DISTRESSED DAMSELS, MISGUIDED KNIGHTS, AND THE MILITARY

By AEIU

"Oh Mark," the beautiful young blonde woman cried as she sobbed on his broad shoulder. "I don't know what I'm going to do! That business is all he has! It'll kill my father to lose it!"

"Carrie, honey," McCormick said soothingly as he gently consoled the distraught woman in his arms. "It'll be okay. Have you gone to the police?"

Carrie pulled out of his arms and stared at him aghast.

"You don't understand!" she said horrified at the notion of taking her family's problem to law enforcement. "You don't know what type of man Alfaro is! If I went to the police, my family would be dead before I got back home! He's a monster but he has connections."

"What is it that he wants?"

"Money!" Carrie wailed as she fell back into Mark's embrace. "Much more than we have. Everything was going fine. My father's business was finally turning a decent profit. Then Alfaro and his men came in and told him that he had to start paying for their special insurance. At first, my dad said no but then the accidents started. He didn't like it but he started paying them what they wanted. But Alfaro kept demanding more and more. And now he's told my dad that he has to make him a partner. I know it's just a matter of time before Alfaro kills my dad and takes over the business. If only there was someone who could help us!"

"Carrie, I know somebody who might be able to help you."

"Not the police!" she insisted.

"Not the police. But we could talk to him and see what he says."

"Oh Mark, it would be wonderful if your friends could help," Carrie said as she pulled Mark close and kissed him fully on the lips. "But I can't be seen talking to anyone. It's too dangerous. I think I'm being followed. If Alfaro thought I was trying to get help, he'd hurt my family. But he doesn't have any reason to follow you. Maybe you can explain everything to your friends."

"It would be better if you told him yourself."

"I can't," Carrie insisted as she vehemently shook her head no. "I can't take that chance with my family's lives."

"Okay," McCormick sighed. "Tell me everything you know about Alfaro."

As she told her tale of woe, she became less afraid, her voice became more confident, and her eyes shone with admiration for her knight in shiny armor. Finally she completed her story and, exhausted with emotion, asked to be taken home.

Outwardly McCormick was calm as he radiated competence and confidence. Inwardly, his heart and brain fought their long battle for dominance. His brain kept saying her story was too filled with inconsistencies and everything she said was just a little too convenient to be true. But his heart melted at the sight of those lovely eyes filled with tears. It warned him against being too cynical and refused to believe that the same sweet voice that proclaimed love; could, also, lie to him.

His eyes darted nervously across the seemingly empty parking lot of her apartment complex. He spotted a dark car parked near some bushes. He wasn't sure but something about the vehicle felt wrong. He pulled Carrie protectively closer to his side, hoping to shield her from unfriendly eyes. The grateful smile she gave him as she melted into the hug knocked his brain out for the count.

"Do you want me to check out your apartment?" Mark asked as they reached her door.

"No, Mark," Carrie said lovingly. "You're doing more than enough for me. I mean we've only been on five dates and you're willing to risk yourself and your friends to help me. I can't tell you how much this means to me."

"It's nothing."

"Oh, but it is," Carrie said as she gave him a quick chaste kiss. "When will I hear from you?"

"Soon. We need to ask some questions, come up with a plan, and get back with you."

"Thank you, Mark," Carrie said one last time before she quickly slipped into the apartment and slammed the door in her protector's face.

"Good night," Mark said to the closed door. He bit back a sigh of frustration as he walked back to his car. His brain nagged him as it awakened from the K.O. punch Carrie's smile had thrown him. Her mood swings were confusing. One minute she couldn't get enough of him and the next minute she seemed to want to get rid of him.

As he got back into his car, he realized that he really didn't have a choice. He could never live with himself, if she and her family were hurt because he failed to help them.

He was glad to see the suspicious car had left the parking lot. It wasn't like he had a curfew but the judge wanted to be informed if he planned to be gone overnight and he would want to know why. McCormick was sure Hardcastle wouldn't be happy to find out his Tonto had decided to take on a carload of thugs without backup.

Not that he had ever done anything that stupid. Well, not lately. Certainly he wouldn't do anything until he had explained Carrie's situation to the judge. Hopefully the judge would agree to help.

"I'll just wait until Hardcastle is in a good mood and I'll tell him about her problem," McCormick thought to himself. "Of course, I might not live long enough to see him in a good mood. Maybe I can throw tomorrow's basketball game, clean the gutters, or something."

