"Assault and battery?" BA tried not to flinch when Hannibal speared him with a fiery gaze. "Disturbing the peace? Arson? Arson, BA? For God sake! What the hell were you thinking?"
"Save it, Sergeant," the colonel snapped, no-nonsense leaking from every pore. BA's back straightened in habitual response. He wasn't quite at attention but he wasn't far from it. Apparently the question had been rhetorical. "There's nothing you can say to convince me you had a good reason for this. You got arrested. For deliberate arson You put men in the hospital. That kind of thing brings attention."
"I said save it."
BA's jaw tightened but his eyes found the floor. Hannibal's words had been thrown like stones but his last order had delivered the sharpest sting. BA hadn't heard that tone directed at him in years. Hannibal's angry words had started out laced with disappointment, fear, concern. Not easy to take but nothing more than he'd expected. But that last sentence, snapped harshly, had been acid.
There were circumstances in which BA, the head-strong sergeant with a temper, the man who had been known to dislike officers in 'Nam, and one of Hannibal's friends and team members of several years, would not have hesitated to argue with Hannibal. Possibly even make a demand or two. At the very least, explain himself. It wasn't always easy for friendship and formality to co-exist, but the team made it work. Hannibal was only the Colonel when he needed to be, and that might vary by degrees.
This was not one of those circumstances, and Hannibal had set the tone from the moment BA had entered the apartment. All it took was the long familiar expression in the steely eyes, the set jaw and rigid stance for BA to know that this wasn't going to be a friendly chat. This was the face of his pissed off CO.
BA kept still and silent, waiting for more recriminations. They were no more than he deserved. BA hadn't let loose on another human being like that in years. Always the team's muscle, now stronger and bigger than most people he encountered daily, BA had been forced to learn a modicum of restraint early on. He was known for his temper and his bad attitude and he wasn't above using intimidation, but he'd long since learned to rein in that part of him that lost complete control. Even when he was bouncing heads and pounding faces for the team, even when he was in the middle of a temper, there was a part of him that was thinking ahead, pulling back emotion, always mindful of how bad it could get if he wasn't careful to hold back the majority of his strength and anger. And whenever even his own strict control began to get a little frayed, Hannibal was usually there to reel him in.
The previous night he'd had neither and he'd been glad for it at the time. He'd thrown away any control in favor of teaching the dope dealers and kid killers a lesson and not one of his three trusted friends to pull him back. He hadn't felt that way since 'Nam. It was freeing and surreal but the aftermath left an oily, bitter taste at the back of his throat that wasn't so different from the expulsion of vomit he'd expelled earlier that morning. It scared him, if he was perfectly honest with himself. It scared him and it disgusted him.
What scared him the most, though, was that any time he thought of Lenny or the bastards in that dope house, that rage boiled right under the surface, waiting for one small thing to make it blow. He wanted to do harm to those people. He wanted to hurt them, to feel their bones crunching under his fists. He wanted to give them a reason to be sorry they'd fed poison into the blood of a child, because they sure didn't have any regrets for the act itself.
The next onslaught of expected recriminations didn't come. BA lifted his eyes to see that Hannibal had moved to the large bay window that overlooked the beach. The sunlight spilled through the window, filling the room with a cheery morning glow that could only be accomplished in Southern California. The colonel stood with his back to BA, hands on hips, as he stared out. His spine was rigid and his shoulders set and in the window's reflection, BA could see that Hannibal's face was set in hard lines.
When did all those lines get there? BA wondered. When did his hair start adding silver in it's trademark white? How many of those lines, those silver hairs, were put there by the colonel's fears and worries over his men? How many of them had BA put there?
"Hannibal..." BA paused, half expecting to be snapped into silence again. When no reprimand came, he continued. "I'm sorry," He said softly. BA ventured a few steps toward Hannibal's position at the window. The other man's stance never relaxed. If anything, BA thought that maybe he'd gone a bit more rigid. His eyes, though, from what he could see in the reflection, now superimposed over BA's own...BA thought that maybe his eyes had softened just a bit. Maybe.
