Disclaimer: The A-Team is owned by Stephen J. Cannell. but everybody else is mine. I'm not making any money off this.
Summary: Hannibal has a plan to kidnap a Cong General, but it doesn't quite go as well as he hopes. This is set during the Vietnam war.
Author's Notes: This is in response to Reckless' Throwaway Line Challenge in the ATFF. My thanks to Reckless and ali-j for their help and advice.
I Hate This Plan
"I really hate this plan," muttered Face once more. We were sitting in our quarters getting our equipment together for yet another mission dreamed up by the yahoos who command us. Face and BA were cleaning and inspecting our weapons. Spider Reid and his preferred partner-in-crime, Keller, were selecting and inspecting the rest of the equipment while Hicks and Johnson, our newest recruits, packed it under Ray Brenner's supervision. Ray had his left foot bandaged and elevated as a result of the sprain he obtained while evading the MPs during a midnight jaunt with Face.
I was still pissed at both of them for taking one of my best men out of circulation because I really could have used more experienced men on this mission. Especially this mission. My plan relied on a high level of improvisation that I knew that Face, BA, and Ray could manage. Spider and Keller were good at following orders, but not so good at assessing and reacting to new situations. Hicks and Johnson were complete unknowns. I was of the mind to leave them behind rather than risk them letting me down at a critical time.
I was just mulling this idea over when I overheard Face's comment. Now, normally, I rely on Face to poke holes in my plans. He's an extremely bright kid with a cynicism beyond his years and a healthy skepticism when it comes to my plans. As tough as it is to hear it sometimes, he's usually right. Usually, though, when he criticizes some part of my plans, he presents it with a certain amount of respect for my ego.
This time, he didn't poke holes in the plan, he bluntly trashed the whole thing. I guess my pride couldn't take it. All I remember is cutting off his statement and then reaming him for having such a negative attitude. He shut up, stood to attention, and turned off all expression on his face - a wooden soldier. That just irritated me further so that I ended up dismissing him without hearing the rest of his analysis.
Of course, it didn't help that for the previous two weeks Face had been in a foul mood. He had changed from a gregarious and accommodating soul to a sarcastic, difficult guy who seemed to care little for anyone else. Initially, we were sympathetic - everyone has bad days. After two weeks, though, we were all starting to get fed up with him. I suspected that one of the reason's Ray had been out with him the night before was to try to get him to open up about it. He wasn't successful. Face could be surprisingly close-mouthed about his inner thoughts or feelings.
I'm sure that's why I had no patience with the kid. At the same time, you'd think that by then I'd have learned trust his instincts. I should have seen past the sarcasm and biting criticism to the uneasiness beneath. I should have, but I didn't. So I ignored his analysis of my plan. My mistake.
By the time I heard his muttered comment, I had already gotten over my initial anger so I chose to ignore him. At the same time, Face's words helped me to decide that I really didn't want to take along untried men. Spider and Keller were not the most independent thinkers, but they were good men and I knew how they would react in any given situation. Part of me kind of hoped that if I left the newbies behind Lieutenant Peck would be happier with the plan.
I announced my decision and made it seem like I had changed my plan and now required a smaller team. To my surprise, Hicks and Johnson looked relieved. I guess Face's comments had started to make them nervous. I shot a glance at my lieutenant and resolved to shut him up the next time he said a negative word. The last thing I needed was for Spider and Keller to lose their nerve, too. I didn't worry about Ray and BA since they had been around me long enough to trust me regardless.
Face was a puzzle though. I never quite knew if he really trusted me or was simply biding his time until he could find a better situation. Face was our supplies officer because he could work the system like no-one else I've ever met, especially now. His scams used to be a lot rougher and I've always assumed that he ended up here because of a scam gone bad, but I've never asked him. I liked Face a lot. I loved the contrast between his blonde choirboy looks and the sneaky, clever, cynical person underneath. I just knew there had to be a whole lot more to this complex individual that he hadn't let me see, yet. I also knew that I trusted him, which surprised me. Somehow, I just felt that I could rely on him in a crunch.
