he considered simply picking Face up and slinging him over his shoulder. He knew, though, that Face would resist and the large Sergeant wasn't feeling so great himself. Silently, he helped Face to his feet and put an arm under his shoulder. Together, they walked ten steps, and right on cue, Face fainted. With a grunt of satisfaction, BA picked him up in a firefighter's lift.
"Okay," Hannibal announced, "Let's move out."
Marc led the way. Hannibal followed close behind him, ready with a steadying hand whenever Marc started to stumble. BA carrying the inert Face, came next. Murdock picked up Sacha and proceeded to instruct the little boy on the finer points of acting as rearguard, including what to do if the enemy was a bug-eyed monster from outer space.
After half an hour, the odd little procession arrived at its destination. It was a ramshackle cottage made of huge, unfinished logs set attractively among a group of dark cedar trees. In contrast to the cedars, the white trunks of a small stand of birch trees stood like sentinels to the right of the cottage. The roof line of the cottage was tall and steep. At various times in the past, the owners had added additional rooms to suit their changing needs. Its present incarnation served as a private residence as well as a first aid station. Toys of brightly-coloured, indestructible plastic littered the cleared area on the left while a large Red Cross sign ornamented the cleared area in front of the cottage.
Just before leaving the cover of the trees, Hannibal stopped them, and said, "Wait. Let me make sure that there aren't any nasty surprises waiting here for us."
Keeping to the shelter of the trees, Hannibal skirted the clearing and headed for the back of the cottage. After ensuring that no one was waiting outside the cottage, he entered through a back door. Inside, he stepped into wide open L-shaped space. He stood in a living room full of toys and comfortable furniture that was equivalent to the down-stroke of the L. Directly across the room was the front door. To the left of the front door, making the cross-stroke of the L-shape, was the kitchen. From where he stood, he could see utensils hanging from hooks on the wall and a grid dangling from the ceiling supporting various shapes and sizes of pans. The large wooden kitchen table dominated the centre and hosted several mismatched, high backed wooden chairs. He took two steps towards the kitchen to make sure no one was hiding in the corner between the sink and the fridge. Reassured that the kitchen was empty, he turned to the corridor leading from the back left corner of the living room. Moving down the corridor, he discovered an impressively equipped first aid room on the right. Farther on, the corridor turned on a right angle and Hannibal found three bedrooms, and a bathroom, all empty. He returned to the living room and opened the front door. He waved to his comrades. As BA entered the cottage with Face, Marc led him directly to the first aid room. Hannibal followed.
"Marc, let me handle this. You look like you're going to pass out." Hannibal gently moved the swaying man away from the medical equipment and towards a chair beside the examination table.
"Are you sure? Do you know what you're doing? Well, the equipment is in that cabinet. The antibiotics are in the locked cabinet. Here're the keys. Is the bullet still in him? Maybe, I should..."
"Marc, I can handle this just fine. Why don't you and BA go back to the living room and rescue Sacha from Murdock."
Marc gave Hannibal a wry grin. "More like rescue Murdock from Sacha. "
"Oh, I don't know about that," Hannibal grinned back.
Murdock stood in the kitchen with his hands on his hips and surveyed the living room. The furniture in the living room formed a rough square around a wood stove against one wall. In an easy chair closest to the back door and farthest from Murdock, BA slept with his feet up on a footstool. A bandage covered the wound on the side of his head. Next to him, Marc slept in the corner of one sofa with his feet up on the coffee table and his son curled up asleep in his lap. The wood stove in front of them crackled as the fire within danced.
Not half an hour had passed and they were completing flaked out. Shaking his head, Murdock investigated a large sea chest that was serving as a side table and found the blankets he was looking for. Carefully, he draped the sleeping figures.
He walked back towards the first aid room. Hannibal was just putting away the newly cleaned equipment while Face slept on the examination table. As Murdock walked in, Face opened his eyes.
"Faceman, you're awake!" warbled Murdock as he bounced towards the table.
"Aaaah." hissed Face as he tried to sit up and defend himself from Murdock.
"Murdock, take it easy. Face, let me help you. I think, if you're up to it, we can find you a more comfortable bed." said Hannibal as he put one arm around Face to assist him into a sitting position.
Face sat there with his legs dangling over the side of the table, gritting his teeth and leaning against Hannibal.
"Are you okay, kid?" Hannibal questioned gently. He was surprised at how grey his Lieutenant looked. The wounds were not serious, but Face had a distinctly pinched look.
After a pause, Face nodded.
Practically vibrating with the need to do something, Murdock hovered at Hannibal's elbow.
Hannibal turned to the Captain, "Murdock! For Pete's sake, give us some room! Why don't you go and turn down a bed for Face."
Eagerly, Murdock dashed out of the room and scampered down the hallway. Grinning at the antics of the mad pilot, Hannibal turned to Face. Somewhat to his surprise, Face didn't return his grin. Hannibal frowned slightly, but proceeded to help Face off the examination table.
With Hannibal supporting Face, they made their way out of the first aid room and into the hallway. To their right, Murdock's head popped out of the first door on the right side of the hallway.
"In here, guys," he said brightly.