From her venue, Carrie watched as the young man drove away. As soon as his car turned the corner, she picked up the phone and dialed a memorized number.

"The fish is in the net," she intoned without feeling. "I repeat the fish is in the net." She hung up the phone without waiting for a response. Sergeant Carrie Walker believed in her country and she believed in what she was doing. But that didn't mean she had to like it.

Carrie's message was written down with date and time duly noted in a large log book. A copy of the message was forwarded to a United States Army captain who hand carried it to his superior who grinned broadly when he read the missive.

"Excellent, Crane" Colonel Lynch chortled. "All the pieces are in place and all I have to do is wait for the A-Team to fall into my lap. And this time, I'm going to get all of them even the so-called Howling Mad Murdock."

"Are you sure the A-Team will take the bait, sir?" Captain Crane asked.

"I'm positive. I've set up the perfect case for them. I have the pretty damsel in distress with aged parents about to lose the family business and the perfect villain. Mr. Ciro Alfaro was a low level gangster with the Aqulair Family when he first tangled with the team. They brought Aqulair down but Alfaro's case fell through the cracks. He was released and he didn't waste any time setting up his own crime syndicate. It'll be a point of pride to Smith to get rid of him for good. But what he doesn't know is that the feds have already permanently taken Alfaro out of circulation."

"What if Smith and the others find out that there is no Alfaro Syndicate?"

"They won't because all the records show it is still up and running."

Crane whistles in admiration. "How did you pull that off, sir?"

"I called in a lot of favors and went to the carpet for this plan. I finally got the brass to understand that our team needs to be more proactive. It doesn't do any good to go rushing to every A-Team sighting. By the time we get there, Smith has already finished the job and has left. I'm damn sick of looking at the tail light of their van."

"But bringing a civilian into this?"

"We have to play with the cards that are dealt us."

"But what's so special about this Mark McCormick? What makes you think he's involved with the A-Team?"

"It's what the evidence shows."

Crane heaved a heavy sigh. He hoped the colonel wasn't setting himself up for another major failure. They had never heard the name of Mark McCormick until several months ago when the civilian was mysteriously kidnapped by the A-Team and held for a few hours before being unceremoniously dumped at the airport with a letter of apology and a few dollars in his pocket for the inconvenience.

They had tried to bring the young man back to military base where he could be properly questioned but his protector, Judge Milton C. Hardcastle, stopped them dead in the water. He had allowed them to talk with McCormick but only under his watchful eye. They had gleaned from the ex-con that the team was heading down to Disney World for a new job. The colonel was a laughing stock after his team spent a full week at the park before determining it was a wild goose chase.

Lynch brought McCormick back in for questioning, and had been frustrated by his response that he only repeated what he had heard while being held prisoner. Hardcastle pointed out that if the A-Team pulled a fast one by feeding McCormick false information; they could hardly blame the messenger. Since then the parolee and judge earned a prominent place on the Lynch's enemies list.

"But what connection could possibly exist between a Jersey ex-con and the A-Team?" asked Crane. He admired his commander but worried his dogged and obsessive nature could lead him astray.

"I'm not sure," admitted Lynch. "It could be anything. Hell, for all we know, he could be Smith's long lost son. The only thing I know is that there is a connection."

Lynch bit back a smile as he considered what he had just said. He knew Crane thought he was joking about McCormick being Smith's son but his gut told him differently. The facts weren't conclusive but there were too many to ignore.

He started his investigation into the young con's past as soon as he returned from the Disney fiasco. He determined that Mark McCormick was born in Atlantic City, his mother was Donna McCormick, his father was unknown, and he had no living relative. All records of McCormick's early life which might contain a clue of the identity of the man who sired him were mysteriously missing from all files. Somebody, who knew what they were doing, had picked the records clean.

What he did find out was that a young John (AKA Hannibal) Smith had spent a year assignment as a recruiter in Atlantic City around the time of Mark McCormick's birth, in an office a few blocks from where Donna McCormick worked. It was just too damn coincidental not to mean something.

He continued his inquiries by talking with McCormick's old prison buddies but either the McCormick didn't know Smith was his father or he never talked about it. He tried to get the cooperation of local law enforcement. They had varying opinions on McCormick's worthiness but said if he wanted information about the kid's past, the best place to find it was in Hardcastle's personal files. His attempt to gain access to those files had been a dismal failure.