BA was a much simpler soul. He was almost a complete opposite to my fair-haired lieutenant. Big, dark, scowling Bosco Baracus was enough to give anyone the willies. He definitely earned the nickname, Bad Attitude - BA for short. He had scared more COs with that scowl than you would have believed possible. Who would have thought that the cream of the United States army - many of them seasoned Korean vets - could be so easily intimidated by some teenage black kid from inner city Chicago. Having been on the receiving end of many of those scowls, I knew how they felt. I took him on as a challenge, and I discovered that when you get inside him, he's all mush. He just doesn't react well to authority. You've got to earn his respect and then he'll move mountains for you. Now, we have an understanding: I let him mouth off to me when we're not on a mission because I know that when the going gets rough, he'll do what I ask without question.
Ray, though, was a tough career soldier in the making. Unlike the other two, he had always intended to join the armed forces. He came from a long line of career soldiers and grew up on a series of army bases. He knew how the system worked, although he never could manage to make it work for him. When Face joined our team, Ray gave his knowledge to the kid so the team could benefit from Face's skill. A good, solid, generous man with the ability to think for himself - an unusual trait amongst career soldiers. He ended up in my unit because he was also a career alcoholic in the making. Very few men other than BA Baracus could handle Ray when the man was in his cups. He was so good at unarmed combat that you took your life in your hands if you tried to dissuade a drunk Sergeant Brenner from having another drink. After a few bar fights, he got labelled "unmanageable" and no-one argued when I requested him. Now, I just made sure that Ray only got drunk when the rest of the team was around for damage control. Another reason for being mad at Face - getting Ray drunk without me or BA around.
The rest of the team was just reorganizing things to accommodate two less members on the mission when my favourite pilot walked in. He was tall and thin with an amazingly cheerful demeanor. Unlike any of the other pilots, Captain HM Murdock never hesitated to go where my plans dictated. So, he could always be relied upon to be where we needed him when we needed him. I never worried about a no-show when Murdock was assigned to us. I requested him so often that he seemed like he was actually part of our unit. It was almost a shock if a different pilot showed up. For this mission, I had insisted that Murdock be our pilot. The key to our plan was getting out at exactly the right time.
Murdock greeted everyone in the room with familiarity and enthusiasm. He even managed to elicit a smile from my cranky lieutenant. More than anything, that pleased me. I hoped that the pilot would cheer the Faceman up. Then, maybe I might get a fresh supply of those really great cigars.
''So what's your plan, Colonel?" Murdock's Texan drawl interrupted my thoughts.
"Captain, my plan is a thing of beauty, the epitome of elegance,..." at Face's snort, I leaned over, grabbed Murdock's hat off his head, and whacked Face with it. Then, I carefully replaced the hat back on the captain's head. I had definitely had enough of the lieutenant's running commentary. I continued, "in essence, my plan is to harass General Tran until he makes a mistake and then we'll grab him and high-tail it out of there. That's when you'll come and get us."
I smiled and looked at the captain. He looked back at me with an expectant expression.
"Well," I said, "What do you think?"
He blinked, opened his mouth, paused, and then said, "Uh, it seems a little, um... short on detail, Colonel." Face snorted again, but quickly moved out of my reach. I narrowed my eyes at him before turning to answer Murdock.
"That's the beauty of it. We'll be free to improvise the best response to their reactions as they arise. There's no point in locking ourselves into a specific course of action now when we don't know what mistake he'll make."
"Uh, right." He paused and readjusted his blue baseball cap. "Are you gonna set a rendezvous point?"
I smiled. "Of course, Murdock." I put my arm across his shoulders and led him to the table holding our maps and assorted equipment. Face and BA had joined us, although Face was careful to remain out of whacking distance. No-one could ever accuse Face of being a slow learner.
While we were all together, we worked out a few more details about how exactly we intended to harass the general and transport him through the jungle. I must admit that I always enjoy these planning sessions. My guys have got such creative minds that they can often improve my plans into genuine works of art. By the end of the meeting, the team seemed to feel good about what we were going to do and Face had stopped snorting at me.