As Hannibal entered the room, he noted the absence of any personal belongings. This room was obviously a guest room. It was small and square with walls painted a soft yellow while the trim and door were a glossy white. A double bed with a moss green counterpane resided against the far right corner. Murdock had pulled down the covers to reveal invitingly white sheets. The whole room glowed with a golden light from the lamp on the bedside table. Above the lamp, the white curtains covering the window shut out the night.
"Cozy room," commented Hannibal as he moved towards the bed. Murdock stepped forward to assist Hannibal in gently easing Face down on the bed. Face didn't say a word. He simply lay back and closed his eyes.
Frowning, Hannibal leaned forward and rested his hand on Face's forehead. It seemed cool. Too cool. Quickly, he put his hand on Face's chest and felt his body temperature. No doubt about it, Face was too cool to the touch.
"Murdock, I think Face has hypothermia. Probably spent too much time lying on the cold ground. See if you can find some hot water bottles and some blankets. I'll go make something warm to drink."
As Hannibal searched the kitchen for beverage material, neither BA nor Marc woke up, evidence of their own weakened state. Hannibal paused after putting the kettle on to boil and looked at the slumbering figures. He could feel the anger growing inside him. Those slimeballs had taken down half of his team, and he didn't even know who they were.
Their clients, Tom Sumner and Trisha Gordon, were the heads of a small community of two related families. Not long ago, both families had inherited a substantial piece of land and decided to forsake city living for the peace of the woods. Throughout the spring and into the summer, they had worked hard to make the existing dwellings inhabitable for the winter.
At first, things went fine. They got to know the town, and the locals got to know them. In the early summer, though, they began to notice that they were becoming the targets of a harassment campaign. Tools started to disappear. Repairs made one day would be undone the next. Tom Sumner, his eldest son, and Trisha's eldest daughter started to camp on the property over night to discourage the pranks. Then one night, a fire was started in one of the outbuildings. Although no one was hurt, the fact that someone could have been was enough to frighten both families.
Shortly afterwards, their access road was washed out because a stream was "accidentally" dammed during the summer flash flood season. While the harassment continued, they could not rebuild the access road or continue to fix the houses. With winter arriving, they were desperate to stop the assaults and finish building their homes.
Tom then discovered that some land speculators were funding the troublemakers. The speculators hoped to force the owners to sell at a low price so they could resell the property at a huge profit to a group of wealthy Hong Kong business people.
That's when Tom and Trisha called the A-Team.
Since the access road had been the only method to get vehicles to their homes, its absence forced the Team to park the van and walk for a kilometre along a hiking path to their clients' houses. The path was well used and easy to follow. Unfortunately for the Team, it was also an easy location for an ambush, and the Team had found itself in the middle of a fire fight.
As Hannibal mulled over these facts, he could feel the inkling of plan beginning to form. The kettle began to bubble just as Hannibal could feel a corresponding bubble of the Jazz welling inside.
"C'mon Face, drink this. It'll make you feel warmer." Hannibal was attempting to prop Face up and get him to drink the hot chocolate he had found in the cupboard.
"Hang on, Hannibal. Let me hold him." Murdock took off his shoes and climbed into the bed beside Face. Gently, he pulled his friend half into his lap so that the wounded man was leaning against Murdock's chest. Hannibal then sat down on the bed beside them and fed Face the hot drink. Shortly, the grey look began to fade from the Lieutenant's face, and he fell asleep in Murdock's arms.
Murdock lowered him onto some pillows, and lay down beside him.
"I'll stay here, Hannibal, to keep him warm."
"Okay, Captain. I'll take the first watch. Call or bang on the wall if you need me." said Hannibal as he stood up. He then reached forward and drew up the covers to cover both men. He tucked an extra blanket around Face, and took Murdock's cap off and put it on the bedside table.
Finally giving in to temptation, he ruffled Murdock's hair, lightly touched Face's head, and said, "Good night, boys. Remember, no reading comics under the covers." With that, he turned off the light and left the room.
As Hannibal opened his eyes the next morning, he found he was staring at a large pink pig. He blinked and tried to recall where he was. The last thing he remembered was BA waking up at dawn and insisting that Hannibal get some sleep. Suddenly, he realized that the empty room in which he had finally chosen to sleep was Sacha's. The little boy had still been asleep on the couch with his father when Hannibal was looking for a place to crash.
Enlightened, Hannibal smiled. The pig continued to stare at him in a friendly kind of way so Hannibal patted its head and rolled over. Then, he realized that the pig was not the only thing staring at him. Sacha sat at the foot of the bed looking at him with an intent expression.
"Good morning, Sacha."
Sacha smiled suddenly, his face lighting up like beacon. He leapt off the bed and ran out the door. Hannibal raised his eyebrows and sat up. Gradually, he became aware of the smell of freshly ground coffee. Yawning, he ran his fingers through his hair and put his shoes on.
As he passed by the guest room, he looked in. He saw Murdock lying on his side with both arms loosely wrapped around Face who was also on his side with his back against Murdock. They were both asleep, so Hannibal closed the door and proceeded to the kitchen.
"Mmmm, that coffee smells good. Is there any chance I could get a cup?"