"Got a warrant," demanded Hardcastle.

"No, admitted Lynch.

"Then I suggest you try and get one," Hardcastle said as he slammed the door.

He tried but most local judges just laughed when he told them what he wanted. A first he wasn't worried; Hardcastle might be big fish in the State of California but he was dealing with the United States Army. So it had surprised him when he got the same results from the federal circuits. They hemmed and hawed, started talking about how Hardcastle had been a nominee for the US Supreme Court then asked for probable cause.

"Probable cause; I hate that word," thought Lynch. That and the First Amendment always stymied him and his attempts to prove Amy Allen was involved with the A-Team. It struck in his craw that the words of the country's forefathers was being used to protect a two time loser from the justice he deserved.

But he'd show all of them. He was going to prove the connection between McCormick and Smith. He was going to prove that Hardcastle was deliberately obstructing a military investigation. He wasn't going to rest until father, son, and the holier than thou Hardcastle were behind bars.

His subordinate's voice drew him out of his reveries. "What was that, Crane?" he asked.

"I asked, what next, sir?"

"Now we wait. McCormick will go to the team and explain all about Alfaro's newest criminal enterprise. If Sergeant Walker has done her job right, she'll introduce McCormick to her family and he'll bring them to meet up with the team."

"Why don't we have Sergeant Walker meet with the team?"

"Lieutenant Peck is the one that believes everything a pretty girl tell him. Colonel Smith is the one who's a sucker for an elderly couple with a sob story. The parents that I've got picked out are professional actors; Sergeant Walker was chosen because she's good looking and can cry on cue. Smith would see through her in a minute."

"Why don't we grab the team when they meet with the parents?"

"Too iffy; they may not all be there and I want to catch all of them."

"So what's the plan?"

"Smith will want to do some research on Alfaro's. When they accesses Alfaro's records, we'll be notified. That way we'll know he's taken the bait. The records will show Alfaro has been running a vast criminal extortion racket for months. Smith will want to set up a confrontation with Alfaro but we'll be waiting there instead. They'll step right into my trap and this time there's not going to be any escape."

Lynch chuckled to himself as he reveled in his cleverness. Crane tried to join in the levity but he was worried. Despite everything he had learned in military school, Colonel Smith's off-the-cuff crazy schemes had a tendency to work better than Lynch's fine-tuned plans.

But in less than twelve hours, Lynch's plan seemed to be work. McCormick had contacted Walker and asked her to meet with his friend. She had deferred and sent her faux parents who claimed to have all the pertinent information on Alfaro. They had met with a disguised Smith who used a false name and was happy to get a second chance to bring the crime lord down.

They had expected Smith's resident scam artist, Faceman, to throw together an elegant con to gain access to Alfaro's restricted records. Instead it had been a black bag burglary.

Lynch was less than pleased with Smith's latest curveball. The Federal Building's less than competent security system alarm rang in the middle of the night, long after the supposed burglar had left the scene. The security camera recorded an open door, which had previously been locked, in the room which contained Alfaro's false records. Investigation showed the filing cabinet had been forced open but not which files had been breached. His team said there were no fingerprints and no clues to identify the culprit.

It was a good sign but too flawed to be called a success. Crane, playing the devil's advocate, suggested that McCormick might have been burglar but there was nothing in the kid's files which suggested he had the competence to break into a federal building and escape undetected. Still it was time to bring the game to an end.

Lynch called Sergeant Walker, personally, and instructed her on what to tell her naïve admirer. She would tell him that Alfaro was increasing the pressure on her father who was suffering from chest pains over the threats from the thugs. Worries over the old man's health would cause Smith to act too quickly and that would be his downfall.

"Soon, Smith." Lynch thought to himself as he drank a tall glass of whiskey. "Soon you're going to be mine. And it'll be the last time that I'll be the brunt of any joke from you, your team, or that con son of yours."

A day later, McCormick smacked the steering wheel of his car in frustration. He didn't like the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as Carrie's case rushed to its conclusion. From the minute, he threw out Alfaro's name, everything started moving way too quickly for his liking. And, as usual, no one seemed interested in his opinion.

