Morale

AN: The songs I selected for Murdock to sing are from the 60s or earlier. They are: "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "The Yellow Rose of Texas" a traditional folk song, "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas and the Papas and "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles. Documents and testimonies from POWs who survived the prison camps in the early years of the war describe the whipping of POWs with strips of rubber from fan belts and tires. Instead of gaining useful information through them, interrogations did become a method of gaining material to use for propaganda purposes. The hanging method I describe was actually much worse and could result in dislocated shoulders and crippling injuries.

Disclaimer: I do not own The A Team movie or television series or any of the delightful characters found on The A Team.

Chapter 1 Black Dog Come To Play

ooooooo

Sweat from his forehead trickled into his eyes, blurring his view of the thatched huts. Though he could not see them, he knew his fellow prisoners covertly watched him.

They did not dare approach him.

They did not dare speak to him.

He could sense their eyes on him throughout the stifling hot day and it heightened his sense of responsibility to them.

What song should I sing now?

One that would encourage Hannibal and the others yet not irritate the guards left to monitor and torment him. Trying to sigh over the sandpaper rasp in his throat, he decided there was no song which would prevent the latter from happening. He thought as quickly as his heat-affected, torture-assaulted mind would permit and almost snickered at the song that came to his thoughts.

Oh, this'll get me lotsa trouble but the guys'll like it. Hope I can get 'nough of it out 'fore they shut me up.

And Murdock started to sing.

Round, round, get around, I get around,

Get around, get around, I get around . . .

He thought he could make out B. A.'s muscular shape come out of the far hut followed by two other men. Maybe Face and the Colonel? He launched into the first verse, singing it as loud as he could.

I'm gettin' bugged driving up and down the same old strip
I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip
My buddies and me are gettin' real well known
Yeah, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone . . .

One of the guards prodded his rifle barrel hard into Murdock's gut, cutting off the song.

"I thought everybody liked The Beach Boys," he pouted. The other guard gripped a broken fan belt in his hand. He swung his arm back and lashed the pilot across the back of his legs several times.

For a few moments he kept silent, feeling the searing pain of the blows. In his time at this POW camp, he witnessed men come back after whippings more severe than that with their skin as well as their ragged clothes hanging in shreds. Those kinds of open wounds rarely healed and often got infected. Some men died.

What he was enduring right now was not an attempt by the VC to collect information. Nor was it meant to get him to write a "confession" to his wrongdoing and condemn his country for the war. He knew that.

Had known that since early morning when he was dragged, hands bound tightly in front of him with coarsely fibered rope, from the hut he shared with B. A., Hannibal and Face.

Long ago he came to an understanding about the human condition. In every man there existed a bloodthirsty animal, a black dog. Most folks like himself were able to subdue the beast because the white dog inside them, the one that forgave and was merciful, kept the black dog cowering and impotent. Even B. A., as angry a mudsucker as he was, could control the black beast inside. Murdock could not understand the enemy's mindset, that insatiable urge to let the sadistic black dog out to prowl for prey.

Something about this war anesthetized the white dog and gave the black beast opportunity. The horrors of the war fed the black animal and left the white one to starve.

Once he was in the interrogation building, the camp commandant shot a few meaningless questions his way. Even then he knew the commandant was doing it as a formality. He was shoved onto the floor and received a few well-placed kicks to the belly and ribs when his answers displeased his interrogator. The blows sucked the breath from him but didn't let him drown in the dark pool of unconsciousness he had come to know as a welcome friend at such times.

That morning, Murdock glimpsed the black dog lurking behind the commandant's glinting black eyes. He comprehended what was about to happen to him and why. Today's agenda was all about demoralizing the other POWs and satisfying the black dog's lust to attack the powerless and draw blood.

As he left the building, he began to sing. He sensed it unnerved his captors when he did and maybe even robbed them of some of the satisfaction they ordinarily had when they tortured a POW.

There's a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see,
No other soldier knows her, no soldier only me
She cried so when I left her it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part.

He saw Heller stand up, swaying and grasping a corner of the hut to steady himself. Wilson staggered from the latrine area and gaped at Murdock. Both men straightened as if to salute. To actually do so would bring punishment but their posture showed him they recognized the song. They were both fellow Texans and he prayed it gave them a little hope.

A large tree stood on the other side of the fenced in prison yard. One of its thickest branches jutted over the fence and into the compound. Murdock never paid much attention to the tree or its overhanging branch in the past. The tree was too near the guard post to be a possible location to congregate or to escape. Only during the late afternoon did the tree cast its shadow across the yard and provide shade from the sun.

It was to the spot underneath that overhanging branch that Murdock, still singing, was alternately pushed and half-dragged by his two guards. Three crates were set up side by side. The two guards stepped onto the outer crates and lifted him up between themselves. It was a testimony to the meager rations he and the others received daily that they were able to lift him at all.

