A little hesitantly, I'm sharing the first chapter of a new story which I hope you will enjoy.
It's a story about the friendship and trust between two of our favorite characters; Face and Murdock. Because I am not very well known with real-time mental illnesses and treatments, I took the liberty to make some of the things up on the go while hopefully staying respectful at the same time. Regarding this matter, I've noticed how the original A-team tv-series weren't exactly staying close to reality either, so I think it should be okay without insulting anyone. It's fiction after all.
I'm also going to try and see if I can write shorter chapters which will allow me to update more often.
Here goes, fingers crossed.
By the way, I had a ball writing Face's dialog with the nurse!
Please enjoy the ride and let me know if I should continue. ;)
Chapter 1 : Something is Brooding
It was late in the morning and already getting close to noon.
The sun was steadily climbing above the typical West-coast marine layer that hadn't completely cleared yet. There was a cool breeze outside and it promised to be another nice and sunny day in California.
All was calm at the L.A. Veteran Hospital… or at least it was right now. Orderlies were performing their morning routines, preparing the medication trays and generally making sure every patient was tended to.
Not much had happened yet if you ignored the random incident during breakfast when one of the patients jumped onto the table and started to act like a chicken. After his third cock-a-doodle-doo and the pretense of having laid an egg (despite the fact that a person could reason why a rooster technically would not do such a thing), the orderlies decided it was time to take the rioter to his room for the sake of the other patients. Fortunately for them, the patient didn't make much fuss about it and quietly complied while uttering an occasional cluck. A straightjacket didn't seem to be necessary this time. Right now, everything was calm again and the rest of the morning had continued in an almost mundane fashion.
Yet… something was brooding.
Murdock sat on the edge of his bed, sighing deeply while scrutinizing his hands again.
"What do you think, Pete?" He asked. "Do you reckon it will all end soon?"
"I guess it depends on the way you look at it," a chirpy and somewhat pompous voice answered.
Murdock frowned in response while his companion continued his musings.
"The end, my friend, is a point in time in which a situation or activity stops completely," Pete said, sounding all-knowingly. "So if things stop 'soon', it means it will quickly come to an end. But what is 'soon' you may ask? Does it mean shortly, or presently? Or in a blink of the eye?"
Murdock opened his mouth to interrupt but it seemed impossible to get a word in edgewise as his friend resumed his reveries
"Well;" Pete went on. "'Soon' is the moment that arrives after 'Now'. And 'Soon' your trial will come to an end, and... as you well know..., the end of your problem might not come soon enough."
Murdock tsked impatiently.
"Pete! If I wanted a philosophical point of view, I could've read Dr. Seuss instead." He retorted.
"Well, don't ask me obvious questions then when you already know the answer," Pete countered. "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple..."*
"Urgh," Murdock grumbled while standing up from his bed.
Digging his hands deep in his pants pockets, he started pacing up and down his room at the V.A.
Despite the fun he'd had that morning, he was starting to feel uncharacteristically testy.
His problem was still very much there and it didn't seem to vanish as fast as he'd hoped. Murdock paused his pacing temporarily to glance at his watch. A shadow fell over his face as he noticed the time.
"Soon won't be fast enough," he groaned. Face was going to pick him up in about ten minutes and it was still there! Not for the first time, he felt his whole body shudder. Then turning to Pete he added, "And what is it with you anyway? I thought you were my personal advisor. But so far you've been completely useless…"
There was a moment of silence.
"Well," Pete mumbled indignantly. "What would you expect from a talking parakeet...and an invisible one at that..."
Murdock gave a disgruntled shrug as he nervously pursued his pacing again. He wiped his clammy face and wondered if someone had turned on the heat. The room, which was usually his safe haven, seemed to suffocate him, and suddenly he felt like he was cooking. Shredding off his red-and-black plaid shirt, he knelt down to his bed in search of his duffel bag which he'd already packed beforehand.
Finding it, he dragged it from under the bed and tried opening it. But it didn't go as smoothly as he'd hoped. The lanky man's face contorted slightly as he struggled with the zipper. This was gonna be a problem. His thin thingers were 'so' annoyingly uncoordinated that something as easy as pulling a zipper seemed like an enterprise on its own. However, Murdock didn't let it get to him. Ultimately, his persistence paid off, and with a little whoop, he managed to open the bag.
But unfortunately, his struggle wasn't over yet.
While ungracefully cramming his shirt inside, he accidentally pushed out some of the bags' other contents.
There went his deodorant, his shaving cream, his soap, and last but not least, his toothbrush.
"Oh no, come back here!" Murdock cried while seeing the latter happily disappearing into the dark shadows of his bed. In the meantime, his other toiletries were running amok over the floor. Murdock quickly gathered his stuff and returned them to the bag with a frustrated sigh.
Then the lanky man grudgingly lowered himself to his stomach while seriously contemplating the necessity of owning a toothbrush to begin with. Was it 'really' that important to clean his teeth every day?
