Chapter 8: Making Tracks
AN: Sorry for the major delay; first the graphics card on my main laptop got fried (still not sure how; it's only a few months old) and it's still in the shop* and the adaptor on my other laptop is screwed, which means I have to hold the power supply in with one hand and type with the other. Anyway, it's - finally! - an update!
*Actually, no it's not. Between writing this note and posting the chapter, I got a call from the Tech Guys telling me it was fixed, back at the store and ready to be collected. Since it's a forty minute drive and they close in fifteen, however, it can stay there for tonight. Tomorrow there shall be much gaming :D
lunaz: That...is a brilliant idea. I wish I'd thought of it...
It was another half hour before Murdock returned, shedding Hannibal's jacket as soon as he was through the front door and draping it over a chair.
"Anything?" Hannibal didn't look up from his sandwich making as he asked the question.
"Nothin'. Jus' some guy left his lights on."
The colonel paused mid-butter and turned to stare at Murdock. "So why did it take you a whole half hour to go down some stairs, find that out and come back up again?"
"I picked a magazine up for the Faceman. Gotcha some cigars too." Murdock nodded to Hannibal's jacket, where a cellophane wrapped pack was poking out of the top pocket, then turned his attention to the other man's provisions and frowned. "Uh, Colonel? I know the big guy's comin' along with us, but how many sandwiches're you expectin' us ta get through tomorrow?"
Hannibal stared at Murdock blankly for a few minutes, then looked down to where four loaves' worth of sandwiches were stacked neatly to one side, out of the way.
"Right. Yeah. Uh." He frowned. It was getting hard to concentrate, like someone had wrapped his brain in cotton wool. He'd started making sandwiches to take on the trip back with them tomorrow (or should that be later today now?) and he'd kept making them because...well, because making them gave him something nice and mundane to focus on, stopped him dwelling on what Face had told him. "Well, you saw how skinny Face is. He needs feeding up."
Murdock didn't answer this, just looked at him.
"Besides, there's no knowing where Decker is. We may have to hole up somewhere." Hannibal dropped the butter knife in the sink and turned his back on it; outside of the Army, the colonel was firmly of the opinion that housework was something that only happened to other people.
"Gotta get the van back first," Murdock reminded him.
"Damn the van, Captain!"
"Well, you can go an' tell BA that if ya want."
"The van is probably impounded in a military base right now. They'll be waiting for us to walk in and take it."
Murdock quirked an eyebrow. "Ya think? Seems ta me like they'd never reckon we'd be dumb enough to do it."
Hannibal glanced up at Murdock. There was a barely concealed gleam in the pilot's eyes, a hidden challenge.
"You may have something there, Murdock."
"I sure do. It's somethin' big an' purple that followed me home, an' I'm gonna call him Murdock Junior an' let him live under my bed. Can I keep him, huh Hannibal? Can-I-can-I-can-I?"
Hannibal sighed, although inwardly glad of the pilot's distraction. "Murdock..."
Murdock gave a huge sigh. "Alright." Turning, he made shooing motions at the air. "Go on, boy. Go on an' play with Billy. I'll come by an' check on ya later."
Lowering his voice, Hannibal said, "You don't have to keep up the act around me, Murdock."
"Ain't no act, Colonel." Murdock picked up the topmost sandwich and started munching.
"This is me you're talking to, Captain. Maybe you can still fool Face and BA, but I know you better."
"Sure, Colonel." Murdock finished his sandwich and wandered over to the fridge. "D'ya think Faceman'll mind if I have one a his Dr Peppers?"
"Help yourself and don't change the subject."
The pilot turned to fix Hannibal with a can in his hand and an uncharacteristically serious look on his face. "I ain't changin' the subject, Hannibal. I'm closin' it. An' don't you even think of reopenin' it again, not now. Not with Faceman how he is."
"This has nothing to do with Face, Murdock."
"I dunno about that, Colonel. Seems ta me like you're feelin' guilty for not bein' there in time ta save him, so you decided ta try an' save me by gettin' me out the VA instead."