Spider made the last careful knot in the rope and carefully slid down the tree. Corporal Reid had earned the nickname Spider after the guys discovered his remarkable abilities with rope. Until he joined my team, his net-fashioning, rope-climbing, knot-tying abilities had been wasted on endless practical jokes. Now, many of my plans rely on his talent to get us in or out of tricky spots. In this particular instance, Spider had fashioned an extremely complex web of rope and netting that would, hopefully, ensnare one of Tran's patrols.
To give them their due, no matter how the feel about my plans, once we leave base my team is 100% committed to whatever plan I put forward. Even Face's bad mood had disappeared, buried beneath his professional soldier's demeanor. I didn't kid myself that it had been resolved, but I knew that he had put it to one side until we were safely back at base.
The plan was to capture the patrol alive and leave it as a wrapped bundle on Tran's doorstep. I knew this would be an embarrassment for Tran. Already some of our other raids had started rumours about the incompetence of Tran's men. In truth, they weren't incompetent. We were just better at guerilla warfare than they were.
So far, it looked like my plan was working. Tran's men were becoming more paranoid and nervous. They were starting to make mistakes like bunching up too closely when patrolling. That mistake was going to get them captured once more. My goal was to force Tran to leave his compound and lead his men personally to re-establish their confidence and discipline. As soon as he left his gates, we would grab him and head back to our LZ. According to my reckoning, we were just about on schedule.
The slight rustle of the grass and a swift flight of birds alerted us to the impending patrol. Keller warbled like a bird to let us know the patrol was heading our way. As they appeared in a bunch right in our target zone, Spider, Face, and BA cut their assigned ropes and suddenly, 10 Vietnamese men were caught in Spider's web. It was a thing of beauty.
The hapless men were delivered to Tran's base with nary a scratch on their part or ours. I anticipated a showdown very soon. I was right about that.
"Colonel! Colonel! Wake up!"
I opened my eyes at Face's urgent whisper. He was bent over me so I couldn't read his face, but his body language screamed tension. He raised his head to look around.
"I'm awake, Lieutenant. Report." I responded crisply but quietly.
"They're coming," he said and bobbed his head down again.
"Who's coming, Face" I asked even as I began pulling my pack over and shoving in my poncho.
"Tran?" For an instant, I was happy. My plan was coming together. Then I realized that if that were really the case, Face would not be as worried as he was now.
Once again, he was nervously scanning the area. Instinctively, I did the same. I realized that all the other guys were awake and pulling their packs together, too.
"Hannibal, you know how you were trying to provoke Tran in the hope that he would leave his compound. Well, your plan worked." Face paused briefly and I gave him my undivided attention. "He has left the compound along with every single man he could put together. They have started a massive search for us. We gotta leave."
"Shit!" I swore and got to my feet. The lieutenant was right, we had to leave. It's one thing to ambush a patrol some distance from their HQ. It's another thing entirely when 200 of the patrol's best buddies are right behind them. Why hadn't I foreseen this possibility? I shot a glance at Face. Maybe he had. Maybe I should have paid more attention to his analysis. Too late for maybes.
I gathered my guys and assigned positions. "Okay, men, let's move out. We can make our rendezvous by midday. Remember, we want to move fast, but we don't want to leave any tracks for Tran and his buddies. Let's go."
We could tell that they weren't too far behind us. Obviously, I had grossly underestimated Tran's trackers. Or, maybe I had simply spurred them on to discover talents they hadn't known they had until now. Either way, they had managed to find our trail. At any minute we expected to confront 200 of Tran's very annoyed soldiers.
Just when it seemed we might have to abandon our meeting place and head for the hills, Murdock's bird appeared on the horizon. Good old Murdock to the rescue again.
He landed his chopper neatly and efficiently in the small clearing. All five of us scrambled aboard. We had barely grabbed handholds before Murdock was lifting us up and out of harm's way.
I had just started to breathe a sigh of relief when the shooting started. The chopper weaved and bobbed as Murdock tried to make us as hard a target as possible. Tran's men, though, were determined to bring us down. I looked down and saw about 50 of them all firing up at us while the remaining 150 or so raced towards our LZ. Now, many of those firing were already out of range, but the sheer volume of guns pointed in our direction was pretty intimidating.
