Keeper of the Truth
Disclaimer: I do not own The A-Team movie or television series or any of the delightful characters found on The A-Team.
"More coffee, Hannibal?" At Hannibal's nod, Face refilled the Colonel's cup and returned the pot to the coffeemaker in the kitchen.
Murdock turned away from the telescope which stood just inside the balcony doors. "I gotta say, Faceman, ya got some nice taste in penthouses. Th' view from here . . . did ya know ya can see everythin' goin' on at th' pool downstairs with this li'l scope?"
Face cleared his throat and flashed a dazzling smile at his friends. "The view's even nicer poolside."
The pilot grinned broadly. "I bet."
"'Nough of your jibber-jabber!" B. A. scowled at Murdock as he crossed to the couch and flopped down, crossing his ankles and propping his feet up on the ornate oak coffee table. "I wanna hear 'bout the mission, not 'bout one of Face's woman friends."
"Oh, trus' me, Big Guy. There was more 'n one o' them down there. Mus' be real hot outside as much skin as they were showin'. B'sides, I don' wanna be samplin' the local talent when I got my girl Dani waitin' for me back at th' VA." Murdock raised his eyebrows at the con man as he glanced toward the window, then at the Colonel. He smiled mischievously at the regret Face showed as he decidedly took a seat with his back toward the balcony.
Face sighed, making Murdock smirk. "So who's our client, Hannibal?" The con man shot his friend a withering glance.
"Theodore Schreiker. He claims to have escaped a mountaintop compound owned by a group who calls themselves the Keepers of the Truth. Their supreme leader is an egotistical maniac called Reverend Matthias Barger." Hannibal looked at each of the men in turn, especially at B. A. and Face. The Sergeant and Murdock gaped at him and then at each other in disbelief.
The Lieutenant stared incredulously at his leader. His hands gripped the arms of the chair, his fingers digging into the upholstery. "Isn't this like a bad case of deja vu?"
"Gotta 'gree with Face, Colonel. Sounds too much like Martin James 'n' his special brand o' crazy. Ya do r'member him, don'tcha?" Murdock swung his feet off the coffee table and stood. Shaking his head, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and began to pace from the couch to the window and back again.
"So why'd he hire us? If he escaped he ain' in any mo' danger," B. A. stated, his eyes following the agitated movement of the pilot.
"He wants his property and money returned. He claims that Barger brainwashes new initiates into surrendering all of their possessions to the Keepers. But Schreiker's sure that Barger hasn't had enough time to liquidate the deed and bank accounts he stole from him."
"I don' like it, Colonel. Las' time ya went up 'gainst a maniacal cult leader, he had ya playin' hide 'n' seek with his gun-totin' disciples o' evil. 'N' I had a hard time findin' ya b'fore they did!" Murdock stopped to look at the older man and groaned. "So this ain' negotiable? Ya really are gonna try 'n' bust up Barger's cult?"
Face leaned forward to hear Hannibal's answer.
The Colonel fixed his eyes on his Lieutenant. "I know last time our goal wasn't to recover any stolen property but to free the recruits from the clutches of Martin James. This time maybe we can do both."
Murdock started pacing again.
"Ya said it was on a mountaintop. This ain' gonna mean I gotta get in no chopper, does it?" B. A. grumbled. He glowered at the pilot but saw no glimmer of enthusiasm on Murdock's face at the prospect of flying in for a rescue.
"There's more than one way to get up and down a mountain, B. A." Hannibal grinned.
"And being on a mountain, that compound must be heavily defended," Face offered.
"Yeah. They ain' gonna open th' gates wide for us ta come in," the Sergeant added.
"That's why we need an inside man. Someone who can pretend to be confused about life and looking for a deeper spiritual experience. Someone who can find out for us where everything is and knock out Barger's defenses to let us in." The Colonel took a swallow from his now cold coffee. His gaze focused on the pacing pilot.
Face drew in a breath of disbelief. "Come on, Colonel. I'm better at running a scam like that," the con man protested, his eyes following his buddy as he walked back and forth, muttering to himself about deja vu and crazy cult leaders.
B. A. frowned at Hannibal and then at Murdock. "No way, man."
The three men silently watched as the pilot came to a stop, realizing his friends were all staring at him. "What? Why're y'all lookin' at me?"
Face scrutinized the list of supplies Hannibal had given him. The sports section of this store wasn't equipped with the climbing harnesses they would need but it did have rope and carabiners. Even as he selected an 80 meter long bundle of 10 mm climbing rope, he wondered what in Hannibal's plan would go wrong this time.
I hope we're able to get up the mountain before Barger and his goons figure out who Murdock is. If we don't . . .