There were things that didn't make sense. Like why Carrie's couldn't be seen going to anyone for help but her parents could. And her parent, they were straight out of central casting with a tale of adversity that would bring tears to a statue's eyes. And the files that he found in the federal building; how could Alfaro be involved in so much but no one seemed to have known it. And anytime they were having difficulties, Carrie or his parents were suddenly able to provide the help they need.

Now Carrie's father's health had taken a turn for the worse and they were forced to move forward without a solid plan. It was like a bread trail in the woods which inevitably led into a trap. He tried to tell people but they blamed his jitters on nerves.

It was still a long time before the big showdown with Alfaro. He had been given a long list of explicated instructions that he needed to have completed before the meeting but instead he decided to take the initiative and deviate from other's expectations. He was going to have another meeting with Carrie and figure out why her story bothered him.

As he came up the walkway, her door opened. He nearly didn't recognize her in the crisp blue military uniform but he recognized her companion. He had just turned to leave when he heard her sweet voice betray him.

"Mark!" Carrie gasped. What are you doing here?"

"Report to Substation One, ASAP!" Lynch yelled in his radio. "Send in your men. We have an unauthorized observer."

McCormick didn't stop to see if a radio was the only thing Lynch had in his hand. He didn't know what was going on but if Lynch was involved, it couldn't be anything good. He made the parking lot and his car was in sight when he felt someone tackle his legs. The concrete came up fast as another person jumped on his back. He barely had time to shout out a protest as his head hit the ground and blackness engulfed him.

Mark McCormick was acutely aware of each ache and pain in his body as consciousness returned. What he didn't know was where he was and how long he had been there. He was still in the same clothes lying on a bare cot that was empty except for the wall camera whose bright red light reminded him that he was not really alone. The formidable door sans an interior knob let him know that he wasn't going anywhere soon.

McCormick swung his feet around, shakily stood and walked toward the camera. He noticed the eerie way the instrument seemed to track his movements across the room.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Is there anybody out there? You don't have any right to hold me here! I want to talk to a lawyer! Get Hardcastle down here!"

He yelled several more demands as well as a couple of inventive observations about Lynch's linage, all without any response. It was obvious there wasn't anyone out there or they were ignoring him. Without anything else to do, he settled back into the cot and waited for others to make the next move.

Typically, he had just fell into a light nap when the door burst opened and Lynch arrogantly strode into the room, his face flushed with anticipatory victory.

"On your feet," he ordered. "We're leaving."

"No!" McCormick answered perversely. "I just got comfortable and I don't care for the company.

Lynch stood to the side as two military police entered the room.

"You're coming with me and these men are going to see that you do," Lynch said as the guards pulled out a set of handcuffs. "How hard it's going to be is entirely up to you."

"Am I under arrest?"

"Don't be silly," Lynch said with a smirk. "I can't arrest you, you're a civilian. But you ARE coming with me."

"Why?"

"Because I want you to," Lynch said cryptically. He wanted to Smith to see his son in chains. It would be even better than when he told Hardcastle that his protégée would be going back to jail without hope of any bail.

McCormick considered putting up a fight but the look in the guards' eyes suggested they were hoping for a little resistance. Hardcastle always stressed there was a time and a place for everything. This didn't seem to be the time to put up a fuss but that didn't mean he couldn't let them know what he thought about the situation.

"I hope you realize how many laws you're violating holding me against my will," McCormick warned.

"Violating the law?" Lynch smirked. "That's real funny coming from you, McCormick. After I make my bust no one is going to care about a few piddling details."

"Sounds like famous last words there, General Custer," McCormick retorted as the guards cuffed the hands behind his back and marched him out the door.

As he passed by, Lynch grabbed him by his shirt collar and pulled him close. "Understand me now, Mister! I'm not impressed by your attempts at jokes. I know all of your's and the team's dirty little secrets!"

"Really! Do you know where I left my socks? Because I've been looking for them."

"Keep it up, funny man. You're laughing days are about to be over."

"I'd warn your men that you're crazy but they probably already know," McCormick muttered as he was hustled out of the room.

Mark clamed up as the procession marched out to a waiting military prison van. He noted Carrie sat ramrod straight in the front passenger seat. He hoped her conscious, if she had one, was bothering her.

McCormick was determined not to let Lynch see how deeply his words had disturbed him. It didn't make sense. There was no way that Lynch could have figured out that he and Templeton were brothers. But that was exactly what the man had hinted. What he couldn't figure out was what Lynch hoped to achieve with this elaborate scam.