Realizing that closing the chopper's doors might give us some protection. I pulled in my legs, and warned the others to do the same. Keller was beside me with Face crouched just behind him. At my warning, Face stood up to make room for Keller to move back. At that moment, Keller seemed to leap back suddenly straight into the lieutenant bringing both men crashing down on Spider and BA.
Seeing that I was the only one in a position to close the door, I did so. I was silently congratulating myself on pulling all of my men out without a scratch. I distinctly remember turning to look at the guys with a grin on my face, ready with some smart-ass comment when I realized my congratulations were premature. Keller had been shot.
The others didn't notice at first. They were still trying to untangle themselves. I lunged forward to pull the corporal from the top of the heap and lie him down so I could assess the wound. BA was the first to realize that something was wrong. He caught my worried look and immediately started to dig for a first aid kit. I was relieved to find that the bullet had passed cleanly through Keller's upper arm. It might only need a few stitches.
In the meantime, Spider had discovered that he was covered in blood. I saw the panicked look on his face as he frantically patted his own chest looking for a wound. Face grabbed his arm and calmed him down saying that there wasn't enough blood for a hit. Spider turned his bewildered eyes to me and Keller, realizing only then that the blood had come from his best buddy.
That's when the chopper started to heave and buck.
"Murdock, what the hell is going on!" I yelled as I tried not to fall on top of Keller while still maintaining pressure on his arm.
"We're experiencing technical difficulties, Colonel." Then Murdock's voice changed and he barked out, "hold onto something, we're going down."
I grabbed Keller and dragged him over to some strapping just behind the pilot. I wrapped my arm around the corporal and held him close to my chest while slipping my other arm through the strapping. I looked up and saw that BA and Face had found handholds and were holding onto the shocked Spider. Then, I closed my eyes and prayed for an easy landing.
We hit a number of alarming bumps and snags before something banged my head hard enough for me to lose interest in my surroundings for a while. The next thing I know, Murdock was tugging at my arm and calling my name. I realized that I was still clutching poor Keller to my chest in almost a chokehold. I released the kid carefully, and Murdock pulled him gently off of me.
That's when I started to pay attention to my environs again. The chopper had obviously landed on something that made it lurch to the left with its tail up. Since Keller and I had been in the front left corner, I was huddled in the corner surrounded by all the loose equipment. BA nudged his way past Murdock and the injured corporal to pick up the first aid kit lying next to my foot. He was sporting a black eye and an even blacker scowl. I flinched inwardly.
"You alright?" he growled at me.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I shook my head and pulled myself together, "How's everyone else?"
"Me, Murdock, and Spider are fine. Keller you know about. Face...," he paused, "I guess he was shot the same time as Kel, but didn't feel it."
I scrambled to my knees and clambered over the equipment towards the two other men of my team. Spider was trying to get Face to lie down. Face was resisting. Typical.
"What's going on, Lieutenant," I demanded.
Both men looked up with twin expressions of relief. Face actually stopped struggling and lay down of his own accord. I suddenly realized that the lieutenant had actually been more worried about me than himself. I was touched.
I repeated my question, but in a more conversational tone.
Spider answered for him, "He got shot in the leg, Colonel."
Face sat up again, "It's nothing serious, Colonel. It's just a scratch."
"Why don't you let me take a look, Face." I made it more of a command than a question.
"Don't you think we'd better get out of here?" I could hear the edge in his voice. I was briefly reminded of his two-week sulk before the mission. At the same time, I knew that now was not the time to deal with it.
"Don't you think we'd better get you patched up so you don't pass out while we get out of here?" I replied in exactly the same tone.
BA dropped down beside the lieutenant and opened the first aid kit.
"How's Keller, BA?" I asked as I also knelt down.
"He's fine. Murdock's fixing him up."
I nodded and then regretted it as my head began to throb. I forced myself to ignore it and concentrate on Face. After all, it was my stupidity that had gotten him and poor Keller shot in the first place.
There was a lot of blood on his left pant leg and some on his right - more than I would have thought. Then I realized that some of it must have been Keller's and that the bullet must have passed right through Keller's arm and into Face's leg. There was so much blood saturating the cloth that it was difficult to locate exactly where the bullet went in.
"Where did you get it, Face?"
"Left leg, above the knee," he replied through gritted teeth. Spider, probably deciding that it would be easier to support Face in a sitting position than trying to force him to lie down, gripped his shoulders firmly.