Hannibal opened his mouth to refute this, saw the likely outcome of the conversation and shut it again.
"You can't expect me to believe you're happy living there," he said instead.
Murdock considered this for a few moments. "No, but I ain't exactly unhappy either. Besides, you and I both know I can get declared sane an' walk outta there anytime I want."
"We did have a deal to that effect, Murdock."
"Uh huh. An' that deal still stands, Colonel. But the other parta it says that Faceman or BA gotta figure things out for themselves, without any help from you or me. The big guy...well, he kinda sees the world how it appears, ya know? All the time I act crazy, he believes I am crazy. Faceman...well, if he was gonna figure it out, he woulda done by now." Murdock thought about it, then decided to leave out the conversation he and Face had had about the pilot's sanity, or lack thereof. No point complicating things.
He opened the soda and swigged from it, using it as an excuse to avoid meeting Hannibal's eyes. It wasn't the first time they'd had this debate – it was a common exchange between the two men whenever Face and BA weren't around to hear – but right now Murdock was too drained to put much energy into it.
"Nope. I ain't listenin', Hannibal." Another swig, this one depleting the can by almost a third, then Murdock put it down on the side and started rummaging in the cupboards for something to eat. "Do we got any more peanuts?"
"What?" Momentarily wrong-footed, Hannibal shook his head. "No, you ate the last bag before you left. Murdock, if you think—"
"Aw, shoot!" Murdock interrupted, shutting the cupboard. "Y'know, I coulda sworn I bought an extra packet. You sure you ain't been sneakin' 'em out ta Faceman behind my back, Colonel? Well, guess it don't matter," he continued before Hannibal could answer, "we can get him some more before we go home. An' speakin' a Faceman, I'm gonna go check on him; can't have my bestest buddy sufferin' from nightmares, now can I? Goodnight!"
He'd slipped into Face's room and shut the door before Hannibal could answer, and the colonel grimaced. That was a textbook Murdockian evasion; rattle off a mixture of concerns, questions and borderline accusations that lasted however long it took to reach the door, and by the time the other person had finished picking through what the pilot had said, Murdock was already out of reach. Years of dealing with shrinks coupled with his own quick intellect meant that trying to pin the pilot down in a discussion was like trying to grasp water.
Hannibal sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigar, mind turning.
Okay. There's got to be some way to get that van back and get out of here. Think...
"So how are we going to get back to Sacheton from Illinois?" Face wanted to know around yawns. Although Hannibal had allowed the rest of the A-Team to lie in until nine am (which, by A-Team and Army standards, was practically lunchtime) the lieutenant hadn't slept particularly well.
Hannibal glanced at him, then at the others. "Well, if we could find a helicopter—"
"I ain't flyin', Hannibal!"
There was a stunned pause, then Murdock glanced around at the others and added with a grin, "I just wanted to beat the big guy to it, y'know, just this one time."
"For once, the crazy fool's talkin' sense, Hannibal. I ain't flyin'. You wanna fly, that's your business. I ain't leavin' the ground. Especially not after you lost my van!"
"Sergeant, we will get the van back." Hannibal took a deep breath that seemed to go on for some time. "Now. Decker will probably have impounded it in the nearest Army base to use as bait for us. So all we have to do is get inside, get the van and get out again."
Face raised his eyebrows. "Gee, Hannibal, you make that sound so simple."
Hannibal's smile was just a little too innocent to trust. "Well, I admit that some parts of the plan are still somewhat vague, but I'll have thought of something when the time comes. Now, do we have any good disguises?"
BA's coffee cup cracked down on the table with a little more force than usual.
"We had plenty've good disguises, Hannibal, in the back of my van!"
Hannibal considered this. "Well, Decker knows we're somewhere in this city. He'll be expecting us to make a try for the van or to get out of Chicago and back to LA. I guess he'll have people on all the Army Surplus stores." He paused for a few seconds, then a slow grin appeared on his face. "Murdock, while you were wandering around buying treats for everyone, did you happen to notice any costume shops?"
