No Experience Necessary
By Mizhowlinmad(HBF), 2010
Summary: Missing tag scene from Firing Line. Murdock's move from Westwood to Langley brings lots of tough changes, least of which is finding a job for the first time in years. ATSB challenge response (5 Senses and Aviation Week.)
Disclaimer: TAT belongs to SJC and Universal. I don't make a penny from this, but it helps to make life more tolerable, so why not?
Dedicated: To all my pals late of 2016.
H.M. Murdock took one step into the place and felt like vomiting.
Things were happening so fast. He was much like a cat in that way: he hated change and resisted it with every fiber of his being. A week ago, he'd been fighting to save his team's lives; 72 hours ago, he'd had to hear a gunshot in the distance and pray that somehow they'd survived a firing squad.
They had lived. Would he?
The last 48 hours had been a roller coaster ride. Richter, out of the blue, signing his release, a couple of orderlies packing his things, getting driven to an airstrip, then frog-marched onto a Gulfstream by two grim-faced men in suits, someone saying a single word over and over in his mind…
Sane. Sane. S-A-N-E. Free to go.
It had been nearly fifteen years. It felt strange, like the dreams he got after eating too much pizza and ice cream.
He pinched his shoulder. Closed his eyes. When he opened them, the hideous grey linoleum and bland wall art was still there.
Yeah, this had to be a dream. Any minute, Billy and Chiquita Banana were gonna show up and they'd all go to Disneyland together…
His trance shattered. The lady at the desk had been calling him. Who knew for how long? He stepped forward shyly, reaching out of habit at his forehead where the baseball cap's brim normally would be.
"Um, Murdock. H.M. Supposed to see Mr. Andrews about a job at fifteen-hu…I mean, three o'clock."
He could smell her flowery perfume. It was the kind of stuff that cost more per ounce than most average people made in an eight-hour shift. This was an upscale place, in an affluent area just outside the Beltway; she probably got paid well.
The last time he'd felt this nervous had been at the start of flight school nearly two decades ago. He could feel one hand trembling at his side, and quickly steadied it. What was that about?
Just relax. You're at a jet charter company. You'll do fine, muchacho.
He drank from his inner well of strength. That's what Hannibal would want him to do.
"Yes, Mr. Murdock. I have your application here," the lady behind the desk said. "Have a seat. He'll be with you when he's out of his conference call."
So he did. Two chairs faced the reception desk, both of them deep burgundy leather. He felt himself running his hands along the smooth, oiled surface and sighing. Not only couldn't he wear his baseball cap to this appointment, he'd had to leave his beloved A-2 behind with one of Stockwell's goons. If anything happened to it…
The clock in the lobby was one of those old-fashioned ones that reminded Murdock of the hospital. Every tiny movement of the second hand felt like a mosquito inside his brain. A minute went by. Two.
He wished he'd brought something to read. He was just about to pick up the company's folded brochure to browse when he heard the sound of men's laughter from down the hallway. That must be the boss.
Two guys emerged, one a stout grandfatherly type, the other taller and much younger.
Younger than me, Murdock realized.
"Call me if you have any questions at all, Congressman," the blond, thirtysomething guy in the power suit said. "We strive for the highest standard of service here at Wainwright Executive Charter and we're glad you understand."
Congressman Whoever-he-was huffed, but grunted his approval and was on his way, the door closing behind him. The younger guy half-smiled. "Can't please everyone, Marlena, but you know how these Beltway guys are…"
Murdock tried not to stare down at his one good pair of dress shoes. This guy would eat him for lunch, then stick him with the bill.
Be like Faceman. That always works.
"You must be Mr. Murtaugh?"
"Murdock," he corrected softly, offering the guy his hand and feeling it get crushed for a moment. "Are you Mr. Andrews?"
"You betcha." Murdock inwardly cringed. He hated false sincerity almost as much as sudden change. "Right this way…Marlena, hold my calls, and would you be so kind as to bring us some coffee? You do drink coffee?"
"I'd rather just have some water," said Murdock.
"All right. One coffee, one water. Come on in, my office is right down here."
It was the last door down a wood-paneled hallway lined with framed photographs of important-looking people (whom Murdock ignored) standing beside aircraft he instantly recognized. Sleek Gulfstreams, elegant Lears, a Beechcraft. His heart beat harder in his chest just looking at them.
"Mr. Murdock? You coming?"
Just like with Marlena, he'd been transfixed and not realized it. How could he possibly be sane?
"Oh, yeah. Just noticing your fleet here. You have some really nice-lookin' birds," he said, trying to sound casual.
"We're very proud of our company. Why don't you come on in?" Andrews was one of those guys who wore a smile permanently pasted across his face. He gestured to the conference room door.