I pulled out my knife and cut a long slit in his left pant leg from the knee to mid thigh. All the while, I prayed that the bullet had had enough speed to go right through. We sure didn't have time to remove a bullet and an embedded slug would cause an infection real fast. I located the entrance wound on the outside just above the knee. I felt behind his thigh for the exit wound and, to my dismay, couldn't feel it.
I looked up at Face in puzzlement. The strain I heard in his voice was becoming very apparent on his face, too. He met my eyes and read my confusion.
"Hannibal, if it came out the back, it'll be higher up."
Abruptly, I caught on to what he was saying. Of course, the angle the bullet came from would have been very steep so if it entered above the knee, it would have exited much higher up. Mentally berating myself for being so dense, I turned to Spider.
"Help me roll him on his side."
Gently, we rolled the lieutenant onto his right side, exposing the back of his left leg. I made another slit in his pants. Sure enough, there was the exit hole, larger and messier than the entrance, but not too bad. All in all, the kid had been lucky, the bullet had avoided both the bone and any major arteries. BA handed me the disinfectant and together we disinfected both holes and applied field dressing. Face was looking pretty pale by this time, but he was gamely hanging on.
I turned to see how Keller and Murdock were doing. Murdock had finished treating the arm and had made Keller lie down. I noticed then, that Murdock had a scrape and a bruise forming on his lower right cheek. He also had a new bandage wrapped around his left hand.
"You okay, Captain?" I asked in concern.
His solemn face broke into a grin as he said, "Am I ever?"
I smiled in return. He was okay.
Fortunately for all of us, we had crashed on the other side of a river and a marshy area that would be difficult for Tran and his goons to cross in a hurry. I say fortunately because looking back, I can tell that I was still dazed from my encounter with the inside wall of the chopper. My headache just seemed to increase in intensity. I do not have a very clear memory of our exodus from the chopper. I know that we managed to salvage quite a few essential supplies including the radio, first aid kit, and rations. I vaguely remember someone taking my arm and yanking me down a trail at a pretty swift pace while the chopper exploded behind us. But that is all.
I do remember when my wits returned to me: dawn the next morning. I woke up to all the normal dawn sounds in the jungle. Slowly I opened my eyes to see a rough screen of branches mere inches from my nose. At the same time, I heard a branch snap near my left ear. Startled, I involuntarily turned my head towards the sound. An anxious-looking Keller peered at me.
"Are you alright, Colonel?"
Relieved, I located my right arm and attempted to disentangle it from the poncho that enveloped me. Keller reached over with his good arm and lifted off the branches covering me until I could sit up. My headache and its accompanying fuzziness had lifted. I felt surprisingly refreshed and alert. Keller still hovered near me, watching me carefully.
"I'm okay, Kel," I reassured him. Noting that he didn't look convinced, I insisted, "I am okay. Really. How about you? How's the arm? Where are the others?"
He sat back on his heels and relaxed his posture.
"My arm's okay. It hurts, but not too bad. Spider, Murdock, and BA have been taking turns standing watch while everyone else got some rest. Face says he's okay, but I don't know if I believe him. We were just waiting for you to wake up before we head out." He paused briefly. "We were real worried about you, Colonel."
I don't quite know how to describe how I felt. I was extremely moved by their concern, but I was also furious with myself for getting us all into this mess by a careless oversight on my part. I could have gotten all of us killed. Why hadn't I listened to Face in the first place? Now, every single one of my men had been injured on this little jaunt, and it was my fault. I was touched that they cared and galled because they were wasting their sympathy on the cause of this mess.
Well, I resolved to make it up to them. I would get them out of here and back home safe and sound even if I had to surrender myself to Tran to do it.
Some of my feelings must have shown on my face because poor Keller was looking worried again. I got to my feet and helped him rise to his. I put my left hand on his right shoulder and looked him squarely in the eye.
"You did a good job, Keller. Thanks." I said firmly. I could see almost see his chest swell with pride. The anxiety left his eyes to be replaced with confidence. He was a good man to have in a crunch and I wanted him to believe that, too. Doubts and misgivings at this stage could be dangerous.