"Good morning, Hannibal. Did Sacha wake you up?" Marc got up from the kitchen table with a grin. He pulled a mug out of a cupboard, poured coffee into it, and handed it to the Colonel while pointing to the table where milk, sugar, bowls, and cereal were laid out. Hannibal smiled his thanks and fixed his coffee.
"No, I think he was making sure I was getting along with the pink pig. How are you feeling?" he asked while looking intently at the younger man. Marc looked much better than he had the previous night. In the morning light, his grey eyes sparkled with mischief and good humour. He had showered, changed, and shaken off the effects of the assault on his head.
"I feel fine. All I needed was a good night's sleep."
"I'm right here, Hannibal."
Hannibal turned around and saw the big Sergeant entering the back door. Noticing the absence of the bandage on BA's head, Hannibal opened his mouth to ask BA how he was feeling. He reconsidered after he looked at BA's bad- tempered face and quickly took a drink of his coffee, instead. BA looked exceptionally crabby that morning.
"I just went to make sure no one was watching us." BA said as he made his way to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of milk. "So what's the plan?"
"Now, now, BA. Would it be fair to tell you the plan without the others?" teased Hannibal with a big grin.
BA rolled his eyes and groaned, "Man, it's too early to be on the jazz!" Hannibal just laughed.
Sacha dashed into the kitchen with the pink pig clutched in his arms.
"Piggle veut le petit-déjeuner," he announced before climbing into BA's lap. "Piggle aime les bananes."
BA and Hannibal looked at Marc in confusion. Marc smiled and said, "Sacha only speaks French. That's my fault because I tend to speak only French when I'm at home. He'll pick English up soon enough when he starts playing with other kids. My wife also spoke French. She was from Senegal in Africa."
Marc paused and looked down at his shoes, "My wife died last year and I came out here." He raised his eyes and looked directly at Hannibal, "Since I came here four months ago, the Sumners and the Gordons have been very kind. They often volunteer to watch Sacha when I have to be elsewhere or when I need to be alone. Make no mistake, I will do whatever I can do to help them out."
Hannibal nodded his head in understanding. To lighten the mood, he smiled and said, "So what did Sacha say?"
"Oh, he was saying that Piggle the pig wants breakfast and Piggle likes bananas. By that, he means that he wants bananas for breakfast." Marc grinned and peeled a banana for his son. "Do you want one, too?"
BA nodded and then winced. Hannibal frowned.
"What's up, BA? Your head still hurt?"
"Course it still hurts. You try gettin' shot in the head and see how it feels!" grouched BA. His temper had not improved with rest. In truth, he felt more than a little sore, but he was reluctant to admit to himself that it might be something to worry about. He told himself that if it didn't feel better by the afternoon, then he would let Hannibal know.
"Calm down, I was just asking." Not wanting to cause a ruckus, Hannibal quickly turned to Marc and asked, "So are you a doctor or something?"
"Or something," replied Marc with an impish look. "Actually, I am a licensed doctor, but I'm not actually practising at the moment. With all the hunting and camping accidents, I decided to set up an unofficial first aid station in my home. The local authorities know it's here for them to use, and they often do. In return, they keep it stocked with any supplies they think they might need. It's worked out well so far. I'm thinking of making it an official first aid station next year."
"So Hannibal, what's the plan?" asked Face as he limped into the living room followed closely by Murdock.
"Face, Murdock, glad to see you're awake at last! How ya feelin', Face?" greeted Hannibal pleased to see the rest of his team awake and mobile.
"Okay, I guess. Is there anymore coffee?" said Face as he eased himself down on the sofa in the living room where he could still see everyone in the kitchen. Murdock hovered over him with a blanket. "Murdock, stop fussing! Just leave me alone!"
With a hurt expression, Murdock retreated to the kitchen. Marc watched him curiously as Murdock started muttering about grouches and ingratitude to what appeared to be an empty space near his feet. Shaking his head slightly, Marc turned away and poured a cup of coffee for Face.
After delivering the cup to the still scowling Lieutenant, he returned to the kitchen and said, "Well, Hannibal, do you have a plan?"
Hannibal pulled out a cigar and put it in his mouth. A slight cough from Marc accompanied by a nod in Sacha's direction prevented Hannibal from actually lighting it.
With a Cheshire Cat grin, Hannibal looked around at his team. BA immediately groaned and closed his eyes. Murdock smiled in anticipation and bounced into a chair next to BA and Sacha. Face merely sighed in resignation, and said, "I already have a bad feeling about this."
The early afternoon sun brightened a patch of floor near the door. Face put down the phone receiver and watched the dust motes dance in the sunlight. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his injured leg propped up on another chair. In front of him, he had a slim but much-used telephone book. He fiddled with the pen in his right hand and drew a squiggly line around the last name he had written on the pad of paper. Beside the name, he doodled a pig. After adorning the pig with a large curled mustache, he decided he really needed to take a break. He had already spent an hour calling a number of government agencies, sowing the first seeds of Hannibal's plan.
Sacha was playing with a toy airplane. This consisted of him standing on the arm of the sofa and then launching himself and the airplane across the length of the sofa. Face turned to watch him do this a few times.
"Any minute now, he is going to either fall off the sofa or accidentally let go of the airplane and break it," he thought to himself. He wondered if he should stop the child before either scenario played out.