"Sorry isn't gonna keep your ass out of prison if you draw attention to yourself with stunts like this, is it, Sergeant?"
Okay. Maybe not.
"I didn't mean for it to go that far." BA kept his tone soft. Gruff was his default and he didn't want any miscommunication.
"No?" Hannibal turned to face him and BA took a step back. Not even BA cared to be too close to Hannibal's wrath.
The colonel walked to the bar top separating the kitchen and opened his humidor for a cigar. Using a silver cigar clip, he took a moment to clip the end then light it. A much more mannerly method than the usual bite and spit he used in the field. "How far, exactly, did you mean for it to go?" He filled the room with smoke while he waited for an answer.
"I...I didn't...I wasn't really thinkin' like that, Hannibal," BA stumbled. A weak defense but no less true.
"You weren't thinking at all."
That was true. BA just sighed and gave a small nod in agreement. He couldn't argue the point and there was no use in trying.
"Why'd you do it, BA?" Hannibal asked. His voice had softened the tiniest bit and held a note of perplexity.
BA sighed again. Hannibal was still in command mode but less angry, willing to listen now that the worst of the reaming was over with. Problem was, BA wasn't sure what to tell him. He still didn't want the guys involved. It was too close to home. If things didn't work out as planned, it could very well mean forcing them out of LA. What were they gonna do? Wage a war on the very rampant drug problem in the city of Los Angeles? Every gang member? Every big-time drug organization using their docks? Every mob connection with their hands dipped in? Every random street hood and two bit Joe wanting a profit? There was no end.
"I just lost my cool, Hannibal, tha's all."
"Really." Hannibal's cool gaze settled on BA. "That's all, huh?"
"Tha's all," BA repeated, meeting the steady eyes of the colonel. "It won't happen again. I promise."
Whatever Hannibal was thinking, he decided to let it go, to BA's relief. Hannibal's eyes narrowed calculatingly but then he gave a small nod, acknowledging BA's plea for privacy in the matter.
"See that it doesn't." Hannibal's words were hard as steel and his eyes matched.
BA swallowed, his throat suddenly almost too dry to utter the phrase rarely said since they'd been on the run. "Yes, sir."
"Now let's take a look at that bump on your head, BA," Hannibal gestured, less serious. "Face said you have some injuries. While we're taking care of that, we'll talk about the consequences of last night."
BA sighed in resignation at Hannibal's suddenly cheerful grin on his way to sit at the bar stool the cigar indicated.
Nothing cheered the colonel up quicker than coming up with ever more complicated and devious obstacle courses to challenge his men with. If it was disciplinary they could count on Hell on Earth.
Hannibal relit his cigar as he watched the apartment door close behind his sergeant. He'd let BA go with breakfast and orders to report for the obstacles courses in forty-eight hours. He'd also let him go without forcing an explanation but that didn't leave Hannibal with a good feeling. Something was going on with BA, that much was clear, and it was disturbing on a few levels.
BA's behavior the night before was completely out of character. Temper tantrums? Sure. Displays of anger? That's what BA was known for. But to bust into an inhabited house with the intent of harming the residing individuals, and then to set the house on fire – possibly with people still inside? That wasn't BA.
What had instigated BA to take such action to begin with? And furthermore, to disregard his years of ingrained training and go into a potentially volatile situation not only without backup but without even informing any of them what was going down? None of that was BA. Something drastic had happened to cause it and it was something that put BA's well-being at risk.
Hannibal couldn't have that.
He chewed thoughtfully on his cigar, then took a puff and let it out slowly. He stood up and grabbed the phone on his kitchen bar, then dialed a familiar number and waited for the other line to pick up.
"Face?" He said when he got an answer. "I have a job for you."