"Costume shops?" BA's voice shot up. "That ain't never gonna work!"
"Sure it is, BA. We'll be in an MP car, I'll wind the window down a little and salute and we'll be waved right on in."
Face raised his eyebrows. "And you don't think Decker's gonna be waiting for us? You don't think that he knows what we look like by now? Even in a phony uniform?"
Hannibal's grin broadened. "Which means that he'll be expecting us and the guard will have orders to let us come right on in. It'll be a piece of cake."
Murdock groaned. "Aw, Hannibal! Whenever you say that, my nose gets all scared an' tingly."
"Yeah." Next to the captain, Face shifted his weight. "So does mine."
"Well, tell your noses to hold all tingling until after the operation, gentlemen." Hannibal lit up a cigar and inhaled. "Because the A-Team is back in business."
Private Isaacs was bored.
Supremely bored, in fact. Not many visitors came to this fort, and since he was responsible for manning the entrance, this meant there was nothing for him to do except stand there and count the trees (forty two) the branches on the trees (six hundred and thirty three) and the leaves on those same branches (so far he was up to five hundred and nine, but it was late fall and every time a gust of wind blew, it took half the leaves with it and he had to start all over).
With all that in mind, he was quite pleased to see an MP car approach the entrance and screech to a halt a few inches away from the barriers. Abandoning his fourth attempt at counting leaves, Isaacs approached the rear window just as it was rolled down to reveal two distinguished looking officers.
"May I help you, sirs?"
The older of the officers glanced at him. "Colonel James DeVere. Sent here direct from Fort Bragg to take the A-Team's van into custody there."
Isaacs swallowed, suddenly starting to wish he was back counting leaves. Telling a superior officer he couldn't have what he wanted was a little like telling a two-year-old the same thing; a few took it with good grace, but most did their very best to unleash hell upon you.
"Uh...sir? Sorry, sir, but Colonel Decker's orders were very specific: nobody but him takes that van anywhere."
"If those are Colonel Decker's orders, soldier, then get Colonel Decker down here and let me talk to him!"
Isaacs didn't answer this immediately owing to the fact that a slight disagreement had sprung up between the colonel and the lieutenant sitting next to him, who appeared to be trying to strangle his superior officer.
The colonel managed to push his lieutenant off him and turned to spear Isaacs with a look. "Colonel Decker, Private! On the double!"
"Yes sir." Isaacs threw a hasty salute, then turned and jogged back to the sentry box and picked up the phone.
It took him a few minutes to get through to Colonel Decker himself, and when he did, he was informed in curt tones by the officer that he didn't care how many jumped-up bigwigs Isaacs had sitting out there, nor did he care what they wanted; he had a lot of work to do already without babysitting new recruits or rolling out the welcome wagon for a bunch of goddamn paper pushers so go ahead and let them in already!
Isaacs opened his mouth to protest this, or at least offer a description of the goddamn paper pushers in question, but Decker slammed the phone down before he could get the words out.
Well, he had his authorization, if you wanted to call it that and so he raised the barrier with a snappy salute.
The driver floored the gas, the car rocketed into the fort and Isaacs returned to counting leaves with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Ten minutes later, he raised the barrier again to let the A-Team van out, presumably on its way to Fort Bragg.
Five minutes later, he had a sergeant screaming in his ear and it was only at this point that it began to dawn on him that he might have screwed up.
Decker couldn't remember the last time he'd been so furious. To lose the A-Team in a high-speed pursuit was understandable. To be outwitted by one of Hannibal Smith's complicated plans was forgivable. But to have them drive into a fort, take their own impounded vehicle and drive on out again without anyone so much as raising the alarm...that was just embarrassing.
"They said they'd been sent direct from Fort Bragg to collect the van, sir." Isaacs was squirming on the spot and uncomfortably aware that doing so wasn't going to impress his commanding officer.
"Why the hell would they come to collect the van when we already had it here, Private?"