Crash! Face winced as Sacha bounced off the sofa and tumbled onto the floor. The airplane hit the ground and fell apart. Feeling guilty for not preventing the accident, Face quickly got to his feet. He yelped as he tried to put his weight on his injured leg. Sacha, whose face had crumpled in preparation for a good cry, was immediately distracted by the unusual sound emanating from the adult. He watched as Face sat down quickly and gritted his teeth.
When it became obvious that Face was not going to repeat the sound, Sacha lost interest and looked at his plane instead. The wheels and the wings had fallen off. Frowning, Sacha picked up the pieces and marched over to Face.
"Mon avion est cassé, Face," he announced.
"Evidemment," Face said in response to Sacha's announcement that his plane was broken.
Gently, he took the pieces from the child's hands. Fortunately, the plane was constructed of sturdy plastic pieces that easily snapped back into place. Face solemnly handed the repaired toy back to Sacha. Glowing with delight, Sacha clambered into Face's lap, bestowed a kiss on his cheek, and slid back onto the floor. Touched and pleased, Face smiled and returned to his phone calls.
Marc opened the back door and stepped into the cottage carrying an armful of firewood. He watched as Face put down the receiver and rubbed his eyes.
"Hey, Face. Want some coffee? No, don't get up. I'll make it. Black? With sugar?"
Humming to himself, Marc fixed the coffee for both of them. Turning to Sacha, he said, "Chéri, veux-tu quelque chose à boire?"
"Non," Sacha refused the offer of a drink. Instead, he held up the toy airplane, "Papa, regarde mon avion. Face l'a réparé."
"He fixed it, did he? Très bien. Say 'Thank-you, Face.'"
"De rien, Sacha," Face replied.
Marc looked at Face with surprise. "I didn't realize you spoke French."
"Well, that's just one of my many, hidden talents." grinned Face in return.
"I think Sacha's adopted you," said Marc casually, "how do you like being an instant uncle?"
Face laughed, and was about to reply when there was a sudden knock at the front door. Face looked at the back door quickly and started to rise. Marc put his hand on his arm and said, "Face, even if you make it out the back door in time, I guarantee you that at the most inconvenient time, Sacha will ask why you went out the back door. That's how three year olds are. Sit still and let me handle this." After glancing at the small boy on the floor, Face nodded.
Two men entered. The first man smiled as Marc greeted him.
"Hey Rob, what's up?"
"Hey Marc," said the taller of the two men. He wore jeans and a jacket, but something about him said Police. "This gentleman is Agent Jones from the FBI. He says he's tracking down some dangerous felons that have come up from the States. Maybe they're involved with those guys that have been harassing the Gordons. Anyway, I said I'd introduce him to the locals so he'd know who belonged. You haven't seen any strangers have you?" At this, he looked directly at Face who gave his most charming smile back. Behind the smile, Face was preparing to make a run for it.
"No, Rob, I haven't seen anybody. Mind you, I've been pretty busy catching up on the family gossip. Have you met my cousin, Felix? Felix, this is Sergeant Rob Sayers of the RCMP. He's stationed not too far away from here. Hey, Rob, where's the uniform?"
Felix? Yuck! Face thought to himself.
"I figured we'd be less conspicuous if we weren't wearing uniforms. Nice to meet ya, Felix. Are you just up for the weekend?"
"Nice to meet you, Rob. I'm..."
"Excuse me, I hate to interrupt the pleasantries, but I've got some felons to catch," interrupted the second man. He was medium height, but very stocky and strong. He wore his civilian clothing much more casually than his Canadian counterpart. After glancing once at Marc and Face, his suspicious eyes kept scanning the room, looking for signs of other adults.
All of a sudden, Sacha came running over, crying, "Face, Face, mon avion est encore cassé!"
Immediately, the FBI man glared at Face and said, "I thought you said your name was Felix."
Uh oh, Face thought, here it comes.
He opened his mouth as if to reply while at the same time maneuvering his bad leg into a better position for flight.
Marc looked up at the FBI man with amusement. "We speak French in our family. At home we pronounce my cousin's name as 'Fayleex'. So, that's what Sacha calls him. At least that's what Sacha tries to say."
Once again, Face smiled charmingly at the FBI man. Then, he picked up Sacha, and put him on his lap.
"Donne moi l'avion, Sacha." Face said to the child. The FBI man glared at him, by no means convinced by the glib response.
"C'mon, Jones. Let's leave these guys alone. Marc, if you see or hear anything, let me know. Okay?"
The two men left. Face looked at Marc, and with a look of mock horror said, "Felix! What kind of a name is Felix?"
Marc stuck out his tongue.
Two hours later, Murdock opened the front door and found a pleasant domestic scene in the kitchen. Marc was humming to himself while he chopped vegetables by the sink, and at the table Face and Sacha chattered and drew pictures with brightly coloured crayons. Murdock paused and smiled with unabashed pleasure at the sight.
Abruptly, he remembered BA. Murdock opened the door wide and cleared out of the way just in time to avoid being rammed by Hannibal who was supporting the large, wilting frame of his Sergeant. BA was looking distinctly green despite his dark skin.
"I jus' don' know what happened to me, Hannibal," BA said with confusion.