His hand moved around in the darkness while searching for the runaway tooth-cleaner. He was about to give up when he remembered his fearful visits to the dentists and decided it was definitely worth retrieving it.
Ah, there it was!
Murdock's hand clumsily closed around the thin cleaning device before getting back to his feet. However, his slightly victorious smirk quickly disappeared as he noticed the state of the thing.
"Ah hell...Dust bunnies...," he said, sounding slightly repulsed while staring at his now filthy toothbrush. "I fear that I've never really liked the taste of them..."
"It's a curious thing," he mused from his position on the pilot's bed. "How the dust of everyday's life is clinging to such a mundane cleaning device as a toothbrush."
"Owwww hush you," Murdock muttered while getting back to his feet.
With the toothbrush clenched steadily in his hand, he made his way to the sink to rinse it under a cool stream of water.
So far, this promised to become an interesting day, and he wasn't sure whether he was looking forward to it or not. However, there was no time to contemplate because it was about high time he started his performance.
With renewed energy, the lanky man climbed on top of his dresser, cleared his throat and started his well-rehearsed cock-a-doodle-doo's.
Face was on his way to the V.A. He was in great spirits while he listened to a song by Blondie on the car radio. The colonel had found a new client and although Face still needed to hear all the details it sounded like it was going to be an easy job this time. The conman smiled inwardly. These were the jobs he liked doing best. Easy money, and no extra dentist, dry-cleaning or tailor bills.
Whistling along with the tune of the song, he turned the Vette around a corner and entered the parking lot of the hospital. As he stepped out of the car, he mentally went through his latest scam one more time.
If Murdock had done exactly what he'd asked him to do then it would all be a matter of walking in and out of the place. Easy as pie.
While Face replaced his sunglasses with a pair of fake gold-rimmed ones, he checked the perimeter one more time. As always, he was on the look-out for anyone following him because you could never be too careful. But for the moment, the coast seemed clear of any MP's and other undesirable entities.
Good. Today was going to be a good day.
Minutes later, the conman entered the psychiatric ward of the V.A. dressed in a white doctor's coat with a clipboard under his arm and a briefcase in his hand. He even put on an antibacterial facemask for extra impact.
Face suppressed a smile as he heard a distant clucking sound coming from one of the rooms down the hallway. Keeping his face straight, he turned to the nurse station and demonstratively placed his briefcase on the counter with a loud thud.
The young blonde nurse, who'd been busy with some paperwork almost jumped from her chair and looked up into the deep blue eyes of the man standing in front of her. Noticing that he got her attention, Face removed his facemask and sent the young woman one of his stunning 1000 Volt smiles while placing his business card on her desk.
The nurse gasped as she felt slightly intimidated by the mesmerizing charm radiating from the man in front of her.
Face, noting with satisfaction that he got her full attention, didn't beat around the bush and immediately started talking.
"Hi, My name is Dr. Volaille. I've been sent by the head of The Department of Mental Research and Bacterial Relations of the National Domestic Poultry Association, and I am here to collect one of your patients…." Face pretended to check his clipboard. "A mister H.M. Murdock. Where is he? Have you prepared him for his leave yet?"
The clucking and crowing sounds in the distance started to increase ever so slightly.
The nurse hesitated.
"I haven't heard of any releases today. A moment please. What department was it again?" she said, sounding slightly taken aback while hurriedly checking her computer screen.
"The Department of Mental Research and Bacterial Relations," Face repeated pleasantly. (He'd been practicing.)
"Right," the nurse mumbled.
Not finding what she was looking for, she started rummaging through a pile of papers. Then she looked up with a frown on her face.
"I'm sorry sir, but we didn't receive any releasing papers for Mr. Murdock today."
Face looked appalled.
"Well, that's highly inconvenient," he started. "And a tad bit sloppy too if I may say so."
It was time for some drama now.
"I'm disappointed to see that this department doesn't have its paperwork in order when it's a case of life and death! I would've expected more from the Los Angeles hospital of Veteran Affairs. I'm afraid I will have to inform my superiors about this."
To his satisfaction, Face noticed the widening eyes and the slightly reddening cheeks of the young nurse.
"But I don't understand," she started.
"You don't understand?" Face interrupted. "Are you aware that a group of patients from this department took on a field trip to the petting zoo last week?"
"And are you aware of the fact that one of your patients, Mr. Murdock, sneaked away and has been spending the rest of the day in the hen house used by the local poultry of the petting zoo?
"Then you must've heard that the chickens he has been interacting with were all infected with the Salmotalius Chicken Virus. Correct?
"Eh.. no, I don't thi…" the nurse began. But Face was on a roll now.
"Has the patient been behaving differently than usual?"
"Well, yes, he's been behaving like a chicken, but we didn't think much of it. It's not the first time he…"
"Great!" Face interrupted with a look of exasperation on his face. "That's just great," He emphasized his words while raising his hands in the air. In the distance, a loud cock-a-doodle-doo could be heard.