He jerked in his seat as the radio suddenly sparked into life.

"Alpha-One, Silver is on the move. He is entering the snare," said the crackly voice from the radio.

"Damn," muttered Lynch. They were still a several miles from the meeting site. The arrest of the A-Team was going to have to start without his presence. "He's early. The kid being missing must have made him move things up."

McCormick felt himself bristle at the comment. He was thirty years old man. Why everyone referred to him as a kid, was beyond him.

"Do you see the others?" Lynch asked.

"No," was the response from the radio. "Silver is alone. Uhm, sir, he doesn't look a lot like Colonel Smith."

"Don't worry," said Lynch to the nervous soldier waiting to rush the building. "Smith is a master of disguises. Sergeant Walker's faux parents said the same thing. It's him."

McCormick leaned forward to say something, changed his mind and settled back into his seat. He knew Lynch wouldn't believe him. The next minutes were going to be tricky and there wasn't anything he could do to stop them.

After a short wait, the radio crackled with another message.

"Alpha-One," the disembodied voice said hesitantly. "Silver is in the trap but the local police are here. We are waiting for instructions."

Lynch smirked to himself. The team had tried this trick before. "They're not real officers, private. They're the other members of the team. Arrest them and wait for my arrival."

"Sir," the voice said. "There are an awful lot of them. Too many to be the A-Team. They're demanding that we release Smith. They claim he's Judge Hardcastle."

"You know," McCormick said quietly as he leaned as close as he could get to Lynch's ear, "it always bothered Old Hardcase having to release Alfaro on that technicality. Alfaro's fifth on the Judge's Top Ten List. He and LA's finest are probably going to be a little miffed when they find out he's not coming."

A large lump formed in Lynch's stomach and he felt the bile start to rise in his throat.

Release Silver," he said. "Abort mission. Cooperate fully with the locals."

The radio crackled to life again.

"McCormick!" a familiar voice brayed. "Are you there?"

Lynch felt the smile on McCormick's face.

"Sergeant," he said with a nod to Walker, "help Mr. McCormick talk to Judge Hardcastle."

Sergeant Walker took the radio and held the send button as she brought it as close as she could to Mark's smug face.

"Yeah, Judge," said McCormick happily. "I'm here."

"Where in the blue blazes are you?"

"Not too far. I can see all the police cars from here."

"Where have you been?"

"An old friend of ours from the military wanted to chat with me."

"Well, you and your friend get your keisters down here. All these yahoos know how to say is they are on a mission and I got to talk to their superior."

Lynch wondered if he would have time to get McCormick out of the cuffs and slap some gauze on the bump on the young man's head but the police officers had already reported their arrival. There was nothing to do but bluff his way out.

Space was made for his vehicle as they pulled up to the building. He saw Judge Hardcastle; the man's eyes were black with fury. He was reminded of a picture he had seen of General Patton about to dress down the troops. His only hope was to go on the offensive before Hardcastle ran roughshod over him.

"What the hell are you doing messing in a government operation, Hardcastle?" Lynch shouted as he slammed the door of the vehicle open.

The judge stormed by Lynch as if he was a lowly private on latrine duty. He walked over to McCormick and visually inspected the kid, his frown deepening as he saw the chained wrists and dried blood that had trickled down his forehead.

"Get these cuff off now," Hardcastle ordered.

Sergeant Walker instinctively responded to the voice of authority and removed the cuffs. McCormick grinned as he rubbed his chaffed wrists.

"How did he get injured?" Hardcastle demanded.

"Mister McCormick tripped," Lynch said as he tried to take control of the situation. "As you can see he's unhurt. He's been helping us with our inquiries."

"Was he seen by a doctor?"

"No," Lynch admitted, "but he's uninjured."

"Who's this?" Hardcastle asked as he jerked his head toward the soldier standing by McCormick's side.

Before Lynch could respond, McCormick supplied the answer.

"Judge," he said, "I'd like to introduce you to Sergeant Carrie Walker. I told you about her. She's the women whose family was being threatened by Alfaro. She and I used to be friends but it seems she and Lynch having been telling a few fibs."

Sergeant Walker blushed under the judge's snort and glare. It was as though her father had just caught her in the backseat of his car with a boyfriend. She felt a need to apologize but one look at her commander's face ended that thought.

"I want him," Hardcastle said to the nearby police officer as he pivoted to face Lynch, "arrested for kidnapping, and assault."