"It's okay, BA. The bullet must've hit you harder than you thought, yesterday. Why don't you just go and lie down for a while. I'll get Marc to check you out later."
Face looked up with concern. He started to rise to his feet. "What happened?"
"Sit down, Face. I don't need two of you collapsing at the same time," said Hannibal as he manhandled BA through the living room and down the hall. Murdock closed the front door, sidled up to Marc, and swiped a piece of carrot from the chopping board. Side-stepping quickly to avoid a swat from Marc, Murdock sat down at the table next to Face.
Face, still half out his chair, stared after Hannibal and BA.
"Hey, watcha doin', muchachos?" Murdock chirped with his mouth full of carrot. Sacha held up his picture proudly. "Very nice," said Murdock admiringly.
Marc finished with the carrots, turned around, and leaned against the counter wiping his hands with a dish towel. He cocked his head to one side and also made admiring noises at his son.
Face stood up completely, grabbed the pilot's jacket, and exclaimed in exasperation, "Murdock! What happened?"
"Hmm?" said Murdock as he looked up from admiring Sacha's drawing, "Oh, nothing very much. Hannibal went to visit the zoning office. I visited the local library. BA bought some supplies and collapsed inside the van."
"Face, didn't I tell you to sit down," said Hannibal as he entered the room behind Face and pushed him down into his chair. "BA's all right. He just overdid it today." Hannibal sighed and sat down next to Sacha. The little boy, tugged at his sleeve, smiled and presented his picture for inspection. Hannibal smiled back at him and patted the boy's head in approval before looking at his Lieutenant. "So, did you have any luck?"
Still distracted, Face blinked and then replied, "Uh, yeah. The land speculator is using the name Sunny Homes Company. I managed to find and contact their clients and sow some seeds of doubt about Xenoc's legal right to the property it claims it owns. I've arranged to meet their representative the day after tomorrow. As an added bonus, I found some vacant property closer to Owen Sound that might just tempt them to drop their interest in this area. Oh, I also got the appropriate people wondering about the possible presence of contaminants in the soil."
Hannibal brightened, "Really? Nice going, Face."
Marc cleared his throat and said, "Now wait a minute. What's with the contaminants? We don't want the government evacuating everyone! We just want the speculators to lose interest."
Hannibal replied, "The best way to make the speculators lose interest is to make their clients lose interest. So, tomorrow we are going to dress up as soil inspectors, wander around, take samples, and generally raise some rumours. When the clients hear the rumours, they will back off in favour of the other vacant property that Face has found. See, it'll be a piece of cake."
Murdock looked eagerly at his commander. "Hannibal, can I be an inspector? Billy could help by digging the holes." He then reached down to pet the air by his feet. Marc stared at him and then shook his head.
"Sure, Captain," grinned Hannibal.
"There's only one problem," Face interjected, "I think the Feds have gotten wind of us. There's some guy named Agent Jones canvassing the neighbourhood looking for a group of wanted felons. If he figures out who we are, he'll blow our cover and our plan."
Hannibal turned a serious face towards his Lieutenant, "How do you know?"
Face recounted the unwelcome intrusion of the RCMP and FBI officers. He carefully avoided mentioning the name Marc had bestowed upon him.
"Well, now that's settled, I know a certain little boy who is well overdue for his afternoon nap. Viens avec moi, Sacha. " Marc walked over and picked up his son. Then he looked at Face. "I see someone else who should be resting."
Hannibal looked at his Lieutenant sharply. Face opened his mouth to protest, but Hannibal held up his hand to forestall him. "He's right. You look exhausted."
"Viens, Felix," Marc said, smiling as he held out his free hand to Face. Face grumbled as he got to his feet, stiffly. As he limped towards Marc, Murdock and Hannibal exchanged glances.
"Felix?" they mouthed at each other in wild surmise.
BA woke up abruptly to the soft sound of a door being opened. He turned his head towards the sound, momentarily confused by the total unfamiliarity of the room. In the doorway, he saw Face. Upon seeing BA's opened eyes, Face smiled and limped into the room holding a glass of milk.
"I thought if you were awake, you might be thirsty."
"Thanks, man," BA said as he sat up and accepted the milk. "Where are the other two?"
"Well, Hannibal and Murdock have gone off to play inspectors. Marc went to warn the Gordons and the Sumners of the plan. That leaves you and me with the munchkin," replied Face as he leaned up against the wall.
BA frowned at Face, "I thought they were going to wait until tomorrow to do that!"
Face looked at him in surprise and then laughed, "BA, it is tomorrow. You've been asleep for a day and a half." His face suddenly went very serious. "I was starting to get worried about you."
BA looked into his friend's face and was disconcerted and touched to see how worried Face looked. Such naked emotion was unusual for the Lieutenant. Of course, BA knew that Face cared deeply for him as he did for all the Team, but he seldom displayed it as openly as he was now.
"Are you okay, Face?" he asked.
"I'm fine. I'm just a little stiff and sore." Face looked away briefly and then looked back with his familiar smile. "Are you hungry?"
"Good because Sacha and I have been busy. Don't move, I'll be right back." Face replied eagerly and left the room. He returned almost immediately pushing a trolley piled high with food. Sacha followed him clutching Piggle.