I gave his shoulder a squeeze before I turned around to look for the others. My men were well-trained. They had hidden themselves and me very well. At first glance, I didn't see anything. It wasn't until Face moved, that I detected him. As I walked towards him, BA materialized out of the undergrowth. I stopped to greet him, but he looked searchingly at my face before nodding.
"We was real worried about you, man," was all he said.
"Thanks, BA." I reached up and clapped him gently on the shoulder, "I'm okay, now. Where's Murdock?"
"Recon. Be back, soon. Then, we heading out," he said in his usual brief way and then added, "back to Base," as he looked at me sharply.
"Don't worry, BA. I agree this mission is a bust. We're going home."
He nodded again. We continued to where Face was concealed. I looked around to see if I could spot Spider. I couldn't.
"Where's Spider?" I asked.
BA jerked his head up. I followed the gesture upwards and spotted him perched on a branch, his gun held ready in his lap. Just then, he glanced down. He gave me a brief smile, and I returned the greeting.
A rustle brought my attention back to Face. Like me, he had been swathed in a poncho and covered in branches. Unlike me, he had not had a good sleep. I could see the pain and exhaustion written all over his face. True to form, though, he was making every effort to hide it. He grinned confidently at me, hoping no doubt that the dazzle of his smile would hide the dark rings under his eyes.
"Hey Hannibal, feeling better?" he greeted me cheerfully.
"Yeah, how about you?" I answered with equally false brightness. He sat up slowly while BA and I pulled the branches off him.
"You good to go, Lieutenant?" I asked casually.
He shot me a look and replied, "Of course. We were waiting for *you* to return from the land of nod."
"Uh huh. Well, I'm back and ready to lead us home."
"Oh really? And where, exactly, do you think we are?" I was somewhat taken aback by the sarcasm in his voice. I fought back the sharp retort, realizing that Face had every right to be upset with me. After all, if I had listened to him in the first place, we wouldn't have been in this mess. I bowed my head to accept his rebuke. I could hear BA move restlessly behind me.
"We ain't got time for guessing games, Face. Just tell the man where we are so we can get out of here." BA's irritated response reminded us both that we were far from safety.
Face sighed and gestured towards his left leg. I realized that his pack was propping up his left leg.
"The map's in the side pocket of the pack. Could you get it for me?"
I nodded and rummaged through the pocket to retrieve the map while trying not to disturb his leg too much. He eased himself back down on his elbows and gritted his teeth. Finally, I pulled out the map, and unfolded it on the ground. Face rolled himself to face us while resting on his left elbow. BA hunkered down beside me. Between the two of them, they brought me up to speed on our current position and the possible locations of Tran's men and any other hazards. Then we considered the location of the nearest base or LZ. It looked bleak.
"What are your recommendations?" I asked.
Both men exchanged glances before turning to me. Face spoke first, "I recommend that you leave me and hoof it back to this base as fast as your legs can take you." He pointed to the closest base.
BA made an abrupt negating gesture with his hand. "No, man. I told you. We ain't leaving no-one behind." He turned to me, "I want to go to this LZ and call for a pickup. It's closer."
"It's not close enough. I'll slow you down too much, BA. Tran is out for blood and that means he's not going to give up until he's got us. Maybe I can convince him that the rest of you got blown up in the crash."
"Look, I told you, man, I'll carry you!"
I held up my hand. This was obviously something they had discussed before. I didn't want to waste time going back and forth on this one issue.
"Gentlemen, the problem is that we need to go a fair distance as fast as we can, right?" I could feel the familiar tickle of the jazz as a plan began forming in my mind. At their nods, I continued, "What if we had a vehicle?"
Face flopped onto his back and groaned. "Oh God, Hannibal, I am not up to scamming a Chevy right now, okay?"
BA just scowled.
"Hear me out, guys," I pleaded. I was keenly aware that my most recent plan had been somewhat of a disaster. This plan had to be a good one or they might not ever follow me with confidence again.
At that moment, Murdock appeared back in camp. He quickly joined us.
"Have you got us a new plan, Colonel?" he asked eagerly. I was grateful for his confidence in me. I grinned at him.
"Okay," groused Face, "Let's hear it."