One of his captors took a length of rope from his belt and slung it over the branch, securing it with a knot and letting the two ends hang down. Murdock froze in place, his eyes growing wide, his chest heaving with his panicked breaths. He stopped singing.

They ain't gonna do what I think they're gonna do, are they?

In the distance he noticed a cluster of prisoners being herded to a location in the yard where they could observe what was about to happen. Murdock saw a burly black figure and a silver-haired man push their way to the front of the group. Both men grasped the arms of a third figure, preventing him from rushing across the yard toward the public spectacle.

The guards raised his bound hands toward the tree branch and secured the rope around those binding his wrists. They tightened the rope until his hands nearly touched the branch, then stepped down from the crates. Removing the middle crate from under his feet, they allowed him to dangle at least eighteen inches from the ground.

At first, the guards were content to let him hang by his wrists in the full sun. Pain radiated from the spots on his abdomen where he had been kicked. His wrists chafed as his full body weight was suspended in the air. His fingers first and then his hands turned numb. Thinking of songs that reminded him of the States occupied his thoughts and pushed back his pain.

He had never been to California in his life and probably would never get there but the way the songs painted it, he thought he'd like to visit. The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" came to his mind. He tried to sing both the Papas' lead and the Mamas' echo but found he couldn't manage with his breaths so constricted by his hanging position. The POWs who he knew from California paused in their camp duties to listen.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey,
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L. A.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

He knew the black dogs had come out to play when one of his captors grinned at the other. The guard shoved Murdock back toward the fence and let go, allowing him to swing wildly back and forth. The motion sent new waves of pain through his arms. The other guard stepped forward and used the butt of his rifle to prod him and make him spin in a circle. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to focus on the lyrics.

Stepped into a church I passed along the way.
Well, I got down on my knees and I pretended to pray.
You know the preacher likes the cold.
He's knows I'm gonna stay.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

The heat of the day made every part of his body slick with perspiration. The tender skin around his wrists broke open with the chaffing and blood mingled with the sweat and trickled down his arms. The rags he wore as a shirt were as wet as if he had been in a Texas size cloudburst. Heat and humidity combined to make his head ache. He was dizzy.

He knew his captors thought he was weak and helpless. His courage and strength to endure was coming from his duty to his fellow POWs. A silly thought came to his mind and he almost giggled at its absurdity.

I am Superman, currently slower than a speeding bullet and unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

A guard brought two bowls of rice and fish to the men watching Murdock. He tried to avoid watching them enjoying their meal. Elsewhere around the camp, the men were receiving their rations of rice. With a sinking discernment, he realized that his next meal would be whenever he was cut down from the tree branch.

Ain't it funny how ya take for granted somethin' simple as food and when ya can't have it, it becomes so important to ya.

To pass the time, he sang. It kept his mind off the tempting aroma of the fish in the men's bowls. The only delicacies the POWs ever got was captured rats and snake meat from the reptiles that dwelt in the latrines.

Let me take you down
'Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever.

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me.

One of the guards finished his meal. With a crooked grin, he spoke to the other man, not knowing Murdock understood the Vietnamese language.

"Xem những gì sẽ xảy ra. (See what happens.)" He gestured with his bowl at the pilot and climbed up on one of the crates.

Murdock saw ten grains of rice and fish juices. The scent rose and made him lose focus. Holding the bowl a foot from Murdock, the guard dipped in to pinch the last few bits of food between his fingers. He brought his hand close to the pilot, then put the rice in his own mouth, sucking his fingers to get all of the food. He cleaned the bowl and laughed in Murdock's face.

The other guard laughed, too. The Captain didn't mean to but a small groan escaped his mouth. Once again wielding the broken rubber fan belt, the guard viciously slashed at the length of both of Murdock's legs.

"No more," he whispered before the darkness claimed him. His head lolled forward and his eyes closed.

Although no voices could be heard, the atmosphere registered the collective internal sigh of pity from those who had watched throughout the entire day.

The shadow from the tree was creeping across the yard toward the huts before Murdock was released from the tree branch. When the rope was cut, he fell onto the ground, wrists still bound together. His arms were stiffened into the raised position he had maintained most of that day. The guards dragged him to the hut and cast his limp body onto the floor. Glancing at each of the three men, one guard lowered his gun and threatened them with it while both he and his companion backed out of the hut.

B. A. growled his anger at what they had done while Hannibal put one hand on the big man's chest to order him to restrain himself.

Face wasn't looking at the two guards. He knelt on the floor beside Murdock, pulling at the rope around his wrists, trying to loosen the knot.

The pilot opened his brown eyes to half slits. The corners of his mouth turned upward in more of a grimace than a smile as he muttered, "They just ain't music lovers, I guess."