The three of them had a picnic while sitting on the floor of the bedroom. Two hours passed quickly and without incident. Finally sated, Face lay back on the floor while BA tidied up the remains of the feast. Within minutes, Face fell asleep. Carefully, BA got up and draped a blanket over his sleeping friend. Quietly, Sacha followed BA out of the room.
The two went to the living room. BA glanced at the clock. He was surprised at how late it was.
"Oh well," he thought, "Murdock and Hannibal will be back, soon."
He sat down on the couch and picked up a magazine. Sacha snuggled up beside him. BA smiled and felt very content.
An hour later, a groan issued from the spare room. Concerned, BA put down the magazine and carefully shifted himself away from the now sleeping Sacha. He swiftly crossed the living room, traversed the hall, and entered the spare room. He found Face attempting to get to his feet.
"What's the matter, Face!" BA asked gruffly, relieved that his friend seemed in working order.
"Man, I am as stiff as a board," Face complained as he grimaced at each twinge of his protesting muscles. "Where's Hannibal and Murdock?"
"They're not back yet."
"What! They should have been back by now!" Face said with alarm. He frowned with concentration. "BA, how are you feeling now? I mean, do you feel up to little reconnaissance?"
"What are you thinking, Face," BA said with the faint feeling of trepidation.
Deep in the woods, BA paused to listen for any sounds of movement. A breeze caused some branches above his head to rustle and a squirrel to chitter its disapproval. After glancing up at the squirrel, BA returned his attention to the other sounds of the woods. Finally satisfied that nothing else human seemed to be disturbing the wildlife, he signalled an all-clear to Face. Limping slightly, but silently, Face followed BA into the ghostly grey and brown undergrowth of the woods.
The afternoon was dying. The crispness of the fall air was beginning to turn frosty with the oncoming evening. As the temperature dropped below freezing, both men released plumes of cloud with each breath. Face shivered slightly. He hated the cold. BA, the Chicago native, grinned slightly at his friend's discomfort. Nevertheless, as the next icy gust of wind hit him, BA shivered, too, and silently cursed how the warmer California climate had thinned his blood.
After two days of inactivity, he was glad to be finally doing something. They had taken Sacha over to the Trisha Sumner so that he and Face could look for their missing teammates. Face signalled to BA that he heard someone. Straining his ears, BA detected the faint sound of two people arguing. Face beckoned him and carefully headed towards the people.
Then, to the relief of the two listening men, a familiar voice said, "We've already told you. We're testers hired by the Xenoc Company to determine whether this area has been contaminated by a load of hazardous waste that was accidentally lost somewhere out here." Hannibal was playing his role as soil inspector.
A second voice anxiously blurted, "Jim, what if what they say is true? What if this place is contaminated?"
Another voice, presumably Jim, replied in a calm voice, "Jonesy, it doesn't matter. All we gotta do is make sure these guys either file a report that says the area is clean or they don't file a report at all. You hear that, you two? You're gonna file a report that says this land is as clean as a whistle or you're gonna spend the rest of the night out here. If you stay out here, I can't guarantee what kind of condition you'll be in when I come back. If I come back."
Silence greeted this remark.
Jim said, "So be it."
BA snarled quietly and started forward, but Face grabbed his arm with an firm grip. BA scowled furiously and tried to pull his arm away. Face scowled back and pointed to his own leg and side and then at BA's head. BA calmed down and nodded realizing that Face was correct, neither of them was in any condition to take on two presumably armed antagonists.
Face maintained his grip until he was certain the two thugs had left the scene. Then, he looked sideways at BA and gave him a particularly mischievous grin. Signalling his friend to remain where he was, Face made his way forward through the trees until he was out of BA's sight. The Sergeant closed his eyes and wondered what his friend was going to do.
Abruptly, his cheerful voice rang out, "Hey Colonel, mind if I join your midnight vigil?"
"AH! Dammit Lieutenant, what are trying to do, give me a heart attack?" Hannibal's irate response made BA smile. After carefully schooling his features into his typical scowl, he strode through the trees to join his comrades. He saw Face was still grinning even as he was wincing at having to kneel on his bad leg to reach Hannibal's bonds. Hannibal was sitting on the ground with his tied legs straight out in front of him and his hands bound around a tree trunk behind his back.
Suddenly, BA asked, "Where's Murdock?"
"Over here, big guy! Could you maybe give me a hand and untie these ropes?" The Sergeant turned to his left to see Murdock similarly tied to a tree. A bruise marred the left side of the Captain's face and explained his relatively subdued behaviour. BA scowled and went to free his friend.
While the four men headed back towards Marc's cabin, the Colonel and the Captain described how they had been surprised by the two goons while they were filling vials with soil samples. One of the goons had managed to daze Murdock with a branch. With the odds against him, Hannibal had decided to give up and play the innocent researcher.
Just before reaching the house, Face suddenly stopped. Surprised, the other three turned to him.
"Face? Are you okay?" Hannibal asked with concern.
Face held up his hand to silence them. He frowned in concentration. Finally, just as the others were starting to shift impatiently in the cold, he beamed his brightest smile.
"Jonesy is Agent Jones!" he exclaimed.
Now really concerned, the others exchanged glances.
"Uh Face," Hannibal began.