For the first time in a long time, I was nervous about presenting a plan. As I came to the conclusion, I could hear my voice faltering slightly at the concentrated stare of three of the best men I had ever worked with. I believe I even held my breath as I waited for their judgement.
Face blinked and looked at BA. BA chewed on his lip and returned the look. Together they looked at Murdock. Murdock sucked in his cheeks and cocked his head to one side. Suddenly, they were all nodding and then smiling.
BA reached over and slapped my back. "Good plan, Hannibal." He got up and started to clear up the bivouac of any evidence that we'd been there.
Murdock placed his hands on either side of my head and kissed first one cheek and then the other in the French fashion and announced, "Magnifique, mon colonel!" before he joined BA.
Face smiled a real smile, the first one in weeks, and said, "Nice plan, Hannibal. Let's see if we can pull it off."
I was overwhelmed by their faith in me. Man, I'm not sure I would have accepted a plan by me so readily if I had been in their shoes.
Carefully, we headed back towards the river. Our goal was to head back through the patrols towards the camp. To do that required all of our skill at hiding from and sneaking noiselessly past patrols as they headed away from the camp. It was hardest on Face who was definitely having trouble keeping up with us even after BA took his pack. Every time we stopped, he would tell us to leave him behind.
Finally, BA hauled him to his feet, slammed him into a tree and snarled, "I ain't telling you again, Faceman. We're not leaving anyone behind. If I hear you say that again, I'll pound you and then I'll carry you."
Face got his point.
When we reached the river, we used Spider's incredible roping skills and BA's mechanical ingenuity to fashion a log raft and pull line. We sat on the primitive raft in pairs and pulled ourselves across. Spider and Keller went first. BA took Face across. Murdock and I followed. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things can happen when you have a team that knows what to do. Within an incredibly short time, we were back at Tran's camp.
As I expected, the whole force was still out trying to track us down. That meant they had no-one guarding their vehicles. All we had to do was pick one and go. BA immediately headed towards the motor pool. I sent Murdock to help Face to the motor pool so he could rest inside our chosen chariot. The kid was not looking very good despite his protests to the contrary.
On a hunch, I took Keller and Spider with me to check out Tran's office. To our delight, we could hear the General speaking in his office. I cracked open the door slightly to see how many aides he had in attendance. There were only four plus Tran. I closed the door carefully, and motioned the other two away from the doorr.
"What do you think, guys? Do we want to take Tran with us?" The sweet singing of the jazz had me in its power. From the eager nods and grins of the others, they could hear it, too. I tapped Keller's bad arm and raised a questioning eyebrow.
He whispered, "It's sore but functional, sir."
I nodded, pulled a battered cigar out of my shirt pocket, thrust it in my mouth, and grinned.
"Okay, boys, let's do it."
As one, we headed back to the door. When we reached it, I kicked it open and led the charge into the room. Tran and his aides never stood a chance. We trussed them up, and then departed with the General in tow. By then, BA had selected a vehicle and sabotaged the rest. He and the others were surprised and pleased with our guest.
It took only an hour and a half later to make it to a landing zone where one of our choppers picked us up and delivered us to our base.
Now the jazz was gone, it was now time for me to face the other music. I had screwed up and now I had to make it up to the guys, especially Face.
I found them surrounding Face's bed, including the newbies. He still looked wan and had an IV in his arm pumping fluids and antibiotics into him. Despite our efforts, the wound had become infected. That and whatever had been eating at him before we left seemed to be slowing his recovery.
The guys had decided to try to cheer him up and were not really succeeding very well when I made an appearance. They all looked pleased to see me, which was gratifying. It made what I wanted to say much easier.
"Uh, guys, I have something I wanted to say to you." I stopped and ran my hand through my hair. "I, uh, wanted to apologize for such a lousy plan." I looked at them. They all had various expressions of puzzlement especially the ones who hadn't been on the mission. Ray, bless his socks, gathered the newbies and hustled them out the door. As he passed me, he patted me on the shoulder and said, "It's okay to be human, Hannibal." I smiled in thanks at him as he limped out the door.