Isaacs opened his mouth, shut it again and then, when it became apparent Decker wasn't going to answer his own question, said, "I don't know, sir."
"I don't know, sir?" Decker could be a cruelly accurate mimic when the fancy took him. "I don't know?" Reverting to his normal voice, he snarled at the young man, "Well, what the hell do you know?"
The worm began to turn at this point and Isaacs came to immaculate attention before saying, "I know that if you'd come down to investigate when I called you, sir, you'd have found out about the A-Team for yourself and probably have them behind bars right now!"
Outside Decker's office, Crane squeezed his eyes shut in dread. You did not argue with Decker. You didn't argue with any superior officer in the Army, come to that, but you especially did not argue with Decker.
"Are you suggesting that this is my fault?"
"I called you, Colonel, and told you there were three officers who wanted access to the fort and did you want to come on down and check them out. You told me to go ahead and let them in. I was just following your orders!"
God, he really was on a death wish. Crane choked down a groan. This meant Decker was going to be in the mother of all pissed off moods for the rest of the week, and that meant that Crane himself would bear the brunt of it.
"So it is my fault."
God, please let him say no, Crane prayed. The last time Decker had been this angry was after Smith had locked them in that little room overlooking the cinema. Not only had it taken them four hours to get out, but they'd had to suffer ninety minutes of Smith and Peck (who had been a surprisingly wooden actor considering his talent as a con artist) in Gatorzilla or Gatorella or some such third rate B-movie.
"I'm suggesting it's not mine."
Crane pivoted smartly on one foot and rapped on Decker's door.
The answer that came from inside would have shocked a drill sergeant, but Crane knew Decker too well to be deterred; instead he just pushed open the door and entered.
"Sir, a call just came in. There's been a confirmed sighting of the A-Team heading west."
Decker froze mid-explosion. "That was fast."
It was fast. It was also untrue, and Crane prayed that his colonel would be too eager to catch Smith and the others to realize this. Anyway, the A-Team were based in California, California was to the west of Illinois...it was a safe enough assumption that they'd be going back there.
Besides, ninety nine percent of the calls we get turn out to be false alarms, especially the ones about Baracus.
Crane had often puzzled over that one. Smith, yes; Peck, yes (most of the callers who supposedly saw Peck tended to be female) but surely there couldn't be too many black guys with Mohawks and an entire jewelry store hanging off them walking about?
"I have the cars standing by, sir."
Eagerness won and Decker turned away from Isaacs. "Good work, Captain. Let's go."
"Well," Face said as he leaned back in his customary seat in the van, "that was easy."
He was right. In fact, getting the van back had been so easy that Hannibal was almost insulted. What was the point of devising a big, complicated plan to get the A-Team van if the person guarding it just handed over the keys and saluted as you drove away? Surely Decker had posted their descriptions to everyone on the base? Hannibal refused to believe that the other colonel really had sent for someone from Fort Bragg to get the van; that would be just too big a coincidence. Granted he and the rest of the A-Team did have a strange tendency to hit the long shots, but still...
"Pull over, BA," he said suddenly. "I want to check for trackers."
BA obliged. There hadn't been any sign of pursuit; it was probably safe to pause for a while.
A thorough search of the van revealed nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that their entire armory had been stripped.
"He didn't even bother to bug it?" Face stared at Hannibal. "Why not?"
Hannibal shrugged. "Maybe he thinks he already knows where we're going."
The lieutenant ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, but he doesn't usually base everything on a single thought. He's not that stupid."
Hannibal shrugged. "Well, there's only one way to find out for sure, Face."
He lit up a cigar and blew out a smoke splodge (despite years of trying, he'd never managed to acquire the art of smoke rings). "Step on it, BA. Next stop: Sacheton." A grin spread across his face. "I love it when a plan comes together!"
Next up...the final chapter! (I was going to make this the final chapter, but it would have taken far too long to mesh together, so I split it in two :)) Anyway, hope you enjoyed this one and if you read, please review!