Face interrupted him, "Listen guys, remember when the cop and the federal agent came to Marc's place? Well, the fed was a guy named Jones who just happens to be one of the guys that tied you up. I recognized his voice."
"Well, I guess that means we don't have to worry about the Feds after all," said Hannibal with a grin. "Okay, let's get back to the cottage."
With a jaunty step, the Colonel led his team forward. They saw the light streaming from the living room window at the back of the house before they saw the actual cottage. Following the beacon, they pushed their way through the thick underbrush separating the woods from the lawn.
At the sound of their thrashing around in the vegetation, Marc's concerned face appeared, peering through the window in the back door. Upon seeing, them, Marc grinned with relief and then disappeared.
"I guess Marc's home," Hannibal said as he strode up to the door and pushed it open.
"So, the wandering warriors return!" Marc greeted them from the kitchen. He was wearing a green and white checked apron and matching oven mitts. Sacha sat on the kitchen floor with a big mixing bowl between his legs, batter all over his cheeks, and a blissful look of contentment on his face. A powerful aroma of coffee and freshly baked cake hit the team members and instantly all four were aware of how hungry they were.
Waving them towards the living room, Marc laughed and said, "I take it you want some coffee and cake? Well, you'll have to wait a few minutes. I've only just taken it out of the oven. Sit down, and tell me why you abandoned my child to the mercy of the neighbours."
Murdock carefully broke off a piece of cake and placed it on the ground. Sacha sat beside him, watching intently. They were alone in the kitchen, sitting on the floor under the kitchen table. Everyone else had finished their coffee and cake and gathered in the living room to discuss the next step.
"Good boy, Billy." said Murdock as he patted the air above the cake. Solemnly, Sacha reached out and patted the air, too. "See, Sacha, he likes you. Just be real gentle. He likes it if you scratch his ears, like this." Suiting actions to words, Murdock scratched the air.
"Murdock! Murdock, where are you?"
Murdock jumped guiltily and banged his head painfully on the underside of the table.
Rubbing his head, he called out, "Be right there, Colonel!" He turned to Sacha, "take care of Billy for me, Sacha."
After giving both Billy and Sacha one more pat each, Murdock crawled out from under the table and hurried into the living room.
"Oui, mon Colonel," he stopped in front of Hannibal, executed a sharp salute, and snapped to attention.
Hannibal smiled and shook his head. "At ease, Captain. How would you like to help me get back at those slime balls?"
Murdock's face lit up like a beacon. "You betcha!"
"Good. Let's go."
"So, Mr. Alain, what exactly is your interest in this matter?"
"Please, call me Felix," Face smiled charmingly at the young, serious, representative before him. Like his clients, Oliver Chan was from Hong Kong. He was immaculately dressed in the latest formal business attire. Face appreciated the stylish ensemble and felt a certain amount of satisfaction that his own suit was just as impressive. "I regret to say that my company, Xenoc is the source of the potential contamination. We have, of course, pledged to locate and then clean up the waste. We have tried contacting all parties who own or have expressed interest in the area to warn them."
Face changed his expression slightly to a more serious look. "We were somewhat surprised when after we had informed Sunny Homes Company of the problem, neither they nor their clients contacted us. After a time, we thought we had better contact their clients, in other words, your clients, directly just in case there had been a break down in communication."
"I see," said Oliver, flatly. It was plain he was displeased. "When do you expect to find and then clean up this contamination?"
"We've been encountering some difficulties with some thugs assaulting our soil inspectors. However, we expect to have the whole thing cleaned up in about a year or two at the most." Face replied cheerfully. Oliver's face dropped with dismay. Face continued, "We realize that this is an extreme inconvenience to you and your clients. To make amends, we have taken the opportunity to find some other property that might suit your needs."
As Oliver brightened visibly, Face smoothly produced some documents that described a very nice piece of property near Owen Sound.
Quietly, Hannibal rejoined BA and Murdock who were hiding near the clearing where the Colonel and Captain had been tied up the previous day.
"Okay, guys. They have a trailer parked just off the access road over there. You know the plan. Let's do it." He whispered.
Nodding, Murdock crept away to the right while Hannibal and BA headed to the left.
Meanwhile Jones and Jim were consulting with three other heavies at the trailer. Jones was whining, "What are we gonna do about those two inspector guys?"
"We leave 'em for now. We've got bigger problems. Apparently, those guys we were fighting with a coupla days ago were the A-Team. That means we gotta be prepared to..."
Just then, Murdock popped out of the woods and warbled, "Yoohoo, fellas. Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"
"Hey! That's one of those inspector guys. Get him!" Jim shouted. At once, all five started after the pilot. Grinning madly, Murdock took off into the trees in the direction from which he had come.
BA and Hannibal waited until all five thugs were gone and then they set to work.
An hour later, five weary thugs returned to their camp.
"Damn, he was good," said one of them, "we almost had him and then he just disappeared!"
"Yeah, it's almost like he was deliberately leading us away from the camp," Jim said suspiciously. As one, all five men headed for the trailer. At first, only three entered, the other two remained outside. Then from nowhere bullets kicked up the dirt in front of them. Yelping, they dived inside the trailer.
Clunk! The door to the trailer closed.