BA dragged himself back into his apartment for the third time that morning. He was now sporting a white bandage over the bump on his head. His ribs had been iced down and his knuckles had been slathered with salve and wrapped, followed by orders to leave them that way at least until the next morning. He'd been filled with aspirin, a glass of milk and breakfast but he couldn't really say he felt better for all the basic care Hannibal had insisted upon before letting him leave. The head bandage itched and his head still ached, the Aspirin too recent to have done it's job yet. The wraps on his knuckles felt constricting, his ribs ached with every breath and the breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast was not sitting well on his stomach.
All BA wanted was a nap. To lay down and forget last night, stop thinking about Lenny, calm the boiling rage that heated up each time he thought about the dopers. Refresh himself from the headache and the tongue lashing and hopefully wake somewhat refreshed.
Choosing to forego the bed in his tiny bedroom, BA instead lowered himself gently onto the couch, laying himself out and wiggling in until he found a comfortable position. He turned the TV on with the remote and flipped through the few channels until he found something suitable to lull him to sleep. No football games on at 10:30 am on a Tuesday, so he settled for a morning talk
show interviewing one of his favorite players. It didn't take him long to drift off to the low droning of the TV.
He woke to the ringing phone. BA sat up, disoriented for a moment, groggy and with a sleep hangover. He was gratified to note immediately that the severe headache had died down to something more bearable. It was still present but the edge, and then some, had been taken off.
"Yeah," BA answered gruffly into the phone.
BA rarely got calls other than the team or someone he worked with at the youth center. He didn't bother with the cloak and dagger phone greetings that Face and Hannibal enjoyed. It was necessary for them; they got calls all the time from strangers and had to vet callers and sift through those that were legit contacts or prospective clients from those that might be people they didn't want to hear from. Unless one of them handed the task down to him temporarily, that was their job, a fact that BA didn't bemoan. He had no patience for it and he was much less of a people-person..
"Hey, big guy!" Murdock's cheery voice exclaimed from the other end. Did that man ever do anything without extra energy? BA wondered.
"Hey, fool," BA responded without his usual enthusiasm at quelling Murdock's energy. He didn't have it in him to put on the façade of displeasure he usually displayed when dealing with his pilot friend..
"How are you?" There was real concern in Murdock's voice, undisguised. "I heard some very strange rumors this morning about a guy I know by the name of Ron Jakes. It was on the morning news. I didn't see it myself but it was the talk of the loony bin all day from those who did see it. Doc even asked me about it at our appointment this morning. Guess he recognized you."
"I'm fine, Crazy Man." BA's nickname held no rancor; rather, a tinge of fondness that he might deny if anyone called him on it later.
"What happened, BA?" Murdock was all seriousness now. "I called Face as soon as I heard, and I saw the noon reports replaying the basics of the story-" BA glanced at the clock to discover it was after four pm. He'd slept all day. "- but he wouldn't give me any details."
"I didn't give him any, is why," BA growled. "Ain't no details to worry 'bout, Murdock."
"Uh huh," Murdock grunted disbelievingly. "Well, I was gonna call you earlier, Muchacho, but Face said it wouldn't be a good idea. He said you were with Hannibal and it probably wasn't a good conversation."
BA snorted. "Not the greatest," he admitted.
"Really pissed, huh?" Murdock deduced with sympathy.
"Somethin' like that."
"Exactly like that." Murdock chuckled knowingly. They'd all been on Hannibal's bad side more than a couple times. "Obstacle course?" He guessed.
BA nodded even though Murdock couldn't see him. As soon as he healed he was expected to pay for his actions.
"I'll be runnin' till my legs fall off." BA let a little humor show in his voice. It wasn't truly funny but if anyone could empathize with being on Hannibal's shitlist and a disciplinary obstacle course, Murdock was one of the other two who could and it always helped to be able to laugh about it. As long as the colonel couldn't hear.
"Well, just remember to take off all that gold, Muchacho. That will really weigh you down. You might drown in the pit," Murdock joked back.
"Shut up, fool," BA countered without anger.
"BA...whatever's going on, remember that we're here, okay?"