He forced himself not to think about the deadly game Reverend Martin James made them participate in. It was one thing if you were with other members of your team, but if you were alone and isolated on a mountaintop and the prey of a deadly maniacal cult leader, where would you go?
B. A. waited impatiently for Hannibal to focus the binoculars on Barger's mountain compound.
"Looks like they figured someone would eventually try to scale the mountain. They have a chain link fence set one or two feet from the cliff edge. I'm not sure if it surrounds the entire compound. Murdock may have to find a way to cut the fence to let us in." Hannibal muttered his observations to the Sergeant, then set the binoculars aside. "Hand me the camera. I'm going to take some photos of the mountain face."
"Thought you were gonna try a front door attack." B. A. glanced at the man beside him as he handed him the camera with its zoom lens.
"We might have to do both. A two-pronged attack would divide up Barger's forces, make it easier for us to get to Barger himself." Hannibal snapped off several shots in silence.
"It don't make sense," B. A. grumbled. "Schreiker was in there. How come he couldn't tell ya where everythin' was?"
The Colonel shook his head impatiently. "Schreiker wasn't there long enough. He figured out what was happening and found a way to escape before he could see the entire compound. But not soon enough to prevent Barger from getting his hands on Schreiker's money and personal property."
The Sergeant rested his hands on the top of the steering wheel. "I don't like it, Colonel. Crazy man havin' ta try an' trick a guy even crazier 'n himself."
Hannibal smiled. "Murdock's been able to fool the doctors at the VA all these years, hasn't he?"
"But he wasn' fakin' it when they put him in there ta begin with. Not so sure he ain' still crazy, all the stuff he does an' says." B. A. stared at the gold rings on his fingers as he spoke. "Are ya sure we can' just do this without sendin' him in?"
The Colonel raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Why, B. A. Are you worried about what might happen to him?"
B. A. straightened in his seat and scowled. "Jus' hope whatever yer plannin' comes off without a hitch. Guys like James an' Barger're dangerous."
Hannibal decided to drop the subject. All of them were tense. He took another photo of the chain link fence at the top of the mountain as he thought about Murdock. Was he able to do what they needed him to do without arousing suspicion?
Once the pilot understood what Hannibal wanted him to do, his demeanor turned cold and deadly quiet. Almost like he was preparing himself for a behind-the-lines mission he might not survive. Hannibal thought about the pilot's military files and the gaps in his record. CIA, maybe?
But then, this was the same Captain who read comic books and petted invisible dogs. The Colonel shook his head and dismissed the idea.
Scanning the road map spread out on the dashboard, he pointed to a roadway that would take them to another vantage point. "Let's look for other ways to get to that compound. I don't want to try our luck and have Murdock do a flyover in a chopper just so I can get photos of the layout. I don't want Barger to get any more paranoid than he already is."
Murdock rested, his legs bent and dangling over one arm of the sofa. His eyes were closed. One arm pillowed his head. The penthouse was quiet except for laughter and an occasional shriek of surprise drifting up from the pool area and through the open window.
He knew at any time he needed total silence he could walk over and shut the window but he enjoyed the slight breeze coming in.
"B'sides, I can' afford t' be distracted right now," he muttered to himself.
For the thousandth time, Murdock visualized himself entering the New Age bookstore Schreiker claimed was a recruiting hub for Barger's cult. He would have to look like something traumatic had happened in his life and he was on a personal journey to find answers to life's most puzzling questions. Giving the impression that he had some property and possessions Barger would want to get his hands on was another thing. Equally important.
How'm I gonna do that?
He was not deeply spiritual . . . that was something his Gramma was . . . but his experiences during the war made him question things about the brevity of life and why some survived and others didn't.
Chuck Heller. He reached up to touch the dogtag around his neck, a duplicate of one he gave each of them for Christmas. It was meant to be a reminder of the sacrifice Chuck Heller made to prevent Face and Bruce Wilson from being recaptured after their escape from their NVA guards. How could one man do that for another, knowing he might not survive another imprisonment?
He shook his head in frustration, forcing the guilt and memories back. "Concentrate, Murdock. Don' go thinkin' 'bout that now."
He wished Hannibal and B. A. would get back soon. In a way, he was anxious to begin his undercover infiltration of the cult. His work with the CIA didn't involve very much action in the field. He was mostly a pilot for Air America, used by the CIA for covert operations. His training hadn't been utilized very much. Maybe it would now.
Drawing in a deep breath, he focused once more on the approach he would try when he entered Scarlet's Journey Bookstore to be recruited by the Keepers of the Truth.