Snick! The door was locked.
Hannibal stepped out into the encampment and grinned. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and pulled out a cigar. Carefully, he lit it and puffed contentedly. Inside the trailer, thumps and banging could be heard as the reluctant residents tried to open the door. BA stepped out of the woods holding a remote control.
"Good work, BA."
"Yeah. Well, the bullet proofing made it easier. Didn't hafta to put no bars in the windows."
"Well, we just have to wait for Murdock and then we'll be outa here. Ah, there you are, Captain." Hannibal turned to smile at the pilot as Murdock sauntered out of the woods.
Suddenly, an outraged cry split the air. Startled, both Hannibal and Murdock turned and crouched guns raised in a defensive posture. They saw BA standing next to his beloved van staring intently at the driver's door.
"Hannibal! Hannibal, they scratched my van! I'm gonna tear 'em apart!" BA stalked towards the trailer with mayhem in his eye.
"Uh, BA. BA, we have to hand these guys over to the authorities. Don't you want to see them in jail?" reasoned Hannibal as he bravely stepped in front of his irate Sergeant.
BA glowered and said, "No, I wanna see them in PIECES."
"Sergeant, we don't have time for this," barked Hannibal. BA continued to glare at his commander. Finally, he took a deep breath and walked back towards his van. Taking out a bandanna, he gently wiped the scratched door and then carefully cleaned the windows and the mirrors.
Relieved, Hannibal turned and clapped Murdock on the shoulder.
"Well, Captain, are you ready to pilot some bad guys back to town."
"Yes, sir!" replied Murdock with enthusiasm. Together they joined BA at the van.
Hannibal sat in the back, for once. BA, of course, was driving. Murdock sat in the front next to BA holding the remote control. It looked exactly like the kind of remote you use for a model car. With it, he was controlling the trailer. Together, trailer and van made their way to town.
The town was a pretty place. It had a mixture of old and new buildings on the main street. The stores sold things like fudge, antiques, and sweaters. On the lampposts hung bright banners announcing the annual fall festival. A coffee shop on the corner was filled with patrons sipping their midmorning coffee and discussing the latest rumour about contaminated soil in the woods.
Near the main intersection, the local hotel, The Beaver's Arms, resided next to the local police station. Face stood on the front porch of the hotel looking elegant and refined except for the smug expression on his face. The dress store immediately across the road from the hotel was unusually full of shoppers, and all of them seemed to find the dresses in the front window to be of extraordinary interest. Their lustful glances in his direction were not lost on Face.
Even BA had to admit that the trials of the last two days had not taken any of the shine off the handsome Lieutenant. Hannibal smiled at the smug expression because that meant Face's plan had worked. Only one more piece to go.
Carefully, Murdock stopped the trailer in front of the police station. BA parked the van just in front of the trailer. All three men got out of the van and headed for the police station. Meeting them at the door were Tom Gordon and Trisha Sumner. Together the five people walked up to the desk. The officer on duty, Samantha Smith looked up in amazement to see so many people.
"Yes?" she smiled, "can I help you?"
Hannibal smiled back and said, "as a matter of fact, you can. You see that trailer out there? It is filled with a bunch of thugs who have been harassing my friends, here.
Tom cleared his throat and said, "These men were the ones who've been giving us such a hard time, Sam."
Immediately business-like, Sam took out her notebook and went through the procedure for making a complaint. Finally, when that was done, she headed out to the trailer. After knocking on the door, she asked them to come out of the trailer.
"We can't open the door!" came the frustrated voice of Jim. Surreptitiously, Murdock thumbed a button on the control. Quietly, the door lock snicked opened.
"Why not?" Samantha asked.
"They locked us in?" Jones responded.
"That's a serious charge, sir," Samantha stated, "As far as I can see, there's no reason you couldn't open the door. Try again. Maybe it's just a little stuck."
Jones tried the door again, and it opened smoothly, nearly tossing him into the gutter. Fuming, he turned to Hannibal and said, "I'm going to get you! Next time, I'll chain you to the tree and leave you there!"
Samantha immediately grabbed Jones and efficiently cuffed him before the surprised man knew what was happening.
"Sir, I'm arresting you for public mischief. I'm sure I'll be able to find some more charges if I think about it."
"Including impersonating a police officer," said Rob Sayers, the RCMP officer. He was lounging up against the wall of the police station. This time, he was in full uniform.
"Sayers!" exclaimed Jones, "Do you know who these people are? They're the A- Team!"
Hannibal, Murdock, and BA all froze. Rob stood up and put his hand on his gun. His face took on an extremely serious look. Hannibal's mind was whirling as he tried to think of a way out of the suddenly dangerous situation.
Just as suddenly, Rob started laughing. "If you could just see your faces!" he exclaimed. Bewildered, the Team stared at him.
"Of course I knew they're the A-Team! How'd ya think the Tom and Trisha found 'em? Being the A-Team is not illegal in Canada unless we get a warrant from the States. You had me worried for a while there, Jones, since I thought maybe you did have a warrant. Since you're not even a Fed..." Rob held his hands up to his side, palms up as if to say the problem was out of his hands.
Hannibal tossed back his head and laughed.
"Well, y'know, I love it when a plan comes together!"