BA took several moments to respond. Only their breathing informed the other that they hadn't been disconnected. He considered, for one quick moment, confiding in the pilot and swearing him to secrecy. But no. It wouldn't be fair to put Murdock in the middle. Murdock would also be too tempted to try to help and that could put him in danger of getting too involved.
Murdock waited patiently, his breaths even. BA could hear the background noise on Murdock's end and thought that maybe it sounded like the patients of the VA were being urged to prepare for dinner time. There was a momentary loud scuffle with bangs that sounded suspiciously like a fight, a couple of angry screams, and then the stern voice of what had to have been an orderly or male nurse breaking up whatever had happened.
"I'll remember," was all BA answered in the end.
Another crash, this one louder and seemingly closer than before, caused BA to wince as the pain in his head spiked at the auditory intrusion.
"What's all the noise, man?" he asked irritably.
"Oh, that. That's nothing. It's just a couple of the resident cuckoos protesting the green jello with dinner. Red jello they can handle. The green jello reminds them of their home planet. It makes them restless."
BA shook his head. He didn't know how Murdock could take that place sometimes. But then again...Murdock's behavior didn't often seem to be too much more drastic than anyone else he'd describe in the place. BA couldn't help wondering, though; was the pilot there because he was crazy, or was he crazy because he was there?
"Ain't you usin' your own phone in your room?" BA knew for sure that Murdock's personal line, somehow arranged by Face not long ago, rarely picked up any of the ruckus happening outside of Murdock's own room.
"Nah," Murdock muttered, and BA perked up a bit. There was something in his friend's tone that BA couldn't put his finger on, but it bothered him. "I'm on the pay phone near the mess hall."
"Why you on the pay phone, fool, when you got your own?"
"We've got a new head nurse for the floor and she came complete with a couple of new hard ass orderlies that seem to be at her beck and call. The jerks yanked my phone. She wants me to start falling in line like the other drugged patients here. Doesn't like it that I think," Murdock added almost bitterly.
"They givin' you a hard time?" The idea concerned BA. Westwood VA hospital was one of the best around, but it was still a government run medical facility with overworked and underpaid staff dealing with difficult jobs. Murdock had endured his share of abuse from some staff and the occasional resident, in the early days, and still sometimes had to fend off things that the rest of them couldn't quite understand. He lived in an environment that the rest of the team couldn't relate to and, BA admitted, he probably did it better than any of them would have.
Murdock coped with all manner of fellow mental patients and the various approaches of the constant flow of staff. Some were easier than others, and there were rules in place that Murdock often flaunted. Some staff were more lenient or accepting of the harmless captain's antics while others seemed to feel that keeping every patient robotically in line was their mission statement.
"Nothin' I can't handle, big guy," Murdock promised. "It'll be fixed soon. It just happened this afternoon and Richter left for a two week vacation right after my appointment this morning so he can't intervene till he gets back."
"Alright, man, if you say so."
BA had always thought it a stroke of luck that they seemed to have Dr. Richter on their side – for the most part and quite discreetly – concerning Murdock, his association with the team, his frequent absences from the VA and the somewhat elite privileges that few other patients were allowed. Privileges that were usually provided by the team or arranged by Face but not interfered with. Usually. Every now and then staff with questionable ethics would appear. Those such people generally ended up with an unexpected termination or sudden transfer, happily arranged by Face with his bag of tricks.
Despite Murdock's assurances, BA figured he'd better clue in Hannibal and Face in case it needed to be looked into. If nothing else, Hannibal would need to know that they couldn't reach Murdock through his private line should they need him.
A few more moments of random conversation and Murdock rushed off to dinner, leaving BA alone. He didn't have much of an appetite himself so he decided to skip dinner and do what enjoyed doing the most. He had a friend's car stowed away in his garage a couple blocks away waiting for repairs. The carburetor was giving BA a little trouble and some mechanical tinkering was just what he needed to distract himself from the shit-storm of the past 12 hours.