This was the kind of place suitable for congressmen and businessmen and movie stars. He was just a guy in a borrowed off-the-rack suit and a pair of scuffed loafers and a tie that had been out of style three years ago.
I can do this. But why didn't I ask Face to overnight me one of his suits?
"So," Andrews said, taking the seat at the head of the enormous polished table, "what brings you to Wainwright Executive today?"
Murdock sat beside him. He didn't answer for a moment. He felt like a helpless foal, and the man in front of him was surely a wolf. "I…hear you're looking for a couple of new pilots," he said in a voice he didn't recognize as his own.
Andrews nodded. "We've been really expanding our VIP client base. I need top-notch pilots with lots of hours. Says here," he pulled a piece of paper from his suit jacket; where he'd gotten it, Murdock guessed Stockwell might have been involved, "you flew some missions for Uncle Sam back in Vietnam."
The guy said it less like he'd put his life on the line countless times, and more like he'd given a few children's pony rides at a carnival. Murdock felt his heart thumping hard, his temper rising.
"Yeah. Always liked flying, always had a knack," he said between gritted teeth, trying to stay calm and polite, the way Face always did. "I can start as soon as you want me to."
Andrews looked up at him over the piece of paper, pity in his eyes. "I don't see that you've had any relevant experience since 'Nam, though. We do require all our pilots to have a current license and undergo a current FAA training course."
"I can get it…the license…again. No problem." He was begging now. He'd give anything to fly one of those elegant machines again, no matter what pompous, self-important ass might have been aboard. He could taste it in his mouth, like a dog awaiting a particularly juicy, meaty bone. "I can fly anything, sir."
"I don't doubt you can. I really like you ex-military guys," Andrews said.
In that instant Murdock hated him, his designer haircut and immaculate wardrobe. He knew nothing of leeches and endless monsoons and malaria and being slowly starved to death by Ho Chi Minh's soldiers.
Too young for Nam. Closest he'd probably ever come to staring death in the eye was at a distant relative's funeral. He would never understand.
"I'm sorry. I'll, um, try my luck someplace else, OK?" Murdock said under his breath, trying not to look the man in the eye. "Thanks for your time." He rose from his chair. It was made of the same rich leather as the ones in the lobby, and its smell made him indescribably sad.
Andrews was definitely looking at him with pity now. "Hey, I understand. We just have standards we have to go by. You're a pilot…"
"Was a pilot," he answered, his voice dripping sarcasm and anger and frustration. "Not anymore."
"We always need guys to detail and clean. I could get you in as soon as a week or so; company provides the uniform. With your experience I can even give you, say, 6 bucks an hour?"
Murdock's head spun. In the span of a week, his familiar, comfortable world had been turned upside down, shaken violently, and hurled across the continent without warning. Now, some spoiled yuppie kid was telling him that instead of flying the company's fleet, all he could ever hope to do was clean them.
The seismic pressure inside was unbearable. Instead of unleashing his fury on the unctuous Mr. Andrews, he just took a deep breath.
"I'll call you."
It's what Face would do. Never let them see you angry.
"Sure. Take one of my cards, and you can call me on my private line. It's been a pleasure, Mr. Murtaugh."
He passed the airplane photos again on the long walk down the hall. So beautiful. Out of his reach. Like a pretty starlet glimpsed from across a crowded restaurant.
"Oh, Mr. Murdock?" It was Marlena, the receptionist with the pretty-smelling perfume. She had a nice voice, the kind that always made Murdock calm down. "Can I ask you something?"
Oh, no. She probably wants to ask me out or something. It was a wild, irrational thought, and he had no idea where it came from. He had to fight the urge to laugh.
"You might want to call Fairfax Animal Control, if you're still looking. The pay's good, I know they're always looking for extra help. My sister worked there for a while, while she was still doing her undergrad work." She handed him a business card. "You seem like a nice guy," she added almost as an afterthought.
I'm a pilot. I'm not a kennel boy, dammit!
Then he looked at her. Her eyes, soft and brown under a perfect layer of makeup, were gentle. Unlike Mr. Andrews, they were the eyes of someone who cared.
"I hope you find something. Call them, and give them my sister's name as a reference if you like. Ariana Santos." She smiled, and it made her eyes twinkle. "Welcome to Langley, by the way."
"How'd you know?"
"You just seem, I dunno, a little confused. Like you've just moved. But you're kind of cute anyway," Marlena said, giggling.
Murdock decided she was all right.
But first, there was the pressing matter of finding a job. Then, he could focus on other things, like finding a girlfriend.
He left the office behind, stepped back out into the bright Virginia sunshine. Already he felt the pain receding behind him like ripples behind a tossed stone. Somewhere, he could smell wildflowers.
Murdock crossed the street. He found a pay phone at the Circle K a block over, inserted a quarter, and with trembling fingers, dialed the number to Fairfax Animal Control.