As the door closed, I turned back to look at Murdock, BA, Spider, Keller, and Face. Keller and Spider looked embarrassed. They didn't expect superior officers to ever admit they were wrong. They exchanged glances and then rose.
"No reason to apologize, Colonel. These things just happen." Spider said.
Keller nodded and then added, "And your plans always work. They may not work the way we expect, but at least they work." He smiled, "It sure was funny seeing that General's face when we busted down the door."
With that, they both saluted and left.
Murdock who had been sitting on the foot of the bed, got to his feet and gave me his gentle smile. He drawled, "Colonel, I don't believe any of us actually came up with one solid reason why the plan wouldn't work. As Kel said, the plan did work, just not the way you thought it would."
BA grunted his agreement, and added, "Next time, if your plan don't work, I'll pound you. Deal?"
I chuckled and nodded, "Deal, BA."
My smile faded as I glanced at Face. I knew that out of all of them, I had been the most unfair to Face. I had to make sure that he knew I had been wrong to dismiss his warnings, that I still trusted him.
I looked at him. He looked back at me.
Finally, I said, "BA, Murdock, I need to talk to Face alone. Could you come back later?"
The sergeant and captain exchanged looks and then nodded at both of us and departed.
"Face," I began and stopped. I wasn't sure how to begin. I ran my hand through my hair and then rubbed the back of my neck. Finally, I sat down on the chair beside the bed and rested my elbows on my knees.
After taking a deep breath, I plunged in, "I'm sorry, kid. I know I should have listened to you. I should have trusted your judgement. I mean...you've always shown good judgement before..." I was about to continue, but he held up his hand.
"Hannibal, please stop." Now, it was his turn to look embarrassed. "I didn't actually find anything wrong with your plan."
I blinked. "Oh." I paused because I didn't really know what to say.
Face took a deep breath, "I was just in a bad mood, and busy thinking about ... stuff. I don't really know what made me say that stuff about your plan. I... uh...I'm sorry."
I was completely floored.
"Face," I started and then stopped.
He was still looking at his hands. As I watched, he clenched and then unclenched his fists.
"Face," I began again, "You don't blame yourself for this, do you?"
The bowed head nodded briefly.
"Look," I said, "I think you were going on gut instinct. You may not have known what the problem was, but you still knew there was a problem. I should still have paid attention. Instead, I let my temper get the better of me. That was a mistake, my mistake. You and Kel were shot because of it, and for that I can never apologize enough."
He raised his eyes to meet mine, "But,..."
"No, buts - my plan, my responsibility, and my fault."
He chewed the inside of one cheek, but did not protest further. I decided to press my luck.
"So how about you tell me why you've been such a pain in the ass for the past couple of weeks."
He stopped chewing and looked at the ceiling.
"Come on, Face. What's bugging you?"
He sighed and pulled a pillow out from behind himself and hugged it in front of his chest. It was a surprisingly defensive posture from my usually confident junior officer. It made him look extremely vulnerable. I realized abruptly that despite his prowess in the field, he was still just a kid. Even his army records had a birth date that would not let him drink legally in most states - and I was pretty certain he had lied about his age.
For a minute, I thought he would refuse to answer. Then, he opened up.
"It's the mail. I have a friend - a priest from the orphanage where I grew up - who promised he would write every week. Well, he did. Then I didn't get anything for three weeks. I..." he stopped and bit his lip.
I was surprised that such a small thing had devastated the kid so much. I could think of a dozen reasons why he hadn't received anything. Then again, I had a ton of experience of how quickly time passes Stateside as compared to here, not to mention my experience with the vagaries of army mail.
"Geez, kid, there are a million different reasons why you haven't got a letter."
"Trust me, Face. There's a reasonable explanation. I'm sure he still cares about you."
The startled expression on his face told me that I had hit the real nail of the problem. My young friend was feeling somewhat abandoned by those he had left behind. Man, you could not pay me to be that young and vulnerable again.
Just then, a nurse knocked on the door and walked in with a pile of letters.
"I've got some mail for you, Lieutenant. Looks like some of these got sent to the wrong base."
As she handed him the package, I knew it contained the missing letters. I left my beaming Lieutenant to read his mail in peace.
Me, I went outside for a smoke. Another challenge faced and crisis averted.