"You can't arrest me," Lynch told the police lieutenant who stepped forward. "This is an army sanctioned operation."

"Look, colonel," said Police Lieutenant Cosby, "I want to know where Alfaro is. When Hardcastle told me that guy was operating in my city, I checked it out with my contacts at the Federal Building. They verified everything the judge told us. So what's going on here?"

Lynch frowned. He hadn't expected the local police to get involved. When the police called, they had gotten the same false information that had been laid out to trap Smith and the A Team.

Then the dawn broke in Lynch's mind as his eyes widened. Hardcastle had supplied the police with information about Alfaro. There was only one place he could have gotten that information and only one person who could have gotten it. He had a new card to play in this game of one-upmanship.

"What about this con over here," he sneered, "I want him arrested for breaking and entry into a government building."

"Whoa," said Cosby. "That's a pretty serious charge. Do you have any proof? Any probable cause?"

"No," grimaced Lynch at the sound of the hated word. "But we all know he did it."

"Don't be looking at me," McCormick said as three sets of eyes turned to glare at him. "Tonto's been keeping close to the reservation these days. He only go out to help local school marm who no need rescuing."

McCormick kept his veneer of innocence even as he eyed Hardcastle mouthing the words 'We'll talk' behind Lynch's head.

"Colonel, we put a lot of effort and man hours into this operation," Lieutenant Cosby said as he grabbed Lynch by the arm. "Your office is supposed to notify us if you're doing anything in the area. I think the chief and the mayor are going to want to have a talk with you and your superiors."

Lynch grinded his teeth as the lieutenant pulled him to the side. The A-Team had won again and left him looking like a fool. Well, he might be down but he was far from out. He would have his revenge and he would be sure that when he brought Smith down, he'd take the whole team and his smart-aleck son down with him.

"Why does this sun insist on rising in the middle of the night," thought the bleary-eyes man as he munched on the toast in front of him. He eyed the table mat and wondered if it was soft enough for a short nap.

A moment later, he jumped slightly in his chair as a wild chortle of glee echoed throughout the house. He was relatively unaffected by the sudden sound, not so his breakfast partners. HM Murdock's hand jerked so hard that the Lucky Charms in his spoon shot up and landed undetected in BA Baracus' mohawk.

"What was that?" BA exclaimed.

"It sounds like Hannibal," Face said. "And if he's that happy this early in the morning than either they've lifted the embargo on Cuban cigars or…"

"Lynch messed up!" Hannibal Smith said jubilantly as he entered the room with a large smile on his face.

"What did the evil colonel do, oh good Colonel?" asked Murdock as his eyes scoured the table for his missing cereal bits.

"It seems that Lynch got the bright idea of trying to catch us using Face's brother, McCormick," Hannibal said as he sat at the table and watched his lieutenant for a reaction.

"That's not possible!" Face insisted. "There's no way, Lynch could have found out. What happened? Is Mark okay?"

Murdock and BA wanted to know the answer to that question, also. They knew how much Mark meant to Face, and to them. Unbeknownst to the colonel, they had met up with the young parolee, several times, at Face's apartment.

"Calm down, kid," Smith said. "Lynch doesn't know Mark's your brother but he does think there's a connection between him and us. Any idea how he got that notion in his head?"

"None what so ever," Face said with utter calmness and conviction. "I haven't seen him in several months."

There was nothing in his face or voice which indicated he was lying. He was an old hand at the art of deception. Hannibal might pride himself that he could tell when his lieutenant was being untruthful but Face knew the colonel only guessed right about half of the time.

He mentally reviewed the recent times that he and the guys had met up with Mark. It would kill him if he was the cause of Mark losing his freedom but it would kill him to never see him again and Mark felt the same way. They had, both, vowed to find a way to keep the connection, whatever the risks.

Hannibal leaned back in his seat as he continued to study his lieutenant. He knew Face was being less than honest with him but the situation was too delicate. Mark meant too much to Face and Face meant too much to him and the team. If he pushed too hard, the lieutenant would rebel and might leave. Face had a habit of getting in trouble when left on his own. The best thing he could do was to make sure Face knew the risks of what he was doing, hope that he would make the right decisions, and to be there when he didn't.

"Anyway," Hannibal said as he took the pressure off of Face and addressed the whole team, "Lynch thought he was dropping the net around us but winded up in a face-off with LAPD after he arrested Hardcastle. Evidentially he thought the judge was me."