"It's a good thing I've shown up then. For your sake, I hope I am not too late, nurse ehm.." he quickly checked her badge and continued: "Nurse Tremble."
"It seems I'm right in time to pick up this patient as I think he is already showing signs of the infection. We have to be fast because the bacteria is highly contagious and deadly."
The nurse put her hands in front of her mouth at hearing this news.
"Has the patient been sharing any food with other patients lately?" Face asked her with a stern look on his features.
The nurse hesitated, glancing at the conman with horrorstruck eyes. She knew he had.
"No worries," Face said with a sudden suave voice while rummaging through his briefcase.
"I've got a copy of the release papers signed by Dr. Richter himself,"
"T-Thank you," The nurse said, looking flabbergasted while taking the paper.
"All should be okay if you disinfect all the places Mr. Murdock has vacated.I think it would be a good idea to start with the cafeteria. Keep an eye on the patients. If any of them starts clucking, don't hesitate to use my business card."
Face moved the mask over his nose again.
"Now would you be so kind and lead me to my patient?"
Nurse nodded and quickly grabbed a set of keys.
"Follow me," she said, sounding rather shaken.
Moments later, Murdock sat on the passenger's seat of the Vette with a thankful smile on his face. Gosh, how he loved the cool breeze of the wind on his flushed cheeks after the suffocating heat of his room. Sitting here, next to his biggest best buddy felt beyond liberating. Somehow, all his worries had gone with the wind and it felt like nothing could go wrong for now.
In a moment of pure joy, the lanky man let out a loud crow.
As an immediate response to that, the white Corvette swayed over the road provoking angry honking and shaking fists from the other drivers.
"Argh Murdock!" Face cried. "Don't do that!"
The blonde driver shot his friend a fierce look from behind his designer sunglasses.
"Do I need to remind you that we're done with the chicken-scam?"
"Why, I thought you 'liked' chicks, Faceman" he said while making suggestive moves with his eyebrows. The lanky pilot pulled up his knees and placed his feet on the dashboard.
"That's not the same thing," Face muttered while swatting Murdock's legs from the dash again.
"Come on, pall. Will you behave? I just got this babe a cleaning service…" Face patted his hand lovingly on the steering wheel.
Pausing at a red traffic sign, he turned around to face his friend. "By the way, how have you been, buddy?" Face asked.
Murdock's grin faded slightly as he shifted in his chair. His body shuddered.
"Oh, I'm five by five, Faceman," he said dodging his friend's gaze.
"Glad to hear it," Face said, missing the tremor and sudden shyness of his friend because the light had turned green again.
"We're gonna meet up with our new client today," he said while speeding up. "I understand it has something to do with a school and some missing kids. It should be an easy job, and hopefully a paying client this time."
Murdock tried to listen to his friend's story but got distracted by his little unwanted companion.
"You lied to your best friend?" Pete said haughtily. He had perched himself comfortably on Murdock's shoulder while the wind ruffled his feathers.
"It's a white lie, and I didn't ask for your opinion," Murdock hissed from the corner of his mouth while feelings of guilt filled his mind about his half-truth.
He 'would' be fine, but he just needed a couple more hours, or perhaps another day before feeling up to snuff again. He wasn't sure. All he knew was that he wasn't feeling exactly great right now, and somehow he wasn't really feeling like himself either.
"What's that?" Face asked, feeling slightly annoyed that Murdock didn't seem to listen to his story. "Oh, nothing," Murdock smiled innocently. "Please continue."
"A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity**...," Pete stated, sounding slightly pompous.
Murdock glared at his invisible philosophizing pet but said nothing.
He usually enjoyed sharing his imaginary friends with the team. But Pete the Parakeet was different. Pete was annoying and Pete was philosophical to a fault. His piercing yellow eyes looked mean and daunting. They gave the pilot chills he couldn't explain. Maybe the parakeet was evil, or maybe it was just a talking non-existent bird. Just a figment of his imagination.
Well, the latter was true of course. Even Murdock knew that. He always knew when they weren't exactly real, but he kinda liked and embraced his imaginary friends most of the time.
But still...Murdock started to wonder if Pete was part of the problem he was currently facing. This new 'friend' of his, didn't feel right to him for some reason.
The crazy man looked down at his hands again and was suddenly feeling very aware and very ashamed. He stuck them deep into his jacket pockets to hide them from his teammate.
Face and the guys didn't need to see it. It would be gone before they would notice something was wrong anyway.
He could handle this on his own, no biggy.
But the cruel voice of the bird on his right shoulder told him otherwise.
"Shame is nothing more than denial of the truth..."***
Murdock bit his lip, pretending he hadn't heard.
"No biggy..." he thought again. Though he didn't feel so sure now.
* Quote from Dr. Seuss
** Quote from from Baltasar Gracian - Spanish philosopher