"Oooh," Murdock said, "that wouldn't have been pretty." He had firsthand knowledge about how angry Hardcastle could get.

"I'll bet that judge chewed his butt off," BA snorted.

"Mark's alright though?" asked Face.

"Yeah," said Hannibal. "Lynch detained him for a short time but released him with an apology and a promise to stay away from him and the judge."

"I'll bet he loved that," Face smirked.

"I hope no one is planning on getting too complacent," Smith warned. "We all know what Lynch's word is worth. It could have ended a lot worse. I don't want to lecture you, Face, but…"

The lieutenant's eyes were bright and alert. His lips were slightly pursed as he leaned in as if to catch every syllable which fell from his commander's lips. But he wasn't listening. He knew what Hannibal was saying; that a relationship with McCormick was a bad idea that it would lead to one or both of them going to jail, that Hardcastle couldn't be trusted, and many more excellent reason why Mark and his meeting together was a mistake. There was truth in everything Hannibal said, no matter how much he wanted it to be otherwise. It wasn't anything he hadn't told himself.

He saw by the colonel's hand gestures that he was getting to the end of his speech. Face consciously ran his fingers through his hair so Smith would think that he was mulling over his words of wisdom.

"And I know you'll do the right thing, lieutenant," Hannibal said as he got up from the table. As he left the table, Smith reached over and grabbed a small marshmallow shamrock and heart from BA's hair. He plopped them in his mouth.

BA's eyes got big and furious as he turned his ire towards the pilot.

"Man, those leprechauns are tricky," Murdock said as he concentrated his vision on the bowl of cereal before him.

The beautiful blonde damsel squealed in delight as she was recused from her blight. She threw her arms around the brave man who had saved her. Both ignored the angry gorilla that plummeted head-first into the ground below.

"Alright!" McCormick exclaimed. "Top Score! I have got to talk Hardcase into getting one of these."

"I can't see the judge shelling out money for something like this," Templeton said, happy to see Mark liked the latest game that he had bought. "Hannibal thinks they're a waste of time, though he did like the World War II stuff."

"Humph," Mark said, "the only way I could get Hardcastle to play is if they had a game with a hanging judge or maybe one with a John Wayne theme."

"So," Peck said hesitantly, "any problems with the judge since the thing with Lynch."

"You know," Mark said with a shrug, "just the expected lecture." Marks voice dropped and deepened as he tried to imitate Hardcastle's gruff voice. "You were lucky, McCormick. I don't want to lecture you but blah, blah, blah."

"He sounds just like Hannibal," Peck giggled.

"But they do have a point," Peck said as his voice got serious. "Lynch put you in cuffs. He arrested you."

"Don't worry about it. I've spent more time in cuffs and jail since I've been with Hardcastle than most of the guys that he's got me chasing."

"But…"

"Look, it's okay," Mark said as he put down the control stick. "Lynch tried something, it didn't work, and now he's got to stay away from me and the judge."

"You got to be careful with Lynch. His mind gets all focused and turned around. He can come up with some strange things."

"You're telling me. He spit out his apology like he was trying to strangle me with his words and just before he drove off he said something really weird."

"What?"

"He pointed his finger in my face and told me that my daddy wasn't always going to be around to help me."

"What!" Face sputtered. "What did he mean by that?"

"I don't know but the judge nearly pitched a fit."

"So you're okay with this?" Face asked. "Because I would understand if you're having second thought. I wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize what you got going with Hardcastle."

McCormick gave his brother a playful shove. "Sometimes you can be nuttier than Murdock. Of, course I'm okay with it. Are you okay with it? I wouldn't want to do anything that might end up with Lynch getting ahold of you or the guys."

"More than okay with it," Face said reassuringly. "But with Lynch nosing around we just need to be a little more careful."

"A little sneakier."

"A little more discrete."

The conversation was interrupted by the knocking on the door. Face opened it and was nonplussed when a man in a gorilla suit strode into the room and struck a heroic pose.

"Prepare to go down, Mario," Murdock declared from underneath the mask. "For today, Monkey Boy will reign supreme in Donkey Kong."

"I don't know this fool," BA said as he pushed past Murdock and put the pizzas on the table.

"What?" said Peck said to a laughing McCormick. "For us, this is discrete."

THE END